The Vedas are ‘Anadi’– beginingless, ‘Ananta’–endless. Vedanta means the end of the Vedas. What does it mean by‘the end of the endless Vedas’? It is called ‘Vedanta’ because it contains the conclusion of the various metaphysical truths, viz., the realisation of the self, which is the purport of the Vedas. In other words, it is the end of the Veda’s quest. It also appears at the end (later) of the Vedas.
Everyone born as a brahmin has (without asking for any reason) necessarily and as a matter of duty to learn, study and practise a Veda Saakha which is one of the branches of the Vedas. A Saakha consists of first the Samhita, next the Braahmana, then the Aaranyaka, at the end of which appear the Upanishad. The conclusion of the Vedasaakha is thus the Upanishad.
What is the reason behind splitting the endless Vedas into so many Saakhas or branches? The individual has to be taught all matters so that spiritual progress is possible for him. First is the study and recitation of the Vedas, then the yajnas and other rituals which he has to study and perform and the mantras relating to these. Next comes an enquiry into the purpose of the yajnas, and, lastly, an enquiry into the Paramaatma Tatva and bringing it within the range of actual experience. All these are required to be given to a student of the Vedas.
What is given should be adequate to enable a person to attain self-realisation. To master the innumerable Veda Saakhas is an impossible task. A story is told about how sages like Bharadwaaja could only obtain a fistful of earth from out of the Vedic mountains even after thousands of years of study. Therefore, the optimum required to enable a person to cleanse his mind of impurities and become fit to merge with the Paramaatma has been classified and compiled from the endless Vedas and given as a Saakha.
The Saakha details the duties of a brahmin from the moment of his birth to that of his death. First, the Saakha has to be learnt and recited (Adhyayana), i.e. the Samhita mantras are to be learnt by rote. Then, the prescribed yajnas have to be performed with the help of these mantras as described in the Braahmanas. Then, the Aaranyaka which bridges the gap between external action and internal experience has to be cogitated upon. Then, the contents of the Upanishad, which deals only with the internal truth, has to be digested and, lastly the state of liberation (Moksha), where ‘in’ and ‘out’ lose their distinction has to be attained.
This is the plan and purpose of every Saakha, Even one mantra is sufficient for an evolved soul to realise the truth. But a normal common soul has to resort to a multitude of karmas, observances, chanting and meditation to reach that state. Thus, each Saakha contains that measure of mantras, karmas and philosophical instructions as would enable a common man to achieve liberation.