Glory of the Vedas

by Swami Prajnanananda
Created: 04 Mar, 2008

Vedas are the source of knowledge guiding human beings from the embryo stage till the end. The word veda in Sanskrit is derived from the root 'vid'- to know. Vedas guide human beings through command in the beginning and later by teaching and protecting like a mother. People are of different nature with different likes and dislikes. Some are dull and inactive; they need to be activated first before going into abstract knowledge. Some are active by nature, they have to be regulated and guided to become contemplative. Vedas consider all these factors and give guidance stage by stage to all.

Aim of Vedas

The aim of Vedas is to guide one to attain liberation (Moksha) while living in this world. Vedas remove ignorance that covers our true nature and leads us to eternal bliss. This is the ultimate goal. Liberation (Moksha) is a state where we are released from bondage. In short Vedas make the unknown known to us, considering our nature. This is the glory of Vedas. Vedas stress the well being of not only human beings but also plants and animals. Vedas emphasize the inter connectivity of human beings, mountains, rivers, planets and stars. The inter dependence of human beings and devatas (divine powers) are discussed in detail. All Vedic injunctions consider both individual and universal well being.

Vedas are anaadi (no beginning)

Vedas are 'anaadi', without a beginning. Vedas have existed at all times. There is no human authorship for Vedas. Rishis (sages) have seen these vedamantras by their drishti (vision). Already existing Vedamantras were brought to human knowledge by them. That is why Rishis are called seers. 'Paramatama’ the Supreme, is beyond time; so are the Vedas. Vedas coexist as breath of Paramatma. Even Brahma, the creator of manifest universe, has a life time (one day of Brahma is 8 6 4 0 million years) but Vedas are not limited by time.

Vedas and Vedangas

Vedas are vast. At present we only have the knowledge of limited Veda Shaakas (branches). There are about thousand two hundred Veda shaakas revealed to the Rishis, but at present we only have knowledge of about eight of them. Each shaaka (branch) of Vedas have three portions called Samhita, Braahmana and Aaranyaka. Samhita is collection of mantras systematically arranged. The main text of a Veda is its Samhita portion. The Braahmana portion of Veda lists and explains the way of performance of the Vedic karmas (rituals). The Aranyaka portion explains the inner meaning and philosophy of Vedas. Upanishads are in the final part of Aaranyaka. Upanishads reveal the Supreme Self through Self knowledge. This knowledge is imparted traditionally by a Guru to sishyas (disciples). Veda Vyasa divided the shaakas into four major groupings for our understanding:

  • Rig Veda - The Rig Veda Samhita is in the form of verses, known as 'Rik', or hymn in praise. Each Rik is a mantra.
  • Yajur Veda - The main purpose of Yajur Veda is to give the mantras practical shape in the form of Yajna or worship.
  • Saama Veda - The Riks or mantras are set to music in melodious hymns in Saama Veda
  • Atharva Veda - The Atharva mantras are in prose as well as in verse. The mantras in Atharva Veda were brought to light by the Rishi Atharvan.

Vedas have six Vedangas (organs):

  • Siksha (pronunciation and euphony) - Siksha Is the breath of Veda mantras. It fixes the parameters of Vedic words.
  • Vyaakarana (grammar) - Vyakarana of sage Panini is mostly used. It is in the form of sutras or aphorisms.
  • Chandas (poetic meter) - Vedas are also known as Chandas as they are mostly in the form of verses. It defines the boundaries of metrical composition.
  • Nirukta (etymology) - The vedic dictionary Is called Kosa or Nighandu. The Vedic Nighantu explains the origin of each word in the Vedas.
  • Jyotisha (astronomy) - It is useful in seeing the disposition of planets and stars in time. Garga, Naarada, Paraasara, Varaahamihira and Aarya Bhatta are well known names for their contribution to Jyotisha sastra.
  • Kalpa (procedure) - Kalpa induces one to Vedic action. Kalpa explains how rituals should be done by giving the right mantras, materials and devatas.

There are also four upangas (subsidiary organs):

Meemaamsa (interpretation), Nyaya (logic) Purana (mythology) and Dharma Sastras (codes of conduct). All the above fourteen are called Dharmapramana, that which give true meaning of Dharma.

Authority (Sabda pramaana)

Vedas are vibrations and sounds that establish rapport with the Cosmic Breath. The sound while chanting the mantras activates our nerve centers as well as affects the atmosphere, resulting in collective well being. The Rishis were able to capture these vibrations through their penance and capabilities. Vedas are called Pramana, authority. Our five sense organs, eye, ear, nose, mouth and skin are ‘pratyatcha pramana’, giving us direct knowledge of form, sound, smell, taste, and feel. Vedas are considered as our sixth pramana to realise the Self. Hence Self knowledge is attained by learning Vedas through a Guru. Vedas have been passed from one generation to another from mouth to ear and from Guru to sishya tradition. This is made possible because of exclusive rules of pronunciation and prosody followed.

Action and knowledge

The early part of Vedas is known as Veda poorva or karma Kanda dealing with action (rituals). The later part of the Vedas Is known as Vedanta or Jnaana kanda dealing with knowledge. Karma kanda of Vedas deal elaborately on Yajna (performance of Vedic ritual). Yajna is exclusive to Vedic way of life. Yajna is performance of prescribed rituals with the aid of fire. Yajna purifies the mind when done for the well being of the world. Karma kanda helps man initially to fulfill his personal desires in the righteous way, and then leads him to selfless action and thus purification of mind. With purified and matured mind one pursues self enquiry guided by jnana kanda. Both stages are important to finally attain liberation. Though certain subjects are relevant in the initial levels, they are not relevant at the higher levels of self enquiry. The Upanishads ultimately show us the truth that the individual soul (jeevatma) merges with the cosmic soul (Paramatma). Adi Sankara selected ten Upanishads and wrote commentary on them. They are: lsa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Taittireeya, Maandukya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brahadharanyaka Upanishads. Other Acharyas have also written their commentaries on these ten Upanishads.

Understanding Vedas

Vedas are also known as 'Sruti' as they were originally heard from the Rishis and passed on to next generation by hearing. There are only a few in the world today who can understand the original texts properly with the help of commentaries. Number of facts on astronomy, astrology and mathematical equations found in Jyothisha Saastra are astonishing even to modern scientists. Calculations on origin of creation, division of yugas (unit of cosmic cycle) as Krita, Treta, Dwaapara and Kali with specific number of years, the concept of numeral zero, calculations on planetary positions are a few examples.

As the Vedas are complicated to comprehend by all, there are other layers made available byRishis. Sutras (aphorisms) are capsule statements. Smritis (remembered wisdom) are in elaborate form. Puranas (upanga) mentioned above form the next layer. Pura means ancient and nava means ever fresh, therefore Puranas are ancient but valid and fresh forever. Puranas are much more magnified form of the statements made in Vedas for the understanding of common man. For example one Statement of Vedas, “Satyam vada” (speak truth) is the theme of entireHarishchadra Purana. Ramayana and Mahabarata are itihasas, meaning history based literature. We further have bashyas (commentaries) by great acharyas like Adi Sankara. It will be misleading and confusing to study the Vedas without these commentaries and guidance. Therefore it is very important to unlock the scriptural literature with the guidance of a qualitied Guru.

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