Thursday, September 27, 2007

4. Yaska’s Cognisance of Symbolic Usages in the Veda - III

Yaska’s interpretation of Ŗgveda I.164.15 discussed earlier in terms of relationship between sense organs and mind on the one hand and mind and Atman on the other, opens a new vista for the understanding of the group of seven mantras following it in the same hymn and exercising the mind of scholars since long without any acceptable solution coming forth. The mantra talks of seven things out of which six are sense organs and the seventh is manas. Sense organs are said to be found in twins. Thus, there must be only three sense organs meant here which somehow bear the spectacle of being in twins. They are eyes, ears and nose and undoubtedly are the most prominent amongst the sense organs in regard to knowledge of the external world and their formation in twins itself indicates to their prominence in the scheme of Nature.

Their common duality played an important role in the eye of the seer in putting them together. The variation of five, six and seven in the number of sense organs is based on actual functioning, inclusion of manas in the category of sense organs and the number of holes the sense organs form in the head respectively. In that row, if the mantra takes a view different from the above three in talking of them as twins, there is nothing surprising. Overall, they represent the sense organs excluding manas. It is these sense organs which are considered as six seers born of the Divine as twins. There is adequate provision made by Nature herself for fulfilment of their respective desires. Having assumed as many forms meant for as many ways of operation, it is they which ultimately tend to something stable in us, i.e., the Atman.

Having put forth this symbolically, the seer proceeds with another configuration of ideas whose meaning has remained a problem until this date, with so many guesses put forward but all of them failing on account of lacking in conviction. The concerned mantra talks of a group of females who are reported to the seer as males. Being blind, the seer observes, he himself cannot make out what is really true. It is only the sighted who can determine what is what. This sightedness, however, has nothing to do with the physical sight. It is the sightedness of the seer which can decide whether they are males or females as a matter of fact. Such a seer, no matter howsoever young, would be equal to the father of father by virtue of the extraordinary profundity of his wisdom. (Rigveda I.164.16)

The literal sense of the mantra can best be surmised from Griffith’s translation, which is as follows:

They told me those were males, though truly females; he who hath eyes sees this, the blind discerns not.
The son who is a sage hath comprehended:

who knows this rightly is his father’s father.”

Griffith also points out how Wilson regards this mantra as “a piece of grammatical mysticism”, inasmuch as “raśmi, a ray of the sun, here personified as a female, is properly a noun masculine. He himself characterises the meaning of the mantra as “obscure”. According to Grassmann, as mentioned by Griffith, the mantra means -- “Night and Morning, both feminine, have received the masculine name of Day.

Sayana explains this mantra in a different way. In his view, the question of femininity and masculinity concerns the rays of the sun. The rays come down to the earth and bear water with them like the female the embryo. In this respect, they may figuratively be treated as females. But, by virtue of pouring the same water on the earth subsequently, they may also be taken as males. Sayana considers this point as a great secret and thinks that only the seer could discover it. Needless to point out how flimsy is Sayana’s explanation. He, however, explains the mantra in an alternative way also. Characterising this alternative explanation as adhyatmika, he observes that here the real idea sought to be conveyed is the genderlessness of Atman, which cannot be described as male or female from the viewpoint of its essence. Its assumption of masculinity or femininity is just incidental. The difficulty with this explanation is that it has nothing to support it in the context. The context talks of a plurality of persons whose gender is in doubt and not of anyone person whosoever. In any case, as per the context, those, whose gender is in doubt, must be the six holes in the human head forming the three sense organs, namely eye, ear, and nose. They may also be taken as suggestive of all the five sense organs.

Acute problem of indecision about gender is most likely to arise in case of persons or things being in the neuter gender. Basing ourselves on this solid ground we may argue that those involved in this disputation must apparently at least be neuter in gender so as to pose the problem of their precise gender in terms of the dominant ones, i.e., the masculine and the feminine. Incidentally, the word indriya, sense organ, is neuter in gender. Now, the problem of decision about the sense organs in terms of masculinity and femininity must depend on the mode of their functioning.

In fact, sense organs, including manas, are meant for gathering and processing sensations generated from their contact with the outside world. In that regard, they really are to be taken as females. But instead of keeping themselves confined to their basic function, they tend to behave as the real master of the personality. This over-ambitiousness of them, results in the relegation of the eighth principle, i.e., Atman to the background, creating a situation of imbalance. Redressal of this position is possible only by bringing Atman to the fore and restricting the area of operation of the sense organs and mind as subordinate to the former.

This by no means is anything easy and insignificant. Had it been so, the world would have solved this problem long ago. On the contrary, the more it is advancing ahead in other things, the more it is getting itself enmeshed in this horrible state of predominance of sense organs and mind to subordination or even denial of the very existence of Atman. Dirghatamas, the seer of this hymn is so much preoccupied with this problem that he refers to it in the very fourth mantra of the hymn through the query as to what is the source of the Atman particularly in contrast to other components of personality such as breath, bone, flesh and blood, etc., having their source in the physical nature. (Rigveda I.164.4.)

Being so much concerned with the position of the Atman, he assumes the role of an ignorant, states his confusion about the relationship of sense organs and mind on the one hand and the Atman on the other symbolically..

As regards the relationship, it may not look so serious apparently if it is considered as confined to the individual himself and in exclusion of everything else, for that way it seems to be just the problem of the individual alone but that is not the case. The instrument of knowledge we are provided with has to operate on something serving as the object of knowledge. That object obviously is the external world to whatever extent it goes. The process of knowing the external world consists in the senses gathering sensations of it and submitting the same to mind. Even mind itself is not anyway the final authority in regard to what it receives from the outside world in the form of sensations. It in itself undergoes modifications constantly under the stress of the operation of senses in the waking state and that of memory in the state of dream. Distancing itself from both these states, the state of dreamless sleep testifies to the fact that there is something higher and more fundamental than mind even as the point of merger and reappearance of the latter. How mind with its entire paraphernalia of senses and their field of operation, that is, the external world, is related to that inmost being within us, is the problem of all problems, as it is most fundamental of all problems, be they actual or possible. The problem goes to the extent of touching upon the mystery of the how and why of the mechanism under which the senses are made to operate on the external world, are enabled to receive sensations from it in five entirely different ways, are made to submit the same to the mind which reconstructs objects cognitively out of those disparate sensations and then passes its re-constructions to something interior to it. Thus, from this perspective, the problem of relationship between the five senses and mind on the one hand and Atman on the other is so fundamental and comprehensive as to include in it everything whatever concerning both the life and the world.

It is this gravity of the problem that the seer feels as if he is totally blind in this regard knowing nothing as a matter of fact, a petty child of the child. If, even after having discovered so many things including the principle of gravitation, Newton was so humble as to feel that he was able only to collect a few pebbles on the shore of the ocean of knowledge, Dirghatamas is obviously humbler in feeling that he knows nothing about the mystery of life and the world and in getting himself prepared to be the child of his child, provided the latter was able to enlighten him on the problem in any essential way. The misplaced dominance of senses over mind and of both over Atman has made the whole situation so hazy that the common sense, which the seer poses to represent, sees things topsy-turvy.

This is the precise theme of the mantra what Yaska saw long ago and yet it could not be cognised as such by any of the commentators and writers on the mantra including Sayana and Western scholars. Yaska’s understanding of the females here as symbolic representation of the sense organs is evident from his remark on the mantra that `females’ here stand for the senses used in fetching sensations of sound, touch, form, taste and smell (Nirukta.XIV.20). He, however, drifts slightly off the track in the identification of the sixth principle involved in this account. He names it as prana and regards it as distinct from senses as, unlike them, it does not come into direct touch with the external world (Nirukta, XIV.20.). Evidently by prana, Yaska does not mean here the breath but the principle operating as the coordinator of what the senses fetch to it. If this be the case, by prana what he means is simply manas rather than breath. Even then, it would have been better, had he used manas instead of prana in this context, as Dirghatamas, the seer of the mantra himself makes positively use of the word manas moving around it as one of the central principles in these mantras. This is evident from the very third mantra hence, where the query has been put forward with the same seriousness of purpose as in case of the mantra under discussion as to the source of the divine or luminous manas (Rigveda. I.164.18.). Moreover, use of the plural striyah for the objects of seeming misunderstanding on the part of the seer shows that mere prana, no matter be it taken as suggestive of manas, will not work here. The plurality of them obviously requires consideration of the senses and manas together as the objects of seeming misunderstanding on his part.

The central theme of this symbolic mantra is really the precise relationship among senses, mind and Atman which is evident from the next six mantras of the hymn also. The next mantra, talks of a cow bearing her calf somewhere intermediate to the extreme above and extreme below. Further it has been observed in the mantra that nothing is known about the direction of the movement of her nor about the region which she has reached and has given birth to her calf in, though in any case it is apart from the group of the cows (Rigveda, I.164.17). The calf referred to here is manas which in the next mantra has been characterised as having the divine origin, devam manah. Accordingly, the mother of this calf must be divine herself. As such, she may be identified with Aditi or the divine Vak. The rest of the cows, apart from which the calf is born, therefore, stand for the senses. Being of divine origin on the one hand and yet being related with the rest of the cows on the other, manas symbolised by the calf gets very much explained in its dual role of coordinator of the senses and agent of the Atman. As the manas does all this quite imperceptibly, it has symbolically been stated to have been born at a certain place one does not know where.

This problem continues to form the basic theme of the next mantra also in the hymn with the difference that while in the previous mantra the origin of manas was talked of with reference to its mother, in the present one it is being surmised with reference to its father. Here it points out by implication that he alone can understand the origin of the divine mind who knows its father lying intermediate to the highest and the lowest in the spectrum of the totality of the reality. The problem of the origin and location of manas has been considered by the seer as so difficult and yet important as to require a man of wisdom of the highest order, as a seer is supposed to be, to unveil the curtain of mystery enshrouding it (Rigveda I.164.18).

More or less the same problem of relationship between the higher and the lower continues to dictate the next mantra also through another set of symbols. While in the three contiguous mantras quoted above the polarisation of the concerned symbolic terms was between the male and the female, the higher the lower, and the father and the mother, in the present mantra it concerns the eater and the food represented symbolically by Indra and Soma. Here in the first hemistich the proposition has been put dilemmatically that those who are moving hitherward are taken to move thitherward and those who are moving thitherward are taken to be moving hitherward. By way of elucidating this proposition it has been pointed out in the second hemistich of the mantra that Indra and Soma combined bear the burden of the cosmos like the pair of horses yoked together and as such drawing the chariot (Rigveda, I.164.19). As per the Vedic accounts, one of the most significant features of Indra is his taking Soma while that of Soma is being taken by Indra. Thus, the relationship between the two is that of the eater and the food. Now to de-symbolise the account, Indra represents the luminous mind while Soma the sensory stuff made available to that mind through the agency of the senses. Thus, while senses are the feeders of the mind, the latter is getting fed by them. It is this relationship between the two, the seer observes, which forms the axle of the cosmic chariot on the one hand and of our life on the other.

The problem of relationship between the sensual and the spiritual is brought to a still higher plane in the same continuation in the immediately following mantra which, has come to occupy the central position in Vedantic disputations. It talks of two beautiful birds closely associated with each other, friendly and sitting on the same tree from all around with the differencethat while one of them is eating eagerly the fruits of the tree, the other one is just looking around (Rigveda, I.164.20.). Here the bird eating the fruit is the lower self within us which by using the mechanism of manas and sense organs is busy in the enjoyment of the objects of senses while the other bird represents the higher self, coinciding with the Supreme Being lying there self-contented in the infinity of his knowledge and wisdom. It is significant to note that while in the beginning of the series of these mantras the polarity discussed concerned the sense organs and the luminous mind, in this mantra it has shifted to the polarity between the higher self and the lower self. What has served as the stepping stone in this shifting is the symbol of eating introduced covertly by the preceding mantra and stated explicitly in the present one.

The next two mantras in this series are devoted to showing the way of removal of the dichotomy and reunion between the two principles, the individual self and the Supreme Being living together on the tree of the cosmos if taken universally, and on the tree of the human personality if considered individually. These mantras also show how the universal spectacle has come to assume the individual form. The first one talks of the beautiful-feathered birds giving voice constantly to their respective portions of immortality and how it is in course of this voicing that the ruler and protector of the cosmic tree laden with all his wisdom has come to enter into the seer himself represented by one of those birds, and shorn of all maturity (Rigveda, I.164.21). The entrance of the Supreme into the individual self, thus, removes the dichotomy between the individual and the universal on this plane, and between the spiritual and the sensual persisting on the lower plane.

In last mantra, there is an account of complete reconciliation of the polarity brought out through the same symbols of birds and the tree. Here the universe continues to be represented by the tree. The individual selves are taken as birds living and procreating on this tree in a great multitude. The experiences undergone by them are conceived as the fruits of the cosmic tree which the selves are supposed to taste assuming the form of birds. The sweetest of all these fruits, however, lies at the top and can be tasted only by one who knows the Father, the creator and sustainer of the universe (Rigveda I.164.22).

This reconciliation finds the solution to the problem raised by the seer in the fourth mantra of the hymn to the source of the Atman beyond the range of the rest of the constituents of the human personality. This reconciliation lies in the cognisance of the entrance of the Supreme Being as the principle of spirituality into the human personality formed out of matter. The seer suggests that without admittance of the Supreme Being as the source of our spiritual being, we cannot explain the coordination of the spiritual and the physical in this world. All this has been made out through an array of symbols including the male and the female, the cow and the calf, Indra and Soma, the bird, the tree, the fruit and the eating. What a massive formation of symbols! It was not surprising, therefore, that it could not be penetrated even until recently in spite of a large number of scholars trying to break through it for thousands of years without any tangible success and rather getting beguiled by one aspect of the formation or the other, the solar being the most prominent one amongst them.

To sum up, the real clue to penetration of this formidable formation of symbols lies in Yaska’s cryptic remark (Nirukta, XIV.20) that the females misreported to the seer as males are in reality symbolical of the five senses, i.e, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.

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