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Hindu scripture overview

An overview of the important religious texts in Hinduism including the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] As we've mentioned in previous videos, Hinduism is a very diverse religion, with many different practices, and even different beliefs, but there is a core centered around scripture. And the most important of these texts are the Vedas. Now the word Veda literally means knowledge in Sanskrit, and they were written during the Vedic Period. It was called the Vedic Period because this was the time that we believe the Vedas were written, and we have a whole video on the actual Vedic Period. Now there are four Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda. The first of these is the Rigveda. When I say first, it's because it's believed that it was written before the other Vedas, as early as 3,500 years ago. The other three are also pretty old, probably older than 3,000 years old. Now these four texts are a combination of rituals, of hymns, of mantras, of songs, and of philosophy. For example Rigveda, Rig you can translate as meaning praise, so it's knowledge of ways to praise, praise the eternal, or praise God. Yajurveda you could view as these prose mantras, knowledge of these prose mantras, is Yajurveda. Samaveda, this is knowledge of songs or hymns. Atharvaveda, you can view these as knowledge of things that you should do in your life. Now these four texts can be sub-classified into the type of text that they actually are. So what you see here is the sub-classification of the Vedas that's often referenced, that amongst these texts some of the verses are mantras, hymns, prayers, those are referred to as Samhitas. You have the things that are more rituals, ceremonies, these are Aranyakas. And Aranyakas are also things being referred to, things that you have learned, or rituals to do in the forest, maybe at the time when the Vedas were written these were things that people would go meditate and do in the forest. You have the Upanishads, which means to sit close to, or sit near. And if you look at the Upanishads, it really is referring to sitting close, or near a teacher, there's a lot of dialog between student and teacher. And the Upanishads, in particular, really form the spiritual core of Hinduism, it really focuses around spiritual philosophy. And amongst these four Vedas, there are 108 Upanishads, and 108 is considered a very auspicious number in Hinduism. Now you also have Brahmanas, which are commentary. Now to be clear, there are verses in the Vedas that can be many of these, that can be Aranyakas and Upanishads, so these things are not mutually exclusive. Now in the Hindu tradition, one of the unifying factors are the Vedas and the sub-classifications, or sub-categorizations of the Vedas, these are often viewed as divine revelations. Even though the Vedas themselves, some of the authors refer to themselves as authors, as people who are introspecting on these ideas and writing about them, it is believed by many Hindus that this is divine revelation. And the term for that is Shruti. And Shruti can also be translated as what is heard, you could argue what is heard directly from the divine. Now, in comparison to Shruti, you also have this notion of Smriti. Smriti can be translated as what is remembered. And there's a significant number of Smriti texts, some of them that are also held very closely, and meet the threshold of divine scripture for many Hindus. Now the most famous of the Smriti texts are the famous Hindu epics. So this is an image from the Ramayana. The Ramayana tells a story of Rama, who is one of Vishnu's incarnations, going to save the Princess Sita from Ravana. The Mahabharata is a story of really a family feud between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. You see here the Pandava princes, the five Pandava princes who are all married to Draupadi, it's an interesting story in the Mahabharata how they did end up being married to one princess. And the most significant part of the Mahabharata, for modern day Hindus, is the Bhagavad Gita. It is a subset of the Mahabharata, and the Mahabharata is quite long, it will take you a while to read it, but the Bhagavad Gita is quite short. And the Bhagavad Gita takes place really in the climax of the Mahabharata, when you have the Battle of Kurukshetra, where the Pandavas are fighting their cousins the Kauravas. And one of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna, who's really considered the greatest warrior of the brothers, as he takes his chariot into battle, his charioteer ends up being Krishna, also an avatar of Vishnu. And the Bhagavad Gita is really about the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, and it's all about Krishna reassuring Arjuna not only his role in the universe, but it also becomes a little bit of a layer of the spiritual philosophy discussed in the Upanishads. In modern day India, the Bhagavad Gita is probably the scripture that is most cited by modern Hindus. So if you really want to understand the spiritual core of Hinduism, the best place to look are the Upanishads, and you also have the Bhagavad Gita, which even though it's part of the Mahabharata, which is considered Smriti, it is revered, and is often considered to be divinely revealed, by Hindus. Now this isn't a comprehensive listing of all of the scripture that is important to Hindus. Obviously you have the Vedas, which are very ancient. Even these epics, their events might have taken place 3,000 years ago, or maybe more; their composition was over 2,000 years ago, they were canonized during the Gupta Empire, but there's many other texts. You have things that are believed written during the Vedic Period, the Vedanta, which relate to things like medicine and astronomy. You have commentaries on things like the Upanishads, things like the Brahama Sutra. You have the Puranas, which literally means the old things, and these are a whole collection of old stories, epics, etc. So Hinduism, as I mentioned, it is a very broad religion, it is a very diverse religion and you even see that in the texts. I'll now leave you with a final excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, and what's interesting about this, as I mentioned, is the parallels that it gives to what we see in the Upanishads, and some of what we looked at on the first video on Brahman and Atman. The man who sees me in everything and everything within me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him. So this is Krishna talking to Arjana, and Krishna's saying me, you could say God, or the Ultimate Reality. He who is rooted in oneness realizes that I am in every being; wherever he goes, he remains in me. When he sees all being as equal in suffering or in joy because they are like himself, that man has grown perfect in yoga. And the term yoga, in modern day, often refers to the type of stretching, and exercising, and body postures that you might even have at your local gym, but it's really a more general term of how do you connect to that Ultimate Reality? And some of what you might learn in a yoga class is one mechanism, leveraging the body, but there's other techniques, through meditation and other things, other forms of yoga that are trying to get the individual to better recognize the illusion, the Maya around them, and get connected to the oneness of the Ultimate Reality.