Glimpses of Vedanta Part---1

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Glimpses of Vedanta
By S. N. Sastri
1. Introduction to Advaita Vedanta
2. Mind is the key to happiness
3. Bondage and Liberation are only in the Mind
4. Means To Self-realisation
5. Anatomy of Bhakti
6. Gitacharya and Gopijanavallabha
7. Vishayananda to Brahmananda
1. Introduction to Advaita Vedanta

The term 'Vedanta' stands for the Upanishads as a whole, which form part of the Vedas. It would therefore be appropriate to give a general account of the Vedas before going on to deal with Vedanta.

In the Indian tradition, philosophy is termed 'darsana', a Sanskrit word meaning 'seeing' or 'experiencing'. This indicates that the aim of philosophy in India is direct experience of the ultimate Reality and not mere intellectual speculation as in Western philosophy. The Indian philosophical systems are classified into two broad categories known as 'aastika darsanas' and 'naastika darsanas'. There are no exact equivalents to these terms in English, though the terms 'orthodox' and 'unorthodox' are sometimes used. It would be wholly misleading to use the terms 'theistic' and 'atheistic' for these categories. The term 'aastika' has been defined as referring to a person who, or a system which, accepts, (1) the authority of the Vedas, (2) the doctrine of rebirth and (3) the existence of other 'lokas' or spheres of experience. In the category of aastika darsanas fall those systems which accept the authority of the Vedas. These are the six systems known as Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa (or Vedanta). Even among these six, it is only the last two that base themselves directly on the Vedas and accept nothing that goes against them. The other four systems are based more on independent grounds of logic and reasoning, but they too are not opposed to the Vedas.

In the category of naastika darsanas fall the four schools of Buddhism, Jainism and the Carvaka (or atheistic) school, which do not accept the authority of the Vedas. These also make up a total of six.

The Vedas

All the six aastika darsanas regard the Vedas as the record of the divine truths revealed to the sages (Rishis or seers) in their supra-normal consciousness. The sages are not the authors of the Vedas. They are known as 'seers' of the Vedic mantras. The traditional view is that the Vedas are eternal. The word 'Veda' means primarily 'knowledge' and secondarily the books in which that knowledge is recorded. This is not knowledge of the external world, but the knowledge of the supreme Truth which cannot be attained by any effort of the human mind. It has been categorically declared by our ancient sages that the Vedas have no validity in matters which fall within the domain of other valid means of knowledge such as perception and inference. Sri Sankara says in his Bhashya on the Bhagavadgita, ch.18, verse 66: "The validity of the Vedas holds good only with regard to matters which cannot be known through such other valid means of knowledge as direct perception, etc., because the validity of the Vedas lies in revealing what is beyond direct perception. Even a hundred Vedic statements cannot become valid if they say that fire is cold or non-luminous. If a Vedic text says that fire is cold or non-luminous, one should assume that the intended meaning of the text is different, for otherwise its validity cannot be maintained. One should not interpret it in such a way as to contradict some other valid means of knowledge".

Because of this clear demarcation of the spheres of validity of the Vedas on the one hand and the other means of knowledge relied on by science on the other, no conflict between science and the Vedas can arise, similar to those which arose between the Church and the discoveries of scientists like Copernicus and Galileo in Europe. It is this knowledge contained in the Vedas that is considered to be eternal. Just as the law of gravity existed and operated even before it was discovered by Newton, the knowledge contained in the Vedas existed even before it became known to the sages.

The Vedas are considered to be 'apaurusheya', i.e., they are not human compositions. Even God is not the author of the Vedas. The eternal knowledge contained in the Vedas is only revealed by God to the sages in each cycle of creation. The Vedas are 'seen' or 'heard' by the sages and recorded by them or their disciples for the benefit of posterity. The Vedas are therefore termed sruti, or 'what is heard'. As distinguished from these are the smritis, which are all human compositions, based on the srutis. The Itihasas and Puranas come under the category of smriti. According to Manu, the greatest lawgiver of India, the smritis should be considered as an elaboration of the Vedas. However, it is an inviolable rule that, where there is a difference between the sruti and the smriti on any matter, the sruti has to be upheld and the smriti should be interpreted in conformity with it. The truths enshrined in the Vedas have been actually experienced again and again by successive generations of great souls. The experiences of great saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Bhagavan Ramana in recent times bear testimony to the authenticity of all that is stated in the Upanishads.

The Vedas are four in number-- Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each Veda consists of three parts-- the karma-kanda, the upasana-kanda and the jnana-kanda. The karma-kanda is divided into samhitas and brahmanas. The samhitas are collections of mantras, or hymns in verse, most of which are praises or prayers addressed to various gods such as Indra, Varuna and Agni. They are chanted during the performance of sacrifices. The brahmanas are mostly in prose and contain detailed descriptions of sacrifices and instructions for the performance of sacrificial rites. The upasana-kanda deals with various meditations. The jnana-kanda consists of the Upanishads and this is what is denoted by the term 'Vedanta'.

These three kandas are, however, not mutually exclusive compartments. The highest philosophical truths, similar to those expounded in the Upanishads, are found also in the samhita and brahmana portions which deal mainly with Vedic rituals. It is further noteworthy that the Isavasyopanishad appears in the samhita portion of the Sukla Yajurveda, the Brihadaranyakopanishad forms the concluding portion of the Satapathabrahmana of the Sukla Yajurveda, the Chandogyopanishad constitutes eight chapters of the Chandogyabrahmana of Samaveda and the Kenopanishad forms the ninth chapter of the Talavakarabrahmana of Samaveda. All these form part of jnanakanda, in spite of their being located right inside the samhitas or brahmanas. The term 'Vedanta' should therefore be understood to mean the ultimate conclusion or the highest philosophy of the Vedas and not the end portion of the Vedas.

The triple texts

The source books of Vedanta are the triple texts, Prasthanatraya, namely, the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahmasutras.

The Upanishads

The word ‘Upanishad' is derived by adding the prefixes ‘upa’ (near) and ni’ (with certainty) to the verbal root ‘sad’ meaning ‘ to destroy, to go to and to loosen’. By the word ‘Upanishad' is meant the knowledge that destroys the seeds of worldly existence such as ignorance in the case of those seekers of liberation who, after cultivating detachment towards all enjoyments, approach (upa, sad) this knowledge and then deliberate on it with steadiness and certainty (ni). Though this knowledge is the primary meaning of the word, it is used also to denote the book that contains this knowledge, in a secondary sense. This knowledge is known as 'Brahmavidya'. The theme of all the Upanishads is Brahman, which is identical with the individual self. This subject is dealt with in detail later on.
It is not known with any certainty how many Upanishads existed originally, but 108 are now available to us. There are commentaries, known as 'bhashya' by Sri Sankara on eleven of these, namely, Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka and Nrsimhatapani upanishads. There is also a commentary on Svetasvatara upanishad, but there is difference of opinion among modern scholars about its authorship, though tradition attributes it to Sri Sankara.

The Bhagavadgita

This is the second of the triple texts. It forms part of the great epic Mahabharata and is given the same authority as the upanishads. As is well known, the Bhagavadgita contains the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra. Sri Sankara has described it as the essence of the Vedas.

The Brahmasutras

This work is attributed to sage Veda-Vyasa. It consists of short aphorisms, called sutras. There are in all 555 aphorisms. A total of 192 topics, known as adhikaranas are dealt with in these aphorisms. The purpose of these aphorisms is to explain the real import of various terms and statements in the upanishads and to reconcile apparent contradictions. Sri Sankara has explained the meanings of these aphorisms from the Advaitic point of view in his commentaries, known as ‘Bhashya’.

contd. in Part---2


good effort

seeming as theoretical essential elements are touched in this vedanta glimpses is good for those to whom introduction of vedanta is needed.
submitted with respect and regard.

NIDHI PARKASH | Tue, 08/11/2009 - 18:03