Upanishads and Vedas are two terms that are often confused as one and the same thing. Actually they are two different subjects for that matter. In fact Upanishads are parts of Vedas.
Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the four Vedas. A Veda is divided into four parts, namely, Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. It can be seen from the division that Upanishad forms the last part of a given Veda. Since Upanishad forms the end part of a Veda it is also called as Vedanta. The word ‘anta’ in Sanskrit means ‘end’. Hence the word ‘Vedanta’ means ‘the end portion of a Veda’.
The subject matter or the content of the Upanishad is normally philosophical in nature. It speaks about the nature of the Atman, the greatness of the Brahman or the Supreme Soul and also about the life after death. Hence Upanishad is called as the Jnana Kanda of the Veda. Jnana means knowledge. Upanishad speaks about the supreme or the highest knowledge.
The other three parts of the Veda, namely, Samhita, Brahmana and the Aranyaka are called together as Karma Kanda. Karma in Sanskrit means ‘action’ or ‘rituals’. It can be understood that the three parts of the Veda deal with the ritualistic part of life such as the conduct of a sacrifice, austerity and the like.
Veda thus contains in it both the ritualistic and the philosophical aspects of life. It deals with the actions to be performed in life and also with the spiritual thoughts that man should cultivate in his mind to read God.
Upanishads are many in number but only 12 of them are considered principal Upanishads. It is interesting to note that Adi Sankara, the founder of Advaita system of philosophy has commented on all the 12 principal Upanishads. The other major teachers of various sects of philosophical thoughts have quoted a lot from the texts of the Upanishads.
1. Hinduism is the world’s 3rd largest religion closely following Christianity and Islam. However, unlike the top 2 religions, 95% of Hindus live in a single nation! Source
2. If you ask a religious Hindu, when did Krishna or Rama live – they will give an answer like 50 million years ago or some other random big number. Actually, it doesn’t matter. Because, Hindus believe in a circular time (rather than the linear time concept in the Western world).
3. Each of our time cycles has 4 main periods – the Satya yuga (golden age of innocence), Tretha Yuga, Dwapara yuga and Kali Yuga. In the last stage, people get so filthy that whole thing is cleaned up and the cycle starts all over again.
4. Hinduism is the oldest of the major extant religions. Its fundamental book – Rig Veda was written over 3800 years ago.
5. Rig Veda was orally passed for 3500+ years in parallel. And yet, its current form has no major discrepancies. It is indeed a stupendous achievement that a major body of work can be orally passed between people in such a large nation with no loss in quality/content.
6. Unlike other major religions, Hinduism doesn’t consider the pursuit of wealth as a sin. In fact, we celebrate wealth in the form of many gods such as Lakshmi, Kubera and Vishnu. Hinduism has a 4 level hierarchy – Kama (pursuit of pleasures including sexual/sensual) – Artha (pursuit of livelihood , wealth and power), Dharma (pursuit of philosophy, religion and doing duties to society) and Moksha (liberation) and we progress from the top to bottom. This is very close to Maslow’s hierarchy and thus Hindus are natural capitalists.
7. Hinduism is the parent religion for 2 of the other major religions of South Asia – Buddhism and Sikhism. It is also closely associated with its sister religion – Jainism.
8. The holiest number for Hindus is 108. This is the ratio of Sun’s distance (from earth)/Sun’s diameter or Moon’s distance (from earth)/Moon’s diameter. Thus, most of our prayer beads have 108 beads.
9. Beyond India, Hinduism is the dominant religion of many exotic regions such as Nepal, Mauritius, Bali, second biggest religion of Fiji & Sri Lanka and at one point covered most of South east Asia – including Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia. Source
10. The Hindu epic of Mahabharatha – that is often used to teach the principles of Hinduism – is written in 1.8 million words long poem (10X the combined length of the Illiad and Odyssey)
11. Unlike all other major religions, we don’t have a founder or a prophet (like Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mohammad or Buddha). According to Hindus, the religion has no origin (again coming back to the circular concept).
12. Unlike the popular Western conception, Yoga in Hinduism is not merely an exercise routine. It is one of the founding blocks of the religion.
13. The 4 most holiest animals for Hindus are the cow, elephant, snake and peacock (India’s national bird and a wagon of many Hindu gods) – 4 main animals of India.
14.The largest religious structures in the world – Angkor Vat in Cambodia were built by the Hindu kings of South East Asia.
15. Hinduism has no formal Institution – no Pope, no Bible and no central body.
16. Unlike Christians or Muslims, we go to the temple at any time, any day. There are no special Sabbath, Sunday congregations or Friday prayers.
17. Hindu scriptures are organized into Vedas (poems that written in multiple levels from abstract rural level and going deeper into cosmic universe), Upanishads (scientific discourses and arguments about the world), Brahmanas (manuals for ritual performances), Aranyakas (experiments done on human mind and nature in the forests), Puranas (mythologies about Hindu gods) and Itihasas (notebooks on “historical” events”).
18. Hindus don’t mourn for anything and believe that happiness is the highest form of religious achievement. Thus, unlike most other religions there is no sad festivals for us where we are supposed to mourn.
19. Fire & Light are among the holiest of offerings for Hindus. The concept of Yajna – offering things to fire – is considered one of the highest forms of worships in Hinduism. It symbolizes the idea that everything meets its end.
20. Hinduism’s holiest body of works – Rig Veda – talks of 33 main gods.Although most Hindus consider the Vedas as the holiest, none of those 33 gods are in mainstream worship now. Also READ: 330Million Hindu Gods
21. Unlike other major religions, Hindu scriptures ask a number of philosophical questions and is ok with “don’t know” answer for some of them. One of the critical body of these questions is the Prashna Upanishad. unfortunately most of us cannot understand the answer to the fundamental questions posted there.
22. Hindus strongly believe in rebirth and karma. That means my next birth will be determined by my actions of this birth.
23. Hindus hold big chariot processions to carry their gods during special occasions. Some of these chariots can be huge and marauding – sometimes killing people in their path when they lose control. The biggest one of all – Jagannath – gave the English dictionary term Juggernaut -meaning the unstoppable one.
24. Hindus hold Ganga as the purest of all waters and believe that bathing in it can purify them of their sins.
25. Kumbh Mela. It is considered to be largest peaceful gathering in the world with over 100 million people visiting during the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013. Most of the sadhus and saints are said to be in samadhi and appear only to kumbh mela.
The holiest number for Hindus is 108. This is the ratio of Sun’s distance (from earth)/Sun’s diameter or Moon’s distance (from earth)/Moon’s diameter. Thus, most of our prayer beads have 108 beads.
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