The Source Texts of Vedanta

The Scriptures of Vedanta

Primary Literature: The Vedas are the source texts of Hinduism and Vedanta. There are four Vedas: Rig, Yajur, Sama and Arthavana. Each of the four Vedas have two primary sections, the Karma Kanda, dedicated to lifestyle and the fulfillment of the first three human goals: security, pleasure and virtue, and a second section, the Jnana Kanda, providing knowledge of the Self, which fulfills the fourth and final human pursuit, freedom or moksha. The second section of the Vedas is synonymous with the collection of mantras known as the Upanishads, which are the foundation of Vedanta.

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According to tradition, the Vedas were not created by humans (apauruseya) but were revealed to the purified minds of rishis (sages). This heard knowledge is knows as sruti. Like Newton, who didn’t invent gravity, because it was alway there, the rishis didn’t invent the Vedas, though because of their prepared minds, they were able to receive truths present in creation, just like a radio station tuned to the right frequency.

The Vedas are thought to have been compiled and committed to written word by the great sage Vyasa.

Secondary Literature: [To support and elaborate upon the Vedas, there are many secondary scriptures. These are not revealed knowledge like the Vedas but were written by great teachers (acharyas). These secondary teachings elaborate on the Vedic teachings which were often presented in abstract form. The secondary literature presents the teachings in a more concrete and systematic way.] Swami Paramarthanada.

  1. Sutras: profound ideas presented in short statements or mantras, that can be easily understood, memorized and chanted.
  2. Smritis: “Remembered Wisdom.” Systematic, clear and comprehensive presentation of the Vedantic teachings.
  3. Puranas: Vedic teaching in story form. There are 18 major and 18 minor Puranas attributed to Vyasa. Some of the stories are fiction, while others are factual or a mixture of the two.
  4. Itihasa: Historical literature, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, from which the Bhagavad Gita came.

The three primary source texts of traditional Vedanta are the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, both of which offer a complete teaching on moksha, and the Brahma Sutras, 555 verses, written by Badarayana 2000 years ago, providing extensive logical arguments that serve to validate the Upanishads and relinquish any vestige of doubt in the teachings.

While the source texts are the foundation, many students of traditional Vedanta benefit from commentaries or bhashyas by great teachers on various Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as well as original works by Vedantic luminaries like Adi Shankaracharya and Vidyaranya Swami.

The essence of all Vedantic scriptures can be found in this one grand statement (mahavakya) attributed to Adi Shankaracharya: Brahma satyam jagat mithya jivo brahmaiva naparah. Meaning: Brahman (ultimate reality) is the only truth (satyam), the world (jagat) is illusory (mithya), there is no difference between the individual Self (jiva) and Brahman.

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