Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) & its ancient scriptures

Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) & its ancient scriptures

Wisdom LiteratureSpiritualityVedanta

Hinduism - as the religion is popularly known is in its very essence Sanatana Dharma. “Santana” means eternal. “Dharma” is a word which defies exact translation in English. Among others it means “the values of life that sustain”. Therefore, “Sanatana Dharma” means “the religion based on the eternal, unchanging and time-tested wisdom and values of life” “Hinduism” thus is not exactly a “Religion”, but a “Way of life” (Nityananda, 2006).

Yet out of respect for tradition and its long usage, let us use the term “Hinduism” in place of the real name “Sanatana Dharma”, wherever necessary, in the course of this treatise.

Vedas, called Sruti – literally meaning ‘heard’ (received) by the sages in their sublimed stage of meditation – form the cornerstone of Hinduism. No single sage or sages lay claim over their authorship nor do the Vedas stand on the authority of any person. They propound the timeless, eternal truths, without beginning and end. Hence, they are called eternal.

“It may sound ludicrous … how a book can be without a beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world (Vivekananda quoted in Chetananda, 2012: 43).

The Vedas, later compiled by sage Vyasa, are four in number, namely Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Each Veda is divided into three sections – these are called Mantra, Brahmana and Upanishad (Aranyaka)1. In the Mantra portion, we find the ecstatic admiration of nature’s beauty, expressed in lyrical poetry by these contemplative seers. The Brahmana portion deals with rituals and sacrifices; they are meant for mental integration and self-purification. The last portion contains the philosophic wisdom known as the Vedanta.

Besides the Vedas, the scriptures of ancient India include the Smritis, Itihasas, and Puranas which contain philosophy, history, ethics, social science, laws of society and so on.

The Bhagavad-Gita is another important Hindu scripture. It is revered as a sacred scripture of Hinduism, and considered as one of the most important religious classics of the world.

The content of the Gita is the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna taking place on the battlefield before the start of the Kurukshetra war. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince and elaborates on different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, with examples and analogies. The Gita distills the essence of Indian wisdom in a simple and wonderful poetry that permeates one’s mind and informs it about the affairs of everyday life (Easwaran, 1985).

This has led to the Gita often being described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and also as a practical, self-contained guide to life. Since the Bhagavad-Gita represents a summary of the Upanishadic teachings; it is also called as the Upanishad of the Upanishads.

(The above extract is from the title ‘Challenges of modern economy and society – Dipping in Vedantic philosophy for answers’ by Chandrashekhar Pandey. A German version of the article is a part of book – “Pandey Chandrashekhar in Klaus von Stosch (Hg.) (2014) Wirtschaftsethik interreligious. ‘HerausforderungenmodernerWirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Auf der SuchenachAntorten in der vedantischenPhilosphie’. Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN: 978-3-506-77283-1.”)

1 Intellectual interest and affinity of Schopenhauer in the Upanishads is well-known though his writings. He read the Latin translation of the Upanishads which had been translated by French writer Anquetil du Perron from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shikoh entitled Sirre-Akbar ("The Great Secret"). He was so impressed by their philosophy that he called them "the production of the highest human wisdom," and considered them to contain superhuman conceptions. The Upanishads was a great source of inspiration to Schopenhauer, and writing about them he said:

“It is the most satisfying and elevating reading (with the exception of the original text) which is possible in the world; it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death” (Clarke, John James,1997).

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