The Theosophical Forum – February 1949

THE VEDIC PERIOD IN HINDU PHILOSOPHY (1) — Marjorie Reineman

The study of Hindu Philosophy takes us back to the earliest God-Wisdom, given by great teachers to the early human races. We learn of ancient continents, now submerged, from which peoples migrated to the center of Asia and thence to the parts of the earth now inhabited. We learn particularly of the migration into India and neighboring lands; and of the great Aryan race, its religion, its literature, its civilization. Our whole horizon is broadened to include great cycles of human life, and noble heights of wisdom.

Before going on, it would be wise to mention a fact that is fundamentally necessary to proper understanding of this subject. Everywhere we find traditions of the Four Ages of Man. These were actual historic cycles of civilization, called by the Greeks: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. In ancient India, called Yugas: Satya-Yuga, the Age of Truth; Treta-Yuga, the Age of three parts Truth; Dwapara-Yuga, the Age of two parts Truth; and Kali-Yuga, the Age of Strife and Discord.

Satya-Yuga, the childhood of mankind, was happy and peaceful. There was no war, because man as yet knew nothing of strife or discord. Mankind was blessed with plenty, with abundance; fruits and grain sprang from the earth without labor, and there was no winter or summer — only an endless spring. This age was called the "Saturnian Age," (2) probably because, as G. de Purucker says, there were no real responsibilities. However, under Cyclic Law it passed away, and next came the Age of Three Fires — Treta-Yuga. At this point selfishness, one of the greatest of all evils, crept in, and with it cruelty and injustice. Winter came too, with its chill, and men had to build shelters for protection. Jealousy was born, and hatred. Evil slowly increased until came Dwapara-Yuga, the Age of two parts good, two evil. Nature became more and more harsh, and selfishness increased. There was sickness and unhappiness, and one by one the bright Gods left the earth, and man now had to find his way alone. Kali-Yuga, the Age of Strife and Discord, is the Age in which we are living at present. Everywhere we turn there is injustice, fear, hatred, selfishness and unhappiness. Yet it is well to remember that this is only three-fourths darkness, for the Gods have not forgotten; and at the right cyclic time will come messengers to tell us of the new Golden Age which is near. Soon will come the dawn, the daybreak, and Brotherhood will again predominate.

A brighter morn awaits the human day,
When every transfer of earth's natural gifts
Shall be a commerce of good words and works. . . .
      — Shelley, Queen Mab

The Manasaputras, those wonderful beings who lighted the latent fires of mind, made their appearance on earth during the later cycles of Lemuria. The spiritual minority in Lemuria were guided and protected by Great Initiates of the Mystery Schools and thus became (as they were reborn) the spiritual "seed race" in Atlantis, which, in migrating bands under great Teachers, went finally to the Central Plateau of Asia. From the northern parts of this "cradleland of the Human Race," (3) later descended into the Indian peninsula those peoples who called themselves Aryans, or the so called High Caste, who later were divided into Four Castes: Brahmanas, priest-philosophers; Kshattriyas, warriors and administrators; Vaisyas, traders and agriculturists; and Sudras, servers, lowest caste.

In time our archaeologists may uncover remains of wonderful advanced civilizations in what are now the sandy, arid plains of Turkestan, Persia, and Baluchistan. In fact, great literatures have already been unearthed there.

It is well to note that the homestead of the human family is the geographical center of the Eastern hemisphere. Its borders rise on every side into majestic mountain ranges, that look eastward over the steppes of Tibet and the plains of India, westward down the Assyrian lowlands towards the Mediterranean, northward over the wide sands of Central Asia, and southward across Arabia and the Tropic Seas. The languages and mythologies of nearly all the great historic races, point back to these mountain outlooks of Iran. The homes of ancient civilization rose around their bases, and there they were taken into the dust.

Central Asia is our mother-land. To it went the earliest of the Fifth Race colonists. As Age after Age passed by — this race climbed from innocence to knowledge and on to the misuse of knowledge, until we come to the present day. We are paying for our mistakes in what is now our Kali-Yuga.

Originally, the teachings were given to the people of India in oral form, the written form undoubtedly being of a much later date. They were given mostly, if not entirely, in the form of Suktas, or Hymns, stated to have been communicated clairaudiently and clairvoyantly to the Rishis by the Gods themselves. It is an enormous literature, much of which is still untranslated, and containing many parts which are misunderstood by Western Scholars. According to H. P. Blavatsky, in her Theosophical Glossary, "they are the most ancient as well as the most sacred of the Sanskrit works." The Ancient Wisdom teachings (later called the Vedas) of the earliest Aryans, went forth before they were written, into every nation of the Atlanto-Lemurians, and sowed the first seeds of all the now existing old religions. (A most beautiful and enlightening thought!)

From this literature we know what kind of civilization grew up at that early date — with one basic religion, and one basic philosophy, until the coming of the Dark Ages. Even then, the innermost teachings were preserved in the hearts of sincere men.

In those days there was a pure and beautiful relationship with the Gods, a constant sense of their nearness, and to sin was knowingly to separate oneself from divine companionship.

It was a child-race in its simple devotion to everything in nature. There was worship of Father Sun and Mother Earth, who nourished the race through life and drew it into her heart after death, when the spirit turned to the stars. Life was a matter of kindness and gratitude, no bickering over finances, no burnt offerings, no slaughter; only a trust in the Universal Order, and love of nature as being Divine.

     . . . the trees,
The grass, the clouds, the mountains, and the sea,
All living things that walk, swim, creep, or fly,
Were gods; the sun had homage, and the moon
Her Worshipper. — Shelley, Queen Mab

There are many methods of classification. That which distributes the Vedas into hymns, formulae, and chants — called the triple Veda. That which classifies the Vedas into four parts, the oldest, most famous of these being the Rig-Veda — which is made up of Hymns of Love, praise or devotion to Nature and Nature-forces; Yajur-Veda — in which all the prescribed formulas are included; Sama-Veda — a collection of chants (hymns chanted or sung). And the Atharva-Veda — a collection of hymns of later date which must have been employed in the ritual of worship. During this period the rules of caste were more thoroughly laid down, and belief in a future life is more positively stated.

The religion which is transmitted to us in these hymns is, in its principal feature . . . "Nature is throughout Divine." (4) Everything capable of affecting man may become an object of adoration. The mountains, wind, trees, and springs, are worshiped as divinities. Even the animals surrounding him receive from him the worship of either homage or deprecation. Nevertheless, it is neither the direct adoration of objects, or of natural phenomena, which figures most prominently in the Hymns. The two single divinities of the first rank which have preserved their physical character pure and simple are Agni and Soma.

Agni is symbolical of terrestrial fire, and the fire of the lightning and the sun; he is the lord and generator of sacrifice. He organizes the world and preserves universal life. It is Agni who pervades all nature, making all seeds and plants grow. But even with the many powers ascribed to him, he never ceases to be the fire which consumes the wood on the altar.

The Hymn to Agni, from the Rig-Veda, is an invocation calling on the gods to descend and be present at the sacrifice.

5. May Agni, sapient-minded priest, truthful, most gloriously great,
The god, come hither with the gods.
6. Be to us easy of approach, even as a father to his son;
Agni, be with us for our weal.

Agni is the messenger and mediator between earth and heaven, announcing to the gods the hymns, and conveying to them the oblations of their worshipers, inviting them with the sound of his crackling flames and bringing them down to the place of sacrifice. The simplicity of this is pure and lovely.

Soma is the fermented drinkable juice of a plant so named. It has an intoxicating effect, and is offered to the gods, especially Indra, whose strength it intensifies. But it is not only on earth that the soma flows; it is present in the rain which the cloud distils, and it is shed even beyond the visible world wherever sacrifice is performed. Like Agni, Soma also has a mystic existence. He generated the heaven and the earth, Indra and Vishnu, and with Agni, he kindled the sun and the stars.

The Hymn to Indra, from the Rig-Veda, is a hymn to the thunder-wielder who slew the dragon on the mountain, overcame the enchanter, and gave life to the sun and dawn.

4. When, Indra, thou hadst slain the dragon's firstborn, and
     overcome the charms of the enchanters,
Then, giving life to Sun and Dawn and Heaven thou foundest
     not one foe to stand against thee.

The original purport of the legend of Indra slaying Vritra lies in the fact that Vritra is nothing more than the accumulation of vapor, condensed or figuratively shut up in a cloud. Indra, with his thunderbolt, or atmospheric influence, divides the aggregated mass, and vent is given to the rain which then descends upon the earth. The Supreme God of the Aryans was first Varuna, then Indra. Indra gives victory to his people, defends their causes, brings the rain, and strikes down Vritra, the drought. Indra is presented as a war-like god, but that is only one side. He is a giver of gifts; he gives the milk to the cows, he traces the course of the rivers, and holds up the sky.

In the Hymn to Varuna, also from the Rig-Veda, the singer is mourning that the god Varuna has withdrawn his friendship, and he pleads for a renewal of that precious relationship.

5. What hath become of those our ancient friendships, when
     without enmity we walked together?
I, Varuna, thou glorious lord have entered thy lofty home,
     thine house with thousand portals.
6. If he, thy true ally, hath sinned against thee, still, Varuna,
     he is the friend thou lovedst.
Let us not, Living One, as sinners, know thee: give shelter,
     as a sage, to him who lauds thee.

One of the most beautiful hymns of the Rig-Veda is the Gayatri. Theosophists know it particularly in this paraphrase:

Oh, thou golden sun of most excellent splendor, illumine our hearts and fill our minds so that we, recognizing our oneness with the divinity which is the heart of the universe, may see the pathway before our feet, and tread it to those distant goals of perfection, stimulated by thine own radiant light.

This invocation is an appeal for the heart-wisdom — in order to be able to help all our fellows. It is a plea for the right ideas of philosophy with which to keep our thinking on the path of truth.

The great Hindu poet, Rabindranath Tagore, writes of the Hindu Scriptures in this manner: They have the significance of a revealed divine word, and are a poetic testament of a people's collective reaction to the wonder and awe of existence. A people of vigorous and unsophisticated imagination awakened at the very dawn of civilization to a sense of the inexhaustible mystery that is implicit in Life. It was a simple faith of theirs that attributed divinity to every element and force of Nature, but it was a brave and joyous one, in which fear of the gods was balanced by trust in them, in which the sense of mystery only gave enchantment to life, without weighing it down with bafflement. But, as when children grow they gather an increasing awareness of their selves, the later authors sought more and more a center of reference in their own consciousness, a subjective counterpart to the objective majesty that had so long held them enthralled in awe, an answer in their own being to the cosmic challenge of the visible universe. If the Supreme Self is unknowable and incomprehensible, it is yet realizable through self-discipline and knowledge of the Self in man, for the two are ultimately one. Thus man is delivered from the fear of the Cosmic Forces and is made part of the Divine Will.

The Upanishads approach Reality by means of the intellectual nature, and philosophic imagination, whereas the Bhagavad-Gita. stresses love and devotion. The latest of these scriptures, the Bhagavad-Gita, is the scripture that is most widely studied in the world today.

The interest of these ancient hymns lies not so much in their poetical value, though their close contact with nature gives them at times a glow and rapture that are the essence of poetry. It lies rather in the brave adventures, made so long ago and recorded here, of those who seek to discover the significance of our world and of man's life within it.

Belief in the gods is still preserved in the literature of India, while in other parts of the world the belief in one God has robbed humanity of this glorious association of Divine beings — taught in the Vedas. It is a grander conception of divinity, which upholds the idea that nature contains a potential God Spark. It is much more logical to believe that the great mountains, the broad rivers, the stately trees, and the delicate shrubs and flowers, are a part of the Cosmic plan; and it is a friendlier religion which sees in all the animals some part that they can play in the great scheme of life. As to the dawn and the sunset — who can doubt that divinities are present, when such beauty is before our eyes!

An inspiring thing about the ancient sacred literature is that it presents a universe full of potentialities, a universe in which every living thing has a divine spark of its own, and plays an important part in the drama of life. This satisfies the imagination and intuition and it creates a happier picture of life and destiny for every entity.

A beautiful thought — that from the very beginning, human beings were given truth about the universe, and will continue to receive teachings in proportion to Cosmic Law.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Condensed from Term Paper, Theosophical University, Year 1947- 48. (return to text)

2. Questions We All Ask, by G. de Purucker. (return to text)

3. Studies in Occult Philosophy by G. de Purucker. (return to text)

4. The Religions of India by Auguste Barth. (return to text)


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