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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Summary of Some Periods in the History of Hinduism

Abstract: A selective list of persons, works, and events are are drawn from Hinduism's four thousand year history.

I.  The Vedic Period c 1500 — c. 500 BCE (The complete decipherment of the Indus Valley script on steatite seals will help determine previous influence on the beginnings of Hinduism.)

    A. The Vedas are a collection of early hymns and sacred literature (approx. 3000-800 BC).

    B. Four main Vedas where the essential meaning of ritual is identified with self and some personifications of natural forces occur. No known authors.

      1. Rig Veda (royal knowledge)--music, humns (mantras) to the gods.

        "Awareness of the delightful
        Wonder of the Creator Will direct our thinking"

      2. Atharva Veda--magical chants, spells and incantations.

      3. Yajur Veda--prose and verse sacrificial formulae.

      4. Sama Veda--priests' chants.

    C. Henotheism: The god being worshiped is considered as the most real although there are over thirty other gods mentioned. (E.g., we see the major difficulties of life in terms of our own problems; yet we acknowledge there are other problems. Dieties are symabols of the forces of life, and there is some speculation that there is only one divine reality. Process, an Unidvided whole, is the fundamental reality beyond logic and language.

II. Pre-Epic Period--the Upanishads (800-500 BC, concluding part of the Vedas, more than one hundred treatises.
    A. The Upanishads clarified the inner meaning of the rituals of the Vedas. The earliest works predated Greek philosophy.

    B. These speculative and mystical scriptures are concerned with the question, "What is Brahman?" and the nature of the soul, or self.

      1. The true nature of ultimate eternal reality is known via negativa.

      2. Brahman is conceived as the power sustaining the cosmos; Brahman is thought of both personally and impersonally.

      3. The most influential teaching is Brahman = Atman (Self). The central meaning: "That which makes great."

      4. What am I?  non-empirical self--the ultimate Self is known by direct apprehension.

      5. tat twvam asi -- "Thou are That" refers to the characterization of Brahman.

      6. Other metaphysical and ethical problems: reincarnation, anti-caste, universal suffrage, some yogic practices.

      7. Brahman is the ultimate and universal reality of pure being and consciousness.

III. The Epic Period (500-200 BC) Approximately three centuries after the Upanishaps, the Vedas were often unavailable and when available they were difficult to understand. Hence, folklore began to develop.

    A. The Mahabharata: first epic, longest single poem in world literature, 18 books, emphasizes social duty and aseticism.

      1. Cosmology present: a pulsating or cyclic universe with time measured in kalpa (4,500 million years).

      2. Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord): the best loved and most read section.

        a. Development of theistic ideas with concepts of yoga (karma, jnana, bhakti).

        b. Themes: duty v. grace; Trinity: Brahman, Vishnu (stability), and Siva (destruction); the ten avatars (incarantions of the savior).

    B. Ramayana: second major epic is similar in parts to Aesop's Fables.

      1. The story of Rama and Sita--the relation and story of model persons.

      2. Ethical and philosophical speculations include order for society and order for life.

IV. The Medieval Renaissance (700-1200)--The belief in the underlying unity of the world, the Vedanta.

    A. Sankara: monistic interpretation of the Vedanta.

      1. The world of experience caused by maya is social delusion and ignorance and cannot be thought of as being or nonbeing. (Maya cannot be a separate reality.) We are not body-identified consciousness.

      2. Maya is the source of all misery and suffering.

      3. We are Brahman who is united, infinite changeless being, consciousness, and bliss.

    B. Ramanuja: bhakti yoga with the analogy of the relation of God with the world.

      1. The soul and God should be distinguished.

      2. "monkey school"--the young have to be taught to walk.

      3. "the cat school"--the young have to be taken by the scruff of the neck.

    C. Madhva: pluralist (the three metaphysical realities of matter, soul, and God).

V. The Modern Period--the Hindu response to Christianity.
    A. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) Unitarian sect against idolatry, child marriages, sati, and caste system. He sought interreligious cooperation.

    B. Tagore (1861-1941) Roy's student sought to reconcile inner life with active work and sought practical goals.
      1. Tagore noted the spiritual emptiness of the West in his discussions.

      2. His fiction, essays, and philosophy were mentioned in his Nobel Prize for poetry, 1913.

    C. Ramakrishna (186-1866): practiced all faiths internally and saw them leading to the same goal.

      1. Although not particularly interested in the West, he taught the authenticity of all religions.

      2. Religious visions and mystical trances of Christ and Muhammad

    D. Vivekananda (1863-1902) Ramakrishna's student who brought the message to the West in the Chicago World Parliment of Religions in 1893.

    E. Mahatma ("great soul") Gandhi (1869-1948)--political and spiritual leader of India's freedom.

      1. Influenced by the Gita, John Ruskin, and Tolstoy.

      2. Key ideas included nonviolent disobedience (including the threat of  fasting unto death as political pressure)  and  ahimsa ( non-injury to living beings).

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