Humanities 201 India: The Mahabharata & Bhagavad-Gita
India's Heroic Age (550 B.C. - A. D. 100)
ancient Indo-Aryan language
last in series of 4 sacred hymn books, Hinduism's primary scripture
guiding principle of proper human conduct; sacred duty
worldly profit, wealth, and political power
India's dominant religious tradition
the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah as the sole
and in Muhammad as his prophet
"unique combination of radical detachment from desire, the root cause
karma, and an ethic of action directed only toward the welfare of one's
fellow creatures" (Norton 840)
personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism
one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the
of their members and their association with the members of other castes
single, divine essence: the soul of man is a manifestation of the
Brahman; gods are seen as "personification of nature and the powers of
the cosmos" (Norton 838)
pleasure and love
sacred counsel, formula;a mystical formula of invocation or
EPICS of India's Heroic Age:
originated in oral tradition, like Old Testament
grounded in actual events, yet similar to Iliad and Odyssey.
Four classes (varna) of Indian society:
brahman (priest) transmitter of vedas
karma: "action": principle that "all deeds, good and
have inevitable results, which must be borne by the doer in an
state, so that the soul is trapped in an endless cycle of birth and
moksa: ultimate goal of life--liberation from
of worldly existence- denied to sudras and women
(lesser goals include dharma, artha, and kama)
Men: bound by a prescribed program of sacred duty (dharma)
is appropriate to their class (varna)
Women: "form a class in themselves, for a woman's dharma
is defined as that of a wife, allowing women no identities or
apart from their allegiance to their husbands" (Norton 839).
Caste system: larger number of "service" castes subordinated
to a small number of elite groups.
Quatama Buddha (563-483 B.C.) & Mahavira (d. 468 B.C.)
In Buddhism, "every person, regardless of caste, gender, or
status, could follow the Buddha's path (the Dharma) with the
aim of becoming liberated from karma rebirth by becoming
or ‘an enlightened one'" (Norton 840).
"The populist, egalitarian religions preached by Gautama Buddha and his
near-contemporary Mahavira presented a formidable challenge to the
socio-religious system engineered by the Hindu elites" (Norton
absorbed and synthesized features from its rival religions,
concepts of salvation and grace, thus allowing it
to triumph over competing religions in India, including Buddhism and
but especially Buddhism.
"For Hindus the terror of rebirth [and karma] is mitigated by belief in
a triad of great gods who are the highest manifestations of the
principle underlying the universe" (Norton 841).
"Although there are many gods [including Brahma, the
the preserver, and Siva, the destroyer, stand out as
deities, for Hindus worship one or the other as God, whose grace will
deliver them from the bonds of karma rebirth" (Norton 841).
All three are components of Iswara,
creator of the universe, communion with whom can be achieved only
through samadhi, "a
meditative state that breaks consciousness with the physical world"
Mahabharata (ca. 400 B.C. - A. D. 400) See link with more extensive background discussion
100,000 verses: 8 x (Iliad + Odyssey)
Depicts war (ca. 1400-1300 B.C.) between two branches of the Bharata
the Pandavas, the five sons of Pandu (including Arjuna,
of warrior god, Indra) and Kauravas, the one
hundred evil sons of Dhrtarastra, elder half-brother who's
from being king because blind.
"Every clansman in North India [allies] himself with the one or the
party" (Norton 907).
Bhagavad-Gita (1st century B.C.)
"Song of the Lord" part of 6th book of Mahabharata
"response of brahman thinkers who stood to lose the most from the
disintegration of the Hindu social system" (Norton 958).
"articulates a new doctrine that will justify the hierarchies of class
and social duty. . . at the same time that it offers universal access
the ultimate goal of the emancipation of the soul from suffering and
"In short, social and moral law takes care of the content of
but the individual has control over the spirit in which he performs the
action and, therefore, over how his deeds will affect his soul" (Norton
Things to Consider:
Relationship b/w Gods and Humans
in medias res
sacred duty (dharma): "action performed in the
sacred duty will advance him on the path to emancipation of the spirit,
the Hindu's ultimate religious goal" (Norton958).
This is a big deal: merges karma with salvation through
** Homework Questions ** 555:
The Mahabharata describes the fighting between which two
Why are they fighting?
Why does Arjuna refuse to fight? (See also 557) In this regard,
how does he compare with earlier warriors such as Achilles and Enkidu?
Second Teaching (The Yoga of Knowledge) 557:
Explain: "That which is non-existent can never come into
and that which is can never cease to be" (557).
If the soul is indestructible, can't kill or be killed, what
the purpose of life, in this system?
What happens when you reach spiritual perfection?
Explain: "To a man who values his honour, [shame] is surely
Explain: "Work done with anxiety about results is far Inferior
done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender"(559).
Explain: "The tortoise can draw in his legs: / The seer
in his senses" (15-16).
Tenth Teaching (Divine Glory) 564:
Explain the following terms:
How do the conceptions of the spirit (Brahman) relate to
"Holy Spirit" of the Christian Trinity?
Think over other similarities/distinctions between the Old and
incarnations of "God" and those presented in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Jehovah ever call himself "the beginning, the middle, and the end
in creation," as Vishnu does (90)?