The Vedas -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

The Vedas

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The very earliest Indian religious writings, the Vedas, date from about 1500 B.C. and therefore may be considered as the oldest philosophical literature in the world. In a formal sense, the Vedas are hymns to the gods, but, as Hegel also points out Oriental religions are more philosophical in character than Western Christianity. The gods have less of a personal character and are more akin to general concepts and symbols. We even find the elements of dialectics in Hinduism, and above all in Buddhism, as Engels has explained. The gods and goddesses of the Vedas are not persons but manifestations of ultimate truth and reality, and these writings contain a wealth of philosophical and religious speculation about the nature of the universe. The Vedas already contain the germ of a philosophical idea -namely, the concept of a single world order (Ritam). The principle of order, right and justice is thus built into the fabric of the universe itself. There is also a unity of opposites (the particular and the universal) in the unity of Brahman, the world-soul, and Atman, the individual soul; the immortality of the soul which is re-incarnated in accordance with karma or the law of retribution. By doing what is right a man can escape from the eternal treadmill of reincarnation.

The Upanishads, which are ancient commentaries on the Vedas, constitute a further body of Indian philosophical literature, investing the Vedic gods and rites with new philosophical content. The earliest of these texts date from between 10th and 6th centuries B.C. They have had a tremendous effect not only on Indian thinking but also for social life for thousands of years. The Indian caste system, with its elaborate system of rules governing what members of each caste may or may not do, is presented by the Upanishads as an immutable product of the order of the universe. In this scheme of things, Brahma is the creative principle that underlies everything. From this universal principle, everything is born, and returns to after death. Belief in reincarnation is reaffirmed and provides the basis for man's moral conduct. The notion of retribution (karma) maintained, for example, that a slanderer would be re-born with bad breath! In order to escape from this cycle, man must devote himself to contemplation of the unity of the soul (atman) with brahma.

The mystical and idealist nature of this does not require any comment. However, a reading of the Upanishads shows that they contain a series of arguments intended as a rebuttal of materialist and atheist ideas, which were present from the very dawn of Indian philosophy. In his book Man, God and Religion, the modern Indian materialist Geetesh Sharma (himself a former Hindu priest) gives several examples of this:

"In some of the 'suktas' of the Vedas, there is evidence of opposition to the 'Yagnas' [fire worship] and rituals conducted by the priests.

"In the age of the Upanishads, this criticism of the priests becomes all the more sharp. In chhandogya Upanishad, the procession of the priests has been compared to a procession of dogs. In Mundak Upanishad the ritual of human sacrifice and other rites have been severely criticised.

"In the 18 dominant Upanishads there is one Shvasan Veda Upanishad. This Upanishad basically consists of materialist and naturalist teachings. In one section, it is written: 'neither is there any avatar, nor is there any God; neither a heaven nor a hell. All this traditional religious literature is a conception of self-conceited fools'. " (G. Sharma, Man, God and Religion, p. 37.)

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