Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More history

Hinduism was influenced by Buddhism and Jainism , two religions that were born in India during the period 400 BC to 100 AD . Both of these also believed in the Law of Karma , the eternal cycle of life , reincarnation , the importance of Dharma etc .

Temple building, in honour of different hindu deities , began between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD , the devotees being encouraged by the Puranas and the Agamas . However , the Vedic culture also survived . Hinduism also was influenced by the dravidian people of india and their cultural and religious beliefs .

Temples were initially built of wood and brick , but later the preferred material became stone , for permanence , to last for eternity . Temple architecture evolved into different styles in different regions of India , and within regions, continued to change and evolve with ruling dynasties that patronised them.

In the 8th century ,the celebrated Hindu Saint and Guru Adi Sankara was born in Kerala but traversed the length of India , reforming hindu customs ,traditions , temples etc . He also composed and wrote extensively in sanskrit , and his philosophic interpretation of the scriptures is called Advaita ( monoism ) ( ie God is the only reality who encompasses everything ). He defeated all his scholar opponents in debates , and set up four Maths or seats of religious learning and authority in the four corners of India . He visited the ancient Sharada Temple at Shardi in Kashmir , ( Sharada being the Goddess of wisdom , knowledge and learning ) , and having proved his complete mastery over all knowledge , ascended the Sarvajna Pitha or Throne of transcendental Wisdom , inside the Temple .

In the 12th century another great scholar, saint and reformer was born in Tamilnadu in south India , Asuri Ramanuja .
Ramanuja also travelled the length of India and went to Kashmir to get a copy of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya of sage Bodhayana . He also wrote and composed extensively ,defeated all rival scholars of his time in debate , and his interpretation of the scriptures is called Vishistadvaita or qualified monoism , laying more stress on Bhakti or devotion to god . All subsequent bhakti traditions that evolved in India that presided over the future evolution of the Sanathana Dharma , trace their origins back to Ramanuja .

A third great scholar and philosopher came in the 13th century from present day karnataka in the south namely Madhvacharya . He preached Dvaita or dualism , ie that God and the individual souls had different identities for all time .

Monday, July 7, 2008

Vedas upanishads and other scriptures

The Vedas ( Rig , Saman , Yajur , and Atharva ) form the bedrock of the scripture of the Sanathana Dharma and form the primary authority .Each Veda as mentioned earlier , has four parts - (Mantra Samhitas , Brahmanas , Aranyakas and Upanishads ). The Upanishads ,dealing with the philosophy of God , form the last part of the Veda . They are 108 in number , of which 12 are considered important . Isha , kena katha , prashna , mundaka , mandukya , aitereya , taitiriya ,chandogya , brhadaranyaka, kausitaki, and svetasvatara.

The next level of Scriptures , the secondary authority , are called the Smriti ( as opposed to the Veda which is called the Sruti ). Smriti means " that which is remembered " . These were composed by the sages , philosophers and law givers . These being of human origin , can be adapted to suit the times .
The smritis consist of the Sutras and the Sastras.
The sutras are manuals dealing with rituals , customs , law , philosophy etc .
Examples of Sutras are
Brahma Sutras dealing with Vedanta philosophy, ( by sage Badarayana )
Dharma Sutras dealing with orthodox law ,
Grhya Sutras dealing with duties of householders ,by Ashvalayana
Srauta Sutras dealing with vedic ritual and fire sacrifices , byAshvalayana
Sulva Sutras dealing with geometry , and instructions to build the complex vedic altars etc .
Apahstambha Sutras .by sage Apahstambha .
The Six systems of philosophy are also each explained by a Sutra composition by the founder of each .(like Patanjali's Yoga Sutras .)
The Sastras are elaborations of the Sutras by commentators etc
For example ,
The Dharma Sastras form the codes of noble living .
The primary law givers were Manu , Yajnavalkya , and Parasara .

Next come the Itihasas or "histories " consisting of the two great epics the Mahabarata and the Ramayana . The Mahabharata is the worlds biggest epic composed by sage Ved Vyasa , consisting of 100,000 stanzas based on events that took place around 900 BC in north india. Around the main story ( about the rivalry between two branches of a royal family - the Kauravas and the Pandavas , wherein all the kingdoms of india became involved ) is woven numerous sub plots ,linked stories , moral stories , philosophical discussions , and so on . The Ramayana consists of 25000 stanzas , composed by sage Valmiki ,revolves around the adventures of Rama , prince of Ayodhya ( in north India ) who traverses the subcontinent and goes to Lanka ( Sri Lanka ) in search of his kidnapped wife Sita . This is based on events that took place around 1400 BC .The Ramayana , also has associated smaller stories interwoven into it with sub plots and philosophy thrown in .
The Bhagavad Gita , is part of the Mahabharata and is now considered specially sacred .
Together along with the Brahmasutras ( also called the vedanta sutras ) , and the Upanishads , the three are considered the Authoritative Scriptures or Prasthana Traya , that define the essence of the Sanathana Dharma .

Next come the Puranas , which deal with religious stories and legends about the gods , sages , saints , kings and their devotees .They are 18 in number . The epics and the puranas consist of folk religion , which ordinary people can understand , unlike the philosophy of the Vedas . The Bhagavata Purana ( with the story of Krishna ) , the Vishnu Purana , the Siva Purana etc are popular . The Puranas also describe the incarnations of God , wherein God comes down to earth to help Dharma .

Next come the Agamas or ritual texts dealing with the subject of the modes of temple and personal worship of individual deities . These are classified into 3 groups - Vaishnava ( dealing with Vishnu and related gods ), Saiva ( dealing with Siva and related gods ) , Sakta ( dealing with the mother goddess in all her forms ) agamas .

Last come the Darshanas or Philosophical traditions , of which there are six -Nyaya ( by Gautama) , Vaisesika ( by Kanada ), Samkhya (by Kapila ) , Yoga (by Patanjali ) , Mimamsa ( by Jaimini ) , and Vedanta ( by Badarayana) .
Currently , the Vedanta is considered as the most satisfactory .

These then are the scriptures of the Sanathana Dharma . They are all composed in Sanskrit , the perfect language of the Gods , ( which is why we should all learn at least some sanskrit ). The Scriptures of the Sanathana Dharma collectively rival ,in volume ,all other scriptures of other religions put together . They also cover ,umbrella like , every single type and form of religious and spiritual thought , belief , debate and philosophy that ever existed or may exist .