The name Hinduism was given to us by other people. It is said to have come as a modification from the word Indus. They presumed that the religion was followed by the people from Indus valley civilization. In fact our religion has been in existence for so long that no one knew when it actually originated. Our ancestors say that the religion actually had no name. A name is required only to differentiate it from the other similar things. If there is only one in existence, it doesn’t need a name to identify or differentiate. Hinduism is more a practice than a prescription. Hence it is called Dharma. Since our religion has been in existence since time long it is called Sanathana Dharma.
The back bone of the Sanathana Dharma is the Vedas. It has some unique feature compared to the other religions we see now. The basic objective of any religion is to lead one through the path of righteousness. God is a principle to be realized and not a substance to be attained. In the path of making one to attain that realization, every religion has it own theories and principles. Hinduism has its unique theories to explain the disparities we see around in the world we live.
Theory of Karma – The principle of this theory is that you reap the benefit of what you do, the seeds you sow. The time from the seed to the fruit may vary but there is a certain connection between the cause and the effect.
Theory of Rebirth – To exhaust the karmas, enjoy or suffer the effect of the past deeds, one takes rebirth. While the past karmas are exhausted, new karmas are being performed leading to a cycle of birth and rebirths.
Vedas being the backbone of our Sanathana Dharma, prescribes the activities to follow the path of righteousness and explains the God within oneself transcending to the state of realization.
The Sanathana Dharma cannot exist without Vedas. The entire creation is said to have happened from the Vedas. Vedas in a context refer to the God itself. From that stand point, Vedas are no different from God. Vedas were in the form of Shabdha, which is called the Shabdha Brahma. From this energy in the form of sound reverberating in the cosmos, the entire creation is said to have happened.
Great Rishis who could tap this reverberation have put them into Veda Mantras. Veda Vyasa compiled these Veda Manthras into four broad groups and termed them as Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharvana. The Vedas were transmitted by word of mouth from guru to their disciples and hence termed as Shruthi.
Vedas contains two main sections:
1.Veda Purva or Karma Kanda
This section deals with the rituals and practices to be performed by one who wants to prepare himself for contemplating self realization. There rituals help them to gain the required qualification to take up the study of self knowledge. The karma kanda contains mantras for deity worship. Deities are generally the controller of the power. Every power human possesses, is part of the total power in the cosmos, represented in the form a deity. For example : Sun God is the total power of the vision. Worshipping these deities as prescribed by the scriptures helps one to tap the total power for their benefit.
2.Veda Antha or Gyana Kanda
This sections deals with the end objective of the Vedas (viz) Self Realization. Once the individual has gained the required qualification, Gyana Kanda takes them through the process of Self Realisation pointing them to the ultimate reality. Self Realisation is an experience and not a understanding with the help of intellect.
The contents in Vedas are more cryptic and lots of scriptures have come out later to explain the contents of Vedas. Vedas together with these scriptures is referred to as Shasthras.
The scriptures are broadly classified into four as below:
The first and foremost being the Vedas or Shruthi. Vedas means Source of Knowledge and were revealed by Lord himself. They are in the form of reverberation in the cosmos, which are the source of the entire creation. Rishis have captured them and given it as various mantras. These were compiled by Veda Vyasa as four Vedas we see today.
Vedas provide the teaching in a cryptic way. The entire Harishchandra Purana explains one Vedic Teaching (viz) Sathyam Vada – Speak the truth. These are so cryptic that it is difficult for a common man to understand/ articulate. Rishis themselves have attempted to elaborate the teaching of Vedas and these are called Smrithi. Yagnavalkya Smrithi is a popularly known Smrithi.
The next level of elaboration are provided by Sutras, which are also authored by the Rishis. Bhramasutra is the most popular one. They provide logical support to the teachings of Shruthi and Smrithi.
All the above three are called together as prasthana thrayam. The teachings of the Prasthana Thrayam are still complex for a common man. Later acharyas have made different works to explain the teachings in a way to suit the time period they belonged to. These works are called as Prakaranas. Tatva Bodha is one such prakarana which comprehensively provides a basic understanding of the Vedantha.
Itithasas and Puranas also support the teachings of the Vedas in a story form. The two Ithihasas are Ramayana by Sage Valmiki and Mahabharatha by Veda Vyasa. Mahabharatha contains volumes of teachings including the Bhaghavat Gita and hence is ranked in par with Vedas. Hence it is called Panchamo Veda – 5th Veda. It is said that while Vishnu took birth as Rama, Vedas took birth as Ramayana. Hence Ramayana is none other than the Vedas and Rama showed the Vedic way of living.
Puranas were also made by Veda Vyasa. There are 18 puranas and 18 upapuranas. Puranas glorifies a deity and embeds the vedic teaching on the story around the deity.
All these together provide a wealth of literature for leading the path of righteousness and take the path to self realization.
In the next Article let us try to understand the Human goals and the roles of Science and Self knowledge in managing these goals.