Subrahmanian, Sundararaman V [IT]
sundararaman.v.subrahmanian at CITIGROUP.COM
Thu Aug 1 13:46:15 CDT 2002
Dear Sri Gaurav Goel,
shruti as a means of knowledge
(I mentally bow to Swami Dayananda Sarasvati for imparting the knowledge
contained in this posting)
Vedas are called shruti. It was "seen" by the Rishis and handed over to
future generations orally through a unbroken line of gurus and shishyas.
The guru orally transmitted the knowledge and was "listened" by the
shishyaas and this continued since time immemorial. Hence the name shruti.
Sri vyaasa maharshi classified vedas into 4 in number namely R^ik, yajur,
saama and atharva. Each of them inturn contain - samhitas, braahmaNas,
araNyakas and upanishads. Please note upaniShads are part of shruti and not
as you have stated below. I will not focus much on this kind of
classification as this information is available widely. Please search in
any of the web sites that talk about vedas and you will find this
information. I will rather focus on another view point of shruti that will
help understand what shruti essentially contains - a bird's eye view.
There are 2 characteristics of the subject matter of shruti. Let us see
each of them
1. It talks about what is hitam/ahitam
The vedas have to convey something to the student, otherwise its existence
would not have value. The vedas point out what is hitam - desirable and
what is ahitam - undesirable. A large part of the vedas is devoted to
point those that are good, actions that lead to good. It also points out
what is ahitam - that is those that will lead to undesirable consequences.
2. What is available in shruti is not available through other means
The knowledge available in vedas cannot be obtained through any other means.
If the knowledge available in the vedas can be obtained by some other means,
then there would be no use for the vedas. So the content of the vedas is
"pramaaNaantara anadhigatam" - ie., not obtainable through any other means
of knowledge like perception, inference.
Now, all beings try to achieve some ends. And to achieve them, they adopt
some means. Sometimes, the means are known and sometimes not. Sometimes
even the end is not known. vedas talk about those means and ends for which
atleast one of them is unknown. Let us see each possibility (Please note
that in the following discussion "known" means known from sources other than
the vedas and "unknown" means not knowable through means other than vedas):
1. Known ends and known means
If the means is known and the end is known - example: how to boil point of
water? We have enough means (firewood, natural gas stove etc) to produce
heat to boil water. We don't have to refer to the vedas for this. If the
vedas state these, it should be treated merely as a re-statement and not as
a source of that knowledge. This cannot be the subject matter of the vedas,
as it knowable otherwise.
2. Known ends and unknown means
Let us say people want to get rains in a particular area. The end is known
- rains in area X. But the means of getting the rains is not known
(ignoring sprinkling silver-iodide in the atmosphere). vedas talks about
rituals that help one to get rains. That there is a ritual and its details
(ex: offering ghee etc) and by means of which one can obtain rains cannot be
known through any other means other than the vedas. Similarly
putrakaameShTi which Sri dasharatha performed for begetting male progeny.
vedas gives us means for certain ends.
3. Unknown ends and known means
If one performs charity in large measures, one will be born in a wealthy
family and be endowed with all comforts. Now here the means namely charity
is known, but that there is a re-birth, that the act of charity accrues
puNya, that these are results of performing charity etc are knowable only
through vedas. Similarly is the negative effect also, ie., if one steals,
then one will suffer later - this is not known through any other means other
than the vedas.
4. Unknown ends and unknown means
If one performs jyotiShToma yajna one will obtain a celestial form and live
in the heavens. In this case the end namely heaven (other lokas), the body
of a deva etc are known only through vedas. And that one has to perform
jyotiShToma sacrifice for that is also knowable only through vedas.
So a large part of vedas talk about 2, 3 and 4 above. 1 falls within the
realm of perceptual and inferential knowledge. The first part of the vedas
called karma kaaNDa that talk about 2, 3 and 4.
But we said earlier that vedas point out what is hitam. It also points out
what is the permanent and absolute hitam - namely moksha. Here again the
means is provided by the vedas. That section of the vedas that talk about
ways and means to get abosolute happiness is positioned at the end of the
vedas and is called vedanta. vedanta is the same as upaniShads. In vedanta
it points out that one should get past the cycle of means and ends achieved
in 1, 2, 3 and 4 above and be ever free. That it is possible here and now
and the means to get that is elaborated in the upaniShads.
I wrote the above to give you a perspective of the subject matter of vedas.
It is a life long pursuit, could many times span across many births. I wish
you good luck in your endeavour.
Regarding your question about reading Vedas:
The first part of vedas contain injunctions that need to be followed. These
involve everything from performance of rituals to practice of values etc.
The second half is primarily an effort in trying to understand. Practice
the karmakaaNDa and understand vedanta is the common prescription.
Regarding your question about bhakti and jnaana:
Please search the archives, you will find enough discussion in the past that
could fill your time for close to a month -:)
PS: Incase you knew all these earlier and your questions were trick
questions for scholars, kindly pardon my ignorance.
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