Thursday, June 15, 2006

A brief (you wish!) lesson in history.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.
Deadlines are piling up here at work and require my focus(if atleast only for a while). Still, thanks to the generosity of a very close friend of mine, I have some fine herb from Rishikesh! And thanks to the herb, the tongue is loosened - if only the fingers would keep time and type out equally fast- and the mind wanders from the jobs at hand....
A few lines then to indulge the herb.

In order to properly understand and appreciate the comments to follow on this blog, it is necessary to set the ground straight! 'Hinduism' is a very broad word, which is often unable to fully express the vastly varied (and often completely contradictory) systems of thought and practice, that are thrown in together under the one banner for ease of labeling. If we look back through the ages, it becomes instantly clear that there never was one religion called 'Hinduism'. There were many systems of thought and different philosophies (in what is today India) that were preached, developed and practiced by the different peoples. There were worshippers of Siva, Shakti (Goddess), Vishnu, Ganesha, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire) etc. Unlike different sects as they are known today, they were more like separate religions in themselves - even a cursory reading of the different puranas (i.e. Siva, Linga, Surya, vishnu, Ganesha,etc) gives us the indication that the followers of the different gods had philosophical systems and cosmological models (describing the birth of the universe &c) which were radically different to each other at times. There seems to be very little solid ground on which the different systems were on agreement - but they co existed. Bitter debates and philosophical arguments (and contradictions) were the norm among the scholars from these diverse systems. Why, the Nyaya system (one of the Shaddarshanas) was entirely devoted to laying the rules of argument and the procedure for properly debating these extremely sophisticated (often very subtle) nuances of the 'higher' mind, consciousness, reincarnation, existence of God and other such core subjects.
One of the main points of note is that all these systems claimed to be the right one and they all attributed their origin to the Vedas! It is ironic that they often quoted from the same texts (vedic), but provided altogether different interpretations and commentaries of the quotes. As if this wasn't enough, different masters (from within the same system/school of thought) had different versions of the core principles that contradicted each other, making room for further confusion. All this changed however, with the advent of the Bhakti age (referred to as the Golden age of Hinduism) and more particularly as a result of the Herculean task of Sri Adi Shankara and his saintly contemporaries. Most of the above mentioned 'sects' were brought together under the single banner of Hinduism, based on the few beliefs that were common to them (eg. their origin being the vedas, etc). And suddenly there was this one 'religion' that had 33 million gods and goddesses!
Seeing this in the historical context of the birth and growing popularity of Buddhism (which occurred during the life, or at least around the time, of Shankara) and Jaina thought, it becomes clear why such a consolidation of the sects was necessary. This didn't happen easily - many texts and commentaries had to be re written, the few points of similarity among the sects was magnified (beyond context) and stressed, and a lot of the dis similarities had to be ironed out through excessively convoluted arguments and counter arguments, a lot of practices (some which enjoyed public popularity) had to be abolished and new practices adopted etc. For example, one of the crucial reasons for the birth and growth of Buddhist thought was the fact that Hindu ritual practices then were very complex and involved the Brahmin community and their services to 'connect' to God; this increased reliance on a middle man to commune with God left the common man bereft of substantial experiential realization of God (not to mention being bereft of money) and left the Brahmin class in a position of great power and wealth. Buddha, did away with the need for such an elaborate and 'proxy' arrangement and declared that every man was himself able to commune and be one with god. As a result, during the bhakti age, there were some great transformations in how the Hindu thought perceived itself and how it projected itself to the people (who were at that time fast being won over by the radical and minimalist Buddhist philosophy). This is obvious from the introduction of the concepts such as Ahimsa (non violence), Shunyatva(theory of voidness) which is very similar to the Mayavada of Shankara, etc - concepts that until then had no place of note in the Hindu thought. It is worthy of note that before then, most of the vedic ceremonies had sacrifices (often of animals and occasionally of even people) as a very common part. With the introduction of Ahimsa as a key concept, the fire sacrifices were adapted in such a way that the oblations were things like ghee, flowers, different grains etc. The then prevalent thought as to the nature of this universe was one of energy (where nature: prakruti was the energizing principle) and not what it is today (where the universe is seen as 'false' and 'illusory', influence of the maya vada and the shunya theory of the Buddhists, where the entire universe is seen as 'mind stuff'!)
* Keep this subject in mind as there is more to follow on from here. bhole bam!

4 comments:

K said...

Wonder how do the contemporary Guru's interpret the Vedas?
Traditional rituals are routinely performed in the ashrams but the Masters seemed to have devised techniques for the common man and have their own Do's & Dont. These teachings seems to be universal.

mooligai sidhan said...

Precisely - the word veda even signifies eternal, universal knowledge. That they are in essence highly metaphysical and extremely subtle aphorisms, makes it almost obligatory to be 'interpreted'. And that any interpretation is based on the commentator,the social conditions of the time, the belief background, the capacity of the intended audience for the commentary etc is only too clear.
This is why 'adhyayanam' or self study of the scriptures (iam not saying you dont need masters to help you grasp the true meaning)is extremely important. The sadhaka should set aside a lot of time each day for the study of different scriptures and after a few years of such study, he will be able to tune into the 'true' essence (which will have been discussed in the various scriptures even though using different words and metaphors)which will shine through consistently no matter what interpretation is read. Experiential knowledge - i.e the contemplation of these concepts as expressed by the vedas and trying to persue those concepts to finer and finer mental processes is essential too.
Once you've intuited which interpretation suits your nature(bhava)the process becomes simple.

Anand said...

BABA, how can one find out which sect they belong too. Rather what adhikaram suits them.

mooligai sidhan said...

By listening to the heart!When you begin the process of 'cultivating' your spritual practices,the vasanaas and the dominance of the gunas at that time will create tendencies in your mind. These tendencies will slowly gravitate you towards what is your adhikaram.Whatever speaks true to your heart and leaves you feeling like it is right will most likely be the right path.
''Petravan nee guru, porupadhu un kadan'' - skanda guru kavacham.