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Spiritual Evolution of Hinduism

By: Nithin Sridhar
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When we browse through the philosophical concepts and spiritual manuals of various Hindu schools and sects, what clearly appears is that the spiritual evolution conception of God can be broadly classified into 3 stages.

First, the Vedic(that includes Veda Samhita, Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads), second, the Agamic or tantric (that includes various tantric texts of various schools Shaivas, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, Ganapathyas). Aghoras like Naths, even though form a separate category by them-self, can be clubbed in Tantras under Vamachara (Left hand Path). The third stage is Puranas.

The usual division of Hindu philosophy (Astika schools) is into 6 schools: Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaishesika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. All of them can be traced back into Gita and Upanishads and Itihasas. For one, Mimamsa and Vedanta take Vedas as Ultimate Authority. The ideas of Yoga and Sankhya are mentioned in Upanishads and Gita. Yoga is a practical application of Samkhya. Mimamsa is ritualistic aspect of Vedic Knowledge. The Vedanta is based on the Prashtana Trayi (Upanishads, Gita and Brahma sutra). Hence, the Astika schools are just the extension and independent development from the Vedic stage.

In the Vedic stage, we first find the evolution of period of Mantra Samhita. The Samhita consists of Mantras which are the spiritual truths realized by rishis in meditation and expressed in human language. That is the reason, vedas are called "Apaurusheya" and as "Drashtya". Apaurusheya means divine origin, that is not created by humans. The Rishi"s visualized these truths in meditation, hence they are called "Drashtya".

It appears that, Rishi"s mainly worshiped 5 elements, Agni being most prominent. They attained highest realizations using upasana the 5 elements. In Rig vedic period, the Agni refereed is clearly the Internal Bhuta Agni. By Yajurvedic period, Agni seems to have materialized into external fire of Yangna. This seems to suggest that, spiritual methods were discovered and or invented to help common people. These common people were not spiritually advanced enough to worship the Bhuta Agni. And hence, external fire worship was conceptualized which would help them to spiritually advance to a stage where they can worship the internal fire directly.

The Brahmanas are detailed manuals for conducting Yagnyas. Every fire ritual includes Jap and Dyan. Doing Jap and Dyan in a fire ritual, will purify the fire element in body to begin with. Where as Pranayam purifies the air element in the body. This pranayam was codified and developed in the Yoga school in the latter age. Doing a fire ritual not only purifies the Sadhak but also amplifies the effect of the Jap and Dyan done.

The Upanishads sages, concentrated more on laying down proper philosophical explanations for the various spiritual experiences mentioned in Samhita. Upanishad means "Near Guru", they are teachings from Guru to Shishya. And hence, we find them explaining meanings and interpretations of other aspects of Vedas.

The latter day development of astika schools not only take inspiration from Vedas but they can be traced back to Upanishads and Gita. So, we find a continuous development of Vedic thought and practice, even though they became less prominent day by day in practice, even though they dominated the Philosophy. Shankaracharya who was first person to codify Vedic thoughts and write commentaries on it was also a SriVidya upasak, a tantric path of Maa Lalita Mahatripurasundari. Ramanuja and Madhava were proponents of Bhakti, derived from its puranic version.

These clearly establish that, even during the time of Adi Shankara, Vedic and Tantric methods were used in Integrated way. Some scholars believe that Tantra is contradictory to Vedas. But this claim is far from truth. If we examine basic tantric texts, it clearly shows that they do not differ from Vedic thoughts. Infact, Tantric texts are mainly practical manuals. They explain different ways of attaining siddhis and realizations of spiritual truths.
The differences, if there are some are in the practical approaches and not in Spiritual truths between Veda and Tantra.

The Vedas were composed over few millenniums and have been passed into the present age. The Agamas are of comparatively recent origin. Agamic texts are similar to Vedic texts in the sense that they are also collections of Spiritual experiences of Sadhakas. They were also passed from Guru to Shishya. It appears that after Upanishadic period, a need was felt to expand the domain of spiritual practices and explore new ways and Siddis. This lead to Individual sadhakas involving themself in deep sadhana to understand different aspects of cosmos and tap different energies of cosmos.

A simpler fire ritual-Homam was designed. The Vedic mantra"s had given more importance to "Intonations". But, Agamic mantras were more to do with "Intend" than "Intonations". The spiritual diagrams, Yanthras were conceptualized. Deities are nothing but personification of different energies. They represent different aspect of Cosmos. As the source of whole Universe is primordial sound OM (Shabda Brahman). Mantras are mediums for tapping different energies of the Universe.

Mantras are the subtle bodies of the deities. Every mantra meditated upon, creates a particular visualization in him corresponding to that aspect of Cosmos. A sadhaka who does a jap of mantra, first purifies his ego which will create a void in him. Then the deity of the mantra could fill him fully. His whole personality will be transformed. And hence, the Mantra is the subtle body of that deity. Similarly, we could invoke the deity either in fire(Homam) or in Yantras.During Agamic period, Agni was not directly worshiped, but he was used as a medium where different cosmic energies can be invoked.

The third stage, Puranas appears to be compilations done specifically for the masses. The spiritual truth"s have been symbolized in the form of stories. Even the spiritual Sadhanas have been included inside the stories. These were composed specifically for people who are yet to involve themselves in sadhana. The latter day Bhakti traditions derive heavily from Puranic literatures.

The mantras, Yantras and the Icons/Idols are all not only representations of deities, but also the abodes of subtle bodies of deities. We observe that, during Vedic period only mantra was enough to visualize and invoke the Deities (Cosmic energies). But by the time of Agamas, Yantras were used along with Mantras in he process of Sadhana. It was only during Puranic age that, personifications of cosmic energies were complete. The icons and human representations of divine energy were materialized during this age. What is important to note here is, the images and idols of deities are not products of whims and fancies of some superstitious people. But, they were representations of cosmic visions which genuine sadhakas had experienced.

One important conclusion can be derived at from the evolution of representations of deities. It appears that, spiritual level of people in Vedic period was more advanced than that during Agamic or Puranic. And hence, with the Kali Yuga set in, and spiritual level successively deteriorating, new methods and simpler tools were introduced to assist the masses. And as a result, aids to help in Visualizations were successively introduced.

There is a lack of research in this direction. If more research is done in this aspect of "Spiritual evolution", many misconceptions about Hinduism would be cleared.

Nithin Sridhar

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