The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12
Brahmanism and the Monistic Theory
From Veda to the Bhagavad Gita
Before studying the sacred books of India, let us say some words about
Brahmanism or Hinduism.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world.
Beside Brahman, the supreme impersonal God, Indian people venerate
Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Conservator; and Shiva, the Destroyer
of the world. Vishnu has ten avatars who come and save the world. Shiva
has many wives. One of them is called Kali. They are worshipped as a
Lingam (Male) and a Yoni (Female). Beside these Gods, Indian people
worship many other. According to Swami Vivehananda, the Indian pantheon
contains up to 330,000,000 gods.
Indian people don't eat beef. Cattle and cows, considered sacred, wander
freely in large cities. Brahmanism is learned these days, by scholars in
this world, not for its rituals but for its sacred books, and for the
BOOKS OF INDIA
consisting of four books: (15th century to 10th Century B.C.)
(2) Sama Veda.
(3) Yayur Veda.
(4) Atharva Veda.
(16 books) (10th century to 7th century)
(7th to 5th B.C.) (108 books 13 of them are most important)
All of them are translated into English.
is the most important. It is divided into 10 books, and contains 20.000
verses. Most of these verses are elegies and prayers to various
divinities, such as:
Indra (Thunder-Rain god) (250 poems).
Agni (Fire god) (200 poems).
Vishnu, Surya, Pusan, Mithra (Sun god).
Usha (The Dawn)
Varuna (Sky god)
Soma (Intoxicating Beverage) (the whole book IX).
Besides, we can find in the Rig-Veda some famous poems about cosmogony:
Rig Veda X, 129.- Rig-Veda X, 121.- Rig-Veda X, 82.- Rig-Veda X,80.
Rig-Veda tries to find out the Reality of this world, through all the
statuses of god (polytheism, monotheism).
Through observation, we can find that in every natural phenomenon, there
is some Force, bad or good, for man. First, they thought that this Force
came from various deities such as Indra, Mithra, Varuna, Agni, Soma,
Pudra et cetera.
Afterward, they thought that this Force came from the Creator
(Prajapati, Bramanapasti, Visvakarman et cetera...)
Finally, they thought that this Force came from The Cosmic Stuff, the
Ultimate Reality that engenders this world. They called this Ultimate
Reality BRAHMAN, or THAT.
Only this Ultimate Reality is Eternal, having his own Self (sat), his
own knowledge (cid), and happiness (ananda). All other phenomena are
considered as belonging to the realm of names and forms, to the realm of
Samsara, of Avidya, of Maya or of mortality, be it Brahma himself.
If we call our world as THIS (including everything phenomenal,
transitory), the Ultimate Reality or the Eternal as THAT, THIS is then
only appearance and not reality, it is not "thing in itself", and THAT
only is the real "self" of everything. The "Tat Tvam Asi" "THAT art
Thou" of the Chand. Up. has now its full meaning.
In this case, our body and the physical universe, are not the Atman, the
Self, the true Reality. We must know that all worldly objects and
relationships are of no value for their own sake (as" things in
themselves"), but for the sake of Atman. This Atman is Brahman and
warriors, is space, gods, and creatures, 'this Atman is the entire
universe'. "Verily he who has seen, heard, comprehended and known the
Self, by him is this entire universe known. (Brih. 2.4.5)
The Monistic Theory is bit by bit established, especially when in the
Chand. Up. everything in this world is considered as made of clay, then
the change is a matter of words alone. "Just as, my dear sir, from a
lump of clay everything that consists of clay is known, the change is
the matter of words alone, a mere name, it is in reality only
clay,-thus, my dear sir, is the instruction." (Chand. Up. 6.1.2.)
Therefore, we find no plurality in this world,
In the spirit should this be perceived,
Here there is no plurality anywhere.
From death to death again he rushes blindly,
Who fancies that here are difference. (Brih. 4.4.19)
The cosmogonies in the Rig-Veda are complex.
(1) This world is built by gods (Rig Veda X,121.- Rig Veda VII, 8,6.-
III, 32,80.- Rig Veda X, 81,2.- X,72,2.- X, 121,4) from existing
(2) Or this world come from a specific element, such as:
Water (Rig Veda X,190)
Air (Rig Veda X, 168)
Or from the incommensurable (Aditi) (Rig Veda X, 72)
Or from the dismemberment of God (Rig Veda, X, 90)
We can see that after many gropings, the Veda reached its climax: The
According to the Rig-Veda, this world is governed by fixed and perennial
laws, called Rita or Dharma. One should follow these laws. They can be
called natural laws.
In the Rig-Veda, they mentioned Paradise and Hell (X,6,10.- IX,41,2. -
1.25.6.- X, 132, 4.- IV, 55.- IX, 73.8.- X,152.4)
Samsara and Karma are not yet clearly defined.
(2) The Sama Veda.
The Sama Veda is a collection of songs, the verses of which are
excerpted from the Rig-Veda. These songs are sung by priests when
celebrating the office.
(3) The Yajur Veda.
The Yajur Veda, black and white, contain prayers that are recited by
deacons, such as prayers when the fire is set, or when Soma is prepared,
or when holocausts are killed...
(4) The Atharva Veda
This book contains magic formulas and talismans that cure diseases, or
help fulfill human desires, such as formula to cure cough (Sacred Books
of the East, Book II, p. 8.- Charles Braden, Les Livres Sacrés de
l'humanité, p. 85), magic formula for hair growth (6, 136), magic
formula to get a husband (2,3), magic formula to get a wife (6,82),
magic formula to be loved by a man (7,38), or by a woman (6,8) et
cetera...(Charles Braden, Les Livres Sacrés de l'humanité p. 86- Zimmer,
les Philosophies de l'Inde, p. 120-121)
In The Process of Creation (The Clarion Call, Volume 1, No 3, Summer 88,
p. 9), Steve Rosen observed: "The renowned astronomer, Dr. Carl. Sagan,
admired the Vedic conception of creation. He noted that, of all
religious thought, the ancient Vedic teachings about the origin of the
universe "are the most acceptable in terms of modern sciences". Sagan
explained that the Vedic science of creation is not very different from
some of the modern scientific theories about universal origin for it
suggests that creation and dissolution of the universe occur at regular
intervals, lasting billions of years. Briefly stated, the Vedic
principle of creation can be described as "emanationism," the concept
that matter is not suddenly created out of nothing. Matter is one of the
external energies of God".
Shri Aurobindo comments on the Veda as follows: "... These are profound
insights of seers and saints, authors of the Vedas. Man lives in this
earth, and knows only this world of deadly things. But besides this
world, we still have the Cosmic Mind containing all the worlds of gods,
enlightened by mysterious light. And under the surface of all the
impressions received in our conscious life, there is also the
Unconscious. From the darkness of this unconscious life, spring forth
the worlds that we see. Man always has tied connections with these
Man, if he like, can become illuminated and enter in these worlds, can
be born in these worlds. Man can come in these illuminated worlds of
Truth, can pass through the gate of Cosmic Consciousness, and enter in
the Transcendence. All the gates of the sky will open to welcome all the
soul on the way of development.
This transcendence can be done, because all men bear in themselves what
they considered as external to them.
And, if gods can build a network of worlds outside, they can also
organize in man an hierarchy of orders, spreading from mortality to
immortality. The contrast between mortality and immortality that we can
reach, is in fact the key to help us understand the idea and the action
of the Veda. The Veda is the most ancient evangels to teach us about the
immortality of man. Their hymns contain the ideas of saints who have
discovered the way of immortality. Understood rightly, the Veda ceased
to be a collection of hymns obscure, and barbarous, but became hymns
extolling the highest aspiration of man. Their hymns are steps of an
epic full of sentiments of the human soul progressing to immortality. At
least, they are like that. We can also find contents on archaic science,
on knowledge lost, on tradition about psychic and physical elements of
the past.(Translated from the hymns of the Atris, Arya II, 45-47 and
97-112) (See J. Herbert, La spiritualité hindoue, p . 294).
Radhakrishnan, in the Indian Philosophy I, on his conclusion of the
"Because the Veda deals with Sacrifices, so the Brahmanas are written.
Because the Veda have philosophical assumptions, so the Upanishads are
written. Because the Veda talks about the God of the sky, Varuna, they
inspired the author of the Bhagavad Gita about monotheism. Because the
Veda mentioned about Rita, or natural laws, the notion of Karma is
engendered. Because the Veda sustained that in the beginning there is
the God Hiranyagarbha floating on the primeval water, the dualism of
Samkhya is born (that means the notion of Purusa and Prakriti). Because
it maintained that prayers, that Soma can help produce ecstasy, it has,
later on, connection with the School of Yoga. (cf. Indian Philosophy, I,
The Brahmanas deal mostly with liturgy, and are similar to the Yajur
Veda, or the Sama Veda.
In the Rig Veda, the religion was still natural, warm and full of human
sentiments, while in the Brahmana period (1000-700 BC) it became dry and
arid, because it is locked in fixed liturgy. Here are some tenets of the
Brahmanas: Vishnu and Shiva begin to appear (Kausitaki Brahmana VI,
1,9). Brahman is the Cosmic Principle (Satapatha Brahmana XI, 2).
Prayers and liturgy become important and necessary. (Satapatha Brahmana
III, 1,4,3 - Aiterya Br. II, 1,1) Priests become important and
supernatural (Satapatha Br. II 2.2.6.- II 4.3.14). Veda became an
inspired book (Aiterya Br. VII, 9)
The Brahmanas exhalt a human life in conformity to the moral law. No
adultery (Sat. Brah. II, 5.2.20), no lies (Satapatha Br. 1.2.4) (cf.
Rhadakhrisnan, Indian Philosophy I, P. 151).
The society in the Brahmanas period, is divided into castes (Atharva
Veda V, 17.8.- Rig Veda VII, 103. 1.7. 8.- Sat. Brah. VIII, 1, 4, 10)
Social life is divided into four stages (Brih. Up. III, 5, 1.- Apastamba
sutras II, 9,21,1.- Gautama Sutras III, 2.- Bodhanya II. 6.11.12.- Manu
V, 137.- Vasistha VII, 2.- Atharva Veda V 17, 8.- Rig Veda VII, 103. 1.7
and 8.- X, 88, 19.- Sat. Brah. VIII, 1,4,10)
Man, good or bad, can be transmigrated to bear the fruits of their deeds
in this world or in some other world. (Cf. Radhakrishnan, Indian
Philosophy I, p. 134). Samsara has not yet been clearly discussed (Cf.
Indian Philosophy I, 135-136).
We can make a general remark about Brahmana, Yayur Veda, and Atharva
Veda as follows: Brahmana and Yajur Veda even emphasizing on liturgy,
Atharva Veda even emphasizing on magic formula, deals only with this
problem: How to get good luck, and how to avoid bad luck, how man can
find happiness and avoid misery.
To reach this goal, we should depend on other forces, on gods (prayers,
sacrifices, magic, talismans), or we should depend on our own forces
(magic, talismans). We should observe natural phenomena to find out
rules that govern our deeds, or we should study ancient culture to find
out appropriate behaviors. That is to say, we must find out natural laws
(rita, dharma) to obey them. If we live accordingly to natural laws, we
can find happiness, if we live otherwise, we will find misery.
The Upanishads have up to 103 books, but only 13 are considered the
Let us summarize these thirteen Upanishads:
It deals with the Inner Reality in man.
(2) Kena Up.
Who is the Controller of the world? This is Atman and Brahman.
(3) Katha Up.
The Real Self is immortal. It cannot be known by Intelligence, but by
(4) Prasna Up.
We find there six question on how this world is created, on the
personality of man, and on the ground of man.
(5) Mundaka Up.
It stresses two kinds of knowledge: the high knowledge deals with the
Substance, the low knowledge with Phenomena.
The culture of the soul is better than sacrifice, and external deeds.
(6) Mandukya Up.
There are four different conditions in a man:
The waking condition.
The sleeping condition.
The sleeping condition without dreams.
The transcendental condition (Turita)
(7) Taittitya Up.
There are five envelopes in a man:
Envelope of Food (Physical body-waking condition)
Envelope of Breath (Subtle body)
Envelope of mind (Soul - Sleeping condition with dreams)
Envelope of Intellect (ib.)
Envelope of bliss (causal body-Sleeping condition without dreams-
Then, we come into the Atman, the core.
(8) Aitareya Up.
Discussion on the after-life.
(9) Chandogya Upanishad.
In this Upanishad, we find:
The famous equation ATMAN = BRAHMAN.
The formula: TAT TVAM ASI (THAT ART THOU)
And the explanation of the syllable: OM or AUM.
AUM or Turiya can be broken into:
A (Waking condition)
U (dreaming condition)
M (without dreams condition)
OM or AUM is the essence of sound, and speech. Sound and Speech are the
essence of man, and man is the essence of all beings. Om is the essence
of man and of all beings.
(10) Brihah Aranyaka Up.
It deals with the Real Self, or Atman, universal, undivided, common core
(11) Kaushitaki Up.
Samsara and Moksa are discussed here.
(12) Svetasvata Up.
It deals with the Ultimate Reality in men and in all beings.
(13) Maitri Up.
Man's highest wish is that of knowing the Real Self.
Yoga is the way to lead us to the union with the Real Self.
Upanishads: Its main themes.
The main themes of the Upanishads are:
(A) The Real Self or Brahman.
(B) They give us two ways to find the Real Self.
(1) The external or experimental way.
(2) The internal or introspective way.
(C) They use many methods to describe Brahman.
(1) The affirmative method, calling Brahman the sun, the moon, the
space, the air or gods presiding over all the natural phenomena.
(2) The negative method, always saying Neti, Neti, Brahman is not this,
(3) The paradoxical method, saying that Brahman is great, is small; is
far, is near; is active or is passive.
(4) The method of keeping quiet, because Brahman is ineffable.
(D) The Upanishads tend to describe Brahman as the Absolute Truth, from
whom everything emanated. Brahman is self-effulgent.
Everything, in this world, issues from the Eternal, as threads from a
spider, as plants from the earth, as hairs from the body, as sparks from
a central fire. At the end of the evolution, everything will return to
the bosom of the Eternal (Mundaka Up. 1.1.7). Atman is always present in
man, as butter is always present in milk.(Amrtabindu Up. 20)
(E) Man has many layers, but in his inner core, there is Atman, the
(F) Man is, in fact, composed of two men: One is limited, is subjected
to birth and death, and to misery; Another is immense, immortal, and
(G) Man has two kinds of knowledge: Intelligence and Intuition.
Intelligence gives us material knowledge, while Intuition gives us
(H) The Upanishads urge man to find out his Real Self. This is the
summit of all knowledge, and to improve himself to realize the Real Self
by means of Yoga.
(I) The Upanishads don't stress upon external ceremonies, and believe in
the transmigration of the souls, and in Karma.
(K) The Upanishads teach us introspection.
"The senses turn outward," observe the Upanishads." Man, therefore,
looks toward what is outside, and sees not the inward being. Rare is the
wise man who...shuts his eyes to outward things and so beholds the glory
of the Atman within."
The Upanishads are then the essence of the Veda, and as they form the
last part of the Veda, they are also called Vedanta. Vedanta is also the
name of the philosophical school of Samkara: The Absolute Monism or
The Upanishads are considered as an esoteric teaching. It should not be
given to people that the mind be disturbed (Maitri Up. VI, 29.
Svetasvatara Up. VI, 22.- Ait. Ar. 22.214.171.124.- Chand, Up. 3. 11.5.- Brih.
The Upanishads gives to Indians a fundamental presupposition of all
their thinking, it is the doctrine of universal immanence of an
We find in Robert Ernest Hume a beautiful eulogy of the Upanishads.
"They have also been taken up, said Robert Ernest Hume, by the
theosophists, who recognize in them the source of deep mystic knowledge
and look upon this group of texts 'as a word-scripture, that is to say,
a scripture appealing to the lovers of religion and truth in all races
and at all times, without distinction.' And occultists of many lands
find in these treatises numerous hints of things hidden from ordinary
sight and clues to progress on the pathway of spiritual attainment.
"...And Western professional students of philosophy, as well as literary
historians, have felt and expressed the importance of the Upanishads. In
the case of Arthur Schopenhauer, the chief of modern pantheists of the
West, his philosophy is unmistakably transfused with the doctrines
expounded in the Upanishads, a fact that might be surmised from his
oft-quoted eulogy: 'It (i.e. Anquetil du Perron's Latin translation of a
Persian rendering of the Upanishads) is the most rewarding and the most
elevating reading which (with the exception of the original text there
can possibly be in the world. It has been the solace of my life and will
be of my death.'
As a strenuous student of comparative religions since 45 years, I have
read the Bible, The Koran, all the sacred books of Buddhism, of
Confucianism, and of Taoism, I have seen that none of these books can be
compared with the Upanishads, for its insight and introspection.
I don't accept the dualism of Samkhya (Purusa or Buddhi and Prakriti);
neither do I accept the absolute dualism of Madhva, nor the conception
of God of Ramanuja, but I accept the teaching of Sankara (c. AD
788-820), that is his Absolute Monism, because it has counterpart
everywhere in the world. The teaching of Sankara, or the teaching of the
Upanishads, can be resumed as follows:
"There is, says the Chand. Up. (7.25), a spiritual principle called
Brahman, which creates the universe, pervades the universe, and is the
That (i.e. the spiritual principle), indeed, is below. It is above. It
is to the west. It is to the east. It is to the south. It is to the
north. It, indeed, is the whole world.
The self or the soul (called Atman) also pervades the universe.
Next,, the instruction with regard to the Ego. I, indeed, am below. I am
above. (etc.) Next, the instruction with regard to the soul. The Soul,
indeed, is below. The Soul is above (etc.).
...The great teacher Sankara (c. 788-820) chose to have them meant that,
the soul, the Atman, is identical with the all-pervasive spiritual
principle, the Brahman, and that release is the experience of this
identity. ...The Upanishads, he (Sankara) held, demonstrated that the
pure self as pure being, pure intelligence, and pure bliss is itself the
ultimate truth, and that the world and all else that is contingent is
imperfect and false (Maya).
Moksa, or release, to the Vedanta "meant the dissociation of the self
from the subjective psychosis and the world...The Vedanta...held that
the world as such, has no real existence at all, but is only an illusory
imagination which lasts till the moment when true knowledge is
acquired".(From S.N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy)
To attain this knowledge, to separate the contingent from the eternal,
to realize oneness with Brahman, no action or worship is necessary.
Knowledge is what pierces the veil of ignorance that hides the truth. It
is only necessary that a man lead a disciplined life, that he be no
longer concerned with the things of this world, that he be able to
discern what is transitory and what is permanent, that he be desirous
and capable of peace, and that he exercise restraint and faith, and be
capable of deep concentration...
The Bhagavad Gita is a small book of 18 chapters, excerpted from the
epic Mahabharata of Vyasa, reporting the dialogue of the god Khrisna
with the prince Arjurna. From the standpoint of religion, the Bhagavad
Gita is less strict than the Upanishas. While the Upanishads sustains
Absolute monism, the Bhagavad Gita proclaims that one can be saved:
By gnosis (The way of knowledge).
By ardent love (the way of devotion)
Or by unselfish action (The way of action)
The Bhagavad Gita accept all tendencies in Hinduism. It doesn't
criticize ritualism, and sacrifice. It maintains that God can be
impersonal or personal. It promotes both the Absolute Monism of Sankara,
and the Dualism of Samkhya (Purusa and Prakriti).
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his Autobiography, that "the Bhagavad Gita is
the book par excellence for the knowledge of the Truth".
A century ago, Thoreau could testify that his mind has been influenced
by two books, Emerson's Essay on Nature and the Bhagavad Gita.
Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, p. 16.
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12