Spiritual transformations of the 2 nd century bce
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Spiritual Transformations of the 2 nd Century BCE. Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D. REL 231 Religions of India and Tibet Berea College Fall 2003. THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (321-185 BCE). Unified under Mauryan Empire Host to multiple intellectual movements and religious traditions, including:

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Spiritual Transformations of the 2 nd Century BCE

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Spiritual transformations of the 2 nd century bce

Spiritual Transformations of the 2nd Century BCE

Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D.

REL 231

Religions of India and Tibet

Berea College

Fall 2003


The mauryan empire 321 185 bce

THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (321-185 BCE)


India in the 2 nd century bce

Unified under Mauryan Empire

Host to multiple intellectual movements and religious traditions, including:

Vedic orthodoxy

Upanishadic schools (Samkhya, Yoga)

Non-Vedic heterodoxy (Jaina, Theravāda)

“Popular religion” (cults of deities such as Narayana, Vasudeva, Krishna)

Development of 2 textual categories:

Şruti (“that which is heard”) – revealed scripture, e.g., Vedas

Smriti (“that which is remembered”) – wisdom of sages, e.g., epics

Emergence of 3 distinct spiritual paths within Vedic tradition:

Karmamarga (“path of action”) – dharma-oriented, rooted in Vedas

Jñanamarga (“path of knowledge”) – asceticism-oriented, rooted in Upanişads

Bhaktimarga (“path of devotion”) – worship-oriented, rooted in epics

Characteristics of the period:

Philosophically mystical

Religiously eclectic

Socially conservative

INDIA IN THE 2ND CENTURY BCE


The bhagavad g t

THE BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ

  • “Song of the Lord”

  • Small portion of Mahābhārata:

  • Longest poem in world

  • Describes war of succession to leadership of kşatriya Bhārata clan, c. 1000 BCE

  • Attained final written form between 600 and 100 BCE

  • Technically smriti, but popularly regarded as şruti

  • Concerns conflict between two families within Bhārata clan:

  • Kauravas (majority)

  • Pandavas (minority, including Prince Arjuna)


Themes in the g t

THEMES IN THE GĪTĀ

  • Reinterprets older concepts:

  • Brahman

  • Dharma

  • Karma

  • Introduces avatāra (“incarnation”) concept – manifestation of ultimate reality (e.g., deity) in temporal form (e.g., human being)

  • Develops 3 paradoxes:

  • “nondualistic theism”

  • “deterministic freedom”

  • “universalistic sectarianism”


Nondualistic theism

“NONDUALISTIC THEISM”

  • How can Krishna be both Brahman andavatāra?

  • In Upanişads:

  • Brahman = impersonal absolute force, all-in-all

  • Ātman = collective identity of self in relation to whole

  • Advaita = nonduality as ultimate nature of reality

  • In Gītā:

  • Krishna = personal deity

  • Arjuna = individual self

  • Dvaita = duality of deity/devotee, self/other, dharma/karma, etc.


Deterministic freedom

“DETERMINISTIC FREEDOM”

  • How can Arjuna both choose to act and acknowledge the law of karma?

  • Human freedom is constrained by 3 factors:

  • Nature (prakriti) – basic material circumstances

  • Karma – consequences of previous actions that condition future actions

  • Deity – Krishna himself determines history

  • Above all, human freedom is constrained by attachment to egoistic independence


Universalistic sectarianism

“UNIVERSALISTIC SECTARIANISM”

  • How can one discern right action by cultivating karmaandjñanaandbhakti?

  • Karma overcomes unrighteousness (adharma) that seeks to avoid action

  • Jñana overcomes ignorance (avidya) about the nature of action

  • Bhakti overcomes attachment (upadana) to the results of action

  • All paths (margas) are valid contextually – i.e., in the context of a particular level of developed understanding

  • Paradox is the consequence of this “progressive” theory of truth


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