A great body of literature is difficult to understand. Even when we are able to get what we believe to be the literal meaning of the words, they do not appear to make much sense. Or have a bearing on what we should regard as of some moral and spiritual value to human life.
The Upanishads contain a considerable body of matter of this kind. The Mahabharata includes the Bhagavad Gita and a number of discourses on philosophy and religion. But a substantial portion of even these works is difficult to grasp and understand. Nor is it easy to see how the Upanishads can be described as an exposition of the secret doctrine of the Vedas, when we do not know what that doctrine is. And the Vedas themselves, as we understand them, do not appear to justify the claim that they are a revelation of truth made by the Supreme Spirit himself.
The Epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) and the Puranas have their own problems too.
The Ramayana has been described as a Veda, but it is difficult to see in what sense it can be regarded as such. Nor is even the life of Rama, believed to be an embodiment of perfection, free from criticism or blame when examined in the light of the text as composed by Valmiki. The Mahabharata, on the other hand claims to be the fifth or the last of the Vedas. And we are told in all seriousness that, "that which is in it, is elsewhere; and that which does not occur in it, occurs nowhere else". It would be difficult to conceive of a greater exaggeration if the Epic be as it is commonly understood.
The problem of the Purana is similar. They are eighteen in number, and are said to be sacred and treat of five great topics; namely the creation of the universe, its destruction and renovation, the genealogy of the gods and the patriarchs, the rules of Manu, and the history of the Solar and the Lunar races. But it would be difficult to conceive of anything more fantastic than what they appear to contain.
The difficulty of understanding the ideas of the ancients is not limited to these works alone, as the Sutras of the six principal systems of Hindu philosophy are still, for the most part, believed to be unintelligible. Further, most of our present knowledge of these systems are based on certain commentaries of eminent scholars rather than their text. All these books are believed to be sacred, and the orthodox are required to accept without question all that they contain. But no one has, so far, been able to explain in a clear, reasoned and sustained manner what exactly they teach, or the basis of their claim to be regarded as sacred.
The problem of Hinduism or the systems of religion that go under this name are perhaps more difficult still. While there are a large number of gods of the Vedas, the principal deities of the Hindus are three, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; said to be the great trinity of Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of the universe. But even their distinction is not based on any exact interpretation of the sacred books. Again, while there are innumerable temples dedicated to both Vishnu and Shiva, the worship of Brahma the creator has all but disappeared.
The problem of caste, custom and religious laws; of rites, ceremonies and sacrifices; and of rules, forms and modes of worship still prevalent among the Hindus is equally intricate. And there are many who finding no rational answers, maintain that Hinduism is but a general name for the life of the people of a country; With a common social order, held together by common customs, traditions and laws, culture and forms of worship; rather than a clearly defined system of thought and religion.
The problem is undoubtedly a difficult one, and there are not many who believe that it can be solved. A number of attempts have been made in the past to answer these questions. But all that has been achieved is either an expression of high, but unsubstantiated opinion regarding the greatness of the sacred books, or the formation of separate sects with simpler doctrine and a more clearly definable creed. The modern thinker appears to to have reconciled himself to the general decline of faith as an inevitable consequence of the scientific spirit of the present day. And the only religion he can accept is that which can transform science itself into philosophy and reason into faith. The great question is, whether there can be such a system of religion? And can the sacred books of the Hindus contribute to the formation of such a system?