THE INDIAN PHILOSOPHICAL CONGRESS
(October 26-29, 2007)
INDIAN PHILOSOPHY AND VEDIC ROOTS
Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati
26th October 2007
The Veda has been acknowledged to be an authoritative source of six systems of Indian Philosophy, which have been looked upon as orthodox systems as distinguished from the philosophies of Charvakas, Buddhism and Jainism, which are regarded as heterodox systems and which do not accept the authority of the Veda. The word Veda has been interpreted so as to denote not only the four Vedic Samhitas but also Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads. It has been assumed that the Veda contains knowledge in the light of which the philosophical positions of the various orthodox systems of philosophy have to be judged. Each of these systems, therefore, refers to statements found to be in the Veda as the final authority of justification.
It is true that there is ambiguity in the Indian philosophical tradition in regard to the extent to which and in respect of which the statements of the Veda are to be taken to be authoritative. A distinction has been made in the course of the development of Indian tradition between two aspects of the Veda, namely, karma kāṇḍa and Jñāna kāṇḍa, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that the Vedic Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads present a consistent view of the Ultimate Reality or Realities. There is, however, in modern times a view that Brahmanas cannot be regarded as authoritative as the Rigvedic Samhitas, even though it is conceded that the Upanishads have the same authority as the Vedic Samhitas. In recent times, serious questions have been raised about the identity of the Vedic texts themselves, considering that the tradition acknowledges numerous shakhas of each Veda, and there is no certainty whether any of them or some of them could be identified as the original texts of the Vedic Samhitas.
It is also a fact that there have been numerous interpretations of the Veda and even of the Vedic Samhitas themselves. Yāska acknowledge that there were in his time at least three alternative interpretations: ādibhautika, ādidaivikā, adhyātmikā. Brahmanas and the Upanishads were themselves regarded as an interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas in a certain measure. We possess in its entirety the traditional interpretation of the Indian scholar, Sāyanā. The European scholarship, too, has constructed an interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas after an immense labour of comparison and conjecture. Puranas and Tantras also claim to bring out the substance of the knowledge contained in the Vedic Samhitas.
There are, of course, historians who maintain what may be called a linear view of the development of the civilisation. They treat the history of religion as a kind of a logical and linear development, of a gradual refinement and clarity, starting from animism and spiritism and superstitious magic to the present day universal religions of monotheism or theism. They would refuse to grant that there could have been in the ancient Vedic times anything better than animistic or spiristic practices or beliefs, anything better than fetishism, totemism or tribal polytheistic cults or traditions. According to them, a hierarchical system and polytheistic religion itself was a later development, parallel to the political developments of early nations. To find, therefore, among the ancient records, beliefs comparable to civilised and developed notion of pantheism or deism or theism would be, according to them, an impossibility. In the light of this view, a philosophical tradition which looks upon the Veda as an authority for philosophical thought and philosophical conclusion should rather be looked upon as primitive.
As we stand today at a fresh effort to present an account of the development of Indian philosophy, we need to confront the problem of relationship between the Veda and the orthodox systems of philosophy and to make an inquiry and a formulation of a possible and plausible justification of the value that has been assigned to the Veda in the orthodox systems of philosophy.
Fortunately, during the last hundred and fifty years, India has revisited the Veda, and in the bodies of interpretation presented by Maharshi Dayananada Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo and a few others like Madhusudan Ojha, we have a mass of material to which we have to refer in the light of which we are able to reaffirm the place which has been assigned to the Veda in the Indian tradition. It can be affirmed that essential features of the Vedic hymns is that, although the Vedic cult was not monotheistic in the modern sense of the word, yet they continually recognised, sometimes quite openly and simply, sometimes in a complex and difficult fashion, always as an underlying thought, that the many godheads whom they invoke are really one Godhead one with many names, revealed in many aspects, approaching man in the mask of many divine personalities. What is called henotheism is the attempt of the European mentality to understand and account for the Indian idea of one Divine Existence who manifests Himself in many names and forms, each of which is for the worshipper of that name and form, the one and the supreme Deity. That idea of The Divine, fundamental to the Puranic religion was already possessed by our Vedic forefathers. We may even go farther, and considering that the concept of ekam was all-pervading in the Veda and considering that the experience of oneness was considered to be the supreme experience of the human spirit, the Veda already contains the Upanishadic conception of the Brahman. The Veda recognises an Unknowable, a timeless Existence, the Supreme which is neither today nor tomorrow, moving in the movement of that which is itself and yet other than itself without alienating the other from itself. It recognises again that the Unknowable vanishes from the attempt of the mind to seize it (Rigveda I.170.1) and is often identified with the Immortality, the supreme triple Principle, the vast Bliss to which human beings aspire. In a hymn, Rigveda III.55.1, the Divine is described as the Unmoving who is born as the Vast in the seat of Aditi or the Cow who is described as the mightiness of the gods, is described also as the One.
The profoundest concepts of Indian ontology, the concepts of the sat and asat, the being and the non-being are to be found in the Veda. Nāsadiya Sukta, Purusha Sukta, Hiranya garbha Sukta and Aghamarshana Sukta as also several other hymns provide to us profound meanings of the concepts of Brahman, Purusha and Ishvara. The Ultimate Reality is conceived as Deva, the supreme Godhead, the Father of things who appears here as the Son in the human soul, and thus the Veda provides clues for later metaphysical thought in which the relationship between transcendental, universal and the individual can be properly conceived and realised.
The concept of Aditi that we find in the Veda is a clear forerunner of the concept of Shakti that became later on very powerful in the philosophy of Shaivism and other important systems of philosophy. The concept of Prakriti or Parā-Prakriti which has been explicitly stated in the Bhagavadgita and of nitya vibhuti as expounded in the philosophy of Vishishtādvaita can be traced to the Vedic concept of Aditi. Aditi can also be seen as a power of phenomenal creation, the power of divine Maya, which has played a great role in the subsequent systems of Indian philosophy. It would seem profitable to revisit all these concepts which are to be found in the Veda and one feels quite confident that in a massive presentation of the hymns containing these supreme ideas in the Veda, the subsequent philosophical concepts which we find in different schools of philosophy stand out more meaningfully and more significantly.
When this task is done, we shall find ample justification of the Indian tradition which regards Vedic hymns to be an indispensable preparation for the brahmavidya. At a deeper level, it may be found that the Vedic hymns were indispensable not by a mechanical virtue in the sacrifice but because the experiences to which they are the key and which were symbolised by the ritual are the necessary foundation of integral knowledge. We shall find justification in Shankara's view that the Vedic hymns are mines of all knowledge, knowledge of all the planes of consciousness.
We should take into account the tradition according to which the Veda has a secret meaning and a mystic wisdom. The Vedas themselves declared that the mantras were inspired from higher hidden planes of consciousness and contained a secret body of knowledge. It has also been mentioned that the words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or a mystic and that from the others the verses withheld their hidden knowledge. Vamadeva, to whom the fourth mandala of the Rigveda is attributed, describes himself (Rigveda IV.3.16) as one illumined expressing through his thought, speech and words of guidance,"secret words" — nin'yā vacāmsi — "seer-wisdom's that utter the inner meaning to the seer" —
ए॒ता विश्वा॑ वि॒दुषे॒ तुभ्यं॑ वेधो नी॒थान्य॑ग्ने नि॒ण्या वचां॑सि ।
नि॒वच॑ना क॒वये॒ काव्या॒न्यशं॑सिषं म॒तिभि॒र्विप्र॑ उ॒क्थैः ॥
Dirghatamas speaks of the mantras of the Veda as existing "in a supreme ether, imperishable and immutable in which all the gods are seated", and he adds, "one who knows not That what shall he do with the Rik?" (Rigveda 1.164.39). Elsewhere in the Riks, the Vedic word is described (Rigveda X.71) as that which is supreme and the topmost height of speech, the best and the most faultless. It is something hidden in secrecy and from there comes out and is manifested, and enters into the truth seers, Rishis, and it is found by following the track of the speech but all cannot enter into its secret meaning. It is further stated that those who do not know the inner sense are as men who seeing see not, hearing hear not, only to one here and there the Word desiring him like a beautifully robed wife to a husband lays open her body. When we try to understand these statements of the greatest Rishis such as Dirghatamas and Vamadeva, we realise that the belief that there is an occult and spiritual knowledge in the hymns of the Veda and that by this knowledge alone can one know the truth and rise to a higher existence, was not a later tradition but held, probably, by all the Rishis in general of the Vedic times. Yaska, therefore, declared that the spiritual knowledge is the true sense of the Veda and that when one gets it, the other senses ādhibhautika and ādhidaivika are dropped or cut away. Yaska also pointed out that the Rishis saw the truth, the true law of things, directly by an inner vision and that the true sense of the Veda can be recovered directly by meditation and tapasya.
The Vedic seers spoke of "truth seeing (dr̥ṣṭī) and truth hearing (shruti)", and Sri Aurobindo points that his own insight into the Veda arose from the identity he found between his own experiences of intuition, revelation and inspiration with what has been described in the Veda in the hymns relating to Ila, Saraswati and Sarama. Sri Aurobindo found also in the Veda the gospel of the divine and immortal supermind which has been described as a vastness beyond the ordinary firmaments and a consciousness in which truth of being is luminously one with all that expresses it and assures inevitable truth of vision, formulation, arrangement, word, act and movement and therefore truth also of result of movement, result of action and expression, infallible ordinance or law. Sri Aurobindo's own philosophy of supermind acknowledges that the Vedic Rishis were far from being primitive and were possessors of supramental knowledge. That philosophy accepts as authentic the Vedic description of the supermind as vast all-comprehensiveness and luminous truth and harmony of being in the vastness, or truth of law, act and knowledge expressing itself as the harmony of that being. Sri Aurobindo also accepts the Vedic term, rita-chit, "truth-consciousness", as his own definition of the supermind, and based on the Vedic clues, Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction made in the operations of the supermind between knowledge by a comprehending and pervading consciousness which is very near to subjective knowledge by identity and knowledge by a projecting, confronting, apprehending consciousness which is the beginning of objective cognition.
According to Sri Aurobindo, Vedic knowledge and subsequently also the Upanishadic knowledge was attained, not by a process of ratiocination but by the operation of the faculties of the supermind or of Intuition. As he points out; Intuition is our first teacher, and reason comes in afterwards to see what profit it can have of the shining harvest. In this light, the history of Indian philosophy can be seen as beginning with the age of intuitive knowledge, which, beginning with the Veda, was subsequently represented by the early Vedantic thinking of the Upanishads. This age gave way to the age of rational knowledge, when inspired scriptures made room for metaphysical philosophy, even as afterwards metaphysical philosophy had to give place to experimental science. Sri Aurobindo, in the following passage, describes briefly but illuminatingly the course of the development of Indian thought:
"Intuitive thought which is a messenger from the superconscient and therefore our highest faculty, was supplanted by the pure reason which is only a sort of deputy and belongs to the middle heights of our being; pure reason in its turn was supplanted for a time by the mixed action of the reason which lives on our plains and lower elevations and does not in its view exceed the horizon of the experience that the physical mind and senses or such aids as we can invent for them can bring to us. And this process which seems to be a descent, is really a circle of progress. For in each case the lower faculty is compelled to take up as much as it can assimilate of what the higher had already given and to attempt to re-establish it by its own methods. By the attempt it is itself enlarged in its scope and arrives eventually at a more supple and a more ample self-accommodation to the higher faculties. Without this succession and attempt to separate assimilation we should be obliged to remain under the exclusive domination of a part of our nature while the rest remained either depressed and unduly subjected or separate in its field and therefore poor in its development. With this succession and separate attempt the balance is righted; a more complete harmony of our parts of knowledge is prepared."
 Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, American Edition, p. 65
Sri Aurobindo's interpretation of the Veda enables us to look upon the Veda as possessed of the highest spiritual substance of the Upanishads but as a body of knowledge that is as yet insufficiently equipped with intellectual and philosophical terms. Sri Aurobindo finds in the Veda a system and a doctrine, whose structure is supple and whose terms are concrete, and whose cast of thought is practical and experimental. In the Veda, he finds an ancient psychological science and the art of spiritual living of which the Upanishads are the philosophical outcome and modification and Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga and other intellectual philosophies as late results of the labour of the rational logical endeavour.
The Vedic doctrine, as enunciated by Sri Aurobindo, describes a cosmology and he compares the seven principles of Vedic cosmology with the seven Puranic worlds with sufficient precision in the following way:
|1. Pure Existence — Sat||World of the highest truth of being
|2. Pure Consciousness — Chit||World of infinite Will or conscious force
|3. Pure Bliss — Ananda||World of creative delight of existence
|4. Knowledge or Truth||Vijnana World of the Vastness
|5. Mind||World of light
|6. Life (nervous being)||World of various becoming
|7. Matter||The material world
 Vide Sri Aurobindo: Hymns to the Mystic Fire, Vol.11, Centenary Edition, p.23
Indeed, in the Vedic system, cosmic gradations are differently grouped, — seven worlds in principle, five in practice, three in their general groupings:
|1. The Supreme Sat-Chit-Ananda||The Triple divine worlds|
|2. The Link-World Supermind||The Truth, Right, Vast, manifested in Swar, with its three luminous heavens|
|The Triple lower world|
|1. Pure Mind||Heaven (Dyaus, the three heavens)|
|2. Life-force||The Mid-Region (Antariksha)|
|3. Matter||Earth (the three earths)|
Our earth, according to the Veda, has been shaped out of the dark inconscient ocean of existence, and our physical life lifts its high formations and ascending peace towards the heaven of mind having its own formations. The streams of the clarity and the honey ascend out of the Subconscient Ocean upwards and they seek the Superconscient Ocean above. That upper ocean sends downwards its rivers of the light, truth and bliss even into our physical being. Thus in the ocean of physical Nature, the Vedic poets sing the hymn of our spiritual ascension.
The science and practice of that spiritual ascension is the secret science of the Veda or of the Vedic Yoga, the aim of which is immortality. This science assigns a great importance to Agni, the Mystic Fire which causes growth, and which increases the power and forges and welds relations among vegetations, plants and herbs and which pushes forward the greater forces of Intelligence and of the higher world of light, Swar. Agni represents warmth and heat at all levels of existence, and the awakening of the Mystic Fire in the heart of the Yogin creates the right condition for the path of sacrifice which, in the secret teaching of the Veda, is the path of the offering of the works to the highest Object of light, knowledge and bliss. The entire significance of sacrifice and its practice, when examined properly, turns out to be the Karmayoga of the Veda which is also, as explicitly stated in the Bhagavad Gita, synthesises with Jñānayoga and Bhaktiyoga. Agni is not only the fire of the sacrifice, the fire the journey of life, the élan of evolution, but also it is its leader and priest (purohita). Agni leads man in his search of the Truth (satyam). It is he who connects man with the cosmic forces and with all the gods of the three worlds (triloka), of earth (bhur), mid-world (bhuvar) and heaven (swar). At the head of swar is Indra, the god of Illumined Intelligence. It is Indra who shows man the path to the still higher realms and to the Supreme Reality. But before one can reach the Supreme or the Supreme Light, (Savitri), one has to cross the four Guardians, the four Kings guarding the light of the Truth. These are the four gods, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman and Bhaga. They are to be embraced and to be fulfilled before they lead the seeker to his goal.
Varuna represents vastness, infinite wideness, limitlessness. The Truth that the Veda worships is infinite, it is spaceless and timeless and yet is all Space and Time. This truth cannot be possessed without the widest wideness in our consciousness and in our being. The seeker has to learn to comprehend and to contain all, all without limits. He has to grow in the wideness of Varuna, worship him and be as wide as he is.
But this is not enough. Mitra, the lord of Harmony is also to be fulfilled. The seeker must learn the secret of relations, know the threads that bind each to all and all to each. He must learn to be the friend of all creatures, of all men, of all gods. With the wideness of Varuna, he must combine the harmony of Mitra; wideness and relationships are both to be mastered. The Supramental Light is wideness but not empty of contents or relations. Hence the necessity of the union of Varuna and Mitra.
But even this is not enough. In all human endeavour, there is the stress and strain of effort. There is a struggle, and it is through struggle, through intense effort, that the narrowness is overpassed, that the conflicts are resolved, wideness is achieved, harmony is established. One must have therefore the capacity for the highest effort, the intensest tapasya, a perfect mastery over all that needs to be done. Aryaman is the god of this mastery. Through him the highest effort is accomplished. He is total endurance. Without this endurance, we are like the unbaked jar, which will be broken at the touch of the Supreme Light. It will not be able to hold the nectar of immortality. The jar, our instrument, our body, our entire being, has to be baked, baked fully by the heat and austerity of Aryaman.
But there is still Bhaga to be fulfilled. The Supreme Light is joy and we must learn not only the intensest effort but also the highest degrees of delight. The Supreme Reality itself is supreme delight. He is to be approached, and in unity with Varuna, Mitra and Aryaman, he has to be embodied.
In his upward journey, the seeker then proceeds to Savitri, the lord of the Supreme Light, the sun in which all the gods unyoke their horses', the supreme in which gods cease to be entities and become His aspects.
This marks the victory of the Aryan seeker. He is now in the very home of the gods (swe dame). This is the home of the Truth, the Right and the Vast (satyam, ritam brihat). This is the supramental Truth-Consciousness (Rita-Chit), the highest cosmic consciousness. It is that by which reality expresses itself, and in which expression, even the Idea-Expression, is the concrete body of the Truth itself. It may therefore be described as the Real-Idea.
Attainment of the truth-consciousness, Rita-Chit, implies a process of finding and expanding vision of light which leads to immortality. First, the truth is held and enriched in thought; next, it is diffused in the entire being, as explained by Parashara in I.71.3,
dadhann ṛtaṃ dhanayann asya dhītim
ād id aryo didhiṣvo vibhṛtrāḥ
And Parashara speaks of the path which leads to immortality in the following words: "They who entered into all things that bear right fruits formed a path towards the immortality; earth stood wide for them by the greatness and by the Great Ones, the mother of Aditi with her sons manifested herself for the upholding (RV 1.72.9)." Commenting on this statement of Parashara, Sri Aurobindo states: "That is to say, the physical being, visited by the greatness of the infinite planes above and by the power of the great godheads who reign on those planes, breaks its limits, opens out to the Light and is upheld in its new wideness by the infinite Consciousness, mother Aditi, and her sons, the divine Powers of the supreme Deva. This is the Vedic immortality."
The secret knowledge of which the Indian tradition speaks is contained in the Vedic descriptions that relate to the human journey starting from the awakening of Agni which lifts us up to attainment of immortality. It can be said that it is the Vedic science of the human journey in its upward rising towards truth-consciousness that has moulded Indian philosophical thought towards the goal of spiritual liberation and perfection, and this distinctive feature of Indian Philosophy owes its origin to the Veda.
The Vedic experience of human journey underlines the concept of Ignorance, which has been a major concept in the subsequent systems of philosophy. In the second hymn of the fourth Mandala, we find the Rishi's prayer in the following words:
"May he the knower discern perfectly the Knowledge and the Ignorance, the wide levels and the crooked that shut in mortals; and O God, for a bliss fruitful in offspring, lavish on us Diti and protect Aditi." The state of knowledge is here compared to the wide open levels of consciousness, which are also termed as the states of citti, and Ignorance, which is indicated by the word acitti, is described as a state of crookedness (vr̥janā). The connection of Knowledge with Aditi and of Ignorance with Diti is also significant. Aditi refers to the power that is undivided and infinite, who is also considered in the Veda as the mother of the Gods or the Beings endowed with light. Diti is also called in the Veda Danu, which etymologically means division and whose powers are described in the Veda as the obstructing powers or vr̥itras. These obstructing powers are the referred to as Danus, Danavas and Daityas. It is also significant that Knowledge is associated with the concept of bliss, and with the offsprings of bliss, which obviously are manifestations of the Divine consciousness and which are effective through the conquest of Diti. But what is the meaning of the prayer that aspires to be lavished by Diti and which aspires the protection of Aditi? This prayer may become clearer when we read the Ishopanishad which declares the possession of the Knowledge and Ignorance, the unity and the multiplicity in the one Brahman as the condition of the attainment of Immortality.
 Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda, Vol.10 of the Collected Works of the Centenary Edition, p.192
The central concept of the Veda, it may be said, is that of the conquest of the Knowledge of the Truth out of the darkness of Ignorance, and by the conquest of the Truth, the conquest also of Immortality. Inherent in this conception is the discovery of r̥tam, which is the forerunner of the concept of Dharma and the law of Karma which are so prominent in the subsequent development of the Indian philosophical thought. r̥tam is the true being, the true consciousness and the true delight of existence which manifest the right action. The right action results from Truth- consciousness and it presents to the Ignorant consciousness, the normative state of consciousness which has to be attained, as also the process of that attainment. That process is a process of thoughts, emotions and works in their upward journey, which is guided by the growth of true consciousness, true being and true delight of existence. This process is also the process of sacrifice which consists of giving by man of what he possesses in his ignorant consciousness to the higher or Divine Nature. The sacrifice is governed by the law of the r̥ta which causes the ripening of the sacrifice into its corresponding fruits which consist of the gradual enrichment of the Faculties of Knowledge and the lavish bounty of the cosmic Divine, which can culminate in the total replacement of the Ignorance, and in the total possession of the Knowledge and of the attainment of Immortality. This process of sacrifice is conceived in the Vedic experience as a journey and as a progression, and the sacrifice itself is viewed as a travel led by Agni, the Mystic Fire, the burning aspiration and the zeal of self-giving. This journey is also described in the Veda as the battle, for it is opposed by the powers of evil and falsehood which are the results of Ignorance. The entire human life has been regarded in the Veda as a journey from darkness to higher light and still higher to the highest light. (ud vayaṃ tamasas pari jyotiṣ paśyanta uttaram | devaṃ devatrā sūryam aganma jyotir uttamam) 
Connected with the process of the attainment of Knowledge is the Vedic concept of Usha, which is the Divine Dawn. Her coming signals the rising of the Sun, which is the symbol in the Veda of the Supreme Knowledge. The Sun brings the day, the day of the true life in the true Knowledge, and the night he dispels is the night of the Ignorance which yet conceals the dawn in its bosom.
 Rig Veda, 1.50.10; (See also Chhandogya Upanishad, III 17.6,7)
The Veda speaks of the Angirasas, the forefathers who had traced the whole Path from Ignorance to Knowledge. In I.83.4.5, of the Rig Veda, we have the description of the Angirasas, of Atharvan, and Ushanas Kavya, in their process and in their attainment of the Knowledge of the Truth:"The Angirasas held the supreme manifestation (of the Truth), they who had lit the fire, by perfect accomplishment of the work; they gained the whole enjoyment of the Pani, its herds of the cows and the horses. Atharvan first formed the Path, thereafter Surya was born as the protector of the Law and the Blissful One, tatah sūryo vratapā vena ājani. Ushanas Kavya drove upward the Cows. With them may we win by the sacrifice the immortality that is born as a child to the Lord of the Law."
Attainment of Knowledge is seen in the Veda, not as the possession of the intellectual knowledge, but as the direct experience, direct perception, which is not sensuous but super-sensuous, which can properly be called Darshana. It is against this background that we can understand rightly why Indian Philosophy has come to be regarded as Darshana, and it is significant that all the systems of Indian Philosophy except the system of Carvakas, contend that they constitute a preliminary intellectual preparation for surmounting the ordinary consciousness so that it can be refined, subtilised and ultimately transcended into supra-intellectual vision, Darshana. We see here once again the close connection between the Veda and Indian Philosophy.
What is presented here is a brief argument to indicate the need to revisit the Veda. It may be added that in the PHISPC (Project of History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in the Indian Civilization), a large space has been devoted to the exposition of the Veda and Vedic Knowledge. But still, there is a need to visit once again the entire Vedic literature and derive from it those insights and clues which can clarify more and more luminously the various concepts and practical processes which have played a great role in making Indian Philosophy at once profound and sublime intellectually, even practically so fruitful.