What is Vedic literature?
Subject: What is Vedic literature?
From: email@example.com (Nathan Parker)
Date: 1 Mar 1995 19:45:43 -0800
From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Mar 1 22: 36:05 1995
Organization: CRL Dialup Internet Access (415) 705-6060 [Login: guest]
[ Article crossposted from alt.religion.vaisnava ]
[ Author was Nathan Parker ]
[ Posted on 1 Mar 1995 19:09:57 -0800 ]
The following are some lessons explaining the different branches of the
tree of Vedic knowledge (Vedas, Upanisads, Vedangas, Darsanas, Bhashyas,
Puranas, Itihasas, etc.). The file is 28k, so if you are interested,
download it. This is originally published as a booklet by Bhaktivedanta
Academy (Coimbatore) under the title "Four books are enough."
The original booklet also contains 15 pages of charts and diagrams that
explain how all the various branches of Vedic literature are connected. If
anyone is interested in the booklet, email me.
Once again, please ignore the odd characters and random spaces, it is due
to the text editor.
Four Books are Enough
Lesson One (Vedas)
Veda means knowledge. The original knowledge are the teachings of
the Vedas. In the conditioned state our knowledge is subjected to many
deficiencies. There are four defects that a conditioned soul has:
committing mistakes, subject to illusion, cheating propensity and
imperfect senses. These deficiencies make us unfit for having perfect
knowledge. Therefore we accept the Vedas as they are.
Vedas are apauruseya, which means they are not compilations of
human knowledge. Vedic knowledge comes from the spiritual world, from Lord
Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the beginning the first
living creature was Brahma. He received the Ve dic knowledge from Krsna.
Vedas are compared to desire tree because they contain all things
knowable by man. They deal with mundane necessities as well as spiritual
realization. Above and beyond all departments of knowledge there are
specific directions for spiritual realization. Regulated knowledge
involves a gradual raising of the living entity to the spiritual platform,
through varna (brahmana - intellectual, ksatriya - ruler, vaisya -
merchant, sudra - worker) and asrama (brahmacarya - student, grhastha -
family, vanaprastha - retired, sannyasa - mendicant). The highest
spiritual realization is knowledge that the Personality of Godhead is the
reservoir of all pleasures, spiritual tastes.
Formerly there was only the Veda of the name Yajur. The sacrifices
mentioned in the Vedas were means by which the peopleFs occupations
according to their orders of life (namely brahmacarya, grhastha,
vanaprastha and sannyasa) could be purified. To simpli fy the process and
make them more easily performable, Vyasadeva (the empowered incarnation of
Krsna) divided the one Veda into four, Rg (prayers), Yajur (hymns for
oblations), Sama (same prayers and hymns in meters for singing), Atharva
(body/world mainte nance and destruction) in order to expand them among
Thus the original source of knowledge is the Vedas. There are no
branches of knowledge either mundane or transcendental, which do not
belong to the original texts of the Vedas. They have simply been developed
into different branches. They were originally rendered by great seers. In
other words, the Vedic knowledge broken into different branches by
different disciplic successions (known as sakhas) has been distributed all
over the world. No one, therefore, can claim independent knowledge beyond
The texts of the Vedas are known as Samhitas. Within these
Samhitas there are portions known as Mantras, which contain prayers in the
form of potent sound compounds revealed to great seers for different
purposes. In the Vedic civilization three orders of life lived in the
forests. Only grhasthas inhabited the cities. The regulated knowledge for
living in the city, is revealed in the books known as Brahmanas, whereas
the regulated knowledge for living in the forest is revealed in the books
known as Aranyakas.
1) What are Vedas?
2) What are four defects of conditioned souls?
3) Why should one accept Vedas as they are?
4) What is the subject matter of Vedas and what is the purpose of it?
5) What is varnasrama?
6) What are the divisions of the Vedas? Who divided them? Why were they divided?
7) Why is it that no one can claim independent knowledge beyond the Vedas?
8) Describe the different sections of the Vedas.
Lesson Two (Sruti, Smrti, and Nyaya)
There are three different sources of vedic knowledge, called
prasthana-traya. The Upanisads are known as sruti-prasthana, the
scriptures following the principles of six limbs vedic knowledge
(Vedangas) as well as Mahabharata, Bhagavad-gita, and Puranas a re known
as smrti- prasthana and Vedanta-sutras which present the vedic knowledge
on the basis of logic and arguments is known as nyaya-prasthana. All
scientific knowledge of transcendence must be supported by sruti, smrti
and a sound logical basis (nyaya ). Smrti and nyaya always confirm that
which is said in the sruti.
Vedic injunctions are known as sruti. From the original Veda Samhitas up
to the Upanisads are classified as sruti. The additional supplementary
presentations of these principles as given by the great sages are known as
smrti. They are considered as eviden ce for vedic principles.
Understanding the ultimate goal of life is ascertained in the
Vedanta-sutras by legitimate logic and argument concerning cause and
There are six aspects of knowledge in the Vedas known as Vedangas:
Siksa - phonetic science
Vyakarana - grammar
Nirukti - context (conclusive meaning)
Candas - meter
Jyotis - time science (astronomy & astrology)
Kalpa - rituals
The seers who have realized these aspects of knowledge from the
Vedas, have composed sutras (short but potent phrases which convey a lot
of meanings) on each Vedanga. Kalpa-sutras are of four categories, viz.,
srouta (collective sacrifices), grhya (fami ly rituals), dharma
(occupational duties) and sulba (building of sacrificial fireplaces,
According to the different levels of conditioned consciousness
there are instructions in the Vedas for worship of different controllers,
with the aim of reaching different destinations and enjoying different
standards of sense enjoyment. Agamas (emanated
scriptures) are books which are classified into five for this purpose:
energy - Sakti - Sakta Agamas
visible source - Surya - Soura Agamas
controller - Ganapati - Ganapatya Agamas
destroyer - Siva - Saiva Agamas
ultimate source - Visnu - Vaikhanasa Agamas
For those who are below standard for vedic purificatory process,
Lord Siva gave the Tantra sastras. These have two general classifications,
right and left. While the right aspect contains regulations for
purification for those who are grossly engaged in meat eating,
intoxication and illicit sex, the left aspect contains low class
activities like black magic etc.
From the point of view of common human activities sense
gratification is the basis of material life. To cater to this aim, there
are three paths mentioned in the Vedas:
The karma-kanda path involves fruitive activities to gain
promotion to better planets. Using the methodology from the first five
Vedangas, the Kalpa-sutras explain this path.
Upasana-kanda involves worshiping different controllers for
promotion to their planets. The Agamas explain this path.
Jnana-kanda involves realizing the Absolute truth in impersonal
feature for the purpose of becoming one . The Upanisads explain this path.
Though these paths are all from the Vedas, and the Vedas do
explain them, one should not think that that is all the Vedas have. The
real purpose of the Vedas is to gradually push one in the path of self
realization to the point of surrender in devotion al service to the
Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna.
1) What is prasthana-traya?
2) What is the difference between sruti, smrti and nyaya? What are
the vedic books under this classification?
3) What are Vedangas?
4) Describe the four divisions of Kalpa-sutras.
5) How many are the paths mentioned in the Vedas? What are they?
Which books explain them?
6) What is the real purpose of the Vedas?
Lesson Three (Upanisads and Darsanas)
(Vedanta and six systems of philosophy)
Upanisad means receiving knowledge while sitting near the teacher.
These are conversations between self realized souls and their students on
the subject matter of Absolute truth. The philosophical aspects of all the
important processes and practices of k nowledge (known as vidyas) that are
given in the Vedas are discussed in the Upanisads. Veda means knowledge
and anta means end. Upanisads are known as Vedanta, end of knowledge.
In the Upanisads the description is more or less negation of the
material conception of everything, up to the Supreme Lord. It is very
important to note that there is no denial of the spiritual, absolute,
transcendental conception in the Upanisads. The purpose of the Upanisads
is to philosophically establish the personal feature of the Absolute Truth
as transcendental to material names, forms, qualities and actions.
There are 108 Upanisads, as accepted by disciplic succession. Among
them the following are considered as topmost:
1) Isa 2) Kena 3) katha 4) Prasna 5) Mundaka 6) Mandukya 7)
8) Aitareya 9) Chandogya 10) Brhad-aranyaka 11) Svetasvatara
Darsana means, sight or vision. In the Vedanta philosophy, the
first question is, what is the source of everything? There are
philosophers who saw different stages of the original source, and
explained philosophy according to their vision. These are known as
darsanas. They are also known as sad-darsanas (six systems of philosophy).
The six philosophical treatises are:
1) Nyaya propounded by Gautama
2) Vaisesika " Kanada
3) Sankhya " Kapila
4) Yoga " Patanjali
5) Purva (karma) " Jaimini
6) Uttara (brahma) " Vyasa
Nyaya, the philosophy of logic, maintains that the atom is the
cause of the cosmic manifestation.
Vaisesika, philosophy of specialised logic, maintains that the
combination of atoms is the cause of the cosmic manifestation.
Sankhya, philosophy of analytical study, maintains that the
material nature is the cause of the cosmic manifestation.
Yoga, philosophy of mystic perfections, maintains that universal
consciousness is the cause of the cosmic manifestation.
Purva (karma) mimamsa, philosophy of actions and reactions,
maintains that fruitive activities are the cause of the cosmic
Uttara (brahma) mimamsa has two different categories:
The impersonalists maintain that the impersonal Brahman effulgence
is the cause of the cosmic manifestation.
After studying the six philosophical theses, Vyasadeva completely
summarized them all in his Vedanta-sutra darsana: The Absolute Truth is
the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the cause of all causes.
Anyone who wants to establish his own philosophy certainly cannot
explain any scripture according to the principle of direct interpretation.
Among the six kinds of philosophers up to the impersonalist brahma-mimamsa
philosophers, none really cares for th e Supreme Personality of Godhead,
who is the cause of all causes. They are always busy refuting the
philosophical theories of others and establishing their own.
Nyaya and Vaisesika philosophers by accepting atoms as source have
rejected the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Sankhya philosophers do not accept the Supreme Personality of
Godhead, because after scrutinizingly analysing the material elements,
they have come to the conclusion that material nature is the cause of
The Yoga philosophers imagine a form of the Absolute Truth within
many forms , and thus do not give any information about the transcendental
Personality of Godhead.
Purva (karma) mimamsa philosophers maintain that if there is a God, He is
subjected to our fruitive activities. Therefore they do not see any need
to become devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The impersonalist Uttara (brahma) mimamsa philosophers say that
everything is an illusion. Headed by philosophers like Astavakra, they
stress the impersonal Brahman effulgence as the cause of everything,
rejecting the transcendental Personality of Godh ead, who is also the
source of that Brahman effulgence.
Srila Vyasadeva wrote the Vedanta-sutras and taking the essence of
all vedic literature, established the supremacy of the Supreme Personality
1) What are Upanisads? What do they teach?
2) How many are the Upanisads? List the most important ones. (Do you know the
name of the Upanisad that Srila Prabhupada translated and given purports to?)
3) What is the actual purpose of the Upanisads?
4) What are darsanas? Name the six darsanas.
5) What do the six systems of philosophy establish as cause of cosmic manifestation?
6) Explain how the six systems of philosophy are all atheistic.
7) What system of philosophy will you classify Vyasadevas Vedanta-sutras in? Why are Vedanta-sutras the complete Vedanta Philosophy?
Lesson Four (Bhasyas)
(Commentaries on Vedanta Sutra)
Vyasadeva is an incarnation of Krsna. He compiled Vedanta-sutra to
enable one to understand the Absolute Truth through infallible logic and
Veda means knowledge, and anta means the end. In other words,
proper understanding of the ultimate purpose of the Vedas is called
A sutra is a code that expresses the essence of all knowledge in a
minimum of words. It must be universally applicable and faultless in its
linguistic presentation; this is the definition of sutra according to Vayu
and Skanda Puranas.
Knowledge which is given in the Vedanta-sutra is supported by the
Upanisads. Vedanta-sutras are known as nyaya-prasthana, legitimate logic
and argument concerning cause and effect giving the conclusive
understanding of the sruti-prasthana, the Upanisads.
Vedanta-sutra, which consists of codes revealing the method of
understanding Vedic knowledge, is the concise form of all Vedic knowledge.
It begins with the words "athato brahma-jijnasa" ( "now is the time to
inquire about the Absolute Truth"). The hum an form of life is especially
meant for this purpose, and therefore the Vedanta-sutra very concisely
explains the human mission. According to the great dictionary compiler (
Kosakara), Hemacandra, Vedanta refers to the purport of the Upanisads and
the Bra hmana portion of the Vedas.
The Vedanta-sutras are also known by the following different
(1) Brahma-sutra, (2) Saririka-sutra, (3) Vyasa-sutra,
(4) Badarayana-sutra, (5) Uttara-mimamsa, (6) Vedanta-darsana.
The Vedanta-sutra consists of four chapters. The first two
chapters discuss the relationship of the living entity with the Supreme
Personality of Godhead. This is known as sambandha-jnana, or the knowledge
The third chapter describes how one can act in his relationship
with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is called abhideya-jnana.
The fourth chapter describes the result of such action. This is
known as prayojana-jnana.
Because the Vedanta-sutra is in codes which contain a lot of
knowledge, it required commentaries (bhasyas).
Sripada Sankaracarya wrote his commentary on Vedanta-sutra based
on monism (advaita - not two). He established that God and the living
entity are one. Not accepting the transformation of the energy of Absolute
Truth, which is the actual explanation of th e Vedanta-sutra, he
introduced the theory of illusion. He claimed that everything is one with
There are other (theistic) commentaries by vaisnava acaryas:
Nimbarka - dvaitadvaita (oneness and dualism)
Visnuswami - suddhadvaita (purified oneness)
Ramanujacarya - visistadvaita (specific oneness)
Madhvacarya - dvaita (dualism)
Baladeva vidya - acintya bhedabheda (inconceivable oneness and
In each of these commentaries, the Supreme Personality of Godhead
is established as the cause of all causes, the cosmic manifestation is
established as transformation of His inconceivable energies, and
devotional service is described very explicitly.
1) Who is Vyasadeva? Why did he compile Vedanta-sutras?
2) What is Vedanta? What is sutra? How do you know?
3) What is the connection between Upanisads and Vedanta-sutra?
4) What is the connection between knowledge of the Vedas and
5) What are the different names of Vedanta-sutra?
6) What are the contents of the Vedanta-sutra?
7) What is the necessity of commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra?
8) Describe in brief the commentary of Sankaracarya?
9) List the vaisnava commentaries and the names of their philosophies.
10) What is common in the vaisnava commentaries?
Lesson Five (Puranas, Itihasas, and Kavyas)
Puranas are compiled from related historical facts which explain
the teachings of the four Vedas. In the Chandogya Upanisad, the Puranas
and the Mahabharata, generally known as histories, are mentioned as the
Srila Vyasadeva, due to his kindness and sympathy toward the
fallen souls, supplemented the Vedas with Puranas which easily explain the
Vedic truths, intended for different types of men.
All men are not equal. There are men who are conducted by the mode
of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are
under the mode of ignorance. The Puranas are so divided that any class of
men can take advantage of them and gradu ally regain their original
position and get out of the hard struggle for existence.
All the stories mentioned in the Puranas are actual histories, not
only of this planet but also on millions of other planets within the
In the Puranas, (which are classified under the three modes) as a
matter of course, Srila Vyasadeva has certainly given descriptions of the
glories of Krsna, but not as many as given to religiosity economic
development, sense gratification and salvation . These four items are by
far very inferior to engagement in the devotional service of the Lord.
Therefore, in the pure-goodness Purana, viz., Srimad Bhagavatam,
Srila Vyasadeva proclaims that the prime necessity of human life is to
realize ones eternal relationship with the Lord and thus surrender unto
Him without delay.
Itihasas are literatures describing historical events pertaining
to either a single hero or a few heroic personalities in a lineage: for
example, Ramayana describing the pastimes of Sri Ramacandra and
Mahabharata describing the pastimes of the Pandavas i n the lineage of the
Kurus. In these books there are topics on transcendental subjects along
with material topics. The Bhagavad-gita is a part of Mahabharata. The
whole idea of the Mahabharata culminates in the ultimate instructions of
the Bhagavad-gita t hat one should give up all other engagements and
should engage oneself solely and fully in surrendering unto the lotus feet
of Krsna. The conclusive teaching of the Ramayana also is to fully
surrender and take shelter of Lord Sri Ramacandra.
Kavyas are dramatic poetical presentations of selected histories
from the Itihasas and/or Puranas, some examples are Raghuvamsa, Meghaduta,
All the vedic literatures, are put into systematic order for the
benefit of the fallen souls who are detached from the transcendental
loving service of the Lord, It is the duty of the fallen souls to take
advantage of such literatures and become freed fr om the bondage of
1) How are Puranas compiled?
2) Give an evidence for the Vedic authority of the Puranas.
3) How did Vyasadeva helped the different types of men to
understand the vedic truths?
4) How are the Puranas divided?
5) What subject matters are given more importance in the
Puranas under the three modes?
6) How is Srimad Bhagavatam different from the other Puranas?
7) What mode is Srimad Bhagavatam in?
8) What are Itihasas? What is the ultimate teaching contained in
9) What is the utility of the Puranic classification of the Vedic
Lesson Six (Pancaratras)
Pancaratrasya krtsnasya vakta to bhagavan svayam: The Pancaratra
system is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead (just like the
Bhagavad-gita); there are 108 Pancaratra books in which the system of
worship of the Lord in His Deity form is explaine d to and through the
great authorities of devotional service, viz., Lord Brahma, Lord Siva,
Goddess Laksmi etc., Padma Pancaratra, Narada Pancaratra, Hayasirsa
Pancaratra, Laksmi-tantra, and Mahesa Pancaratra are some of the most
important books of Pancar atra.
Under the Vedic vidhi (rules) a student is required to be a
bonafide son of a brahmin or twice born, but a sudra can be elevated to a
brahmins position by Pancaratrika vidhi.
As human society becomes degraded by the influence of the age of
Kali, people become unfit for the vedic system. So the Pancaratra system
of making one qualified by initiating him into the process of devotional
service by which he is engaged fully in the service of the Deity form of
the Lord is the only practical method for deliverance in this age of Kali.
Pancaratra books contain elaborate descriptions on the subject
matter of the expansions and incarnations of the Supreme Personality of
Godhead, especially the Deity incarnations, detailed informations on day
to day worship of the Deity forms, methods of purification of the
worshipper and process of practical meditation, process of installing
temple and Deities, and instructions on how to conduct different festivals
in glorification of the pastimes of the Lord.
In the four authorised sampradayas, the acaryas have compiled
Deity worship manuals based on these Pancaratra books. Lord Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu instructed Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami in the subject
matter of Pancaratra and advised them to write b ooks on this subject.
Srila Sanatana Goswami compiled Hari bhakti vilas, giving
elaborate descriptions of vaisnava regulative principles and practice.
Srila Rupa Goswami made his treatise on the subject, viz., Bhakti rasamrta
sindhu with profound knowledge of revealed scriptu res and authoritative
references from various Vedic literatures, especially Narada Pancaratra.
Srila Prabhupada gave a summary study in prose on Bhakti rasamrta
sindhu, in his book Nectar of Devotion. Thus the codes of conduct book for
the Krsna conscious devotees, the Nectar of Devotion, is the Pancaratra
book for the Krsna consciousness movemen t.
1) What are Pancaratras?
2) What is the difference between Vedic rules and Pancaratrika
3) What is the special importance of the Pancaratra system in the
age of Kali?
4) What are the subject matters of the Pancaratra books?
5) What is Nectar of Devotion? Explain its connection with the
Lesson Seven (The Four Books)
Bhagavad-gita As It Is:
This book is the a, b, c book of spiritual education. This is the
essence of the knowledge imparted in the Upanisads. Since Brahma-sutras
give conclusive meaning to the Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita is also the
essence of the subject matter of the Brahma-sutr as. Vedic knowledge is
complete because it is above all doubts and mistakes, and Bhagavad-gita is
the essence of all such Vedic knowledge. Out of many standard and
authoritative revealed scriptures, the Bhagavad-gita is the best.
In the present age people are so absorbed in mundane activities
that it is not possible for them to read all the Vedic literatures. This
one book, Bhagavad-gita As It Is will suffice because it is the essence of
all vedic literatures and especially becau se it is spoken by the Supreme
Personality of Godhead.
The whole Bhagavad-gita centers around the declaration that Krsna
is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that the ultimate perfection of
life for the living being is to fully surrender unto Him.
Nectar of devotion:
Bhaktirasamrta sindhu by Srila Rupa Goswami is a treatise on the
codes of conduct of devotees compiled in Haribhakti vilas by Srila
Sanatana Goswami. Srila Prabhupada gave a summary study of Bhaktirasamrta
sindhu in his book Nectar of Devotion, thus prov iding the Pancaratra for
the devotees of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The Nectar of Devotion teaches us how to turn that switch that
will immediately brighten everything, everywhere, by engaging in the
simple and natural method of loving Krsna, the Supreme Personality of
Godhead. Even those who are completely confused and frustrated in life,
can extinguish immediately the fire of material existence burning within
their hearts, by learning this art of devotional service as directed in
the Nectar of Devotion.
The Nectar of Devotion is specifically presented for persons who
are engaged in the Krsna Consciousness movement.
Within the Vedic literature, there are two systems of education.
One deals with transcendental knowledge (para vidya) and the other with
material knowledge (apara vidya). The Vedas and their corollaries the six
Vedangas deal with the inferior system of m aterial knowledge, viz, to
improve religion (dharma), economic development (artha), sense
gratification (kama), and liberation (moksa).
As far as Vedic literature is concerned, Vedanta-sutra is accepted
as the para vidya. Srimad Bhagavatam is an explanation of that para vidya.
It is the fully matured fruit of the desire tree known as Vedic
Srila Prabhupada has given his Bhaktivedanta (devotional Vedanta)
translations and purports on Srimad Bhagavatam as the graduate study for
the devotees of the Krsna consciousness movement.
Sri Caitanya Caritamrta:
Sri Krsna appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to give practical
demonstrations of the teachings He gave as Krsna. He relished the
descriptions of Krsna lila given in the Srimad Bhagavatam by Vyasadeva.
Srila Vrndavan Das Thakur, the Vyasa of Caitanya Bhagavata
described Lord Caitanyas pastimes. Following in his footsteps Sri
Krsnadas Kaviraj Goswami, composed Sri Caitanya Caritamrta, in which the
teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are described in g reat detail.
One begins with Bhagavad-gita and advances through Srimad
Bhagavatam (for which conducting life according to the codes of Nectar of
Devotion is a must), to the Caitanya Caritamrta. Although all these great
scriptures are on the same absolute level, for t he sake of comparative
study Caitanya Caritamrta is considered to be on the highest platform.
Srila Prabhupada says in his preface to the Caitanya Caritamrta,
"I sincerely hope that by understanding the teachings of Lord Caitanya
human society will experience a new light of spiritual life which will
open the field of activity of the pure soul."
Srila Prabhupada says in his purport to text 118 of chapter
twenty-two, in the Madhya-lila of Sri Caitanya Caritamrta:
"In our Krsna consciousness movement we have therefore limited our
study of Vedic literatures to Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri
Caitanya Caritamrta and Bhaktirasamrta sindhu. These four works are
sufficient for preaching purposes. They are adequat e for the
understanding of the philosophy and the spreading of missionary activities
all over the world."
The whole ocean of Vedic literature is contained in these four
books of Srila Prabhupada - as you have seen through these lessons. If a
student sincerely studies these four books analytically and
"Four books are enough!"