Sunday, September 23, 2007

1. Necessity of Symbolic Approach to the Veda

During the last couple of centuries the Vedas have been subjected to most rigorous sort of study possible undertaken by a band of Western scholars including Colebrook, Bernauf, Rudolf Roth, Max Muller, Waber, Oufrecht, Stevenson, Haug, Hillebrandt, Wilson, Ludwig, Griffith, Oldenberg, Eggling, Macdonell, Keith, Caland, Whitney, Wacker Nagel, Arnold and Luois Renou. They discovered, preserved and deciphered a huge mass of manuscripts, edited them most punctiliously and translated a number of them pretty well. They prepared histories of Vedic literature, grammar of Vedic language as well as treatises on Vedic metres. The Veda was sought to be studied from several viewpoints including cultural, historical, sociological, economic, mythological and linguistic. Accomplishment of all this task well within just a century and half and that also by scholars hailing from distant lands and from an entirely different cultural milieu is indeed remarkable and obviously goes to the credit of their love as well as devotion to learning. Had they not accomplished all this, it is quite likely that many more of the Vedic texts would not have survived the ravages of time.

Doing so splendidly on this front, however, they could not fare well on the interpretative ground. The only meaning they could discover in this mass of texts with a few exceptions, of course, was that it is the creation of a certain band of people themselves uncivilised and entering into the portals of India somewhere from the Northwest along with their cows, sheep and horses slowly by way of grazing them and happening to have sung out of their joy at the sight of the new land, environs, flora and fauna and subsequently to have engrossed themselves in bizarre rituals abstracted from those early songs of ignorance.

Through their toils and tribulations and display of scholarship they no doubt have built up a situation where Veda, the formidable basis of Indian culture, thought and mode of life has turned out to be just an array of ignorant beliefs and practices having no justification for survival any more. May be it is the joy for denunciation of a culture other than their own which kept sustained the majority of scholars in their painstaking study of the Veda for such a long stretch of time.

Just opposite to this is the case of the Indian scholarship devoted to the Veda since the earliest days, with the only exception of Kautsa referred to by Yaska and those pursuing Indology in the modern times under the inspiration and on the guidelines of the Western scholars. Preservation of the Veda, indeed, is the most remarkable literary accomplishment of the world so far. In total absence of the art of writing and utmost paucity of writing materials even quite subsequently, keeping such a literary colossus as the Veda intact from that hoary past is unprecedented in the world history. The motive behind this arduous task was obviously not maintaining the records of the forefathers, for the Vedas, basically, are not any such records at all. If anything of the sort is found in them, it has got very much universalised instead of being preserved in its strict particularity, which in itself contravenes the idea of their preservation under the incentive of maintaining the record of the posterity. They have regarded the Veda from the very beginning as the source of supernal wisdom by virtue of having been received by great seers through strenuous tapas. This view was in currency as far back as at the time of the Aranyakas as is obvious from Taittiriya’s observation: “The seerhood of the seers lies in the fact that the eternal Veda rushed to them automatically while they were practising tapas.” (Taittiriya Aranyaka.II.9).

This statement of the Aranyaka has respectfully been quoted by Yaska in his Nirukta dating sometime in the 8th century B.C. The Upanisads, which have been regarded to embody in them the highest sort of knowledge the human mind is capable of producing, themselves hold the Veda in highest regard and in course of their deliberations on the nature of the Reality in its individual, universal as well as transcendent forms quote from them copiously for the authentication of their own statements.

To the Upanisadic sages, indeed, the Veda is the source of all knowledge whatever and needs, therefore, to be studied thoroughly by everyone unconditionally. They themselves, of course, are to a great extent, abstractions made out of the Vedas. One of the most important of them, i.e., the Isa Upanisad is a verbatim derivation out of one of the Vedic Samhitas, that is, the Yajurveda. Obviously it was out of this respect for the Veda owing to its vast knowledge that it came to be held in highest regard from the very beginning in this country so much so, of course, that even in philosophical systems all other forms of knowledge were made subservient to the knowledge available from the Veda.

For the fulfilment of this inclination of the human mind, all systems of Indian philosophy, except Buddhism, Jainism and the Carvak, take recourse to the Veda incontrovertibly and without fail. The recognition accorded to the Veda as the source of knowledge of supra-sensory and trans-inferential quality to such an extent by such great thinkers as Gautama, Kanada, Kapila, Patanjali, Jaimini and along with their followers like Vatsyayana, Isvarakrsna, Kumarila, Prabhakara, Sankara, Ramanuja, Bhaskara, etc., extending until now with all their yogic experience, logical acuteness and philosophical sagacity, is not anything so insignificant as to set aside simply on the suggestion of some alien scholars having come to study the Veda with spectacles coloured by an entirely different cultural milieu.

Centuries before the founders of these philosophical systems even, Yaska took full cognisance of the supramental character of the Vedic knowledge. While discussing Audumbarsyana’s views of the extremely fleeting character of language and its inability to bear the burden of classification of vocables, Yaska observes that behind all this fleetingness of the human language and understanding embodied in the mantras, which co-ordinates the momentary vocables, fleeting percepts, discordant concepts and disparate bits of action into durable wholes so as to bring consistency and meaningfulness to the human speech, thought and action, Veda, in his view, represents that eternal and infinite source of supernal knowledge which from behind the operational area of the human mind acts as the element of co-ordination of disparate vocables and ideas borne out by them (Nirukta I.20). It is due to the presence of this co-ordinating factor that there arises the sense of continuity and meaningfulness in our thoughts and as well as in speech. Once this factor of co-ordination gets denied, the whole rosary of sequence in thought and action as well as speech falls apart scattered in the form of disparate beads having no more to do anything with one another, and leaving nothing to interconnect and act as the sequence amidst the separate moments.

Yaska considers the Vedic seers as to have realised and understood the basic principles governing the cosmic as well as individual life. He calls these principles as Dharma. Of course, the Vedic seers are called Rishi on account of their direct vision of these principles (Nirukta I.20). Obviously these principles are supramental and are hardly to be grasped by commonplace thinking. On account of having embodied in them direct vision of these principles, the Veda has been regarded by Yaska as the source of real vidya or knowledge. Imaging out this knowledge concretely as the goddess of learning, Yaska recounts how she approached the knower of its secret and asked him to give full protection to her since she was the eternal treasure in his possession. The danger she indicated to him lay not in his dispossession of her anyway but in her falling into wrong hands through wilful transmission. She, therefore, warned him not to deliver her to one who was jealous of her, lacked in straightforwardness and had no control over himself, including his thinking and behaviour. With this much kept in mind in regard to its transmission, the Vedic wisdom, she assured, would naturally get profounder and profounder (Nirukta II.4). If, on the contrary, it fell into the hands of those who somehow or the other were jealous of it and lacked in self-control and straightforwardness in their outlook, it was sure to be made foul and dispossessed of all her grace, glory, secret and sanctity.

This is exactly what has happened in the case of Vedic studies particularly in the modern times. In sharp contrast to its total closure during the middle ages, it happened to be made open for all without any consideration whether one was prepared enough to be taught it to him or not. If the extra care, which was taken in its conservation during the ancient times led to reducing it to the status of remaining a closed book for millennia, the sudden opening of it by Western scholars and beginning to read it solely by themselves with their entirely different background made them denude it of all its sacred and secret meaning.

Western scholars’ acquired working knowledge of Sanskrit and jumped straightaway on Vedic texts with the help of the commentaries of Uvvata, Mahidhara and Sayana in manuscript form as also with the help of local pundits but in vagrant defiance of them generated out of their confidence in their newly manufactured tool of comparative philology and mythology. The opinions formed in this way made the Veda totally shorn of the wisdom traditionally ascribed to it by taking it as a matter-of-fact account of the situations arising out of the confrontation of the newly-coming Aryans with the aborigine non-Aryan people of India. The interpreters were so confident of the veracity of their interpretations that wherever their hypothetical interpretation did not fit well with the text, they outright denounced the author of the latter as obscure, unnecessarily mystifying or not understanding what he meant to communicate. When the interpreter, instead of conceding to his inability of not understanding the text concerned properly begins to dictate terms to the author and that also not present, the result is quite understandable. It would obviously be reading one’s own ideas in the text rather than trying to grasp the meaning intended to be communicated by the author himself. As soon as they took tapas in the sense of heating the body by sitting close to fire or in the scorching heat of the sun, they changed the whole grammar of the Vedic culture and its literary presentation. When the Vedic seers like Visvamitra, Vamadeva, Vasistha, etc., get turned into priests performing sacrifices for their respective patrons so as to facilitate their task of acquiring cows, horses, gems, heroes, sons, etc., and heating their body and manufacturing mantras so as to suit the occasion and get the sacrificial fee to the maximum, the entire tenor of the Vedic culture gets automatically turned in the desired direction requiring only working it out in details. What a colossal travesty of facts! Similarly, by giving a slight twist to the meaning of Soma as an intoxicating drink of a certain creeper by partaking which at the sacrificial ground the priest would get out of his senses, the interpreters made themselves armed with the convenient stick to beat the Vedic ethos badly wherever it happened to raise its head above the commonsense. And such instances are not inconsiderable in the Veda. Accounts there are associated mostly either with sacrifice and tapas or with the pressing, offering and drinking of Soma. A slight twist in the meaning of these, therefore, is sufficient to create havoc with the real sense of the Veda. It is hundred and one times more difficult to trace out the finer sense implicit in a text of such antiquity than to make it further clouded by bringing to pre-eminence its manifest content.

All this demands a high level of concentration and self-restraint on the part of the prospective reader of the Veda. This is what has been laid down by Yaska as an essential prerequisite for the study of the Veda. According to him, the Veda can be understandable best to a seer standing at the same wavelength spiritually as the seer of the mantra himself. If any lesser person wishes to understand the Veda with some depth of ideation and experience, he is required to undergo a certain stringent course of tapas. Anyone lesser than a seer or at least he who has not put in such tapas does not deserve to be initiated in the Vedic wisdom (Nirukta XIII.12.).

The difficulty in understanding of the Veda, according to Yaska, is twofold. In the first place, the Vedas are not the creation of the ordinary commonplace plane of consciousness. Had it been so, neither the seer of the mantra nor its reader would have been required to undergo any course of tapas, which obviously is the means of attaining to higher planes of consciousness. Secondly, whatever has been experienced or understood by the seer ascending a higher plane of consciousness through tapas, has been presented not in an ordinary way directly, plainly and literally but in an extraordinary way and suggestively, not, of course, deliberately but as a prerequisite of proper coordination between the experience and its verbal representation. As the bed of the river is formed as per the quantum of water flowing through it, even so the verbal representation of the experience is determined by the quality of the experience itself. According to Yaska, this is why the seer while intending to communicate his extraordinary experience has chosen the medium of expression replete with allegorical content (Nirukta X.46). It is in this admixture of the allegorical content lies the secret of Vedic symbolism. In fact, the symbolism arises out of the allegorical content itself. This style of the Vedic composition is reflected suggestively in the frequently occurring Brahmanic statement that gods prefer implicitness to explicitness.

This, however, does not mean to suggest that the Vedic seers enshrouded their newly acquired knowledge and wisdom in a thick garb of symbolic expressions so as to make it inaccessible to the common man as distinct from people of their own class or clan. Any such apprehension has nothing to support it in the Veda itself, which on the contrary talks of making the entire human society universally enlightened, as is evident from declarations like krnvanto visvamaryam. Arya in the Veda does not mean any particular race, class or clan of people, but those who cherished universally recognised higher values of life such as truthfulness, honesty, dedication, sacrifice, politeness and culture. The visions of the Vedic seers are meant primarily for inculcation of these values by any means be it tapas, sacrifice, contemplation, meditation or just diligent action in life. Apart from self-satisfaction, this being the basic purpose behind the seer’s quest and the consequent vision of the mantras, there is no scope at all for imputing any ulterior motive to him for taking deliberately to the symbolic way of expression in lieu of the direct one. On the contrary, symbolic way of expression was the inevitable necessity of communicating the kind of knowledge and wisdom coming to him as a result of his entrance into the higher consciousness relating to the basic nature of things. As this knowledge was supra-rational at least at that stage of human development, and yet was essential for the elevation of mankind, it had to be captured and expressed in the necessary symbolic form at that stage so as to be rationally inculcated in mankind gradually in days to come. When the sacred Gayatri mantra invites mankind en masse to meditate on the supernal light of Savitr, the fundamental force of creation and propulsion, so that its higher power of understanding may get stimulated, it serves as the mouthpiece of the whole of the Veda in its basic intention and purpose. If stimulation of the higher power of understanding is the pre-condition of receiving the knowledge of the essential nature of things, it is quite in the fitness of things that reception of the Vedic knowledge has the pre-requisite of mankind’s orientation and preparation on that line. The Vedic student approaching the teacher with fuel in his hand was symbolic of his determination to get duly purged and prepared through outer and inner sacrifice for developing his receptivity of the higher knowledge the teacher was going to impart to him. The binding of undergoing the discipline of karma before being worthy of getting admitted to jnana is just an extended form of the same psychological process. The karma does not necessarily mean kindling the fire and putting oblation in it. It is rather symbolic of any action physical or intellectual meant primarily for self-purification so as to develop the receptivity of higher knowledge.

It is now the proper time for lifting the curtain of symbols hiding the knowledge and wisdom behind it so that the same may be made available to one and all universally for practical use in the upliftment of mankind, irrespective of his caste, creed, race and nationality. At this moment one would like only to pray in the words of Visvamitra to Agni, the reservoir and flame of wisdom to direct his illumination hitherward like a mighty stream of water descending from the mountains and quenching the thirst of all and bestow upon us universal wisdom, which be both profound and beneficial (Rgveda V.III.57.6.). This stream of wisdom is obviously Vedic struggling through the mountainous heap of symbols to come to the view and for use of the common man like the Ganga descending from the Himalayas and making her water available to one and all without any discrimination whatever.

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