The oldest scriptures of India, and the most important, are the Vedas. The major Vedas are four
in number: Rik, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva
of these is divided into two parts
: the first is mainly made up of hymns
, instructions regarding rites and ceremonies, and rules of conduct; the second is concerned with knowledge
, and is called—Upanishads
. The literal meaning of Upanishad is “sitting near devotedly”
, or “secret teaching”
. It is “secret” because only those who are spiritually ready can receive and make use of it.
It is said to be “the knowledge of Brahman, the knowledge that destroys the bonds of ignorance and leads to supreme goal of freedom.” How many Upanishads once existed is unknown. One hundred and eight have been preserved
, ranging in length from a few hundred to many thousands of words, some in prose, some in verse, some part one, part the other. Only sixteen
were recognised by Shankara as authentic and authoritative. In style, manner and tone they vary widely, often within the same Upanishad. Who wrote them no one knows, nor, with any accuracy, when they were written.
The Upanishads are the work of saints and seers
. The authors were concerned with reporting insights which came to them in thought or vision. They were not builders of systems but recorders of experiences
. Nowhere is there a logical beginning, nowhere a logical end. Attention at all points is not upon parts, clearly recognised as parts, but upon wholes.
For the study of the Vedas, according to a long tradition and even according to the Vedas themselves, one must have a master, a Guru: “Approach a teacher”, we read in the Rik, “with humility and with a desire to serve”; and in the Upanishads: ”to many it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. wonderful is he who speaks of it. intelligent is he who learns of it. blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it.” The function of a good teacher is twofold. He explains the scriptures, the spirit as well as the letter; and, he teaches by his life, by his daily acts, by his most casual words, sometimes even by silence.
Only to be near him, only to serve and obey him in humility , is to become quickened in spirit; and the purpose of study of the scriptures is not merely to inform the intellect, but to purify and enrich the soul. The real study, say the Upanishads, is study of that “by which we realize the changeless”—the first hand experience of the inexpressible truth
of which all scriptures are of necessity a pale reflection. The Vedas are infinite and eternal.