Season 01 | Episode 04

The enlightened ones

26 July 2020 / 14 mins 25 secs

Show summary

Topic: History of India - Ancient India.

Timeline: 600 BCE - 500 BCE

In this episode of Namaskar India, we will discuss, why there are so many religions and why do we have them anyway?

Around 700 BCE, some Brahmins had little interest in ritual sacrifices and more interest in probing relations between self and the universe. They were interested in attaining religious bliss, and their writings were collected into what would be called the Upanishads. In the Upanishads this was expressed in the claim that rather than rejoice in externals known through the senses, people should turn their thoughts inward in a quest for self-realization and knowledge about themselves.

Around 500 BCE, seeking spiritual attainment through knowledge grew. More people were trying to achieve spirituality through asceticism. These were times of insecurity and misery, and a greater number of young men were giving up on the material world and searching for eternal bliss. Orthodox Brahmins felt obliged to exercise some authority in the direction of social engineering. They attempted to keep in check the loss of youthful manpower to asceticism. To this end they invented four stages in life regarding duties of a Hindu: the celibate religious student; the married Hindu; the forest hermit; and the elderly wandering ascetic.

A variety of men hostile toward the Brahmins tried to create followings. They denied the authority of the Vedas, and each developed a code of conduct and claimed to have found the secret of eternal bliss. The most successful of the new sects were those that attempted relief from orthodox Hinduism's failure to alleviate human suffering.

One such sect was the Jains, founded by Mahavira. They sought relief from suffering by conquest over one's own passions and senses. This conquest they believed, gave one purity of soul. Mahavira appealed to people who wanted religion without the metaphysical speculations that most people found too vague and complex. He believed in differentiations as well as associations. He envisioned a dualistic reality, a world with both conscious and unconscious elements, a world that is both spirit and material.

Another movement that was an alternative to the Brahmins was initiated by Siddartha Gautama. Siddartha refused to question or discuss whether the cosmos is finite or infinite, whether there is life after death or other metaphysical questions, on the grounds that these sidetrack people from doing something practical about the misery of their existence. Siddartha preached no warnings of torments for evil deeds. Instead, he preached the attaining of serenity, or nirvana, through self-discipline. He preached that there is nothing essentially permanent, that there is only change. And human misery came with people looking for permanence where there was no permanence and with people clinging to objects of desire that were transitory.

In both Jainism and Buddhism, an order of monks was founded, and they were the followers and preachers of the religion. These two religions did not discriminate in the name of caste or Jati, and opened their doors to all sections of the society and also to women.