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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Sruti

Sanskrit for “heard,” from the root śru (“hear,” “listen,” “give ear to”). It is applied to the most sacred of Hindu scriptures, the VEDAS, which are said to have been revealed orally to ancient sages thousands of years ago, hence śruti is sometimes translated “revelation.” Not only were the Vedic hymns chanted (hence heard by those present) but the large corpus of hymns of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, Atharva), as well as the lengthy liturgical commentaries on them (Brāhmanas and Āranyakas) and principal Upani±ads appended to them, were considered too sacred to commit to writing and therefore were passed on over the centuries from teacher to pupil by means of various mnemonic devices which would ensure their accurate preservation. In fact, they were not written down in Vedic Sanskrit (and then translated into other languages) until the British period of Indian history. A remarkable feat of collective memory!

The remainder of the sacred literature of India — the ancient myths (Purānas), the great epic “histories” (Itihāsas), the various law books (Dharmaśāstras), etc. — are called smrti, literally “remembered,” though often translated “tradition.” The Indian philosophic systems which accept śruti as canonical, are called “orthodox” (astika, literally “it-is-ers”); those which do not — materialists, Jains, Buddhists, etc. — are called “heterodox” (nāstika). It is interesting that the Bhagavad-Gītā, although part of smrti, was considered by the Vedānta schools of philosophy important enough to warrant writing commentaries on, hence has come very close to being accepted as śruti by Hindus.

R.W.B.

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