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Poll: The Vedas are...
A useful product far ahead of it's times
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The Vedas
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gunniboy Offline
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Post: #1
The Vedas

Someone had suggested to my wife that, "Your hubby may be an atheist and he may be well informed. He can criticize the mythologies like Ramayana, Mahabharatha, etc. These mythologies can have mistakes because they are all man made. But ask him to read the Vedas. The Vedas are divine. They are the best guides. Blah blah blah..."

I don't have the time to go through them fully. I just wanted to ask if there is any resource- any book, any website, etc - that analyzes the Vedas. I confess I haven't read the Vedas. But, I am guessing (I may be wrong) that JUST LIKE ALL THE PRIMITIVE SCRIPTURES, the Vedas too are going to be a collection of worthless, vague, useless, spiritual, irrelevant, obfuscations! A typical PRODUCT OF IT'S TIMES, you know... That is what is to be expected from anything from that time.

Thank you.
(This post was last modified: 17-06-2011 09:04 PM by Ajita Kamal.)
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Lije Offline
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Post: #2
RE: TheVedas

As far as the original four Vedas are concerned, just a look a their summaries is enough to show that they are indeed a product of their times and much of their content is outdated. Another example is the Purusha Suktam which talks about creation and how each of the four varnas originated. They do have the occasional philosophical musing that add some profoundness. Also the Vedas are supposed to have been "revealed" to humans and hence are infallible. So the primitiveness of the Vedas basically exposes the weakness of their epistemology.

And then there are the Upanishads which are a lot more sophisticated and are responsible for most of the spiritual woo of Hinduism. Note that the Upanishads contradict the original four Vedas. The Vedas require a variety of rituals to propitiate gods. The Upanishads don't put much stock on rituals. (I first came across this point in Dr. Kamath's series on the Bagawad Gita.)

The Upanishads posit some abstraction as the Ultimate Reality where everything is unified, when in reality it may just be certain states of the mind. I like to sum up the Upanishads as - The idea that actual reality (as shown by science) is maya and that maya (brain failures) is the ultimate reality.
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #3
RE: The Vedas

1) "Call something Vedic and worship it!"
There seems to be no consensus among apologists as to where the Vedas end and where associated literature begins and this distinction is kept deliberately fuzzy so that the Vedas can claim credit for whatever scientific or literary achievement that happens to capture popular imagination. Two cases in point are:

(a) There is a view like "Science is what scientists do" that "Veda is what Vedic preachers say", even though the preacher may belong to the 20th century. This is how 'Vedic mathematics' came to be called Vedic and quoting from here:

Quote:The very word "Veda" has this derivational meaning, i.e. the fountain-head and illimitable store-house of all knowledge. This derivation, in effect, means, connotes and implies that the Vedas should contain within themselves all the knowledge needed by mankind relating not only to the so-called 'spiritual' (or other-worldly) matters but also to those usually described as purely "secular", "temporal", or "worldly"; and also to the means required by humanity as such for the achievement of all-round, complete and perfect success in all conceivable directions and that there can be no adjectival or restrictive epithet calculated (or tending) to limit that knowledge down in any sphere, any direction or any respect whatsoever.
(Emphasis mine)

There we have the apologists and adherents giving themselves a license to slap on the label Vedic on to anything they wish to sanctify and immunize from criticism.

(b) Speaking of the lack of consensus as to what is Vedic, ISKCON adherents may go as far as saying that a medieval text called Chaitanya Charitamrita is 'Vedic' too!

Quote:Hare Krsna devotees believe there are five, rather than four, Vedas (the fifth being the Bhagavad-gita). The Vedas are sruti but the Srimad Bhagavatam is smrti, albeit the most important part. When the term 'Vedic literature' is used by devotees it does not simply mean sruti but literature from the early period which expresses authoritative 'knowledge' about God. This includes the Bhagavad-gita and the rest of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Srimad Bhagavatam and the other Puranas. (It is possible that, by extension, some devotees may also include texts such as Krsnadasa Kaviraja`s Sri Caitanya-caritamrta).

I remember having written a post titled "Sanskritization: A saga of misattribution and misappropriation" dealing with several such issues here but can't find it now.

2) Forbidden to mandatory?

It is interesting that the apologists now insist that we all 'read the Vedas' especially when its adherents for centuries devised inhuman punishments simply to ensure to none but a hereditarily privileged class read them. Well, not exactly 'read them', but simply chant them, as it was the 'sound of the Vedas' that was believed to 'sustain the cosmos' and prized, rather than any 'sense in the Vedas' that offered lessons for life. It is worth noting that when there are Bhaashyas(commentaries) galore on later texts like the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, there are no 'Veda Bhashyas' from the classical (nor Puranic) period. Therefore, not even the academics devoted full-time to Vedic study during its heyday (and also during the Vedantic revivalism of Shankaracharya) considered it worth their while to treat the Vedas as anything more than an archaic ritual manual. When the Vedas by themselves ceased to interest even their most zealous adherents ages ago, there is no reason why critics should be expected to be interested in them. What do the apologists hope to have us understand from a text that has almost been given up on in anything but lip-service (and hamming) and whose links with some of the most egregious practices that rationalists are fighting is at most tenuous?

3) Do the Vedas pass Hitchens' 'cookbook criterion'?

Christopher Hitchens once said that, while commenting on the supposed worth of scriptures as moral texts, that if we took to it, we could manage to find enough moral guidelines in a cookery book. To prize a scripture as having philosophical or moral worth, it ought to teem with insights and survive this cookbook comparison. Far from teeming with dazzling insights, the Vedas are more lackluster offering little more than an occasional faint glimmer even to the most tireless quote-miners. Quoting Ranganath R from here:

Quote:I have heard a lot of chest-thumping about wisdom and high thinking in 2 or 3 verses in the Purusha and Nasadiya sukta of the RG. My take is that Is this all the Hindutva cherry-pickers could come up from the so-called sprawling orchard of Vedic wisdom. While quoting these 2 or 3 verses of the Suktas, the golden rule is to turn a 'Nelson's eye' to the nonsense in the remainder of the Suktas. Also should we even care about compiling statistics on how many mantras in RG are invitations to the Soma booze oops juice party?!
(This post was last modified: 17-06-2011 11:18 PM by arvindiyer.)
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Lije Offline
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Post: #4
RE: The Vedas

(17-06-2011 11:17 PM)arvindiyer Wrote:  1) "Call something Vedic and worship it!"
There seems to be no consensus among apologists as to where the Vedas end and where associated literature begins and this distinction is kept deliberately fuzzy so that the Vedas can claim credit for whatever scientific or literary achievement that happens to capture popular imagination. Two cases in point are:

I think bereft of deepities and other profound language, the reasoning goes like this:

  1. Knowledge is eternal (which also means that it exists independently of human minds).
  2. Knowledge reveals itself to enlightened souls.
  3. Any such revealed knowledge can be called the Vedas.

The gaping hole in that logic is who should be considered as "enlightened souls". If I am an enlightened soul, then my knowledge says that knowledge of earlier Vedas is bunk. Then the defenders of Vedas will probably say that I'm not enlightened and those who are enlightened should accept that the earlier Vedas are valid knowledge. This game can be played till eternity if it weren't for the fact that most knowledge of the Vedas is provably nonsensical.
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K. P. S. Kamath Offline
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Post: #5
RE: The Vedas

The importance of the Rig Veda lies in the fact that it gives glimpses of historical events of the time (c. 1500 B.C.). The hatred Arya people had for Dasyus, and praying Indra, their supreme god, for his assistance in destroying Dasyus and their forts is evident throughout the text.

Also, it gives fairly reliable hint of their being aliens in India:

Hymn XLV:1: That Indra is our youthful Friend, with his trusty guidance led Turvasa, Yadu from afar.

We cannot argue with one's deep-rooted belief system. As Leon Festinger, a psychologist at Stanford wrote in the mid fifties," A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point."

Unfortunately, few people study Rig Veda with the eye to its historical contents. It is as much a text book of history as the Bhagavad Gita. As I said elsewhere, the entire currently applicable wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita can be found in BG: 2:62-63. Everything else in them might have made sense to ancient people, but they have no use for us in the modern times.
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #6
RE: The Vedas

I also find only partial (mostly indirect) historical value in the Vedas. I'd like to qualify that by adding that I feel much of the content is bound to have been embellished over the centuries and the material can only be used to supplement archeological history, not replace it.

There certainly is a lot of ancient philosophy in the Vedas, and the authors spent a lot of time propounding on complex ideas. The problem with Vedic philosophy is that the ideas were all tied to the dogma of divine absolute truth. I've sometimes heard people express doubt about the quality of the philosophy itself as a reason for why it didn't go anywhere, and I disagree. I think the reason vedic philosophy became irrelevant is because it refused to change and grow, by tethering itself to the superstitions and dogmas of the bronze age. It stagnated, 'protected' by generations of professional keepers of the gods from critical examination and improvement by mere people.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #7
RE: The Vedas

If the poll above had a 'Useful resource for Indologists and philologists' option, then I would have picked that.

Coming to the original question of how to deal with apologists' "Read-the-Vedas-before-you-criticize-Sanatana-Dharma" challenge, it can be dealt with in an almost predictable play-script narrative.

When asked to 'read the Vedas' we can press the apologists to recommend specific books which preferably they themselves have read. Chances are that they will recommend literature from their fairly parochial cult affiliations or books whose links with the Four Vedas are very tenuous. When they are called out on this, they will typically resort to excuses like, "Well, you are asking for the original Vedas. But you need to know Sanskrit for that, and it can be understood only under a genuine Guru. Truly learning the Vedas requires a holistic lifestyle change and a return to Vedic roots."

Now the debate moves into the terrain of historical claims and can be addressed accordingly, without needing to refer to the texts themselves. For one, the language of the Vedas is not the Classical Sanskrit of the Puranas and later works, and it can be said that the Vedas are not entirely in 'Sanskrit' as it is known today (much like the Qur'an may not entirely be in Arabic, but that belongs to another thread.). Further the content of the Vedas proper (Samhita portions excluding the Upanishads) is mostly hymns dedicated to deities who have since been superseded by Puranic ones, and whose worship has ceased even by zealous apologists.So at this point, they need to be asked, " A return to Vedic roots means a return to what?" A return to animal sacrifices, soma binges and hereditary priesthoods?

If we do not wish to go down the route of these well-rehearsed debates, we can press the apologists to instead cite some excerpts from, say, the RigVeda which they find especially inspiring. Chances are that they will hail the 'openness of Sanatana Dharma by quoting RigVeda 1.89.1 : "May noble thoughts come to us from every side" or credit the Vedas with an attitude of agnosticism by citing the Nasadiya Sukta.

We are then well within our rights to exasperatedly ask "Is this all?". Shakespeare seems to do better, be it reflecting upon the tenuousness of life, or, more usefully, giving counsel for a righteous life.
(This post was last modified: 18-06-2011 11:32 AM by arvindiyer.)
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nick87 Offline
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Post: #8
RE: The Vedas

It goes without saying that human morality and goodness pre-dates all religious texts. The people who say the Vedas are rules from God that give instructions on how to lead a good life are broadly accusing others (non-hindus) of being amoral and clueless about how to be good people. You could point that out to them and tell them that we don't need a God to tell us how to live decent, good lives. People are evil and people are good even without God. The sooner all of us understand that the better I guess.

"It's alright, I rarely meet anyone who's able to read it properly. Although personally, I never thought that it to be an odd of a name. Once I give people the pronunciation, they tend to remember my name by easily associating me with it. A unique face, a unique moniker."
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #9
RE: The Vedas

After reading Arvind's last reply, I'm seeing a How-to-talk-to-a-Vedic-apologist chart in my head. One of those flow-charts with yes/no answers that lead you to different conclusions. Ohmy

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Lije Offline
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Post: #10
RE: The Vedas

I have split this TTCUSM's posts into a new thread to discuss the historical accuracy of the interpretations of Vedas.

Let's keep the point of this thread on why the Vedas are primitive scriptures.
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TTCUSM Offline
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Post: #11
RE: The Vedas

(22-06-2011 08:07 PM)Lije Wrote:  I have split this TTCUSM's posts into a new thread to discuss the historical accuracy of the interpretations of Vedas.

Let's keep the point of this thread on why the Vedas are primitive scriptures.

OK. Since the Vedas are such primitive documents, why do we believe that it was a bad thing for the Brahmins to restrict access to them?
If anything, they were preventing primitive ideas from seeping into the general populaceLol
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Lije Offline
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Post: #12
RE: The Vedas

(06-07-2011 06:04 AM)TTCUSM Wrote:  OK. Since the Vedas are such primitive documents, why do we believe that it was a bad thing for the Brahmins to restrict access to them?
If anything, they were preventing primitive ideas from seeping into the general populaceLol

That's a dumb argument. It is today, due to developments in science over the past few hundred years that we know that Vedas are primitive. They weren't primitive historically. Even if we assume that it was known that they were primitive, restricting access is like restricting people from reading The Da Vinci Code. And the state of religion is a testament to how wide spread the primitive ideas are. Not reading Vedas did not prevent people from believing in the nonsense propagated by people who have read them.
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