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A Short History of Religious and Philosophic Thought in India
by Swami Krishnananda


The Vedas: The auxiliaries to the Vedas are called Vedangas and Upa-Vedas. The word, Vedanga, comes from the terms 'Veda' (sacred knowledge) and 'Anga' (liMB). The Vedangas are supposed to be preparations for a study of the Vedas. These Angas or limbs are six in number: Siksha or the science of pronunciation and intonation, Vyakarana or the grammar of language, Chhandas or the metre in which the hymns are composed, Nirukta or the etymological meaning of the words of the Vedas, Jyotisha or the science of astronomical calculation meant to help in fixing auspicious moments for propitiatory works etc., and Kalpa or the manual of ritual. The Kalpa-Sutras are again divided into the Srauta, Grihya, Dharma and Sulba Sutras meaning respectively the rules regarding Vedic sacrifice, domestic sacrifice, human conduct, and the principles of laying out sacrificial altars, and the like.

The word, Upa-Veda, comes from 'Upa' (subsidiary) and 'Veda' (sacred knowledge). The Upa-Vedas are like appendices to the knowledge of the Vedas. Ayur-Veda or the science of sound health including the art of preventing and curing diseases belongs to the Rig-Veda; Dhanur-Veda or the science of archery and warfare in general belongs to the Yajur-Veda; Gandharva-Veda or the art of music belongs to the Sama-Veda; and artha-Veda, known also as Artha-Sastra, or the science of economics, politics and statecraft, belongs to the Atharva-Veda.

The Upanishads: The main extant Upanishads are one hundred and eight in number. Of these, the major ones are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Svetasvatara, Kaushitaki and Maitrayani.

Cp. The principles of adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva with G.W.F. Hegel's dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

The Bhagavadgita: While, throughout the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita, its teachings on the different yogas are distributed in various shades of intensity, the third, sixth, eleventh and thirteenth receive special emphasis on the highest principles of spiritualised activity, meditation, devotion and knowledge, respectively. The second and eighteenth chapters give a general outline of many aspects of its teaching.

The Itihasas: The Epics or Itihasas are two: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Ramayana, again, is divided into the Purva (earlier) and the Uttara (later) Ramayanas, the former dealing with the exploits of Rama and the latter with the philosophical instructions which Rama received from Sage Vasishtha, this latter being known as the Yoga-Vasishtha. However, the Yoga-Vasishtha is not generally regarded as an epic and, in the opinion of some, it is more of the character of an Agama-Sastra. The Mahabharata has an appendix, called the Harivamsa.

The Puranas: The major Puranas are eighteen, and they are: Brahma, Padma, Vishnu, Siva, Bhagavata, Narada, Markandeya, Agni, Bhavishya, Brahmavaivarta, Linga, Vamana, Varaha, Matsya, Kurma, Garuda, Skanda and Brahmanda.

The Yoga-Vasishtha: The principal content of this scripture is its idealism in which it tries to reconcile both the subjective and objective aspects of Reality. In the Utpatti, Sthiti and Upasanti sections, its central metaphysics is stated. The Vairagya and Mumukshu portions form its introduction laying down the preparations necessary for the reception of higher knowledge. The Nirvana section, which is in two parts, forms its consummation giving some of its practical teachings in great detail. The vehicle of the teaching is story, analogy and image of a highly poetic character, while its content is lofty philosophy.

Cp. The doctrine of worlds within worlds with A.N. Whitehead's theory of 'ingressive evolution', 'prehensions,' 'eternal objects' and 'concrescence'.

The Smritis: The Smritis or the codes of law are eighteen in number. They are: Manu, Yajnavalkya, Parasara, Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa, Vasishtha, Yama, Apastamba, Gautama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usanas, Atri and Saunaka. Of these, the most prominent are the first three mentioned.

The Purusha-Sukta of the Veda-Samhita

The Purusha-Sukta of the Vedas is not only a powerful hymn of the insight of the great Seer, Rishi Narayana, on the Cosmic Divine Being as envisaged through the multitudinous variety of creation, but also a shortcut provided to the seeker of Reality for entering into the state of Superconsciousness. The Sukta is charged with a five-fold force potent enough to rouse God-experience in the seeker. Firstly, the Seer (Rishi) of the Sukta is Narayana, the greatest of sages ever known, who is rightly proclaimed in the Bhagavata as the only person whose mind desire has not been able to shake and, as the Mahabharata says, whose power not even all the gods can ever imagine. Such is the Rishi to whom the Sukta was revealed and who gave expression to it as the hymn on the Supreme Purusha. Secondly, the mantras of the Sukta are composed in a particular metre (chhandas) which has its own contribution to make in the generation of a special spiritual force during the recitation of the hymn. Thirdly, the intonation (svara) with which the mantras are recited adds a part to the production of the correct meaning intended to be conveyed through the mantras and any error in the intonation may produce a different effect altogether. Fourthly, the Deity (devata) addressed in the hymn is not any externalised or projected form as a content in space and time but the Universal Being which transcends space and time and is the Indivisible Supra-essential essence of experience. Fifthly, the Sukta suggests, apart from the universalised concept of the Purusha, an inwardness of this experience, thus distinguishing it from perception of any object.

The Sukta begins with the affirmation that all the heads, all the eyes, and all the feet in the creation are of the Purusha. Herein is implied the astonishing truth that we do not see many things, bodies, objects, persons, forms, colours or hear sounds, but only the limbs of the One Purusha. And, just as, when we behold the hand, leg, ear, eye or nose of a person differently, we do not think that we are seeing many things, but only a single person in front of us, and we develop no separate attitude whatsoever in regard to these parts of the body of the person, because here our attitude is one of a single whole of consciousness beholding one complete person irrespective of the limbs or the parts of which the person may be the composite, we are to behold creation not as a conglomeration of discrete persons and things, with each one of whom we have to develop a different attitude or conduct, but as a single Universal Person who gloriously shines before us and gazes at us through all the eyes, nods before us through all the heads, smiles through all lips and speaks through all tongues. This is the Purusha of the Purusha-Sukta. This is the God sung in the hymn by Rishi Narayana. This is not the god of any religion and this is not one among many gods. This is the only God who can possibly be anywhere, at any time.

Our thought, when it is extended and trained in the manner required to see the Universe before us, receives a stirring shock, because this very thought lays the axe at the root of all desires, for no desire is possible when all creation is but one Purusha. This illusion and this ignorance in which the human mind is moving when it desires anything in the world - whether it is a physical object or a mental condition, or a social situation - is immediately dispelled by the simple but the most revolutionary idea which the Sukta deals at the mind with one stroke. We behold the One Being (Ekam Sat) before us, not a manifoldness or a variety to be desired or avoided.�

But a greater shock is yet to be. For, the Sukta implies to any intelligent thinker that he himself is one of the heads or limbs of the Purusha. This condition, where even to think would be to think as the Purusha thinks - for no other way of thinking is possible, and it would be to think through all persons and things in creation simultaneously - would indeed not be human thinking or living. Just as we do not think merely through one cell in our brain but think through the entire brain, any single thinker forming but a part of the Purusha's Universal Thinking Centre, 'a Centre which is everywhere with circumference nowhere,' cannot afford to think as it is usually being attempted by what are called Jivas or individual fictitious centres of thinking. There is no other way (Na anyah pantha vidyate). This is Supramental thinking. This is Divine Meditation. This is the yajna which, as the Sukta says, the Devas, performed in the beginning of time.

The Purusha-Sukta is not merely this much. It is something more to the seeker. The above description should not lead us to the erroneous notion that God can be seen with the eyes, as we see a cow, for instance, though it is true that all things are the Purusha, It is to be remembered that the Purusha is not the 'seen' but 'seer'. The point is simple to understand. When everything is the Purusha, where can there be an object to be seen? The apparently 'seen' objects are also the heads of the 'seeing' Purusha. There is, thus, only the seer seeing himself without a seen. Here, again, the seer's seeing of himself is not to be taken in the sense of a perception in space and time, for that would again be creating an object where it is not. It is the seer seeing himself not through eyes but in Consciousness. It is the absorption of all objectification in a Universal Be-ness. In this Meditation on the Purusha, which is the most normal thing that can ever be conceived, man realises God in the twinkling of a second.