Let’s turn to Rig Veda itself which is the largest book, and is supposed to be the Veda, actually. If you do not know Rig Veda, other Vedas are difficult to know, because Yajur Veda repeats two thirds of Rig Veda. Sama Veda has most of the Rig Veda repeated excepting only seventy–five verses. Only seventy–five verses are unique in Sama Veda, all the others are repetitions of the Rig Vedic verses. Atharva Veda consists of half of the Rig Veda, with only half something unique. So, this means that if you do not know Rig Veda, you cannot know the other Vedas very well. That is why most people turn to the Rig Veda, and that is most significant.
So I shall do a little more on the Rig Veda. It has ten chapters. Usually when you open any book, you will find chapters in the book. In the Veda, a chapter is called Mandala, a Sanskrit word. In Sanskrit there are many words for chapter: Mandala, kanda, adhyaya. In Rig Veda a chapter is called Mandala, so there are ten Mandalas in the Rig Veda. Now these Mandalas have been organised in a particular manner, it is not a selection done pell–mell in a haphazard manner, there is a system, there is an organisation. The first verses are of one kind, the second batch of verses are still of another kind, the third batch of verses are of yet another kind. There is a system. The first chapter and the tenth chapter collect the poems of a number of poets; the second chapter to the eighth chapter collects the poems of only one poet, one poet or his progeny, poets who are born in the same family. And the ninth chapter is a very special chapter of which I will speak to you later on. It is not a collection of poems of many poets, or even of one poet, it is specialised only on one subject? The subject of immortality. While speaking of Dharma, I had spoken to you about immortality as one of fundamental aspirations, along with permanence and certainty. So that subject of immortality is specially treated in the ninth chapter, the ninth Mandala.
And then if you want to know some of the special poets who are very famous, most of the Indians known two of these poets, one is Vasishtha another is Vishwamitra. These two names are very well known in India; even the common people know Vasishtha and Vishwamitra. The third chapter consists of the poems written by Vishwamitra, and the seventh chapter consists of poems written by Vasishtha. Then there is another poet who is very famous, he is called Vamadeva. The entire fourth chapter is given to Vamadeva. Poems written by Atri, are in the fifth chapter. The sixth chapter is given to Bharadvaj. These are some of the important names of the poets. In other words, these poets were the leaders of humanity of ancient times. We are absolutely certain about this; there is no speculation about it. It is definitely known that Vamadeva was a great leader and a great poet, that Vasishtha was a great poet, Vishwamitra was a great poet, Atri was a great poet, Bharadvaj was a great poet, and many others names such as Madhuchchandas, and many others. Even today, stories of Vasishtha and Vishwamitra, are known to the children of India. There was a great battle between Vasishtha and Vishwamitra according to historical stories that have come down. Vishwamitra particularly was opposed to Vasishtha. There is a story written by Sri Aurobindo in Bengali and which is available also in English translation (you can ask Deepti, she will tell you the story). It is a story of forgiveness, how Vishwamitra was angry and terribly angry with Vasishtha and how his anger was wiped out by the great act of forgiveness on the part of Vasishtha, (I will not tell you the story because then you will lose interest and you will not ask Deepti. I would like you to ask her about this story because it is a very interesting story.)
But when you read the poems of these great poets, you enter into a kind of a world of knowledge which is like a brilliant sun. Normally we think that ancient people must have been rather barbaric, primitive, uncivilised, uncouth, without manners. But surprisingly we find that the most ancient literature available to mankind is so civilised. It is a surprise. Actually historians may not be able to explain how this happened: how is it that the most ancient people of the world, like Vasishtha and Vishwamitra, and Bhardwaj and Atri and Vamadeva, Madhuchchandas and Dirghathamas, how do they happened to be so civilised, so cultured.
How can we say that they were very cultured, what is the proof that they were very cultured? The first proof is their language. One of the marks of a civilised or cultured person is the capacity of linguistic expression. One who cannot speak well, in chaste language, clearly, with decoration of beauty, is not a cultured person. The mark of culture is capacity of language and its expression. Now if you read what Vasishtha has written, what Vishwamitra has written, it is so beautiful, it is as if these people had such a huge vocabulary. For expressing one idea, they were capable of expressing it differently, variously. Just to take one example: while describing the mind, the human mind, Vishwamitra (in the third chapter which is allocated to him) compares Mind with women who are neither nude nor clad. If you look at the mind, it is an accurate example of something that is neither nude nor clad. Mind is an instrument, and it is transparent. When the mind becomes absolutely clear, there is transparency. This is what Descartes has said: “When certainty comes, mind is absolutely clear; transparency is the quality of the mind.” When you have a glass which is absolutely transparent, it is a glass, therefore it is something, it is a vehicle, it is an instrument, it is a medium. Therefore you cannot say it is completely nude, it is clad, and yet it is nude because it is transparent. Now, this kind of understanding of the mind, Vishwamitra just puts it in a very casual manner, a kind of analogy or simile of the mind in the third chapter. This is only one small example I am giving.
Then there are so many ideas which are so profound. Let’s take only one small example of one the profoundest ideas. In one of the verses the poet says: “The reality is strange and wonderful.” Reality is strange and wonderful. Why it is strange and wonderful? The reason that is given is: it is one and yet different from one. It is one and yet it is other than one. It is a kind of a riddle which is given by the poet. Simple understanding is, one is one, and two is two. If it is two, then of course there is one and another also. But being one, it is still another, such is the nature of the reality, and therefore it is wonderful. This is one of the profoundest ideas that we find in the Vedas. How is the reality one and yet different from itself. It is itself and yet is different from itself. It is a riddle. One day we shall discuss this in detail. How can the reality be one, and yet be different from itself. This is one example of profundities.