21 July 2004 (ICPR Programme on Philosophy of Value Oriented Education): Vedic Rita in Western and Indian Traditions - Audio

Distinguished professors of philosophy, scholars and friends, let me first express my gratitude to Shri Tewari-ji for having found time to be with us this morning. If there is one man who is qualified to criticize India's present condition with some kind of authority and with justifiable anguish, it is Shri Tiwari-ji. we all cry over the present condition but I don't think we have justification. We have not held those positions, in our life, we have not exercised those responsibilities which a chief secretary or a governor is required to shoulder, and to execute those responsibilities with that ethical fervour, which was manifest in all his activities, internal or external. I’m a witness of his very high and dignified positions. I have known him since 1980 and I have witnessed his long career since that time, personally, intimately. When he was finance secretary of up government, he was chief secretary of up government, chairman of higher education commission of Uttar Pradesh he had the position of deputy chairman of the up planning commission, when he went to Somaliland, when he was governor of Pondicherry, in all these positions I had the privilege of being associated with him in one way or the other and when he speaks with an agony in his heart, I really feel that all of us should sit down, should be awakened and we as teachers of philosophy, have perhaps the highest responsibility, whether people may recognize the status of philosophy or not, philosophy is the queen of all fields of knowledge and therefore we are the holders of that dream and if we do not respond to the need of the hour, I think as philosophers we have failed in our tasks. So I feel very thankful to you for bringing to our heart, our mind, the weight of the burden of your words and as I was listening to you, I was feeling rightly as our secretary spoke just now.

We have now been so accustomed to the present condition that we do not have even a shame of the condition in which we are placed today, but that is analysis of the dirt and by that analysis we shall not be able to remove the dirt. It only inspires us to go to our real work and I think this particular seminar which is being held today is extremely important. If there is one field in which philosophers can play a major role, it is the field of value or integral education. Since the last three or four decades, we are speaking of value oriented education, but I am sorry that we have not yet provided to the country a philosophy of value oriented education and no scheme of education can flourish unless it is rooted in philosophy and I think we should therefore address ourselves to this basic question., what should be the philosophy, what is the philosophy of value oriented education and I should like to reflect on this subject so that we can put our heads together and if during these two days, we can at least lay down a few basic lines on which this philosophy can be developed, I shall be very grateful and truly rewarded for having organized this consultation seminar.

Tiwari-ji has given a very big background and I go back to their background, a spoken of the tradition starting from the Veda and as you rightly say Veda has no secularism but Veda is for most of us, a close book. We do not know what Veda is, we do not know Sanskrit enough, first of all the language in which Veda is written. We do not even know that Veda has a special algebra, as Sri Aurobindo points out, that Vedic language is algebraic language. It's a very significant statement. It is like opening a book of mathematics without knowing the algebraic symbols. What shall we understand? That algebra is forgotten, we do not know the symbolism. When it speaks of Varuna and distinguishes Varuna from Mitra and Mitra is distinguished from Bhaga and Bhaga is distinguished from Aryaman. These are all algebraic signs, how shall we distinguish them? Unless we go into the very roots where Varuna is described in the Veda, Aryaman is described, as Sri Aurobindo says, in the Veda, not a single epithet is uselessly used, every epithet is just epithet. If Agni is described as kavikratu, you will find that this epithet is not given to any other one, you don’t find kavikratu Varuna as kavikratu, Aryaman as kavikratu, you don’t find it. It is an epithet applied only to Agni.

This is the algebra of Agni. Agni is the priest, it is a will-power. Indra is not the will power. You read the whole of the Rigveda you will not find in the rig Veda Indra as described as kavikratu. You will not find Indra as the will. Indra is always the upholder of knowledge. It is Agni which is kavikratu, it is both knowledge and will, the illumined will, kavikratu, it is tame, Uttama, an inspiration which is a source in it and satya which is not unilateral, it is chitra, the truth which is varied. That is why there is no secularism in it. The truth itself is defined as varied, multi-aspected, so that which is known as multi-aspected truths and that it is known by inspiration and that which is known at the highest level, from there has descended a will, which is illumined and that is Agni. This is one of the algebraic definitions of Agni you might say so, that which is known as multifaceted from which we can understand the most important aspect of the Veda and that is the concept of rita. Rita is the fundamental concept from where all ethical traditions of India have been derived and this word rita can be understood only if you understand the combination of Varuna, Mitra, Bhaga and Aryaman. If you read the Veda, you'll find a rita is directly connected with these four principle concepts. Varuna is the principle of wideness. In fact if you see the description of Varuna, he is the limiter, the determiner, it is he who keeps the sun in his own course of action. He is a boundary. He is the horizon of the horizonless, this reality is without horizons. It is Varuna that determines the horizons and rita is the law and that law is the boundary of the boundless, the boundaries that have been determined in very many boundaries and the power of the reality which bounds the boundless, that is Varuna. It is a wideness which determines the limits of wideness.

And secondly it is always associated, you will find a large number of riks in the Veda in which Varuna and Mitra, both are addressed together. The two signs are always together. It is like the beginning of a bracket and the end of a bracket, if you have a beginning of a bracket there must be an end of the bracket. Varuna is the beginning of the bracket and Mitra is the end of the bracket. And Varuna cannot be understood fully unless we understand the meaning of Mitra. Mitra is what Leibnitz would call the principle of compossibility.

As you know, Leibnitz is one of the greatest philosophers in the west. In fact Bertrand Russell says that if there was one greatest intellect in the western tradition, it was Leibnitz and I agree with his view that among all the philosophers of the west, if there is one philosopher without knowledge of the Veda, who has come very close to the understanding of the Veda, it is Leibnitz. And he gave this idea of compossibility which is a very important concept. It is a concept of Mitra. It's a concept of harmony, every law of determination is a law of harmony. To bring out infinite possibilities out of the infinite and to determine all the aspects of the infinite into a boundary is not enough, we should harmonize them. Possibility is not enough, for being actualized, there should be compossibility. It is the determiner of the compossibilities; that is Mitra. And that is why Varuna and Mitra go together.

But this Varuna and Mitra when they are together, the compossibility always implies a certain value power and energy which sustains that equilibrium. It is one thing to create compossibility but to sustain the compossibility on and on and on, that sustainability is Aryaman and these three are combined together, the experience of it is bhaga, joy. That is what Diwan-ji spoke to us about and what is that principle where tyaga and bhoga, both are combined together that is the law of rita, in which Varuna, Mitra, bhaga and Aryaman, these four are combined together, these four together, is to my mind the basic definition of rita. This rita is a constant factor, therefore rita is supposed to be unbreakable, whether you do right or wrong, that rita is not affected, it is not violated, is inviolable. Our actions or inaction do not determine what can happen to that rita. It is like a sword which is hanging. We do not make that sword, it is a sword which has been born as if from the infinite himself, that infinite shashwata, that which is eternal, that reality, its very manifestation, the infinite which is determined in boundaries, by a principle of compossibility and which is sustained, out of which all manifestation is full of joy, ananda, that is the teaching of the Upanishad—the whole world is nothing but a manifestation of ananda, that joy is inviolate. It is as if it were a law which is established and all ethical endeavour of man is to discover that law and to determine our own potentialities, our own activities, so that our activities can conform to that law and if our activities do not conform to that law, that sword is there which always cuts it down. That is the law of rita.

Rita is always overpowering, nobody can violate it, the moment you violate, you are violated. That is the power of that law. In fact the discovery there is a law, is one of the profoundest discoveries of the Veda. This is what Moses, he discovered, in his revelation on mount Sinai, that discovery of the law. It is that law to which Jesus refers— love thy neighbour as thyself and as he ultimately defined that law “do not do unto others what thou does not want others to do unto you”. This is the basic law, this is the law of harmony and this is actually the basic principle of ethics. Ethics starts from here, if there is one justification of ethical impulse in our ordinary human existence is and which is instinctive in us, there is a short story given by foresters, a young girl, this is in England, whose face is not so beautiful and she has been brought, she is an orphan, she is brought by a foster mother on that day and she invites her friends to come and meet this young girl and many visitors come and one fat lady also comes over and seeing the girl's face, she laughs out and says how ugly she is and instinctively this girl says—if I tell you how fatty you are how would you like it?

This instinct, this is that law, this is rita, do unto me what you would like me to do unto you. If I tell you this, how will you feel about it? Nobody taught her the law of rita, it is instinctive that is the starting point of ethics in man and that is why we find, whether we know the law or not that law operates automatically in all human beings, even the law of revenge has basically this fundamental law in it, it may be distorted one way or the other but all human actions are violated, the moment you violate rita, immediately the sword falls on you.

We speak in mimamsa of the law of karma and we say you have karma, yet it has consequences and there are distortions in the way in which the law of karma is manifested or expounded but that there is a law of karma, our understanding of that law may be very defective but that there is law, in fact, that is how Kant discovered, he discovered that the very act of freedom, the law is implied, he discovered that law and not only he discovered that law, that law manifests in two manners, without reading the Veda he came to that conclusion that that law manifests in two manners, one is  an action which is without desire, an action which is performed not because you want to enjoy the fruit of action, but because of that cosmic law, that action must be rewarded in happiness, that is why he postulated that even though you do not see god freedom and immortality, there must be immortality because the good action must be rewarded, ultimately the law. The cosmic law implies that there is a consequence, you may not seek the consequence, you may not seek the fruit of action, but the law, the cosmic law always has a consequence, without it, there is no order and that consequence must be in the form of ananda, Bhaga.

Without knowing the Veda, Vedic truths or the fundamental connection between Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman and Bhaga, the same truth is discovered by Kant. In fact, if you examine the whole tradition of the western thought, the starting point is the doctrine of Socrates,” virtue is knowledge “, once again virtue is knowledge is basically the same principle, the basic idea of virtue is knowledge is that without kavi there is no kratu, knowledge is kavi and virtue is kratu, that is the basic point in Socratic doctrine. According to my own understanding of the western thought, the Vedic idea has migrated all over the world and has established the foundations of the highest ideas which are at the root of religions, ethical systems, traditions and so on, partially understood, partially not understood, distorted, directly manifested or not. If you read Socrates or Plato, if you read Leibniz and Kant, these three great stations in the western thought, you find, the entire movement, the principles of law, rita is manifested. Virtue is knowledge is rita. The right virtue will come out only when you are established in knowledge. Without Varuna, there is no Mitra, without Mitra there is no Aryaman, without Aryaman, there is no ananda. The harmony that is spoken of by Plato and Socrates, the perfect balance, the perfect perfection that you attain when truth, beauty and goodness are combined together, in fact Socratic doctrine of virtue is that virtue is unity. You are not virtuous only if you are virtuous in courage and not in charity. All virtues move together and you are virtuous only when you unite all the virtues together. Unity of virtue is a fundamental doctrine of Socrates and that, unity of virtue, corresponds with unity of knowledge. The knowledge described by Plato is not intellectual knowledge. It is as his old simile of the den, explains, that simile tells us “ we live in the world of shadows, tied to the pillars like slaves, slaves to our passions of life, where we do not even suspect that there is something else, but if you can liberate and that is where the ethical will comes, if you can liberate from the cords that bind us to the pillars and if you look back, the fire is seen, which are the cause of the shadows and we can even come out of the cave and go out and seize and behold, the fullness of the sun, the fullness of knowledge, unity of knowledge, it is not merely intellectual perception, it is a knowledge higher than the intellectual perception of all, it’s a direct sakshatkara. We directly perceive that life Plato translates very clearly, both Socrates and Plato, according to me, translate very clearly the concept of kavikratu— virtue is knowledge is a direct description of Agni kavikratu and it is that concept which has run through the whole western thought and culmination Kant, where he speaks of three posturing—God, freedom, immortality and there is one of the culminations of the western thought, afterwards of course there have been criticisms and all that that will go on, but we have to grasp and then pick up those fundamental truths, which you find in a great tradition. Just as in India also, the law of rita is hardly understood.

We speak rita but as I said, since we do not know the algebra of the Rigveda, we do not know how to discern it. It is Sri Aurobindo, for example, in my case particularly, it is by reading Sri Aurobindo’s Secret of the Veda, that this algebra is explained. We are very fortunate that in our own times, this algebra has been taught again and we are once again able to read the true truths which have been manifested and expounded in the Rigveda. It is this rita, if it is understood properly, it is this rita which is dharma in Buddhism.

Buddhism asks us, Dhamma, what is dhamma? It is the law, the eightfold path is nothing but the eightfold ideas which are in the Veda. I don't think that buddha himself regarded himself as in the anti-Vedic. It is Buddhism which gradually became anti-Vedic, but buddha himself only taught tathagata he had gone by the same way. It is the Vedic way by which it proceeded. In any case, whether we believe this theory or that theory, there is no need to controvert it. The fact is you read this eightfold path, this eightfold path is a manifestation of rita.

The same thing you find in Jainism. Without the law of sanyama, there is no kaivalya. It is the law of sanyama, sanyama is the law of Varuna, and Mitra and Aryaman. It is that, when it is combined together, you really get kaivalya, the bhaga—you may call it ananda, you may call it peace, you may call it by any name you like. There can be controversies and people like to controvert, let them controvert. The fundamental thing is what is the experience of kaivalyah. In any case, kaivalyah is not the condition of misery and that may be called peace or ananda, whatever you may call, it is not certainly the state of misery. It is that ananda so whether you accept his definition of ultimate experience in which there is no ananda, whether you accept nyaya, as the ultimate experience in which there is no ananda or whatever you may say the Vedantic experience of ananda or whatever you may say, the ultimate point is, that it is by the pursuit of rita, that the highest can be achieved. According to me, there is a ethical foundation of all ethics in India, at least and as I strive to see it is also the foundation of the western ethics. I’m very happy that we have come together today and we shall have the benefit of consultation with all of you and we shall try to find out some of the basic ideas on which very original education can be established in our country.

Thank you so much.