Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3. Yaska’s Cognisance of Symbolic Usages in the Veda - II

One of the spheres in which Yaska has displayed his awareness of the Vedic symbolism prominently concerns the relationship of our central being with our sense organs. There is a mantra in the Vajasaneyi Samhita which speaks of seven seers appointed at different strategic spots in the body and guarding it with full care in the waking state but withdrawing to the world of sleep being relieved of their tiring duty by a couple of gods keeping awake and sitting constantly for the whole year (VS. XXXIV.55). This mantra also talks of seers working as watchmen, retiring to sleep after their duty is over and being substituted by a set of two gods who remain sitting awake throughout the whole year unlike the seven seers whose duty is confined only to the daily sacrifice. Now the points of incongruence in this mantra lie in so dignified persons as seers serving as watchmen of the body considered as the sacrificial ground and their substitution by still more dignified personalities like the gods. If taken literally, therefore, this mantra may look like a childish fantasy bereft of all sense of propriety. In the light of Yaska’s observation on this mantra, the façade of incongruence vanishes forthwith leaving the reader wonder on the profundity of the wisdom embodied in it.

According to him the seven seers referred to in this mantra are not really seers but the six sense organs and the learning lying within us. In this enumeration, manas is given the status of the sixth sense over and above the five organs which include eye, ear, nose, taste and touch. Their basic function is very rightly cognised as the protection of the body. The seventh in this order is the learning of the man concerned. This is highly psychological inasmuch as it bears out the deep perceptive capacity of Yaska to put the five sense organs under one category, manas in the other and learning in the third one. They all, however, as has been noted by him, have their operation restricted only to the waking state. As soon as the person goes to sleep, they suspend their respective functions forthwith. But, since they manage to resume their functions with the waking of the person next, they are supposed to have entered into the Atman for the time being.

Significantly enough, the state of sleep by no means remain completely bereft of guards. According to Yaska, it is attended by two set of guards which he calls prajna and taijasa. Prajna is the source of wisdom, while taijasa is the power of illumination operating constantly as the medium of manifestation of that wisdom. It is the intermediary operating between the Atman and what are characterised as guards of the waking state. It is by virtue of their functioning one has in the state of dream knowledge sometimes of objects and events placed at considerable distance in space and in future even. Thus, it shows their defiance of the constraints of time and space. This is why they are considered as immortal in contrast to the group of seven guards characterised as seers who obviously are mortal. Seers come and go but the gods remain constantly the same. They operate in the waking state also but their operation in this state gets mediated by that of the senses, the mind and the learning. This point is brought out still prominently through the figure of two types of sacrifices -- daily and yearly. While the seven seers are conceived as taking their seats beside the sacrificial fire only for the day and retiring at the advent of the night, prajna and taijasa are taken to continue to sit day and night throughout the whole year symbolising the whole of life. From this perspective, life is considered as a sacrifice in which the object is being constantly offered as oblation to the fire of the subject by the senses, the manas and the learning on daily basis while by the prajna and taijasa permanently (Nirukta, XII.37.)

What a penetrating analysis of life comprehending its physical, reflexive, instinctive, intellectual and spiritual aspects in the integral vision of the seer! This vision might have remained ignored had Yaska not de-symbolised the mantra by taking the seers and gods in their respective symbolic connotations.

Immediately after this mantra, Yaska quotes another mantra from the Atharvaveda to show how symbolisation of the sense organs by seers was not exclusive to any one of the Vedic seer but indeed was an established practice with them. This mantra talks of a bowl whose bottom is upward and a hole into it forward. In this bowl is contained the entire glory of the world. On its banks are sitting the seven seers while speech as the eighth one is in alliance with Brahman, the supreme reality itself (Brh.Up.II.2.3 & AV.X.8.9). In this mantra, everything, except vak and Brahman, refers to something or the other gross and tangible. It is, therefore, most likely to be misunderstood as a funny account of an actual bowl put upside down and having a hole in it facing the perceiver. The seven seers sitting on its banks may be considered as nothing but the childish fantasy of taking this bowl as a holy tank by some devout persons, possibly seven in number, waiting for their holy bath or sitting in meditation after having taken the same. The idea of the bowl containing it the entire glory of the world may be considered as having its basis in its being put upside down and thus generating the sense of mystery in the childish mind. Vak and Brahman may easily be waived aside as unnecessary appendages usual to the Vedic people.

This façade of actuality dashes down to the ground, the moment we take into consideration Yaska’s rendering of the seven seers into the seven indriyas. Unlike the case of the previously quoted mantra, here he renders saptarsayah by seven indriyas alone excluding manas and vidya. This he does by taking eyes, ears and noses in twos as they each form two holes in the head. Mouth as the seat of taste makes the total number of the holes in the head seven. As all of them are seats of operation of the sense organs, they are taken as indriyas. In this enumeration, vak is added as the eighth seer. It is said to be in alliance with Brahman. The alliance of vak with Brahman is a highly significant idea. It recurs elsewhere in the Rgveda in the form of collateral existence of vak and Brahman (RV.X.114.8.). The recurrence bears out its axiomatic position in the Vedic thought reflecting intimate relationship between the word and the Reality in the vision of the seer. It is in view of this singular relationship as well as the amazing perceptual, conceptual and inferential power of the sense organs and the mind, all located in the human head, that the latter has been stated in the mantra as the repository of the entire glory of the world. This glory obviously lies in the human head supposed to have embedded in it in microcosmic form whatever lies there in the totality of the reality including the universal and the transcendent. In spite of embodying material drawn pre-eminently from the objective world and showing the plausibility of its explanation in terms of the sun and its rays, Yaska opens the door to the depth of meaning put in this mantra (Nir.XII.38). Substitution of manas, taijasa and atman of the previous mantra suggests to the equivalence of language with knowledge as well as the reality behind it in the understanding of Yaska. It is this cognisance of equivalence of the word with the knowledge and the reality both which forms the basis of the regard for the Veda, as the repository of all knowledge representing the totality of the reality. It also suggests very well to its origin from the human head as the latter is supposed to have compressed in it all knowledge whatever. Herein lies the justification for referring to the openings of the head as the seven seers. The idea of the alliance of vak with Brahman also reminds us of the spectacular experiences of Vagambhrni recounted in Rgveda X.125 where she feels herself as moving in the company of all the gods including the Rudras, Vasus and Adityas, doing everything for them as well as for seers and as having given birth even to the heaven and not to speak of lesser things including the earth.

The same sort of symbolic representation of the sense organs by the seer, Yaska understands in regard to another Rgvedic mantra X.82.2. The mantra speaks of Visvakarman as all-comprehending, all-pervading, creator of all in unity as well as diversity and as the highest seer of all in its totality. It also tells us that all desires of seers get substantially fulfilled at the point where the seven seers combine in the transcendent one.

Yaska, however, takes the mantra as entirely symbolic suggesting things altogether different from the apparent one. By way of explaining it on symbolic lines, he ascribes two sorts of meaning to it characterising them as adhidaivata and adhyatma. By way of expounding the first one, he takes the seven seers as symbolic of the seven rays of the sun getting ultimately merged in the latter. He, thus, identifies Visvakarman in the form of the sun itself. The sun, no doubt, is the main source of the energies operative in our solar system. It is through the sun’s agency that this part of the universe has come into being. It is the sun which appears to be the most prominent observer of the universe from our standpoint. It obviously throws rays out of it which are seven in number. Since ultimately it is the rays of the sun which are instrumental in our seeing, they may figuratively be conceived as seers in themselves. By virtue of being the source of all the seven sorts of rays, it may also be considered as the ultimate point of fulfilment of those rays. It obviously stands in transcendence of all those rays by virtue of being their common source and resort. In this way, this explanation appears to be convincing enough, at least much better than the apparent one seemingly referring to someone as the best of the seers occupying a position higher than that of the well known seven Vedic seers. A rough idea of the literal meaning of the mantra can be had from R.T.H. Griffith’s translation of it which runs as follows:

Mighty in mind and power is Visvakarman,
Maker, Disposer and most lofty Presence.
Their offerings joy in rich juice
Where they value one, only One, beyond the seven Rishis.

Yaska’s explanation of the mantra in terms of the sun and its rays is much more understandable than this literal one which is just a jumble of mutually incompatible and discordant ideas as the offerings taking joy beyond the seven seers.

The sense of the mantra gets revealed when we come to the explanation offered by Yaska under the head adhyatma. According to it, Visvakarman is omniscient, omnipresent, dispenser of things in all their diversity and the real seeing power behind sense organs, mind and understanding as is symbolised by the seeing power of the seven seers combined. The seven seers, as explained by Yaska himself are the five sense organs, the manas and the learning or power of understanding. Since all these seven, as is evident from the Upanisads, particularly the Kena Upanisad (I.1-2), derive their real power from the Atman, Visvakarman of this mantra cannot but be the Atman described figuratively as lying in transcendence of the seven seers. When these seven sources of knowledge, described figuratively as seers, get absolved of all distractions and become concentrated and dissolved in the Atman, the individual concerned comes to experience the highest possible beatitude symbolised by the object of desire in the mantra and represented concretely as food by Yāska (Nirukta, X.26).

Thus, we see how Yaska is able to assign a meaning to the mantra in complete concordance with the thought of the Upanisads which have traditionally been regarded as representing the real essence of the Vedic Samhitas. In the absence of this symbolism, on the other hand, the mantra does not remain anything more than a statement full of discordance and inconsistencies. Equation of Visvakarman with the Atman has behind it the grand equation of the Atman with Brahman implying thereby the equation of Visvakarman with Brahman itself.

Yaska perceives the relationship of sense organs and mind with Atman in a mantra seen by Dirghatamas. The mantra rendered literally by Griffith, reads as follows:

Of the co-born they call the seventh single born; the six twin pairs are called Rishis, children of Gods. Their good gifts sought of men are ranged in order due, and various in their form move for the Lord who guides.” (Rgveda I.164.15.)

Nothing is clear from this translation. It talks of a group of seven things which are born together, the seventh, however, being born of the one. The group of the six ones comprises seers who are supposed to be born of gods. The objects desired by these six seers are provided to them as their dwellings. Although diversified according to their forms, these seers are moving uniformly towards something stable

Sayana makes a travesty of the meaning of the mantra by associating these details with the six regular seasons and by conceiving of a seventh one out of the extra month added to the lunar calendar each third year. There is not much difficulty in this interpretation so far. But how to account for the characterisation of the six seasons as born of gods while the seventh one as born of the One? Sayana puts forth an argument that the sun remains absent in the extra month. This argument cannot be accepted at all. Griffith’s following Sayana is perhaps due to his inability to think of any other possible way out.

It is surprising that neither of them took notice of Yaska’s interpretation of the mantra which is so convincing. As has been done by him in case of the previously quoted mantras, here also he applies the same formula of relationship of sense organs and mind with Atman. He takes the group of six agencies being born together and operating from their respective resorts as standing for the six sense organs including manas while the seventh one he identifies as Atman. He further explains that whatever is desired by the sense organs and manas, is made available to them in the form of their respective foods, that is, their respective objects of sensation and perception. He also points out that if the number of indriyas were taken to be seven, as was the case with a mantra discussed already, Atman in that case would have to be counted as the eighth one, since the latter always stands over and above them and as the point of unification of them in itself (Nirukta, XIV.19.)

Yaska characterises this interpretation as adhyatmika, spiritual, as it reveals the Vedic seer’s understanding of the Atman (Nirukta, XIV.19). He also offers an Adhidaivika interpretation, in which he identifies the seers in the form of rays of the sun while the seventh one in the form of the sun itself (Nirukta, XIV.19). Here also Yaska might have put forward the Adhidaivika interpretation to serve as a stepping stone to the Adhyatmika one as is usual with the Vedic way of thinking and sadhana epitomised in the sacred Gayatri mantra itself. Sayana, Griffith, etc., seem to have been misguided in their interpretation of the mantra partly by taking this latter one to the exclusion of the former, as the phenomenon of the seasons is intimately connected with the sun, and partly by a group of mantras immediately preceding this one. Being totally symbolic, this mantra also happened to be mistaken by them as continuing the same theme of division of year into different durations such as months, half- months, days and nights. This is the danger involved in symbolic way of expression. When the expression happens to be totally symbolic, it becomes vulnerable to such distorted interpretations as this one.

The seriousness with which the Vedic seers looked upon the problem of relationship between Atman and sense organs, including mind, is reflected in the Upanisads in the form of various stories, anecdotes and statements throughout, such as the story of Uma Haimavati in the Kena Upanisad, allegory of the chariot in the Katha Upanisad and discourse between Prajapati and Indra in the Chandogya Upanisad. In the last one of these, the sense organs are just various sorts of openings of Atman to the external world it has chosen to have. According to it, when the Atman chooses to have its contact with space outside, it assumes the form of the eye-person, caksusa purusa, and opens out itself in the form of the eye; when it wants to smell things outside, it assumes the form of ear-person and opens out itself in the form of the ear; when it wants to speak out to the external world, it assumes the form of the vak-person and opens itself out in the form of the organ of speech, so on and so forth in regard to other sense organs also (Chandogya Upanisad, VIII.12.4). Similar is the story of the formation of manas according to the Upanisad. When the Atman, wished to think, it assumed the form of the mind-person and began to operate as the manas. Manas has been characterised by it as divine eye, daivam caksuh (Chandogya Upanisad, VIII.12.5 ).

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