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FACT # 248

The Vedas

The most sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas (“Books of Knowledge”), a collection of texts written in Sanskrit from about 1200 BCE to 100 CE. As sruti, the Vedas are regarded as the absolute authority for religious knowledge and a test of Hindu orthodoxy (both Jains and Buddhists reject the Vedas). “For Hindus, the Veda is a symbol of unchallenged authority and tradition.” {1} Selections from the Vedas are still memorized and recited for religious merit today. Yet much of the religion presented in the Vedas is unknown today and plays little to no role in modern Hinduism.

As historical and religious literature often is, the text is written from the perspective of the most powerful groups, priests and warrior-kings. Scholars say it is therefore unlikely that it represents the totality of religious belief and practice in India in the first millennium BCE. This perspective is especially evident in the earlier parts of the Vedas, in which the primary concerns are war, rain, and dealing with the “slaves,” or native inhabitants of India.

Initially, the Vedas consisted of four collections of mantras (Samhitas), each associated with a particular priest or aspect of ritual: Rig Veda (Wisdom of the Verses); Sama Veda (Wisdom of the Chants); Yajur Veda (Wisdom of the Sacrificial Formulas); and Atharva Veda (Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests).

Over the centuries, three kinds of additional literature were attached to each of the Samhitas: Brahmanas (discussions of the ritual); Aranyakas (“books studied in the forest”); and Upanishads (philosophical writings).

In these later texts, especially the Upanishads, the polytheism of the earlier Vedas has evolved into a pantheism focused on Brahman, the supreme reality of the universe. This concept remains a key feature of Hindu philosophy today.

Samhitas

As noted above, the Samhitas (“Collections”) are the oldest components of the Vedas, and consist largely of hymns and mantras. There are four Samhitas (also called Vedas): Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.

The Rig Veda

Composed as early as 1500 BC, the Rig Veda or Rg Veda (“Wisdom of the Verses”) is the oldest of the four Vedic collections and one of the oldest surviving sacred texts in the world. The Rig Veda consists of 10,552 verses (collected into 10 books) of hymns and mantras used by the hotri priests.

The hymns of the Rig Veda focus on pleasing the principal gods Indra (war, wind and rain), Agni (the sacrificial fire), Surga (the sun) and Varuna (the cosmic order) through ritual sacrifices. Along with governing important matters of life such as rain, wind, fire and war, the Vedic gods also forgive wrongdoing (5.85.7) and mete out justice in the afterlife (1.97.1).

Deceased ancestors are able to influence the living (10.15.6), so they are also appeased with rituals (10.15.1-11). The afterlife of the Rig Veda is eternal conscious survival in the abode of Yama, the god of the dead (9.113.7-11). It is the gods, not karma, that are responsible for assuring justice in this life and the next (7.104).

Yajur Veda and Sama Veda

Both the Yajur Veda (“Wisdom of the Sacrifical Formulas”) and the Sama Veda (“Wisdom of the Chants”) are liturgical works consisting primarily of selections from the Rig Veda. The Yajur Veda was used by udgatri priests and contains brief prose to accompany ritual acts, many of which are addressed to the ritual instruments and offerings. The Sama Veda was chanted in fixed melodies by the adhvaryu priests. Each contain about 2,000 verses.

Atharva Veda

The Atharva Veda (“Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests) was added significantly later than the first three Samhitas, perhaps as late as 500 BC. It consists of 20 books of hymns and prose, many of which reflect the religious concerns of everyday life. This sets the Arharva Veda apart from the other Vedas, which focus on adoring the gods and performing the liturgy of sacrifice, and makes it an important source of information on the practical religion and magic of the time.

Books 1 through 8 of the Atharva Veda contain magical prayers for long life, prosperity, curses, kingship, love, and a variety of other specific purposes. Books 8 through 12 include cosmological hymns, marking a transition to the loftier philosophy of the Upanishads. The remainder of the books consist of magical and ritual formulas, including marriage and funeral practices.

Brahmanas

The mythology and significance behind the Vedic rituals of the Samhitas are explained in the Brahmanas. Although they include some detail as to the performance of rituals themselves, the Brahmanas are primarily concerned with the meaning of rituals. A worldview is presented in which sacrifice is central to human life, religious goals, and even the continuation of the cosmos.

Included in the Brahmanas are extensive rituals for royal consecration (rajasuya), which endow a king with great power and raise him to the status of a god (at least during the ceremony). Part of the ritual is the elaborate horse sacrifice (asvamedya), in which a single horse is set free, followed and protected by royal forces for a year, then ritually sacrificed at the royal capital.

Aranyakas (“Forest Books”)

The Aranyakas contain similar material as the Brahmanas and discuss rites deemed not suitable for the village (thus the name “forest”). They also prominently feature the word brahmana, here meaning the creative power behind of the rituals, and by extension, the cosmic order.

Upanishads (“Sittings Near a Teacher”)

The word “Upanishad” means “to sit down near,” bringing to mind pupils gathering around their teacher for philosophical instruction. The Upanishads are philosophical works that introduce the now-central ideas of self-realization, yoga, meditation, karma and reincarnation.

The theme of the Upanishads is the escape from rebirth through knowledge of the underlying reality of the universe. The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains how this change in perspective came about:

Throughout the later Vedic period, the idea that the world of heaven was not the end-and that even in heaven death was inevitable-had been growing. For Vedic thinkers, the fear of the impermanence of religious merit and its loss in the hereafter, as well as the fear-provoking anticipation of the transience of any form of existence after death, culminating in the much-feared repeated death (punarmrtyu), assumed the character of an obsession.

The older Upanishads are affixed to a particular Veda, but more recent ones are not. The most important Upanishads are generally considered to be the Brhadaranyaka (“Great Forest Text”) and the Chandogya (pertaining to the Chandoga priests). Both record the traditions of sages (rishis) of the period, most notably Yajñavalkya, who was a pioneer of new religious ideas. Also significant are:

  • Mandukya Upanishad
  • Kena/Talavakara Upanishad
  • Katha Upanishad
  • Mundaka Upanishad
  • Aitareya Upanishad
  • Taittiriya Upanishad
  • Prashna Upanishad
  • Isha Upanishad
  • Shvetashvatara Upanishad

References

  1. “Vedas.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 2004.
  2. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions
  3. Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  4. Cambridge Illustrated History of World Religions
  5. The Hindu Universe
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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in General Facts

 

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FACT # 247

Hitler Facts

34 Facts About Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler

Hitler’s Family

  • Despite becoming the dictator of Germany, Hitler was not born there. Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria on April 20, 1889.
  • Hitler’s parents were Alois (1837-1903) and Klara (1860-1907) Hitler.
  • Hitler had only one sibling that survived childhood, Paula (1896-1960).
  • However, Hitler also had four other siblings that died in childhood: Gustav (1885-1887), Ida (1886-1888), Otto (1887), and Edmund (1894-1900).
  • In addition to his sister Paula, Hitler had one step-brother, Alois (b. 1882) and one step-sister, Angela (1883-1949), both from his father’s previous marriage.
  • Hitler was known as “Adi” in his youth.
  • Hitler’s father, Alois, was in his third marriage and 51 years old when Hitler was born. He was known as a strict man who retired from the civil service when Hitler was only six. Alois died when Hitler was 13.

Artist and Anti-Semite

  • Throughout his youth, Hitler dreamed of becoming an artist. He applied twice to the Vienna Academy of Art (once in 1907 and again in 1908) but was denied entrance both times.
  • At the end of 1908, Hitler’s mother died of breast cancer.
  • After his mother’s death, Hitler spent four years living on the streets of Vienna, selling postcards of his artwork to make a little money.
  • No one is quite sure where or how Hitler picked up his virulent antisemitism. Some say it was because of the questionable identity of his grandfather (was Hitler’s grandfather Jewish?). Others say Hitler was furious at a Jewish doctor that let his mother die. However, it is just as likely that Hitler picked up a hatred for Jews while living on the streets of Vienna, a city known at the time for its antisemitism.

Hitler as a Soldier in World War I

  • Although Hitler attempted to avoid Austrian military service by moving to Munich, Germany in May 1913, Hitler volunteered to serve in the German army once World War I began.
  • Hitler endured and survived four years of World War I. During this time, he was awarded two Iron Crosses for bravery.
  • Hitler sustained two major injuries during the war. The first occurred in October 1916 when he was wounded by a grenade splinter. The other was on October 13, 1918, when a gas attack caused Hitler to go temporarily blind.
  • It was while Hitler was recovering from the gas attack that the armistice (i.e. the end of the fighting) was announced. Hitler was furious that Germany had surrendered and felt strongly that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by its leaders.

Hitler Enters Politics

  • Furious at Germany’s surrender, Hitler returned to Munich after the end of World War I, determined to enter politics.
  • In 1919, Hitler became the 55th member of a small antisemitic party called the German Worker’s Party.
  • Hitler soon became the party’s leader, created a 25-point platform for the party, and established a bold red background with a white circle and swastika in the middle as the party’s symbol. In 1920, the party’s name was changed to National Socialist German Worker’s Party (i.e. the Nazi Party).
  • Over the next several years, Hitler often gave public speeches that gained him attention, followers, and financial support.
  • In November 1923, Hitler spearheaded an attempt to take over the German government through a putsch (a coup), called the Beer Hall Putsch.
  • When the coup failed, Hitler was caught and sentenced to five years in prison.
  • It was while in Landsberg prison that Hitler wrote his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
  • After only nine months, Hitler was released from prison.
  • After getting out of prison, Hitler was determined to build up the Nazi Party in order to take over the German government using legal means.

Hitler Becomes Chancellor

  • In 1932, Hitler was granted German citizenship.
  • In the July 1932 elections, the Nazi Party obtained 37.3 percent of the vote for the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament), making it the controlling political party in Germany.
  • On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor. Hitler then used this high-ranking position to gain absolute power over Germany. This finally happened when Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, died in office on August 2, 1934.
  • Hitler took the title of Führer and Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor).

Hitler as Führer

  • As dictator of Germany, Hitler wanted to increase and strengthen the German army as well as expand Germany’s territory. Although these things broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the treaty that officially ended World War I, other countries allowed him to do so. Since the terms of the Versailles Treaty had been harsh, other countries found it easier to be lenient than risk another bloody European war.
  • In March 1938, Hitler was able to annex Austria into Germany (called the Anschluss) without firing a single shot.
  • When Nazi Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, the other European nations could no longer stand idly by. World War II began.
  • On July 20, 1944, Hitler barely survived an assassination attempt. One of his top military officers had placed a suitcase bomb under the table during a conference meeting at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair. Because the table leg blocked much of the blast, Hitler survived with only injuries to his arm and some hearing loss. Not everyone in the room was so lucky.
  • On April 29, 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun.
  • The following day, April 30, 1945, Hitler and Eva committed suicide together.
 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in General Facts

 

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FACT # 246

10 Fun Microsoft Facts You Might Not Know

Despite ever-increasing Mac sales, Microsoft still has an undisputed dominance over the computer industry.

With such a vast presence, much has already been written about Microsoft: Its history, its products, even its former CEO Bill Gates. For those itching to know even more, we’ve dug up 10 snippets of info that you might not have heard before.

What experimental musician created the Windows start-up sound? How do they celebrate anniversaries? Does Microsoft have a “pest” problem? Have a read of our Microsoft-themed facts, stats and trivia and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

1. “Micro-soft’s” First Ever Mention

The first ever mention of “Microsoft” was in a letter from Bill Gates to co-founder Paul Allen in 1975. Gates initially wrote the company name as Micro-soft, which made sense considering it’s a portmanteau of “microcomputer” and “software.”

Losing the hyphen, “Microsoft” was officially registered as a company in November, 1976 in New Mexico where Gates and Allen were working with their first major customer, MITS. Microsoft didn’t move to its current campus in Redmond, Washington until 1986.

The Microsoft logo has changed several times over the years, the current “Pac-Man” logo was introduced in 1987, but previous to that was the “blibbet” logo that’s pictured above. The “blibbet” refers to the stylized “o” and was apparently once the name of a burger served in the Microsoft company cafeteria.

2. Brian Eno Composed “The Microsoft Sound”

Pioneering musician Brian Eno was the musical brains behind Window 95’s start up tune, dubbed “The Microsoft Sound.”

The influential musician, who has worked with the likes of David Bowie and U2, told the San Francisco Chronicle that making such a short piece of music was “funny” and “amazing.” Eno likened the process to “making a tiny little jewel.”

Other musical trivia from the launch of Windows 95 is, of course, the use of The Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” in the ad campaign, while a related Eno fact is that he also composed the music for the computer game Spore.

3. Microsoft’s Fave Food Is Pizza

Although not quite at Google‘s level of snack-tastic, free-for-all wonder, Microsoft does offer free drinks. Over 23 million gratis beverages are downed on the corporate campus each year.

Apparently the top two drinks of choice for Microsoft staffers are milk and OJ. There’s also free candy on the Microsoft campus shuttle.

As far as food goes, Microsoft has around 35 cafeterias (one of which is pictured above) serving around 37,000 people each day. Pizza tops the list of most popular meal.

4. Microsoft Uses Codenames

Ever since the company’s first operating system, Microsoft has worked on its projects under codenames, of which Wikipedia has a long list. Apparently Gates was ready to launch Windows under the name “Interface Manager” before he was persuaded to change it by an employee.

Past codenames include “Longhorn,” “Lone Star,” and “Vienna.” While you might be tempted to add “Mojave,” to that list, it’s actually part of a Microsoft ad campaign. The “Mojave Experiment” was a marketing exercise that battled Vista’s poor PR by presenting the software to new users as a fresh product.

5. The Average “Softie”

The average Microsoft employee, or “Softie” as they call themselves, is a 38-year-old male with the average salary for a developer coming in at $106,000.

Microsoft currently employs 88,180 people who work across 32,404,796 square feet of Microsoft’s premises, over 50,000 of which are U.S.-based. The male to female ratio is very high among Microsoft’s American employees with a staggering 76% male workforce.

6. Microsoft Celebrates Anniversaries With M&Ms

All companies have their little in-house traditions, and Microsoft is no exception. It seems it’s customary for Softies to celebrate their yearly employment anniversaries with candy, and more specifically, M&Ms.

Each anniversary, a Microsoft employee is expected to provide one pound of M&Ms for every year they’ve worked. That means if Bill Gates observed the tradition, he should have turned up with 33 pounds of M&Ms on June 27, 2008.

7. Microsoft’s Stock Has Split Nine Times

Microsoft has split its stock nines times since it went public back in March 1986. Put very, very simply, a company will generally split its stock when its share price becomes too high.

Since Microsoft has had six 2-for-1 splits and three 3-for-1 splits, one original Microsoft share would now be equal to 288 shares today. Interestingly the price of Microsoft’s stock at its initial public offering was $21 a share, at the time of writing a share is now around the $23 mark. One original MSFT share would now be worth over $6,000.

8. Microsoft Has a Huge Art Collection

No, we’re not talking about Clip Art. Microsoft is one of the largest corporate collectors of artworks with over 5,000 contemporary pieces including painting, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, ceramics, studio glass, and multimedia works. Microsoft gathers arts from local artists, up-and-coming artists and big names such as Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close and Takashi Murakami.

A large proportion of the works are on display at more than 150 of Microsoft’s many campuses, as the company subscribes to the belief that art in the workplace reduces stress, increases productivity and encourages discussions and expression of opinions.

9. Microsoft Asks Strange Interview Questions

Microsoft has a reputation in the industry for asking off-beat, off-the-wall questions during its job interview. The most oft-quoted question is: “Why is a manhole cover round?” Whether this particular example is genuine, or an urban legend, it’s certainly true that Microsoft employs a very unusual, and forward-thinking interview process. It’s even rumored that companies like Google have since emulated the style.

Rather than plain “Where do you see yourself in five years” type questions, Microsoft is more likely to ask you to solve a logic puzzle or think through a problem like “Design a coffee maker that will be used by astronauts.” Obviously, Microsoft isn’t planning to go into the coffee-in-space industry anytime soon, but the process serves to find candidates that can think creatively.

10. Microsoft Holds Over 10,000 Patents

Microsoft holds over 10,000 patents and files around 3,000 every year, ranking as one of the top five patent owners in the U.S.

Although a large majority of the patents relate to obscure elements of software, the 5,000th and 10,000th were consumer-friendly, easily-understandable ideas. The 5,000th was for tech in Xbox 360 games that lets people “watch” a video game remotely, while the 10,000th was for the Microsoft Surface, linking real-life objects with data and images.

Microsoft also rewards its staff members for securing a new patent. Besides a $1,500 bonus, they get a wooden plaque and a decorative black “cube” that features their name, as well as the title and date of the patent.

BONUS: The Microsoft Campus is Full of Bunnies!

Our very own Jolie O’Dell found a great factoid about the Microsoft Corporate Campus, she gleaned while on a recent visit.

“So, back in the mists of time, some people dumped a bunch of rapidly reproducing pet bunnies — leftovers from kids’ Easter gifts — on a grassy knoll near the MSFT campus,” Jolie said. “The bunnies started doing what bunnies do best, that is, making more bunnies.

At one point, there were so many that MSFT staff had to start catching them and having them spayed and neutered! Nowadays, you’ll still see lots of rabbits hopping around, though. Way cuter than Google’s goats.”

It seems the bunny proliferation has been a long term issue. According to a 1998 Seattle Times article, the “Redmond rabbit problem” does not just affect Microsoft, but Nintendo, Eddie Bauer and other companies in the area.

The problem back then spawned the Redmond Rabbit Coalition group (many members of which are now involved in the current day Evergreen Rabbit Rescue) who campaign for a humane solution to the ongoing pest problem.

 

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