India Religions: the Birth of Heterodox Religions
If in a polytheism the identification of the gods is fundamental, in the Indian religion the identification of the strength that sacrifice gives to the gods, whatever they may be, becomes fundamental. If in a polytheism it is also fundamental to establish the position of men with respect to the gods, for the Indian religion it becomes fundamental to establish the position of men with respect to the sacrificial rite. As for the gods, beyond the individual qualifications, the substance of which they were made was sought and this was conceived as brahman, conferred by the sacrificial rite. As for men, their access to sacrifice was gradualized and the actual sacrificial action was reserved for priests manipulating brahman, precisely called brahmins. However, now neither the degree of “sacrificer” nor the mediation of the “sacrificer” is enough. Man must find in himself, through ascesis, an interior “warmth” (tapas), capable of giving efficacy to the sacrifice. The crisis of Vedic polytheism is emerging: what are the gods for if they themselves derive substance from the rite? See neovideogames for Mumbai of India.
They do not even serve to define a universe, since this universe is based, in the new Indian ideology, not so much on their existence as on the right (now: ritual) administration of impersonal forces. The final blow to Vedic polytheism will be given by the subsequent speculation of the Upaniṣads: man, capable of producing tapas, is placed at the center of the universe and this, first represented by the complex of divinities, is now resolved in the “essence” of the divinities, that is, in their brahman. The common divine essence had already led to the reduction of the pantheon to a single god personifying the Brahmanic force-substance, Brahmā. A final step was to identify the essence of man, ātman, with the essence of the universe, Brahmā or brahman. When this happened, every function of the cult disappeared: in order to get in touch with the universe, man no longer needs to communicate with the gods; it is enough that you look for it in yourself, in your own ā tman, through meditation and ascesis, which thus become the ideal of religious life; in practice it is the renunciation (saṃnyāsa) of worldly life, already prescribed by the Brāhmaṇa for the last age of man (after he has now satisfied his social duties), but which now becomes an absolute way of being, based on renunciation for the purpose of a liberation (mokṣa) from existence, as a painful phenomenon, the new religions are inspired by it and definitively break with the Vedic tradition: Buddhism and Jainism. The polytheistic tradition, however, will be continued, developing the themes of divine action (śakti, creative power) and right human behavior (dharma): the different solutions have given rise to that jumble of doctrines and cultic practices that is globally called Hinduism. The contradiction between the permanent nature of a god and the occasional nature of his intervention, which led to the crisis in Vedic polytheism, is resolved in the identification of a lord of the universe (Iśvara) and its multiple manifestations (avatāra). The Iśvara was at first Brahmā, the divine personification of Brahman, but then expressed itself in two less “philosophical” deities, Viṣṇu and Śiva, giving rise to the two main currents of Hinduism: viṣṇuism and śivaism. Viṣṇu was an ancient Vedic god, connected with the axis of the world, formerly an ally of Indra and now his successor. Śiva constitutes a new interpretation of the Vedic Rudra, god of the wild world. Old and new divinities are now venerated and justified as manifestations of the “universal lord”, and, if feminine, as his wives. An attempt at synthesis is also given by the conception of a Trimūrti, or rather of a “triform” divine essence, comprising Brahmā, Śiva and Viṣṇu. Regarding religious behavior, Hinduism presents, apart from the choices between Śiva and Viṣṇu, a very large variety of levels, each identified with a set of norms (dharma), each equally valid and worthy of respect, as it relates to the present existence of an individual (the difference between existences being justified by conduct in a previous life). There is the level of meditation and asceticism, but there is also the level of the simple worship of the gods. There is the “teacher”, the “holy man”, the guru, but there are also those who acquire merit without having to understand or practice his doctrines, as long as they worship him and provide him with food. There is a mysticism, at the level of meditation, which will give rise to tantrism and yoga practices, but there is also a mysticism, at the level of popular religiosity, which is expressed in bhakti., absolute loving devotion to a god. From the century XI Hinduism had to face the overbearing advance of Islam. On the one hand, then, it set itself up as a national religion against the Arab-Islamic invasion and on the other it produced hybrid communities that sought to assimilate the new religion. But these communities did not follow, except in Punjab, where the national team of Sikhs was formed.