This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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8.2. Points of View Within The Doctrine

The Divine Personality

Whether or not the Supreme Principle otherwise known as God ought to be conceived of as personal or impersonal is a question that unnecessarily disturbs the Western mind. We say unnecessarily because the question is in reality a false dichotomy, and from a metaphysical point of view both alternatives are true and valid. To demand that the Supreme Principle be viewed strictly personally is evidence of a truncated metaphysics, if not a lack of metaphysics altogether, which insists on viewing the Absolute in its relative aspect only, and not as It is in Itself. From the point of view of universal manifestation, that is to say from perspective of the created world, the Principle is personal. As the source of personality, it is from this point of view the Divine Personality. But viewed in Itself, it need not be limited to the determinations that are derived from it, personality being one of those. As the source of personhood, it is supra-personal. So again, to insist that God be viewed as personal is usually evidence of a tendency toward anthropomorphism, and usually carries with it an individualistic conception, both of these being illusions. The theological point of view with which the Western world is most familiar does not effectively make this distinction, which is why it does not readily provide terms to discuss it. We would be forced to use the term ‘God’ in so many diverse ways as to render it too vague to be useful. In the Far East, the distinction we have in mind is that between ‘Non-Being’ and ‘Being,’ while in Hindu terminology it is the distinguishing terms are Brahma and Ishwara.

Brahma and Ishwara

The absolutely universal Principle of all things, considered in and of itself, and which, like the God of the Christian apophatic tradition, cannot have any positive attributes, is Brahma. The Divine Personality, which is a kind of ‘first determination’ of Brahma and which, due to this lesser universality, can be spoken of with attributes, is called Ishwara. Brahma is declared to be nirguna or ‘beyond all qualification,’ as well as nirvishesha, ‘beyond all distinction.’ Ishwara, on the other hand, is saguna, ‘qualified,’ or savishesha, ‘conceived distinctly.’ Ishwara may receive attributes as analogical transpositions from the beings of which ‘He’ is the principle. For example, Ishwara is ‘God the Father,’ with maleness of fatherhood being attributes obviously transferred from the human domain, which does not make them untrue, but only true in a relative sense, as ultimately insufficient and which can serve only as ‘supports’ for meditation on a certain aspect of Ishwara.

Polytheism and Pratika

What Westerners see as polytheism in Hinduism is really nothing but the expression in symbolic form of the indefinite number of Divine Attributes which is is possible of applying to Ishwara or Universal Being. Their ‘pantheon’ is a symbolic key to a vast metaphysical doctrine for the purposes of mediation on particular aspects of the divine, clothed in an image and denoted by the term pratika. Idol worship and pratika worship are therefore entirely different practices. Idol worship only occurs when doctrine is forgotten. When a tradition loses touch in this way with its metaphysical basis, it soon ‘forgets’ that these symbols (patrika) are but clothed attributes, and begins to imagine them anthropomorphically as independent beings. This is precisely what occurred among the Greeks, who has an extensive pantheon of symbols which, in time, came to be devoid of any meaning but the most external, and were imagined as human-like beings and used as little more than fodder for poetry and art. This is idolatry in its truest sense, which involves the use of a symbol without an understanding of its true meaning. This is why it is true to call the Greeks idolaters, while the same cannot be said of the Hindus. This is also why the Greek pantheon can be described as ‘polytheism,’ which implies that the ‘gods’ be conceived as personalities after the fashion of man, while it is incorrect to describe Hinduism as theistic in any way, poly- or otherwise. Having said this, it should be understood that if an individual in the Hindu tradition chooses to ‘affiliate’ himself with a particular pratika, it should not be taken as an allegiance to one god over and against all others. It should, on the contrary, be taken as a statement about the constitution and aptitude of the individual himself, who in his tradition is free to attach himself to those symbols most in conformity to his nature and tendencies. That is to say, he is free to take the path most appropriate to him. Such an attitude is similar to the Catholic freedom to be devoted to a particular saint more than the rest, or the choice to join this monastic order and not another. We should add, however, that this is weak comparison, and it is true only concerning the attitude these two traditions show toward diversity of devotion, and should not be taken as suggesting doctrinal similarity in the practices themselves. That is to say, the Catholic saint is not patrika.

The Triple Manifestation of Ishwara

Proceeding from the undetermined further into the determined, from Non-Being into Being, the Universal to the less-so, we come to the Triple Manifestation of Ishwara, which is called the Trimurti. The first of these three is called Brahmā, distinguished from the undetermined Brahma by the accent. Brahmā is so named because He is the productive principle of all manifested beings, and is in this way the direct reflection in this lower order of Brahma, the Supreme Principle. It should be noted that the term Brahma is neuter, further reflecting its indetermination, while the accented Brahmā is masculine, hence the legitimacy of the pronoun ‘He’ at this point. Such distinctions are why it is preferable to use these two terms instead of a single Brahman, since the latter is common to both genders and so obscures a necessary point. We could also, however, recover the distinction by adopting the terms Para-Brahma and Apara-Brahma, which mean ‘Supreme Brahma’ and ‘non-supreme Brahma,’ respectively. The remaining to aspects of the Trimurta are complementary: Vishnu and Shiva. Whereas Brahmā is Ishwara as productive principle, Vishnu is Ishwara as animating and preserving principle, leaving Shiva as the transforming principle. Each of these, therefore, could be considered as universal functions of Ishwara.

Shivaism and Vishnuism

Because the Hindu is at liberty to attach himself to whatever symbol, which implies its own specific ‘point of view,’ most conforms to his nature and thereby assists him the most in his desire to identify himself with the Divine, it should be understood that the existence of groups devoted to Shiva and Vishnu does not imply sectarian opposition, any more than membership in the Catholic Benedictine order implies opposition to the Cistercians or the Franciscans. In this way, we arrive at the distinction between Vishnuism (or Vaishnavism) and Shivaism (or Shaivism). We emphasize again that both of these are complementary paths of realization for their disciples, and both or strictly orthodox. The Shaivas and the Vaishnavas each have their own books called Puranas and Tantras, which form a part of the category of traditional writings known as smriti. As we should expect, the emphasis of these writings correspond to the tendencies of those for whom they are meant. This means that they will each deal with a particular aspect of Hindu doctrine in their own way which, while different, remains orthodox. As an example, we can cite their treatment of the doctrine of the Divine Manifestations or Avataras.

Shakti and Shaktas

Each of the three Divine Aspects carry a power of their own, called Shakti. Each Shakti is represented under a feminine form, symbolizing its relationship with each member of the Trimurti. The Shakti of Brahmā is Saraswati; that of Vishnu is Lakshmi; that of Shiva is Parvati. Within the schools of Vishnuism and Shivaism there are members who devote themselves to special consideration of the Shakti, and are called Shaktas.

Symbolical filiation

From the process of derivation we have just sketched, it can be seen that the symbols used in Hinduism are all interconnected hierarchically in a scheme called symbolical filiation. The total unity of symbols available is vast, and we have only just scratched the surface. Those mentioned are therefore susceptible to indefinite subdivision into more particular aspects, which will be represented symbolically in their own way. While similar to the Greek pantheon, in which the gods are envisioned as a sort of family tree, it should be kept in mind that the symbolical filiation found in Hinduism is at the same time more vast and more coherent, because the relationships between its representations are not based on imaginative inbreeding but on the development of doctrine, and their sole purpose is to lead he who contemplates them on a path of metaphysical realization that allows him to ascend, ultimately, to Brahma.

Further remarks on points of view within Hinduism

While the number of legitimate points of view is only limited by the number of individuals in existence to adopt them, all of these points of view are contained in principle within the doctrine itself and must never diverge from it. The term darshana is well-known and refers to the six principal branches within the tradition: nyaya, vaisheshika, sankhya, yoga, mimansa, and vedanta. However, there are auxiliary groups that can either be grouped within these six or which must be spoken of in a different way, and we will mention those here at the outset so that if the reader happens to encounter them, he will understand their role in relation to the darshanas.

The six Vedangas

The term darshana should not be confused with Vedanga, a word which means literally ‘limb of the Veda.’ Confusion is understandable, especially considering the fact that we have called the darshanas ‘branches’ of the doctrine, and Vedanga has a literal meaning almost identical to this, and there are six of each; but the Vedangas are sciences, being compared to bodily limbs by which a being acts. They have what in the modern world would be called a ‘technical’ purpose, and this will become clear as we enumerate them. Shiksha is the science of correct pronunciation, which is drawn from a knowledge of the true meaning of letters and the laws of euphony. Chhandas is the science of prosody, applying the vibrations of the cosmic order to metre and rhythm. Vyakarana is grammar, although it should be remembered that here grammar is not arbitrary, but derived from the meaning of language. Nirukta concerns the explanation of terminology found in the Vedic texts, including but not limited to etymology, and more often concerning symbolic meanings and composition. Jyotisha is astronomy, but in the traditional context this means both astronomy and astrology, since the distinction between the two is a modern notion, invented to justify an incomprehension of the latter science. Even the Greeks combined the two and used the terms indifferently, although they and the Hindus mean by astrology something very different than the vulgar divinations involved in what passes under that term in the West. Finally, kalpa concerns the accomplishment of rites in order to give them efficacy. Their formulation in the sutras is concentrated and given a notation that has the appearance of algebraic precision. We should mention also that the texts related to the Vedangas are smriti, ‘that which is remembered,’ although due to their direct connection with the Vedas they are foremost among these.

The four Upavedas

Now we come to the Upavedas, which might be called arts, and as such are ‘subordinate sciences’ directly connected to each of the four Vedas and from which the Upavedas draw their respective principles. These are: Ayur-Veda, the science of medicine, connected to the Rig-Veda; Dhanur-Veda, military science, connected to the Yajur-Veda; Gandharva-Veda, music, corresponds to the Sama-Veda; Sthapatya-Veda, concerning mechanics and architecture, is connected to the Atharva-Veda.

Enumeration of the six darshanas

We are now prepared to enter into a discussion of the six darshanas, which form an integral part of the doctrine and stand over and above all the rest. We will deal with them in the order than they are usually listed, because this is not accidental and because, as pairs, they have certain affinities to one another. We remind the reader again to remove all notions of strife and sectarianism from his mind as he approaches these points of view, and to disregard any attempts to place a framework of chronological development on them. They must be viewed in simultaneity, and their historical elements as purely secondary and accidental. That said, the darshanas are: nyaya, vaisheshika, sankhya, yoga, mimansa, and vedanta. The first two can be thought of as proceeding analytically, while the remaining four are synthetic. Additionally, the last two–mimansa and vedanta–stand above the others as direct interpretations of the Veda, others being derivations of a more secondary nature. This has protected these two, more than the others, from the presence of heterodoxy.