Monday, 22 April 2013

02. Shāstram or Scriptures

In this lesson we will be getting a bird’s eye view of our vast scriptural literature, especially the literature available in the Sanskrit Language. Our entire scriptural literature is generally called Shāstram. The word Shāstram is derived from the root Shās which has two meanings – one to command and the other to teach. So Shāstram means a literature which commands the human beings in the initial stages and then teaches the human beings in the later stages. And by way of commanding and teaching, the scriptures saves a person from all human problems and since it teaches, commands, and thus saves the humanity, it is called Shāstram. Shās means to teach and Trā means to save. ‘Shāsanāt Trāyate Iti Shāstram’ – that which saves the humanity from problems by commandment in the initial stages and by enlightenment in the later stages. 

Shankarāchārya compares the Shāstram to a mother. A mother commands the child initially because the child is not mature enough to understand the significance of the commandments. The mother has to even threaten the child. When someone is at a grosser level, the language of commandment and threat is used but when one has grown up sufficiently gradually we remove commandments and threats and they are replaced by teaching, convincing, enlightenment and elevation. Since our scriptural literature does that job, it is called Shāstram. And this vast scriptural literature can be presented in six layers. These six groups.

2.1. Vedas

The first and foremost are the Vedic literature called Vedas in general. The Vedas themselves are a very vast literature consisting of 20,000 and odd mantras. It is a very vast literature and the entire Vedic literature is divided into four books known as Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda and Atharvana Veda.

Rig Veda consists of Rig mantras which are in the form of metrical composition, poetic compositions or Padya compositions. Yajur Veda consists of Yajur mantras which are prose compositions in the form of prose or Gaddya Rupena. Sāma Veda consists of Sāma mantras in the form of music – Gīti Rūpa Mantra – and it is said that Indian music is derived from Sāma Veda. Hence only the chanting of Sāma Veda is called Sāma Gānam. Atharvana Veda consists of mantras mostly given out by two well known Rishīs – Atharva Rishi and Angiras Rishi. Therefore also called Atharva Veda. The word mantra is used only for Vedic compositions.

More than 20,000 such Vedic mantras are available and they are known as mantras because they are meant for enquiry, analysis and assimilation. Mananāt Trāyate Iti Mantra. Mananam means analytical study. Trāyate means it will protect us if we enquire into that. According to our tradition even mere repetition of the mantras, the meditation on the mantras is capable of helping a person. And the very word Vedas indicates a source of knowledge. It is derived from root Vid to know and the word Veda means a mine of information, a treasure house of knowledge.
Vedana Sādhanatvāt VedahaPramānatvāt Vedaha.

Who is the author of the Vedas? In our tradition we look upon the Vedas as a revelation from the Lord himself. We do not look upon the Vedas as human composition, they are not products of human intellect. They are revelations from the Lord himself, and therefore if you want to talk of the author, God is the author of the Vedas. God does not give out the Vedas directly to humanity, but reveals the Vedas to the humanity through the media called Rishayaha (Rishīs). Thus Rishīs are the intermediaries, the pipelines through whom we receive the Veda mantras. So if you take God as the transmitting station, Rishīs are the receiving centres. The word Rishi is derived from Sanskrit root Rish – to know. Rishati Jānāti Iti Rishihi. In our context we take the Rishīs as the receiving set of the teaching transmitted by the lord exactly like the television. Our minds cannot receive the waves because they are not equipped for that. But if our television set is tuned to a particular channel, then we receive the desired channels. Same way with ourselves. The Lord has transmitted the Vedic teachings in the creation, along with the creation itself, but we do not have the equipment to receive but the Rishīs are considered special beings because of their extraordinary medium. This is because of their Sattva and Vishesha Upādhi, they are able to receive and therefore Veda mantras transmitted by the Lord and received by the Rishīs.

There are many Rishīs who have received the mantras. Hence in tradition when a Veda mantra is chanted, they start by remembering the Rishīs first as an expression of gratitude. Even in the daily Sandhyāvandanam we call upon Savitriyā Rishihi Vishvāmitraha (saying and touching the head indicating remembering the contribution of the sage). Then the meter in which it is composed Nichrut Gayatri Chandaha – touching the mouth, then Savitā Devatā – the deity which is talked about through the mantra. So Rishi – Chando - Devatā Smaranam is compulsory before chanting any Vedic mantra. This indicates that this particular Rishi has received this mantra. Hence Rishīs are called mantra Drashtāraha – those who have seen and received the mantras. They are not the producers or creators of the mantras.

These Vedas were primarily received and transmitted in Shabda Rūpa alone. They were not written. For a long very long time, the Vedas existed only in Shabda Rūpa and not in the form of script and that is why we don’t have a specific script for Sanskrit language. Because it was never written the Rishīs also transmitted to their disciples only verbally and the Shishyāhā have to hear and learn. It was a Karna Paramaparā not a Hasta Paramparā. And since Vedas came down in the form of Karna Paramparā, it is also known as Shrutihi. Guru Sakāshāt Shrūyate Iti Shrutihi. Guru Upadeshena Shrooyate Iti Shutihi – that which is received by hearing. Thus it is called Vedas, Mantra, Shrutihi. Since it is not born out of human intellect, it being of supra-human origin, it is known as Apaurusheya Pramānam. Apaurusheya means not born out of human intellect. Pramānam meaning source of knowledge. So these Vedas form the first foremost and primary scriptural literature. And all the other scriptural literature are based on this Vedic foundation only and that is why our culture is called Vedic culture – Vaidika Sampradāya and we are all called Vaidikas. Hindu is a name given by somebody else. This is layer one.

2.2. Sūtra 

The second layer is known as Sūtra literature. This is a literature which is in the form of Sūtra or aphorism - A short pithy instructive saying. Aphorism refers to a cryptic statement which contains lot of ideas in capsule form – nutshell statement or capsule statements.

Alpāksharam Asandigdham Sāravat Vishvatomukham.

This Sūtra literature consists of Vedic teachings only in a codified form. So the function of Sūtra literature is codification and clarification of the Vedic teaching.

Codification means classification and rearrangement based on topics. While Vedas is a vast literature containing several topics strewn all over in an unorganised manner, in Sūtra literature the ideas are culled from various places and they are arranged topic wise, hence a topical classification. E.g. all teachings dealing with individual values, duties and responsibilities, we call it Dharma Sūtrāni. Gruhya Sūtrāni deals with family values, family responsibilities. In Gruhya Sūtrāni there is a slight expansion from individual to family. Then comes literature called Shrauta Sūtrāni where bigger activities meant for welfare of entire society are talked about. This deals with big prayers, rituals and functions not for individual wellbeing but for universal harmony. And one cannot isolate himself from any one sect – a person is an individual, a member of a family and a social member also.

Thus we have a very vast Sūtra literature written by several Rishīs. Gautama Sūtrāni, Āpastambha Sūtrāni, Parāshara Sūtrāni are other examples. These compositions are not given out by God. While the Veda is supposed to be authored by God Himself, the Sūtrāni literature comes out from the human intellect only – Paurusheya Shāstram. The difference is that words belong to the authors but the content is borrowed from the Vedas only.

Clarification is yet another function of the Sūtrāni. If there are certain vague statements in the Vedas, the Sūtrāni will clarify. Similarly if there are seemingly contradictory statements, then the Sūtrāni will resolve the contradictions. Hence codification plus clarifications are done by the Sūtra literature. The very word Sūtram has ‘thread’ as one of its meanings. The literature is called a thread, because it threads the topics contained in the Vedas.

Veda Vākya Kusuma Grathanārtattvāt Sūtrānām.

The Vedic topics are like flowers which are loose flowers strewn all over. These flowers are collected (classification) and are tied and presented in the form of wonderful garland.

2.3. Smrutihi

The Smrutis are generally in the form of poem. It is a metrical literature. As the word Smrutis shows it is remembered wisdom i.e. the Rishīs study the Vedas, Sūtrāni and having gathered all the teachings in the Shruti and Sūtrāni, they again present it in a very elaborate form. In Sūtra literature it is only cryptic presentation, but in Smruti literature it is slightly elaborated. The function of the Smruti is also codification and clarification. Thousands and thousands of verses are written by several Rishīs e.g Manu Smruti, Parāshara Smruti, Yāgnavalkya Smruti. If you take a Smruti book and see the topics, you will see that they are very beautifully arranged. They talk about cosmology – how the creation arose, the duties and goals of life – student, householder, citizen, male and females. The difference between Sūtrāni and Smruti is that the Sūtrāni are cryptic and therefore there can be vagueness whereas in the Smruti, they have got a wider elbowroom to explain. In Sūtra literature, many ideas are implicit. The implicit ideas are made explicit in the Smruti. Hidden ideas are brought to light – Āvishkāraha. This is also an equally vast literature.

Generally our scriptural literature has three different forms.

  • Prose : If it is a prose form as in the Vedic literature, there is svara or intonation, which will be useful for chanting.
  • Verse : If it is not chant-able prose, then it is in the form of cryptic statements or verse form. This is so that we can learn them by heart. If we want to memorise the entire Vedas we can do that. Sometimes it is in the form of Sūtrāni which is cryptic and short, it is in capsule form to remember.
  • Poems : The other form is poems. The entire philosophy is presented in Gītā which we can chant. Philosophy can be chanted. Here philosophy is composed and presented in poetic form.

This is the third layer of literature Smruti Granthaha and this also comes under Paurusheya Shāstram. The composition is human but the content is divine. But in the Vedas the composition and content are divine.

2.4. Purāna
The fourth layer of teachings are Purāna. They are a literature which are in a further expanded form. Purāna are still more magnified that Smruti. The very word Purāna means though it is a very ancient literature, it is relevant even now. It is ancient but not obsolete. Purā Api Navaha. Ancient and ever Fresh and relevant even for the 21st century. You cannot ignore or discard them without losing something. This Purāna literature is also in the form of poems and they also codify, clarify and magnify the topics from the Vedic teachings.

Another important and unique job of the Purāna is that the abstract ideas contained in the previous literature are all concretely presented in the form of stories. Stories written in a very vast canvas. E.g. one value given in the Vedas which will be highlighted in the form of a story and presented in thousands of verses – Harishchandra Purānam whose essence is Satyam Vada – speak the truth. Abstract things are concretised. Audio things are made audio visual. And many of the abstract ideas are symbolised in the form of beings. In Bhāgavata Purānam, Kāma, Krodha, Ahankāra become Rākshasa – personification of ideas. Language of symbolism is used. Hence concretisation, symbolisation, personification and magnification are all done in the Purāna so that the impact of the teaching is intense. Similarly respect for father – Pitru Devo Bhava is elaborated as the story of Rāma or Nachiketa.

Thus we have in the form of stories or elaboration the Vedic teachings clarified, classified and magnified. And most of the Purāna have been written by Vyāsāchārya himself and that is why he is greatly revered by us. Eighteen Purāna running to thousands of verses and eighteen Upa-Purāna running to another thousands of verses. The most popular is Bhāgavata Purānam or Bhāgavatam

2.5. Itihāsa

The next layer of literature is Itihāsa. It means history based literature. The contents of Itihāsa is supposed to be based on what really happened. Derived from Iti – Thus, in this way, Evam; Ha – definitely, doubtlessly; Āsa – it occurred, happened, took place. Even in the Purāna stories, many are supposed to be actual events and the Itihāsa is also supposed to be based on actual events. The Itihāsa are also in the form of poems. Many Pauranikās know them and study by heart. The two main Itihāsa are Rāmāyanam (24,000 verses)– written originally by Vālmīki , and the other Mahābhāratha (1 lakh verses) written by Vyāsāchārya.

Rāmāyana is the life led by Rāma. Rāma is presented as a model of Vedic way of living. Rāmasya Ayanam Mārgaha Jīvita Rītihi. Because models have powerful impact, hence when some teaching is to be given it is given through models.

Mahābhāratha means the story of Bharata Vamsha Rājā. Mahā indicating a vast literature dealing with stories of Bharata Vamsha and through the stories, the Vedic teachings are presented. Here, even though the literature is based on history this should not be taken as pure history. Presenting history is not the primary purpose of the literature. If it were the purpose, all the details should be given exactly. History is taken as a support, the primary purpose is Vedic teaching and therefore history is mixed with fiction also. Some are facts and some are fiction. E.g. Did Rāvanā have ten heads ? The ten heads are representative of multiple personality syndrome – ruler, Rākshasa, arrogance etc. Hence sometimes, fictitious characters are introduced, sometimes symbolic language is introduced.

2.6. Bhāshyam

The sixth and final layer of literature is Bhāshyam literature. This refers to commentaries written in Sanskrit on all the above forms of literature. There are commentaries on Vedas, Sūtrāni, Itihāsa. We also have sub-commentaries and sub-sub- commentaries.

Commentaries are required because our scriptural literature has to be unlocked in an appropriate manner. If you do not know how to extract the teaching, you will have problems with the scriptural literature – develop negative opinion, have misunderstandings. There is a key to unlock this – called Sampradāyaha - the method of opening, unlocking. Hence we generally don’t recommend the translation written on the literature especially by the western people or western educated Indian because by simply going to a Sanskrit dictionary, the true meaning cannot be obtained. There is a special methodology called Sampradāya. Using this Sampradāya, our traditional Āchāryas have written Bhāshya Granthās and Vyākhyāna Granthās. These commentaries are in forms of prose or verse.

Thus all these six layers put together are called Shāstram and the entire Shāstram is meant for only one purpose – helping us in the accomplishment of Purushārtha.

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