HUMAN nature is not altogether unchanging but it does remain sufficiently constant to justify the study of ancient classics. The problems of human life and destiny have not been superseded by the striking achievements of science and technology. The solutions offered, though conditioned in their modes of expression by their time and environment, have not been seriously affected by the march of scientific knowledge and criticism. The responsibility laid on man as a rational being, to integrate himself, to relate the present to the past and the future, to live in time as well as in eternity, has become acute and urgent. The Upanisads, though remote in time from us, are not remote in thought. They disclose the working of the primal impulses of the human soul which rise above the differences of race and of geographical position. At the core of all historical religious there fundamental types of spiritual experience though they are expressed with different degrees of clarity. The Upanisads illustrate and illuminate these primary experience.
These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands; they are not original with me. If they are not yours as much as mine, they are nothing or next to nothing,’ said Walt Whitman. The Upanisads deal with questions which arise when men begin to reflect seriously and attempt answers to them which are not very different, except in their approach and emphasis from what we are now inclined to accept. This does not mean that the message of the Upanisads, which is as true today as ever, commits us to the different hypotheses about the structure of the world and the physiology of man. We must make a distinction between the message of the Upanisads and their mythology. The latter is liable to correction by advances in science. Even this mythology becomes intelligible if we place ourselves as far as possible at the viewpoint of those who conceived it. Those parts of the Upanisads which seem to us today to be trivial, tedious and almost unmeaning, should have had value and significance at the time they were composed.
Anyone who reads the Upanisads in the original Sanskrit will be caught up and carried away by the elevation, the poetry, the compelling fascination of the many utterances through which they lay bare the secret and sacred relations of the human soul and the human soul and the Ultimate Reality. When we read them, we cannot help being impressed by the exceptional ability, earnestness and ripeness of mind of those who wrestled with these ultimate questions. These souls who tackled these problems remain still and will remain for all time in essential harmony with the highest ideals of civilisation.
The Upanisads are the foundations on which the beliefs of millions of human beings, who were not much inferior to our- selves, are based. Nothing is more sacred to man than his own history. At least as memorials of the past, the Upanisads are worth our attention.
A proper knowledge of the texts is an indispensable aid to the understanding of the Upanisads. There are parts of the Upanisads which repel us by their repetitiveness and irrelevance to our needs, philosophical and religious. But if we are to understand their ideas, we must know the atmosphere in which they worked. We must not judge ancient writings from our standards. We need not condemn our fathers for having been what they were or ourselves for being somewhat different from them. It is our task to relate them to their environment, to bridge distances of time and space and separate the transitory from the permanent.
There is a danger in giving only carefully chosen extracts. We are likely to give what is easy to lead and omit what is difficult, or give what is agreeable to our views and omit what is disagreeable. It is wise to study the Upanisads as a whole, their striking insights as well as their commonplace assumptions. Only such a study will be historically valuable. I have therefore given in full the classical Upanisads, those commented on or mentioned by Sarnkara. The other Upanisads are of a later date and are sectarian in character. They represent the popular gods, Siva, Visnu, Sakti, as manifestations of the Supreme Reality. They are not parts of the original Veda, are of much later origin and are not therefore as authoritative as the classical Upanisads. If they are all to be included, it would be difficult to find a Publisher for so immense a work. I have therefore selected a few other Upanisads, some of those to which references are made by the great teachers, Sarnkara and Rarnanuja.
In the matter of translation and interpretation, I owe a heavy debt, directly and indirectly, not only to the classical commentators but also to. The modern writers who have worked on the subject. I have profited by their tireless careful reader will find, I hope, that a small a, places at least has been made in this translation towards a better understanding of the texts.
Passages in verse are not translated into padding and inversion necessary for observing a metrical pattern take away a great deal from the dignity and conciseness of the original.
It is not easy to render Sanskrit religious and philosophical classics into English for each language has its own characteristic genius. Language conveys thought as well as feeling. It falls short of its full power and purpose, if it fails to communicate the emotion as fully as it conveys the idea. Words convey ideas but they do not always express moods. In the Upanisads we find harmonies of speech which excite the emotions and stir the soul. I am afraid that it has not been possible for me to produce in the English translation the richness of melody, the warmth of spirit, the power of enchantment that appeals to the ear, heart and mind. I have tried to be faithful to the originals, sometimes even at the cost of elegance. I have given the texts with all their nobility of sound and the feeling of the numinous.
For the classical Upanisads the text followed is that commented on by Samkara. A multitude of variant readings of the texts exist, some of them to be found in the famous commentaries, others in more out of the way versions. readings are mentioned in the notes. As my interest is philosophical rather than linguistic, I have not disc the translation, words which are omitted or understood in Sanskrit or are essential to complete the grammatical structure are inserted in brackets.
We cannot bring to the study of the Upanisads virgin minds which are untouched by the views of the many scholars who have gone before us. Their influence may work either directly or indirectly. To be aware of this limitations, to estimate it correctly is of great importance in the study of ancient texts. The classical commentators represent in their works the great oral traditions of interpretation which have been current in their time. Centuries of careful thought lie behind the exegetical traditions as they finally took shape. It would be futile to neglect the work of the commentators as there are words and passages in the Upanisads of which we could make little sense without the help of the commentators.
We do not have in the Upanisads a single well-articulated system of thought. We find in them a number of different strands which could be woven together in a single whole by sympathetic interpretation. Such an account involves the expression of opinions which can always be questioned. Impartiality does not consist in a refusal to form opinions or in a futile does not consist in a refusal to form opinions or in a futile attempt to conceal them. It consists in rethinking the thoughts of the past, in understanding their environment, and in relating them to the intellectual and spiritual needs of our own time. While we should avoid the attempt to read into the terms of the past the meanings of the present, we cannot overlook the fact that certain problems are the same in all ages. We must keep in mind the Buddhist saying: ‘Whatever is not adapted to such and such persons as are to be taught cannot be called a teaching.’ We must remain sensitive to the prevailing currents of thought and be prepared, as far as we are able, to translate the universal truth into terms intelligible to our audience, without distorting their meaning. It would scarcely be undertaken. If we are able to make the seeming abstractions of the Upanisads flame anew with their ancient colour and depth, if we can make them pulsate with their old meaning, they will not appear to be altogether irrelevant to our needs, intellectual and spiritual. The notes are framed in this spirit.
The Upanisads which base their affirmations on spiritual experience are invaluable for us, as the traditional props of faith, the infallible scripture, miracle and prophecy are no longer available. The irreligion of our times is largely the product of the supremacy of religious technique over spiritual life. The study of the Upanisads may help to restore to fundamental things of religion that reality without which they seem to be meaningless.
Besides, at a time when moral aggression is compelling people to capitulate to queer ways of life, when vast experiments in social structure and political organisation are being made at enormous cost of life and suffering, when we stand perplexed and confused before the future with no clear light to guide our way, the power of the human soul is the only refuge. If we resolve to be governed by it, our civilization may enter upon its most glorious epoch. There are many 'dissatisfied children of the spirit of the west.' to use Romain Rolland's phrase, who are oppressed that the universality of her great thoughts has been defamed for ends of violent action, that they are trapped in a blind alley and are savagely crushing each other out of 'existence. When an old binding culture is being broken, when ethical standards are dissolving, when we are being aroused out of apathy or awakened out of unconsciousness, when there is in the air general ferment, inward stirring, cultural crisis, then a high tide of spiritual agitation sweeps over peoples and we sense in the horizon something novel, something unprecedented, the beginnings of a spiritual renaissance. We are living in a world of freer cultural intercourse and wider world sympathies. No one can ignore his neighbour who is also groping in this world of sense for the world unseen. The task set to our generation is to reconcile the varying ideals of the converging cultural patterns and help them to sustain and support rather than combat and destroy one another. By this process they are transformed from within and the forms that separate them will lose their exclusivist meaning and signify only that unity with their own origins and inspirations.
The study of the sacred books of religions other than one's own is essential for speeding up this process. Students of Christian religion and theology, especially those who wish to make Indian Christian thought not merely 'geographically' but 'organically' Indian, should understand their great heritage which is contained in the Upanisads.
For us Indians, a study of the Upanisads is essential, if we are to preserve our national being and character. To discover the main lines of our traditional life, we must turn to our classics, the Vedas and the Upanisads, the Bhagavad-gita and the Dhamma-pada. They have done more to colour our minds than we generally acknowledge. They not only thought many of our thoughts but coined hundreds of the words that we use in daily life. There is much in our past that is degrading and deficient but there is also much that is life-giving and elevating. If the past is to serve as an inspiration for the future, we have to study it with discrimination and sympathy. Again, the highest achievements of the human mind and spirit are not limited to the past. The gates of the future are wide open. While the fundamental motives, the governing ideas which constitute the essential spirit of our culture are a part of our very being, they should receive changing expression according to the needs and conditions of our time.
There is no more inspiring task for the student of Indian thought than to set forth some phases of its spiritual wisdom and bring them to bear on our own life. Let us, in the words of Socrates, ‘turn over together the treasures that wise men have left us, glad if in so doing we make friends with one another.’
The two essays written-for the Philosophy of the Upanisads (1924), which is a reprint of chapter IV from my Indian Philosophy, Volume I, by Rabindranath Tagore and Edmond Holmes, are to be found in the Appendices A and B respectively.
I am greatly indebted to my distinguished and generous friends Professors Suniti Kumar Chatterji, and Siddhesvar Bhattacharya for their great kindness in reading the proofs and making many valuable suggestions.
THE Upanisads represent a great chapter in the history of the human spirit and have dominated Indian philosophy, religion and life for three thousand years. Every subsequent religious movement has had to show itself to be in accord with their philosophical statements. Even doubting and denying spirits found in them anticipations of their hesitancies, misgivings and negations. They have survived many changes, religious and secular, and helped many generations of men to formulate their views on the chief problems of life and existence.
Their thought by itself and through Buddhism influenced even in ancient times the cultural life of other nations far beyond the boundaries of India, Greater India, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea and in the South, in Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula and far away in the islands of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. In the West, the tracks of Indian thought may be traced far into Central Asia, where, buried in the sands of the desert, were found Indian texts.
The Upanisads have shown an unparalleled variety of appeal during these long centuries and have been admired by different people, for different reasons, at different periods. They are said to provide us with a complete chart of the unseen Reality, to give us the most immediate, intimate and convincing light on the secret of human existence, to formulate, in Deussen's words, 'philosophical conceptions unequalled in India or perhaps anywhere else in the world: or to tackle every fundamental problem of philosophy.' All this may be so or may not be so. But of one thing there is no dispute, that those earnest spirits have known the fevers and ardours of religious seeking; they have expressed that pensive mood of the thinking mind which finds no repose except in the Absolute, no rest except in the Divine. The ideal which haunted the thinkers of the Upanisads, the ideal of man's ultimate beatitude, the perfection of knowledge, the vision of the Real in which the religious hunger of the mystic for divine vision and the philosopher's ceaseless quest for truth are both satisfied is still our ideal. A. N. Whitehead speaks to us of the real which stands behind and beyond and within the passing flux of this world, 'some- thing which is real and yet waiting to be realised, something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts, something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and the hopeless quest.' A metaphysical curiosity for a theoretical explanation of the world as much as a passionate longing for liberation is to be found in the Upanisads. Their ideas do not only enlighten our minds but stretch our souls.
If the ideas of the Upanisads help us to rise above the glamour of the fleshly life, it is because their authors, pure of soul, ever striving towards the divine, reveal to us their pictures of the splendours of the unseen. The Upanisads are respected not because they are a part of sruti or revealed literature and so hold a reserved position but because they have inspired generations of Indians with vision and strength by their in- exhaustible significance and spiritual power. Indian thought has constantly turned to these scriptures for fresh illumination and spiritual recovery or recommencement, and not in vain. The fire still burns bright on their altars. Their light is for the seeing eye and their message is for the seeker after truth.
THE TERM 'UPANISAD'
The word 'upanisad' is dervied from upa (near), ni (down) and sad (to sit), i.e. sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him the secret doctrine. In the quietude of forest hermitages the Upanisad thinkers pondered on the problems of the deepest concern and communicated their knowledge to fit pupils near them. The seers adopt a certain reticence in communicating the truth. They wish to be satisfied that their pupils are spiritually and not carnally minded. To respond to spiritual teaching, we require the spiritual disposition.
The Upanisads contain accounts of the mystic significance of the syllable aum, explanations of mystic words like tajjalan, which are intelligible only to the initiated, and secret texts and esoteric doctrines. Upanisad became a name for a mystery, a secret, rahasyam, communicated only to the tested few. When the question of man's final destiny was raised, Yajnavalkya took his pupil aside and whispered to him the truth. I According to the Chandogya Upanisad, the doctrine of Brahman may be imparted by a father to his elder son or to a trusted pupil, but not to another, whoever he may be, even if the latter should give him the whole earth surrounded by the waters and filled with treasures. In many cases it is said that the teacher communicates the secret knowledge only after repeated entreaty and severe testing.
Samkara derives the word upanisad as a substantive from the root sad, 'to loosen,' 'to reach' or 'to destroy' with upa and ni as prefixes and kvip as termination.3 If this derivation is accepted, upanisad means brahma-knowledge by which ignorance is loosened or destroyed. The treatises that deal with brahma-knowledge are called the Upanisads and so pass for the Vedanta. The different derivations together make out that the Upanisads give us both spiritual vision and philosophical argument. There is a core of certainty which is essentially incommunicable except by a way of life. It is by a strictly personal effort that one can reach the truth.
the Indian tradition puts it at one hundred and eight.' Prince Muhammad Dara Shikoh's collection translated into Persian (1656-1657) and then into Latin by Anquetil Duperron (I80I and I802) under the title Oupnekhat, contained about fifty. Colebrooke's collection contained fifty-two, and this was based on Narayana's list (c. A.D. 1400). The principal Upanisads are said to be ten. Samkara commented on eleven, Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhad-aranyaka and Svetasvatara. He also refers to the Kausitaki, Jabala, Mahanarayana and Paingala Upanisads in his commentary on the Brahma Sidra. These together with the Maitrayaniya or Maitri Upanisad constitute the principal Upanisads. Ramanuja uses all these Upanisads as also the Subala and the Culika. He mentions also the Garbha, the Jabala and the Mahii Upanisads. Vidyaranya includes Nrsi- mhottara-tapani Upanisad among the twelve he explained in his Sarvopanisad-arthanubhuti-prakasa. The other Upanisads which have come down are more religious than philosophical. They belong more to the Purana and the Tantra than to the Veda. They glorify Vedanta or Yoga or Samnyasa or extol the worship of Siva, Sakti or Visnu.
Modern criticism is generally agreed that the ancient prose Upanisads, Aitareya, Kausitaki, Chandogya, Kena, Taittiriya and Brhad-aranyaka, together with Isa and Katha belong to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. They are all pre-Buddhistic. They represent the Vedanta in its pure original form and are the earliest philosophical compositions of the world. These Upanisads belong to what Karl Jaspers calls the Axial Era of the world, 800 to 300 B.C., when man for the first time simultaneously and independently in Greece, China and India questioned the traditional pattern of life.
As almost all the early literature of India was anonymous, we do not know the names of the authors of the Upanisads. Some of the chief doctrines of the Upanisads are associated with the names of renowned sages as Aruni, Yajnavalkya, Balaki, Svetaketu, Sandilya. They were, perhaps, the early exponents of the doctrines attributed to them. The teachings were developed in parisads or spiritual retreats where teachers and pupils discussed and 'defined the different views.
As a part of the Veda, the Upanisads belong to sruti or revealed literature. They are immemorial, sanatana, timeless. Their truths are said to be breathed out by God or visioned by the seers. They are the utterances of the sages who speak out of the fullness of their illumined experience. They are not reached by ordinary perception, inference or reflection;' but seen by the seers, even as we see and not infer the wealth and riot of colour in the summer sky. The seers have the same sense of assurance and possession of their spiritual vision as we have of our physical perception. The sages are men of 'direct' vision, in the words of Yaska, saksat-krta-dharmanah, and the records of their experiences are the facts to be considered by any philosophy of religion. The truths revealed to the seers are not mere reports of introspection which are purely subjective. The inspired sages proclaim that the knowledge they communicate is not what they discover for themselves. It is revealed to them without their effort.' Though the knowledge is an experience of the seer, it is an experience of an independent reality which impinges on his consciousness. There is the impact of the real on the spirit of the experiencer. It is therefore said to be a direct disclosure from the 'wholly other,' a revelation of the Divine. Symbolically, the Upanisads describe revelation as the breath of God blowing on us. 'Of that great being, this is the breath, which is the Rg Veda.' The divine energy is compared to the breath which quickens. It is a seed which fcrtilises or a flame which kindles the human spirit to its finest issues. It is interesting to know that the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad tells us that not only the Vedas but history, sciences and other studies are also 'breathed forth by the great God.'
The Vedas were composed by the seers when they were in a state of inspiration. He who inspires them is God. Truth is impersonal, apauruscya and eternal, nitya. Inspiration is a joint activity, of which man's contemplation and God's revelation are two sides. The Svetasvatara Upanisad says that the sage Svetasvatara saw the truth owing to his power of contemplation, tapah-prabhava, and the grace of God, deva-prasada. The dual significance of revelation, its subjective and objective character, is suggested here. The Upanisads are vehicles more of spiritual illumination than of systematic reflection. They reveal to us a world of rich and varied spiritual experience rather than a world of abstract philosophical categories. Their truths are verified not only by logical reason but by personal experience. Their aim is practical rather than speculative. Knowledge is a means to freedom. Philosophy, brahma-vidya, is the pursuit of wisdom by a way of life.
THE UPANISADS AS THE VEDANTA
The Vedanta meant originally the Upanisads, though the word is now used for the system of philosophy based on the Upanisads. Literally, Vedanta means the end of the Veda, vedasya antah), the conclusion as well as the goal of the Vedas. The Upanisads' are the concluding portions of the Vedas. Chronologically they come at the end of the Vedic period. As the Upanisads contain abstruse and difficult discussions of ultimate philosophical problems, they were taught to the pupils at about the end of their course. When we have Vedic recitations as religious exercises, the end of these recitals is generally from the Upanisads. The chief reason why the Upanisads are called the end of the Veda is that they represent the central aim and meaning of the teaching of the Veda.: The content of the Upanisads is vedanta vijnanam, the wisdom of the Vedanta.The Samhitas and the Brahmanas, which are the hymns and the liturgical books, represent the karma-kanda or the ritual portion, while the Upanisads represent the jnana-kanda or the knowledge portion. The learning of the hymns and the performance of the rites are a preparation for true enlightenment.
The Upanisads describe to us the life of spirit, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever. But our apprehensions of the life of spirit, the symbols by which we express it, change with time. All systems of orthodox Indian thought accept the authoritativeness of the Vedas,' but give themselves freedom in their interpretation. This variety of interpretation is made possible by the fact that the Upanisads are not the thoughts of a single philosopher or a school of philosophers who follow a single tradition. They are the teachings of thinkers who were interested in different aspects of the philosophical problem, and therefore offer solutions of problems which vary in their interest and emphasis. There is thus a certain amount of fluidity in their thought which has been utilised for the development of different philosophical systems. Out of the wealth of suggestions and speculations contained in them, different thinkers choose elements for the construction of their own systems, not infrequently even through a straining of the texts. Though the Upanisads do not work out a logically coherent system of metaphysics, they give us a few fundamental doctrines which stand out as the essential teaching of the early Upanisads. These are recapitulated in the Brahma Sutra.
The Brahma Sidra is an aphoristic summary of the teaching of the Upanisads, and the great teachers of the Vedanta develop their distinctive views through their commentaries on this work. By interpreting the sutras which are laconic in form and hardly intelligible without interpretation, the teachers justify their views to the reasoning intelligence.
Different commentators attempt to find in the Upanisads and the Brahma Sidra a single coherent doctrine, a system of thought which is free from contradictions. Bhartrprapafica, who is anterior to Samkara, maintains that the selves and the physical universe are real, though not altogether different from Brahman. They are both identical with and different from Brahman, the three together constituting a unity in diversity. Ultimate Reality evolves into the universal creation srsti and the universe retreats into it at the time of dissolution, pralaya.
The advaita of Samkara insists on the transcendent nature of non-dual Brahman and the duality of the world including lsvara who presides over it. Reality is Brahman or Atman. No predication is possible of Brahman as predication involves duality and Brahman is free from all duality. The world of duality is empirical or phenomenal. The saving truth which redeems the individual from the stream of births and deaths is the recognition of his own identity with the Supreme. 'That thou art' is the fundamental fact of all existence.' The multiplicity of the universe, the unending stream of life, is real, but only as a phenomenon.
Ramanuja qualifies the non-dual philosophy so as to make the personal God supreme. While Brahman, souls and the world are all different and eternal, they are at the same time inseparable. Inseparability is not identity. Brahman is related to the two others as soul to body. They are sustained by Him and subject to His control. Ramanuja says that while God exists for Himself, matter and souls exist for His sake and sub- serve His purposes. The three together form an organic whole. Brahman is the inspiring principle of the souls and the world. The souls are different from, but not independent of, God. They are said to be one only in the sense that they all belong to the same class. The ideal is the enjoyment of freedom and bliss in the world of Narayana, and the means to it is either prapatti or bhakti. The individual souls, even when they are freed through the influence of their devotion and the grace of God, retain their separate individuality. For him and Madhva, God, the author of all grace, saves those who give to Him the worship of love and faith.
For Madhva there are five eternal distinctions between (I) God and the individual soul, (2) God and matter, (3) soul and matter, (4) one soul and another, (5) one particle of matter and another. The supreme being endowed with all auspicious qualities is called Visnu, and Laksmi is His power dependent on Him. Moksa is release from rebirth and residence in the abode of Narayana. Human souls are innumerable, and each of them is separate and eternal The divine souls are destined for salvation. Those who are neither very good nor very bad are subject to samsara, and the bad go to hell. Right knowledge of God and devotion to Him are the means to salvation. Without divine grace there can be no salvation.
Baladeva adopts the view of acintya-bhedabheda. Difference and non-difference are positive facts' of experience and yet cannot be reconciled. It is an incomprehensible synthesis of opposites. Ramanuja, Bhaskara, Nimbarka and Baladeva believe that there is change in Brahman, but not of Brahman.
RELATION TO THE VEDAS: RG VEDA
Even the most inspired writers are the products of their environment. They give voice to the deepest thoughts of their own epoch. A complete abandonment of the existing modes of thought is psychologically impossible. The writers of the Rg Veda speak of the ancient makers of the path. When there is an awakening of the mind, the old symbols are interpreted in a new way.
In pursuance of the characteristic genius of the Indian mind, not to shake the beliefs of the common men, but to lead them on by stages to the understanding of the deeper philosophical meaning behind their beliefs, the Upanisads develop the Vedic ideas and symbols and give to them, where necessary, new meanings which relieve them of their formalistic character. Texts from the Vedas are often quoted in support of the teachings of the Upanisads.
The thought of the Upanisads marks an advance on the ritualistic doctrines of the Brahrnanas, which are themselves different in spirit from the hymns of the Rg Veda. A good deal of time should have elapsed for this long development. The mass of the Rg Veda must also have taken time to produce, especially when we remember that what has survived is probably a small part compared to what has been 10st.
Whatever may be the truth about the racial affinities of the Indian and the European peoples, there is no doubt that Indo- European languages derive from a common source and illustrate a relationship of mind. In its vocabulary and inflexions Sanskrit presents a striking similarity to Greek and Latin. Sir William Jones explained it by tracing them all to a common source. 'The Sanskrit language,' he said in 1786, in an address to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 'whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have sprung from some common source which perhaps no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.'
The oldest Indo-European literary monument is the Rg Veda. The word 'Veda,' from vid, to know, means knowledge par excellence, sacred wisdom. Science is the knowledge of primary causes, of the Uncreated Principle. The Veda is not a single literary work like the Bhagavad-gita or a collection of a number of books compiled at some particular time as the Tripitaka of the Buddhists or the Bible of the Christians, but a whole literature which arose in the course of centuries and was handed down from generation to generation through oral transmission. When no books were available memory was strong and tradition exact. To impress on the people the need for preserving this literature, the Veda was declared to be sacred knowledge or divine revelation. Its sanctity arose spontaneously owing to its age and the nature and value of its contents. It has since become the standard of thought and feeling for Indians.
The name Veda signifying wisdom suggests genuine spirit of inquiry. The road by which the Vedic sages travelled was the road of those who seek to inquire and understand. The questions they investigate are of a philosophical character. ‘Who, verily, knows and who can here declare it, where it was born and whence comes this creation? The gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows, then, whence it first came into being?’ according to Sayana, Veda is the book which describes the transcendent means for the fulfilment of well-being and the avoidance of evils.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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