Vedas and Upanishads

Gayatri Mantra

 Om bhur bhuvah svaha tat savitur varenyam
bargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yonah prachodayat

OM let us mediate on the blessed Divine Light, worthy of honor, that pervades our hearts. May it illuminate all our possibilities, guide our intellect and enlighten our understanding.

The Vedas

The Vedas are the oldest spiritual scriptures of the world. Veda literally means “knowledge”, specifically the highest knowledge about God and man. Vedas are the spiritual truth, said to have been a direct revelation from God through Dev Vani - the voice of God to Rishis (self-realised saints) during their meditations. This truth was then passed on orally through an unbroken chain of a Master-Disciple relationship. Hence the Vedas are also called Shruti, which means “das Gehörte” – “the things heard”. There are 4 Vedas: Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda. The Rishis who received them, and then passed them on were:

Agni Rishi – Rig Veda, Vayu Rishi – Sama Veda,
Aditi Rishi – Yajur Veda, Angiras Rishi – Atharva Veda

The Vedas were transmitted orally all the way up to Maharishi Ved Vyasa who then wrote them down. Vedas are as old as the Universe, and are said to have been on Earth for at least 20,000 years. Rig-Veda and Sama-Veda were written in verse, Yajur-Veda in prose, and the Atharva-Veda mainly in prose and partly in verse. The Vedas contain a total of more than 24,000 mantras. Rig-Veda, the oldest and most extensive, contains 10,000 mantras. The hymns of the Rig-, Yajur- and Sama-Veda are dedicated to various expressions of the Divine (deities and gods of nature) like gods of earth, fire, rain, etc., for receiving blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity. One part of the Vedas also consists of rules for interpreting Vedic ceremonies and philosophical discussions about God, the soul and the afterlife. Each of the four Vedas consists of four parts, which are called Veda-Samhita. Each Veda is characterized by a Mahavakya (maha – big, vakya – word) which transmits the essence of the teaching about the union of Jiva – the Self and Brahman – the Absolute, the Highest Self.

PRAJNANAM BRAHMA (Rig-Veda and Taittririya Upanishad)
Brahman is Pure Consciousness”

 TAT TVAM ASI (Sama-Veda and Chandogya-Upanishad)
“Thou are That” You are not the body, but the Atma.

 AHAM BRAHMASMI (Yajur Veda and Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad)
“I am Brahman”

AYAM ATMA (Atharva Veda and Mandukya Upanishad)
“I am Atma”

The four parts of each Veda

SAMHITA – A collection of hymns and mantras of each Veda
BRAHMANA – The second of the four parts of each Veda, brahmanas are rules for pandits, priests with instructions for rituals, sacrifices and yagyas addressed to deities. They contain very interesting and inspiring stories, deep philosophical discussions and details about Yagyas.
ARANAKAS - (derived from the word aranya = forest) "Forest debates". Aranyakas are the third part of each of the Vedas. These texts contain esoteric, mystical knowledge, mostly focused on the inner meaning and effect of the Vedic ceremonies.
UPANISHADS - Upanishad literally means "To sit at the Master's feet and listen to His words or teachings." The Upanishads form the philosophical and spiritual essence of the Vedas and transmit the highest knowledge about God, the soul and the world, as well as about the importance of ceremonies and sacrifices. They are mostly written in the form of a conversation between a disciple and his teacher (questions and answers).

The Upanishads

The Upanishads teach that in the whole Universe there is only one reality, and that is God. Everything that ever existed, exists and will exist in the Universe originates from Him, and disappears back into Him, in the eternal cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction. He is the sun, the moon and the stars, the planets, every living being, all living and non-living matter and every virtue, every vice, all the good and the bad, every thought, every feeling and every act. He is time and space and all that exists in the Universe. . He is eternal within the Universe and simultaneously He transcends it. He is unformed, eternal, boundless and omnipotent. He is saguna (manifest) and nirguna (unmanifest). He is manifest in His creation and is unmanifest when all that is created disappears in Him. The highest and purest principle of God is His unmanifest existence, when the whole Universe disappears in Him, when the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, all animate and inanimate ceases to exist, and time and space disappear. This unmanifest essence is the only existing reality. The Upanishads contain one of the highest ideas about God and His relationship with human beings and the Universe. Rightly they are given the highest place among the great religious philosophies of the world. The great philosopher Schopenhauer said: "In the whole world, there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They were my comfort in life and will be my consolation in death."

There are 108 most widely known Upanishads. Some of the most famous are Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Iso Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Svetasvatara Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad. Each of these major Upanishads is connected to one of the four Veda Samhitas. The idea ofthe one, unformed and infinite God, as the true reality of the Universe, inseparable, and at the same time beyond everything, is based on the philosophical discussions from the Upanishads. The teachings about the immortal soul, the law of karma, the consequences of actions and the law of evolution of living beings through the process of rebirth according to their own karma or actions, are based on the Upanishads.

 

Yagya - the essence of the Vedic culture

The yagya comes from the Sanskrit word yagya which means sacrifice, worship. Sacrifice and surrender through service, both internal and external is one of the basic principles of Hinduism. One of the forms of this principle is yagya. The yagya involves ritual offerings of oblations into the fire like grains, flowers, ghee - clarified butter, milk, spices, wood ... Yagya is performed by pandits who prepare the space, perform the oblations and chant mantras, ie. the Vedic hymns. In order for yagya to be performed properly it is necessary to follow the detailed and precise instructions from the Vedas, which pundits are learning from early childhood and who dedicate their whole life to learning Vedas and performing Vedic ceremonies. There are two basic types of yagya - srauta performed by pandits and grihya ceremony performed by the householder, along with his wife. Srauta ceremonies are more detailed, richer and more complicated, and their goals extend far beyond the well-being of a household. Srauta yagya includes the participation of four pandits. They are known as hotr, adhvaryu, udgatr and brahmin, each of which performs a strictly defined part of the ceremony: one prepares a place for the rite according to the instructions of the Vedic science about space - Vastu Shastra, the second sings mantras, the third performs the ritual, and the fourth oversees the correctness of the above and corrects errors with special mantras. The performance of the yagya itself consists of four main parts, which are present in each ceremony. In the first part a fireplace is created (depicted, built and richly decorated), which is also a mandala that at this stage does not contain life or pran-shakti. In the second part this character is filled with life energy, hence this level is called prana pratistha. The third part is called upacar, and that is the part during which the evoked energy intensifies and increases. The fourth part is called parayan or prasthan - the energy release, in which yagya culminates.