The Theosophical Forum – November 1938

ORIENTAL STUDIES: VII — Abbott Clark

BRAHMANISM

The object of all activities of the Theosophical Society is to promote the spirit and practice of brotherly love, mutual understanding, and kindness, and to revive and make active in modern life the spiritual truths underlying all religions, and thereby to elevate the lives and characters of men and women to the point where universal brotherhood would be the natural expression of their thought and feeling, and unbrotherliness would be unthinkable.

One step in the right direction is to study the common spiritual basis of all religions and thus to remove the religious bigotry and prejudice which cause so much misunderstanding and friction.

We are interested in the religious thought of ancient, not modern, India. The Theosophical Mahatmans are of the same order and class as the Vyasas and Rishis, Sages and Seers, who produced the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and other great Indian religious and spiritually philosophical literature. Being sensible as well as spiritual and intellectual men, they work with the tide of evolution, the crest of which is now in the West.

Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement is the name and form under which the Ancient Wisdom is now known. Theosophy is the Atma-Vidya. and the Brahma-Vidya, the Self knowledge and Divine knowledge of modern times, cast in language comprehensible to the modern mind (semi-scientific), answering modern needs and problems and shorn of Oriental obscurities. Theosophy is the Sruti or revealed word for the new race and the new age.

Brahmanism is a mystical, transcendental, religious philosophy. It is founded upon the oldest publicly known religious books — the Vedas, the dates of whose origin are lost in the mists of time. The Orientalists, great and learned European and American scholars, with the Western point of view, date them at from a few hundred to a thousand years b. c. Hindu scholars, who probably know their own religious traditions best, date the Vedas at nearer ten thousand years b. c., while occultists trace their origin to the Atlantean or the earliest Aryan times.

The authorship of the Vedas is credited to Vyasa; but there were many Vyasas, twenty-eight or more, each of whom composed one or more of the Vedic hymns or other religious literature — each in his respective era.

It is interesting to note how the Vyasas succeed each other. When a great Teacher comes in a declining cycle, as did Christ, there is little possibility of carrying on the successorship. The conditions do not favor or perhaps even allow it. But in a rising cycle, as now in the West, when the aspirations and the intelligence, the moral and spiritual elevation are sufficiently sustained, there are disciples trained and fitted to carry on and maintain the Work, and to continue the teaching in its purity. There have been many such eras.

As in Greece, Egypt, Persia, China, Ancient America, and Central Asia, so in India for countless centuries, there were Vyasas, Rishis, Sages, Initiates all, to expound and elaborate and even to improve the teachings.

The Vedas are four in number, the Rig-Veda, the oldest, on which the others are founded, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda.

They were composed and taught and repeated orally for centuries or millenniums before being written down and compiled in their present form by Veda-Vyasa on the shore of the sacred lake Manasa-Sarovara (variously spelled), in what is now western Tibet. This district and much of western-central Asia was once called India.

The Rig-Veda (Sanskrit rich, praise), or Veda of Praise, is composed of 1028 hymns and songs of praise to the gods.

The Yajur-Veda (Skt. yaj, sacrifice), or Veda of Sacrifice, is composed of selections from the Rig-Veda, variously selected and arranged for sacrificial rites and ceremonies. Sacrifices were and are offered to the gods for all sorts of purposes: as an act of devotion and worship, to obtain benefits and favors, for propitiatory purposes, and even for curses. For the simple daily worship, flowers or fruits are offered, for greater favors some special treasure or money or jewels. At some Siva temples, and to Kali or Durga, Siva's consorts, there are blood sacrifices of goats, sheep, chickens, or bullocks.

The Sama-Veda, or Veda of song, is composed of some 1549 mantras, ritualistic, ceremonial, and magical selections. These are in both prose and verse and are used for meditation — "inaudible muttering."

The Atharva-Veda, named after one of the teachers, is sometimes called the Brahma-Veda, because it describes the nature of Brahman and how man attains thereto. It is of much later date and more philosophical than the other three Vedas.

The songs and stories of the Vedas are often so childlike in their simplicity and beauty that they are mistaken by European Orientalists for fairy-stories of creation. Being unable to conceive of the inner worlds and their inhabitants, the Orientalists laboriously explain them as just "the primitive mind of man glorifying the phenomena of nature." But hundreds of generations of Hindu Rishis, Seers and Sages, have considered them as our learned mathematicians do Einsteinian equations, and spent their lives in expounding and amplifying them.

Apparently the Vedas are nothing but mythological stories, but actually they contain an account of the conscious operations of the creative Gods and their hierarchies of helpers — the architects and builders of the cosmos and all the "construction crew" of intelligences, from elementals up.

All the universe is conceived of as spiritual and conscious and every operation and law of nature, inner and outer, visible and invisible, is described as the activity of gods and other more or less advanced beings, who acted as any intelligent beings might act under similar circumstances.

The gods of the early Vedic hymns are not the familiar gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The trinity of gods in the Vedas are Agni, Vayu, and Surya — crudely translated as Fire, Wind or Air, and Sun. But the word Fire is used as the outward expression of an inner essence which is warmth and life, light and intelligence. The word Fire is used as by the Fire-Philosophers and even by the Christians when they say "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire," (Deut., iv, 24). Vayu is used as the Greek Pneuma, Breath, Spirit. The Vyasas conceived of the Sun, not as materialistic Science does, as a mere physical or electrical body in the sky, but as the outer robes or vehicle of the Solar Deities whose vital energies animated and electrified the solar system into a living organism and whose Intelligences guided the orderly processes which established and maintain the harmony within the System The Ancients conceived the sun and other heavenly bodies as we do a man, i. e., not as a physical body alone, but as a congeries of energies guided by intelligence — the mind or intelligence being the most important part.

A sample of the Vedic stories will be of interest to the student as showing the poetic beauty and imagery with which profound truths can be clothed. Those who have studied what happens to the composite nature of man after death as described in The Secret Doctrine, and The Esoteric Tradition, will appreciate and enjoy the following from the Rig-Veda, x, 16; it is addressed to the deceased:

Let thine eye go to the sun (Surya), thy breath to the wind (Vayu), to the earth or to the sky go with thy several parts, into the waters or into the plants, as best beseems. But this man's unborn part convey, assuming thy most auspicious forms, to the abode of the righteous.

Note the exquisitely beautiful reference to that part of the man that never was born. How many of us have ever asked ourselves what part of us was born and will die, and what part of us has neither beginning nor end and therefore never was born — in the meaning of this text? And how much of ourselves is qualified to go to heaven? Elsewhere in the philosophy it is stated that all of the man that belongs to the earth goes each part to its appropriate place and transmigrates or reimbodies itself there All that is of the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty goes to heaven, for, "Never to an evil place goeth one who doeth good." — The Bhagavad-Gita, ch vi.

At death Pushan, one of whose titles is "Lord of the Path," the Vedic Psychopomp, or shepherd of the souls of the dead, who knows all the paths of both earth and heaven, conducts the wayfarer, the soul, both to the abodes of bliss and again to earth

May Pushan guide thee hence, the wise, the universal shepherd Pushan knows all the abodes, he guides us safely, carefully Pushan is born on both the paths, that of heaven and that of earth, and goes back and forth between both, knowing the way to the happiest abodes — Rig-Veda, x, 17

Unlike the Greek Psychopomp, who conducts the souls of the dead to a gloomy underworld, Pushan conducts them through the airways of the soul to regions of light and beauty

Again, from the Rig-Veda, x, 14, addressed to the deceased:

"Go forth, follow the ancient paths on which our Fathers went . . . .  the two kings shalt thou behold, Varuna and Yama, (1) where they revel in bliss. There join Yama and the Fathers, where every wish is granted in the highest heaven, free from blemishes enter thy home there, with a new and shining body clothing thyself."

As I collate and understand certain Vedic texts At death, Pushan, the Vedic psychopomp or shepherd of the souls of the dead, who knows the way, takes "that part of the man that never was born" to the first heaven where he enjoys the fruits of his good works on earth to the full measure of his deserts; then to the second heaven where he enjoys a greater degree of felicity; then to the third, and to all the heavens, each in turn, in each of which he enjoys a greater and ever greater degree of supernal felicity; and finally to the portals of the sun, where he enters and abides with the gods — the solar divinities Finally, Pushan conducts him back to the earth by the same route, and a new child is born.

Out of, and founded upon, these Vedic Hymns has grown the most elaborate and most voluminous religious and philosophical literature in the world. During thousands of years hundreds of generations of Rishis have spent their lives in commenting upon, expounding and interpreting or adding to the Vedic stories. There are the Brahmanas, the Sastras, the Puranas, and the Upanishads, not to mention other classes of literature. The dates of these works are unknown. The Hindu mind is timeless, attaches no importance to time, dates nothing. So, the Orientalists class this literature in the order of its quality — from the simple to the more complex and profound or perfect — as they see it. That is why it is ordinarily given in the order above mentioned.

The Brahmanas are a complex development of the Vedas. Two facts of historic human interest stand out in the course of this literary cycle: Two schools arose under opposite leaders, one called the Black School and the other the White School. The origin of the divergence was that a pupil turned against his Teacher and founded a School of his own and the resulting spirit of inharmony within it gave the body which he led the quality and name of "the Black School."

Great numbers of Sakhas or schools of interpretation of the Vedas arose — many hundreds in the interpretation of the Sama-Veda alone. Some accounts say there were between one and two thousand of these Sama-Vedic Sakhas with their clash of argument and opinion. Compare this with modern Christianity which can only boast of three or four hundred different sects.

Above the babel arose the voices of some of their greatest Rishis challenging the people to loyalty and faithfulness. "If a man gives up his own customs and performs others whether out of ignorance or covetousness, he will fall and be destroyed," they said. In a broader sense the Buddha said: "Respect the religion of other men; be true to your own."

The Sastras are constituted mainly of works on Law, though the word Sastra simply means book. It is applied to the body of books on Law — all kinds of law, divine and human, sacred and profane, ritualistic and domestic. In the Sastras group are also included a few books of other character.

The Puranas and the Upanishads constitute a distinct advance on all other Brahmanical literature, being profoundly philosophical and religious and occultly scientific. The Puranas are supposed to have been eighteen in number, although none, with the possible exception of the Vishnu-Purana, exists today in any approach to a perfect form.

The Upanishads are variously given as having been 108 or 150 in number. They are essays of lofty religious, philosophical, and metaphysical character which form the basis of the most enlightened faith of India. They explain the essential nature and spirit of the universe, and, like the Puranas, treat of the character and nature of the gods; of their bringing the manifested universe into being by the process of ideation and emanation; of the cyclic course of evolution of the universe and everything therein contained. The idea is that every manifested thing, visible and invisible, from elemental and atom to solar system, from men even to the gods themselves, all evolve, not by chance nor by blind mathematical or mechanistic law, but by inherent energy guided by intelligence; and the manner and details of this evolution are poetically, allegorically, or philosophically described.

The Rishis of this later and more advanced date distinctly pointed out that there are two Paths as trodden by men of different grades of evolutionary development, both of which should be known and understood: they are the Higher Path and the Lower Path, or the Slower Path. The latter is the path trodden by the great majority of men; by the good citizen who discharges his duties in the world and is bound by earthly attachments, as well as the man who is bound by devotion to the creeds and forms of religion, such as the ceremonies and sacrifices prescribed by the Vedas, or the dead letter of any religion. The followers of religion take a long winding course of evolution. The Higher Path is the Chela Path, trodden by the strongest and noblest of men. It is a path of self-determined and rapid evolution, motivated by impersonal and all-pervading love and thoughtfulness for the welfare of others. It is the path of the inner light which leads to Self-knowledge, Atma-Vidya, and to Divine Wisdom, Brahma-Vidya.

The efflorescence of Brahmanical literature is called the Vedanta — which means the end or perfection of the Vedas, the highest form of Hindu thought.

There are three schools of the Vedanta: the Dwaita, or dualistic school; Adwaita, or the non-dualistic school; and the Visishta-adwaita, or modified non-dualistic school, which is somewhat between the other two. The Avatara, Sri Sankaracharya was the greatest expounder of the Adwaita school.

In the later Brahmanical literature the principal Vedic gods, Agni, Vayu, and Surya, are replaced by the more familiar trinity of gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The word Brahma comes from the Sanskrit root brih, to expand. Brahma is the masculine supreme creative god of the universe. Vishnu, from the root vish, to pervade, is the all pervading and preserving principle of the cosmos. Siva is the god who destroys but to regenerate on a higher plane.

Philosophically speaking, Brahmanism, like the Esoteric Philosophy from which it sprang, is neither Monotheism nor Polytheism, Idealism nor Dualism, but contains and includes them all. In this philosophy Deity is both immanent and transcendent — Immanent because it pervades, animates and sustains the vast whole of the manifested universe; Transcendent because superior to and not dependent upon manifestation.

There is one fundamental divine principle and many manifestations; one Life, many lives; one Fire, many flames; one Thinker, many thoughts. The whole manifested universe is the thought and manifested thoughts of the hosts of Gods, an emanation of their essence, animated and sustained by the circulation of their life and vitality, and inspired and guided onward and upward by their wisdom.

In Brahmanism the creation, evolution, and dissolution of such universes follow each other in orderly, progressive succession, as day follows night. This progressive manifestation and dissolution of universes is poetically called "the days and nights of Brahma."

FOOTNOTE:

1. Varuna is the god of the Waters of Space, Akasa, Yama, the god of Death (return to text)


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