By Sangeetha Saran
Many Yoga teachers outside of India, do not know what the Vedas are. While the importance of the Vedas may not be clear to western Yoga instructors, the lessons within them are timeless. The following is a foundational overview for anyone who wants a concise explanation of these Vedic texts.
The Vedas are an ancient set of texts that originated in India sometime between 4500 and 1500 B.C. They are thought to be the oldest books in the world and the origin of Hinduism. “Veda” means knowledge; thus, the texts are considered the supreme source of all knowledge. The Vedas are shruti, which means, “that which has been divinely revealed.” In other words, the Vedas do not have a human author.
The four primary Vedic texts are listed below.
Rigveda: sacred chants and mantras of the Brahmin priests
Samaveda: the use of sound and music to transform the mind
Yajurveda: external and internal actions one can take toward self-realization
Atharvaveda: mantras for specific mental and physical ailments
Many Indian philosophies are based on the Vedas; a few, such as Buddhism and Jainism, are not. Yet all Indian philosophies seem to share a few key principles that are found in the Vedas:
- There is a universal truth, or reality, that is a state of pure consciousness. This state is one of peace and happiness, and its attainment is the goal of life.
- The ego creates a sense of separateness from others, and is the cause of the suffering and unhappiness that all living beings experience. The ego creates habits and behaviors that we repeat over and over. These habits set us into an endless cycle of unhappiness.
- To alleviate the suffering, there must be great awareness of the ego and the habits it creates. This requires a significant effort to look beyond fears and anxieties, silence the activities of the ego-mind and create the ability to focus.
- There are specific actions one can take to overcome the ego and attain the state of pure bliss. These actions include ethical values toward oneself and others, purity of the body, breath work, control of the senses, concentration and meditation.
The information in the Vedas was considered sacred and carefully guarded. The Vedas provided a means to communicate with the gods, which was believed only possible with the help of the Brahmins. Eventually, other people called rishis, or seers, made the claim that they were having direct experiences with God without the Brahmins. As this news spread, the common people wanted to have their own divine experiences and know the secrets of the Vedas. This led to the creation of the Upanishads, a collection of stories that explain the complex concepts found in the Vedas.
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