Hear, ye sons of immortal bliss..I have known the self effulgent being, who is beyond all darkness.. Knowing Him alone can we go beyond death. There is no other way.
The word ‘Veda’ has been derived from the word ‘Vid’ which means ‘to know’. Though the orthodox Indian theologians consider the Vedas as the preserved form of the revelations seen by the Ancient Seers or Rishis in the depths of meditation, in general, the Vedas are thought of as the culmination of all knowledge prevalent in this Universe.
Four to six thousand ago, in the fertile lands of India thrived a civilization on the banks of the holy river, Narmada. This period was a very prosperous one and production was always surplus. This period also saw the birth of many ruminative men who later became known as ‘saints’ or ‘sages’. These men discovered that despite the apparent absence of any discomfort in their lives, it was indeed difficult to retain inner peace and tranquillity.. Hidden beneath the momentary satisfaction of worldly prosperity, was a constant longing for a greater satisfaction that would last longer, nay forever. This they called Truth. When all their efforts to find such satisfaction in the world failed, these sages dared to change the very direction of their search. Beating a retreat, these fearless men, began to seek within themselves, that which they had hitherto sought without.
Gradually, sinking into the depths of contemplation, these sages were able to unravel the profound mysteries of existence, discovering in the process, an infinite storehouse of bliss within themselves. The Truth was thus revealed, .The ‘Vedas’ discovered.
Classifications Of Vedas
The knowledge of the Vedas have been transmitted from the heart of the Guru to that of the disciple since time immemorial. The disciple would listen to the words of his Master, reflect upon them, and then contemplate on their essence. This was the method for the realization of the essence of the Vedas. Hence the Vedas are also known as Shrutis. The word Shruti implies, ‘knowledge that has been heard’. However, no written records existed of the Vedas. It was Sage Ved Vyasa, who made a written compilation of the Vedas for the first time. He compiled the mantras of the Vedas and classified them as follows:
This is the most ancient of all Vedas. All the mantras or hymns of Shruti were included in the RigVeda. The text has a collection of 1,028 hymns. Ved Vyasa’s disciple ‘Paila’ was the preacher of Rig Veda.
All the hymns of the Veda composed in the form of prose were incorporated into the Yajur Veda. These hymns elucidate the procedures for rituals and offerings. Yajur Veda was probably composed around 1200 to 1000 BCE, as estimated by scholars. The Yajur Veda is grouped into the Krishna and the Shukla. The preacher of this Veda was Vaisampayan, another disciple of Vyasa.
his Veda has been widely categorized and mainly consists of music and melodies. The Chandagya and Kena Upanishad are part of the Sama Veda. Jaimini, disciple of Ved Vyasa, was the preacher of Sama Veda.
The hymns and verses of the Rig, Yajur and Sama Veda were the most popular and widely circulated as these were used in sacrifices and Yajnas( rituals). Even after integrating all the hymns within these three Vedas, many others were left out, unused in rituals.
Ved Vyasa assimilated the rest of the hymns and included them in the Atharva Veda. Scholars state that this Veda also contains the methods and procedures of everyday life. Rishi Sumanta, disciple of Ved Vyas, was the preacher of the Atharva Veda.
Each Veda has been further sub- classified into four major texts – Samhita( mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas(text on rituals, ceremonies, Symbolic sacrifices), the Brahmanas(commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices) and Upanishads( dealing meditation,philosophy and spiritual knowledge.) Some scholars also add a fifth category called Upasanas(worship)
The Vedas in general are classified into two parts- the Karma Kanda (Work portion, dealing with rituals, methods of worship etc.) and the Jnana Kanda (Knowledge portion, dealing with the philosophical essence of the Vedas). The Upanishads are a part of the latter. Most of these Upanishads are in the form of dialogues between the Guru and His disciple. They contain utterances (shrutis) concerning the nature of Brahman (the absolute reality or consciousness) and describe the methods through which one can attain liberation or moksha.
The names of 108 Upanishads have been mentioned in the Vedas. Out of them, eleven are considered most important- Isha Upanishad( Shukla- Yajurveda), Kena Upanishad(Samaveda), Katha Upanishad( Krishna- Yajurveda), Prashn Upanishad(Atharvaveda), Mundaka Upanishad(Atharva Veda), Mandukya Upanishad( Atharva Veda), Taittiriya Upanishad( KrishnaYajur Veda), Aitereya Upanishad(Rig Veda), Svetasvatara Upanishad( Krishna Yajurveda), ChandagyaUpanishad( Sam Veda), and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad( Shukla Yajurveda).
The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta. The word ‘Vedanta’ (Ved+ Antah) means the end or the last part of the Vedas.
The Vedanta philosophy bases itself on the Prasthantrayi . The Prasthantrayi refers collectively to the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahmasutras.
1) Upanishads are known as upadeshaprasthana(injunctive texts) or Shrutiprasthana( the origin ofrevelation)
2) The Brahma Sutra is known as Nyaya Prasthana(texts on logic) and,
3)The Bhagavad Gita is known as SmritiPrasthan( the beginning of the recollected traditions)
Upanishad is the main compendium consisting of a total 0f 108 texts.Brahma Sutra was composed by Ved Vyasa in order to systemize the doctrines of Upanishads and Gita.The Bhagavad Gita is the holy Hindu Scripture which is a part of the epic Mahabharatha. Extensive annotations have been composed by different Vedantic Educators on these recognized textsand each text has a strong influence on the perceptions of Vedanta.
Of all things dear to man, the one thing he primarily lives for is freedom. He finds pleasure in all other pursuits only as long as they make him believe that he is free. Rooted in his idea of freedom, man lives. Looking at the world around, however, he sees a different picture. If he is hungry, he cannot sit quietly, even if he wants to, without eating first. If he is sleepy, he cannot stop himself from sleeping even if he has other work to do first. Just as he has to wear warm clothes when he feels cold, so also is he forced to remove his clothes when he feels hot. His life is only a long wait before death becomes an inevitable reality. There is no escaping death, even if he wants otherwise. And yet he believes he is free. His whole existence rises up in rebellion against any idea that refutes his belief. A voice within, keeps reminding him that he is free, a voice that defies logic, yet is firm and constant. Man trusts this voice, but knows not from where it comes.
Vedanta is the ancient Indian science that seeks to understand the original nature of this voice in man- a voice that holds the key to a greater truth, distinct from the perceived reality of existence. It is this Truth that sets man free. It is the answer to the question- Who am I? It is this Truth that the scriptures define as Brahman. Vedanta declares that the real nature of man is of the same essence as Brahman, which is imperishable, and beyond the binds of nature, free from the shackles of time, space and causation. Just like Brahman, Man has ever been free, but by his own ignorance, believed himself to be limited by the confines of the mind and body.
The knowledge of Brahman, burns to ashes all of man’s doubts and fears, as the eternal nature of His Self shines forth. His worries are dispelled by the revelation, that the world as he perceives it, is but an apparent projection of his own Self.
The Mahavakyas are the great sayings of the Upanishads. Though there are many Mahavakyas, four such Upanishadik statements are considered to be of primary importance.
• Prajnanam Brahma-(प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्मा) This is a part of the Aitareya Upanishad of the Rig Veda. It means ‘Prajna is Brahman’ or ‘Knowledge is Brahman’
• Ayamatma Brahma- (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म )This is a part of the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva Veda. It means ‘This Self is Brahman’
• Tat TvamAsi- (तत्वमसि) This is a part of the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda. It means, ‘Thou Art That’. ‘That’ refers to Brahman.
• AhamBrahmasmi-(अहं ब्रह्मास्मि) This is a part of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajur Veda. It means, ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am Divine’.
SOME PROPOUNDERS OF VEDANTA
Ved Vyasa is a highly revered sage in Hindu traditions. He is usually considered the author of the great Indian epic, Mahabharatha. He also scribed the Vedas and the Puranas.
He made an attempt to blend the preceding philosophies of Sankhya and Nyaya, with the doctrines of Vedanta. The Sutras or aphorisms of Vyasa form the basis of Vedanta philosophy in modern day India. Ved Vyasa, also known as Badarayana initiated efforts to simplify the Upanishads. He was the first to take up the stimulating task of bringing the immensely vast doctrines of the Upanishads under a system. He is also regarded as the ‘preserver’ of the Vedas because he decided to codify the ancient form of the Vedas (Shruti) when it was on the verge of decline.
AdiShankaracharya, the 8th century philosopher and theologian, consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. An exceptional expounder of the same, Shankaracharya was responsible for restoring
Sanatan Dharma and Vedanta to their original purity and glory. He travelled all across India, to restore the study of the Vedas. He is also considered to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order. At a time when Buddhism reigned supreme and superstitions and delusional practices had crept into the practice of religion, Shankaracharya restored people’s faith in the original essence of Hinduism. Shankaracharya had also written systematic reviews and commentaries on some of the most important Hindu scriptures including the Brahmasutras, ten principal Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.
The most prominent exponent of Vedanta in modern times was Swami Vivekananda. He was the key figure who introduced Vedanta to the Western World and established
Hinduism as a major religion of the world in the late 19 th century. He is considered as the saviour and reviver of Hinduism and the philosophy of Vedanta at a time when the world was drunk on western materialism and superstition. Swami Vivekananda, also known as the ‘warrior monk’ , emphasized on the importance of the practical aspect of Vedanta. He believed that Vedanta holds the solution to all of man’s problems. The practice of Vedanta could help a player become a better player, and a student a better student, just as it could help a saint become a better saint. He stressed that Vedanta was for all, and should not remain confined within woods and forests, where only sages could practice it. His clarion calls provided inspiration at a time when people in India were struggling for Independence.
Bhagavan- The present Vedantic Guru
Bhagavan, the core and founder of The International Vedanta Society, has carried forward, to a great extent, Swami Vivekananda’s dream of spreading the message of Vedanta, confined hitherto in the woods and forests of India, amongst the masses. The movement started by Bhagavan has seen the active participation of the youth and men and women of all classes of society, celebrating the essence of Advaita Vedanta. His simplified method of preaching Vedanta has touched the hearts of people, overcoming all boundaries. He has successfully turned Vedanta into a household subject, and ushered in an age of liberal spiritualism, where rules, dogmas, and beliefs have been done away with, and the practice of Vedanta made more spontaneous. Here, the effort is to be able to practise Vedanta twenty four hours a day, not just in the form of meditation and contemplation, but also in doing day to day household or office work. Touched by His love and divine grace, devotees have understood the essence of Vedanta in their realizations, without ever having read the scriptures.