5 Books You Must Read To Understand Hinduism
If you think you know the rules Hinduism, you probably don’t.
Because there are no real “rules”, unlike other popular religions like Christianity and Islam. Swami Vivekananda said Hinduism is “the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.”. Basically, it’s a free-form religion with lots of different opinions on what spirituality is and isn’t. Since its beginning, Hinduism has been a religion based on philosophical debate and truth-seeking; nothing is outside the confines of discussion. This is why you can an overwhelming amount of scriptures written on many different spiritual subjects: from meditation and enlightenment to stories of Shiva, even atheism…no rock was left unturned. However, some of these books and songs became more popular than others and came to define the culture and religion we know today as Hinduism.
If you’re interested in knowing the most important aspects of the longest lasting religion in history, this reading list is for you!
The Vedas are the most ancient of the popular scriptures, existing even before the written language was popular amongst the wealthy. Some scholars say it can be traced all the way back to 1500 B.C.!
There are four Vedas:
- Rig Veda- a collection of Sanskrit hymns
- Sama Veda- devotional songs
- Yajur Veda- mantras and benedictions to be used during ceremonies
- Atharva Veda- hymns
Where the Vedas gave a foundation for the direction of Hinduism, the Upanishads filled in the gaps. Written between 800 and 400 B.C., the point of this book was to elaborate on philosophy and how a practitioner might achieve enlightenment. This is also when the idea of karma was written in text.
These post-Vedic texts contain a complete discussion of the history of the universe and its creation/destruction, familial ties with the gods/goddesses, and a description of the Hindu cosmology and history of the world.
The Ramayana is a moving love story with moral and spiritual metaphors that has deep appeal in India to this day. It describes how Rama took back his wife from the evil demon king, and saved the world from destruction.
One of the most popular and often cited Hindu texts, this tells the tale of a warring family and the right heir to the kingdom. The book is clothed in deep metaphors and symbolism, and there have been hundreds of thousands of translations. The author, sage Vyasa, wrote it from a historical context but embellished certain parts in order to create spiritual lessons and motifs.
The Bhagavad Gita
Though the Bhagavad Gita is contained within the Mahabharata, you could easily say it’s the most popular part of the book, and definitely deserves its own separate listing in this article. This is the final epic showdown between the warring families, and leads to the enlightenment and revelation of Arjuna under the watchful gaze of Krishna.
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