Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Wisdom of the Vedas

The Wisdom of the Vedas by J.C. Chatterji Quest Books 1992 (original edition 1931)

This is a nice concise introduction to the more philosophical ideas expressed in the Vedas. The cosmology and metaphysics of the Vedas form the foundation of Hinduism, Buddhism, and quite arguably of more modern metaphysical currents like Theosophy and the New Age movement.

The Atman; ultimate Self ; Higher Self ;Divine Spark ; Purusha; Spirit -to use some synonyms - is defined as much as can be through metaphor. The nature of Atman is stated as “…pure Being (sat), objectless Awareness (chit), and unclouded Joy (ananda).” Atman is said to be beyond space and time and the ultimate nature of one individual is said to be indistinguishable from that of another. Of course, our psychical and material natures are much different and distinguishable.

Reality is separated into two (at least seemingly). Purusha represents the ultimate state and the ever-changing motion of the universe and what we experience as objects represents the apparent state. This idea was later expressed in Buddhism as the two truths - ultimate and relative. But the relative is said to be the ultimate in a limited form, or in the phase of sacrifice (yajna). This division is said to be really just an illusion - an apparent division into manifest and unmanifest.

Brahman is an aspect of Purusha, or Atman, that is Purusha manifesting the universe as the “Word THAT which grows great.” In later times the unmanifest universe was called ParaBrahman(beyond Brahman). Brahman is the first step towards limitation and in the reverse direction is the last step towards liberation.

This universe itself is said to emanate and dissolve cyclically - to manifest and unmanifest. The process of manifestation toward materiality is described in the Vedas. From non-being to universal ideal to ego identification to sensation qualities to sense powers to prana to the physical elements. The sequence is reversed in becoming liberated from the world. Buddha described this process in great detail in the doctrine of the 12 Nidanas - or 12 links of interdependent origination - this is definitely derived from the Vedas. Indeed Buddha’s teaching is mostly in accordance with the Vedas. He is said to have taught that the Vedas were originally the teaching of a long past Buddha that became corrupted over long periods of time. He does denounce some of the interpretations of the Vedas during his time period.

The idea of Akasha - or the subtle element of Space (Spirit?) is expounded on as the medium of Sound. The elements are described as the Bhutamatras, or Tanmatras as corresponding to Sound, Temperature, Color, Flavor, and Odor - as similar to but not identical to the Greek idea of the elements. Also similar to the Greek but not identical are the descriptions of the Planes , Worlds, or Lokas - Physical,Psychical, and Spiritual - or in another way as the five bodily sheaths -Food/Physical, Pranic, Mental/Emotional, Ego/Intellectual, Spiritual/Causal.

The earliest beings to wake from the sleep of a dissolving universe are said to be the more spiritually advanced - the rishis - or seers. The author puts forth the proposition that this is why the earliest beings in most mythologies are said to be gods or at least god-like. We descend from them as the universe ages from earliest manifestation to the next dissolution.

The author notes that the Vedas were certainly over time mixed with non-original later prevalent ideas. He seems to strongly assert the sort of mono-theistic character as if it is a more lofty idea than polytheism and or animism - he sometimes does comparisons with Christian ideas - likely the product of the time (1930s) having studied among English-speaking academics who were Christian.

Overall - a good introductory book - but by no means complete and at times the explanations are not well-presented and float back and forth with vague descriptions of ideas that can leave one a bit unsatisfied.

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