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Texts and scriptures in Hinduism are very vivid and vast. Many times they are incorrectly labeled and quoted to mislead people. This has created a sense of distrust amongst some regarding how legitimate these texts really are. Some questions I often see floated around are:

How do we know the Mahabharata happened?

How do we know if Ramayana, Bhagvad Gita, etc. are not simply literature from ancient India relying on fictitious elements?

Is it true that Hindu texts described atomic bombs, aeroplanes, etc?

How do we believe in Hinduism if there are so many different sects each with different belief systems and varied retellings of the events mentioned in the texts?

These are just some of the questions I could find. I would like to know of some concrete and authentic sources to address the issue. How do we know what is written in the texts is true, and occurred in the past? In other words, how do I know that Hinduism isn't just an archaic system of beliefs?

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Hindu scriptures have told us how to read and understand them.

A Hindu should do what he thinks is right and not blindly follow ancient texts. You should remember that Hinduism has no centralized organization to check errors in scriptures. Ancient Christians had the Church to select the texts that were considered to be correct and dump texts that did not reflect Christian teaching. Similarly one of the righteous Caliphs, companion of the Prophet, Uthman burnt down all variants of the Koran and commissioned a scholar to write the most authoritative version of it. Since Hindus do not have any such organization they have to look at scripture to see what it says about this issue. Hindu scriptures ask Hindus to do internal consistency checks before accepting any scriptural statement as valid. Hindu scriptural verse must survive three checks in order to be acceptable.

Reason

Even the words heard from an ignorant person, if in themselves they be fraught with sense, come to be regarded as pious and wise. In days of old, Usanas said unto the Daityas this truth, which should remove all doubts, that scriptures are no scriptures if they cannot stand the test of reason.

Mahabharata Shanti Parva Section CXLII

Acharya Shankara says:

The appeal to the infallibility of the Vedic injunction is misconceived. The infallibility in question refers only to the unseen forces or apurva, and is admissible only in regards to matters not confined to the sphere of direct perceptions, etc ... Even a hundred statements of sruti to the effect that fire is cold and non-luminous won't prove valid. If it does make such a statement, its import will have to be interpreted differently. Otherwise, validity won't attach to it. Nothing in conflict with the means of valid cognition or with its own statements may be imputed to sruti.

REF: Srimad Bhagavad Gita Bhasya 18.66 of Sri Sankaracarya translation by Dr. A. G. Krishna Warrier

Non-discrimination

If a holy act is against the interest of other members of the society, it should not be practiced. It is Dharma which is the source of Artha and even of Kama.

Kurma Purana I.2.54

If a scriptural verse does advocate discrimination then don't follow that verse.

Conscience

The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction.

Manu Smriti II.6

Bhishma said, ‘He is said to be conversant with duty who knows duty as depending on four foundations.’

[four foundations, i.e., as laid down in the Vedas; as laid down in the Smritis; as sanctioned by ancient usage and customs; and as approved by the heart or one’s own conscience.]

Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CXXXII

Hindu scripture can’t override reason and conscience. Nor can Hindu scripture be used to discriminate against a community.

The Smriti texts and the Puranas that we have today reflect the attitude of people who lived many centuries ago. Most of these texts have been revised many times. These texts teach us to adapt these teachings to modern times and in fact discard any teaching that seems obsolete today..

However, discard the desire (kama) and material wealth (artha) if contrary to Dharma; as also, any usage or custom or rules regarded as source of Dharma if at any time they were to lead to unhappiness or arouse people's indignation.

(Manu Smriti 4.176)

A Hindu should only take the essential teachings and not be a fundamentalist.

Essential Teachings

An intelligent man should seek the essential teachings of all scriptural texts of varying importance, just as a honey-bee sucks the essence of all flowers.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana XI.8.10

We have discussed the general approach to understand the teaching of Hindu scripture. Now let us answer the specific questions asked.

How do we know the Mahabharata happened?

Archaeology suggests that there is some historical truth in the Mahabharata. Modern scholars find less certain evidence for Ramayana compared to Mahabharata. None of the major Ramayana sites has been clearly identified. That is not the case with the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is much more real than the Ramayana. And, therefore, much more fascinating. Every conceivable human emotion figures in it, which is the reason why it is possible to identify with it even today. The text itself states that what is not found in the Mahabharata, will not be found anywhere else. Unlike the Ramayana, India is littered with real places that have identifications with the Mahabharata.(Ayodhya or Lanka or Chitrakuta are identifications that are less certain.) Kurukshetra, Hastinapura, Indraprastha, Karnal, Mathura, Dvaraka, Gurgaon, Girivraja are real places: the list is endless. In all kinds of unlikely places, one comes across temples erected by the Pandavas when they were exiled to the forest. In some of these places, archaeological excavations have substantiated the stories.

The Mahabharata critical edition Introduction by Bibek Debroy

How do we know if Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, etc. are not simply literature from ancient India relying on fictitious elements?

Unlike Mahabharata, archeological evidence for Ramayana is scanty. Bhagavad Gita is a moksha sastra and thus a philosophical text. Any fictitious element has no influence on it's philosophical teaching.

Is it true that Hindu texts described atomic bombs, aeroplanes, etc?

There is mention of devastating weapons whose described impact could be compared to the impact of atomic bombs, but their constitution is not mentioned. And vimana are mentioned, description of whose activity is identical to aircrafts (flight), but these devastating weapons and vimana are of divine construction and not a permanent part of human civilization.

How do we believe in Hinduism if there are so many different sects each with different belief systems and varied retellings of the events mentioned in the texts?

You read through the literature of the various sects then decide for yourself the correctness of the sectarian teachings. Hinduism leaves it to the reader to decide.

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