Ideals and Values/Study of Holy Scriptures
Why should we study our Holy Books?
Some people think that studying our holy scriptures is a waste of time. They argue that these holy books were written several centuries ago and therefore they are outdated and useless. Some people think that they know everything and therefore do not need to study our holy scriptures. The benefits of studying these scriptures have been denoted below.
The scriptures teach us how to attain all the four goals of our life:
They are the gold standard to help us decide what is good and what is bad. They provide answers to some very difficult questions on Dharma and spirituality that we cannot find from other sources. They contain the collected wisdom of thousands of Saints and Sages who lived across several millennia. If we do not have the resources to give charity or perform sacred worship ceremonies, we can substitute them with reading of scriptures regularly. When we read the excellent teachings of our scriptures, our mind becomes pure, and we do not want to commit evil actions. Hindus believe that if we study our scriptures constantly, we come to remember our previous lives. Study of scriptures helps us in pursuing our spiritual activities like meditation. Recitation of scriptures has a soothing effect on minds, and benefits our physical health too. We owe a debt to our Rishis who compiled these scriptures, which are a storehouse of all wisdom. We can repay their debt by studying our scriptures regularly. Scriptures also say that God is pleased when we chant the Vedas and other holy books. It is good Karma to read and teach our scriptures to others.
The following story illustrates how the son-in-law of Sant Ekanath overcame his bad habits when he started paying attention to the teachings of the scripture called the Bhagavad Gitā.
Story: Ekanath's son-in-law overcomes his bad habits with the help of Bhagavad Gitā Sant Eknath was a renowned saint of Maharashtra. He married his daughter to a famous scholar (Pandit) of the region. Unfortunately, this scholar fell into bad company. He started going out of his home late in the night, leaving his wife alone. Ekanath's daughter became very worried about her husband's behavior and she spoke to her father about it.
Eknath then called his son in law and said, "Look here my son in law. You are a learned man, but my daughter is not. Do her a favor. Before you leave your home every night, please read to her a verse or two of the Bhagavad Gitā. This will benefit her greatly. Then, you can go out wherever you please." The Pandit agreed. So every night before he stepped out, he would read a couple of verses of the Bhagavad Gitā to his wife and explain the meaning to her. Slowly and slowly, the Pandit realized how beautiful the teachings of the Bhagavad Gitā were. They started having an influence on how own mind. After some time, with the effect of the Gitā, the Pandit stopped going out at the night. He had not intended to study the Gitā for his own benefit but nevertheless, the study of the holy book for the sake of his wife impacted him too in a positive way and he became a virtuous man.
What are the Main Steps of Studying the Scriptures
There are many steps to studying the scriptures:
- Adhyayana - Learning from a teacher
- Manana - Reciting them and reflecting upon their meaning alone
- Pravachana - Teaching them to others
- Vyavahāra - Practicing their teachings
Hinduism declares that our study of scriptures is complete 'only' when we complete all these four steps.
Which are the Scriptures?
- The holiest scriptures of the Hindus are the four Vedas namely Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Hindus believe that Bhagavān Himself gave these scriptures to the Rishis and subsequently, Rishi Veda Vyāsa compiled them into their present form. In the Vedas, there are certain parts called the Upaniṣads, which contain beautiful teachings about the nature of Brahman, the universe and the soul. The Vedas are very large scriptures and their teachings are presented in a summary and systematic manner in the Bhagavad Gitā, which is a dialog between Bhagavān Krishna and Arjuna.
- The Gita is a very popular scripture of the Hindus and it is actually a part of the Mahābhārata, which has 100,000 verses and is the longest poem in the world. Another famous scripture is the Ramayana, which deals with the life of Śri Rama.
- Then, there are dozens of which 18 are main encyclopedic works which explain the teachings of the Vedas through hundreds of stories and examples. These works are called the Purāṇas and the most famous of these is the Shrimad Bhāgavata Purāṇa.
- The rules of conduct that we should observe in our daily lives are presented in a collection of scriptures called the Smṛtis of which the Manusmṛti is the most famous.
- Then, we have works on philosophy of which six are the main ones. You will study more about the scriptures in higher grades. At this point of time, we can just understand that so vast is the storehouse of wisdom in our Dharma that we have the largest collection of scriptures of all the religions in the world!
The Correct way of studying our Scriptures
The following stories illustrate the way in which we should study our Scriptures.
Story: Live the Scripture, not just Study it Studying the Bhagavad Gitā is not an end in itself. Once, a man came to Swami Chinmayananda and said, "I have gone through the Gitā fifteen times." Swami-ji asked, "But has the Gitā gone through you even once?" The story below illustrates this message very aptly.
While touring South India, Chaitanya encountered a certain Brahmin in the temple of Rangakshetra. This man daily sat in the temple turning over the pages of the Bhagavad-gitā, but his constant mispronunciation of the Sanskrit made him the object of general mirth and derision. Chaitanya, however, observed signs of genuine spiritual ecstasy on the brahmin's body and he asked him what he read in the Gitā to induce such ecstasy. The brahmin replied that he didn't read anything. He was illiterate and could not understand Sanskrit. Nevertheless, his guru had ordered him to read the Gitā daily and he complied as best he could. He simply pictured Krishna and Arjuna together on the chariot and this image of Krishna's merciful dealings with his devotee caused this ecstasy. Chaitanya embraced the Brahmin and declared that he was an 'authority on reading the Bhagavad-Gitā'?
Story: Study Scriptures not for Showing off your Knowledge, but for Self Transformation The story of Vāmana Pandit below shows how mere learning of Gitā and other scriptures does not benefit us spiritually. Our soul becomes 'alive' only when we give up our ego and pride, when our heart is filled with devotion and when we are able to teach the scriptures to the common man in a simple language out of love and compassion.
Vāmana pundit was born in a Brahmin family of Bijapur, which was under Muslim rule. Even as a young boy he could compose Sanskrit verses. When the ruler Adil Shah heard of this child prodigy, he offered to support the boy if he embraced Islam, so the family sent him secretly to Varanasi to study under some scholars. After studying there for about twenty years, Vāmana became quite famous for his knowledge and skill at debating. He used to go on tours and challenged other pundits to a debate. Hearing of Ramadasa, he decided to visit him and challenge him also to a debate. When he arrived near the place where Ramadasa was staying, Vāmana pundit sent a messenger to get Ramadasa. Vāmana waited and waited under a tree but by midnight Ramadasa had still not come. At that time, he happened to see two ghosts and overheard them talking about him. The ghosts were saying that Vāmana would soon be joining them. Vāmana pundit became very afraid. He thought about what the ghosts had said and gradually understood that his egotism and pride of scholarship was leading him to hell. In fact, he became so repentant that he decided he would approach Ramadasa for spiritual instructions.
Soon after, at dawn, Ramadasa arrived and Vāmana pundit bowed down at his feet. Ramadasa blessed the pundit and after giving him some spiritual instructions, told him to go to Badarika Ashrama, in the Himalayas and meditate on Viṣṇu. After practicing sadhana whole-heartedly there for a long time, Vāmana pundit had a vision of the Lord, who blessed him and told him to go back to Ramadasa for further instructions. When Vāmana pundit met Ramadasa again, Ramadasa gave him more instructions and told him to go to Śri Shaila Hill to meditate on Śiva. Again Vāmana did as he was told, practicing intense sadhana for several years. Here also he was blessed by the Lord and told to return to Ramadasa. This time, in 1668 CE, Ramadasa described to the pundit how the common man needed religious education in their own language. Thus far the pundit had written only in Sanskrit. His learning was helping only among other Brahmin pundits like himself. It was of no use to ordinary people. So Ramadasa requested Vāmana pundit to write religious books in Marathi for the common people and Vāmana agreed. Besides some very beautiful poems, Vāmana pundit also wrote a Marathi commentary on the Bhagavad-Gitā, entitled as Yathārtha Dīpikā.
Notes & References
- Rosen, Steven. 1988. The Life and Times of Lord Chaitanya. Folk Books: Brooklyn (New York). pp. 163-164
- Pravrajika Suddhatmaprana, pp. 199-200
- It is the name of the word used for God in these sections.
- It is six times the length of the Bible.