Landmarks of Hinduism
I. The Vedic Age
To understand the significance of the development of Hinduism, it is necessary to go back to the Veda, which can be regarded as the luminous seed of the huge banyan tree of what in course of time came to be known as Hinduism. (It may be noted that the ancient Indian Religion that was developed from the Veda was known as Sanatana Dharma or Arya Dharma. The word Hinduism came to be used at a later stage when foreigners referred to the religion practised by the people of India.)
In the eyes of the Rishis, who composed the Veda, the physical and the psychical worlds were a manifestation and twofold and diverse and yet connected and similar figures of cosmic godheads. The inner and outer life of man was a divine commerce with the gods, and behind it was the one Spirit or Being of which the gods were various names and personalities and powers, ekam sad viprā bahudhā vadanti.¹These godheads were not only masters of the physical Nature but were at the same time inward divine powers. Simultaneously, they were states and energies born in our psychic being. Godheads, devas, are declared to be the guardians of truth and immortality, the children of the Infinite, and each one of them to be in his origin and
¹ RV 1.164.46
his last reality the supreme Spirit putting in front one of his aspects.
In the Vedic vision, life of man was a thing of mixed truth and falsehood, a movement from mortality to immortality, from mixed light and darkness to the splendour of a divine Truth whose home is above in the Infinite but which can be built up here in man's soul and life.
This building up the home of Truth here implies a getting of treasures, of the wealth, the booty given by the gods to the human warrior, and a journey and a sacrifice. The Vedic poets spoke of these things in a fixed system of images taken from Nature and from the surrounding life of the warlike, pastoral and agricultural Aryan peoples. And these images centred around the cult of Fire and the worship of the powers of living Nature and the institution of sacrifice. The Vedic poets used for their expression also a glowing web of myth and parable which expressed to the initiates a certain order of psychic experience and inner realities.
II. Inner Meaning of the Veda
Yaska has spoken of several schools of interpretation of the Vedas. He has declared that there is a triple knowledge and therefore a triple meaning of the Vedic hymns, a sacrificial or ritualistic knowledge, a know- ledge of the gods, and finally a spiritual knowledge. He has also said that the last one is the true sense and when one gets it the others drop or are cut away. According to him, 'the Rishis saw the Truth, the true law of things, directly by an inner vision'. He also said that 'the true sense of the Vedas can be recovered directly by meditation and tapasya’. We also find that the Vedic Rishis themselves believed that their hymns contain a
secret knowledge and that the words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the hymns withhold their knowledge. For example, in Rigveda (RV) TV. 3.16, the Rishi describes himself as one illumined expressing through his thought and speech words of guidance, 'secret words' - ninya vacamsi — seer wisdoms that utter their inner meaning to the seer' - kavyani kavaye nivacana.²
It is, however, true that there was an external aspect of the Vedic religion and this aspect took its foundation on the mind of the physical man and provided means, symbols, rites, figures which were drawn from the most external things, such as heaven and earth, sun and moon and stars, dawn and day and night and rain, and wind and storm, oceans and rivers and forests, and other circumstances of the vast and mysterious surrounding life. But even on the external, the Vedic religion spoke of the highest Truth, Right, Law of which the gods were the guardians, of the necessity of a true knowledge and larger inner living according to this Truth and Right, as also of the home of immortality to which the soul of man could ascend by the power of truth and right being. In addition, the Vedic religion provided sufficient ground to draw even the common people in their ethical nature and to turn them towards some initial developments of their psychic being, and to conceive the idea of a knowledge and truth other than that of the physical life and to admit even a first conception of some greater spiritual Reality.
But the deeper and esoteric meaning of the Veda was reserved for the initiates, for those who were ready to
² See also Rigveda 1.164; Ibid, 1.164.46; Ibid, X.71.
understand and practise the inner sense. It was the inner meaning, and the highest psychic and spiritual truth concealed by the outer sense, that gave the Vedic hymns the name by which they are still known, the Veda, the Book of Knowledge. Only in the light of this esoteric sense can we understand the full flowering of the Vedic religion in the Upanishads and in the long later developments of Indian spiritual seeking and experience.
The inner Vedic religion attributes psychic significance to the godheads in the cosmos. It conceives of a hierarchical order of the worlds, and an ascending stair of planes of being in the universe, bhur, bhuvah, and swar. Truth and Right (satyam and ritam), which have their home in the highest world of swar, sustain , and govern all the levels of Nature. They are one in the essence but they take different forms in different levels of existence. For instance, there is in the Veda a series of outer physical light, another series of higher and inner light which is a vehicle of the mental, vital and psychic consciousness. Besides these, there is the highest inmost light of spiritual illumination. Surya, the Sun-god, was the lord of the physical Sun, but he is at the same time giver of the rays of Knowledge which illumines the mind. At the same time, he is also the soul of energy and the body of spiritual illumination.
All Vedic godheads have an outer as also as inner and inmost foundation, their known as well as secret , Names. All of them are different powers of the one highest reality, ekam sat, tat satyam, tad ekam. Each of these gods is in himself a complete and separate cosmic personality of the one Existence. In their combination of the powers, they form the complete universal power, the cosmic whole. Each again, apart from his special function, is one godhead with others. Each holds in
himself the universal divinity, each god is all the other gods. This complex aspect of the Vedic teaching and worship has been given by European scholars the title 'henotheism'. Beyond, there is, according to the Vedas, triple Infinite, and in this Infinite, the godheads put on their highest nature and are Names of the one nameless Ineffable.
This teaching was applied to the inner life of man, and the application may be regarded as its greatest power. Consciousness of the godheads can be built, according to the Vedic teaching, within man, and affirmation of these powers leads to the conversion of human nature into universality of divine nature. Gods are the guardians and increasers of the Truth, the powers of the Immortal, the sons of the Infinite Mother, Aditi. Man arrives at immortality by calling the gods into himself by means of a connecting sacrifice, by surrender. This leads to the breaking of the limitations not only of his physical self but also of his mental and ordinary psychic nature.
The Veda describes various experiences which indicate a profound psychological and psychic discipline leading to the highest spiritual realisation of divine status. This discipline contains the nucleus of the later Indian Yoga, the fundamental idea of which was that of the journey from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. The Vedic Rishis speak of this as ritasya panthah, the path of the Truth. In one of the vivid descriptions of the spiritual realisation, Vamadeva records, "Vanished the darkness, shaken in its foundation; heaven shone out; upward rose the light of the divine Dawn; the sun entered the vast fields be- holding the straight things and the crooked in mortals. Thereafter indeed they awoke and saw utterly; then indeed they held in them a bliss that is enjoyed in
heaven, ratnam dharayanta dyubhaktam. Let all the gods be in all our humans, let there be the truth of our thought, O Mitra, O Varuna."³
This is similar to another experience described by Parashara Shaktya, who declares, "Our fathers broke open the firm and strong places by their words, yea, the Angirasas broke open the hill by their cry; they made in us the path to the great heaven; they found the Day and Swar and vision and the Luminous Cows", chakrur divo brhato gatum asme, ahah svar vividuh ketum usrah.4 He declares again, "They who entered into all things that bear right fruit formed a path towards the immortality; earth stood wide for them by the greatness and by the great Ones, the Mother Aditi, with her sons, came for the upholding."5
These and other statements give us the clue to what the Vedic Rishis meant by immortality. When the physical being is visited by the greatness of the infinite planes above and by the power of the great godheads, who reign on those planes, breaks its limits, opens out to the Light and is upheld in its new wideness by the infinite Consciousness, Mother Aditi and her sons, the divine powers of the supreme Deva - then one realises immortality.
Again, Veda makes a distinction between the state of Knowledge and the state of Ignorance (cittim acittim cinavad vi vidvan), and discovers the means by which ignorance can be overcome. Upholding the thought of the truth in all the principles of our being, the diffusion
³. RV. IV. 1.17
4. RV.I. 71.2
of Truth in all parts of our being, and the birth of activity of all the godheads - this is the quintessence of the means of attaining Knowledge, which results in immortality.6
We find the most characteristic ideas of Indian spirituality in their seed in the Veda though not in their full expression. There is, first, the idea of the one Existence, supra-cosmic, beyond the individual and the universe. There is also the idea of one God who presents to us various forms, names, powers, personalities of his godhead. There is, thirdly, the distinction between the Knowledge and the Ignorance, the greater truth of an immortal life opposed to the much falsehood and mortal existence. Fourthly, there is the idea of the discipline of an inward growth of man from the physical through the psychic to the spiritual existence. Finally, there is the idea and experience of the conquest of death, the secret of immortality. Throughout its long and uninterrupted history of the Vedic tradition, these ideas have remained constant up to the present day.
III. Vedic Age and Upanishads: Formation of the Spiritual Soul of India
The Vedic beginning was a high beginning, and it was secured in its results by a larger sublime efflorescence. This is what we find in the Upanishads, which have always been recognised in India as the crown and end of the Veda, Vedanta. While the Brahmanas concentrated on Vedic rituals, the Upanishads renewed the Vedic truth by extricating it from its cryptic symbols and casting it into the highest
6 See also RV. 1:68.1-3.
and the most direct and powerful language of intuition and experience. Indeed, this language was not the thing of the intellect, but still the intellect could take hold of its form, translate into its own more abstract terms and convert into the starting-point for an ever-widening and deepening philosophic speculation and the reason's long search after the Truth.
The Upanishads are records of deepest spiritual experience and documents of revelatory and intuitive philosophy of an inexhaustible light, power and largeness. Whether written in verse or cadenced prose, they are spiritual poems of unfailing inspiration, inevitable in phrase and wonderful in rhythm and expression. They are epic hymns of self-knowledge, and world-knowledge and God-knowledge. The imagery of the Upanishads is in large part developed from the type of imagery of the Veda. Ordinarily it prefers unveiled clarity of the directly illuminative image, but it frequently uses the same symbols in a way that is closely akin to the spirit of the older symbolism. The Upanishads are not any departure from the Vedic mind but a continuation and development and to a certain extent an enlarging transformation. They bring out into open expression what was held covered in the symbolic language of the Veda as a mystery and a secret. Ajataśatru's explanation of sleep and dream, passages of the Praśna Upanishad on the vital being and its motion are some of the examples of Upanishadic symbolism.
Along with the Veda, Upanishads rank as Śruti, since they embody revelations and intuitions of spiritual experience. The Upanishads have been acknowledged as the source of numerous profound philosophies and religions that flowed from them in India. They fertilised the mind and life of the people and kept India's soul
alive through the centuries. Like a fountain of inexhaustible life-giving water, they have never failed to give fresh illumination. It is even being said that Buddhism was only a restatement of one side of the Upanishadic experience, although it represented a new standpoint and provided fresh terms of intellectual definition and reasoning. Even in the thought of Pythagoras and Plato, one could rediscover the ideas of the Upanishads. Sufism has been found repeating the teaching of the Upanishads in another religious language. Even some of the modern thinkers of the East and the West seem to be absorbing the ideas of the Upanishads with living and intense receptiveness. And it may not be an exaggeration to say that there is hardly any main philosophical idea which cannot find an. authority or seed or indication in those ancient and antique writings. It has also been claimed that the larger generalisations of Science are constantly found to apply to the truth of the physical Nature those formulas which were discovered by the Upanishadic sages in their original, and largest meaning in the deeper truth of the Spirit.
The Upanishads are Vedanta, a book of knowledge, but knowledge understood not as a mere thinking but as a seeing with the soul and total living in it with the power of inner being, a spiritual seizing by a kind of identification with the object of knowledge. Through this process of knowledge by identity or intuition the seers of Upanishads came easily to see that the self in us is one with the universal self of all things and that this self again is the same as God and Brahman, the transcendent Being or Existence, and they beheld, felt, lived in the inmost truth of all things in the universe as well as the inmost truth of man's inner and outer existence by the light of this one and unifying vision.
The three great declarations of the ancient Vedanta are: 'I am He’,7 'Thou art That, O Swetaketu’,8 'All this is the Brahman; this Self is the Brahman’.9
The main conceptions of the Upanishads remained intact in parts at least in various philosophical systems, and efforts have been made from time to time to recombine them. Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa bear the imprint of the Upanishadic thought, and the last one, in particular, has as its basic text Brahmasutra, which was written by Badarayana, and in which the quintessence of the Upanishads was expounded aphoristically. Brahmasutra came to be commented upon by various Acaryas. This gave rise to at least five schools of Vedantic interpretation, viz., Advaita of Shankaracarya, Visistadvaita of Ramanujacarya, Shuddhadvaita of Vallabhacarya, Dvaitadvaita of Nimbarkacarya, and Dvaita of Madhwacarya. Bhagavadgita is also considered to be an exposition of the essence of the Upanishadic teaching. The commentary literature on the Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Bhagavadgita is continuing to develop even in our own times.
It is true that the Upanishads are concerned mainly with the inner vision and not directly with outward .human action; yet, all the highest principles of ethics held out by Buddhism, Jainism and later Hinduism are products of the very life and significance of the truths to which they give expressive form and force. They even present the supreme ideal of spiritual action founded on the experience and principle of oneness with God as well as all living beings. It is for this reason that even when the life of the forms of the Vedic cult had passed away,
7 Chhandogya Upanishad, 4.11.1
8 Ibid, 6.8.7
9 Ibid, 3.14.1 18
the Upanishads remained alive and creative and could generate the great devotional religions and inspire the idea of Dharma embedded in the Indian psyche. In fact, the idea and practice of Dharma is a common thread unifying Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
By the time we came to the Upanishads, the original Vedic symbols had begun to lose their significance and to pass into obscurity. The earlier stage of culture represented an old poise between two extremes. On one side there was the crude or half-trained naturalness of the outer physical man; on the other side, there was an inner and secret psychic and spiritual life of the initiates. But this poise was disturbed because of the necessity of a large-lined advance. In its developing cycle of civilisation, India was called for a more and more generalised intellectual, ethical and aesthetic evolution. This called for a new poise and a new balance. At this juncture, the Upanishads saved the ancient spiritual knowledge by immense effort, and the spiritual edifice created by the Upanishads guided, uplifted and penetrated into the wide and complex intellectual, aesthetic, ethical and social culture that came to be developed during the ages that followed the age of the Vedas and the Upanishads.
IV. Post-Vedic Age: Robust Intellectuality and Vitality
During the post-Vedic age, which extended right up to the decline of Buddhism, we see the rise of the great Philosophies, many-sided epic literature, beginnings of arts and sciences, emergence of vigorous and complex societies, formation of large kingdoms and empires, "manifold formative activities of all kinds and great systems of living and thinking. It was the birth time and Youth of the seeking intellect, and a number of scientific or systematic bodies of intellectual knowledge came up
at an early stage. Actually, Vedangas had begun to develop even before the Upanishads. Mandukya Upanishad mentions six Vedangas: Shiksha (Phonetics); Kalpa (Rituology); Vyakarana (Grammar); Nirukta (Etymology); Chhandas (Metrics); and Jyotisha (Astronomy and Astrology). Each Vedanga takes up one aspect of the Veda and an attempt is made to explain it.
In due course, there developed a vast literature on these Vedangas, expounding various systems of phonetics, rituals of sacrifices and rules of conduct of various kinds such as those described in Shrautasutras, Grihyasutras and Dharmasutras, principles and details of Vedic etymology, grammatical subtleties, various forms, meters and styles of poetry, and several systems of astronomical and astrological knowledge. There developed also considerable literature of Pratisakhya, which dealt with the subtleties of grammar, meters and pronunciation pertaining to the Shakhas of -the Vedas. Apart from the Vedangas, there developed four sciences, known as Upavedas, viz., Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharvaveda and Arthaveda. Here, again, in due course, there developed a vast literature of expositions, commentaries and treatises.
Strong intellectuality of this period was inspired by the wide variety of spiritual experience and the synthetic turn so visible in the Vedas and the Upanishads. There was a conscious perception that spiritual experience is higher than religion and that what religion seeks can really be attained by the inner psychological discipline, which in due course, came to be developed into a Shastra, the Shastra of Yoga. It allowed intellectuality to become free from the crippling effects of religious dogma, and we find that the intellectual development became multisided. Materialistic atheism, agnosticism, and scepticism also developed. Indeed, this intellectuality
was austere and rich, robust and minute, powerful and delicate, massive in principle and curious in detail. The mere mass of the intellectual production during the period from Ashoka well into the Mohammedan epoch is something truly prodigious. This can be seen from the account which recent scholarship gives of it. And while evaluating this account, it must be noted that what has been dealt with so far of this ancient treasure is a fraction of what is still lying extant and what is extant is only a small percentage of what was once written and known. We also have to note that what was accomplished had for its aid the power of memory and the perishable palm-leaf. The colossal literature ex- tended to various domains - philosophy and theology, religion and yoga, logic and rhetoric, grammar and linguistics, poetry and drama, medicine and astronomy besides the sciences. It dealt also with politics and society, music and dance, architecture and painting, all the sixty-four accomplishments, and various crafts and skills. It may be said that even such subjects as breeding and training of horses and elephants had their own shastras. Each domain of thought and life had a systematic body of knowledge, its art, its apparatus of technical terms, its copious literature.
During this period, India stood in the first rank in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, surgery and all other branches of physical knowledge which were practised in ancient times. In many directions, India had a priority of discovery. It is true that the harmony that was established between philosophical truth and truth of psychology and religion was not extended in the same degree to the truth of physical Nature. But from the beginning, starting from the thought of the Veda, the Indian mind has recognised that the same general laws and powers hold in the spiritual, the psychological and the physical existence.
Omnipresence of life was discovered, and there was affirmation of the evolution of the soul in Nature from the vegetable and the animal to the human form.
The philosophical mind started from the data of the spiritual experience, and it went back always in one form or the other to the profound truth of the Veda and the Upanishads which kept their place as the highest authority in these matters. There was a constant admission that spiritual experience is a greater thing and its light a truer, if more incalculable, guide than the clarities of the reasoning intelligence. In the epic literature of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, we find a strong and free intellectual and ethical thinking; there is an incessant criticism of life by the intelligence and ethical reason. We find in it a multisided curiosity and desire to fix the norms of truth in all and an implicit or explicit assent to the spiritual truth. In the field of art, there was insistence upon life and its creativity, but still its highest achievement was always in the field of interpretation of the religio-philosophical mind. The whole tone of art during that period was coloured by the suggestion of the spiritual and the infinite.
The master ideas of the Vedas and the Upanishads governed the developing turn of imagination, its creative temperament and its significant forms in which it persistently interpreted its perception of self and things and life and universe. The sense of the infinite and the cosmic generated by the Vedic hymns is seen in a great part of the literature of the subsequent ages even as we see it in architecture, painting and sculpture. And as in the Veda, even so here, there is a tendency to see and render spiritual experience in images taken from the inner psychic plane or in physical images transmitted by the stress of a psychic significance and impression. The tendency to image the terrestrial life often magnified, as
in the Mahabharata and in the Ramayana, reflects the Vedic influence.
In the field of collective life, Indian society developed its communal coordination of the mundane life of interest and desire, kama and artha. But it governed its action always by a reference at every point to the moral and religious law, dharma, and never did it lose sight of spiritual liberation, moksha, as the highest motive and ultimate aim of the effort of life. At a still later stage, when there came about an immense development of the mundane intelligence and an emphatic stress of aesthetic, sensuous and hedonistic experience, there was a corresponding deepening of the intensities of psycho-religious experience. It may be said that every excess of emphasis on the splendour, richness, power and pleasures of life had its recoil and was balanced by a corresponding stress on spiritual asceticism. And throughout this development one can see the inner continuity with the Vedic and Vedantic origins.
It is true that at one time it seemed that a discontinuity would take place. Buddhism seemed to reject all spiritual continuity with the Vedic religion. It also seemed to be a sharp new beginning. But the ideal of nirvana came to be perceived as a negative and exclusive statement of the highest Vedantic spiritual experience. The eightfold path also came to be perceived as an austere sublimation of the Vedic notion of the Right, Truth, and Law, which was followed as the way to immortality. The strongest note of Mahayana Buddhism which laid stress on universal compassion and fellow-feeling was seen as an ethical application of the spiritual unity which is an essential idea of Vedanta. The Buddhistic theory of karma could have been supported from the utterances of the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. Actually, the Vedic tradition absorbed
all that could be of Buddhism, but rejected its exclusive positions.
V. Purano-Tantric Age: Second Stage of Hinduism
We now come to the Purano-Tantric stage. There was a gradual fading out of the prominent Vedic forms and substitution of others. Symbol, ritual and ceremony were transformed; the lofty heights of the Vedic spiritual experience did not reappear as a predominant tendency, although there was farther widening and fathoming of psychic and spiritual experience. The Vedic pantheon gradually faded out altogether under the weight of the increasing importance of the great Trinity, Brahma- Vishnu-Shiva. A new pantheon appeared; its outward symbolic aspect expressed a deeper truth and larger range of experience, feeling and idea. The tradition of the Vedic sacrifice began to break down; the house of Fire was replaced by the temple. The devotional temple ritual came to replace, to a great extent, the karmic ritual of sacrifice. More precise conceptual forms of the two great deities, Vishnu and -Shiva, came to replace the shifting mental images of the Vedic gods. The shaktis of Vishnu and Shiva also came to dominate the religious scene. These new concepts became stabilised in physical images, and these images were made the basis for both internal adoration and external worship.
The esoteric teachings of the Vedic hymns which centred on the psychic and spiritual discipline disappeared, although some of its truths reappeared in various new forms. These forms, as we see them in the Puranic and Tantric religion and yoga, were less lofty than the Vedic nucleus of spiritual experience, but they were wider, richer, complex and more suitable to the psycho-spiritual inner life.
The Purano-Tantric stage was marked by an effort to awaken the inner mind even in the common man, to lay hold on his inner vital and emotional nature, to support all by an awakening of the soul and to lead him through these things towards highest spiritual truth. This effort required new instruments, new atmosphere and new fields of religious and spiritual experience. While the Vedic godheads were to the most of their worshippers divine powers who presided over the workings of the outward life of the physical cosmos, the Puranic Trinity had even for the multitude a predominant psycho-religious and spiritual significance. But the central spiritual truth remained the same in both the Vedic and the Purano-Tantric systems, the truth of the One in many aspects. As the Vedic godheads were forms of the Supreme, even so the Puranic Trinity was a triple form of the one supreme Godhead and Brahman; even the Shaktis were energies of the highest divine Being. But this truth was no longer reserved for the initiated few; it was now brought more and more powerfully, widely and intensely home to the general mind and feeling of the people.
Vedas and Puranas: Continuity and Change:
The system of the hierarchy of the worlds that we find in the Veda was more intricate than the system found in the Puranas. In the Veda, the highest worlds constitute the triple divine principle; infinity is their scope, bliss is their foundation. These three worlds are supported by the vast region of the Truth whence a divine Light radiates out towards our mentality in the three heavenly luminous worlds of swar, the domain of Indra. Below is the triple system in which we live. This triple system consists of three earths, three heavens, dyaus, and the connecting mid-region
(antariksha). In simpler terms, the triple lower world in which we live is the world of matter, life-force and pure mind. According to the Vedic idea, each principle can be modified by the subordinate manifestation of the others within it, and each world is divisible into several provinces. Into this framework, the Vedic Rishis placed all the complexities of the subtle vision and its fertile imagery. The Puranic system is a continuation of the Vedic system, but it is simpler. The Purana recognises seven principles of existence and the seven Puranic worlds correspond to them with sufficient precision, thus:
1. Pure Existence-Sat
World of the highest truth of being (Satyaloka)
|2. Pure Consciousness -Cit||World of infinite Will or conscious force (Tapoloka)|
|3. Pure Bliss-Ananda||World of creative delight of existence (Janaloka)|
|4. Knowledge or Truth- Vijnana||
World of the vastness
|5. Mind||World of light (Swar)|
|6. Life (nervous being)||World of various becomings (Bhuvar)|
|7. Matter||The material world (Bhur)|
The Vedic interpretation of life as a movement of sacrifice and a battle continued in the Purano-Tantric tradition also. According to the Veda, the struggle of life is a warring of Gods and Titans, Gods and Giants, Indra and Python, Aryan and the Dasyu. In the Puranas and Tantras also life is conceived as a struggle and battle between Devas and Asuras, Devas and Rakshasas, armies of Gods and Goddesses and those of Asuric, Rakshasic and Paishacik adversaries. The Vedic goal of achieving immortality recurs also in the Puranas and Tantras, where we have symbolic story of the search after the nectar of immortality.
The Vedic idea of the divinity in man was popularised to an extraordinary extent during the Purano-Tantric stage; there was the development of the concept of avatars, of the .occasional manifestations of the Divine in humanity; there was also the development of the idea of the Divine Presence, discoverable in the heart of every creature. New systems of yoga also developed, but the basis was the same, namely, secret of the power of concentration, of the method of concentration, and of the object of concentration. There was, however, a many-sided endeavour which opened the gates of Yoga on various levels and planes of consciousness. Many kinds of psycho-physical, inner vital, inner mental and psycho-spiritual methods came to be developed; but all of them had the common aim of realisation of the greater consciousness and a more or less complete union with the One Divine, or else merger of the individual soul in the Absolute. The Purano-Tantric astern provided a basis of generalised "psycho-religious experience" from which man could rise through knowledge, works or love or through any other fundamental Power of his nature to some supreme experience and highest or absolute status.
VI. Third Stage of Hinduism
After the Purano-Tantric stage, came the third stage of development of religion and spirituality in India. The first stage had consisted of the Vedic training of the physically minded man; the second stage took up man's outward life as also a deeper mental and psychical life, and brought man more directly into contact with the spirit and divinity within him. But now at the third stage, there was an attempt to take up man's whole mental, psychical and physical living so as to arrive at the first beginning of at least a generalised spiritual life. This is what we see in the emergence of great spiritual movement of the saints and Bhaktas after the decline of Buddhism and an increasing resort to various paths of yoga. During this stage, there was also the great problem of receiving Islam, and, two great attempts were made to arrive at a new synthesis; one from the side of the Muslims, and the other from the side of the Hindus. The former was exemplified in the attempt of Akbar to create a new religion called Din-I-Ilahi, and the latter was exemplified by the life and work of Guru Nanak. The work of Guru Nanak later gave rise to the astonishingly original and novel Sikh Khalsa movement. During this period, there was a tremendous churning of the spirit of India, and a great attempt was made to explore all aspects of human being and to develop them in such a way that they could all open up to the spiritual light and force. This attempt had not only an individual aspect but also a collective one. This was a remarkable attempt which could have revolutionised the collective life of India. But this was interrupted on account of several factors.
Among these factors was the fact of the exhaustion of the vital force as a result of a long inarch and effort from
the earliest times of Indian history. This exhaustion was also due to the fact that since the sixth century B.C., there entered a current of culture which negated the meaning and significance of cosmic life. It created confusion and disbalance resulting in excessive asceticism. It impoverished life and led to the neglect of social, economic and political conditions of the country. High ideals began to be exiled from active life, and rigidities of various kinds came to imprison the forms of life of individuals and collectivities. The exhaustion of vital force also coincided with the political instability and the coming of settlers from the West. Finally, the establishment of the British supremacy in India resulted in extreme impoverishment of the Spirit of India.
The third stage of religious and spiritual development of India could not bear its natural fruit, although it has done much to prepare a great possibility for the future. The significance of the third stage lies in its message that the spiritualization of the collective life cannot be achieved if only the physical mind of the common man is trained as in the Vedic Age or even if a greater effort is made to train the psychic-emotional part of common man's nature, as was attempted in the Purano-Tantric Age. What is needed is to turn to spiritual reality the entirety of mental, psychical and physical living of the individual and the collectivity so as to divinise the entire human life and nature.
It is significant, therefore, that there arose from the middle of the 19th century a reassertion of the Indian spirit which is marked by three tendencies, namely, reaffirmation of the spiritual ideal, emphasis on dynamism and creative action, and insistence on collective forms of life. The reassertion came through the
works of the great personalities like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, who filled India with a new vision and power both for the spiritual awakening and national prosperity. The new nationalist spirit was at once spiritual and social in character, and symbolised a new vibration.
It is significant also that in this reawakening, the Veda and the Upanishads were rediscovered. The esoteric teaching of the Vedas, which was confined only to initiates during the Vedic period, seems in the new light to be a store from which Hinduism can even now draw illumination and power of regeneration. The new light does not advocate a mere revival or prolongation of the Puranic system but points to something which the Vedic seers saw as the aim of human life and which the Vedantic sages cast into the clear and immortal forms of the luminous revelation. And yet it is not to the Vedic forms that Hinduism is called upon to return. The great message of modern India, coming through its accomplished Rishi, Sri Aurobindo, calls for the discovery of newer light and development of newer forms. Not to trace or retrace the old, but taking into account the treasures of the past and by liberating or developing new knowledge, even by hewing new paths, transcending the boundaries of religion into pure and integral spirituality or yoga, the renascent India is called upon to find original solutions to build up integral consciousness which can manifest divine consciousness potently in all fields of activity, scientific, philosophical, cultural, social, economic, political.
VIII. Spirit of Synthesis
Significance of the Veda is not confined merely to the fact that it is the world's first yet extant Scripture, but
that it is the earliest interpretation of Man and the Divine and the Universe as also that it is a sublime and powerful poetic creation. The utterances of the greatest seers, Vishwamitra, Vamadeva, Dirghatamas and many others touch the most extraordinary heights of mantric poetry. At the early stages of the Vedic tradition, the substance of Indian religion and spirituality came to be determined by the varieties of deepest psychic and spiritual experiences shared and expressed by hundreds of the Vedic seers. It can be seen that the post-Vedic and later spirituality of Indian people was contained in the Veda in seed or in the first expression.
The great force of intuition and inner experience, so evident in the Veda and the Upanishad, gave to the Indian mind the sense and reality of cosmic consciousness and cosmic vision. Perception of the One underlying reality, recognition of the perception of unity, as Vidya, and the necessity of the individual to lift himself from Avidya to Vidya - these are the connecting threads of Indian religion and spirituality, and these we see repeatedly emphasised in the Vedic teaching. At the same time, we have to note that even while admitting the One without a second, ekam eva advitiyam, there was no paralysing exclusion of multiplicity and life in the Veda and the Upanishad, and there was a clear admission of the duality of the One and the distinction of the Spirit and Nature; and there was room also for various trinities and a million aspects of that One, tad ekam. This has created in the Indian mind aversion to intolerant and mental exclusions, and even when it concentrates some-times on single limiting aspect of the Divinity - and seems to see nothing but that - it still keeps instinctively at the back of its consciousness the sense of the All and the idea of the One. Even when it distributes its worship among many objects, it looks at the same time through the object of
worship beyond the multitude of Godheads at the Unity of the Supreme. What is of special significance is that this synthetic turn is not limited to mystics or philosophic thinkers, but extends even to the popular mind, which has been permeated by the force of thoughts, images, traditions and cultural symbols not only of the Veda and Vedanta but also of the Purana and Tantra. There is in the Indian mind a pervasive synthetic monism, many-sided unitarianism, and large cosmic universalism.
This is not to deny the fact that there have emerged in the long course of Indian history tendencies, thoughts and even religious movements characterised by exclusivism. There have been exclusive claims and counter-claims and even quarrels and intolerance. But the efforts at synthesis have tended to prevail. Even in the field of philosophy, while trenchant positions are not absent, synthetic turn eventually predominates. In the field of Yoga, too, there have been specialisations and exclusive claims and counter-claims; claims of the path of knowledge have opposed the claims of the path of action and devotion and vice-versa but there have also been powerful systems of synthesis, such as those of the esoteric Veda, Upanishads, Gita and Tantra. Even in later times, in the movements of saints and bhaktas there is a marked turn towards synthesis, and even in our own times, in the yogic life of Sri Aurobindo and his integral yoga we have the latest effort and statement of the synthesis of yogic disciplines.
Catholicity of the Veda and the Upanishads has permitted remarkable changes in the forms of Indian religion and spiritual culture, even while maintaining the persistence of their spirit. And if we examine the changes that have occurred, we shall find in them a meaningful process of evolution and a certain
kind of logic. Right from the Vedic times, there has been a tendency in the Indian religion to provide suitable means for the individual and collective life to develop by graded steps and reach and experience truths of higher and spiritual existence. It was recognised that at the beginning not many could safely and successfully reach the heights, but the pioneering leaders did not accept the theory that many must necessarily remain for ever on the lower rungs of life and only a few could climb into the free air and light, but were moved by the spirit to regenerate all and the totality of physical life on the earth. It is true that this spirit was not at all times and in all its parts consciously aware of its own total significance. But the total drift of the manifold sides and rich variations of the forms, teachings and disciplines of Indian religion and spirituality indicate that the aim pursued was not only to raise to inaccessible heights the few elect, but to draw all human beings and all life and all the parts and planes of the human personality upward, to spiritualise life and in the end to divinise the human nature.
Indian spirituality as seen in the Veda, recognised both the spiritual and physical poles of existence, and sought the experience and realisation of higher planes of the Spirit even in the physical consciousness (prithvi). The legend of the Angirasa Rishis indicates the effort to discover the lost sun and herds of light in the caves of darkness, symbolising physical inconscience. It may even be said that the Yoga of the Veda seems to suggest that the discovery of the light in Surya Savitri is followed and completed by the discovery and uncovering of the light in the very depths of darkness of the Inconscient, tamas. Not the rejection of Matter and material life but realisation that Matter too is Spirit and that material life too can bear and manifest the spiritual light and bliss - this seems to be the basis of the Vedic teaching. "
It is this unitive perception that could explain the drift of Indian religion and spirituality towards a wide and many-sided culture. It is true that on its more solitary summits, at least in its later periods, Indian spirituality tended to a spiritual exclusiveness, which was, whatever its loftiness, quite excessive. Actually this exclusiveness imposed on Indian culture a certain impotence to deal effectively with the problems of human existence; consequently, there came about a general decline in science, philosophy, and all other domains of life. On the other hand, the previous training provided under the Vedic religion to the physical mind and under the post-Vedic and Purano-Tantric religion to the inner faculties had created favourable conditions for the growth and development of multisided religious and spiritual movements. These movements attempted to synthesise conflicting tendencies and to invite larger and larger sections of the society to possibilities of the multisided spiritual training and development. Even though there was a general arrest of these new developments, the Indian Renaissance has now provided fresh conditions, and the most conscious and potent expression of the new spirituality has declared the aim not of individual salvation but of collective salvation. It has rejected the exclusive solution of the problems of human life in the attainment of world-negating spirit; it has rather affirmed the possibility of the highest spiritualising of life on the earth.
The earliest preoccupation of India, as expressed in Veda, was the exploration of Spirit in Matter and of Matter in Spirit; the intermediate preoccupation was with the seeking and experimenting in a thousand ways of the soul's outermost and inmost experience marked by various conflicts and even exclusive affirmations and denials under an overarching tendency towards
multisided development of the spiritual, ethical, intellectual, aesthetic, vital and physical parts of the being and some kind of synthesis. The latest trend takes up the burden and treasure of the gains of the past and looks towards the future with some kind of basis of effective realisation where tasks of the establishment of the divine life on the earth for full participation by the entire human race could be under-taken.
Tasks of Renascent India:
While outlining these tasks, particularly, of the renascent India, Sri Aurobindo states:
"The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness is its first, most essential work; the flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second; an original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult. Its success on these three lines will be the measure of its help to the future of humanity."10
10. Sri Aurobindo: The foundations of Indian Culture, Vol. 14, Centenary Edition, p. 409.