Significance of Indian Yoga - An Overview - Appendix





Significance of The Veda in The Context

of Indian Religion And Spirituality




The four Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda) are samhitas, collections or compilations of selections made by Veda Vyasa. There was evidently at that time a larger body of compositions, and since they spoke of the old and new Rishis1 and of 'fathers' (pitarah), it may safely be inferred that there was at that time a tradition of generations of Rishis. Presumably there was a pre-Vedic tradition too, since the Vedic compositions included in the four Vedas indicate a high level of development of poetic quality and spiritual experience, which can come about only through a long period of growth. It is difficult, however, to arrive at any conclusive determination of the dates of the Vedic or the pre-Vedic age, since there are varying opinions, and even conservative estimates vary between 5000 B.C. and 1500 B.C.2

The name that was found by the Vedic Rishis for their expressive words and hymns was Mantra. According to the Vedic theory, the spirit of creation framed all the movements of the world by chhandas, fixed rhythms of the formative word. The metrical movements of the Vedic mantras reflect these cosmic rhythms as powers of balanced harmonies maintained by a system of subtle recurrences. Mantra is poetic speech which combines three highest intensities, a highest intensity of rhythmic movement, a highest intensity of



interwoven verbal form and thought-substance, and a highest intensity of the soul's vision of truth. Mantra is that rhythmic speech, which as the Veda puts it, rises at once from the heart of the seer and from the distant home of the Truth. The Vedic poet is conscious of his poetic activity; he is consciously engaged in the process of the Yoga of Works and the Yoga of Knowledge, and, in this process, he goes beyond mere intellectual illurninativeness and discovers that more intense illumination of speech, that inspired word and supreme inevitable utterance, in which there meets the unity of a divine rhythmic movement with a depth of sense and a power of infinite suggestion welling up directly from the fountainheads of the spirit. The resultant Vedic poetry is seen as an epic chant of the spirit, its struggle and delight of ascent and victory, the secret of which is contained in self-consecration and surrender of the finite to the infinite, Yajna, where knowledge, action and love meet and become one.

The Vedic poetry is mystic and symbolic, and since the poets of the Veda had another mentality than ours, their use of their images is of a peculiar kind and an antique cast of vision gives a strange outline to their substance. In their method, a fixed system of outward images is used as the body of the poetry, while freedom is often taken to pass their first limits, to treat them only as initial suggestions and transmute subtly or even cast them aside or subdue into a secondary strain or carry them out of themselves so that the translucent veil they offer to our minds lifts from or passes into the open revelation.

In the eyes of the Rishis, the physical and the psychical worlds were a manifestation and a two-fold and diverse and yet connected and similar figure of cosmic godheads, the inner and outer life of man a divine commerce with the gods, and



behind was the one Spirit or Being of which the gods were names and personalities and powers, ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti? These godheads were not only masters of physical Nature but they were at the same time inward divine powers. Simultaneously, they were also states and energies born in our psychic being. Godheads, devas, are declared to be the guardians of truth and immortality, the children of the Infinite, and each of them to be in his origin and his last reality the supreme Spirit putting in front one of his aspects. In the Vedic vision, the life of man was a thing of mixed truth and falsehood, a movement from mortality to immortality, from mixed light and darkness to the splendour of a divine Truth whose home is above in the Infinite but which can be built up here in man's soul and life. This building up the home of Truth here implies a journey and a battle between the children of Light and the sons of Night, a getting of treasure, of the wealth, the booty given by the gods to the human warrior, and a journey and a sacrifice. The Vedic poets spoke of these things in a fixed system of images taken from Nature and from the surrounding life of the war-like, pastoral and agricultural Aryan peoples. And these images centred round the cult of Fire and the worship of the powers of living Nature and the institution of sacrifice. The Vedic poets used for their expression a fixed and yet variable body of other images and a glowing web of myth and parable which expressed to the initiates a certain order of psychic experience and actual realities.


Yaska has spoken of several schools of interpretation of the Vedas. He has declared that there is a triple knowledge and therefore a triple meaning of the Vedic hymns, a sacrificial



behind was the one Spirit or Being of which the gods were names and personalities and powers, ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti? These godheads were not only masters of physical Nature but they were at the same time inward divine powers. Simultaneously, they were also states and energies born in our psychic being. Godheads, devas, are declared to be the guardians of truth and immortality, the children of the Infinite, and each of them to be in his origin and his last reality the supreme Spirit putting in front one of his aspects. In the Vedic vision, the life of man was a thing of mixed truth and falsehood, a movement from mortality to immortality, from mixed light and darkness to the splendour of a divine Truth whose home is above in the Infinite but which can be built up here in man's soul and life. This building up the home of Truth here implies a journey and a battle between the children of Light and the sons of Night, a getting of treasure, of the wealth, the booty given by the gods to the human warrior, and a journey and a sacrifice. The Vedic poets spoke of these things in a fixed system of images taken from Nature and from the surrounding life of the war-like, pastoral and agricultural Aryan peoples. And these images centred round the cult of Fire and the worship of the powers of living Nature and the institution of sacrifice. The Vedic poets used for their expression a fixed and yet variable body of other images and a glowing web of myth and parable which expressed to the initiates a certain order of psychic experience and actual realities.


Yaska has spoken of several schools of interpretation of the Vedas. He has declared that there is a triple knowledge and therefore a triple meaning of the Vedic hymns, a sacrificial



or ritualistic knowledge, knowledge of the gods and finally a spiritual knowledge. He has also said that the last is the true sense and when one gets it the others drop or are cut away. According to him, "the Rishis saw the Truth, the true law of things, directly by an inner vision". He also said that "the true sense of the Vedas can be recovered directly by meditation and tapasya". We also find that the Vedic Rishis themselves believe that their mantras contain a secret knowledge and that the words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the verses withhold their knowledge. For example, in Rig Veda IV.3.16, the Rishi describes himself as one illumined expressing through his thought and speech words of guidance, "secret words"— ninya vachamsi — "seer wisdoms that utter their inner meaning to the seer" - kavyani kavaye nivacana.4

The tradition of mystic elements in the Vedas has remained alive throughout the ages, and it is this tradition which is seen as a source of Indian civilization, its religion, its philosophy, its culture.

It is, however, true that there was an external aspect of the Vedic religion and this aspect took its foundation on the mind of the physical man and provided means, symbols, rites, figures which were drawn from the most external things, such as heaven and earth, sun and moon and stars, dawn and day and night and rain, and wind and storm, oceans and rivers and forests, and of the circumstances of the force of the vast and mysterious surrounding life. But even in the external side, the Vedic religion spoke of a highest Truth, Right, Law of which the gods were the guardians, of the necessity of a true knowledge and the larger inner living according to this Truth and Right, and of home of immortality to which the soul of



man could ascend by the power of truth and of right being. In addition, the Vedic religion provided sufficient ground to draw even the common people in their ethical nature and to turn them towards some initial developments of their psychic being, and to conceive the idea of a knowledge and truth other than that of the physical life and to admit even a first conception of some greater spiritual Reality.

But the deeper and esoteric meaning of the Veda was reserved for the initiates, for those who were ready to understand and practise the inner sense. It was the inner meaning, it was the highest psychic and spiritual truth concealed by the outer sense that gave to the Vedic hymns the name by which they are still known, the Veda, the Book of Knowledge. Only in the light of this esoteric sense can we understand the full flowering of the Vedic religion in the Upanishads and in the long later development of Indian spiritual seeking and experience.

The inner Vedic religion attributes psychic significance to the godheads in the cosmos. It conceives of a hierarchical order of worlds, and an ascending stair of planes of being in the universe, bhur, bhuvah, swar. Truth and Right (satyam and ritam), which have their home in the highest world of swar, sustain and govern all the levels of Nature. They are one in essence but they take different forms in different levels of existence. For instance, there is in the Veda the series of the outer physical light, another higher and inner light which is a vehicle of the mental, vital and psychic consciousness, and a highest inmost light of spiritual illumination. Surya, the Sun-god, was the lord of the physical Sun, but he is at the same time the giver of the rays of Knowledge which illumines the mind, and he is also the soul of energy and body of the



spiritual illumination.

All the Vedic godheads have an outer but also an inner and inmost foundation, their known and their secret Names. All of them have various powers of some one highest reality, ekam sat, tat satyaim, tad ekam. Each of these gods is in himself a complete and separate cosmic personality of the one Existence. And in their combination of powers they form the complete universal power, the cosmic whole. Each again, apart from his special function, is one godhead with the others. Each holds in himself the universal divinity; each god is all the other gods. This complex aspect of the Vedic teaching and worship has been given by the European scholar the title of henotheism. Beyond, there is, according to the Vedas, triple Infinite, and in this Infinite, the godheads put on their highest nature and are Names of the one nameless Ineffable.

This teaching was applied to the inner life of man, and this application may be regarded as its greatest power. Power of the godheads can be built, according to the Vedic teaching, within man, and affirmation of these powers leads to the conversion of human nature into universality of divine nature. The gods are the guardians and increasers of the Truth, the powers of the Immortal, the sons of the Infinite Mother, Aditi. Man arrives at immortality by calling of the gods into himself by means of a connecting sacrifice, by surrender. This leads to the breaking of the limitations not only of his physical self but also of his mental and his ordinary psychic nature. The Veda describes various experiences which indicate a profound psychological and psychic discipline leading to highest spiritual realisation of divine status. This discipline contains the nucleus of the later Indian Yoga, the fundamental idea of which was that of the journey from the unreal to the real,



from darkness to light, from death to immortality. This, Vedic Rishis speak of as ritasya pantha, the path of the Truth. In one of the vivid descriptions of the spiritual realisation, Vamadeva records: "Vanished the darkness, shaken in its foundation; heaven shone out; upward rose the light of the divine Dawn; the sun entered the vast fields beholding the straight things and the crooked in mortals. Thereafter indeed they awoke and saw utterly; then indeed they held in them a bliss that is enjoyed in heaven, ratnam dharayanta dyubhaktam. Let all the gods be in all our humans, let there be the truth of our thought, O Mitra, O Varuna".5

This is similar to another experience described by Parashara Shaktya, who declares: "Our fathers broke open the firm and strong places by their words, yea, the Angirasas broke open the hill by their cry; they made in us the path to the great heaven; they found the Day and Swar and vision and the luminous Cows", chkarur divo brihato gatum asme, ahah svar vividuh ketum usrah.6 He declares again: "They who enter into all things that bear right fruit formed a path towards the immortality; earth stood wide for them by the greatness by the Great Ones, the Mother Aditi, with her sons came for the upholding".7

These and other statements give us the clue of what the Vedic Rishis meant by immortality. When the physical being is visited by the greatness of the infinite planes above and by the power of the great godheads who reign on those planes breaks its limits, opens out to the Light and is upheld in its new wideness by the infinite Consciousness, Mother Aditi, and her sons, the divine powers of the supreme Deva, —then one realises immortality.

Veda makes a distinction between the state of Knowledge



and the state of Ignorance, (chittim achittim chinavad vividvan), and discovers the means by which ignorance can be overcome. Upholding of the thought of the truth in all the principles of our being, the diffusion of Truth in all parts of our being, and the birth of activity of all the godheads, — this is the quintessence of the means of attaining Knowledge, which results in immortality.8

We find in the Veda the most characteristic ideas of Indian spirituality in their seed, though not in their full expansion. There is, first, the idea of the one Existence9, supra-cosmic, beyond the individual and universe. There is also the idea of one god who presents to us various forms, names, powers, personalities of his godhead. There is, thirdly, the distinction between the Knowledge and Ignorance, the greater truth of an immortal life opposed to the much falsehood and mortal existence. Fourthly, there is the conception of the discipline of an inward growth of man from the physical through the psychic to the spiritual existence. Finally, there is the idea and experience of the conquest of death, the secret of immortality. These ideas have remained constant in the Vedic tradition throughout its long and uninterrupted history up to the present day.


The Vedic beginning was a high beginning, and it was secured in its results by a larger sublime efflorescence. This is what we find in Upanishads, which have always been recognised in India as the crown and end of the Veda, Vedanta. While the Brahmanas10 concentrated on the Vedic rituals, the Upanishads11 renewed the Vedic truth by extricating it from its cryptic symbols and casting it into a highest and most



direct and powerful language of intuition and experience. Indeed, this language was not the thing of the intellect, but still it wore a form which the intellect could take hold of, translate into its own more abstract terms and convert into a starting-point for an ever-widening and deepening philosophic speculation and the reason's long search after the Truth.

Upanishads are records of deepest spiritual experience, and documents of revelatory and intuitive philosophy of an inexhaustible light, power and largeness. Whether written in verse or cadenced prose, they are spiritual poems of unfailing inspiration, inevitable in phrase and wonderful in rhythm and expression. They are epic hymns of self-knowledge, and world-knowledge and God-knowledge. The imagery of the Upanishads is in large part developed from the type of imagery of the Veda. Ordinarily it prefers unveiled clarity of directly illuminative image, but it frequently uses the same symbols in a way that is closely akin to the spirit of the older symbolism. The Upanishads are not a revolutionary departure from the Vedic mind but a continuation and development and to a certain extent an enlarging transformation. They bring out into an open expression what was held covered in the symbolic Vedic speech as a mystery and a secret. Ajatashatru's explanation of sleep and dream, passages of the Prashna Upanishad on the vital being and its motion are some of the examples of Upanishadic symbolism.12

Along with the Veda, Upanishads rank as Shruti, since they embody revelations and intuitions of spiritual experience. The Upanishads have been acknowledged to be the source of numerous profound philosophies and religions that flowed from them in India. They fertilised the mind and life of the people and kept India's soul alive through the centuries. Like



a fountain of inexhaustible life-giving water, they have never failed to give fresh illumination. It is even being said that Buddhism was only a restatement of one side of the Upanishadic experience, although it represented a new standpoint and provided fresh terms of intellectual definition and reasoning. Even in the thought of Pythagoras and Plato, one could rediscover the ideas of the Upanishads. Sufism has been seen to be repeating the teaching of the Upanishads in another religious language. Even some of the modem thinkers of the East and the West seem to be absorbing the ideas of the Upanishads with living and intense receptiveness. And it may not be an exaggeration to say that there is hardly a main philosophical idea which cannot find an authority or a seed or indication in those ancient and antique writings. It has also been claimed that the larger generalisations of Science are found to apply to the truth of the physical Nature; formulas which were discovered by the Upanishadic sages.

The Upanishads are Vedanta, a book of knowledge, but knowledge understood not as a mere thinking but as a seeing with the soul and total living in it with the power of inner being, a spiritual seizing by a kind of identification with the object of knowledge. Through this process of knowledge by identity or intuition the seers of Upanishads came easily to see that the self in us is one with the universal self of all things and that this self again is the same as God and Brahman, a transcendent Being or Existence, and they beheld, felt, lived in the inmost truth of all things in the universe and the inmost truth of man's inner and outer existence by the light of this one and unifying vision.

Hence, the three great declarations of the ancient Vedanta are: "I am he",13 "Thou art That. 0 Swetaketu",14 "All this is



the Brahman; this Self is the Brahman".15

The main conceptions of the Upanishads remained in parts in the various philosophical systems and efforts were made from time to time to recombine them. Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Poorva Mimansa and Uttara Mimansa bear the imprint of the Upanishadic thought, and the last one, particularly has as its basic text, BrahmasOtra, which was composed by Badarayan, and in which the quintessence of the Upanishads was expounded aphoristically- Brahmasutra came to be commented upon by various Acharyas. This gave rise to at least five schools of Vedantic interpretation, viz., Advaita of Shankaracharya, Vishishtadvaita of Ramanujacharya, Vishuddhadvaita of Vallabhacharya, Dvaitadvaita of Nimbarkacharya, and Dvaita of Madhwacharya. Bhagawad Gita is also considered to be an exposition of the essence of the Upanishadic teaching. The commentary literature on the Upanishads, a Brahmasutra and Bhagawad Gita is continuing to develop even in our own times.

It is true that the Upanishads are mainly concerned with the inner vision and not directly with outward human action; yet, all the highest ethics of Buddhism and later Hinduism are emergences of the very life and significance of the truths to which they give expressive from and force, and they even present the supreme ideal of a spiritual action founded on oneness with God and all living beings It is for this reason that even when the life of the forms of the Vedic cult had passed away, the Upanishads still remained alive and creative and could generate the great devotional religions and inspire the persistent Indian idea of the Dharma.

By the time we come to the Upanishads, the original Vedic symbols had begun to lose their significance and to pass into



an obscurity. The earlier stage of culture represented an old poise between two extremes. On one side, there was the crude or half-trained naturalness of the outer physical man; on the other side, there was an inner and secret psychic and spiritual life for the initiates. But this poise was disturbed because of the necessity of a large-lined advance. In its developing cycle of civilisation, India called for a more and more generalised intellectual, ethical and aesthetic evolution. This called for a new poise and new balance. At this juncture, the Upanishads saved the ancient spiritual knowledge by an immense effort, and the spiritual edifice created by the Upanishads guided, Uplifted and more and more penetrated into the wide and complex intellectual, aesthetic, ethical and social culture that came to be developed during the age that followed the age of the Vedas and the Upanishads.


During this post-Vedic age, which extended right up to the decline of Buddhism, we see the rise of the great philosophies, many-sided epic literature, beginnings of arts and science, evolution of vigorous and complex societies, formation of large kingdoms and empires, manifold formative activities of all kinds and great systems of living and thinking. It was a birth time and youth of the seeking intellect, and a number of scientific or systematic bodies of intellectual knowledge came up at an early stage. Actually, Vedangas had begun to develop even before the Upanishads. Mandukya Upanishad mentions six Vedangas; Shiksha (Phonetics); Kalpa (Rituolgy); Vyakarana (Grammar); Nirukta (Etymology); Chhanda (Metrics); and Jyotish (Astronomy and Astrology). Each Vedanga takes up one aspect of the Veda



and an attempt is made to explain it.

In due course, there developed a vast literature on these Vedangas, expounding various systems of phonetics, rituals of sacrifices and rules of conduct of various kinds such as those described in Shrauta sutra, Grihya sutra and Dharma sutras, principles and details ofVedic etymology, grammatical subtleties, various forms, meters and styles of poetry, and several systems of astronomical and astrological knowledge. There developed also considerable literature of Pratishakhya, which dealt with the subtleties of grammar, meters and pronunciation pertaining to the Shakhas16 of the Vedas. Apart from the Vedangas, there developed four sciences, known as Upavedas, viz., Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharvaveda and Arthaveda. Here again, in due course, there developed a vast literature of expositions, commentaries and treatises.

Strong intellectuality of this period was inspired by the wide variety of spiritual experience and the synthetic turn so visible in the Vedas and the Upanishads. There was a conscious perception that spiritual experience is higher than religion and that what religion seeks can really be attained by the inner psychological discipline, which in due course came to be developed into a Shastra, the Shastra of Yoga. This allowed intellectuality to become free from the crippling effects of religious dogma, and we find that the intellectual development became multi-sided. Materialistic atheism, agnosticism, scepticism, too developed. Indeed, this intellectuality was austere and rich, robust and minute, powerful and delicate, massive in principle and curious in detail. The mere mass of the intellectual production during the period from Ashoka well into the Mohammadan epoch is something truly prodigious. This can be seen from the account which recent scholarship gives of it. And while evaluating this account it



must be noted that what has been dealt with so far of this ancient treasure is a fraction of what is still lying extant and what is extant is only a small percentage of what was once written and known. And we have also to note that what was accomplished had for its aid the power of memory and the perishable palm-leaf. The colossal literature extended to various domains, — philosophy and theology, religion and yoga, logic and rhetoric, grammar and linguistics, poetry and drama, medicine and astronomy and the sciences. It dealt also with politics and society, music and dancing, architecture and painting, all the sixty-four accomplishments, and various crafts and skills. It may be said that even such subjects as the breeding and training of horses and elephants had their own Shastras. Each domain of thought and life had a systematic body of knowledge, its art, its apparatus of technical terms, its copious literature.

During this period, India stood in the first rank in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, surgery and all the branches of physical knowledge which were practised in ancient times. In many directions, India had a priority of discovery. It is true that the harmony that was established between philosophical truth and truth of psychology and religion was not extended in the same degree to the truth of physical Nature. But from the beginning, starting from the thought of the Veda, the Indian mind had recognised that the same general laws and powers hold in the spiritual, the psychological and the physical existence. Omnipresence of life was discovered, and there was the affirmation of the evolution of the soul in Nature from the vegetable and the animal to the human form.

The philosophic mind started from the data of the spiritual experience, and it went back always in one form or another



to the profound truth of the Veda and the Upanishad which kept their place as the highest authority in these matters. There was a constant admission that spiritual experience is a greater thing and its light a truer if more incalculable guide than the clarities of the reasoning intelligence. In the epic literature of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, we find a strong and free intellectual and ethical thinking; there is an incessant criticism of life by the intelligence and ethical reason. We find in it multi-sided curiosity and desire to fix the norms of truth in all fields. But in the background there is a constant religious and spiritual sense and an implicit or explicit assent to the spiritual truth. In the field of art, there was insistence upon life and its creativity, but still its highest achievement was always in the field of the interpretation of the religio-philosophical mind. The whole tone of art during that period was coloured by a suggestion of the spiritual and the infinite.

The master ideas of the Vedas and the Upanishads governed the developing turn of imagination, its creative temperament and the kind of significant forms in which it persistently interpreted its perception of self and things and life and universe. The sense of the infinite and the cosmic generated by the Vedic hymns is seen in a great part of the literature of the subsequent ages even as we see it in architecture, painting and sculpture. As in the Veda, even so here, there is a tendency to see and render spiritual experience in images taken from the inner psychic plane or in physical images transmitted by the stress of a psychic significance and impression. The tendency to image the terrestrial life often magnified, as in the Mahabharata and in the Ramayana, reflects the Vedic influence.

In the field of collective life, Indian society developed its



communal coordination of the mundane life of interest and desire, kama and artha. But it governed always its action by a reference at every point to the moral and religious law, the dharma, and it never lost sight of spiritual liberation, moksha, as the highest motive and ultimate aim of the effort of life. At a still later stage, when there came about an immense development of the mundane intelligence and an emphatic stress of aesthetic, sensuous and hedonistic experience, there was a corresponding deepening of the intensities of psycho- religious experience. It may be said that every excess of emphasis on the splendour and richness and power and pleasures of life had its recoil and was balanced by a corresponding stress on spiritual asceticism. And throughout this development one can see the inner continuity with the Vedic and Vedantic origins.

It is true that at one time it seemed as if a discontinuity would take place. Buddhism seemed to reject all spiritual continuity with the Vedic religion. Buddhism seemed also to be a sharp new beginning. But the ideal of nirvana came to be perceived as a negative and exclusive statement of the highest Vedantic spiritual experience. The eightfold path also came to be perceived as an austere sublimation of the Vedic notion of the Right, Truth, and Law, which was followed as the way to immortality. The strongest note of Mahayana Buddhism which laid a stress on universal compassion and fellow-feeling was seen as an ethical application of the spiritual unity which is an essential idea of Vedanta. The Buddhistic theory of karma could have been supported from the utterances of the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. Actually, the Vedic tradition absorbed all that it could be of Buddhism, but rejected its exclusive positions.

But there was a gradual fading out of the prominent Vedic



forms and substitution of others. Symbol, ritual and ceremony were transformed; the lofty heights of the Vedic spiritual experience did not reappear as a predominant tendency, although there was a farther widening and fathoming of psychic and spiritual experience. The Vedic pantheon gradually faded out altogether under the weight of the increasing importance of the great Trinity, Brahma - Vishnu - Shiva. Anew pantheon appeared; its outward symbolic aspect expressed a deeper truth and larger range of experience, feeling and idea. The tradition of the Vedic sacrifice began to break down the house of Fire was replaced by the temple. The devotional temple ritual came to replace to a great extent the karmic ritual of sacrifice. More precise conceptual forms of the two great deities, Vishnu and Shiva, came to replace the vague and shifting mental images of the Vedic gods. The shaktis of Vishnu and Shiva also came to dominate the religious scene. These new concepts became stabilised in physical images, and these images were made the basis both for internal adoration and for the external worship.

The esoteric teachings of the Vedic hymns which centred on the psychic and spiritual discipline disappeared, although some of its truths reappeared in various new forms. These forms as we see them in the Puranic and Tantric religion and yoga were less luminous than the Vedic nucleus of spiritual experience, but they were more wide and rich and complex and more suitable to the psycho-spiritual inner life.

The Purano-Tantric17 stage was marked by an effort to awaken he inner mind even in the common man, to lay hold on his inner vital and emotional nature, to support all by an awakening of the soul and to lead him through these things towards a highest spiritual truth. This effort required new



instruments, new atmosphere and new fields of religious and spiritual experience. While the Vedic godheads were to the mass of their worshippers divine powers who presided over the workings of the outward life of the physical cosmos, the Puranic Trinity had even for the multitude a predominant psycho-religious and spiritual significance. But the central spiritual truth remained the same in both the Vedic and Purano-Tantric systems, the truth of the One in many aspects. As the Vedic godheads were forms of the Supreme, even so the Puranic Trinity was a triple form of the one supreme Godhead and Brahman; even the Shaktis were energies of the One Energy of the highest divine Being. But this truth was no longer reserved for the initiated few; it was now more and more brought powerfully, widely and intensely home to the general mind and feeling of the people.

The system of the hierarchy of the worlds that we find in the Veda was more intricate than the system that we find in the Puranas. In the Veda, the highest worlds constitute the triple divine principle; infinity is their scope, bliss is their foundation. These three worlds are supported by the vast region of the Truth whence a divine Light radiates out towards our mentality in the three heavenly luminous worlds of Swar, the domain of Indra. Below is the triple system in which we live. This triple system consists of three earths, three heavens, dyaus, and the connecting mid-region (antariksha). In simpler terms, the triple lower world in which we live is the world of matter, life-force and pure mind. According to the Vedic idea, each principle can be modified by the subordinate manifestation of the others within it, and each world is divisible into several provinces. Into this framework the Vedic Rishis placed all the complexities of the subtle vision and fertile imagery. The Puranic system is a continuation of the Vedic



system but it is simpler. The purana recognises seven principles of existence and the seven puranic worlds correspond to them with sufficient precision, thus:



1 Pure Existence -Sat World of the highest truth of being (Satyaloka)
2 Pure Consciousness Chi World of infinite Will or conscious force (Tapoloka)
3 Pure Bliss -Ananda World of creative delight of existence (Janaloka )
4 Knowledge or Truth Vijnana World of the Vastness (Maharloka)
5 Mind World of light (Swar)
6 Life (nervous being) World of various becoming (Bhuvar)
7 Matter The material world (Bhur)

The Vedic' interpretation of life as a movement of sacrifics and a battle continued in the Purano Tantric tradition also. According to the Veda, the struggle of life is a warring of Gods and Titans Gods and Giants Indra and Python, Aryan and the Dasyu. In the Puranas and Tantras also life is conceived as a struggle and battle between Devas and Asuras, Devas and Rakshasas' between the armies of Gods and God- desses and the armies of Asuric, Rakshasic and Paishachik adversaries. The vedic goal of achieving immortality recurs also in the Puranas and Tantras, where we have symbolic story of the search after the nectar.

The Vedic idea of the divinity in man was popularised



during the Purano-Tantric stage to an extraordinary extent; there was a development of the concept of the Avatars, of the occasional manifestations of the divine in humanity; there was also the development of the idea of the Divine Presence, discoverable in the heart of every creature. New systems of yoga also developed, but the basis was the same, namely, secret of the power of concentration, of the method of concentration, and of the object of concentration. There was, however, a many-sided endeavour which opened the gates of Yoga on various levels and planes of consciousness. Many kinds of psycho-physical, inner vital, inner mental and psycho- spiritual methods came to be developed; but all of them had the common aim of the realisation of a greater consciousness and a more or less complete union with the One and Divine, or else an immergence of the individual soul in the Absolute. The Purano-Tantric system provided a basis of generalised psycho-religious experience from which man could rise through knowledge, works or love or through any other fundamental power of his nature to some supreme experience and highest or absolute status.


After the Purano-Tantric stage, there came the third stage of the development of religion and spirituality in India. The first stage consisted of the Vedic training of the physically minded man;18 the second stage took up man's outward life as also a deeper mental and psychical life, and it brought man more directly into contact with the spirit and divinity within him. But now in the third stage, there was an attempt to take up man's whole mental, psychical, physical living so as to arrive at a first beginning at least of a generalised spiritual



life. This is what we see after the decline of Buddhism in the emergence of great spiritual movement of the saints and bhaktas and an increasing resort to various paths of yoga. During this stage, there was also a great problem of receiving Islam, and two great attempts were made to arrive at a new synthesis; one from the side of the Muslims, and the other from the side of the Hindus. The former was exemplified in the attempt of Akbar to create a new religion called Din-eIllahi, and the latter was exemplified by the life and work of Guru Nanak. The work of Gum Nanak gave rise to the subsequent Sikh Khalsa movement which was astonishingly original and novel. During this period, there was a tremendous churning of the spirit of India, and a great attempt was made to explore all aspects of human being and to develop them in such a way that they could all open up to the spiritual light and force. This attempt had not only an individual aspect but also a collective aspect. This was a remarkable attempt which could have revolutionised the collective life of India. But this was interrupted on account of several factors.

Among these factors was the fact of the exhaustion of the vital force as a result of a long march and effort from the earliest times of Indian history. This exhaustion was also due to the fact that since the 6th century B.C. there entered a current of culture which negated the meaning and the significance of cosmic life. This created confusion and disbalancement resulting in excessive asceticism. This impoverished life and led to the neglect of social, economic and political conditions of the country. High ideals began to be exiled from active life, and rigidities of various kinds came to imprison the forms of individuals and collectivities. The exhaustion of vital force in the country coincided also with the political instability and the coming of the settlers from



the West. Finally, the establishment of the British supremacy in India resulted in the extreme impoverishment of the Spirit of India.


The third stage of religious and spiritual development of India could not bear its natural fruit, although it has done much to prepare a great possibility for the future. The message of the third stage is that the spiritualisation of the collective life cannot be achieved if only the physical mind of man is trained or even if a greater effort is made to train the psychic- emotional part of man's nature. What is needed is to turn the entirety of mental, psychical and physical living of the individual and the collectivity to divinise the whole of human life and nature. It is significant, therefore, that there arose from the middle of the 19th century a reassertion of the Indian spirit, and this reassertion is marked by three tendencies, namely, reaffirmation of the spiritual ideal, emphasis on dynamism and creative action, and insistence on collective domains and forms of life. At the beginning of this period there arose a galaxy of great personalities, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswari, Sri Rama Krishna and Swami Vivekananda, who filled India with a new breath and sowed the seeds not only of a spiritual awakening but also of social and political awakening. The new nationalist spirit was at once spiritual and social in character, and it symbolised a new vibration.

It is significant also that in this new awakening, the Veda was rediscovered, the Upanishads were rediscovered. The esoteric teaching of the Vedas which was confined only to initiates during the Vedic period seems in the new light to be



a store from which we can even now draw illumination and power of regeneration. The new light does not advocate a mere revival or a prolongation of the Puranic system but points to something which the Vedic seers saw as the aim of human life and which the Vedantic sages cast into the clear and immortal forms of the luminous revelation. And yet it is not to the Vedic forms that we are called upon to return. The great message of modem India, coming through its accomplished Rishi, Sri Aurobindo, calls for the discovery of newer light and development of newer forms. Not to trace or retrace the old, but taking into account the treasurers of the past and by liberating or developing new knowledge, even by hewing new paths we are called upon to find original solutions to build up a new centre of spiritual consciousness which can manifest that consciousness potently in all fields of activity, scientific, philosophical, cultural, social, economic, political.


Significance of the Veda is not confined merely to the fact that it is the world's first yet extant Scripture, but that it is its earliest interpretation of Man and Divine and the Universe as also that it is a sublime and powerful poetic creation. The utterances of the greatest seers, Vishwamitra, Vamadeva, Dirghatamas and many others touch the most extraordinary heights of mantric poetry. At the early stages of the Vedic tradition the substance of Indian religion and spirituality came to be determined by the varieties of deepest psychic and spiritual experiences shared and expressed by hundreds of the Vedic seers. It can be seen that the post-Vedic and later spirituality of Indian people was contained in the



Veda in seed or in first expression.

A great force of intuition and inner experience, so evident in the Veda and the Upanishad, gave to the Indian mind the sense and reality of cosmic consciousness and cosmic vision. Perception of the One underlying reality, recognition of the perception of unity, as Vidya, and the necessity of the individual to lift himself from Avidya to Vidya — these are the connecting threads of Indian religion and spirituality, and these we see repeatedly emphasised in the Vedic teaching. At the same time, we have to note that even while admitting the One without a second, ekam eva advitiyam, there was no paralysing exclusion in the Veda and the Upanishad, and there was a clear admission of the duality of the One and the distinction of the Spirit and Nature; and there was room also for various trinities and million aspects of that One, tad ekam. This has created in the Indian mind aversion to intolerant and mental exclusions, and even when it concentrates sometimes on single limiting aspect of the Divinity — and seems to see nothing but that,—it still keeps instinctively at the back of its consciousness the sense of the All and the idea of the One. Even when it distributes its worship among many objects, it looks at the same time through the object of worship and sees beyond the multitude of Godheads the Unity of the Supreme. What is of special significance is that this synthetic turn is not limited to the mystics or to philosophic thinkers, but it extends even to the popular mind, which has been permeated by the force of the thoughts, images, traditions and cultural symbols not only of the Veda and Vedanta but also by the Purana and Tantra. There is in the Indian mind a pervasive synthetic monism, many-sided Unitarianism, and large cosmic universalism.

This is not to deny the fact that there have emerged in the



long course of Indian history tendencies, thoughts and even religious movements characterised by exclusivism. There have been exclusive claims and counter-claims and even quarrels and intolerance. But the efforts at synthesis have tended to prevail. Even in the field of philosophy, while trenchant positions are not absent, synthetic turn eventually predominates. In the field of yoga, too, there have been specialisations and exclusive claims and counter-claims; claims of the path of knowledge have opposed the claims of the path of action and devotion and vice-versa; but there have been powerful systems of the synthesis, such as those of the esoteric Veda, Upanishads, Gita and Tantra. Even in later times, in the movements of saints and bhaktas there is a marked turn towards synthesis, and even in our own times, in the yogic life of Sri Aurobindo's integral yoga we have the latest effort and statement of the synthesis of yogic disciplines.

Catholicity of the Veda and the Upanishads has remarkable changes in the forms of Indian religion and spiritual culture, even while maintaining the persistence of their spirit. And if we examine the changes that have occurred we shall find in them a meaningful process of evolution and a certain kind of logic. Right from the Vedic times, there was a tendency in the Indian religion to provide means for the individual and collective life to develop by graded steps and reach and experience truths of higher and spiritual existence. It was recognised that at the beginning not many could safely and successfully reach the heights, but the pioneering leaders did not accept the theory that many must necessarily remain for ever on the lower ranges of life and only a few climb into the free air and the light, but they were moved by the spirit to regenerate the totality of physical life on the earth. It is true that this spirit was not at all times and in all its parts



consciously aware of its own total significance. But the total drift of the manifold sides and rich variations of the forms, teachings and disciplines of Indian religion and spirituality indicate that the aim pursued was not only to raise to inaccessible heights the few elect, but to draw all men and all life and the whole human being upward, to spiritualise life and in the end to divinise human nature.

Indian spirituality, as seen in the Veda recognised both the spiritual and physical poles of existence, and sought the experiences and realisation of higher planes of the Spirit even in physical consciousness (prithvi). The legend of the Angirasa Rishis indicates the effort to discover the lost sun and herds of light in the caves of darkness, symbolising physical inconscience. It may even be said that the yoga of the Veda seems to suggest that the discovery of the light in Surya Savitri is followed and completed by the discovery and uncovering of the light in the very depths of darkness of the Inconscient, tamas. Not the rejection of Matter and material life but realisation that the Matter too is Spirit and that material life too can bear and manifest the spiritual light and bliss — this seems to be the inner basis of the Vedic teaching.

It is this unitive perception that could explain the drift of Indian religion and spirituality towards a wide and many-sided culture. It is true that on its more solitary summits, at least in its later periods, Indian spirituality tended to a spiritual exclusiveness, which was, whatever its loftiness, quite impressive and excessive. Actually this exclusiveness imposed on Indian culture a certain impotence to deal effectively with the problems of human existence; consequently, there came about a general decline in science, in philosophy, and in all other domains of life. On the other hand, the previous training



provided by the Vedic religion to the physically-minded early common man and by the post-Vedic and Purano-Tantric religion to the common man of the later periods who developed increasingly his intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, imaginative, emotional and vital faculties had created favourable conditions for the growth and development of multi-sided religious and spiritual movement that attempted to synthesise conflicting tendencies and to invite larger and larger sections of the society to the possibilities of the multi- sided spiritual training and development. Even though there was a general arrest of these new developments, the Indian Renaissance has now provided fresh conditions, and the most conscious and potent expression of the new spirituality has declared the aim of not individual salvation but of collective salvation. It has rejected the exclusive solution of the problems of human life in the attainment of world-negating spirit; it has rather affirmed the possibility of the highest spiritualising of life on the earth.

The earliest preoccupation of India, as expressed in the Veda, was the exploration of the Spirit in Matter and of Matter in Spirit; the intermediate preoccupation was with the seeking and experiment in a thousand ways of the soul's outermost and innermost experience marked by various conflicts and even exclusive affirmations and denials under an overarching tendency towards multi-sided development of the spiritual, ethical, intellectual," aesthetic, vital and physical parts of the being and some kind of synthesis. The latest trend takes up the burden and treasure of the gains of the past and looks towards the future with some kind of basis of effective realisation where tasks of establishment of the divine life on the earth for full participation by the entire human race could be undertaken.



While outlining these tasks, particularly, of the renascent India, Sri Aurobindo states:

"The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness is its first, most essential work; the flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second; an original dealing with modem problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult. Its success on these three lines will be the •measure of its help to the future of humanity."19


1. See, for example. Rig Veda (RV), 1.1.2.

2. According to Shri A.C. Das, Vedas could have been composed any time between 250th and 750th Century B.C. According to Lokamanya Tilak, the estimated period would be any time between 45th and 30th Century B.C. This coincides with the view of Professor Haug, Professor Ludwig and Professor Jacobi Professor Whitney places the period any time between 15th and 20th Century B.C. Professor Max Muller believes that the Veda was composed during the 13th Century B.C.

3. RV., 1.164.46.



4. See also RV., 1.164.39,46; X.71.

5 .RV.,IV.l.17,18.

6. RV., 1.71.2

7. RV., 1.72.9.

8. See also RV., 1.68.1-3.

9. Triple Infinite of the Veda, which was formulated as Sachchidananda in the Upanishad.

10.Brahmanas contain detailed analysis of various categories of sacrifices, their rituals and procedures. They include also collections of history, legends, anecdotes and narrations of stories connected with individuals. The important Brahmanas are: Aitareya Brahmana, Shatapatha Brahmana, Taittiriya Brahmana, Kathaka Brahmana, Jaiminiya Brahmana and Gopatha Brahmana. A large number of Brahmanas have been lost.

11. In the Muktopanishad it is mentioned that the total number of Upanishads are 108, and they are derived from the four Vedas. The Upanishads laid down the process of realisation of the Brahman, the ultimate Reality, which begins with the Brahmajijnasa, aspiration to know the Brahman and it continues through the hearing of the Upanishads, reflection on the Upanishads and dwelling on the Upanishads. Important Upanishads are: Aitareya, Mandukya and Kaushitaki, which are related to Rig Veda; Taittiriya, Kama and Shweteshwatara which are related to Krishna Yajurveda; Brihadaranyaka and Isha, which are related to Shukla Yajurveda; Kena and Chhandogya, which are related to Sama Veda; and Prashna and Mundaka, which are related to Atharva Veda.

12. We may also refer to the passage of the Taittiriya in which Indra appears as a power of the divine mind. The passage of the Prashna Upanishad may also be referred to where the power and the significance of the mystic syllable AUM are described. As an example of greater clarity of statements, which are nearer to our intellectual apprehension, we may refer to the passages of the Katha Upanishad where the knowledge of the Purusha, no bigger than a thumb, as man's central self is given.

13. Chhandogya Upanishad 4.11.1.

14. Ibid., 6.8.7.



15. Ibid., 3.14.1; also Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5.19.

16. The tradition of transmission of the recitation of the Samhitas gave rise to various recensions or Shakhas. The total number of Shakhas in the ancient period was 1131 but at present only 10 Shakhas is alive.

17. According to the tradition, the word Purana is so-called because it is supposed to refer to the most ancient knowledge. It is said that Brahma had received the knowledge containing the Puranas from the Supreme Divine; Brahma transmitted it to his four mind-bom sons, one of whom Sanat Kumara transmitted it to Narada, who, in turn, transmitted it to Krishna Dwaipayana, Veda Vyasa. Veda Vyasa composed that knowledge in 18 books; each one of them is called Purana. There are also a number of Upapuranas. Puranas describe the creation of the universe, development of the universe, and the dissolution of the universe. Apart from many legends, Puranas contain ideas relating to birth, death and the condition of the soul after the death of body. They also deal with the question relating to philosophic and yogic matters.Most importantly, Puranas are related to great deities, particularly of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. An important contribution of the Purana is related to the concept of divine incarnation, avatara.

The texts connected with Tantra are numerous, probably sixty-four or even more. The tantrik treatise is generally in the form of a dialogue between Shiva and his consort and it teaches mystical formulae for the worship of the deities or the attainment of superhuman powers. The Tantric Yoga is a kind of synthesis of yogic practices contained not only in Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga but also in Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. The tantrik synthesis attempts to emphasise the notion of the divine perfectibility of man, which was also in the Vedic teaching, but which was overshadowed in the intermediate ages.

18. We are not considering here the esoteric teaching of the Veda, which was limited only to the initiates, and which addresses itself to intellectual, vital and physical aspects of training also.

19. Sri Aurobindo, The Foundations of Indian Culture, Vol.14, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Pondicherry, 1971,p.409



Kireetjoshi (b. 1931) studied philosophy and law at the Bombay University. He was selected for the I.A.S. in 1955 but in 1956, he resigned in order to devote himself at Pondicherry to the study and practice of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. He taught Philosophy and Psychology at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education at Pondicherry and participated in numerous educational experiments under the direct guidance of The Mother.

In 1976, the Government of India invited him to be Education Advisor in the Ministry of Education. In 1983, he was appointed Special Secretary to the Government of India, and he held the post until 1988. He was Member Secretary of Indian Council of Philosophical Research from 1981 to 1990. He was also Member-Secretary of Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan from 1987 to 1993. He was the Vice-Chairman of the UNESCO Institute of Education, Hamburg, from 1987 to 1989.

From 1999 to 2004, he was the Chairman of Auroville Foundation. From 2000 to 2006, he was Chairman of Indian Council of Philosophical Research. From 2006 to 2008, he was Editorial Fellow of the Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHISPC).

Currently, he is Education Advisor to the Chief Minister of Gujarat.



Other Titles in the Series

The New Synthesis of Yoga - An Introduction

Varieties of Yogic Experience and Integral Realisation

A Pilgrim's Quest for the Highest and the Best

Synthesis of Yoga in the Veda

Synthesis of Yoga in the Upanishads

The Gita and Its Synthesis of Yoga

Integral Yoga: Major Aims, Processes, Methods and Results

Integral Yoga of Transformation:

Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental

Supermind in the Integral Yoga Integral Yoga and Evolutionary Mutation Integral Yoga, Evolution and the Next Species



Also by Kireet Joshi

Education for Character Development

Education/or Tomorrow

Education at Crossroads

A National Agenda for Education

Sri Aurobindo and Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Landmarks of Hinduism

The Veda and Indian Culture

Glimpses of Vedic Literature

The Portals of Vedic Knowledge

Bhagavadgita and Contemporary Crisis

Philosophy and Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and Other Essays

A Philosophy of the Role of the Contemporary Teacher

A Philosophy of Evolution for the Contemporary Man

A Philosophy of- Education for the Contemporary Youth



Edited by Kireet Joshi

The Aim of Life

The Good Teacher and the Good Pupil

Mystery and Excellence of Human Body

Gods and the World


Uniting Men - Jean Monnet

Joan of Arc

Nala and Damayanti

Alexander the Great

Siege of Troy

Catherine the Great

Parvati's Tapasya

Sri Krishna in Vrindavan



Sri Rama

Compiled by Kireet Joshi

On Materialism

Towards Universal Fraternity

Let us Dwell on Human Unity




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