Vedic Religion: Way of Action/Way of Knowledge


Early Veda: The Way of Action


1.      Origins of Hinduism in two ancient cultural complexes:

a.       Indus valley civilization (c.2500 BCE to 1500 BCE)

b.      Aryan culture (developed during 2nd millenium BCE)

2.      The Aryans: arya means “noble” or “honorable”

a.       Indo-European speaking > Vedic Sanskrit > Classical Sanskrit

b.      Nomadic, superior war technology (metalurgy, chariots, horses)

3.      Vedic Society

a.       The Purusa Sukta and the four classes (see Fisher) – found in the earliest Vedic text, the Rigveda

b.      The twice-born castes (upper three) access to the vedic tradition; subjugation of Dravidians into a four caste

                                                  i.      Priests (Brahamanas)

                                                ii.      Warriors and rules

                                              iii.      Agriculturalists and merchants

                                              iv.      Servants

4.      Two Dimensions of Vedic Religion: Sacrificial and Visionary

a.       Sacrificial

b.      Visionary

                                                  i.            “Seers” (rishis) receive direct vision of the divine, sometimes through the use of Soma


Vedanta: The Way of Knowledge


1.      The Speculative age: 800 BCE – 400 BCE

a.       Emergence of new religious voices

a.       “Vedanta” as culmination of the Vedas

b.      Critique of early Vedic religion – Brahmans and sacrifice

c.       The Upanisads

                                                  i.      Literally “sitting at the feet of” – indicating centrality of guru-disciple relationship, conveyance of secret knowledge

2.      Brahman: A single pervasive power and essence, source of all things

                                                  i.      “That from which these beings are born; on which, once born, they live; and into which they pass upon death – seek to perceive that?  That is brahman!”

                                                ii.      Totality of sacred words in the Veda; gives unlimited power to sacrifice; Essence of the entire world; the power that reside s in all beings, including the gods

                                              iii.      Svetaketu (boy) and Uddalaka (his father): Sve hasn’t heard of world soul

                                              iv.      Brahman is the essence and source of the whole phenomenal world

3.      Atman: the reality that is the lasting and indispensable basis of one’s being

a.       Relationship between Atman and Brahman

b.      Tat tvam asi

c.       Moksha as merger with Brahman or mystical knowledge (jnana) of Brahman

4.      Polytheism: belief in more than one god

a.       Monotheism: doctrine that there is one God

b.      Polytheism: doctrine that there are many gods

c.       Pantheism: doctrine that all that all beings are divine or that God is in everything. (early Upanisads)

d.      Monism: doctrines that teach that only one being exists (later Vedantic philosophy of Shankara)


  1. Veda, Vedanta
  2. Aryans
  3. Indus Valley Civilization
  4. Rigveda
  5. Purusha Sukta
  6. The four castes
  7. Rishi
  8. Upanishads
  9. Brahman
  10. Atman
  11. Jnana
  12. Pantheism
  13. Monism