Hinduism - Lesson 3

Historical Windows on Hinduism (Part 2)

Discussion of the influence that the Vedic tradition has on Hinduism. 

Lesson 3
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Historical Windows on Hinduism (Part 2)

II. Vedic Religion/Ritual

A. Introduction

B. Socio-cultural Influences from Vedic Religion

1. Aryans and Dasyus and the origins of the Caste System

2. Varna (social classification) vs. Jati (caste)

C. Religious/Theological Themes in Vedic Religioni

1. Henotheism in the Vedas

2. Rta in the Vedas

  • Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and one of the oldest. It is about 12% of the world population and about 95% are in India. Hinduism is difficult to define. There is evidence of civilization in the Indus valley as early as 2800 BC. The sacred literature that is the basis for Hinduism was created and developed over hundreds of years. It was originally transmitted orally and was eventually written down.

  • Introduction to fundamental ideas and literature that are basic to the Hindu religion. The first lecture given for this class is not available at this time. This lecture begins on the class outline at II, C.

  • Discussion of the influence that the Vedic tradition has on Hinduism. 

  • Mahavakyas is made up of two words meaning, “great utterances.” The creation stories are a collection of different stories with various themes. The world is created by a divine figure dismembering themself and their body becomes the world. The caste system has a racial element to it based on some of the creation narratives in the RgVeda.

  • The Upanishads are one strand of the Vedas. Brahman refers to the all-pervading reality in the Upanishads, not the Brahmin caste. The question throughout the Upanishads is, “Who or what is Brahman?”

  • Brahman is the ultimate reality of the universe. Our atman is encrusted with karma and stuck on the wheel of Samsara. A Hindu's goal, in the process of being reincarnated through thousands of lifetimes, is to rid themselves of karma so they can achieve moksa, oneness with Brahman.

  • Maya is the ability of the gods to create the world and give it the appearance they choose, thereby concealing the true nature of Brahman. Karma is the principle that what you sow, you alone reap.

  • A Hindu must work off their karma to be released from the wheel of Samsara and achieve moksa when their atman becomes one with Brahman. Yoga was developed as a way to achieve the goals of the Samkhya philosophy. Hindus see God as a material cause of the universe, not an efficient cause.

  • The Mahavakyas are “great sayings” that give you insights into core teachings of Hinduism. The Brehed Aranyaka Upanishad shows that Hindus believe that diversity can come through oneness and not be an “other.”

  • Sankara says that Brahman is unknowable and we can't perceive any of his qualities. The rope-snake metaphor is often used by Hindus to discuss the difference between perception and reality.

  • Hindu writers often use metaphors to illustrate and teach the essentials of the Hindu philosophy. In their writings, they refer to these metaphors in a way that assumes that you know and understand them.

  • The purpose of this lecture is to see the structure of Hinduism at a glance. Hinduism operates and a philosophical level and a popular level. Hinduism attempts to resolve the relationship between knowledge, works and devotion. The four stages of life and the caste system determine much of cultural structure of Hinduism. Hindus worship many Gods.

  • The three major dissent movements that area a challenge Hinduism are Buddhism, Janism and materialism. Hinduism is adept at absorbing other movements. Buddhism claims that there is a teaching that makes it possible for you to reach the state of Nirvana which is liberation from all suffering. The founder of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautama. The content of his teaching is the four noble truths and the eight-fold path.

  • The key insight of the Upanishads is the identification of atman with Brahman. Buddhists deny both atman and Brahman.

  • The Bhakti marga is branch of Hinduism that emphasizes a spiritual journey undertaken by a devotee that will culminate in a state of union with God or mutual indwelling of the deity and the bhakta.

  • The Hindu gods have identifying characteristics that make them easy to recognize when you see them in temples or other settings. The Trimrti are the three major gods of India which are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Brahma is not often visually represented, so Vishnu and Shiva are seen the most. Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer. Vishnu has 10 incarnations or avatars. These are partial incarnations and don’t represent the fullness of Vishnu.

  • The Siva icon always has the presence of the Trishal, which is a sacred weapon of destruction. There is also the nag (cobra), damaru (drum), third eye, Ganges river flowing out of his head. The dancing Siva has a damaru in one hand and a flame of fire in the other that represents creation and destruction of the world. He also has dreadlocks and the trunk of an elephant.  The third eye of siva is what Hindu women have on their forehead. The Siva Lingum is the most dominant icon in north India.

  • The Brahminical branch teaches that works and devotion lead to true knowledge (Upanishadic vision, tat twam asi). Bhaktis say that knowledge and works should lead to devotion.

  • The Ramayana is an epic account of India. It is the story or epic of Rama and Sita, and is the origin of the tradition of Suti. Mahabharata is the epic of India. It’s the longest collection of poems in the world. The Bhagavad-Gita  is the most important part of the Mahabharata. It talks about both the dharma of caste and the dharma of denial and renunciation.

  • Gurus integrate different parts of the marga system. Paramahamsa Ramakrishna declared the unity of all religions. He claimed to have visions of Hindu gods and Jesus Christ and Mohammed and that all religions lead to the same ultimate reality, sat chit ananda. Swami Vivekananda was the most well-known follower of Ramadrishna and brought his message to the western world. He accepts tat twam asi, the great insight of the Upanishads, but thinks that everyone, not just Brahmans can perceive that unity. (The last point of the lecture was cut short due to a technical limitation.)

    You may download the text of Vivekananda's speech by clicking on the Handouts link in the upper left corner.

  • These are nine of the major holidays celebrated in India. Sankara has been called India’s greatest philosopher. Sankara emphasized universals and Ramanuja emphasized the particulars, similar to Plato and Aristotle in Western thought. Sankara has greater status as a philosopher, but Ramanuja has had a great influence on how the masses practice Hinduism.

    The chart Dr. Tennent refers to near the end of the lecture is the “Three Vehicle Structure of Hinduism,” which is labeled Lecture 6 in the complete class outline pdf document on the class page.

  • Brahmabandhav Upadhyay was an upper jati Brahman teacher who converted to Catholicism. He attempts to explain Christianity by using Advadic motifs. Brahmabandhav is an example of how a Brahman can address the Brahminical community using a Brahminical line of reasoning.

  • There are opportunities for preaching the gospel and planting churches, but there are significant challenges. There is a difference between being unreached and being unevangelized. Homogenus unit principle is one factor that makes it difficult for the gospel to spread in India. It’s important to send people to unreached groups and use a strategy that is effective for those groups.

In-depth survey of philosophical and popular Hinduism’s historical and theological themes. Exposure to current strategies being used to bring the gospel to Hindus and how Christian theology is being formulated in the Indian context.

Dr. Tennent occasionally uses pictures of Hindu gods or other visual resources in his lectures. You can download a document with these pictures by clicking on the Hindu Deity Pictures link. 



Dr. Timothy Tennent



Historical Windows on Hinduism (Part 2)

Lesson Transcript


Okay. Now that we have been discussing the buried religion, when it gets particular to what we call so the textual support for this, which were known as the Maha back, is of the Rig Veda. Now we use the word Maha archaea both and very material and the punch shots later. The word Maha in Sanskrit means great. All right, so you have, you know, Gandhi was called Mahatma Gandhi, the great soul. Mahatma If Maha is used for a lot of things in Buddhism, the Mahayana, the great vehicle. So Maha means great. Vacca means the word for utterance or speech. So this would be like saying, you know, what would be the great utterances of the New Testament? So is someone, one, able to read the entire New Testament? You could say, well, you know, you should start by reading, you know, first Corinthians 13, or you should read Romans eight or, you know, some of the kind of classic texts that kind of bring. John 316 whatever it is. We all have certain things in our minds which we consider to be kind of like the great moments of the New Testament, you know, the Beatitudes or some amount or whatever. In the same way I found that there's certain text in the the Rick Vedas, which are very important to be aware of. Someone actually highlight a couple of these for you in the first have to do with their, their creation myth and it's not say a word about creation in general in terms of the, the Hindu literature. When we think about creation, we think about like a unified story, like in Genesis, for example, where you have God creating the world, all it comes from is created word for word, and you have a story that makes sense theologically and then flows from there.


It's a kind, stoical event of some somewhere, even if it's called the mystery. In the end, it's a system. You do not have that. And one way I try to help students to see this is say Hinduism really operates come the pre genesis one one world because just as one one year starts out in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth is the creative statement. And so because of that, it comes across in a sense of history authority. You know, it makes sense order and in symmetry, the whole thing in the Hindu structure, you actually have or many different kinds of sacred stories regarding creation. You don't have one story, but you have different kinds of stories. So, for example, one of the themes that's really big in the creation stories is what's called a dismemberment theme. So remember, if you know Hinduism, you know, we talked about before, Hinduism conforms to kind of a monastic worldview, which means they believe that all things are divine in some way or all related one to another. And so there's even more we get into the upon shards. So because of that, one of the ways they reinforce that is to say that when the world was created, there was this cosmic figure known as the Peru Shaman, and this proto man dismembered his body for the sake of creating the world. Now, I see that, particularly in the second him look at this a dismemberment theme where God dismembers his own body and his body becomes the world and becomes the people in the world, etc.. Now, to be fair, there's a difference between mon ism. I'm sorry, the difference between pantheism all this God and pantheism. Pantheism means all of there is is God.


Pantheism means all that there is is somehow another in God or connected to God. This is really more in that category. They believe that when God dismembered himself, only one third of himself became the universe and two thirds transcends it. So you do have something of an other than brand. And in Hinduism you don't have this Buddhism, but you do with Hinduism. So I just remember theme is really, really important. The other thing they have is a form of transmutation, an interpretation of the theme where God comes down and in this case is not called Persian man. It's it's called a Prajapati man that give us some different names for this primordial figure is Prajapati. He's called Perugia, man. He's called that what we call in translation. The grandfather there is called each Vara. There's many names for this primordial figure in Hindu literature. But in this particular strand of the creation themes, his Prajapati figure and what he does is he he comes he swells himself up into the size of a two people in complete embrace the size of two human beings. And he separates into a male and a female, and they have intercourse. And of course, children are born. Then he migrates and he transmits to another another figure, you know, like a bear or whatever, and he becomes a male female bear, and then he becomes a moose, he becomes a cow. He then becomes a lion all the way down in the text and says down to the smallest. And, you know, so God goes through this transmutation endlessly to every order of creation. And that's how creation began as a big theme transmutation thing that runs through and that is referred to a lot in later texts that refer back to the dismemberment theme or the transmutation theme.


They also have tragically and incest theme, where a father has this Persian man has a daughter, which we don't know where the daughter comes from. In the text she apart appears and he has a situation with his daughter in the process of this kind of incestuous act which actually names as such in the texts, incestuous that the son of his semen is spilled onto the ground and the seed creates futility in the earth comes from that. So there's that's a theme of it. And in general, there's a theme of of what's a heat theme. Heat and an energy are very much tied in Hindu thought. And so there's things that the Prajapati man of the grandfather does to create heat in that he creates energy. And that's tied into a lot of the sacrificial practices of ancient India, tied into the self-flagellation, which creates heat. A lot of things are connected to heat anyway, so these are some of the background points. So if you look at these two texts I've chosen for you from the Rig Veda. This first one is from the 10th chapter. And this listen to kind of the way it plays with different questions about the origins of the universe. It says there was neither nonexistence nor existence, that there was neither the realm of space nor the sky, which is beyond Western. Where in whose protection? There was other death near immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night or day that the one breathed when less led by its own impulse behind it was nothing that beyond darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. Now goes on this kind of thing. Just questions. Whatever they desire came from that one beginning. That was the first seed of the mind.


You know, those on the inside saying, who really knows who will here proclaim it, whence was it produced? And get this, whence is this creation as Where did it come from? The gods came afterwards with the creation of the universe. They're acknowledging that the gods that are worship in India today, you know, Vishnu, Shiva, Rama, all of these God, Krishna, they came after the Christian universe, their part of the creation, who then knows whence it has arisen, whence this creation has arisen. Perhaps it formed itself. Or perhaps it did not. This goes in the classic Hindu inscription about whether or not a matter is eternal. The one who looks down on it in the highest heaven. Only he knows. Or perhaps he does not know. Okay. Classic in the in tax because it basically says we don't really know the origins of the universe. We don't know. It's a mystery to us. And so if there is a God, even he may not know. Now, the other words I want to say, which is a really important text in the rig Veda, is about the Persian man in the court. In this picture, this is one of the examples of the dismemberment theme where it says all creeds make up a quarter of him three quarters in havoc. And this is the whole division where he is partially divide himself. Yeah, says like this one. I divided Persia into how many parts they dispose, how they're looking at how the this cosmic man is divided. What did his mouth become? What are his two arms? His two thighs. His two feet called. Now get this. His mouth was the Brahmin. His two arms were made, the warrior, etc.. There's two things Our vices. If I was to feed, the shooter was born.


Now, why is this important? This is important because India society today is classified according to for what's called Varna. Varna is the word vivant means colors. And these colors are related to big groups of people that often today called the caste system. You have the Brahmins on top. And this is a developed with that, with the color white and purity. You have shat three, which is the warrior class. This is red. These are people of passion and fighting. You have Vishnu, which is the merchant class, which their color is yellow, the color of the earth and the world view. And Qadri is a servant class. It is connected to black. So you actually have a racial differentiation of people groups. And if you look at the the Rig Veda, there's a lot of basically racial statements against the people that they're displacing who become the the lower caste peoples of India, the darker skinned peoples. So you actually have embedded in the Veda a kind of a racial differentiation of the human race. Now, this is important because it's not simply a class system. It's not like someone who is, you know, from from a lower Varna becomes wealthy and they become very prosperous, which has happened all across India. There have been examples of many, many Dalits and students who've become very wealthy. But if that happens, they might live a nice house. They still cannot enjoy the normal communal fellowship relationship with other people in the high caste, intermarriage and eating together, all of those things because of certain social restrictions. Now, there's all kinds of programs in India today to to change this to, you know, basically affirmative action programs. So you have basically like, for example, if you're a university, you have reserved seats for Dalits.


These are outcast peoples that are in the university. Only if you're a Dalit can you get that seat in the university, be accepted there, or they have seats in Congress like their view there. There they have two houses of Congress. But the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Congress there has reserved seats just for Dalits, etc.. So they have all their own version of affirmative action plan. But the difference is this is really rooted in a creation story about how God made people ontologically made them. It's a much, much bigger hill to climb in terms of how to address that in the Gospels had many, many challenges on this front. But if you look at these two hymns, they are in many ways exemplify the things we've talked about. They talk about how you wrote we don't know for sure where the creation comes from. A lot of emphasis on ritual, fire and heat and all of that. In this Hymn of Man, you realize that creation does not exhaust the nature of the absolute, you know, two thirds, one third. You have this sacrifice theme and you have what's called in and in doctrine or theology, the term cosmic or homology. Abby A term you're familiar with if you're a Christian student of theology, but it's a very important in religious studies. Cosmic cosmology means there is any religious system that has a connection between something on the microcosm with something on the macrocosm. So, for example, you argue from the lesser to the greater. So in Christianity, we actually have examples of this. The best example is the human body in the new test is is used as compared to the church. You know, the body is like the you know, we have hands and feet working in the world and Christ is the head of the church, the body.


And we even refer to the church as the body. So the human body becomes an icon of a greater mystery in Christianity as a form of a cosmic homology. But in some religions it is a huge doctrines. A very important theme in Hinduism is full of it because the little sacrificial fire that you use and sacrifice connects to the primordial fire of the universe. The whole the whole caste system is connected to the human body. You know, the Brahmins came out of God's head. The sutras came from as his arms. The, you know, the the the the came from his calves and the shooter from his feet is actually is putting the human body as a as an example of the larger social structure of Indian society. India is full of that and so something to be familiar with will come back to that from time to time. But this brings us close on this lecture on the Maha values of the Rig Veda.