Thought for the week by Dr Gaurav Prinja, Hindu

First published in Thought for the week

As a child the first books I remember owning were a set of four Walt Disney books. However, from those humble beginnings, I started expanding my bookshelf, initially including comic books and adventure stories and eventually books about science, advanced mathematics, philosophy, spirituality and religion. With growth in knowledge and curiosity, grew the size of my library. The vast “Hindu Library” stems from the age and flexibility of Hindu Dharma along with the curiosity of mankind.

Hindus have the four Vedas as a starting point. The Vedas contain eternal truths that are said to be directly revealed from God, hence they are called Shrutis (that which is heard). The other set of scriptures are called Smrutis (that which is remembered/thought), these are scriptures that people have compiled after observations and deliberations.

In Hinduism the Vedas are the closest to divine dictate. The Sanskrit language used in the Vedic texts is highly condensed and makes heavy use of metaphors and poetry. This makes it difficult to read and interpret. The Upanishads are discussions or commentaries on the Vedas, and usually take on a 'question/answer' format. The name Upanishad actually translates as upa - near, ni - down, shad - sit; describing the tradition of the pupil sitting down near the Guru to learn through questioning.

There were then many in-depth texts written on various aspects of life, the universe and everything. The Upavedas explore medicine, military science, music, engineering and architecture. The Vedangas describe phonetics, grammar, astronomy and religious rites. The Darshana Shastras discuss philosophy. The Dharma Shastras cover, economics, politics and law.

All this knowledge including study of economics, astronomy, or psychology spans several thousand years and has been recorded on a relatively regular basis. There are still more types of texts, the Itihasas (epics) and the Puranas (mythology). The Puranas are designed to teach the lay person the lessons of the Vedas through stories. There is a deep psychology here, just think how easy it is to recall vivid details of last week’s episode of Strictly Come Dancing whilst being unable to recall what was taught in a lecture or conference you attended just this week? So the stories are more memorable, but are designed to teach; much like the story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, is used to teach children the dangers of lying. The Epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharat, which includes the Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most well known of the Hindu scriptures. The popularity of the Bhagavad Gita is due to the fact that it is a handbook on Hinduism, condensing all of Hindu philosophy into 700 verses of readable dialogue.

More recently, there have been many texts written which despite not being called scriptures in the traditional sense, still fulfil the definitions. These are modern commentaries and texts, perhaps after a few hundred years, if they are still in use, they too will earn the title of 'scripture'.

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