CYCLE II: INDIA, 392–1246 CE
Like the Chinese the previous cycle resulted in a spiritual reformationThe native spiritual tradition of India is the deepest and broadest in history. It is important to note that Hinduism is different from the typically understood Western view of religion. There is no one single historical point of origin, scripture or prophet which is generally associated with a religion. It is rather an exploration and a rich repository of the varieties of spiritual experiences. It is grounded in acceptance of the ceaseless journey of the pilgrim soul as a matter not of belief, but of fact, and not of humans limited to a single life. An important aspect of the Indian spiritual tradition is Sanatana Dharma which states that there is an order and a purpose to the universe and human life and, by accepting this order and living in accordance with it, one will experience life as it is meant to be properly lived.
In the sixth century BCE, the religious reformers, Mahavira and Buddha created the religions of Jainism and Buddhism. The pragmatic teaching of theBuddha caused a doctrinal revolution as discounting scriptural authority, divine realms, and the supernatural in favour of seeking salvation through reflection, meditation and the complete erasure of delusion and false identity. The message from Mahavira was also concerned with less dependence on the material realm, which could be helped by practising personal austerities. Both approaches introduced monastic institutions to Indian society. The Buddhist injunction against killing was extended by the Jains to the whole animal kingdom, including insects.
Air Period—A NewImpulse 392–630 CE
The period called the Classical Age of India refers to the time whenmuch of the Indian subcontinent was united under the Gupta Empire. This period,from 240-550 was marked by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy that crystallised the elements of what is generally known today as Hindu culture.
The Puranas of Vyasa were compiled during this period and the famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora, with their elaborate carvings and vaulted rooms,were also begun. Varahamihira explored astronomy at the same time as Aryabhatta, the mathematician, who made his own discoveries in the field and also recognised the importance of the concept of zero, which he is credited with inventing.
Chandragupta II was one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta Empire in northern India. He continued the expansionist policy of his father Samudragupta and extended the Gupta empire. He surrounded himself with poets as well as members of religious orders. The noted Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, one of India’s greatest, was part of his court. All religions enjoyed equal rights and privileges and from time to time he would invite learned people from different religions to meet for discussions which would enable each to better understand and appreciate the other.
Science and political administration also reached new heights during the Gupta era. Strong trade ties made the region an important cultural centre and established it as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, maritime Southeast Asia, and Indochina.
As the founder of the Gupta Empire defied orthodox Hindu thought, it is not surprising that the Gupta rulers advocated and propagated Buddhism as the national belief and this is the reason for the plentitude of Buddhist works ofart from this period.
Water Period—Expansion 630–928 CE
The Gupta empire was replaced by the rule of Harshavardhan who ruled the region from 605 to 647. A literary man of considerable accomplishments, Harshavardhan was a patron of the arts and a devout Buddhist. Under his reign,Northern India flourished, but his kingdom collapsed following his death.
In 712, the Muslim General Muhammed bin Qasim conquered Sind, a province in the west of India and eventually established himself in the region of modern-day Pakistan. The Islamic Sultanates rose in this area and spread northwest. The disparate world views of the religions, which now contested each other for acceptance in the region and the diversity of languages spoken, made the unity and cultural advances, such as were seen in the time of the Guptas, difficult to reproduce.
In the 8th century, Adi Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a philosophy of Unity and Non-dualism (Advaita A=not, dvaita=two; not two, one). He wrote commentaries on the ancient Sanskritscriptures called Upanishads and other sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras by the time he was 16 years old. He then travelled around the country debating with and converting religious and philosophy proponents of other schools of thought. In the four corners of the Indian subcontinent he founded mathas or ‘monasteries,’ each to be run by one of his four main disciples. The system of four disciples or teachers, Shankaracharayas as they were called, continues today. By the 8th century symbols of Hindu gods became more in evidence, with a corresponding reduction of Buddhist symbols of worship. Although Buddhism did not disappear from India for several centuries, its position was weakened within the culture, which eventually led to its decline.
Fire Period—SummitReached, Decline Begins 829–1107 CE
During the period from 750 to 1310 India flourished under two dominant dynasties, the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas. Trade flourished as Indian products were in great demand in the East and the West. This period, which witnessed aHindu religious and intellectual resurgence, is known as the Golden Age ofIndia. During this period, aspects of Indian culture spread to much of Asia,while kingdoms in southern India had maritime business with the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
EarthPeriod—Consolidation, Decline, Conclusion 1107-1246
Muslim forces began the domination of parts of India which lasted for six centuries. Islam arrived in India using the sword in the 11th century and by 1200 Muslim forces dominated Northern India, winning control of the Indus and Ganges plains, marking the start of six centuries of Muslim dominance. In 1192 Muslim based forces attacked India and began to rule parts of north India in the 13th century. The Delhi Sultanate was founded in 1206 by Central Asian Turks.
Lessons Learned fromCycle II
This was a period of great cohesion in India which resulted in a large period of peace and prosperity, during which time some of India’s finest cultural gifts were made manifest. The work of Adi Shankara was instrumental in revitalising the Vedantic spiritual tradition, so that going forward it would be the guiding element for Hinduism, which is the current description of the Indian spiritual tradition. Buddhism gradually became less and less influential in India, but as mentioned thrived within the Chinese culture.
The manifestation of fine consciousness in the worldly activities during this period is an important lesson for India to acknowledge. This should give the Indian people greater confidence that their time for serving a more influential role in the world, grounded in spiritual principles, is on the way.
The next blog will address the second cycle of the Arabic Culture.