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What are Upanishads, Brahmanas, Samhitas and Aranyakas?

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There are four Vedas - known as the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda is the primary one and it is the foundation of all Indian thought, philosophy and religious consciousness. It is in poetic form; there are about 10,000 mantras. The Yajur Veda is partly in poetry and partly in prose. The Sama Veda is comprised of musically set verses, mostly from the Rig Veda, and they are sung in a melodious tune. The Atharva Veda is filled with a variety of subjects such as technology, art, and other scientific thoughts with which we are familiar in this world. Religiously, spiritually and philosophically, only three Vedas are important - Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Sama Veda - and, therefore, they are called the Trayi in Sanskrit. Trayi means the threefold knowledge: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Sama Veda.

These four Vedas are also classified into four sections or four books, we may say. Each Veda has four section-wise categorisations. The first part is called the Samhita, which means the mantra portion, in which there is eulogising, an offering of prayer to the gods, to which I made reference earlier: the gods of the heavens, the realities behind the cosmos. The worship of these divinities through prayer is the subject of the Samhita section of the Vedas. While this is sufficient for us and we can work wonders by mere prayer itself, by the concentration of our thought in the act of meditation, all people are not intended for this purpose. Everybody cannot pray from the heart. They can utter or mutter some words, but the heart may not always be in it; the heart may be elsewhere. They require some suggestions from outside in order that the heart may also work together with the act of prayer. People who could not directly concentrate their minds abruptly on the divinities felt the necessity for some external gestures, such as rituals, which they could do with their hands by gesticulation, suggesting the coming out of a thought or a feeling in respect of the divinity that is going to be worshipped. When we go to a temple, we bow with folded palms. We need not do that; we may just stand erect and feel the presence of God. There is nothing wrong with it, but the heart will not do that; it requires a gesture. We fall down on the ground, prostrate and then offer our prayer to the divinity in a temple. If we see anything holy - a holy man, a holy person, a holy place, whatever it is that is sacred - we bow with folded palms. We would like to offer a flower; we would like to wave a lamp; we would like to light a scented stick. Why do we do all this? It is a gesture, a ritual that we are performing to bring out our deep feelings of acceptance of the divinity of that object which is before us.

The second section of the Vedas is called the Brahmanas. Here Brahmanas does not mean the Brahmin caste; it is a section of the Vedas that deals with an elaborate system of ritualistic performance, including sacrifices into the holy fire, all which is very elaborate indeed.

The third section is called the Aranyaka. Advanced seekers began to feel that it is not always necessary to have gestures and rituals in order to contemplate on the gods. We need not even offer prayers through words of mouth; the Veda mantras also may not be necessary if the thought is concentrated. A time, a state, a stage arises where we need not utter a mantra or a word of prayer to the god, or show a gesture by way of ritual to satisfy the god; our hearts can well up by contemplation only. I can deeply feel affection for you without any kind of outward demonstration of it and that is enough. That is called dhyana, or meditation. A contemplation in sequestered places, in forest areas, in isolated spots - aranya, as it is called - where meditations are conducted is the subject dealt with in the scriptures called the Aranyakas.

The Upanishads come last. These are the most difficult part of the Vedas. We can have some idea of what the Veda Samhitas are, what the Brahmanas are, what the Aranyakas are, but it requires deep thinking and a chastening of our psyche before we can enter into the subject of the Upanishads. What do the Upanishads tell us? They tell us the mode, the modus operandi of directly contacting the Spirit of the universe through the Spirit that is inside us - not by word of mouth, not by speaking any word, not by performance of any ritual. There is no need of any temple, church or scripture; we want nothing except our own Self. When we reach the Spirit of the universe, nothing will come with us, as it was mentioned. We will go there alone. We are the most important thing in this world, and not what we possess. The possessions will leave us, but we will carry ourselves. What is it that we will carry as ourselves? You will not be able to understand the meaning of this statement. What exactly is meant by saying "I carry myself"? How will you carry yourself? You are not an object or luggage to be lifted. If you cannot know what it is to carry yourself, you will also not know what the Upanishads will tell you.

The Upanishads are the doctrine of the lifting of your own self to the Self of the universe, the Spirit which you are. It is not merely the Spirit inside you - you yourself are the Spirit. Why do you say "inside" - because when the outer cloth of this body and even the mind is shed at the time of departure, do you remain, or do you exist only in part there? Can you say, "A part of me has gone; I am only partly there"? No, you are wholly there. Independent of the body and also of the mind, you are whole.

This is a fact you will recognise by an analysis of deep sleep. The body and mind are excluded from awareness or cognition in the state of deep sleep. Do you exist only partially in deep sleep, or do you exist entirely? If your body and mind are really a part of you, when they are isolated from your consciousness in deep sleep, you would be only fifty percent or twenty-five percent; and when you wake up from sleep, you would get up as a twenty-five percent individual, and not as a whole person. But you wake up as a whole person. Therefore, the wholeness of your true essence need not include the body and the mind. This is what is meant by the word 'Spirit'. Because of the difficulties in understanding what it is, mostly you think that the Spirit is inside, the Atman is inside, God is inside; everything is inside. But inside what? When you utter the word 'inside', you do not know what exactly you mean. Does it mean that the Spirit is inside the body? If that is the case, are you inside yourself? Are you inside your body? Just think over this absurdity in defining your own Self as something inside yourself. "I am inside myself." Can you say that?

These are some of the difficulties that are faced in understanding the Upanishadic doctrine, which is why the Upanishads are not intended to be taught to the public. We should not shout the Upanishads in a marketplace. Great teachers used to communicate this knowledge only to great students. The students also must be equally great. Electricity can pass only through a high-tension copper wire; it cannot pass through a rope which is made of coir. So, every person cannot become a fit student for the Upanishads. Years and years of tapasya were prescribed to the students. Unless you are hungry, food cannot be digested. Similarly, if you have not got the appetite to receive this knowledge, nothing will go inside you.

When you search for the Spirit of the world as a whole, the Spirit of your own Self, when you search for your Self, you conclude there is no need in searching for anything else. Here is the condition that you have to fulfil before studying the Upanishads. Do you want only your Self as the true Spirit, commensurate with the Spirit of the universe, or do you want many other things also? Those who want many other things are not fit students of the Upanishadic or even the Bhagavadgita philosophy, because the Upanishads and the Gita take you to the very essence of things, which is the Reality of all things. When you get That, attain That, reach That, identify yourself with That, you will not have to ask for anything else. It is like the sea of Reality, and nothing is outside it. But if desire still persists - a little bit of pinching and a discovery of a frustration, and emotional tension: "Oh, I would like to have this" - and it is harassing you, then you had better finish with all your desires. You should fulfil all your requirements and not come to the Upanishadic teacher with the disease of a frustrated, unfulfilled desire.

Teachers used to prescribe many years tapas - in the form of self-control - to students. That is why in ancient days the students were required to stay with the teacher for so many years. What do you do for so many years? Pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya (Gita 4.34): "Every day prostrating yourself before that person - questioning, studying and serving." This is what you do with the Master. This process should continue for years until you are perfectly chastened and purified of all the dross of worldliness - earthly longings, all rubbish of things. These must be washed out completely and like a clean mirror, you approach the teacher; then, whatever knowledge is imparted to you will reflect in your personality as sunlight is reflected in a mirror. Thus, you receive something in depth in the Upanishads.

The last portion, Vedanta, is also the name given to the Upanishads. Anta means the inner secret, the final word of the Veda or the last portion of the Veda - whatever is one's way of defining it. The quintessence, the final word, the last teaching of the Veda is the Upanishad, and beyond that there is nothing to say. When one knows That, one has known everything. Thus, these are the four sections of each of the four Vedas - Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda - known as Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishad.


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