The Vedas (Knowledge) – It’s Function & Structure
The Vedas (Knowledge) are principally divided into three portions – Mantra, Brahmana and Aranyaka. They are beginningless (Anadi), infinite (Ananta) and not the creation of the humans (Apaurusheya). A unique feature of the Vedas is that they have no internal contradictions. The portion now available is a very small part of the original and so very valuable.
Vast portions of this text have been lost in antiquity.
Vedas (Knowledge) are the means of gaining more knowledge through – Pramana (Acceptable Proof) for Dharma andBrahman.
Brahman (God) = The Original Cause of All Causes!
Dharma (Good) = The way “It originally was & Is” … and hence the crucial need to maintain it be so, for the happiness of all.
Pramanas are of six in number. They are:
1. Pratyaksha (Visible) pramana: Direct perception i.e. through our senses we gain the knowledge of the world.
2. Anuman (Imagination) pramana: We infer what we don’t see from what we see. We know the relationship of what we see with what we don’t see. Like we see smoke and infer fire.
3. Upamana (Comparison) pramana: We learn through comparison. We see an object, which is similar to what we had seen before and by comparison we come to know the new object. For example we compare the materials found on Mars with that on Earth and learn.
4. Arthapatti (Result) pramana: Knowledge is gained of the cause by studying the effect. This too is a type of inference. We see that the roads are wet and infer the cause as rain.
5. Anupalabdhi (Unavailable) pramana: When we do not see a thing which we know at a place we gain knowledge of it’s absence. Like, we know human & animal life is absent on the moon. This too depends on pratyaksha.
6. Agama (Scriptures) pramana: We gain knowledge of Dharma and Brahman, which are beyond the domain of our senses, from the Vedas. Hence Vedas are Aagama Pramana also known as Shabda (Spoken Sound) Pramana.
Knowledge of the world acquired through the senses, mind and intellect helps in our day-to-day life. This also turns the world into a more comfortable to live in. However, there is a limit to the knowledge we can gain through the senses. They cannot provide answers to questions like what happens after death or where we were before birth.
Actions give rise to both gross and subtle results but through the senses we can only know the connection of actions with the gross results but the connection with the subtle results cannot be known by any other pramana except Aagama (Scriptures). The senses cannot differentiate between good and bad or right and wrong. We can create nuclear bombs with the help of scientific knowledge. However, because this knowledge is by itself not complete it cannot tell us where or how to use it.
Science is not all knowing (Sarvajnya – pronounced Sarvagnya). To know the difference between what is right and wrong you have to be sarvajnya. Sarvajnya means having knowledge of the entire cosmos including the entire world of beings. We should not only know about those who are present now but we should also know about the past and the future of all the beings. Ishvara is sarvajnya hence the Vedas given by Ishvara are sarvajnya hence they alone can give knowledge of Dharma.
Knowledge about Dharma is not gained through our senses. Science or worldly knowledge cannot tell us about Dharma. That knowledge is revealed to us through the Vedas. For example in the Hindu tradition, the shraaddha ceremony is performed for the well being of dead ancestors. Science has no way of explaining the benefits of shraaddha and so simply labels it superstition.
Besides dharma, Brahman too can be comprehended only from the Vedas. Brahman, which is the cause of this world, and is beyond the senses, mind, and intellect cannot be known by any other pramana. The Vedas give us this knowledge. Whatever we know in this world is knowable. That which is not knowable to the senses, the knowledge of the essence (tattva) is given to us by the Vedas –Upanishads. Brahmavidya is the subject matter of the latter part of the Vedas called Upanishads, whereas Dharmavidya is explained in the earlier, karma kanda portion.
Man has four types of desires (Purusharthas) – the desire to be good (Dharma), the desire to survive (Artha), the desire for pleasure (Kaama) and the desire for freedom (Moksha). We know artha and kama are without studying the Vedas. Animals, birds, plants are involved in artha and kama only. Animals do not study or meditate. To follow the path of dharma, to evolve and finally attain moksha, we have to take support of – The Vedas.
On the path of spiritual evolution we study the four types of spiritual literature available to us – Shruti, Smriti, Purana and Itihasa. Of these the most authoritative for the humanity are the Vedas – Shruti. Their subject is Dharma and Brahman.The knowledge of the Vedas remembered and given to us by the Rishi (Seers) – Munis (Sages) in a given time in History is calledSmriti. Smriti means remembrance. An example of smriti is the famous Bhagvad-Gita.
The Puranas simplify and explain difficult concepts of Vedic knowledge through various stories and examples. Then there is the literature called Itihasas or History, like the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Itihasa teaches us about the people who have followed the path of dharma, and also about those who did not follow. By reading Itihasa we learn how to follow Dharma and what happens if we do not follow.
At the very apex of scriptural literature are three important texts – the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagvad-Gita. Adi Shankaracharya considered an Avatara (Incarnation) of Lord Shiva has authenticated their importance by his commentaries on all three texts.Together they are called the Prasthana-Trayi and are recommended to all seekers who want to understand Brahman and become free of bondage.