Pantheism & the Upanishads
The notion of pantheism,1 namely that ‘All is God’,2 first pops up in the philosophic and psychologic ‘just so’ stories of the Upanishads composed round about 800 BC.
The Upanishads were a mishmash of philosophic-cum-mystical fantasies about creation in general and in particular, of its cause and effect as everyday life and death and of the most efficient human responses to the former and the latter. 3
Pan (The Brahman)
generating identical copies of herself as a means of self-elaboration
The Upanishads were not a popular story genre but one that appealed to a very limited group of highly intelligent and curious, possibly older individuals.4 They became a standard if low key part of the repertoire of the professional hereditary Brahmin story teller and performer of rituals plying his highly profitable trade.5
Initially the Upanishads proposed three creation stories.6,7 First there was the monistic Prajapati, the father of creation, invented during Vedic times. Then the monistic ATMAN8 was invented as actual (meaning internal9) source and driver of living systems. Finally the monistic BRAHMAN,10,11 as still, immutable, eternal ground of all life,12 was proposed.
After a bit of thought Prajapati, being a mite too primitive and connected to the discredited past, was quietly dropped. And then the pantheistic Atman and the pantheistic Brahman were simply equated and the Atman was conceived as the active version of the Brahman.13
However, the crux of the matter was that both the the monistic Brahman14 and the monistic Atman were wholly pantheistic.15 What the pantheistic Brahman, the inactive ground operation of life, so obviously lacked was local, specifically human political leverage. And that leverage was supplied by the active surface operation of the Atman.16
However, what the later Upanishad compilers realised to their horror was that pantheism, namely ‘Thou - warts and all - art that!’17,18,19 was fundamentally unworkable as a philosophy useful for survival in the everyday world.20
The pantheistic ideology was, however, useful for those individuals who had given up the struggle to survive, namely the aged and those seeking wisdom, both of whom sought to re-engage with the natural order.21 And it could be weaponised as ‘spoiling tactic’22 for use against aggressors of all philosophic hues.23
© 2018 by Victor Langheld
1. All theisms (i.e. religions as applications of specific rules sets) are ‘just so’ stories told to comfort, console and explain the as yet unexplainable and to imprint rules-of-the-road for enhanced, frictionless social (i.e. cultural or group specific) traffic.
2. To wit, th3e fundamental oneness, hence identity of all creation. 1500 years later in Europe Spinoza defined pantheism as ’Nature doing its thing!’ (i.e. natura naturans). For pantheistic G.O.D. read: one rule for all (i.e. as in nature). For henotheistic G.O.D. read: one (super) rule for some (i.e. as group, thus super-culture).
3. This appears to have been a world-wide phenomenon since similar stories began to be told at round about the same time in Persia, Greece (with Heraclitus and Parmenides) and China (with Lao Tzu).
4. The Upanishads, invented at the end of a lengthy process of post Vedic brain storming, were a top-down attempt to explain the creation process and find an appropriate human response. Note that fundamentally theisms (i.e. rules systems) change (i.e. need to change) with age, meaning that they change from infancy to dotage to satisfy the needs of personal development and survival at each developmental stage.
5. Once the Upanishads came under the control of Brahmins as hereditary caste they ceased to evolve. They were declared sruti and thus ‘true as such’ and whatever nonsense was in them could not be removed but had to be logically ‘normalised’
6. All three are pantheistic in the sense that they attempt to delineate ‘one (hence mono-) rule for all’. It is possible that the seemingly conflicting pantheistic creation stories told at the beginning of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad originated from different sources (as super-cultures) and/or times (Prajapati being the oldest, then replaced by the Brahman with the Atman being invented later) and were then redacted together in this Upanishad. In fact the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad has the feel of a later compilation. Badarayana, Shankara and others then had the unenviable because tortuous task of resolving the seeming conflict between them and their false and/or redundant components.
7. In fact Indian story tellers eventually invented dozens of creation myths and their sources, such as Isvara, the World Spirit (Hiranya-garbha), and the World (Viraj), plus Brahma, Shiva and a host of others.
8. Atman = ultimate reality, possibly derived from the root word an, meaning to breathe. The Atman was later split into (the two truths of) the ultimate and the conventional, the latter then becoming interchangeable with the notion of the jiva or soul (as self).
9. The Upanishads claimed that Atman was the Brahman within, and which was rank nonsense. In, meaning as, Brahman neither inside nor outside exist.
10. Brahman = the ground (or 1st principle) from which all emerges (wholly recursively) and on which all depends, possibly derived (as nominalisation) from the root word brh, meaning: to grow, to burst forth. The monistic Brahman was later split of political necessity into the ultimate and the conventional, called the nirguna and the saguna Brahman.
11. Both Atman and Brahman are monistic and pantheistic. The terms are every used interchangeably and synonymously thereby indicating the fundamental identity of the two (accepted by Vedanta as Atman = Brahman), but actually making one of the two redundant, a fact that never dawned of the early Vedantins.
12. A similar view was proposed by the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart.
13. If the Brahman is conceived as ‘all’, then Atman happens as emergent quality (or property), to wit as localised ‘suchness’.
14. Of the Brahman (i.e. as creation algorithm) two versions were invented to complete the relationship or interaction between (motionless) ground and (turbulent) surface, between the ultimate and the conventional, namely the nirguna and the saguna Brahman.
15. And so the pantheistic Atman and the pantheistic Brahman were, as such, fundamentally interchangeable, at which juncture one of them should have been deleted because redundant. Since, for instance, the clever but unethical (within the academic frame) Brahmin commentator Shankara, having first declared the Upanishads sruti, didn’t have the balls to dump the redundant (twin function) Atman, he simply upheld the equation of the fundamental identity of Atman with Brahman, not to mention the biggest curse of India, namely the hereditary caste system. That was a serious error on his part, one that would be detrimental to the whole future development of Indian culture.
16. This happened despite the fact that both were split into a universal or ultimate (hence unchanging and eternal = real) and conventional or local , hence fundamentally unreal or maya, with an active and ultimately real core) part.
17. Or ‘Aham Brahman asmi’, meaning ‘I (or you, he, she and it = we, you and they) am (are) Brahman’ or: ‘Thou art That’, or ‘This whole world is Brahman,’ and which would include the Atman (to wit, the breath of life), thereby making the Atman’s existence superfluous because merely a secondary emergent feature.
18. ‘Warts and all!’ means ‘As it happens’, that is to say, good, bad, ugly, beautiful and so on. In short, every single emergent form, and that includes the allegedly sinful or evil ones, happens as the whole Brahman (as distributed network rules set adapted to a niche). It should be noted that the response ‘neti, neti’ with reference to the ability to know the Brahman is false, naïve. Since ‘All is Brahman’ Brahman is known in the very suchness (i.e. the whole affect) of each and every phenomenon in the universe. Hence every phenomenon is ‘eti,eti’ (i.e. ‘It (Brahman) is this, it is this’). Obviously the ‘eti,eti’ conclusion clips the Brahman yarn.
19. The ‘Warts and all!’ understanding, the inevitable consequence of pantheism, was unacceptable to the naïve and politically minded inventors of the early Upanishads. True pantheism (i.e. ‘All is one’) ends the story, False pantheism, such as that proposed after the invention of the Atman, invites further, indeed endless story telling.
20. Pantheism proposes one (universally available) set of ground rules (or laws), thus the same (hence self!) for all. Thus pantheism is fundamentally culturally (i.e. super-group relative) a-political, hence a-moral and not ethical, and, moreover, not yet concerned with and involved in the more sophisticated emergent phenomena of compassion, mercy, love, hate, the belief in the soul, the after-life and so on.
21. And which is why pantheism (and with it fatalism) will feature large in the coming degeneration and decay of classic Western Culture and serve to make an early and pleasant exit from life (read: euthanasia) ‘normal’ and welcome, i.e. for the individual, the community and the state.
22. ‘All is One’ reduces (i.e. disempowers, depresses) to fatalism (and despondency). But the logic revers ‘One is All’ (or ‘I am IT’, i.e. ‘I am God in my niche’) empowers to unlimited creative endeavour (and ecstasy).
23. At the end of the 19th century Vedanta, the dodgy (because highly uncertain because incomplete (because not-at-one)) belief system derived from the Upanishads, was weaponised by the propagators (such as Vivekananda) of the New Hinduism in their struggle against Christians (as during the Chicago Conference of World Religions of 1896) and, more specifically (as with Gandhi et al) against the ruthless and greedy English occupiers of their home country. Today a naïve version of Vedanta is the stock in trade of most Hindu Gurus with a Western clientele, such as the Maharshi, Aurobindo, Rajneesh et al, and specifically those jet-setting Gurus seeking to participate in the American Dream of rapid wealth acquisition.