Scriptures of Hinduism
In Hinduism, the philosophy of dharma is extensively described in hundreds of scriptures and in the writing of our Jagadgurus and great Saints.
The Brihadaranyak Upanishad (2/4/10) states that the prime scriptures of the Hindu religion or Sanatan Dharma, which are the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, Upanishads, along with the Sanskrit language and its vocabulary and grammar, plus all the scriptural verses or mantras - are all manifested by supreme God on this earth. They are apourushey, Divine, and not the product of a human mind.
A material human intellect doesn't have the capacity to decipher the deeper Divine meanings of these sacred writings. The Upanishads advise that if you are a seeker of God, the proper method of studying them is through a God realized Saint directly or through his writings.
The Divine knowledge of Sanatan Dharma exists eternally, and has been on this earth since its inception.
How old is the earth? According to Vedic chronology, 155 trillion years. Just as we don't have the technology or even the scientific theory to test this, similarly we don't have the capacity to properly understand and grasp the Divinity in these scriptural writings. This is possible only through our own spiritual practice and the grace of a Saint.
The main scriptures of Hinduism are:
Vedas -- This knowledge was received first by the creator of our world, Brahma, and later it was received in consciousness by many generations of Saints. When human civilization started it later took the form of a book. The language of the Vedas and all the prime scriptures of Hinduism is Sanskrit. There are four sections of the Vedas:
- Rig Veda
- Sam Veda
- Yajur Veda
- Atharva Veda
Originally the Vedas had 1,180 branches comprised of 100,000 verses. Each branch has three sections, each containing three types of Vedic verses:
- Mantra bhag -- comprised of mantras or Vedic verses and is related to material attainments
- Brahman bhag -- specifies use of Vedic rituals and is related to material attainments
- Aranyak bhag -- specifies styles of formal worship and also includes the Upanishads which are directly related to God and God realization
Upanishads -- Part of the aranyak bhag of the Vedas. Originally there were 1180 Upanishads corresponding to 1180 branches of the Vedas. Today approximately 200 are avialable. Their philosophy relates to the almighty aspect of God. They generally refer to the liberation of the soul or its blissful experience in the Divine world. Out of 200 Upanishads, eleven are prominent: Isha, Kath, Mundak, Mandukya, Taittariya, Shvetashvatar, Mukti, Yogshikha, Tripadvibhushit Mahararayana, Krishna, Gopal Poorva.
Upavedas -- There are four 'up' or subsidiary Vedas related to the four Vedas:
- Arthveda -- science of sociology and economics
- Dhanurveda -- science of defense and war and weaponry
- Ghandarvaveda -- the science of instrumental and vocal music
- Ayurveda -- medical science
Vedangas -- Vedangas are also part of the Vedas. They include:
- Vyakaran -- Sanskrit grammar
- Jyotish -- Vedic astrology
- Nirtukt -- detailed explanations and meanings of Vedic words
- Shikcha -- correct pronunciation of Vedic mantras
- Chand -- Vedic poetry
Kalp Sutras -- The Kalp Sturas include:
- Shraut Sutra - the protocal of Vedic rituals
- Grihya Sutra - prescribed rituals for family life
- Dharma Sutra - one's religious, social and moral duties
- Shulb Sutra - how to create an altar for Vedic rituals
Smritis -- The Smritis relate to social living. They describe what are good and bad actions, define what penances redeem which sin and also describe the punishment for a particular sin. They also describe the rites and rituals prescribed for families as well as the right conduct and behavior for the various orders and stages of life.
Darshanas or Darshan Shastras - The six schools of philosophy a re also part of Hindu scriptures. They are:
- Poorva Mimansa by Sage Jaimini explains the performance of lower or apar dharma actions and rituals for material prosperity and happiness
- Nyaya by Sage Gautama is a system of logic for discerning the difference between maya, matter, and God, who we should desire to attain and know
- Vaisheshika by Sage Kanad is another system of logic for finding happiness through renouncing worldly desires and attaining absolute liberation and knowledge of the Divine
- Sankhya by Bhagwan Kapil delineates 24 stages of physical creation and discriminates between what is material and what is Divine, and explains that material attachment binds the soul in the cycle of birth and death, and the understanding of Divine truth (God) releases the soul from that bondage
Yoga Sutras or Yoga Darshana by Sage Patanjali explain there are three kinds of evidence for determining the aim of life, perceptual, inferential and scriptural.
There are five kinds of mental anguish associated with ignorance, ego, attachment, hatred, and the fear of death. These are eliminated through the practice of yoga and total renunciation.
The Yoga Sutras define renunciation as the elimination of all the thoughts and the desires that arise out of direction perception of, or indirect knowledge of this world. The practice of perfecting this renunciation is ashtanga yoga, which has 8 stages:
- yama -- moral codes of behavior
- niyama -- disciplines of self-restraint
- asana -- physical postures,
- pranayama -- breath control,
- pratyahara -- sense control,
- dharana -- concentration,
- dhyana -- meditation
- samadhi -- complete absorption in thought-free trance. For success in perfecting the final state of samadhi, Patanjali advises the practitioner to seek God's help (Sutra 2/45).
- Uttar Mimansa or Brahm Sutra by Bhagwan Ved Vyas states the prerequisite for its study is a deep desire to know God, and true liberation is only attained through surrender to God. God is unlimited and endowed with Divine qualities including a Divine personal form. It describes the existing state of the universe, the state of a soul under the bondage of maya, and the greatness of bhakti. It explains that through bhakti God's Grace is easily attained. The Brahm Sutra conveys the same theme of the Upnishads, which are the essence of the scriptures of Hinduism.
Puranas by Bhagwan Ved Vyas are 18 in number: Brahm Purana, Padma Purana, Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Bhagwat Maha Purana, Narada Purana, Markandeya Purana, Agni Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Brahmaivarta Puran, Linga Purana, Varah Purana, Skanda Purana, Vaman Purana, Kurma Purana, Matsya Purana, Garuda Purana and Brahmanda Purana.
The important contribution the Puranas make to Hinduism is that they describe the creation and dissolution of the universe, the succession of Manus or progenitors of human civilization, and the history of important lineages, successions and dynasties on the earth.
The main focus of the Puranas is to introduce a feeling of bhakti or devotion towards a personal form of God in the heart of the reader. They praise God and describe and establish the graciousness of the actions of those Divine personalities who appeared as Sages, Rishis, and Saints.
The Puranas explain that God's Grace isn't arbitrary nor is it the consequence of good actions, hatha yoga or the performance of austerities or rituals. It is automatically experienced through total surrender to God. This loving submission is bhakti.
The Puranas explain the same philosophy as the Upanishads and the Darshana Shastras in a style that is easy to understand.
Itihasas -- In Hinduism these scriptures refer to the Ramayana, which describes the descension of Lord Rama, and the Mahabharata, which details the history of the Puru dynasty and the Pandava family, along with the history of creation, this earth, general teachings of dharma and devotion to God. The Mahabharata is sometimes referred to as the 'fifth Veda' of Hinduism because its knowledge and teachings relate to the Upanishads and Puranas.
Bhagavad Gita -- Part of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is considered by eastern and western scholars alike to be one of the greatest spiritual books in the world. In a clear and succinct way, Lord Krishna describes in a conversation with His disciple Arjuna the science of God-realization and the exact process by which a human being can establish their eternal relationship with God through bhakti, which the Gita refers to with the term 'yoga'.
Writings of the Jagadgurus - Jagadguru is a title bestowed on a true Saint or Divine personality by scholars of Hinduism. While on this earth, a Jagadguru's Divine state of realization and depth of spiritual understanding, and the universal benefit of his teachings for all the souls make him the supreme spiritual master of that age.
A Jagadguru establishes the path of bhakti and also imparts teachings related to the soul, the material existence (maya) and God, based on the philosophies of the Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. The most recent Jagadgurus of the last 5,000 years are:
Writings of Saints -- The scriptures of Hinduism include the writings of true Saints who impart teachings of bhakti also comprise a significant part of the Hindu scriptures. Two prominent Divine personalities in this category are Shri Vallabhacharya (1478 CE) who taught the path of pushti, and Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1485 CE), who was regarded as a descension of Radha Krishna love, and who revealed the bliss of the Divine name through his sankirtan (chanting) movement.