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Hindu Scriptures (a) : Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism… (Part 6)

Some Interesting Questions about  Hinduism… (Part 6)

Hindu Scriptures2

Almost all major religions of the world have have One Book and One God which basically defines the philosophy of the faith, the rules and regulations, Do’s and Don’ts for the followers of those religions. And at the fundamental level itself there is a huge difference when we talk about Hinduism.

There is no single book which describes the Hinduism completely, its a very flexible religion and there are a number of texts/ scriptures which talk about a lot of things which may help a human being live a full and enjoyable life in collaboration with nature and other living beings. Ever living creature is considered a creation of God (Brahma – the creator of the world) and they all have their own purpose of life. Human beings must live a balanced life in relationship to the other elements of nature. Hindu literature can be divided into two categories: Shruti (verbal) that which is revealed, and Smriti (remembrance) –that which is remembered.

Vedas are considered the most ancient text of Hinduism (and probably human beings on earth) – created by Brahma, the creator of the world. The Vedas constituting Shruti, are considered divinely revealed and are thus sacred scripture. Other texts, like the various Shastras, Granthas and Puranas form smriti, written by people based on their experience of the event which actually happened on the earth. Even though the Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Mahabharata (Grantha) and thus a smriti, it is considered to be a shruti text by most Hindus because, it was suppose to be revealed to Arjuna by Lord Krishna (human incarnation of Lord Vishnu) during the great war of Mahabharata at Kurukshetra.  All shruti scriptures are composed in Sanskrit.

Hindu Scriptures

  • Vedas

The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They also had a vast influence on other religions which branched out of Hinduism e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Traditionally the text of the Vedas was coeval with the universe.

Scholars have determined that the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas, was composed about 1500 B.C., and codified about 600 B.C. It is unknown when it was finally committed to writing, but this probably was at some point after 300 B.C. The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. Along with the Book of the Dead, the Enuma Elish, the I Ching, and the Avesta, they are among the most ancient religious texts still in existence.

Besides their spiritual value, they also give a unique view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago. The Vedas are also the most ancient extensive texts in an Indo-European language, and as such are invaluable in the study of comparative linguistics.

The Vedas originally comes under the Shruti (Verbal) category of Hindu scriptures. They were supposed to be written in the form they are available today by Veda Vyasa, who also wrote Mahabharata and Srimad Bhaagwat, which is considered equivalent to a 5th Veda, since it deals with the complete timelines of Hindu history.

The Vedas form the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and are the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. According to the Rigveda, the Vedic Mantras were composed by various seers who had seen them in deep meditation. However, to post-Vedic tradition, the Vedas are apaurusheyatva ‘not human compositions’, being supposedly directly revealed, and thus are called Shruti (verbal). A number of Vedic mantras are recited as Hindu prayers, at religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

The philosophies and religious sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken various positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as ‘orthodox’ school of thoughts. Even other religious philosophies developed in India, which became separate religions later on, such as, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. do not deny the Vedas as ancient scriptures. In Hindu philosophy these groups are referred to as ‘heterodox’ or ‘non-Vedic’ schools of thoughts.

There are four Vedas 1) Rigveda, 2) Samaveda, 3) Yajurveda, and 4) Atharvaveda. They are transmitted in various branches of knowledge. Depending on the branch, various early different commentaries and instructions are associated with each Veda.

  • The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) addressed to the gods that contain much of the sacred history of India and most ancient Vedic ritual practice;

RigVeda

  • The Samaveda consists almost exclusively of mantras from the Rigveda arranged in an order that was used for singing at the Soma sacrifice;

SamVeda

  • The Yajurveda contains prose mantras and verses extracted from the Rigveda used in ritual, in addition to detailed prose ‘commentaries’ on the sacrifices;

Yajur-Veda

  • The Atharvaveda comprises incantations against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and for atonement of mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as hymns dealing with household and royal rites, and in the speculative books some spiritual content.

AtharvaVeda

  • Each of the four Veda has traditionally been divided into several sections.
    • The Mantra portion, also called the Saṃhita, is a collection of hymns and prose mantras to be used in Vedic sacrifices.
    • The Brahmas portion, contains the explanation of some of the mantras as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.
    • The Brahmaṇas are liturgical manuals regarding the procedure of the Saṃhitas. They may be further divided into Araṇyakas and the Upaniṣhads, which mainly contain early philosophical and metaphysical texts about the nature of macrocosm (the gods and the universe), the procedures of ritual to please the gods – Yagya and microcosm (humans) as well as the relationship between the soul (Atma) and the universe (Brahma).

The Upanishads are often referred to collectively as Vedanta ‘the end of the Vedas’, not only because they appear physically in the concluding sections of each Veda, but also because their teachings are traditionally seen as the culmination of all other Vedic knowledge.

  • Upanishads

Upanishads

All Upanishads are associated with one of the four Vedas. The Upanishads are a continuation of the Vedic philosophy and were written approximately between 800 and 400 B.C. Upanishads are like the discussion between various intellectuals/ scholars who are well versed with the Vedas and are trying to further fine-tune the Hinduism’s philosophy and thought process. While the hymns of the Vedas emphasize rituals and the Brahmanas serve as a liturgical manual for those Vedic rituals, the spirit of the Upanishads is inherently opposed to ritual. The older Upanishads launch attacks of increasing intensity on the ritual. Anyone who worships a divinity other than the Self is called a domestic animal of the gods in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Chandogya Upanishad parodies those who indulge in the acts of sacrifice by comparing them with a procession of dogs chanting Om! Let’s eat. Om! Let’s drink. The Mundaka launches the most scathing attack on the ritual by comparing those who value sacrifice with an unsafe boat that is endlessly overtaken by old age and death.

The opposition to the ritual is not explicit all the time. On several occasions the Upanishads extend the task of the Aranyakas by making the ritual allegorical and giving it a philosophical meaning. For example, the Brihadaranyaka interprets the practice of horse-sacrifice ritual or ashvamedha Yagya allegorically. It states that the over-lordship of the earth may be acquired by sacrificing a horse. It then goes on to say that spiritual autonomy can only be achieved by renouncing the universe which is conceived in the image of a horse. In similar fashion, the pattern of reducing the number of gods in the Vedas becomes more emphatic in the Upanishads. When Yajnavalkaya is asked how many gods exist, he decrements the number successively by answering thirty-three, six, three, two, one and a half and finally one. Vedic gods such as the Rudras, Visnu, Brahma are gradually subordinated to the supreme, immortal and incorporeal Brahman of the Upanishads. In fact Indra and the supreme deity of the Brahamanas, Prajapati, are made door keepers to the Brahman’s residence in the Kausitaki Upanishad. In short, the one reality or ekam sat of the Vedas becomes the ekam eva a-dvitiyam or “the one and only and sans a second” in the Upanishads.

The Upanishads

Upanishads elaborate on how the soul (Atma) can be united with the ultimate truth (Supreme power, The God, Brahma) through contemplation and mediation, as well as the doctrine of Karma – the cumulative effects of a persons’ actions. The Upanishads is a Sanskrit word literally meaning ‘sitting near, laying siege to a Teacher’  to acquire knowledge. They are part of the shruti and primarily discuss early philosophy; they also contain accounts of various debates between contemporary priests and sages. There are more than 200 known Upanishads, one of which, the Muktikā, gives a list of 108 Upanishads – this number corresponding to the holy Hindu number of beads on a mala or Hindu rosary. These 108 Upanishads are known to have been in existence by the mid 17th century, when the Muktika canon is first attested. These 108 texts span a historical period of about 2000 years, the earliest or mukhya ‘primary’ ones dating to the final centuries BCE and the latest to the Mughal Dynasty Rule in India

Two words that are of paramount importance in grasping the Upanishads are Brahma and Atma. The Brahma is the universal spirit and the Atman is the individual Self. Differing opinions exist amongst scholars regarding the etymology of these words. Brahma probably comes from the root brh, which means ‘The Biggest ~ The Greatest ~ The All inclusive’. Brahma is ‘the infinite Spirit Source’ and fabric and core and destiny of all existence, both manifested and unmanifested and the formless infinite substratum and from whom the universe has grown’. Brahma is the ultimate, both transcendent and immanent, the absolute infinite existence, the sum total of all that ever is, was, or shall be. The word Atma means the immortal perfect Spirit of any living creature, being, including trees etc. The idea put forth by the Upanishada Seers that Atma and Brahma are One and the same is one of the greatest contributions made to the thought of the world (Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahma – the God is within each one of us)

The Brihadaranyaka and the Chandogya are the most important of the primary Upanishads. They represent two main schools of thought within the Upanishads. The Brihadaranyaka deals with acosmic or nis-prapancha, whereas the Chandogya deals with the cosmic or sa-prapancha.  The Upanishads also contain the first and most definitive explications of the divine syllable Aum (OM) the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence. The mantra Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti, translated as ‘the soundless sound, peace, peace, peace’, is often found in the Upanishads. The path of bhakti or ‘Devotion to God’ is foreshadowed in Upanishadic literature, and was later realized by texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.

Hindu scriptures1

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2 thoughts on “Hindu Scriptures (a) : Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism… (Part 6)

  1. Pingback: An interesting communication between Tulsidas and Rahim… | Whatever It's Worth...

  2. Pingback: Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism…(Part 1) | Whatever It's Worth...

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