Late Veda (Vedanta): Liberating Knowledge

 

I. The Structure of the Vedic Corpus

 

Samhitas

RigVeda

SamaVeda

YajurVeda

AtharvaVeda

Brahmanas

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Aranyakas

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Upanisads

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II.  The Way of Knowledge

 

1.      Life-enhancement in ritual: finding the connections between ritual action (the human realm) and cosmic process (the cosmic realm)

a.       The goal:  enhancement of the world – maintenance and perfection of all of life

2.      Immortality in knowledge: finding the connections between oneself and the ultimate ground of existence

a.       The goal: liberation from the cycle of rebirth, realization of one’s true nature

b.      How to distinguish between the ordinary contents of human consciousness and the eternal Self that is their foundation

3.      Jnanamarga – the way of knowledge.  First appears in the Aranyakas and Upanishads

a.       Reaction against ritualism and priestly traditions;  now respected throughout Indian society at all levels

                                                  i.      A new form of religious life that doesn’t center on ritual and social duties

b.      Jnana implies a religion based on secret wisdom – taught by sages, based in mystical experience, esoteric sources

4.      Upanishad = “secret teaching,”  “sitting at the feet of,” “connection or equivalence”

a.       100s of Upanishads, 13 principle Upanishads = shruti

b.      A stratified caste system in place, supported by notions of karma and rebirth.

III.  Karma and Samsara

1.      Karma: law of cause and effect by which one reaps what one sows.

a.       “karma” means “works,” “deeds”

b.      All actions, particularly moral actions, have predictable effects – each person is responsible for every action he or she performs; every action will influence one’s future

c.       One’s present conditions, character, circumstances are all the result of past actions

d.      Textual and popular understandings of karma

2.      Samsara: The fundamental problem.   The cycle of rebirth / as the instability and impermanence of creation

a.       The cycle of birth and rebirth

                                                  i.      One’s present life = one of a long chain of lives, countless lives in human and non-human forms (including existence as deities)

b.      Hierarchical order of all species in existence, such as caste (complementarity and hierarchy)

c.       Samsara as the fluid and changing universe

IV.  Moksha

 

1.      The pervasive and inevitable aspect of suffering in human life

a.       Even heaven is temporary, no permanent refuge.  Even the gods are trapped in samsara

b.      Suffering pervades human existence: the endless cycles of suffering, death, rebirth:  “May the evil of death not get me” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad), “To hoary and toothless and drooling old age may I not go” (Chandogya Upanishad)

c.       The solution = moksha.  Liberation from the endless round.

d.      With this solution: an entirely new concept of the ultimate reality

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