The root of the word Veda is Vid, which means 'To Know'. Vedas though popularly known to be four in number, knowledge is only one, as the compilation by Sage Vyasa is for human convenience and they are parts of the same whole.
Why is this knowledge so important to us?
This knowledge system has no human authorship. It implies that the knowledge is free from any flaws. The knowledge originated from God and considered equivalent to God, unlike Gita which is authored by Vyasa.
The next question one may have is about the source. How did Vedas come into existence?
The knowledge was revealed in the minds of great sages generally known as Rishis or specifically Mantrs Drshtas (seers of mantras). Not just one, but more than 421 sages brought it to sound form, like a radio capturing soundwaves and reproducing sound. The validity of Vedas hence does not depend on a single individual or source like other faith traditions. It has been revealed to many, learned by many, tried and tested by thousands of generations over thousands of years. The sound forms revealed are passed down from gernation to generation orally and interpreted based on the current context, thus making it a living knowledge rather than a system stuck in time.
Vedas were revealed as sound forms, in a language what we call sanskrit today. Sanskrit is a special language evolved from the vedic times and it is meant to be used for the specific purpose of seeking God, carrying out spiritual practices and so on. It is not a spoken language but a liturgical language.
Every veda has 4 parts
- The first part is a collection of hymns, called samhita.
- The second part is explanation of rituals called brahmana. These rituals make use of the hymns (mantra) explained in the previous part.
- The third part is verses for meditation/reflection called aranyaka. This part of Vedas make use of the first two parts.
- The fourth part is philosophy- called Upanishads. Primarily this covers brahmavidya or knowledge about self/God. Whatever is learned and established in the previous sections are negated in this section with a focus of being one with Brahman.
So what message does Vedas convey to us based on their structure?
Majority of the content of Vedas focuses on the first two parts – in general about rituals and mantras, which we can generally call Karma (Action oriented life style). The philosophy part (Upanishads) is the least covering about 5% or less.
This clearly indicates how one should live her life- 95% of our life should be action/reflection oriented and only a little time spent on philosophy of life or Moksha pursuit. This is contrary to today's practice as more people tend to spend more time on learning Upanishads or Vedanta, while sometimes compromising their duties and responsibilities in life.
Vedas structure also shows the importance of reflection on action. Reflection on our actions help us improve our action and learn from it. Vedas advice us to spend more time applying what we know, before acquiring new knowledge. Most of the upanishad studies are meant for sannyasis or one with sanyasa buddhi (attitude of a renunciate). Vedas focus on the internal attitude rather than the clothes and any external symbols as a qualification to learn Upanishads.
Fire in the Vedas
Vedic rituals using fire as a messenger to God are very important for a person to perform or sponsor. While a priest does the rituals, the Yajamana (sponsor) derives the benefits of the rituals.
All vedic mantras have to be chanted in a fixed meter and should be initiated by a guru or a person who knows Vedas, before embarking on a pursuit of Vedic chanting.