No other living tradition can claim scriptures as numerous or as ancient as Hinduism; none of them can boast of an unbroken tradition as faithfully preserved as the Hindu tradition. Hindu literature is the most ancient and extensive religious writings in the world. Hindu religion is not derived from a single book. It has many sacred writings which serve as a source of doctrine. The most important texts include the Vedas, Upanishads, the Puranas, the Epics – Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. (sc)
Hindu scripture is sometimes called shastra. Since the Vedic wisdom was first transmitted orally it is also called shabdabrahman, spiritual sound. According to tradition, it was written down only when human memory began to deteriorate at the start of Kali-yuga (some 5,000 years ago).(sc)
Shabda-brahman is considered the most reliable form of authority for spiritual and related matters. However, Hinduism is not simply an authoritarian system of belief, and tends to synthesise religious commitment with open philosophical inquiry. It acknowledges the need for exploration and realisation of knowledge. Without appropriate conduct and values, informational and experiential knowledge will be inevitably misconstrued.(sc)
Many Hindu schools claim orthodoxy based on their adherence to shastra. Thus it remains a powerful source of authority and cohesion for the tradition.(sc)
Shastra is the principle source of authority for most Hindus.
Vedic knowledge was passed down orally until about 3,000 BCE, when Kali-yuga began and the written form became necessary.
Personal and spiritual discipline is required to understand and realise scriptural knowledge.(sc)
“One should know what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures.”
As young children, we have no alternative but to depend on our mother to educate us: “this is a spoon,” “this is a knife” and so on.
If we wish to know the identity of our father, then the natural authority is our mother. In the same way the Vedas are considered our mother, who can reveal the identity of our father, God.
In Hindu theology the love between mother and child is considered most pure. A mother will not let us down or intentionally mislead us.(sc)
Ten Principal Texts
- Main shruti texts (3)
- The Four Vedas
- The 108 Upanishads
- The Vedanta Sutra
- Main smriti texts (4)
- The Itihasas (histories or epics)
- The Bhagavad-gita (philosophy)
- The Puranas (stories and histories)
- The Dharma Shastra (law books)
- Other texts (4)
- The Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas)
- The Upavedas (following the Vedas)
- Sectarian texts (e.g. agamas, tantras)
- Vernacular literature(sc)
- The Epics are the Ramayana and Mahabharata
- The “other texts” are usually classified as smriti. Some consider the Vedangas to be shruti.
- The sectarian texts mainly deal with ritual procedures, and include the Vaishnava Pancharatra, the Shaiva Agamas and Tantras, and the Shakta Devi Shastra and Tantra(sc)
Sacred texts are sources of:
- Philosophical concepts
- Information on personal values
- Practical injunctions
- Story and myth
- Prayers and mantras
- Details of worship/liturgy
- Various arts and sciences(sc)
- Sacred texts are treated with respect; they are never placed directly on the floor, nor touched with feet or dirty hands.
- Prayers are often recited before using or consulting them.
- Texts are often wrapped in silk cloth.
- Sometimes they are placed in a shrine and offered worship.
- Ancient texts were etched on leaves, such as palm.
- Books are used for recitation, personal study, theological training, pravachan (see Other Forms of Worship) and consultation on matters of spiritual and secular law.(sc)
Related Values and Issues
- The differences between belief, opinion and truth
- The need for authority
- In what ways does secular literature fulfill a similar role to scripture e.g. as a means to information?
- Are there any parallels in the need to accept the opinion, advice or judgment of others? How should it be accepted?
- How important is it for a teacher to make any topic accessible to students (as smriti attempts to do)? What are the benefits and possible pitfalls in doing this?(sc)
Veda – knowledge, from the root vit, “to know”
Vedic – often refers to the period of compilation of the Rig Veda (i.e. the Vedic period). Hindus themselves often use the term to describe anything connected to the Vedas and their corollaries (e.g. Vedic culture).(sc)