Chapter 14-The Vedas
The Vedic Scriptures
The Vedic scriptures are the spiritual literature of the ancient
Indian culture. They consist of a huge collection of books written
in the Sanskrit language that includes material (mundane), religious
(ritualistic), and spiritual(monotheistic) knowledge. The word
"Vedic" is derived from the Sanskrit word veda, meaning
knowledge or revelation. According to Vedic history, these scriptures
were written down about 5000 years ago. This date is not accepted
in modern Indology, but the date is in fact not very important,
because the knowledge in these scriptuires existed long before
it was written down.
The Veda is understood by simply accepting what the Veda says
about itself. This Vedic self-understanding may be amazing or
even unbelievable to the modern reader, but the different opinions
about the origin and history of the Vedic scriptures are due
to a fundamental difference in world views between the followers
of the Veda and modern mundane scholars.
According to the Indological world view, "Vedic Scripture"
doesn't even exist. Modern Indology says that the collection
of books mentioned in this article is not a consistent body of
knowledge but a mere accumulation of texts from different sources.
Indology claims that they were written over a long period, starting
after the hypothetical Aryan invasion into the Indian subcontinent,
about 1000 to 1500 B.C., when the mixture of tribes formed a
"Vedic" culture. If we believe this scenario, then
it is natural to think that the Indian scriptures are a mass
of unsystematic, mythological texts.
The Vedic scriptures maintain a completely different version-one
of ancient cultures, timeless revelations, and divine incarnations.
The entire body of Vedic knowledge has a systematic structure
and a clearly-defined goal, being compiled by Vedic rishis (sages)
headed by Vyasadeva- the literary incarnation of Lord Krishna.
About 5000 years ago these sages systematically wrote down this
knowledge to prevent it from being lost in the upcoming Kali-yuga,
the Iron Age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the most fallen in the
cycle of ages.
The structure of the Vedic scriptures can be compared to a
staircase with many steps, with specific scriptures corresponding
to each step. The Vedic scriptures describe both the goal and
the steps leading up to this goal. They are nonsectarian because
they respect people of all "steps", encouraging everyone
to progress to the next step. There is no converting or pushing,
because everyone has to walk for himself. As the Vedic saying
goes, "Even in a flock of birds, each bird has to fly for
Individual evolution is not limited to one life. The Vedic
understanding of reincarnation declares that the steps of this
symbolical staircase can also be understood as lifetimes. The
almost proverbial "Hindu" tolerance is based on a solid
philosophical understanding and shouldn't be confused with merging,
indifference or "everything is one."
Superficially, the Vedic scriptures may appear to be unsystematic
and even contradictory, but this impression can easily be reconciled
by finding out how each step is connected with the goal.
The Four Vedas
Known as Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva, the four Vedas are
usually labeled as the original Vedic scriptures. Rig means ritual,
and this Veda contains mainly hymns and prayers (mantras) for
the worship of the universal forces known as the demigods. Yajur
means ceremony, and this Veda mainly describes how to perform
the rituals. Sama means singing, and this Veda contains many
other mantras and strict rules how to chant these mantras according
to mystic vibrations. Atharva means the priest who knows the
secret lore, and this Veda describes many different kinds of
worship and invocations. In a broader sense, the Atharva also
includes scriptures of material knowledge, like the Ayur-Veda(pharmacology
The purpose of these teachings is to encourage one to understand
that one is not an independent entity but a part of a universal
body that depends on many higher forces. The most important lesson
from these four Vedas is to accept higher authorities. By linking
up with the divine forces through ritual and understanding, one
profits materially and experiences peace and harmony.
Not everybody is inclined to follow the methods of the Vedas,
which demand strictness, purity, faith, and patience. Impatient,
ignorant people demand instant results, and these can be obtained
by magic, ghost worship, etc. By providing such knowledge, the
Vedic scriptures encourage the faith of occultists, so that one
day or one lifetime, they may develop interest in the higher
aspects of the Veda. Such works are in the modes of passion and
Woven into the four Vedas are philosophical discussions called
the Aranyakas and Brahmanas. The most significant of these are
the Upanisads("sitting beneath", i.e. knowledge obtained
from a spiritual teacher). These texts show that all material
forms are temporary manifestations of an eternal energy beyond
material duality. They show the oneness behind the variety and
inspire those absorbed in the rituals of the Vedas to go beyond
their short-term goals.
To provide a common ground of argument for all philosophical
schools, the 560 condensed aphorisms of the Vedanta-sutra define
the Vedic truths in the most general terms. Therefore the commentaries
to the Vedanta-sutras are voluminous.
These are the historical works, mainly the Ramayana(the history
of the incarnation Rama), the 18 Puranas and 18 Sub-puranas(the
universal history of creation and annihilation, incarnations
and great kings, saints and teachers), and the Mahabharata (the
history of ancient India, or Bharata, up to the appearance of
Krishna five thousand years ago). These scriptures are essential
because they expand the understanding of the Absolute beyond
the abstract, impersonal platform. The Absolute is supremely
perfect and complete, which is why it is both impersonal and
personal. But the personal aspect is the original source of the
secondary impersonal existence of the Lord, since an impersonal
energy cannot be the source of persons. The Itihasas reveal this
personal feature, gradually introducing and identifying it, culminating
in the purely monotheistic revelations of the Bhagavad-gita and
The Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam
The Vedic scriptures designate these sacred texts as the most
important, essential revelations. They directly describe the
nature, energy, and person of God, who is both the immanent (as
Vishnu) and transcendent (as Krishna) source of everything, the
cause of all causes, of both the impersonal and personal manifestations.
Bhagavad-gita("the song of God") are the words spoken
by God, and Srimad-Bhagavatam("Divine Revelation")are
the words about God spoken by His representatives. This implicit
structure of the Vedic scriptures sheds new light on the entire
Vedic tradition and deserves closer examination. But the goal
of these scriptures is to lead us to the Supreme, and it is not
sufficient merely to study them theoretically. They imply practical
consequences. Mere academic study of the Vedic scriptures can
be compared to reading a cookbook or a musical composition. If
we don't come to the point of actually cooking or playing, we
will have missed the goal.
The Bhagavad-gita As It Is
Bhagavad-gita means "the song of God." It was spoken
by Lord Krishna to His friend and eternal servant Arjuna, one
of the five Pandava brothers, the heroes of the epic Mahabharata.
The 18 chapters of the Bhagavad-gita are from the middle of the
Mahabharata and comprise the core teaching of that history of
India. The 700 verses of the Bhagavad-gita were spoken in about
45 minutes. They were spoken 3,134 years before the birth of
Christ on a battlefield about 80 km. north of Delhi, India. That
battlefield, called Kuruksetra, still exists today.
The external reason for the Bhagavad-gita's being spoken is
the refusal of the great warrior and general Arjuna to fight
on the battlefield of Kuruksetra due to the illusion that had
momentarily overcome him. Krishna therefore gave him perfect
instruction, which cleared up his illusion and ultimately led
to the victory of the Pandavas and the reestablishment of righteousness
and purity in the kingdom. The internal reason is to enable us,
the fallen conditioned souls of this material world, to hear
directly from Krishna how to free ourselves from illusion and
return to our original position of eternal, loving devotional
service to the Lord.
Although many editions of the Bhagavad-gita have been published
in the world, most scholars agree that only the Bhagavad-gita
As It Is truly represents the words of Krishna as they are understood
by Krishna's sincere followers. Indeed, although many persons
had translated the text before Srila Prabhupada presented his
book, the study of these other versions had not resulted in anyone
becoming a devotee of Lord Krishna-which is the whole point of
the Gita. Since one may judge a thing by the results it brings,
the result that thousands of people have transformed their lives
by devotion to Krishna owing to the publication and distribution
of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada has made the science of Krsna consciousness
available to those outside of India and has shown that Vedic
knowledge is divine revelation to bring us to the supreme goal,
pure loving devotional service of Krishna.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita 15.15:
sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto
mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham
I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me
come rememberance, knowledge
and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known.
Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of
The Bhagavata Purana, is the ripened fruit of the Vedic literature and is the narration of transcendental
pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. It is narrated by Sukadeva and has become more sweet from being spoken
from his lips.
"Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated,
this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those
devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from
illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries.
This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva, is sufficient in itself
for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture?
As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, by this
culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart."
Canto 1, Part 1, Verse 2
"O expert and thoughtful men, relish Srimad Bhagavatam, the mature fruit of desire of Vedic literatures.
It emanated from the lips of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful,
although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls."
Canto 1, Part 1, Verse 3
One should read the Bhagavatam from the beginning to the end and not skip to the Tenth Canto, as recommended by
"The Tenth Canto is distinct from the first nine cantos because it deals directly with the transcendental activities
of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. One will be unable to capture the effects of the tenth Canto without going through the first nine cantos.
The book is complete in twelve cantos, eac independent, but it is good for all to read them in small installments one after another." -Preface