Hinduism - Lesson 12

Three Vehicle Structure of Modern Hinduism

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.

Lesson 12
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Three Vehicle Structure of Modern Hinduism

I. Two Major Branches

II. Three "Margas"

A. The way of knowledge

B. Way of action/works

C. Way of devotion

  • 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



Three Vehicle Structure of Modern Hinduism

Lesson Transcript


Gradients at this point. We want to introduce to you Buddhism, because even in the context of Hinduism, it's really important to understand how Buddhism arose within the context of Hinduism. Hinduism, as we've seen throughout this study, is a religion dominated by a very small percent of Hindus known as the Brahmins. So over the years there have been several what's called antara medical dissent movements who challenge really the nature of Hinduism and whether or not enlightenment can be more broadened out to other groups. There have been three major challenge to Hinduism that are successfully emerged as separatist movements in India. One is Buddhism. The other is Jainism. And the third is trachea, which is what we would call materialism. So these three movements have been nicknamed successful descent movements or many, many others over the years have tried. But India or Hinduism in general has a kind of about the way it approaches attacks or challenges is not to deny them, but to absorb them. So Hinduism is very, very adept at taking whatever challenge its before them rather than saying, No, no, no, you're wrong saying yes, of course you're right and come on into the family and it gets absorbed within the great ocean of Hinduism. So it's very, very difficult actually, to create a specific movement that could actually not be absorbed by Hinduism, because Hindus are very absorbing, all absorbing religion. So we're going to you'll see eventually why this, in fact, was successful in Buddhism. But Buddhism would be defined here as a religious and intellectual movement. You could say a descent movement founded by a man named Siddartha Gautama in the sixth century B.C. and he taught that there was a dharma. Now, in the case of Buddhism, this means a teaching that would lead to liberation from all suffering.


So what we have is a descent movement which provides a specific pathway which leads to liberation from suffering. So this is a really important movement. If you look at the statistics on Buddhism, it roughly runs between six and 7% of world population. And there's a slide there we've provided which will demonstrate and show you and compare the percentages. But Buddhism essentially has hovered back and forth between close to 6% to 7%, down to low 6%, roughly over the last 125 years. So it's just above the threshold of a 5% is the threshold to be a war religion. So it's above that threshold, but it's not dramatically above that threshold. So in the water religions, this is a a small religion compared to Christianity, you know, 35% of the world. And so that gives you some some perspective according to Buddhism. This particular leader said I think God was a person who is born in luxury and opulence. And again, 600 B.C. And he was a shot. Three, which is that second level second Varna within the Hindu caste system below the Brahmans, Qadri, a vicious shooter, is that second category of of Sharia. And this means that he was a warrior. And so he was a part of a princely group and he was a person of great wealth. Now, according to their belief, Siddartha Gautama had grown up completely isolated from any kind of, you know, experience of suffering or disease or anything like that. He had been kept sealed off from all of that and the opulence of his surroundings and said, I thank God my goes on this famous chariot ride where he leaves his palace and goes out and travels around the countryside and comes back. This is one of the most, greatest, most famous like circuit rides I saw on horseback in the history of the world.


We on this particular ride, according to their legend, Sultan Gama. I see somebody he has a very a sight. So he sees somebody that's really wrinkled up and he says, you know, what is what's happened to this person, you know? And they said, Well, this is called old age. He'd never seen an old person before. What's affecting them so well, this is actually, you know, going to happen. Everybody everyone goes to the stage. If you live long enough you to be like that, you'll be recalled, etc., is a shocked you know, he see somebody who who, you know, is sick and he's like, what what what what happened to there? And he said, well, this is called sickness. People, you know, are have ailments, etc.. He had never seen my sick. Eventually shockingly is third sight is he see somebody who is dead and he inquires about I said yes, this is the way that everyone will go. You too will someday die like this. Of course, this court obviously very, you know, kind of a metaphorical kind of story in some ways. But the idea was showing you that he is exposed to these actually four sites that of, of old age sickness, death. And eventually he sees these Brahmans that are completely living in peace in their son and meditating his or who are they? Well, these are these are Brahmins and meditated and they found peace. So he go back to his palace and he does what is known in Buddhism as the first great renunciation. He leaves behind all of his clothing, his jewelry, all of this, his his wife, everything he leaves behind. And he goes, put some clothes was bigger and he goes out. He's in his 20 still.


And he goes out and he goes out, too, to find the source of enlightenment and to understand all that's happened, you know, in this in this discourse as he went out. So after he encounters all of this, he goes out and he begins to study under those Brahmins that he'd seen that were meditating. And he spends five years studying all of the techniques of Hindu meditation and all of that. And after five years of that, he believes that he had not achieved any kind of liberation at all. And he was very, very concerned. And he back he was he had gone through so much extreme asceticism and self-denial that they say you could count his ribs and he was living on. Again, these are idealized stories, but he's living on like one grain of rice per day. That was his diet. Okay. So you can imagine kind of the way they want to portray him as, you know, if you want to know the ascetic life he lived it, he he got that. But he had no peace. So here he built this this great opulent life in his earlier life in his twenties. He had left that that was his first great renunciation. He goes all the way to the other extreme, comes emaciated, lives in the woods. This is on the border of of that of India, Indian, Nepal. He eventually realizes that they do not have the long term answer for release from suffering. And he comes to, as called his second great renunciation, where he leaves that and he comes so what is called the middle way. Now, this is the defining kind of way Buddhism likes to understand self as as the middle way between, you know, this and that.


Buddhism uses this for all philosophical arguments is like, okay, that some schools say that, some say this, we say this the middle way is kind of a defining way of looking at Buddhism in many, many areas. But the point is, he goes into this enlightenment period where he meant it under a body tree. And during the meditation he has what Buddhists believe to be an amazing enlightenment. He begins to go up. They have a method in Buddhism, he learned by the Hindus called Jaana. It means, it means meditation. It's the same word in Japan, the word Zen, you know, Zen Buddhism is meditative Buddhism. This is the word in in India and poly in Sanskrit for meditation. Piana And Chin in China is Chon Buddhism. So he gets his method of state and he goes through these stages where he gets detached from all of his senses. He gets detached from all of that. So he's losing touch with the world around him. His mind gets into this what's called a single focus point. Where is all of the energy? Mental energies are focused on one point and then his body becomes experience and stage three, all this bliss and detachment. And then stage four, he's free from all dichotomies, from any kind of dualism, pain or pleasure, elation, depression. And at that point, they believe he goes into this pretty dramatic expansion of what they call six super analogies. Cyber analogies and Buddhism are known that the term is Abbey. It means it means like massive knowledge, abundance of knowledge, super analogies. And basically he has six of these. The first five they call mundane, meaning things that can happen in this life. You have a divine ear, I'm sorry, divine eye, where you began to see all of the ways that birth and rebirth happen because of karma.


So you kind of the key to the karmic challenges. You had the divine ear, where you can hear things from a way far away off the animals can hear even from heaven. You have the knowledge of other minds, so you're able to read people's minds with their thoughts. Fourthly, you have the knowledge of all of your previous incarnation. So if you have lived a thousand lives, you now know about all your past lives. And then the fifth one is you have all kinds of supernatural powers. You can become invisible. You can pass through solid objects. You can walk on water. You can fly through the air, you can ascend into heaven, which, by the way, when they see Jesus walk in the water, seeming to disappear into thin air, you go into the solid object after the resurrection saying to heaven, all these things are from the Buddhist point of view, as signs that Jesus was a bodhisattva and late being He had experience these six super analogies. But then the sixth one is what they call super mundane. This is where you have knowledge about the way desire can be extinguished, and we'll get back to that in a moment. Anyway, so he goes through this from their point of view, this amazing enlightenment period. And when he comes out of this state from them, that's all onward. He is no longer known as Siddartha Gods, but as the Buddha. And the Buddha means the enlightened one. Know from that point on, for over 40 years, he travels around northeast India, spreading his message, starting a monastery in what is today, a Varanasi north India very important pilgrimage spot for Hindus and Buddhists. And so that becomes a huge part of the Buddhist understanding of what happened.


Just another forgotten and a later on they'll have great debates about whether there was only one Buddha in the history of the world that had this enlightenment, or whether he's one of many. That all comes later. But at this point he is known as the topic. Got to the one and single Buddha, the one that received this enlightenment. Now, at that point, when he settles down and starts to get in disciples, he is really starting a new movement. And this is known in Buddhism as turning the wheel of Dharma. Now, in Hinduism, the word Dharma is used to mean how we would use the word religion. You know, someone says, What Dharma are you saying? What religion are you? But in the in the Buddhist world, the world Dharma is used a little more precisely to mean a teaching. So a certain any kind of teaching is called a dharma is the kind of way that you teach. And the the method and the content of your teaching is a particular dharma. So if you notice stuck on the Indian flag, the center part of the flag is this wheel. This is a very important symbol in Buddhist is man Hinduism actually of different reasons, but in Buddhism is call. It's known as the wheel of Dharma, the wheel of teaching. And what they believe, as is that the Buddha, when he teaches a cycle of teaching that is turning the wheel of dharma. And so each of the three vehicles of Buddhism represent three different turnings of the wheel of Buddhist dharma. So in the first turning, which will focus on just in the close of this lecture, is the what happens when he turns the wheel of Dharma. One time we have two sermons of the Buddha.


The first sermon is what's known as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Now, in that particular teaching, the idea behind that is that Buddha teaches that there are four kind of laws that govern the the wheel of suffering Willis samsara. So Hinduism and Buddhism believe that life is suffering. They didn't know how to get out of it. And he said the Hindu priest could understand it and get some resolution for it. In their hearts. They could not escape from it. So when he had the vision of the Wheel of Samsara, and when he taught this Dharma in his teaching, he taught there were these four noble truths, like an inexhaustible law which would help you to be enlightened. And these are the four laws. Number one, realize that all of life is suffering. So you you head on approach the problem. They call it Tuka. It means suffering. All of life is suffering to the source of suffering is desire. Remember I told you that when he had a supernatural urges, the sixth one was realizing that desire was the problem. In the Buddhist world, they believe that all of life has these 12 causal links and we'll look at this later. But essentially what they found, what Buddha found was that ten of these links were encrusted with your own bodily form and your experiences, your mental thoughts, your your, your feelings, your perceptions. These are known as the five aggregates. Only two of these were un encrusted by that, and therefore they were like the weak links in the chain that you could break. One is ignorance, which is why that he's teaching is despite ignorance, the other is desire. So the belief was that if you could stop desire, you can be liberated.


So the first law and the first truth is all of this suffering. Second is suffering is caused by desire. And third, if you end desire, you will end suffering. So this is the real focal point of Buddhism, is to find a way to extinguish the desires in you. And the fourth is there is a path which leads to the cessation of suffering. That path is known as the eightfold path. And this essentially was a prescription that everyone who was liberated would enter into monastic life, and they would follow this pathway, this eightfold path over many lifetimes in order to finally get to the end of that. And then you'd be liberated and go into Moksha or Nirvana. Now, Buddha was once asked one time, What is Nirvana? And he said, Well, Nirvana is like someone who has an oil lamp. And you of course, oil lamp is burning because of oil. So the flame represents, you know, your life and the desires of your life. And so exactly is actually the flame, as is your life. The oil is the desires. So you quit putting oil into it. You just quit putting oil in your lap. So, again, your cessation of desire. So eventually the oil finally runs out, burns out, and eventually the wick starts drying up and eventually the flame gets smaller and smaller and smaller as your, quote, extinguishing desires. And of course, it takes many lifetimes to do. But at some point, he says, the plan gets so small and at the right now it poof, it goes out. And right at the moment that that that oil lamp burns out, there's a tiny little wisp of smoke that crawls off the edge of that wick. Then it goes in the nothingness.


He said that little crow smoke. That's nirvana. You have that nirvana and you go into nothingness. Or emptiness is called Sunita. This, of course, is why you see occasional internet jokes about the Dalai Lama or any famous Buddhist where they have a birthday party or whatever, and he's given a present. And one of the in one of the classic versions of this, the Dalai Lama opens the box up with a present. And inside there's nothing. He looks, he says, Oh, nothing. What I always wanted, because this is the goal of the April path, is to go into nothingness or emptiness shouldn't matter. That course gets a lot of commentary, what to look at later. But this is essentially the for the first part of the sermon. The first sermon is the formal truths and then the the eightfold path, which leads to the cessation of all suffering.