The Vedas

The Vedas are the original Sanskrit texts of India’s ancient spiritual culture. The Vedas include knowledge on every facet of human endeavor, material and spiritual, like a set of reference manuals for achieving ultimate success in this life and the next. “Veda” literally means “knowledge,” and “Vedic,” in its extended meaning, refers to works that extend or follow the Vedas, including the Puranas, Vedanta-sutra, and Upanishads.

The Puranas, or “ancient histories,” are meant to make the Vedas more accessible for the people in the present age. And the Bhagavat Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, is called the essence, or the “cream” of all Vedic literature.

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The Vedas contain codes of behavior for the welfare of all socioeconomic classes, guides for observing rituals for elevating one’s consciousness and social status, laws for maintaining order within the state, and, ultimately, directions on how to awaken spiritual consciousness.

According to the tradition, the Vedas have existed for as long as there have been conscious beings to hear them. But only since the thirtieth century BCE were they edited and put into written form. The original Veda became divided into four – Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas – along with the Puranas (histories), the eighteen Upanishads, and finally the Vedanta-sutra, which contains highly condensed codes summarizing the final conclusion of all knowledge. Some scholars accept only the four Vedas as truly “Vedic,” but we use the term to refer to the whole body of literature which extends or follows the Vedas’ teachings.

The editor and compiler of the Vedas, Vyasadeva, also compiled the Mahabharata, or “great history of the Earth,” which contains Krishna‘s instructions to Arjuna in the famous Bhagavad-gita. Vyasadeva’s commentary on the Vedanta-sutra – Srimad-Bhagavatam – is considered the cream of all Vedic literature. It has detailed information on how to develop love of God by hearing about Him, His many avatars, and His empowered representatives.

Image of an 18th century manuscript of the Bhagavad-gita courtesy of the Schoyen Collection