THERE are a number of people in our country who have heard of the Veda but have practically no idea of the Vedic literature and its contents. There is, therefore, a need to present to them a few introductory notes, which might provide some basic information about the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads, which constitute the core of the Vedic literature. It is to meet this need to some extent that these notes have been attempted.
These notes avoid scholarly discussions. They do not even touch the fringe of the Vedic literature and, therefore, the series of these notes has been entitled "Glimpses of Vedic Literature". It is hoped that these notes will provide to readers some such basic information, which would stimulate them to turn to larger books on the subject.
The significance of the Veda lies in the following facts:
1. The Veda is acknowledged as the earliest available literary composition of humanity;
2. The text of the Veda has substantially remained uncorrupted for over two thousand years, and the sanctity of the text has prevented interpolations, alterations and modernising versions;
3. The Veda has been regarded as authoritative in the
entire tradition of the Vedic literature, which covers not only the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads, but also the Puranas, and doctrines of orthodox philosophical schools, which continue to develop up to the present day, besides the teachings of most of the saints and sages of India;
4. The Veda contains secret knowledge,- knowledge of the highest spiritual truth of which the human mind is capable and its relationship with the world and the individual and collective life in the world and on the earth.
The difficulty in uncovering the secret of the Veda is very great because the language of it is symbolic and it has a double aspect. The Rishis who composed the hymns of the Veda, arranged the substance of their thought in a system of parallelism in which the key words signify cosmic forces and beings and at the same time indicate to their internal and external powers. Those, therefore, who do not grasp the internal powers of these forces and beings, are likely to miss the secret and the meaning really intended to be communicated.
This secret was known to the Upanishads. Indeed, the entire Indian tradition acknowledges that behind the external meaning, the Veda contains a secret internal meaning. But the secret meaning came to be ignored in course of time, and the general impression became widespread that the Veda is a book of rituals and myths very much incomprehensible. Fortunately, during the second decade of the last century, Sri Aurobindo studied the Veda not only in the light of various interpreters but also in that of his own yogic experiences, and discovered the internal secret of the Veda, which he expounded in two of his great works, "The Secret of the Veda" and the "Hymns to the Mystic Fire."
Sri Aurobindo found that Yaska and Sayana need to be studied for the outward meaning of the symbols used in the Veda as also for the commonplace, traditional significances and explanations. He also found that European scholarship has obliged us to adopt the critical method of comparative research, which still needs to be perfected. From Maharshi Dayananda, he received the clue to the linguistic secret of the Rishis as also the idea of the one Supreme Reality, which is described variously in the form of numerous gods and goddesses. But it was in the Upanishads that he found the real key to the understanding of the psychological and philosophical ideas of the Vedic Rishis. Above all, Sri Aurobindo discovered in the Veda those secrets, which he had happened to arrive at through his own yogic realisations.
As we read Sri Aurobindo's work on the Veda, we feel convinced that the latter is a book of knowledge and that it is not, contrary to the view of many modern interpreters, confused in thought or primitive in its substance, a medley of heterogenous or barbarous elements, but is a composition having overarching unity, in spite of being the compilation of contributions of hundreds of Rishis, old and new. We find that the Veda is self conscious in its purpose and purport, even though that is veiled, sometimes thickly and sometimes transparently. The Veda, we find finally, never loses sight, even for a single moment, of its aim to arrive at the loftiest realisations of consciousness as also their applications to human problems and perfectibility.
The most important discovery of the Veda was that of a plane of consciousness where activities and manifestations are only of the Truth and the Right (satyam, ritam). Rishis called that consciousness "Rita Chit", "Truth consciousness". The Vedic Rishis had found out methods by which the
human mind can find an entry into that consciousness and can then be liberated from the human limitations.
It is here that we find direct relevance of the Veda to our own times. If we study the root cause of the crisis through which humanity is passing today we shall find that it has arisen from the inability or refusal of human consciousness to transcend its limitations, even when the surpassing of these limitations is very much imperative and urgent. The problems of war and peace, environmental degradation, misuse of scientific and technological advancement, mechanical and dehumanising hugeness of structures of organisation and governance, breakdown of the value systems, downward pull of the unbridled search for wealth and pleasure and of exploitation and domination demand effective solution. Moreover, these solutions are required to serve as the alchemy by which human limitations can be broken and surpassed. It is for this reason that Sri Aurobindo has stated that the secret concealed in the Vedas, when entirely discovered, will be found to formulate perfectly that knowledge and practice of a divine life to which the march of humanity after long wanderings in the satisfactions of the intellect and the senses must inevitably return.
As is well known, Sri Aurobindo discovered that very plane of consciousness of Truth and Right, which the Vedic Rishis had discovered and he called it the plane of the Supermind. Not that he arrived at this discovery after studying the Veda. His was not derived knowledge but what he discovered of the Supermind on his own got confirmed by what he later learned from the Veda and the Upanishads.
In keeping with the tradition of the Vedic knowledge, which welcomes new discoveries and new developments, Sri Aurobindo not only developed what has now come to
be called Integral Yoga, which absorbs in its synthesis all essential elements of the Vedas and the Upanishads as also of the other yogic traditions but also envisaged a new aim. That new aim is not only attainment of the Supermind by ascending its greater and greater heights but also making the Supermind descend on the earth so that humanity can take the next evolutionary step by a process of mutation of the human species.
This is not the place to enter into the subject of the supra mental manifestation on the earth. However, it would be sufficient to state that Sri Aurobindo has shown how that manifestation is directly relevant to the needs of the contemporary crisis.
But how can that manifestation be accomplished without the recovery of the knowledge of the Supermind that is already formulated in the Veda? Many, who are not acquainted with the inner meaning of the Veda, have an impression that the Veda contains simply prayers and prescriptions for sacrifices, religious rites and ceremonies. This is a misconception and, therefore, needs to be removed, particularly when the modern mind is apt to dismiss anything that is related to rituals and mechanical ceremonies connected with religious creeds and beliefs.
Let us make it clear that the realisations which the inner meaning of the Veda brings out can be attained and practised independently of religious rituals and ceremonies. It may also be mentioned that the religious tradition, which looks upon the Veda as its origin, acknowledges that there is beyond religion the practice of Yoga, which aims at bringing transformation to consciousness by methods which are psychological and not ritualistic. It is this Yogic practice which is described in its depth, loftiness and integrality in the Veda. The Vedic prayer, in its internal aspect, is
fundamentally an aspiration, which is not mechanical, but spontaneous and an irresistible process of quest. The Vedic sacrifice is, in its internal character, an act of self offering so that the egoistic consciousness is abolished from all the psychological processes. The Vedic gods are in their internal character cosmic powers and beings representing different aspects of the one Ultimate Reality.
Sri Aurobindo has discovered, through the internal evidence of the Veda itself, what each cosmic power and being (Godhead) stands for. The names of the Godheads are keywords, and if the inner meanings of these keywords are known, it becomes easier to understand the secret of the Veda. For example, according to Sri Aurobindo, Agni stands for the Illumined Will, Indra for Illumined Intelligence that can bestow Divine Light, Savitri is the Creator and Increaser, Usha the Spiritual Dawn, Bhaga the Supreme Enjoyer, Vayu the Master of the Life Energies, Brihaspati the Power of the Soul, Ashwins the Lords of Bliss, Vishnu the All Pervading Godhead and Soma the Lord of Delight and Immortality. These and other keywords and their inner meanings become very useful to all those who want to practise Yoga and get verified the truths of the Vedic knowledge.
It may be added that Yoga is scientific in character, since it is non dogmatic and emphasises the processes of observation, experimentation, comparison, experience and verification of experience by means of abiding realisation. The contents of Yogic realisation are not creeds or beliefs but are articles of knowledge, which can be repeated through fresh experimentation, and also can be expanded, sublimated and surpassed or integrated into the higher states of knowledge.
When we enter into the Veda we should underline its Yogic character, and should feel free to inquire, question and
ask for verification. Students of the Veda must be pure seekers, free from prejudices and pre possessions, always ready to undergo askesis and selfless and unegoistic search. The Vedic Rishis were great seekers and what they have described in the Veda are the records of their search, their methods of search as well as the results of their search. Their call is to make of us such seekers as they were.
The purpose of these notes is not to enter into the vast and profound contents of Vedic knowledge; the purpose is much more limited. It is only to help a beginner to get acquainted with an outline of the development of the Vedic literature starting from the Vedic Samhitas up to the Upanishads. It is just to introduce to the beginner the ABC of the Vedic literature; for the rest, there are a number of important and valuable books and it is hoped that these notes will make it easier for the beginner to enter into the deeper and vaster ocean of the Vedic literature and knowledge.