Sri Aurobindo and The Veda

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Thank you very much for being here today so that I can share with you some of the statements of the Veda, Sri Aurobindo's light on these statements and reflections. You have a copy of my text with you and I wanted to ask you whether I should read it or I should speak to you and you can choose between the two... Alright, I will speak. The text, you can read, so I will have the chance also of departing from the text.

There is one very important statement that Sri Aurobindo has made in the Foundation of Indian Culture where he speaks of the immediate work of India. And I would like to underline this, because this meeting is being held in Bharat Nivas, which is dedicated to the promotion of Indian culture. And I think this statement of Sri Aurobindo should be somewhere highlighted in Bharat Nivas. Sri Aurobindo has said: There are three tasks that India has to accomplish. The first task is to recover the ancient spiritual knowledge in its fullness, in amplitude – this is the first task. And this means of course, basically, the recovery of the Veda, Upanishads, the Gita, and the Puranas and Tantras. This is, you might say, the basic stuff of what can be called the ancient spiritual knowledge of India. I underline the word knowledge because, usually, although this knowledge is contained in what are called scriptures – and scriptures are sometimes regarded as the revelations which are made once for all and have to be accepted unquestioningly, and therefore philosophers do not accept them as bodies of knowledge – whereas here, although these are scriptures, Vedas are scriptures, Upanishads, the Gita, Tantra, Puranas, they are still to be considered as books of knowledge, because India does not regard them as revelations made for all time, which cannot be repeated, which cannot be verified. According to the Vedic tradition, the faculty of revelation can be so developed that one can have a constant stream of revelations. And therefore it is not something which comes once for all, but one can have repeated revelations, and revelations can be verified by revelations, and they can be experimented upon, they can be enlarged as in scientific knowledge,” you can enlarge upon the knowledge, you can even overpass, you can have a new revelation, a new knowledge. So Sri Aurobindo has deliberately used the word, ‘Ancient Indian spiritual knowledge.’ This has to be recovered. It has to be recovered because it has greatly been lost. Mother once wrote down for me one message in which She said: “India has or rather had the knowledge of the Spirit.” So She wanted to underline that India should not take the pride of having today a living knowledge of the Spirit. India has deviated a long way from the possession of that knowledge and therefore it has to be recovered. This is the first task.

The second task, Sri Aurobindo has said: India has to pour that knowledge into new modes of philosophical, scientific and critical knowledge. This is a very difficult task. In fact it has been made easy because Sri Aurobindo himself wrote a huge philosophical work called The Life Divine, in which he has demonstrated how the ancient knowledge can be poured into the philosophical modes of thinking, and how in modern times it can be presented in the modern fashion and even shown how we can advance from the past towards the new.

The third task, Sri Aurobindo has said, is to deal with the contemporary problems in a new manner, and to realise a spiritualised society. These are the three tasks, of which the last one, He said, is the most difficult task. And the proportion in which India can accomplish these three tasks – to that extent India will have fulfilled her mission. In fact the third task also Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have initiated and where we are sitting now, this great seat called Auroville, is India's effort inviting the whole world to meet together and attempt to create a spiritualised society. So, in fact, the extent to which we can succeed here, in Auroville, to that extent India will have fulfilled her mission.
But these last two tasks will depend very largely upon the recovery, ” the first task ” the recovery of the ancient spiritual knowledge. And therefore I have thought, it would be very useful if in Auroville, we can meet together from time to time and enter into the ancient treasure of spiritual knowledge. It is a very difficult terrain, it is so complex, and it is buried under so much of a plethora of interpretations that it is extremely difficult to penetrate like into a jungle. To someone like me who has been brought up in India right from childhood in the real Indian tradition, where the Veda was my constant childhood friend, ” I had a home in which Veda was recited every day � and in spite of  this kind of upbringing, it is only when I came to Sri Aurobindo that I really entered into the real portals of the Vedic knowledge, and till that time, all that I knew of the Veda and the Upanishads and the Gita and the Puranas was a real dense forest, difficult to penetrate, difficult even to walk, even one mile, into that big terrain. We recited the mantras of the Veda, the hymns of the Veda, understood a little, because sometimes the words are not so difficult and you can make out some meaning out of it, but when you try to penetrate into, what we can call knowledge, there was a constant failure. In fact, many of us who read the western scholars interpreting the Veda, found in their interpretations an echo of our own lack of understanding. You know, the western scholars came across this great body of Vedic knowledge in the early nineteenth century.

Perhaps many of you may not know the vast corpus of the Veda itself. Apart from the interpretations of the Veda, which are also huge, mere text of the Veda itself is very vast. What is called Veda consists of four huge books: the first one is called Rig Veda, the second is called Yajur Veda, the third is called Sama Veda, and the fourth is called Atharva Veda. These are four huge volumes. Rig Veda is the biggest. It has ten chapters and totally it has ten thousand verses, ten thousand verses. In a recent publication, mere Sanskrit text and English translation has come to twelve volumes of Rig Veda alone. Atharva Veda is half of the Rig Veda, Sama Veda is the shortest, and Yajur Veda is more than one fourth of the Rig Veda. Basically, Rig Veda is regarded as the Veda, and Sri Aurobindo made a study of this Rig Veda in depth. But when this study was made by the western scholars in the nineteenth century, after studying them they found that the Veda seemed to be compositions of barbarians, naive in their imagination, superstitious, materialist, seeking for wealth, and progeny and cows and horses. Not understanding the real depth and not understanding the connections of ideas, they really felt that the entire Vedic corpus is simply a bundle of worthless material, which may be studied for historical reason to show to people what barbaric people of ancient times thought and conceived and imagined, but for no other purpose. In fact Max Mueller, after interpreting the whole of the Veda, wrote a letter to his wife: “I have now”, I don't quote exactly the words but he said: “I have now accomplished the task of translating the whole of the Rig Veda and when people, even in India, when they will read my translation and understand what Veda contains, they will find that there is nothing in it, and then they will easily turn to Christianity and embrace it.” This was the confidence with which he translated, and many others who came to translate and many of them who interpreted the Veda coincided in their interpretations and many of the Indian scholars who read these western scholars, also dared not depart from this interpretation of the western scholars. Even a philosopher like Radhakrishnan, while writing on the Veda in his book called Indian Philosophy, says, in one of the paragraphs of his writings, “Sri Aurobindo sees a great light and psychological truth in the Veda,” but he remarks: “But when we see that western scholars do not agree with him, we also cannot agree with Sri Aurobindo.” This is the remark of a man like Radhakrishnan, who is supposed to be one of the foremost philosophers of India. You can see, therefore, how difficult it is for scholars to understand the Veda. Now there is a history of the interpretation of the Veda, and this history has to be understood before we can appreciate how Sri Aurobindo penetrated through this great forest of the Vedic interpretations and brought a great light out of these Vedic verses.

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