The means by which the priestly caste in India gained the mastery over the nobles—gradually, perhaps, but surely and securely—was the awe that they managed to inspire in all around them by the chanting, and apparent power, of their Vedic charms. In the earliest period the gods were implored. But when it was reasoned that since the gods could be conjured to man’s will the power of the conjuring rites must be greater than that of the gods, the deities were no longer implored but compelled to yield their boons to the warrior clans; and the magic of the Brahmins, the knowers of the potent spells, became recognized as the mightiest, and most dangerous, in the world.
— The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, p. 189
Poetry and war are joined in this; both are fame businesses. The same epithets are attached to these fame-seeking heroes across the whole enormous continent: he was "man-slaying" in Ireland and Iran, and "of the famous spear" in Greece and India. He stood as firm and immovable in battle as a mighty tree in Homer, Russian and Welsh. Like the Greeks, Irish heroes raged like a fire. In Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Vedic and Irish, that rage could emerge as a flame flaring from the hero’s head. Proto-Indo-Europeans saw the great man as a torch. Across the whole of Eurasia his weapons longed for blood, even while this blood-seeking vengeance wreaker was to his own family and clan, wherever they might be, the "herdsman of his people" and their protective enclosure. There were no city walls in this world; the hero himself was their protection and their strength.
From one end of Eurasia to another, men stand like trees, but enemies are also felled like trees, in the way a carpenter or woodsmen would fell them. When death arrives, a darkness comes on the hero. Life itself for the Proto-Indo-European consciousness is inseparable from light, especially the light of the sun, and that is the energy the heroes share with the universe. For all of them, courage is not something that appears casually in everyday life. Only when battle summons them, and when the noise of battle reaches up to heaven, as it does in all these daughter traditions, does courage appear and the hero find himself "clothed in valor."
The remarkable accomplishments of Hindu fakirs and other practitioners of mental disciplines are often presented as examples of the unlimited powers of the mind, and with more justification. But even many of these claims do not hold up under investigation, and the ones that do can be explained in terms of the extremely specialized training of a normal mind. After all, mystical explanations are not necessary to account for the performance of a great violinist, or a great athlete, even though most of us could not even begin to approach their powers. The yogi, similarly, is a virtuoso of the control of consciousness. Like all virtuosi, he must spend many years learning, and he must keep constantly in training. Being a specialist, he cannot afford the time or the mental energy to do anything other than fine-tune his skill at manipulating inner experiences. The skills the yogi gains are at the expense of the more mundane abilities that other people learn to develop and take for granted. What an individual yogi can do is amazing—but so is what a plumber can do, or a good mechanic.
Under the influence of Buddhism, the chaotic forces of nature, variously feared and honored by the shamanic tradition, were made to fit harmoniously into the Indian cosmological model. Old shamanic rites were adopted by the Buddhist clergy and heavily overlaid with Buddhist liturgy and symbolism. Monks adorned their temples with such archaic paraphernalia as the shaman’s divination arrow, his magic mirror, and his precious pieces of fine rock crystal. They appropriated the shaman’s bow and arrow and drum, and the broad, fur-trimmed hat and gown of the “black-hat sorcerer” festooned with shamanic symbols of the cosmic tree (or world mountain), sun and moon, snake-like ribbons and the divination mirror, with trimmings of bone, fur, and feathers.
What sanctifies the [Hindu] worshipper is no act of conversion, no change of spirit, but the simple act of seeing, the Hindi word darsan. A Hindu goes to a temple not to ‘worship’ but rather “for darsan,” to see the image of the deity.
Darsan is a two-way flow of vision. While the devotee sees the god, so too the god sees the devotee, and the two make contact through their eyes.
The bulbous or saucer eyes that make Indian paintings of gods seem bizarre to us are clues to the dominance of vision in the Hindu’s relation to this gods. Many gods, like Siva and Ganesa, have a third eye in the center of their forehead.
While “seeing” brought sanctity and satisfaction to the Hindu, the Western religions of Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam found their way through the Word.
Western religious traditions were wary of the seen, of the image….
The tactical use of elephants, originating earlier in India, was brought forcibly to the Western military mind at the Hydaspes, where both the potentialities and the limitations of the war elephant were demonstrated. Alexander’s horses refused to face the beasts, yet his disciplined phalanx, despite initial surprise and dismay, eventually turned the elephants back in panic-stricken flight. Seleucus’ impressions, however, were sufficiently favorable for him—20 years later—to cede substantial territory to Chandragupta in exchange for 500 elephants, which he proceeded to use to advantage in his victory at Ipsus. After that time the use of the war elephant spread rapidly to Greece and Carthage. That the beast was a valuable weapon is clear from its use by such objective warriors as Hannibal and Pyrrhus….
As proven at Beneventum and Heraclea, elephants were most successful when used against troops unacquainted with them. Disciplined and resourceful opponents, however, could stampede the elephants, which then became more dangerous to friend than foe. For this reason, the war elephant’s mahout (driver) carried a steel spike to hammer into the beast’s brain should he stampede.
— The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 40