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Shruti – The 4 Vedas

Origin of Vedas

The Vedas (inclusive of Upanishads or Vedanta) are the foremost reference scriptures of Hinduism.

The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharva vedas) are the original source of all knowledge and they are not attributed to any specific authors or messiahs. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great rishes (seers) of the yore. Hence they are known as Shruti (as heard). Vedas are also known as apaurusheya (not made of man).

Even though certain hymns and mantras are attributed to certain Rishis in the vedic texts, they are recognized as the seers (mantra Drishta) of those texts and not the authors of the texts. According to Kanchi Paramacharya (Sri Chandresekharendra Saraswathi) it is akin to Columbus identifying America — he is not the creator of America.

It is said in Hindu Puranas that Veda was originally one, but in Dwapara Yuga, Veda Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa), (who is considered an Avatar of Vishnu) split it into four; he did so for the sake of bringing Vedas to logical groups, convenient for transmitting in written form (from the practice of verbal transmission only prevailing in earlier yugas).

Each Veda is broadly said to contain two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Jnana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with mantras and procedural rituals and the Jnana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). While the ritualistic parts got diluted  over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.

The term ‘shruti’ carries considerable significance because in times of yonder, there was no practice of writing the vedas in scripts, but were only transmitted by chanting and listening from one generation to another.

Proper Chanting essential

Vedas carry significance not only in their contents, but also in the right pronunciation and  intonations with which the chanting of the mantras are to be carried out. The Vedic mantras carry subtle vibrations and these vibrations were essential to invoke the Gods of nature and get their blessings. The rishis did not want to allow any change in the contents of the Vedas nor in the way they were to be chanted; hence they devised extremely systematic and strict procedures and guidelines for chanting as well as teaching them.

Only Brahmins were allowed to propagate Vedas because extreme austerities involving physical and mental purity, sacrifice, simple living, intellectual capacity, memory capacity,  devotion to God and ability to handle an extremely difficult language of Sanskrit etc were fundamentally essential for the task. Brahmins were nurtured traditionally across generations to possess those qualities.

Vedangas

At the later periods of propagation of Vedas, a properly formulated system of ensuring that Vedas were preserved and passed on generation after generation without errors, 6 Vedangas (Veda Angas, meaning limbs of Veda) were  developed. They deal with outlining and explaining systematically the grammar (Vyakarana), meter (chandas), phonetics (shiksha), etymology (Nirukta), astronomy (Jyotisha) and rituals (kalpa).

NOTE: The Vedangas are NOT part of Shruti, but they are part of Smriti texts.

Parts of Vedas (classification of contents)

Karma Kanda  —  Samhitas (hymns) & Brahmanas (rites)

Vedas prominently contain mantras, hymns, chants and rites which were/are essential to worship Celestial Gods of nature (Varuna, Vayu, Indra, Rudra etc) in order to satisfy them and get cattle, good harvest, progeny, gold, wealth and possessions for happy living in this world without being troubled by natural calamities. Whatever activities (karmas) and rites vedas ordain for these purposes are classified into Karma Kanda. It must be noted that each of the 4 vedas do contain Karma kandas with Samhita and Brahmana classifications under it.

For convenience sake, the Mantra, hymns and chanting part of Vedas (under Karma Kanda) were grouped in to Samhitas.  The procedural aspects, rites and rituals were explained in prose under Brahmanas.

Conducting a Yagya (Fire sacrifice)

Samhitas and Brahmanas are primarily concerned with invocation of Gods and conducting fire rituals and sacrifices connected with the 16 samskaras (healthy vedic practices and ordained rituals to be done at various stages in life right from conceiving a child, birth, naming ceremony, beginning of education, marriage, death ceremonies and ending with post-death remembrance ceremonies. At the larger picture, there were elaborate yagnyas (Grand fire sacrifices) conducted by kings like Ashwamedha yaga, Rajasuya Yaga, Vaishnava Yaga etc.

Kings conducted such yagas to establish their supremacy over  other kings, to conquer more  powers through boons to be obtained from celestial Gods, to ensure life in heaven post-death, to bring prosperity to their nations and so on. Such yagas involved lots of materials, elaborate procedures, plenty of gifts to be given to poor people, invited guests (including other kings)  and Brahmins, variety of mantras to be chanted to invoke celestial Gods and so on.  Samhitas and Brahmanas essentially contain all these details.

The Jnana Kanda

The Aranyakas (theology)

The Aranyakas contain the Vedic practices, and contemplative analysis and aspects of them related to forest life. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be an extension of Brahmanas only and some times they are treated as part of Karma Kanda only.

As per the Ashrama dharmas (Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa)  prevailing in vedic period, once the duties of family life (grihasta ashrama) are over, middle aged husbands and wives shifted to forest for living a life of austerity and divine contemplation. As per vedic tradition, they get so much used to doing their vedic karmas with necessary fire sacrifice rites, they tend to continue with those practices in the forest too. The Aranyaka portion of the Vedas contained the necessary scriptural guidelines for them. Procedures and materials for such sacrifices have got to be simpler to suit the simpler lifestyles of forest dwellers.

A relaxed life in the forest without worldly desires also means there was scope for review and contemplation of the vedic practices, finding out better interpretations and meanings of them, questioning their significance, need for search of better knowledge about divinity other than seeking sops from Gods for happy living. The Aranyakas contain the contemplative aspects of the Rishi’s thought process in these matters.

Further, as we can learn from Ramayana, great Rishis like Vishwamitra conducted special fire sacrifices with some grander purposes (for the welfare of the world perhaps  to counter the evil forces like asuras and rakshasas) . Some of them could be secretive too. Suspecting this secrecy, Asuras came to destroy those Yagnas  and thats’ how we find Vishwamitra taking the help of Rama and Lakshmana to protect the yaga. Naturally, the secretive part of rituals too are contained in Aranyakas.

Vedanta – The Upanishads (philosophy)

Having experienced the worldly life with its joys and sorrows and having understood the benefits as well as the limitations of totally relying on vedic karmas, there were indeed doubts and questions in the minds of the rishis. Procedures were too many, disciplines were too demanding, material needs to conduct rites were imposing and there could be so many lapses leading to failure of the intended purposes of conducting yagas. Desires don’t seem to get satiated, expectations are not always met and dissatisfaction still remains in life.

The rishis of yonder started thirsting for better spiritual knowledge; through deep meditation, they  inquired into the cause of birth, death, jiva (soul), God, how God is related to soul, what is the true nature of God and so on. Through their tapas, the rishis acquired the supreme knowledge related to all these queries. They experienced that God called by them as Brahman is beyond name and form but inclusive of everything in the creation; it is smaller than an atom but as all pervasive as infinity and it is no different from Self. It is not just a theory but something experienced and never explicable by words.

The rishis tried their best to teach this transcendental experience of Brahman in whatever best way they could — by verbose explanations, through poetically expressed hymns, by cryptic but grand statements (‘maha vakyas‘), through examples and similes, by stories and so on. Such part of the documents is Upanishads or Vedanta (the culmination of Veda) and those parts of vedas containing these teachings are called Jnana Kanda. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be a prelude to the Upanishads; Upanishads in some vedas seem to naturally culminate as an extension of Aranyakas.  Hence Aranyakas too are considered parts of Jnana Kanda.

Upanishads thus form the very core and crux of the highest knowledge of spirituality in Hinduism. They are one of the three authentic philosophical reference scriptures of Hinduism viz Prasthana Triya (Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita are the other two).  More details on Upanishads are covered in a separate chapter here:  <> UPANISHADS.

Several portions of Vedas have been lost across time

It is only natural that a scriptural tradition existing and propagated across countless generations  only through verbal transmission from time immemorial, several parts and segments of Vedas have been lost. More than hundreds of Upanishads were said to be existing, but primarily about a dozen of them are existing.  Only a very small portion of Sama Veda is reportedly existing alive now.

The significance of Karma Kanda has also been considerably diluted in present times. Yagas like Ashvamedha or Rajasuya have totally lost their significance since several centuries. However, the crux of Upanishad philosophy is still available intact and whatever existing definitely contain the very essence of the ultimate spiritual knowledge.

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The Brahma Sutras (Vedanta Sutras)

What are Brahma Sutras?

Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras are very cryptic and extremely short notes written in Sanskrit to serve as points or hints to understand without conflicts the elaborate teachings available in Upanishads (Vedanta) . The word Sutra in sanskrit means an extremely short sentence containing some information in a nutshell. Another meaning of Sutra is thread/ string. The knowledge of Brahman (God) or the teachings of Vedanta are brought together like beads in a string in this scripture.

Brahma Sutras are clues or aids to memory on the study of Vedanta. They can not be understood without a lucid commentary (Bhashya). The commentary also is in need of further elaborate explanation from a competent Guru/ Acharya for earnest students of scriptures to comprehend the subject matter.

Brahma Sutras are also known as Uttara Mimamsa. Uttara means the latter. Upanishads are the latter part of Vedas. Mimamsa means the investigation or enquiry into the connected meaning of the sacred texts.

What is its importance as a Hindu scripture?

Considering the importance of its contents, Brahma Sutra is one of the three prime source books of Hindu Philosophy having allegiance to Vedas. The Upanishads (Vedanta), The Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras are the three reference books and together they are called Prasthanathraya. Upanishads are known as Shruti Prasthanam (essense of Vedic knowledge), the Bhagavad Gita is known as Smriti Prasthanam. Smritis are essence of derived, secondary  knowledge from Vedas serving as guidance for practical life covering dharma shastras (teachings on righteousness), Puranas, Itihasas (mythological stories) and essential spiritual teachings. Brahma Sutras are known as Nyaya Prasthanam or Tharka Prasthanam (Logical essence of Vedantas).

When was Brahma Sutras composed? Who was its author?

Historians say that the practice of writing scriptures in the form of Sutras existed between 400 BCE to 400 CE and hence the origin of Brahma Sutras could be sometime in this period. But based on the contents of Brahma Sutra, where Buddhist and Jain philosophies too are discussed,many scholars are of the opinion that it is a work done after the period of Buddha and Mahavir (Jainism). Accordingly, some historians assess that Brahma Sutras were written some time in 2nd century CE and some say 4th Century CE.

The Rishi Badarayana Vyasa was the author of Brahma Sutra.

Vyasa is credited with compiling all 4 vedas and also authoring the epic Mahabharata and many Puranas. But the historical period of those scriptures were far earlier than the period of Brahma Sutras.

Since ‘Vyasa’ is considered a title rather than a name, it is also argued that the Vyasa of Mahabharata (known as Krishna Dvaipayana) is different from the Vyasa of Brahma Sutras (known as Badarayana).

What are the essential contents of Brahma Sutras?

Brahma Sutras essentially discuss Ontology – Nature of Man, God, Universe, life, creation and their interrelationships. It also deals a little with Eschatology — death and post-death scenario. The Sutras highlight not only on how the creation came from God (Brahman) but also how God himself is part and parcel of the created. The sutras establish that human being is essentially Atman and hint on the nature on atman and how the Atman is related to Paramatman (God, Brahman).  It gives hints on spiritual practices particularly on meditation. it also throws hints on what happens at the time of death and the post death scenario of normal mortals and how it differs from the death of realized saints.

All the notes in Brahma Sutras on the above are essentially based on the teachings available in Upanishads (Vedanta), particularly on Chandogya Upanishad and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Sutras also touch upon other Hindus Sashtras  Mimamsa and Samkya and also on the philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism  to throw hints on how Vedanta differs from their view point.

Brahma Sutras indicate renunciation as the ultimate way to attain realization. Hence it is also known as Bikshu Sutra (Bikshu means a renunciate who eats by begging food).

The Brahma Sutras have been contained in 4  Adhyayas (chapters) and each chapter contains 4 Padas (sections) . In each Pada, there are several adhikaranas (Topics or propositions) containing the Sutras. Totally, there are about 555 Sutras , based on Sri Shankaracharya’s commentaries on Brahma Sutras.  They are grouped in 191  adhikaranas. Each adhikarana consist of five parts:—(1) Thesis or Vishaya, (2) Doubt or Samsaya, (3) Anti-thesis or Purvapaksha, (4) Synthesis or right conclusion or Siddhanta and (5) Sangati or agreement of the proposition with the other parts of the Sastra.

(The four chapters and their contents in Each Pada’s  adhikaranas in brief are given at the end of this article).

Can a person with a rudimentary knowledge on Hindu philosophies and good knowledge in Sanskrit understand Brahma Sutras? Will reading a direct translation of Brahma Sutras in other languages be helpful in understanding Hindu philosophy on God better?

No. Not at all.

The Sutras as such will be totally incomprehensible for plain sanskrit scholars.  Same is the case with direct translation too. Even with a reasonable knowledge in Hindu philosophies, one cannot make head or tail of reading Brahma Sutras directly. Brahma Sutras have to be comprehended only through commentaries (Bhashyams).

Here is a sample of  a few Sutras directly translated:

From Chapter 1, Padam (Section 2):

Sutram 1: “As this teaching is popular
Sutram 2: “As the qualities proposed match
Sutram 3: “As not matching, it is not life force with body
Sutram 4: “As Karma and doer are mentioned”
Sutram 5: “Due to difference in wording
Sutram 6: “As per Smriti too
Sutram 7: “The place is mentioned small, likewise that too is mentioned small, if cannot be God, it is not so, as it is told for meditation and as vast as sky”
Sutram 8: “If experience of pain / pleasure is present, it does not match; because of difference
Sutram 9: “God is the eater as the entire cosmos is absorbed
Sutram 10: “As it happens

Doesn’t it look extremely obvious that nothing meaningful could be obtained from these even by a scholar who knows Hindu philosophies  well?

On the other hand, if you take Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, a person with rudimentary knowledge on Hindu philosophies may  reasonably understand their direct translations even without explanations. It is quite likely that many doubts and confusions may linger, but still one can definitely grasp considerably on the subjects by reading the direct scripture (if knowledgeable in Sanskrit) or through direct translations.

It is  obviously not so with Brahma Sutras. As already mentioned and seen, the Sutras are extremely cryptic notes, serving as systematically organized and sequentialized hints to aid and rekindle the memory of the earnest students of philosophy in relating to the larger elaborations and references taught by the gurus through the Bhashyas (commentaries).

The bhashyas relate which particular verse of which Upanishad is referred to in a Sutra; or which Sankhya philosophical text is being negated in which Sutra; or which  statement from a Smriti is associated with which Sutra; what is the wholesome meaning of each Sutra or each adhikarana and so on.

If read with Bhashyams (commentaries) will the Brahma Sutras serve as an adequate source of knowledge of Hindu philosophies?

No. Brahma Sutras are NOT independent source of spiritual knowledge like Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads.

Brahma Sutras with Bhashyams, when heard through the explanations of one’s Guru, at the best serve as a guide to remove any confusions, misunderstandings and doubts on Upanishads, for those who have already studied Vedanta in depth. They can also help in clearing any added confusions on account of reading other scriptures like Mimamsa, Samkya philosophy or philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism.

Is Brahma Sutras meant more for scholars and Pundits?

Yes, more or less.

Even to understand Brahma Sutras with appropriate Bhashyams, one must have studied and reasonably grasped at least the 12 major Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita; a reasonable exposure to Purva Mimamsa, Nyaya and Samkya philosophies too are essential. In the olden days, only highly qualified and brilliant Pundits (Brahmins) with a good grasp of Sanskrit language and  keen, earnest seekers of spirituality with a thirst for grasping the highest knowledge on Brahman (also possessing the knowledge of Sanskrit) were fit for learning Brahma Sutras.

It must be noted that the Bhashyams too were only in Sanskrit and a mere understanding of Sanskrit would not just help in deciphering the bhashyams too. A qualified Guru’s teaching and explanation using the bhashyams and appropriate references to the source texts in Upanishads and other scriptures are essential.

For present day scholars and earnest seekers of core philosophy of Hinduism too, the same conditions are applicable, except for the fact that they can make good with translations of the originals from Sanskrit to their own languages. In any case, the teaching from a qualified Guru can never be dispensed with.

Are there many Bhashyams (commentaries) on Brahma Sutras?

Yes; indeed.

Badarayana’s disciples must have learned and memorized Brahma Sutras and also received and absorbed the Bhashyam, to be transmitted to next generations by word of mouth. Over a period of time, Sutras  (and probably bhashyams) might have started appearing in written form in palm leaves. Across centuries, the original bhashyams too could have been lost.

The earliest available and reportedly the most authentic commentary on Brahma Sutras is from Sri Shankaracharya (788-820 CE) and his bhashyam is based on his Advaita philosophy. In the subsequent centuries, several other commentaries appeared from different Acharyas by offering their explanations of the particular school of philosophy they professed. Thus there are bhasyams written by Sri Bhaskara and Sri Yadava Prakasha (10th & 11th Century) based on Bheda-Abheda school of thought, Sri Ramanujacharya (11th/12th Century) based on his Vishitadvaita school of thought, Sri Madhvacharya (13th/14th Century) based on his Dvaita School of philosophy, Srikanta (13th Century) based on Saiva Siddhanta and so on.

Down the line of disciples of the masters (who wrote the original commentaries), across time, even comprehending the bhashyas got difficult, needing further enlightenment on the original bhashyams. Thus several additional explanations to the original teachings too came, written by latter disciples.

Why are there different schools of interpretations?  What is the impact?

The technique of Sutras served as  effective mode of teaching  in a period when propagation of Vedic knowledge was primarily through word of mouth and not through writing.

But the negative outcome of this technique could be that there was tremendous scope for losing (fully or partially) the associated teachings with the Sutras,  or distorting and twisting the original teachings associated with the Sutras, while the Sutras themselves, being brief, were memorized and transmitted reasonably accurately and in latter periods got written in palm leaves.

The original teachings contained in Upanishads are essentially non-dualistic (Advaita) in their core, which have been expressed by the rishis in poetic form directly based on their experience. They also contain metaphors, allegories and parables which give scope for different interpretations. We have seen already how the direct meaning of Sutras are so cryptic and vague; naturally, the sutras coupled with allegories in the Upanishads do provide enough scope for different interpretations.

The spiritual experiences attained by different acharyas at different periods of histories and their own convictions of their experiences to be truer than Advaitic experience of the rishis gave them the impetus to give different meanings to the sutras and also to the Upanishad statements; some upanishad statements also have the scope of differing from purely advaita point of view . Added to these is the scope available in Sanskrit language per se to spit or combine words to get different meanings.

Swami Shivananda says, “Sanskrit is very elastic. It is like Kamadhenu or Kalpataru. You can milk out of it various kinds of Rasas according to your intellectual calibre and spiritual experiences. There fore different Acharyas have
built different systems of thought or cults by interpreting the Sutras in their own ways and became founders of sects.”

Swami Vivekananda says, “...the problem gets compounded by the acharyas who wrote the commentaries. A commentator interpreting the Sutras from Advaita point of view retains phrases emphasizing the advaita angle, but distorts the meaning of certain words that seem to convey Dvaita concept. A sanskrit word meaning ‘birthless’ (ajah) gets conveniently distorted to read ajaa to mean a female goat! If not worse, at least in a similar fashion, the acharyas of Dvaita conveniently distort Vedic words and phrases conveying Advaita concept, while retaining those giving a dvaita angle of meaning!”

Added to this is another reality that the number of Sutras referred and quoted by these Acharyas too vary. While Sri Sankara’s commentary is based on 192 adhikaranas and 555 sutras, Sri Ramanujar’s is based 155 adhikaranas and 545 sutras and Shi Madhvar’s is based on 223 adhikaranas and 564 sutras.

Naturally, we get an impression that the writers of commentaries could have played with and distorted, to some extent, the original purport and conception of Sutras by Badanarayana!

For an English reader, which could be a good commentary on Brahma Sutras to read?

It is felt that Brahma Sutra commentaries done by Swami Shivananda (Divine Life Society, Rishikesh) which is based predominantly on Sri Shankara’s Bhashyam is a good one, very neatly arranged and written in an easily comprehensible style.

 

 

To give a birds eye view of what Brahma Sutras broadly contain, the chapter wise contents are given below (based on the above book):

(Note: Each bullet below corresponds to each adhikarana)

Chapter 1: Samanvaya Adhikaram

In the first chapter the author shows that all the Vedic texts uniformly refer to Brahman and find their Samanvaya (reconciliation) in Him.

(Ch. 1)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. The enquiry into Brahman and its prerequisites.
  2. Definition of Brahman
  3. Brahman is realisable only through the scriptures
  4. Brahman is the main purport of all Vedantic texts
  5. Brahman (the intelligent principle) is the First Cause
  6. Anandamaya is Para Brahman.
  7. The being or person in the Sun and the eye is Brahman.
  8. The word Akasa must be understood as Brahman
  9. The word ‘Prana’ must be understood as Brahman
  10. The light is Brahman.
  11. Prana is Brahman

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 2

  1. The Manomaya is Brahman
  2. The eater is Brahman.
  3. The dwellers in the cave of the heart are the individual soul and Brahman.
  4. The person within the eye is Brahman.
  5. The internal ruler is Brahman.
  6. That which cannot be seen is Brahman.
  7. Vaisvanara is Brahman.

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 3

  1. The abode of heaven, earth etc. is Brahman
  2. Bhuma is Brahman
  3. Akshara is Brahman
  4. The Highest person to be meditated upon is the Highest Brahman
  5. The Dahara or the ‘Small Akasa’ is Brahman
  6. Everything shines after Brahman
  7. The person of the size of a thumb is Brahman
  8. The Devas also are entitled to the study of Vedas and to meditate on Brahman
  9. The right of the Sudras to the study of Vedas discussed
  10. The Prana in which everything trembles is Brahman
  11. The ‘light’ is Brahman
  12. The Akasa is Brahman
  13. The Self consisting of knowledge is Brahman

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 4

  1. The Mahat and Avyakta of the Kathopanishad do not refer to the Sankhya Tattvas.
  2. The Aja of Svetasvatara Upanishad does not mean Pradhana.
  3. The five-fold-five (Pancha-panchajanah) does not refer to the twenty-five Sankhyan categories.
  4. Brahman is the First cause.
  5. He who is the maker of the Sun, Moon, etc. is Brahman and not Prana or the individual soul.
  6. The Atman to be seen through hearing etc., of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II-4-5)  is Brahman and not Jivatma
  7. Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause
  8. The arguments which refute the Sankhyas refute the others also.

Chapter 2: Avirodha Adhikaram

In the second  chapter, alternative concepts in other Shastras are confronted and  proved that there are no conflicts in Upanishad interpretations.

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. Refutation of Smritis not based on Srutis
  2. Refutation of Samkhya Yoga
  3. Brahman can be the cause of the universe, although It is of a contrary nature from the universe.
  4. Kanada and Gautama Refuted
  5. The distinctions of enjoyer and enjoyed do not oppose unity
  6. The world (ef fect) is non-dif fer ent from Brah man (the cause)
  7. Brahman does not create evil
  8. Brahman is the cause of the world
  9. Brahman is the material cause of the universe, though He is without parts
  10. Fully-equipped Brahman
  11. Final end of Creation
  12. Brahman is neither partial nor cruel
  13. Saguna Brahman necessary for creation

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. Refutation of the Sankhyan theory of the Pradhana as the cause of the world.
  2. Refutation of the Vaiseshika view
  3. Refutation of the atomic theory of the Vaiseshikas
  4. Refutation of the Bauddha Realists
  5. Refutation of the Bauddha Idealist
  6. Refutation of the Jaina Doctrine
  7. Refutation of the Pasupata System
  8. Refutation of the Bhagavata or the Pancharatra school

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. Ether (Akasa) is not eternal but created
  2. Air originates from ether
  3. Brahman (Sat) has no origin
  4. Fire originates from air
  5. Water is produced from fire
  6. Earth is created from water
  7. Brahman abiding within the element is the creative principle
  8. The process of dissolution of the elements is in the reverse order from that of creation
  9. The mention of the mind and intellect does not interfere with the order of creation and reabsorption as they are the products of the elements
  10. Births and deaths are not of the soul
  11. The individual soul is eternal. ‘It is not produced’
  12. The nature of the individual soul is intelligence
  13. The size of the individual soul
  14. The individual soul is an agent
  15. The soul is an agent as long as it is limited by the adjuncts
  16. The soul is dependent on the Lord, when he works
  17. Relation of the individual soul to Brahman

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 4

  1. The Pranas have their origin from Brahman
  2. The number of the organs (organs of knowledge and action)
  3. The organs are minute in size
  4. The chief Prana has also an origin from Brahman
  5. The chief Prana is different from air and sense functions
  6. The minuteness of the chief Prana
  7. The presiding deities of the organs
  8. The organs are independent principles and not functions of the chief Prana
  9. The creation of names and forms is by the Lord and not by the individual soul

Chapter 3: Sadhana Adhikaram

In the third  chapter, the means of attaining Brahman are described.

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. The soul at the time of transmigration does take with it subtle parts of the elements
  2. The souls descending from heaven have a remnant of Karma which determines their birth
  3. The fate after death of those souls whose deeds do not entitle them to pass up to Chandraloka
  4. The soul on its descent from the Chandraloka does not become identified with ether, etc., but attains a similarity of nature
  5. It takes only a short time for the descent of the soul
  6. When the souls enter into plants, etc., they only cling to them and do not themselves become those species

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. The soul in the dream state
  2. The soul in dreamless sleep
  3. The same soul returns from deep sleep
  4. The nature of swoon
  5. The nature of Brahman
  6. The Neti-neti text explained
  7. Brahman is one without a second
  8. The Lord is the giver of the fruits of actions

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. The Vidyas having identical or the same form found in scriptures constitute one Vidya
  2. Particulars of identical Vidyas mentioned in different Sakhas or places are to be combined into one meditation
  3. Those Vidyas with different subject-matter are separate, even if there may be some similarities
  4. It is appropriate to specialise OM by the term ‘Udgitha’
  5. Unity of the Prana-Vidya
  6. Attributes like Bliss, etc., of Brahman have to be combined into one meditation
  7. Katha Upanishad (I.3.10-11) teaches merely that the Self is higher than everything else
  8. The Self mentioned in Aithreya  Upanishad  I.1. is the Supreme Self and the attributes of the Self given elsewhere should be combined with this meditation.
  9. Only thinking water to be the dress of Prana is enjoined in the Prana-Vidya
  10. Vidyas of the same Sakha which are identical should be combined, in meditation
  11. The names ‘Ahar’ and ‘Aham’ of Brahman occurring in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (V.5.1-2) cannot be combined
  12. Attributes of Brahman occurring in the Ranayaniya Khila constitute an independent Vidya
  13. The Purusha Vidya in the Chhandogya and the Taittiriya are not to be combined
  14. Unconnected Mantras and sacrifices mentioned in certain Upanishads do not belong to Brahma-Vidya
  15. The statement that the good and evil deeds of a person go respectively to his friends and enemies is true for texts that mention discarding of such actions by him
  16. The shaking off of good and evil by the man of Knowledge occurs only at the time of his death
  17. The knower of Saguna Brahman alone goes along Devayana, and not the knower of Nirguna Brahman
  18. The passage of the soul by Devayana applies equally to all Vidyas of Saguna Brahman
  19. Perfected souls may take a corporeal existence for divine mission
  20. The negative attributes of Brahman mentioned in various texts are to be combined in all meditations on Brahman
  21. Mundaka Upanishad III.1.1 and Katha Upanishad I.3.1 constitute one Vidya
  22. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III.4.1 and III.5.1 constitute one Vidya
  23. The Sruti prescribes reciprocal meditation in Aithreya Upanishad (II.2.4.6)
  24. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (V.4.1 and V.5.3) treat of one Vidya about Satya Brahman
  25. Attributes mentioned in Chandhyogya Upanishad  (VIII.1.1) and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  (IV.4.22) are to be combined on account of several common features in both texts
  26. Pranagnihotra need not be observed on days of fast
  27. Upasanas mentioned in connection with sacrifices are not their parts, but separate
  28. Meditations on Vayu and Prana are to be kept separate notwithstanding the essential oneness of these two
  29. The fires in Agnirahasya of the Brihadaranyaka are not part of the sacrificial act, but form an independent Vidya
  30. Atman is an entity distinct from the body
  31. Upasanas connected with sacrificial acts, i.e., Udgitha Upasana are valid for all schools
  32. Vaisvanara Upasana is one entire Upasana
  33. Various Vidyas like the Sandilya Vidya, Dahara Vidya and so on are to be kept separate and not combined into one entire Upasana
  34. Any one of the Vidyas should be selected according to one’s own option or choice
  35. Vidyas yielding particular desires may or may not be combined according to one’s liking
  36. Meditations connected with members of sacrificial acts may or may not be combined according to one’s liking

(Ch. 3  Section (Pada) 4

  1. Knowledge of Brahman is independent of sacrificial acts
  2. Sannyasa is prescribed by the scriptures
  3. Scriptural texts as in Chhandhyogya Upanishad (I.1.3.) which refer to Vidyas are not mere praises but themselves enjoin the meditations
  4. The stories mentioned in the Upanishads do not serve the purpose of Pariplavas and so do not form part of the ritualistic acts. They are meant to euloigise the Vidya taught in them
  5. Sannyasins need not observe ritualistic acts, as Brahma Vidya or knowledge serves their purpose
  6. Works prescribed by the scriptures are means to the attainment of knowledge
  7. Food-restrictions may be given up only when life is in danger
  8. The duties of Asrama are to be performed by even one who is not desirous of salvation
  9. Those who stand midway qualified for knowledge; between two Asramas also are
  10. He who has taken Sannyasa cannot revert back to his former stages of life
  11. Expiation for one who has broken the vow of Sannyasa
  12. The life-long celibate who fails to keep up his vow must be excluded by society
  13. The meditations connected with the subordinate members of sacrificial acts (Yajnangas) should be observed by the priest and not by the sacrificer
  14. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ( III.5.1) meditation is enjoined besides the child-like state and scholarship
  15. Child-like state means the state of innocence, being free from egoism, lust, anger, etc.
  16. The time of the origination of knowledge when Brahma Vidya is practised
  17. Liberation is a state without difference. It is only one.

Chapter 4: Phala Adhikaram

In the fourth chapter the result of attaining Brahman is described.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. Meditation on Brahman should be continued till knowledge is attained
  2. He who meditates on the Supreme Brahman must comprehend It as identical with himself
  3. The symbols of Brahman should not be meditated upon as identical with the meditator
  4. When meditating on a symbol, the symbol should be considered as Brahman and not Brahman as the symbol
  5. In meditation on the members of sacrificial acts the idea of divinity is to be superimposed on the members and not in the reverse way.
  6. One is to meditate sitting.
  7. There is no restriction of place with regard to meditation
  8. Meditations should be continued till death
  9. Knowledge of Brahman frees one from all past and future sins.
  10. Similarly good work do not affect the knower of Brahman.
  11. Works which have not begun to yield results are alone destroyed by knowledge and not those which have already begun to bear fruits.
  12. Permanent obligatory works enjoined by the Vedas for different Asramas are not to be given up.
  13. Sacrificial works not combined with knowledge or meditation also help in the origination of knowledge
  14. After enjoying the fruits of Prarabdha Karma the knower becomes one with Brahman

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. At the time of death the functions of the organs are merged in the mind.
  2. The function of mind is merged in Prana.
  3. The function of Prana is merged in the Jiva.
  4. The mode of departure from the body up to the way is common to both the knower of the Saguna Brahman and an ordinary man.
  5. The dissolution of fire etc., at the time of death in the Supreme Deity is only relative.
  6. The Pranas of the knower of Brahman do not depart at the time of death.
  7. The Pranas (organs) and elements of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman get merged in It at death.
  8. The Kalas of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman attain absolute non-distinction with Brahman at death
  9. The soul of the knower of the Saguna Brahman comes to the heart at the time of death and then goes out through the Sushumna Nadi.
  10. The soul of one who knows Saguna Brahman follows the rays of the sun after death and goes to Brahmaloka.
  11. Even if the knower of the Saguna Brahman dies in Dakshinayana, he still goes to Brahmaloka.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. The path connected with the deities beginning with that of light is the only path that leads to Brahmaloka.
  2. The departing soul reaches the deity of the year and then the deity of the air.
  3. After reaching the deity identified with lightning, the soul reaches the world of Varuna.
  4. Light, etc., referred to in the text describing the path of the gods mean deities identified with light, etc., who conduct the soul stage after stage till Brahmaloka is reached.
  5. The departed souls go by the path of gods to Saguna Brahman.
  6. Only those who have taken recourse to the worship of Brahman without a symbol attain Brahmaloka.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 4

  1. The liberated soul does not acquire anything new but only manifests its essential or true nature.
  2. The released soul remains inseparable from the Supreme Soul.
  3. Characteristics of the soul that has attained the Nirguna Brahman.
  4. The soul which has attained the Saguna Brahman effects its desire by mere will.
  5. A liberated soul who has attained Brahmaloka can exist with or without a body according to his liking.
  6. The liberated soul which has attained the Saguna Brahman can animate several bodies at the same time.
  7. The liberated soul which has attained Brahmaloka has all the lordly powers except the power of creation.

To read the complete elaboration of the above subjects, here is the link to the site: Brahma Sutras (Swami Sivananda)

The pdf format of the book is also available for free download:  Click here

References:

  • Brahma Sutram (Tamil) By Swami Asuthoshananda (By Ramakrishna Math Chennai, Year 2013)
  • Deivatthin Kural (Tamil) – Part 2 (compilation of talks of Sri Kanchi Paramacharya) – Vanathi Publications, Chennai.
  • Upanishad Saram (Chandogyam, Brihadaranyakam and Brahma Sutra saram) By Sri Anna Subramaniam – Tamil – Ramakrishna Math Chennai (10th Edition 2016)
  • Brahma Sutras – Swami Sivananda – Divine Life Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upanishads – Vedanta

What are Upanishads? Where are they?

Upanishads are the concluding parts of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas); they are also known as Vedantas (Veda+anta = end of Vedas). They are also known as Aranyakas, that which were taught at forests.

The contents of each Veda are classified into two portions – the Karma Kanda and the Gnyana Kanda. The Karma kandas are the first part of Vedas and they contain  hymns, procedures and instructions regarding rites and ceremonies, rules of conduct and  mantras and verses with intonations etc connected with doing Vedic karmas and fire ceremonies. The second, ending portions called the Gnana Kanda are the Upanishads that contain the quintessence of Vedic spiritual knowledge about God – Jnana.

What does ‘Upanishad’ mean?

Upanishads contain the core spiritual teaching of Vedas and are taught by Rishis to their deserving and spiritually earnest disciples in seclusion.  The word Upanishad in Sanskrit means “sitting down by the side” which actually relates to hearing the teachings of the saint by sitting close to him. Its another meaning is secret doctrine. It also said to mean the knowledge of Self/ Brahman (Atma Vidya/ Brahma Vidya).

Why Jnana Kanda (Upanishads) considered the Ultimate of Vedic knowledge?

The earlier Karma Kanda part of Vedas was essentially to do with hymns, prayers, rituals and rites to please the celestial Gods for getting worldly life with desires and wants fulfilled. But, by doing the rites and fulfilling the worldly desires, several questions also came in the minds of rishis — are they really fulfilling? Are they able to solve all problems? Why wants, suffering, sorrows and pains in life do not seem to get eradicated totally from life simply through the path of conducting vedic rites? Is there some Supreme Truth behind the celestial Gods who are pleased by Vedic ceremonies and other Gods (Eswaras) of creation, sustenance and destruction?

Having  understood the benefits as well as the limitations of totally relying on vedic karmas, there were indeed such doubts and questions in the minds of the rishis. Vedic procedures were too many, disciplines were too demanding, material needs to conduct rites were imposing and there could be so many lapses leading to failure of the intended purposes of conducting yagas. Desires don’t seem to get satiated, expectations are not always met and dissatisfaction still remains in life.

The rishis of yonder started thirsting for better spiritual knowledge; through deep meditation, they  inquired into the cause of birth, death, jiva (soul), God, how God is related to soul, what is the true nature of living and non-living beings, human mind, intellect, ego, the connection between the creation and the creator (God) and so on. Through their tapas, the rishis acquired the supreme knowledge related to all these queries. They experienced that God called by them as Brahman is beyond name and form but inclusive of everything in the creation. It is not just a theory but something experienced and never explicable by words.

 What do Upanishads contain?

It is in the Upanishads that the concept of God beyond name and form called Brahman find explanation in so many ways. The advaita concept of Brahman (or parabrahman — universal soul) and atman (Self) being one and the same is explained. Upanishads in fact appear to be a labor of love of the great seers to explain the inexplicable — Brahman who is beyond all names forms, beyond the conception of the mind, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, smaller than the atom but larger than the largest, all inclusive but not not bound by anything, not perceptible to the senses, mind or intellect and yet experienced without doubt by the single minded devotion and meditation of the earnest seeker.

The rishis tried their best to teach this transcendental experience of Brahman in whatever best way they could — by verbose explanations, through poetically expressed hymns, by cryptic but grand statements (maha vakyas), through examples and similes, through stories, prayers,  conversations, arguments, questions and answers and so on.  Such part of the Vedic knowledge, the concluding documents of Vedas is Upanishads or Vedanta.

Upanishads thus form the very core and crux of the highest knowledge of spirituality in Hinduism. They are one of the three authentic philosophical reference scriptures of Hinduism viz Prasthana Triya (Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita are the other two).

Despite the various styles, methods and flows with which the different Upanishads speak, the common thread of knowledge carried by them is the knowledge about Brahman and Atman and the unity between the two.

Thus, Upanishads ascertain monotheism. That One God beyond name and form, being omniscient and omnipotent, can come assuming numerous names and forms to reach His devotees who, based on their tastes, temperaments and conceptions tend to worship him in various names and forms. Whatever different God forms that various Puranas (in Smritis) glorify as the Supreme Gods are none other than Brahman, the Ultimate Truth behind Upanishads.

How many Upanishads are there?

It is said that there are 108 Upanishads. However, the following 10 upanishads are acknowledged to be the most important and comprehensive ones (for study in the order given below), by great Spiritual masters like Sri Shankaracharya:

1) Isa Upanishad   (in Shukla Yajur Veda)

2) Kena Upanishad (in Sama Veda)

3) Katha Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

4) Prasna Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

5) Mundaka Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

6) Mandukya Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

7) Taittriya Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

8) Chandogya Upanishad (in Sama Veda)

9) Brihadaranyaka upanishad  (in Shukla Yajur Veda)

10) Svetasvatara Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

Three more Upanishads namely, Aithereya Upanishad (in Rig Veda), Kaushitaki Upanishad (in Rig Veda) and Maitrayani Upanishads (in Krishna Yajur Veda) were also included by later scholars into the fold of principal upanishads, taking the total count to 13.

 

Understanding Hinduism – get a bird’s eye view of Hinduism and all its facets

Hinduism, one of the oldest religions of the world, is a vast religion with multiple facets. In fact it is said that it is not really a religion, but ‘Sanatana Dharma‘ — the eternal, righteous way. For the less-informed, Hinduism may look too confusing, too complicated to understand and too contradictory in its percepts and practices. Even many Hindus do not know the exalted philosophies of the religion. Through this article, we shall see some of the central tenets of Hinduism.

(1) God is One, but is amenable for worship in multiple forms:

Hinduism permits worship of multiple Gods who are endowed with different looks, powers and attributes; they, in reality, represent the One God, known as Brahman, Parabrahman, Paramatman or Satchidananda. Hinduism acknowledges that there are basic differences in every person in tastes, temperaments and capacity of intake in the matter of religion. In real life, a woman found distasteful to one man can be the soul stirring sweet-heart of another man. When such a difference is taste can exist, why not allow different tastes in worshiping the God?This is precisely the logic behind the idea of multiple God forms in Hinduism.

Thus, Hinduism permits you to choose a specific God form most appealing and lovable to you; it encourages you to believe whole heartedly that that particular God form indeed is the one supreme God. A chaste woman considers her husband alone to be the most handsome and most wonderful person; likewise, at the lower steps of religion, a believer’s conviction that his personal God alone to be the most powerful and the “only true God” is also encouraged.

(2) The Three Major God Forms – (Tri Murti)– Brahma -Vishnu -Shiva (Creator -Protector- Destroyer) – and the 6 Sects of worship of God

According to Hindu Puranas (Mythological stories), God does creation, protection and destruction of this universe in one after the other, repeating again and again in a cycle. As a Creator, He is Brahma; as a Protector, He is Vishnu; as a Destroyer, he is Shiva.

Lord Brahma- The Creator

However, there are other God forms also popularly worshiped and sects are existing in Hinduism, where specific God forms as the prime deity are worshiped.

Brahma as an individual God is not separately worshiped in Hindu tradition. There is no sect or tradition where Brahma is woshiped as God with exclusive temples for Him.

In this way, six major sects of worshipers of different God forms exist in Hinduism and the sects are:

i) Saivam:  The sect whose prime God of worship is lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva – The destroyer. Those who worship Shiva as the prime God are called Saivas.

ii) Vaishnavam:  The sect whose prime God of worship is lord Vishnu.

Lord Vishnu   (With Lord Brahma depicted sitting in a lotus flower emanating from the Navel) and His divine consort Lakshmi at His feet) Those who worship Vishnu as the prime lord are called Vaishnavas..

iii) Shaktam: The sect whose personal God of worship is Shakti, the Universal Mother.

Devi Para Shakti.  She is the devine consort of Shiva. The Universal Mother. Those who worship Shakti are called Shaktas.

  iv) Ganapathyam: The sect whose personal God of worship is Ganapathi (or Vinayaka).

Lord Ganapati or Ganesha.   He is the elder Son of Lord Shiva (Also known as Pillayar). He is the remover of Hurdles.  Those who worship Ganesha as the prime lord belong to the sect Ganapatyam.

v) Koumaram: The sect whose personal God of worship is Karthikeya (or Subramanya or Muruga)

Lord Subrahmanya or Muruga. He is the younger son of Shiva  (also called Kumara). Those who worship Lord Subrahmanya as prime belong to the sect Koumaram)

(vi) Souryam — for the worshipers of Sun; but this sect is practically non-existent now.

Lord Surya (Sun) Exclusive worship of Surya, as a sect Souryam is not prevalent now.

It must be noted that these are not to be considered as rigid compartmentalization of worshipers. There are other Gods too (like Lord Aiyyappa who is considered the son of Shiva-Vishnu) who are worshiped popularly. God’s Avatars too are quite widely worshiped.

For more details on other God Forms worshiped in Hinduism, please refer to the Article: The Various God forms of Hinduism.

Though a fair element of narrow-mindedness and inter-sect bickering about who is really the prime God nevertheless exist, there are plenty of Hindus who worship some or several of these God forms without narrow mindedness. Great saints and sages of Hinduism always guide seekers to understand the unity behind the diversity.

Great religious masters say that as a person matures in his religious progress, he comes out of such narrow convictions. He understands by experience that it is that one supreme lord, who has, by His grace, adopted to come in the form of his personal God and in fact, it is in the same way that He goes about to present Himself in other forms to satisfy other sects of believers. At the ultimate level of experience, the seeker perceives that the whole universe is simply nothing other than God (Brahman) and his individual soul is no different from it.

(3) The concept of Avatar:

Another fundamental belief in Hinduism is that God descends to earth to take birth as Human (or other) forms whenever the good and piety people suffer and the evil ones have an upper hand. God protects the good, destroys the evil and restores dharma (righteousness). Such a divinely person is known as an avatar.

Lord Vishnu is attributed with taking 10 such avatars. Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and other such divine personalities are Vishnu’s Avatars and they are worshipped as various forms Vishnu.

All forms of Vishnu or his avatars can also be worshipped in idols and each of the idols is treated as an “archavatar” — God’s form descended into idol, for the purpose and convenience of worship.Great saints are of the opinion that there is really no restriction to the number of avatars (unlike the Vaishnavaite’s belief about the ten avatars) as the phenomenon of avatar is an on-going process, based on the needs of the time. Based on this line of thinking, some great Hindu masters consider Jesus and Mohammad too as avatars of God.

Lord Vishnu is attributed with taking 10 Avatars, the prime and popular among them are Rama and Krishna.

(3) Karma and rebirth:

Hinduism says that life is not something confined to this birth alone. One’s present birth is the consequence of one’s past actions (Karma) in previous births. Desires and subtle mental leanings (vasanas) drive one into action. Hinduism says that as long as one has unfulfilled desires, one has to take rebirth. Hinduism, accepts the existence of higher world (heaven – “Swarga”) and lower world (hell – “Naraga”).

When a person does some extra-ordinary good things in one’s previous life, he may enjoy the fruits of such actions at the heaven for a while, but he has to come back to the earth again till he depletes all his Karmas. Likewise, Hinduism says those who did extraordinarily bad and horrific deeds in a previous birth have to undergo punishment at the hell and then comeback to earth to deplete the karmas. This is the idea professed in Bhagavad Gita and various Hindu mythologies.

“Again and again one is born, And again and again one dies, And again and again one sleeps in the mother’s womb, Help me to cross this limitless sea of life, which is uncrossable, my Lord!” – Bhajagovindam by Sri Sankaracharya)

Some Hindu saints explain this concept in a different angle saying that both heaven and hell are in reality existing in this very earth and any out-of-ordinary enjoyment or suffering that some people experience in human life is on account of the out-of normal good or bad deeds done by them in previous births.

Hinduism says human birth is rare to get and the purpose of human birth is to attain God or to realize one’s true Self. Births and deaths are nothing but a long winding path to attain this goal.

Once a true seeker understands this truth and the futility of running behind objects of desires, he renounces all worldly pursuits and surrenders to a Guru for guidance; by the grace of Guru and God, he gets untangled from the cycles of births and deaths and attains salvation.

It’s your past Karma that decides your future birth. Depending on your karmas, we may even end up in a lower birth like an animal, which means the much valuable Human birth (which is rare to get, according to Hindu saints) can be wasted by engaging in acts that degrade us instead of acts that elevates us.

Human birth is rare to get. It should be utilized to evolve oneself upwards spiritually. It should not be wasted in enjoyment of lowly pleasures and indulgence, leading to animal births again.

Karma and God’s grace:

Lord Shiva coming to the rescue of His devotee Markandeya to save him from death.

Does Hinduism encourage fatalism through the concept of Karma? No. What Hinduism says is that one can not have freedom of choice in facing the repercussions of the past actions, but one does have the free will to choose his present actions. It is quite obvious that only because we have the freedom of choice of action, we have accumulated our past karmas!

What Hinduism says is two-fold. One: The reactions to our past actions are not entirely self-propelling; they are indeed executed by the will of God; the more one surrenders to God and the more one accepts with humility the divine dispensation, the more one gets relief from the impinging effects of Karma.

Two: By carefully choosing one’s present actions based on dharma, by doing acts with a sense of surrender to the supreme and with dispassion, one paves the way for escaping from the evil effects of his present actions in the future.

(5) The concept of Yoga:

Another essential feature of Hinduism is Yoga — meaning Union. The purpose of human birth is to attain this Yoga — union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. One of the path for this Yoga is the emotion-laden — the path of love towards God — which is Known as Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion). It is the most suited path for the majority.

The other approach is intellectual — the Path of inquiry — known as Gnyana Yoga (Path of knowledge). In this path, God is perceived to be beyond name and form and the ultimate goal is to realize by experience that the Individual soul and the Supreme soul are one and the same.

Both the paths are not strictly compartmentalized; They can co exist in an earnest aspirant and one path can lead to another. One can be more predominant than the other and one can complement the other.

There are two more yogas — one is the Karma Yoga, the path of selfless work without attachment towards the fruits of action. By Karma yoga, one gets purified and becomes fit for attaining the ultimate. The other is the Raja Yoga — also known as Ashtanga Yoga — the Yoga of eight steps. In this path, one, by practicing austerities and disciplines, engages in meditation and rises up to attain Samadhi (the ultimate state of union with the infinity).

Then we have Kundalini Yoga (in the path of Tantra) wherein by yogic practices one can raise one’s life lying as a coiled serpent in Mooladhara Chakra (a center close to the anus) to the Sahasrara at the top of the head, through various intermediate centers. At Shasrara, The soul merges with God and attain total union.

There is yet another yoga — the Hatha Yoga, which is more concerned with fine-tuning the physical body through yogasanas so that the body becomes the right instrument to attain the yoga. Thus Hatha Yoga is not considered truly as a path of union, but rather a discipline conducive for it.

What is popularly known as Yoga across the world today actually is practice of Yoga asanas (body postures) which is part of Hatha Yoga practices in Hinduism.

(6) The three schools of philosophy — DvaitaVisishtadvaita and Advaita and the concept of Maya:

The relationship of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme soul or God (Paramatman) has always been an intriguing aspect of Hindu religion from time immemorial, and there have always been differences in perceptions and the experiences of the true seers who have recorded their experiences.

Great religious masters have grasped the concept of God predominantly from three different view points — it is like three different persons looking at a mountain from three different angles and trying to describe its shape from their points of view. It is also professed that these three are really three stages, one leading to another but one not really negating the other. These three philosophies are briefly described below:

(a) Advaita (non-dualism): 

Jivatman and paramatman are one and the same. It is because of the play of Maya, the jivatman forgets about its oneness with the Paramatman. The paramatman, also called Brahman is beyond name and form. Brahman is all emcompassing, all pervasive, infinte, beginningless, endless, beyond description by words. It is beyond name and form.  Maya, the illusion is the phenomenon which creates duality — the good and bad, the matter and energy, the relative and the absolute, the temporary and the permanent. The existence of the physical world and the multitude of life forms, the lure of sex, the lure of money, materialism — everything is the work of Maya. Everything under maya is ever changing, transient, impermanent and delusive.  By negating everything created by maya, a seeker turn inwards and transcending his own ego, he attains oneness with Brahman. Maya is the divine play which is not amenable for grasp to the common intellect.

According to Sri Ramakrishna paramahamsa (19th century) , Brahman and Maya are like the fire and its nature to burn; They are like milk and its whiteness; they are both inseparable. If you think of one, you will think of the other too. Because of this maya, the individual soul wrongly associates itself with the gross body forgetting its real nature; Liberation or Moksha is attained when the individual grasps by personal experience that it is indeed the all pervading and all encompassing Brahman which is hidden behind its own wondrous and self-willed magic of maya.

Advaita is the oldest and the very fundamental philosophy of Hinduism originating from Upanishads. It was evolved as a concept and philosophy by Goudapada (6th Century). Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya (8th Century) was the prime teacher and propagator of Advaita philosophy across the length and breadth of India during his short life span of life (32 years).

(b) Visishtadvaita (Qualified non-dualism):

Like the physical body and soul are two different identities and the existence of the physical body is dependent on the existence of the soul inside it, the Visishtadvaita says that the Pramatman is the soul of the jivatman. Jivatman has no existence without paramatman and in that sense it is a qualified non-dualism. Just like the physical body never getting equated to soul, the jivatman can not be treated same as Paramatman. In Visishtadvaita, Vishnu is the prime God, who is Prabrahman (beyond name and form) as well as Ishwara (God with name and form). Visishtadvaita does not negate creation as illusion but accepts everything existing with name and form as God’s divine expressions. Attaining the abode of God (Vaikuntha) is the goal of human life and the path for it is Saranagathi (total surrender to Lord Vishnu/ Narayana).

Sri Ramanujacharya (11th/12th Century) was the prime teacher and propagator of Visishtadvaita philosophy.

(c) Dvaita (Dualism):

The individual soul or Jivatman is different from the Great soul or God or Paramatman. They are two different identities eternally. The individual soul can realize Paramatman but can not become one with it. The path for it is Bhakti (Devotion). Vishnu is the prime God, the Paramatman.

Sri Madhvacharya (13th/14th century) was the prime teacher and propagator of advaita philosophy.

(7) The significance of source books of Hinduism:

The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana) are the original source books containing the knowledge of Hinduism. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great seers of the yore. Each Veda essentially contains two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Gyana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with procedural rituals and the Gyana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). While the ritualistic parts got diluted considerably over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Other than Upanishads, Brahmasutra (that contains the essence of Upanishads in cryptic aphoristic verses that explains Brahman, the competing theories including upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism, and the ways of spiritual practices. The Bhagavat Gita (the discourse about dharma and karma given by Lord Krishna to his disciple Arjuna at war front) is the third major source book of Hindu philosophy. These three texts are the basic reference sources and are known as Prasthana Tria.

Ramayana (The epic story of Lord Rama) and Mahabharata (the epic story of Pandavas, the five princes) are the two greatest Itihas (stories based on actual historical happenings) of Hinduism that contain the essence of Sanatana Dharma,the right and wrong practices of living, shastras and philosophies  explained through stories. Srimad Bhagavatam (the life story of lord Krishna and several other Avatars of God), and other Puranas (like Siva PuranamVishnu puranam etc) form the other basic reference books of Hinduism.

It is indeed an uphill task to briefly explain the central tenets of Hinduism. It must be understood that in such a vast and profound religion, there will always be a large gap between what is practiced as religion at the commoner level and what is preached and practiced at the exalted level.

But Hinduism attempts in a wonderful way to elevate every person inclined towards spirituality to a higher level, starting at the level the person already is.

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