Mathomathis would like to discuss on Vedas and Upanishads in length and detail. The following article was written by Kadambi Srinivasan Published by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams 2019.
The word “Veda” has been interpreted in a number of ways by scholars.
- The word Veda originates from the Sanskrit root Vid:- “Vid” means to know. The word “Veda” then literally means knowledge.
- The word Veda also means “to be”. It is concerned with “astiva” – existence. That which creates awareness in a man about his own existence is called Veda.
- Veda could also be interpreted to mean “to think”. The process of thinking awakens discretion in a man leading him to be wise and judicious. Thus the knowledge which helps him to distinguish between Sat and Asat is Veda.
- Veda could be interpreted to mean accomplishment. Thus the knowledge which helps a man realize his supreme goal is Veda. Veda has also been interpreted as ‘the means by which, or in which all persons know, acquire mastery in, deliberate over the various lore’s or live or subsist upon them.’
Yet, the Vedas are not documents of yester years. The Vedas have been accepted, without any dispute, as the most ancient book in the in the Sanskrit world. They have been there for thousands of years. Many argue that Veda is oldest book, not just in the Sanskrit world, but anywhere in the world. Author comes to this argument a little later in this section. The Vedic literature is composed of many books. The oldest texts are the four Vedas – Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and the Atharva/Atharvana-Veda. It is said that the Vedas had 21, 109, 1000 and 50 branches respectively with over 100,000 verses. Today we may find only around 20,379 verses in total from these four Vedas.
And interestingly, they are not considered to have been authored by some poets or authors. They are regarded as divine in origin and referred to as “apaurusheya”. Veda is not an acquired knowledge. They are not products of reasoning or intellect. They have been accorded the position of revealed scriptures and are revered in Vedic religious tradition. It is the sublime knowledge revealed by the Supreme Divinity to great Rishis or Seers (Drashtas) during their meditation. These Rishis were merely instruments of God to spread His word. The Vedas are the God’s gift to the man. Shri Aurobindo says they contain the ‘divine knowledge’ revealed to the great Rishis in their “Supra-normal Consciousness”. Whatever was ‘heard’ or ‘revealed’ to the great Rishis was presented in the Vedas and the Upanishads. From thereon, over the Millennia the Vedas have been handed over from generation to generation by oral tradition and hence the name “Shruti” or “that which is heard”. For this reason, the Vedas are known as Shruti literature.
A number of people think that the Vedas are solely meant for spiritual contemplation. This is not correct. Discussions regarding the relationship between Jiva and Paramatma appear in the concluding sections of the Vedas – the Vedanta or Upanishads. Vedas also contain worldly and divine concepts. The Vedas were created for the welfare of the mankind. The motive of the Vedas is to help man to remain happy in the materialistic world – even though he might have failed to understand the main purpose of life in this world. Creation by the Lord is seen as a more meticulously planned effort than is commonly understood. Before the creation of living beings (both Chetana and Achetana) questions such as – what will they breathe, what will they eat, how should they conduct themselves, how will they survive, how will they populate etc. have all been addressed. The stage was set before the arrival of living beings. Further, man needed guidance on personal conduct and actions (what is a good conduct and what is not), interactions and his responsibilities (to the society, family, ancestors).
Before the creation of man, the Lord created Pancha Maha Bhutas to fulfil the requirements of the physical body. Similarly, he presented the Vedas for the sake of the embodied soul as a guide on other matters. The Rig Veda is a storehouse of information on the lifestyle, religious, social and cultural practices of the people of the Vedic age. The suitable aspects of living a happy and healthy life by practicing meditation and Yoga, etc. are mentioned in a detailed manner in the Rig Veda. Today, this text is revered by Vedic followers (Hindu) around the world, primarily in India and Nepal. Its verses are recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions. The Vedas are considered to be full of all kinds of knowledge, and an infallible guide for a man in his quest for the four goals – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. As such, the knowledge revealed to the ancient sages bears the hallmark of a Divine source. Traditionally, the following features are attributed to the Vedas.
Ananta: Veda is Anantha – infinite. Only an infinitesimal portion of it is revealed to humans. This can be understood in the sense that knowledge is infinite. However, Veda is the knowledge of Brahman, the True, Absolute and the Infinite. And the essence of Veda is said to be understood if one knows the infinite, i.e., opens up to the infinite Self.
Anadi: Veda is Anadi, having no beginning or end. It said to exist eternally. It is referred to as the breath of Paramatma. However, this is a poetic expression. This does not literally mean Paramatma has a breath but just the way breath exists with a person’s life similarly Veda exists with God/creation.
Apaurusheya: Veda is Apaurusheya, not authored by humans. The seers are said to reveal Veda mantras to the world, they are called “Drastas”. Vak exists in four forms and the learned know of them. Three are hidden and the fourth is what men speak. The four forms are – Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Para is the eternal form of Vak. Pasyanti is when a seer envisions the mantra. Madhyama is when it descends into mind plane. Vaikhari is the expression. Thus the Veda mantras exist eternally, they are only revealed to the world by the seers.
The Vedic literature is also known by other names such as –
- Nigama: Traditional wisdom transmitted from generation to generation
- Amnaaya: The root texts of Hindu tradition
- Trayi: Vedic texts comprising of versified mantras, prose mantras and melodies
True, the sages might have acquired the verbal form during certain period in history. Indian scholars have dated even this verbal form to be anywhere between 6000 to 24,000 years B.C. The truths revealed by the Vedas are beyond the influence of time. Time or place can not affect the significance of the knowledge ‘contained’ in the Vedas. For that reason, the Vedas are adjudged the Swatah Pramana or self-evident. That means their truths do not need any proof, support or elaboration. Their validity is built-in. They constitute the first significant utterances on the lips of the man.
Shruti, the revealed knowledge, is accepted as a means of gaining valid knowledge about the Reality. It is the Shabda Pramana. Discussions on this are presented in another section of this book. Vedas formed the basis of religion and philosophy and even today they are authoritative in those fields for Hinduism. For this reason any other Hindu scripture must agree with the Vedas in order to be considered an authority. Schools of philosophy which reject the authority of the Vedas are considered “Naastika”, while schools which accept Vedic authority, are considered “Astika”.
“The message that the Vedas convey unites all worshippers as surely as the dogmas of the ignorant divide. Against such a background, Hinduism developed an attitude of comprehensive charity instead of fanatic faith. It is completely free from the attitude that a certain religious metaphysics is essential for salvation, and non-acceptance thereof is a heinous sin. In other words, it did not regard that its mission is to convert humanity to any one opinion. Hinduism does not believe in bringing about a mechanical uniformity of belief or worship by forcibly eliminating all that it is not in agreement with. It does not say that Moksha is limited to only those who hold a specific view of God’s nature and worship. Such exclusive view is in-consistent with an all loving universal God”.
Worshippers of different Gods and followers of different faiths were taken into Hindu fold. The addition of new gods to the Hindu pantheon does not endanger it. The main note of Hinduism is one of respect and goodwill for other creeds. What counts is conduct and not belief. It accepts and allows each group to arrive at the truth by its own traditions and by means of discipline of mind and morals. Error in individuals is a sign of immaturity and not a grievous sin.
Vedas as the source of development “ Ekam sat vipraha bahuda vadanti” – meaning The Real is essentially One only, though the sages speak about it variously owing to the planes in which One is seen. Inadequate understanding by some western thinkers led to Hinduism being labelled as “henotheism” – essentially suggesting opportunistic monotheism. This flies against the Upanishadic explanation that all things and beings are God – because they form the body and function of the Brahman- “Sarvam Kalvidam Brahma”. The view presented by the Upanishads is that every prayer addressed to any of the gods and goddesses ultimately get directly referred to One Supreme Being. So common sense polytheism inherent in hierarchy is not in every sense contradictory to monotheism. While on this topic, one is reminded of two magnificent Sooktas – The Purusha Sookta and the Nasadiya Sookta.