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.


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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Amma’s stories on Guru, Role of Guru, Guru-disciple Relationship – Part 1 (15 stories)

1. There is no time for japa

Once a rich businessman went and surrendered to a saint and said “Swami, I have no peace in life; I have so much responsibilities on my head that I am always tensed and running behind the clock to complete my commitments; I beg you to show me some way to attain mental peace”.

The saint said,”I will give you a mantra; you chant it as much as possible and you will gain peace”.

The businessman said, “Swamiji, where do I have time to do japa or chant mantras?” He pulled out a large bunch of keys from his pocket and showed it to the saint. “See, I have so many things under my care. I can’t find time to do any chanting; please suggest me something else” said he.

The saint said, “It is not really necessary that you sit at one place and do japa. Can you chant your mantra when you walk to go to your toilet?”

The businessman said, “My toilet is in my room itself!”

“Fine; how many steps do you need to walk from your bed to the toilet?”

“Some, 10-12 steps, Swamiji”

“That’s fine. You chant your mantra while walking those 10-12 steps. How far is your garage from your house?”

“It is about 30 feet, Swamiji”

“Good enough. Chant your mantra while walking those 30 steps”

The businessman agreed. He started chanting his mantra in those brief periods. Then he thought, “Can’t I extend this to other mundane activities too?”

Then he started changing his mantra while brushing his teeth and while answering his nature’s calls; he started changing while taking bath, while changing his dress, while driving to the office and so on. Gradually he started getting a  taste for chanting mantra and found more and more slots in his daily life to chant mantras without affecting his work and responsibilities.

He could notice that his mental peace was increasing on account of chanting mantras like this. He could gradually get distanced from his mental tensions and observe himself more as a witness rather than a doer. Without knowing, chanting Mantra became a second habit in him all the time!

2.  The virtue of patience

(From Upadesamritham-2 Tamil – Page 245)

[Amma: Patience is a quality that a spiritual seeker must possess right from beginning to end of his spiritual practice. A disciple can never realize his goal of enlightenment unless he eradicates his ego totally. A guru will conduct several tests  including surprise tests to ascertain whether a seeker has come with true earnestness or just out of a fleeting surge of dispassion. He will test whether the disciple has patience, commitment and surrender. He will test whether the disciple gets dejected easily or has the tenacity  and will power to cross hurdles. The Guru knows that if a disciple lacks the essential qualities like spiritual power, maturity and compassion, he cannot serve the world properly; he could even turn destructive instead of being constructive. The Guru may even take extreme steps to test a disciple’s patience and commitment].

Once a Guru handed over a piece of rock to his disciple and asked him to create a beautiful idol out of it.  The disciple started chiseling the rock in all earnestness. Ignoring food and sleep, he worked on creating a beautiful idol out of the rock to his own satisfaction.  With humility, he went to his guru and placed the idol at his feet.

The Guru looked at the idol, and expressed his dissatisfaction. “Is this the way to create an idol? It is ugly” Picking it up, the Guru threw it away and it broke into pieces right in front of the disciple’s eyes.  The disciple was shocked. ‘I have toiled so much, even forgetting to take my food and rest , to create this idol and how come the guru could not appreciate it at all?’ His dejection was writ on his face.

Even though the guru noticed it, he gave the disciple another piece of rock and said, “Now do it once again”.

Taking lot more care this time and with increased focus and concentration, the disciple chiseled the rock to create a beautiful  idol again. He felt, ‘I am sure this time my guru will really be impressed’. He took the idol and gave it to his Guru.

Seeing it, the Guru’s face frowned. “Are you laughing at me?  This idol is worse than what you did last time!” saying so, the Guru threw away the idol and broke it. He was intently looking at the disciple’s face to see the reaction.  The disciple stood there hanging his face. Even though he did not utter a word in retaliation for what the guru did, his disappointment was writ large on his face. The Guru gave him another piece of rock and asked him to make another idol.

The disciple worked  with his chisel on this rock with a lot more care to ensure that he could end up with an extremely  beautiful idol. The Guru threw it away too, with much harsher criticism of the piece! This time, the disciple did not have any negative reaction or dejection on his face. He thought ‘If this is Guru’s will, let it be so. Whatever he does is meant for my good only’. Thinking so, he collected the next piece of rock smilingly from the Guru’s hands and proceeded to work on it.

When the disciple went to Guru with yet another beautiful statue that he had carved out most painstakingly, the Guru once again did what he was doing all along. The disciple’s face did not express any feeling whatsoever. Seeing the serenity at the face of his disciple, the Guru felt extremely happy. He  joyfully embraced his disciple and kissed him on his forehead. At that very moment, the disciple attained self-realization.

[Amma: For any third person observing the way the Guru went about breaking the idols, it might look as if the Guru was very sadistic and cruel. One may even suspect the guru to be a lunatic. But what was truly happening there was only comprehensible to the guru and the disciple who had a total sense of surrender. Actually, whenever the Guru broke the disciple’s idol, he was in fact creating a true and divine idol in the heart of the disciple; what was really broken was the disciple’s ego. Only a true Satguru can do it. Only a true disciple can grasp the bliss that comes out of it.]

3.   The Power of Authority

Once a rich man was suffering unbearably on account of his hectic work schedules and mental tension. He lost his peace of mind totally; he consulted his friends and they advised him retire, to lessen his workload, delegate responsibilities, take a long break and so on. However, he was not convinced; .  He went to several doctors and psychiatrists; they prescribed medicines for him; they also advised him to plan for retirement and relax at home.

None of the medicines could cure him; he was not willing to heed to their advices.

One day, he came to know of a saint who was residing in a cave at a distant hill. The rich man took a decision to seek spiritual advice from the saint to solve his problems. He started immediately, despite the hardships involved in climbing the hill terrain.

With lot of physical strain, he traversed up hill and finally reached the cave of the saint.

It was freezing cold; the saint was sitting stark naked inside the cave. The rich man prostrated before the saint.

Without uttering a word, the saint signalled to the rich man to be seated next to him. He obeyed. The saint closed his eyes and went in to deep samadhi. He sat in that state for 3 consecutive days. The rich man too waited very patiently sitting beside the saint all the time. He ignored the cold, forgot food and drink and waited with the sole desire of getting a permanent solution to his problem.

On the third day, the saint attained outer consciousness. Looking at the rich man with compassion, the saint said, “you take retirement, stay at home and enjoy a peaceful life”. So saying, he blessed the man. The rich man returned home, fully satisfied with the statement of the saint.

Days passed. his friends visited his home one day. They were surprised to see that the face of the rich man was radiating peace and contentment now. How could such a drastic transformation take place in their friend within such a short time? They were wonderstruck.

The rich man explained to them about his visit to meet the saint and how he took his advice seriously and acted on it.

“But this is the same advice we gave you earlier!” they exclaimed.

Smilingly the rich man said, ” Yes; you used the same words alright. But when the saint uttered the same words, I could grasp the deeper inner meaning they carried; when he said ‘get retired from work’, the inner meaning I grasped was to withdraw my five senses from the world of distractions. When he said ‘stay at home and enjoy peace’, the inner meaning was ‘let your mind stay put in Atman and see everything as God’s form’. The very powerful ambience of the saint and the power of his words removed my fear, reluctance, anxiety and tension. That’s why I could continue to enjoy peace thereafter”.

[Amma: It is only in the presence of a self-realized saint that a true transformation in mind can take place].

(Arul Mozhigal-9  p. 53)

4.   A lesson from dirty water

Once a Guru was away from his Ashram for a while. When he returned to the  Ashram, he found there was a woman employed in the Ashram. He questioned his disciple who was managing the ashram as to why he allowed a woman into the Ashram. The disciple said,  “Maharaj, since the woman was neither young not beautiful, I thought there is no harm in employing her”. The Guru did not say anything.

A few days went by.

One day the guru was again going out of the Ashram. Before he left, he cooked food for his disciple with excess of salt added. He asked his disciple to bring some cow dung. When he brought it, he put a  some cow dung in the drinking water pot kept in the disciple’s room. When the disciple asked for the reason,  he did not give any reply. He then kept the food inside the disciple’s room, locked it from outside without the knowledge of the disciple and went away.

At noon, the disciple was feeling hungry. He tried to go out to the kitchen, but found that the room had been locked from outside. Then he noticed that the food was kept in a covered plate in his room itself. He ate it hurriedly as he was very hungry. He noticed that the food was excessively salty, but in any case he finished it off.

Due to the excess salt in the food, he started feeling extremely thirsty. He called out others from his room, but there was nobody around. As time passed, he thirst for water became very intense.  Knowing well that the water pot contained drinking water contaminated with cow dung, he decided to drink it in any case because his thirst was so unbearable.  Till the evening, he kept on drinking the same water, though with a sense of aversion,  to quench his thirst.

The Guru returned in the evening and opened the door. He went to the water pot and checked it. It was almost empty. “Why did you drink this dirty water, my son, knowing pretty well that I mixed cow dung in it?”

The disciple replied, “What to do Maharaj? The food you had kept for me was excessively salty and after taking it, my thirst for water became unbearable, Since I could not get any other water, I compromised myself to drink it. The situation was like that. What to do?”

The guru smiled and said, “When situations turned in such a way, you lost all your control and drank the dirty water knowingly. When our vasanas come out very strongly, we may act in such a weird way that we would not imagine doing it under normal circumstances. That’s why I was wary of employing a woman in the Ashram”.

(Amma Satsang – Mon 29/8/16)

5.   The obedient disciple

Once, in a gurukula, where practically all the disciples were Brahmins, the guru took a Shudra too as a disciple and taught him shastras along with other students.

After years of learning scriptures, it was time for the disciples to return to their homes and engage themselves in activities for earning their livelihood.

The Guru told all his disciples that they should ensure that they give lectures on Shastras to worldly people for the welfare of all.

Unfortunately, when the disciples, after returning to their homes, went about giving discourses on shashtras, people were not interested in listening to them.

After trying this out for a while, the Brahmin boys found out that there was no point in wasting their time like this and they went about in search of some other occupation to earn their livelihood.

However, the shudra student did not want to go against his guru’s instructions. He went to a nearby forest daily, sat amidst a few dense trees and started expounding the shastras he had learned from his guru. Only the trees were the silent audience for his discourses!

One day, the king of the country went to the forest for hunting. As he was roaming around he heard a human voice. As he went nearby, he could hear shastras being expounded nicely by a person sitting unobtrusively amidst the trees. The king stood there for a while, giving a patient listening to the talk. He was very impressed by the teaching of the shudra disciple. For the next couple of days, the king visited the forest once again and listened to the discourse without the knowledge of the young disciple.

Finally, he went close, paid his respects to the disciple and expressed his desire to take him to his court and offered him the position of Raja guru, to advise him on the matters of dharma.

Thus the shudra student got a well being and highly respectable position in the kingdom.

While all the rest of the disciples quickly discontinued the instruction of the guru, it was only the shudra student who was steadfast in carrying out the words of the guru and he was profoundly rewarded for his commitment. That how the grace of the guru acts.

(Amma Satsang – Mon 29/8/16)

6.  The secret kill

Once a guru, in order to test how far his disciples had progressed in their awareness, gave them a hen each and said, “Go and kill them where no one sees your act”.

The first disciple returned soon and said, “I have done as per your instruction. I took it to a nearby cave where no one was there and I killed it there”.

The second disciple returned to the ashram after a long time and the hen was still alive in his hands.  He said he could not find any place where none could see his act.

“Why? the other fellow found a cave nearby and he killed the hen! Why couldn’t you do it?”

“But Maharaj, wherever I went, the hen was looking at me! How can I kill it?”

(Amma Satsang – Fri 26/8/16)

7.   Shiva – the Guru

[Amma: When one is mentally united with one’s beloved God,  what remains is absolute silence and peace. It is meditation without break. It is samadhi.]

Once Lord Shiva and Parvathi were conversing. Lord Shiva was normally in samadhi most of the times; he would leave Parvathi alone and go to places elsewhere. Stung by the pain of separation from her beloved Lord, Parvathi insisted on being united with him forever. She wanted Shiva to teach her how to remain in Samadhi; Shiva agreed.

He asked her to sit in padmasan, close her eyes, turn her attention inwards and meditate on Him.

As she started meditating, Shiva asked her “What do you see?”

“I see your lotus feet in my mind’s eye”

“Now go beyond the form. What do you see?”

“I see a light so bright that it is even difficult to see it” said Parvathi.

“Now go beyond the light. What do you see?” asked Shiva.

“I am hearing the sound of ‘OM'”

“Go beyond the sound of OM too. Now tell me what do you experience?” asked Shiva.

There was no reply from Parvathi. Her sense of individual soul had disappeared and merged into the wholeness of Lord Shiva. In that state, there was no one to talk or hear. She had attained the pinnacle of love. It is beyond word, thought or intellectual analysis.

8.   Guru only knows

In a gurukula, the Guru gave Sanyas to all his disciples except for one. The disciple who did not get sanyas felt angry on his guru. He started thinking “Our guru behaves partially; he gave Sanyas to everyone, but not to me; he gave sanyas to those who even joined later than me; he is not a sadguru. It is better to leave from here and go elsewhere”; subsequently he started finding more and more faults with his guru. He did not hesitate to tell others his opinions about the Guru.

In the meanwhile, the guru planned to conduct a yaga (fire sacrifice) in the ashram. Various materials needed for it were brought and kept stored in a house adjacent to the ashram. The guru sent this disciple to fetch necessary materials from the house frequently. An young maiden in the house would issue him the materials from the house. This happened continuously for several days.

Since he was meeting the girl almost daily, the disciple got attracted towards her; gradually he started fell in love with her. Even after coming back to the ashram he could not forget the face of the girl.  The guru continued to send him almost daily to her house at some context or other. His love on the girl grew so strong that he felt he could not remain without seeing her for long hours. One day, he proposed to her.

The girl set forth several conditions for him to fulfil if she had to agree to marry him. They were in fact against the regulations of the ashram, but because of his infatuation on her, he agreed to her conditions. She told him “Now you have to carry me on your shoulders”. He agreed for it too! As he went closer to her so as to lift her up, the girl took a stick lying nearby and started beating him left and right. The disciple, unable to bear her beating, ran to the ashram and came panting in front of the Guru.

Knowing all that happened, the Guru said, “My dear son, don’t you understand now why I did not give you sanyas? You are wrong when you assumed that I don’t have love on you. As I knew you have this vasana in your heart, I did not give sanyas to you. You are not yet free from all your inner vasanas. If  I gave you sanyas, you will only cause trouble to the world’.

The disciple understood. He fell at the feet of his guru and sought his forgiveness.

9.  Prevention is better

Once a Guru in an Ashram was chit-chatting with a friend who came to meet him from outside.

A disciple was picking up a pot and was going out to fetch water from the stream nearby. Watching this, the guru said, “Be careful with the pot”. The disciple nodded. As the disciple was about to leave the door, the Guru asked him to come to him; he twisted the ear of the disciple and said, “Don’t break the pot; understood?” and sent him off.

Amused, the friend asked, “Why are you twisting his years and punishing him when he has hardly started? He has not broken the pot!”

The Guru said, “What is the use if I punish him after he breaks the pot?  Because of my twisting his ears in advance, at least he would be careful in handling the pot while fetching and bringing the pot! Prevention is better than cure”.


10.  Put it into practice

A disciple was living in an ashram for long. He regularly attended to Guru’s satsang and also studies shastras. After a period of time, he felt disappointed that he was not finding any progress in him. He want to the Guru and said, “Maharaj, you know I have been in the ashram for so long, but I have not been blessed with any spiritual experience nor am I feeling any progress in my status”.

The Guru said, “Have you ever gone to Kashi?”

“No, Maharaj. I have never seen Kashi”.

The Guru asked a couple of other disciples the same question. One of them said, “Yes, Swamiji, I have seen Kashi”.

“You please help this man to make a visit to Kashi. Give him necessary details and guidelines” said the Guru.

After several days, the Guru saw the disciple and asked him, “How is Kashi?”

The disciple said, “Swamiji, I have not gone to Kashi. The other day I just heard you suggesting me to make a visit to Kashi; I did not act upon it”.

The guru smiled and said, “All along you simply listened to lectures on shastra. You never acted upon what was taught to you through the scriptures. That’s why you have not experienced any spiritual progress despite spending years in the Ashram”.


11.  Looking at the good side

[Amma: “Even in a criminal, divine qualities are latent. Even in an evil person one can find at least one good quality. Even such a person has got every potential to turn totally good. If only we are patient with such people,  it is possible to kindle their divinity. By developing the quality of seeing good in others, divine grace will fill up inside us. It is that grace that brings success in life”.]

Once a guru wanted to go and live in a new village. Before shifting there, he wanted to gauge the nature of the people living there. He sent two of his disciples to the village and asked them to make their own independent assessment and come back.

The first disciple went around the village, interacted with a few people and came back. He reported: “Maharaj, one cannot see such evil people in any other part of the country. There are only murderers, dacoits and whores in that village; that’s why I came back very quickly”.

The second disciple also came back after a while and he said to the guru, “Swamiji, the village people are very nice; we can’t find such people anywhere”.

‘Oh! How come there are two totally contradicting observations by two persons?’ wondered the guru. He asked them to elaborate more.

The first disciple said, “I saw a dacoit in the first house, a murderer in the second house; I was told that a whore lives in the third house. I felt that is enough to know about the general character of that village people; I felt no urge to know more about the rest of the people. How can I have a good opinion about them?”

The second disciple said, “I too went to those houses. I noticed that the dacoit was feeding a few people suffering under poverty; it is his practice to look around for people who have nothing to eat and provide them with food. I felt happy to see such a good quality in him. I came to know that the person in the  second house was a murder, but I saw him helping a poor man who had fallen down on the path. Though he is a murder, he has compassion to help someone who is suffering and it means he is not dry in his heart. That pleased me.

“I went to have a look at the prostitute’s house too. I saw four young boys there. when I inquired, I came to know that they were orphans and it is the prostitute who is taking care of them as if her own children.

“Thus when I saw such good qualities in people who are condemned as evil by the society, I felt what is the need to inquire about the other people living in the village? I formed a very respectable opinion about the villagers in general and then returned”

(Source: ‘Oliyai nokki’- Tamil)

12. Money for abuse!

Once a saint sent one of his disciples to a village of ruffians with a mission — he should preach dharma to the people there and reform them to become good human beings.

The disciple went to the village and stayed with the people.  Right from the beginning, the people did not like his presence there. When he tried to advise them, they got angry and hurled abuses at him. They treated him very badly. Sometimes, unable to contain himself, he also shouted back at them. That made the people more angry with him.

After trying his best for several days to make them see reason, he felt that he could not succeed in his mission. He came back to his guru and said, “Maharaj, the people in the village are extremely bad; I could not teach them any good values; they were always verbally abusing me and shouting at me. It was extremely difficult for me to be patient with them; I was alway mentally agitated and angry. I am afraid those people are beyond redemption”.

The master said, “I think you should make one more sincere attempt. This time I will give you 100 silver coins. Whenever someone verbally abuses you, don’t react. Simply gift that person with one silver coin”.

The disciple collected the coins and reluctantly went to the village once again.

Seeing him back, the people got agitated. He again started advising them on dharma and someone or other would start scolding him. Immediately, he would give a silver coin to the person who abused him.

This went on for a few days and soon he exhausted all his silver coins. The next day the villagers started shouting at him as usual. Hearing it, the disciple started laughing aloud. The people were surprised to see him laughing without showing any anger or irritation.

An old man came forward and asked him, “Why are you laughing?”

The disciple said, “All these days, I had spent silver coins to hear you abusing me. Now I am left with no money; hereafter, I don’t have to spend my money for hearing your verbal abuses and it is now free! When I thought of it, I could not contain myself from laughing!”

Thus, the disciple, over a period of time had developed the quality of patience and forbearance. He had now become mature enough to laugh even when somebody abused him. By obeying his guru’s words sincerely, he was able to develop such a noble spiritual quality.

The change in the mindset of the disciple created a positive vibration. The villagers started talking amidst themselves: “This man is so nice and patient. In fact, all these days, he has been rewarding us with silver coins for all the bad things we spoke at him. Patiently bearing all these, he has been trying to teach us a few good things for our well being. Let us not abuse him any more; let us attempt to understand what he is trying to teach us”.

Over a period of time, the villagers gradually became more refined, free of the various vices and their evil mindset. They gradually started following good and right conduct by absorbing his teachings.

13.  The power of concentrated mind

[Amma: “If one can attain unwavering peace of mind, many things can happen naturally without difficulty. Suppose you want to memorize something. If you sit at a place and manage to remove all thoughts from the mind and read the portion that you want to memorize once, it will get registered in your mind. You will not forget it till the end of your life. There is no need to memorize it hundred times with tension forgetting food and sleep. Endless hills are hidden deep in our mind. It can contain all the knowledge of the universe. We have not learned the secret of acquiring that skill yet.”]

Long ago a foreign emperor invaded India and conquered it. He wanted to take the four vedas without any distortion to his country. He sent his spies all over the country to find out where he can get all the four vedas in pristine form.

Finally, he came to know that a Brahmin family living in north India was preserving the original palm leaf texts containing all the four vedas. He went there with a team of his army men to meet the Brahmin.

The Brahmin was living in a cottage at the bank of river Ganga with his wife and four sons. The king approached the hut, placed his army men on security outside the hut and went inside. He ordered the Brahmin to handover the manuscripts of vedas to him.

The Brahmin said peacefully, “Venerable king, you don’t have to show so much authority to get the four vedas from me. I will give them happily to you. Before I hand over them, I have to conduct a special ritualistic pooja. I need a day for it.”

Seeing suspicion in the king’s face, the Brahmin said, “Don’t doubt me, Oh king! If you wish, you can keep your guards here. I will not run away. Please come tomorrow. I am only asking for time to conduct the pooja before handing over the palm leaves to you”.

The king ordered his security persons to stay there and guard the hut and he returned.

When the king came back the next morning and entered into the hut, he saw the Brahmin sitting in front of the ceremonial fire and dropping the last palm leaf into the fire, chanting some mantras very loudly. The brahmin’s 4 sons too were sitting around the fire with him and intently listening to what the father was chanting.

Seeing this, the king got very angry and shouted: “You cheated me; I am going to behead you!”

The brahmin replied softly, “Oh King! Don’t get worked up. My fours sons were listening to the chanting of the four vedas throughout the night. I finished chanting of the fourth one just now. Don’t think I have not honoured my promise and cheated you. Now all my four sons know the vedas perfectly without losing even a word of it. Please take them to your country. They will preach veda to your people totally sticking to the original text”.

The king could not believe it. “This can’t be true. You are cheating me”.

The Brahmin asked his sons to start chanting the vedas. They did it perfectly without missing a word. The king was surprised beyond measure.

It happened because the four sons, with total peace of mind, concentration and devotion to their father listened fully to the chanting of the vedas and hence they could absorb them totally.

(Source: Arul Mozhigal-8 Tamil)

14. The Guru Reveals the Real You

Once a hen was incubating her eggs; it so happened that there was an egg of an eagle too mixed up with her other eggs.

After a few days, the eggs hatched and chicks came out. The chick of the eable too was amiest them. Like all other chicks, the chick of the eagle too scratched the earth with its nails, caught worms and ate. It never knew that it belonged to a powerful species of birds that can fly and soar in the sky.

Months passed by. The chicks had grown big and so was the eagle.

One day, an eagle flying at the sky noticed this young eagle scrubbing the earth and eating worms, surrounded by other hens. The large eagle was very surprised. It waited for the opportune time to corner the ‘hen-eagle’ and explain to it what its real status was.

One day the hen-eagle roamed away from the other hens. Noticing it, the visiting eagle flew close to it and landed near it. The hen-eagle got extremely frightened to see the ‘enemy’ and cried out. Hearing its cry, all the other hens and cocks roaming nearby came rushing to help and the visiting eagle had to retreat in a hurry.

On another day, the hen-eagle got stranded quite away from the group of other hens. Noticing it, the visiting eagle came nearer. This time, it was more careful. It kept a safe distance and then spoke very softly: “Hey! Listen to me; don’t get scared; I am not your enemy, but your friend. I wanted to tell you one important truth”.

The hen-eagle was still scared; it wanted to run away. But, with lot of difficulty, the visiting eagle stopped it and started counseling: “You see, you are not really a hen; you are not destined to run around on the earth and eat worms like this! You are indeed a mighty eagle like me who can fly high on the sky and enjoy your freedom! You can fly because you are like me; whatever power I possess you too have it. Come on, flip your feathers and try to fly!”

The hen-eagle still could not get convinced. It could only think that the eagle was trying to brainwash it with the intent of killing and eating it. However, the big eagle did not relax its efforts to convince the hen-eagle. It kept on talking with lots of patience and tact. Finally it could gain the trust of the hen-eagle. The visiting eagle took the hen-eagle to a nearby lake and said, “Watch your reflection in the water;see how you look; don’t you agree that you appear same like me?”

The hen egle was surprised to see her image in water looking exactly like the other eagle. It could not believe its eyes. it kept looking again again at the water. Finally it was convinced that it was an eagle indeed and not a weak hen. Its faith and trust on the visiting eagle became full. It developed conviction on what the former said and its self-confidence grew. It started obeying the eagle.

The large eagle started teaching the young eagle how to fly. It was of course difficult for the young one initially. It flew a couple of feet above the ground and fell down a couple of times;but practicing repeatedly, it could soon fly higher and higher. After a while, both the large eagle and the young one flew together joyfully high up on the sky.

[In this story, the hen-eagle represents the worldly person; the visiting eagle represents the Sadguru who has known his oneness with God. Eating worms represents enjoying the petty sensual pleasures of the world and getting bonded to the world; seeing reflection in water represents getting a glimpse of one’s oneness with divinity by the grace of the guru; trying to learn flying represents doing spiritual sadhana as per Guru’s guidance; soaring high in the sky with the Guru represents getting liberated (attaining mukti) and attaining Unity with the infinite in the same way as the Guru.]




15. The Lazy disciple

Once a Guru and his disciple were sleeping inside a hut on a cold night. In the middle of the night, the Guru asked said to the disciple “Please check whether it is raining outside”.

The disciple felt too lazy to get up, go out and check whether it was raining. At that time, a cat came inside the hut through the window. The disciple extended his hand, touched the cat to check whether it was wet. Since it was not wet, he said, “Guruji, it is not raining outside” and dozed off.

After some time, the guru said, “I am really feeling cold; will you please shut the window?”

The disciple covered his face and ears with his bedsheet and said, “Guruji, we are spiritual renunciates; are we not supposed to bear heat and cold with equanimity?” and continued with his sleep.

After a while, the Guru said, “Please get up and turn off the lamp”.

The disciple said, “Master, Have I not obeyed and responded to your previous two requests?  Why don’t you do at least this yourself to set an example of self-help?”

[Amma: “The disciples of the present day are mostly like this! They want to instruct and manage the guru rather than obeying Guru’s instructions”.]




If Vedas (Shruti – meaning as heard) were transmitted only by word of mouth across several centuries, how come their pristine originality was maintained?

The following explanation comes from Kanchi Paramacharya (Sri Chandresekharendra Saraswathi) — translated and abbreviated from his discourse available in Tamil book ‘Deivathin Kural’ – Part 2 pages  244-249.

Our Ancestors had created very judicious ways to safeguard the Vedas and transmit them without giving chance for mistakes creeping in, even without any written source. In the formal verbal teaching,memorizing and chanting of vedas, they created so many rules so that not even a single word is miss-spelt nor wrongly intonated.

There was a time measure called ‘matra’ which is used to stipulate how long or short each syllable in the vedic mantra should be chanted. The Vedanga called Siksha had guidelines as to how to use one’s breath to cause vibration in a particular part of the human body so that the pronunciation of that word or sylable in the mantra is done to go with that vibration to get the correct sounding. The siksha gives details by comparing the swaras (notes) in music with the tonal aspects of chanting vedic mantras and identifying similarities and dissimilarities; it compares them with the sounds produced by animals and birds and give guidance through examples.

One of the greatest techniques to ensure that the words and syllables in the vedic mantras are not altered was the various chanting methods that the ancient rishis devised. They created chanting procedures that involved combining the words in the mantras in different permutations and combinations. Vakyam, padam, kramam, jatha, mala, shika, rekha, dvajam, dandam, ratham, ghanam — these were the chanting techniques followed.

In South India, we call some of the vedic pundits as “ghana baadikaL”. What does it mean? Baadam means lesson. Ghana bhadi means the level to which he has studied (i,e, upto Ghanam level) in the chanting technique of the Vedas. When you hear them chanting, you can grasp that he is chanting a segment of Veda by playing around with the same words in a phrase by combining them in different permutations. Even to listen to such a ghanam chanting is very pleasing to the ears. The natural majesty that we can feel when vedic chanting is done seems to get accentuated when we hear it as a ghanam chanting. The same phenomenon can be observed when listening to vedic chanting in other modes like jata, shika, mala, krama etc.

But the real purpose of these exercises is to to ensure that the vedic mantras are not misspelt or interchanged or jumbled up, so that the pristine nature of mantras are maintained impeccably.

The chanting of the the vedic texts in the same order in which the words are formed into sentences is known as Vakya Badam or Samhita Badam. When two sentences meet, the last word of the first and the first word of the second sentence are normally combined together. This practice exists in many Tamil verses; it is the common practice sanskrit verses too but the combination will be far more cryptic in sanskrit, there by creating scope for wrong splitting when detailing is needed. To avoid such error, there is Pada Badam technique, in which the individual words in the joints are clearly and distinctly spelt.

Thus, the Samhita Badam comes first; next is the Pada Badam. Next comes krama badam where the chanting is done by combining first and second word, second and third word, third and fourth word and so on.

The permutations and combinations will vary (in a more and more difficult way) as one progresses from Krama to jata, to chika and so on. Ghana is the most complicated of all techniques.

In the video below, an example of Krama, Jata and Ghana mode of chanting of Gayathri Mantra are explained:


Let us listen some Vedic Chanting in Kramam mode in this video below:
Let us listen to some Vedic chanting in Ghanam mode in the following video:

We know how safely life-saving medicines are preserved in laboratories by using various techniques. In a similar way, our old rishis have painstakingly created such complicated techniques in order to ensure that the Vedas which are so essential for protecting the world were kept preserved without losing their pristine purity and originality even when there was no writing involved and word-by-mouth transmission was the only method available.

When all the words and syllables of  vedic mantras tally perfectly across each of these techniques, it is a clear indication that the original texts are transmitted without any error generations after generations.

The vedic rishis also stated that considering the significance of the various chanting techniques, each upper and complicated technique of chanting has twice the value or benefit of chanting over the lower one.

Western researchers try to fix the time periods of origin of ancient texts by trying to observe the changes that could have happened in the words’ form, format or sound over long periods of histories. But such so called scientific techniques will not come to the help of determining when Vedas (which are known to be beginningless) originated because, the chanting techniques have been so meticulously crafted in order to ensure accuracy of transmission.



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.