Law of Attraction, Part 8. Ancient Brahminism

caste-system1-300x213

 

 

At some point during the beginning of the first millennium BCE, the descendants of the Aryans and the non-Vedic tribes abandoned their pastoral life in favor of developing and acquiring wealth and property. But with this new affluence, a new set of questions arose concerning the unfamiliar ways of living. How could the more asocial and selfish elements in a being be controlled? What happened after death? How was the world created? With these existential questions, the old social conventions began to be challenged. Vedic culture had grown and become more complex and advanced, rendering the ancient nature worship practices unsatisfying and hollow, and they were beginning to tire of the bloody sacrifices – and the Brahmin priests, as well. The Brahmin priests realized that something had to be done to keep the society, and their privileged place within it, stable.

 

A clue of what Vedic culture might have experienced within their existential terror can be found in the remarks of Sigmund Freud, who explained that man’s relationship with religion is based on a curious thing, the often – stimulating  fulfillment of desire. One could say the same about the Law of Attraction – which is said to magnetically manifest the fulfillment of one’s desire. What the Vedic people did not have was an object of their desires, something they could mentally focus upon –  that lived within them as the troubling questions that needed answered about the nature of reality, the purpose of life and who they really are.

 

We can only imagine what existential crisis the Vedic people went through. What they needed was a way to express the unspoken desires inside them that insisted there was more to life than just living and dying. What was missing was something to charge up and stimulate their feelings and imagination in order for people to generate energy for the “nourishment of the Gods.”

 

The Brahmins

 

The Brahmin priests gradually saw that they had a big problem on their hands, and we repeat: Vedic culture had progressed, becoming more complex and sophisticated, rendering the primitive nature worship unsatisfying and hollow.

 

The priest resorted to their mastery of vocabulary, symbolism and persuasion. The people had a duty to sacrifice, the priests explained, – for sacrifice nourishes and pleases the gods, and thus the gods will be thankful and return the favor. There was a morality component attached to this ritual: one would be a thief if one did not reciprocate this Divine Arrangement; the Law of Reciprocity. The priests instituted more than a few innovated wrinkles to persuade the people – as they insisted that there existed a cosmic order to things, and it was the Brahmins duty to give the people a code of conduct to stabilize the community.

 

Dharma was the idea that each person has a duty, moral code, and set of behaviors which are specific to one’s varna, or social class,

Karma, where one’s station in life is determined by actions of previous lives, and

Moksha, defined as the salvation from the rounds of rebirth.

 

We will talk about these things later, as these innovated systems of religious determinism gradually seeped into the religious practices over many centuries, but for now, we continue with how the Brahmins gave the people what they wanted: objects for their desires. The Brahmins found the answer by shifting the people’s  consciousness away from focusing on nature-worship to spiritual contemplation of a subjective metaphysical reality. They meditated, pondered and speculated about the workings of the universe. The result was the emergence of a new God: Prajapati, the Supreme Deity and the lord of creatures, who in one version of the story, sat alone in all of existence until he split himself into male and female, repeating the process until the world was filed with people and animals.

 

“O Prajapati, none other than thou encompasses all these creatures; for whatever object of desire we sacrifice to thee, let that be ours; may we be lords of riches.” (Rig Veda 10.121.10)

 

The priests also gave the people the Devas, who represented the forces of nature, virtues, and demons – who were responsible for all kinds of mischief. The priests claimed the ability to communicate with the supernatural world through the use of a hallucinogenic drink made from herbs called, soma. Soma was believed to be the drink of the Gods, and apparently, the use of soma allowed the Gods to communicate to the priests that they must prepare sacrifices for them. With the use of ancient Vedic prayers, mantras, sacrificial rites and the intoxicating soma, a magical technology was developed to manipulate the Gods and reality in favor of the supplicant.

 

Over time, Prajapati’s influence waned, and he became submerged within another innovation by the Priests: the discovery of the Brahman, the “power” held within the rituals, sacrifices and incantations. Within the development of the concept of the Brahman, the internal spiritual development of a being became more important, as Brahman was the single unifying principle that this existence emanated from. Brahman was Absolute joy and knowledge. The old Vedic gods like Agni and Indra were still recognized, but only as various manifestations of Brahman.

 

Around 900 BCE, the old Vedic texts were finally written down in Sanskrit along with new compositions and declared Divine. Armed with the authority of their spells, sacrificial rites, a holy, liturgical language and script of the Vedas at their beck and call, the Brahmins were regarded as powerful beings who could command the gods to bring about whatever they pleased. It wasn’t the Gods who brought rain and sunshine; it was the Priest who commanded the Gods to bring rain and sunshine. And since the priests claimed that they were the exclusive controllers of this “Brahman,” the Brahmins maintained their superior social status as an elite of sacred priests and powerful manipulators of the Gods and existence. Within this, the Brahmins had found a solution that gave the Vedic people a way to fulfill their desires and feel protected.

 

The Brahmins sought to legitimize the social order of varna and class that had existed since ancient Vedic times. Being the representatives of the Ultimate Reality placed the Brahmins, of course, at the top of the social order, and they cleverly manipulated the varna system by placing themselves and their lineage as the elite. The priests appealed to the ancient Vedic cosmology of “the Cosmic Man,” the Purusha[1]” who was sacrificed and dismembered, re-assembled and resurrected – with the Brahmins coming from his mouth, the Ksatriya, the warriors, coming from his shoulder, the Vaisya, the landowners from his belly and the landless peasants, the Sudras, the feet. Those who rejected or ignored these rulings were placed as the Untouchables, the outcasts.

 

It must be noted here that the priests of emergent Brahminism carried a particular contempt towards women. The Brahmanic religious literature declared that women were to be dependent, chaste, loyal and secluded within their homes while declaring their husbands to be the wives’ divine saviors. Women were there to support men in all phases of their ritualized life. Widows or abused wives could never marry again. They were to wear veils covering their faces. Women were so despised by the Brahmins that the priests declared that the male children of the top three varnas must go through a birth ritual where they were to be ‘twice born.‘ Women were excluded from the rebirth ritual because they were considered to be too impure to be redeemed. The “dowry burning” phenomenon has long plagued Indian society well into the present day, harks back to ancient times, where family of a greedy groom seeks to extort the family of the bride, and having failed in the attempt, escalates the conflict to bring about the murder or suicide of the bride.[2] The Brahmins did see some value in women as the necessary contrivance for producing children, without which the funeral rites could not be performed at all.

 

The Brahmins’ used their sacred knowledge of the Vedas as an unassailable power by wrapping themselves within an aura of holy authority. It was unallowable to even touch a Bramin priest. Only a Brahmin may read the holy scriptures or educate the other social classes. The the priestly elite, the Brahmin priesthood enjoyed a social privilege that gave them advantages over the warrior, farmer, the darker-skinned servant varnas and untouchables, all who were subordinated beneath them held power over. Even kings dared not to openly oppose the Brahmins, for in the Vedic tradition, it was the priests who legitimized kingly power.

 

Of course, the other varnas supported the Brahmin Priesthood as well, building temples, showering them with financial gifts and land in exchange for the priest’s blessings. The Brahmins became in fact, the landed elite, protected by royal power, while living off of the labor and money of the lower varnas. The Brahmins in effect, were a dominating social power presiding over a feudal agrarian political economy. The Law of Attraction is seen here operating at the level of energetic polarity: the priests standing as representatives of God, attracted wealth and abundance – at the expense of the lower varnas. And it was this corruption and oppression under the supervision of the Brahmin priests that paved the way for the emergence of Buddhism.

 

Next: The Shramanas and the Revolt against Brahmin Authority.

 

Notes

[1] The Purusha is a religious concept with a varied and distinct defining points. Not only did it stand as the name of the cosmic man sacrificed by the Gods to bring about all the forms of life in the Universe, in different eras and systems, it also refers to human consciousness, the Self or the unifying principle of existence. Compare to the creation myth of the ancient Sumerians, who held that their gods also sacrificed a god, whose body and blood were mixed with clay to produce the human race.

[2] “Bride burning” is still a common practice in Southeast Asia. As late as 2010, it was estimated that  8391 dowry death cases were reported across India, according to statistics recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau. “On one hand people regard women as devi (goddess), on the other hand they burn them alive. This is against the norms of civilised society. It’s barbaric,” former Justice Markandey Katju remarked in response to an appeal filed by a husband handed a life sentence by a Sessions court for burning his wife. Story, Indian Dowry Deaths on the Rise.

 

Sources

 

Freud, Religion, and Anxiety by Christopher Chapman
Brahman and Chhetri of Nepal.” Encyclopedia of World Cultures. James Fischer. “The Gale Group, Inc. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. (December 29, 2009). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458000468.html

Encyclopaedia of Dalits in India: Movements by Sanjay Paswan
Caste is the Cruellest Exclusion, by Gail Omvedt, InfoChange News & Features, October 2008

The Mysore Tribes and Castes by L. Krishna Anantha Krishna Iyer (Diwan Bahadur), 1988

Handbook of Hindu Mythology by George Mason Williams, 2003

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s