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Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Vedic response to Sikh theology

om tad visnoh paraman padam 
sada pasyanti surayah 
diviva caksuratatam (RV 1.22.20)

What is Veda?

In general, we can refer to Veda, simply as any valid knowledge. Since knowledge can be derived from three basic sources, viz.,  pratyaksa, anumana and sabda, that means all of them can be applied to understand Veda (valid knowledge). However, in particular, Veda refers to apauruseya sabda. Apauruseya means unauthored, i.e., Veda is not authored by any human or divine entity, but is eternal knowledge resent in the mind of God (Visnu). It is transmitted by God in the form of sound vibrations to the seers, beginning with Brahma, the first born-creature. Since it is a unauthored body of received sound vibrations (mantras) and transmitted through the medium of parampara (disciplic line of succession of seers), it is beyond mundane effect of pollution and so, it is the self-evident truth.

The self-evident truth is subjected to commentaries and critiques of many divine and human authorities (both bona fide and mundane). That body of literature which conforms with the sruti (Veda mantras, commentaries on the mantras and philosophical conclusions received by the seers) and composed by realized seers also is regarded as self-evident Vedic truth and is called smriti. Finally, there is another portion of the Veda, the philosophical polemics, which again conform to the earlier sections, viz., sruti and smriti. Together, these three sections are known as prasthana trayi (specifically, the core texts* expounding principles of eternal relevance) and form the scriptural basis of Vedic knowledge. Besides, all the evidences gathered from pratyaksa and anumana, which do not contradict the prasthana trayi, also can be accepted as Veda. However, the mundane, unauthorized or deceptive commentaries on these scriptures or any understanding through any source contradicting Vedic knowledge, is rejected as avidya (ignorance).

Which texts constitute the Veda?

The apauruseya sruti consists of:


1. Rk Samhita, consisting of mantras invoking divine beings (deities).
2. Yajur Samhita, consisting of mantras involved in conducting sacrifices (yajna).
3. Sama Samhita, consisting of mantras glorifying the deities.
4. Atharva Samhita, consisting of mantras maintaining the auspiciousness and correctness of the yajna (I hope my classification is correct).
5. Brahmana, commentaries on the mantras, explaining the various procedures of conducting yajna.
6. Aranyaka, commentaries on the mantras, elaborating the deeper aspects of  yajna.
7. Upanishad, the conclusive portion of the sruti or jnana kanda (portion actually dealing with philosophical knowledge, as separated from the earlier portion called karma kanda).

The authorized smriti includes:

Vedanga

1. Siksa, phonetics.
2. Kalpa, ritual.
3. Vyakarana, grammar.
4. Nirukta, etymology.
5. Chanda, metrics.
6. Jyotisha, astronomy.

Upaveda

1. Dhanurveda, military science.
2. Gandharvaveda, aesthetics.
3. Ayurveda, life science.
4. Sthapatyaveda, engineering.

Itihasa

Mula Ramayana, composed by Valmiki and Mahabharata, composed by Veda Vyasa (the compiler, editor and classifier of the entire corpus of Vedic texts towards the end of the previous epoch, Dvapara yuga).

Purana, consisting of 18 main texts, classified as Bhagavata - Visnu - Naradiya - Padma - Garuda - Varaha (sattvika), Brahmanda - Brahmavaivarta - Markandeya - Bhavisya - Vamana - Brahma (rajasika) and Matsya - Kurma - Linga - Shiva - Skanda - Agni (tamasika) [listed in Padma Purana].

Upapurana, consisting of 18 subsidiary texts, viz., Sanat-kumara, Narasimha, Brihan-naradiya, Siva-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana, Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara, Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesha, Mudgala and Hamsa (source: wikipedia).

Dharmasatra - Arthasastra - Kamasastra

The texts dealing with three purusartha (trivarga), human endeavours. The most popular work in each of these respective categories are those of: Manu (dharma), Kautilya (artha) and Vatsyayana (kama).


Besides, there are texts representing sectarian systems (which have to be tested in light of the Veda or Nigama) known as Agama:


1. Vaisnava: Pancaratra and Vaikhanasa (other texts include Divya Prabandam of Sri Vaisnavism, Brahma-samhita of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, etc.)

2. Saiva

3. Sakta

The third portion of Veda (sabda pramana) deal with philosophical polemics, including:

1. Nyaya, system of epistemology and logic, establishing monotheism and salvation based on Veda.

2. Vaisesika, atomic theory.

3. Samkhya, dualism of purusa (multitude of conscious selves) and prakriti (primordial unconscious matter, which is transformed into the Samsara due to effect of cumulative wills of purusa).

4. Yoga, eightfold path of practical realization of the self: yama - niyama - asana - pranayama - pratyahara - dharana - dhyana - samadhi.

5. Karma-mimamsa, elaboration on the karma kanda (ritualistic section) of the Veda based on linguistics, establishing the apaurusyatva (unauthored nature) of the Veda.

6. Vedanta, enquiry into the Absolute Truth (Brahman), the source of all that exists, based on the jnana kanda of Veda.


Thus, the Vedic texts include all the above-mentioned texts, valid commentaries on them and any work elaborating various sections of Veda (without contradicting the prasthana trayi).

*Since this is a huge body of knowledge, only the ultimate reality (Brahman) and supreme endeavour (moksa, the fourth purusartha) are considered to be of eternal relevance and hence, they are the actual subject-matter of Veda and that is dealt specifically in the core texts of prasthana trayi:

1. Mukhya Upanishad (sruti)
2. Bhagavad Gita (Mahabharata, smriti)
3. Vedanta-sutra (philosophical codes of Veda Vyasa)
4. Srimad Bhagavatam (original commentary on the prasthana trayi by Veda Vyasa)


Which religious systems are based on the Veda?

What is the origin of Sikh theology?


What are the objections of Sikh theology to Veda?


Responses to the objections:



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