It’s a matter of great fortune for me to have 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 in his own mother-tongue he started only for the probationary period of ICS examination. As we all know he had taken the ICS examination, he passed it, and he was on probation for one year, 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 an 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, the 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 a 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 Malavikagnimitram 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 is 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 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 an 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 the 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 arrest of Sri Aurobindo and what happened thereafter is one of the most important events in the life of Sri Aurobindo. 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 an 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?
A few things that he said I would like to repeat to you, he says when I was arrested, I asked the inner Supreme Reality why have you allowed this arrest, I thought I had a work to do, you wanted me to do a work and now I will be in jail without any work, so there was a reply from within, ‘wait, you will see’, and after three days when he was taken into the real cell of the jail, Sri Aurobindo says: Sri Krishna came to me, and said: ‘I have brought you here for a specific purpose, I had given you indication to withdraw from the political activity so that the work that I want you to do can be done. Since you did not respond to it, I had to find the means by which you could be delivered from this political activity and therefore, I have brought you here in the jail, so that you can do the work that I want you to do. And there Sri Aurobindo says, a friend came to the jail and gave him the Bhagavad Gita and Sri Aurobindo began to practise the yoga of the Gita. And the whole year he practised the yoga of the Gita and during that time one of the most remarkable experiences was what was called the universal experience of Vasudeva. Vasudeva sarvam iti and as it were a concrete proof of it was he says: ‘when I was in the court, as a under trial prisoner (because all the accused were taken to the court everyday and while the prosecution was expounding its prosecution the prisoners were supposed to listen but he was entirely absorbed in the yogic meditation during the period) and he said: when I looked at the prosecution lawyer, I found it was Sri Krishna was prosecuting me and I looked at the judge and saw Sri Krishna smiling at me, when I went back to my prison cell, I found Sri Krishna standing at the gate. When I looked at the tree which was behind the prison cells, I found Sri Krishna standing at the tree. And Sri Aurobindo says that Sri Krishna walked with me, talked to me. This is one of the most revealing experiences of Sri Aurobindo. In fact this experience reveals to us the living reality of Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna, who is so much worshipped in India, worshipped as the avatar of the Supreme Lord.
For a modern yogi Sri Aurobindo educated in England and himself confirming this experience, is for the history of Indian spirituality a momentous evidence that Sri Krishna is a reality, one can meet him, can talk to him, one can get guidance from him, one can be led by him. It was there that Sri Krishna, (Sri Aurobindo says in the Uttarpara speech) told him, I want India to rise not because India should rise but because the world should rise. It is India which can lead the world, if the world has to move forward, India has to be freed and India will be freed. That is a promise that Sri Krishna gave to him. India will be free. But India will be free so that the teaching of India is lived, not merely contemplated upon, but India’s truth should be lived. And this living message of India should be spread in the world.
Then Sri Aurobindo speaks of Sanatana Dharma and Sri Krishna’s revelation of Sanatana Dharma. What is the truth of Sanatana Dharma? Something beyond rituals, beyond all kinds of worship, the truth of Reality which can be lived, which can be experienced, which can be realised? This is the experience that Sri Aurobindo had in the Alipore jail and he was according to many compatriots who were also imprisoned, Sri Aurobindo was all the time found in the state of meditation. It was not a stay in the jail, according to Sri Aurobindo; it was a stay in an ashram where he was secluded from everything else, so that he could concentrate. It was here that Sri Aurobindo was told by Sri Krishna that he had a work to do, which goes much beyond political activity, it is not the denial of political activity, it was not the denial of the action which was to be done for the liberation of India. But this work had to be expanded into a greater work. The scope of his work had to be world-wide work. And world-wide work can be launched upon only when the truths of Indian spirituality are fully realised in actual experience. There was a third experience apart from the first experience in Baroda of silent Brahman, the cosmic consciousness of Vasudeva, he had a third experience and Sri Aurobindo says that this experience came to him from Swami Vivekananda.
Now we must remember that Swami Vivekananda was not alive at that time, he had passed away five years before. And this is the experience Sri Aurobindo says that he got from the voice of Vivekananda and he says for fifteen days Swami Vivekananda spoke to him of the planes which are lying between mind and Supermind, the passage from the mind to the Supermind. And he says when this exposition was over the voice also ceased.
Now this experience of going beyond mind to the Supermind, Sri Aurobindo later on found was the fundamental thing of the Veda. That is say the Vedic knowledge is so vast and so perfected that the glimpses of that knowledge which he got in the Alipore jail through Vivekananda’s exposition and on the lines on which he was practising yoga when he came to Pondicherry, it was with this background that he was practising and it is during that practise he began to have the experiences of Saraswati and Ila. And it is in that context when he started reading the Veda; he got the clue to the real meaning of the Veda. That is to say Sri Aurobindo’s revelation of the Vedic knowledge is not by reading commentaries and by books, which of course he had read and also was reading, he had read afterwards so much. But his own understanding of the Veda was by direct experience.
In fact, it can even be said he did not discover his experience through Veda, his experiences led him to confirm the Veda that the Vedic knowledge is a true knowledge, this truth of the knowledge contained in the Veda came to him by his own experiences and by the enrichment of these experiences. And then he began to find that this book which is regarded by the Western scholars to be a book of primitive people, of the people who were afraid of the forces of nature, who were afraid of darkness and who were praying for the rise of the sun and worshipping ushas and wondering at the movement of the sun and the moon and the stars. And then the whole theory of the invasion of Aryans of India, in which Dravidians were thrown out from the north and sent to the south, where dasuyas were identified with Tamilians or Dravidians. Vritra and vala and panis of the Vedic allusions were all as if Dravidians. Sri Aurobindo said that all that fell absolutely like a screen falling at one stroke. It is that experience of him that brought him to the real study of the Veda.
I took you to this long story of Sri Aurobindo because it is very important to have this background that Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the Veda is not an intellectual interpretation of the Veda. It is a revelation to a Rishi of the experiences of the Rishis in the method of the Rishi. As Vamadeva says ninyami vachamsi the secret words, Kavahi vachanai it is given to the poet, poet means according to the Veda, poet is a seer, is a Rishi. And these words which are secret words, Sri Aurobindo himself says that the Veda declares that the words of the Veda are secret. That is to say, do not read the Vedic words as they are, there are secret words. In another essay, Sri Aurobindo has written that the language of the Veda is algebraic. Just as in algebra you have to understand symbols, xyz, whatever it is, you have to understand what it means? Similarly the Veda contains a number of words, which are secret words. And these secret words were deliberately designed by the Vedic seers. The Vedic seers according to Sri Aurobindo were masters of knowledge. The question as to how masters of knowledge could come about in that ancient time is a very interesting question for historians, because according to historians the knowledge grows little by little and primitive people must be much less advanced then what we are because we are more advanced.
This whole story of the development of religion, not only of India but of the whole world is according to the Western thinking and many disciples of the West in India, they believe that religion starts from fear. This is the starting point of all beliefs in religion, human beings are afraid and they want to get protection from the objects of fear and the whole world is fearful. To the primitive man everything is fearful, frightening, so the primitive man was a frightened man. And therefore he was seeking some kind of solace, some kind of protection, and when you are afraid you immediately seek help psychologically. And when you get some help, you think that some help has come from outside and you deify the object that gives you help or seems to be giving you help. This is according to them the starting point of religion.
The theories of animism, of spiritism, fetishism, totemism, theories of tribal religion, theories of national religion, story of universal religion, all gradual development starting from fear of man. Now according to that theory, therefore Veda, if it is a religious book, if it is a book in which prayers are being offered, then the objects to whom prayers are offered must be objects which were worshipped by these primitive people to get some kind of solace, some kind of help. In other words the objects which seem to be giving you help may not be real at all, it’s simply a belief. But such flimsy objects having flimsy reality became deified and therefore this whole theory of the Vedic religion as understood in the West has behind it this theory that man begins religious beliefs starting with fear and gradually you begin to develop more and more refined ideas even though ultimately you are never sure whether the object of religion is real or not. Even as late as William James who wrote great book called ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ this is the exposition he has made, he has described a number of religious experiences in his book, starting from the presence of the Divine, or of God, or of Christ, because largely he has taken the Christian experiences and experiences of conversion, experiences of saintliness, experiences of mysticism, has even taken from Raja Yoga, some of the experiences described by Vivekananda, but having done all that he says that I take a pragmatic view of religion, whether the object of religion exists or not, cannot be determined. There may not be any God, or gods, or anything of the kind, but I favour religion because the belief cures the human mind. If you believe in God, your mind remains healthy, so because of health reasons, he says you can allow religion to flourish.
So most of the people who are in the West, who are critiques of religion, if they allow religion to flourish it is only on the grounds of healthy mindedness, it is something in which people should believe because it gives you health. Children always require mothers, they turn to their mothers. Humanity is infantile, we are all small children, afraid of so many things, we therefore return to our mother or some figure of Godhead, father, mother or Supreme Reality, you may believe in and that is the whole explanation of religion.
Now that theory fitted very well with the experiences of the Veda. Now it is very important that when you read the Veda, much of it is incomprehensible, real text of the Veda. Of course there are many, many verses which are very clear, but a large number of hymns, large number of terms, words, they are extremely difficult to interpret. There is also a theory in India that Vedas are only words. Words have effectivity. There are no meanings of these words and don’t try to find the meaning at all. The Westerners do not think that the words have no meaning, they have tried to penetrate, and I must say that we must give a great credit to many scholars of the West, who have tried to study the Vedas. Rightly or wrongly they have interpreted the Vedas. Even the great Max Mueller for example, he translated but after doing that he wrote a letter to his wife saying that I have now finished my work, when people will read what the Veda contains they will see the futility of it, the primitiveness of it, and they will see the greatnesses of Christianity ‒ this is Max Mueller writing to his wife. It is a secret communication between him and his wife, but now of course available, but this is what he ultimately arrived at that Veda is a very primitive document having hardly any meaning in it at all, something very incoherent and full of allusions to things which are incomprehensible. You take the whole lot of the Western scholars who have translated the Vedas and interpreted them, they also use what is called philological method, to find a great connection between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek and having found a lot of connection between these languages, they have declared that the Sanskrit language and the so called Rishis of the Veda, they had migrated from the West, descended from the West and came and entered into India and invaded India and the Veda is simply a story of the invasion of the Aryan race which came from outside and which drove away the Tamilians from the North and threw them out into the South. This whole division of India into North and South was created by this theory of Aryan invasion.
Now Sri Aurobindo says that when he came to Pondicherry and began to study the Veda, he found, because now he had experiences, so he could not say this is all primitive but he also found that this division of the northern and the southern races, itself is a fiction. He came across so many Tamil friends and he said the physiology, physiognomy of the friends in Tamil Nadu was not different from the physiognomy of his Bengali friends, or Rajputs, or from Gujaratis or Marathis. So he said I don’t understand how this false theory has come into prominence in India. Dasuyas are supposed to be noseless but he said Tamils' noses can give a very good account of itself. Where is this nose less Dasuyus, and where is the beautiful nose of Vyjayanthimala, or of the present beautiful women of the South, handsome men of the South? What is the distinction between the two? The whole theory collapsed before him.
It is at this stage that Sri Aurobindo began to study the idea of the sacrifice, which is the most important element in the Veda. The entire Vedic literature is rooted in the concept of sacrifice ‒ Yajya. And he found that this word sacrifice is a symbolic word and the three offerings which are normally made, one is the offering of ghee, ghritam, ghritamtivram, the second is Soma wine is also an offering and third is a cake made of cereals. These are three offerings of Yajya and he made a study of these three particularly as to what is ghrita in the Veda, what is Soma in the Veda and what is this cake? And he found that these three words are symbolic words. They are not to be identified necessarily with the ordinary things that we think to be ghee and Soma etc. They have symbolic meaning. Then he found the words like hota, adhvaryu, ritvik, many priests, these words are used not only for human beings but are also used for the Gods. It’s not that a human being is a purohit, even the very first sukta Agnimile purohitam yajnasya devamritvijam hotaram ratnadhatamam all epithets of Agni. Agni is a God. Why is it that these epithets are applied to Gods? There must be some symbolic meaning in it, so he made a study of this aspect also. And then he began to study and found that if these keywords are understood etymologically, philologically and by equivalence which is in Sanskrit in profusion and the use of shelasha, which is also profuse in the Veda and literature and particularly in later classical Sanskrit also shelasha is one of the very important figures of speech. And this led Sri Aurobindo to make a study of the origins of Aryan speech. And there his own mastery of Greek and Latin was a great help because he found by his study of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and he found Tamil to be an inevitable link in this understanding of the development of languages. So his conclusion was that Tamil is not a language, very distant from Sanskrit. According to him there was one pre-Sanskritic language of which both Sanskrit and Tamil are descendants. And some of the links that you get in development of Greek and Latin can be found only if you go via Tamil. It is a very vast subject and it is not the main subject of our study here but this is a very important study in which Sri Aurobindo actually wanted to write a full book, he has only written one chapter of that book, he didn’t find time to write more. It is a very instructive chapter ‘Origins of the Aryan Speech’ that is the title of his book. He found that Tamil is not a language of a race different from the Aryans. The whole of India consists of one homogeneous group of people, and the distinction that is made between the Dravidian languages and the Aryan languages is also fictional. Of course now we know that Tamil itself has 50% of Sanskrit words, Telugu has 80% of Sanskrit words and so Malayalam also has a large percentage of Sanskrit words. To give one example, Sri Aurobindo says: the word amma in Tamil surely is not derived from matri, janani, if there was a great connection between the two, these are the immediate words on which you can test a language because these are the primitive words of any language, mother, father, brother, sister, automatically one turns to these words. And if there is a great connection you can immediately find a connection, so if you see amma in Tamil and janani, and mata there is no connection, but surely there is a connection between amba and amma and amba is a Sanskrit word. Similarly for example ‒ child, in Sanskrit aapatya and in Tamil not the child but the father is called appa. So usually there is a kind of transference between child and the father; very often you describe the child as father. In affection very often you call your child your father.
Sri Aurobindo has made a detailed study, because he learnt all the languages very well, so he was an authority in this subject and he established that Dravidian languages and so called Northern languages are derived from one original language. Now what I am saying is only a preliminary of a vast study that Sri Aurobindo conducted thereafter and his entire book ‘The Secret of the Veda’ is based upon this vast study and as I said not an intellectual study but a study based upon his experiences.
In order to arrive at a better understanding of the Veda, Sri Aurobindo also refers to two great studies which have been made, one by Sayana, another by Dayanand Saraswati, in recent times. Of course here we have a great tradition of Madhusudan Ojha, of which Bhargav Ji is an authority but in Sri Aurobindo’s writings there is no reference to the writings of Madhusudan Ojha. But while interpreting the Veda, Sri Aurobindo finds that Sayana’s interpretation of the Veda is very faulty, very defective, and he calls it a ritualistic interpretation of the Veda. It is true that this tremendous work done by Sayana, he says it has got to remain an anti-chamber for anybody who wants to enter into the real room of the Vedic knowledge. You cannot avoid the study of Sayana because even though faulty, defective, it gives many clues. And the ritualistic interpretation of the Veda is very helpful.
Secondly, according to Sri Aurobindo the Veda has also traditionally several alternative meanings, even tradition maintains that the Veda has several adibhautic, adidaivic, adhyatmic, different kind of interpretation are possible. Even Yaska had given so many alternative meanings and actually Yaska had said: when you enter into adhyatmik meaning then all other interpretations fall because that is the real meaning of the Veda but that you cannot attain merely by studying the text as it is, it comes only through meditation, this is the view of Yaska himself. And fortunately Sri Aurobindo approached the Veda through that method ‒ adhyatmik method. But throughout his commentaries on the Vedic hymns Sri Aurobindo refers to Sayana, compares in many ways Sayana’s interpretation with the interpretation that he gives and shows the deficiencies of Sayana’s interpretation. Now in India of course large number of Vedic scholars are wedded to Sayana’s interpretation and therefore if anyone says that Sayana’s interpretation is defective, it would hurt the sentiments of many, many interpreters of the Vedic knowledge. But you know the progress of knowledge very often comes through some sharp shocks of this kind, where Sri Aurobindo who has such a mastery of the language and such a mastery over Sayana’s own interpretation, interpretation of the Vedic scholars of other kinds like Dayanand’s interpretation, and the Western scholars and one who can compare all these interpretations and establish a new meaning of the Veda, this is the spirit in which we approach Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation. It is not to reject necessarily because something collides with our own view. It is a research, it is a study, it’s a process of knowledge.
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 secrets of rituals are 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 are 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 a 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 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 an inevitable component 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 myself 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 indispensable 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, mahavratas ‒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 repetition, even in the seasons there is 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, 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 a 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 enter 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's 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.
It appears that there must have been a Pre-Vedic period. If you read the Veda, the first sukta itself, you speak of nutanahi purvahi, the old, the ancient ones and now the nutan ones, already the new period had come. Vedic age was itself a new age according to them. So there must have been a pre-Vedic period and in pre-Vedic period there must have been great developments. Sri Aurobindo finds that this text of the Veda cannot be the beginning of an age, because there is so much ripeness and perfection. Even for example in the very first sukta the description of Agni, the very concept of Agni and the epithet which is given, it cannot be primitive, it must be accomplished. Agnir hota Kavi kratuh satyas chitra sharvas tamah even this one sentence, so well chiselled, metrically so perfect, poetically so powerful, mantric, which can affect the experience in the individual who hears it. Even the concept of kavi kratu, what is kavi kratu? It’s not an ordinary concept at all.
In the West one of the great theories, which even now the Western thinkers tried on is the Socratic Doctrine of ‘virtue is knowledge’. What exactly is the idea of virtue is knowledge? According to Socrates ‒ virtue is a right action which flows from true knowledge, ‘virtue is knowledge’ that is you cannot be virtues unless you are seated in knowledge. In fact the whole theory is very well expounded when you go to the Republic of Plato, where in the Republic there is a famous simile of the den. According to me, both Socrates and Plato are disciples of the Upanishads and the Vedic knowledge. This is my personal view, I don’t want to controvert now, but if you read Socrates and Plato quite closely, and if you understand that there was a great commerce between India and Greece in those times, and if you admit that Vedic literature is anterior to Socrates and Plato, then it can be quite at least plausible that the Vedic concepts, Upanishadic concepts had already migrated to the West, to Greece. And this doctrine itself according to me is a great proof, you go to Veda, kavi kratu and you take Socratic doctrine of Virtue is Knowledge, and Plato’s exposition of Virtue is Knowledge, what is that simile? It is a wonderful simile that he gives. Plato says: imagine a cave in which there are pIlars and to the pIlars some slaves are tied, so that they can look only in one direction, in that direction there is a wall and behind these prisoners there is a fire, what will happen? What will be the vision and understanding of these slaves, as far as the experience of the world is concerned, for them shadows will be the only experience of the world. They will not be able to see even themselves because they are tied, they can only see on the wall, shadows because there is a fire behind, so because of the light and because of the intermediate bodies which are here they will only see the shadows. He says the whole world as we are, we are like slaves, who are tied to the pIlars and whatever experience of the world we have is only experience of shadows, our experience there is nothing substantial in it, all shadowy experience. Then he says: if one of them however succeeds, to untie himself from the pIlar and he moves out and goes out of the cave and suddenly finds the tremendous sunlight and the glorious sun, what will be the boundaries of his imagination and his experience? Imagine for the first time in your life, you are only seeing the shadows, suddenly you find a huge world outside and marvellous sunlight. Now Plato says: that the man of knowledge is the man who has liberated himself from the pIlars, gone out of the cave, gone into the outside wide vision of the world, in which sun is reigning all over, he says that is the knowledge, in fact in Plato, sun itself is the symbol of knowledge, as in Veda sun is the symbol of knowledge.
When we speak of Gayatri Mantra where Savitri is addressed:
तत् सवितुर् वरेण्यम् भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि |
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ||
Tat-savitur Vareñyaṃ, Bhargo Devasya Dhīmahi,
Dhiyo Yonaḥ Prachodayāt
So when you recite that, what is that? It is Savitri, the light, the supreme light. Vareñyaṃ Bhargo, so that light in Plato, is one of the best pieces of Republic is this simile of the den and there he describes sun as the symbol of knowledge and he says: ‘one who has liberated himself, is a man of knowledge. Only he can do actions which are virtuous.’ Virtue follows from one who has seen the surya ‒ the knowledge, one who is established in knowledge only he can see the light ‒ the right action. Now this is kavi kratuh. What is kavi, kavi is one who has known, according to the Vedic understanding kavi is the seer, kratu is action ‒ will to do. So one whose will to do is inspired by true knowledge is kavi kratuh, and Agni is described as kavi kratuh.
If you want to understand the real meaning of Agni, surely it is not the physical fire, it is symbolic, just as in Plato also, sun is only symbolic. Agni that is fire that is physically seen to us is actually a physical symbol of a true Agni which exists according to the Veda, and the whole Agni-shastra of the Veda; Agni-vidya of the Veda is true knowledge of Agni, what is Agni? Agni is supposed to be the master of the earth, but why? And yet it is the Agni, which was found in the waters by the Gods, although He is supposed to be reigning the earth, yet it is according to the Veda, Agni was found in the waters by the Gods, so what is this Agni? There are many symbolic meanings of the whole shastra of Agni, in due course of time, if we have time we shall do it, but this is a very important doctrine of Agni, and the description of it as kavi kratuh is extremely important, this concept cannot come easily to anybody even to a primitive man. Primitive man doesn’t know, what is knowledge, what is action and what is virtue, what is right action, what is wrong action, it is only a perfected seer, one who has attained to the highest knowledge, who can really say kavi kratuh, this concept cannot arrive just like that and the very face of it is not primitive. The whole Western idea that the Veda is primitive scripture is entirely false, right from the very first sukta tells you it is not so and then the next verse satyas chitra shravas tamah, imagine tamah means the highest.
Now nobody can speak of the highest unless you have gone above the highest. You can speak of the highest peak of the world because you can fly beyond the peak of the Himalayas, then you can say this is the highest. Nobody can speak of tamah, Supreme, unless that accomplishment is reached by somebody, and this refers to what tamah of what? satyas chitra shravas, every word is so important, what is shrava, what is shrava? shrava is the capacity to hear the divine word. What is called shruti, comes from this word shru. According to the Veda, there are two great faculties which arise in a state of consciousness when you go beyond mind. As long as we are in the state of mind we hear and see by senses but nobody inquires what is actually sensation?
If you look into the real functioning of the light and the sight, it’s a miracle, mere eyeballs and the light coming on it and you say I see, what is this sight? It is a mystery and why is it different from hearing, what is hearing? Why does hearing differ from seeing, and vice versa what is this? That is because according to the Veda, seeing and hearing are not actually sensuous. In our present state of consciousness they are instruments of our senses but originally sight and hearing are supernormal and when you go higher, what you call hearing is heard in that consciousness. The word which is parme vayome, the words which are in the ether, highest ether, those words go on vibrating and they are heard. When those words are heard, shravah and tamah, the highest words which are heard, and that is why these words which are satyas chitra, they are full of truth, there is no mistake in it.
When I see this flower with my own eyes, I say I have seen the real object, there is no question about it, even here there can be a question because even in dream, I can see a flower, and I can doubt whether it is dreaming or awake, but there is a stage when the prisoner comes out of the cave and sees the sun and has no doubt that there is light. The truth is self-evident, that self-evidence of the truth knowledge, it is that which is spoken of in the very first sukta that too chitra that is another word which is extremely important, satyas chitra shrravas tamah, chitra is variety. The truth can be experienced variously; this can come only at the stage of synthesis, when so many truths are seen. In Jainism, anekantavada is praised because you can see truth from many sides, according to me this doctrine is derived from satyas chitra, Reality is many-sided. When you see an elephant, it has many sides, therefore it has a trunk, and the tail and the pillars and so on the story of the blind man seeing the elephant and describing several different ways, it’s the same object but described variously. So the Veda recognises that the Truth is described and experienced variously. That is why ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti is the part of the chitra. If truth was only one-sided the word chitra has no meaning and satyas and chitra together would be quite incoherent. It’s a profound teaching that Truth can be seen variously, can be experienced in various ways and that is why the Vedic truth is not rigid. If Indian culture has remained flexible, it is only Indian culture which has welcomed Islam and Christianity with the kind of open hands, as no other culture has done that is because of this idea of satyas chitra has been throughout woven into the blood, veins of India. India is so catholic; it knows Truth can be various. Truth is not a rigid monotone. The very concept of truth is a different concept, sometime when we have time we will discuss it, what is Truth? But here what is satyas chitra shravas tamah, imagine the Vedic Rishi describing Agni as Kavi Kratuh, satyas chitra shrravas tamah, and then Devo devbhi aagamat, the one God who, when he comes all other gods come. This is another secret knowledge of the Veda. What is in God Agni that when He comes all the other Gods come? This is also a secret knowledge of the Veda, so that you need not call all the gods, don’t invite all the gods, you just invite Agni and the moment Agni comes all the gods will come. Those who don’t believe in gods, they will all pooh-pooh it, those who are profound, who have got time to think about, who want to have experience, gods are living realities. If Hanuman can give an answer to your prayer, it is because Hanuman, as Sri Aurobindo himself has said: ‘Hanuman is an immortal vital force devoted to the Divine’, he is alive, he is immortal, therefore he can answer. It is not merely when you speak to Hanuman, and in India even common people have experiences of Hanuman answering their prayers, it is a fact. You go to millions of people in India, who have worshipped Hanuman and they have got answers, it’s a fact.
Ganesh, for example is a reality, why Ganesh is being worshipped, it’s not a superstitious belief and a kind of grotesque figure, actually Mother once said to me: ‘She has seen Ganesh, who comes here and She said Ganesh comes to me here and with the same figure as India imagines him to be, same elephant trunk, Mother herself has told me that She has herself seen Ganesh coming in her room’, and Mother used to keep a image of Ganesh near herself because he felt very pleased about it. So Mother said: ‘he comes here’, Mother said: ‘He is my child and he comes to me’. So this is a real experience. Agni is a Deva, Agni as a God. Modern mind would pooh-pooh the idea of God, Avtaar, Devas, of Gods, but that is a very superficial view of Reality and what this world consists of, that the world is wider than what we can imagine, world has mysteries greater than what we can experience, is one of the first lessons of Vedic knowledge, ‒ Reality is adbhutam, is really wonderful.