1 Traditions and Trajectories in Ancient India Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D. REL 231 Religions of India and Tibet Berea College Fall 2005

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  • Traditions and Trajectories in Ancient IndiaJeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D.REL 231Religions of India and TibetBerea CollegeFall 2005

  • THE INDUS RIVER VALLEY CIVILIZATIONOriginal inhabitants of northwestern India-Pakistan (c. 2500 BCE)Indus society:AgriculturalUrbanMercantileIndus religion:Polytheistic (esp. goddesses)Fertility-orientedBy 1500 BCE, on brink of collapse, perhaps due to combination of natural and human disasters

  • THE ARYAN INVASION Around 1500 BCE, Aryan peoples from southern Russia enter Indus regionAryan society:PastoralNomadicEquestrianAryan religion:PolytheisticPatriarchalAryan language was ancestral to Sanskrit, oldest known in Indo-European family

  • INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGE & MYTHOLOGYWords in Indo-European languages share common ancestors:English -- fatherGerman -- VaterLatin -- paterGreek -- paterSanskrit pitarOther examples:English divinity / ritualLatin divus / ritusSanskrit deva / ta Deities in Indo-European traditions share common origins:Norse -- Alfodr (All Father, i.e., Odin)Latin Diespiter (Day Father, i.e., Jupiter)Greek Zeuspater (Father Zeus)Sanskrit Dyauspitar (Sky Father) Thus, Sanskrit reveals deep links between ancient Indian and Western cultures

  • INDO-ARYAN SOCIETYDivided into 4 hereditary occupational divisions (varas = colors):Brhman (priest)Katriya/Rjanya (warrior)Vaiya (merchant/artisan)dra (peasant)On margins of fourfold society are Dalits (so-called untouchables), who perform menial and polluting tasks:Corpse handlersExecutionersHunters and fishermenLeatherworkers

  • THE VEDASConcerned with orthopraxy (proper action) in ritualBrhman authors edit oral liturgical traditions, producing Vedas (knowledges), c. 1200-600 BCEBy 600 BCE, stras (threads, commentaries), or summaries of Vedas, become popular4 collections (samhits) of Vedas:igveda (ic = praise stanzas sung by priests in ritual)Smaveda (sman = songs sung by priestly entourage)Yajurveda (yajus = short incantations uttered by priests assistants in ritual)Atharvaveda (therapeutic spells and hymns used by atharvans = healers)

  • KARMAMARGA: THE WAY OF ACTIONtman (breath) = Essential element of personCoexistent with bodySeparable at death, when it ideally rejoins ancestorsta (right, rite) = Correct patternCosmic orderAccomplished by orthopraxyDharma (law) =Fixed principlesSocial orderAccomplished by obedience to vara-specific obligations

    Ashramas (stages of life) for males of of three upper varas:Brahmaarya (study with guru or master)Grihastha (marriage, family, career)Vnaprastha (partial withdrawal from social life)Sannysa (complete renunciation of society, devotion to spiritual life)Women participate only in householder stage, with two likely fates:Marginalization as widowPredeceasing husbandGradually, goal of improved reincarnation through right action (karma) replaces reunion with ancestors

  • TRANSCENDING THE VEDASLater Vedic texts (c. 1000-800 BCE) show interest in inner truth underlying outer ritualContemplation of Brahman (omnipresent, immaterial, ineffable source of all) supersedes sacrifices to deitiesUpaniads (sitting down close at hand, c. 600 BCE) record master-disciple dialogues related to quest to overcome avidya (ignorance) and gain jana (knowledge)Levels of jana:Pratibhasika grasping complete illusion (vaita, dualistic)Vyavaharika grasping conventional illusion (vaita, dualistic)Paramarthika grasping ultimate reality (advaita, nondualistic)


    tman = the selfs 3 bodies:Causal (innermost, where karma accumulates)Subtle (middlemost, where sensory impressions are stored)Gross (outermost, which houses other elements as physical form)Gross body disintegrates at death, but causal and subtle bodies are eternal and pass on in samsara (cycle of rebirth conditioned by karmic retribution)

  • UPANISHADIC PSYCHOLOGY 3 psychic organs:itta (subconscious transmits sensory stimuli)Manas (conscious mind receives sensory stimuli)Buddhi (intellect or will evaluates sensory stimuli)4 levels of consciousness:Waking (dominated by material concerns and self-awareness)Dreaming (dominated by material concerns and self-awareness)Dreamless (free of material concerns but not self-awareness)Meditative (free of material concerns and self-awareness)


    Householder preparation (study of Upaniads, fulfillment of dharma, moral rectitude)Renunciation of society and adoption of mendicant statusDiscipleship with guruYoga (work, union):Hatha-yoga -- gymnasticKundalini-yoga -- sexualPatanjali-yoga combination of meditative, physical, and moral disciplinesYogic self-cultivation eventually leads to samadhi (experience of undifferentiated unity with Brahman)

  • JANAMARGA: THE WAY OF KNOWLEDGEOvercome maya (illusion, especially the illusion of separation between tman and Brahman)Realize unity of Brahman and tman: That is the Real: That is the Self: That you are! Avoid actions (karma) that promote selfishness and maximize selflessnessThrough knowledge of ones true self and positive karma, attain moka (liberation from samsara and full union with Brahman)


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