Sri Aurobindo maintains that ritualistic interpretation of the Veda is not altogether to be rejected. Rituals are not to be rejected, simply because they are rituals and you have forgotten the meanings of them. But it is true that the rituals, secret of rituals is greatly forgotten, we need to recover, if at all we can recover now, what exactly these rituals meant. Dayanand Bhargava ji was saying yesterday evening in our conversation, how even the method of recitation in Rig Veda, in Yajur Veda, Sam Veda even the methods of recitation are different. And these methods of recitation are very much connected with some of the inner meaning of what is the meaning of rik, as a science of formations, yaju as a science of movement, and sama the science of illumination. How these three different meanings of rik, yaju and sama is reflected also in the method by which, the sounds by which, the chanting by which, the verses or hymns are recited. But apart from that there are so many rituals of the Vedic times and we all know Brahamanas specialise in the interpretation of the viddhis. And Brahamanas contrary to many people’s beliefs contain lot of philosophical knowledge also. It is not as if Brahamanas are only concerned with viddhis. But there is a good deal of philosophical speculation as philosophical knowledge. But it is a fact that Brahamanas gave birth to Arayankas and Arayankas gave birth to the Upanishads, historically this is also a fact. It is also a fact that by the time of the Upanishads, Vedas had come to be considered to be karmakanda and there was a great resistance to this idea because the idea that Vedas are really the books of knowledge, these ideas were there in the beginning, Vedic Rishis were regarded as men of knowledge. Rishis who were trikaladrishta, they knew past, present, future, this is the description of the Rishi, one who has got trikaladrishti. And therefore this tradition of looking upon the Veda as a book of knowledge also persisted, even while the theory of karmakanda had grown so profusely. It is also said that Upanishads were a revolt against the karmakanda of the Brahamanas. Whether this theory of revolt and all that, we need not go into it, because these are matters of controversies and as seekers of knowledge we are not interested in controversies. As seekers of knowledge we only want to taste the honey and drink the honey and that is all that we are concerned with. Whether really the Brahamanas speak of only the karmakandas or something else, whether Upanishads in any way deride action at all is also a question mark, kurvan eva iha karmani, who is speaking this? It is Upanishad that you should seek to live a hundred years by doing actions alone. So if it is karmakanda is rejected by Upanishad, how will you explain this Ishopanishad which says that by doing actions na karma lipayat nara, how do you come to that. So one need not go into these controversies, whether Upanishads rejected the karmakanda or karmakanda necessarily meant a rejection of the gyankanda although much of it also due to Poorva Mimamsa, which certainly gave a great push to the idea of karmakanda verses gyankanda, and the development of the Vedantic philosophies in the later times certainly accentuates that battle. But to my mind this battle is important from a scholastic point of view, perhaps from historical point of view, but not important for the seekers of knowledge; if for example rituals are found to be effective and they can be demonstrated to be effective, why to deride ritualism? If rituals really give certain effects, my friend spoke of Hanuman Chalisa, he followed ritualism, he did it and he got a result. In fact there is a whole yogic theory of ritualism and according to this theory, ritualism has a meaning. In fact particularly in Bhakti Yoga, rituals are inevitable component part in Bhakti Yoga particularly.
As Sri Aurobindo says rituals are necessary, provided they are renewed, if rituals are revised and practised but in time rituals become obsolete. The force goes out of it, then you have to make new rituals which express the real spirit because basically a ritual is nothing but an external exposition, or expression of something that is inmost in the soul. When I want to express my deepest sentiments, how do I do it? If I want to express physically, it is by ritual. You have a certain system of expression. Namo bharanta emasi in the very first hymn of the Rig Veda, this is a description that we come to Agni day after day bearing all the time bharanta, I mean full of namah, of obeisance. Surely the ritualism of Veda is not to be thrown aside, saying it is nothing. Rituals are important, necessary, they are necessary expressions but they need not bind. If one maintains that rituals are absolutely indispensible and that without them you cannot have the experience of the Reality, if such is the theory then surely ritualism is faulty. But at the same time one who is following a certain path, his approach to Reality, his own ritual in approach to Reality is binding on him, it’s not binding in general, but binding on him. If this is the relationship that you have established with the object of your worship, if I approach you every time with shaking of hands it’s a ritual. But if I go to one Rishi, shake hands with him, it would be absolutely barbaric. When I approach a Rishi, I must do dandvat pranam, all my angas, all my limbs, should fall prostrate at the feet of the Rishi and this is the ritual by which you approach the Reality, you recognise the Reality. This is the truth of rituals, provided that rituals are renewed and made fresh, and this is what has happened in the history of Indian religion. Profusion of rituals in India, very often bewilder the minds of many people and they feel that these Indians are haphazard, there is no system in them, anything will do, if this yagya is not available, do another Yagya, that is also is allowed, this also is good, you don’t do this, do that. Even in Jainism, if you don’t do all vratas, mahavrats – anuvrata will do also.
All kinds of systems have arisen in India. Reason behind it is that behind all this India has recognised right from the beginning, even the Vedic Rishis knew that rituals are important but they have to be renewed, they have to be refreshed. New rituals can be created according to the need, every ritual, whether in Christianity also, all rituals are nothing but physical embodiments of certain events which have happened spiritually. You take a piece of bread because Christ took a piece of bread at a given time, in his Last Supper and now you make a ritual of it because you remember Christ and his sacrifice by that particular kind of movement, you repeat it. It has a meaning. There is also a deeper meaning of the rituals that is to say that whenever a certain spiritual event takes place in the life of a Yogin, even the physical surroundings and the way in which physically it happens to him, it doesn’t happen by accident.
In fact according to the Vedic knowledge, there are no accidents. There is a constant design in the world, there is a rita, there is a law, a cosmic law and according to that law things are all the time designed and happen. And therefore there is a repetition, even in the seasons there is a repetition, in the flowering also there is a season and therefore a repetition, in the meeting of people there are repetitions and similar things go on happening. And rituals have actually speaking their basis in the physical surroundings and physical things that have happened and therefore that kind of ritualism, even a small thing like procession for the time of marriage, the bridegroom rides on a horse, it’s a ritual, you need not. Western system there is no such thing at all, in India we have because ashva rohana is a ritual, it’s a very important thing, it derives from the idea of the Veda. There are two important ideas of the Vedas go and ashwa; go which means the cow and ashwa means the horse. But the internal meaning, the symbolic meaning of go is light and of horse is force, energy, action and according to the Vedic knowledge the ultimate Reality has among many other attributes Chit Shakti as a part of its ultimate Nature. And Chit Shakti has got two aspects, Chit and Shakti, the consciousness and force. And therefore in the Veda there is this double appellation that is why Usha is very often called not only gomati but also ashavawati. Usha is addressed very often as gomati and ashavawati that is to say it has got both the aspects. When Usha rises consciousness force begins to act, only there is a law of predominance, sometimes ashwa is more predominant and sometimes go is more predominant but ultimately the two should be in equilibrium. A Yogi is one who is seated in complete state of consciousness, out of which a constant flow of action flows out, this is the ideal condition. That is why when we have ashwa rohana it is basically this ritual, is to tell the individual that you are now not to be subject to horse, horse is a wild force of energy of action, you are now to rise to a higher level, where you can ride over it, you can control it. In fact marriage in India is a sadhana, is even prescribed as a sadhana. Marriage is not a field of enjoyment; it’s a field of control, of mastery, but a gradual mastery. Because Indian psychology always recognised that there are steps by which you can rise, you don’t jump simply from wildness to civilisation. You gradually rise. Therefore this ashwa rohana has got this fundamental meaning that the individual is given a message that now you have to ride over your wild impulses and passions. This is a new stage of life. Even ashwamedha is basically an idea that your energies, your wildness is offered, is sacrificed and out of that the Divine energy can flow, that is to say if you give a lower energy and you sacrifice it, a higher energy flows out. And this is the truth of psychology; anybody can tell you that whenever you can control the lower energy, a higher energy begins to flow. Therefore rituals are not to be discouraged per say but a stage must come and can come, when one rises above all rituals and that is why in Gyana kanda for example rituals are given no importance. And they are also not wrong. If you are really pursuing knowledge, wisdom, light, external means, external rituals can be thrown out, they are no more necessary.
In fact what is called Yoga proper, the distinction between religion and yoga is that in religion rituals are regarded to be necessary and essential. In yoga rituals are not necessary and they can be dispensed with, it is one of the distinctions, there are many other distinctions but one of the distinctions of yoga and religion is that in religion rituals are necessary. When you enter into yoga but do not give away the rituals unless you entered into yoga, do not throw away the crutches, unless you are able to walk. As long as you are lame, you need the crutches. But it is only when you go above it that you are entitled to give up, that is why in our Indian system also sanyasin has no boundaries, no bondage, nothing at all. He becomes parivrajak he has no home, only the sky is the abode in which he lives. Therefore, this process of going above is a very necessary part of yogic life. And the most important part of the Veda as Sri Aurobindo reveals is the Yoga of the Veda; according to Sri Aurobindo Vedic texts reveal a profound yoga, not only profound yoga but a synthesis of yoga.