The Artul Universe (An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination)

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This book serves as an introduction to the Vedic religious tradition of ancient and classical India, a tradition that in many ways has stood as the foundation for much of Indian spirituality for 3,500 years and more. The discussions in the following pages emphasize Vedic ideas regarding the nature of divinity and its relationship to the natural and human worlds; Vedic cosmology and metaphysics; the nature and process of revelation and its relationship to poetry and other forms of expression; the structure and purpose of ritual performance and other forms of hallowed activity; and the function and practice of meditation. Consideration of such topics leads to a presentation of other related Vedic ideas and aspirations as well: the connection between liturgy and contemplation; the relationship between the soul and ultimate reality; the yearning for and experience of transcendence, freedom, and immortality.

These are key components of the Vedic religious world. Accordingly, they have been the focus of many studies by astute scholars in both India and the West. However, most of these books tend to be rather opaque to those who are relatively unfamiliar with the material at hand, and few of them have directed their readers' attention to all the components of the Vedic religious world just mentioned. I hope that this book makes these important aspects of Vedic thought more accessible to interested nonspecialists, thereby contributing to the wider understanding and continuing study of Vedic religion.'

As a way to frame these important but in some ways diverse aspects of Vedic thought, The Artful Universe denominates and highlights a particular theme that links all these components together, namely, the important role of the divine and human imagination in the formation, transformation, and reformation of a meaningful world. Religious functions of the imagination are woven throughout the Vedic world. The imagination here refers not only to the power and process by which an image is formed in and by the mind and heart, but also to a number of ways in which that inwardly formed image is drawn outward or expressed, as well as to that process by which images of seemingly external forces and truths are internalized or experienced within one's own being. This book shows that, according to Vedic thought, imaginative human beings create, cognize, and recognize a world of significance and value or a structure of truth precisely because they have the ability to imagine such a world or truth and that, in fact, this effective power is similar to the gods' very ability to fashion a meaningful universe by imagining it into being. The imaginative human being—poet, liturgist, contemplative sage—thus shares with the deities, or at least yearns to share with them, the ability to fashion, understand, and order an otherwise confusing and broken world. It is the creative, revelatory, and restorative imagination that makes human beings most like the gods.

Professional scholars of the Veda will recognize themes that have attracted the interest of eminent twentieth-century academics for some time: the notion that language has the power to create and maintain a world of meaning, for example; the metaphysics of creativity; the parallelism between divine creativity and human poetic expression; the similar aims of poetry and ritual; the role of the imagination in the contemplative experience of the sub-lime. But it is precisely these and related ideas which I sense might be of interest to people who do not specialize in Vedic scholarship but who nevertheless have become interested in Vedic thought and practice and who might find an introductory discussion of these ideas relevant to their own pursuits. I would in fact be most pleased if inquisitive poets, artists, dramatists, meditators, or sadhakas of one form or another find in the following pages information and perhaps even inspiration as they seek to know more about one of the oldest and most venerated of the world's spiritual traditions.

Initial research for this book was supported by a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by funding supplied by Davidson College. I am most appreciative of the kindness and welcome given to me by the officers of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune; a special note of appreciation in this regard goes to R. N. Dandekar and S. D. Laddu. Thanks, too, go to M. D. Bhandare of the American Institute of Indian Studies, for the logistical support he gave to my family while we lived in Pune.

Many people have offered me their constructive criticism and have given me encouragement while I have undertaken the writing of this book. My thanks go first to Wendy Doniger, whose continuing interest in my work over the years means a great deal to me. Paul B. Courtright, Laurie L. Patton, Joanne Punzo Waghorne, Edward Levy, and several anonymous referees read the entire manuscript and offered suggestions for improvement. Of course, any mistakes in the following pages are my own.

For their collegial support at Davidson College I thank Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Trent Foley, Burkhard Henke, Herb Jackson, Samuel Maloney, Mark McCulloh, Alexander McKelway, Karl Plank, Lynn Poland, Max Polley, Daniel Rhodes, Catherine Slawy-Sutton, Homer Sutton, Job Thomas, Robert Williams, and Price Zimmermann. Scott Denham of Davidson's Ger-man department gave me valuable help one full morning as I worked through some Vedic songs I found particularly difficult to translate. I have enjoyed many hours of conversation on a wide range of topics on the poetic imagination, from Aristotle to Abhinavagupta, with Professor A. Vishnu Bhat of the English department at Madras Christian College.

With gratitude I acknowledge the encouragement given to me over the years by Professors Constantina Rhodes Bailly, Douglas Renfrew Brooks, and Paul Muller-Ortega. I reserve my final, deepest thanks for my family—Pamela, Abigael, and Olivia—whose love and patience stand behind every word in the following pages. And it is with profound appreciation beyond the range of words that I offer my reverence to the artful source of all that is real and precious and valuable in this mysterious and awe-inspiring universe. I offer the fruits of my work to that incomprehensible wisdom that brings all things into being, sustains them, nourishes them, and transforms them into the splendor of the Absolute; I honor the divine imagination itself and its perfect embodiment in the play of the universal consciousness that pulses and dances through all beings.

The phrase Vedic religion refers to a complicated yet systematic set of religious values, ideas, and practices from ancient India, many of the salient themes of which came to serve as central if unstated components of classical Hinduism. Although there is not universal agreement, historians tend to feel that the origins of Vedic religion lie among the religious sensibilities of slowly migrating Indo-European pastoralists who, beginning around 1500 BCE, entered the Punjab from the northwest. By the sixth century BCE, the Vedic presence had extended eastward onto the Ganges River Plain, assimilating and responding to various other religious worldviews as it did so but nevertheless maintaining a distinct quality of its own; within two or three centuries it had moved across the Deccan Plateau and into the southern regions of the subcontinent. By the third century BCE, the Vedic perspectives reached across most of what today we call India. Because of the important place Vedic ideologies held in Indian civilization at the time, historians often call this period of Indian history the Vedic Period. But this nomenclature is somewhat misleading. Throughout the past 3,500 years, Vedic sensibilities have continued to contribute to and in some ways to define Hindu Indian religious, philosophical, social, and cultural thought as a whole.

' Vedic religion in general revolved around the ideas that the wondrous marvels and powers of nature, the diverse personalities and behavior of the many gods and goddesses w[/product_description] [product_video]
Item Code: NAS433
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8170307678
Language: ENGLISH
Size: 8.50 X 6.00 inch
Pages: 337
Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.41 Kg[/product_video]


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The Artul Universe (An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination)

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