Hinduism - Lesson 5

Key Themes in the Upanishadic Vision (Part 1)

This lesson examines Hindu sacred texts, focusing on the Vedas and Upanishads. The Vedas are the earliest texts, with the Upanishads being foundational commentaries. Key philosophers like Shankara and Ramanuja extensively comment on these texts. The lesson explores Brahman in two forms: Nirguna Brahman (without attributes) and Saguna Brahman (with attributes). Nirguna Brahman is ultimate reality without qualities, while Saguna Brahman includes attributes, though considered illusory in ultimate terms. The Upanishads describe Brahman as "sat-chit-ananda" (being, consciousness, bliss).

Lesson 5
Watching Now
Key Themes in the Upanishadic Vision (Part 1)

I. Key Themes in the Upanishads

A. Introduction

B. Ten Key Themes

1. Brahman

a. nirguna Brahman – Brahman without qualities

b. saguna Brahman – Brahman with qualities (Isvara)

[Continued in Lecture 6]

  • 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.

  • Learn about early Vedic religion, the Aryans' and Dravidians' historical context, the Rig Veda's composition and significance, the concept of mandalas and cosmic homology, the importance of sacred sounds, the structure of Vedic literature, and the Upanishads' role in Hindu philosophy.
  • Learn how Vedic religion precedes Hinduism and influences its development, focusing on the Rig Veda's revelation of a historical racial conflict forming the basis of the Varna system, categorizing society by color, with karma and reincarnation perpetuating social status across lifetimes.
  • Learn about the Rig Veda's "Maha Vacca" and Hindu creation myths, focusing on Purusha's dismemberment, transmutation, the caste system's origins, and cosmic homology's societal impact.
  • This lesson offers insights into the structure of Hindu sacred texts, particularly the Vedas and Upanishads, and explores the concepts of Nirguna Brahman (without attributes) and Saguna Brahman (with attributes), emphasizing their philosophical and theological significance in Hinduism.
  • Learn about Hinduism's essential concepts such as Brahman, Atman, Tat Tvam Asi, and samsara, understanding their philosophical significance and how they interconnect within Hindu teachings and Advaita Vedanta.
  • You gain insight into Brahmanical Hinduism, learning about the importance of realizing Brahman, escaping samsara through strict adherence to Dharma, the concept of Maya as illusion, and the sociopolitical power of Brahmans.
  • Explore the foundational concepts of Indian worldviews, understanding the distinctions between ultimate reality, daily experiences, and perceptual errors, along with the principles of karma and the goal of moksha, comparing these with Western perspectives on reality and science.
  • Explore key Upanishad concepts, understanding how metaphors convey the unity of Brahman and Atman, how diversity stems from oneness, and the Hindu perspective on creation, providing insights into Hindu and Christian cosmological differences.
  • Understand the Upanishadic vision, exploring the divine nature of the soul, the three branches of Hinduism, the role of karma, sacrifice, and the inner controller, and understand how these concepts shape Hindu theology and practice, influencing interactions with other faiths.
  • 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.

  • Learn the parallels and distinctions between Hinduism and Buddhism, emphasizing their structures and ethical bases. Bhakti Marga offers a devotional path, simplifying Hindu worship by focusing on a single deity, like Krishna, and reflecting a universal longing to know God.
  • Learn the parallels and distinctions between Hinduism and Buddhism, emphasizing their structures and ethical bases. Bhakti Marga offers a devotional path, simplifying Hindu worship by focusing on a single deity, like Krishna, and reflecting a universal longing to know God.
  • Explore Hindu deities and their iconography, learning to identify major gods like Vishnu and Shiva through their symbols, understanding their avatars such as Rama and Krishna, and appreciating the cultural impact of these figures within Indian society.
  • Identify Hindu deities by their iconography, focusing on Shiva’s trident, cobra, drum, third eye, Ganges River, and dreadlocks, understanding his meditative, dancing (Nataraja), and lingam forms, and appreciating how these features convey divine attributes to non-literate devotees.
  • Explore the Bhakti movement's shift to personal devotion, the practice of Puja, reinterpretation of classical texts, integration of knowledge, works, and devotion, and the modern influence of devotional literature in contemporary Hinduism.
  • Hear about the cultural and historical significance of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the epic tales of heroism and devotion involving characters like Rama, Sita, and Hanuman, and the philosophical depth of the Bhagavad Gita, focusing on duty and spirituality through Krishna and Arjuna's dialogues.
  • Understand the synthesis of Hindu religious practices, influenced by figures like Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, who promoted religious unity and acknowledged multiple paths to enlightenment, including those from other religions.
  • Explore India's major Hindu festivals, their diverse regional practices, and their cultural significance, including Hottie, Holi, Nog festival, Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, and Diwali, providing a rich understanding of these vibrant celebrations.
  • Gain insights into Shankara's interpretation of monism, the nature of Brahman, the illusory nature of the world, and the critical responses from Ramanujan, offering an understanding of fundamental debates in Hindu philosophy.
  • You gain insight into Ramanuja's philosophy that Brahman interacts with the material world while remaining unaffected by karmic impurities, emphasizing a real, dependent relationship between souls and Brahman, and promoting a devotional approach to worship.
  • Explore the debate on Brahman's freedom from karma, Shankara's emphasis on God's absolute freedom, the significance of mantras, the Brahmo Samaj movement's integration of Hinduism with Western thought, and Brajendra Nath Seal's Christian conversion and integration of Vedic and Christian thought.
  • Explore the sacred thread tradition, the sensory experience of sandal incense, the application of vermillion powder, and the responses of Indian theologians to Hinduism, learning about different engagement strategies, the importance of journals, progressive revelation, the bhakti tradition, and Christian engagement models in India.
  • Gain insights into the influence of Western Christianity on Indian churches, the cultural disconnects it causes, and the need for an indigenous theological approach that resonates with Indian cultural and social contexts.
  • 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. 


Recommended Reading:

Hinduism, the Basics, Herbert Ellinger 

The Sacred Thread, John Brockington 

The World of Gurus, Vishal Mangalwadi, 1977

The World of Gurus

Catholic Belief - 15th edition

Indian Christian Theology, Robin Boyd

Finding Jesus in Dharma, Chaturvedi Badrinath


Dr. Timothy Tennent
Key Themes in the Upanishadic Vision (Part 1)
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.