“In Hinduism, Vedas are the ultimate source of truth,” asserted my friend and colleague, while arguing with his boss (not a good idea), over my Mahashivaratri fasting. While the debate went all over the universe, the subject (myself) went into a parallel one. While my colleagues were stuck to Vedas, I was wondering if there is something beyond Vedas.
This jaunted me to the legendary debate between Adi Shankaracharya and Mandhan Mishra. Apparently, when Adi Shankaracharya was on a tour of the entire nation, he stumbled upon Mandhan Mishra, who was a very accomplished scholar of Mimamsa, the branch of the Vedas that dealt with rituals. Moreover, he believed that the rigours of Vedic injunctions were the only way to truth.
However, Adi Shankara was a Sanyasin and a proponent of Upanishads that comprise Vedanta philosophy. So, what on earth is the difference between the two?
Also, read: Who was Adi Shankaracharya?
Vedanta: Beyond Perception
Primarily, Vedas are about the physical universe, that which is under the purview of the 5 senses. However, Vedanta fundamentally talks about that which is beyond the senses.
For instance, in Kena Upanishad it says:
That which cannot be expressed by speech, but by which speech is expressed—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
The one which cannot be apprehended by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind is apprehended—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
That which cannot be perceived by the eye, but by which the eye is perceived—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship.
The one that cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the hearing is perceived—That alone know as Brahman and not that which people here worship. (1.5-8)
Having said that, Vedanta comprises of the pillars of Indic civilization like the Bramhasutras, Upanishads-including Bhagvad Gita–also called Gitopanishad etc.
If Vedas elucidate on what’s water, Vedanta is about that which cannot be touched by water.
If Vedas refer to fire, Vedanta is about that which can’t be burnt by fire.
To elaborate on the last line, the first verses of Rigveda refers to Agni, the fire god.
ॐ अ॒ग्निमी॑ळे पु॒रोहि॑तं य॒ज्ञस्य॑ दे॒वमृत्विज॑म्। होता॑रं रत्न॒धात॑मम्॥१॥
I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice, The Hotar, lavishest of wealth.
However, in Bhagvad Gita, we have a verse that talks about that which cannot be burnt by fire viz.
नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः॥
No weapon can cut the soul into pieces, nor can it be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
If the Vedas speak of the physical realm, then Vedanta takes us into the metaphysical realm. This is the beauty of Indian culture. Although it is capable of delivering the truth in its entirety, no one source claims to know it all.
Hence, our culture evolves with time and does not stagnate with a set of books. For instance, after Vedas came Upanishads, Puranas, Itihasas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) etc. Yet, there is no one book that will force the ultimate truth upon you. In fact, most of these books are in the form of discussions and stories, thus leaving them open to debate and recension.
Say, for example, the Mahabharata. The grand old epic has gone through multiple revisions adding nuggets of wisdom. In fact, experts claim that Bhagvad Gita was a later addition. And what an addition it proved to be!
Lastly, Indic culture personifies the fact that ‘Change is the only constant’. Isn’t it why this is the only pre bronze age culture that survives?