The corpus of Hindu scripture is enormous. A person could spend a lifetime sorting through the millions of pages of sacred and semi-sacred texts. Even the most orthodox sections of scripture are many times larger than the Bible. Clarke, in an essay on Hindu scripture, defended his limited treatment of the Vedas with this description of his subject: “How large, how difficult to understand! So vast, so complicated, so full of contradictions, so various and changeable, that its very immensity is our refuge!” (1875, p. 81)
Recall that the four Veda Samhitās are about the size of the Old Testament, and the Upanishads number over 100. Among the smrti literature, the Epics are five times the length of the entire Bible, each of the 18 principle Puranās is about the size of the Old Testament, and over 5,000 texts of varying length belong to the dharmaśsāstra tradition. The Bible seems concise in comparison, containing only 23,314 verses in the Old Testament and 7,959 verses in the New.
An average Western library or bookstore stocks some abridged compilation of the Vedic Samhitāas, the 13 principle Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gīitāa, but only the most specialized libraries carry full versions of even the major scriptures. A Hindu equivalent of the Gideon missionary society would have to donate an entire library of books to hotels rather than a single volume to each room. Of course, Hindus have little interest in proselytizing, so it is not really a problem.
If the size were insufficient to deter an honest seeker of truth, the incomprehensibility of the scripture certainly would. The Bible was written originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Though Bible students rarely master the original languages, sufficient lexical aids exists so that the original meaning can be understood with relatively little difficulty. Hindu students are not so fortunate. Since the Vedas were delivered from an impersonal source (the “Absolute”) there can be no original meaning. “[T]he Veda has no author, no meaning beyond the words and the sacrificial actions themselves; one cannot appeal to a pre-verbal intention to get beyond the words” (Clooney, 1987, p. 660). Incidentally, as Clooney points out in his essay, postmodernists find this approach to understanding texts refreshingly in line with their own views.
English translations are available for the primary scriptures, yet even the most careful translations are difficult to understand. Most English translations of the Bible are on the reading level of a 6-12th grader, yet the same cannot be said of the Vedas. “Many [of the Vedas] are written in a style which even educated men find very difficult to understand; and, if they have to be studied in the original, only a very small part of them can possibly be mastered by one man” (Mitchell, 1897, p. 247). Archaic Sanskrit (also called Vedic), the language of the Rig Veda, is a dead language, and inaccessible to most Hindus. Other scriptures are written in classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil, and other regional dialects. The possibility of interpretation is further hampered by the belief that the Vedas consist of sacred sound, not written text.
Were the language difficulties to be sorted out, the problem of incomprehensibility would remain. Hindu scripture contradicts itself time and time again. One might expect works separated by thousands of years to disagree (and they do), but these contradictions are found even within individual texts. There are logical contradictions, conceptual contradictions, and even factual contradictions. This may be explained partially by the Hindu conception of scripture, as explained by Eliot:
“The Hindu approaches his sacred literature somewhat in the spirit in which we approach Milton and Dante. The beauty and value of such poems is clear. The question of whether they are accurate reports of facts seems irrelevant” (1968, 1:lxxi).
Apparently, contradiction is not regarded as evidence against the Vedas’ divine origin. Hindu scripture confirms this suspicion, and actually embraces the contradictions. The Laws of Manu recommends that both sides of a contradiction in the Veda be accepted as authoritative: “But where the revealed canon is divided, both (views) are traditionally regarded as law; for wise men say that both of them are valid laws” (Manusmrti 2.14).
Regarding the contradictions inherent in the Upanishads, the collection of texts considered by Olivelle to be the “vedic scripture par excellence of Hinduism” (1996, p. xxiii), Robson remarked: “It is hard to say what philosophical opinion might not be supported from the Upanishads, for the most contradictory statements find a place in them” (1905, p. 28). Likewise the Puranās, so holy as to be called “the fifth veda” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.1.4), are “for the most part intensely sectarian; one denounces beliefs and rites which another enjoins” (Mitchell, p. 260). Coburn stated that, when it comes to Hindu scripture, “sanctity often appears to be inversely related to comprehensibility” (p. 112).
Hindu scripture is for all practical purposes useless to the average Hindu for these and other reasons. This, of course, assumes that all Hindus have access to the scripture. Traditionally, Hindu society is divided into four castes, the Brahmin (priestly class), Kshatriya (ruling class), Vaiśsya (merchant class), and Śūdra (outcastes). The first three classes are known as the twice-born, and only the males of those classes are allowed to read the Vedas. All women and males of the Śūdra class are excluded because of their “impurity” (Manusmrti 2.164-172). These restricted groups do have access to the smrti writings and devotional literature, but the most sacred śruti texts are forbidden. The religion itself restricts to a select few the scripture that purportedly contains saving knowledge.
There is much morally reprehensible material within the Vedic literature. One 19th-century writer, speaking specifically of the Puranāas, underlined the true nature of the Hindu scripture: “The instructions which it professes to give are useless, where they are not scandalous and criminal. The only things clearly to be understood, are the profane songs, the obscene ceremonies, and the other indecencies connected with the prescribed festivals” (as quoted by Goodall, 1996, p. xxxviii). The immoralities endorsed by Hindu scripture range from racial prejudices and rigid social hierarchies to rape and murder.
For instance, the earliest Vedic texts, which are traced back to the Aryan invasion of the Indian subcontinent, reflect the racial biases of the invaders. It seems that the Aryans were a fairer-skinned people of Persian descent, whereas the indigenous peoples (Dāasas) whom they subjugated were of a darker skin color and Negro-Australoid features. One prayer directed to the warrior god Indra petitioned him to “give protection to the Aryan color” (Rig Veda 3.34.9). Another passage lauds Indra’s victory over the dark-skinned natives: “He, much invoked, has slain Dāasas and Simūs [dark-skinned natives], according to his will, and laid them low with arrows. The mighty Thunderer [Indra] with his fair-complexioned friends won the land, the sunlight, and the waters” (Rig Veda 1.100.18). According to Mitchell, the “language in which the Vedic poets speak of these enemies is uniformly that of unmingled, vehement hatred” (1897, p. 19). Critics might observe that the Old Testament is also guilty of ethnic cleansing; however, the Israelite battles were drawn over moral lines, not ethnic or racial (see Bass, 2003). Though the historical picture is unclear, it seems that the Dāasas were incorporated into the Aryan social hierarchy as the lowest class (Rig Veda 10.90.12). Evidence for this comes from the Sanskrit word for class, varna, which means “color” (cognate to the English varnish).
More disturbing than the Vedic treatment of race are the pervasive references to sex, and the its role in the religious ritual. The Kāma Sūutra of Vatsāyayana is one of the most infamous Hindu texts. Known as the “Aphorisms on Love,” or more popularly as the “Sex Manual,” the Kāma Sūtra celebrates sexual love (Kāama is the god of love, in many ways similar to Cupid). In addition to explicit information for use between husbands and wives, there are also sections entitled “Concerning the Wives of Other People” and “Concerning Prostitutes,” both providing advice on how to procure such forbidden fruit. The Kārma Sūtra is but one text among many. One entire category of smrti literature known as Tantras is dedicated to the worship of the goddess principle, Śakti. The esoteric teachings within that body of texts describe various sexual rites that represent the spiritual union of the worshipper’s soul with the goddess. Violence and sexual perversion penetrates even the most orthodox scripture. The Brhadāarankyaka Upanishad, for instance, condones rape:
Surely, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women. When she has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period, therefore, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists and overpower her, saying: “I take away the splendor from you with my virility and splendor” (6.4.9,21).
Bestiality is likewise advocated. A particularly solemn rite for the early Vedic religion was the horse sacrifice. Though it probably was performed rarely, it is mentioned frequently in the Vedic commentaries. Note one section from the Śatapatha Brāhmana: “Then they draw out the penis of the horse and place it in the vagina of the chief queen, while she says, ‘May the vigorous virile male, the layer of seed, lay the seed’; this she says for sexual intercourse…” (126.96.36.199-10). Examples such as this could be multiplied. To the list of atrocities in the Vedic scripture may be added human sacrifice (Aitaraya Brahmana 7.13-18), as if pornography, bestiality, rape, racism, inequalities were not enough.
The Bible is the authentic, authoritative, and final revelation of the true God. Though written over a period of 1,400 years by forty very diverse men on two continents, The Book is completely unified and free from error. A single theme is expanded upon throughout—the redemption of man through the Messiah. The Bible was confirmed by predictive prophecies and the miracles of the inspired men who wrote it. The moral laws contained within are more reasonable and consistent than that of any other religious or naturalistic system.
See A Remarkable Book Called The Bible and Prophecy In The Bible
By contrast, the Hindu scriptures have no final, objective authority; according to one Hindu, “all scriptural knowledge is lower knowledge” (Jayrama, 2000). Subjective religious experiences are generally preferable to written texts. Hindu scripture contains little that is noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy. Allegedly a progressive revelation, Hindu scripture contradicts itself both within particular texts and as a body of literature. The Bible, also a progressive revelation, never corrects itself, but only compliments and fulfils that which has been written. Different Hindu scriptures present completely different paths to salvation (liberation)—karma-yoga (the path of action), jāña-yoga (path of knowledge), and bhakti-yoga (path of devotion). The Vedas contain no predictive prophecy and offer no miracles to confirm the revelation supposedly sent from God. Thus the Hindus have no accessible ground of truth, no normative written word, and no objective moral or religious instruction
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