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The Smriti

In addition to the collection known as the Vedas, Hinduism recognizes a second group of writings as essential to its beliefs, practices, and identities. These writings are referred to as "smriti" - that which is remembered. In contrast with the "shruti" (that which was heard), the smriti can be thought of as a combination of divine inspiration and human composition. The writings that make up the smriti are not considered as authoritative as the shrutri. However, they supplement, illustrate, and explain concepts inherent in the Vedas. As we move through studying various religions, you will notice that the concept of secondary scriptures derived from primary scriptures is fairly common.

Most Hindus are more familiar with the smriti than they are with the shruti. In fact, the shruti scriptures are not meant to be studied and comprehended by everyone. Years of training and a command of Sanskrit are necessary to truly study the shruti. In contrast, the smriti are available to each person. Not only are they in the common dialect of the people, the smriti are also in the form of exciting stories and epics. The three main writings that make up the Smriti are the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, and the Puranas.

The Bhagavad-Gita:


The Mahabharata is an extremely long epic that tells of a period of civil war. It was probably composed between 400 BCE and 400 CE.   The 18th book of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita ("song of the supreme/exalted one") which tells the story of the god Vishnu who incarnates himself as Krishna, the charioteer for Arjuna.  Arjuna is reluctant to go to war against members of his own family because of the negative consequences that his actions will create. Krishna responds by providing a concise summary of Vedic teachings. As Arjuna surveys the battlefield before him, he sees his own friends and family among the ranks of the enemy. There follows a long dialog between Arjuna and Krishna. Of course, Arjuna does not realize that Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu. The climax of the Gita is Krishna's revelation of his true nature to Arjuna. Following this revelation, Arjuna submits to the teachings of Krishna and fulfills his duty by leading his army to victory.

Teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita

In addition to insisting that in every situation one must do his duty, Krishna sets forth four paths that one may follow. Each of these paths is referred to as a spiritual path (marga) or yoga.

1. Karma Yoga is the way of action; it is service rendered without any interest in its effects and without any personal sense of giving. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna advises: "Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action."

2. Jnana Yoga is the way of knowledge.Through knowledge and insight one can distinguish between the eternal Self and the temporary one. Once this is achieved, then there is nothing that separates the Self (the atman) from Brahman. Jnana Yoga is reflected in the Upanishads and the Aranyakas. It is also exemplified in the philosophical systems of Hinduism.

3.Raja Yoga is the way of meditation, that is, of being able to remove one's own consciousness from its awareness of this world of maya (illusion) and to focus only on the ultimate reality of the cosmos' unity. Raja yoga is exemplified in the Yoga Suras of Patanjali. This work, dating from about 200 CE, details the physical and ethical disciplines required to reach samadhi.

4.Bhakti Yoga can be defined as intense devotion to a personal manifestation of god. Thus,bhakti yoga is the way of devotion to a god, or, more precisely, the path of the love of a god. The goal is communion with and nearness to the deity. The Bhagavad-Gita considers bhakti to be the best course for the present age: According to Krishna, "Those who worship me, thinking solely of me, always disciplined, win the reward I secure."

Thus, the Bhagavad-Gita recognizes that all four ways are legitimate paths in Hinduism It is not really setting forth a new teaching; rather the Gita articulates and legitimizes various approaches to faithful living in Hinduism It should be noted  that there is a great deal of overlap among these four ways. Devotion to a god (Bhakti yoga) seems to be intimately connected with the notion of obedience to the divinely-established social order (Karma yoga - doing one's duty). Moreover, karma yoga also can be seen to include the way of ritual discussed earlier since the performance of rituals and sacrifices was the duty of the priests. One can also note that the way of meditation (Raja Yoga) is closely associated with Jnana yoga (the way of knowledge) since in some cases true knowledge is transcendent and must be attained by extraordinary means such as meditation. We will say more about the goals of these four ways late in this lesson.

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