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OM, AUM

Hinduism
Many Paths to One God

Vedas and Vedic Concepts

The earliest literary productions of the Aryan settlers in India were the Rg-Veda, Sama Veda (consisting of chants), Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda (a composite religious and magical compilation) The Vedas comprise Mantras (hymns ), Brahmanas (ritual and ceremonies), Aranyakas (forest speculations) and the philosophical Upanisads.

In the context of This commonly accepted interpretation of the Vedas, it may be recalled that European Orientalists have too often considered them mainly from the theological, anthropological and sociological points of view. A study of the material in its religious aspect is difficult, since even the great commentary of Sayana is in terms of the ideas of his own age. 

On the presumption that the Vedas originated in primitive times, the Rg-Veda hymns were regarded as the outpourings of a child-like nature worship. John Dowson in his Hindu Classical Dictionary observed: 

"The Aryan settlers were a pastoral and agricultural people, and they were keenly alive to those influences which affected their prosperity and comfort. They knew the effects of heat and cold, rain and drought, upon their crops and herds, and they marked the influence of warmth and cold, sunshine and rain, wind and storm, upon their own personal comfort. They invested these benign and evil influences with a personality; and behind the fire, the sun, the cloud, and the other powers of nature, they saw beings who directed them in their beneficent and evil operations. To these imaginary beings they addressed their praises, and to them they put up their prayers for temporal blessings. They observed also the movements of the sun and moon, the constant succession of day and night, the intervening periods of morn and eve, and to these also they gave personalities, which they invested with poetical clothing and attributes. Thus observant of nature in its various changes and operations, alive to its influences upon themselves, and perceptive of its beauties, they formed for themselves deities in whose glory and honor they exerted their poetic faculty."

But on a careful analysis of the Vedas it would be apparent that the Vedic view is more subtle and deeper in concept. 

The One Being whom the sages call by many names (Ekam-sat) is referred to in the neuter gender, signifying divine existence and not a divine individual. 

The monotheistic God stands in relation to man as a father and a patriarch, while in a Rg-Veda hymn to Agni he is called "my father, my kinsman, my brother and my friend". Monotheism, it has been aptly stated "contemplates the Divine in heaven and polytheism contemplates the Divine in the universe. Polytheism believes in the assembly of gods, each possessing a character of his own. 

Max Muller coined the word henotheism for indicating the tendency of the Vedic seers to magnify the importance of the particular deity they are praising in a hymn at the expense of the other gods. This has been described as "opportunist monotheism''. One deity is identified with another or different deities are identified with one divine entity, indifferently described as Ekam (one) and Tat Sat (the reality).

Vedic concepts

Apart from these concepts. there are two basic ideas underlying the Vedas:

Satya (truth) and 
Rta (eternal order); 

and every god or goddess exemplifies and represents these two ideas. As Abinash Chandra Bose says in his "Call of the Vedas," Vedic theism is based on moral values which (also in the case of Buddhism) may be upheld in a non-theistic way. 

In India it is not the atheist who is denounced but the person who repudiates Dharma, moral law. The Rg-Veda (X-85-1) states that the earth is sustained not by the will of God but by truth, and of This truth God is the supreme exponent, revealing Himself through Rta or eternal order. Examining the Vedic hymns as a whole, one discovers a doctrine, not of oneness, but of one divine substance pervading all. It is stated that the One Being is contemplated by the sages in many forms: Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti (Rg-Veda, X-114-5). It may also be observed that the Vedic ritual or Yajna is a uniform ceremonial; whatever deity is worshipped, the ritual is the same.

The universality of the Vedas is not often realized. The Rg Veda asserts that God is the God of Dasa as well as of Arya - "Lord God is he to whom both Arya and Dasa belong". (Rg Veda, Vlll-51-9). There is a special prayer for the forgiveness of sins against the foreigner (Rg-Veda, V-35-7). According to the Atharva Veda, God is of the foreigner (Videsya) no less than of our own land (Samdesya). There are mantras which extend this principle to all living beings (sarvani bhutani) ( Yajur Veda, 36-18) so that we come to a grand conception of universal peace and serenity - the harmony with Nature (sarvam santhi) (Yajur Veda, 36-17).

Source: Hinduism by Dr. C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar, et.al., The Gazetteer of India, Volume 1, Publications Division, Government of India, 1965.

See Also:

Hindu Scriptures

Rig-Veda Samhita

Yajur-Veda Samhita

Sama-Veda Samhita

Atharva-Veda Samhita

The Upanishads (Vedanta)

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