Other vedic literatures

THE UPA-VEDAS AND VEDANGAS

Aside from the Upanishads, there are also the Upa-vedas. These are the Artha-veda (science of economics and sociology), the Dhanur-veda (the science of defense, war, and politics), the Gandharva-veda (art of music, dancing, and singing), and Ayurveda (the holistic medical science). These are smaller compositions, each are attached to one of the four main samhitas (namely the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva respectively). Unfortunately, most of these compositions are difficult to find, except for the Ayurveda, the majority of which is still available but not all of its original text.

These are a part of the eighteen principal branches of Vedic knowledge, which, according to the Vishnu Purana, are listed with their sources as the six Vedangas:

 

The four Vedas, the six Angas (or subsidiary portions of the Vedas), viz., Siksha, rules of reciting the prayers, the accents, and tones to be observed; Kalpa, ritual; Vyakarana, grammar; Nirukta, glossarial comment; Chandas, metre; and Jyotish, astronomy; with Mimamsa, theology; Nyaya, logic; Dharma, the institutes of law; and the Puranas, constitute the fourteen principal branches of knowledge. Or they are considered as eighteen with the addition of these four: the Ayur-veda, medical science as taught by Lord Dhanvantari; Dhanur-veda, the science of archery or military arms taught by Bhrigu; Gandharva-veda, or drama and the arts of music, dancing, etc., of which the Muni Bharata was the author; and the Artha sastram, or science of government, as laid down first by Brihaspati. (Vishnu Purana, Book Three, Chapter Six)

 

To briefly explain some of the branches mentioned above:

Vyakarana is the science of Sanskrit grammar. This is presently based on the Panini grammar, since the other ancient forms or books are extinct. The Panini system, which has some 4000 sutras, is said to have been inspired by Lord Shiva when he once played on his small damru drum from which came 14 separate sounds. Those vibrations inspired Panini, who then explained the science of Sanskrit grammar. These vibrations were said to be originally in the mysterious formula of the Maheshvara Sutra. This Sutra is said to contain all sounds arranged in an order that holds the key to all structure of language.

Panini also provided the dhatu path, which is a dictionary of the root Sanskrit words. Then he gave the unadi sutras to describe how the words in the original Vedic samhitas (the four Vedas) were formed, which can provide the means of understanding the real definition of the words in the samhita mantras. Without this, it is easy for a person to mistranslate the real meaning or purpose of the Vedic mantras.

Nirukta provides the explanations of the Vedic words. It is used along with the Nighantu, which is a collection of Vedic words with their basic explanations. These are used with the Vyakarana to understand the exact meaning of Sanskrit words to make sure the Vedic samhita mantras are not misunderstood.

Siksha is the science of correct pronunciation of Vedic mantras, such as intonation, duration, and the accent on a word or syllable. This will determine how one “sings” each mantra. Differences in the pronunciation of a mantra can also change its meaning, and the outcome of the ritual. That is one of the reasons why the old Vedic rituals are no longer recommended for this day and age. The problem is that this is difficult to learn and almost all books on the topic have become lost.

Chandas is the science of correctly emphasizing the meter of the Vedic verses according to the division or parts and letters, and the correct pronunciation of the words. The Vedic mantras are also named according to its parts. For example, the anushtup chand is a mantra of four parts in one stanza, and with 32 letters. Yet if it has 31 letters in four parts, it is called brihati chand, and so on.

Jyotish is the science of Vedic astrology. This was used for a couple of reasons. Primarily it was for establishing the correct position of the stars and planets at certain times, such as one’s birth, and their effects for predicting one’s future life. It was also for calculating the best times to begin special activities, such as Vedic rituals. There were many books on jyotish, but most have now become lost, leaving but several left to study.

The Artha-sastram is said to have been established first by Brihaspati, but was written most recently by Kautilya in the fourth century BC for the king, Chandragupta Maurya. It is the science of government and economics that takes credit for some of the principles of corporate management that have gained popularity today, such as using prabhu shakti (vision), mantra shakti (mission), and utsah shakti (motivation).

The Mimamsa, Dharma, and Nyaya are parts of the Vedic Sutras, which is explained next.

 

THE SUTRAS AND SUPPLEMENTS

When it comes to the Mimamsa, there is the Purva Mimamsa and the Uttar Mimamsa. First there is the Purva Mimamsa that was written by the sage Jaimini who was a student of Vyasadeva about 5,000 years ago. The Uttara Mimamsa is the Brahma or Vedanta Sutras, which is discussed soon.

Mimamsa means solutions through critical examination, and was originally expounded by Jaimini in the twelve chapters of his Mimamsa-sutra. It clarifies the Vedic principles so a person can focus on the ways for attaining a good life now and in the next. This system was traditionally called Purva Mimamsa, representing the early revered thought. This is in relation to the study of Vedanta since Mimamsa was considered the preliminary understanding of Vedanta philosophy. On the other hand, Vedanta is also called Uttara Mimamsa, meaning the conclusion and higher teachings of the Mimamsa philosophy, because the Vedas are regarded as self-evident scriptures that reveal divine knowledge.

The Mimamsa system emphasizes the importance of action in terms of ritual, worship, and duty or dharma as the means of reaching liberation from karma and the cycle of repeated birth and death. It explains the essential Vedic issues and describes the eternal nature of the Vedic texts as part of the same spiritual energy as God, which are manifested on earth through the minds of the great sages. It then continues to clarify the accurate use of the Vedic mantras for the attainment of happiness and material facility. Mimamsa is basically a systematized code of rules for the Vedic rituals and worship used along with the Vedas and explains the purpose and meaning of the rituals. It is especially meant to help householders regulate and spiritualize their daily lives, while Vedanta is meant more for those who had grown tired of materialistic existence and are ready to retire and seriously engage in spiritual pursuits. Dharma is considered to be those moral activities that harmonize individual life with cosmic life.

The Nyaya Sutra presents the Vedic system of logic as established by the sage Gautama. This was written in a question and answer format, like many of the Vedic Sutras. Nyaya is a school of logic which regards doubt as a prerequisite for philosophical inquiry. All other Indian systems of philosophy use the Nyaya system of logic as a foundation for reasoning and debate.

The five principles of the Nyaya system are: (1) to present the proposition, (2) the reason for presenting the proposition, (3) an example of it, showing that it is realistic or unrealistic, depending on the instance, (4) apply the example of the proposition presented, and (5) establish the conclusion of the proposition.

The ultimate purpose of the Nyaya system, which is closely linked to the Vaisheshika system, is to use this process of logic to establish the ultimate truth, or God, the Supreme Reality, and to show the spiritual platform is all that is truly desirable and not the temporary material creation. It is meant to help one achieve liberation from karma and material existence by properly understanding reality, or the difference between matter and spirit. Nyaya accepts that the only way to liberation is to obtain knowledge of the external world and understand its relationship with the mind and self. Through logical criticism, one can discriminate between truth and illusion and, applying such understanding in daily life, rid oneself of suffering and attain liberation. Additionally, this system of logic was developed to prove the validity of its principles by analysis and argument to counter the criticism of the Buddhists, Jains, and Charvakas. However, the Nyaya system was empirical and mostly relied on perception, inference, comparison, and testimony as its means of acquiring knowledge.

The Vaisheshika-sutra, written in a question and answer format, was the first work written on this philosophy by Kanada. Prasastapada later wrote a definitive commentary on this sutra entitled Svartha Dharma Samgraha. The name Vaisheshika comes from vishesha, which means uniqueness or particularity. Therefore, the Vaisheshika system is a study of the uniqueness and qualities of existence, such as the elements, atoms, their interactions, as well as the soul. But it accepts only two independent sources of knowledge, which are perception and inference. It is a sutra that helps show the futility of life in the temporary worlds of maya, and the need for understanding God and to become free from all karma so that liberation can follow. However, the knowledge within this sutra is unnecessary if one already knows that understanding God and regaining one’s devotional love is the real goal of life.

The Vaisheshka-sutra contained several ideas: (1) that everything is composed of atoms bearing the qualities of either earth, water, light, or air; (2) that the individual souls are eternal and pervade a material body for a time; (3) there are nine basic elements, consisting of earth, water, light, air, ether, time, space, soul, and mind, which are all eternal in the form of energy; and (4) there are seven categories of experience, which are substance, quality, activity, generality, particularity, inherence, and non-existence. However, God is not mentioned in the sutra, but later commentators included knowledge of God to complete the system.

Vaisheshika attempted to integrate philosophical theories with moral and spiritual attitudes or dharma which would lead people to good in this life and the next. However, it did not bring the Supreme Being to the point of ultimate reality, but as merely an agent of release from karma and repeated birth and death. Therefore, the Vaisheshika philosophy is not complete in its understanding of the Absolute Truth or of material nature.

The Vaisheshika theory is that merely by interactions between atoms the elements are formed and, thus, the world and all objects within appear. However, this is refuted by the Vedanta-sutras. For example, if atoms are simply inert matter, then atomic combinations could not properly take place without some higher directional force. The Vaisheshikas say this force is the unseen principle but fail to explain fully what it is, where it resides, or how it works. They also say that atoms and relationships between the atoms of the elements as earth, water, air, etc., are eternal, but this would mean that any form composed of atoms would also be eternal, such as the material world and all that is in it. However, anyone can see that this is not the case since everything is always changing and breaking apart. Even the Vaisheshikas accept the fact that all bodies and forms composed of atoms are temporary. In this way, we can recognize the contradictions in the atomic theory of the Vaisheshikas, which is, therefore, unacceptable.

The Sankhya philosophy is another system. The principal aim is to analyze the distinctions between matter and spirit. The study of the twenty-four material elements was originally developed as a complex science by Lord Kapila, as elaborated in Srimad-Bhagavatam. But later, there was another Kapila who presented an atheistic Sankhya system. Therefore, in other schools of this system, the existence of God is considered irrelevant. This is because the universe is regarded as a system of cause and effect. In other words, the cause of the universe is that which is eternal but ever-changing, or prakriti, the ever-changing material energy. God is eternal and non-changing, so, within this atheistic view of Sankhya it is considered that God cannot be the cause of the universe. Obviously, there are limitations in this analysis, such as not defining where prakriti came from and how could prakriti, which is inert, form the material universe without any guidance, and so on. So, gradually, there were additional arguments that again led to an acceptance of God in the philosophy of Sankhya.

The original Sankhya system, as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam by Lord Kapila, acknowledges matter and spirit as two separate principles of reality. Thus, genuine Sankhya introduces a dualistic philosophy more developed than the previous three systems discussed so far. Sankhya analyzed such factors as purusha and prakriti (spirit and matter), the creation and development of matter through excitation of the purusha, how the world evolved, how the modes of nature operate and affect us, how ahankara (false ego) causes our identification with matter and bondage to the material world, the five organs of action and five senses of perception, the subtle elements, the gross elements, etc.

The goal of this system is to understand that the real self is eternal and free, but because of ignorance the soul identifies with what is temporary and, therefore, suffers. Through this kind of analysis of the material world it is expected that one will realize the difference between matter and spirit and attain freedom from false identification. After this stage is attained, release from existence in the material world is reached through spiritual training, meditation on the real self and Superself, and the practice of yoga.

Yoga is the next system, which is the application of the Sankhya system. Sankhya is the theory, and yoga is the practice. Yoga, which is essentially theistic, was known many years before Patanjali. Although he is often given the credit for it, he merely codified it in his Yoga Sutras. The complete system of yoga is very complex and has many steps to it, each of which must be perfected before one can go on to the next step. The purpose of yoga is to suspend the flickering nature and internal dictations of the mind. Yoga is also to attain relief from the pain that exists from such things as ignorance, which brings attachment, which then leads the way to fear and hatred, as well as the fear of death. The practice of yoga and renunciation is for bringing freedom from such pains and suffering. Although the basis of this system may be quite popular, few people can actually reach the higher levels of self-realization through this process in this day and age. The different levels of this process and yoga systems are briefly explained in the next chapter.

The other subsidiary portions of the Vedas previously mentioned in the Vedangas have additional texts that further explain that section of Vedic knowledge. For example, the Kalpa-sutras, which elaborate on the many kinds of rituals, are divided into four kinds, namely the Shrauta-sutras, Grihya-sutras, Dharma-sutras, and the Shulba-sutras.

The Shrauta-sutras explain the rituals the priests engage in, and the details of performing a Vedic yajna, or ceremony, according to the particular branch of the Veda with which it is connected. It covers the large and royal rituals performed by kings, such as the ashvamedha or rajasuya, to the ordinary ones performed by a family, such as the agnishtoma, agnihotra, or the pitri yajna for the dead relatives.

The Grihya-sutras describes the general and ritualistic social traditions that are usually observed by householders for their upliftment. These include such things as the performance of daily worship, study of scripture, or installing a Deity in a temple. Also, how to greet a guest, do rituals for moving into a new house, or timely samskaras for giving a name to a child, or the ritual for a child’s first hair cutting, a youth’s acceptance of a Vedic order, or the marriage ceremony.

The Dharma-sutras deal with the different disciplines or duties of a person, from common individuals up to the king. This includes duties of people in the four orders of life (from birth up to renunciation, or brahmacari student to sannyasa), along with duties of a man to his family and society, or duties of a married couple to each other and their children, or duties of a king to his subordinates.

Vedic mathematics is found in the Shulba Sutras, which means codes of the rope since particular lengths of rope were used to make exact measurements. The Shulba-sutras had 1180 branches and give mathematical details on size and shape of altars for the fire rituals and the place where such ceremonies would take place. These mathematical codes are said to have been compiled from the 8th to the 5th century BC, however such codes probably existed far earlier than this. It is figured that the original Indian mathematical developments arose from the needs of their religious ceremonies that required altars of precise measurement. This started to gain significance when the sages began to emphasize the use of external processes of worship and ritual as an additional means to attain internal awareness and spiritual progress. In other words, they were not interested in math outside of what it could do for them spiritually. The Shulba Sutras show the earliest forms of algebra as used by the Vedic priests.

The Shulba Sutras were only a portion of the broader system of mathematics found in the Kalpasutras. These consisted of arithmetic and algebra as well as geometry. In fact, geometrical instruments dating back to 2500 BC have been found in the Indus Valley, which was also a part of Vedic society. The Pythogorean theorem was already existing in the Shulba Sutras before Pythagorus presented it. This means he may have only learned of it through his travels in India rather than inventing it himself.

It was the Vedic system that developed the decimal system of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc., and how to take the remainder of one column of numbers over to the next. The numeral system of nine numbers and a 0 made calculations very easy. Without the invention and use of 0, many of the mathematical advancements that have been made in the West would not have been possible. These numbers were developed from the Brahmi script and became popular after 700 AD, spreading into Arabia. They became known as the Arabic numerals because the Europeans, who had adopted them, got them from the traveling Arabians. Yet the Arabians called them “Indian figures” (Al-Arqan-Al-Hindu) because they had received them from India. Because of this it was called the India art (hindisat). Thus, the system of math that we all use today had its start in Vedic India.

Further developments in mathematics in India by its mathematicians, such as Brahmagupta (7th century), Mahavira (9th century), and Bhaskara (12th century) in such areas as algebra and trigonometry were not known in Europe until the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, many of the great inventions made in Europe that we take for granted today, would have been impossible if they had been stuck with their cumbersome Roman numerals, and without the advanced system of mathematics that came from India.

The Anukramanika is another book in the same category as these sutras and relates the contents of the Vedas. It consists of 1180 books for the 1180 Vedic branches. It lists all of the Vedic gods and their associated mantras, and all the sages who composed them. So this works like a summary of the Vedic books.

Beyond these are many other texts that include the Sraddha-kalpa, Pitrimedhasutras, Parisistas, Prayogas, Karikas, etc., all of which deal only with Vedic rituals.

A later text that also deals with the Vedic rituals is the Rigvidhana by the sage Shaunaka. This book gives explanations on the usage of many of the verses or hymns in the Rig-veda. The precise chanting of particular verses produces specific magical or quick results, such as overcoming one’s enemies, getting rid of disease, protecting oneself from ghosts, and many other things. The Rigvidhana indicates which verses, and the procedure if necessary, to be used to accomplish their various effects.

Additional topics, such as alchemy, are also dealt with, or architecture as found in the Sthapatyaveda, or erotics as found in the Kama Sutra.

India also had a long agricultural heritage that went back to before 3700 BC, and had the first written texts on the topic. One of the oldest books is the Krishi-Parashara (c. 400 BC), which means “Agriculture by Parashara”. This has been translated by the Asian Agri-History Foundation in Secunderabad, India. This book gives lists of tools to be used, ways of predicting rain by using basic astrology with climate conditions, methods of good farming management for the high yield of crops, management of cattle, along with advice on seed collection and storage, etc.

Another text on agriculture was the Kashyapiyakrishisukti by Kashyapa (c. 700-800 AD). This describes the means of producing certain crops, cattle management, soil properties, laying out gardens, means of irrigation, marketing, ways of support from the government, as well as mining, and even a personal code of conduct for farmers.

The Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life) by Surapala was another book that appeared later (c. 1000 AD). This dealt with the application of Ayurveda to various kinds of trees. However, it also contained knowledge of raising orchards, seed management, selection of soil, ways of irrigation, finding groundwater, using fertilizers, dealing with plant diseases, and so on. These books recommend practical ways of efficient farming while preserving the world’s resources and environment, along with the means by which humanity can achieve the essential aims of life, such as dharma, artha, kama and moksha (religion, economic development, sensual fulfillment, and liberation through spiritual advancement) which are all things that we should still consider today.

 

THE SMRITIS

The Smritis were additional books that included those of many ancient authors, such as the Manu-samhita, the famous Vedic law book, and Yagyavalkya Smriti, Parashar Smriti, and those of Brihaspati, Daksha, Gautama, Yama, Angira, Pracheta, Yogeshwara, Atri, Vishnu, and several others. There were also the Upa-Smritis (smaller books) of Narada, Pulaha, Garga, Pulastya, Shaunaka, Kratu, Baudhayana, Jatukarna, Vishvamitra, Pitamaha, Jabali, Skanda, Kashyapa, Vyasa, Sanatkumara, Janaka, Vashishta, Bharadwaj and others. Most anyone who has done a fair amount of Vedic study will recognize these names, but most of these books are now unavailable.

These Smritis, especially like the Manu-samhita, explained the codes and laws or disciplines of proper conduct, and the consequences or recommended penances for bad or evil behavior. They prescribe the kind of fasting or charity or austerity one should perform for curing oneself of various sins, and what a person could expect if he was not relieved of such karmic reactions. However, some of the rules and laws it presents were meant for a much more conservative and stricter day and age. Thus, they are not as applicable in these modern times.

The first three Smritis mentioned above are the most important. However, their content is mostly for attaining good results in the next life or for attaining heaven or celestial opulence and avoiding hell. These generally do not provide the means for attaining complete liberation or God-realization, although the Manu-samhita does include such things as a description of proper behavior between guru and disciple.

Nonetheless, just as with the Upanishads, there are some Smritis that do relate the more confidential aspects of how to reach the perfection of life and attain liberation and God-realization. For example, the Smriti of Sanatkumara, the Sri Sanatkumara Samhita, is still available today and has over 321 verses. It is said to be connected with the Skanda Purana. It starts by describing the unfortunate characteristics of the people in this age of Kali-yuga, and then goes on to explain the need for all people, from the lowest to the highest, to take shelter of the holy names of Hari, Krishna, as the only way to attain the Lord. It then prescribes two mantras that are most effective for this purpose, and explains how to chant them. It later goes into some detail in describing the sweet pastimes of Lord Krishna and His associates in the spiritual world. In this way, this specialized and rare Smriti describes the way for God-realization and the most secret of secrets for complete liberation from material existence.

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