Vedanta, which is the core philosophy of Hinduism, is based on three principal texts or Prasthanatraya (triple canon):
- Gita – This is principally a distillation of the core wisdom and teachings of the Upanishads.
- Brahma Sutras – This text is a systematization and explanation of the teachings of the Upanishads, which is usually read by more advanced students of Vedanta but is not crucial that it be read.
Then there are other minor texts written by Jnanis like Sankaracharya and his disciples, called Prakarana Granthas or Auxiliary Texts, which do a good job of introducing and summarizing the teachings and knowledge contained in the Upanishads and are best read in the beginning before tackling the Upanishads.
Vedanta is based primarily on Upanishads. Because Upanishads occur at the end (antha) of Vedas, they are what is meant by veda-antha or Vedanta. Vedanta could also mean the aim (end) of Vedas, that is, what they are trying to actually teach. In that case, too, it would refer to the Upanishads.
Vedas are 4 in number – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda.
Vedas are divided into two parts:
- Karma Kanda – this earlier portion of Vedas deals with works like Yajnas etc., which we no longer follow because we have replaced those practices in modern times by pooja etc.
- Jnana Kanda – later portion dealing with knowledge, that is, the Upanishads.
Upanishads are 108 in number, but only 10 of them are considered Principal Upanishads because Sankaracharya wrote commentaries on them. The principal Upanishads are:
1. Isha Upanishad
2. Kena Upanishad
3. Katha Upanishad
4. Mundaka Upanishad
5. Mandukya Upanishad
6. Aitreya Upanishad
7. Taittiriya Upanishad
8. Prasna Upanishad
9. Chandogya Upanishad
10. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The texts to be read to understand Vedanta are in this order:
- Bhagavad Gita – translated into English with commentary by either Swami Sivananda, or Swami Chinmayananda, or Swami Dayananda.
- Prakarana Granthas
- Vedanta Sara
- Tattva Bodha
- Drk-Drsya Viveka
- Atma Bodha
- Upadesha Sahasri
- Upanishads – with Sankaracharya Commentary, translated into English by Swami Nikhilananda.
- Brahma Sutras – Sankaracharya’s commentary, translated into English.