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Many Paths to One God

Hindu Scriptures

Hindu scriptures may be broadly divided into two categories based on their traditional means of transmission:
Shruti or sruti (hearing) and 
Smriti (remembering).

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.

The Samhitas

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. More.

Yajur-Veda Samhita is used as a handbook by priests performing the vedic sacrifices. More.

Sama-Veda Samhita sets the verses of the Rig Veda to music, to be sung during sacrificial rites. More.

Atharva-Veda Samhita (c. 900 BCE) preserves many traditions which pre-date the Aryan influence and consists of spells, charms and magical formulae. More.

The Upanishads (Vedanta) Central to the Upanishads is the concept of brahman; the sacred power which informs reality.

See Also: 

Vedic Linguistics or The Vedic Science of Language

Vedas and Vedic Concepts

2. Smriti

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).

a. Law-books 
Manu Smriti 

b. Epics
Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita

c. Puranas
Markandeya, etc.
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 brahman.

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.

More Information

Bhagavad Gita (Gita)

The Puranas

The Code Of Manu

3. Darshanas

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:

Purva Mimamsa
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 verbal testimony.


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 CE.

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 destroyed.

'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. 

Evidence for 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.

The categories 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 disciples).

4. Tantras (Agama & Nigama)

Rudra Yamala
Vishnu Yamala
Brahma Yamala
Tantraraja, etc.

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:


Shaiva Agamas


Vaishnava Samhitas


Shakta Tantras


According to the different levels of conditioned consciousness there are instructions in the Vedas for worship of different controllers, with the aim of reaching different destinations and enjoying different standards of sense enjoyment. Agamas (emanated scriptures) are books which are classified into five for this purpose:

energy - Sakti - Sakta Agamas 
visible source (Sun) - Surya - Soura Agamas 
controller - Ganapati - Ganapatya Agamas 
destroyer - Siva - Saiva Agamas 
ultimate source - Visnu - Vaikhanasa Agamas

All these form part of Veda abhyasa- the instructons on Veda.

Tantrism, which appeared from the fifth century CE- onwards, is based on mystic speculations concerning the divine creative energy. Tantrism is a method of conquering transcendent powers and realizing oneness with the highest principle by yogic and ritual means, partly magical and orgiastic in character. Tantrics believe in a strong parallelism between macrocosm and microcosm. The macrocosm is conceived as a complex system of powers which can be activated within the body of a devotee who, through the performance of the relevant rites, transforms the normal, chaotic state of his body into a 'cosmos'. 

In Tantric worship, devotees often ascribe esoteric meanings to their texts and make wide use of mantras.

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