The Origin of the term Vedanta
The term Vedanta literally meant ‘end of the Vedas’ or वेद्स्य अन्त: (Vedasya antaha) and deals with conclusion and goal of the Vedas and they represented the central aim and meaning of the teachings of the Veda.
The Vedas- an Introduction
The name Veda (वेद:) signifies wisdom, a genuine spirit of enquiry derived from the knowledge of Vedic Sages (Munis) who travelled the path of deep contemplation with a desire to investigate, inquire and understand the questions of philosophical nature pertaining to various aspect of our lives, spirituality, music, science and cosmos.
Most followers of Hinduism know that there are four vedas, now let us look a bit deeper into the meaning and context of each of the four vedas:
Rig Veda: The oldest document of the human history and oldest of the four vedas. Rg Veda comprises of songs of praise Rigvedic hymns are dedicated to deities, such as Indra, Vrtra; Agni, and Soma, including deities such as Adityias or Asura, gods Mitra–Varuna and Ushas (the dawn), Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati, along with natural phenomenons.
Yajur Veda: The Yajur veda primarily deals with sacrificial formulas or mantras and includes about 1,875 verses, that are distinct yet borrow and build upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda.
Sam Veda: The Samaveda is the Veda of Chants, or melodies (sāman) and the Rig verses. The Samaveda text contains notated melodies, and these are probably the world's oldest surviving ones.
Atharva Veda: The Atharva veda was the last of the vedas to be compiled around 900 BCE and involves rites to address superstitious anxiety, spells to remove maladies believed to be caused by demons, and herbs- and nature-derived potions as medicine (origin of Ayurveda is attributed to Atharva Vedic texts). Atharva veda also has been the primary source for information about Vedic culture, the customs and beliefs, the aspirations and frustrations of everyday Vedic life, as well as those associated with kings and governance. The text also includes hymns dealing with the two major rituals of passage – marriage and cremation.
Sections of the Vedas: Each Veda comprises of four sections, which are
As part of the Vedas the Upanishads belong to Sruti or revealed literature and are vehicles for more of spiritual illumination than of systemic reflection, revealing a world of rich and varied spiritual experience, rather than a world of abstract philosophical categories. One of the chief reason the Upanishads are called the end of the Vedas or Vedanta as they deal with conclusion and goal of the Vedas and they represented the central aim and meaning of the teachings of the Veda, thus the content of the Upanishads is the wisdom of the Vedas.
The principal or mukhya Upanishads are said to be Ten (10) although most scholars consider them to be thirteen (13). However the great Samkara commented on Eleven (11) Upanishads.
Each Upanishad is associated with one or more than one Veda.
Name of the Upanishad Vedas to which they are associated
Isa Upanishad Yajur Veda
Kena Upanishad Sam Veda
Katha Upanishad Yajur Veda
Prasna Upanishad Atharva Veda
Maandukya Upanishad Atharva Veda
Taittriya Upanishad YajurVeda
Aitareya Upanishad Rig Veda
Chandogya Upanishad Sam Veda
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad Yajur Veda
Shvetashvatara Upanishad Yajur Veda
A note based on work of Swami Vivekananda)
आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथमेव चबुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च |
इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुर्विषयांस्तेषु गोचरान्आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ||
(Kaṭha Upaniṣad 1.3.3–4 )
Human civilization has witnessed a well documented fact that throughout the human history, people worshiping the same God, believing in the same religion have stood at each other’s side, with much greater strength than they would do to a person of same descent or even brothers.
Considering the facts and incidents we have witnessed during the dusk of 20th and at the dawn of 21st century some of us would present the argument that the concept of religion has brought only violence and despair to the human society. However before jumping on to a conclusion and labeling that religion has not or perhaps done very little to eliminate the sorrow and misery of humans let us take a deeper look into the concept of religion.
The Origin of Religion
Although many theories have been proposed to describe the origin of various religion but only two theories have gained acceptance amongst the modern scholars.
One of the theory is the Spirit theory, according to which the modern day religion originated from ancestor worshiping which led to the development of many religion specially evident in the South American nations and they have commemorative days for their ancestors. The other theory that discusses origin of religion is the evolution of the idea of infinite, leading to the origin of Personification of the powers of nature.
A study of the ancient religions of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese and sections of ancient Hindus we can find traces of ancestor worship, and it makes a strong case for the spirit theory. On the other hand if we study the works of ancient Indian scholars and literature such as Upanishads and Vedanta we find no trace of ancestor worship, Greeks, Ancient Germans, Scandinavians and all other Aryan races show abstracted nature worship, which also makes a strong case for the view that religion has its origin in the personification of the forces of nature for example be it Thor, Zeus or Indra they all represent a strong force of nature, the thunderbolt.
At the surface the two views may seem contradictory in the initial stages, but once you look deep it reveals that in either of the cases, it is the man who aspires to transcend the limitations of his senses,to go beyond what his senses reveal to him and in this pursuit he either seeks the spirit of his ancestor or tries to understand the phenomena of nature.
Understanding the infinite:
A common statement made by all the organized religions of the world is that the human mind, at certain moments, transcends not only the limitation of the senses, but also the power of reasoning. In this transcend state founders, prophets, messengers, all of them came face to face with facts that normally no one would have sensed or reasoned. It is evident that all the religions acknowledge the presence of unit abstraction, either in the form of an Abstract presence, as an omnipresent being, as an abstract personality or as God or even sometimes as moral law and the ideal unity. We the common men are always trying and struggling to raise ourselves up to that ideal of infinite power or infinite pleasure and most of the struggle around us is for this infinite power or pleasure. However a few of us were quick to understand that neither the infinite power or pleasure can be reached through the senses, as the senses itself are too limited and the body is too limited to express the infinite. It is then the man learns to give up trying to express the infinite into finite and this giving up, this renunciation is the background of ethics. Renunciation is the base upon which the ethics stand.
Ethics and quest to conquer ourselves:
Ethics and ethical behavior have always been preaching man one thing ‘ Not I, but thou’. Its motto is not self but non-self and thus teaches to put ourselves last and others before us. On the contrary the senses say ‘Me, Myself first’, thus all codes of ethics are based upon renunciation; destruction of the individual on the material plane. The utilitarian standards can not explain the ethical relation men to the infinite as no ethical law can be derived keeping in mind its utility. The ethical laws and moral laws are based on the relation of man with his society and nature.
A man is a man as long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both external and internal. It is very good and grand to conquer external nature but yet grander to conquer our internal nature and understand the laws that govern the passion, inner feelings and will of mankind,. These subtle workings of the human mind belong entirely to religion.
Usually in a society the majority of men and women understand and find pleasure in everything that is external, but in every society there is a section of people for whom the pleasures are not in the senses, but beyond and higher than matter and they struggle to reach it. It is clear that lower the organisation, greater is the pleasure in senses, for example it doesn’t matter how delicious the food is no man can match the gusto with which a wolf eats its food. Spirituality on the other hand is a higher plane and the subject being infinite the pleasure associated with this plane is highest for those who can appreciate it. Having said that we must understand that all those great men who were world movers, who had the ability to ignite others mind with spiritual fire always had the spiritual background. Thus the strength of every race lies in its spirituality manifested as religion, while the death of the race begins the day spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground.
Religion in the modern world:
In today’s context the religion must be studied on a broader perspective than it has been done, meanwhile all narrow mindedness, all sectarian ideas tribal or national must be given up or demolished, including the idea that each race or nation must have its own particular God and the idea that every other religion is wrong at best be abandoned or should belong to the past.
In today’s interconnected world religions of the world have to become as universal and wide, embracing all good and great and at the same time must have the scope for development. The religion of today must be inclusive and must not look down with contempt upon other religion as only these feelings are responsible for tremendous harms that have been caused in the name of religion. Thus what we need now is a fellow feeling among the religions and their believers so that we can attain the true potential and realize the infinite energy which is the birthright and nature of every human being.
Image link: Yoga meditation at sunset stock image Dreamstime.com
*************************************************************************************** The views expressed in this article are authors own and like any idea of Vedanta they are also subject to introspection and discussion. The author appreciates reader views, queries and comments, which if any can be mailed directly to: [email protected] or [email protected]
प्रकृतिं स्वामवष्टभ्य विसृजामि पुन: पुन: |
भूतग्राममिमं कृत्स्नमवशं प्रकृतेर्वशात् ||
(Bhagwad Gita: Chapter 9 verse 8)
Students of science know that the current visible universe along with time originated as a result of a giant explosion 13.7 billion years ago, the event is known to us as “Big Bang” and that the universe is always expanding! In this article we are not going to challenge the experimental evidence but rather we are taking a look at it from the vedanta point of view.
Taking Bhagwad Gita as our guiding source, being the gist of all Vedic knowledge, we know that according to vedic cosmology both space, time and universe are not finite as they do not have a singular point of origin but rather it is considered infinite and cyclic. The universe as we know now is just the start of a present cycle which was preceded by an infinite number of universes and also be followed by another infinite number of universes. So now the question that comes to the mind is What drives the creation of universe? Or How the universe creates and re-creates itself in a cyclic manner?
Modern day astrophysicists and cosmologists based on the principle of general relativity agree to an extent on the concept of initial singularity, according to which at the beginning of the universe, a body containing all mass, energy, space and time in the Universe would be compressed to an infinitely dense point (singularity), which rapidly expanded resulting from the quantum fluctuations and resulted in a rapidly expanding Big Bang and subsequent inflations creating the present day universe.
Vedanta on the other hand gives us the concept of Brahman (derived from root: brah: ‘to grow’) and the Atman both are indestructible and omnipotent. So which among the two is responsible for creation of the universe?
The first mentions of the eternity of universe in vedic literature can be found in the Rigveda’s Nasadiya Sukta (after the incipit ná ásat, or "not the non-existent"), also known as the Hymn of Creation, is the 129th hymn of the 10th Mandala of the Rigveda (10:129) and it raises questions concerned with cosmology and the origin of the universe.
नासदासीन्नो सदासात्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नोव्योमा परोयत्।
किमावरीवः कुहकस्य शर्मन्नंभः किमासीद् गहनंगभीरम् ॥१॥
अन्वय- तदानीम् असत् न आसीत् सत् नो आसीत्; रजः न आसीत्; व्योम नोयत् परः
अवरीवः, कुह कस्य शर्मन् गहनं गभीरम्।
Then even nothingness was not, nor existence, There was no air then, nor the earth, heavens beyond it. There was no space, then who was protecting the space, What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping w as there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed? Means there was nothing!
न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेतः।
अनीद वातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्मादधान्यन्न पर किं च नास ॥२॥
अन्वय-तर्हि मृत्युः नासीत् न अमृतम्, रात्र्याः अह्नः प्रकेतः नासीत् तत् अनीत अवातम,
स्वधया एकम् ह तस्मात् अन्यत् किञ्चन न आस न परः।
There was neither death nor immortality nor was there then the appearance of night and day. The One (Brahma) breathed actionlessly in illusion (maya) and self-sustaining. There was that One (Brahma) with maya then, and there was nothing beyond them.
तम आसीत्तमसा गूढमग्रेऽप्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वमा इदं।
तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिना जायतैकं॥३॥
अन्वय -अग्रे तमसा गूढम् तमः आसीत्, अप्रकेतम् इदम् सर्वम् सलिलम्, आःयत्आभु तुच्छेन
अपिहितम आसीत् तत् एकम् तपस महिना अजायत।
In Catastrophe, at first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness, All this was only unilluminated water. Action and Cause were merged filled with ignorance, That One (Brahma) took action complementing with cause, resolving to penance created the Universe.
The concept of the universe is also a difficult thing to entertain in the mind unless we analyse the universe into its very components. The universe is manifested out of the total substance, Brahman, which is the Atman, or the Self, of the universe. So the total effect came out of the Total Cause. From Brahman came the universe!
आत्मा वा इदमेक एवाग्र आसीन्नान्यत्किंचन मिषत् । स ईक्षत
लोकान्नु सृजा इति ॥ १॥ (Aitareya Upanishad 1:1)
To understand it better we need to look into the Aitareya Upanishad which belongs to Rigveda and proclaims that the total substance is Brahman, and the Brahman when conceived as the essence of particular beings is known as the Atman. Therefore we can infer that the ultimate in us is the Atman and the ultimate in the cosmos is Brahman.
The views expressed in this article are of author’s own and subjected to interpretation of the reader. The essence of Vedanta lies in understanding and interpreting its meaning on their own. Readers can send their views and opinions in the comments section.
1. Shrimad Bhagwad Gita; Gitapress Gorakhpur
2. Swami Ranganathananda (1991). Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion. SUNY Press. p.21. ISBN 0-7914-0679-2.
3. A Vedic Reader for Students  Translator: Arthur Anthony Macdonell
4. The Principal Upanishads, S. Radhakrishnan, Harper Collins. 24th ed. 2014