ORIGINS OF HINDU SCRIPTURES
Nick Gier, UI Department of Philosophy
Krishna devotees, like Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami, claim that all Vedic scripture was
composed 5,000 years ago by several sages in direct contact with Krishna, the
Supreme Personality of the Godhead. The Vedas are indeed the world's oldest scripture, but
not as old as this. Historical- critical scholars believe that some of the Vedas were composed and used by Aryan priests as
early as 1800 B.C.E. Radhakrishnan and Moore state that there is evidence to
indicate with some certainty that the hymns [of the Rig-Veda]
were current in 1500 B.C.E., somewhat in the arrangement in which we have them at the
present time. Most scholars agree that there were no official written texts of
the Vedas until ca. 1000 B.C.E.
While many of the Vedic gods continue to play a role in the Upanishads (over 200 of them written between 800
and 200 B.C.E.), their religion and philosophy are decidedly different from the original
Vedic religion. In the Vedas there is a definite
qualitative difference between gods and humans and a sort of barter system of
religion whereby the Aryans got power in return for their divine sacrifices.
In contrast there is a
clear subordination of the gods in the Upanishads
in favor of a mystical union with an impersonal Godhead named Brahman. This is the absolute monism (i.e.,
there is only one reality and that reality is a divine unity) which characterizes the
powerful Vedantist tradition in Hindu thought.
Many people mistakenly identify this philosophy as the only descendent of the Vedic religion and the real expression of Hinduism; but there has always been a strong undercurrent of personal theism (explicitly preserved in the Upanishads themselves) which culminated in the Bhagavad-Gita. In the Bhagavad-Gita (400-200 B.C.E.) Krishna is identified with the Purusha, the first human sacrificed for the creation of the world. This creation hymn is found in the oldest strata of the Vedas (Rig-Veda X. 90.1-16). Krishna is never mentioned by name in the Vedas, just as Jesus is never mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nevertheless, the devotees of Krishna, like A. C. Bhaktivedanta, claim many allusions and prophecies of Krishna in the Vedas. The complete birth stories of Krishna are found in the pre-Christian Puranas, but their written form stems from the third to the tenth centuries C.E. Krishna's acts and promises as a divine savior are in the Bhagavad-Gita, a part of the Mahabharata, the world's longest religious epic, written over a period of 600 years between 400 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.