Vedic Philosophy (Vedas)
The term "Veda" is a Sanskrit word meaning "knowledge." Vedic philosophy is an oral tradition, said to be divine in origin, and was related directly to the priests, or Brahmans, who passed its principles down as an oral tradition. The Vedas date back to as far as 4000 BCE and were believed to have been written down somewhere between the first and second centuries of our Common Era. Vedic philosophy is the cornerstone of the practice of Hinduism in all of its forms.
There are six systems of Vedic philosophy, each relating to a specific practice. These are Nyaya (logic), Vaisesika (atomic theory), Sankhya (the nature of spirit and matter), Yoga (self-discipline), Karma Mimamsa (work) and Vedanta (realization of God). One must master each of these systems in order to attain the spiritual perfection necessary to attain Moksha.
There are four Vedas, or texts, each containing hymns, prayers and mantras that serve a different function. Each Veda contains the mantras to be recited (Samhita), which are divided metrically in groups of tens and a detailed directive on how and when these mantras are to be used (Brahmana).
The Rigveda contains some 10,000 hymns, which are further broken down into groups called Sookta, which number about 1000. The Sooktas are then divided into 10 Mandalas and 8 Ashtakas. The Rigveda is considered the most important and oldest of the Vedas and its hymns are meant to be sung in praise of God and the creation of the Universe. Many hymns of the Yagurveda, Samaveda and some of the Atharthaveda are taken from the Rigveda and utilized to a specific purpose.
The Yagurveda outlines the performing of sacrifices and related hymns used in practical day-to-day life to achieve spiritual harmony and right living. The Samaveda contains 1549 chants, which are used by priests in the conduct of praise and sacrificial duties. All but 78 of these chants are adapted from the Rigveda. The last of the four Vedas, the Atharthaveda, is a collection of incantations and spells to be performed only by the initiated. These include spells of protection from demons, and against illness and natural disaster.
There is also a sub-classification of the Vedas in literature, known as Upveda, meaning "applied knowledge." This tradition associates the four Vedas with a specific art or science. Rigveda is associated with medical knowledge, Yagurveda is associated with archery, Samaveda is associated with music and dancing, and Atharthaveda is associated with warfare.
In modern times, the ritualistic side of Vedic philosophy has been largely laid aside in favor of the philosophical aspects of the verses and what they mean in terms of conducting oneself properly in daily living. There are four degrees to each of the Vedas and each must be learned. The first is memorization of the mantras of the four Vedas, the second degree is memorization of the Brahaman, or ritualistic part for the conduct of daily life and worship, the third degree is mastery of the Aranyaka part to prepare for renunciation of the earthly body, and the last is mastery of the Upinsads, which will aid in finally knowing the ultimate truth. This is the final goal of both Hinduism and of the Vedic philosophy on which it is based.
For Westerners, the elements of the Vedas that may be most attractive have to do with the secret knowledge supposedly conveyed by the texts. These include descriptions of ancient Indian astronauts landing on the moon and manning flying machines. There is even an ancient description of a nuclear war. Recently, what appears to be the ancient city of Dwarka – prominently mentioned in texts – was discovered in the sea off the coast of India. There may be much more truth to the Vedas than is currently attributed to them. They certainly appear to show that technology is not merely the provenance of human beings inhabiting the 21st century.