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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 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)


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 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 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”

  • 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”

  • 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”

  • 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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