An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Religions of East and West: How it all took a different turn

“As other discovered texts proved, the Hittite pantheon was in fact borrowed from (or through) the Hurrians.” A particular treaty, between the Hittite King Shuppilulima and Mattiwaza, king of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni circa 1350 BC, however, listed among the divine witnesses “Mitra-ash, Uruwana, Indra, and the Nashatiyanu gods, the very Mithra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatya gods of the Hindu pantheon!”
Zecaharia Sitchin, The Wars of Gods and Men

“Zoroaster (628-551 BC?) was probably a priest of the old Aryan religion, for he calls himself a zaotar (Indian hotar) in the Gatas (Yasna 33.6)….He also retained the old poetic form, for the meter of his Gathas is similar to that of the Vedas. He further exalted the concept of asha, ‘truth’, the rta of India, and further used words in the same sense as in the Vedas.”
“The deity is like a partner in discourse with the prophet, and this is new with Zoroaster.”
“…The adherents of the old Aryan religion were more rites centered and the adherents of Zoroaster, perhaps to be designated as Aryan reformers, more belief centered.”
Richard N. Frye, The Heritage of Persia

“The ethics taught by Zarathustra were based on the social life of the husbandman. The good man is one who looks after the cattle and tills the soil in peace and neighborliness. He is upright and has a burning regard for the truth. It is his duty to keep away from those who worship the daevas and to resist them with force if necessary. Angra Mainyu, the great evil spirit, threatens the farmer’s life.”
Geoffrey Ashe, The Ancient Wisdom

“Zarathustra [Zoroaster] was the son of a priest of a pastoral tribe. As a boy he showed much concern for others and was deeply interested in finding the truth of religion. At the age of thirty, or a little older, he had a decisive religious experience in which he encountered the angel Vohu Manah (literally ‘Good Thought’), an aspect or emissary from God. The angel transported him in spiritual form to the great spirit ‘Ahura Mazda’, the ‘Wise Lord’ – henceforth Zarathustra’s name for God. This prophetic experience was followed by other revelations in the next decade of Zarathustra’s life. As a consequence, he felt called to preach a purified faith against the existing polytheism (which had some similarities to the related religion of the Aryans…)”
“The god whom he addressed as Ahura Mazda had attributes, both ethical and celestial, of the sky god Varuna, a focal figure of Vedic religion…But the indigenous religion of early Iran entertained belief in a host of other gods and spirits – Mithra, Vayu, Yima, the fravashi, and so on. Zarathustra….equated the gods with evil spirits, who seduced men from the true worship of the one Spirit….He often mentioned Druj, the ‘Lie’, which was an evil force waging a struggle against Ahura Mazda….The chief evil spirit in the service of Druj was Angra Mainyu.”
Ninian Smart, “The Religious Experience of Mankind”

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Long back, in Egypt – before the beginning of any Abrahamic strand, and their predecessor Zoroastrianism, resided people with decidedly Vedic background. The similarities in words, Gods, names are too much to ignore. Their practices were very similar as well. The Zoroastrians took on many of those similarities as their religion developed.

In 1887, 380 tablets were found in Egypt by a village lady digging for fertilizer. These letters were from notables of the Levant or Pharaoh’s record copies of replies – including letters to both Akhenaten and his Queen Nefertiti. These letters also provided a look into the missing link between the East and West.

One series are letters written by a Mittani king named Tushratta (meaning ” of splendid chariots”, similar to Dashratha meaning ” of ten chariots”) writes to his son-in-law, Amenhotep III, the king of Egypt ( the letter reads much like an Indian father-in-law’s letter will). Amenhotep married Tadukhepa, Tushratta’s daughter.

Tushrutta’s (was an Indo-Aryan king) ‘grandson’ (son of his son-in-law) became Akhenathen (ऐकःनाथें, 1352-1336 B.C) – who formed a new monotheistic religion (apart from Sanskrit, in current Hindi also, one God is एकनाथ). He was one of the first few kings who differentiated between his kingliness and the Godliness of Aten (The One). His chief wife was Nefertiti – who was given an important position – much against the male centred kingdoms and religions that were to follow. He founded the city of Akhetaten (The Horizon of the Aten), at the modern Amarna – where these tablets were found. His mother was Tiye. And the name of their eldest daughter – Sita (full name Sita-amen; Sitamen’s Name – amen after the Sun god Amen Ra).

In the centuries before the Mitanni texts, there was a Kassite dynasty in Mesopotamia, from the 18th to the 16th century BC. Linguistically assimilated, they preserved some purely Vedic names: Shuriash, Maruttash, Inda-Bugash, i.e. Surya, Marut, Indra-Bhaga (Bhaga meaning effectively god, cfr. Bhag-wAn, Slavic Bog). Subhash Kak also discusses the Vedic-Persian/Egyptian connection in two detailed papers (attached below):

Like the Vedic tripartite division of society, the Zoroas-
trians have the classes priests (zaotar), warriors (nar), and pasturers (v¹astar).
It has been assumed for some time that the daevas of the Mazda faith are
the same as the Vedic devas and therefore Zarathushtra inverted the deva-
asura dichotomy of the Vedic period. In reality, the situation is more complex
and the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less different than
is generally supposed.

From Kashmir, which belongs square within the Vedic world, comes cru-
cial evidence regarding a three-way division consisting of devas, asuras, and
daevas. The scheme re°ects the three-way division that is basic to Vedic
thought. These three divisions in the outer realm are the earth, atmosphere,
and the sun; in the inner world they are the body, breath (pr¹an. a), and con-
sciousness or ¹atman. This tripartite classification is mirrored in the gunas of
Indian thought: sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Deva, or devata (heavens, sattva): power related to understanding
Asura (atmosphere, rajas): power related to activity
Daeva (earth, body, tamas): power related to acquisitiveness

From the discussion above and the text on the right, two major things happened that changed the polytheistic yet monistic beliefs of the Ancient Indo-Iranian/Egyptian people to take a turn to what went on the road to modern Abrahamic beliefs of Monotheism with an aversion (and condemnation) of polytheism:

  1. Akhenathen’s new religion which instead of monism-amidst-polytheism beliefs took on Monotheism as the preferred belief-system

  2. Zarathustra’s new religion which condemned the polytheism and started Zoroastrianism

Thereafter, there was no major change in the middle-east when it came to interpretation of belief-system in religions (Jewish to Islam). The names, the practices, the codes may have changed from one religion to another, but the core configuration of how “God” was perceived and interpreted not only was set in stone.. but worse was fanatically set in stone!

The only anti-dote to any questioning of the belief in Monotheism is a display of fanatic satisfaction and belief in one’s interpretation.

I have seen that within Hindu faith itself for example, I have interacted with many in Arya Samaj who cannot even bear to read highly profound and regarded texts as “Yoga Vasistha” on the argument that it is “wrong” – simply because it goes on to discuss monism and dismisses monotheism quite effectively. However, of the very little Upanishadic reading and interpretation that I have done, it is absolutely clear that Upanishads are replete with Monism as the ONLY interpretation of God. Now, since Upanishads are within the Vedic pantheon (and cannot be divorced from it), their philosophy is not completely in this system, but simply reinterpreted.

I have said before that a lot of what Krishna says in Gita shows his eagerness (in fact to me it is almost a frustration on his part at the utter cluelessness of Arjun when I read it carefully) to bring that society out of this separation of duality – that I am and He is… so I can kill Him and be sinned. Krishna effectively tries to explain to Arjun that this is nonsense when you look at the reality of the creation (of course, with enough scientific backing from major Quantum Physicists as regards the unity of creation being Matter-less and only Energy, it seems Krishna was indeed on the right path as were others before him). Not that Arjun or even Yudhishtra were convinced – because both were beset with depression of having committed sin after Mahabharata and went on penance. If THAT society itself could not understand or appreciate Krishna’s message of Unity of creation, then how can you expect the ones later on to understand or appreciate it?

In the Abrahamic pantheon of religions, only ONE attempt was made to bring the Monistic understanding of Unity of Creation prevalent in the East to bear upon that society – and that was by Jesus. I am convinced that his beliefs have a very relevant link to the Eastern thought. He was in the mould of Buddha and was as far ahead in compassion and intellect from the Brahmins of Benaras as he was from the Monotheistic believers of Middle-East and Europe. His real message never made it to the masses, as it was collated and taught by those who came after him. The message that did make it to all (interpretation rather) was a legacy of Akhenathen and Zarathustra – that there is One God, and He is the one that I have. Under this unashamed fanaticism (no amount of I-respect-you-but-its-my-belief can disguise the inherent fantacism, can it?), was buried the profound understanding of Jesus forever.

Now, an important question that always comes to my mind when I look at this scenario. Why did the belief-system take a decisive turn in Middle-East never to entertain any other option but was more inclusive and flexible in India? What was it that made those societies go through a one-way door but in India (despite many belief systems introduced which were similar in overall construction as the Abrahamic beliefs) Monism and Upanishadic/Vedanta thought system continued to somehow survive?

One answer could be that the people who created the new breed of belief-systems were very effective and successful in shutting off any other influence and create a more fanatical strain of a closed-monotheistic system. The other could be that the birthplace and the laboratory of different belief systems was India and they were merely implemented/used outside. Therefore the raw material of the different belief systems was never discarded but just stored for someone to discover later. The knowledge through books/verbal scholarship continued to survive for ever and thrive with other.. often completely different schools of religion.

The recipients of the innovation in thinking from this “laboratory”, therefore, did not completely get the benefit of the background of the logic/effort that went into coming up with that school of thought and so had an incomplete enculturation into the finer elements and nuances. This led to focusing on just the very superficial elements of that belief system.

This could well be true as you can clearly see the focus in Abrahamic scriptures is on things mundane. What I mean is that the discussion revolved more about how one should behave, eat, sleep, drink, pray given a God configuration (Monism/Monotheism and the strains and logic of it all).

The discussion in the East was hardly on the mundane but almost completely on God Configuration. That was the major area of spiritual realm where the emphasis of this laboratory of the spiritual minds centered around.

One way to understand is – It is like being on a ship, Middle-East was worried about how to set up the deck, the rooms, the furniture of the ship; while the East was more engaged in thinking through whether they were on the correct ship?

Sources: 2ndlook . Science Awakening II: The Birth of Astronomy . Subhash Kak’s articles (attached)


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Attachment: Akhenaten, Surya, and the Rigveda.pdf

Attachment: Vedic Religion in Ancient Iran.pdf

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6 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    Five screenfuls of rambling but not much of a point except for your own ethnocentric chest-thumping. Even Muslims and Christians claim ancient civilizations as connected to their faith.

    “In the Abrahamic pantheon of religions, only ONE attempt was made to bring the Monistic understanding of Unity of Creation prevalent in the East to bear upon that society – and that was by Jesus. I am convinced that his beliefs have a very relevant link to the Eastern thought.”

    Have you read the Bible? Or the Zend-Avesta?
    Start with http://www.infidels.org/librar

  2. Anonymous says

    Five screenfuls of rambling but not much of a point except for your own ethnocentric chest-thumping. Even Muslims and Christians claim ancient civilizations as connected to their faith.

    “In the Abrahamic pantheon of religions, only ONE attempt was made to bring the Monistic understanding of Unity of Creation prevalent in the East to bear upon that society – and that was by Jesus. I am convinced that his beliefs have a very relevant link to the Eastern thought.”

    Have you read the Bible? Or the Zend-Avesta?
    Start with http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan

  3. Desh says

    I am not sure how the other “claim” it.. for they are struck with the 2000 years of heritage in any case. Brits tried enough to distort the Indian heritage.. but with little success. And what you call chest thumping is now centered in genealogical and linguistic evidence. Go read.

    And if you really want to discuss, start by writing under your name first!

  4. Desh says

    I am not sure how the other “claim” it.. for they are struck with the 2000 years of heritage in any case. Brits tried enough to distort the Indian heritage.. but with little success. And what you call chest thumping is now centered in genealogical and linguistic evidence. Go read.

    And if you really want to discuss, start by writing under your name first!

  5. MOHANKUMAR M S says

    NICE POINT OF VIEW. BUT A WASP WORLD CENTERED ON JUDEO CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS MOTIFS AND GRECO ROMAN PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS WILL FIND IT DIFFICULT ACCEPT YOUR PRPOSITIONS. BUT CARRY ON. LET THE TRUTH PREVAIL.

  6. MOHANKUMAR M S says

    NICE POINT OF VIEW. BUT A WASP WORLD CENTERED ON JUDEO CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS MOTIFS AND GRECO ROMAN PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS WILL FIND IT DIFFICULT ACCEPT YOUR PRPOSITIONS. BUT CARRY ON. LET THE TRUTH PREVAIL.

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