More on The origins of Hinduism and the Vedic religion

B1  The Origins of Hinduism – What features of geography might have contributed to Hindu religious sensibilities? What features have enabled Hinduism to develop freely in many directions?

            The Dravidian people lived in cities along the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan.  Archeologists have discovered large cities with houses that had indoor plumbing and other improvements that would be found in an urban population.    They also discovered a large pool similar to ones that are now used in Hindu temples.    There doesn’t seem to be agreement about what the Dravidian religion encompassed. 

            Around 1000 BCE the Aryan people migrated into India bring language and religious concept of Persia.  They were headers that lived a nomadic life and their gods were the natural powers from heaven and earth.  The sacrificed animals to their gods while eating some of the meat during a worship service.  The gods were referred to as devas and represented everything that was good for the people.  Asuras were evil powers and represented everything that was bad for the people.  Their religion was focused on keeping people on the right ethical path – good over evil.

            The Aryans mixed with the Dravidians and shred customs, traditions, myths and rituals.  It is believed that Hinduism stated at some point during this interaction between the two groups.  Hymns from Hinduism reflect Aryan worship.  In Hinduism, Shiva is a god in Bhakti yoga (the way of devotion) ; he is the destroyer who brings death and destruction but is also powerful in creating new life.  Shiva echoes the Dravidian traditions.  Scholars can’t say exactly when Hinduism began but they do feel it was developed while interacting early on with the Aryan and Davidians.

B3 The Vedic Religion – Describe the main theories that have sought to explain the origins of the Vedas and the religion they describe. What were the chief features of Vedic religion? Briefly describe the content or focus of the Vedas.

            In the Vedic religion shruti were the sacred scriptures or knowledge that were revealed by “what has been heard” through revelation or had been revealed; the Vedas were the oldest part of the shruti.  The Vedas were a collection of four scriptures: The Rigveda, the Samaveda, the Yajurveda and the Antarvaveda.  The Rigveda is the most well-known of the Vedas and contains mythical and poetical explanations of the origin of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life and, prosperity.  The combination of the four scriptures are called the samhitas.  The Yajurveda is a compilation of litanies, prayers and prose dedications used in devotions.  The Samaveda uses some of the same hymns found in the Rigveda and has chants the priests use during sacrifices to help the listeners prepare themselves for the spirit soma (the substance that is offered to the gods).   Daily dealing with emotions such as lust, hatred, fear, jealousy and charms and charms and spells to improve their chance for a good life are found in the Artarvaveda

             The Vedic religion is based on the Vedas alone.  It is monotheistic in strict sense. Devas represent the forces of nature and some represented moral values.   Pilgrimages, fasting, caste system, discrimination against any Varna are absent.   Smritis (writings based on what human writers remembered of revelations and are less authoritative than the revealed scriptures) are post vedic and not shruti (the sacred scripture).   Homam is the most commonly practised form of worship. Followers of vedic faith didn’t believe in incarnations so present deities like Rama, Krishna and other avatars were absent. They might be revered but not worshipped then. 

The Vedic Tradition was more than a religion; it was a way of life, a complete philosophy.  It is based on Universal Spiritual Truths which can be applied to anyone at any time.  It recognizes that there is one Supreme Being with no beginning or end, the all in all, the unlimited Absolute Truth can expand into many forms.  The Supreme Being is found in the spiritual realm but also lives in the heart of all living beings.   The Vedic tradition recognizes the individual soul is eternal, beyond the limitations of the body, and one soul is no different than another; the soul undergoes its own karma, and each person creates his own destiny based on his thought, words and deeds. The soul undergoes this karma in the rounds of reincarnation.  The soul incarnates through different forms (called samsara or reincarnation) until it reaches liberation (moksha) from the repetition of birth and death, and attains its natural position in the spiritual domain.

The Vedic path offers personal freedom for one to make their own choice of how they want to pursue their spiritual approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth they want to understand.  The Vedic path consists of ten general rules of moral conduct. There are five for inner purity, called the yamas–truthfulness, ahimsa or non-injury to others and treating all beings with respect, no cheating or stealing, celibacy, and no selfish accumulation of resources for one’s own purpose. The five rules of conduct for external purification are the niyamas–cleanliness, austerity, perseverance, study of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Supreme Being.   There are also ten qualities that are the basis of dharmic (righteous) life. These are dhriti (firmness or fortitude), kshama (forgiveness), dama (self-control), asteya (refraining from stealing or dishonesty), shauch (purity), indriya nigraha (control over the senses), dhih (intellect), vidya (knowledge), satyam (truth) and akrodhah (absence of anger).

One of the most remarkable features of Vedic faith is the treatment of women. In Vedic society, women were given full freedom to pursue their happiness.  There is no other religion in the world in which women composed the most sacred scripture of the faith. Many mantras of Vedas were composed by rishikas (female seers).

Knapp, S.  “Vedic Culture / Hinduism: A Short Introduction”.  Web.  24 Apr 2013.

Matthews, W.  World Religions.  Belmont : Wadsworth.  Print.  25 Apr 2013.

Shivananda, R.  “Veda”.  The Spirit for Higher Consciousness.   13 Aug 2012.  Web.  24 Apr 2013.

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