On Brahmanism

Brahmanism: The Gods of the Indian Triad.

Courtesy of Google Books---The New Larned History, 1922. (I think it's copyright free, or damn close...)

BRAHMANISM: Essential features.—"Although Brahmanism has exercised a vast influence over the beliefs and worships of Asia during many centuries, and still numbers, at the lowest calculation, more than two hundred million votaries, it is not a Faith that can itself be traced back to an epoch or a founder ... In the first place, it is neither militant nor aggressively missionary; it does not openly attempt to make proselytes, in the sense of persuading them or compelling come in. Secondly it is not historic; it has sacred books but no sacred history. And, thirdly, it has never been defined by formal creeds, nor has it ever accepted a single personal Deity. The general character of Indian religion is that it is a boundless sea of divine beliefs and practices; it encourages the worship of innumerable gods by an infinite variety of rites; it permits every doctrine to be taught, every kind of mystery to be imagined, any sort of theory to be held as to the inner nature and visible operation of the divine power...

"But the Indian philosophy does not ignore or hold aloof from the religion of the masses; it underlies, supports, and interprets their polytheism. This may be accounted the keystone of the fabric of Brahmanism, which accepts and even encourages the rudest forms of idolatry, explaining everything by giving it a higher meaning. It treats all the worships as outward, visible signs of some spiritual truth, and is ready to show how each particular image or rite is the symbol of some aspect of universal divinity. The Hindus, like the pagans of antiquity, adore natural objects, and forces—a mountain, a river, or an animal. The Brahman holds all Nature to be the vesture or cloak of indwelling, divine energy, which inspires everything that produces awe or passes man's understanding. Again it is very common in India, as it was in Greece and Rome, to deify extraordinary men, and the Brahman does not tell his disciples that this is absurd; he agrees that such persons must have been special embodiments of all-pervading divine power. In short, he accepts every variety of cult and objective worships as symbolical; it is merely the expression or emblem, suited to the common intelligence, of mysterious truths known to the philosophic theologian. In this manner, the gross idolatry of the people is defended, and connected with the loftier ideas. it is maintained that God is a Pure Spirit, but to make Him wholly impersonal is to place Him beyond the reach of ordinary human interest and imagination; so it is well for the less advanced minds to be encouraged by forms and signs of His presence. All worship, it is said, is expressed through the senses symbolically. A temple or church is a visible mark of our belief that the divinity abides among us; an image is the mystical token of the indwelling spirit of the indwelling spirit; while prayer and sacrifices are the preparatory training toward more intelligent devotion. What we can conceive in our minds we may well picture to our eyes: and, by this method, the innumerable shapes and sacred places of Hindu polytheism are consecrated and adopted into higher theology... Above and beyond the miscellaneous crowd of things and persons, living or inanimate, unseen or embodied, that are worshipped as possessed b divine power, we have the great deities of Brahmanism, from whom all this divine power proceeds, and in whom the principal energies and the fundamental laws of nature are personified. Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are the realistic abstractions of the understanding from of objects of sense. They denote Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, the constant succession of birth and death throughout all existence, the process of destroying to produce, and of producing to destroy. Here we perceive that, as soon as we pass upward through the disorderly mass of ordinary paganism, we come upon polytheism backed by philosophy; we may scatter the irregular levies, and are confronted by the outworks of disciplined theology. The great Brahmanic Trinity are adored with various rites and sacrifices; they have innumerable temples, images, and personal attributes. Yet to all the more intellectual worshipers, Vishnu and Siva represent the course and constitution of Nature. And, if you inquire further about these things, you will leaner all phenomenal existence is a kind of illusion, to be gradually dissipated by the acquisition of knowledge; for the reality becomes intelligible only to those whose souls have been strengthened and clarified by long meditation, by ascetic exercises, by casting out all worldly thoughts and desires...

"But all Hindus worship directly the high gods of Brahmanism. Brahma, having accomplished once for all his work of creation, has retired in to the background of the popular Pantheon; he has very few temples or images; Vishnu and Siva divide the allegiance of devout and orthodox people. It is impossible here to give the diverse names or emblems under which they are worshipped; yet some mention must be made of the Shaktis—that is, of the divine forces of preservation and destruction, especially the female principle of productiveness, as personified by goddesses, the mates or consorts of Vishnu and Siva, thus Vishnu and Siva, with their consorts, are the pinnacles of the visible Brahmanic edifice; they are different manifestations of the Supreme Being; they represent among educated men separate systems of worship, which, again, are founded on separate schools or opinions regarding the relations between God and man, and the proper ways and means of attaining to spiritual emancipation. For, the whole purpose of the higher Brahmanism is to find and show the path which leads upward, from the simple unvarnished popular superstitions to the true and pure knowledge of the Supreme Being, by laying out a connection between the upper and lower aspects of religion... This, then, is the philosophic religion at the back of the popular worship, to which it gives an explanation and a final purpose. For Brahmanism holds out to all men, as its scheme of salvation, the hope of escape from the pain and weariness of sensitive existence in any shape or stage...

"In regard to the Sacred Books, they contain, partly, the sayings, precepts, and mystic utterances of the ancient sages; partly, prayers and psalms; and partly, abstruse speculations on the divine nature, with scholastic dissertations and commentaries. The modern students and teachers of the various schools or sects of Brahmanism treat these books as authoritative, and are constantly discussing, expounding, or adapting them to the ideas and circumstances of a people that is becoming profoundly affected by European modes of thought. One thing must be noticed in these Books, that they are not historical: they give no account of the rise of spreading the religion, they do not trace it back to a founder, as in Christianity, Mohammedanism, or even Buddhism. [See INDIA: B. C. 312.] The Hindu would say, in the words of an early Christian Father, that the objects of religious knowledge are not historical, that such things, in their essence can only be comprehended intellectually, or through divine inspiration. And the fact that Brahmanism has no authentic and universally accepted sacred narrative, that it is not concentrated round the life and acts of a personal founder is, I think, one reason why it has remained diffuse, incoherent, without a central figure or dominant plan. On the other hand, this very want, so to speak, of dogmatic backbone has left the religion elastic and tolerant, has enabled its teachers to assimilated and adapt the lower forms of worship, instead of endeavoring to destroy them." —A. C. Lyall, Brahmanism (North American Review, Dec., 1900, pp. 920-928).—See also EDUCATION: Ancient: B. C. 15th-5th centuries: India.

"The first general impression produced by a perusal of the law-books is that the popular religion has remained unaffected by philosophy. And this is correct in so far as that it must be put first in describing the codes, which, in the main, in keeping the ancient observances, reflect the inherited father. When, therefore, one says that pantheism succeed polytheism in India, he must qualify the assertion. The philosophers are pantheists, but what of the vulgar? Do they give up polytheism; are they inclined to do so, or are they taught to do so? No. For there is no formal abatement in the rigor of the older creed. Whatever the wise man thought, and whatever in his philosophy was the instruction which he imparted to his peers, when he dealt with the world about him he taught his intellectual inferiors a scarcely modified form of the creed of their fathers... With rare exceptions it was only the grosser religion that the vulgar could understand; it was only this that they were taught and believed. Thus the old Vedic gods are revered and worshipped by name. The Sun, Indra, and all the divinities embalmed in ritual, are placated and 'satiated' with offerings, just as they had been satiated from time immemorial. But no hint is given that this is a form; or that the Vedic gods are of less account than they had been. Moreover, it is not in the inherited formulae of the ritual alone that this view is upheld. To be sure, when philosophical speculation is introduced, the Father-god comes to the fore; Brahma sits aloft, indulgently advising his children, as he does in intermediate stage of the Brahmanas; and atma brahma {the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Soul} too is recognized to be the real being Brahma as in the Upanishads. But none of this touches the practice of the common law, where ordinary man is admonished to fear Yama's and Varuna's bonds as he would have been before the philosopher grew wiser than the Vedic seers. Only personified Right, Dharma, takes his seat with shadowy Brahma among other gods."—E. W. Hopkins Religions of pp 247 249 See also BRAHMA; UPANISHADS; VEDANTISM.

Modern Hindu view.—"The one thing comes out most prominently when we study history of the progress of all religions, great and small, known to man is that anything like wooden uniformity in religious matters is both unnatural and impossible. Whether your religion is merely historic, or higher than historic including as a part of it the historic manifestation of divinity within its wide embrace, whether again your religion is defined by formal creeds or not so defined, the limitation of uniformity imposed by force upon that religion cannot but make it unsuited to the ever growing spiritual capacity the human soul. In Brahminism, for instance, the Avatar of Sri Krishna is positively historic, and Sri Krishna is well known to have been a great religious teacher. Indeed it is chiefly to Him that Brahminism owes its universality and comprehensiveness. It is He who first proclaimed to humanity the great truth that any form of religion is better than irreligion, and that in religious endeavors the human mind rises gradually from lower to the higher, and that in man's effort to realize the divine in his every day life even lowest forms of religion are, when suitably adopted, more or less productive of good. The idea that Brahminism has not accepted a single deity can be attributed only to ignorance. Brahminism is absolutely monotheistic and believes only in one God who is however worshipped under many names... Do the names Lord, Christ, God, Jehovah, Heavenly Father—all mean same thing, or do they imply that the Christian does not worship a single deity? We have no doubt that there is nothing wrong in calling the one God of the Christians by these many names. Only in Saivism and Vaishnavism the similar existence of many names to denote the God, that the followers of these religions worship, leads the critics of Brahminism to assert that this does not accept a single deity... Even an Christian mystic like Novalis has declared if God can be seen in flesh and blood he can seen also in stalks and stones.

"Thus what appears as gross idolatry to the unphilosophic fanatic becomes in the eye of Brahmin a source of great helpfulness to the weak worshipper in the conduct of his devotions and prayers. Is the Brahmin really wrong in supposing that God is apprehended only symbolically by man and worshipped also only symbolically? The relation of symbols to worship and to the apprehension of religious philosophy and final religious truths is a question of perennial interest to man. Man can never do without symbols in these matters, and his progress herein consists simply in his rejecting one set of symbols to rely more and more upon another set, human language itself being nothing other than such a symbol. Brahminism is high and true philosophy expressed in accurate language and concretized into visible symbols and practices, and the worth of such a religion is to be judged more from the philosophy which forms the life of it than from the symbols which form its external embodiment."—Brahmavaddin, May, 1901, pp 460-466. —See also BUDDHISM; ETHICS: India; CASTE SYSTEM OF INDIA; RELIGION: B. C. 1,000.

Brahmanism: Caves on Elephanta Isle, Near Bombay.

Text and source images from— The New Larned History for Ready Reference, Reading and Research The Actual Words of the World's Best Historians, Biographers and Specialists; a Complete System of History for All Uses, Extending to All Countries and Subjects and Representing the Better and Newer Literature of History By Josephus Nelson Larned, Augustus Hunt Shearer.

Download the a PDF of the entire book here and now: Link.

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Foremost credit goes to my wife Erin for her tireless patience + support of this endeavor. Thanks to Barry Silver for the artwork in the above banner and for his friendship, to Robert Beer for the illustrations. Thanks to Eddie Stern for his ongoing support and for providing inspiration. Thanks to my fellow farmers at One Digital Farm for help growing this.

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