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Ramanuja – Hindu sage likened to St. Thomas Aquinas

English: sage Ramanujacharya's statue

Ramanujacharya’s statue – Wikipedia

Ramanuja (1017-1137 CE) was a leading Hindu philosopher born in the Brahmin caste. Legend has it that he learned the Vedas when he was a baby, only eight days old.¹

Ramanuja was influential to the Bhakti movement, which favors devotion over dry, conceptual philosophy.

Apparently Ramanuja hoped to visit another prominent Hindu philosopher, Yamunacharya, but the latter died before they could compare notes.²

Ramanuja sees the Vedas as authoritative. If you believe in one part, you have to believe in all of the Veda. In other words, he is a religious fundamentalist who accepts the social stratification and misogyny spelled out and reinforced by the Veda.³

Believing that Vishnu is supreme, as a Vaishnavite (follower of Vishnu)  Ramanuja challenges the views of Sankara and the Saivites (followers of Siva). Wikipedia suggests that their respective positions on the soul in relation to ultimate reality are the same.

Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita school and Shankara’s Advaita school are both nondualism Vedanta schools,[19][46] both are premised on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation; in contrast, Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned.4

Contrary to what Wikipedia says, Ramanuja develops a form of monism that differs from Shankara’s. Ramanuja’s system of Visistadvaita is widely recognized as qualified monism. Specifically, Ramanuja challenges Sankara’s claim that only the Brahman is real and individuality is illusory (maya). For Ramanuja, the Brahman is real and beyond pain and suffering. However, individual souls (jivas) emerging from and ultimately resting within the Brahman are also real.

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...

Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath – Wikipedia

For Ramanuja the Brahman is beyond the law of karma but the individual soul (jiva) is not and must answer to the wheel of rebirth. Accordingly, the jiva experiences the pleasure and pain of earthly life. And liberation from samsara, the round of rebirth due to karma, is gained through individual effort as well as from the grace of Vishnu.

Ultimately, the individual soul rests within but does not become absorbed by the Brahman or, for that matter, simply disappear.

As a consequence of his religious and philosophical innovations, Ramanuja was persecuted by a rival Hindu who happened to be a Saivite ruler.

The prominent Indologist Wendy Doniger calls Ramanuja “probably the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism.”5

Others have likened Ramanuja to the 13th-century Christian thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas. These two thinkers may appear similar on an abstract, intellectual level but any similarity after that becomes problematic. First of all, the alleged truths of Christ and the Veda at many points are incompatible.

Second, from my perspective the religious experiences respectively offered by Hinduism and Christianity (Catholicism specifically) differ.6

Instead of yielding to the pressure of political correctness and glossing over perceived differences, it is far more fruitful to talk about religion and religious experience as we really see and feel it.

Otherwise, sugar-coated religious dialog and ostentatious conferences are a huge waste of time and money. They may help to connect a circle of established or trending pundits. But backslapping, mutual admiration, fancy hotels and superficial proclamations will never replace any kind of true understanding.

STATIONTOSTATION lp album cover by David Bowie – Wikipedia

¹ This seems pretty far fetched. It reminds me of stories about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, emerging from the womb playing air piano with his baby fingers.

² If both were so spiritually achieved, you’d think that earthly death wouldn’t matter and they could communicate directly, soul to soul.

³ For those claiming that the Vedas do not advocate caste, I urge you to look at the Vedic creation myth.

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramanuja

5 Ibid.

6 Perhaps only those who cannot discern a difference in numinosity between these two paths would believe they are phenomenologically equivalent. Some may see this as a biased or backward statement but if a person, like myself, experiences real differences among different religious paths, another’s inexperience, insensitivity or preference for political correctness will not change that fact. This issue has recently appeared in relation to some Catholics’ view of yoga.

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Upanisads

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Upanisads (Skt. “sit near the teacher”) are Hindu religious texts (circa 1000-600 BCE) known as part of the Vedanta (Skt. “the end of the Veda“).

As hindu-blog points out, the Upanisads are based on a longstanding oral tradition of uncertain duration, making precise dating extremely difficult:

The Upanishads and Vedas were rendered orally and were passed on for generations before being written. Nobody is sure about the actual dates of these texts.¹

But there is some debate here, and some scholars say these scriptures became formally known as the Upanisads around 800 CE.

The Upanisads are premised on the idea that a sacred teacher (guru) imparts esoteric mystical knowledge to those ready to learn. This type of learning is said to be mostly experiential instead of conceptual.

The texts contain several key Hindu images. One of the most accessible, found in the Mundaka-Upanisad, is that of two birds sitting on a tree. One bird eats the sweet fruit on the branches while the other watches. The eater symbolizes the active, temporal and perishable aspects of creation, while the watcher symbolizes an immovable, omniscient and eternal Self.

In another important Upanisad, the Katha-Upanisad, a young man, Nachiketa, seeks the wisdom of immortality by entering into dialogue with his teacher Yama (death). Yama initially advises Nachiketa to pursue anything else but this particular question because of its inherent difficulties. But the young man persists and, after recognizing his sincerity and determination to achieve ultimate truth, Yama begins to instruct Nachiketa on the nature of the eternal self, as he understands it.

English: Photograph of Max Muller as a young man

Photograph of Max Muller as a young man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the teaching devices Yama uses is the “chariot analogy.” The following excerpt is from Max Müller‘s translation:

‘Know the Self to be sitting in the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect (buddhi) the charioteer, and the mind the reins.’

‘The senses they call the horses, the objects of the senses their roads. When he (the Highest Self) is in union with the body, the senses, and the mind, then wise people call him the Enjoyer.’

‘He who has no understanding and whose mind (the reins) is never firmly held, his senses (horses) are unmanageable, like vicious horses of a charioteer.’

‘But he who has understanding and whose mind is always firmly held, his senses are under control, like good horses of a charioteer.’

‘He who has no understanding, who is unmindful and always impure, never reaches that place, but enters into the round of births.’

‘But he who has understanding, who is mindful and always pure, reaches indeed that place, from whence he is not born again.’²

Altogether there are over 200 Upanisads, but not all are seen as equally important.

¹ https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/upanisads/#comments

² http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe15/

Related Posts »  Atman, AUM, Hinduism, Max Müller, Sutra, Veda, Vedanta


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Vedanta

English: Photograph of Radhakrishnan taken at ...

Renowned Indian scholar, Radhakrishnan, at a reception in Stockholm, 1949. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vedanta is a school of Hindu religion and philosophy and a Sanskrit term meaning “the end of the Veda.” Its three main texts are:

  1. The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
  2. The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
  3. The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)¹

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanta

Related Posts » Veda, Atman, Hinduism, Radhakrishnan, Sankara, Upanisads


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Vedas

Rig vedic fire offerings – Indian Rituals by Srevatsan Muralidharan

The Veda (or Vedas) are the first group of ancient Hindu sacred books. Max Müller and most subsequent scholars date them to the 13th century BCE.

Ten in all, the Veda form a mandala (circle) of knowledge and are believed by some to represent directly revealed truth and therefore all that is necessary for spiritual liberation.¹

The more recent Upanisads are known as the Vedanta—that is, the end of the Veda.

As hindu-blog points out, however, both the Veda and the Upanisads are based on a longstanding oral tradition which makes precise dating open to debate:

The Upanishads and Vedas were rendered orally and were passed on for generations before being written. Nobody is sure about the actual dates of these texts.²

English: Student learning Veda. Location: Nach...

Student learning Veda. Location: Nachiyar Kovil, Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu. http://parampara.in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that the Vedas were passed on orally is noted in Wikipedia:

Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition alone, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques. A literary tradition set in only in post-Vedic times, after the rise of Buddhism in the Maurya period, perhaps earliest in the Kanva recension of the Yajurveda about the 1st century BCE; however oral tradition predominated until c. 1000 CE.³

Recently, a Sanskrit rock band, “Shanti Shanti” has produced an album called “Veda.”

This CD titled “Veda”, produced by Ganesha Publishing BMI, contains shlokas (hymns) from all four Vedas-Rig-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, and Yajur-veda, some as old as 1,500 BCE. » Source

¹ From Wikipedia:

They are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti (“what is heard”),[6][7] distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti (“what is remembered”). In Hindu tradition, the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma.[8] The Vedic texts or śruti are organized around four canonical collections of metrical material known as Saṃhitās, of which the first three are related to the performance of yajna (sacrifice) in historical Vedic religion:

  1. The Rigveda, containing hymns to be recited by the hotar, or presiding priest;
  2. The Yajurveda, containing formulas to be recited by the adhvaryu or officiating priest;
  3. The Samaveda, containing formulas to be sung by the udgatar or priest that chants;
  4. The Atharvaveda, a collection of spells and incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns.[9]

 
² https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/upanisads/#comments

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas

Related Posts » Asrama, Asura, Avatar, Avesta, Brahmacharya, Brahmanas, Brahmin, Caste, Dismemberment, Durga, Hinduism, Kama, Krishna, Kshatriya, Language, Manu, O’Flaherty (Wendy Doniger), Rishis, Samkhya, Sita, Sutra, Upanisads, Zoroastrianism


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Asura

Image via Tumblr

There’s been a lot of talk in religious studies about the asura. Everything I know about them is second-hand—that is, through what I’ve read in English. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar. But from poking my nose in bookstores, visiting libraries and, more recently, web surfing, this brief survey sums up the main points:

Initially, the asura were early Hindu sky gods in the Rig Veda. Like many ancient supernatural beings, they competed with the suras for power. Toward the end and after the Veda, the asura diminished in status.¹ Later the asura became evil devas, enemies of the gods.

Some scholars liken the asura to the Zoroasterian ahura (Ahura Mazda).

For Buddhists, the asura are low-ranking demigods existing in a realm of desire, more specifically, sensual desire. This makes them unhappy because they can never satiate their longings.

Sri Aurobindo is one of the most respected fre...

Sri Aurobindo is one of the most respected freedom fighters from Bengal and also a poet, philosopher, and yogi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 20th century, the Oxford-educated Indian mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo makes frequent reference to a wicked “reign of the Asura,” a tide of cosmic evil that he believes must be overcome through a combination of contemplative intercession and action. Aurobindo applies the idea of the asura not only to personal evil but also to the greater social evils present during WW-II, such as Nazism and Fascism. But what makes Aurobindo different is his claim that he helped the Allies win the war through his meditative efforts. This is an interesting assertion, if seemingly impossible to verify.

The concept of “distance healing” is pretty common now among New Age enthusiasts and those interested in Shamanism. But the idea of a “distance military support” is not quite so evolved, except, perhaps, in the field of remote viewing.

Because the word asura sounds sort of cool, it’s not surprising that it appears in video games and also in mythical fiction. Some conservative religious groups might object to this. But if we look at the history of the concept, it’s always been evolving. So who has the right to say that the evolution of an idea should stop now, just because a certain population happens to like it the way it is?

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asura

Related Posts » Demons


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Asrama

Indian caste system explanation diagram accord...

Indian caste system explanation diagram according to Homo Hierarchicus Traditional Chinese version. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Asrama (also ashrama)

In the Sanskrit language of Hinduism asrama in its simplest form means “path” or “stage.”

The term also refers to the traditional belief, stemming from the Veda, that spiritual aspirants belong to different castes. And the privileged “twice born” castes ideally proceed through four different asrama, or stages of life.

These stages are: brahmacharya, garhashtya, vanaprashta and sannyasa.

Related Posts » Artha

 


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Brahmanas

English: photo

English: photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brahmanas (as “Companions” to the Veda)

In the academic book publishing world we have source books, dictionaries, and, if these do well in stores, their “companion” volumes. A companion usually elaborates on an original source book, thinker or theme (e.g. The Cambridge Companion to Jung or The Oxford Companion to the Bible).

We can draw an analogy between companions to original source books, on the one hand, and the relation between the Brahmanas and the Veda, on the other hand.

The somewhat voluminous Brahmanas offer detailed instructions and commentaries relating to the ancient Hindu Veda. They basically tell how to do the sacred rituals right, and add nuance to the myths and philosophical beliefs outlined in the Veda.

The Veda are still regarded by many Hindus as the quintessential source within Hinduism‘s exceedingly vast body of sacred scripture. For these believers, to say the word “Veda” has the same kind of ring of holy authority that the word “Bible” has for many Christians and Jews (i.e. Jewish Bible).