Brahmanism is an ideology and a way of life, originating from the history of the Vedas, often called a philosophy, practised on the basis of specific inferred beliefs. The fundamental and principle belief of Brahmanism defines Brahman and its attributeless element that was first captured by the Rishis who compiled the Vedas. "That which existed before creation, that which constitutes the existent whole, and that into which all creation dissolves is the all-pervading Brahman, and the cycle of creation, sustenance, and destruction of the universe is endless." (Kena Upanishad)
Brahman, the Universal Intellect
The Vedic era thrived from 1500 BCE to 500 BCE in northern India on both sides of the Indus river. The Indus valley was civilised by the Aryans – the 'noble' ones – who worshipped nature. The Vedas originally believed in the concept of Sanatana Dharma (eternal order of life) where nature was worshipped with rituals and praise, which supposedly forms a significant part of the Vedas. The Vedas originated the ideology of Brahman, which became the central theme of those following the Vedas and its principles.
That which cannot be expressed by speech, but by which speech is expressed — That alone is known as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
That which cannot be apprehended by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind is apprehended — That alone is known as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
That which cannot be perceived by the eye, but by which the eye is perceived — That alone is known as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
That which cannot he heard by the ear, but by which the hearing is perceived — That alone is known as Brahman and not that which people here worship. (Kena Upanishad)
Brahman as the Ultimate Reality, the Universal Intellect that is endless, without beginning, middle and end is a metaphysical concept which forms the basis of Brahmanism. Brahmanism is considered to be the predecessor of Hinduism. Brahmanism is the central theme and belief of Vedic followers, its thoughts and philosophical concept giving rise to the primary and socio-religious belief and conduct in Hinduism.
Since the inference and perception of Brahman were put forward by the Rishis, the ones who later became staunch followers of Brahmanism, they were considered, according to some, to be of priestly caste and were called Brahmans. They duplicated the ideology through teachings and performance of rituals, and thus Brahmanism came to be practised with vigour and unwavering determination. Brahmanism, as some researchers claim, is also said to have got its name from the Brahmans, who performed the Vedic rituals. Moreover, a Brahman priest is the one who is always engrossed in the thoughts of the eternal Brahman. Brahmanism, nevertheless, remains the most sought after ideology which baffles the interpretation abilities of the wisest preceptors and superior scholars and to this day remains an exhaustless mystery.
Core concepts of Brahmanism
The core concepts of Brahmanism are significantly aligned with metaphysics, questioning what is actually real, the validity of time, of being, of consciousness, and the origin and basis of all existence. Many scholars, such as archaeologists, geologists, Indologists, and philologists, have taken refuge in the writings of the Vedas, especially in the concept of Brahman since it is directly related to humans and their origin.
Brahman as the all-pervading, all-eternal, and the prime cause of 'all that moves and does not move', forms a major acceptance in Brahmanism. It rests on the belief that everything that ever existed, that exists now, and that is going to exist is a minuscule event in the all eternal universal reality, called Brahman. The Atman – the soul – forms the second most important concept in Brahmanism. The Atman is considered to be the source of all vitality among humans. The soul of a living being is considered to be self-same as Brahman itself, thus leading to the belief that a human who embodies the soul is no other than Brahman and has all the attributes of Brahman. The soul, thus identified to be identical with the Supreme Soul which pervades everything, forms a significant belief in Brahmanism. The Supreme Soul, which is never born yet is the reason for the birth of all, forms the underlying principle in Brahmanism, which expanded following the inference of Brahman.
One soul is considered as self-same with the Supreme Soul, which is nothing but Brahman. This belief shows the influence of Brahmanism on Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Hinduism today is regarded nothing less than the progeny or an offshoot of Brahmanism, since Hindus got their name from Indus river, on the banks of which, the Aryans practised the Vedas. Hence, Hindus following the Vedas and its Brahman belief were seen as the first propellers of Hinduism.
Influence & Interpretations
Brahmanism’s famous but most ingrained influence is seen on Hinduism, in the sense and to the extent that Hindus do not distinguish between Brahmanism and Hinduism. Brahmins, a priestly caste privileged to practise the Vedic rituals are the carriers of the performance-based implementation of the ideology. They perform rituals and sacrifices described in the Vedas, including worship and praise of the forces of nature. Brahmanism today is a belief system well-researched among cosmologists trying to decipher the complexity of the universe and its likely origin.
Buddhism and Jainism have been considered to be offshoots of Brahmanism in terms of its ideology and principle beliefs, but they have fine-tuned it to their own interpretations. One following Brahmanism is most likely to believe unquestionably in the concept of rebirth of humans because the soul embodied by the human flesh would soon take refuge in a new body, a new avatar, to accomplish its unfulfilled desires. Buddhism does not believe in the concept of rebirth but has interpreted Brahmanism to the comfort that everything else is nullity in the universe except Brahman that alone exists and is eternal. Buddhists also defy and reject the belief of a human soul, stating that there is one undeniable living soul, and humans do not embody a soul but are full of suffering, constituting their impermanence. Likewise, Jainism adopts another interpretation of Brahmanism and places their reliance on the existence of soul, matter, time, space, dharma, and Adharma. In contrast, Brahmanism believes in the oneness of all beings and of all elements, forming the entity of Brahman, which is without any property or attributes. Thus, Buddhism and Jainism, though considered as offshoots, have deviated from the principle belief of Brahmanism and formulated their own understanding.
Brahmanism has a much more intellectual appeal than other ideologies/religions as it is connected to and concerned with the forces of nature, the origin of humankind, and the inherent mystery associated with every creature. Vedanta is one of the most influenced traditions or ideological forces that emerged from Brahmanism. It places its belief in non-duality and shuns everything that proposes the duality of existence, thus called as Advaita (non-dualism). Dvaita (dualism) in Vedanta, has also been influenced by Brahmanism and has a sect of followers. In addition, Yoga, a large and growing spiritual practice and discipline, has also been influenced by the philosophy of Brahmanism. Samkhya philosophy, relying on the three elements of perception, inference, and testimony from reliable scriptures to gain knowledge, has gained significant influence from Brahmanism regarding how knowledge is acquired and conduct is regulated.
About the Author
- Aurobindo, S., The Upanishads-II (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications Department, 1899).
- Eliade, M., History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2 (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
- Herman, A.L., A Brief Introduction To Hinduism (Westview Press, 1991).
- Lipner, J., Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (Routledge, 2010).
Cite This Work
Joshi, N. (2016, September 02). Brahmanism. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Brahmanism/
Joshi, Nikul. "Brahmanism." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 02, 2016. https://www.ancient.eu/Brahmanism/.
Joshi, Nikul. "Brahmanism." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02 Sep 2016. Web. 24 Mar 2018.
c. 1,500 BCE - 500 BCEThe Vedic Period in India.