When I was young I was one of those kids who asked “Why?” about three million times a day. I feel bad for my mom now, but when I was younger I just wanted to know it all. I wanted answers for everything and I still do, and I don’t think I am alone. I believe that many other people share that same personality trait with me. My mom tried hard to answer as many as she could and she did this with stories, analogies and metaphors. Many belief systems are set up the same way just like Brahmanism and Jainism. When things are complicated and hard to explain people break them down into smaller concepts. Both religions broke each part of nature or occurrence in a person’s lifetime into a smaller thing. These things were either, in Brahmanism, controlled by a higher being whom they had to please by performing a ritual for or in Jainism, controlled by their own actions and karma they each created.
Metaphors and imagery are the basis for almost every writing presented in Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1, revised edition. Using both allows people to understand very complex ideas to a smaller degree. If someone understands a story about a man trying to kill a snake it allows a channel for him or her to understand the struggle between good and evil. Religions are mostly all made up of simple ideas that yet are very complex and hard to believe. It is the way they are presented that can make them easier to understand and believe in.
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Creation is still a topic people discuss and cannot come to a conclusion about. The reasons are endless on why there is no answer; some people have beliefs that stem from religion others from science. In Brahmanism, there are about 5 creation myths that attempt to answer the question of creation. Each myth has a different approach and base to its story but they all have the same outcome, the world and the creation. The first creation myth that is discussed in Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1, rev. ed. involves Varuna “the administrator of the cosmic law” (10). The passage states that he separated the earth and stars from the heavens to create everything. The second creation myth discussed tells a story involving Indra and Vritra. In Rig Veda 1.32 Indra represents good trying to defeat evil represented by Vritra.
Vritra had swallowed up the world and all the light. Indra defeats Vritra by slicing open his belly, killing him, and releasing all he had swallowed up which gave life to the world. Most people want good to overcome evil and the story of Indra and Vritra creates this and the result helps to answer the question of where life came from. The questions about creation are apparent in the Rig Veda 10.129 called “The Origin of the World.” The writer of this passage uses many contradicting ideas in his paragraphs but somehow people were able to understand the writings. The images he created about darkness, death and nonexistence were very graphic and most likely helped to clarify and give understanding to the passage. These images express how before life and existence there was nothing. This myth and all the other creation myths helped to temporarily answer how something had come from nothing.
Heaven and Earth are presented in the Rig Vedas “as the divine parents.” They are seen also as the producers of life to things such as plants and food thus making heaven and earth necessary for man to exist. If heaven and earth weren’t providers of anything then why would they exist? In the times of these beliefs, the people did not know that the heavens held the sun and so were many other planets. They were unaware that the heavens were not just for our planet but many others. But these passages give reason to things that they didn’t understand and that’s what satisfied them.
In Rig Veda 10.90 about the “Primeval Sacrifice,” many metaphors are created to give understanding to things such as the social classes and parts of nature. There was said to have been a higher being that sacrificed himself to give life to everything else, the people, the plants, the animals and everything else that makes up the world. The highest part of the social class being the Brãhman, which was made up of, priests, thinkers, and law-givers came from the being’s mouth.
The next class being the Rajanya was made up of the soldiers and kings who came from his two arms. The third class is the Vaishya who were the landowners, made up his two thighs. The lowest class was made up of the Shũdra who made up his two feet. It is very clear to see that the closer you were to the ground on his body the lower you were on the social ladder.
Today we see the sun as just the sun, a big ball of fiery gas. But thousands of years ago it meant a lot to people. In Brahmanism, the sun remained a force of nature but yet in the Rig Vedas, the sun is talked about with almost life-like characteristics. The description gives the feeling it could be a person or an animal but the line of the sun becoming one of these things is never crossed. The sun doesn’t jut rise but yet it is a process. In the Rig Veda, the way the sun rises to meet the dawn is described as a man approaching his young wife.
The passage continues with the sun rising swiftly like a horse making night disappear. Many people now take the sun rising for granted but as described in the passage, people were so grateful the sun rose and made night disappear. Night and darkness for them was a time of chaos and evil, it was their last. The sun was able to defeat this and bring back order, good, their sat, and for this, they were grateful and happy.
Not only was the sun seen as a great thing but something as simple as the dawn was also seen as very important. It was the symbol of the beginning of the day, a day to perform rituals and hopefully gain success. In Rig Veda 5.80 the feeling of the dawn being a woman is strong with many references to the dawn as being ‘she’ and ‘her.’ The dawn awakens everyone bringing light to his or her eyes and making them arise from their slumber. In the 6th paragraph of the passage, there is a strong image of sensuality being given off as they talk about a young girl rising from a bath and showing herself to the world and then in the next paragraph they speak of her stripping herself down as a wife for a husband. This description gives such a graphic image of the approach of dawn, it makes it so easy to understand and envision it.
The writings of Jainism are much more straightforward and I feel easier to interpret. The writings don’t have as many analogies and metaphors as do the writings of Brahmanism. Instead, the writings of Jainism are more like parables. Each parable had a purpose behind it and its own powerful message to give.
The first parable discussed in Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1 rev. ed. having to do with Jainism is from Sūtrakŗtãńga 184.108.40.206-5 and is called “The Man in the Well.” The parable helps to explain karma and the evils that exist in the world. In the passage the main person in the story is chased by a wild elephant and to escape it jumps into a well. The person has a whole bunch of misfortunes while in the well like bees stinging him, the grass he’s holding onto begins to give way because mice begin to eat away at it and just below him are a pit of python snakes.
One good thing happens to him though; honey begins to drip onto his face and roll into his mouth. He begins to wish and hope for another drop of honey and with this, he forgets everything else going on around him. The parable explains itself too, telling what each part represents, things such as disease, the soul, salvation, death, old age, hell and trivial pleasure. The honey is the latter, which in the end the parable says are “terrible at the last” (60). It explains then once you desire something bad it will come to you but not alone, many other things come along with it, none being good, even if you think it is somehow good for you, it will hurt you in the end. The suffering and pain you experience may not be in this life but it may carry over into the next when you come back. You may come back as a living thing with less sensory abilities, which also brings along an increased amount of suffering. Not only do you suffer more but it also becomes a lot harder not to create karma, which makes getting to moksha almost impossible to reach.
Jainism uses strong words to create images to express the different aspects of the different lives that people experience throughout their existence. Whether they live like a bird, rock, tree or human they all suffer and the book describes this through phrases like “I have suffered…by keen-edged razors, by knives and sheers…”(62). This imagery was used to show that no matter who or what you are you should not harm anything else because that thing has feelings too. Another strong point made in the Jain passages is how if a person or things harm another they are already choosing their place in their next life and will not reach moksha that time around. As expressed in the Sūtrakŗtãńga passage 1.1-9 “Creatures Great and Small” if you knowingly harm another thing, even just putting out a flame kills the fire; then you are also hurting yourself and setting yourself up for a lower place in the next life.
Each paragraph, word to word creates an image. The images were used to create understanding for each and every person who heard them and now reads them. They were spoken from person to person and became a belief system for many generations. With the understanding of such great things came a sense of knowledge for everyone. They felt that with their metaphors, their analogies, their graphic stories they could understand and grasp the world; they also felt that through each of these things they could somehow add to creating order in the world and in their own lives.
Science and technology have almost completely destroyed the simplistic yet beautiful thoughts and way of life these ancient belief systems created. Sometimes asking too many questions can destroy the beauty of the initial desire; the desire to attain knowledge and understanding. Sometimes you just have to let the questions go and believe in uncomplicated things like Jainism and Brahmanism do.
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