Hinduism - Lesson 4

Mahavakyas of the RgVeda

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.

Lesson 4
Watching Now
Mahavakyas of the RgVeda

I. Creation hymn

A. Dismemberment theme

B. Transmutation theme

C. Incest theme

D. Heat theme

II. Hymn of man

  • 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



Mahavakyas of the RgVeda

Lesson Transcript


On this point, we are going to examine and learn a little more about the opponents sides. We talked earlier about the structure of Hindu sacred text. And we remember we saw there were four basic strands to the Hindu. Texts are all connected one to another. There's the earliest strand known as the four Vedas, which are collectively called the sun heaters, and then they have various appendices onto that, the last of which in the part four are the upon us shards now holding here in my hand a copy of the Vedas. This is the early, very material, this is 1020 hymns and today it's the parts on the on Amazon.com like you would any other kind of book. And that's, which is a wonderful. But it was not done that way in the ancient world. This was an oral tradition and these particular texts were connected to other texts. And part of the reason for this goes back to very early on in the lecture we talked about what was the meaning of the word Hindu and Hinduism. And all we discovered was one of the reasons one of the main driving definitions was that you believed in the authority of the Vedas. So what happened was if you were going to teach something new in India, you couldn't simply just start teaching and say, I had this insight, you had to connect it to the basic materials. So basically these new materials, new teaching, are connected to these materials as an appendices. And the last section of this are is known as the upon a science. Now, what I'm holding here, again, if you go to Amazon.com and you order a book like this, this would be a typical what you would find on the on typical bookstore.


This called The Principle of Passions. And I say, what about that? The reason says The principle upon a shard is because there is no agreement exactly on what is and what is not. The upon a shots. There's well over a hundred text that legitimately can compete and say that they deserve to be called the upon sides. So what happens is this is actually only 18 of them here. And what happened over time was they realized that there were many, many attacks or the taps themselves to the Vedas and the other other strands of the sacred text they were particularly interested in, in how they could, you know, verify that over time. And they probably decided that the best way to determine the upon a shot they had the highest authority was to go to those text which were regularly commented on by the great Hindu philosophers and teachers throughout Indian history, particularly writers like Shankara and Ramanujan. These are their version of, you know, Plato and Aristotle. These are major figures in Hindu philosophy. So typically what you find is they really tend to focus on particular Upanishads in their writings. The most important example in in the modern day Hindu philosophy, I say modern day. This goes back, you know, to the 11th century, to the present, is that they would create commentaries on the upon asides that are known as the Brahma suit, their biases. These are commentaries on a Brahma suture, which is a famous text about to punish gods. So these philosophers would focus them themselves on certain texts and they punished sides. And these are now collected together into this into this form today. So I think it's pretty widely held that these 18 upon shards in this collection would be now a kind of the standard collection that can be called appropriately the upon the shards, though you realize not everyone would agree with that.


But this is this kind of standard corpus. Now, the problem with it is a lot of material to read. And so what I've done is we have done this. We're divided into two ways. One is we begin by looking at ten of the key themes in the of shots and what are the kind of major themes and the pot shots. And second, that we do like we do with Rick Vader, we look at the moral values as the great utterances and we have chosen a small handful of two or three pages to look at of some of the key texts and passages which are quoted endlessly by the Hindu writers and thinkers. And once you get into these writers and Hindu thinkers, then you'll see them quoting the same text over and over again. I've had a lot of experience with this. Yes. Eventually I realized if you knew, you know, 15 or 20 of these texts, you would be pretty well conversant with some of the key texts, The Punisher. So we'll get that later. First, we'll look at the the key themes and the first of the key themes of the Punisher like vision and what we call this the Punisher vision. What is the big vision of the Punisher? Odds is the word Brahman. Now when you hear the word Tommen, be very careful because the word this, this b h r prefix is very important in Hinduism. So you to be clear of what you're actually seeing, if you see the word Brahma with a a line over the last day, an emphasis along a Brahma that refers as one of the terms for the creator God that we mentioned in the creation myths. So Brahma is Bara, you know, Prajapati, Perugia, these are names for that creator of God, that primordial God.


This is not the term we're talking about. We also have used the word Brahmin, referring to the high caste Indians. Pramod is the highest caste of any. This is not that. This is the word Brahman, which is a word B, B.R. H in A and in. This refers to this all pervading reality and the upon asides. So this is a very, very important term. In some ways you could argue that the whole openness sides is trying to answer the question who are what is Brahman? Right. So that's really kind of like the we don't know is common. God is not God. Is Brahman personal or is he or is it impersonal? Those are questions which the Punjab never fully resolves. Hinduism does not resolve questions like whether God is personal or impersonal, one or many. It leaves them open again. Hinduism never gets to Genesis one one. It works in the pre one one period in terms of its thinking philosophically. Brahman is one of the important concepts in the Upanishads. Now what eventually develops in Hinduism are different schools of Hindu philosophy. In this particular brief course, we're only going to be looking at really in dominance, one of the schools most dominant one that the school of Vedanta or Advaita Hinduism. Now, pedantic Hinduism is very, very important because this is kind of what is got popular in the Western world if you open a typical textbook in the West. What is Hinduism? They're going to basically count for you a certain school of Hinduism called Vedanta or a Vedic Hinduism. So that's important for this theme because the the early Vedanta philosophers noted something about the word Brahmin in the Upanishads. They noticed that this word was used with two descriptive terms connected to it.


One is the term near goona Brahman. The other is a term sa goona Brahman. This practice apart a little bit. Both have the word goona on it. The word goona means attributes, attributes. Mere means without so near goona means without attributes. So Brahman we can like God without attributes or ultimate reality without attributes. SA goona means or SA means with weird attributes. So what you actually have is Brahman referred to in two ways. Brahman with attributes, Brahman without attributes. And one of the classic resolutions of this problem and the punished sides is for the philosophers to say that when you speak to a God at the highest level, like as he really is, or as it really is, then you must use the term near goona Brahman as to say God without attributes. So if you say, for example, God is a Savior or God, God is loving, God is a judge or God is compassion immersive or anything else you want to say about God in terms of either incommunicado or communicable attributes of God? The response from the point of shahid's is neti neti, which means not this, not this. You can't say anything about God and he positive reference. You can only say He lives in this ineffable mystery of near goona Brahman God without qualities. The only exception that the openness sides is and this becomes very very important for later Christian work is the very last upon a shod. Let's call the parish Sikh. Upon aside the literally the last verse of the past gods, they've struggled that the entire upon a shod saying of God has a definition. God can't be known, God can't be whatever. They get the very end. And basically they say, well, can anything be said about Brahman? Can you is there anything that can be said positively about Rohan without having nothing that you put in your face? Not this, not this, and this is how it ends.


Meditate on Brahman, the self who is. And then it gives you three things for the lap. For the first time in the last verse of the Punjab, it's been consciousness and bliss in the Sanskrit. This is sat chit and Ananda being consciousness and bliss. And this becomes very, very important for later, later Christian work in India, which will look at later. But that is really this deep as it goes to get an inner good of Brahman is that all can ever say is he's being he's consciousness and he's blessed. That is it. Whereas the second level is Sargon of common. That is God with qualities. And here you have all the things that you would say about God. They might say just as well being the creator or being the, you know, compassion or the great judge or loving father or whatever, anything like that that puts qualities or adjectival descriptions to God would be called So Guna Brahman. Now, the challenge for this is that after all was said and done, the philosophers declare that everything that's said on the signal level is illusory. It's part of what cannot be known, and therefore it's illusory. It's something. But in human phenomenology, how humans talk about God. But it doesn't have any correlation to reality. So which is why if someone says, you know, Jesus Christ came to Earth that upon the cross for your sins, he He loves you with the love of the father, all those things, they might shake their heads and say yes, because but there's been wrong again. Their mind categorizes so good that you can say all kind of things like that was a guna, but it doesn't actually have any ultimate meaning and in fact it is illusory.


This becomes really a huge challenge in later Indian Christian work in India, because the Christians work very, very hard to try to, you know, proclaim the gospel would get pushed into this lower category and it was all rendered futile. And some Indian Christians began to try to penetrate that upper level and relate, you know, such it under being conscious, blessed to the triune God. So that's more than we should know at this point. But the main thing is to recognize this term, Brahman is a term for ultimate reality, and it can either be understood as having qualities or no qualities. And if it's without qualities, is that highest level of the lower qualities, it's Bara. It's one of these other primordial terms for God, but ultimately is declared illusory.