By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
The Vedas are the primary texts and sacred scriptures of Hinduism. They are the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons at different times. The Vedas are without beginning and without an end. The Rishis are the discoverers of these Vedas. The Vedas teach that creation is without beginning or end. Hindus received their religion through revelation, known as Vedas. The Vedas are considered to be eternal. Scholars are of the view that the Rig Veda was composed about 1,500 B.C. and codified about 600 B.C. There are four Vedas., namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajir Veda, and Atharva Veda.
Upanishads are a continuation of Vedic philosophy and were written about 800 and 400 B.C. They describe on how the Soul (Atman) can be united with the Ultimate Truth (Brahman) through contemplation and meditation, as well as the doctrine of Karma (the cumulative effects of a person’s actions). Though Upanishads are considered to be one of the earliest texts on Hinduism to deal with wisdom, it is based on Rig Veda. The concept of ‘One Existence’ is already mentioned in Rig Veda (RV 1.164.49) which is mentioned as ‘ekan sat’ in the Upanishads. Even what Swami Vivekananda mentioned that ‘all human beings are children of immortality, ‘amrtasya putrah’ is also found in Rig Veda (RV 10.13.1).
Hinduism is essentially concerned with ‘Self’. The discovery of the reality about oneself and the Universe is the commitment of Vedanta. The whole fabric of thought in Hinduism revolves on God. Vedanta affirms the oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul and the harmony of religions. Vedanta says God is infinite existence, infinite consciousness and infinite bliss, i.e. Brahman. Vedanta affirms that all religions teach the same basic truths about God and the relationship with other beings.
Vedanta is the essential philosophy original to Hindus. The major idea of Vedanta is the ultimate existence. All things are ultimately reducible to one substance. Generally, there are three main issues in any philosophical system. Normally, in every philosophical system, there will be three main questions: What is the nature of man? What is the nature of God as the ultimate reality? What is the nature of nature?
Though there was no founder for the discovery that Brahman and Atman are one and the same, a renaissance was brought in Hinduism, when Sankarachariya recognized that Brahman and Atman are one. Sankarachariya was the founder of Advaita Vedanta. According to Advaita Vedanta, Atman and Brahman centres round God. According to Advainta Vedanta, Brahman means oneness or non-differentiation between the Brahm (universal spiritual entity) and the Individual (Soul). It is a relationship between Brahman and the Individual Soul. Briefly all individual Souls are part of the Almighty.
Different religious systems and different philosophical systems have different views. Vedanta, especially non-dualistic Vedanta which is known as Advaita, says all three issues are one. Man in his ultimate nature, nature in its ultimate nature, and God in his ultimate nature are the same. This is the basic position of Vedanta.
All forms of Vedanta are basically drawn from the Upanishads, a set of philosophical and instructive Vedic scriptures. The Upanishads are commentaries on the Vedas. The basic philosophy derived out of the Upanishads was that the Absolute Reality was the main principle of Vedanta. The absolute reality is the Brahman. Sage Vyasa was one of the major founders of this philosophy and the author of Brahma Sutras, based on Upanishads. The concept of Brahman is central to most schools of Vedanta. Brahman is one without a second, beyond all forms, names and qualities. That divinity is an existence that is eternally imperishable and indivisible. Swami Vivekananda also maintained that the Ultimate Reality is One and there is no second and it is designated as Brahman. It is immutable, incorporeal, Absolute pure Consciousness, beyond all names, forms, and attributes and all pervading. This is where it is called Nirguna Brahman. In other words, Brahman is the Supreme eternal, self existent, immanent, and transcendent Supreme and ultimate reality and this is the crux of the Upanishads. It is the considered view that Bhagavad Gita is a central text of Hinduism.
However, when the Ultimate Reality is designated by various names it is called Saguna Brahman. Various names can not only be Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Parasakthi, Ganesha, Muruga, etc., but also prophets such as Jesus, Allah, Jehova, etc. It is the Brahman that appears as Personal God and also as impersonal Absolute Truth. ‘Brahman is called the Reality of all Realities. Various concepts of Divine depend upon the various readings by the individual minds. Here is where Hinduism appears to be individualistic while other religions appear to be congregational in their characteristics.
The philosophy of everything in God’s existence as per the Vedanta revolves round three areas namely God, Soul and Maya. Soul refers to Self and Maya refers to senses and mind giving birth to ignorance. The Self forms the very core of man’s being. It is different from his physical body, vital energy, senses and mind. Man’s ego is not this Self. The ego or I-ness is an idea only; it is purely mental. Being mental, it cannot be the Self. This Self of man is called Atman in Sanskrit. In this respect the foundation of Hindu ethics is the Vedic teaching that God (Brahman) and the indwelling Self of man are one and the same. According to Vedanta the individual Soul is the focus of the infinite Brahman. Hinduism asserts that God created the universe. Before the creation of the Universe, no one knows the nature of the Universe or its energy. All what Hinduism says Lord Brahma created the Universe and the beings. Hindu scriptures assert that Universe precedes humanity. Hinduism arose from discoveries through revelations by way of deep meditation ascetic practices. But Science had not discovered the creation of Universe but relied on theories which are still not conclusive. Hinduism relies on the concept of ‘Brahman’ as to the existence of the Universe. Brahman represents the Ultimate Reality. Further, as the language during Verdic period was Sanskrit, the word Brahman derived from Sanskrit root ‘brh’ leading to expansion., perhaps followed by an explosion. Brahman is described as impersonal absolute of pure timeless existence. Hence in the words of Swami Vivekananda Creation is beginnningless cycles of manifestation and non-manifestation of Brahman. Vedanta always describe Creation as the out-breathing and in-breathing of Brahman.
Soul is the core of life. If there is no soul the existence of the body gets negated. Soul resides in the heart within the body. Soul is the only true existence of life. Without a Soul, everything in the Cosmos becomes inert matter (unable to move). It is the Soul that activates the body at the time of the birth of a being. The presence of a Soul within the heart is reflected when the heart keeps on pumping. Similarly, right from the beginning of the Cosmos with a big bang, it is only the journey of the Souls that led to the hospitable planets like mother earth being born. The big bang resulted in all the Souls existing in the Cosmos getting scattered all over the Cosmos.
The individual Soul is the focus of the infinite Brahman according to the Vedanta. The Soul is divine upon realization of the Supreme Being and separates from Maya. The Soul is like a wave in the Ocean. It is not different from the Ocean but is part and parcel of the Ocean. It is the Soul which has become the manifold universe. Hence the Souls are like whirlpools in the Ocean of Infinite Brahman. Therefore, Self is part of Brahman. If this truth is realized it is not possible to hurt or hate others. This is the spiritual goal Hinduism which everyone is expected to experience this divine Self.
God dwells in us. It is within the body that man should attempt to remove the impurities. The impurities are the Karma which are the manifestations of greed, anger, resulting from desires. It is after removing the impurities from the body, the Soul becomes enlightened and attain salvation. Until such time, the cycle of Birth-Death-Birth continues until the mind is liberated or refined from impurities. The rebirth of a Soul is continuation of events.
One of the central beliefs of Hinduism is that there are many paths to seek the truth and God. They believe in the existence of Brahman, one God, or a supreme universal spirit from which the manifestations of various deities developed including the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma represents the Hindu principle of origin or creation. Vishnu is the principle of preservation or nurturing and Shiva represents the principle of dissolution or destruction. Brahman is present in everything in this universe – people, animals, trees, plants, and even stones.
One may raise the question as to why some are suffering while others are enjoying. Vedanta attributes five causes for sufferings. They are (1) loss of contact with the Soul, (2) ego, (3) attachment, (4) aversion (a feeling of dislike), and (5) clinging to a fanciful world of imagination and dream. According to the law of Karma birth and death, pain and pleasure, etc, apply to the ego and its world. The remedy is the Self-realization through self-control.
Finally, it may be concluded that Vedanta teaches five principles of Hinduism.
1. Existence of one God. Manifestations of many forms apart from Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
2. God dwells in every being. Hence all human beings are divine.
3. Religious harmony. It accommodates the principles of all religions.
4. Asserts Unity of existence through love and compassion.
5. Bhagavad Gita is a central text of Hinduism for Knowledge and Gayatri (sacred mantra)