The Brahmanas are an integral part of Vedic literature and, as we have observed, deal with different kinds of sacrifices offered to the gods Agni, Indra, and the rest. In this connection we have explained that, in its original Vedic conception, Sacrifice means selfless, creative action, meant for the benefit of the world; and in the Rig Veda the supreme Purusha is said to have created the universe by means of Sacrifice, and the same idea is repeated in later Sacred Books of the Hindus.
It would not be difficult to show that this is also the idea of the Brahmanas, signifying the association of the gods of the Vedas with creative action in the universe. But it is enough to quote in this connection from the learned translator of Satapatha Brahmana, Julius Eggeling. He says, "There seems, indeed, some reason to believe that it (the ritual of the Fire-altar) was elaborated with a definite object in view, viz., that of making the external rites and ceremonies of the sacrificial cult the practical devotional expression of certain dominant speculative theories of the time". As a matter of fact, the dogmatic exposition of no other part of the sacrificial ceremonial reflects so fully and so faithfully as that of the Agnicayana (keeping the sacred fire) those cosmic and theosophical theories which form a characteristic feature of the Brahmana period.
In the so called Purusha hymn in which the supreme spirit is conceived of as the Person or Man (Purusha) born in the beginning, and consisting of whatsoever hath been and whatsoever shall be, the creation of the visible and invisible universe is represented as originating from an "all-offered" sacrifice (yajna) in which the Purusha himself forms the offering material (havis), or, as one might say, the victim. These speculations may be said to have formed the foundation on which the theory of the sacrifice, as propounded in the Brahmanas, has been reared. Prajapati, who here takes the place of the Purusha, the world-man, or all-embracing personality, is offered up anew in every sacrifice; and inasmuch as the very dismemberment of the Lord of Creatures, which took place at that archetypal sacrifice, was in itself the creation of the universe, so every sacrifice is also a repetition of that first creative act. Thus the periodical sacrifice is nothing else than a microcosmic representation of the ever proceeding destruction and renewal of all cosmic life and matter. The theologians of the Brahmanas go, however, an important step further by identifying the performer, or patron, of the sacrifice the Sacrificer with Prajapati.
With the introduction of the Prajapati theory into the sacrificial metaphysics, theological speculation takes a higher flight, developing features not unlike, in some respects, to those of Gnostic philosophy. From a mere act of piety, and of practical, if mystic, significance to the person or persons, immediately concerned, the sacrifice in the esoteric view of the metaphysician, at least becomes an event of cosmic significance. By offering up his own self in sacrifice, Prajapati becomes dismembered; and all those separated limbs and faculties of his come to form the universe all that exists, from the gods and Asuras (the children of Father Prajapati) down to the worm, the blade of grass, and the smallest particle of inert matter. It requires a new, and ever new, sacrifices to build the dismembered Lord of Creatures up again, and restore him so as to enable him to offer himself up again and again, and renew the universe, and thus keep up the uninterrupted revolution of time and matter. The idea of dismembered Prajapati, and of this or that sacrificial act being required to complete and replenish him, occurs throughout the lucubration of the Brahmanas.
"Once granted that the real purport of all sacrificial performances is the restoration of the dismembered Lord of Creatures, and the reconstruction of the All, it cannot be denied that, of all ceremonial observances, the building of the great Fire-altar was the most admirably adapted for this grand symbolic purpose."
That the original idea of Sacrifice is selfless and creative action, it would be impossible to doubt. Indeed, the Fire-altar is the whole universe in miniature, where the individual sacrificer is the human Soul, associated with his wife, or Prakrti. The materials of the sacrifice are but the forms of the forces in whose midst he is placed; while Agni and the other gods represent the supreme creative energies of life by means of which he is to attain to his final goal. In course of time, however, this original conception appears to have been lost, and Sacrifice came to be associated with ritual and ceremonial and form and its object regarded as the attainment of wealth or success or power. But so far as the Sacred Books are concerned, they deal only with the ancient idea of Sacrifice as creative and selfless action in the world.
Brahman: We have observed that the gods of the Vedas represent different creative energies of life, from the Soul to Prakrtic Ether or Food (Prakrti), which constitute the bases of the corresponding systems of Hindu Philosophy. This idea of the Vedic gods is, as we have pointed out, carried forward in the Brahmanas, Upanishads and all post-Vedic literature. In the Upanishads, Brahman embodies, under one name, all the creative energies of life personified separately in each pair of Vedic gods; and in the Brahmanas his place is taken by Prajapati and so both of them are associated with all forms of Sacrifice. Indeed, both of them figure in the Upanishads and the Brahmanas, but the Upanishads centre round Brahman more than Prajapati, and the Brahmanas more round Prajapati than Brahman. Even in the Brahmanas Brahman is spoken of as the supreme creator of the universe. He is identified with Prajapati, and is spoken of as the creator, the ultimate thing of the universe, and there is nothing after him. He is truth, he is Sacrifice, all Sacrifice is born of him; and he offers his own self in the creatures and his creatures in his own self as a Sacrifice.
Prajapati: The idea of Prajapati, the Lord of Creatures, is still more clearly defined in the Brahmanas. He is the creator of the father of gods, Asuras, and men. He creates by means of Tapas, and by means of Sacrifice. He creates Sacrifice and performs Sacrifice, and springs forth from Sacrifice. He slaughters the Sun as a Sacrifice and assigns it to the gods, and asks Purusha Narayana to offer Sacrifice. He creates Sacrifice as a counterpart of himself, suffers himself to be offered as a Sacrifice, strengthens himself by Sacrifice, and is the Asvamedha or Horse-sacrifice himself.
Thus we see that Prajapati represents the, supreme Purusha conceived in terms of Sacrifice or creative action; and so he is called Visvakarman or All-actor. In this sense he may be said to personify all Vedic gods and the corresponding systems of Hindu Philosophy and so we are told that Prajapati is the father of all gods; that there are thirty-three gods, and he is the thirty-fourth. In connection with the system of Vedanta, he is associated with Vishnu, creating by means of Vishnu-strides; he is Prana, and he is Vayu. He is also the creator of Prakrti or Viraj and so she may be said to be his daughter; and then, in union with her, he creates the universe. This is the real meaning of his incest with his daughter or Prakrti.
As regards Yoga, he is identified with Agni, creates that god, and Indra is his son; and father and son are often identified in sacred Hindu literature. Besides, as Yoga may be said to be born out of Vedanta, as Buddhi is out of the Soul, even so are Agni and Indra, the deities of Buddhi (or Yoga) said to be born of Prajapati, the supreme deity of the Soul.
As for the Vaisesika, Prajapati is identified with Soma, and creates both Soma and Rudra, the deities of this system. In connection with Nyaya, he is said to have been born out of the Golden Egg, and is identified with Heaven and Earth, the deities of this system. The Sankhya, on the other hand, has no place for the supreme Purusha in its scheme; and its Vedic deities are Vrtra and Varuna, as we have explained and so Prajapati has nothing to do with the former, and is injured by the shafts of Varuna, and delivers his creatures from the noose of that god.
Thus we see that Prajapati embodies the idea of all the principal gods of the Vedas, and so of the corresponding systems of Hindu Philosophy.
Knowledge and Action: The Brahman as also examine the problem of knowledge and action as the final goals of life; and the connection of the two is the same here as in the Upanishads. Sacrifice, as we have explained, is creative and selfless action; and we are told that true Sacrifice leads to the heaven of the living, but not without knowledge. Again, knowledge is regarded as superior to action, and it is said that, "by knowledge they ascend that state where desires have vanished sacrificial gifts go neither thither nor the fervid practises of rites without knowledge".
Conclusion: Thus we see how the fundamental ideas of the Vedas, the essence of the Upanishads, and the systems of Hindu Philosophy are to be found in the Brahmanas in terms of Sacrifice or creative and selfless action; and so the same current of thought runs through all the Sacred Books of the Hindus.