The Eastern traditions and spiritual practices have been easily assimilated throughout the Western culture for decades now. At first sight, the intersection of such different views on life, materialistic and spiritual, would lead us to believe that the middle path is not within reach, but history has proven us otherwise. Even today, the Indian culture, the Hindu religion and its spiritual rites are held in high regard. Not to mention that the Western world often finds great relief in knowing that its rich literary heritage is still put into practice and that the philosophy of sacred Sanskrit books such as Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Upanishads is still the source of inspiration for the Indian people.
Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics and is thought to have been written sometime around 400 BCE. Although its author is unknown, many scholars have attributed it to the sage called Vyasa or Veda Vyasa or Krishna Dvaipayana, who is a central figure in the Hindu tradition, a character in the epic and who is considered to still be alive according to the Hindu belief. The title of this epic actually means “the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty” and the story supposedly dates back to incidents that happened as far as the 8th and 9th centuries BCE. Jaya is believed to be the core of this Sanskrit epic because the rest of it is built around it. Thus, Jaya is written as a dialogue between Kuru king Dhritarashtra and his advisor, Sanjaya, narrating each battle and fight of the Kurukshetra War which lasted exactly 18 years. The tale is often depicting the king’s laments and regrets, his feelings of guilt and shame with regard to the atrocities and destruction this war had brought upon the Indian Subcontinent. Mahabharata has contributed immensely to the richness of the Indian culture by offering invaluable information about the warfare, history and geography at that time, but also by portraying the religious and moral state of things.
Ramayana is the second major ancient Sanskrit epic, playing a very important role in the Hindu canon. It has been deemed that this great Indian epic was written by the great sage Valmiki, who is celebrated as Adi Kavi or the First Poet because it is believed he discovered the verse and established the form of traditional Sanskrit poetry. The term Ramayana can be translated as “the march of Rama”. With regard to its epic style it has been said that: “No language can be purer, none chaster, none more beautiful, and at the same time simpler, than the language in which the great poet has depicted the life of Rama.”The rhyming couplets, “slokas”, composing the epic are grouped into chapters or cantos which are also later grouped into books or “kandas”. The seven “kandas” of Ramayana depict allegorically the teachings of the ancient Hindu Vedas, revealing its core philosophy and the need for cultural consciousness by creating ideal characters and relationships.
3. The Upanishads
The Upanishads are result of a sacred Hindu tradition which enabled the Indians to pass on the essence of the Veda or of the revealed knowledge by word of mouth. Approximately 200 Upanishads are known today and all have contributed to creating the theoretical and philosophical basis for the Hindu religion. They have been split into major or main Upanishads, and minor Upanishads based on the period when they were originally composed, so that the former belong to the pre-Buddhist period, while the latter category was still being worked on during the medieval and early modern eras. These writings talk about the importance of the Brahman which is the universal spirit and the Atman which is the individual Self; yet the core teaching is that the Brahman and the Atman are essentially one. The Upanishads also offer detailed explanations about Aum, the divine syllable, which underlies all cosmic existence, and about the famous Hindu mantra “Aum Shānti Shānti Shānti” which translates as “the soundless sound, peace, peace, peace”. Also, the stories of the Upanishads are often presented in form of a dialogue between two people or animals.