Book Excerpts from the book, "Vedas" by Kanchi Paramacharya

 

The book starts with tributes to the two greatest sages, Vedavyasa and Adi Sankara:

"I hail Thee, Vyasa, again and again,
Thou, God in human frame,
Thou, scion of Vasistha's ancient race,
It is from Thee that all knowledge springs."
"I salute the sacred feet of Sri Shankara, the
abode of Srutis, Smritis, Puranas and
compassion, and whoever accomplishes
the good of the world."

This book is an excellent source for Vedic religion and traditions for everyone who wants to
understand and appreciate Hindu culture and heritage. This book represents the vision of the
Paramacharya of Kanchi. The moral monarch points out that the Vedas contain a wealth of
information to guide and ensure the salvation of the human race. In addition, Vedas also define
and classify the Hindu Society outlining the roles and duties of various categories of people. I
believe that Paramacharya's view points as expressed in this book should be given serious
consideration. Everyone may not have access to this excellent book, I attempt to summarize certain
aspects of the book that deals with the questions and issues of interest to the list members.
What is the authoritative book on which Vedic Religion is based?
There is no single authoritative text on Vedic Religion. The sacred texts vary by individual tastes
and preferences. Other religions such as Christianity for example uses "Bible" as the basic text
book. In Hinduism we have no such preliminary religious education and consequently, confusion
and divergence in view points have existed almost always.

Does Hindu religion mean mere ritual?
Hindu religion does not mean mere ritual and it means DHARMA. To know Dharma and the
principles of Dharma, we must refer to sacred texts on "Dharmapramana" (True Knowledge of
Dharma. The True Dharma is described in fourteen sacred texts: four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and
Atharva), six VedAngas (Siksha - pronunciation, VyAkarna - grammar, Chandas - metre, Niruktha
- etymology, Jyotisha - Astronomy, Kalpa - procedure, Meemaamsa - interpretation of Vedic texts,
NyAya - logic, PurAna - mythology and Dharma SastrAs - texts containing codes of conduct.
Knowledge and wisdom are enshrined in these and hence these fourteen are also known as
VidyAthAnas. (A summary chart is enclosed at the end for easy reference).
Do Veda and Vedanta Clash? No, not at all!

" There is now-a-days a tendency to bypass the karmas such as Yajnas or study of the Vedas in the
traditional way (Adhyayana) but to go straight to the study of the Upanishads. As a result, many
people are becoming familiar with the contents of the Upanishads and are even able to discuss them
at length at an intellectual level. However, this has not produced anyone who has a peace of mind,
is free from passions, or has in practice realized the Truth about the Self or Atman. Why is this so?
The reason is that the preliminary preparation in the shape of complying with the Vedic injunctions
regarding Yajnas and worship has been ignored and the mind and body have not been disciplined.
Hence, to omit to study the Vedas and perform the Karmas and straightway try to imbibe the truth
in the Upanishads is as wrong as performing only the rituals, taking their meaning literally and not
proceeding further to understand what the Upanishads say."
What are the duties of a Brahmin?

A Brahmin must perform TWENTY ONE Yajnas everyday based on Agni Hotra - seven Havir
Yajnas, seven Soma Yajnas, and seven BhAga Yajnas. Agni Hotra is to be done at home. Yajna is
done under a canopy erected on open ground. The Srouta Stura describes the domestic rites - those
done at home.

My comments: In South India, the Brahmins who perform Agni Hotra are called Agnihotris. Even
today few Brahmins in remote villages do follow this tradition. Twenty years back I had a
conversation with an Agnihotri Brahmin during the Upanayanam of my nephew in a village. He
explained to me his strict disciplined lifestyle: First, He never had eaten food prepared and served
other than by his wife. He maintained permanent Agni preserved in a mud pot and conducted his
Nithya Karma. He had never stayed overnight other than at his permanent home in the village. He
had conducted his Yajnas regularly every day without any break. (No vacations!) I do believe that
there still some Agnihothris, somewhere in remote villages performing their duties according to the
Vedic rules. The modern mind of ours has the capacity and potential to rationalize all our actions
and self certify us as a Brahmin! Most of us in this list (whether born as a Brahmin or otherwise)
can ever make such a false claim. Let us be humble enough to admit our inability to maintain the
high standards as specified in the Vedic Religion.

Who is a Brahmin? Is it not necessary for those other than Brahmins to achieve evolution?
Paramacharya does not directly answer this question and there should be good reasons. "Everyone
born as a Brahmin has without asking for any reason necessarily and as matter of duty to learn,
study and practice a Veda Sakha which is one of the branches of the Vedas. A Sakha consists of
first the Samhita, next the BrAhmana, then the Aranyaka at the end of which appear the
Upanishad."
" The performance of Vedic karmas and rituals are for Brahmins and not for others. But when
others perform whatever jobs they are required to do, lead them to mental upliftment and Self
realization. To whatever caste a person may belong, the zealous performance of one's duties as laid
down and dedicating one's fruit to God lead them to the goal. The moral monarch quotes the Gita
Verse, 18:46 - "Sva karmana tam abhyarchya siddhim vindanti maanavah." The Paramacharya
writes: "The most important aspect of our worldly lives is to obtain the GRACE OF GOD. It is the
duty of the Brahmins to obtain such a grace for the benefit of the society. It is the duty of the
Brahmins to obtain the goodwill of the Devatas, who are in the nature of God's officials, to men of
classes."

My comments: The Vedic Religion demands much higher standard of ethical behavior from the
Brahmins than by others. They have to perform their duties unselfishly for the benefit of the entire
society. It should be pointed out that Paramacharya gave guidance and blessings to everyone
irrespective of race, caste and religion. Mahatma Gandhi the modern reformer of the Caste System
in India has said during the conversation with His Holiness in a goshala in Pallasseni village,
Kerala, in 1929 just before his evening meal: " The conversation I am having now with the Acharya
is itself my evening meal for to-day." In summary, those who spontaneously agree to the higher
ethical standards and dedicate their time and energy to publica service are the Brahmins according
to the Vedic Religion.

Let me conclude with the following quotation from the book: Our Acharya - Adi Sankaracharya -
was a repository of the Dharma contained in the Srutis, Smritis and PurAnAs. Hence we bow down
to him with the following salutaion:

"Sruti Smrti PurAnAm Alayam karunAlayam
Namami BhagavadpAda Sankaram lokasankaram"

This book contains a summary chart that lists the sacred books using a broader classification of the
Hindu Scriptures and the linkages between them.

Classification of Vedas
Vedas - Rgveda, Yajurveda, SAmaveda, Atharvaveda
Subclassification of Vedas - VedaSAkhA, SamhitA/BrAhmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad ( More
details including the names of the Rishis associated the subgroups are also included in the chart.
Vedangas - SiksA, VyAkarana, Chandas, Nirukta, Jyo'tisa, Kalpa
Upaangas - MimAmsA, nyaaya, PurAna, dharmaSAstra
The sacred books of Vedic religion
PrasthAAnatrayi - The Orthodox Hindu Texts on TatavjNAna- Metaphysics.

Text with Principal Commentaries:
Bhagavad Gita - Gitabhasya of Sankara, Gitabhasya of Ramanuja, Gitabhasya of Madhvacharya,
Jnanesvari of JNAnadev, Gitabhasya of AnandaTirtha, Subodhini - SriDharabhasya
Upanishads (12): Sankarabhasya on 12 Upanishads, Anandatirthabhasya
Brahmasutras: Sarirakabhasya of Sankaracharya, Sribhasya of Ramanujacarya, Sutrabhasya of
Madhvacharya, NimhbArkAcharya, VallabhAcharya, BaladevAcharya, SrikanthasivAcarya,
Sripatipandita

Sub-commentraies (VyAkhyA, VarthikA, TikA):
Bhagavad Gita: AnandaGirivyAkhyA, gudArthadipika of Madhusudhanasaravati,
GitArthasangraha of Yamunacharya, Tatprayachandrika of Desikar, GitatAt Paryanirnaya,
GitavivrTTi of Raghavendraswami, Amrtatarangini by Rahunathadas, JayatirthamunivyakhyA,
Gitrarhahsya of Tilak.

Upanishads: Suresvara's Yartika on tait and Brhd.Upanishad, Isopanishad Bhasya by
Vedantadesikar, Rangaramujamuni on Tenupanishads,Jayatirthavyakhya.
Brahmasutras (Sarirakabhaysa of Sankara): Vivrana School (Pancapadika & Tattvadipana),
Bhamati School (Bhamati, Kalpataru, Parimal, Abhoga), brahmasutradipika, Ratnaprabha,
Bhasyabhanuprabha, Nyaya nirnaya of Anandagir, Chandrika Nyayendusekara,
Khandanakhandhkhadya, Brahmavidyabharana.
The subcommentaries of Brahmasutras of Sribhasya and Sutrabhasya and others are included in
the chart.

Four Upavedas:
Ayurveda - CaraksamhitA, suSrutasamhitA, BhAvaprakASa, BelasamhitA
ArthaSAstra - Kautilya's ArthaSAstra, Kamandakiya NitSAra, NitivaAkyAmtra of Somadevasuri,
SukranitiSAra, Manusmrti, etc.,
Dhanurveda - Mahabharata, Agnipuraana, PrasthaAnabheda of Madhusarasvati
Gandharvaveda - Bharatnatyasastra, Visnudharmottaram, Sahityadarpana of Visvanatha,
DhvanyAloka of Anandavardhana, etc.

Thirty two Primary VidyAs: Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda, Ayurveda, Dhanurveda,
Gandharvaveda, Tantra, SiksA, VyAkarana, Kalpa, Nirukta, Jyotisa, Chanda, MimAmsa, Tarka,
Sankya, VedAnta, Yoga, ItihAsa, PurAna, Smrti, Nastikamata, ArthaSAstra, KamaSAstra,
SilpaSAstra, Alankrti, Kavya, Desabhsa, Avasarokti, Yavanamata, DeSAdidharma.