When Hinduism originated as a religion it was mainly concerned with sacrifices for ancestors. The sacred texts - called the Vedas - on which Hinduism was based were the main root of the many different branches of Hindu philosophy. The Vedas originated around 1400-1200 BC. They consisted of several different documents, the oldest of them called the Rigveda.
The Rigveda is considered to be the foundation of Brahmanic Hinduism. The main body of Rigveda's text contains mostly hymns dedicated to the ancient Hindu gods. The second text of Vedas is called the Yajurveda. It was written in 1200 BC. The main themes of Yajurveda are the sacred formulas recited by Brahmin priests during the performance of sacrifices. The third book of Vedas, Samveda (1100 BC), was also known as the Veda of chants.
In its essence Samveda was an anthology of Rigveda writings. The last Veda is the Arthaveda (1200 BC).It consisted of hymns, incantations and magic charms. The original Vedic texts were mostly comprised of hymns to gods and rules of sacrificial rituals; the purpose of which was to provide ancestors with food and means of sustenance in the kingdom of Yama (the afterworld).
As a result of their devotion people expected certain favorable influences in their lives, such as good fortune and yet better life in the kingdom of Yama after their death. Sacrifices were supposed to be a means of survival in the kingdom of Yama. As the Indian philosophies evolved, Hindus developed the concept of reincarnation. That concept came from the belief that no one is able to remain in the afterworld forever and eventually should return to the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Such views resulted in further development of Hindu religion, Hindu philosophers such as Manu questioned the concepts of Vedas and laid the foundation for a philosophy that transformed Hinduism from an ancestral religion to a set of very complex religious and philosophical beliefs. Eventually the attempts of the Vedic texts to satisfy people's need to have contact with the sacred reality have become insufficient.
As Hindu religion became more complicated and people began to look for total freedom from the circle of death and rebirth the segment of Hinduism known as the way of devotion came into existence. Followers of the way of devotion based their beliefs on the myths about gods such as Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna. These gods were believed to be a manifestation of ultimate reality. Believers in the way of devotion were supposed to worship their god through sacrifices and rituals devoting their lives to the belief and were expected to be saved from the realm of maya by the manifestation of ultimate reality to which they entrusted their lives.
The way of devotion was a mythical transcendence, because it was heavily based on the myth about the encounters between mortal humans and divine beings (for example the legend of Krishna and Arguna) that described the main doctrines of this part of Hinduism to its pursuers.
Following the age of Vedas, texts known as Upanishads came into existence (1000-500 BC). Unlike the Vedas, Upanishads did not talk about the rules of sacrifices and did not contain hymns to gods. Instead, those texts concentrated on the essence of reality and on the supreme being ruling the cosmos-the Brahman.
The Upanishads contained one hundred and eight writings. The main theme of these writings was reality. In addition, Upanishads spoke of relationship between the world in which Hindus live, the Brahman, and the ultimate reality. In Upanishads Brahman was identified as the only true and absolute reality. .
The question which evolves out of such a view is: "How would one get in touch with the Self, how is it possible not just to be aware of it but to physically touch it?". Upanishads give an answer to this question by describing three states of consciousness. First is "the awakened state, where the sense faculties are turned outward, and the field of cognition is that of the gross body; 2. the dreaming state, where the field is that of subtle bodies, self-luminous and magically fluid; and the 3. the blissful state of dreamless deep sleep" (Zimmer 1951 p.
362.). The dreaming state was described as a short glimpse into the other dimension: the realm of gods and demons. This realm was considered to be similar to the realm of awakened consciousness, because as well as the awakened consciousness dreaming state had its illusions and was not free from suffering that was a result of constant change.
Dreamless sleep was seen as something totally different because it only had a pure being with no consciousness, and therefore having no worries and no changes in itself.
Shankara describes the difference between the one who is searching for knowledge and the one who attained it as "The man of knowledge sees this first in meditation, with his senses withdrawn; but the man of Brahman even at the time of dealing with the world sees the Self who has entered into all beings. Now the senses and mind are functioning in the response to events in the world, but the Self is not felt to be identified whit the body and mind. It is universal, 'Brahman, in the highest heaven'.
To conclude, when examining the philosophy of Hinduism and the way of knowledge some connection to reality could be found. Many people who follow the way of knowledge seem to find inner peace and understanding of life. This is why the philosophy of the way of knowledge was so widely accepted in the days of its emergence and later became a base for many other philosophies of India.
The Classic Low Of India. University of California Press Berkeley, Los Angeles,
London, 1973. Zimmer, Heinrich, Robert. Philosophies Of India. New York: Pantheon Books, 1951.
Chidester, David. Patterns Of Transcendence. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990.
Comton's Interactive Encyclopedia. Electronic version.