Theosophical Encyclopedia

Mayan Religion

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

TE 8 Mayan Religion

Mayan civilization, which began in the lowlands of Guatamala at least 1000 BCE, flourished from the mid-third to tenth centuries CE in the Yucatán (which included its principal city, Chichén Itzá), Campeche, Quintana Roo, and parts of Tabasco and Chiapas, as well as all of Belize, most of Guatamala, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras. The principal sources of our knowledge of Mayan religion are from their scripture, the Popol Vuh, (literally “Council Book”), the several Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (as well as that of Mani), a few surviving manuscripts, and their iconography. Much can also be inferred from their elaborate pyramidal temple complexes, some of which include sweathouses (see J. Eric S. Thompson, The Rise and Fall of Mayan Civilization, 2nd edition, 1966, pp. 73-74), reminiscent of the sweat lodges of natives of North America. Dark, underground rooms have also been uncovered in these temple complexes (see Thompson, p. 74); their use is open only to speculation, but they could possibly have been used for secret initiatory ceremonies. The Books of Chilam Balam, which date from around 1000 CE and after and are named after an order of priests, contain quite a bit of religious mythology as well as information about Mayan society and history; they were apparently based on earlier hieroglyphic codices now lost. Unfortunately, most of the surviving hieroglyphic writing on religious matters is presently undecipherable (see Thompson, p. 196).

Read more: Mayan Religion

Advaita Vedanta

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

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Sri Sankaracarya

Advaita Vedanta is one of the major philosophical systems of India. Its present form derives from the writings of the eighth-nineth century philosopher Sri Sankaracarya or Sankara in short form, but it obviously has a more ancient history. Sankara identifies Gaudapada (seventh century) as his paramaguru, usually taken to mean “teacher’s teacher,” though that cannot be its meaning in this instance — perhaps “paramount teacher” would be more literally appropriate. But an initial formulation of the ideas of the school was made by Badarayana (sixth century BCE?) in his cryptic summation of the teachings of the principal Upanisads, variously called Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras, the name Vedanta indicating that the system derives its philosophic inspiration from the end (anta) or final texts of the Vedas, which are the Upanisads. The school also interprets end to mean (as it does ambiguously in English as well as in Sanskrit) “final teaching” or “purpose.”

Read more: Advaita Vedanta

Hinduism

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

TE 6 Hinduism
Hindu Temple at the Adyar Estate

The word Hindu derives from a Sanskrit word sindhu, “river,” which was applied to the first large river, now called the Indus, which the Aryans encountered upon their migration into the northwest area of the subcontinent. When the Greeks invaded, they modified the word to its present form and identified the people of the area as Hindus, i.e., “People of the River.” Annie Besant, as well as many Hindus, preferred the term Sanatana Dharma (literally “ancient law” or “eternal religion”) for the religion of the Hindus, although some scholars consider this more a description than a proper name. Manu, the ancient law-giver, seems to have used the term “arsa-dharma,” i.e., “the way of behavior given by the Rishis [ancient sages].”

Read more: Hinduism

Native American Religions -- Part two

Richard Brooks – USA

[The following article is from the Theosophical Encyclopedia, edited by Philip S. Harris, Vicente R. Hao Chin, Jr., and Richard W. Brooks (Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2006), pp. 25-32.]

American Religions, Native [Part 2, pp. 29-32]

Native North American Religions

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Native Americans

When the first Europeans contacted the native Americans in the early 16th century there were as many as 600 different tribes in North America with a total population of several millions. Most of these natives of North America believed that things in their environment — animals, rivers, mountains, seas, the sun, the moon — had spirits. Their shamans, often called “medicine men” (or in some cases “medicine women”), were thought to have some control over this spirit world. In many tribes, they were thought to be able to contact spirits, both benign and evil, in their soul journeys and utilize them in their healing practice. The description of their visions sounds very much like some of the siddhis mentioned in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras (e.g., IV.26, 39, 43). Some of the descriptions sound like clairvoyance.

Read more: Native American Religions -- Part two

Jainism

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[Theosophical Encyclopedia, edited by Philip S. Harris, Vicente R. Hao Chin, Jr., and Richard W. Brooks (Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2006), pp. 326-327. Here lightly edited.]

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Jain God Mahavira

Jains claim that Jainism is an extremely ancient religion, having been founded by a sage named Rishabhadeva more than 23,000 years ago (at the beginning of the third, or “happy-sad,” period of the present world cycle according to the Jain cosmological theory). A few stray references in Theosophical literature seem to support that claim, placing the founding of Jainism in Atlantean times (Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine 2:423 fn†). Modern Jainism, however, derives from the teachings of Vardhamana, who is called the twenty-fourth and last of the Jain Tirthankaras (“Ford-makers”), dated 540-468 BCE according to scholars and Theosophists (Annie Besant, Seven Great Religions, p. 88), but dated 581-509 BCE according to the Digambara (“Sky-clad”) sect of Jains. Either date would make him a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Recently, scholars have come to believe that the twenty-third Tirthankara, Parsva (or Parsvanatha), who is dated by Jains 872-772 BCE, was a historical figure also. These Tirthankaras, especially Vardhamana, are also called by the terms Mahavira, “great hero,” and Jina, “conqueror” or “victor.”. The name of the religion is derived from the latter term.

Read more: Jainism

Confucius and Confucianism

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[Theosophical Encyclopedia, edited by Philip S. Harris, Vicente R. Hao Chin, Jr., and Richard W. Brooks (Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2006), pp. 163-165. Here lightly edited.]

TE Confucius and Confucianism 2

Confucius was one of the most important philosophers of ancient China, and one of only two whose names have been Latinized (the other being the post-Confucian philosopher Mencius or Meng K’e, later called Meng Tzu). He was born K’ung Ch’iu (Kong Chiu in the modern pinyin system of transliteration) in the state of Lu in 551 BCE during the gradual decline of the Chou (Zhou) Dynasty (1122-771 BCE). Tradition identifies his family as formerly part of the aristocracy, but by his time it had declined both in social and economic status. His father died when he was three, and he was raised by his mother. He obviously received an education in ancient literature, for he was very familiar with it and is said to have written commentaries on some of it. He married and had at least one son and one daughter.

Read more: Confucius and Confucianism

Ancient Egyptian Religion – Part two

Jeanine Miller – the UK

[The following article is from the Theosophical Encyclopedia, edited by Philip S. Harris, Vicente R. Hao Chin, Jr., and Richard W. Brooks (Quezon City, Philippines: Theosophical Publishing House, 2006), pp. 211-218. A few obvious errors have been silently corrected.]

Egyptian Religion, Ancient [Part 2, pp. 214-218]

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EGYPTIAN SYMBOLS

The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols. ... All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge, revealed and acquired, of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parable” (SD I:307).

He who can penetrate into the heart of Egyptian symbolism holds the key to the ageless gnosis. A god, to the Egyptian, was a principle that could be named differently according to different spheres of influence and circumstances and could assume various appearances for his devotee.

Read more: Ancient Egyptian Religion – Part two

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