Archive for September, 2009

Hindu Scriptures III

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The Vedas – Part II

Following are some of the major uniquely distinguishing features of Vedas:

Vedas believed in “Universalism” or “Universal Brotherhood”. What science now, at the end of 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, says Vedas believed thousands of centuries or rather hundreds of millennium before, that we are one big family whose roots can be traced to a single pair of a father and a mother – common parents! Color, race, creed, and other features were developed later on.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning, the entire world is one family.

Ayam bandhurayam neti gananā laghuchetasām, Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (Maha Upanishad: Chapter 6, Verse 72), meaning, “One is my brother and the other is not – is the thinking of a narrow-minded person. For those who are broad-minded, liberals, or noble people, the entire world is a one big family.

‘Ayam nijah paroveti gananā laghuchetasām,

Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ | (Hitopadesh: 1.3.71), meaning,

“This is my own relative and that is a stranger” – is the calculation of the narrow-minded; for the magnanimous or generous hearts, however, the entire earth is but a family”

The message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is also told in Panchatantra: 5.3.37. It is also mentioned in Purananuru (a collection of 400 verses composed by more than 150 poets) – an ancient Tamil Sangam literature dated around 100 BCE. “Yathum Oore Yavarum Kelir” (Song 192 by Kanniyan Poongundran), meaning, “every place is my home town; everyone is my kin’ or ‘to us all towns are one, all men our kin”.

Sisters and Brothers of America, I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance…We are the children of God…” When this Vedic message of universal brotherhood and children of Brahmā was presented to the western world at the parliament of Religions: 11th to 27th of September 1893, by Swami Vivekananda the whole audience of seven thousand people of the assembly went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes.

Vedic philosophy believed in “Environmental Friendliness” thousands of centuries before the concept was developed by the modern world. Respect to the nature and to all natural resources was the first message of Vedic philosophy to the mankind. Environmental friendliness just did not include only nature and the human beings but it also included animals, tiny creatures, plants, and all living things, as well as, all non-living things like land, air, water, fire, Sun, Moon, planets, etc. We can say that the Vedic society was the first “Environmental Protection Agency” in the history of mankind. Vedas were the first promoters of “Animal Rights”.

Vedas believed in “Non-violence” and “World Peace”. “Ahinsā Paramo Dharma”, meaning, the very first duty, ethics, and responsibility of mankind above all duties, ethics, and responsibilities are to maintain the non-violence and peace in the world. Not only that to keep weapons, develop weapons, or use weapons was considered a big sin. It was all forbidden in the Vedic society. Any type of cruelty was forbidden under the laws of ahinsa (also spelled as ahimsa).

Any kind of killing (hinsā or himsa) was considered a big Sin (Pāp) in Vedic society. Not only killing of human beings but killing of animals, even tiniest creatures, was also considered a sin. Not only killing of others but the killing of self, called “suicide” (Ātmahatyā), was also considered a big sin. Not only killing but even disfigurement or dismemberment of any bodily parts and even causing pain and sufferings to others,was also considered a grave sin.

Killing for any purpose, not even for praising or pleasing the deity or lord, was also forbidden in Vedas. People misunderstood the meaning of “Sacrifice” for their own preferences, likings or understandings. Sacrifice always meant giving up something that is most loving thing for a person. Sacrificing meant for the self-offering of the self or the most loving thing of the self and not the offering of the others or the most loving thing of the others. Sacrifice never meant innocent third party killing. Barbarianism was considered antisocial or uncivilized acts. Animal sacrifice was never the message of Vedic philosophy. When human beings became more and more civilized they understood the rights of others more and more.

The trend of civilized society was towards limiting the violence and killing for the betterment of the society. Just as unjustified mass killing is limited by justifying one killing by the legalization of death sentence, in the history of mankind, killing was tried to be limited by older societies under the name of sacrifice. The ideas of prescribed or controlled burn and controlled killing (death sentence) of modern society to prevent major catastrophic wildfires and mass murders have their roots in Vedas. Although Vedas did not believe any kind of killing, people took the ideas for their self interests. Just as there is a big difference between killing and murder, between murder and death sentence, between death sentence and human sacrifice, there is a big difference between animal sacrifice and grain sacrifice. Vedic society clearly understood the above Vedic principle of ahinsa or non-violence. Vedic yagnas, rituals, and religious ceremonies were prescribed to perform based on this philosophy. Not only that, Vedic teachings propounded sacrifice of only those grains (as against endangered and rare spices of grains) that were naturally more abundant, very old, and could not be grown again even if they are sowed. Until someone would think of another environmental friendly way of disposal of excess of grains this was the master idea of Vedic period – an idea of relating everything in our day to day life to our religion.

Vegetarianism” was more of the byproduct of Ahimsa or non-violence rather than of health consciousness of Vedic period. It became the main feature of civilized Vedic Hindu society. Cruelty or inhumanity lies behind meat eating. Moreover, they must have realized that the bodily features of human beings were never meant for meat-eating. Man was never created carnivorous or scavenger from very beginning. Cooking was a main difference between sober human beings and wild animals of that period. Scientists now agree that meat or flesh of any kind is not the food for human beings. It is never cost-effective nor it is health or cardio friendly.

Hindu Scriptures II

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The Vedas – Part I

Does anyone wonder how come so many philosophies are under one roof or one umbrella of single philosophy, called Hinduism? How come varieties of beliefs and practices can survive for thousands of years against many odds but under one name called Hindu religion? The reason is they all are rooted under one single fundamental book of philosophy, called Ved (also spelled as Veda). The name Ved is derived from the Sanskrit root word vid”, meaning “to know”, “to learn”, or “to understand”.

One Ved, later on, was divided into four Vedas, namely, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda. Vedas are most sacred ancient scriptural texts of Hinduism. It is believed that the knowledge of Vedas called the Vedic knowledge is directly given by God to the mankind. Vedas are the direct gift of Brahmā – the creator and god of this world. They are believed to be “divinely heard” as mantras (hymns) by the ancient Rishis (sages) and that is why they are also categorized as “Shrutis” (heard) as against “Smrutis” (recalled or remembered) which were memorized through many generations of mankind. For millenniums, they were passed over verbally, as an oral tradition like so many other oral traditions in the world in the singing fashion, through thousands of generations until writing was discovered. It just flowed like a river whose root lies somewhere higher up at the top of a mountain and whose delta is spread in the humanity. There is no single human creator of Vedas. And, that is why Vedas are known as “apaurusheya.” Though, it is believed that the latest compilation available was done by maharshi Ved Vyas – a well known authentic author and character figure of Mahābhārat and Purāns. He was son of rishi Parāshar and mother Satyavati. {Vyas was married to Pinjalā (Vatikā), the daughter of Jābāli. They had son named Shuk (Shukdevji). Vyas also had children with Ambikā, Ambālikā, and a maid. Ambikā and Ambālikā were childless widows of Vyas’s half-brother Vichitravirya. Vyas had to father their children on the request of his mother Satyavati, an ancient practice called Niyog, where a chosen man can father sons with the widow of a person who dies issueless. Vyas’s son with Ambikā was named Dhritarāshtra, who was blind, with Ambālikā was named Pāndu, who was severely anemic, and with the maid (because other two children were unhealthy) was named Vidur.} It is believed that originally there was one Veda comprise of more than hundred thousand verses. Ved Vyas is said to have arranged them under four headings and passed them on to four of his disciples: the Rig Veda to Paila, the Yajur Veda to Vaishampāyan, the Sāma Veda to Jaimini, and the Atharva Veda to Angiras. It is also believed (according to the Vishnu Puran (Book 3, Ch 3)) that Lord Vishnu incarnates in every Dwāpar Yug as Ved Vyas to preserve Vedas and the Vedic knowledge for betterment of mankind. Thus, Vedas are the oldest scriptures and the foundation of Hinduism. Current texts of Vedas in the book form are available for about 3000-6000 years.

Vedas cover many subjects, from nature to human behavior, sociology to humanities, from god (Paramātmā) to soul (ātmā), from worldly life to the life after death, from the life of sanyāsi (renunciate) to the everyday life of common man, etc. Vedas are the original basic scriptures of Hinduism on the base of which other scriptures and philosophies of Hinduism were developed from time to time. Vedic theology is one of the oldest theologies of the world.

Hindu Scriptures I

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Hindu Scriptures – in general

The scriptures are sacred or holy books or writings of religions. They vary in form, volume, and age.  Hindu scriptures were originally oral and were passed down as memorized texts through many generations before being put in writing. This may be the reason why they were written in the poem or hymn form and can be sung. People still try to recite or chant the scriptures aloud.

It is surprising to know that the word “scripture” is also being monopolized by some! The scriptures in general are supposed to be the sacred books or writings of any religion. The literature includes all kinds of written texts, whereas, the scriptures specifically include authentic holy and sacred religious texts.

Hindu scriptures include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purāns, the Itihāses (such as, Rāmāyan and Mahābhārat), Bhagvad Gitā, Agams, Darshan Shāstras, major authentic commentaries called Bhāshyas of different acharyas and scholars, etc.

The Vedic scriptures are categorized as Shrutis and Smrutis.

Shrutis include:

The four Vedas:

Rig-Veda:  The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice. Rigveda hymns (invocations and litanies).are recited by the hotr priests in the ritual or yagna ceremonies.

Yajur-Veda: The Yajurveda contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices. Yajurveda hymns are recited by the adhvaryu priests. The adhvaryu are usually in charge of the physical details of the sacrifice. They used to measure the ground, to build the altar, to prepare the sacrificial vessels, to fetch wood and water, to light the fire, to bring the animal and immolate it, among other duties. Each action is accompanied by supplicative or benedictive formulas (yajus), drawn from the Yajurveda.

Sāma-Veda: The Sāmaveda consists mostly of mantras from the Rigveda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Soma sacrifice. The soma pavamāna used to be the freshly pressed juice of the soma plant. Samaveda hymns, which are set to melodies (sāman) are recited or chanted by the udgatr priests during the Yagna or ritual ceremonies.

Atharva-Veda: The Atharvaveda comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths. The entire performance of yagna or sacrifice is supervised by the Brāhman (Brāhmin) priests. They are responsible for correcting mistakes by means of supplementary invocations.

Each of the four Vedas is further divided into two sections: Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas.

1. The Sahitā portion includes Mantras. It is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices (Yagnas) and rituals.

2. The Brāhmaas portion (not to be confused with Brāhman or the Brāhmin priest caste), contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.

The Brāhmaṇas, describing rules and purpose of Vedic mantras of Saṃhitās, are also further divided into: Ārayakas and Upanihads.