Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Path And Key To Liberation In Brahmanism, Jainism And Hinduism

Path And Key To Liberation In Brahmanism, Jainism And Hinduism


The Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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Path And Key To Liberation In Brahmanism, Jainism And Hinduism

The quest of liberation is in the minds of all human beings since the dawn of civilization and many beliefs and paths have been followed to attain this ultimate goal of life. As life was uncertain due to natural calamities and frequent invasions, most of the people in ancient times believed in the God and also in the concept of soul.

Concept of Liberation during the Indus Valley Civilization
Earliest Indian history can be traced back from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, which was developed by the Dravidians. They are believed to be the ancestors of modern Tamils and other peoples of South India. They were basically worshippers of various forces of nature and practiced fire rituals which is evident from fire-alters excavated from that area. They also worshipped an animal God called “Pashupatinatha”, the ancient form of Śhiva. He was regarded as the lord of animals, a symbol of creation and fertility and an ascetic endowed with superpowers. Some structures resembling the “shiva linga”, “swastika” and “om” were also excavated from this area, portraying the existing ancient Vedic religious practices. The tradition of animal sacrifice in order to please the gods of nature was common during the Indus valley civilization and images of bull sacrifice to please “Pashupatinatha” were also discovered from this area.

Concept of Liberation in Brahmanism: The Period after the Aryan Invasion of India
After the Aryan invasion, the Vedic gods got incorporated with the Aryan gods and religious practices became more systematic and more sophisticated. There emerged an absolute or Supreme Being called the “Great Brahman” (Brahmin priests), who projected themselves to be the direct link between God and man, who could guide people to attain liberation. Thus, the rituals became more pronounced keeping “moksha” as the ultimate aim of liberation through various types of sacrifices. Among the various types of animal sacrifices, the “Aswamedha” or horse sacrifice was considered to be the highest sacrifice to become the lord of the world. Though animal sacrifice is still common in Hindu tradition, but in some community, this ritual is modified into symbolic sacrifices through vegetable and fruit offerings.

Concept of Liberation in Jainism
Jainism also believes in the concept of a transmigrating eternal soul and their main focus in on strenuously exercising it to attain free will. According to Jainism, “karma” is bad action in present or past life. Jainism believes in the idea of moral causation and bad actions in the past which leads to our suffering in present life. So, this “Bad Karma” needs to be exhausted by severe ascetic practices, including self-torture, to make the soul free itself from reincarnation. They practiced tolerance and refrained from destroying life in any form. The main Jain sects are Digambara (naked monks) and Swetambara (white robed), but a small number of Pitambara (yellow robed) and Jain nuns are also present in the modern Indian society. Bathing the mighty standing sculpture of their spiritual leader Mahavira on his birthday at Sharavabelagola is considered to be a sacred ritual though which one’s impure soul could be purified.

Concept of Liberation in Hinduism
One must not get confused with the terms “Hinduism” and “Brahmanism”. The concept of “Hinduism” started with Adi Shankaracharya during the 8th Century A.D. The Vedic customs and rituals that existed before this period from the Aryan Invasion were known as Brahmanism. So, when we refer to Buddhism, we should relate it with the then existing Brahmanism and not with Hinduism which evolved later after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. However, Hinduism as a religious tradition has many strands of faith that differ in nearly everything, but all strands believe in the cycle of death and rebirth—samsara—as well as the escape from that cycle: “moksa”. Apart from animal sacrifice, the other Hindu rituals practiced to attain “moksha” were extreme ascetic practices associated with prolonged fasting without taking a single drop of water, meditation, severe torture of the physical body to liberate the soul and holy bath in the river Ganga. Many sages make public display of their self-torture of physical body, cover miles and miles of distance to the holy places through prostration and follow the lifestyle of naga sages by going naked in public with their body covered with ash. Some of the sages believe the attainment of euphoria is “moksha”. So, resembling lord Shiva, they consume the ganja (cannabis) and soma rasa (local alcoholic beverage) to attain detachment from the sufferings of life. The river Ganga is considered to be a holy river descended from heaven and all Hindu rituals from birth, till death including the thread ceremony of Brahmins and bathing of the sacrificial animals are conducted near the banks of this river.

Since, the whole concept of liberation is based on beliefs and practices of an individual and it changes according to different perspectives of analysis, no one can ever prove or disprove anything regarding which practice is better than the other and win any argument on this issue. So, we should drop this idea of comparison between various paths of liberation and also stop considering these as escape mechanisms of our minds from the reality. We must understand the fact that various religions follow different paths to reach the same goal of liberation. Instead of futile comparison for supremacy of paths, if we take these religious practices as a scope of mental ventilation and socio-cultural exchanges between various communities, we would be able to develop mutual respect for each other and ensure everlasting peace and harmony in the society.

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