The Vedas—The Search for Truth
Of all the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas are the oldest and the most important. To this day, they are the main source of Hindu ceremonies performed at birth, marriage, and death. Their hymns reveal how worshipers seek God’s blessing and prosperity in everyday life.
2 Orthodox Hindus believe the Vedas to be Sruti, revealed by God, and therefore free from error and imperfection. On the other hand, Buddha, revered by many as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, rejected their authority, describing them as a ‘pathless jungle.’ Between these opposing views, there exist a variety of other beliefs.
3 The rishis (seers) said that they composed the Vedic hymns with their own ‘ability and knowledge.’1 In a hymn to Agni, a rishi prays: “Inspired with poetry I have fashioned this hymn of praise for you . . . , as the skilled artist fashions a chariot.”2 Like poets and artists, rishis were moved from within themselves to compose over a thousand Vedic hymns. How important are these?
Vedic Moral Code
4 Guided by their consciences, the rishis point out the badness of immorality. They advise the gambler: “Play no longer with the dice, but till your field.”3 When troubled by a bad conscience, they pray: “If we humans have committed some offence against the race of gods, O Varuṇa, or through carelessness have violated your laws, do not injure us, O god, for that sin.”4
5 Some of the rishis’ hymns draw upon our qualities of love and kindness. For example, family members are exhorted to be “attached to one another like the newly born calf to the cow. . . . Let the wife to the husband speak words full of honey, ever auspicious. Let not brother hate brother, nor sister sister.”5
Rishis Search for Truth
6 The Vedas reveal the rishis’ remarkable thirst for truth. They also reveal the limits of their understanding. To discover life’s meaning, they wonder about the origin of the universe: “What was the wood and what was the tree from which [the gods] carved the sky and the earth?” asks one rishi.6 Certain hymns indicate that matter existed before God, whereas others state that it was God who produced the matter that formed the universe.
7 According to yet another hymn, the gods made the universe from the sacrifice of a cosmic man. “The moon was produced from his mind (manas), the sun (surya) from his eye, . . . from his head the sky, from his feet the earth.”7 From him also came the different castes and animals.
8 Such explanations, however, did not fully satisfy those rishis who desired to know the truth. Therefore, as they conclude the Vedas, they still wonder: “Who knows the truth? Who can tell whence and how arose this universe? The [Vedic] gods are later than its beginning: who knows therefore whence comes this creation? Only that god who sees in highest heaven: he only knows whence came this universe, and whether it was made or uncreated. He only knows, or perhaps he knows not.”8
9 The rishis addressed their hymns to such deified natural elements as the sun, sky, wind, and fire. But they did not view any one of these as the supreme deity. Consequently, in the last book of the Rig-Veda, they ask: “What God shall we adore with our oblation?”9 In other words, which of the 33 gods of the Vedas is the Creator whom we should worship in love and truth?
10 At the completion of the Vedas, the rishis had not found the true God so as to worship him. They were still seeking him. The Vedas, therefore, are not a revelation of God’s truth but are a record of the rishis’ earnest search for it. The quest is now taken up in the Upanishads, the next great body of scriptures of India.
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The Vedas—Did You Know?
“The Atharva Veda . . . was not originally recognised as having the canonical status of the other three Vedas. It grew up when the Adhvaryu priest began to cater to the masses and produce spells of magic and sorcery directed against diseases, enemies, demons.”—A New History of Sanskrit Literature, Krishna Chaitanya, 1962, page 33.
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How do the Vedas measure up to these criteria?
1. Magnify God and answer our questions about him
2. Be free from myths
3. Be free from demonism
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Hindu rituals, such as those performed at birth, marriage, and death (see next page), are based on the Vedas