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Books > Hindu > Vedas > Rig Veda > The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda
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The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda
The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda
Description
From the Jacket

Rgveda, a collection of hymns which are primarily prayers and praises addressed to various deities, is a religious/spiritual classic which influenced the formation and development of Indian way of life and culture. The concept of divine is central to it. The meaning of divine though has undergone significant changes in the long history of Hinduism depending upon its interaction with other world religions, the basic Vedic idea of divine still remains central to the Hindu concept of divine or God.

In this work we discuss mainly the meaning of divine and the mode of its revelation to the seers of the 1gveda in the state of divinely inspired devotion. This is what the Veda reveals or says about itself. To understand this claim of the Veda requires a deep understanding of the Vedic symbolism employed in communicating the meaning of divine inspiration. The seer-poets resort to symbolic use of language to communicate their vision of the divine, the birth of divine consciousness in them and its expression in the form of hymns. By closely following the text of the Rgveda, one can understand the symbolic use of certain words, and appreciate the meaning of the Veda which would otherwise be highly obscure and utterly unintelligible. Unless we understand the meaning of divine and the mode of its revelation to the Vedic seers it is difficult to understand and appreciate the meaning of the Veda or to interpret it. The Veda in its literary form comes into existence when the divinely inspired devotion is expressed in the form of prayer or hymns. When divine inspiration is offered back to the divine in the form of prayer and praise, human life finds its supreme fulfillment, and its attitude to world or nature gets transformed into one of reverence and worship.

Professor A. Ramamurty taught philosophy and comparative-Religion for more than fifteen years at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan before joining the Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad. Besides a large number of research articles, he has authored many books including Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara, Advaita – A Conceptual Analysis (2008), Indian Philosophy of Religion (2002), The Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism (2000), Vedanta and its Philosophical Development (2006) and Philosophy of Brahman (2010).

 

Preface

AMONG the Samhitas (collections) of the Veda, the Rgveda Samhita occupies a pre-eminent position as it presents comprehensively the vision or wisdom of the Vedic seers. Apart from the fact that the other Vedic Samhitas, with the exception of the Atharvaveda Samhita, repeat most of the hymns of the Rgveda, they do not have much to add to the basic thought or wisdom of the Vedic seers as expressed in the hymns of the Rgveda. The importance of the 1gveda to Indian thought is foundational, and our understanding of the meaning of the 1gveda will not only help us in comprehending the thought of the Veda, but will be significant in understanding and appreciating the post-Samhita or the Upaniadic thought also. Some of the ideas and insights, which are central to the Upaniads, presuppose, and are a continuation and development of the Vedic ideas and insights, which, when interpreted in their proper perspective, will be valuable in revealing the depth and richness of the Upanisadic ideas. For instance, the meaning of the Upaniadic concept of Brahman can be comprehended in depth and more integrally when it is viewed and understood in relation to the Vedic concept of Brahma, inspired devotion and its poetic expression in prayer. Similarly, the meaning of the Vedantic idea - knowledge” (jnana or prajna) both as the essence of and a means .f Brahman realisation, can be grasped and appreciated more fully n the light of the Vedic concepts of yak and Kavya. So also is the case with the Vedantic concept of Maya whose positive dimension is revealed in the hymns of the Rgveda.

All this depends upon our approach to Vedic interpretation. If we start with the assumption that the Veda, as a collection of primitive man’s thought and wisdom, reflects his helpless condition in a hostile nature over which he had no control or mastery and hence his animistic world view, and try to interpret it in the light of certain modern theories about the origin of religion hoping thereby to find a sort of confirmation for those theories in the Veda, we not only will be prejudging the worth and significance of the Veda but by attempting a naturalistic interpretation of it we will be distorting and consequently missing the real meaning of the Veda. The meaning of almost all the hymns of the Rgveda remains unintelligible in terms of a naturalistic interpretation. And almost all the modern scholars on the Veda, with the exception of a few thinkers like Sri Aurobindo, started with such a presupposition, and tried to force a naturalistic interpretation on all the hymns of the Veda whether thereby the hymns reveal anything meaningful or not. Because of this the naturalistic interpretations of the Veda are utterly confusing and unintelligible, except in broad outline, even from a naturalistic standpoint. On the other hand, if we try to discover in the Veda a creative beginning of the later Indian thought, especially that of the Upaniads, though expressed in a language peculiar to the Veda which is highly symbolic, our attitude and approach to the Veda will be significantly different. This does not, however, mean that we should try to find out in the Veda some form of Vedantic thought. And if we keep in view the traditional view that the Veda and Vedanta form an integral whole, and are hence complementary to each other — both form Sruti — it will help us in comprehending the meaning of both in relation to each other.

My interpretation of the Rgveda in the following pages is inspired partly by the writings of Sri Aurobindo on the Veda. My attempt to understand and interpret the central teaching or philosophy of the 1gveda is born out of tension which I experienced while going through and comparing the naturalistic interpretations of the Veda offered by most of Vedic scholars, both Indian and Western, and the psychological or spiritual interpretation of it offered by Sri Aurobindo. The following is a P4ystematic attempt to reconcile both the views, and yet to go beyond them in comprehending the basic vision of the Vedic seers as expressed in the hymns of the 1gveda. Although the work is based entirely on the text of the 1gveda, in comprehending its meaning the other Vedic literature is -onsu1tued. While some of the interpreters of the Veda find it difficult to appreciate the role of Sayai3a as an interpreter of the Veda, I find that without his commentary on the Veda the possible meanings of a Vedic word or a hymn and hence the whole of the Veda can have remained highly unintelligible.

s

Introduction

FROM the Brahmanas down to the present times several attempts have been made, both from within and without tradition, to interpret the Vedic Samhitas, especially the Rgveda Samhita. Each school of thought has evolved its own method of interpretation; and historically we find several such methods of Vedic interpretation. The different schools of Indian thought have developed distinct standpoints of their own, not only with regard to the nature and validity of Vedic revelation, but also in respect of its meaning. Although the revealed character and authority of the Veda are admitted by all the schools of Indian tradition, the continuous attention paid to the study and interpretation of the Vedanta texts has not been shown to the study and interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas. The mutual antagonism developed and sustained by certain schools of Indian thought between the Samhitas and the Upaniads in terms of ritualism and knowledge (jnana), in which the Samhitas are seen as standing for ritualism, mainly due to the view adopted by these schools that the significance of the Samhitas is tied up with the ritualistic literature of the Brahmanas, has led to the relegation of the Samhitas to a secondary position, in relation to the Upaniads, in respect of both importance and meaning. And almost all the traditional schools of Indian thought, which have shown concern for the Veda, have tried to understand and explain the meaning of the Vedic Samhitas mainly with reference to their relevance to the performance of various religious rites and duties as developed in the Brahmanas. Because of their predominant concern with the notion of dharma which, according to them, consists chiefly in the proper performance of religious rites and duties, and as the Veda is viewed by them as the ultimate source and authority of all religious duties, the thinkers of the Purva Mimamsa School have not tried to understand the meaning of the Samhitas independently of their ritualistic relevance and significance. The thinkers belonging to the different schools of Vedanta have shown little or no interest either in interpreting the Samhitas, or in understanding the positive relationship between the Samhitas and the Upaniads.

Their concern for the Samhitas has been limited to those Samhita passages or hymns which fit in well with their interpretation of the Vedanta texts according to their respective standpoints; and in that they have tried to derive the authority of the Samhitas or the Veda to their respective positions. The other systems of Indian philosophy have not generally shown any concern for the Veda beyond accepting it as a source of valid knowledge. And even then they have not tried to understand how the revealed knowledge of the Veda has any value in understanding the problems with which they are concerned. Thus no systematic attempt was made until the emergence of Sayana to interpret the Samhitas systematically and comprehensively. Most of the other traditional works on the Veda have limited their scope to some of the scholastic and technical aspects of it like the nature and source of its origin and its general validity as a source of valid knowledge; and in those cases wherein attempts to explain the meaning of the Samhitas have been made, they are not systematic and comprehensive. In most cases the purpose of interpretation is either to elucidate the meaning of certain difficult Vedic terms and expressions, or to impose one’s own sectarian views on the Veda. Thus in general the concern traditionally shown to the Samhitas has been nothing more than paying them formal and sentimental homage. Beyond this the basic vision informing the Samhitas has not been an object of comprehensive study.

Although the Brahmanas form an integral part of the corpus of Vedic literature, they are the earliest historically known attempts at interpreting the Vedic Samhitas. However, the 1itculiarity of the interpretation available in them is that it is not iii interpretation for the sake of interpretation, or for elucidating 11w meaning of the Veda. Some of the Vedic hymns are interpreted in the Brahmanas chiefly by way of adapting them for religious or ritualistic purposes, which is done with a view in consecrating and organizing the life of man, both at the individual and social levels, in the light of Vedic revelation. They live evolved, though not in a systematic manner, different methods to interpret the Samhitas which are later on developed individually and systematically by different thinkers and schools thought. One such method is to explain the meaning of Vedic hymns by means of analysing the meaning of the key Vedic words etymologically.

We find in the Brahmanas etymological definitions of several Vedic words which vary from context to context, as the words are etymologically defined mainly to render meaningful the adaption of certain Vedic hymns to the performance of various rituals and ceremonies. They have also developed the method of explaining the significance of some of the hymns in terms of their mythico-historical content. But the most significant and rendering contribution of the Brahmanas towards Vedic Interpretation consist in their providing a broad perspective and direction for understanding the meaning of the Samhitas. This they have done by introducing the interpretative concepts of adhidaivika, adhibhautika and adhyatmika. Although these concepts are to be found in the Vedic literature in general, they are systemetically developed and employed in the Brahmanas. the main purpose of these concepts is to guide and help the later generations in understanding the meaning of the Vedic Samhitas, as well as to explain the significance and justification of the broad division of the Veda into Samhitas (mantra portion of the Veda), Brahmavas and the Upaniads. Their significance end value lay in the help they render in seeing the sense in which each constituent of the Veda is a revelation of the Divine, or how in its totality the Veda stands to reveal the infinite richness and integral unity of the Divine as it reveals itself in and through the varied forms of its self-manifestation, or at different levels of human experience.

According to the scheme of interpretation, the concepts or rather the categories of interpretation are intended primarily to help us in comprehending the nature and meaning of divine revelation at all levels of human experience, the object of which is broadly divided into three distinct realms (i) The realm of the deities (adhidaivika) who as the primary and universal self- manifestations of the Divine are the inner principles or powers of nature, and manifest themselves in and through the diverse phenomena of nature and govern them. (ii) The realm of physical nature in all its aspects (adhibhautika). (iii) And finally the inner reality of man (adhyatmika). Now, the manner in which the divine reveals itself at all levels of human experience or the mode of its revelation within the various realms is not the same. The nature of the Divine as apprehended by man, or as revealed to man, which depends upon the forms of its manifestation, is distinct from realm to realm. Nevertheless, the nature of divine revelation remains the same, though its meaning to man at one level of his experience may be distinct from its meaning at the other two levels. The Divine reveals itself in its infinite richness within all the realms, or at all the levels of human experience.

The basic approach of the Veda to the problem of man’s knowledge of the Divine is not that of speculative understanding, whereby its nature is conceived in abstract terms, but to see its presence in all the forms of its manifestation which equally reveal its nature and glory. Thus when the basic vision of a tradition is to relate integrally the whole of human experience to its ultimate source or the Divine, or to see in all that man experiences the presence of the same divine reality, the attempts at interpreting every area of human experience in terms of the Divine will be of supreme significance and value. No sphere of human experience will then be devoid of revelatory value and divine significance.

On the other hand, every aspect of human life, as well as the various areas of his experience gain their true significance and value in their relation to the Divine.

 

Contents

 

  Preface vi
  1. Introduction 1
  2. The Nature and Meaning of the Divine 29
  3. Agni 75
  4. Indra 110
  5. Divine Inspiration 143
  6. Soma 182
  7. Vrtra 221
  Bibliography 265
  Index 267

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The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda

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From the Jacket

Rgveda, a collection of hymns which are primarily prayers and praises addressed to various deities, is a religious/spiritual classic which influenced the formation and development of Indian way of life and culture. The concept of divine is central to it. The meaning of divine though has undergone significant changes in the long history of Hinduism depending upon its interaction with other world religions, the basic Vedic idea of divine still remains central to the Hindu concept of divine or God.

In this work we discuss mainly the meaning of divine and the mode of its revelation to the seers of the 1gveda in the state of divinely inspired devotion. This is what the Veda reveals or says about itself. To understand this claim of the Veda requires a deep understanding of the Vedic symbolism employed in communicating the meaning of divine inspiration. The seer-poets resort to symbolic use of language to communicate their vision of the divine, the birth of divine consciousness in them and its expression in the form of hymns. By closely following the text of the Rgveda, one can understand the symbolic use of certain words, and appreciate the meaning of the Veda which would otherwise be highly obscure and utterly unintelligible. Unless we understand the meaning of divine and the mode of its revelation to the Vedic seers it is difficult to understand and appreciate the meaning of the Veda or to interpret it. The Veda in its literary form comes into existence when the divinely inspired devotion is expressed in the form of prayer or hymns. When divine inspiration is offered back to the divine in the form of prayer and praise, human life finds its supreme fulfillment, and its attitude to world or nature gets transformed into one of reverence and worship.

Professor A. Ramamurty taught philosophy and comparative-Religion for more than fifteen years at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan before joining the Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad. Besides a large number of research articles, he has authored many books including Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara, Advaita – A Conceptual Analysis (2008), Indian Philosophy of Religion (2002), The Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism (2000), Vedanta and its Philosophical Development (2006) and Philosophy of Brahman (2010).

 

Preface

AMONG the Samhitas (collections) of the Veda, the Rgveda Samhita occupies a pre-eminent position as it presents comprehensively the vision or wisdom of the Vedic seers. Apart from the fact that the other Vedic Samhitas, with the exception of the Atharvaveda Samhita, repeat most of the hymns of the Rgveda, they do not have much to add to the basic thought or wisdom of the Vedic seers as expressed in the hymns of the Rgveda. The importance of the 1gveda to Indian thought is foundational, and our understanding of the meaning of the 1gveda will not only help us in comprehending the thought of the Veda, but will be significant in understanding and appreciating the post-Samhita or the Upaniadic thought also. Some of the ideas and insights, which are central to the Upaniads, presuppose, and are a continuation and development of the Vedic ideas and insights, which, when interpreted in their proper perspective, will be valuable in revealing the depth and richness of the Upanisadic ideas. For instance, the meaning of the Upaniadic concept of Brahman can be comprehended in depth and more integrally when it is viewed and understood in relation to the Vedic concept of Brahma, inspired devotion and its poetic expression in prayer. Similarly, the meaning of the Vedantic idea - knowledge” (jnana or prajna) both as the essence of and a means .f Brahman realisation, can be grasped and appreciated more fully n the light of the Vedic concepts of yak and Kavya. So also is the case with the Vedantic concept of Maya whose positive dimension is revealed in the hymns of the Rgveda.

All this depends upon our approach to Vedic interpretation. If we start with the assumption that the Veda, as a collection of primitive man’s thought and wisdom, reflects his helpless condition in a hostile nature over which he had no control or mastery and hence his animistic world view, and try to interpret it in the light of certain modern theories about the origin of religion hoping thereby to find a sort of confirmation for those theories in the Veda, we not only will be prejudging the worth and significance of the Veda but by attempting a naturalistic interpretation of it we will be distorting and consequently missing the real meaning of the Veda. The meaning of almost all the hymns of the Rgveda remains unintelligible in terms of a naturalistic interpretation. And almost all the modern scholars on the Veda, with the exception of a few thinkers like Sri Aurobindo, started with such a presupposition, and tried to force a naturalistic interpretation on all the hymns of the Veda whether thereby the hymns reveal anything meaningful or not. Because of this the naturalistic interpretations of the Veda are utterly confusing and unintelligible, except in broad outline, even from a naturalistic standpoint. On the other hand, if we try to discover in the Veda a creative beginning of the later Indian thought, especially that of the Upaniads, though expressed in a language peculiar to the Veda which is highly symbolic, our attitude and approach to the Veda will be significantly different. This does not, however, mean that we should try to find out in the Veda some form of Vedantic thought. And if we keep in view the traditional view that the Veda and Vedanta form an integral whole, and are hence complementary to each other — both form Sruti — it will help us in comprehending the meaning of both in relation to each other.

My interpretation of the Rgveda in the following pages is inspired partly by the writings of Sri Aurobindo on the Veda. My attempt to understand and interpret the central teaching or philosophy of the 1gveda is born out of tension which I experienced while going through and comparing the naturalistic interpretations of the Veda offered by most of Vedic scholars, both Indian and Western, and the psychological or spiritual interpretation of it offered by Sri Aurobindo. The following is a P4ystematic attempt to reconcile both the views, and yet to go beyond them in comprehending the basic vision of the Vedic seers as expressed in the hymns of the 1gveda. Although the work is based entirely on the text of the 1gveda, in comprehending its meaning the other Vedic literature is -onsu1tued. While some of the interpreters of the Veda find it difficult to appreciate the role of Sayai3a as an interpreter of the Veda, I find that without his commentary on the Veda the possible meanings of a Vedic word or a hymn and hence the whole of the Veda can have remained highly unintelligible.

s

Introduction

FROM the Brahmanas down to the present times several attempts have been made, both from within and without tradition, to interpret the Vedic Samhitas, especially the Rgveda Samhita. Each school of thought has evolved its own method of interpretation; and historically we find several such methods of Vedic interpretation. The different schools of Indian thought have developed distinct standpoints of their own, not only with regard to the nature and validity of Vedic revelation, but also in respect of its meaning. Although the revealed character and authority of the Veda are admitted by all the schools of Indian tradition, the continuous attention paid to the study and interpretation of the Vedanta texts has not been shown to the study and interpretation of the Vedic Samhitas. The mutual antagonism developed and sustained by certain schools of Indian thought between the Samhitas and the Upaniads in terms of ritualism and knowledge (jnana), in which the Samhitas are seen as standing for ritualism, mainly due to the view adopted by these schools that the significance of the Samhitas is tied up with the ritualistic literature of the Brahmanas, has led to the relegation of the Samhitas to a secondary position, in relation to the Upaniads, in respect of both importance and meaning. And almost all the traditional schools of Indian thought, which have shown concern for the Veda, have tried to understand and explain the meaning of the Vedic Samhitas mainly with reference to their relevance to the performance of various religious rites and duties as developed in the Brahmanas. Because of their predominant concern with the notion of dharma which, according to them, consists chiefly in the proper performance of religious rites and duties, and as the Veda is viewed by them as the ultimate source and authority of all religious duties, the thinkers of the Purva Mimamsa School have not tried to understand the meaning of the Samhitas independently of their ritualistic relevance and significance. The thinkers belonging to the different schools of Vedanta have shown little or no interest either in interpreting the Samhitas, or in understanding the positive relationship between the Samhitas and the Upaniads.

Their concern for the Samhitas has been limited to those Samhita passages or hymns which fit in well with their interpretation of the Vedanta texts according to their respective standpoints; and in that they have tried to derive the authority of the Samhitas or the Veda to their respective positions. The other systems of Indian philosophy have not generally shown any concern for the Veda beyond accepting it as a source of valid knowledge. And even then they have not tried to understand how the revealed knowledge of the Veda has any value in understanding the problems with which they are concerned. Thus no systematic attempt was made until the emergence of Sayana to interpret the Samhitas systematically and comprehensively. Most of the other traditional works on the Veda have limited their scope to some of the scholastic and technical aspects of it like the nature and source of its origin and its general validity as a source of valid knowledge; and in those cases wherein attempts to explain the meaning of the Samhitas have been made, they are not systematic and comprehensive. In most cases the purpose of interpretation is either to elucidate the meaning of certain difficult Vedic terms and expressions, or to impose one’s own sectarian views on the Veda. Thus in general the concern traditionally shown to the Samhitas has been nothing more than paying them formal and sentimental homage. Beyond this the basic vision informing the Samhitas has not been an object of comprehensive study.

Although the Brahmanas form an integral part of the corpus of Vedic literature, they are the earliest historically known attempts at interpreting the Vedic Samhitas. However, the 1itculiarity of the interpretation available in them is that it is not iii interpretation for the sake of interpretation, or for elucidating 11w meaning of the Veda. Some of the Vedic hymns are interpreted in the Brahmanas chiefly by way of adapting them for religious or ritualistic purposes, which is done with a view in consecrating and organizing the life of man, both at the individual and social levels, in the light of Vedic revelation. They live evolved, though not in a systematic manner, different methods to interpret the Samhitas which are later on developed individually and systematically by different thinkers and schools thought. One such method is to explain the meaning of Vedic hymns by means of analysing the meaning of the key Vedic words etymologically.

We find in the Brahmanas etymological definitions of several Vedic words which vary from context to context, as the words are etymologically defined mainly to render meaningful the adaption of certain Vedic hymns to the performance of various rituals and ceremonies. They have also developed the method of explaining the significance of some of the hymns in terms of their mythico-historical content. But the most significant and rendering contribution of the Brahmanas towards Vedic Interpretation consist in their providing a broad perspective and direction for understanding the meaning of the Samhitas. This they have done by introducing the interpretative concepts of adhidaivika, adhibhautika and adhyatmika. Although these concepts are to be found in the Vedic literature in general, they are systemetically developed and employed in the Brahmanas. the main purpose of these concepts is to guide and help the later generations in understanding the meaning of the Vedic Samhitas, as well as to explain the significance and justification of the broad division of the Veda into Samhitas (mantra portion of the Veda), Brahmavas and the Upaniads. Their significance end value lay in the help they render in seeing the sense in which each constituent of the Veda is a revelation of the Divine, or how in its totality the Veda stands to reveal the infinite richness and integral unity of the Divine as it reveals itself in and through the varied forms of its self-manifestation, or at different levels of human experience.

According to the scheme of interpretation, the concepts or rather the categories of interpretation are intended primarily to help us in comprehending the nature and meaning of divine revelation at all levels of human experience, the object of which is broadly divided into three distinct realms (i) The realm of the deities (adhidaivika) who as the primary and universal self- manifestations of the Divine are the inner principles or powers of nature, and manifest themselves in and through the diverse phenomena of nature and govern them. (ii) The realm of physical nature in all its aspects (adhibhautika). (iii) And finally the inner reality of man (adhyatmika). Now, the manner in which the divine reveals itself at all levels of human experience or the mode of its revelation within the various realms is not the same. The nature of the Divine as apprehended by man, or as revealed to man, which depends upon the forms of its manifestation, is distinct from realm to realm. Nevertheless, the nature of divine revelation remains the same, though its meaning to man at one level of his experience may be distinct from its meaning at the other two levels. The Divine reveals itself in its infinite richness within all the realms, or at all the levels of human experience.

The basic approach of the Veda to the problem of man’s knowledge of the Divine is not that of speculative understanding, whereby its nature is conceived in abstract terms, but to see its presence in all the forms of its manifestation which equally reveal its nature and glory. Thus when the basic vision of a tradition is to relate integrally the whole of human experience to its ultimate source or the Divine, or to see in all that man experiences the presence of the same divine reality, the attempts at interpreting every area of human experience in terms of the Divine will be of supreme significance and value. No sphere of human experience will then be devoid of revelatory value and divine significance.

On the other hand, every aspect of human life, as well as the various areas of his experience gain their true significance and value in their relation to the Divine.

 

Contents

 

  Preface vi
  1. Introduction 1
  2. The Nature and Meaning of the Divine 29
  3. Agni 75
  4. Indra 110
  5. Divine Inspiration 143
  6. Soma 182
  7. Vrtra 221
  Bibliography 265
  Index 267

Sample Pages













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