Vedas – The storehouse of Knowledge

by Anuradha Choudry

The Vedas are the most valued texts in the Bharatiya tradition and are regarded as the highest source of knowledge. But what do they contain? Are they merely socio-historic texts describing warring tribes that perform sacrifices to nature Gods asking their favors in return? Or are they detailed manuals of rituals? Or are they in fact the storehouse of very advanced scientific knowledge?

Maybe there is some truth in all of these interpretations. But if these were the sole contents of the Veda why did the Upanishads and the later philosophies, acknowledged for the keen spiritual insight and intellectual genius, refer to them as the unparalleled books of wisdom? If one concludes that there is possibly much more to the Vedas than generally accepted by the scholars, a pertinent question would be whether this knowledge is of any relevance to the needs of modern man in the 21st Century? In this context Sri Aurobindo, says, “The recovery of the perfect truth of the Vedas is not merely a desideratum of our modern intellectual curiosity but a practical necessity for the future of the human race.” With the available interpretations of the Vedic texts one might doubt the validity of such a bold affirmation. But if there is any truth whatsoever in Sri Aurobindo’s declaration, it becomes imperative to seek out that ‘perfect truth of the Veda’ for the future well-being of mankind.

Interpreting the Vedas

Yaska talks of three ways of interpreting the texts: aadhibhautika, material or literal, aadhidaivika, ritualistic involving the occult and aadhyaatmika, spiritual. Granted a literal aadhibhautika interpretation, the Vedas serve as socio-historic texts and are of value merely as records of an ancient civilization; as scientific texts, they fail to offer solutions to man’s psychological needs. The ritualistic aadhidaivika standpoint describes man’s attempts to appease the Gods by performing lengthy sacrifices and asking them for various benefits in return, an option which does not suit the scientific temperament of our modern era. However, when granted a spiritual aadhyaatmika interpretation, the texts assume a profound psycho-spiritual significance that amply justifies the high esteem in which they are held in the Indian tradition. A spiritual understanding of the hymns reveals that they deal with the discovery of that Truth which is described in the Upanishads as ‘yasmin vijnaate sarvamidam vijnaatam’– knowing which everything here is known.In his book ‘The Secret of the Veda’, Sri Aurobindo writes that the Vedas are in essence profoundly spiritual and esoteric. The Rishis used terms from everyday life, like ‘go’, as symbols to couch a deeper psycho-spiritual sense which they revealed only to the initiate who had prepared himself through intense tapasyaa and self-purification to receive their sacred knowledge. Sri Aurobindo insists on attributing a consistent meaning to keywords in order to bring forth the underlying mystic content of the Vedic texts. Thus when the veil is removed, the word ‘go’, literally understood as ‘cow’ but which also means ‘ray’, becomes a symbol of ‘spiritual illuminations’. He says that if the psycho-spiritual sense is applied to the hymns, the Vedas acquire an entirely new dimension. They become roadmaps of the Rishis’ great spiritual adventure in their quest to discover ways of realizing Truth, Bliss and Immortality in their human substance. In the heights of their meditation they witnessed the Cosmic Game in action, the play of the Forces of the Light and the Night and Man’s crucial role in the unfolding of that Divine play. Their testimony has been recorded in the form of mantras (chants) that have the innate potential to recreate the experience of the Mystics in the consciousness of those who recite them in their true spirit.


Four doctrines inferred from the Vedas

In their search for self-knowledge, the Seers acknowledged the existence of four fundamental doctrines.
The first doctrine declares that man in his present state is an imperfect and unconscious being who has to cultivate his inner nature to realize the world of Swar, of Truth, Light and Immortality, within himself and firmly establish it in his consciousness here on this earth.
The second doctrine states that the purpose of human existence is to rediscover the different paths of Truth, termed ‘ritasya panthaah’, leading to the great world of Swar, which is also considered as the world of the Sun, of Satyam, Ritam, Brihat – the Truth, the Right and the Vast.
The third doctrine of the Veda is often portrayed using three images. The first image depicts life as a battleground of Forces where our existence is the result of a constant struggle between the Devas and the Dasyus. The Devas, powers of Light and Truth, are our companions and allies in our strife for self-perfection. They fight alongside us to recover the Sun of Truth that is lost in the dark Caves of our subconscious. The Dasyus are powers of Darkness and Falsehood that hamper at every step our onward journey to that ultimate self-realization. The Rishis call upon every individual to be an Aryan, a fighter for Truth and a cultivator of his/her nature, to conquer Swar in his/her being. According to them the quality of our life depends on whether we choose to fight on the side of the Devas or Dasyus so they urged us to be at all times an unflinching warrior of Truth. The second image is that of a Yajna or Sacrifice. This Sacrifice does not refer to the external ritualistic practice but to an internal movement of offering one’s energies to the Devas and in return increasing their immortal powers in us. It is performed with three principal oblations- ghritam, soma and mantra to kindle Agni, Fire, which is the Divine Will or the Seer-Will seated in altar of man’s heart. Ghritam or ‘clarified butter’ symbolizes ‘clear and shining thoughts’; Soma, interpreted as wine, represents the Delight of existence; Mantra signifies the Word of Truth. The Rishis saw that the whole universe is engaged in a constant Sacrifice, an exchange wherein our motives and attitudes determine what we become in life. The Vedic lore is a reminder to make our lives a conscious offering to the Devas who seek to increase in us our essential divinity. The third image of the Veda is that of a journey, an ascent. The individual is seen as a hill with several layers of consciousness which he has to ascend with the help of the Sacrifice and the Battle, till he reaches the luminous summits of Swar, the world of the Truth-Consciousness.
The fourth mystic doctrine of the Vedas reveals the supreme secret of the ultimate Reality. It declares that it is One Truth, “ekam sat” or “tad ekam”. This one Reality is attributed different names according to its special aspects and functions “ekam sad viprā bahudāh vadanti”.


Message of the Vedas

The Rishis spent all their energy in the pursuit and adherence of these doctrines and recorded their findings in the hymns of the Veda. The texts therefore speak of a lofty spiritual quest, a quest that is reflected in our lives in different ways. The Mystics call upon us to become aware of our inner world, of the great Battle, the Sacrifice and the Journey, to participate consciously in their grand unfolding in the universe so that each of us can become an Aryan, a warrior and cultivator of Truth, and join the Cosmic Adventure to recover the Lost Sun of Truth from the subconscious Night of Ignorance. The secret of the Veda lies in its eternal message to mankind based on a deep insight into human psychology, its play and its goals. Seen in this light, we understand why the texts are regarded as supreme books of wisdom. It then becomes a responsibility to recover their perfect truth in order to build a more luminous future for the human race. (Anuradha Choudry | 2006)

Sources: Sri Aurobindo, “A Chapter for a Work on the Veda”, Archives and Research. (Volume 9), p.168 Shandilya Upanishad: 2.2.Rigveda: I.46.11; I.136.2; VIII.31.13.Rigveda: I.164.46.Rigveda: X.129.2Rigveda: I.164.46