Vedic Tradition and Contemporary Crisis
The Vedic tradition has a powerful message for contemporary humanity which is gripped with a crisis, the nature of which is difficult to be described in the ordinary and familiar terms of sociology, economics and polity. But this message can be discerned only if we consent to look upon the Vedic tradition not merely in its outer religious import but in its deeper pursuit of knowledge relating to what the Vedas call Prithvi, the earth, Antariksha, subtle levels of existence between matter and mind, Dyau, the plane of the higher mind, Svah, the world of light, and Surya, the world of everlasting day or of the supramental light, and still beyond, of the transcendental unity and oneness.
For Veda is essentially and esoterically a book of know-ledge, the knowledge that is terrestrial, supra- terrestrial and cosmic and supra-cosmic. It is only when the vedic tradition is understood as a gradual expansion of what is contained in the Vedic seed of integral knowledge that we can get its right clues, and discover its power of renewal and its capacity to initiate discoveries of newer knowledge and newer solutions to the problems of individuals and of the collectivity. By declaring that the Vedas are limitless, — anantāh vedāh, -- the Vedic tradition has liberated itself from the bondage of the written word contained in any particular book and kept itself open to new search and fresh accumulation of knowledge. Even the religious
tradition that has taken inspiration from the Veda has been able to declare that beyond any formulas of knowledge, beyond any creed or dogma, beyond rituals or ceremonies or prescribed acts, there is available to humanity a living knowledge that can be acquired and possessed through experiences and realisations which, in turn, can further be transcended and integrated by greater and larger experiences and realisations. That religious tradition, therefore, points to something beyond itself and gives its message of God, Light, Freedom, Bliss, and Immortality that can be realised by an ever-ascending movement of consciousness so that both the individual and the collectivity can liberate themselves from the circum-scribing limitations, bondage and imperfections. That knowledge has constantly expanded from the ancient times to the present day, and if we take the trouble to study this great line of development, we shall find in it the solution to the most essential part of the contemporary crisis.
The Vedic knowledge, — its esoteric knowledge, — can be looked upon as the most ancient body of yogic knowledge that was already a kind of a synthesis. The very word Veda, which is derived etymologically from the root √vid to know, describes the book as the book of Knowledge and it has been rightly looked upon as a norm and an authority even for the Upanishads which have been acknowledged as the highest summit of knowledge. The Veda is also regarded, and quite rightly, as the karmakanda, and although ritualists take this karmakanda in narrow sense of a systematic rituology, it is verily the gospel of works, which, in a later period, came to be formulated as the karmayoga of the Bhagavadgita. The Veda is also a book of prayers, of worship, of devotion, of secrets of self-surrender and self-sacrifice. This is also the right description of the
Veda. In effect, Veda is a synthesis, the earliest synthesis of Knowledge, Work and Devotion. It is this synthesis which has guided the development of later syntheses in the Vedic tradition; it is this synthesis which has enabled the religious trends and practices which developed over thousands of years to eschew exclusivism and to transcend conflicts of religions. It is, again, this synthesis which has enabled the unity of the human beings with the whole world, with the entire cosmos, and its visible and invisible powers, as also with the highest unity of truth-consciousness, rita chita, — and even the sources of that unity, the One which came to be described by many names by enlightened Rishis, — ekam sad viprā bahudhā vadanti. In the Veda, we find the secret of the unification of higher faculties of revelation, inspiration, intuition and discrimination with their corresponding cosmic godheads that are discoverable by the processes of evocation and sacrifices, which were in their esoteric aspects psychological in character. The Veda is, again, a gospel of human perfectibility, both in its individual and collective aspects. In the closing hymns of the Rigveda, we find two great messages, which are today even more relevant than in any other previous time. In its first message it exhorts the human being to become a mental being and yet not to remain limited to the powers of the mind and the intellect but to transcend them so as to grow into a luminous being possessing the faculties and powers of cosmic and transcendental knowledge. In ^simple, but striking words, it enjoins:
manurbhava janayā daivyam janam
"Be first Manu, the being of the mind, and then generate the divine being, the being of divine light.”
In the last hymn, the Rigveda enjoins a gospel for a harmonious collective life, a life in which people would work together, would think together, would speak together, would agree together, — all in harmony. Even today, humanity can hear those great and inspiring words: "May you move together, may you speak together in one voice; may your thoughts be of one accord." And the climax of this message comes to us with its inspiring force of guidance: "May your resolves be one; may your hearts feel alike, may your thinking be one; and thus may all of you live happily with thorough union.” ¹
Upanishads continued the great synthesis of the Veda but also brought in sharp focus a synthesis of various disciplines of knowledge. They take us to the heart of intricate relationship of Ignorance and Knowledge, avidyā and vidyā, of the lower knowledge and the higher knowledge, aparā vidyā and parā vidyā, They speak to us of the golden lid that needs to be broken for the marshalling of the rays of the supreme knowledge of identity of the finite and the infinite, of the individual and the supreme, and where the oneness of the One without the second becomes manifest. They illumine the relationship between the knowledge that comes to us by opening our senses outward with the knowledge that is arrived at by turning inwards; they also describe the transition from the wakeful state to the dream state and to the sleep state that culminates in the fourth state, turīya avasthā. They reveal the secret of the unity of the non-being and the being and even their identity; and through their great declaration tattvam asi, — Thou art That, reveal to us how the individual is one in essence with all that exists, and they also reveal to us the secret of life, death and immortality.
When we come to the Bhagavadgita, we find the quintessence of the Vedas and the Upanishads, and yet something much more, the unique synthesis of knowledge, works. Divine Love, formulated in such fullness so as to resolve the crisis of the representative Man entangled in a crisis of action. Even today, when we read the Gita, we find that our own contemporary crisis is similar to the crisis that was faced by Arjuna in a setting of Kurukshetra, the field of battle, which is also the battle of life. And the solution that the Bahgavadgita presents can very well be applied to our own crisis. The contemporary field of crisis presents alternative claims of right action, and we are bewildered, as was Arjuna, in deciding what exactly can be our right course of action. If Arjuna was a leader motivated by the aim of protecting and establishing the claims of right and justice, even so, each one of us is, if not a leader, yet a participating solider in the army of people who are filled with aspiration to uphold the noble causes of peace and unity. Each one of us is engaged in one way or the other in the battle where that aspiration is being combated by he forces that thwart the upward movement by which lone the crisis can be overcome. Just as Arjuna was besieged by doubts arising from the conflict of standards of action, even so, we too are confused as to what norm if action should guide us in the difficult battle in which we are engaged. And the solution that the Bhagavadgita gives us is a hint of the deepest secret through the help of which the necessary change can be so effected both in our inner consciousness and outer environment that our crisis can be resolved.
It may, however, be argued that the highest message of the Gita is relevant only to men like Arjuna or to the masterminds, the great spirits, and the god-knowers, god-doers, god-lovers, who can live in God and for God and do their work joyfully for Him in the world. This is
true, but at the same time, the Gita declares that can, if they will, even to the lowest and sinful among men, enter into the path of Yoga. It has been contender that what is needed is the decisive turn; there must h an abiding faith in the Spirit, a sincere and insistent will to live in the Divine, to be in self one with Him and in Nature. For if there is hope for a human being, why should not there be hope for the humanity?
It may, again, be argued that the highest message of the Gita is relevant only to the crisis of the individual but what we are confronting today is a greater and deeper crisis not merely for the individuals but for the entire collectivity of the human race. There is validity and force in this argument, but it can be replied that the Gita gives the central clue although in its cryptic end it is reticent about the implications of that clue. In any case, the Gita is not the last word of the Vedic tradition and the Vedic tradition has continuously striven to grow more and more on those lines by which larger and larger sections of people, more and more gradations of humanity can be embraced and uplifted. If we examine the tradition with deeper insight, we shall find that there were three distinct stages in the development of that tradition. The first stage belongs to the Vedic age proper; the second stage was marked by Purano-Tantric age, and the third stage was that of Bhakti age, which, on account of various factors, could not complete its full curve. It was arrested, and India plunged into a great period of decline. Still, when India became renascent in the 19th century, the threads of the third stage were taken up rapidly, and we are already in the next stage of development where we find a newly awakened endeavour capable of meeting the challenges not only of the country but even those of the crisis of the entire humanity.
In the Vedic age, while the loftiest spiritual experiences were reserved for the initiates, the external religion was provided for the unripe which, however, prepared the physical mind of the masses to turn to the deeper resources of knowledge. In the Purano-Tantric age, the heights of the Veda and the Upanishads were not surpassed but depths were further deepened and subtleties further subtilised and methods were discovered and developed whereby not only the physical mind but even the inner mind, inner vital, and larger subliminal consciousness of people was prepared. This enabled larger sections of people to enter into the possibility of a more generalised spiritual life. This is the reason why Indian masses of people have become accustomed to respond more readily to the spiritual aim and practice. When we come to the third stage, we find that the greatest leaders, the greatest saints and bhaktas developed a larger synthesis that could facilitate both the outer and inner life, not only of individuals but even of larger collectivities, to participate in a more generalised spiritual life. Indeed, spiritual solution is the true solution, and no human crisis of a great magnitude or of the kind that we are facing today can be met without taking recourse to that solution, although lesser solutions might seem to resolve temporarily a part of the problem or of the crisis at the physical, or vital or mental levels. But the question as to how larger humanity can be prepared and how spiritual solutions can be presented at the collective level has also been engaging the tradition, and we have in the renascent India a clearer diagnosis of the contemporary collective crisis and also a radical solution which can be applied, if so willed, on a very vast scale for the deliverance of humanity.
The renascent spirituality of India from Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati to Sri Ramakrishna and Swami
Vivekananda and to Sri Aurobindo has two important concerns. The first concern is to stress dynamic spirituality as opposed to ascetic spirituality which limits itself only to the conquest of the spirit at the cost of the utility of the life. The second concern of this spirituality is not merely to provide paths of individual salvation but to build up paths of collective salvation. This spirit is manifest in one of the remarkable passages of Swami Vivekananda, where he writes as follows:
"I have lost all wish for my salvation, may I be born again and again and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum-total of all souls, — and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, of all species is the special object of. my worship. He who is the high and low, the saint and the sinner, the god and the worm, Him worship, the visible, the knowable, the real, the omnipresent; break all other idols. In whom, there is neither past life nor future birth, nor death, nor going nor coming, in whom we always have been and always will be one, Him worship; break all other idols."
When we come to Sri Aurobindo, we have a radical turning and even a new departure towards collective realisation, collective liberation and collective perfection. In this new departure, there is a new synthesis based on a new discovery. This synthesis takes into account not only all the orthodox Vedantins of different schools and Tantra and the adherents of the theistic religions of the past and the present as also Buiddhism and Jainism and even the vast and catholic teachings of the Gita and the loftiest spiritual knowledge of the Veda and Upanishads, but also the new material that is flowing into the present day, including the potent though limited
revelations of modern knowledge and seeking. Basing itself on the past synthesis of the Veda, of the Upanishad, of the Gita, of the Tantras, the synthesis effected by Sri Aurobindo proposes to meet squarely the vast and all-embracing crisis of today's humanity. This synthesis recovers the Vedic knowledge of the Supermind, of the Vedic satyam, ritam and brihat, — of the truth, the right and the vast, — but what is new is that it scales the greater and greater heights of the Supermind; and, as Sri Aurobindo explains, this synthesis aims at the bringing down on the physical earth the supramental knowledge and power by means of which alone can the crisis of today be met and resolved. The Vedic method of ascent and descent, — ascent to the higher levels of consciousness and descent of those levels of higher consciousness on lower levels of consciousness has been given by Sri Aurobindo a new direction and a new aim. As Sri Aurobindo points out, the object of his synthesis of Yoga is not an individual achievement of divine realisation for the sake of the individual, but something to be gained for the earth-consciousness here, a cosmic, not solely a supra-cosmic achievement.
The latest message of India, as expressed through Sri Aurobindo, is that of the application of the knowledge of the ascent to and descent of the supramental to the integrality of our life on the earth. The present crisis of humanity arises from the pervasive sweep and churning of all aspects of life in their simultaneous demands and their resultant conflicts. As Sri Aurobindo points out, humanity has, on the one hand, exhausted major potentialities of the Reason, its highest power, and on the other hand, the burning appetites of the subconscious have begun to arrive irresistibly on the surface. The curve of the human reason has essentially come to an end and it is found that the highest reason
cannot discover that light by which humanity can meet the invasion of the forces of the unreason and of the subconscient and the inconscient and build a world of peace and harmony. A stage has been reached where boundaries of human faculties have to be broken so that a new humanity or super-humanity can be built. The present crisis of humanity is, therefore, termed by Sri Aurobindo as "evolutionary crisis". If life has evolved in matter, and mind has evolved in life, it is now for the supermind to evolve in mind. It is this birth of the supermind that is necessitated by the contemporary crisis, and Sri Aurobindo has explained in his voluminous writings how the needed action of the supermind has not only been conceived but also experimented upon victoriously. If humanity consents to be spiritualised, says Sri Aurobindo, the supramental solution can now be given to the entire humanity.
The relevance of this great work is obvious. It invites us all to undertake the task of an inner exploration and inner and outer transformation. If we are developed, we are called upon to develop still further; if not yet sufficiently developed, the necessary help can come, if we so choose to receive it. And what is to be developed and received is not some new dogma or some ritualistic adherence to one belief or the other. The new message is the message of knowledge which can be experimented upon, verified and applied for the production of concrete results. India of today, however eclipsed it may be in many respects, and however formidable be its weakness and problems, — still stands out with a Word and a Power, which can, if heard and utilised, deliver herself and humanity from the crisis through which they are passing today.
We seem to hear again that great message of the Veda:
manurbhava janayā daivyam janani
samgacchadvam samvadadhvam sam vo manāmsi jānatām
But we hear today this message with a greater potency and a greater uplifting force.