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A Dialogue on Hinduism - Chapter 1 of 13 -- Post

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (MFPD_at_UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Date: Fri Apr 19 1996 - 05:32:07 PDT

Post 2 of 14
Chapter 1 of 13 of  "A Dialogue on Hinduism,"
Published by Sri Visishtadvaita Research Centre, C/O Sri
Ahobila Mutt, 66, Dr. Rangachari Road, Madras 600 018, 1990

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-- P. Dileepan

====Start of Chapter 1 of 13 from Sri Gopala Desikan's book=======

                       Chapter 1
                   Vedas and Sastras

Q.   Daddy, you have been saying that we, of the
     younger generation, should. learn the greatness and
     glory of our ancient religion and philosophy.  Now
     that I am having my summer holidays with lots of
     free time, why don't you tell me about our
     philosophy in a simple way, which I can

A.   I am glad that you are showing interest in our
     system of philosophy and our religion.

     You start asking questions and I shall answer.  I
     think this will make it more interesting.

Q.   What is the basic authority (pramana) for Hindu
     religion and philosophy?

A.   The Vedas are the basic, fundamental authority.

Q.   What is the meaning of the word Veda?

A.   Veda, in Sanskrit, means that which gives

Q.   Is there any other name for Veda?

A.   Veda is also called Sruti.

Q.   What is the meaning of the word Sruti?

A.   Sruti means that which is heard (through your
     ears).  The Vedas were originally taught by Lord
     Narayana to Brahma orally.  From thereon the
     Vedas came down from the Guru to the students
     orally only.  The Guru teaches the Vedas to the
     students.  Thus the student hears the Veda from the

Q.   Are Vedas known by any other names, apart from

A.   They are also called Nigama and Amnaya.

Q.   What is the meaning of these words?

A.   Nigama means a settled text or work, which is
     handed down from the Guru to the student from
     time immemorial.

     Amnaya means what is learnt by the student, by
     frequent repetition of the text; and also by
     frequently thinking over the same.

Q.   Who composed the Vedas?

A.   The Vedas have not been composed by anybody,
     not even by God Himself The Veda, are eternally
     existent.  Even God did not create or make the
     Vedas.  Narayana has only taught the Vedas to
     Brahma and then down the line.  Hence Vedas are
     called Apaurusheya  not authored or made by
     anyone, including God.

Q.   How do you explain that the Vedas have not been
     authored by anybody; including God?

A    They are actually the breath of God.  That is, after
     each deluge (pralaya), when the world is created,
     God Narayana remembers the Vedas and teaches
     them to Brahma and then it comes down the line.
     That is why, we say they are not made by anybody
     including God, but are self existent.

Q.   How many Vedas are there?

A.   There are four Vedas.  They are called: Rig Veda,
     Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

Q.   Who divided the Vedas into four, as stated above?

A.   Vyasa edited the Vedas and divided them?

Q.   On what basis did Vyasa divide the Vedas into
     these four?

A.   The Vedas were divided into four, to suit the Vedic
     rituals or karmas.  There are four persons (Ritviks)
     who are prominent in the performance of rituals.

Q.   What are the names of these four persons
     (Ritviks)?  How are they connected with the four


1.   The person, whose function is to recite praises of
     God and prayers to Him, sitting in one place, is
     called Hota.

     The Hota's function and Mantras are given in Rig

2.   The person, who is engaged in the  actual
     performance of the ritual, from the beginning to
     the end, is called Adhvaryu.

     The necessary mantras and the functions of the
     Adhvaryu are given in Yajur Veda.

3.   The person who sings Samans (musical notes),
     sitting in another place, is called Udgata.

     The Udgata's functions and the Sama Ganas are
     given in Sama Veda.

4.   The general supervisor of the rituals is called

     The Brahma's functions and the Mantras are given
     in Atharva Veda.

     The Vedas are also broadly divided as Mantras.
     and Brahmanas.

Q.   What do the Mantras talk about?

A.   The Mantras are in three forms, as Rik, Yajus and

     The Rik mantras are in praise of God and prayers
     to God.

     The Yajur Mantras give detailed formulas for the

     The Sama Mantras are only Rik Mantras, set to

Q.   Are these Mantras in prose form or poetry form?

A.   The Rik Mantras are in poetry form.  Yajur
     Mantras are in prose form.  Sama Mantras are
     Riks, set to musical tones.,

     The Atharva Veda contains both verses (poetry)
     and prose.

     This much idea is enough for the present regarding

Q.   Please explain the other part, namely Brahmanas.

A.   The Brahmanas are in prose form.  Their main aim
     is to prescribe the rituals in detail and also praise
     the glory of the Devas.

Q.   How are the Brahmanas divided?

A.   Brahmanas are again divided into two parts: Vidhi
     and Arthavada.

Q.   What do these talk about?

A.   Vidhi portions give command to do a thing, to
     perform rituals.  Arthavada generally praises the
     rituals, the glory of Devas and also points out their
     weaknesses.  They also contain stories to illustrate
     the points.

Q.   What is the relative importance of these different

A.   Portions connected with rituals are called
     Karmakanda.  Generally, they teach how rituals
     like various yagas are to be done.  They are also
     called Purvakanda.

     Portions dealing with philosophy and knowledge
     of Brahman are called Jnanakanda or Brahma

     So, Mantras and Brahmanas come under
     Karmakanda.  Upanishads are called Jnanakanda.
     But, knowledge of Brahman and Philosophy are
     also discussed in Mantras and Brahmanas.

Q.   What is the meaning of the word Sastra?

A.   Sastra in Sanskrit means that which gives teaching,
     instruction or command.

Q.   What are the Sastras?

A.   The Vedas are the most important sastras.  There is
     no sastra higher than the Veda.  Then we have
     Sruti, Itihasa, Purana and Agama, about which we
     will discuss later.

Q.   I have also heard of Samhita and Aranyaka.  What
     are these?

A.   Modern thinkers divide Vedas into four portions,
     as follows:

     Aranyaka, and

     Samhita denotes collection of Mantras.

     Brahmanas have already been described earlier.

     Aranyakas are texts, which were recited in
     hermitages in forests.

     Upanishads contain philosophical thoughts, in the
     form of discussions and explanations.

Q.   Why are Upanishads called Jnana Kanda or
     Brahma Kanda?

A.   They talk about realisation of God, how to attain
     salvation.  Since they speak about realising
     Brahman or the ultimate reality the Upanishads are
     called Brahma Kanda.  Since they give us
     knowledge about attaining salvation, they are also
     called Jnana Kanda.

     The Upanishads are also called Veda Siras, i.e., the
     head of the Veda.  When we say the head, we
     mean the most important part of the Veda.

Q.   What is the difference between Brahma and
     Brahman?  Are both the same?

A.   No. Brahma is the fourfaced one, who came from
     the lotus, out of the navel of Lord Narayana.

     Brahman means one who is great and hence
     denotes the Supreme Being or the Ultimate

Q.   Talking about Upanishads, how many Upanishads
     are there?

A.   People say that there are more than a hundred
     Upanishads, but only some of the Upanishads are
     accepted authoritatively by all sections of the
     Hindus.  The important ones are called
     Dasopanishad, i.e, the ten Upanishads.  These ten
     Upanishads are accepted as authority and quoted
     by ancient philosophers like Sankara, Ramanuja
     and Madhva.

Q.   What are the ten Upanishads?

A    The ten Upanishads are:

     Isavasya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Kata
     Upanishad, Prasna Upanishad, Mundaka
     Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Taittiriya
     Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Chandogya
     Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Q.   Are there any other important and accepted

A.   We have Svetasvatara Upanishad, Kaushitaki
     Upanishad, Subala Upanishad and Maha Narayana
     Upanishad.  Actually, Maha Narayana Upanishad
     forms part of Taittiriya Upanishad.  But some
     scholars refer to it as a separate Upanishad by the
     name Maha Narayana Upanishad.

Q.   From which of the Vedas do these Upanishads

A.   Aitareya Upanishad is in Rig Veda.  Isavasya
     Upanishad, Kata Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad
     and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are in Yajur Veda.
     Kena Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad are
     from Sama Veda.

     Prasna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad and
     Mandukya Upanishad are all in Atharva Veda.

Q.   I have heard of Vedangas.  What are the Angas or
     subsidiaries of the Vedas?

A.   There are six such Angas (parts or limbs) of
     Vedas.  These are 1) Sikaha, 2) Vyakarana, 3)
     Chandas, 4) Jyotisha, 5) Nirukta, and 6) Kalpa.

Q.   Can you tell me what the six Veda Angas talk

A.   I shall relate them to you briefly.

     1)   Siksha explains the proper pronunciations of
          the Vedas.

     2)   Vyakarana explains the grammar of the
          Vedic words.

     3)   Chandas explains the metres of the various

     4)   Jyotisha helps in deciding the proper time
          for the performance of the various rituals.

     5)   Nirukta gives the meanings of difficult
          words in the Vedas.

     6)   Kalpa describes the proper method of
          performing the various rituals mentioned in
          the Vedas.

     These six angas of the Vedas help in a proper
     understanding of the Vedas.  They also help in the
     performance of the various rituals or the yagas
     (yagnas), prescribed by the Vedas.

Q.   How are these six Vedangas divided?

A.   They can be divided into two groups:

     1)   Those which are connected with the text of
          the Vedas  Siksha, Vyakarana, Chandas.

     2)   Those which are connected with the
          meaning of Vedas  Jyotisha, Nirukta, Kalpa.

Q.   After the Vedas 'and Vedangas, what are the
     important texts or authorities for us?

A.   Next comes Smriti.  Smriti helps us in
     understanding the various injunctions and truths
     propounded in the Vedas.

Q.   How many Smritis are there?

A.   The Smritis are many in number and even an exact
     definition of Smriti is perhaps not available.  Many
     of the Smritis are also not available now and are
     lost to humanity.

     The more important Smritis are: Manu Smriti.
     Parasara Smriti, Yagnavalkya Smriti, Harita Smriti
     and Sandilya Smriti.  Some say there are 20
     Smritis and some others say that there are 57
     Smritis.  Anyhow, what I have mentioned above
     are the more important ones.

Q.   What do these Smritis talk about?

A.   The Smritis describe the codes of conduct for
     mankind in day to day life; how they should
     conduct themselves; and for any wrong doings,
     what are the punishments or atonements
     (prayaschitta) to be undergone.  The Smritis can be
     considered as elaborating or explaining the Karma
     Kanda of the Vedas.

Q.   What are Itihasas?

A.   Ramayana and Mahabharata are called Itihasas.

Q.   Are they considered very sacred?

A.   They are considered as sacred as the Vedas
     themselves.  The Mahabharata is called the Fifth

Q.   How many Puranas are there?

A.   There are 18 Puranas.

     These are sub-divided into three a sets or groups.
     The first set of six Puranas are authoritative,
     sacred.  These are called Sattvika Puranas.

     The second set of six Purana are of medium
     quality, i.e. the whole thing cannot be accepted as
     true. These are called Rajasa Puranas.

     The third set of six Puranas cannot be taken as
     perfectly valid.  Only some portions of them,
     which are not opposed to Vedas, can be taken as
     authoritative.  These are called Tamasa Puranas.

Q.   Please tell me the Puranas that fall in these three


1.   The first set of six Puranas which are most sacred
     (Sattvika Puranas) are as follows:

     Vishnu Purana
     Narada Purana
     Padma Purana
     Varaha Purana
     Garuda Purana

2.   The second set of six Puranas, which are not
     wholly authoritative, (Rajasa Puranas) are:

     Vamana Purana
     Brahma Purana
     Markandeya Purana
     Bhavishya Purana
     Brahmanda Purana
     Brahma Vaivarta Purana

3.   The last set of six Puranas, which are not very
     authoritative (Tamasa Puranas) are:

     Matsya Purana
     Kurma Purana
     Agni Purana
     Linga Purana
     Siva Purana
     Skanda Purana.

Q.   How do you accept these as authorities or

A.   The basic rule is that the Vedas are the ultimate
     authority or Pramana.  So, in the Puranas,
     whichever does not conflict or contradict the Veda,
     can be taken as authority.

Q.   What are Agamas?

A.   The Agamas accept the authority of Vedas.  The
     Agamas prescribe idol worship in the place of
     rituals like Yagas, mentioned in the Vedas.  They
     prescribe the methods of idol worship.

Q.   How are the Agamas divided?

A.   The Agamas are predominantly divided into Saiva,
     Sakta and Vaishnava Agamas.  Agamas mainly
     talk about construction of  temples; the rules for
     installation and consecration of the deities in the
     temples; and the methods of performing pujas in
     the temples.

     The Vaishnava Agamas identify Brahman as
     Vasudeva.  We will discuss this further later.

Q.   What are the Vaishnava Agamas?

A.   The Vaishnava Agamas are: Pancharatra Agama
     and Vaikhanasa Agama

Q.   Which Agama do our Vaishnavite temples follow?

A.   Some temples follow Pancharatra Agama and
     some temples follow Vaikhanasa Agama.  This is
     only by tradition and custom.

Q.   Why is Vaikanasa Agama so called?

A.   It is so called, because it was first taught by
     Vikhanas rishi to a group of disciples.  Sage
     Vikhanasa is stated to have been created by Lord
     Narayana Himself.  It is also stated that he was
     created by Brahma.

Q.   Why is Pancharatra Agama so called?

A.   Lord Narayana taught this Agama for five nights to
     five rishis.  Hence, it is called Pancharatra Agama
     (Pancharatra means five nights)

Q.   How are these Pancharatra Agamas divided?

A.   These are divided into Samhitas.

Q.   What are these Samhitas?

A.   There are more than 100 Samhitas.  I will give you
     the more important ones.  Sattvata Samhita,
     Paushkara Samhita, Jayakhya Samhita.  These
     three are considered more important and  are called
     three gems (Ratna traya).

     We have also Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Padma
     Samhita, Parameswara Samhita and Lakshmi

Q.   What is Mimamsa?

A.   The Mimamsa consists of two parts.  The first part
     is called Purva Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa.
     The second part is called Uttara Mimamsa or
     Brahma Mimamsa.

Q.   What is Karma Mimamsa?

A.   Karma Mimamsa is dealt with by Jaimini in 16
     chapters or Adhyayas.  They contain short
     statements or aphorisms.  They clarify doubts
     regarding rituals mentioned in the Vedas and also
     clarify doubts about the general conduct.  They
     interpret the Vedic texts in Karma Kanda.

Q.   What is Brahma Mimamsa?

A.   Brahma Mimamsa is dealt with in Brahma Sutras.
     This is propounded by Sage Badarayana or Vyasa.
     This contains short statements or aphorisms,
     clarifying doubts in the Vedic text.  Brahma
     Mimamsa interprets the Vedic text of Jnana Kanda
     or Brahma Kanda.

Q.   What is the importance of Brahma Sutra?

A.   Brahma Sutra is considered very sacred and
     important.  It helps in clarifying and explaining
     .difficult passages in the Upanishads.

Q.   Who have written commentaries on Brahma Sutra?

A.   This being one of the most important texts, many
     philosophers have written detailed commentaries.
     We have the commentaries by Sankara, Ramanuja,
     Madhva, besides many others like Nimbarka and

Q.   How many chapters are there in the Brahma Sutra?

A.   We have four chapters or Adhyayas in the Brahma
     Sutra.  Each of the four chapters consists of four
     parts or padas.  There are 545 Sutras or aphorisms.

Q.   Please tell me, broadly, the contents of the four
     chapters of the Brahma sutra.

A.   The first chapter shows that Brahman is the sole
     cause of 1) creation of this world, 2) sustenance of
     this world, and also 3) destruction of this world.

     The second chapter discusses some of the
     objections in this regard put forth by other schools
     and proves that Brahman is both the material cause
     and the instrumental cause for this world. (We will
     discuss this in detail later).

     The third chapter describes the means or methods
     of attaining Brahman, i.e. salvation.

     The fourth chapter talks of salvation: what is
     meant by salvation and the glory of salvation.

Q.   What are the most important texts or books which
     explain the Vedanta philosophy?

A.   There are three texts or books which explain the
     Vedanta philosophy and so they are called
     Prasthana Traya.  They are:

     1.   Upanishads
     2.   Brahma Sutra
     3.   Bhagavad Gita

     These are the most sacred texts.  All philosophers
     have written commentaries on these, trying to
     prove that these three books support their theory.

Q.   Which is the most important portion in the Vedas?

A.   The Purusha Sukta is the most important.

Q.   Which is the most important Smriti?

A.   Manu Smriti is considered the most important.

Q.   What about the Puranas?  Which is considered the
     most important?

A.   The Vishnu Purana is considered most sacred and
     important of the Puranas.  It is called Puranaratna.

Q.   Which is the most important portion in the

A.   Bhagavad Gita is the most important,

Q.   What are the various systems of philosophy?

A.   The systems of philosophy in India can be broadly
     divided into Nastika schools and Astika schools.

Q.   What is the Nastika school?

A.   The Nastika school does not accept the authority of
     Vedas.  They only adopt logic and reasoning.

Q.   What is the Astika School?

A.   The Astika school accepts the authority of Vedas
     primarily and also uses reasoning and logic.

Q.   What are the various systems of philosophy,
     coming under the Nastika school?

A.   These are Charvaka system, Buddhism and

Q.   What are the systems coming under Astika

A.   We have Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaiseshika,
     Mimamsa, besides the Vedanta system.

Q.   What is the Vedantic system of philosophy?

A.   There is no specific single system of philosophy
     called the Vedantic system.  Advaita,
     Visishtadvaita and Dvaita are the most well known
     of the Vedantic systems.

Q.   What are the other systems of philosophy?

A.   These are:

     1.   Charvaka system
     2.   Jainism
     3.   Buddhism
     4.   Sankhya system
     5.   Yoga system
     6.   Nyaya system
     7.   Vaiseshika system
     8.   Mimamsa system

Q.   Who propounded these systems of philosophy?

A.   Buddhism was propounded by Gautama Buddha
     and Jainism by Mahavir Jain.  The Vaiseshika
     system was propounded by Kanada and the Yoga
     system by Brahma.  However, modern belief is that
     the Yoga system was founded by Patanjali.  The
     Sankhya system was propounded by Kapila, the
     Nyaya system by Gautama or Akshapada.  The
     Mimamsa system was advocated by Jaimini.

Q.   What are the important principles of these systems
     of philosophy?

A.   We will discuss this at a later stage.

======End of Chapter 1 of 13 from Sri Gopala Desikan's book=======