Hindu Spirituality: Vedas Through Vedanta

Buy it now

Front Cover of Hindu Spirituality: Vedas Through Vedanta

Hindu Spirituality: Vedas Through Vedanta

A broad-ranging, lightly-illustrated, scholarly treatment of core topics in Hindu spirituality during its formative earlier periods. It brings together the complex skein of thoughts, beliefs, and practices that developed from the archaic period of the Vedas and received their early crystallization as Vedanta. It presents the eternal, timeless dimension of Hinduism.

Reviews and endorsements

Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta is the first of two volumes on Hindu spirituality in the "World Spirituality" series. The present volume is concerned with what its editor terms classical Hinduism which extends from the Vedic period (c. 1500 B.C.) through Srikantha and Appaya Diksita (c.1500 A.D.). To this period of 2000 years, Sivaraman has wisely added two chapters on 20th century exemplifications of classical Hinduism (included as one of these 20th century exemplifications is the remarkable woman Hindu "saint," Sri Anandamayi Ma).

The book follows a roughly chronological order from the Vedic period through the Vedanta spirituality of Ramanuja, Srikantha, and Madhva. In the course of the chapters treating the chronological development of Hinduism, one of the chapters is devoted to Jain spirituality as an expression of the Sramanic side of Hinduism. After the main chronological chapters come two chapters on the relationships of Hindu spirituality to nature and to health; these are followed by the already mentioned chapters on 20th century exemplifications of the classic spirit of Hinduism. Throughout the volume, there are illustrative photos, chiefly of statues and other sacred objects. Each chapter in the book has its own footnotes and a bibliography of primary sources and secondary studies of the chapter's subject matter. A lengthy glossary and indexes (Subjects; Names) conclude the volume which gives an altogether enlightening account of Hindu spirituality, though the ideal reader of the volume requires some previous knowledge of  Hinduism in general.
ADRIS Magazine

,

Sivaraman Sits in First Hindu Studies Chair in N. America

Just last year Hindu studies professor and author Krishna Sivaraman had retired from his post at McMaster University in eastern Canada. At 65 he’d invested forty years into teaching and scholastic pursuits.

However, the Gods and Montreal’s Hindus had other plans. Four years ago they initiated a funding drive to establish a Hindu Studies Chair at Concordia University in Montreal. In late 1989 with US$365,000 raised in gifts and interest, the Chair was officially occupied by Sivaraman making it the first in the Western hemisphere Sivaraman said in an interview that the post provides “a much needed forum for learning about Hindu texts, the Hindu philosophy and the Hindu tradition for anybody interested in the Hindu tradition but especially for people of Indian origin who look for guidance in their tradition.” He sees the chair as affording him an opportunity to work with Hinduism in a more “thematic” way.

Guest of honor at the inaugural address and function was Gerry Wiener, Secretary of State and Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Citizenship. Concordia Engineering and Computer Science Dean M.N.S. Swamy was head of the fund-raising effort. He offered sincere kudos to the some 600 individuals who contributed to the chair’s financing and also expressed gratitude to the Concordia administration for being so receptive and cooperative in creating the new program He enthused “Establishing this first Chair in Hindu Studies is not just a question of our own children knowing a bit more about their backgrounds. It is much more than that. Canadians who pursue Hindu studies may now be in a better position to appreciate people of Indian origin who have made Canada their country.”

Sivaraman brings to his new teaching incarnation a virile sense of scholarship He is a voluble winter producing many long, intellectually keen books Published just recently are Vedas Through Vedanta and The Widening Circle With twenty years at Banaras Hindu University in India and seventeen at McMaster in Canada the scholastic compass of his mind is philosophy. He observes that many current books on Hindu studies opinion is that while such work certainly throws new light on the Hindu religion, both in terms of is past and its living present it often underplays or even ignores the philosophical side Hindu philosophy is not one unitary philosophy but a complex and diversified subject, many-faceted representing several world views and ways of life There is no sense of separation of theory from practice, as commonly understood in western religions. Hindu religion in whichever sense is understood primarily as a cognitive discipline.”

In sum, Sivaraman offers, “My definition of Hinduism is what teaches one how to be more human.”
Global Harmony

,

This is the first of two collections of essays on Hinduism in the twenty-five-volume World Spirituality series. Its companion, volume seven. scheduled to appear in 1996, intends to cover the "post-classical" period to the present. Professor Sivaraman has organized this first survey into eight parts. The first three include eight essays discussing the topic of spirituality in the Vedic, epic and sramanic periods, the last period confined to a single essay on Jainism. (Two other volumes in the series have been allotted to Buddhism.) Then follows part four, devoted to Yoga and the grammarians. Parts five and six discuss Vedanta in four essays, while part seven includes essays on "Spirituality and human life." concerned with nature and health (Āyurveda). The concluding part eight is a leap from Caraka into the twentieth century to promote Ramana Maharsi, Śri Candraśekharendra Sarasvati and Ānandamayi Mā as "spokespersons" for "the classical spirit" in the contemporary world.

The general impression of this reviewer is that World .Spirituality is on the whole an excellent series but this is not the strongest contribution thus far. Fully a third of the authors are retired, a fact that may explain a frequent innocence regarding current issues in Hindu studies and the critical ideological advances of the past thirty years. While several essays are innovative, well written, and engaging, some are lackluster and desultory, as if to admit there is nothing new to be said on ancient subjects, while others are frequently uncritical, hagiographic, or sermonizing. When one compares this with the first of two volumes on Buddhist Spirituality, the energy, crispness and even tone of the latter, as well as authorial ease with current lines of inquiry, are entirely evident. Although the target readership of Hindu Spirituality is "the non-specialist" (p. 59, n. 2), some essays are densely laden with terms (all Sanskrit, classical Tamil spiritual traditions being unconsidered). Non-specialists beware: one essay drops thirty Sanskrit technical terms in three pages and not a one is adequately defined in context. Editorial design has favored Indian textual scholars associated now or previously with universities in India or Canada. No European or American authority on Hinduism is included.

Only two of the twenty authors are female, one a practitioner of homeopathic medicine in Italy and co-author of a discussion of the Caraka Samthitā, the other an author of a hagiographic encomium of Ānandamayi Mā (1896-1982) that would seem properly to have been saved for the companion volume on post-classical and modern Hinduism. Perhaps it is not an accident that scant representation of women scholars is accompanied by a complete absence of discussion of goddess traditions in ancient, classical, and early medieval India. "Goddess" does not appear in the index and no Hindu or Jaina goddess is listed by name-unless one counts Sitā as "ideal wife" and the anachronistic Ānandamayi Mā. Laksmi is mentioned in one line as a Vedāntic intermediary deity in the scheme of Madhva. The classic Devimāhātmya is not among the scores of texts mentioned. Hindu theism means maleness in this volume, as though the spiritual ethos of the Vedic samhitās had gone unchallenged by alternative religious expressions throughout the formative classical and early medieval periods.

Not only maleness, but also oneness is at issue, since "God" and "Self" appear with great frequency here, not Indra, Soma, Prajāpati or Rudra-Śiva. The book's conceptual scheme has all but limited "spirituality" to the life of the mind, right knowledge, speculation, a few great philosophical texts sufficing to represent the religious expressions of South Asia for the two millennia represented here. The Atharvaveda, to take but one example, is cited only for evidence of sophisticated speculations on cosmogony to keep pace with the tenth mandala of the Rigveda, with not even passing mention to the worlds of spirituality articulated in domestic rituals, non-śrauta sacrifices, death and regeneration, sexuality and body symbolism, prayer, possessions, charms, spells, sorcery and everything on the dark side of spiritual experience that is so commanding in Hinduism past and present. Later on, bhakti receives two pages, pūjā none. This book is short of representing the cultural diversity of South Asia in the formative periods of Hinduism and long on "āchārya"-ized Hinduism, concluding with recent ācāryas as perpetuators of the Hindu "mainstream," i.e., Vedānta.

There is no space here for nineteen critiques, but several essays struck this reviewer as noteworthy. Wayne Whillier's contribution on the Vedic tradition has many useful remarks. particularly on ritual debates (brahmodya). An expanded version could have served as part one since the two preceding essays are inadequate. The first attempted to discuss Vedic spirituality apart from sacrifice and the second provided a list of sacrifices with no appreciation for schools, textual variants or the Vedic worldview. K. R. Sundararajan's essay on the Rāmāyana is one of the best available short introductions to the epic, engagingly written and full of insights. Ravi Ravindra and Arvind Sharma provide brief overviews of Yoga, the latter on buddhiyoga of the Gitā, but there is little to relate the phenomena of yoga to themes of the preceding eight essays. Yoga dates "from a period prior to the ascendancy of the Aryans in India" (Ravindra), a lone remark that may leave the reader wondering. There is an excellent piece by Harold Coward on Bhartrhari's sphota theory of language. Other portions of the book are illumined by his perceptions of "how the grammatically correct use of words could be understood as generating moral power, spiritual well being, and the dawning of the mystical vision."

The core of the book is patently Vedānta. Śankara (not in the index) receives little attention, but articles on Rāmānuja, Srikantha, and Madhva are by S. S. Raghavachar, the editor, and K. T. Pandurangi, respectively. The first looks for the sources of Viśistādvaita in the upanishads, brahmasūtras and the Gitā, then perhaps overstates the case with an observation (p. 263): "The great epics ... and the select Purānas function as elucidations, elaborations, and embellishments of this weighty direction of spiritual advancement." The editor presents Śiva Viśistādvaita, Brahman (Śiva) as non-dual, and the Madhva review includes, briefly, the sole discussion of upāsana, as well as comments on bhakti supplementing those of Pandurangi's essay. Klaus Klostermaier has a thoughtful piece on Sāmkhyan views of nature, vis-á-vis Advaitin disinterest in the subject, and he concludes with some comparative remarks on Western science.

The book has twenty-six photos, including four good ones for the Jainism essay, but virtually all needed editorial control. For example, the non-specialist reader may wonder about an unexplained second-century sculptured "Scene of Worship," or photos of sculptures of Brahmáni. Ganeśa. Nárasimha, "Ekmukhalinga,” "Sesasaye Visnu (sic); and "Dakshinamurti (sic)" that one always thought belonged to "Hindu spirituality" but are nowhere referred to in the book. One photo included amid discussions of the Vedas is labeled "Teaching the Holy Scriptures" and shows teacher and pupil with their fingers on a written text, clearly not Vedic instruction. Although puja is nowhere discussed-"ritual" being confined to the early Vedic age-one photo is an interesting one of "Lady offering worship to the Pipal Tree."

Finally, it should be noted in fairness to sruti that the translation of Rigveda 10.129, the famous Nasadiyasukta that quite appropriately begins this book, has curiously borrowed, without attribution, ten of the sixteen verses of the Purusasukta, Rigveda 10.90.
Journal of the American Society

,

Edited by Krishna Sivaraman, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University, this work comprises a series of 19 essays on “the classical period” by a group of scholars, almost all of whom are from India or Canada. (A second volume on the post-classical period is forthcoming.) The essays are arranged in eight parts, the headings of which are: “The Vedic Spirit,” “The Spiritual Horizons of Dharma,” “The Shamanic Spirituality,” “The Spiritual Quest for Immortality and Freedom,” “Vedanta as Reflective Spirituality,” “Vedanta as Devotion,” “Spirituality and Human Life” and “Contemporary Expressions of the Classical Spirit.”

I must emphasize at the outset that the scholarship demonstrated in the essays is of a high standard. Each author gives solid evidence of a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of the subject being discussed. As individual essays on a variety of topics, all are well worth reading.

Despite the general title of the series, this does not constitute a history in the conventional sense. Sivaraman has rather conceived the task as “presenting a synchronic picture of spiritually” (p. xxxi), by which I think he means allowing a number of different strategies which will together reveal the general Hindu spirituality. Thus, the approaches and scope of articles vary greatly. In some cases, the approach is one of it general introduction to the ideas of a tradition or thinker, with some attempt to focus on the idea of spirituality (e.g. Sagar Mal Jain on the Jains, Ravi Ravindra on Yoga, Harold Coward on the grammarian tradition, S. S. Ragavachar on Raunanuja. K.T. Pandurangi on Madhva and Sivaraman himself on the Sivadvaita of Srikantha).

On the other hand, there is not such general introduction to the spirituality of the Bhagavadgita; what is presented here is an essay by Arvind Sharma on the ramifications of the term buddhiyoga, which occurs three times in the Gita; and about it page towards the end of Ravindra’s article on Yoga. Similarly, articles on the Ramayana by K. K. Sundararajan and the Mahabharata by Arun Kumar Mookerjee are quite limited in focus, the former being mainly it treatment of Rama as ideal man and Sita as ideal woman, the latter a brief discussion of dharma as a goal in the Mahabharata. And Kenneth Post’s “Spiritual Foundations of Caste” is centered on the treatment of capital crime in the Chandogya Upanisad and two dharmasustras.

A further notable demonstration of the diversity of approaches is given in Kalidas Bhattacharya’s article “Vedanta as Philosophy of Spiritual life.” This is a highly abstract discussion of “knowing.” which actually presupposes a thorough familiarity with the ideas of Advaita Vedanta.

As I have pondered these diverse approaches I have had to conclude, that Sivaraman's experiment does not quite work. The providing of good general introductions to some traditions and thinkers and the lack of such with respect to others (as noted above) lends a certain distortion to the general picture.

The question of distortion is raised by another, fact: most of these articles might have been included in a volume on Indian philosophy. This may have to do with the difficulty in defining “spirituality”; Sivaraman attempts to provide a common focus for the articles via the term adhyatma. “pertaining to atman”, which he regards as a to “spiritual”; in the West. The overall effect, however, is to render the volume, largely an introduction to the categories of “'Veda”' and Darsana.” I found myself asking, “Is classical Hindu ‘spirituality’ so elitist, so much a matter of the high intellectual tradition?” I had hoped for more imagination, some fresh insight on what spirituality might have meant in this classical period. (This would involve, I think, a much more wideranging discussion of the epics and texts on dharma than is provided here, and some treatment of early puranas.)

I have one further difficulty with the book. I am well aware, as are all who work in this area, that the transliteration of Indic languages into the accepted Latinated forms requires a high degree of vigilance, and few writers manage to avoid errors totally. But in Hindu Spirituality there are hundreds of such errors. In the case of some essays. I found myself continually sidetracked into reading for errors in diacriticals. This lack of care is, to say the least, unfortunate.
Studies in Religion Magazine

,

"Throughout their long and variegated development, the religious traditions of India have never ceased to express their sense of commitment to what is often described in such negative terms as ‘renunciation’ and ‘otherworldliness.’ It would, however, be more precise to use the term worldlessness, because ‘otherworldliness’ was never the sole paradigm for the larger sphere of the Hindu cultural heritage. Those who do not make radical renunciation of the world, who live their lives in the matrix of outer relations called ‘the world,’ must nevertheless not become enmeshed in the world. For them, as well as for those who externally renounce the world, the turning around’ involves a liberation from the lack of freedom that characterizes life engulfed in the world. In this sense, for anyone who is in search of the meaning of his existence in the world, ‘worldlessness‘ embodies the greatest common denominator of the spiritual quest and represents the vocational symbol of India. Worldlessness, then, is not ‘life-and-world negation’ but reflects a spiritual mood and sense of orientation that includes a positive and a negative disposition. Worldlessness is a disposition to live in the world, singly or collectively, not for its own sake, not as a goal in itself worthy of pursuit as a sufficient ‘human end,’ but as a means or medium to life ‘in God,’ as a condition of life in the spirit.... Worldlessness is used here as the term of contrast to worldliness and its existential correlate, egoism. It is not the world as such, but the world generated and reared by the ego, individual and corporate, appropriated and owned as 'mine' that inhibits the expression of spirit. Spirit represents precisely that dimension which precludes the assertion of I as against you in any of its forms. True, the lure of worldliness and the thirst for life that it continually evokes also bespeak a vital urge of spirit, in response to the ‘pleasant (preyas) seizing upon a human being,’ but it has its source in a fundamental unwisdom, a primordial lack of insight into reality…. The general Hindu conceptualization of spirit is done in terms of the upanishadic notion of atman and its identity with the ground of being. Atman, the true theion of Hindu spiritual tradition, is preeminently not will or dynamic spirit as such. Itself beyond the distinction of static and dynamic, atman is rather the ‘ground’ which provides for this and similar other distinctions. It is the manifesting source of everything that is, and, likewise, negatively speaking the condition of everything that is not. But when it is discovered or realized, it is realized rather as a fullness of the depth in which everything ‘of the surface’ disappears.” -- Sivaraman, from the Introduction.
Transpersonal review

,

The series to which this volume belongs is entitled World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest and was planned years ago by the Crossroads Publishing Company in consultation with world scholars. This is the seventh volume published, although its proper place is the sixth in the 25-volume project. The first five volumes will deal with archaic spiritualties, and the last five with modern esoteric movements, the spirituality of the secular quest, the encounter of spiritualties and a dictionary of world spirituality. The remaining fifteen volumes deal with the spiritualties developed by the classical religions of the world.

The book under review is the first of two projected volumes on Hindu spirituality. If we may use a musical comparison, one could say that this volume sounds the chief movements of the hindu spiritual symphony down the centuries while the second volume will play the variations of the themes in “postclassical" Hinduism. Even in its chief movements the symphony is rich and varied. The editor rejects the strong dichotomy between Vadim and Hinduism characteristic of some indo-logical scholarship. There is continuity in the concert, even if one can distinguish the overture movements of the Vedic period from the intermezzo of the classical times and the finale of modern Hindu saints.

The essays are not written on the model of entries in classical dictionaries: summing up and presenting in an orderly fashion all the information available. For this the reader will have to go elsewhere. These volumes present rather reflective and sophisticated statements of the tradition, by people who have either lived within the Hindu tradition all their lives or made it the object of a long and sympathetic study. The ecumenical character of the contributors is one of the strong points of the work. The articles suppose therefore a fairly deep acquaintance with the Hindu tradition and would not make much sense to a beginner who is seeking for “Hindu spirituality in a nutshell.” The four essays describing the Vedic period speak of Vision, Sacrifice, Truth and Spiritual Knowledge (Upanishads). The classical period includes the Spiritual Foundations of Caste, presented as “a manifestation of a beginning less justice which is sovereign over all things” (xxxiii), the Ramayana ideal of the Perfect Life, and Dharma as goal in the Mahabharata. The Shamanic spirituality is represented by only one essay on Jainism, since Buddhism has to be covered in two separate volumes of the series. The hard core of orthodoxy is to be found in Kalidas Bhattacharyya’s learned paper on “Vedanta as Philosophy of Spiritual Life,” analyzing the metaphysics of knowledge, the paper on the Spiritual Vision of Ramanujan (S.S. Raghavachar), the editor’s own presentation of Srikantha (“Spirit as the Inner Space within the Heart") and K.T. Paduang’s presentation of Madhva’s “Vedanta as God-Realization.” Yoga and the Gita could of course not be absent from the volume but there are also rich secondary themes not often articulated in ideological books, like the “Word Spirituality in the Grammarian Tradition” (specially Bhartrhari), “Spirituality and Health” in the, Ayurveda tradition, and a general study on Spirituality and Nature by K. Klostermeier, stressing the outlook of the Samkhya tradition. The finale of the volume presents three modern examples of “traditional” Hindu spirituality: Ramana Maharshi, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the sixty-eighth Sankaracarya of Kanci, and Anandamayi Ma.

The authors are recognized scholars and each of' the essays is accompanied by a short bibliography of sources and studies. Good footnotes and indices enhance the value of the book. We could end by quoting the Editor: “What is the ‘Hindu’ character? One may say that it consists of making one live spiritually as if time were not ‘history.’ This is not the same as living without a sense of time or the change that time brings, as it is often caricatured. If anything, it bespeaks a sense of ‘history’ or change but as enfolded in timeless meaning. . . . Hinduism is . . .

a severe judge of all notions of history and historical theology that occidental historical awareness assumes as valid, and of all forms of evolution which, likewise, rest on the assumption of an all-too-easy identification of the good with the necessary”(xxv).
Vidyajyoti Journal


9780824507558
Hardcover / 496 pages
Dimensions: 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
HERDER & HERDER, 1989