In my recent work on Br?hmanism I have traced the progress of Indian religious thought through three successive stages—called by me Vedism, Br?hmanism, and Hind?ism—the last including the three subdivisions of ?aivism, Vaish?avism, and ??ktism. Furthermore I have attempted to prove that these systems are not really separated by sharp lines, but that each almost imperceptibly shades off into the other.
I have striven also to show that a true Hind? of the orthodox school is able quite conscientiously to accept all these developments of religious belief. He holds that they have their authoritative exponents in the successive bibles of the Hind? religion, namely, (1) the four Vedas—?ig-veda, Yajur-veda, S?ma-veda, Atharva-veda—and the Br?hma?as; (2) the Upanishads; (3) the Law-books—especially that of Manu; (4) the Bhakti-??stras, including the R?m?ya?a, the Mah?-bh?rata, the Pur??as—especially the Bh?gavata-pur??a—and the Bhagavad-g?t?; (5) the Tantras.
The chief works under these five heads represent the principal periods of religious development through which the Hind? mind has passed.
Thus, in the first place, the hymns of the Vedas and the ritualism of the Br?hma?as represent physiolatry or the worship of the personified forces of nature—a form of religion which ultimately became saturated with sacrificial ideas and with ceremonialism and asceticism. Secondly, the Upanishads represent the pantheistic conceptions which terminated in philosophical Br?hmanism. Thirdly, the Law-books represent caste-rules and domestic usages. Fourthly, the R?m?ya?a, Mah?-bh?rata, and Pur??as represent the principle of personal devotion to the personal gods, ?iva, Vish?u, and their manifestations; and fifthly, the Tantras represent the perversion of the principle of love to polluting and degrading practices disguised under the name of religious rites. Of these five phases of the Hind? religion probably the first three only prevailed when Buddhism arose; but I shall try to make clear hereafter that Buddhism, as it developed, accommodated itself to the fourth and even ultimately to the fifth phase, admitting the Hind? gods into its own creed, while Hind?ism also received ideas from Buddhism.