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Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says:

2.42-43 Those with limited understanding, get attracted to the flowery words of the Vedas, which advocate ostentatious rituals for elevation to the celestial abodes, and presume no higher principle is described in them. They glorify only those portions of the Vedas that please their senses, and perform pompous ritualistic ceremonies for attaining high birth, opulence, sensual enjoyment, and elevation to the heavenly planets.

2.44 With their minds deeply attached to worldly pleasures and their intellects bewildered by such things, they are unable to possess the resolute determination for success on the path to God.

2.45 The Vedas deal with the three modes of material nature, O Arjun. Rise above the three modes to a state of pure spiritual consciousness. Freeing yourself from dualities, eternally fixed in truth, and without concern for material gain and safety, be situated in the self.

Question:

  1. In these verses above, is the Bhagavad Gita not fully accepting the authority of the Vedas?
  2. In case these specific verses are going against authority of Vedas, then how can scriptures be ordered in a hierarchy of authoritativeness? (i.e. do we believe what the Vedas say or if the Gita is against the Vedas, then do we believe the Gita and the same goes for any other scriptures as well).

Note: I ask the above notwithstanding the fact that as per: Is the hierarchy of scriptures discussed in any scripture or in the works of acharyas?, the Gita would be considered part of the Itihasa (Mahabharata).

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  • @vivikta - please read into my question. please don't cause me to waste energy defending against "duplicate" charges
    – S K
    Mar 27, 2021 at 2:43
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  • Related post: hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/16509/…
    – Rickross
    Mar 27, 2021 at 10:10
  • Can you explain a little more? As of now it seems duplicate. It’ll be closed as exactly duplicate then. If you explain little it would help people understand whether it’s actually duplicate or not and retract the vote. Thanks :)
    – Adiyarkku
    Mar 27, 2021 at 11:19
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    Haha thanks. I wonder whether they could be talking about Karma Kanda or gyaan kanda? Because Gita is the milk/essence of the Upanishads (the cow) which Bhagwan Shri Krishna (the cowherd) fed to Arjuna (the calf). Upanishads are part of Vedas so it’s interesting question. Let’s wait for answers :)
    – Adiyarkku
    Mar 27, 2021 at 12:03

7 Answers 7

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Veda Vyasa Smriti verse 4 says

Shruti Smriti Puraanaanaam virodho yatra drishyate, tatra shrotam pramaanaantu tayordhyadhe smritirvaraa

Meaning : Where ever there might be variations of views among pandita munis in respect of Smritis and Puranas, then indeed ‘Shriti/ Veda Vachanaas’ would be the utimate decisions or of judgment.

Rami Sivan a great Hindu Acharya writes here and here that

Shruti ALWAYS take precedence of Smriti. There is an hierarchy of authority in Hindu Scriptures.

  1. Sruti –Veda
  2. Smṛti – codes of conduct somewhat based on the Veda
  3. Itihāsas – Ramayana and Mahabharata
  4. Purāṇas

Whenever there is a contradiction the final decision is based on Shruti /Veda alone. So the most authoritative texts are the Vedas and the least are the Purāṇas. If there is a conflict between the Purāṇas and Itihasas – the Itihāsas are the authority. If there is a conflict between them and the Smrtis then the Smrtis are the authority and if there is a conflict between them and the Vedas then the Vedas i.e. Upaṇiṣads (the final portion of the Vedas) are considered to be the ultimate authority.

Hence the Gītā, which is part of the Mahābhārata is one of the three most important Scriptures along with the Upaṇiṣads themselves and Brahma-sūtras which is a analysis and synthesis of the Upaṇiṣads. These three are known as the prasthāna trayam and are the final Scriptural Authority for Vedāntins.

Regarding the Gita verse, it only rejects superficial understanding of Vedas.

He who, abandoning the injunctions of the Sastras, acts under the influence of desire, attains neither perfection nor pleasure, nor the supreme state.(Gita 16.23)

Ramanujacharya writes "Here Sastra means Vedas. Vidhi stands for injunction. He who abandons My injunction called Vedas and acts under the influence of desire, viz., takes the path according to his own wishes, does not attain perfection, He does not reach any Siddhi in the next world, nor does he find the slighest happiness in this world, let alone the attainment of the supreme state. It is not possible for him to do so. Such is the meaning."

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  • please delete Rami Sivan material. He is not an acceptable citable source at HSE @Sethu Srivatsa Koduru
    – S K
    Mar 27, 2021 at 2:11
  • How @SK ? When Vivekananda , Swami Sivananda Swami etc are acceptable why not Rami Sivan Ji ? Or is it that you don't like him? I have edited answer in better way. His content suits perfectly to this answer. Mar 27, 2021 at 2:15
  • I have nothing to say about Rami Sivan. Please verify with moderators if he is a citable authority here. @Sethu Srivatsa Koduru
    – S K
    Mar 27, 2021 at 2:19
  • @SK Anyways your question is answered Mar 27, 2021 at 2:23
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    Its again Sai and Stigma's views. Even if we consider that Rami cannot be authority, Gita Bhasya of Ramanujacharya and Veda Vyasa Smriti are authentic quotes. @Vivikta Mar 27, 2021 at 3:39
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It's not about denying authority of Vedas, what Krishna means here is that flowery language of Vedas that is the ritual parts is for those who want to succeed in this life materialistic goals. But if one if needs spiritual growth, then such stuff is not necessary.

Similarly those who get entangled in these flowery language to benefit and achieve their materialistic goals, take birth again here.

Therefore Vedas being all inclusive take care of all three guna to benefit people who want to fulfill their earthly goals.

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    Welcome to HSE! Have a look at the help centre on how to answer questions as well as Guidelines for new users. Hope you have an enriching experience on the site
    – Adiyarkku
    Mar 27, 2021 at 18:32
  • Nowhere in Rig Veda is it said that some of its verses are for material gains, other verses for something else. @vivek
    – S K
    Mar 27, 2021 at 18:33
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These verses in the Gita are a criticism of then popular Purva Mimamsa darsana. Basically scriptural fundamentalists are being condemned.

The criticism offered here is intended to draw the distinction between the outlook of the new Gospel of Bhagavata Dharma which Krishna preached and the outlook of the Vedic fundamentalists who followed the philosophy of Vedic ritualism, which is known as the Purvamimamsa system of thought. These ritualistic philosophers held that the purpose of the Veda is to induce man to perform rituals and fire sacrifices, which will gain him heavenly felicity. After death the Jiva will go to those heavenly regions where they will have the enjoyments of the fruits of the sacrifices they have performed. After the fruit-bearing effects of Karma are exhausted, the Jiva comes back to the earth to do more Karma enabling him to enjoy heavenly felicities again. Thus according to them there is no salvation for the soul or getting out of samsara. The soul goes from embodiment to embodiment on earth and other spheres enjoying the fruits of his actions. Their outlook therefore multiplies man's desires and ambitions, and they justify this by quoting the Vedas as authority. In the nature of things, their mind becomes 'many-branched' or divided by all kinds of passing desires. They have no conviction about the ultimate destiny of man beyond what has been stated. They are just like wanderers and vagabonds in the expansive field of life.

In contrast to them are the Samkhyas and the Yogins. They have a spiritual world-view and a conviction regarding the ultimate destiny of man. They are free of desires. Their mind therefore gets unified following a single goal, unlike that of the ritualists whose mind becomes 'many-branched' because of their changing desires and objectives. That 'single goal' of the Samkhyas and the Yogins is the realisation of one's spiritual nature as the Atman and one's integral relationship with the Supreme Being. The realisation of the truth puts an end to the transmigration of the Jiva and he becomes united with the Divine.

In this path of salvation also work as a duty has a place. But all work, sacred or secular, has to be done as an offering to the Divine, and not for the attainment of heavenly felicities or any other type of enjoyments. The only result of it is purification of the mind and the dawn of the grace of God on the Jiva, by which he obtains illumination.

Srimad Bhagavata Gita 2.42-44 commentary by Swami Tapasyananda

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Yes, the Gita contradicts the vedas in the slokas quoted above.

Not only the Gita, but even some upanishads say the same thing. Mundaka upanishad says that Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda are lower knowledge, while knowledge of brahman is higher knowledge.

In chhandogya upanishad, Svetaketu studies all the vedas, and still he does not know anything about brahman. In the same upanishad, Narada also studies all the vedas but still he has no knowledge of brahman.

Above instances show that originally even the early upanishads did not consider themselves as part of the vedas. The Gita is based on the upanishads and not on the vedas, so it is not a surprise that the Gita contradicts the vedas. Orthodox advaita vedanta considers most of vedas to be ritualistic. The upanishads are mainly considered as the knowledge portion of the vedas. Samhitas, brahmanas and aranyakas are mostly taken to be related to rituals. They might have a few statements here and there in the samhitas that is related to knowledge, but most of it is rituals based, according to orthodox advaita vedanta.

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As we all know Gita is a Upanishad. It is said that Lord Krishna churned the milk of 108 Upanishads and gave that milk (Bhagwad Gita) to Arjuna. So everything written in Gita is actually knowledge of Upanishads. In Upanishads, Vedas and other sahstras are called apara gyan (Lower knowledge) while knowledge of Brāhma (supereme knowledge) is called para gyana.

Mundaka Upanishad 1:1:5

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In B.G. 2:45 is asking Arjuna to know gain the supereme knowledge of Brāhma which is para gyan and superior to Vedas and other scriptures.

Chandogya Upanishad VI-i-2: Having gone (to the teacher's house) when twelve years old, he came back when he was twenty-four old, having studied all the Vedas, conceited, arrogant and regarding himself as very learned. His father said to him, 'Svetaketu, dear boy, you, I see, are conceited, arrogant, regarding yourself as very learned; did you ask for that teaching (about the Supreme Brahman).

It is not denying the authority of Vedas but it is saying that the knowing of Brāhma is more important than learning Vedas because he is the ultimate source of all knowledges including Vedas.

Garuda Purana

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    I'd like to know. how to regard Gita as an Upanishad. Gita as we know it is a part of the Mahabharata which is accorded a nice status of Itihasa. Then which logic allows Gita to be termed as an Upanishada. Any specific verses in the VEdic Literature about this theory?
    – Vivikta
    Mar 28, 2021 at 7:56
  • @Vivikta Upanishads are actually sets of questions and answers. In which a student ask questions and guru gives answer. In Gita too Arjuna is asking questions and Krishna is giving answers that's why many scholars call it gitopanishad Mar 29, 2021 at 5:47
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The fact which the questioner has to take into consideration is: Gita is a part of Rahasya literate alongside Upanishads, Sutras, and Tantra. Meaning, a literature that was kept between a lineage of Teacher (Guru) and closely recognized worthy student (Sisya). Why? Gita by itself is a summary that crosses many darshans (esp Sankhya-Yoga) of Sanatana Culture because it belongs to the Itihasa section. So reading it as if it's a textbook with word-to-word translation was never the intent. What is the proof? Well, do we really think Gita was discussed widely in ancient times to the common public in open settings similar to Ramayana and the events across Mahabharatam and Puranas? Do we really things Gita was giving word-to-word pravachana in open settings without context during festivals. Don't look at today as the basis, think from ancient times? Do we really think a thesis like Papancha-Sara-Tanatra or Primary Upanishads or Brahma Sutras were given to the common public on open grounds?

So, Where is the source for this? Who pulled Gita to its prominence compared to other Gitas? Let's look at the history first. We have to understand that there were over 1180 Shakas of Vedic studies and implementation. Today we have only 14 Shakas out of which 6 are in practical implementation (continued oral lineage, Gov. of India has created a portal and has invited these families so that they can record their recitation). If we do the math, less than 2% survived after thousand years of invasions, displacements of families, loss of soil fertility due to drought, flooding, death of cattle, death of family lineage. Why is this important? It's important because the readers have to realize that each Vedic shaka (branch) has its own Upanishad. This Upanishad is the philosophical concept that surrounds the mantras laid out in the Samhita section of that school. They also emulate the implementation of these mantras with their respective stories in the Brahmana/Aranyaka section of this school.

Now we know history, how is this applicable to Gita? And did anyone do anything to save this Vedic knowledge? Yes, a child prodigy at a very young age saw this. This young boy, walked the entire land of Bharat on foot multiple times and re-organized the entire Vedic essence. He collected various Upanishads (Veda+anta = Vedantas) belonging to various Shakas/Schools. Then he added Brahma Sutras and extracted Gita out of Mahabharata Itihasa. Then He took content out of Tantras and created various hymns like Soundarya Lahiri and gave a thesis called Prapancha-Sara-Tantra (The transcendental (Tantric) essence (Sara) of the 5 elemental creation(prapancha)). With this, this young boy before the age of 30 established 4 schools surrounding Bharat. He foresaw the loss of various Vedic Schools and gave this massive collection of literature that is extracted out of Vedic essence. 1000 years later many sectarian acharyas emerged and created their own subset schools specific to the diety (among the 5 major Dieites) of their preference.

Now a question back to the Questioner: Do we think that Gita is still a separate book that should go about with printed books with word-to-word translations given by each sect based on their own preference? The answer is a clear NO. There are two ways one can approach the Gita.

  1. Either read the entire Mahabharatam (from a non-sectarian translater like Dr. Bibek Debroy, or the image created by native scholars which are called Andhikaranam-reimage) and then read Gita as a part of its continuum.
  2. Read Gita as a part of Upanishad Bhashya given by the first person who gave it such prominence to being with. Again as a continuum to Upanishad and Sutra Bhashya.

Finally, does Gita stand separate from Vedas? Well, when we know how many shakas are lost forever, how much remains, how can one judge this, and with what? The only thing left from these shakas are the Upanishads. So either link it with Upanishad Bhashya or link it with Itihasa as a whole. But too much damage can come if read from a sectarian literature or as an individual's translation as a solo literature.

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The MB itself records that the story has undergone 2 major additons : original JAya/8000 shloka, to Bharata /24000 shloka and finally to mahabharata /100,000 shloka

In all likelihood the BG was insterted into the MB in the final addition. And it was inserted by the Bhagavata sect of Mathura.

The final version has a large stamp of the Bhagwat sect of Mathura. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavata . The Ishta Devta for this sect was/ is Krishna .They are also the composers of the Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagawad in Bhagwad Geeta comes from the name of this sect. ISKCON is one of the many inheriotrs of the Bhagawat traditions.

The Bhagwat sect believed Krishna to be the supreme god and that all other gods sprang from him/ were created by him...ie a godhead. one can see this claim/ belief is repeated a few times in the BG and MB.

But not every one was wiling to buy this. The shaiva and devi sects did not agree. even the vashnavs did not agree at first.

at some point , for reasons unknown, the bhagwat and vaishnaves decided to merge.so in the MB (final version) Krishna is not only the most important character but is also an avataar of vishnu.,,sort of killing 2 birds with one stone. in later times the merged sects was known as vaishnav.

most of the Purana are about the vaishnavs "battle for supremacy" over other sects. where they could not "win" they said shiva and vishnu are the same. similarly they included Budhha as an avataar of vishnu.

through a combination of hard work (ramanujacharya'success wih various kingdoms) , creative PR and good fortune the vaishnavs managed to get the allegiance of most of the upper castes in the cow-belt. vaishnavs have dominated the religious discourse of upper caste India (mainly Brahmin/ Vaishya) for 100s of years now.

In the times that the BG was inserted into MB , the Veda were (and continue to be) the supreme among scriptures. So while the vaishnavs could not outright challenge the entire VEda , theough the character of Krishna in MB they challenge some parts ( ritualistic). In smilar vein the Vaishnavs , throught the Purana , dethroned Indra who is supreme in the Rig veda. And his prominence was transferred to Vishnu/Krishna. Vaishnavs have also promoted the BG as the 5th veda.

A point to note is that according to the Dashavataar story (and it is just that, a story) , Ram is the 7th avataar and Krishna the 8th. But in the entire discourse of the BG , Ram is not mentioned even once.

Therefore the current popularity/ supremacy of the BG is the result of the efforts of the Vaishnav. And since most of the upper castes are themselves vaishnavs it is like an echo chamber.

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