Hinduism – Part I
Hinduism is like an elephant, which a group of blind men touch, and each describes it according to the body his hands had touched; to one the elephant “appeared like a throne, to another like a fan or like a pillar.” But none was able to imagine what the whole animal was like. To understand Hinduism one has to take the essence of all the Indian and Hindu scriptures and Indian Darshans along with the traditions and the lifestyles of all Hindus from north to south and from east to west of ancient as well as present India.
Hinduism is thousands of years old religion and religious philosophy. Historically speaking it is way more than 10 to 15,000 years old philosophy that started with Vedas (which are apaurusheya, meaning, without human origin, nobody really knows when and who created Vedas) and the Upanishads. After that Purāns came, along with the two major Indian History Epics (Itihasas), known as, Rāmāyan and Mahābhārat almost around the same time. Vālmiki Rāmāyan is thought to have been composed around 500 – 300 BCE. Mahābhārat of Vyās was also composed around the same time. Until then they were told through generations by mouth (verbally) in the form of hymns. Purans and History Epics both contain the essence of the Vedas, with ancient Indian history, social and cultural life, cosmological beliefs, and stories of that time along with the spiritual knowledge of the Upanishads for the Human beings. Then evolved the six major philosophies (Darshans) of Hinduism known as “Shad–Darshans”, namely, Sānkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaisheshik, Purva Mimānsā, and Uttar Mimānsā or Vedānt.
Sānkhya-darshan is given by Maharshi Kapil, Yoga-darshan is given by Maharshi Pātanjali, Nyāya-darshan is given by Maharshi Gautam, Vaisheshik-darshan is given by Maharshi Kanād, Purva-mimānsā is given by Maharshi Jaimini, and Uttar-mimānsā, also known as Vedānta-darshan, in the form of Brahma Sutras is given by Maharshi Vyās. After that many scholars, also known as “Āchāryas”, wrote commentaries on “Prasthāntrayi” – a collective term known for thousands of year old scriptures, namely,: the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gitā and Brahma Sutras.
The Upanishads are a specific part of the Vedas. The deep philosophical principles of the Vedas have been concisely collected in them. They are at the ends parts of the Vedas so they are sometimes also known as Vedānt. According to Maharshi Parāshar (the father of Maharshi Vyāsa), ‘There is no creator of the Vedas, and hence of the Upanishads.” (“Na kashchid Vedakartā |”) Exact numbers of Upanishads are not known, but, today, more than 108 Upanishads are available in book form. Of them, ten Upanishads are universally authoritative. They are, namely, Aitareya Upanishad, Bruhadāranyaka Upanishad, Chhāndogya Upanishad, Ishāvāsya Upanishad, Katha Upanishad,, Kena Upanishad, Māndukya Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad, and Taittiriya Upanishad.’ Of these ten Upanishads the Aitareya Upanishad is from the Rig Veda. The Bruhadāranyaka, Ishāvāsya, Katha, and Taittiriya Upanishads are from the Yajur Veda. The Chhāndogya and Kena Upanishads are from the Sāma Veda. The Māndukya, Mundaka, and Prashna Upanishads are from the Atharva Veda. The mantras of the Upanishads are known as ‘Shruti’.
The Bhagavad Gitā is a part of historical epic of India, known as Mahābhārata. It is written by Shri Badarayana Vyasa. Out of eighteen sections called Parvas of the Mahābhārata, Bhagavad Gitā is included in the Bhishma Parva. The twenty-fifth chapter (adhyāya) of the Bhishma Parva makes the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gitā. Bhagavad Gitā contains 18 chapters, consisting of 700 stanzas or verses called “shlokas” in total. Of them 574 shlokas are spoken by Shri Krishna – an incarnation of God. The meaning of Brahmvidyā (the science of Brahm and Parabrahm), is embedded indirectly in the Vedas and Upanishads which is further clarified directly in the Gitā by Shri Krishna.
The Brahma Sutras are written by Shri Badarayana Vyasa, who is also the author of eighteen Purāns. Brahmasutras describe about the Brahm and Parabrahm. Sutras are concise and precise prose, that contains the essence of the subject told in a few short sentences with just a small number of syllables. Brahmasutras are comprised of four chapters known as adhyāyas, each of which is composed of four sub-divisions called pāds. Each pād consists of sub-topics called adhikarans. Each adhikaran consists of one or more sutras. The principle of Upanishads is presented in Brahmasutras in a logical manner. Brahmasutras tell us, logically, about who is the creator, supporter, and controller of the creation and why he has created the world? It discusses about the salvation called the moksh, the path (divine highway) of salvation called the “Archi-mārg”, shows different spiritual endeavors (Sādhans) in attaining the moksh, such as the Upāsanā (a specific path of devotion to Parabrahm – the Supreme Being) and the highest state of spiritual enlightenment called “brahmrup” state and clarifies all the misunderstanding about the moksh or true salvation.