Most of the great religions of the world owe allegiance to certain books, which the? believe are the words of God, or some other supernatural beings, and which are the basis of their religion. Now of all these books, according to the modern savants of the West, the oldest are the Vedas of the Hindus. A little understanding, therefore, is necessary about the Vedas. This mass of writing called the Vedas is not the utterance of persons. Its date has never been fixed, can never be fixed, and, according to us, the Vedas are eternal. There is one salient point which 1 want you to remember, that all the other religions of the world claim their authority as being delivered by a Personal God or a number of personal beings, angels, or special messengers of God, unto certain persons ; while the claim of the Hindus is, that the Vedas do not owe their authority to anybody, they are themselves the authority, being eternal – the knowledge of God. They are never written, never created, they have existed throughout time ; just as creation is infinite and eternal, without beginning and without end, so is the knowledge of God, without beginning and without end. And this knowledge is what is meant by the Vedas (Vid to know). The mass of knowledge called the Vedanta was discovered by personages called Rishis, and the Rishi is defined as a Mantra Drashta, a seer of thought; not that the thought was his own. Whenever you hear that a certain passage of the Vedas came from a certain Rishi, never think that he wrote it, or created it out of his mind ; he was the seer of the thought which already existed; it existed in the universe eternally. This sage was the discoverer ; the Rishis were spiritual discoverers.
This mass of writing, the Vedas, is divided principally into two parts, the Karma K&nda and the Jnftna Kanda – the work portion and the knowledge portion, the ceremonial and the spiritual. The work portion consists of various sacrifices ; most of them of late have been given up as not practicable under present circumstances ; but others remain to the present day in some shape or other. The main ideas of the Karma Kanda, which consists of the duties of man, the duties of the student, of the householder, of the recluse, and the various duties of the different stations of life, are followed, more or less, down to the present day. But the spiritual portion of our religion is in the second part, the Jn&na Kfinda, the Vedanta, the end of the Vedas, the gist, the goal of the Vedas. The essence of the knowledge of the Vedas was called by the name of the Vedanta, which comprises the Upai.ishads; and all the sects of India, Dualists, Qualified-Monists, Monists, or the Saivites, Vaishnavites, Saktas, Sauras, Gftnapatyas – each one that dares to come within the fold of Hinduism, must acknowledge the Upanishads of the Vedas. They can have their own interpretations, and can interpret them in their own way, but they must obey the authority. That is why w<* want to use the word Vedatitists instead of Hindu. All the philosophers of India who are orthodox have to acknowledge the authority of the Vedanta and all our present-day religions, however crude some of them may appear to be, however inexplicable some of their purposes may seem, one who understands them, and studies them, can trace them Backto the ideas of the Upanishads. So deeply have these Upanishads sunk into our race, that those of you who study the symbology of the crudest religion of the Hindus, will be astonished to find sometimes figurative expressions of the Upanishads – the Upanishads become symbolised after a time into figures and so forth. Great spiritual and philosophical ideas in the Upanishads are to-day with us, converted into household worship in the form of symbols. Thus the various symbols now used by us, all come from the Vedanta, because in the Vedanta they are used as figures, and these ideas spread among the nation and permeated it throughout, until they became part of their everyday life, as symbols-