Vedic Religion

Vedic Religion

Vedic Religion

Varaaha Series by B S Ranganath

Todays non-violent, tolerant, admirable Indian Culture with all its blend of various customs, beliefs, art and celebrations is the outcome of the efforts of many great people who have contributed their might, in moulding a righteous way of life to establish a harmonious society for the human race.

Ancient Vedic India believed that Yagnas (rituals consisting sacrifices of animals) would please gods, who could make the world a happy place for humans. Only scholars knew how gods are pleased by such rituals.

Common man just followed what they said. Even kings requested learned Rishis (sages) to conduct Yagnas for the welfare of the people of their kingdom.

Mahaveera

Vardhamana, a boy born to the rulers of Lichavi clan of present day Bihar, in sixth century BC, was called Mahaveera as he could conquer all the human temptations, which came in the way of perfecting human nature.

Mahaveera statue, Delhi

Jainism is the religion founded by Jina, which means a conqueror, that is Mahaveera. Jains hold that their religion is eternal, which is revealed to a number of conquerors in stages, and Mahaveera was the 24th of them. The core belief of Jainism is Ahimsa, or non injury to all living beings. This was a reaction against Vedic religion, which required animal sacrifices. Jainism did not believe in creator God. To escape the cycle of rebirth, Jainism prescribed rigorous penance and self denial, to perfect human nature and attain liberation.

By the end of first century AD, Jainism got split into two sects, Digambara and Shwethambara. Digambara held that an adherent should own nothing – even clothes. Shwethambaras were more moderate in keeping with their principle of reverence for life.

Jainsim preaches: (1) Non Violence, (2) Truth, (3) Not grabbing the belongings of others, (4) Brahmacharya or non indulgence, and (5) Not acquiring more than what is just required.

These five principles, and the policy of universal tolerance, had a tremendous impression on the Indian way of thinking.

Gouthama Buddha

In the Fifth century BC, a Shakhya prince renounced his princely life to make human life a happier one.

He was Siddhartha Gouthama, son of King Shuddhodana, who ruled the present Nepal and parts of North India. He went out in search of teachers, who could guide him in ways of helping humans out of misery. He tried various ascetic practices including fasting. The results could not satisfy him. He meditated beneath a Bodhi Vriksha (banyan tree), while the worldly pulls and pushes disturbed his efforts. He conquered Mara, the force of temptations, and achieved enlightenment.

Bodhi Vriksha (banyan tree), beneath which the
Enlightenment was bestowed upon Buddha

He realized four truths. They are: (1) Duhkha or the existence of suffering in this world; (2) Dukha Samudaya or the origin and accumulation of this suffering; (3) Duhkha Virodha or the possibility to stop this suffering; (4) Duhkha Nirodha Marga or the way out of this suffering.

These truths define an eight-fold noble Avenue. They are: Samyag Drishti (right views), Samyag Sankalpa (right resolve), Samyag Vak (right speech), Samyag Karmantha (right conduct), Samyag Aajeeva (right livelihood), Samyag Vyayama (right efforts), Samyak Smriti (right mindfulness) and Samyag Samadhi (right concentration).

Siddhartha Gouthama then was called Buddha, an enlightened person. Buddha went to Varanasi, and gave his first sermon at Saranath. This sermon came to be known as Dharma Chakra Pravartana, or the discourse of setting the wheel of Dharma in motion. The five ascetics who heard this sermon became his first disciples, and were admitted as Bhikshus (monks) in to the Sangha or Buddhist order.

Buddha’s eight-fold path offered a mid way between self indulgence and self-mortification, and led to the Nirvana (liberation). Buddha’s teachings may be regarded as a cleansing or reforming Hinduism of his time. Ahimsa or non-violence is a fundamental, ethical, principle of Buddhism.

Elaboration of Buddha’s teachings took place over centuries, through several Buddhist councils. About a hundred years after Buddha’s demise, there was a split in the ranks of Buddhists.

Two groups gradually evolved the Hinayana and the Mahayana schools. Mahayana flourished in China, Japan and Tibet. Hinayana spread in Srilanka, Myanmar and some south East Asian countries. In India, Emperor Ashoka promoted Buddhism. After Ashoka, the spread of Buddhism as a religion declined in India.

Buddhists, who did not believe in God as the supreme power which created the universe and all living beings, accepted Karma theory of Vedic religion. This theory almost resembled the belief of Soul, in Vedic religion or Vedantha, which is the spiritual immortal part of a person, which continues to exist after demise of the human body.

Charvakas

Then there were Charvakas, the Indian materialists who denied the existences of both God and Soul. Charvakas, or the sweet spoken people, admitted only four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

They accepted the direct perception (Pratyaksha), as the only valid source (Pramana) of knowledge. They rejected inference of doubt (Anumana). Their philosophy was Lokayatha, which means restricted to the world of common experience; that is to speak sweetly, and to live to eat, and enjoy.

This materialism advised one to get maximum pleasure out of life, as death is the end of the life, and there is no rebirth. There were two types of followers of this philosophy.

Charvaka

Dhurthas were interested only in crude satisfaction of beastly instincts, and Sushikshitas represented by Vatsayana (who accepted Dharma, Artha and Kama). They stress the need for discipline in life.

Vatsayana, known as Mallinaga also, was the first person to write on erotics. The decency and fairness with which the subject of erotics is handled, will prevent disharmony between husband and wife, against sensual indulgence. This was written in the third Century AD.

The acceptance of what was new in Jainism, Buddhism and Charvakas (the Indian materialists), the adaptability to new circumstances and ideals, the liberalism in accepting even foreigners within its fold, helped the popularity of Hinduism. The common people forgot the practice of the ancient Vedic Religion based mostly on ritualism and sacrifice, which they neither understood nor had the economic means to pursue.

They were attracted to a simple and economically less burdensome reform based on faith and worship. Vaishnavism and Shivaism preached that Bhakti (devotion) and idol-worship were the easiest ways to attain liberation. Vaishnavism declared that Buddha was one of the avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu. These concepts were readily accepted by common people. Hinduism enjoyed something like a renaissance. Beautiful temples were built. Great religious gatherings were organized.

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