The Ancient Book of Wisdom
The age of Mysteries has come to be acknowledged as a common feature among some of the most ancient cultures of the world. Whether in India or in Chaldea, in Egypt or in Greece, in Atlantis or in some previously extant but now submerged islands of ancient times, there seemed to have flourished people with knowledge of secret truths. There was, undoubtedly, even a pre-Vedic age and a pre-Chaldean age, during which there seemed to have developed remarkable experiments and explorations leading to discoveries of momentous importance
The results of these discoveries seem, however, to have been lost in some developments of the past, or they seem to have been assimilated—probably very much diminished in the content and import—in some traditions of religion or of philosophy. It is thus difficult to determine what exactly was the knowledge that the ancients possessed, and what exactly was their real achievement and their contribution to the advancement of mankind.
There is, however, available in India, the most ancient record, known as the Veda, a composition of a unique and accomplished character, the language of which is mysterious and ambiguous, betraying some possible secret. There is no doubt that the Veda preceded the Upanishads, which are themselves very ancient. There is no doubt also that the Veda speaks of 'pitarah’, of the 'forefathers', and of their achievements in glorious terms. It seems, therefore, that we have in the Veda a record of some very ancient times (supposedly of 10,000 B.C. or of 5,000 B.C.), which might give us a clue of at least the Indian age of mysteries, and it might help us also in imagining or inferring what might have been the mysteries known and practised in other parts of the world.
There are, of course, historians who would like to convince us that the ancient times were barbaric, and that it would be vain to look for 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' in the traditions or records of those barbaric times. They would, of course, grant that these
barbarians had some kind of religion, but this religion, they would maintain, had no profundity in it. They treat the history of religion as a kind of a logical development, of a gradual refinement and clarity, starting from animism and spiritism and superstitious magic to the present-day universal religions of monotheism, or theism or of existentialism. They would refuse to grant that there could have ever been in those ancient times anything better than any animistic or spiritistic practices or beliefs, or anything better than fetishism, totemism or tribal polytheistic cults or traditions. According to them, a hierarchical and systematic polytheistic religion was itself a later development, parallel to the political developments of early nations. To find, therefore, among the ancient records beliefs comparable to civilized and developed notions of pantheism or deism or theism would be, according to them, an impossibility.
This interpretation is being proved to be inadequate as larger data are being increasingly brought to light. It is true that the very ancient man was a barbarian, an infra-rational being, dominated almost exclusively by the needs of the physical, unillumined impulses and a mentality subject to physical senses. But at the same time, it has now come to be accepted that the infra-rational man is not wholly infra-rational, and that even he has some kind of implicit reasoning and a more or less crude supra-rational element. And it is not unlikely that at a certain stage of development, the infra-rational age may arrive at a lofty order of civilization. It may have great intuitions of the meaning of general intention of life, admirable ideas of the arrangement of life, a harmonious, well- adapted durable and serviceable social system, and a religion which will not be without its profundity. It is true that in this stage, pure reason and pure spirituality would not govern the society or move large body of men, but they may come to be represented by individuals at first few, but growing in number in due course. This may well lead to an age of great mystics, if spirituality happens to predominate. These mystics may find an atmosphere and surroundings suitable for delving into the profund and still occult psychological possibilities of our nature. It is true, again, that the favorable circumstances may have great limitations, and that these mystics would not be able to influence any large or even a considerable number of people. Even, they may be required to keep their deeper discoveries secret and impart them only to a small number of initiates. But they may also succeed in
providing some powerful clues through which the popular barbaric mind may have a possibility of getting admittance, under certain conditions of development, into some intimation of the secrets. In some such development, we may find mystics of profound knowledge existing and flourishing as a secret minority of initiates in the midst of an overwhelming population of the barbaric mentality. Some such thing seems to have happened in the pre-historic India. And as secrets of the Veda are now being studied and understood, we feel how the composers of the Veda constituted a minority of the initiates, and how still they were able to give a peculiarly and uniquely spiritual turn to the whole future trend of the civilization.
Admittedly, the ancient barbarians looked upon the universe with some kind of animistic or spiristic feeling. It is true that to him, the most important things were the phenomena of Nature, the sun, the moon, stars, day and night, rains and storms and lightnings. To him, the world seemed to be peopled by unseen powers and by the earthly animals and birds and creatures of various kinds. It is natural, therefore, that the wise one living in company of the barbarian, and wishing to keep a safe line of communication with him to express his own knowledge would speak of these phenomena of Nature. But he would speak of them in a symbolic way. This would happen more imperatively if the wise one knows that there is no fundamental contradiction between the real truths of the universe and the apparent manifestations of these truths through the physical phenomena of Nature. Some such thing again seems to have occurred in the age in which the Veda must have been composed.
There seem to be three main grounds on which we are led to conclude that the Veda contains a huge mine of wisdom. First of all, and this is the most fundamental ground, the Veda reveals its full consistent meaning, only when its language is interpreted through certain keywords, which are ambiguous, and while they mean something very ordinary, in one sense, they mean something very extraordinary in another sense. To take only one example, the word go means a cow, in one sense, but it also means light, in another sense. Now it is found that if the word go is interpreted to mean cow in the Veda, it serves well up to a certain point, but this interpretation breaks down at some most crucial points, and thus on this line of interpretation the Veda might seem to be incoherent, bizarre, or meaningless. But, if this word is understood in the sense of spiritual light, it fits in fully and consistently in all the varied contexts throughout the Veda. This is only one illustration,
but it has been possible to show, as has been shown by Sri Aurobindo in his book On the Veda, that the Veda has a secret wisdom, and that this secret pertains to the realm of deeper truths of existence. Secondly, the Upanisads, which came after the Veda, and which are universally acknowledged to be records of deep knowledge, declare the sacredness of the Veda. The thinkers of the Upanishads refer to the Veda as the highest authority for their own sublime utterances. They quote the Vedic verses as supporting citations, stating 'this is the word which was spoken by the Rig Veda' (tad esha richabhyukta). Thirdly, the Veda has been regarded as the highest source of knowledge throughout the long history of Indian tradition, and the entire line of orthodox systems of philosophy refers to the Veda as the highest indisputable authority of knowledge and truth.
It is also noteworthy that the poets of the Vedic verse were described by themselves as the hearers of the truth (kavayah satyasrutayah). They did not look upon themselves as a sort of superior medicine-men and makers of hymn and incantations to robust and barbaric tribe, but as seers and thinkers, rishi dhira. They themselves announced that their utterances had secret meaning, and that they revealed their whole significance only to the seers (kavaye nivachanani ninya vachamsi). The poetical form, the poetical rhythm and the poetical word in which the Vedic knowledge has been expressed are themselves consummate, and it is evident that their excellence, their force and their beauty betray some high and sustained inspiration. If we read this poetry without any false presumptions, we shall find that it is a sacred poetry sublime and powerful in its words and images, though with another kind of language and imagination than we now prefer and appreciate. We find that it is deep and subtle in its psychological experience and that it is stirred by a moved soul of vision and utterance.
Let us take the following example, and try to hear it directly in its purity:
States upon states are born, covering over covering awakens to knowledge: in the lap of the mother he wholly sees. They have called to him, getting a wide knowledge, they guard sleeplessly the strength, they have entered into the strong city. The peoples born on earth increase the luminous (force) of the son of the White Mother, he has gold on his neck, he is large of speech, he is as if by (the power of) this honey wine a seeker of plenty. He
is like pleasant and desirable milk, he is a thing uncompanioned and is with the two who are companions and is as a heat that is the belly of plenty and is invincible and an overcomer of many. Play, O Ray, and manifest thyself. (Rig. Veda, V.19)
Or again in the succeeding hymn,—
Those (flames) of thee, the forceful (godhead), that move not and are increased and puissant, uncling the hostility and crookedness of one who has another law. O Fire, we choose thee for our priest and the means of effectuation of our strength and in the sacrifices bringing the food of thy pleasure we call thee by the word ... O god of perfect works, may we be for thee felicity, for the truth, revelling with rays, revelling with heroes.
And finally, let us take the bulk of the third hymn that follows couched in the ordinary symbols of the sacrifice:
As the human* we set thee within us, as the human we kindle thee, O Flame, O Seer-Puissance, as the human offer sacrifice to the gods for the seeker of the godheads. O Flame, thouburnest in the human creature when thou art satisfied with his offerings; his ladles go to thee unceasingly, O perfect in thy birth, O presser out of the running richness. Thee all the gods with one heart of love made their envoy; O seer, men serve and adore thee in their sacrifices as the godhead. Let mortal man adore the Will, the divine, by sacrifice to the powers divine; but thou, O Brightness, shine out high-kindled; enter into the home of the Truth, enter into the home of the bliss.
That obviously is a mystic and symbolic poetry and that is the real Veda, which when disclosed with the right key reveals itself as the ancient book of wisdom.
But what exactly is the content of the wisdom in the Veda? To this important question we shall now turn next.
*The godhead descending into man assumes the veil of humanity. The god is eternally perfect, unborn, fixed in the Truth and Joy; descending, he is born in man, grows, gradually manifests his completeness, attains as if by battle and difficult progress to the Truth and Joy. Man is the thinker, the god is the eternal seer; but the Divine veils his seerhood in the forms of thought and life to assist the development of the mortal into immortality.