A Brief Introduction to the Scriptures of the East
by Dr. William S. Sadler
I. THE SACRED BOOKS OF THE HINDUS
The sacred books of the Hindu peoples are the oldest and largest collection
of scriptural writings extant. They were unknown to the Occident until they
were brought to light in 1787 AD. by an official of the East India Company.
These voluminous writings are conventionally subdivided into six groups:
- l. The Vedas
- 2. The Bramanas
- 3. The Upanishads
- 4.The Mahabharata
- 5. Laws of Manu
- 6. Puranas
It is not always possible to make this segregation, as, for example, the Forest
Books (which close the Bramanas) in part, form the introductory books of the
- l. The Vedas. (1000 BC. or prior) Devotional. The word Veda is derived from
Sanskrit VID--to know. The four Vedas are fundamentally devotional.
- a. The Rig Veda--a collection of 1028 lyrical hymns, approximately five
times the length of the Hebrew psalms.
- b.The Sama Veda--rendition of a majority of the Rig Veda hymns with musical
- c. The Yajur Veda---liturgical writings. Ceremonies.
- d. The Atharva Veda--a collection of 730 incantations and other ritualistic
formulas designed to work charms, etc.
- 2. The Bramanas. (1000 600 BC.) ceremonial
- These prose treatises deal with the ritual of sacrifice and its philosophical
implications. Much as the Talmud is a rabbinical exposition of the Pentateuch,
so the Bramanas are a priestly exposition of the preceding Vedas.
- The Aranyakas--the Forest Books--close the Bramanas. Designed to be read in
the solitude of the forest by religious isolationists, these books are meditational
in character. They contain much priestly philosophy and are the transition-link
between the ceremonial Bramanas and the philosophical Upanishads.
- 3. The Upanishads. (600-300 BC.) Philosophical
- In the course of the profound metaphysical speculations regarding the nature
of reality, embraced in the 108 Upanishads, several concepts are developed:
- The Brahman--oversoul.
- The Atman--the individual soul.
- Karma--causality continuity.
- Nirvana--ultimate union with the oversoul
- The Upanishads conclude that reality is a monism. They negate the reality of
all things excepting the indefinable all-encompassing and unknowable Absolute.
See also: Selected Quotes
from`Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita by Stuart R. Kerr, III
- 4. The Mahabharata. (500 BC.) An epic poem.
- This is an epic poem of great length containing much of the mythology of the
Aryan invaders of India.
- The Bhagavad-Gita, of origin perhaps in the first century BC., was sometime
thereafter, inserted in the Mahabharata. It is one of the most appealing of
all the Hindu scriptures, being written in such a manner as to be comprehensible
to the average man. It stresses religious activity and devotion. Some scholars
have considered the possibility of its indebtedness to the earlier Christian
writings, but this hypothesis has been generally rejected.
THE LAWS OF MANU
- 5. Laws of Manu. (200 BC.) Legal--ethical
- This collection is legal and ethical in nature, dealing with the following
- a. Function of the four castes.
- b. Supremacy of the priestly caste.
- c. Perpetuation of the priestly caste.
- d. Conduct of men in the secular life.
- e. Conduct of men in the religious life.
- 6. The Puranas. (100-1000 AD.)
- This collection of poetry deals with cosmology, mythology, and imparts a vast
miscellany of social and religious instruction.
See also: An Introduction to Hinduism by Dr. Meredith Sprunger
II. THE TAOIST SCRIPTURES
- 1. The Tao-Teh-King. 6th Century BC.
- Supposed to have been written by Lao Tze.
- "Part I - Tao: Deals with nature and functions of the "ultimate cause,"
the "cosmic essence," the "trend of the universe."
- Part II - Teh: Portrays that kind of ethical living which allegiance to Tao
- 2. Works of Chuang Tze. 3rd-4th Century BC.
- Chuang Tze is the Paul of Taoism. His works are directed primarily against
the factualism and worldliness of Confucianism.
See also: An Introduction to Taoism by Dr. Meredith Sprunger
III. THE KORAN
- This is dated in the 7th century AD.
- Written by Mohammed and purporting to be a transcription of the revelations
of the Angel Gabriel
- Arrangement: 114 Chapters (Suras) about one-fourth the length of the Old Testament.
- Content: Shows Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian influences.
- A collection of myths, legends, narratives, legal statutes, ethical precepts,
and ceremonial injunctions.
- Not new, but a new adaptation of extant teachings to Arabia.
See: Selected Quotes from the Koran by Stuart R. Kerr, III
See also: An Introduction to Islam by Dr. Meredith Sprunger
IV. SCRIPTURES OF THE SIKHS
- Sikhism -- a blend of Islam and Hinduism, was founded in the 15th century AD.
by Nanak. In northwestern India he gathered followers from among both faiths
and became their "guru" or master. An apostolic line of succession
was maintained for some time. The fifth guru after Nanak collected his writings,
added to them, and produced the Holy Bible of the Sikhs--the Granth Sahib.
- Teachings of the Granth Sahib
- l. No caste--all are equal before God.
- 2. Monotheistic.
- 3. Transmigration and karma are accepted.
- 4. Ultimate destiny is "absorption into the Eternal Light."
- 5. Salvation is a matter of inner attitude rather than external observance.
- 6. Ascetic practices are valueless--only work done out of love for God has
See also: An Introduction to Sikhism by Dr. Meredith Sprunger
- Total sacred writings consist of nine books--five canonical and four uncanonical.
- 1. The Canonical "Kings"
- The first four books were edited by Confucius; the fifth is largely his own work.
- a. The YI King. (The ''Canon of Changes')
- To man's senses the universe seems to be a chaos. This is appearance,
but not reality. There is an unceasing creative activity which is constantly
arranging an apparent chaos into an orderly and comprehensive universe of
- b. The SHU King. (The "Canon of History")
- Historical-ethical work extolling the virtues of two semi-ethical rulers
- c. The SHI King. (The "Canon of Odes")
- Three hundred five odes traversing the whole range of Chinese lyric poetry.
- d. The LI KI King. (The "Canon of Rites")
- Portrays an inner law of control and balance as the source of the external
harmony of an ideal society arising out of the restrained conduct of its
- e. CHUN TSIN ("Spring and Autumn")
- These are the "Annals of LU" (700--550 BC.), the principality in
which Confucius was born, and are, in the main, original with Confucius. His
eight fundamental conceptions of peace are here portrayed as:
- (1) Heaven is the Lord of the universe and loves all creatures.
- (2) Universal love of mankind irrespective of racial differences.
- (3) Civilization vs. barbarism is a matter of property and justice.
- (4) Reciprocity is fundamental to successful international relations.
- (5) Truthfulness is the stability of international relations.
- (6) War cannot be justified.
- (7) There are divisions of territories, but not of people; all people belong
to one family.
- (8) The whole world is a great unity.
- 2. The Uncanonical [Four Books]
- Though uncanonical, they have the same standing as the "Kings." They
were written after the death of Confucius by his disciples--immediate and remote.
- a. LUN-YU. (Analects of Confucius)
- Twenty-five books setting forth Confucius' teaching, especially with reference
- b. TA-HIO. (The "Great Learning")
- Self-culture in relation to social ethics. Society is presented as an
extension of the individual.
- c. CHUNG-YUNG. (The "Doctrine of the Mean")
- Confucius' dominant conception of the "mean"--the middle path
between extremes set forth as a cosmic principle of equilibrium or balance.
- THE GOLDEN RULE: "Keep the balance true between thyself and thy
neighbor, practice the principle of equilibrium."
- d. MONG TZI. ("Menicus")
- Lived 372-289 BC. Greatest of disciples. Expounded Confucian teachings by use
of dialogue form. Continues the exposition of the Doctrine of the Mean with
especial emphasis on its relation to government.
- 3. Teachings of Confucianism
- a. The chief end of man is to become a desirable member of society.
- b. Belief in God. Confucius recognized a superhuman power that was related
to man but said little on this subject.
- NAME OF GOD: The term TIEN (Heaven) is used in preference to SHANG-TI
(Highest Lord) which carried certain anthropomorphic connotations.
- c. Immortality--He was an agnostic. Didn't accept or deny immortality.
See also: An Introduction to Confucianism by Dr. Meredith Sprunger
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