Vedas and Upanishads- A Structural Profile


This essay originally appeared in the October, 2005 issue of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams’ illustrated monthly ‘Sapthagiri’.

“The Vedic philosophy encompasses the oldest spiritual texts of any religion in the world, and its subjects are broad and numerous. Its more advanced concepts can be difficult for even the greatest scholars to fathom. The Vedic literature discusses many types of philosophical viewpoints, and studying some of them will let us see that many of the concepts that we accept as new today are nothing more than parts of the ancient Vedic knowledge that had been dealt with and thoroughly understood thousands of years ago. Thus, there are not many ideas that are really new at all. The main purpose of the Vedic literature is to establish knowledge of the Absolute Truth and the process for attaining the highest levels of self-realization”. – Stephen Knapp

Thus a study of the Vedas is nothing but a search for the Truth, nothing but understanding ourselves, nothing but to know why we are born in this world and where we will be going when we drop this physical body.  The purpose of the study is to discover and understand the truth behind the phenomenal universe and human existence. According to our ancient wisdom this study is a joint venture between the student and the teacher with full mutual trust and goodwill to find out an answer to the fundamental question of the purpose of our existence.

Dr.Radhakrishnan says that the Vedas are the earliest documents of the human mind that we possess. They are the most ancient literary monuments of the human race.

The word ‘Veda’ means to know implying that the subject of the Vedas is Knowledge. Here knowledge does not mean facts about the external world like physics or chemistry. It means the knowledge of the eternal, sacred, spiritual wisdom. It is about the nature of man himself. It tells him who he really is. It is the knowledge of the changeless and Supreme Reality behind the ever changing objective world of men and matter.

The texts containing this knowledge have no authorship, no time frame within which they had been authored. They are called ‘Apaurusheya’ meaning that they are not authored by any Purusha or human mind. They were revealed to the Rishis or Seers - the Drashtas, men of wisdom, during the depths of their meditation. These sages were merely the instruments of God to spread His words.

Their utterances were called ‘Mantras’ which were not the result of any intuition but were the result of Divine Vision which is called ‘Mantra Drishti’. Their inner and outer meanings were really known only to those to whom they were revealed. Hence none can challenge them on grounds of reason or logic. There is no final authority beyond the Vedas; in today’s management jargon the buck stops at the table of the Vedas.

The Upanishads form perhaps the most important part of the Vedas on which the edifice of the ‘Shad Darshanas’ or the six systems of the Hindu Philosophy have been built up. The mystical teachings of the Upanishads are the essence of the Vedic Hindu Religion and Philosophy. The Upanishads are the crest jewels - choodamani – of the Vedas.

Historicity and Preservation of the Vedas
The modern researchers are still struggling to fix up the exact period of the Vedas and there is no final conclusion as yet. Their conclusions differ as widely as 25000 years B.C. to 1000 years B.C. However, the general consensus among most of the Indian scholars is to consider the Mohenjadaro-Harappa culture i.e. about 3000 B.C. to be the later phase of Vedic culture. This brings us to conclude that the date of the Rig-Veda, considered as the earliest in human history, is around 10,000 B.C.

The words ‘Drshti’ and ‘Sruti’ – seeing and hearing, used in describing the Vedas signify their very basic revelatory nature. For several centuries, the Vedas had to be committed to memory and were passed on orally from generation to generation. As they were preserved to posterity through hearing they are termed as ‘Sruti’, what is heard. Without the use of writing a fool-proof method was used to chant each Mantra in various patterns and combinations such as Pada Patha, Krama Patha, Jata Patha and Ghana Patha to prevent any errors creeping into the Vedas. The modes of chanting prescribe the basics like how much time one has to take for reciting a word, how to regulate breathing while reciting so that required vibrations are produced in the specific parts of the body which will yield pure word-sound.

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