Experiencing Scriptural Diversity: Words and Stories in Hindu Traditions

Daniel Gold

in Mysticism and Sacred Scripture

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195097030
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848805 | DOI:
Experiencing Scriptural Diversity: Words and Stories in Hindu Traditions

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Both to its adherents and to those who study it, Hinduism can present a bewildering scriptural diversity. Not only across broad Hindu horizons but also within particular Hindu traditions, individuals are regularly confronted with a multitude of authoritative religious texts. Among the broad typologies of experience used across Hindu traditions, one of the most pervasive is the contrast between realization of the divine as either nirgurna or saguna. The nirgurna refers to the essential being of the universe, with whom the aspirant seeks finally to identify; the ultimate beginning and end of things, it is perceived as something unformed and still. The saguna, by contrast, refers to something manifest and moving, with which individual embodied beings can engage through their senses. To illustrate the different experiences of scriptural diversity, this chapter focuses on three traditions—two focusing on the nirgurna divinity and one on the saguna. The two nirgurna traditions fall at opposite ends of the Hindu socioreligious spectrum: the Advaita Vedānta of Sankara (c.700 ce)—abstruse, philosophical, and brahmanic and the nirgurna devotion of the Hindi sants (c.1400- )—rough in style, yogic in idiom, and sometimes highly unorthodox. Together, these two traditions present some interesting similarities in their religious attitude toward scripture as sabda, while maintaining crucial differences in the metaphysical significance that they attach to the term. To explore the socioreligious import of those differences, this chapter examines some attitudes toward scripture in 20th-century neo-Vedanta, which in fact seem to have as much in common with those of sants as with those evident in the work of Sankara. The saguna tradition considered is the Krishnaite devotion propounded by Vallabha (1480–1533), which is known as the pustimārg. Roughly contemporaneous with the devotion of the Hindi sants, it has, like that tradition, also nurtured a sizable body of Hindi verse known broadly in North India. Looking at these two traditions together shows some ways in which people oriented toward either the nirgurna or sagunadivine respond to scriptures revealing the other.

Keywords: Hinduism; mysticism; scripture; nirgurna; saguna

Chapter.  12374 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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