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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 itself."

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 and health).

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.

Tantric Scriptures

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 ignorance.

The Upanisads

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.

The Vedanta-sutras

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.

The Itihasas

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 Srimad-Bhagavatam.

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 Vedas.

Srimad Bhagavatam

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."
Srimad-Bhagavatam 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."
Srimad-Bhagavatam 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 Srila Prabhupada:
"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

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