Let us work to Restore the Vedas - Track 1

It’s a matter of great fortune for me to be here with us, so many distinguished scholars, and I feel very hesitant to speak in the presence of scholars like Dayanand Ji, who are themselves, great exponents of the Vedic lore. My own acquaintance with the Veda is not so long as the acquaintance which many Vedic scholars ought to have. Therefore I am not qualified to speak on the subject, but it is always good to share whatever one has acquired, whatever one has thought, and thus to be benefitted by mutual understanding, mutual enrichment, it is in that spirit that I am here with you this morning and will be with all of you for the next seven days. The subject which has been fixed for these lectures, to my mind is extremely important for our age. Why should we think of Veda at the present juncture of human history? While answering this question, I shall take support of 4 or 5 volumes that I have studied in this context. One is of course Sri Aurobindo’s great work called the ‘The Secret of the Veda’, the second is his commentary on Ishopanishad and Kenopanishad, the third is his ‘Essays on the Gita’, the fourth is ‘The Foundations of Indian Culture’, fifth is ‘The Life Divine’ of Sri Aurobindo, and finally ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’. These are the volumes in my mind at present and this series will be devoted to some of the fundamental questions which have been centrally confronted by Sri Aurobindo, and to my mind answered with so much of illumination that I feel extremely enthused to share with everyone as to what is contained in this great teaching of Sri Aurobindo, who has assigned central importance to the Veda.

Now we must remember that Sri Aurobindo himself had no training even in Sanskrit, he lived in England from the age of 7 to 21, and he mastered during that period Greek and Latin, of course English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Even his own mother–tongue he started only for probationary period of ICS examination. As we all know he had taken ICS examination, he passed it, and he was for one year in probation, during that period he started learning his own mother tongue – Bengali. Of course afterwards he felt no call for the ICS and got himself disqualified, he got disqualified because his father wanted him to be ICS officer, and his own heart did not consent to it. So he failed to appear at the riding test and even though twice or thrice he was given another chance, he did not take it and thus he got disqualified. Anyway, Maharaja of Baroda at that time happened to be in England and because of the encounter with him, who was so much impressed by Sri Aurobindo that he invited him to be his secretary and brought him to India.

It is very interesting that Sri Aurobindo who had no background basically about India, when he came to Apollo Bunder as he set his foot on the soil of India, a great calm entered into his consciousness, a calm of infinity. It is as if Mother India blessed him as he entered into the portals of India. And when he went to Baroda, it is here that he studied Sanskrit, not only Bengali but Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindustani and later on, he studied Tamil also. So he had thus mastery of about 12 languages, both Eastern and Western. And during his entire period of stay in Baroda from 1893 to 1906, he had of course read something about the Veda, but he himself believed under the influence of the then Western thinking that Veda has only a historical importance because it is a document of Indian history. He also shared the ideas of the Western thinkers,  that Veda is a antique document, it has collection of poems recited by barbarians in the primitive age and may be that it has something to do with the development of the Upanishads, and he thought that Upanishads are the real starting point of the history of Indian thought. It is only when he came to Pondicherry in 1910; he began to have certain yogic experiences, particularly the experiences of Saraswati and Ila. These are the two important goddesses in the Vedic Riks, and his experiences unfolded in such a manner that he wanted to find out the psychological truths, which were being revealed to him at that time and he had found nothing even in the Upanishads to explain those psychological experiences that he was undergoing. It is then that he turned to the Veda and when he started reading the Veda he found in the Veda the true exposition of three goddesses which are mentioned in the Riks of the Veda very explicitly, Bharti or Mahi, Ila and Saraswati, trisodeviyaha, the three great goddesses about whom some of the Riks describe, at some length. Later on he also found the concept of Daksha in the Veda and therefore Daksha or Dakshina. So ultimately he found that there are in the Veda four goddesses and although the Veda speaks of seven rivers, seven goddesses, seven fires, he could identify these four ’ Bharti or Mahi, Ila, Saraswati, Dakshina. Now what is the meaning of these four goddesses, he began to realise as he transcended certain levels of consciousness which were far above the human mind. We must remember at this time Sri Aurobindo himself had three major experiences before he came to Pondicherry in 1910. Now this is very necessary to understand how Sri Aurobindo entered into the Veda.

Sri Aurobindo had begun the practise of Yoga in 1901and he himself has said that he had been practising pranayama for hours and hours but he had no spiritual experience as a result of pranayama. Only experiences that he had was that of increase of health and the flow of poetry. Sri Aurobindo is known as a great yogin, great philosopher, great exegesis but that he was a supreme poet is not sufficiently known. But as Sri Aurobindo says his speciality is poetry. Philosophy he says: I am not a philosopher at all, but poetry is his basic work actually. In fact even in the Baroda period some of his great poems refer to themes of Nala and Damayanti, to Urvashi, to Chitrangada and many other themes connected with Indian culture, he had translated, for example Mallavika agnimitram of Kalidasa, from Sanskrit into English in the poetical form. He had also translated Vikramurvashiyam of Kalidasa into English again in poetical form. So his main work was poetry and at that time because of pranayama, he had a great flow of poetry. In 1906 he had felt that he was making no progress in the field of yoga. And then, as you know 1907, there was a famous Surat Congress, and at that time Congress was not running on proper lines, according to him and he wanted a very bold program for India and Moderates were not in favour of this bold program. Sri Aurobindo wanted to demand complete independence of India, whereas Moderates wanted some kind of concessions, like Indians going to ICS examination without going to England. Some constitutional reforms by which some Indians could be presented in the Parliament. And Sri Aurobindo had found that these are very lame propositions and India must be completely free from British rule. So it was he who was responsible for what is called the wrecking of the Congress of Surat at that time. But soon thereafter he went to Baroda and because of some acquaintance with a yogi called Lele, to whom he said that he had no yogic experience. So he said to him: you sit in meditation and you will find that thoughts come to you from outside, this was a revelation to him because normally we all think that thoughts arise in our mind. But he pointed out that thoughts come to you from outside, and before the thoughts come to you, you fling them out; don’t allow them to enter into the field of the mind. This is the technique that was given by Lele to him. And Sri Aurobindo did not question the whole thing and he simply sat down like an obedient pupil and he says, Sri Aurobindo has described his whole experience and he said as he sat in meditation thoughts he could see coming from outside and he could fling them. Now this is a remarkable feat that Sri Aurobindo in this preliminary exercise, he could fling away all the thoughts that were invading in the mind, and then as he went on flinging away the thoughts, in three days time he himself has said: I entered into the state of nirvana. This is also a most remarkable phenomenon in the history of yoga. A similar experience was also obtained by Sri Ramkrishna under the guidance of Totapuri, he had also within a short time attained to the experience of the Brahman, completely silent, that pure experience of what is described in the Mandukya Upanishad, turiya avastha, a state of the Brahman which is absolutely pure, without sinews of energy, one Reality without the second ‘ekam eva advitiyam’ and an experience in which he found that the whole world was hushed and in that state of experience he continued to live on and on, and on, and on. He felt that the senses were perceiving the world but the world had no reality. In fact this is a famous experience on which the whole philosophy of Shankara is established. We must remember that Shankara’s philosophy although rationalistic and by rational basis he establishes the thesis of one Reality without the second. His ultimate argument is Shruti, and the appeal to the experience of Brahman described in the Upanishad, it is that experience, which Sri Aurobindo says he acquired in three days time, this was in 1907. And then Sri Aurobindo said that experience remained with him permanently that is to say it is no more an experience, it was a realisation.

Sri Aurobindo has himself has made a distinction between an experience and realisation. In a state of experience a supernormal reality is felt, glimpsed, touched, lived in, for a short time but then you come back to the normal state of consciousness. In a state of realisation even though the normal state of consciousness can be seen, can be experienced, the other one is never left and it continues. Now this is the realisation that he had achieved in 1907, three years before he went to Pondicherry. Thereafter, from Baroda he was asked to go to Bombay to give a speech and he told his teacher Lele, I have no thoughts, so the teacher had said you just pray and the thoughts will come, then he attained the possibility of thinking at will, or expressing thoughts, or receiving thoughts at will. And from 1907, whatever he wrote, he himself has said whatever he wrote was written by him in a state of silent mind. And what he wrote was tremendous. If you read his writings from 1907–1908, he was a editor of a magazine, a daily called ‘Vande Mataram’. Even today when you read those articles they set you on fire. Series of articles that he wrote in Vande Mataram , it is through the pages of Vande Mataram that a kind of revolution came into existence in India and there was a tremendous tide towards the goal of India’s independence.

In 1908 in the month of May, he was arrested because there was what is called Alipore Bomb Case, his younger brother Barin was a revolutionary, and Sri Aurobindo was secret leader of this revolutionary movement of India and Barin was making experiments in making bombs at that time. And Maniktala Garden was the ancestral property in which these secret programmes were being carried out. Britishers came to know of it, and they raided and in one of the documents Sri Aurobindo’s name was there, so he was also arrested and he was charged of sedition. Now this particular arrestation of Sri Aurobindo and what happened to thereafter is one of the most important events in the life of Sri Aurobindo. And Sri Aurobindo has himself described this particular development in a speech that he delivered after he was acquitted in 1909. For one year he remained as a under trail prisoner in the Alipore Jail and there he gave a speech after he came out and this speech is worth reading by everybody because it gives us a clear idea as to what Sri Aurobindo was engaged in. What was the scope of his work for India’s independence?