The Veda is the original seed from which the huge banyan tree of Hinduism has evolved. Hence it is the primary scripture of Hinduism. Vedas are also called Sruti or the Revealed Word. It means Vedas were not created by a human being. It was revealed to the Rishis.
Originally these Vedas were not written down but memorized and transmitted orally from teacher to disciple. It was the sage Krishna-Dwaipayana (Vedavyasa) who collected the mantras, grouped them into four and taught his four disciples. These mantras came to be known as the four Vedas – Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda. Each Veda is again divided into four sections:
- Samhita (collection of mantras),
- Brahmana (liturgical instruction, generally in prose)
- Aranyaka (symbolical contemplation of Vedic rituals)
- Upanishad (metaphysical reflections).
If Vedanta is the pinnacle of all the Hindu philosophical systems, the Rgveda is its mother-foot. Almost all the ideas found later, in the Upanishads and allied scriptures, are already there in the Rgveda in a seed form, though not in one place.
Philosophy of the Rgveda:
- God alone existed before creation and that He is the creator, protector, and ruler of this world.
- The aim of life is to attain God.
- What keeps the human beings away from God is sin, evil ways of living. Hence one should pray to Him for forgiveness, for being freed from sins and be guided on the path of righteousness.
The Yajurveda Samhita is in two major forms: the Krishna (Black) and the Sukla (White). Its main use is in the performance of the Vedic sacrificed.
It comprises mostly of the Rgvedic mantras set to the Saptasvara system (the seven basic notes of Indian music), to be sung at appropriate places in a sacrifice (Yajna). Hence is said it is the origin of Indian classical music. Another specialty of this Veda is the high kind of Bhakti sentiments and prayers.
It deals more with the things here and now than the hereafter. A major part of this Veda deals with diseases and their cure, rites for prolonging life, rites for fulfilling one’s desires, building construction, trade, commerce, statecraft, penances, and also black magic.
The Upanishad is the section of the Vedas which is accepted as the highest authority. Since it is accepted as Sruti, it cannot be questioned, altered or rejected. The truths revealed in the Upanishads are universal, eternal and are not subject to change in time or place.
Every religious movement in India was directly or indirectly influenced by the Upanishad. Sankara (A.D.788-820) is the earliest to write commentaries on the ten cardinal Upanishads.
There are over 200 Upanishads in print. However, only ten to fifteen Upanishads (especially those that Sankara had written commentaries or referred in his commentaries) had gained popularity and are accepted as authoritative. The list is given according to the Veda to which the Upanishad belongs:
For further reading:
THE BHAGAVAD GITA
- Popularly known as Gita. It is a part of the great epic, the Mahabharata.
- The Gita contains wonderful ideas of ethics; religion and philosophy rolled into one integrated unit and can easily be declared as the Book for all the Hindus of the modern age. A ceremonial reading of the book or even a part thereof is believed to confer great religious merit (punya).
Special contribution of the Gita to Hindu Philosophy:
- The Doctrine of Niskama-karma-yoga
According to Sri Krishna, any act of an individual, involving the sacrifice of selfishness and done for the public good can also be a yagna (sacrifice). (Gita 4.25-30)
What really binds an individual is not the work itself, but the selfish desire for its fruits. One who performs his duties for duties sake, and not craving for the result, or by offering the result to God is said to be yogi.
- The Doctrine of Avatara
Though the idea of an Avatara appears in the Rgveda (3.53.8; 6.47.19), only in the Bhagavadgita this idea assumes a more definite and clear concept. Here Sri Krishna explains the reason or condition for the descent of the Supreme Lord in a human form.
- The Doctrine of Integral Yoga
Taking into account the different types of human nature, four types of yoga are mentioned in the scriptures. It can be grouped as:
- Karma Yoga – The path of work for the active people
- Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge for the philosophical type
- Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion for the emotional type.
- Raja Yoga – the path of psychic control for the psychic.
Sri Krishna teaches Arjuna all the four types of yoga and advises him to follow that which suits him the most. A combination of all these four aspects of yogas can be practiced by a person, keeping that yoga which suits one’s nature better, as the main discipline.
The complete Bhagavadgita is available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/
Other related reading:
Agamas are a special class of Hindu religiophilosophical literature handed down through a succession of teachers from the most ancient days. It is more closely connected with rituals and temple culture. There are three kinds of Agamas – the Saiva, the Sakta and the Vaishnava.
It is also known as Samhita and Mahatantra. It is divided into two groups: pradhanagamas and upagamas.
Anyone who wishes to practice the disciplines of the Saivagamas has to undergo Diksha or initiation.
It is popularly known as the Tantras. It is a literature primarily devoted to the Sakti or Devi cult and it contains religion, philosophy, esoteric and occult rites, astronomy, astrology, medicine, and prognostications. The philosophy of the Saktagamas seems to be an amalgamation and modification of the principles propounded by the Sankhya and the Vedanta Darsanas.
The Vaishnavagamas has split into two sampradayas (traditions). They are:
The Pancaratra Agamas belongs to the Vaishnava cult. It deals with the descriptions of mantras, yantras, ritual, temple worships, installation of deities, and so on. Even today, most of the Vaishnava temples, especially in South India.
The philosophy of the Pancaratra Agamas:
Though yajna (Vedic sacrifices), dana (giving gifts), svadhyaya (study of the scriptures) and other religious disciplines are useful in spiritual life, it is only Jnana (knowledge) of the Paratattva (God) that can give Moksha.
The path of moksha or liberation starts with the yearning for God. With such yearning, the jiva search out a great guru. The guru gives the disciple Mantradiksha (initiation with a holy name or syllable). Regular and steady practice of the Mantrajapa results in Samadhi or total absorption in God.
The Vaikhanasa Agamas. The sage Vikhanas is the founder. He has written the Vaikhanasa Kalpasutras and the Daivikasutras.
The philosophy of the Vaikhanasa Agama:
Samaradhana (worshipping Narayana with intense devotion) is the most effective sadhana. Worship can be in the form of Japa (repetition of Divine Name), homa (fire sacrifice), Arcana (iconic worship) and dhyana (meditation).
For more reading:
The secondary scriptures in Hinduism are the Smrtis. These books derive their authority from the Srutis (Veda) and are accepted as authorities as far as their tenets do not go against the spirit of the Vedas. The Smrtis deal with three main topics: conduct, behaviour, and penance.
The Smrtis are divided into:
- Dharmasastras – Scriptures that governs the personal, social and the legal life of the Hindus. Some Dharmasastras are accepted as authorities by the law-court in India.
- Itihasa – epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata
- An Itihasa narrates a story that happened in the ancient day. Generally, an Itihasa must contain topics dealing with all the four purusarthas (dharma, artha, kama and moksha)
- Puranas – mythological lore
There are two Itihasas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The Mahabharata is a veritable encyclopedia of dharma. It has the well-known definition of Dharma – ‘Dharanat dharmamityahuh Dharmo Dharayate Prajah’ – They call it dharma since it upholds; it is Dharma that upholds the people.
The performance of ordained duties however, small or mean or repulsive they may appear to be, is recommended and eulogized through the stories of Dharmavyadha, Tuladhara and the simple housewife.
Other related reading:
If there is any one Holy book that has profoundly influenced the life, the thought and the culture of millions of Hindus over the millennia, it is, undoubtedly, the Ramayana of Valmiki. No aspect of Hindu religion and culture, whether it is literature, drama, music, art or sculpture, has remained unaffected by it.
It has given us an ideal man who stood for Satya and Dharma come what may. It has given us an ideal woman, the paragon of feminine grace and virtues. It has shown us an ideal family system where everyone thought of the welfare of everyone else first. It has given us the models of ideal brothers, ideal friends and ideal servants who spared no effort to bring comfort to the loved ones. It has put before us an ideal State. In other words, it has placed before us enough ideas and ideals to inspire us, to rise from the human level to divine heights. If this spirit is imbibed, a study of this scripture will be immensely profitable.
The modern Hindu religious practices are deeply indebted to the Puranas. This is because they have recognized the need for a variety of approaches to God, to suit different of human temperaments. The Puranas has saved the Hindu society from the incessant attacks from the barbarians, Semitic religions, heretics, atheists, and materialists. This they have done by making various internal adjustments, keeping however, the core of the religion intact. They have encompassed all aspects of human life, whether sacred or secular.
There are eighteen major puranas called Mahapuranas. Education and culture should go together. Or, rather, that which imparts culture alone is true education. This is exactly what the puranas did in the olden days when formal education given in the gurukulas was restricted to the three higher castes.
Devotion to Lord Vishnu, importance of physical service in a temple, greatness of Krishna Jayanti festival, significance of ekadashi vrata, the power of Lord Hari’s name are some of the themes in this purana.
This purana mainly aims at the propagation of the cult of Siva and His worship through the linga. A detailed account of the Sivapanchakshari Mantra and Mrtyunjaya Mantra and its use in meditaion and pilgrimage to Kasi are some of the topics covered in the purana.
Lord Vishnu taught this purana in His incarnation as Matsya (fish). Among others, the purana speaks about the greatness of the holy places Prayaga, Varanasi, and the river Narmada.
Lord Vishnu taught this purana in His incarnation as Kurma (tortoise), to the sage Narada. It contains the famous Isvara Gita, and accounts on sraddhas (after-death rites), prayascittas for sins and pralaya (destruction of the created world).
This is one of the oldest puranas. The stories of Sri Krishna, Sri Rama, Prahlada, Dhruva, the description of Kali yuga are some of the topics. Bhkati or devotion has been propagated as the main sadhana or means of attaining Mukti.
This is a purana to propagate the Sakti cult. The sage Vyasa taught the Devibhagavata to King Janamejaya to ward of the sin of killing serpents. It speaks about the doctrine of Karma, rules of good conduct, personal cleanliness, details of the rudraksha beads, vratas, ritual repetition of the Gayathri mantra and much more.
This works speaks on the greatness of Devi (Parvati). It is considered as a part of the Markandeya Purana. The entire Devi Mahatmya is considered as a mantra, endowed with mystical powers. That is why a ritual recitation of it is recommended for the fulfillment of one’s desires.
The books contains four hymns:
- Brahma’s hymn to Yoganidra
- Indradistuti – hymns by all the gods expressing their gratefulness after Mahisasura was killed by Durga
- AparajitaStotra – Hymns by all the gods in the Himalaya
- Narayanistuti – Hymns by all the gods after Sumbha and Nisumbha were killed.
Scriptures in Tamil
Divyaprabandham or the 4000 divine composition were composed by the twelve Tamil Alwars.
The Visistadvaita philosophy in this work can be summarized as follows:
The fundamental tattvas or realities are three – Isvara (God), cit (the conscious soul), and acit (nature). Isvara is independent. Cit and acit are dependent upon Isvara.
The universe is evolved out of the 24 cosmic principles. The jivas are bound in samsara (transmigratory existence due to karma, both good and bad). Out of His compassion, Isvara inspires the jiva to try for moksa or liberation. The best means of liberation are:
- Bhakti (devotion)
- Prapatti (total surrender to God)
- Kainkarya (service to God in various ways)
The Alwars seems to be more partial to the path of prapatti than bhakti.
For more reading: