The Meaning of Veda and Sri Aurobindo for a Western Student (12 February 2002) - An Interview

Q: I want to know what do you feel Sri Aurobindo and the Veda can mean for a Western student?

Well, it is a question of history as a whole, and I think that when I speak of history, it is not a history of the west or of the east, but the whole of humanity because the significance of the Veda is related to the human quest.

The question is, what is the root from where the quest of humanity has sprung? It so happens that the earliest preoccupation of humanity in its awakened thought has been recorded and that record happens to be the Veda. It is a book of knowledge, as it is called in India. It is true that the quest is not limited to India alone. We know that there was an age of mysteries in the early Greek times in the west, but what exactly was the content of that mystery? And if you ask the question, if there is any historical record available of that mysterious knowledge which was acquired in ancient times, it is difficult to decipher in precise terms. There are myths, there are allegories, there are stories, there are legends, but as far as the record is concerned, which you can open, which you can study, which can even be a material for a scholar, it so happens that Veda is still available to us. A book of knowledge which was composed at least five thousand years ago, and it is a surprising fact that in India this text has been preserved for such a long period of time, intact.

It is a fact that a system was developed in India to keep the memory of the details of the text alive and the way in which the text of the Veda was recited 5000 years ago is now being recited even today in India in the same manner. It is because in India, a great value was attached to the contents of this great work. It’s a great work because of two reasons. It is because it is a huge collection. It is about 20000 verses.

And the message of this content is so important and so much significant that if you want to trace the history of mankind, you have got to take into account the heritage of this great text in India. The significance and importance of the Veda has been recognized throughout, right from the beginning of Indian history. When we speak of Indian history, we speak of the Vedic age, the age when the Veda was composed, when the Vedic literature was spread by oral tradition and when Veda was revered by the people, and the message of Veda was revisited from time to time. Therefore, in India today, even today, Veda is a living reality. It is not merely something that was believed in or which was understood in ancient times and which is now forgotten, but we can trace back into the museums or in the libraries in ancient books. No, in my own case in my personal life, I began to study the Veda at the age of seven and even till today I continue to study this great work.

It’s a difficult work because the language is antique, it is symbolic and it has a kind of a meaning which is not easy to detect, but once the key is obtained once the symbolism is understood, one gets a definitive knowledge, not only a glimpse, but a knowledge of the quest of the Vedic rishis, what the Vedic seers had attempted to acquire and had acquired.
You spoke of Sri Aurobindo and the Veda, and I’m very happy that you spoke of this connection. That is because, in our own times it was around 1910 that Sri Aurobindo himself turned to the study of the Veda. This was the time when the Veda was being looked upon by the western scholars as a book of early, primitive, barbaric search, and it was considered to be a kind of a collection of hymns addressed by the primitive man to various forces of nature: earth, water, Fire, lightning, clouds, rain and so on. The question was: was it really a mere quest of the primitive man afraid of the forces of nature trying to propitiate them? There was also a belief that Veda is nothing but a system of rituology, that primitive men in early times decided to have a system of rituals or ceremonies for various purposes of life and therefore it was assumed that Veda is a collection of hymns addressed by people in terms of ceremonies and the occasions which were important in one's life. The question was: is it merely so?

Sri Aurobindo, for the first time, in our times in fact, discovered that Vedic rishis were not primitive in the sense of barbaric. Vedic rishis were highly cultured, they were profound in their knowledge and their knowledge was the knowledge connected with the inner spirit of man, inner psychology of man and also a system of knowledge of the world. They tried to relate man with the world and the world with many forces which are invisible and yet active in the world which they had discovered. Sri Aurobindo read and revealed after a laborious scholarship of the algebra of the Vedic symbolism. It is algebra because, just as in algebra, we have symbolic language of mathematics, similarly, it can be said that the Vedic seers had developed the algebra of expressing the inner truth of man and of the universe. This algebra was hidden. It was lying there concealed, even though there was a tradition in the earlier times, which said that the Veda can be understood only by the illumined. There is a tradition right from the beginning.

We had even a theory of Yaska an early interpreter of the Veda, who said that Veda should be understood in three senses: in the senses of the physical world, as it is in terms of the supraphysical world, and in terms of the spiritual world which is even higher than the supraphysical. In all the three terms, the Veda can be interpreted, but the key was lost in due course of time. As a result, when the western scholars began to study the Veda at the turn of the last century, they could not get into the inner depth of the Veda and they interpreted the Veda in a very ordinary way, in a very superficial manner. We have the interpretation of Max Mueller and the interpretation of Griffith and the interpretation of many others in the west, German scholars, French scholars, English scholars. Many interpretations today are available, but mostly connected with the ritualism of the Veda, myths of the Veda, an interpretation which declares that the Veda is a product of the barbarian.

According to Sri Aurobindo this is a pure concoction, a pure fiction, because it does not correspond with the text and if you understand the text, you find profound meanings. These meanings relate to first of all, the art and science of life, and you spoke of the relevance of the Veda and Sri Aurobindo to the modern times and I’m sure that you will agree that today, one of the most important questions is to ascertain what is this art of life that we seem to have forgotten. That is because you also know the basis of the science of life, because science and art are related together. You cannot have a true art of life unless you are based on knowledge of what life is. If you read the Veda, you find that the Vedic rishis had put there before themselves one basic question: what is human life? This is the central question of the Veda and they tried to fathom into the depths of human life, and how did they go about it? They went through the method of introspection, exploration of the psychology of the human personality. It was by a process of concentration, by a process of meditation, by a process of works and effort to make works as perfect as possible. They followed the path of examining the feelings of human beings, emotions of human personality, the depths of human personalities and they discovered that it's possible to combine the knowledge, action and emotions in their highest height, in the profoundest depths and widest widths.

So they had the wideness, they had the depth, and they had the height, and it is not a question of doing this over a short period of time. If you read the Veda, you are convinced that it must be the result of a long effort of centuries of effort. Therefore, Sri Aurobindo looks upon the Veda as a literature. Although an oral literature. It is, of course, now available in the written form, but for a long period of time of history, it was an oral literature. This oral literature was a result of a long period of civilization, not of primitive barbarism, but of a high civilization, because then only you can have such profound psychology, such profound ethics and something that may be regarded beyond ethics, what in India, we call the art of yoga.

In fact, the word yoga has become very prevalent, both in the east and the west, but the roots of yoga are to be found in the Veda. What is the meaning of yoga and what is the relevance of yoga to our present times? That gives us the measure of the need of Veda for the modern times, a methodized effort, not a random effort, but a methodized effort. A methodized effort by which the potentialities of human being can be cultivated and can be perfected. And by means of this perfection, you can unite the individual with the universe in a harmonious manner and you can unite both individual and universe with even deeper and higher realities, which you call the spiritual truth, transcendental realities. This is yoga and the roots of this yoga are to be found in the Veda.

Now, if you ask the question, what was the basic quest, the direction of that quest, and what was achieved? If you ask the sum total of the Vedic acquisition – and here also Sri Aurobindo in his great book, which he has written under the title The Secret of the Veda, I regard it to be one of the greatest books of our times. If you want to understand human history in terms of the psychological quest of humanity, then you will find in this particular book a great insight into men's earliest achievements.

In psychological terms, there are three important ideas which you find in the Veda. The idea of the Truth. There is no book in the world which insists constantly upon the concept of the Truth. The second concept is the concept of Immortality and the third concept is the concept of Perfection. These are the three important concepts that we find in the Veda. It is as if the Vedic rishis were constantly asking questions like what is Truth?

They found that there is a difference between truth or fact as we normally find in our empirical world and the Truth in reality because we know that appearance and reality do not necessarily coincide and very often appearances are elusive and this distinction is clearly mentioned in the Veda. They found out that behind the appearances of the world, behind the facts of the world, there is the world of Truth. They said that we have at present a normal knowledge of the world of matter, world of life and world of mind.

We speak today of evolution, which is very often regarded as one of the greatest achievements of modern times. But surprisingly, the idea of evolution is to be found in the Veda itself. It recognises that there is, at the root of the universal movement, an Evolutionary Force and this Force manifests itself through three terms of development: matter, life and mind. But Veda goes further and says that there is a fourth world too. In Sanskrit, it is called: turiyam svid, the fourth world.

There is a fourth world. Swid means the world, and turiyam is a fourth. There is a fourth world and the fourth world they said is the world of the Truth, but the truth which is the comprehensive Truth. That is not piecemeal, Truth, which is not of today and tomorrow, the Truth which is eternal, the Truth which is a constant immortal movement. It is at once static and dynamic simultaneously. Surprisingly, it is both a particle and a wave, you might say in terms of the modern physics, the Reality as the Veda describes: It moves, It moves not, at the same time; a surprising paradox, which is stated very clearly. The Vedic rishi says that it is a Reality which is wonderful because it is neither today nor tomorrow and although it is stable, it has its own movement out of its stability and there is a reconciliation, synthesis of stability and movement.

It is intellectually and logically, sometimes baffling, therefore, it prescribes to the human being that one has to transcend the ordinary human consciousness, which is now centred in the mental consciousness. In fact, if you read modern literature, whether it is of physics or of philosophy or psychology, we are, as it were, knocking the gates of the mind at its highest, and we find a great limitation even in the terms of physics when Einstein speaks of the fourth dimension. Now that fourth dimension is a concept, but our mind is not able to experience it when he says that time is the fourth dimension of space–time continuum. What does it mean? We only experience three dimensions. Our human mind is three–dimensional, but Einstein obliges us to recognize a fourth dimension and our mind cannot grasp it. It is obliged to posit it, but we do not cannot live in that consciousness, because our mind is three–dimensional, therefore, even to understand the modern physics we have to break the limitations of the mind and it is surprising that, even in those times in the Veda, the fourth dimension was described, that the reality is four dimensional and it is even multi–dimensional, not only four–dimensional but multi–dimensional in the Veda.

For example, there is a clear statement which says that physical light is the limit of all the physical speeds in the universe. If you read the sixth chapter of the Rigveda, there is a statement there, which is as modern as any modern statement, which says that it is a physical light which is the measure of all the speeds of the world in the physical world. And there are surprising statements in the Veda which point out that the physical world, as we see it, is not all. There is a supraphysical world, and this supraphysical world is not something conceptual. It’s not merely like Plato’s ideas, which are also beyond the physical world, but they are conceptual in character, but the Veda speaks of the supraphysical, which is as active and powerful or even more powerful than the physical world. It is a great discovery of the Vedic seers.

They found that at the depths of human life, our deeper resources of energy are actually derived from the supraphysical. The physical by itself cannot give an account of itself fully. If you try to analyse the physical, you will be led ultimately to the supraphysical. Now you ask the question once again, I would like to repeat: what is the relevance of all this with the modern man?

Now here also, I would like to invite you to Sri Aurobindo who has discovered what the Vedic rishis aspired for, what they achieved and what was the highest limit of their achievement and whether that achievement was final or whether some further achievement is necessary and Sri Aurobindo affirms that, although the foundation of the Veda is necessary, it is not sufficient, and this is the modernity of Sri Aurobindo.

He points out that there is a still higher realm to be conquered. There is still higher reality to be established on this earth, which was not yet established by the Vedic regime. He considers that the Vedic quest of Truth, of Immortality, of Perfection remains up to a certain level of achievement. It was lost, forgotten, revisited from time to time, but not fully recaptured. It is very significant that Sri Aurobindo made a tremendous effort to recover all that was in the past, not only the Veda, but if you consider this genius of Sri Aurobindo, he had a complete mastery of Western culture and a complete mastery over Indian culture. It is in his genius that East and West met together in a great reconciliation and with that vast effort of his consciousness. In fact, Sri Aurobindo is regarded as an adventure of consciousness. There is a great book written by Satprem on Sri Aurobindo, which is called Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness and this book points out that Sri Aurobindo continued that great quest of the Vedic rishis, embraced the quest of men throughout the centuries of the world history and standing at the peak of all, these achievements of the past looks still beyond.

If you read Sri Aurobindo’s great magnum opus, his great book, which is called The Life Divine, we find in that book a great statement. If you look at the present crisis of man, he says what is in the Veda has to be recovered fully, but there is still much more to be done. What is that much more to be done? His whole life was devoted to that which was to be done much more, so that Vedic knowledge becomes relevant by his effort because he added to that knowledge. He discovered a new knowledge. In fact, not only added, he discovered new knowledge and if you combine all this, you find it is highly relevant today.

If you ask me this question, then what is the briefest way in which we can capture Sri Aurobindo's achievement? You might know that Sri Aurobindo used the word Supermind. Sri Aurobindo said that the discovery of the Supermind was a great discovery of the Vedic rishis, which was lost in the history of time, but Sri Aurobindo recovered that quest and rediscovered the Supermind and he examined the potentialities of the Supermind for the modern man. He examines the present crisis of man in terms of evolution, and he feels that evolution has come to such a critical stage of development, which occurs only when evolution is going to create a new mutation.

We know that in the history of evolution there are stages of mutation when one species gives rise to the next species by a process of mutation, the sudden change. Sri Aurobindo sees that the present crisis is a crisis of consciousness. Mental consciousness has come to a point where it cannot deal with the problems which now confront mankind. Why? Because the fabric of the world has now become united, it has become global and therefore the system of life has become global. The mind of man today has become global. The technology that we are creating today automatically becomes global, and if, when interrelationships of human beings have now a global context, it is found, therefore, that the human mind unless it becomes global in its own consciousness, you cannot deal with the globality of the world in which we live, and that is the crisis.

We remain still limited in our piecemeal manner of thinking and yet the demands of the world are that you must become global, you must become universal. The problems are universal. You require a universal consciousness to deal with them. Therefore, if you want to deal with these problems, there has to be a mutation of the human consciousness and Sri Aurobindo said that evolution is knocking at our doors, demanding from us to break our limits and to develop a new kind of consciousness which Sri Aurobindo calls development of the Supramental consciousness.

It is the Supramental consciousness which is relevant to the present man. The Vedic rishis had discovered the Supermind. They had tried to apply the Supermind to the different planes of mind and life and body, and yet it was not enough because, as Sri Aurobindo pointed out, unless the Supermind permeates into the physical, this mutation won't take place. So there is a difference between the development of Supermind in the mind and life and body on the one hand, and the permeation of the Supermind in the body and this permeation of the Supermind in the body was a central task done by Sri Aurobindo and his collaborator, the Divine Mother.

Both of them joined together and developed a new kind of yoga. It of course takes into account the entire yogic effort of the Veda, but a new yoga has been developed. The modern man requires new knowledge and that new knowledge, Sri Aurobindo gives through his new yoga, the Integral Yoga as it is called. And therefore the Veda, Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, Supramental descent, Supramental manifestation, the human body and mutation of humanity into superhumanity—these terms are all interrelated, and that is the relevance of Sri Aurobindo and the Veda to the modern man.

All right, there you go. Fine, your time is up now.