The Hindu Sacred Writings
The original Vedas are the oldest sacred writings of the Hindus and are composed of spiritually focused wisdom written in Sanskrit between 2000-1000 B.C. The spiritually inspired thinkers who wrote these early Vedas often imply a oneness with the Divine. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures or revelation (Shruti) of the Hindu teachings. They manifest the Divine Word in human speech. They reflect into human language the language of the Gods, the Divine powers that have created us and which rule over us. There are four Vedas, each consisting of four parts. The primary portion is the mantra or hymn section (samhita). To this are appended ritualistic teachings (brahmana) and theological sections (aranyaka). Finally philosophical sections (upanishads) are included. The hymn sections are the oldest. The others were added at a later date and each explains some aspect of the hymns or follows one line of interpreting them. The Vedas were compiled around the time of Krishna (c. 3500 B.C.), and even at that time were hardly understood. Hence they are very ancient and only in recent times has their spiritual import, like that of the other mystery teachings of the ancient world, begun to be rediscovered or appreciated even in India. Like the Egyptian teachings they are veiled, symbolic and subtle and require a special vision to understand and use properly.
More recent Vedas are known as the Upanishads – a name implying sitting at the feet of a teacher – and are the Hindu sacred texts next in antiquity dating from circa 600 B.C. The Upanishads uphold views that maintain that people are capable of a profound interior spirituality.
The Upanishads are one of the most concise expositions of the spiritual experiences that lie at the heart of all the great religions. Although nearly three thousand years old, their teachings are as relevant today as when they were first given by the forest sages of India.
The Universe is profoundly One
“The Universe is profoundly One.” This unity can best be understood by exploring the Hindu concepts of Brahman and Atman. The Upanishads, which form part of the Hindu scripture, speak of Brahman as “Him the eye does not see, nor the tongue express, nor the mind grasp.” Brahman is not a God, but rather the ultimate, unexplainable principle encompassing all of creation. Because creation preceded language, words cannot grasp the totality of Brahman. Any and every definition falls short. Brahman then becomes a word used to speak of what can be called a “macro” metaphysical principle. But there is also a “micro” metaphysical principle. The subtle presence intuited within, identified as “soul” or “self” by other traditions, is called Atman. Atman, thus, perceives Brahman. But this perception leads to a central meditation discovered by the Hindu rishis, or sages, described in the Chandogya Upanishad:
In the beginning there was Existence alone – One only, without a second. He, the One [Brahman], thought to himself: “Let me be many, let me grow forth.” Thus out of himself he projected the universe, and having projected out of himself the universe, he entered into every being. All that is has its self in him alone. Of all things he is the subtle essence. He is the truth. He is the Self. And that … THAT ART THOU!
When one discovers that Atman, the inner self, and Brahman, the essence of the universe, are indeed one, the experienced result is said to be one of immense peace and harmony, of coming home. The human perception of life is often that of a small, fragile being gazing out into an infinite, unknowable space. Hinduism teaches that the intuitive leap of realizing “that art thou” tells us we belong. We have a place. We are one with the stars and the consciousness that brought them into being.
Sources: Fisher, Mary Pat, and Lee W. Bailey. An Anthology of Living Religions. Prentice Hall, 2000. Vedanta Society of Southern California. The Upanishads. Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, trans. New York: Mentor Books, 1957.
In the Upanishads the sages teach that Brahman is infinite Being, infinite Consciousness, and infinite Bliss.
It is said that Brahman cannot be known by empirical means – that is to say, as an object of our consciousness – because Brahman is our very consciousness and being. The whole universe came into existence from Brahman the Seed. Brahman is not only the principle and creator of all there is, but is also the sum totality of the universe and its phenomena.
Strictly speaking everything in the universe is a manifestation of Brahman only. Innumerable are his forms and manifestation, but He is One and Alone, without a beginning and without an end. He pervades everything, is hidden in everything and enveloped by all that is here and elsewhere. In the Upanishads we come across many verses on Brahman extolling his universal dimensions and infinity. However at the primal level of classification, we can say that the scriptures speak of mainly two aspects of Brahman. On the one hand we have the unmanifest Brahman and on the other we have the manifest Brahman. The former is the pure state of Brahman without qualities and the latter is the manifest state of Brahman with qualities. In the manifest state we believe there are several planes of consciousness, dimensions, time frames, worlds or planes of existence and realities. There is the material universe that is known to the senses and the transcendental universe known only to the gods and beings of the highest planes. Brahman is remote and mysterious, known only to few. No one truly knows why and how of his manifestations, but attribute his actions and movements to some kind of absorbed and blissful ideation. In each world he manifests himself according to the need and the plan he works out.
In Vedanta, the word “Satyam” (Reality) is very clearly defined and it has a specific significance. It means, “that which exists in all the three periods of time (past, present and future) without undergoing any change; and also in all the three states of consciousness (waking state, dream state and deep-sleep state).” This is therefore the absolute Reality — birthless, deathless and changeless — referred to in the Upanishads as “Brahman.”
The Cosmic Cycle as various aspects of One Supreme Being
Just as a single force in space can be mathematically conceived as having various spatial components, the Supreme Being or God, the personal form of the Ultimate Reality, is conceived by Hindus as having various aspects. A Hindu deity (god or goddess; note small g) represents a particular aspect of the Supreme Being. For example, Saraswati represents the learning and knowledge aspect of the Supreme Being. Just as sunlight cannot have a separate and independent existence from the sun itself, a Hindu deity does not have a separate and independent existence from the Supreme Being. Thus, Hindu worship of deities is monotheistic polytheism and not simple polytheism.
Hindus declare that there is only one Supreme Being and He is the God of all religions. There is no “other God.” Thus the Biblical Commandment “Thou shalt have no other God before me,” really means, “Thou shalt not deny the Ultimate Reality or worship any power other than the Ultimate Reality.”
Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Hindus associate these three cosmic tasks with the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Lord Brahma brings forth the creation and represents the creative principle of the Supreme Being.
Lord Vishnu maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation.
Lord Shiva represents the principle of dissolution and recreation. These three deities together form the Hindu Trinity.
The Great Trinity of Hindu
One must clearly understand that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are not three independent deities. They represent the same power (the Supreme Being), but in three different aspects. Just as a man may be called a doctor, father or husband based upon the tasks he performs, the Supreme Being is called Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva when conceived as performing the three different cosmic tasks of creation, preservation, and dissolution/recreation. “The oneness of the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is brought out by the mystic symbol AUM where ‘A’ represents Vishnu, ‘U’ Shiva and ‘M’ Brahma.”
The three major Hindu deities include Brahma (Creator), Shiva (Destroyer), and Vishnu (Preserver), which constitutes the Great Trinity.
Lord Brahma sculpture,Temple in Carambolim, Goa [ Source ]
Lord Brahma [ Source ]
Shiva (or Siva) is often presented in his form as the cosmic dancer. He is believed to be the source of all movement within the cosmos, and so his dancing is what makes the world go round. The dance is said to be performed in a sacred place called ‘Chidabaram’, the center of the universe, which is in reality within the human heart. The many hands form gestures called “mudras”, each intending to represent a different aspect of the god.
The whole Universe is Brahma
“This whole universe in Brahman. Let a man in all tranquillity meditate on this visible world as beginning, ending, and breathing in the brahman. Now a man is possessed of will. According to what he wills in this world, so will he be when he has departed from this life. Let him therefore exercise this will. The intelligent, whose body is spirit, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose self is like space (all pervading and invisible), from whom all works, all desires, all odours, all tastes proceed, he encompasses this whole world. He is without speech and without concern. He is my self within the heart, smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the germ in a canary seed. He also is my self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds. He from whom all works, all desires, all odours, and all tastes proceed, who encompasses all this world, who is without speech and without concern, he, my self within the heart, is that brahman. When I shall have departed from hence, I shall obtain that self. He who has faith has no doubt; thus Shandilya, yea, thus he said” [Chandogya Upanishad 3.14. 1-4].
“They say: ‘If men think that by knowledge of Brahman they will become everything, what then did that Brahman know, from whence he became everything?’ Verily in the beginning all this was Brahman. That Brahman knew Self only, saying, ‘I am Brahman’. From it all this came. Whichever deva became aware of this, he indeed became all this (Brahman); and so also some rishis and men. The rishi Vamadeva saw and understood it, singing, ‘I was the moon, I was the sun’. It is so also now. He who knows that he is Brahman, becomes all this, and even the devas cannot prevent it, for he himself is their Self” [Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 3; 4.10].
The Hindu “Brahmav?ivarta Pur??a” contains a story that reveals a post Vedic view of the ancient king of the gods, Indra.
Here are (below) a few gems from this story.
“O King of Gods, I have known the dreadful dissolution of the universe. I have seen all perish, again and again, at the end of every cycle. At that terrible time, every single atom dissolves into the primal, pure waters of eternity, whence originally all arose. Everything then goes back into the fathomless, wild infinity of the ocean, which is covered with utter darkness and is empty of every sign of animate being. Ah, who will count the Universes that have passed away, or the creations that have risen afresh, again and again, from the formless abyss of the vast waters? Who will number the passing ages of the world, as they follow each other endlessly? And who will search through the wide infinities of space to count the universes side by side, each containing its Brahm?, its Vishnu, and its Shiva? Who will count the Indras in them all — those Indras side by side, who reign at once in all the innumerable worlds; those others who passed away before them; or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given line, ascending to godly kingship, one by one, and, one by one, passing away? King of Gods, there are among your servants certain who maintain that it may be possible to number the grains of sand on earth and the drops of rain that fall from the sky, but no one will ever number all those Indras. This is what the Knowers know.
“The life and kingship of an Indra endure seventy-one eons, and when twenty-eight Indras have expired, one Day and Night of Brahm? has elapsed. But the existence of one Brahm?, measured in such Brahm? Days and Nights, is only one hundred and eight years. Brahm? follows Brahm?; one sinks, the next arises; the endless series cannot be told. There is no end to the number of those Brahm?s — to say nothing of Indras.
“But the universes side by side at any given moment, each harboring a Brahm? and an Indra: who will estimate the number of these? Beyond the farthest vision, crowding outer space, the universes come and go, an innumerable host. Like delicate boats they float on the fathomless, pure waters that form the body of Vishnu. Out of every hair-pore of that body a universe bubbles and breaks. Will you presume to count them? Will you number the gods in all those worlds — the worlds present and the worlds past?”
This wisdom is the ferry to beatitude across the ocean of hell.
“Life in the cycle of the countless rebirths is like a vision in a dream. The gods on high, the mute trees and the stones, are alike apparitions in this phantasy. But Death administers the law of time. Ordained by time, Death is the master of all. Perishable as bubbles are the good and the evil of the beings of the dream. In unending cycles the good and evil alternate. Hence, the wise are attached to neither, neither the evil nor the good. The wise are not attached to anything at all.”
[Parade of Ants from “Brahmav?ivarta Pur??a”, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization Heinrich Robert Zimmer (Author), Joseph Campbell (Editor) ]