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Sowe four, thousand years ago pastoral nomads whose ancestors had sprung from the soil of northeastern Europe entered the Indus Valley of ancient India. They called themselves Aryans, or Noble Ones, and the religion they brought, with them comprised the first evolutionary layer of Hinduism. The ritual centerpiece of Aryan religion was afire sacrifice, a burnt offering to the gods, performed by priests specially trained to chant sacred hymns. The hymns themselves were known as Vedas or "sacred knowledge." The Vedas are the scriptural bedrock of the Hindu tradition.
The aim of the Vedic fire sacrifice, indeed of Aryan religion. in general, was to ensure well-being and prosperity in this life. The early Vedas, the focus of the first section, contain little evidence of sustained thought about human destiny beyond this, life. The doctrines most of us associate with Hinduism-the cycle of reincarnations driven by karma and the liberation from this bondage by means ofyogic discipline-were to be reflected 'only a thousand years later in the most recent layers of Vedic literature, called the Upanishads. Selections from the Upanishads comprise the second section of this chapter. The third section focuses on the scripture called the Bhagavad Gita and has its own introduction.
THE EARLY VEDAS
1. He, O Men, Is Indra
Of the four collections of Vedas, theft- Veda is the most important and foundational.The most popular god of the Rig-Veda is the expansive and dynamic Indra. He is said to have surpassed the other gods in power as soon as he was born (v. I), and he is credited both with having created the world by slaying a cosmic serpent and thus releasing the lifegiving, monsoon-bringing maters (v. 3);. and with helping the Aryans overcome the non Aryan populations they encountered.
The chief wise god who who as soon as born
surpassed the gods in power;
Before whose vehemence the two worlds trembled by reason
of the greatness of his valor: he, O men, is Indra.
Who made firm the quaking earth who set at rest the agitated mountains;
Who measures out the air more widely, who supported heaven: he; O men, is Indra.
Who having slain the serpent released the seven streams . . .
Who has made subject the Dasa colour [the non-Aryan population] and has made it disappear . . .
The terrible one of whom they ask "where is he," of whom they also say "he is not";
He diminishes the possessions of the foe like the stakes of gamblers. Believe in him: he, O men; is Indra . . .
Even Heaven and Earth bow down before him; before his vehemence even the mountains are afraid.
Who is known as the Soma-drinker,l 'holding the bolt in his . . . hand: he, 0 men, is Indra.
2. O Agni, Dispeller of the Night
Because of his role in the all-important fire sacrifice, Agni, the god of fire, is perhaps second only to Indra in popularity, with over one thousand hymns dedicated to him in the Vedas. Here is a brief selection from a few.
a. From Rig-Veda I
I praise Agni, domestic priest; divine minister of sacrifice,
Invoker, greatest bestower of wealth . . .
To thee, dispeller of the night; O Agni, day by day with prayer,
Bringing thee reverence, we come;
Ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law eternal [Rta], radiant one,
Increasing in thine own abode.
Be to us easy of approach, even as a father to his son:
Agni, be with us for our weal.
b. From Rig-Veda' II
Thou, Agni, shining in, thy glory through the days, art
brought to life from out the waters, from the stone;
From out the forest trees and herbs that grow on ground, thou,
sovereign lord of men, art generated pure.
By thee, O Agni, all the immortal guileless gods eat with thy
mouth the oblation that. is offered them.
By thee do mortal men give sweetness to their drink.
Pure art thou born, the embryo of the plants of earth.
c. From Rig-Veda VII
I have begotten this new hymn for Agni, falcon of the sky:
will he not give us of his wealth?
Bright, purifier, meet for praise,
Immortal with refulgent glow,
Agni drives Rakshasas [demons] away.
|The Early Vedas||2|
|The Bhagavad Gita||24|
|The Instructive Legend of the Buddha's Life||50|
|The Rebel Saint||62|
|A. Tibetan Buddhism||86|
|B. Zen Buddhism||95|
|Confucius the Man||113|
|The Confucian Project||119|
|The Great Learning||133|
|The Tao Te Ching||146|
|Torah: The Teaching||176|
|Nevi'im: The Prophets||191|
|Ketuvim: Other Writings||201|
|Oral Torah: The Talmud||213|
|The Life of Jesus||228|
|The Sayings of Jesus||239|
|The Life of the Early Church||253|
|The Qur'an: Suras of Mecca and Medina||282|
|The Qur'an: Selections Thematically Arranged||287|
|Hadith: Sayings and Traditional Accounts of the Prophet||312|
|Ch. 8||Primal Religions|
|Returning to the Sacred Realm||350|
|The Spirit-filled World||354|
|The Sacred Earth||363|
|Index of Texts||381|