HINDU PERSPECTIVES ON THE
INDIVIDUAL AND THE COLLECTIVITY
JOSEPH W. ELDER
In this paper I shall base much of my discussion of the Hindu view of the nature of the individual and the nature of the collectivity on what is generally termed the "Vedic" literature. This includes the four large groupings of Vedas (Rg Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, and Atharva Veda) and their "descendent" śākhās (branches), samhitās (compilations), Brāhmanas, Aranyakas, and Upaniṣads. Within Hinduism, these texts are seen as especially sacred; in fact, they are referred to as the Śruti (what is heard, revealed, implying a supra‐ human origin). From this literature I shall draw especially on the Chāndogya Upaniṣad ("descended" from the Sāma Veda and dated somewhere between the seventh and the fifth centuries B.C.E.) that presents in particularly lucid fashion the doctrines of transmigration and of the unity of the Brahman (World Spirit) and Ātman (the unconditioned Self). Scholars differ in their estimated dates for this "Vedic" literature. However, there is general agreement that the four large groupings of the Vedas (the Rg, Yajur, Sāma, and Artharva Vedas), were composed between 1500 and 500 B.C.E. and flourished as oral recitations for centuries before they were finally written down in their present form around the eighth or ninth centuries C.E. There is also general agreement that most of the Upaniṣads were composed between 600 and 300 B.C.E.
I shall base much of my subsequent discussion of "duties" and "correct action" on what is considered to be somewhat later (post-Vedic) literature, the