The entire body of Vedantic scripture is a six-tiered hierarchy consisting of thousands of texts written over the course of several thousand years.
It is divided into two essential categories: Shruti (revealed knowledge) and Smriti (the practical application of knowledge, or elaborations on the eternal principles in light of personal experience).
These two categories are further subdivided into several subcategories, such as Itihasa (historically based spiritual allegories), Puranas (stories of the deities), Dharma Shastras (texts that deal with ethics and appropriate action), Sutras (texts that serve as interpretations of and commentaries on the Shruti), etc.
A subsidiary, but indispensible, category of Vedantic literature is the Prakaranas. These are texts that were written by great sages and intended to serve as commentaries on the major source texts that would thoroughly elucidate the main points of those texts and resolve any apparent contradictions existing within them.
Colossal and complex as this assortment of literature is, however, it centers around three basic texts: the Upanishads (though several in number these are grouped together as a single source), the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. These three texts are referred to collectively as the Prasthana Traya.
My own teacher, James Swartz, organizes his initial teachings according to a progression of six important texts:
- Tattva Bodha (“Knowledge of Truth”)
- Atma Bodha (“Self Knowledge”)
- Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”)
- Vivekachudamani (“The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination”)
- Mandukya Upanishad (“The Frog Upanishad”)
- Aparokshanubhuti (“Immediate Self-Realization”)
I have included James’ translations of each of these texts, several of which include his commentary as well, and encourage you to begin your study of scripture by reading them in the order listed above.
That said, it is of vital importance to understand that Vedanta needs to be taught. Simply reading the scriptures on one’s own will not do the trick. It is because ignorance is hard-wired into us, so to speak, that we have become seekers of “enlightenment” and liberation in the first place. Mired as we are in a misapprehension of the true nature of reality and our own essential identity as the self (i.e. limitless awareness), our ignorance will inevitably cause us to misinterpret the words of the scripture in accordance with our own personal beliefs, opinions, desires, and fears. This is why effective self-inquiry needs be initially guided by a qualified teacher, one who not only stands firmly established in self-knowledge, but who, moreover, is able to effectively wield the means of knowledge and properly apply the traditional teaching methodology to clearly and accurately unfold the implied meanings of the words and analogies/illustrations employed by the scriptures as well as resolve the various apparent contradictions that appear in them.
For this reason, both video and audio versions of seminars during which James teaches these texts and unfolds, analyzes, and explains each verse at length are available for purchase at www.shiningworld.com. You can purchase them individually (Tattva Bodha and Mandukya Upanishad are part of the “Self Inquiry” series) or as a set (“Vedanta Full Set”). Basically, everything you need to know to get free is included in these texts.
Reading these six texts will give you a strong foundation on which to continue your scriptural study of any of the other scriptural texts included on this site as well as others you may encounter through various other sources.
Should the interest in scriptural study (svadhyaya) grab you, I highly recommend that you invest in Swami Dayananda’s 9-volume “Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course.” It is without doubt the most comprehensive and accurate unfoldment of what is arguably the single most important scripture in the Vedanta canon.
The “Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course” as well as Swami Dayananda’s extensive commentaries on a large selection of Vedantic scriptures are available through the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam bookstore at www.arshavidya.org.
Extensive audio commentaries by Swami Paramarthananda on virtually all the most important Vedantic texts are available at sumukam.wordpress.com.