Definitions

Vedic. By the “Vedic Period” we are indicating an era during which the Vedas, Brahmanas, the oldest Upanishads, the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, the oldest Puranas, older portions of the Manusmriti, etc. were composed. While according to modern scholars this duration is but a couple of millennia and the composition of some of these texts is believed to extend into the modern era, according to Indian tradition and chronology the timelines reach many millennia back into pre-history, and according to H. P. Blavatsky and the school of her Teachers, the sources of some Upanishads and portions of other texts may extend so far back in time as to seem simply unbelievable to modern scholars. With traditional Indian chronology and the latter point of view in mind, it would not be particularly accurate or helpful to lump together all these various texts into such a single or short era of development, but would perhaps be more beneficial to avoid the unknowns of chronology and to connect texts, teachers, and lineages in other ways. In this case, we may suggest the following categories for study:

1. The Vedas, along with their glosses, the Brahmanas and Aranyakas, in which we find the oldest Mukhya Upanishads;
2. The Epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata, thus including the Bhagavad Gita);
3. The Puranic Literature, which Blavatsky suggests to be echoes of far more ancient doctrines;
4. The Laws of Manu, portions of which Blavatsky suggests to be much older than the main body of the text;
5. The oldest foundational texts belonging to each of the Six School of Indian Philosophy, i.e. the Sankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, etc.

While we do not fix the earliest dates for this “Vedic Period,” we may fix an “end”—or rather a notable transition in the development of Indian thought—with the earliest formations of what would become the Mahajanapadas, the kingdoms that would come to cover the Gangetic plains of northern India, in which several major developments in spiritual thought would arise, most notably Buddhism, the codification of Jainism by Mahavira, the same of Yoga by Patanjali, Vedanta by Gaudapada and then Sankaracharya, etc. Students are encouraged to explore all viewpoints and claims relating to Indian history, development and schools of thought, with an open but discerning mind, and not to eagerly dismiss traditional records, chronologies and views, but to give them fair consideration.


Note: following definitions are drawn from the Theosophical Glossary of H. P. Blavatsky, unless otherwise noted.

Key Texts

Vedas (Sk.) The “revelation,” The scriptures of the Hindus, from the root vid, “to know,” or “divine knowledge.” They are the most ancient as well as the most sacred of the Sanskrit works. The Vedas on the date and antiquity of which no two Orientalists can agree, are claimed by the Hindus themselves, whose Brahmans and Pundits ought to know best about their own religious works, to have been first taught orally for thousands of years and then compiled on the shores of Lake Manasarovara beyond the Himalayas, in Tibet. When was this done? While their religious teachers, such as Swami Dayanand Saraswati, claim for them an antiquity of many decades of ages, our modern Orientalists will grant them no greater antiquity in their present form than about between 1,000 and 2,000 B.C. As compiled in their final form by Veda-Vyasa, however, the Brahmans themselves unanimously assign 3,100 years before the Christian era, the date when Vyasa flourished.

Brahmanas (Sk.) Hindu Sacred Books. Works composed by, and for Brahmans. Commentaries on those portions of the Vedas which were intended for the ritualistic use and guidance of the “twice-born” (Dwija) or Brahmans.

Aranyakas (Sk.) . . . A portion of the Vedas containing Upanishads, etc.

Upanishad Translated as “esoteric doctrine,” or interpretation of the Vedas by the Vedanta methods. The third division of the Vedas appended to the Brahmanas and regarded as a portion of Sruti or “revealed” word. They are, however, as records, far older than the Brahmanas—with the exception of the two, still extant, attached to the Rig-Veda of the Aitareyins [i.e. Aitareya and Kashitaki Upanishads]. The term Upanishad is explained by the Hindu pundits as “that which destroys ignorance, and thus produces liberation” of the spirit, through the knowledge of the supreme though hidden truth . . . It is from these treatises of the Upanishads—themselves the echo of the primeval Wisdom-Religion—that the Vedanta system of philosophy has been developed. . . .

Manava Dharma Shastra (Sk.)  [Manusmriti] The ancient code of law of, or by Manu.

Puranas (Sk.) Lit., “ancient.” A collection of symbolical and allegorical writings—eighteen in number now—supposed to have been composed by Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata.

Mahabharata (Sk.) Lit., the “great war”; the celebrated epic poem of India (probably the longest poem in the world) which includes the Bhagavad Gita “the Song Celestial.” . . .

Bhagavad-gita (Sk.) Lit., “the Lord’s Song.” A portion of the Mahabharata, the great epic poem of India. It contains a dialogue wherein Krishna—the “Charioteer”—and Arjuna, his Chela, have a discussion upon the highest spiritual philosophy. The work is pre-eminently occult or esoteric.

Ramayana (Sk.) The famous epic poem collated with the Mahabharata. . . . in Ramayana the allies of Rama are monkeys, led by Hanuman, and monster birds and other animals, all of whom fight against the Rakshasas, or demons and giants of Lanka.


Schools of Indian Philosophy

While major developments in several of the traditional schools of Indian philosophy occurred later than the “Vedic Period,” the roots and origins of each can be traced, if not historically then doctrinally, to much earlier times.

Darsanas (Sk.) The Schools of Indian philosophy, of which there are six; Shad-darsanas or six demonstrations. . . . The Shad-darshana (or Six Demonstrations) have all a starting point in common, and maintain that ex nihilo nihil fit [“nothing comes from nothing”].

Sankhya (Sk.) The system of philosophy founded by Kapila Rishi, a system of analytical metaphysics, and one of the six Darshanas or schools of philosophy. It discourses on numerical categories and the meaning of the twenty-five tatwas (the forces of nature in various degrees). This “atomistic school,” as some call it, explains nature by the interaction of twenty-four elements with purusha (spirit) modified by the three gunas (qualities), teaching the eternity of pradhana (primordial, homogeneous matter), or the self-transformation of nature and the eternity of the human Egos.

Sankhya Yoga (Sk.) The system of Yoga as set forth by the above school.

Yoga (Sk.) (1) One of the six Darshanas or schools of India; a school of philosophy founded by Patanjali, though the real Yoga doctrine, the one that is said to have helped to prepare the world for the preaching of Buddha, is attributed with good reasons to the more ancient sage Yajnavalkya, the writer of the Shatapatha Brahmana, of Yajur Veda, the Brihad aranyaka, and other famous works. (2) The practice of meditation as a means of leading to spiritual liberation. Psycho-spiritual powers are obtained thereby, and induced ecstatic states lead to the clear and correct perception of the eternal truths, in both the visible and invisible universe.

Nyaya (Sk.) One of the six Darshanas or schools of Philosophy in India; a system of Hindu logic founded by the Rishi Gautama.

Vaiseshika (Sk.) One of the six Darshanas or schools of philosophy, founded by Kanada. It is called the Atomistic School, as it teaches the existence of a universe of atoms of a transient character, an endless number of souls and a fixed number of material principles, by the correlation and interaction of which periodical cosmic evolutions take place without any directing Force, save a kind of mechanical law inherent in the atoms; a very materialistic school.

Mimansa (Sk.) A school of philosophy; one of the six in India. There are two Mimansa the older and the younger. The first, the “Parva-Mimansa,” was founded by Jamini, and the later or “Uttara Mimansa,” by a Vyasa—and is now called the Vedanta school.

Uttara Mimansa (Sk.) The second of the two Mimansas—the first being Pûrva (first) Mimansa, which form respectively the fifth and sixth of the Darshanas or schools of philosophy. The Mimansa are included in the generic name of Vedanta, though it is the Uttara (by Vyasa) which is really the Vedanta.

Vedanta (Sk.) A mystic system of philosophy which has developed from the efforts of generations of sages to interpret the secret meaning of the Upanishads (q.v.). It is called in the Shad-Darshanas (six schools or systems of demonstration), Uttara Mimansa, attributed to Vyasa, the compiler of the Vedas, who is thus referred to as the founder of the Vedanta. The orthodox Hindus call Vedanta—a term meaning literally the “end of all (Vedic) knowledge”—Brahma-jnana, or pure and spiritual knowledge of Brahma. . . . Sankaracharya, who was the popularizer of the Vedantic system, and the founder of the Adwaita philosophy, is sometimes called the founder of the modern schools of the Vedanta.


Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.