by Jayaram V
Vedanta means the end of the Vedas. “Veda + Anta” is Vedanta. Anta means the
end. Thus, Vedanta means the end of the Vedas. Now you may ask what the Vedas
are. The Vedas are the sacred scriptures of the Hindus. Many Hindus have a vague
idea of what they are. However, I am sure very few Hindus ever bother to know what
they contain. For many people, ignorance is bliss. They wallow in it, defend it,
protect it, and if you say anything that does not agree with their ignorance, they
will put up an argument just to put you down. Hinduism venerates the Vedas. In other
words, Hinduism worships knowledge; but we Hindus, by habit, prefer to worship ignorance.
We choose to ignore the essential features of our own religion, and many times,
mistake our ignorance for tolerance. When you do not have knowledge, you have
no option, but to tolerate things with which you may not agree. Therefore, examine
whether your tolerance of anything stems from your knowledge or your ignorance,
and whether your preference for tolerance is just an extension of your ego or a
camouflage for your laziness. In its finer aspects, Hinduism is about knowing
the truth and ending the very need for knowing. Hence, knowledge or the Vedas are
so central to our religion. With their help, you can reach the very limits of knowing
and human knowledge, and enter into an all-knowing awareness. Our endeavor should
be to overcome our ignorance (ajnanam). Our scriptures repeatedly remind us of this
duty of ours, especially, since we are born as human beings, endowed with reason,
and intelligence and we have a precious opportunity to escape from here.
There are four Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. If you want
to know what these are, please check the “Scriptures” section of Hinduwebsite.com.
We have provided translations of all the Vedas there. Hindus regard them as aspects
of God in word form. They are inviolable, which means, what you find in them are
final and indisputable. They are also the standard, which means, if you have doubts
about your knowledge of things and the world you have to look for validation and
evidence from them. The Vedas are considered sruti, meaning revelations or those,
which have been heard. You hear what is preexisting. The Vedas are considered eternally
existing and never created. They have been heard by the best of the human beings
in the remote past and transmitted down the line for the common people to make use
The parts of the Vedas
Each Veda is divided into four parts, the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas
and the Upanishads. The Samhitas contain hundreds of hymns. Each hymn contains several
lines of mantras. They are chanted by trained priests during sacrificial ceremonies
with specific intensity, incantation and rhythm invoking gods and goddesses, who
have the power to manifest things, but who rely upon human beings for their nourishment.
In other words, the Vedas help you connect with gods and nourish them and in return,
they fulfill your wishes and protect you from evil. The mantras are not just magic
words, which they are in some ways. They have a special significance in Hindu ritual
because they are considered aspects of Brahman in word form. The energy of Brahman
or His manifesting power is hidden in them in the form of sounds. When you chant
the mantras, you awaken the energy in them and the sounds you create in the process
travel to the heaven and activate them into action. The Vedas thus give you the
ability to communicate with gods. The Verses are in Sanskrit because it is the language
of the gods and you can communicate with them only by it. Now, you know why you
need a priest. You need a priest when you do not know the Sanskrit mantras and when
you do not know how to communicate with the gods in their language. The Hindu
priests know it and they have been trained to communicate with the gods in the language
and the idiom they know. If you are looking for help from the deities, my
suggestion is either take the help of a priest and perform a Vedic ritual in the
traditional fashion or master a few mantras that have a significance for the deity
you have in mind.
Vedic rituals are structured. You have little freedom in performing them. You
cannot take liberties with the mechanism of ritual worship, if you care for the
results. It is like any other endeavor in life. If you do not know the procedure,
rules and regulations, very likely you will make mistakes and fail to manifest results.
It is the same with the Vedic rituals. You must have proper knowledge of the ritual.
You must know the procedure, how to begin them, how to prepare for them, whom to
invoke and how to observe the due process. This is not some knowledge you gain by
reading a few books. The do-it-yourself approach does not work with the Vedic ceremonies.
The priests who perform them actually spend years mastering the Vedas by heart.
They know every intonation of every word in the hymns. They know where to start
and end the rituals. In the ancient times, each student of the Vedas spent over
twenty-five years to study them and master them. Nowadays the students do not spend
that much time because they can rely upon printed copies to brush up their memories.
The knowledge of how to perform the rituals is specified in the Vedas themselves,
in the second part, which is known as the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas are the
means of invoking Brahman. They deal with the mechanics and the procedural aspects
of Brahman. Now again, you may ask who is Brahman. Brahman is not a priest. Brahman
is not a caste. Brahman is not a god. Brahman is the highest God of Hinduism. He
is the universal Supreme Self, the Lord of the Lords. There is nothing higher than
Him or beyond Him. The Vedas are about Him, by Him and for Him. If you want to know
about Brahman please read my book on Brahman. I have explained the mystery and the
significance of this God of Gods in my book in detail. It is a unique book by all
standards. It is written with a specific purpose to let Hindus know what they are
missing. I have written it because present day Hindus have lost their way. They
are worshipping lower gods and ignoring the real One, the source of all. They are
into form worship, idol worship, human worship, tantric worship and spirit worship.
They have fallen into ignorant ways. Our gods who cannot make their own food are
starving. They have grown weak due to lack of nourishment. Hence, evil has
spread in society. The gods are the bodyguards of this world. If you ignore them
or under nourish them, they cannot defend you against evil forces. You can see the
consequences all around you. You have an obligation to nourish them, at least internally
in your own body, by offering them the food you eat. You also have an obligation
to work for your spiritual welfare by worshipping the highest Self.
I want to remind you of that verse in the Bhagavadgita, which says that if you
worship lower gods, you will go to them and if you worship the highest God, you
will reach Him only. I know a lot of Hindus flock around gurus and start worshipping
them out of greed and desire for wealth and power. For many people their knowledge
and interest in religion begins and ends with astrology. A program on astrology
attracts more attention than a discourse on good living. I do not know whether all
the gurus have the ability to look into your future or speak in unity with Brahman.
May be a few of them are pure enough to realize Brahman in their embodied state
and willing to walk in the world and speak to the ignorant minds. You must be very
lucky and must have done a lot of good karma in the past to come into their contact
and earn their grace. Until you find one, I suggest that you worship the God of
gods, the highest one, instead of running around the lesser gods, joining cults
or following some very controversial gurus, whose names I do not want to mention
here. Here is a simple test to know about any guru. See what he has accumulated.
Has he accumulated merit? Has he gathered his family around him and entrusted them
with the task of managing his trust? Has he accumulated knowledge and purity or
wealth and power? Do you see in him the radiance of Brahman or the pride of being
in a position of authority? Do you see in Him purity, balance, stability, equanimity
and sameness or the darkness of egoism? Your soul knows when it is in the
presence of a great soul (mahatma). Titles do not make a person great. His
or her deeds do. Scriptural knowledge does not make a person a saint. Anyone
with some knowledge can give discourses on scriptures (ask me) . So look at your
master and see whether you can safely cruise with him in the ocean of life or whether
he would jump the ship, at the most crucial time when you need him and leave you
to your own fate.
Not all knowledge is in the public domain. Some knowledge is elementary and some
knowledge is advanced. Your knowledge is not complete until you master the second
one. The advanced knowledge of the rituals is hidden in the third part of the Vedas
known as Aranyakas. Aranyakas means forest books. They contain knowledge of specific
rituals that are difficult to understand unless you are well versed in the Vedic
rituals. They are also difficult to perform because they require specialized knowledge
and greater precision. Therefore, they are not made available to the general public.
Since a lot of secrecy was associated with them from the beginning, very few people
today know what they contain and what they actually mean.
The Upanishads constitute the fourth part of the Vedas. Since they form the last
and final part of the Vedas, they are collectively referred to as the Vedanta. Each
Upanishad, meaning sitting near, contains the knowledge of Brahman, the Universal
Self and Atman the individual Self. Currently a few hundred Upanishads are in circulation.
Some of them are original and some later day additions. They are the finest specimens
of spiritual knowledge ever found in the annals of human history. They are not easy
to understand. Especially, some of the earliest Upanishads like the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad are couched in ritual symbolism and unless you know their ritual significance,
you will not realize their symbolic significance. The Upanishads also contain primarily
knowledge of rituals only. However, they speak about a different kind of rituals,
the internal rituals that you need to perform within yourself in the form of yoga
and austerities. The physical rituals (karmakanda) is for the thirsty who want to
draw water from the well of life; the internal rituals (jnanakanda) is for the wise
who want to reach the ocean and immerse themselves in it. While the physical rituals
are performed to realize your desires, and gain happiness and material wellbeing,
the internal rituals need to be performed without desires and for the liberation
of the Self.
Thus in a general sense, Vedanta means the end part of the Vedas. However, this
is not the only meaning. Vedanta also means the end of knowledge or the end of knowing.
What is the end of knowledge? How you reach that state? A student spends 25 or so
years studying the scriptures and memorizing the hymns. Then he comes and sits near
his master, who teaches him the secret of the secrets, the knowledge of Brahman
by knowing which all knowing comes to an end. When you know Brahman, who is all,
there is nothing else to know. You reach the boundaries of human knowledge and wisdom.
You transcend it and enter into an ocean of infinite knowledge and bliss, where
knowing has no purpose, no end and no object. Vedanta teaches you how to enter into
that state and by what means you can transcend your limitations and experience contact
with Brahman (brahmasparsha). You are incomplete as knower. You are incomplete with
knowing. You are incomplete without knowing also. You are complete only when you transcend
these and become knowledge itself. That is the aim of the Vedanta. That is what
it means. That is what it promises to deliver if you are serious about it. Vedanta
brings an end to your spiritual quest. It ends your doubts. It ends your seeking.
It ends your knowing. It ends your existence as a bound soul. It ends your existence
as an individual soul. It ends your relationship with the world. It ends your attachments.
It ends your ignorance. And it ends your suffering. Vedanta also means a philosophy.
It is one of the six darshanas or schools of Hindu philosophy. It also goes by the
name uttara mimansa or brahma mimansa. It is a theistic philosophy rooted in the
knowledge and authority of the Vedas. Mimansa means logical enquiry into the nature
of reality according to the percepts of the Vedas. Purva mimansa approaches this
process with the prior parts (purva) of the Vedas, namely the Samhitas and the Brahmanas
and Uttara mimansa deals with the latter part (uttara), namely the Aranyakas and
Thus, we have reached the end of the knowing of the Vedanta. This is not the
real end. This is the end of this discussion. For most, it should be the beginning
of a new frontier of knowledge. You should shift your focus from the world of your
immediate interests and look around to become mindful of your existence and live
with awareness and certain sensitivity. You must know what you are and why you are
here in the first place. You do not reach the end of the Vedas by studying them
and memorizing the slokas mechanically. You reach it by knowing who you are and
transcending your selfishness and egoism. You reach it by ending your existence
as a physical being and starting anew as a spiritual being.
Suggested Further Reading