Many Paths to One God
Hindu scriptures may be broadly divided into two categories based on their traditional means of transmission:
Shruti or sruti (hearing) and
1. Vedas (Shruti)
The Sruti include deeply religious things communicated to a seer and recorded.
The oldest and most revered of Hindu texts are the Vedas. Vedas are the basis of much of the Hindu wisdom and teachings.
The Vedas were transmitted orally and are known as shruti (hearing). Not only the contents of these texts but also the sounds of the words themselves are considered sacred. They are believed to be of divine origin, containing eternal truths of the universe that were revealed to - heard by - rishis (seers) and sages, who preserved and passed on the sacred knowledge.
Vedas constitute the Divine knowledge. They preach the eternal Truth. Following vedas ensures law, order and discipline in the society. Believed to be the very breathe of the Ultimate Lord or “
Brahman”, Vedas are said to be given by Him alone and not authored by human
beings. Vedas are the Truth embodied and studied and practiced by the sages of yore who are pioneers of the
Mantra (sacred verses).
"The Vedas are the quintessence of classical Hindu philosophy. Thinking with your heart; loving with your mind. All yoga and meditation aim to attain this goal. Anything else is delusion, or worse. And when the heart sees, it sees the unknowable, nameless, formless, limitless, supreme God. He is called the nonexistent because he is eternal, beyond existence. God manifest is the fabric of creation itself. They are one. The heart that learns to think realizes this truth and merges into the eternal oneness. As William Blake put it, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite."
"The Vedas hold within them enough information to rebuild human civilization from scratch, if necessary. I think someone did believe that might be necessary one day."
"The Vedas still represent eternal truth in the purest form ever written."
"The level of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom contained in the Vedic hymns does not just spring out of nowhere. Nor does the language containing these, mankind's loftiest thoughts. The great Rig Veda, in ten thousand verses, contains an astounding stock of some thirty-five thousand words, all of them imbued with great elasticity and enormous potentiality for the coming of new terms."
"For the Vedic sages, the three great Realities were Creator, Creation and Language - all sacred, all interlinked."
Excerpted from: "Empire of the Soul: Some journeys in India"
by Paul William Roberts.
Vedas (vid = knowledge) are the true knowledge. They are also `apara
vidyas' (worldly education) because they teach what to aspire for in this world and what not to aspire for, what is the right attitude of a man in this world, and how to go about to attain what you are aspiring for. Through them, you can achieve
Dharma (right conduct), Artha (wealth) and
Kama (Wordly Desires including sex, power and fame) -the first three of `Purusharthas”- the four desirable achievements of a human being. The fourth one is
Moksha (liberation) which is attained through Upanishads- the later parts of vedas (called vedanta ). Upanishads are `para vidya' ,the knowledge about the achieving the liberation.
Vedas are mostly told in Verse form. These verses are sacred and cannot be chanted as and when liked or without the proper nishta. The intonation and meter and spelling are a must for vedas. The verses are called
'mantras' (sacred hymns) in sanskrit and they
are supposed to be having super natural powers.
“Ananto Vaidah”: vedas are endless. Basically in the olden days, all compilations of knowledge went by the name of vedas and hence they became too numerous to be counted. They were very difficult to study and understand in the beginning . It was Vyaasa who has segregated them and
reorganized them into first three ( and hence the name “trayee”-triad) and later into
four, so that it is easier to study.
All the Rks are sorted into Rgveda, all the Yajurs into Yajur veda and all samas into Sama Veda. The adharva mantras constitute Advarva Veda.
The Vedas are made up of four compositions, and each veda in turn has four parts which are arranged chronologically.
The Samhitas are the most ancient part of the Vedas, consisting of hymns of praise to God.
The Brahmanas (sacrificial rituals) These are commentary to
samhitas. They are rich in narrative tales and technical discussions about sacrificial rites.
They guide the priests in their duties. The yajnas, their methods and methodologies, procedures, are known from Brahmanas. Satha patha Brahmaniyam, Taittreya brhamana, Aiithereya Brahmanas, Govadha Brhamana, Shadwinsha Brahmana are some of the Brahmanas now available to
Hindus with many of them lost to the mankind. Every Branch (`saka') of the samhitas has Brhamanas attached to it.
The Aranyakas (forest treatises) concern worship and
meditation and contain more esoteric ritual formulas for the spiritually advanced, who
favored withdrawal from the world. Taittereya aranyaka, Aithereya aranyaka etc exist now.
Dharma, ( correct path to follow) Achara, (tradition) vidhi,
(procedure and duty) nishedha (prohibitions) are some of the aspects talked about in these aranyakas. They are studied by those who resided in the forests.
The Aranyakas constitute the Brahma kanda -the last section of Karma
kanda ( the treatise on rituals). Brahma Kanda pertains to the right course of conduct and Yajna and yagas.
There are several more Brahamanas and Aranyanakas- Devatadhyaya, Samhthopanishad, Samavidhana, Panchavinsa(Tandya),
Shadwinsha, Arsheya, Upanishad brahamana etc
The Upanishads (108 sacred teachings) Upanishads are the vedanta-or the
sirovedas. (Head of vedas ) vedanta mean end of vedas.`End' meaning in both the senses that the last part as well as aim.
Upanishads focus on questions of the self and the self's relationship with the cosmos. In these philosophical texts, the concept of
brahman as a world soul pervading the universe and each individual being
(atman) is developed, while the need for ritualized sacrifice progressively diminishes.
Samhitas are made of Mantras-sacred hymns written to meter and have to be read in the proper tune
(`swara'). They mostly consist of invocations to the Early Gods of Sanathana Dharma- Indra, Varuna, Yama,
Surya etc. These gods are relegated to second order in time , with
Trimurties (Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva who are responsible for the generation, operation and destruction as per Hindu mythology.
The Samhitas are totally five since Yajur Veda has two parts - Krshna Yajur samhita and Sukla Yajur samhita. These Samhitas consists of 20389 slokas ( Rig-10552, Sama-1875, Yajur or Vajasayina samhita-1975, Atharva - 5987)
Rig-Veda Samhita (c. 1200 BCE) is the oldest of the four vedas and consists of 1028 hymns in praise of thirty-three gods and refers to rituals associated with these gods.
Yajur-Veda Samhita is used as a handbook by priests performing the vedic sacrifices.
Sama-Veda Samhita sets the verses of the Rig Veda to music, to be sung during sacrificial rites.
Atharva-Veda Samhita (c. 900 BCE) preserves many traditions which pre-date the Aryan influence and consists of spells, charms and magical formulae.
The Upanishads (Vedanta)
Central to the Upanishads is the concept of brahman; the sacred power which informs reality.
Vedic Linguistics or The Vedic Science of Language
Vedas and Vedic Concepts
A second category of authoritative sacred texts were authored by humans under divine inspiration. These are known as smriti (remembering). The smriti texts are more popular and easy to understand. Many of them are popularly remembered and passed from generation to generation. They include the law (books of laws), puranas (myths, stories, legends) and epics (sets of holy myths including Ramayana and
Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita
Chandi (part of the Markandeya Purana)
The smriti tradition made the divine wisdom more relevant to the lives of ordinary human beings. The earlier Vedic texts emphasized sacrificial ritual as a means of addressing and appeasing the gods. The later Vedic texts such as the Upanishads described the divine as the omnipotent and impersonal
In the smriti texts, in marked contrast to earlier vedas, god is described as much more personal, entering into the lives of humans by creating them, loving them, inspiring them to worship and ultimately, through divine grace, saving them.
The earlier shruti vedas and the later smriti texts can be compared to Old Testament and New testament
of Christians in their philosophy in terms of approaching god.
Hindus often recite verses from the smriti texts in an individual's daily meditation. The stories from these texts are repeated by priests, grandmothers and storytellers as a means of inspiring moral living.
Bhagavad Gita (Gita)
The Code Of Manu
There are six orthodox schools of
Hindu philosophy, or darshanas, which are based on the Vedas (including
the Upanishads and Gitas). These are known as astika or orthodox.
The six astika schools are:
Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta)
Nyaya means logical analysis.
Those who subscribe to this philosophy believe that by the use of
perception valid knowledge resulting in moksha could be acquired. The
perception includes the senses and insight, inference, analogy, and
Vaishesika derives from a term
meaning a category of knowledge denoting essential difference,
individuality, or particularity. Vaishesika school pays great importance
to the concept of substance. Substance is said to be made of five
elements, viz., earth, water, light, air, and ether. Other concepts that
are important in Vaishesika school include the concepts of time, space,
the essence of being (the atman) and mind. Everything has its unique
essence or its particularity. Release is obtained by recognizing the
atomic nature of the universe, recognizing the difference between matter
and soul and the separation of the two. Ethical conduct was important in
achieving this goal.
Samkhya is one of the oldest known philosophical system
in the world. It can be traced back the the Indus valley civilization,
(circa about 1700 BCE) even though the writings of its
legendary founder, the Samkhya-karika, only belong to the third century
Samkyha means 'enumeration'. It is a dualistic system which
postulates two ultimate or eternal realities: purusha and prakriti.
The principle behind Samkhya is the
complete cessation of pain and suffering. This is attained through yoga. Samkhya
teaches that individual souls (Purushas) and matter (Prakriti) have
existed since time immemorial: both are uncreated. Purusha is neither
produced (created) or productive. Prakriti is also unproduced but is
productive. Thus it changes and evolves, although it can never be
'The complete cessation of pain is
the goal of humanity.' according to Kapila, the sage
who is regarded as the originator of Samkhya.
Pain is an awareness of
dissatisfaction, alienation from the cause of bliss or peace, craving
after illusory goals, or wrong attachment. It may not involve physical
suffering as we normally expect it to be.
According to samkhya philosophy,
the cause of pain could be traced to the soul or
cosmic spirit (purusha) which is not identical with the body or matter (prakriti).
The purusha, although free, but is so caught up with matter that it
appears to be in bondage to it. This results in the pain.
the existence of purusha takes the form of the awareness which human
beings have of a state which transcends the realities of phenomenal
experience, and the desire to attain it. The existence of prakriti is
self-evident. Samkhya divides prakriti into twenty-four parts, of which the most important
are the three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas.
Sattva is potential consciousness,
goodness, pleasure, pain, bewilderment. It binds the purusha to things like wisdom and joy,
thus apparently depriving it of freedom.
Rajas is activity or passion.
It leads to craving and desire.
Tamas is darkness, the coarse quality
which results in ignorance.
Liberation is obtained by freeing
the purusha from the influence of sattva, rajas, and tamas. Once it is
set free, the purusha can enjoy kaivalyam, isolation.
outlined in samkhya have to be controlled and their influence
eliminated. This is done through yoga.
Yoga is one of the six astika
schools of philosophy. Yoga is often perceived as a physical discipline.
However, in yoga, control of the
body can be achieved by
sitting in a comfortable chair; it does not necessarily has to involve
complex asenas or poses.
Yoga philosophy recognizes the
concept of Ishvara. Ishvara means Lord. It is mentioned in the Yoga Sutra.
The worship of God is very important for some
seekers after perfection. It describes Ishvara thus:
Ishvara is a special type of
spirit, untouched by suffering, works (karma), or the result of works or
impressions. In him is the highest knowledge of everything. He was guru
of the ancients and is not limited by time.
Yoga also recognizes bhakti as an object of devotion, a help
to meditation, and concentration, and a model of perfection.
See Also: Yoga
Infocenter in Holisticonline.com
'Enquiry' is coupled with Vedanta,
but was merely an exposition of the Vedas rather that a way of
liberation. Eventually, it affirmed that moksha was to be obtained by
respect for the Vedas and observation of the rituals included in them.
It later tended to merge with Vedanta, and was therefore sometimes
called Uttara Mimamsa, or later Mimamsa.
Vedanta means the Veda's end, and has also been
described as complete knowledge of the Vedas and is used to refer to the
philosophies which began with the Upanishads (which are themselves
philosophical treatises in the form of the teachings of gurus to their
4. Tantras (Agama & Nigama)
Tantras ('looms') are divided along sectarian lines and reflect the religious beliefs and practices of medieval India. They deal with four different subjects: philosophy, yoga or concentration techniques, ritual (including the making of icons and the building of temples), and the conduct of religious worship and social practice.
Each of the Hindu religious groups has its own tradition of sacred literature, and following the three major divisions the Tantras are divided into three classes, namely: