Veda is a huge body of knowledge, is believed to be the first written record of the human civilization. Veda derived from the Sanskrit root word 'Vid' means knowledge. Veda is also known as Shruti ( here'd), it's said in the tradition that the knowledge of Veda is revealed to four great sages named Aditya, Agni, Vayu and Angira in a state of deep meditation. The knowledge of the Veda has no beginning and it manifest with every creation and un manifest to manifest in the next creation. It's been handed down in the tradition by keeping it in the human memory. It's believed that the memory of the people was so huge in those days that they could retain all the four Vedas in their memory. The first Veda is Rig Veda, which contains more than one hundred thousand hymns praising the manifestation of the Lord in manifold forms. Vedas are four in numbers, and every Veda has ritualistic portion and knowledge portion. The second Veda is Yajur Veda which has more emphasis on rituals and has two sections Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda, the third Veda is Sama Veda which has special emphasis on music and the forth Veda Atharva Veda which has special emphasis on herbal medicine (Ayurveda). A statement mentioned in the Veda is considered as a proof in Hindu tradition. Veda was not in the written form till five thousand years ago. It's believed that after the Mahabharata war, Maharshi Vyasa codified all the scattered streams of Veda into four sections. Maharshi Vyasa invited Vedic scholars from across India and assembled them in a place named Kurkshetra and let them sang it the way they here'd from their masters, he codified the Vedas accordingly into four sections there by gains the name Veda Vyasa. It's believed that human memory won't be that huge to contain all the knowledge of the Vedas in Kali Yuga so he pen down to a oral form so that it won't be lost in time and would be beneficial to all human kinds. This is one of the greatest contributions of Maharshi Vyasa. Before studying the Vedas one has to study six branches ( Shiksha, (education) kalpam , Vyakaranam( Grammer) Niruktam (etymology) Chandas, Jyotisham ( Astrology) of the Vedas to know the exact meanings of the words written in the Vedas. Vedas sang into different meters to make it easy to memorize it. All the knowledge and techniques to lead a human life from a very basic human to his self discovery elaborated in the Vedas. The knowledge is very systematically presented in the vedas. Huge portion of the vedas tells how to lead a human life, what one should do and should not ? Human life is divided into four sections, Brahmachary ( life of discipline) is the first stage in life, one has study and established oneself in a given field of ones interest and abilities, the second is Grahastha ( Household life). Married life is specially significant in the sense that this stage helps a person gains enough maturity and understanding. Vaanaprasth ( living a life in the forest ), a life away from the society to reduce the inclination towards worldly life of mortality and longings, the last stage is Sanyasa ( renunciate ). A very well ascertained and fully convinced life style in the pursuit of Moksha alone. A person must be committed to any one of the four Ashramas, this committed life helps the person live a life of righteousness, righteous life is the only way to self knowledge. There are four Purusharthas (human pursuit) Dharma (righteous life), Artha (wealth), Kama (Desire fulfillment) and Moksha ( emancipation) mentioned in the Vedic tradition. One has to confirm oneself to Dharma in gaining both Artha and Kama, then only one can qualify oneself to the path of Moksha. Sanyas is the last stage in life, Sanyasa is Maha Vrta ( Great vow) a great committed life style in the pursuit of self knowledge. If any deviation happen due to ones own omissions and commissions the person can retake to their committed life style after gaining more maturity and performing certain fire rituals mentioned in the Vedas.
Veda generally classified into karma kanda ( ritualistic portion) and jnana kanda or Upanishad ( revealing the self knowledge). There are numerous rituals, it's way of performing it and it's results are explained in details. There are Rituals which has known means and unknown end such as Raaja Suuya ( a fire ritual for going to heaven) there are may rituals for going to heaven, here we know the means of doing the rituals only, the end result of going to the heavens can't be proved in no way as we don't have any means to verify it. Non verifiable facts about the result of rituals said in the Vedas is also considered by the tradition as a piece of knowledge.
there are rituals with known means and known ends such as Putrakameshti for progeny, these rituals are performed in India countless times and gained appropriate results. More over a fire ritual called Kariiri is performed for getting the blessings of rain god, this rituals also been performed and still performing in India and gaining appropriate results are noted. With the authenticity of knowing the results of rituals we can guess those rituals which has non verifiable. Rituals are the most important part of daily life of the traditions of the Vedic culture. A married couple is suppose to perform every day agnihotra named fire ritual, the very fire itself is used in the cremation of the body of that couple. A student is suppose to chant Gayatri mantra as a part of his daily ritual. Reciting Gayatri mantra is considered as most auspicious and considered as equal to reciting the whole Veda. In Vedic tradition human life is divided into four Ashramas or sections named such as Brahmachary ( student life), Grahasta ( Family life) Vanaprasta ( life in the forest for isolated life) and Sanyasa ( Renunciate). In each states of life a person should perform certain daily rituals and spiritual practice. How to and what to be those rituals are extensively explained with details. It's said that one can gain tremendous amount of Punya ( grace) by doing fire rituals. Fire is worshipped in Vedic culture. The manifested universe is made up of five gross elements such as Space, air, fire, water and earth. The first element which has a form among the five is fire which is worshipped in varieties of rituals. Fire is considered as god, and the gross form of fire in our body is the Jataraagni ( digestive fire) the subtle form of fire is the body temperature. The Adhisthaana Devata ( Presiding deity) of sense is speech is fire, that's why arguments makes people hot. Rituals helps a person gaining a inner quietude, calmness and contentment more over it helps in leading a righteous life. Righteous life is the most basic pillar of spiritual life and prerequisite for emancipation. A person need tremendous amount of Punya ( grace ) in Order to seek the self knowledge. Gaining self knowledge is the purpose of human incarceration.
Vedanta means the end of Veda, its purely a positional name where the self knowledge is delineated. The end portion of the Veda is also known as Jnana Kanda ( section of knowledge means self knowledge is discussed there ) or the Upanishad. The root word "Shad" has very comprehensive meanings, the first meaning is that which causes disintegration, the disintegration of accumulated egos, sorrow, guilt, hurt, problems etc of a human mind, in the event of gaining self knowledge. The second meaning is that which put an end to a seeking person, the seeker sought integration, human life is an endless sage of gratification of desires, once we fulfill a desire another strong desire is waiting to fulfill, this running behind self gratification ceases in the enemy of self knowledge. The third meaning is that which makes you gain the knowledge of the self Moksha or freedom from all limitations. The Shastras says aatmavit Shokamtarati, means the knower of the self cross the sorrows. That doesn't mean the knower of the self doesn't have any pain, rather the self knower is no more confused in every life situations. They gain the inner wisdom to look painful and pleasureful situations alike. Inner growth is the real growth in spiritual journey. People in general either appease the ego or pamper the ego, that is not the rightful way of looking at the problems, this knowledge solve human problems from its root. The prefix "Upa" means nearest, that which is nearest you , nearest to you is yourself, and the other prefix "Ni" means ascertained knowledge, very well ascertained knowledge. Any knowledge based upon belief system etc is non verifiable and can shaken in the event of right knowledge, where as this knowledge cannot be shaken at any cost. This is the ultimate knowledge.
What's the nature of aatma ( consciousness) is very well established in this portion of the Veda, named Jnana Kanda (Upanishad). Aatma is Nitya ( always) existing where as the body is not, physical body is subject time and space also subject to decline and disintegration where as the Aatma is Nitya, Shudda Buddha ( eternal, pure and all knowledge). Due to Avidya ( Ignorance) a jiiva (individual being) not able to know the ever pure consciousness present in every perception and inference. The Samashti or Paramatma ( the whole) is not separate from Veshti ( individual). Aatma is all prevalent and not an object of any sort of perception, inference etc where as all perceptions are possible due to aatma. Aatma is the subject and has no locus, but its nature can be understood by the Shabda ( Words) revealed by the Upanishad. The three important words used to explain the nature of consciousness as Satyam ( truth ) that which does exist always on its own without depending anything else, jnanam (knowledge) knowledge of Paramatma ( or Brahman, Universal self, Iswara or Lord all the same name) is manifested as the manifested world, the knowledge of everything what's so ever here is with the Lord before the creation. The Lord has overlordship of everything whatsoever here. The lord is seen as giver of all seeds to the creation. The third word indicating Iswara or Lord is Anantam ( beginning less) , He has no beginning and so no end at all. A Jiiva is equated as Iswara in the Upanishad, once a jiiva cross over its limitations by the practice of yoga ( well disciplined life) the impurities enveloped in the mind of the jiiva subsides and qualified oneself to receive the self knowledge. The qualification is very significant in self knowledge. There is a detailed discussion about developing the qualification to the self knowledge is comprehensively shown in the Karma Kanda. Living a life of Dharma is qualification in the pursuit of self knowledge. Self knowledge helps in crossing over all sorrows and limitations of a jiiva. The jiveshwara ikyam ( individual self as the universal self) is established by the event of self discovery. The Self which is invariably present in all perceptions and actions is well construed by a jiiva by the teachings of the Upanishad and it looses its limited self identity with the body mind sense complex. The three important steps in gaining the Self knowledge is Shrevana ( listening) , Manana ( thinking ) and Nidhidhyasana ( contemplation ). Listening the teachings of Upanishad from a qualified teacher who himself is established in the self knowledge is Shrevanam. Based upon the listening one employs ones inner faculties of reasoning and discrimination to ward off the root cause of ignorance of the self, this inner enquiry to find the truth using the words of the Shastras is Mananam. The way we churn the yogurt to obtain the butter which is invisible but existing, one has to do inner churning to establish oneself in the knowledge of the self. Once a person confirmed to the knowledge of the self he only need Nidhidhyasa to rooted in the knowledge. There after no inner distraction can happen to that person, who is rooted in self knowledge, like the ocean established in its own might and non depending the rivers flows in or not , the rivers flows swollen or dry the ocean gets not affected by it. The Self known person live like a lotus leaf in the water, though the leaf live in the water it doesn't get affected by the water at all times.