Hindu theology is based on the Vedas and Hindu philosophy has been clarified in the Prasthantrayi. The Vedas are revered as the oldest scriptures and contain spiritual and philosophical knowledge. The four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda - are supplemented by the Upanishads, the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras as pillars of Hindu philosophy. Hindu philosophies are derived from the Prasthantrayi, which is the collective name for the Upanishads, the Bhagwad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. These have been accepted as treasures of wisdom for centuries in India. Bhagwan Swaminarayan placed emphasis on studying the Vedas and the historic Hindu scriptures of the Prasthanatrayi.
The foundational scriptures for Hindus are the Vedas. A practising Hindu is generally defined as one who believes in the authority and sanctity of the Vedas. Hindus consider the Vedas not man-made, but to be revealed by God. Before being written down, the Vedas were taught for a long time from generation to generation in oral tradition.
The Rig Veda is considered the most important Veda, containing Sanskrit 'mantras' or prayers to the nature gods to grant riches, progeny, long life, peace and eternal happiness. Many Hindu philosophical ideas have their basis in the Rig Veda, including that of one Supreme Reality, monotheistic worship and bhakti. The Yajur Veda mantras deal with the rituals of worship or the ceremonial aspect of Hindu worship and belief. The Sama Veda contains Rig Vedic mantras set to music, with all its mantras being set to the seven basic notes. The Atharva Veda has mantras that deal with health, friendship, trade and commerce, and many other aspects of life in Vedic times.
The Upanishads refers to that divine knowledge which loosens the bonds of attachment, removes ignorance, and helps one understand one's true self and the true form of Bhagwan. The dialogues in the Upanishads are conversations between the enlightened guru and their disciples in the gurukuls - ancient forest academies - of India.
The Upanishads are also referred to as Vedanta, the conclusion of the Vedas, both chronologically and philosophically, as they teach the highest spiritual knowledge. There are over 200 Upanishads, each with a unique identity and a theme. Out of the 200, only 10 to 12 are considered to be the older works; they are the basic sources of ancient Hindu philosophy. The Upanishads contain the enlightened teachings that are the essence of Hindu philosophy dealing with the nature and relation of God, jiva, moksha, and the material world.
The ten main Upanishads are the Isha, Katha, Kena, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka. Each of these ten Upanishads has been interpreted and discussed by the different Acharyas: Shanka, Ramanuj, Madhva, Nimbark, Vallabh, and Chaitanya. All Hindu schools of thought must establish their philosophy based on the mantras of these 10 scriptural masterpieces.
The ancient Katha Upanishad’s story of child Nachiketa’s encounter with Yamaraj, the God of Death, and the explanation of what happens after death is presented everyday at Swaminarayan Akshardham-Gandhinagar’s Sat-Chit-Anand Water Show with live actors and special effects. Moreover, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha’s sadhus study many of the Upanishads as part of their training and have authored detailed essays on the Upanishads, which can be found in the Enlightening Essays
The Brahma Sutras are the second scripture considered a pillar of Hindu philosophy. The Brahma Sutras are known as tarka scriptures, or scriptures based on logic. Badarayan Rishi or Veda Vyas wrote the Brahma Sutras to share the knowledge of the Upanishads in short mantras using logic. However, towards the end of the text Veda Vyas says, “tarko apratishtitaha,” which means, “logic is not the basis of spirituality.” Logic can be argued and debated. Faith in God and spiritual progress is only attained by faith.
According to Sankara, the earliest commentator of the Brahma Sutras, there are 191 adhikarans and 555 sutras arranged in 4 chapters (adhyãyas). Each chapter is further divided into 4 sections called pãds.
The first chapter, Samanvaya (harmony), explains that all the Vedantic texts speak of Bhagwan, the Ultimate Reality, and to reach Him is the goal of life. The second chapter, Avirodha (non-conflict), discusses and refutes the possible objections against Vedanta philosophy. The third chapter, Sadhana (the means), describes the process by which the jiva can achieve moksha. The fourth chapter, Phala (the fruit), talks about the state that is achieved when one has attained moksha.
The sutras are brief, containing mostly two to four Sanksrit words. Almost all renowned acharyas have authored a commentary based on the Brahma Sutras, and thus, the Brahma Sutras have influenced all schools of Hindu philosophy.
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, also known as the Gita, is the third and final scripture forming the foundation of Hindu philosophy. Hindus have great reverence for this divine manuscript. The text is composed of 700 verses spread across 18 chapters, or adhyayas. It is part of a much larger work, the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic poem written by Veda Vyas.
The Gita speaks of performing one’s own swadharma, or duty, without the expectations of merit or its fruit. This is the only way to please God and realize His true form. This learning is delivered in the Gita as a dialog between Shri Krishna and Arjun, on the battlefield of the Mahabharata war. The warrior Arjun loses heart and the strength to face his enemies in battle, which includes his gurus, elders, and relatives. The loss of this strength symbolizes a greater loss; it symbolizes Arjun unable to perform his duty.
The questions raised by Arjun about right and wrong, duty and responsibility - and the answers given by Shri Krishna - are still relevant and valid today, nearly 5,000 years later. The knowledge of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is eternal. Shri Krishna elaborates on various Vedantic philosophies with examples and analogies. He describes the knowledge of self-realization and the process by which a human being can establish an eternal rapport with God. Some of the most famous verses discuss the concept of stability of the body, mind, and soul. A famous shloka from the Gita’s introduction gives the beautiful anology of Arjun being a calf drinking the nectar-like milk of the Gita from the Upanishadic cow offered by Shri Krishna, the cowherd.
After much discussion, Arjun is still unconvinced. Lord Krishna then utters the conclusive shloka, “Sarva dharmaan parityajya…,” which means, “Oh Arjun, leave all your ideas about right and wrong, and surrender to my will. I shall free you from any consequences of your actions and deliver moksha to you.” Thus, the Bhagavad Gita is a call to action, a dialogue between God and man in which God is exhorting man to perform his duties as per the wish of God and thus fulfilling his spiritual as well as worldly duties.
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita’s simplicity and universal messages can be imbibed by all, thus making the Gita an important philosophical and religious classic of our world.