The Vedas are the most ancient treasure of literature available to mankind today. Many Indian as well as Western scholars have written explanations and commentaries on the Vedas. But, despite all those commentaries one stands at dismay, since the question as to what could be a coherent formula encompassing and unifying all the various parts of the Vedas could be, eludes a satisfactory answer. Confusions and misunderstandings are not uncommon regarding gods, animal sacrifices etc. found in the Vedas. It is unfortunate that even today there prevails a notion that the commentaries of Sayanacharya and Max Mullar are the ultimate, despite the fact the spiritual world pregnant in Vedas is totally ignored in them. Acharya Ananda Tirtha, Shri Raghavendra Swamy, Swamy Dayananda Saraswati etc. have of course made attempts to provide a spiritual delineation to the Vedas. Still, it would be truism to say that these efforts have fallen very much short of obviating the influence of tradition of the popular commentaries which served more to enshroud rather than to discover the true meaning. However, as Shri Kapali Sastry has put it, these commentaries kept alive the flame of importance of the spiritual significance of the Vedas.
Kapali Sastry himself has succinctly given expression to this framework in the Sanskrit Bhumika to his Siddhanjana [1947, Dipti-Publications,Pondicherry; Collected works of T.V Kapali Sastry, Vol.4,1983]. This framework acquires significance on the ground that the Veda has a secret meaning, which alone is of ultimate and real value. In contradistinction to this, there is the external meaning, the apparent one, consisting of word-meanings which are conventional and transactional in nature. The latter is meant for the common folk, to help them in their religious aspirations, while the former is deliberately intended to guide the advanced aspirations. The Veda employs this double-language method, because there are two distinct approaches prevalent among human beings: one that relies on the senses, employs reason, and holds the intellect in high regard; and the other that depends on revelation and inspiration, and employs intuition and insight. The two approaches may be designated ‘practical’ and ‘spiritual’.
Sayana’s interpretation of the Rig Veda Samhita illustrates the ‘practical’ approach, while Shri Aurobindo, and Kapali Sastry after him, represent the ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ line of interpretation. It is unfortunate that the decadent culture in the country during the middle ages held on to the ‘practical’ approach, to the detriment of the other. As a result, the Veda was looked upon as a source-book for ritualism, as a sanction for intellectualism and as a justification for crude materialism. The Mimamsaka-s had already encouraged this outlook, and their preference for the Brahmana books (ritualistic tracts, appendages to the Samhita by the priests) prevailed in the middle ages, and has continued till our own day. The Samhita, by a curious reversal of value, became secondary to the Brahmana-s, like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Sayana was an uncompromising votary of the Mimamska ritualism, and his approach to Rig Veda Samhita in his famous Bhashya is only through the Brahmana ideology. He did not accord an independent status to the Samhita, but viewed it only as an appendage to the Brahmana tracts.
It is remarkable that he (Sayana) chose at all to write a commentary on Rig Veda Samhita, for no Mimamsaka had ever thought of writing a gloss, interpretation or annotation to the Samhita. The Mimamsaka-s paid lip-service to the greatness, glory and antiquity of the Veda, but had completely ignored its import. They were more concerned with ‘dharma’ than with ‘mantrartha’ (meaning of mantra-s), for they regarded ‘dharma’ itself as the ‘vedartha’ (meaning of the Veda). The words were all that was important for them in a mantra from the Samhita collection, because the mantra-s had to be recited as part of the rituals. The meaning of the mantra was of no interest or importance to them. Indeed, the great Mimamsaka, jaimini, argued that the mantra-s that were not prescribed or employed in the sacrifices were irrelevant and redundant. In the decadent tradition, therefore, there was no need for a (Bhashya) commentary on the Samhita. Nevertheless, Sayana did write one, and unwittingly turned the attention of traditionalists to the meaning of the mantra-s, although ritualism was for him, as for others around him, the main focus.
It is again unfortunate that the Western Indologists took an interest in Vedic studies precisely at a time when the decadent culture held the ground. What they were exposed to was the ritualistic interpretation of Rig Veda Samhita by Sayana . For them, Sayana was the traditional authority, although Sayana lived only in the fourteenth century A.D. and there were other and more trustworthy commentators earlier. Max Mullar, who published the Rig Veda Samhita for the first time in human history, published it along with Sayana’s commentary, thus providing it a high academic acceptance value. Modern Vedic students and scholars, Western as well as Indian, have been brought up in the tradition of regarding the Rig Veda Samhita only in the light of Sayana’s Bhashya.
The first great person that raised his voice against this injustice, impropriety and outrage to the true spirit of the Vedic lore was Sri Aurobindo. He discovered that the Veda had a hidden meaning, not by a scholarly study of Vedic mantra –s, but by an inner vision; it was only later that his studies confirmed his direct perception. He was himself a sage, a rishi, and he had therefore the equipment in common with the sages who visualized the mantra-s. Vedic hymns are not products of superior scholarly exercises, or of clever constructions of thought, diction and speech. They had wondrous powers within, which freely opened up and blossomed into charming poetic articulations. They were inspired by a profound encounter with reality as such. The hymns therefore are in the nature of mantra-perceptions (mantra-drshtayah).
According to this discovery, the central aim of the Vedic hymns is to help the seekers of truth (satya), immortality (amrta) and light (jyoti). The truth that the Veda reveals is in effective contrast to the truth of this phenomenal world which is a ‘mixed one’ (truth hidden in a mass of false presentations), and which can be grasped by our senses and mind; it is most profound and transcendental. The immortality of the real revealed by the Veda is distinguished by beings beyond space and time and being beyond dualities. And the light that one finds in the Veda is beyond the Light that is signified by human intelligence. All the hymns in the Vedic corpus must be interpreted in accordance with this search; the hymns become meaningful only in the context of this search.
The supreme reality is described in the Veda as the beyond (param), the truth (satyam), the right (rtam) and the vast (brhat). It is beyond the three realms of phenomenal existence, symbolized by the vyahrtis: bhuh (earth), bhuvah (midregion) and suvah (sky), and represented by the three luminous deities –Agni, Indra and surya. The three realms together constitute the lower half of reality (aparardha). Beyond this is the upper half (parardha), where Surya (the Savitr of whom the Surya of the three realms is but an image) reigns supreme and shines brilliantly. This is the only reality (ekam sat) that the Veda recognizes. All the deities and gods that the hymns refer to as having different names, forms and function are but so many aspects of this one Surya, the supreme reality, the vast sky (brhad-dyauh), the (mahah), the beyond (parah), the luminous (svar). The Veda shows the mystic path to reach this highest state.
It is well-know that the Vedic hymns are replete with symbolic language. They are altogether unlike the poetical compositions that we are familiar with; they tend to veil their speech. The seers who were responsible for these hymns were essentially mystics, having had the direct contact with the sole reality of all existence. The Veda is regarded in tradition as the treasury containing the secrets discovered by these Knowers of mystic knowledge. Kapali Sastry defines Veda as the deliberately coded communications of profound mystic wisdom.
It is also recognized that the Vedic mantra-s are especially potent in their verbal forms as well as in their meaning, nuances, and effective for securing welfare here as well as hereafter; and this is due to the fact that that their origin is ascribed to the direct encounter with the ultimate reality (pradurbhava-prabhavat mantranam virya- vattvam). The words came out without effort from the seer, almost spontaneously; and the words concealed as well as revealed. The incorporation of two meanings in each mantra (the exoteric and the esoteric, the external and the internal) was by no means deliberate or calculated, but perfectly natural in the context of spiritual experience and its communication. The external sense is only a sign, a symbol (sanketa), and is intended to discern the real but internal import. This holds good also for rituals. The external rituals are only symbolic of the internal transformations that must take place.
In fact the external world is only a symbol of the internal world that is more real. The gods of the three realms (adhyanda) represent only the powers within the individual (adhi-pinda). Tradition speaks of the three realms (earth, midregion and sky) as representing the three faculties: anna (gross waking state), prana (powers, forces, energy) and manas (mind, knowledge), respectively. They are presided over by the gods Agni, Vayu and Surya. Beyond the three realms indicated by the three vyahrti-s, bhuh, bhuvah and suvah is the great expanse without limits (mahah, brhad-dyauh), the domain of Surya (distinguished from the physical Sun, laukika-surya).
It may be recalled that there is a long-standing tradition, ignored however by Sayana, of seeing in the Rig Vedic passages a triad of meanings.
Yaska accepts the ritualistic sense (adhiyajna), the meaning relating to the deities (adhidaiva) and the esoteric meaning (adhyatma). Later thought spoke of ‘adhibhautika’ (the gross, external meaning, referring to the physical world and common transactions), ‘adhidaivika’ (in which adhiyajna is included) and ‘adhyatma’ With reference to the Vedic passages, tradition also distinguishes between the conventional meaning of words used (rudha), which are superficial but symbolic (relating to adhibhautika, adhiyajna and adhidaiva levels). And the meanings which are etymologically valid and significant (yaugika), which are the real and intended meanings (related to the adhyatma level). It was Ananda Tritha (Madhva Acharya) who, in his Rig Bhashya resuscitated this tradition that was being side-lined by the votaries of ritualism, and attempted to explain the Vedic mantra-s primarily at the adhyatma level. Raghavendra Tirtha’s mantrartha manjari followed this lead, and provided guidelines for Kapali Sastry’s comprehensive reconstruction of the real import of the Vedic corpus. Kapali Sastry was inspired by the discovery of Sri Aurobindo, and his Siddhanjana is true to the traditional line of interpretation and is a brilliant attempt to focus attention on the hidden meaning of the revelations of the ancient seers. I have gathered together the principal propositions from his introduction, known as Bhumika to his commentary on Rig veda, and have prepared this garland of aphorisms which help in understanding the hidden import of the Veda. I have called it Veda –gudhartha-bodha- sutrani, taking the clue from his own expression. The aphorisms included here are in his own words; only the selection and arrangement is mine. This, I hope, would illustrate the general framework of Vedic interpretation accepted by Yaska, Shaunaka, Katyayana, Durgacharya, Ananda Tirtha, Bhaskara, Raghavendra Tirtha and, in recent years, by Sri Aurobindo and after him by Kapali Sastry.
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