Is Vedic philosophy confusing because it has so many holy books, unlike Christianity and Islam that have only one holy book?
Duration: 9 min
Transcribed by: Sundarinath das
Question: Is Vedic philosophy confusing because it has so many holy books, unlike Christianity and Islam that have only one holy book?
• With respect to textual things, there will always be variance.
o Even in the Bible, for each verse there are more than 100 translations. Different Christian teachers accept different translations.
o Bible is a collection of many books and there is difference of opinion among different Christian sects on which book should be included in the Bible.
• Abrahamic religions offer an exclusive form of religion i.e. if you accept you are elevated, and if you don’t, you go to hell.
• The Vedas provide steps for everyone to movie upwards, whatever level one may be currently at.
• The disadvantage of the Vedas is that one can find something from the Vedas to justify their level, thus there is emphasis in the Vedas on need to accept a guru.
This is not necessarily correct. The Bible seems to be one book, but there are literally hundreds of translations, for each verse. Different Christian teachers accept different translations. Different Christian groups decide which book is to be included in the Bible. Although Bible is one book, but within Bible, there are other books like Gospels, Ecclesiasts, etc. Different Christian sects have varied opinions, on which book is to be included in the Bible. Therefore, with respect to text, it is not correct to say that there is only one book in Abrahamic religions.
Why Vedic philosophy has many books can be understood if we understand the principle behind such an approach. The Vedas are inclusive. For spiritual progress, they offer something for everyone irrespective of our level. The Vedas do not label anyone as unqualified or adharmic. For example, the Vedas consider meat eating as dharmic if the sacrifice is done properly and the meat has been offered on amavasya to goddess Kali. However, such allowances are for those who are situated in tamo guna (mode of ignorance). The principle behind such allowances is to raise the consciousness to one level higher by bringing them to the Vedic fold. The Vedas offer user-friendly spirituality. Whatever level the user is at, they can rise one step upwards.
On the other hand, when we look at the Bible or the Quran, they offer a very exclusive form of religion. They profess that if you accept this, you are elevated, otherwise you are going to hell. They offer a binary (0 or 1) kind of religion. Either you are inside or you are outside. Those people who can’t be inside, these religions profess that they will go to hell, which actually is not necessary.
Ultimately, there is one god, but the conception of god offered in different religions is not the same. The Bible and the Quran came from the same root texts. These books offer a vision of a jealous god. For example, one of the commandments in the Bible is, “Thou shall not worship any other god except …” On the contrary, the Bhagavad-gita does not offer Krishna as a jealous god rather as a zealous god. A god who is zealous for the elevation of everyone. In Bhagavad-gita 7.20 to 7.23, Krishna says, “If you cannot worship me, you worship the devataas (demigods). I will give you the faith to worship them and I will give the devataas the power by which they can fulfill your prayers.” Krishna’s purpose is simply our elevation. Krishna says that if you cannot worship him, you worship somebody else and become elevated by that. The whole mood of the Vedic literature is that no one should be rejected. The advantage of such an approach is that everyone is included but the disadvantage is that it opens up the opportunity for debate; who is right and who is wrong.
It is often said that the Bible and the Quran are like a pocket dictionary and the Vedas are like an unabridged dictionary. This is not necessarily a matter of religious arrogance for the Hindus. It is not an easy job to use an unabridged dictionary. Sometimes for a word there are so many meanings and it can be confusing that which one those meanings apply in a particular sentence. It requires energy to understand it. Words can acquire sometimes quite opposite meaning. The word “wicked,” usually means “cruel”, but nowadays, “wicked” also means “great” or “wonderful.” For example, “It is a wicked party.” The word “epithet,” for example, means a “title,” but another meaning is “insult.” So, when using an unabridged dictionary, the user has to be an expert or at least take help from an expert. That is why in Vedic tradition the guru is very important. The guru tells where we are and what we should follow.
Nothing in this world is a pure blessing. That which is a blessing in one way can also become a curse in another way. Vedic literature is a big blessing because it offers something for everyone’s elevation. It can be a curse when people find something to justify their position and continue to stay there. Let us understand this with the help of an example.
A father has two sons. One of them barely passes and gets 40% marks but the other is a topper and gets 90% marks. One day both come with their results having received 65% marks. For the son who used to get 40%, the father says, “Well done, I am proud of you.” To the other son the father says, “Oh my god, what have you done?” The second son surprisingly asks, “Both of us got 65%, you are praising him but chastising me, why is that?” The father says, “I am chastising you because you have fallen from your standard of 90% but I am praising your brother because he has improved from his standard of 40%.” Similarly, if we consider, the worship of the devataas, for a person who is godless, beginning to worship devataas is like progressing from godlessness to some level of religiosity. This is like improving from 40% to 65%. In Bhagavad-gita, Krishna speaks to Arjuna who is already very elevated. Krishna instructs him that somebody who worships the devataas is alpa-medhasa (less intelligent). It is not that Krishna is condemning demigod worship, rather Krishna is telling Arjuna, that for you worshipping demigods is a step down, which is not required.
The same god out of compassion has given the Bible, the Quran and the Vedas. The Quran and the Bible are simple in their approach but can lead to exclusivity. Exclusivity means that this is the only way and if not followed then you are doomed. Such an approach can lead to narrow-mindedness. On the other hand, the Vedas are inclusive for everyone but complex. The complexity of the Vedic literature is essential for the inclusivity. However, the same complexity can lead to confusion if proper guidance is not provided. With proper guidance, we can understand that Vedic literature manifests god’s compassion in the greatest and unparalleled way.