Week_Two_Karma_article_1

Week_Two_Karma_article_1 - COMPARATIVE STUDIES IN RELIGION...

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Unformatted text preview: COMPARATIVE STUDIES IN RELIGION AND SOCIETY Mark Juergensmeyer, editor I. 10. II. II. 13. 14. Redemptiue Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition, by Lawrence A. Babb Saints and Virtues, edited by john Stratton Hawley Utopias in Conflict: Religion and Nationalism in Modern India, by Ainslee T. Embree Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, by Karen McCarthy Brown The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, by Mark Juergensrneyer Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran, by Martin Riesebrodt, translated by Don Reneau Del/i: Goddess of India, edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a jain Ritual Culture, by Lawrence A. Babb The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, by Bassam Tibi Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalis! Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia, by Stanley]. Tambiah The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia. by Michael A. Sells China’s Catholics: Tragedy and Hope in an Emerging Civil Society, by Richard Madsen Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth, by Gananath Obeyesekere IMAGINING KARMA Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth GANANATH OBEYESEKERE University of California Press Berkeley Los Angeles THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY —-..‘ A-nnAl-nn-ll Ann-nil. I Inn‘s-urn London 1 KARMA AND REBIRTH IN INDIC RELIGIONS Origins and Transformations The major problem that I investigate in this work is the manner in which the “rebirth eschatologies” of small-scale societies are transformed in two large-scale historical developments: in the “karmic eschatologies” that one associates today with religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and in the Greek religious traditions that could be broadly defined as “Pythagorean.” I will begin with Hinduism and the problem of origins. The associa- tion between karma and rebirth is not at all clear in the earliest texts and discourses on lndic religions. There are virtually no references to rebirth or to an ethical notion of karma in the Vedas or in the Bra'bmanas, the oldest texts belonging to the Hindu tradition.‘ The first significant ref- erences appear in an early Upanishad, the Brhaddranyaka Upanisad, probably composed sometime before the sixth century B.C.E., followed by the dendogya and the Kausitaki.2 A hundred years or more later these theories appear in full bloom in the so-called heterodox religions— particularly in Buddhism and Jainism—that have karma and rebirth at the center of their eschatological thinking. Soon afterward these ideas surface in mainstream Hinduism itself and become an intrinsic part of the eschatological premises of virtually all Indie religions. Deeply embedded in these religions is the notion of the “unsatisfac- toriness of existence,” or duh/aha, often rendered in English as “suffer- ing.” Suffering is primarily generated through karma, the law of ethical recompense that governs existence, or samsara (samsara). [t is karma that 2. Karma and Rebirth in lndic Religions fuels rebirth in hells, heavens, and the realms of animals and inferior spir- its, returning the subject to earth for a good or bad human existence. Re- birth in these various spheres of existence is endless and is conceptual- ized as samsara. The aim of salvation is to achieve nirvana, or moksa, which entails freedom from the rebirth cycle (samsara), stopping the flow of karma and ongoing existence as we normally understand it. The fore- going eschatological premises revolve around the idea of rebirth; karma as ethical compensation and reward is intrinsically associated with re- birth; samsara is the endless cycle of rebirths; and moksa, or nirvana, is the cessation of rebirth. The word karma, which etymologically means “action,” has the meaning of “ritual action” in Vedic (pre-Buddhist and pre—Upanishadic) thought, where it is neither fundamentally ethical nor related to rebirth. By contrast, in Buddhism karma refers to intentional ethical action that determines the nature and place of rebirth, and this definition of karma has influenced the many Hinduisms that came after. Let me first present my critique of the Indological examination of the problem of karma and rebirth. lndologists generally assume that it is only necessary to explain karma; rebirth is simply a by-product of the karma theory. With the exception of T. W. Rhys Davids not a single lndologist, as far as I know, has noted that theories of rebirth are found in many parts of the world without being associated with a doctrine of ethical causation such as karma} In one instance at least—that of the Druze of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel and related Isma’ili sects—rebirth is uneasily linked to a form of monotheism. Most scholars assume, along with the general- ity of the educated public, that rebirth and karma are uniquely Indic con— structs, invented and perpetuated in that tradition. The most common strat- egy is to examine the “history” of the word karma and trace its evolution from the beginnings of Vedic thought to the Brdbmazras and the Upani- shads and then to Buddhism and other religions of the Ganges valley. Adopting a different stance, historian A. L. Basham argues that karma is conspicuous by its absence in the Vedas and that only brief references are found in the aforementioned early Upanishads.‘ However, scholars of early Indic thought seem to agree with Eric Frauwallner and J. C. Heesterman that there is a straight line of development of the karma doc- trine from the Vedas down to the period of Buddhism, as, for example, Rg Veda 19.x6.3, which shows “incipient elements of the latter karma doctrine.” “May your eye go to the sun, your life’s breath to the wind. Go to the sky or to earth, as is your nature; or go to the waters if that is your fate. Take root in the plants with your limbs.“ Yet even a most lib- eral interpretation of this text would not warrant reincarnation; not a Karma and Rebirth in lndic Religions 3 trace of the karma doctrine of ethical recompense is found here either. At best the text might refer to transmigration, a form of religious belief widespread in the cross-cultural record and existing independent of re- birth theories. If one raises the issue of “incipient beliefs” of whatever kind, one can, I think, find them in any religious tradition. I think it impossible to find a tradition of thought that does not refer back to its antecedents. Even when one makes a radical shift away from a prior tradition, one must refer to it, often explicitly or sometimes im- plicitly, justifying one’s own break with that tradition or arguing for or against it. So it is with the word karma; the word is found as “ritual prac- tice” in the early Vedic traditions. In fact, as Patrick Olivelle has shown, this early idea of karma continues into later, post-Buddhist, Upanishadic texts dealing with Hindu doctrines of renunciation.“ Buddhists, as well as some early Upanishadic thinkers, took the word from the preexisting tradition and gave it a new and sometimes opposed meaning.7 This referral back to tradition, even as one moves from it, is common to argumentative discourse, and the human sciences exemplify it all the time. Thus Weber borrowed terms like charisma and theodicy from Chris- tian theology and then gave each term a different conceptual significance. Such borrowing can certainly lead to confusion. In anthropology itself Radcliffe-Brown’s notion of structure is quite different from Lévi- Strauss’s, and my usage differs from both. But insofar as we all use the same word, it is possible to find some similarities and then make the un- wonted inference that, let us say, Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism represents a straight line of development from Radcliffe-Brown’s. So it is with karma: the fact that the word appears in a variety of texts might indi- cate continuity of an idea. On the other hand it might not, and ethical thinkers in the Buddhist tradition have poured into the term a new set of ideas that break with previous traditions. J. C. Heesterman, an influential scholar of early Hinduism, affirms the unitary nature of the Vedic tradition. He says that outside influences have caused no break in the development of ritual thought. “They seem rather to have fitted themselves into the orthogenetic, internal development of Vedic thought.”8 Nevertheless, one can also view that tradition from a different perspective as a composite of diverging ideational systems, each of which exhibits continuity of debates and arguments on religious mat- ters with others located in the same broad tradition. Yet as a consequence of these debates, an ideational system will exhibit breaks, shifts, dis- junctions, and discontinuities in relation to the others that scholars are arguing against; and some of these shifts might be more significant than 4 Karma and Rebirth in Indie Religions others. The continuity of terms from a previous ideational system gives the illusion of the continuity of ideas. Sometimes the implied continuity of a term can serve as a deliberate rhetorical strategy to seduce the reader or listener into believing that there has been no real ideational change. At other times it is not so, and different or even opposed ideas might be mvested in the old terms. Indologists have suggested that the first shift in the Vedic idea of karma as “ritual action” to that of ethical action in relation to rebirth appears in the Brbaddranyaka Upanisad. The relevant part is 3.2.1 2—13, where Yajfiavalkya and Arthabhaga, two Upanishadic sages, converse on the nature of the senses. Their conversation ends with a discussion of death and the afterlife: “Y'ajfiavalkya,” Arthabhaga said again, “tell Inc—when a man dies, what :5 it that does not leave him?” “His name,” replied Yajfiavalkya. “A name is without limit, and the All-gods are without limit. Limitless also is the world he wins by it.” “Yajr'iavalkya,” Arthabhaga said again, “tell me—when a man has died, and his speech disappears into fire, his breath into the wind, his sight into the sun, his mind into the moon, his hearing into the quarters, his physical body into the earth, his self [atman] into space, the hair of his body into plants, the hair of his head into trees, and his blood and semen into water— what then happens to that person?” Yajfiavalkya replied: “My friend we cannot talk about this in public. Take my hand, Arthabhaga; let’s go and discuss this in private.” So they left and talked about it. And what did they talk aboutP—they talked about nothing but action [karman]. And what did they praise?— they praised nothing but action. Yaifiavalkya told him: “A man turns into something good by good action and into something bad by bad action.” (Brbad. Upan., 3.1.12—13)9 Most scholars, following such eminent ones as Hermann Oldenberg, Paul Deussen, and Surendranath Dasgupta, have seen this passage as proof of the entry into the Vedic tradition of the novel ideas of karma and re- . ,0 . . . birth. This is correct, although the text itself does not warrant the idea that karma here means “ethical action.” As for rebirth it is at least im— plicit. One argument is that this text is still rooted in the Vedic tradition, clearly indicated by the description of the fate of the dead person. Thus, it is said that the good and bad karma mentioned here refers to the cor- rect and incorrect performance of the sacrifice in the orthodox tradition of the Brdbmazras rather than the classic karma doctrine that “relates the fact of rebirth to the moral efficacy of an individual’s deeds.”” Yet this also is not clear from the text; and one must reserve judgment. The Karma and Rebirth in lndic Religions 5 text implies that Yaifiavalkya is postulating a new idea, perhaps the doc- trine of rebirth, including the notion that the name does not perish at death, a conception found in other rebirth eschatologies outside the In- ilic orbit. Yajr‘iavalkya then takes his friend by the hand and says that this question should not be discussed in public. It is as if he is consider- ing an idea that he has invented or borrowed and is trying to articulate it within the frame of the preexisting ritualistic tradition. Herman Tull, however, following Heesterman, Gonda, and others, argues that the Brhaddrariyaka Upanisad interiorizes the idea of the sacrifice, such that, parallel with the old idea that the efficacy of the sacrifice lies in the cor- rect performance of the ritual, there is another idea that the sacrifice is something within one’s own self. He then adds that passage 4.4. 3—5 in the same Upanishad is also ambiguous, as far as karma and rebirth are concerned, and shows its affinity with the preexisting Vedic tradition.” Here Yajfiavalkya tells King Janaka what happens to the unliberated soul after death, employing the metaphor of the caterpillar or leech (one that became very popular in later Buddhist texts): It is like this. As a caterpillar, when it comes to the tip of a blade of grass, reaches out to a new foothold and draws itself onto it, so the self [atman], after it has knocked down this body and rendered it unconscious, reaches out to a new foothold and draws itself onto it. It is like this. Just as a weaver after she has removed the coloured yarn, weaves a different design that is newer and more attractive, so the self, after it has knocked down this body and rendered it unconscious, makes for him- self a different figure that is newer and more attractive—the figure of a fore- father [pitarab], or of a Gandharva, or of a god, or of Praiapati, or of brak- man, or else the figure of some other being. (Bf/20d. Upan, 4.4.3-4) This text is clearer than the one previously quoted. It says that the “spirit,” or “self,” can be reborn in various spheres, and it highlights “good rebirths” but recognizes the possibility of being born “as some other being”; another recension of this Upanishad states that the spirit could also be reborn as a man or some other creature. '3 Yéifiavalkya adds that this self, or spirit, is conditioned by good, and bad actions, or karma: What a man turns out to be depends on how he acts and how he conducts himself. If his actions are good, he will turn into something good. if his actions are bad, he will turn into something bad. . . . On this point there is the following verse: A man who‘s attached does with his action to that very place to which his mind and character cling. Reaching the end of his action, 6 Karma and Rebirth in lndlc Religions of whatever he has done in this world— From that world he returns back to this world, back to action. (Brhad. Upan., 4.4.7) Yajfiavalkya’s view here indicates that good and bad action, or karma, results in rebirth; the cause of rebirth is karma, which is condi- tioned by desire. By contrast, for the person who is without desire “his Vital functions [pra'na] do not depart. Brahman he is, and to bra/imam he goes” (Br/Md. Upan., 4.4.7). Thus there are two crucial karmic trajec- tories: those without desire who go to Brahman, which is the goal of the .Upanishadic quest, and those (presumably the majority) who, caught up [I] desnre, continue to be reborn in different forms. The former are “wise men, knowers of brabman, the doer of good, the man of light,” who go to the heavenly world and then to Brahman. And the latter? Into the blind darkness they enter, people who worship ignorance; And to still blinder darkness, people who delight in learning. “Joyless” are these regions called, in blind darkness they are cloaked; Into them after death they go, men who are not learned or wise. (Brhad. Upan, 4.4.10—1 I) I doubt whether the “joyless regions” refer to the otherworldly hells of later lndic eschatology; the context suggests that this is the fate of those who take the second path, those who are trammeled in desire, and this includes those who desire learning (probably a snide reference to the rit- ualists of the Brdhmagzas). But the joyless place is not the world into which one is reborn, that idea that was developed in later Indic thought as sam- sara. Rather it is some place to which the “self” descends at death preparatory to rebirth, perhaps the rebirth process itself, very much in the spirit of the Greek eschatology of Empedocles, who mentions a “joy- less place” of unmitigated pain and darkness (see p. 2.2.6). A further development of the two paths is found in a later section of the same Upanishad. In 6.2.2—8 there is a fascinating dialogue between the king of the Pancalas, Pravahana Jaivali, and Svetaketu, the young Brahmin, and later with Svetaketu’s father, Gautama, also known as Ud- délaka Aruni. The king asks Svetaketu certain questions that the latter does. not understand. The basic question is set forth at the beginning, and it pertains to rebirth: Karma and Rebirth in lndie Religions 7 [The king asksl “Do you know how people, when they die, go by different paths?" “No,” he replied. “Do you know how they return to this world?” “No,” he replied. “Do you know how the world beyond is not filled up, even as more and more people continuously go there?” “No,” he replied. (Brbad. Upan, 6.2.2.) The young Brahmin is also ignorant of two paths of ascent of the soul at death, one that leads to the Fathers and one that leads to the gods (devas). From the way the text frames the Brahmin’s responses, it seems that the king is raising an issue that is not known to the peevish young Brahmin. The king asks Svetaketu several other related questions that he fails to answer. Annoyed, Svetaketu complains to his father, Gautama. “That excuse for a prince asked me five questions and I didn’t know the an- swer to a single one of them” (Brhad. Upan, 6.2.3). Gautama is more open-minded and decides to go to the king himself, announcing that he is coming as his pupil, an unusual action for a famous Brahmanic sage. This action of Gautama’s has been anticipated earlier, in section 2.1.1 5 of the same Upanishad, where Gargya, the Brahmin, comes as a pupil to Ajatas’atru, the Ksatriya, and the latter says: “Isn’t it a reversal of the norm for a Brahmin to become the pupil of a Ksatriya?” A member of the Ksatriya order (royalty) has begun to expound unorthodox ideas, and Brahmin sages are made to listen to them.” The first part of Jaivali’s exposition deals with the doctrine of the five fires, originally a Vedic idea but now given extended symbolic and inte- riorized meaning.” This exposition, as Richard Gombrich shows, was taken up much later by another Ksatriya sage, the Buddha, in his famous “fire-sermon.” "’ For present purposes let me refer to the first and the last fires: A fire—that is what the world up there is, Gautama. [ts firewood is the sun; its smoke is the sunbeams; its flame is the day; its embers are the quarters; and its sparks are the intermediate quarters. In that very fire gods offer faith, and from that offering springs King Soma. . . . A fire—that’s what a woman is, Gautama. Her firewood is the vulva; her smoke is the pubic hair; her flame is the vagina; when one penetrates her, that is her embers; and her sparks are the climax. In that very fire gods offer semen, and from that offering springs a man. He remains alive as long as he lives, and when he finally dies, they offer urine and Rebirth In Indie Religions him in the fire. Of that fire, the fire is the fire itself; the firewood is the firewood; the smoke is the smoke; the flame is the flame. . . . In that very fire gods offer man, and from that offerin r' ' ' colour. (Br/Md. Upan., 6.1..9-1 3)” g SP mgs a man 0f bnlham The king now expounds to Gautama his doctrine of rebirth. The cen- tral idea remains that of the two paths mentioned earlier. Those who know the truth of the fire doctrine will take the path of the gods. They pass from the flame into the day, from the day into fortnights of the wax- ing and the waning of the moon, and from there to the world of the gods. person consisting of mind comes to the regions of lightning and leads him to the worlds of brabman. These exalted people live in those worlds of brahmari for the longest time. They do not return” (Brbad. Upan, 6.2. I 5). '3 But what about those who take the second path.> The king says: The people who win heavenly worlds, on the other hand, by offering sac- rifices, by givmg gifts, and by perforating austerities—they pass into the smoke, from the smoke into the night, from the night into the formight of the waning moon . . . [and then] to the world of the fathers and from the world of the fathers to the moon. Reaching the moon they become food There the gods feed on them, as they say to king Soma, the moon: “Increase Decrease!” When that ends, they pass into this very sky, from the sky into ’ the Wind, from the wind into the rain, from the rain into the earth. Reach- ing the earth they become food. They are again offered in the fire of man and then take birth in the fire of a woman. Rising up once again to the heavenly worlds, they circle around in the same way. Those who do not know these two pat . hs however, become insects, or snakes. (Br/Md. Upan., 6.2.16) , worms, It is impOSSible to give a definitive interpretation to these early Upa- nishadic texts because we know very little about the social and cultural background of this period. On one level the preceding text is reasonably clear. There is an attempt to bring the idea of rebirth into the “Vedic” scheme of things. Thus the path of the Fathers is for those who follow the traditional sacrificial practices enjoined in the Brdhmanas whereas the way of the gods has been given symbolic meaning—presumably the fire sacrifice is a spiritual condition within one’s own self.'9 Those who take the path of the gods, through the complicated route described in the text, enter into Brahman, and they do not return. Those who take the conventional Vedic path to the world of the Fathers, the pitrydna are reborn in this world and keep going round and round in a cycle.,Un- derlying the two paths is the assumption of rebirth and Brahmanic ethics. Karma and Rebirth in Indie Religions 9 For those who unite with Brahman, the rebirth cycle has stopped, but this is not so for those who go to the world of the Fathers. In classic Vedic and Brahmanic thought those who go to the world of the Fathers remain there. But a new eschatological principle has intervened, namely that of rebirth, such that the soul at death is brought back to the human world. But there is a feature that is left ambiguous: when the soul that achieves a human incarnation eventually dies, it repeats the previous cycle, which means that there is no provision in this text for punishment for those hu- mans who have done wrong. Although rebirth is the accepted reality for King Jaivali, this is not so for the two Brahmins (father and son), who are represented as being ig- norant of it. But this is not all: there is another aspect of this rebirth the- ory that stipulates that those who are ignorant of either path will be re- born as “worms, insects, or snakes.” This refers to an inferior rebirth among lower creatures, but it is not caused by the operation of an ethi- cal law of karma. Rather, it is because of ignorance of two legitimate paths to salvation: one enunciated by the Upanishadic thinkers (atman = Brahman) but adapted to a theory of rebirth (unity with Brahman elim- inates rebirth), the other path enunciated by the preceding tradition of the Brahmanic sacrifice but now downgraded somewhat. Those who adopt this path continue to be reborn in a desirable way, yet they have missed the terminal bliss of union with Brahman. With Upanishadic thought the idea of salvific knowledge has come to the fore. Truth is the knowledge that “atman is Brahman,” formulated in the famous phrase “thou art that.” But because this knowledge is unavailable to all, the sage king formulates a lesser knowledge that is contained in the previous tra- dition of the sacrifice but with the proviso that those who sacrifice con- tinue to be reborn and therefore cannot obtain any finality of bliss. This is a remarkable shift and suggests that in interiorizing the sacrifice (giv~ ing it symbolic values), denying salvation to those who perform sacrifices (downgrading the sacrifice), introducing the new theory of rebirth, and articulating all of this to the general Upanishadic idea of the unity of at- man and Brahman, this text has made a crucial departure from the whole of the previous Vedic tradition. But obviously there are people who do not accept (or otherwise real- ize) the lower path of the Fathers either; they are the ones relegated to an inferior existence. One is tempted to say that this is an implicit ref- erence to the Sfidras in the Hindu fourfold llama classification}0 This reference to the Sfidras is possible even though the Brhadzirariyaka has a benign view of the four llama categories; it actually says that the Sri- nulllll Ina no"!!! In Indie Religions u. dra IS the Very earth. for it nourishe that mists” (Brhad. “pan” s the whole world. it nourishes all 1.4.13). Note that hell is not m ' ' . . entio d 'ferior rebirth. It seems that the king M m “ . . It needs the Ksa- This knowledge has never be- - "” (Br/Md. U . discourse on rebirth is Pa" . 6.2.8) repeated with some modifi- . . exclusively 5.2.7, my 1tal1cs).12]aivali then d' in the Brhaddranyaka on the fa whatFric Frauwallner has called the “ xt refers to “villagers” who believe that nd to priests.” At death the souls of these as in the prevrous text, and having gone “gift-giving is offerings to gods a good folk take the same route Karma and Rebirth in Indic Religions 11 to the realm of the Fathers, they do not remain there. They take the same route back to earth as in the previous text, initially becoming the food of the gods and eventually coming down as rain or with the rain. “0n earth they spring up as rice and barley, plants and trees, sesame and beans, from which it is extremely difficult to get out. When someone eats that h ind and deposits the semen, from him one comes into being again” ( Chin. llpan.. 5.10.3, my italics). Having been reborn in this unusual fashion, people live good or bad lives, which in turn culminate in a good or bad rehirth. This is a very important ethical movement in the history of In- die rebirth because, unlike the previous text, this clearly says that those who have been reborn will do good and bad and that those ethical ac- tions will condition their next reincarnation: “Now, people whose be- havior is pleasant can expect to enter a pleasant womb, like that of the Hrahmin, the Ksatriya or Vais'ya class. But people of foul behavior can expect to enter a foul womb, like that of a dog, a pig, or an outcaste woman” (Chain. Upan., 5.10.7). The preceding desirable and undesirable states are for those whose conduct has been pleasant and foul respectively. But there is another group of people who do not proceed in either of these two paths: “they become the tiny creatures revolving here ceaselessly. ‘Be born! Die!’— that is the third state” (Chan. Upan., 5.10.8). Here again is an intrigu- ing third class of people who presumably are insects incapable of achiev- ing a human rebirth. Now we can answer an important question posed to Svetaketu in both these Upanishadic texts, namely, why the upper realms of the gods and the Fathers never get filled up with denizens. First, those who take the path of the gods do not remain there but eventually merge with Brah- man, which is a mystical condition and not a place. As a result, the realm of the gods does not get filled with the departed. Second, owing to the new theory of rebirth those who reach the realm of the Fathers do not remain there but achieve a reincarnation on earth. Third, those humans who come down to earth become herbs and trees, and it is difficult for their souls to escape from them except via food. This means that they do not necessarily go back to the realm of the Fathers, or they return to it in a delayed or sporadic fashion. Fourth, there are those human be- ings who become tiny creatures and then continue to die and get reborn in that very state, having little or no chance of entering either of the pre— ceding realms. Fifth, there is, I think, a further implicit answer to the problem of the peopling of the upper realms. Those who have taken the road of the Fathers and get reborn on earth via trees and food and se- .uuuu- uuu mum'mulc ""00". men can then perform foul deeds that will ensure their next rebirth in a foul womb, such as that of a dog, a pig, or an outcaste woman. Given their lifestyles, it is not likely that these creatures have much chance of changing their status either; those born from an outcaste’s womb might but others will surely end up in their next rebirth either in their presenf forms as animals or even further downgraded into “tiny creatures,” again ensuring that the upper realms do not get crowded. This text, like the prevtous ones, mentions only the crowding of the upper realms; there is no mention of any lower realms. has been pleasant are reborn as the “twice born” classes; those whose conduct has been foul become inferior domestic animals and “outcastes ” The “pleasant” and “foul” conduct of the text does not necessarily im- ply the ethics of karma, as later Buddhist and Jaina thinkers understood it. The text refers to the proper behavior generally expected of the three higher classes (varna) of Indian society, that is, to an ordained way of life in which pluralistic ethics operate. Once again it is presumably the ignorance of the two paths rather than morality per se that condemns the last residual category of humans into an endlessly repeating cycle of rebirth as “creatures.” Following this is a verse that indirectly indicates what one must do to avoid this last condition: A man who steals gold, drinks liquor, and kills a Brahmin; A man who fomicates with his teacher’s wife— these four will fall. As also the fifth—he who consorts with them. (Chan. Upan, 5.10.9) The early Upanishads have a highly speculative character as sages en- gaged in discourses with their students, generally in a one-to-one rela- tionship, discuss a variety of topics, the most significant being the sote- riological one regarding the nature of the self and the union of atman with Brahman. These eschatological ideas are not elaborated in the ex- hidden discourse in the text; Pravahana Jaivali, the sage king, is implic- itly haying an argument with another tradition or traditions that seem to believe that after death one can be reborn in the human world or in Karma and Rebirth in Indie Religion: 13 a subhuman one. He does not invent that theory; he creatively incorpo- rates it into an Upanishadic scheme of things. I will deal with the struc- ture of that somewhat unusual rebirth theory and its associated ethics later on. These (along with a brief reference in Kausitaki Upanisad I .2.) are vir- tually all the references to karma and rebirth in the Upanishads. The vast body of the early Upanishadic literature is unaffected by it. The prob- lem that I now pose is this: where did the tradition of rebirth represented in these texts come from? I think there are three reasonable answers. The first possibility is the view that I have already argued against, namely that it must have been invented de novo by the Upanishadic thinkers themselves. Second, most scholars claim that these ideas already existed in the early Vedic tradi- tion, at least incipiently, and that the texts exhibit a continuous line of development. Third, they must have come from some other tradition, outside the Vedic-Upanishadic. Let me now address the second and third positions. The scholarly position that the doctrine of rebirth came in unilinear fashion from the Vedas down to the Upanishads and into the later Gangetic religions like Buddhism must confront a difficult and, I think, unresolvable paradox. It assumes that the extant texts accurately repre- sented the empirical reality of the religious situation in ancient India. This assumption is not correct because the texts that we have for ancient In- dia are those that happened to be preserved in an oral tradition com- mitted to memory by special religious virtuosos. It is an accident of his- tory that these traditions and not others were preserved. For example, we know very little of the religions of the Indus valley; and the Rg Vedic texts themselves mention the existence of a variety of religious cults, the most famous being that of the munis, the silent ones. We know virtually nothing about the beliefs of these munis even though their beliefs and practices were influential enough for the name muni to be given to later sages like the Buddha. To put it differently: ancient India must surely have had a multiplicity of religions that would inevitably have influenced one another. It is the case that scholars must make do with what they have; it is absurd to expect them to deal with data that have vanished out of existence! Yet valid as this argument may seem, it does pose a problem when it concerns the question of origins: one cannot construct the ori- gins or history of a particular set of beliefs in a linear fashion from a body of data or a tradition of beliefs that could not possibly have had that linear quality at all. To situate the issue in terms of the question of Mflnl Ina MDIHII IIfIndlc Religions Karl“! and Rebirth in India Religion: is of karma in many small-scale societies all over the world. These societies are located in the most diverse places—in the vast circumpolar region stretching from eastern Siberia to the Northwest Coast of North Amer- religions. [N am ri hr the . 8 s Itany attempt to trace the history of the idea ten. in many parts of West Africa, among the Trobriand Islands in Melane- ' ' sin. and in Australia. of rebirth from text th definition futile. s at eXist only through the modem of history is by this and other ideas to the Indus valley civilizations.” There is no seri- rolulssfyglamce to support any of these assertions, hOWever, so the scholar in b thst: one Wt l-o -the-Wisp after another. Methodologically speak- g, o posmoris only displace the issue slightly; they introduce another git; (:L'Ie n‘llOI'e of them! Another possible strategy is to look for e itt e tra itions” of India based h ' the post~Vedic religions would h ' ’ on t e assumption that ‘ ave picked up these ideas f or tribal peoples But this strate ' ' mm peasant . . gy has Imiited efficacy because thes “ ‘ . ” e l t- ie tradci:tions have often been contaminated by the high religions arourlid em. onsequently, one .might be able to argue that the only defensible cu] . . d tural ethnographic record of non-Indie societies. Fortunately one can emonstrate the eXistence of “rebirth eschatologies” without t/ie theory Thus the first implication of the ethnographic data is that India is not the exclusive ground and home of rebirth doctrines because it is quite impossible that such doctrines could have diffused from India to all of these diverse regions and then eventually come to be accepted by the lo- cal populations. The second implication is that although these rebirth eschatologies show considerable substantive differences even within a sin- gle region, they also show considerable similarity across regions. The rea- son for such similarity is that a rebirth eschatology has an inescapable logical form: the individual at death has to be reborn in the human world either immediately or after a temporary sojourn in some other world, and this cycle must go on repeating itself. Without these minimal con- ditions one cannot have a rebirth theory. One can give some flesh and blood to this minimal logic of a rebirth eschatology by spelling it out at greater length and adding some important motivational elements: The fundamental idea of reincarnation is that at death an ancestor or close kin is reborn in the human world whether or not there has been an intermediate sojourn in another sphere of existence or afterworld. I may die and go to some place of soioum after death, but eventually I must come down and be reborn in the world I left. Transmigration without eventual return to the human world does not qualify for inclusion. The motivational basis is also reasonably clear: the dead kinsperson or ancestor has only temporarily left his or her mortal body; at some point she will come back because some- thing in her survives and affects continuity. There is a powerful wish or desire to bring the dead kinsperson back into the world of human association. 2.. Other conditions overdetermine the prevalence and perpetua- tion of rebirth (or reincarnation) eschatologies, particularly the power and influence attributed to ancestors. Perhaps it goes without saying that the worlds of deceased ancestors can exist without rebirth theories, but rebirth theories are strongly associated with them. urmo and Rebirth ln'Indlc Religion: 4. The motivation to preserve the ances stances, have its parallel in the conco him or her in a congenial place. The m one’s own family or group or in cl would one want one’s kinsperson to tor must, in most in- mitant wish to have most obvious place is osely related ones. Rarely be born among strangers ideal types,” constructs that d of empirical reality. Because to be represented as cycles; they could larly, or in some other shape or form. However for m ' i . one-Sid - pose I present them in Circular form, ’ y ( ed) pm which, incidentally, fits nicely with Karma and Rebirth in lndic Religion: 17 Other world (ancestors) Biltll (in kin group) This world (descendants) Lived existence Figure I. Elementary form of a rebirth eschatology, showing circulation of souls. there are different degrees of abstraction possible; a topographical model in my usage is an abstract representation of the world based on extant ideal typical descriptions, in this case descriptions of a variety of exis- tent rebirth eschatologies. Now let me shuttle back to the empirical issue at hand. I will use the term rebirth eschatology to refer to theories of rebirth in societies that have no theory of karma, and I will use the term karmic eschatology for those that combine rebirth with karma. An overwhelming number of so- cieties the world over have “rebirth eschatologies”; “karmic eschatolo- gies” are found only in Indic religions. Greek Pythagorean and Platonic eschatologies have intermediate forms that I will discuss later. Further, I will demonstrate that even for India discourses on karma and rebirth can exist separately or that at the very least one can have a rebirth theory without karma. These two ideas are empirically and conceptually sepa- rable. Finally, rebirth eschatologies must have been invented for the most part independently of each other because they can be found in regions that do not seem to have had mutual contact. Hence the methodologi- cal leap that I want to make: because rebirth eschatologies are empiri- cally widespread and perhaps prior to karmic eschatologies, India might well have had similar (rebirth) eschatologies before it developed its karmic ones. The rebirth eschatologies that I describe at length are found in small- scale village or “tribal” societies. I assume that they existed in similar small-scale societies in India also. After all, India was nothing but a con- urin- and Reb'lifli'hflndlc Religions glomerate of small-scale societies (villages and tribes) prior to the period of Buddhism, which was also the period of its second urban transfor- mation. To put it differently: if rebirth eschatologies (those rebirth doc- trines without karma) are found all over the world, it is likely that they existed in India prior to the development of the complex eschatologies that we now associate with Buddhism and Hinduism. The analytical strategy I adopt can now be developed further. The re- birth eschatologies I describe have structural similarities that could be topographically represented in an ideal model of a “rebirth eschatology.” processes (rather than causal variables) responsible for this transforma- tion. This is a kind of “imaginary experiment” tentatively formulated by Max Weber.” Although all experiments are imaginary (that is, con- structed in the imagination), experimentation in the human sciences is exclusively imaginary rather than partially constructed and tested in a laboratory. In my thinking all models of structural transformation, in- cluding those employed by Levi-Strauss, are imaginary experiments, al- though they are never recognized as such by their proponents! I will deal in the conclusion of this book with the differences between my idea of structural transformation and that of Levi-Strauss and other structural- ists. For the moment let me say that i do not have an “epistemological” view of structure, namely a preconception that the nature of the world is such that it could be interpreted totalistically as a system of signs. I fa- vor a more ad hoc notion of structure heuristically geared to a specific research problem in the Weberian style and, more recently, in the style of Braudel. Braudel says: “By structure, observers of social questions mean an organization, a coherent and fairly fixed series of relationships between realities and social masses. For us historians, a structure is of course a construct, an architecture, but over and above that it is a real- ity which time uses and abuses over long periods. Some structures, be- cause of their long life, become stable elements for an infinite number of generations: they get in the way of history, hinder its flow, and in hin- dering it shape it.”28 2 NON-INDIC THEORIES 0F REBIRTH WEST AFRICA Although it is well known that rebirth beliest exist in Africa, 51:32:21: in West Africa, their ethnographic documentation is meager. eitA rin- cschatology needs the kind of rethinking done by the authors? ‘ msel In llld" Rebirth in their studies of Northwest Coast and Inuit re igio: . - the African situation ethnographers were .SCnSlthC to religious an gang ical practices with which they were familiar, espeCially those resontic itg1 with their own European traditions, or they recorded customs exo the extreme if only to show the hidden rationality of seemingly irrationzl beliefs and practices. These were such things as African theiim o; paand theism or practices such as shamanism, spirit posseSSion, white C311“; 0]. sorcery. Africa was also the locus of that customlknown- y 3111 b For ogists as “ancestor worship,” which was penetratineg critiCize y g 2 KosVthEher one likes or dislikes the invented ethnographic category a2; cestor worship,” there is little doubt that the dead person continuesthe exist in association with ancestors and to influence what gags onhin ne human world. Given the importance of ancestors in African t . oug t,t(i)on would expect ethnographers to show a parallel interest in reinlfagni:k to because only through reincarnation can an ancestor, be-broug t ; “t the world of the living and reincorporated into one 5 km gioufp. :1) :th it differently: if the soul of a dead ancestor is brought'bac a erd eone into the world of human association and this process is continge 11 - has a rebirth eschatology. It will soon be clear that once a re itrlt disf- chatology is invented, it takes ontological and ontic meanings vas y 19 ...
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