THE VEDAS: We are concerned here only with the philosophical thought of the Vedic period. As we have already remarked, we find little philosophy in the pre-Upanisadic thought.
But the seeds of the important philosophical trends might be easily traced there. Moreover, there has been gradual development of the philosophical thought from the mantras and the brahmanas through the Aranyakas to the Upanisads. It is said that we can notice a transition from the naturalistic and anthropomorphic polytheism through transcendent monotheism to immanent monism in the pre-Upanisadic philosophy. The personified forces of nature first change into real gods and these later on, became mere forms of one personal and transcendental God, the ‘ Custodian of the Cosmic and Moral Order’ , who himself, later on, passed into the immanent purusa. The Upanisads developed this purusa into Brahman or Atman which is both immanent and transcendent. The Mantra portion has been called the religion of Nature, of the poets, the Brahmana ritualism, the religion of law, of the priests; the Upanisadic portion the religion of spirit, of the philosophers.
The above – mentioned conception of the development of pre – Upanisadic thought is to be taken in a very reserved sense. The western scholars and some of the Indian scholar, inspired by and even obsessed with the western interpretation, are apt to believe that when the early Vedic Aryans, who were primitive, if not semi – civilized and semi – barbarous, settled down and began to wonder at the charming and the tempting and to fear the terrible and destructive aspects of nature, they personified them in an anthropomorphic fashion and called them gods and goddesses and began to worship them. This was the stage of naturalistic and anthropomorphic polytheism. Then gradually polytheism yielded place to monotheism and the letter to monism. Max Muller introduces ‘henotheism’ as a traditional stage from polytheism to monotheism. Henotheism means ‘belief in one only God’ because the Vedic Aryans regarded any god they were praising as the most supreme and the only god. If this western interpretation is taken literally and in its entirely, we have we have no hesitation in saying that it is based on an ignorance of the Vedic literature. Neither polytheism nor henotheism nor even monotheism can be taken as the key – note of the early Vedic philosophy. The root – fallacy in the western interpretation lies in the mistaken belief that the Vedic seers were simply inspired by primitive wonder and awe towards the forces of nature. On the other extreme is the orthodox view that the Vedas are authorless and internal, which too cannot be philosophically sustained. The correct position seems to us to be that Vedic sages were greatly intellectual and intensely spiritual personages who in their mystic moments came face to face with Reality and this mystic experience, this direct intuitive spiritual insight overflew in the literature as the Vedic hymns. The key – note of the Vedic hymns is the same spiritual monism, the same immanent conception of the identity – in – difference which ultimately transcends even itself, the same indescribable absolution which holds both monism and pluralism within its bosom and which ultimately transcends both, which we find so beautifully and poetically developed in the Upanisads. To read anthropomorphic polytheism and then henotheism and monotheism in the Vedas is, to borrow a phrase from Gaudapada, to see the foot – prints of birds in the air. If there were polytheism in the Vedas, how it is that the binding principle of this world, the Supreme Soul of this Universe, the Guardian of this Cosmos, is so much emphasized and repeated? Again, in the ordinary course when polytheism leads to monotheism, the most powerful god among the hierarchy of gods is enthroned as the ruler of this universe. But this is conspicuous by its absence in the Vedas. Instead of taking the trouble of coining the word ‘henotheism’, Max Muller could have simply said that the gods are regarded as mere manifestation of the Supreme God so that when any god was praised he was not praised in his individual capacity, but merely as the manifestation of the Supreme God the gods are praised; yet not the gods, but god is praised through them. So there is no question of crude monotheism also in the Vedas. Hence, there is no development from polytheism through monotheism to monism, but only of monism from the first Mantra portion to the last Upanisadic portion.
Let us take some illustrations. ‘The One Real, the wise declare as many’. ‘Purusa is all this, all that was, and all that shall be’. ‘The real essence of the gods is one’. ‘The same real is worshipped as Uktha in the Rk, as Agni in the Yajuh and as Mahavrata in the Sama’. ‘Aditi, the boundless, is the sky, the air, the mother, the father, the son, all the gods and the men, all that is, all that was and all that shall be’. ‘He is the Custodian of the Rta ( truth ), the binding soul of the universe, the unity – in – difference in the cosmic and the moral order.’ The gods also are the guardians of the truth; even the rivers flow in this Rta’. ‘Only the wise, the wide awake, the mindful, know the ultimate Abode of the lord’. ‘We make sacrifices to the ultimate Lord of the universe, who runs through every particle of this universe, the whole existence, and who is Blissful and indescribable’. ‘Desire less, self – possessed, immortal, self – proved, ever full of bliss, inferior to none, every – young and everlasting is He, the soul of this universe; through His knowledge alone can one spurn death’. ‘There was neither Being nor non – being, neither air nor sky, neither death nor immortality, neither night nor day; that one breathed calmly, self – sustained; nought else beyond it lay’. ‘The Indescribable is the ground of all names and forms, the support of all creation’. ‘All the gods form the body of this world – soul’. ‘He is immanent in all this creation and yet He transcends it.’