Man’s dedication to the quest for meaning is certainly as old as his existence on earth, and the belief in gods, in whatever form, has been present in all cultures of the world since time immemorial, even though questioned and denied from time to time. All over the world, the spiritual foundation of a society is reflected in a body of myths which are symbols of human experience each culture values and preserves because they embody its world-view or important beliefs.
Myths may explain origins, natural phenomena and death. They may provide models of virtuous or heroic behavior by relating the adventures of great heroes, or they may describe the nature and function of divinities. They impart a feeling of awe for whatever is mysterious and marvelous in life, depicting a universe in which human beings lake their place in a much larger scale, and may reveal much more deeply than any rationalistic rendering the very structure of the divinity; divinity who stands beyond all attributes, and gathers all contraries, “God is day and night. winter and summer; war and peace. Hunger and satiety: all opposites are in him,” would say 1-leraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC. The questions myths address have produced a body of stories from diverse cultures that often closely resemble each other in subject, although the treatment of each theme naturally varies from one society to another. Forming a bridge across time and space, they are like an open window on the mind of the people who created them, allowing us to better access deeper layers of their psyche.” The mind of the European”, wrote Sri Aurobindo, “is an Iliad and an Odyssey, fighting rudely but heroically forward, or full of a rich curiosity (...) The mind of the Asiatic is a Ramayan or a Mahabharat, a gleaming infinity of splendid and inspiring imaginations and idealism, or else a universe of wide moral aspiration, ever new masses of thought.”
The task of preparing teaching-learning material .for value-oriented education is enormous.
There is, first, the idea that value-oriented education should be exploratory rather than prescriptive, and that the teaching- learning material should provide to the learners a growing experience of exploration.
Secondly, it is rightly contended that the proper inspiration to turn to value-orientation is provided by biographies, autobiographical accounts, personal anecdotes, epistles, short poems, stories of humour, stories of human interest, brief passages filled with pregnant meanings, reflective short essays written in well-chiselled language, plays, powerful accounts of historical events, statements of personal experiences of values in actual situations of life, and similar other statements of scientific, philosophical, artistic and literary expression.
Thirdly, we may take into account the contemporary fact that the entire world is moving rapidly towards the synthesis of the East and the West, and in that context, it seems obvious that our teaching-learning material should foster the gradual familiarisation of students with global themes of universal significance as also those that underline the importance of diversity in unity. This implies that the material should bring the students nearer to their cultural heritage, but also to the highest that is available in the cultural experiences of the world at large.
Fourthly, an attempt should be made to select from Indian and world history such examples that could illustrate the theme of the upward progress of humankind. The selected research material could be multi-faceted, and it should be presented in such a way that teachers could make use of it in the manner and in the context that they need in specific situations that might obtain or that can be created in respect of the students.
The research team at the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER) has attempted the creation of the relevant teaching-learning material, and they have decided to present the same in the form of monographs. The total number of these monographs will be around eighty to eighty-five.
It appears that there are three major powers that uplift life to higher and higher normative levels, and the value of these powers, if well illustrated, could be effectively conveyed to the learners for their upliftment. These powers are those of illumination, heroism and harmony.
It may be useful to explore the meanings of these terms — illumination, heroism and harmony — since the aim of these monographs is to provide material for a study of what is sought to be conveyed through these three terms. We offer here exploratory statements in regard to these three terms.
Illumination is that ignition of inner light in which meaning and value of substance and life-movement are seized, understood, comprehended, held, and possessed, stimulating and inspiring guided action and application and creativity culminating in joy, delight, even ecstasy. The width, depth and height of the light and vision determine the degrees of illumination, and when they reach the splendour and glory of synthesis and harmony, illumination ripens into wisdom. Wisdom, too, has varying degrees that can uncover powers of knowledge and action, which reveal, in turn, unsuspected secrets and unimagined skills of art and craft of creativity and effectiveness.
Heroism is, essentially, inspired force and self-giving and sacrifice in the operations of will that is applied to the quest, realisation and triumph of meaning and value against the resistance of limitations and obstacles by means of courage, battle and adventure. There are degrees and heights of heroism determined by the intensity, persistence and vastness of sacrifice. 1-leroism attains the highest states of greatness and refinement when it is guided by the highest wisdom and inspired by the sense of service to the ends of justice and harmony, as well as when tasks are executed with consummate skill.
Harmony is a progressive state and action of synthesis and equilibrium generated by the creative force of joy and beauty and delight that combines and unites knowledge and peace and stability with will and action and growth and development. Without harmony, there is no perfection, even though there could be maximisation of one or more elements of our nature. When illumination and heroism join and engender relations of mutuality and unity, each is perfected by the other and creativity is endless.
This particular monograph reflects on the relation between the Gods and the world. The question of the workings of the gods in the world is complex, and this monograph does not aim at a philosophical discussion of the question.
Do gods exist? What is the relationship between gods and God?
What is the relationship between human beings, gods and God? If the students are inspired to raise these questions and to explore them with the help of philosophers and other competent scholars, the material given in this monograph will find its justification as indeed our aim is to inspire exploration.
Man’s dedication to the quest for meaning is certainly as old as his existence on earth, and the belief in gods, in whatever form, has been present in all cultures of the world since time immemorial, even though questioned and denied from time to time. Carl Jung,’ the father of depth psychology, viewed Man’s urge towards transcendent meaning as an instinct sui generis in the human psyche, or as he would say, “an innate predisposition of mankind.”
All over the world, the spiritual foundation of a society is reflected in a body of myths which are symbols of human experience each culture values and preserves because they embody its world-view or important beliefs. In the words of Mircea Eliade, a well-known historian of religions, myths are always the reflection of a genuine religious experience and, in his view; it is the sacred experience that gives them their structure, utility and universality. “Myths”, he says, “express figuratively and dramatically what metaphysics and theology define dialectically.
Myths may explain origins, natural phenomena and death. They may provide models of virtuous or heroic behaviour by relating the adventures of great heroes, or they may describe the nature and function of divinities. They impart a feeling of awe for whatever is mysterious and marvelous in life, depicting a universe in which human beings take their place in a much larger scale, and may reveal much more deeply than any rationalistic rendering the very structure of the divinity; divinity who, as is so much stressed in all oriental religions, stands beyond all attributes, and gathers all contraries. “God is day and night, winter and summer; war and peace, hunger and satiety: all opposites are in him,” would say Hera clitus, a Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC The questions myths address have produced a body of stories from diverse cultures that often closely resemble each other in subject, although the treatment of each theme naturally varies from one society to another. Forming a bridge across time and space, they are like an open window on the mind of the people who created them, allowing us to better access deeper layers of their psyche. Sri Aurobindo, in his preface on the philosophy of the Upanishads, beautifully describes the differences he sees between the Asiatic and European mind. Digging into the rich soil of the epics which are at the roots of these two main lines of development, he writes: “The mind of the European is an Iliad and an Odyssey,3 fighting rudely but heroically forward, or full of a rich curiosity, wandering as an accurate and vigorous observer in landlocked seas of thought; the mind of the Asiatic is a Ramayan or a Mahabharat, a gleaming infinity of splendid and inspiring imaginations and idealism, or else a universe of wide moral aspiration, ever new masses of thought.”
As we have seen, an inherent part of myths is the belief in one or more powers that create life and control the direction of the Universe.
The ancient world contained a multitude of coexisting religious ideas and forms. Various forms of monotheism (both female-dominated or male-dominated), polytheism, nature worship, ancestor worship are found all over the world. A general tendency had long been to see the evolution of the religious phenomena from “simple to complex” starting with the most elementary religious forms like totemism or fetishism, cults of nature and animism and evolving, as man and societies were becoming more civilized, towards polytheism to finally reach a monotheistic notion of god. For many scholars now and in particular for Mircea Eliade, it is a very simplified viewpoint and, as he often points out in his treatise on religious history, this hypothesis has never been proved. ‘A simple and linear representation is always a selection more or less arbitrary; nowhere will we find a simple religion reducible to elementary hierophanies.’ Everywhere even in the most primitive and ancient cult, religious life is always much more complex.”
It is certainly not for us in such a small format to study such rich and enormous material Many books have been published on this fascinating subject and a few are suggested at the end of this monograph for interested students. We will limit ourselves to look into two systems of gods which have been very well defined, the Greek system and the Indian system.
Three texts, which are part of the literary material that have greatly influenced the cultural and spiritual development of Western or Eastern people to his day, are presented here. Our first text, The Colloquy...of Indra and Agastya, has been selected out of the Rig Veda and is followed by a very enlightening commentary from Sri Aurobindo who consecrated many years of his life to unravel “the secret of the Veda”. Our second text is an excerpt from the Kena Upanishad.
If Veda and Upanishads are the roots of Indian civilization and the supreme authority in Hindu religion, ancient Greece gave soil for the rich crop of religious imagination that has shaped the mind of the Western world. Our third text thus is taken out of the Iliad, one of the two famous epics written by Greece’s greatest poet, Homer, and which, together with the Odyssey, has probably been the most read poem for the past three thousand years. Finally to conclude this monograph, we have included an excerpt from Sri Aurobindo’s long poem Ilion, inspired by the Iliad and in which the Olympian gods are presented in all their depth and beauty.
Greece and India both have produced a luxuriant mythology and an abundant pantheon. If the Greek gods belong now to the past, having been dethroned by Christianity, and are more to us figures of art and poetry, the Indian gods are still very much alive. For the Indians have always tended to retain their early beliefs and mould them in such a way as to mirror new social conditions or to fit them into a new philosophical scheme. Moreover, the oldest Vedic hymns have affirmed the ultimate Reality of the One Supreme Being and some various gods and goddesses as cosmic manifestation of the One.
Greek religion was essentially polytheistic, and no other religion has ever been so anthropomorphic. ** “Every object or force of sky or earth, every blessing and every terror, every quality
— even the vices — of mankind were personified as a deity, usually in human form and animating power Every craft, profession and an had its divinity and in addition, there were demons, harpies, furies, gorgons, sirens, nymphs almost as numerous as the mortals of Earth.” (Will Durant, History of Civilizations — Vol II) This animism, which corresponds to the subtle perception that no plan of existence is without form and animating power, is a remarkably universal feature in the religious culture of the ancient world, and similarly even wood-gods, river-gods, mountain-gods, house-gods, tree deities, snake deities peopled the world of ancient India.
But the great gods of the Vedas, as well as the Olympians belonged to a much higher order. They were great powers, supporting universal laws and functions, and were not bound by life and matter.
In Greece, already at the time of Homer, the gods had developed deep moral and psychologi cal functions.
Zeus, very similar in some aspects to the Vedic god Indra, Lord of the sky and Illumined Intelligence, was Lord of wind, rain and storms, and of thunder — The Thunderer became one of his most familiar epithets, and the thunderbolt,’ symbolic of his supreme creative power, was his main attribute. He had united in himself all the attributes of the supreme divinity. He was “The Father of all”, head and source of the moral order of the world, the mighty ruler of gods and men. He was omnipotent, saw and knew everything. His daughter Athena, “born from his head fully armed”, in whom some scholars have seen a personification analogous to the Vedic Saraswati, hut who had been most probably a storm and lightning goddess — hence her normal attribute, the aegis, which in primitive time signified “the stormy night” and her epithet as “Goddess of the brilliant eyes” — was venerated in her quality of Warrior Goddess who protected the brave and the valorous, and as the goddess of learning and wisdom. Her wisdom which earned her the epithet pronoia (the foreseeing) made her the counselor goddess and the goddess of the assembly.
Even more worshiped than Athena was Apollo, son of Zeus by Leto, goddess of the night. Apollo was the solar god — without being the sun himself which was represented by a special divinity, Helios. Apollo had assumed high moral qualities. He was honoured as /h1trol of music, art, and poetry; as founder of cities, maker of laws and as god of healing and prophecy. Everywhere he was associated with order, measure and beauty; whereas in other cults there were strange elements of fear and superstition, in the worship of Apollo, and in his great festivals at Delphi and Delos, the dominant note was the rejoicing of a brilliant people in a god of health and wisdom, reason and song.
In India the Vedic gods developed their psychological functions but retained also more fixedly their external characters, and for higher purpose, gave place to a new pantheon who assumed larger cosmic functions. Nowadays, as has been shown by Sri Aurobindo in his book The Secret of the Veda, a factor of main importance and understanding of Vedic religion is that, like in so many cultures of the ancient world — Egyptian, Chaldean or Greek, to name a few — a double aspect of exoteric* practice and esoteric** symbolism has been one of its fundamental characteristics. The Veda belongs to that age of mysteries’ in which men of a deeper knowledge and self-knowledge established their practices, significant rites, symbols and secret lore’s within or on the borders of a more exterior religion. That was also certainly true for Greece whose highly moralized Homeric gods were but very exterior aspects of its religion. Its deeper life fed itself on the mystic rites of Orpheus,’ Dionysus,” and the Eleusinian mysteries,” all deeply rooted in antiquity and whose initiations were kept very secret. And if we do not know the fundamentals of the Orphic initiation, we do know its preliminaries: vegetarianism, asceticism, purification and religious instruction through sacred books — heroi logoi — which remind us very much of Indian yoga.
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