The sacred scriptures of the Hindus are the Vedas (“knowledge”). They were written in the ancient language of India, Sanskrit, and are considered to be the creation of neither human nor god. They are the eternal truth revealed or heard by gifted seers. Most of the Vedas have been superceded by other Hindu doctrines; nevertheless, their influence has been pervasive and long lasting.
In the western world, two publications stand out in the vast collection of Hindu scriptures and texts — The Upanishads and The Bhagavad-Gita. The name “Upanishads” means “sitting near,” as in being near enough to listen to your sage or master. The conversations found in these writings took place between gurus and their students and concern the meanings of the Vedas.
The Upanishads record the wisdom of Hindu teachers and sages who were active as far back as 1000
The philosophical thrust of the Upanishads is discerning the nature of reality. Other concepts dealt with include equating atman (the self) with Brahman (ultimate reality), which is fundamental to all Hindu thought; the nature of morality and eternal life; and the themes of transmigration of souls and causality in creation.
A verse in the Upanishads illustrates how the universe is pervaded by Brahman: “When a chunk of salt is thrown into the water, it dissolves into that very water, and it cannot be picked up in any way. Yet, from whatever place on may take a sip, the salt is there! In the same way, this Immense Being (Brahman) has no limit or boundary and is a single mass of perception.”
Various translations of the Upanishads were published in Europe during the nineteenth century. Though they were not the best translations, they had a profound effect on many philosophical academics, including Arthur Schopenhauer.
The Bhagavad-Gita has been the exemplary text of Hindu culture for centuries. The Sanskrit title has been interpreted as “Song of the Lord,” which is a philosophical poem in the form of a dialogue. Although it is an independent sacred text, it is also considered to be the sixth book in the Mahabharata.
The Mahabharata — the longest great Indian war epic poem — contains mythological stories and philosophical discussions. One of the main story lines is the conflict between Yudhishthira, the hero of the poem, and his duty or dharma. The Bhagavad-Gita's structure is in the form of a dialogue between two characters — Arjuna, the hero preparing to go into battle, and Krishna, his charioteer. But Krishna is not quite what he seems. Arjuna is characterized by not only his physical prowess but also his spiritual prowess, which involves a mystical friendship with Krishna. From the start, Arjuna knows that his charioteer is no ordinary mortal. The power of Krishna's divinity gradually unfolds in all of its terrible glory, and Arjuna sees himself mirrored in the divine.
The Bhagavad-Gita offers a philosophy of karma when Krishna counsels Arjuna to do his duty as a warrior, as Arjuna hesitates at the thought of killing members of his own family on the battlefield.