The Thought of Hinduism (Ashby)

The Thought of Hinduism (from History and Future of Religious Thought, by Prof. Philip H. Ashby, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1963)

We have noted that very early, Indian thought was concerned with the question of order in the structure of existence. In their perception of the environment and their sensitivity to that which lay behind it, the early thinkers discerned a uniformity and pattern despite the sometimes chaotic external appearance of existence and events. There is a power, a law or unity of laws which constitutes the Order (rta, rita) of empirical existence. Like the Tao of Chinese thought, it is that Power which works in and through the universe of being, directing the individual powers and entities toward symmetry and meaning in their collective activities. And, while its working or movement may possibily be discernible to man, its purposes, or lack of them, are beyond man’s ultimate understanding.

In conjunction with the emergence of such thinking, there was a growing conviction that, behind all that is, is a Unity which includes within Itself that which appears, from the perspective of man, to be disparate and non-cohesive. In the early periods of beginning speculation this was limited mainly to a unification of the separate deities and their powers, but even at this early stage the unification was more in the nature of an identification wherein the individual deities were coming to be conceived not so much as distinct entities gathered together into a greater whole, but rather as one undivided Unity perceived by man in different aspects or functions.

With the coalescence of the conception of Order (rta, rita) with the conviction of a Unity (Brahman), there was a resultant flowering of the belief in a divine order and propriety of things, a Dharma which extends to all existence and beings. And while the word Dharma has many meanings and usages, each of them conveys, at least in part, the thought of a transcendental, yet imminent and all encompassing imperative norm inherent in the structure of existence. The empirical realm has its Dharma, all sentient life has its Dharma, and man in particular has his Dharma as an individual and as a member of society. This Dharma flows from the absolute Unity which is at the beginning, middle, and end of all things. It is a norm which is integrally inherent in its Source (Brahman) and is not to be conceived as separate from It. It is of the nature of the Unity behind the apparent diversity of existence that It, in Itself, gives to the universe of being a structure, a pattern, a telos.

We must be careful to note here that such Order is not to be considered as necessarily meaningful or conformable to human standards. Human perceptions of order are derivable from this inherent structure, but the structure is not to be appraised by anything other than itself. The value of the Order, therefore, its goodness or its evil, is not a legitimate matter for speculation or question. The Order is what It is, and because of It, there is that which is proper and improper, valuable and non-valuable. The given is good, in a metaphysical sense, simply because it is given. There is nothing else that is possible since all potentiality is embodied in the given.