Most religions have only one Holy book. Christians have the Bible, Muslims have the Quran and Jews have the Torah. But Hindus, Buddhists and Jains seem to have an abundance of scriptures- literally thousands of them.
What needs a mention is the fact that Hindu scriptures are not commandments but dialogues, discussions and philosophical debates.
Rishi Bharadvaja realizes that there is no end to studying these scriptures. At a certain point, we should focus more on applying their teachings.
So what is so unique about Hinduism?
- The wisdom in Sanatan/Hindu Dharma is eternal and endless and this requires many texts. The principles and concepts explained are never-changing hence eternal and can be used as guidelines in every life situation and in each passing Yuga. The Guru- Śiṣya Paramparā of Sanatan Dharma has given us a continuous string of saints and sages for several years. Their disciples have written down the verbal teachings of their Gurus resulting in a vast number of sacred writings. Just like there cannot be one concise book on Physics, Chemistry, Biology; the entire wisdom of Hinduism cannot be incorporated in just one book.
- Sanatan Dharma has always encouraged diversity and uniqueness hence it showcases a diversity of beliefs, teachings and practices. Hinduism is free from the superior attitude of “my way is the high way”. The only motto of every being should be to gain eternal knowledge of the universe, the human body, mind and everything there is beyond this. This explains why Hindus have multiple schools of philosophy, each with their own set of scriptures.
- Hindus recognize the fact that different people are at different levels of mental capacity, spiritual practice and temperaments. The scriptures have been written based on the Guru’s teachings on that subject which could be perceived differently by a disciple belonging to a different lineage. That doesn’t at all mean, one of them is right whereas the other one isn’t.
Consider for example, a group of trekkers hiking a tall mountain to get to the peak. When they are at different heights or levels while climbing based on their physical capacities, what’s visible to them from their individual locations will slightly differ from the other. That simply means they are perceiving the ‘same scenery’ differently based on what point of the peak they are at. As they begin to proceed higher, a broader picture starts to become visible. This can be applied to understand the teachings of Sanatan Dharma too and why different books may have slightly different views on the same subject.
We therefore, must carefully tread the path to understanding Dharma by choosing the right scriptures based on our understanding and mental capacity.
Quick tip:- The Purāṇas are more user-friendly and are geared towards Hindus who might not have the competence or temperament to study the more difficult Vedas.Hinduism has different scriptures to discuss different topics instead of fitting them all into one book. There are different books to understand the principle of ritual, devotion and wisdom separately. The individual Hindu scriptures itself can tend to be extremely vast, for instance, the Vedic literature itself is six times the length of the Bible.
4. In some cases, one single book has been split into many smaller ones for the convenience of the readers. It is believed that the Vedas were one single book which was split into four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda) for the ease of study by Veda Vyasa. In contrast, Christians have combined 66 books written by different people and during different times into a single book called “The Bible”.
5. The final reason for a large number of scriptural texts in Hinduism is the fact that Sanskrit language slowly lost its importance and glory and stopped being the language of communication and teaching. Therefore, Gurus who were filled with compassion wrote several popular ancient Sanskrit scriptures in the vernacular languages prevalent amongst Hindus in their region. Eg. the Ramayana of Valmiki has been translated into Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu and numerous other languages by Gurus who are poets. All these are widely read with devotion by Hindus today.
How to choose one scripture for studying?
Reading multiple scriptures one after the other can be an exhausting task and can confuse one to a great extent. It is therefore recommended that if one can read only one Hindu scripture, then let it be the “Bhagvad Gita”. Bhagvad Gita is said to be the essence of teachings of spiritual scriptures such as the Upanishads.
In the chart below, the scriptures that are commonly read on a wide scale by Hindus today are shown in red font.
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