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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

The Self atman of the world


There

seems to be a belief in the Vedas that the soul could be separated from the body in states of swoon, and that it could exist after death, though we do not find there any trace of the doctrine of transmigration in a developed form. In the S'atapatha Brahma@na it is said that those who do not perform rites with correct knowledge are born again after death and suffer death again. In a hymn of the @Rg-Veda (X. 58) the soul (_manas_) of a man apparently unconscious is invited to come back to him from the trees, herbs, the sky, the sun, etc. In many of the hymns there is also the belief in the existence of another world, where the highest material joys are attained as a result of the performance of the sacrifices and also in a hell of darkness underneath where the evil-doers are punished. In the S'atapatha Brahma@na we find that the dead pass between two fires which burn the evil-doers, but let the good go by [Footnote ref 1]; it is also said there that everyone is born again after death, is weighed in a balance, and receives reward or punishment according as his works are good or bad. It is easy to see that scattered ideas like these with regard to the destiny of the soul of man according to the sacrifice that he performs or other good or bad deeds form the first rudiments of the later doctrine of metempsychosis. The idea that man enjoys or suffers, either in another world or by being born in this world according to his good or bad deeds, is the first beginning of the moral idea, though
in the Brahmanic days the good deeds were

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[Footnote 1: See _S.B._ I. 9.3, and also Macdonell's _Vedic Mythology_, pp. 166, 167.]

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more often of the nature of sacrificial duties than ordinary good works. These ideas of the possibilities of a necessary connection of the enjoyments and sorrows of a man with his good and bad works when combined with the notion of an inviolable law or order, which we have already seen was gradually growing with the conception of @rta, and the unalterable law which produces the effects of sacrificial works, led to the Law of Karma and the doctrine of transmigration. The words which denote soul in the @Rg-Veda are _manas_, _atman_ and _asu_. The word _atman_ however which became famous in later Indian thought is generally used to mean vital breath. Manas is regarded as the seat of thought and emotion, and it seems to be regarded, as Macdonell says, as dwelling in the heart[Footnote ref 1]. It is however difficult to understand how atman as vital breath, or as a separable part of man going out of the dead man came to be regarded as the ultimate essence or reality in man and the universe. There is however at least one passage in the @Rg-Veda where the poet penetrating deeper and deeper passes from the vital breath (_asu_) to the blood, and thence to atman as the inmost self of the world; "Who has seen how the first-born, being the Bone-possessing (the shaped world), was born from the Boneless (the shapeless)? where was the vital breath, the blood, the Self (_atman_) of the world? Who went to ask him that knows it [Footnote ref 2]?" In Taittirya Ara@nyaka I. 23, however, it is said that Prajapati after having created his self (as the world) with his own self entered into it. In Taittirya Brahma@na the atman is called omnipresent, and it is said that he who knows him is no more stained by evil deeds. Thus we find that in the pre-Upani@sad Vedic literature atman probably was first used to denote "vital breath" in man, then the self of the world, and then the self in man. It is from this last stage that we find the traces of a growing tendency to looking at the self of man as the omnipresent supreme principle of the universe, the knowledge of which makes a man sinless and pure.


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