The Upanishads, Sanskrit texts appended to the ritualistic portion of each Veda, are the definitive source of information on the nature of the Self. There are over one hundred of which ten are considered to be 'major' Upanishads. The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta. Vedanta is a means of Self knowledge. The purpose of Self knowledge is to erase ignorance of one's true nature, the Self. It is the desire of all people to be free of the sense of limitation that accompanies their dependence on objects. Only by understanding that one is the Self can this desire be fully realized. The Vedas are called apurusheya pramanam, reveled truth, of which the Self, not the human mind, is the source.
The Vedas...which are thousands of years old...are called shastras or scriptures. The word shastra is a compound. 'Shas' has two meanings: to recomend and to teach. 'Tra' means to save or protect. So the Vedas are a voluminous body of literature that saves humanity from existential problems, first by recommending a way of life that will minimize karmic problems and then teaching the nature of reality. It is the contention of the teaching portion of the Vedas, the Upanishads, that most subjective existential problems arise out of our ignorance of reality. When one's understanding of reality is in harmony with the nature of reality life is a joy.
The shastras are made up of mantras. There is a smattering of truth to the notion that mantras are special mystical words of power that can deliver both worldy objects and spirtiual experiences if pronounced correctly and chanted with intense devotion. But the actual power of the mantras lies elsewhere. Like the word shastra, the word mantra is also a compound. 'Man' is a shortened form of 'manas' which means mind. So the function of mantras is to protect the mind from existential problems by helping it to think clearly, analyze carefully and inquire diligently into reality.
Because the mantras that make up the Upanishads deal with very subtle topics they need to be explained and clairified. A long time ago a great sage, Badarayana, commented on them and his commentaries are considered source material. Another work, a scripture contained in the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, has also attained the status of an Upanishad because its ideas are rooted in the Upanishads.
Rooted in the Self, pure Awareness, the tree of Vedic knowledge is vast indeed. Just the study of the the primary source, the Vedas themselves, could easily consume a lifetime or two. Over time five other branches of knowledge, each equally vast, grew from the Vedic trunk. The second level of Vedic knowledge is the sutra, literature. Sutras are power-packed cryptic words that contain many 'seed' ideas in them, like the skin of a fruit. A sutra' is a thread. The sutra literature ties together topics that are scattered throughout the Vedas. Its purpose is to clairfy, classify and codify the ideas presented in the Vedas. The dharma sutras, for example, cull prohibitions and injunctions from the Vedas and put them together into a body of knowledge dealing with the duties (dharmas) of individuals toward themselves, their families and society in general.
Resting on the sutra literature is another equally large body of knowledge called the Smritis. Smriti means 'remembered.' It is a metrical poetic literature that comes from the experience of great seers as a result of their study of the Vedas and their meditations on the Self. Hence it is of human, not divine, origin, like the sutra literature. Its purpose is also to clarify the Vedas. Among other things it presents a very well thought out and elaborate cosmology based on the ideas in the Vedas.
The Puranas are a huge and very popular body of 'mythological' literature sitting on top of the three preceeding layers of Vedic wisdom.
Purana is a compound of two words: pura and navaha. Pura means most ancient and navaha means ever-fresh. So the Puranas are a body of knowledge that is sourced in the Vedas which go back to the Creator... yet which are always relevant. The Pauranas are also known a Dharma Shastras, scriptures on Dharma, the Eternal Way to freedom. The Pauranas serve two purposes: they provide an outlet for the religious needs of the population and simultaneously remind people of the ultimate end of human life…liberation. They do this by presenting Upanishadic ideas, the means to attain freedom, in code. Cryptic Vedic and Sutra mantras, which require teaching and considerable brain power to decipher even when unfolded by a sage, were converted into action-packed stories, delightful cartoons appealing to a wide range of minds. The Pauranas are the sage's ‘stealth' technology because Upanishadic ideas about the nature of Reality are cleverly hidden behind the exciting, baroque and romantic facade of Pauranic myth. The confounding abundance of Gods and Goddesses that shock and bewilder India's modern visitor are Pauranic deities.
The fifth level of Vedic knowledge are the Itihasas. The Ithihasas are 'historical' texts that are not intended to be taken as literal history but 'history' in support of Vedic teachings. The most famous Ithihasa are the Mahabharata and the hugely popular Ramayana. Although these texts are essentially Puranas they attempt to tie mythological reality to empirical reality.
Finally, thousands of important and profound texts make up the final layer of Vedic knowledge, the bashya grantas. A bhasya is a commentary by a sage or a pundit on any of the above forms of literature with the idea of removing misunderstandings and contradictions. The bashya literature is not only commentaries on original works but commentaries on comentaries on commentaries...more or less ad infinitum. This site is primarily a modern bashya whose purpose is to make sense of the fundamental ideas of the Upanishads and to clear up misconceptions that have arisen in recent years.
Validity of Vedic Knowledge
Why should the teachings of Vedanta be trusted? Because they are not the ideas of an individual, the contention of a philosophical school of thought or the belief system of a religion. The Vedas are revealed truth. Revealed truth is by definition not authored by people; it comes directly from God, the innermost Self. During revelation the individual's predjucies and personal views are suspended and reality appears as it is. The person to whom the teachings are revealed is 'ecstatic'...outside the small self and therefore cannot be said to be the source. Even then the vision must be verified by many others over a long time before it is to be trusted.
Revealed truth can always benefit from additional revelation because those through whom it comes often tend to express it according to their personal inclinations. The notion that ‘my truth' is ‘the Truth' does not wash in the Vedanta world. The Self is one and the knowledge of it can only be one. Therefore Vedanta is an impersonal teaching tradition. The truths contained in its ancient texts need to be unfolded by someone established in non-duality, someone who has no doubt about his or her identity with everything. Based on the nature of the mind a proven method for unlocking the meaning of the verses has evolved and it is responsible for setting many people free. It is hoped that if your study of these texts awakens a desire to realize them you will approach someone established in non-duality and request teaching.
I have included a few of the hundreds of source texts on this site so that the reader can check the site's authenticity. Just as 'my truth' is not 'the truth' this site is not 'my site.' To a spiritually unsophisticated mind the articles and comments on this site may seem to be my personal opinions. But it is important to understand that the site's bias is scripture's bias. What is this bias? It is the desire to relieve human beings of the suffering inflicted by their lack of understanding of reality. So the values promoted or condemmed here are sourced in this assumption, not my own intellectual judgments. For example, dullness (tamas) and passion (rajas) are simply subjective facts of life and as such are value neutral. However, given the fact that a mind dominated by these energies is incapable of Self realization, scripture condemns them as 'unhelpful' and provides methods for removing them.
Only in the last one hundred plus years has Vedanta been translated into English. Many of the English translations are suspect because they are rendered by intellectuals who have no direct inner experience of the Self although they may have a love of Vedic ideas. Even when a Self realized person, particularly an Indian educated in the first half of the twentieth century, translates a text he or she is bound by the language of the time. Unfortunately Indian Victorian English is no longer appreciated and most of the first wave of English translations falls into this category. Therefore the language needs to be updated. With this in mind my primary mission has been to present Upanishadic ideas to a Western audience in a language that is easily understandable but remains true to the source. It is only out of love for the Truth and the miraculous transformation it has wrought on my life that I have done this.
The original Vedantic texts are in Sanskrit and I am not a Sanskrit scholar. On one level this may seem to be an insurmountable barrier but Vedanta has been translated into English for over one hundred years by men of realization and impeccable pundits so there is ample opportunity to compare verses and divine meanings. In addition, the teachers in the lineage to which I belong are fluent in both Sanskrit and English so that the verses are chanted in the original Sanskrit and then rendered in English. The opinion of certain conservative Swamis notwithstanding, knowledge of Sanskrit is not required for Self realization in so far as both Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda Saraswati teach in English and have many enlightened disciples.
Finally, in the thirty five years since my realization I have conducted an extensive and exhaustive study of Vedanta, one might call it an obsession, and have had time, in so far as I have not been involved in worldly life, to gain a reasonably clear understanding of the importance of words in the pursuit of knowledge. With this understanding I have undertaken a self-appointed mission to clean up some of the confusions that invariably have accumulated as a result of the imprecise use of words in modern translations of ancient texts. I have been aided in my task by the tendency of scritpure toward repetition. In long texts like Panchadasi one finds the same idea repeated many times in different ways and different contexts so that one can eventually get a good understanding of the true meaning or meanings.
In any case, it is my belief that English will continue to become the world's most important language and that, considering the self-imposed suffering inflicted by human beings in their mad pursuit of security and pleasure, the need for a liberation philosophy will only increase in the future. Therefore Vedanta should be available in the language of the times. It goes without saying, however, that the ideas should remain as they are and not be 'adapted' to conform to modern opinions, beliefs and spiritual trends.