The History of the Vedas: Are They Divine Revelation?

By: gaurarader

If you are a member of a Krishna cult or are considering joining one you either believe, or are considering believing that the Vedas, or more properly because Krishna cults don’t actually read the Vedas, books in the Vaisnava tradition are divine revelation. Specifically the Bhagavad-gita, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), and other Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures like the Chaitanya Charitamrita. In fact the most basic philosophical principle of Krishna cults, and the broader Vedic tradition, is that the Vedas are the only source of knowledge. Just as one example, Bhaktivinode in his summary of the ten basic truths of the Vedas lists the first truth as being that the Vedas are the only source of knowledge.

Is there any good reason to believe these books are anything other than beautiful poetic and philosophy sophisticated works of fiction?

Before we get to answering that question it is worth noting that if you already believe in the existence of God, if you believe there is an ultimate spiritual meaning to the universe, and you’re open minded and sincere enough in your quest for God you are likely to find the Krishna cult cannon of religious book to be quite attractive. However if you don’t believe in God you are not at all likely to find the case for the divine revelation of these books convincing.

The Vedas clearly state that they are the only source of knowledge, but of course using that as a reason to believe that the Vedas are the only source of knowledge is entirely question begging. It is kind of like me saying “I’m the only source of true knowledge” and when asked why I simply say “Because I have declared myself so.”

Putting that aside, is there any outside justification for thinking the Vedic tradition contains pure, perfect spiritual knowledge about God? And of course the answer is clearly “No.”

When you actually look at the Vedas (the original four Vedas, the Upanishads, the Buddhist and jain traditions, the Bhagavad-gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures as a whole it becomes obvious exactly what they are: a series of religious and spiritual texts that build upon each other, the content of which is influenced by the scientific, social, political, and moral views of the people living in the Indian subcontinent over the past few thousand years or so. Later books like the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam

Later books like the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam are clearly philosophical treatises aimed at attacking other philosophical and religious traditions that were popular at the time (Vedic demigod worship, Sankhya, Yoga, Buddhism). And the Upanishadic traditions and Buddhism were clearly responses to the prominent Vedic tradition. As the millennia go by the philosophy and the theology gets more complex. The morality becomes more evolved but there is no reason to think of these things as being mysterious, magical, or divine revelation.

Human beings are pretty amazing. And you give them thousands of years to build a philosophical tradition and they can come up with some pretty cool ideas. Undoubtedly Indian civilization was incredible. Was it more incredible than other civilizations around the world? Maybe, but I don’t think that really matters much. Certainly there is nothing, looking at the history of India that is beyond historical explanation. There is nothing in the Vedas that is clearly divine revelation. And beyond that Vedas are clearly contain ideas that are morally repugnant.

And beyond that Vedas are clearly contain ideas that are morally repugnant. The caste system, the systematic subjugation of women give plenty of reason to think that Vedic scriptures while being incredible human achievements are not divine revelation.

1 Comment

  • Edith:

    The Hare Krishnas continually refer to “the Vedas” as the ultimate and unchanging authority on everything. But you and others who’ve been involved say they don’t actually read the Vedas as a whole. They just pick out certain parts–principally the Bhagavad Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam and the Chaitanya Charitamrita. Obviously, there are vast tracts of the Vedas they don’t support, and would actively disagree with, if they know anything about them at all. So how do they justify this constant refrain that it’s “the Vedas” they follow, and which everyone else should follow? Especially when what they actually follow is one man’s very idiosyncratic interpretation of those few texts they recognise? What’s the criteria for deciding which portions of the Vedas are legitimate and which aren’t? And how do they respond when called on this very selective orientation to “the Vedas”?

    Also, Prabhupada obviously put great store by statements in the Laws of Manu that denigrate women and say they should never be allowed to be independent. But he felt free to totally ignore most of the rest of it, including the parts that condone eating the meat from animal sacrifices. If he considered the Manusmriti part of the Vedas, and if the Vedas are divine revelation, then, again, how is the obvious question answered as to what the basis is for him selecting which parts he takes seriously and which parts he ignores?

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