Why Are Our Scriptures Difficult To Understand?

Vedic Scriptures

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Hinduism is a multifaceted religion containing multiple philosophies, approaches to liberation and streams of ideas. The complexity adds to our problem of understanding its beliefs and practices. Its scriptures also add to the complexity. They demand a serious effort on our part to study them and understand them.

The complexity of Hinduism reflects the complexity and diversity of our very existence in the mortal world where things do not seem to be what the appear to be. Perhaps it is a part of how the world is designed so that we cannot easily escape from its hold and achieve liberation. The world is a trap. We are caught in it and cannot easily escape from it since we are subject to delusion and confusion due to lack of purity and discernment.

Our scriptures affirm that the world is a projection of God where beings are subject to duality, desires, attraction and aversion and impermanence. By design, they are prevented from knowing the truth of anything, including their true nature. Hence, we cannot easily discern the truth which is hidden in the objectivity of things. Our minds and sense can discern the objects in a state of duality only. It means that we can see things, but cannot experience oneness. We can identify with our names and forms but cannot experience absorption in the Self.  For that we have to cultivate purity and transcend our minds and bodies to go beyond the objective reality.

A certain effort is required to study our scriptures also. To understand them, we have to cleanse our minds and bodies. To the extent we cultivate purity (sattva) the truths which are hidden in them reveal themselves. They are difficult to understand because they are composed in an ancient language which is no more spoken by a majority of people. We have also the lost the original meaning of several words and phrases. Further they also contain hidden symbolism which is difficult to unravel.

What this means is that if you want to study our scriptures, you require an all-round effort. You have to study them with devotion and sincerity, making it an integral part of your spiritual practice. Hence study of the scriptures (svadhyaya) is considered a devotional activity and transformative practice along with other aspects of yoga. The complexity of the scriptures also allude to the difficulty we have in achieving liberation itself.

Spiritual life is a hard life. Nothing is easy on the spiritual path. Everything requires effort, including the study and preparation. You have to make intense effort to cleanse yourself, giving up worldly pleasures and living as a recluse or a renunciant so that you can overcome all the obstacles which prevent you from knowing and discerning truths.

You can discern complexity even in the performance of our sacrificial rituals. They require the mediation of priest who is well-versed in the study of the Vedas and know how to perform them with precision and invoke gods to please them through offerings. Ordinary people cannot perform them without guidance.

The complexity is visible even in the manner our temples were constructed in the past in the most inaccessible places to make pilgrimages difficult and arduous. To visit them, devotees had to travel through deep forests or climb tall mountains or enter dark caves, often risking their lives. They tested one’s faith, devotion and commitment.

Similarly, our scriptures challenge you and test your faith. They demand a heightened state of awareness and purity and stability of mind. They test your patience, discernment and attentiveness. Especially, scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita demand contemplative and repetitive study, accompanied by corresponding practice. They may also require the guidance of a teacher or a master.

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