Discoveries of The Vedic Rishis

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The five discoveries of which I spoke to you during the last few days are extremely important. In a sense, they are stupendous discoveries. Because they are stupendous, there is a tendency to be so overwhelmed by them that it seems that all that is to be known is already known in the Veda. This sometimes puts a brake on new developments and new discoveries.

We have to underline however that the Vedic Rishis never claimed that all that has to be known is known. They themselves claimed that knowledge is infinite, that it is endless. It is stated in the very first chapter of the Rig–Veda that as we rise higher and higher, new vistas of knowledge open before us. In the sixth chapter there is a very special verse by Bharadwaja in which there is a special prayer to Agni: “O Agni, protect those who are the discoverers of new knowledge!” So the very spirit of the Veda is a spirit of the constant discovery of new knowledge.

Perhaps because of this, there has been in India no dogmatism of the kind that we find in many traditions. There is dogmatism, but not of the kind or of the degree that you find elsewhere. You might say that in India there is a very great deal of the scientific spirit. The scientific spirit consists of a few elements which are distinguishable from many other attitudes.

There is for example a skeptical spirit, which is just to remain in a constant state of doubt. This is not the scientific spirit. Skepticism can be a part of science and philosophy, but not the spirit of skepticism. The aim of philosophy or science is not to arrive at doubt — though doubt can be an instrument, a springboard for discovery of new knowledge — but to arrive at the Truth. That is the scientific and philosophical spirit.

There is what is called the critical spirit, which always wants to criticize whatever is presented. Now again, this spirit is fine, it has its value, its place. But if you were to take it as a permanent spirit then it would mean that Truth could never be discovered, and that you could never arrive at a point where there would be no criticism. So this also is not a part of the scientific spirit.

At the other end there is the religious spirit, which is an advocate of revelation. The Truth is known, according to this spirit, by revelation, and can never be questioned nor criticized. It can never be renewed, it can never be modified, it can never be enriched — it is known once and for all. This is the dogmatic spirit.

Having spoken of these different spirits, now we can say what the scientific spirit is, and also why it is a special characteristic of the Veda.

The scientific spirit consists of a few elements. The first thing is that in all scientific movement there is freedom to observe — and to observe as much as possible, as wide, as high and as deeply as possible. Second is to make experiments. You observe a fact, then you want to observe the facts under certain special conditions and see how in those conditions the same facts or different facts appear — this is experimental. Then you develop the process of induction, in which you try to see if there is a causal connection between one set of facts and another. And if you see a causal connection, then you arrive at a law, at the knowledge of a law. There is a causal connection between the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen — the formula H²O gives you water — this is a causal connection. And you establish a law that wherever this mixture occurs, this will be the consequence. It’s a piece of knowledge; wherever a causal connection is established you arrive at knowledge.

But having arrived at that knowledge the door is not closed; you don’t say that this can never be questioned or modified or that we can never go deeper. According to science, you can ask the question, “Why is it that whenever H² and O, that is to say hydrogen and oxygen, come together in such–and–such a proportion, water is produced?” This question is legitimate. You might be able to find the answer to this question as well, and if you do so it will be an addition to knowledge.

So the marks of science are: a movement towards knowledge, a search for the truth, and the establishment of the truth — but with the provision that you are free to investigate further and discover new knowledge, or to confirm, repeat, modify or enrich the old knowledge, or to verify it again and again.

I spoke yesterday of the Yoga of the Veda, which has precisely this attitude. The knowledge which has been obtained can be verified in personal experience, so that you can be personally satisfied about what is contained in the statement of knowledge. You can therefore modify and enrich; you can have new knowledge. That is why Sri Aurobindo speaks of the “Science of Yoga” — Yoga is a science, it is a scientific knowledge, and when we are dealing with the Veda we should do so in a scientific spirit. Fortunately, in India Yoga has been recognized as a science, and there have been lots of developments in the knowledge which has been achieved through Yoga. If you look at the history of Yoga in India starting from the Veda, you can trace a kind of chart and find out, first of all, how the knowledge gained by Yoga has been confirmed. That is one mark of science: You can confirm it again and again throughout history.

So you can see how the yogic knowledge of the Veda has been confirmed in later times, but also how that knowledge has become more specialized. Sometimes, by narrowing the field of knowledge you can discover some special knowledge pertaining to that domain. This also has happened, as in the Upanishads. (The Upanishads were very near the Vedas, and I will tell you more about how the Upanishads developed from the Vedas later on.) In the Upanishads there was a kind of narrowing, a specialization, but as a result there was also an enrichment, even a culmination of the movement of knowledge that you find in the Veda. That is why the Upanishads are called “Vedanta”. Anta means “culmination” — the culmination of Veda. There was a knowledge that was built up in the Veda and that reached, not a full culmination, but a kind of a culmination in the Upanishads. And we can see further on a great landmark in the development of Yoga when we come to the study of the Bhagavad–Gita.

To make a very brief summary of the history of Indian Yoga, I normally put down five landmarks: the Yoga of the Veda, the Yoga of the Upanishads, the Yoga of the Bhagavad–Gita, the Yoga of the Tantra, and the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. These are the five big landmarks, but there are others. Take for example the landmark that you find in Sri Chaitanya. I’ll take as few names as possible so that your mind does not get blocked up by names, but Sri Chaitanya is one of the very great names in the history of Indian Yoga. He advocated a Yoga of Devotion, and the kind of Love that was underlined by and manifested in him is a very special development which is not in the Veda, the Upanishads or the Gita. It was a new development. The kind of synthesis of yogas of Knowledge, Action and Devotion that you find in the Bhagavad–Gita is also very special; it is a kind of a new synthesis, all the elements of which are not to be found in the Veda or the Upanishads except in seed form. You might say that the Veda is a seed. As a seed it is very potent — it contains so much! —and the whole of Indian development may be regarded as a banyan tree that has grown from this seed. But still the seed is not the banyan tree itself, there is a difference between them. The tree is a development, and as a development it manifests many things which are not visible in the seed.

The point is that in India, Yoga is not a closed book — that is the difference between religion and Yoga. The religious spirit is to consider the revelations of the past as something unsurpassable, which cannot be questioned further — it is a closed book. In Yoga the book is not closed, there is a constant development of knowledge. That is why in India, those who have surpassed the past are not easily condemned. In many other traditions the moment you surpass the past you begin to be condemned, but in India this has been allowed. There has been an acceptance of the fact that one can move forward, that one can propound something new. The only thing is that when you propound something new, it should be scientific in character; it should be based upon observation, experiment, and verification — and in the case of Yoga, verification by abiding experience. “Abiding” means an experience which constantly lives with you, that is not lost.

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