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The Sacred Books in Hinduism and Buddhism

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Sacred Books, in my opinion, are the most important things that can preserve the knowledge of religion. When transmitted orally certain interpretations may occur, especially when translated into different languages. India was a mother of many religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.

Hinduism “has no one identifiable founder, no strong organizational structure to defend it and spread its influence, nor any creed to define and stabilize its beliefs; and in a way that seems to defy reason, Hinduism unites the worship of many gods with a belief in a single divine reality.” (Molloy: 74)

The Hindu scriptures are divided into two parts, the shrutis (what is heard) and the smritis (what is remembered). The Vedas are the shrutis.

“The word “veda” is derived from Sanskrit vid to know, hence veda means knowledge.” (Cole:37) There are four distinct collections of the Vedas. The first of these four is Rig-Veda, this is the oldest, largest, and most important. It contains1028 suktas, or hymns to the gods, magical poems, riddles, and legends, among others. It has a total of 10,462 verses which are divided into ten books. “Their formulation indicates that they present the work of priestly leaders, who seem to be an educated class concerned with regulating contact with the gods and maintaining its own social status.” (Mugambi: 61) Most hymns of the Rig-Veda serve two purposes: to praise the god being addressed and to ask the god favors or benefits. Another function of the Rig-Veda is to petition for forgiveness of sins.

The second collection of Vedas is Sama-Veda. It contains the lyrics of sacred songs which are largely verses taken from the hymns of Rig-Veda and set to music. These 1810 verses are meant to be chanted at the soma sacrifice.

The third collection of the Vedas is Yajur-Veda. “This is a collection of supplementary sacrificial formulae to be used by the priest who is responsible for the manual action.” (Mugambi: 62) It contains instructions for priests regarding the times and materials for the sacrifice, the construction of the fire altar, and formulae for the soma sacrifice.

The forth Veda is the Atharva-Veda. This is a collection of prayers to cure sickness and demonic possession.

In addition to the four collections of the Vedas, there were three other collections which were later assembled and came to be included in what is called Vedic literature. These are Brahmanas, Aranyankas, and Upanishads.

“The Brahmanas, named for the priests who would use them, give detail about proper time and place for ceremonies, the preparation of the ground, ritual objects, and purification rites.” (Molloy: 78)

The Aranyankas are known as “forest books” or “texts of the forest”. They are so called because they are secret and therefore, kept from the public and read in forests. The Aranyankas are concerned with the mystical meaning and symbolism of the sacrifice. They emphasize meditation rather than ritual performance.

Most of the Upanishads are in the form of dialogs between a teacher and a student. They grew out of “dissatisfaction with the external religious formalities and rigid social implications of the Hindu brahmanic caste system (just like Buddhism), emphasizing renunciation and transcendental knowledge, rather than ritual and caste.” (Fisher: 119) In the Upanishads it is emphasized that with spiritual discipline and meditation both priests and non-priests can experience the spiritual reality. “The Upanishads give the most important teaching of the Hindu religion – the doctrine of the Brahman and the Atman.” (Cole:38)

There are four Upa-Vedas which are secondary Vedas. Ayur-Veda deals with science of medicine, Dhanur-Veda deals with military science (to protect the country, but by fighting only in self-defense), Gandharva-Veda deals with the science and art of music and dance, and Sthaptya-Veda covers engineering, architecture, sculpture, painting, drawing and higher mathematics of every type.

“The smritis take the form of epics and, in contrast with Vedas, are thought of as human origin. They narrate events which actually happened, thus they are known as Itihasa, or history, in India. In the evenings, people gather to listen to stories from the epics, by specially trained story-tellers. Even the most illiterate laborer would know them.” (Cole: 38) This was probably done specifically for illiterate people in India to educate them about religion.

“India in the fifth century BCE was in a state of religious ferment. There was a great enthusiasm for personal religious experience, leading people to experiment with meditation and deep breathing and to study with gurus. A growing numbers of schools of philosophy taught new ways of

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