Since childhood I am a big fan of SwAmi VivekAnanda and I used to read (and still do) a lot of books written by him.

Now, when I have grown up, I have the understanding that although they are important books on the topics they deal with, but they are not scriptures. I know that they can't be called so. But I want to know the reason why?

Do the scriptures (Vedas, Smritis, PurAnas, Agamas, Tantras etc) define the term ShAstra? If yes what is the definition?

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    A nice & a rare Qn which may fit main site & meta site both at the same time!
    – iammilind
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 8:03

2 Answers 2


Self answering.

Etymologically, the word ShAstra seems to be derived from the root word "ShAsana" meaning "to rule". So, "that which rules" is ShAstra. Also the "Tra" is derived from the word "TrAna" which means " to protect". So. "That which rules and at the same time protect" is ShAstra.

It rules by the fear of punishment (like-if you do this, this is the sort of punishment that you will get). And, it protects us from all demerits by giving us the knowledge which help us differentiating righteous conduct from unrighteous one.

In the last chapter of the KulArnava Tantram, Mother Goddess asks Lord Shiva to clarify the Artha BhAvana-s ( description of meanings) of various terminologies which are widely used in Tantra and in particular the ones that are used in the text itself.

For the word ShAstra, Lord Shiva gives the following Nirukti:

ShAsanAdanisham devi varnAshramanivAsinAm |
TAranAt sarva pApebhyoh ShAstra mityabhidhiyate ||


O Devi! Because it constantly rules (ShAsana) all dwellers of all the orders of life, and because it protects (TArana or TrAna) from all kinds of demerits, it is called ShAstra.

KulArnava Tantram 17.40.

The Sri VidyA AchArya BhAshkara RAya, while commenting on NityAshodashikArnava Tantram 1.14-22, in his treatise "Setubandha", also says " that which rules is ShAstra".

And, as a definition of ShAstra, he produces the following verse:

PravirtirvA nivritirvA nityena kritakena vA |
PumsAm yenopadishyeta tat shAstram bhidhiyate ||


The eternal ( or Nitya; referring to the Vedas) and the created (or Kritakena; referring to the Smritis and other such texts) [works or texts] that instruct men into the paths of Nivrirti and Pravirti are ShAstra-s.

He further adds that, since Tantras are orders of God himself ( he uses- SAkshAt Bhagavada AjnA), Tantras's ShAstra-hood is already established.

I am not sure though from where he is quoting that verse because nothing is mentioned.

  • Can you link the source of the last verse you've mentioned? Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:22
  • Nityashodashikarnava Tantram is a Shakta Agama. Bhaskara Raya's commentary on that text is called Setuvandha. The 2nd verse in my answer is found in Setuvandha. Not sure about the original source of the verse though as already mentioned in the answer itself. @LakshmiNarayanan
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 16:00
  • Btw, do you have any idea fromwhere the etymology "Shasti cha trayate" comes?
    – Pandya
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 10:15
  • No I don't remember seeing it Btw is it Shastri or Shastra? @Pandya
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 11:22
  • @Rickross that was typo actually it is "shAsti". If you can read devanagari, it's शास्ति च त्रायते.
    – Pandya
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 11:23

Once again, translation. There is no one-to-one translation of the word 'scripture'. A more exact translation of shastra is 'text'. The six systems of philosophy are referred to as the six shastras - the six texts. The six shastras being the six philosophies considered 'orthodox' - the six systems that accepted the authority of the vedas - the Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa, and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta). (See Vireswarananda's Introduction p iii - https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62753.html). See also Sri Sankaraacarya's Vivekacudamani verse 78 translated by Swami Madhavananda. Sankara says "...even though he be versed in all the six sastras." The footnote to this verse says he is referring to the six schools of Indian philosophy.

The texts - shastras - that they all follow are the vedas. Hence, the use of the English word scripture as a translation of the word shastra. Swami Vivekananda says at the start of his article entitled "Krishna" (Complete Works, Vol. 6):

By the words "Shastras" the Vedas without beginning and end are meant. In matters of religious duties the Vedas are the only capable authority.

The Puranas and other religious scriptures are all denoted by the word 'Smriti'. And their authority goes so far as they follow the Vedas and do not contradict them.

So shastra is often translated as scripture which is a referral to sruti - the vedas.

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    What your answer says is that Swami Vivekananda thinks Shastra means the Vedas, but i am actually looking for definitions from scriptures themselves.
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:13
  • You missed the point of my answer. Shastras means 'texts'. In Sanskrit there is no word for 'scripture'. In Vedanta writings - religious vedic writings - the texts that refer to the Vedas are called the Shastras. Hence a translation of Shastras (referring to the Vedas) is scripture. But this in Vedanta writings. There are non-vedic texts that are called Shastras also. Take a look at the Wikipedia article on Shastras. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 10:42
  • Ok, but i was not exactly looking for translations, or whether scripture is the correct translation of Shastra or not. I was asking if the Shastras themselves define the term Shastra or not. What are the symptoms that differentiate Shastras from other texts etc
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 15:44

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