The Vedic Origins of Karma

Cosmos as Man in Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual

By Herman W. Tull

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791400951, 192 pages, August 1989
Hardcover : 9780791400944, 192 pages, August 1989

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Table of contents



The Vedic Origins of the Karma Doctrine

A Note on Texts, Method, Terms, and Translations

Chapter 1. The Problem of Karma and the Textual Sources

The Brahmanas and Upanisads in the View of Nineteenth Century Indology

The Upanisads and the Vedic Origins of the Karma Doctrine

The Earliest Notice of the Doctrine of Karma and Rebirth in the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanisads

Conclusion: The Karma Doctrine in the Context of Brahmanic Thought

Chapter 2. The Cosmos as Man: The Image of the Cosmos in Vedic Thought

The Cosmic Image and Its Vicissitudes in Vedic Thought

Purusa and the Creation of the Cosmos

The Reenactment of the Cosmogony

Prajapati and the Creation of the Cosmos

Conclusion: The Reenactment of the Cosmogony

Chapter 3. The Fire Altar (Agnicayana) as Man and Cosmos

The Problem of Sacrifice

The Problem of Sacrifice and the Agnicayana

The Construction of the Fire Altar

Conclusion: Man and Cosmos in the Fire Altar

Chapter 4. From Death to Rebirth

The Agnicayana and the Smasanacayana

Conclusion: The Karma Doctrine in the Context of Brahmanic Thought

Abbreviations of Vedic Texts





In this book, the author seeks access to Karma's origins by following several clues suggested by the doctrine's earliest formulation in the Upanistexts (circa 600-500 B.C.) These clues lead back to the mythical and ritual structures firmly established in the Brahmana texts, texts concerned with the rituals that chronologically and conceptually precede the UpanisThe rise of the karma doctrine is tied to the increasing dominance in late Vedic thought of the cosmic man (Purusa/Prajapati) mythology and its ritual analogue the "building of the fire altar" (agnicayana).

Herman W. Tull is Assistant Professor of Religion at Rutgers University.


"To anyone interested in the Vedic literature or the idea of karma, this book is fascinating. The prose is crisp and clear, well-ordered and lively. The arguments are clearly presented. Tull shows convincingly that the beginning of karma theory are to be found in the Brahmanas. And he helps us to see the logic of these texts more clearly than anyone else." -- John M. Koller

"The book is clearly written and organized. He uses primary materials intelligently and raises questions of significance. The author discusses some of the central areas in the study of Hinduism: the idea of karma, the relationship of the Upanisto the rest of the Veda, the interpretation of the Upanisand the meaning of the Vedic rites. He also challenges a number of received views, especially concerning the interpretation of karma in the Upanisand offers alternatives which are quite provocative. He lays out his arguments and evidence in a way that allows his readers to evaluate them." -- Joel P. Brereton