I could live in solitude in some village somewhere, performing puja and meditating. For the conduct of the Matha it is not at all necessary to have so much money as I receive from people in the cities. In my opinion the mathas ought to have only the minimum of strength in terms of money and men. A large entourage and a battalion of hangers-on are not essential to their maintenance. A matha's financial support and strength are nothing but the quality of the individual presiding over it.
If I leave my life of solitude and come to the city it is not because you give me a lot of money. You have great affection and devotion for me and you are so glad that I am present here at your request. You wanted me to come here and you are happy that I am in your midst. This is your business. But I have my own business, my own work, in coming to this city . What is it?
I have come with the hope of making some arrangement according to which Brahmins will not give up the Vedic dharma and will continue to practise it without a break. The purpose of my being here is to ask to prepare a scheme for the promotion of the Vedic dharma which is the source and root of all our systems of thought and ways of life; the scheme must ensure that the dharma does not become extinct in this generation itself. The Vedas which know no origin should be kept shining for ever their original authentic form. The Brahmin must be a servant who will keep holding up this light, this torch, to illumine all the world. This is a duty he cannot but perform not only for today but for the generations to come.
"Brahmanya" or Brahminhood did not come into being for Brahmins to lord it over others or for their own individual advancement. Its purpose is that the Brahmin should serve as a peon to hold up the Vedic lamp and show the path of Vedic dharma to mankind. If I come to the cities it is to urge the Brahmin community there not to extinguish this lamp, for to put out this light would be to plunge the whole world in darkness for all time.
In the towns and cities people come to listen to me in their thousands. So I am able to talk directly to a large number of people. It is with this idea in mind that I come to the big towns though it means some detriment to the observance of the rites associated with the Matha.
You spend a lot of money on constructing pandals in locality after locality for people to gather and listen to me. You come to hear my discourses in the midst of all your problems. However, my conscience does not permit me to give an entertaining talk without speaking to you about what is wrong with your way of life and perhaps causing you hurt thereby. It would serve you no purpose if I take all your money but fail to tell you about what is good for you and the world. That is why I keep asking you again and again to protect the Vedic tradition and to practise the ancient dharmas. Whether or not I will succeed, I have come here to urge you again and again to do it.
You honour me with a "shower" of gold coins and celebrate with much pomp the day of my installation on the Pitha. You do so because of your great affection for me. You appoint committees, collect money and toil day and night for the purpose. But how are we to be sure that the acaryas who will succeed to the Pitha in the future will also be similarly honoured? If the Vedic dharma becomes extinct why should there be a matha at all or a mathadhipati ( head of the matha)? So I tell you: "I see that you are so enthusiastic about honouring me with a shower of gold coins to celebrate the day of my ascending the Pitha. Why don't you have the same enthusiasm to work for the preservation of the Vedic dharma? Why don't you appoint committees for the purpose, draw up schemes, raise funds?
"It does not matter if you are unable to create conditions in which Brahmins henceforth will make the pursuit of the Vedic dharma their lifelong vocation. All I ask you is the minimum you can do, make arrangements to impart to your children the Vedic mantras, to teach them the scripture for at least one our a day from the time they are eight years old until they are eighteen. Teach them also the prayoga (the conduct of rites). Do this on a cooperative basis in each locality. If you succeed in this you will have truly honoured me with a shower of gold coins."
Nothing is achieved without effort. If we take up some work for own sake we are ready to suffer any amount of hardship. There is a university in a distant land and you are told that if you take a degree from it you will get a very attractive job. What do you then? You get the syllabus from that institution by post at once, manage to go and study there. Must we abandon our dharma on the plea that its pursuit involves a great deal of trouble? If there is trouble it means the benefits yielded will be proportionately greater- also it should be a matter of greater pride.
I have come to give you trouble in this fashion. I wonder why I should not stay here and keep giving you trouble until you agree to complete the arrangements to carry out my suggestion. After all, I have to stay somewhere, so why not here?
It gives me joy that more and more bhajans are conducted in the towns than before, that work connected with temples is on the increase and that puranic discourses are given more often than before. But we must remember that the Vedas constitute the basis of all these. If our scripture suffers a decline, how long will the activities based on its survive? The Vedas must be handed down from father to son, from generation to the next. It is because we have forgotten this tradition that our religion itself has become shaky. All the trouble in the world, all the suffering and all the evil must be attributed to the fact that the Brahmin has forsaken his dharma, the Vedic dharma.
I am not worried about the system of jatis destroyed, but I am worried about the setback to the welfare of mankind. I am also extremely concerned about the fact that, if the Vedic tradition which has been maintained like a chain from generation to generation is broken, it may not be possible to create the tradition all over again.
The good arising in a subtle from the sound of the Vedas and the performance of sacrifices is not the only benefit that constitutes "lokaksema" or the welfare of mankind. From Vedanta are derived lofty truths that can bring Atmic uplift to people belonging to all countries. How did foreigners come to have an interest in our Vedanta? When they came to India they discovered here a class of people engaged in the practice of the Vedic dharma as a lifetime calling. They were curious to find out in what way the Vedas were great that an entire class of people should have dedicated themselves to them all their life. They conducted research into these scriptures and discovered many truths including those pointing to the unity of the various cultures of the world.
The Vedas bring universal good. This is not all. In the beginning, in my opinion, the Vedic culture was prevalent throughout the world. Others also, it is likely, will arrive at the same view on a thorough inquiry into the subject. The fact that there is something common to all mankind should be a source of universal happiness and it should also contribute to a sense of harmony among the various religions. Apart from this, I feel that people belonging of the truths of the Vedic religion.
If a separate class of people ready to sacrifice everything for the cause of the Vedic tradition did not exist, how would you expect people of other countries to become interested in this tradition? If we ourselves discard something that is our own, thinking it to be useless, how can we expect others to take an interest in it? Because of our neglect we have been guilty of denying others the benefits to be earned from the Vedas. It is the responsibility of the present generation to ensure the continuance of the Vedic tradition not only for the happiness of people belonging to all castes in this country but for people throughout the world. Without this task accomplished, no purpose is going to be served by honouring me with a shower of gold coins.
Why then did I agree to the kanakabhiseka? Had I not agreed to it, would you have gathered in such large numbers to listen to me?
To dispel the hatred, anger and bitterness that vitiate our social life people whose duty it is to sustain the Vedic dharma must remain true to it and set an example to others by living a life of virtue and tranquillity. The benefits that come from such a life may not be immediately perceptible. What happens when there is a hartal? All shops are closed and people have to suffer much inconvenience. Think of what will happen when the work of preserving the Vedic dharma come to a stop? The ill effects suffered by society will not be felt immediately but over a period. People then will realise the advantage of having an exclusive class that is devoted to Vedic learning as a lifelong mission. If you(Brahmins) alone do not fall in your duty, one day all the present hatred in society will be wiped away and happiness will reign instead.
In the hoary past it was in the Tamil country that Manu lived. It was here that Vedic learning, Atmic enlightenment and devotion attained their heights of glory. "Dravidesu bhurisah," they say. We had not only saints like Tayumanavar and Pattinattar in Tamil Nadu, but also great men belonging to other religions like Vedanayagam Pillai and Mastan Sahib who became Vedantins because of the special quality of the Tamil soil.
The original home of the Vedas is this land. It is believed that, as the age of Kali comes to a close, Kalki (the tenth incarnation of Visnu) will be born in the Tirunelveli region of the Dravida land with the mission of protecting the Vedas. He will be born the son of a Brahmin who will be steadfast in performing the duties of his birth- so it is mentioned in the Puranas. In a land like this there ought not to be any opposition to the Vedic dharma. I have come here, to this city [Madras], to remind you that Brahmins hold the key to the Vedas, to the continuance of the Vedic tradition.
Our religion places on its followers more restraints than any other faith does on its, but these are meant to elevate man to his true state, to take him to his true destination. There are restraints to be observed by the individual as well as by the community. Any restraint is like the embankment of a lake or a river. If the embankments are damaged, or if they are swept away, the whole area will be devastated. Today there are no restraints at all in the life of the individual or of society, no restraints in a religion that once imposed the maximum number of restrictions on its followers.
I go from place and keep giving discourses. I do so to keep Brahmins under some check or restraint because they are expected to be pathfinders for the rest of the entire society. There is a general belief that Brahmins are more attached to me than are others- whether or not Brahmins themselves think so or I think so. So, if I first succeed a little in binding them to their dharma, I will have the strength to teach others their dharma.
In brief, what do I ask of Brahmins? Before giving up his mortal frame, the Acarya composed five stanzas that contains the essence of his teachings. I keep telling Brahmins today what the Acarya says right at the start: Veda nityam adhiyatam". The same exhortation is made by the saint-poetess Auvvaiyar. It reads almost like a Tamil translation of the words of the Acarya- "Odamal orunalum irrukkavendam". What the Acarya says in a positive manner ("You must chant the Vedas every day"), Auvvaiyar puts in a negative way ("Not a single day should you pass without chanting the Vedas"). In Tamil the Vedas are called "Ottu". The Thirukkural has also the same term. The place where the Vedas worshipped Isvara is known as Vedapuri: in Tamil it is "Tiruvottur" ("Tiru-Ottu-ur"). Vedic chanting has survived up till now from the time of Brahma's creation. I keep visiting places to give people trouble and make them spend money during these visits. I do so only to impress upon them that the chanting of the Vedas must go on for ever.
So many thousands of you are gathered here. It is my hope that my words will have made an impact on at least ten or twenty of my listeners and that these ten or twenty will remember them and try to act according to them.
It was only after people emigrated to the big towns and cities that they found themselves compelled to lead a life contrary to the teachings of their dharma. It is in urban centres that you see some of the worst aspects of modern civilization. That is why I had decided not to come to such places, preferring to stay in the villages. But people from these urban centres insisted that I should visit them and, though I was touched by their affection, I was at first reluctant to accede to their request. I told them: "I shall come if you agree to return to our old ways of life, even if it be to a small extent. You need not take lessons in the Vedas all at once. But, as a beginning, you must adopt the external symbols of our Vedic dharma. The peon wears a uniform, doesn't he? The Brahmin must wear the pancakaccha and sikha. There are not symbols proclaiming his superiority; on the contrary, they denote that he is a servant of all other communities, a servant of the Vedas. You must wear these symbols if you want me to come to your city."
It was in vain that I had laid down these conditions. Perhaps there was no desire on the part of the Brahmins. I had spoken to change their style of dress or their outlook or perhaps they did not have the courage to do it. But they requested me again and again that I should visit them. Eventually, I reconciled myself to accepting their invitation even though they had not acted on my words. "They still have some respect and affection for me, "I told myself. "I will agree to their request and see whether my purpose will be served if I go into their midst and speak to them directly again. After all, what is the Matha for? It is meant for the welfare of the people, to cure them of their ills and turn them to the right path. It is my duty to speak to them again and again- whether or not they like it- about how in my opinion they have gone wrong".
Thus I started visiting the towns again. When people welcome me in great joy, honour me wherever I go, decorate the roads with bunting, how can I wound their feelings by speaking about what is wrong with them? Everybody has problems in life. The world is plunged in turmoil and people face all sorts of hardships. In the midst of all this they come to me hoping to forget their problems. Is it right for me to remind them of their faults? Or am I to keep everybody happy by turning my religious discourse into an entertaining performance?
Am I to speak to people about what is good for them, what is good for society, or am I to make them happy for the moment by making my talk a kacceri-like performance? But there are musicians for kacceris and why should I be invited to perform something similar? If I were to give a kacceri-like performance for the sake of money, I would have to make the listeners happy for the time being. But my purpose is not money. If money comes, it is spent in feeding more than the usual number of people, in holding assemblies of the learned, etc. The affairs of the Matha could be managed with the smaller amounts received in the villages. However, an effort must be made, all the same, to speak to the entire community of people about what is good for them, for their life. Is this not the very purpose of the Matha?
Thinking on these lines, I came to this conclusion: "It is up to them (the people I am to address in the towns) to listen to me and act on my advice. Whether or not they like it, I will speak to them about their duties, about what they should do for spiritual uplift as well as for the happiness of mankind. "I can do no more than speak to them about their duty. I have no authority to punish them if they fail in this. Even in political parties which believe in the oneness and equality of all, disciplinary action is taken against erring members- some are expelled like untouchables. I have no authority to excommunicated anyone for any of their offences. Nor do I ask for myself such authority to be exercised over men. The only right I ask for is to have the ears of people. I cannot but do what I can do- that is why I am here.
Sufficient it would be even if a single individual somewhere paid heed to my words and acted according to them. He would be the starting point in the direction of the desired growth. Have not movements that do not have an iota of justification behind them grown with just ten people to start with? For a good cause also it would be enough if ten people joined together initially.
I keep speaking in the hope of finding such people. You must not feel unhappy thinking that I am very much dissatisfied with you. I am not unaware of the complexities and problems of modern life. If one is trapped in it, I know how difficult it is to be freed from it. In the midst of all this, you make arrangements in a big way for kumbhabhisekas, bhajans, discourses, etc. I am happy about it all. I feel encouraged by it to speak to you about that which is the very basis, the very life-breath, of these activities of yours. It is that of fostering the Vedic dharma.
Though there is much room for offences against the sastras in the present way of life and though there is cause for worry about the future. I am reassured by certain signs that promise our well-being. Instead of lamenting that "all is lost", the proper thing to do is to promote the good aspects in present-day life and to speak about what still needs to be done. In this way those who have taken the wrong path will sooner or later see the light and turn to the path of wisdom.
All this gives me the confidence to speak about the old ways of life and the old customs. I do not claim that all that is old is necessarily good. At the same time, I feel that nothing should be rejected merely because it is old. An object (or deed) is to judged not on the basis of whether it is old or new; it is to be accepted or rejected after finding out how useful it is. Let us accept what is good in the new and reject what is bad in the old. Likewise, let us reject what is bad in the new and accept what is good in the old. Kalidasa says the same thing.
You have invited me with much affection and treated me with much honour. So I feel reluctant to tell you about what is bad in your present way of life. I have dealt with many subjects- about devotion, jnana, culture, and so on. True, they are edifying topics. But they are all like the branches, flowers and fruits supported by something deeper, supported by the root constituted by the Vedas. Nothing grows with this root, without the Vedic tradition being nourished. It is pointless to speak about other matters after leaving out this vital subject. The preservation of the Vedic dharma is the basic service we render to our religion, and while on the subject, we have necessarily to do well on the drawbacks in the present way of life. After speaking to you about other matters, about mixing with you. I have become friends with you and I feel I could take up then topic of the Vedas since I feel I need not be as reluctant as I was before in telling you about what is wrong with your way of life.
The very purpose of my visit is this. But is it proper for me to speak about it right at the start? Since you have done your job by honouring me and pleasing me, I feel I can now do my job by speaking about the importance of sustaining the Vedic way of life. I have given you so much trouble for this purpose and put you to a lot of expense. As if this were not enough, I am asking you, like Vinoba Bhave, for "sampatti-dana".
Every Brahmin must learn the Vedas and teach his sons the same. Necessary though this is, there is something even more important to be done as a matter of priority: it is to make sure that the schools that teach the Vedas (the pathasalas) which are gasping for breath as it were are not closed down but given new life. For this purpose both teachers and taught must be given monetary help. More Vedic schools must also be established not only to teach the mantras but also their meaning and to conduct examinations. During the years of study the students must be given a stipend. On passing their examinations they must be given substantial awards, the amount depending upon their marks. You have to do all this to maintain the Vedic dharma. Naturally, you need capital for it.
Trusts have been created for this purpose. A number of people have made gifts of land (bhudana)- like Vinoba Bhave I too have received bhudana. Now ceilings of landowning have come into force. It is difficult to foresee how the rights of landowners will be affected in the future. That is why I am asking for sampatti-dana.
Everyone of you must put one rupee in a piggy bank every month on the day on which your janma-naksatra falls. Think of me as you do it for, after all, it is I who am asking you to do it. After twelve months you must send the Rs 12 so collected to the Veda Raksana Nidhi. On your janma-naksatra, the Matha will send you prasada (vibhuti-sacred ashes-kumkum, mantraksata). You will be the recipient of the blessings of Candramaulisvara if you contribute to the Veda Raksana Nidhi year after year.
You pay taxes and spend so much on so many things. Take this contribute to the Veda Raksana Nidhi as a tax imposed by me: pay one rupee every month for my sake. If everyone agreed to do so, it would mean great support to the task of preserving the Vedic dharma. The maintenance of the Vedic tradition is uppermost in my mind and it is a duty we have to carry our for the good of future generations.
If you ask me why the Vedic dharma must be perpetuated, the answer is that the sound of Vedic mantras and the conduct of Vedic rites like sacrifices will bring universal material and spiritual well-being. Second, if people in every country of the world are to know that the Vedic religion was once a universal religion and, if unity and peace are to be achieved on the basis of such awareness, there must be a class of people in our country who will devote themselves solely to Vedic learning. I maintain that fostering the Vedic dharma is of the utmost importance because it will bring prosperity and inward tranquillity to people not only in our country but all over the world.
There should not be even a single Brahmin in the next generation who will not be able to chant the Vedas. We need the Brahmin not to exercise authority over others, but to carry out the duty of protecting the primordial dharma- and this not only for the unity of our land but for the oneness of the whole world.
How can we claim that a small group of people in this country (dedicated to maintaining the Vedic tradition) can create happiness throughout the world? Well, take the case of a powerhouse. Only four or five work in it but the entire town receives light. If these four or five people do not work, the whole town will be plunged in darkness. In the same way only a few people are required to keep the auspicious world lamp of the Vedas burning. My mission here is to protect somehow the seed capital necessary for it. For the sake of this, I agreed to all the festivities you conducted in my honour. The chant of "Jaya-Jaya Sankara, Hara-Hara Sankara" heard during these festivities brought so many people here to listen to my discourses. Those who conducted the festival in my honour must pay heed to what I wish to say. You exert yourself in many ways in the cause of so many things. Why not to exert yourself a little for my sake also? You do so much for yourself: you go to your office; you have your own pastime; and you conduct all kinds of businesses. For my sake do this job of protecting the Vedic dharma.
Why should I speak differentiating between you and me ["For your sake" and "my sake"]. My work is also your work. Maintaining the Vedic tradition is the one job that ensures the supreme good of all. Doing this duty means well being for you- and I shall be earning a name as a result!
The Sastras And Modern LifeReligion and Society
While adherence to the tenets of our religion entails certain inconveniences in our workaday life, following the rules of the dharmasastras,people feel, creates difficulties in social life. On this pretext reformers want to change the sastras.
Unfortunately, they are not aware either of the truths on which the dharmasastras are founded or their ultimate purpose. By "social life" they-the reformers-do not have in mind anything relating to the Self. They take into account political orders that keeps changing every now and then, the sciences, trade and commerce, fashion, etc. If our worldly existence alone were the objective of social life, the rules pertaining to it would also be subject to change. But our scriptures do not view social life as having such an objective alone. They (the sastras) are meant for the Self, for the Atman, and their goal is our release from worldly existence. That which has to do with mundane life is subject to change but not the truths relating to the Self. The injunctions of the sastras have the purpose of establishing changing society on the foundation of the unchanging Truth; they cannot be subject to change themselves.
If our goal were but a comfortable and happy life in this world, matters concerning social life could be changed now and again. But ours is an exalted goal and it concerns the Self. The rules of worldly life are in keeping with this high purpose and they cannot be changed according to our convenience. The sastras do not regard happiness in this world as of paramount importance. They teach us how we may experience joy in the other world even by suffering many kinds of hardships or discomforts here. So it is not right to seek changes in them to suit our worldly existence.
The views of the reformers must have been shaped by our present system of education and so it is no use blaming them. In other countries no contradiction exists between their religion and their system of education. Unfortunately, the schools established by the British in India had nothing to do with our religion. People were compelled to take to Western education for the sake of their livelihood. Soon a situation arose in which they came to be steeped from childhood itself in an alien system of instruction. They had therefore no way of developing acquaintance with, or faith in, our ancient sastras. And, since they were kept ignorant of their scriptures and their underlying purpose, they persuaded themselves to take the view that the sastras could be changed according to their convenience.
Our youngsters are exposed to the criticism of our religion and our sacred texts from a tender age. They are told that the Puranas are a tissue of lies, that the sastras help the growth of superstition. How can they have any attachment to our faith, to its rites and traditions?
Faith in religion and God must be inculcated in people from their childhood. They must get to know about great men who lived and continue to live an exemplary life true to the tenets of our religion. Faith in the works of the seers must be instilled in them, works based on the experience of the seers themselves, experience beyond a life of sensation, and pointing the way to spiritual uplift. They must also be helped to believe that the rsis formulated the sastas in such a way as to make worldly happiness and social life subservient to the advancement of the Self. Only then will people recognize that the rules of religion have a far higher purpose than the comforts and conveniences of temporal life.
Neither too Much Ease nor too Many Comforts
Now people want to live in comfort and to be provided with all sorts of amenities. There is no end to their unseemly desires. In America, it is said, everybody has a bungalow, car, radio, telephone, etc. But are people there contented? No. There is more discontent in that country than in our own. There the incidence of crime is more than anywhere else. It is all right that every American has a car. But today's car is not good enough for them tomorrow. More and more new models keep coming in the market and each new model offers more comfort than the previous one. This means that the American citizen is compelled to earn more with the appearance of each new car. A time may come when aircraft will be used in the U. S. for people to fly from house to house.
Similarly, we see such a progression all over the world in the matter of housing. First there was the hovel or the hut; then came the dwelling with the tiled roof; afterwards houses with cement and concrete walls. The flooring also changed over the years. First the floor was wiped with cowdung; then it was plastered and cemented; the mosaic flooring came later; and the search is on for smoother and shinier surfaces. It is the same case with clothing - better and finer fabrics are being made everyday. Although we are already living in comfort we are all the time using our ingenuity to discover objects and gadgets that will make our life still easier. However, all the time we are likely to have the feeling of uneasiness with all the comforts we already possess and this means there will be no end to our yearnings. Not knowing any contentment or peace of mind we are compelled to earn more and more. It is like thinking that fire can be extinguished by pouring petrol on it; we keep discovering newer and newer objects but in the progress we keep further inflaming our longing for ease and comfort.
This truth was known to our sages, to our forefathers. They taught us that we ought not to seek more than our bare needs. In recent times Gandhiji impressed upon the people the same lesson.
In this century, people seek ostentatious living in the name of progress. So long as the hunger for new comforts continue neither the individual nor society will have contentment. There will always be feelings of rivalry, jealousy and heart-burning among people. In the varnasrama dharma, the Brahmin and non-Brahmin are equal economically speaking. In spite of the caste differences, the same simple living is enjoined on all. The ideal of equality can be achieved only if all people live a simple life. In this order every individual experiences contentment and inner happiness and no one has cause of envying others their prosperity.
No man, whatever his vocation, should have either too much money or too many comforts. Above all what is important is that for which all these are intended but that which cannot be truly obtained through them: contentment and a sense of fullness within. Only when there is inner satisfaction can one meditate on the Lord. And only in the mind of a man who has such contentment is the Ultimate Truth realised as a reality. When a person has too many comforts he will be incapable of going beyond the stage of sensual pleasures. If he is addicted to enjoyments, without any need for physical exertion, he will do injury to his mind, and his inner being. Hard work and the capacity to suffer discomforts are essential for those who yearn for Atmic uplift. They will then learn to realise that there is comfort in discomfort and in hard work.
Sastra or Conscience?
The goal of dharma is universal welfare. The great men who produced the works on Dharmasastra didn't have a trace of self-interest in them and had nothing but the thought of the happiness of all creatures. These treatises are the authority on which dharma is founded. You find the form of things, the image, with your eyes; you perceive sound with your ears; you know dharma with the help of Dharmasastra.
The Vedas (Sruti) are the root of all dharma. After Sruti comes Smrti. The latter consists of the "notes" based on Smrti. It is the same as Dharmasastra. Another guide for the dharma is the example of great men. The Puranas provide an answer to how great men conducted themselves. Then there is sistacara to guide us, the life of virtuous people of noble character. Not everybody's conduct can be a guide to us. The individual whose life is an example for the practice of dharma must have faith in the sastras and must live in accordance with their ordinances. Besides, he must be free from desire and anger. The conduct of such men is sistacara. Another authority or guide is what we know through our conscience in a state of transparency.
In matters of the Self, of dharma and religion, the Vedas are in the forefront as our guide. Next come the dharmasastras. Third is the conduct of the great sages of the past. Fourth is the example of the virtuous people of our own times. Conscience comes last in determining dharma.
Now everything has become topsy-turvy. People give importance first to their conscience and last to the Vedas. We must consult our conscience only as a last resort when we have no other means of knowing what is dharma with reference to our actions. Why is conscience called one's "manahsaksi"? Conscience is fit to be only a witness(saksi), not to be a judge. A witness often gives false evidence. The mind, however, doesn't tell an untruth - indeed it knows the truth of all things. " There is no deceit that is hidden from the heart(mind), " says Auvvai. Conscience may be regarded as a witness. But nowadays it is brought in as a judge also in dharmic matters. As a witness it will give us a true report of what it sees or has seen. But on the basis of it we cannot give on what is just with any degree of finality. "What I think is right, " everybody would try to satisfy himself thus about his actions if he were to be guided only by his conscience. How can this be justified as the verdict of dharma?
We often hear people say, "I will act according to what my conscience tells me. " This is not a right attitude. All at once your conscience cannot be given the place of a judge. It is only when there is no other way open to you that you may tell your mind: "You have seen everything as a witness. Now tell me your opinion. " The mind belongs to each one of us as individuals. So it cannot be detached from our selfish interests. The place it has in one's personal affairs cannot be given to it in matters of religion. On questions of dharma the opinion of sages alone is valid, sages who were concerned with universal welfare and who transcended the state of the individual concerned with his own mind [or with himself].
The Basic Texts of Hinduism : Our Ignorance of Them
There are books aplenty in the world dealing with a vast variety of subjects. The adherents of each religion single out one book for special veneration, believing that it shows them the way to salvation. The followers of some faiths even build temples in honour of their holy scriptures. The Sikhs, for instance, do so; they venerate their sacred book, calling it the "Granth Sahib" [and enshrine it in temples].
Thus the followers of each religion have come to have a work showing them the way to their spiritual uplift. Such books are believed to enshrine the utterances and commandments of God conveyed through the founders of the respective faiths. For this reason they are called the revealed texts. We call the same "apauruseya" (not the work of a human author). What men do of their own accord is "pauruseya" and what the paramatman reveals, using man as a mere instrument, is "apauruseya".
What is the authoritative work of our Vedic religion? People of other faiths are clear about what their sacred books are. Buddhists have the Tripitaka, Parsis(Zoroastrians) the Zend-Avesta, Christians the Bible, and Muslims the Qur'an. What work is basic to our religion, common to Saivas, Vaishnavas, Dvaidins(dualists) and Advaitins(non-dualists) and the followers of various other (Hindu) traditions? Most of us find the answer difficult. Why?
There is an important reason. People born in other religions are taught their sacred texts in schools. Or they receive instructions [at home] in their respective faiths for two or three years, and then have what is called "secular" education. So even at a youthful age they are fairly conversant with the religion into which they are born. We Hindus receive no religious instruction at all. How has this affected us? Whenever adherents of other faiths go seeking converts, we become a convenient target for them. How is it that people belonging to other religions do not leave their faith to embrace another in any considerable numbers? The reason is that they learn about the tenets of their religion in childhood itself and remain firmly attached to it. In contrast, we are not taught even the elements of our religion in our early years. Worse, we speak ill of our scriptures and have no qualms about even destroying them.
Our education follows the Western pattern. We want to speak like the white man, dress like him and ape him in the matter of manners and customs. We remain so even after our having won independence. In fact, though we keep speaking all the time about our culture, about swadeshi and so on, we are today more Westernised than before. Remaining a paradesi (alien) at heart we keep talking of swadeshi. Religion has been the backbone of our nation's life from time immemorial. If we wish to remain swadeshi, both inwardly and outwardly, we must receive religious instructions from childhood itself. The secular state is of no help in this matter because, in the secular set-up, education continues to be imparted to our children on the Western pattern, and the children are taught that our sastras are all superstition. The result is that most of us do not know what the sacred text is, that is common to all Hindus.
Our Atma-vidya (science of the Self) is extolled by people all over the world. (In our country learning even subjects that are apparently mundane like political economy, economics, dance, etc, has a transcendent purpose). Foreigners come to India in search of our sastras and translate them into their own languages. If we want to be respected by the world we must gain more and more knowledge in such sastras as have won the admiration of the world. We cannot earn more esteem than others for achievements in fields like science and technology. We feel proud if one or two Indians win Nobel prize but the rest of the world hardly takes any notice of it. Its attitude may be expressed thus: "The strides we have taken in science and technology do not give us satisfaction. So we go to the Hindus seeking things that are beyond. But they themselves seem to forsake the philosophical and metaphysical quest for our science and technology". We must be proud of the fact that our country has produced more men who have found inner bliss than all counties put together have. It is a matter of shame that we are ignorant of the sastras that they have bequeathed to us, the sastras that taught them how to scale the heights of bliss.
Many Hindus are ignorant of the scripture that is the very source of their religion - they do not know even its name. "What does it matter if we don't know? " they ask. "What do we gain by knowing it? "
Though we are heirs to a great civilization, a civilization that is universally admired, we are ignorant of its springs. "Who cares about our culture? Money is all that we need, " such is the attitude of our people and they keep flying from continent to continent in search of a fortune. Some of them come to me and tell me: "People abroad ask us about our religion, about the Vedas, about the Upanishads. They want to know all about the Gita and yoga, about our tenples and Puranas and about so many other things. We find it difficult to answer their questions. In fact we seem to know less than what they already know about these matters. We are indeed ashamed of ourselves. So would you please briefly put together the concepts of our religion and philosophy? "
What does this mean? We are proud of living as foreigners in our own land, but the foreigners themselves think poorly of us for being so. We are inheritors of the world's oldest religion and culture; yet we have no concern for them ourselves. How would you then expect foreigners to have any respect for us?
Perhaps it would have mattered much if we were an unlettered people. Others would have thought us to be ignorant, not anything worse. But what is the reality today? We read and write and talk a great deal. Science and technology, politics, cinema, fiction -- these are our interests. Yet foreigners think poorly of us because we ignore what is unique to our land, the sastras relating to the Self.
There are so many books on our religion but we seem to have no need for any of them. All our reading consists of foreign literature. We know all the works of Milton and Wordsworth, but know precious little of the poetry of Bhavabhuti and Ottakkuttar. We are acquainted with the history of the Louis dynasty and of the Tsars, but we know nothing of the solar and lunar dynasties of our own country. Why, we do not know even the names of the seers of the various gotras. We are thoroughly acquainted with things that are of no relevance to us, but of the subjects that have aroused the wonder of the world we are ignorant, ignorant even of the names of the sastras on which they are founded. Even if men learned in the scriptures come forward to speak about them we refuse to listen to them. It causes me great pain that our country and countrymen have descended to such abysmal depths of ignorance.
The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that we are not as anxious to know about our culture, as we are to find out how much it would fetch us in terms of money. Indeed the true purpose of earning money and other activities of ours must be to know this culture fully, live in consonance with its spirit and experience a sense of fulfilment. Why should we care to know about our religion? A question like this absurd. Religion itself is the purpose of all our actions --it is its own purpose. The need be no purpose for religion although the performance of religious rites brings us great benefits such as tranquillity of mind, affection for all and, finally, liberation. Unmindful of all this, we want to know whether it would fetch us money. If we were truly interested in religion and truly attached to it, we would never be worried about the purpose served by it.
"Brahmanena niskarano dharmah sadango Vedadhyeyo jneyasca, " so say the sastras. It means that a Brahmin must learn the Vedas and sastras not because there is any reason for it, not because there is any purpose served by the same. It is only in our childhood that we learn the subject without asking question about how useful it is. A schoolgoing chiild does not ask :"Why should I learn history or geography? "
Our religious texts must be taught early in life. When a child grows up and goes to college, he believes his studies will prove useful to him. If he reads for a B.L. or L.L.B. degree, it is to become a lawyer. Similarly, if he reads for an L. T (or B. Ed. ) degree or on M. B. B. S. , it is to become a teacher or a doctor. If you ask a teenager to study our religious texts, he would retort: "Why should I learn them? How will it help in my career? " So religious texts should be taught in childhood itself, that is before the youngster is old enough to question you about their utility [or harbour doubts about the same]. Only then will we develop an interest in our religion and sastras. Do we pay our children for their being interested in sports, music or cinema? Similarly, they must be made to take an interest in religion also and such interest must be created in the same way as in sports and entertainment. If children take to sports and entertainment which afford only temporary pleasure, they are bound to take religion which will confer on them everlasting happiness. The present sorry state of affairs is due to our basic education being flawed.
Today we have come to such a pass that people ask whether knowledge of religion is of help in their upkeep. This is a matter of shame. The sastras admonish: "Do not ask whether Vedic education will provide you food. We eat and live but to learn the Vedas. " Your approach must be based on this principle. A child born in a faith which has such high ideals is cut off from all opportunities of religious instruction at his very birth. Our concern is imparting him worldly knowledge from very start. Our children must be brought up properly and faith in God inculcated in them early in life.
We spend so much on our youngsters- but what do we spend on their religious instruction? A father spends thousands on his son's upanayana. But if he were to spend one tenth of the sum towards achieving what constitutes the very purpose of the upanayana ceremony - making the child a good brahmacarin - faith in our religion would be kept alive. To repeat, far better would it be to spend money on achieving the goal of upanayana than on the upanayana ceremony itself. The child must be given religious instruction by a private tutor and taught the duties of the brahmacarin. Why should teachers conversant with such matters be denied an income? If religion is taught in childhood itself, people will be free from doubts as they grow up and the teacher too will be benefited. Today the situation is so lamentable that most of us do not know even the name of the text that forms the foundation and authority of our religion.
The fact that our people are not taught religion at an early age is one reason why there are so many differences among them. One man is a theist and another an atheist. One performs religious rites without devotion while another is devoted but does not perform any rites. The differences and disputes are many. As for the doubts harboured by people about our religion there is no end. If our religion were taught in childhood itself there would be unanimity of views and freedom from doubts. We know it for a fact that there are not so many doubting people among followers of other religions as there are among ours: the reason is that, unlike us, they are better informed about the concepts of their respective religions.
What is the book of our religion? A definite answer even to this question seems to be a difficult task for people these days. However, if we follow the truths of that book which is the basic work of our religion there will be universal uplift.
Followers of most religions point to a single book as their sacred text even if the matters mentioned in it are dealt with in other works of theirs also. A man may write one book today, tomorrow a second man will come up to write another. There may be good as well as bad points about them and it would be difficult to determine the value of each. So is it not to our advantage if a single book is accepted for all time as our basic religious text? That is why every religion treats such a single book as its prime scripture.
What are the works that tell us all about our religion? The libraries are chock-full of books on Hinduism; indeed there are hundreds of thousands of them. The subjects that come under our religion are also numerous. It all seems to cause confusion. But we must remember that there are a few texts that constitute a common basis for all the other numerous works.
By practising the tenets of our religion many have had the beatific experience and remained in tranquil samadhi, without knowing death and oblivious of the outside world. We see such men even today. There are books from which we learn about Sadasiva Brahmendra, Pattinattar, and similar realised souls. Other religious systems have not produced as many realised souls as has our own faith. Is it possible that a religion that has been a source of inspiration for such a large number of great men should have no authoritative texts?
Why Religion ?
Why do we need religion? Why do we listen to a religious teacher? We do so hoping to have our problems solved and our faults corrected. We do not seek a preceptor when we are not in trouble or when we feel that there is nothing lacking in us. The more we are besieged by troubles the more often we go to worship in temples or seek the darshan and advice of great men.
We approach great men, saintly persons, hoping to find a remedy for our suffering and to have our doubts cleared. When we are harassed by difficulties, we try to find solace in books or in listening to the advice of men of wisdom and virtue. Or we go on pilgrimage and bathe in sacred ponds or rivers. Thus we hope to find mental peace by and by. Those who know utter tranquillity remain in bliss. It does not matter to them in the least whether they are stabbed or injured otherwise, whether they are honoured or maligned.
Great men arise in all jatis, great men who experience inner peace. What is religion? It is that which shows the way to santhi, the peace that passeth understanding. Religion is known as "mata" or "dharma". Dharma is the means to attain the ultimate good that is liberation -- and it is the same as "mata".
The pursuit of dharma is first meant for happiness and well-being in this world. When it is practised, without desiring happiness here, it will lead to liberation. Yes, this is dharma; this is mata.
"Dharma" which is the term used by the sastras for religion denotes all the moral and religious principles that constitute the means to obtain fullness of life. We have many a work that teaches us this dharma, but we remain ignorant of them. Since they deal with matters that are the very basis of dharma, they are called "dharma-pramanas". "Pramana" is that which establishes the truth or rightness of a thing (or belief). We have fourteen basic sastras that pertain to dharma, that is canonical texts that deal with what has come to be known as Hinduism and what has been handed down to us from the time of the primordial Vedas. These treatises tell us about the doctrines and practices of dharma.
Angani Vedascatvaro mimamsa-nyayavistharah
Puranam dharmasastram ca vidya hyetascaturdas
Vedah sthanani vidyanam dharmasya ca caturdasa
The term "caturdasa" occurs in both verses. It means "fourteen". We learn from these two stanzas that we have fourteen authoritative works on dharma embracing all aspects of our religion.
"Vid" means "to know". From it is derived "vidya" which means a work that imparts knowledge, that sheds light on the truths of religion. That there are fourteen treatises on vidya is mentioned in the above two stanzas: "vidya hyetascaturdasa" and "vidyanam dharmasya ca caturdasa". The fourteen are not only sastras that impart knowledge but also treatises on normal principles. That is why they are called "vidyasthanas" and "dharmasthanas" : "sthanani vidyanam dharmasya ca caturdasa". Though "vid" means to know, the word does not connote every type of knowledge. The "vid" in "vidya" means knowledge of truth. The English words "wit" and "wisdom" are derived from this root. And it is from the same root that we have "Veda", which term may be said to mean literally the "Book of Knowledge". As sources of knowledge the fourteen sastras are called "vidyasthanas", that is they are "abodes of knowledge or learning". The dharmasthanas("abodes of dharma") are also the abodes of vidya.
The Fourteen Abodes of Knowledge
The fourteen "abodes" of knowledge are: the four vedas; the six Angas or limbs of the Vedas; Mimamsa, Nyaya, the Puranas and Dharmasastra. You must have seen at least references to the Vedas and the six Angas. The Tamil work Tevaram says: "Vedamodarangamayinanai". According to this devotional work Isvara is the form of the four Vedas and the six Angas.
The fourteen dharma-pramanas (authorities of dharma) are called "caturdasa-vidya". The well-known poetic work 'Naisadham' mentions that Nala was conversant with these fourteen branches of learning. The poet (Sriharsa ) plays on the word "caturdasa": he says that "Nala accorded caturdasa to the caturdas-vidya", meaning he gave the fourteen branches of learning four dasas: reading, understanding what is read, living according to the teachings contained in what is read, and making others also live in accordance with them.
Caturdasatvam Krtavan kutah svayam
Na vedmi vidyasu caturdasasvapi
--Naisadham, 1. 4
All religious knowledge is encompassed by these fourteen branches of learning.
There are yet four more vidyas. If you add to the fourteen already mentioned, you will have eighteen vidyas - astadasa-vidya which are all-inclusive. Of them, the fourteen already mentioned are directly concerned with dharma. The remaining four - Ayurveda, Arthasastra, Dhanurveda and Gandharvaveda - do not directly deal with dharma. They are not dharmasthanas (abodes of dharma) but they qualify to be vidyasthanas(abodes of knowledge). The first fourteen, as already mentioned, are both dharmasthanas and vidyasthanas (abodes of dharma as well as abodes of knowledge).
The dharmasthanas and vidyasthanas are together commonly known as the sastras. The word "sastra" means an order or commandment. We speak of a royal "sasana", meaning a royal "edict". There is a chapter in the Mahabaharaaata in which Bhisma expounds the ordinances of dharma to Yudhisthira and it is called "Anusasana-parva". Aiyanar is called "Sasta" because he keeps the hosts of Siva under his control (through his orders ). Works on sastras incorporate the ordinances that are calculated to keep us disciplined and ensure that we tread the right path.
While all the fourteen sastras are basic and authoritative texts, the Vedas are their crown. Just as Buddhism, Zoroastrianism (Zarathustrianism), Christianity and Islam have the Tripitaka, the Zend-Avesta, the Bible and the Qur'an respectively as their scriptures, we have the Vedas as our prime scripture.
Of the fourteen branches of learning the first four (the four Vedas) form the basis for the subsequent ten. Together they constitute the complete corpus of sastras on which our religion is founded.
Past Glory and Present Shame
The fourteen branches of learning were taught in our country from the remote past until the inception of British rule. Let me tell you something interesting about them. You must have read about the Chinese pilgrim Fahsien and Hsuan Tsang. The former visited India early in the fifth century A. D. and the latter in the seventh century A. D. They have both recorded impressions of their travels here and given particularly glowing accounts of the big universities of Nalanda and Taksasila. We learn about these institutions from archaeological investigations also. They were at the peak of their glory when Buddhism flourished in the country. It is noteworthy that syllabuses of both these universities included the caturdasa-vidya. Ofcourse Buddhist religious texts were also taught, but only after the student had learned the fourteen Hindu sastras. The reason : acquaintance with Vedic learning was a help to any religious community in acquiring knowledge and in character building. The Buddhists thus believed that education to be called education must include a course in the Hindu caturdasa-vidya.
In the South also these sastras we taught at gatikasthanas and other institutions established by the rajas of Tamil Nadu. In the copper-plate inscriptions, dated 868 A. D. , there is a reference to an educational institution at Bahur, between Cuddalore and Pondicerri, where it is stated that the fourteen vidyas were taught. Similarly, there was a school at Ennayiram, between Vizhupuram and Tindivanam, where the ancient sastras were part of the syllabus as evidenced by an inscription of Rajendra Cola (11th century). There are many more similar examples.
Nowadays considerable research is conducted into Tamil history. It has inspired stories and novels. However, nobody seems to have dealt with the information that I have gained from my own historical inquiries -- that the Tamil rulers supported the Vedas and sastras in a big way. There is much talk about the need for impartiality in all matters and about the importance of having a scientific outlook, but we do not see any evidence of it in practice. The Buddhists were opposed to the Vedas, but they believed that an acquaintance with the fourteen Hindu sastras was necessary to nurture the intelligence and shape the moral character of the students learning in their institutions. But people here who claim to have faith in our religion ( it does not matter thet they do nothing to promote our sastras) maintain silence about the work done by Tamil kings in the past in the cause of Vedic learning.
We have come to such a pass that, if we are asked about our vidyas, we can do no better than keep silent. Indeed we do not even know what is meant by "vidya". In all likelihood we think it to be jugglery, witchcraft or magic. Vidya and kala are the same. Kala means knowledge that waxes like the moon. Now most people think that "kala" means only dance.
we must no longer be ignorant of our sastras our indifferent to them and we must try to be true to ourselves. That is why I want to speak briefly about the fourteen--or eighteen--branches of learning. You must atleast learn their names.
Siksa, Vyakarana, Mimamsa, and Nyaya are among the fourteen sastras. You may find these subjects somewhat tiresome and think that they do not serve the Self in any way. But I ask you, what about all your daily activities? You take so much time to read the newspaper which has a whole page or two on sports. What purpose does it serve in your daily life? Or, for that matter, in your inward growth?
One day, some years ago, I happened to be in a certain town. It was noontime and, as I went out, I saw a big crowd in front of a shop. The radio was blaring out the news and I was told that the crowd had gathered to listen to it. I asked a passer-by what was so exciting about the news. He said that a cricket match was being played somewhere, some thousands of miles away across the seas in a far-off continent, and that the latest score was being announced.
The fact is that people are prepared to spend their time, money, and energy on things they fancy but are of no practical value to them. Now I ask you to take an intrest in our sastras. They are certainly more useful than cricket and such other things. They may not seem to bring you any direct spiritual benefit. While their ultimate purpose is to take us to the path of enlightenment, they are essential to our knowledge and to making us mature.
Knowledge is a treasure and it is a gift of the Lord. If you sharpen it with good education and the spirit of inquiry, the Ultimate Reality will be revealed to you in a flash. Man alone is the recipient of the divine blessing called speech. If it is used wisely he will have an abundance of good will. That is why so many sastras relating to speech like Vyakarana, Nirukta, Siksa have been developed. Everyone of you must have atleast a basic knowledge of these subjects.
The Root of our Religion
The Vedas -- Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvanaveda -- are the first four of the pramanas (authoritative texts) of our religion and also the most important. Of the remaining ten, six are Angas of the Vedas and four are Upangas.
Man possesses a number of angas or limbs. In the same way the Vedas personified -- the Vedapurusa -- has six limbs. ( It must be noted that the Vedas are also spoken of as Vedamatha, Mother Veda. ) The four Upangas, though not integral to the Vedas, are supporting limbs of the Vedapurusa. The Angas, as already stated, are six in number -- Siksa, Vyakarana, Chandas, Nirukta, Jyotisa and Kalpa. The four Upangas are Mimamsa, Nyaya, Purana and Dharmasastra.
The Vedas are fundamental importance; the Angas and Upangas derive their importance from them. Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Arthasasthra and Gandharvaveda are called Upavedas, subsidiary Vedas. Their connection with the prime scripture is thus obvious.
The Vedas must be learned along with the Angas and Upangas. Such a thourough study of the scripture is called "Sa-Anga-Upanga-adhyayana" (study of the Vedas with the Angas and Upangas). The term "sangopanga", which has come into popular usage, is derived from this. If a speaker deals with a subject thoroughly, whether it be politics or something else, we use the word "sangopanga" in describing his performance. The term refers to the ancient caturdasa-vidya (the six Angas plus the four upangas). We have totally forgotten the old system of education but our culture is so steeped in it that we still use the term (sangopanga) to refer to any full scale treatment or exposition of a subject. The inference is clear. That for centuries the Vedas, together with their Angas and Upangas formed such an intimate part of life in Tamil land that a term associated with this tradition, "sangopanga", is still used by the common people there. But the irony of it is that today we do not know even the names of these old sastras.
The Vedas form the core of our religion and are the direct authority for our dharma and for all our religious practices. They are our Bible, our Qur'"an, our Granth sahib. But, of course, the Vedas are far far older than these scriptures of other faiths. All of them originate from truths found in the Vedas. The very word "Veda" connotes what is authoritative. There is a practice of reffering to the Bible, the Quran and other scriptures as the "Christian Veda", "Mohammedan Veda", "Parsi Veda", "Sikh Veda" and so on. Christians in India refer to the Bible as "Satya-Veda".
It is rather difficult to speak about the Vedas as a topic. One does not know where to begin and how to conclude. It is a bewildering task. The magnitude of our scripture is such -- and such is its glory.
"Pramanam Vedasca", says the Apastamba Dharmasutra. The Vedas are indeed the sources of all dharmas as well as the authority on which they are founded. A book that has been cherished by the great men of th Tamil country from the earliest times is Manu-dharma-nul (Manusmriti). Throughout India, Manu's dharmasastra is held in the highest esteem. In Tamil Nadu there was a king who earned the name of "Manu-niti-kanda-Cola" for the exemplary manner in which he administered justice. Once a calf got crushed under the wheel of the chariot ridden by his son. The king was so fair and strict that, when the aggrieved cow, the mother of the calf, sought justice, he ordered his son to be crished to death under the wheel of the same chariot. For us "Manu-niti-sastra"(Manusmriti) is the authority on dharma. But does it claim that it is the authority for all dharma? No. "Vedo'khilo dharmamulam", says Manu, i. e. the Vedas constitute the root of all dharma. They prescribe the dharma for all time, he says.
We must obey the dictates of the Vedas. When we are asked to accept a statement without questioning it, it is customary to remark; "Is that the word of the Vedas? " This confirms the fact that the common people believe that the word of the Vedas, or their injunction, must be obeyed without being questioned. The "Vedavak" (the word or pronouncement of the Vedas) has been our inviolable law for thousands of years.
It is not possible to tell the age of the Vedas. If we say that an object is "anadi" it means that nothing existed before it. Any book, it is reasonable to presume, must be the work of one or more people. The Old Testament contains the sayings of several Prophets. The New Testament contains the story of Jesus Christ as well as his sermons. The Qu'ran incorporates the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. The founders of such religions are historical personalities and their teachings did not exist before then. Are the Vedas similarly the work of one or more teachers? And may we take it that these preceptors lived in different periods of history? Ten thousand years ago or a hundred thousand or a million years ago? If the Vedas were created during any of these periods they can not be claimed to be "anadi". Even if they were created a million years ago, it obviously means that there was a time when they did not exist.
Questions like the above are justified if the Vedas are regarded as the work of mortals. And, if they are, it is wrong to claim that they are "anadi". We think that the Vedas are the creation of the rsis, seers who were mortals. So it is said, at any rate, in the text book of history we are taught.
Also consider the fact that the Vedas consists of many "Suktas". Jnanasambandhar's Tevaram consists of number of patigams. And just as each patigam has ten stanzas, each sukta consists of a number of mantras. "Su+ukta"="sukta". The prefix "su" denotes "good" as in "suguna" or "sulocana". "Ukta" means "spoken" or "what is spoken". " Sukta" means "well spoken", a"good word" or a "good utterence" (or well uttered).
When we chant the Vedas in the manner prescribed by the Sastras, we mention the name of the seer connected with each sukta, its metre and the deity invoked. Since there are many mantras associated with various seers we think that they were composed by them. We also refer to the ancestry of the seer concerned, his gotra, etc. For instance, "Agastyo Maithravarunih", that is Agastya, son of Maithravaruna. Here is another : "Madhucchanda Vaisvamitrah", the sage Madhucchanda descended from the Visvamitra gotra. Like this there are mantras in the names of many sages. If the mantras connected with the name of Agastya were composed by him it could not have existed during the time of Mitravaruna; similarly that in the name of Madhucchandana could not have existed during the time of Visvamitra. If this is true, how can you claim that the Vedas are "anadi"?
Since the Mantras are associated with the names of sages, we make the wrong inference that they may have been composed by them. But it is not so as a matter of fact. "Apaurseya" means not the work of any man. Were the Vedas composed by one or more human beings, even if they were rsis, they would be called "pauruseya". But since they are called "Apauruseya" it follows that even the seers could not have created them. If they were composed by the seers they (the latter) would be called "Mantra-kartas" which means "those who 'created' the Mantras". But as a matter of fact, the rsis are called "Mantra-drastas", those who "saw " them.
When we say that Columbus discovered America, we do not mean that he created the continent : we mean that he merely made the continent known to the world. In the same way the laws attributed to Newton, Einstein and so on were not created by them. If an object thrown up falls to earth it is not because Newton said so. Scientists like Newton perceived the laws of Nature and revealed them to the world. Similarly, the seers discovered the Mantras and made a gift of them to the world. These Mantras had existed before the time of their fathers, grand fathers, great grand fathers,. . . . . . . . . But they had remained unknown to the world. The seers now made them known to the mankind. So it became customory to mention their names at the time of intoning them.
The publisher of a book is not necessarily its author. The man who releases a film need not be its producer. The seers disclosed the mantras to the world but they did not create them. Though the mantras had existed before them they performed the noble service of revealing them to us. So it is appropriate on our part to pay them obeisance by mentioning their names while chanting the same.
Do we know anything about the existance of the mantras before they were "seen" by the rsis? If they are eternal does it mean that they manifested themselves at the time of creation? Were they present before man's appearance on earth? How did they come into being?
If we take it that the Vedas appeared with creation, it would mean that the Paramatman created them along with the world. Did he write them down and leave them somewhere to be discovered by the seers later? If so, they cannot be claimed to be anadi. We have an idea of when Brahma created the present world.
There are fixed periods for the four yugas or eons, Krta, Treta, Dvapara and Kali. The four yugas together are called a caturuga. A thousand caturugas make one day time of Brahma and another equally long period is his night. According to this reckoning Bramha is now more than fifty years old. Any religious ceremony is to be commenced with a samkalpa("resolve") in which an account is given of the time and place of performance in such and such a year of Brahma, in such and such a month, in such and such a fortnight (waxing or waning moon), etc. From this account we know when the present Brahma came into being. Even if we concede that he made his appearence millions and millions of years ago, he can not be claimed to be anadi. How can then creation be said to have no begining in time? When creation it self has an origin, how do we justify to the claim that the Vedas are anadi?
The Paramatman, being eternal, was present even before creation when there was no Brahma. The Paramatman, the Brahman are the Supreme Godhead, is eternal. The cosmos, all sentient beings and insentient objects, emerge from him. The Paramatman did not create them himself : he did so through the agency of Brahma. Through Visnu he sustains them and through Rudra he destroys them. Later Brahma, Visnu, Rudra are themselves destroyed by him. The present Brahma, when he became hundred years old, will unite with the Paramatman. Another Brahma will appear and he will start the work of creation all over again. The question arises : Does the Paramatman create the Vedas before he brings into being another Brahma?
We learn from the Sastras that the Vedas has existed even before creation. Infact, they say, Brahma performed his function of creation with the aid of Vedic mantras. I shall be speaking to you about this later, how he accomplished the creation with the mantras manifested as sound. In the passage dealing with creation the Bagavatha also says that Brahma created the world with the Vedas.
Is this the reason (that Brahma created the world with the Vedic mantras) why it is said that the Vedas are anadi? Is it right to take such a view on the basis that both the Vedas and Isvara are anadi? If we suggest that isvara had made this scriptures even before he created the world, it would mean that there was a time when the Vedas did not exist and that would contradict the claim that they are anadi.
If we believe that both Isvara and the Vedas are anadi it would mean that Isvara could not have created them. But if you believe that Isvara created them, they cannot be said to be without the origin. Everything has its origin in Isvara. It would be wrong to maintain[according to this logic]that both Isvara and the Vedas have no beginning in time. Well, it is all so confusing.
What is the basis of the belief that the Vedas are anadi and were not created by Isvara? An answer is contained in the Vedas themselves. In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad(2. 4. 10) ---the Upanishads are all part of the Vedas---it is said that the Rg, Yajus and Sama Vedas are the very breath of Isarva. The word "nihsvasitam"is used here.
It goes without saying that we cannot live even a moment without breathing. The Vedas are the life-breath of the Paramatman who is an eternal living Reality. It follows that the Vedas exist together with him as his breath.
We must note here that it is not customory to say that the Vedas are the creation of Iswara. Do we create our own breath? Our breath exists from the very moment we are born. It is the same case with Iswara and the Vedas. We can not say that he created them.
When Vidyaranyaswamin wrote his commentary on the Vedas he prayed to his guru regarding him as Iswara. He used these words in his prayer : "Yasya nihsvasitam Vedah" (whose --that is Isvara's -- breath constitutes the Vedas). The word "nihsvasitam" occurs in the Upanishads also. Here too it is not stated that Iswara created the Vedas.
The Lord says in the Gita : "It is I who am known by all the Vedas "(Vedaisca sarvair aham eva vedyah). " Instead of describing himself as "Vedakrd" (creator of the Vedas), he calls himself "Vedantakrd" (creator of philosophical system that is the crown of the Vedas). He also refers to himself as "Vedavid" (he who knows the Vedas). Before Vedanta that enshrines great philosophical truths had been made know to mankind, the Vedas had existed in the form of sound, as the very breath of Isvara -- they were ( and are) indeed Isvara dwelling in Isvara.
The Bhagavata too, like the Gita, does not state that the Lord created the Vedas. It declares that they occured in a flash in his heart, that they came to him in a blaze of light. The word used on this context is "Sphuranam", occuring in the mind in a flash. Now we can not apply this word to any thing that is created a new, any thing that did not exist before. Bramha is the premordial sage who saw all the mantras. But it was the Parmatman who revealed them to him. Did he transmit them orally? No, says the Bhagavatha. The paramatman imparted the Vedas to Bramha through his heart : " Tene Bramha hrdaya Adikavaye" says the very first verse of that Purana. The Vedas were not created by the Parmatman. The truth is that they are always present in his heart. When he mearly resolved to pass on the Vedas to Bramha the latter instantly received them. And with their sound he began the work of creation.
The Tamil Tevaram describes Isvara as "Vediya Vedagita". It says that the Lord keeps singing the hymns of various sakas or recensions of the Vedas. How are we to understand the statement that the "Lord sees the Vedas"? Breathing itself is music. Our out-breath is called "hamsa-gita". Thus, the Vedas are the music of the Lord's breath. The Thevaran goes on : "Wearing the sacred thread and the holy ashes, and bathing all the time, Isvara keeps singing the Vedas". The impression one has from this description is that the Lord is a great "ghanapathin". Apparsvamigal refers to the ashes resembling milk applied to the body of Isvara which is like coral. He says that the Lord "chants" the Vedas, " sings " them, not that he creates ( or created ) them. In the Vaisnava Divya Prabandham too there are many references to Vedic sacrifices. But some how I donot remember any reference in it to the Lord chanting the Vedas.
In the story of Gajendramoksa told by the Puhazhendi Pulavar ( a Tamil Vaishnava saint - poet), the elephant whose leg is caught in the jaws of the crocodile cries in anguish. "Adimulame" [vocative in Tamil of Adimula, the Primordial Lord]. The Lord thereupon appears, asking "What? " The poet says that Mahavisnu "stood before the Vedas" ("Vedattin mum ninran"). According to the poet the lord stood infront of the Vedas, not that he appeared at a time earlier than the scriptures. The Tamil for "A man stood at the door" is "Vittin mun ninran". So "Vedattin mun ninran" should be understood as "he stood at the comencement of all the Vedas". Another idea occurs to me. How is Perumal (Visnu or any other Vaisnava deity ) taken in procession? Preceeding the utsava-murthy ( processional deity) are the devotees reciting the Tiruvaymozhi. And behind the processional deity is the group reciting the Vedas. Here too we may say that the Lord stood before the Vedas ("Vedattin mun ninran").
In the visnava Agamas and puranas, Mahavisnu is refered to specially as "Yajnaswaroopin" ( one personifying the sacrifice) and as "Vedaswaroopin" ( one who personifies the Vedas). Garuda is also called "Vedaswarupa". But non of these texts is known to refer to Visnu as the creator of the Vedas.
It is only in the "Purusasukta", occuring in the Vedas themselves, that the Vedas are said to have been "born" "(ajayatha)". However, this hymn is of symbolical and allegorical signifcance and not to be understood in a literal sense. It states that the Parama-purusa (the Supreme Being) for sacrifice as an animal and that it was in this sacrifice that creation itself was accomplished. It was at this time that the Vedas also made their appearence. How are we to understand the statement that the Parama-purusa was offered as a sacrificial animal? Not in a literal sense. In this sacrifice the season of spring was offered as an oblation (ahuthi) instead of ghee : summer served the purpose of samidhs (fire sticks); autum havis (oblation). Only those who meditate on the mantras and become absorbed in them will know there meaning inwardly as a matter of experience. So we can not construe the statement literally that the Vedas were "born".
To the modern mind the claim that the breath of Isvara is manifested in the form of sound seems nonsensical, also that it was with this sound that Bramha performed his function of creation. But on careful reflection you will realise that the belief is based on a great scientific truth.
I do not mean to say that we must accept the Vedas only if they conform to present-day science. Nor do I think that our scripture, which proclaims the truth of the Paramatman and is beyond the reach of science and scientist, ought to be brought within the ken of science. Many matters pertaining to the Vedas may not seems to be in conformity with science and for that reason they are not to be treated as wrong. But our present subject -- how the breath of the Parmatman can become sound and how the function of creation can be carried out withit -- is in keeping with science.
Sound and Creation
This Chapter must be read in conjunction with Chapter 8, Part 3 and Chapter 13 of this part.
What is sound? According to modern science, it is vibration. "If you examine the core of an atom you will realise that all matter is one. " This Advaitic conclusion is arrived at according to nuclear science and the concepts of Einstein. All this world is one flood of energy (sakti); everything is an electromagnetic flow. But how do we account for the manifestation of different objects? It is to be attributed to different type of vibrations.
Where there is vibration there is a sound. Conversely, to produce a sound the vibration corresponding to it must also be created. The scientific concept that the different vibrations of the same energy are the cause of creation is the same as the belief that world was created with the breath of the Paramatman manifesting itself as the sound of the Vedas.
Consider human beings and other creatures. What is it that determines their health and feelings? The breath that passes through our nadis, blood vessels, during respiration produces vibrations and on them depends the state of our health. Those who keep their breathing under control through the practice of yoga are healthy to an amazing degree. They do not bleed even if their veins are cut. They are able to remain buried in the earth in samadhi stopping their pulse and heartbeat. They are not poisoned even if they are bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion. The reason is that they keep the vibrations of the nadis under control during breathing.
Breath is vital not only to the body but also to the mind. The mind which is the source of thought and the vital(pranik) energy that is the source of breath are the same. Healthy or unhealthy thoughts are to be attributed to different vibrations of the nadis. You may test this for youself. See for yourself how you breathe when you are at peace before the sanctum of a deity or in the presence of a great and wise person and how you breathe when your mind is quickened by desire or anger. The happiness you experience when you take part in something divine, like a bhajan or atemple festival, must be different from the pleasure that sensual gratification gives you: the vibrations of the nadis concerned will also be correspondingly different.
When you experience joy of an elevated kind the passage of breath will be through the right nostril, but when you are enjoying sensual pleasure it will be through the left. When you meditate, with increasing concentration, on the Reality Serene which is the source of all your urges and feelings, the breath will pass through both nostrils slowly, evenly and rhythmically. When you are absorbed in the object of your meditation breathing itself will cease, but there will still be life. The great awareness called jnana will then be in bloom as it were.
The inert body of a man and the awareness that is the vital essence of his life are both dependent on the course of his breathing. They grow or decay according to it. The course of a man's breath keeps his inner vibrations in order.
Is it not from the Paramatman that so many countless inert objects and so many sentient beings have originated and grown? The movements appropriate to these should have also occured in the Ultimate Object that is the Paramatman.
Even according to non-dualism, the Brahman that is utterly still and is unconditioned and has no attributes (nirguna) manifests itself in the countless disguises of this cosmos with the power of Maya, Maya that cannot be described. Disguises or no disguises, we have to concede the existence, in a mundane sense, of the inert world and of the sentient beings. But we must remember that even Maya has its source in Isvara who is "Mayin". But the power of Maya apart, all that we see have arisen from the vibrations in the Object called the Parabrahman. At the same time, with all these vibrations, this Object remains still and tranquil inwardly. This stillness not withstanding, there are movements that are apparent to our perception. They are not disorderly movements but constitute a system embracing vast heavenly bodies like the sun at one end and the tiniest of insects on the other or even something as humble as a blade of glass.
It is this orderliness that goes to make worldly life happy. The Paramatmam has created this by bringing all powers of nature within an orderly system. But if you sometimes see flaws in it and the natural forces going against us, it is because he likes to be playful now and then.
The human mind can go astray to any length. Indeed it keeps wandering aimlessly like a globin or an imp. Whatever the extent to which cosmic life is orderly, it (the human mind) breaks free from all control and runs about like a mad dog.
When the powers of nature are unfavourable to us, is there a way to change their behaviour and make them favourable to us? Is there also a means by which our mind could be brought under control when it goes haywire? If everything is caused by vibration, by sound, there must be a way of making the forces of nature favourable to us and of purifying our mind and bringing it under control through this very sound. The Vedas constitute such sound.
By controlling our breath through the practice of yoga, it is possible to gain access to the breath of the Paramatman and by this means perform such actions as can uplift our own Self as well as mankind. Here the vibrations of the nadis do not produce the sound that is audible to us. Science tells us that there are sounds outside the range of human hearing in the same way as there is light that does not pass through the lens of the human eye.
However, it is possible to bring within us (within our reach) that which is without. When a musician sings on the radio, the sound of his music is converted into electromagnetic waves which travel through space. But how do we hear music? The receiving set captures the electromagnetic waves and reconverts them into sound waves.
(Science is not opposed to religion. It seems to me that it even helps in the growth of religion. A century ago, before the radio and the telephone were invented, it would not have been easy to counter the arguments of an atheist who dismisses claims made on behalf of the sound of the Vedas as absurd. Now the discoveries of science have come to our rescue. )
It is possible for humans to earn the power of energy possessed by such an inert object as the radio set. Indeed we can earn much more, do much more. It is tapas, ascetic endeavour, that will give us such energy. What is tapas? It is the determination to find the truth: it is keeping the mind one-pointed in this search, forsaking food, sleep, home, everything. But when you are a seeker like this, you must remain humble and erase the least trace of egoism in you. You must realise that the truth you seek will be revealed to you only with the grace of Isvara. The sages performed austerities in this manner and attained to the highest plane of yoga. They could perceive the vibrations in creation, that is the course taken by the breath of the Supreme Godhead. Besides, they also knew them as sound capable of being heard by the human ear in the same manner as electric waves converted into sound waves. It is these sounds that they have passed on to us the mantras of the Vedas.
The Vedas are called "Sruti. " That which is heard is Sruti. "Srotra" means the "ear". The Vedas have been handed down orally from generation to generation and have not been taught or learned from any written text. That is how they got the name of "Sruti". Why were these scriptures not permitted to be written down? Because the sound of the Vedas cannot be properly transcribed. There are sounds or phonemes that cannot be accurately represented in any script. For instance, the one between "zha" and "la". Such sounds have to be learned by listening. Besides there are svaras for Vedic mantras (tonal variations, proper accentuation):"udatta" (raised syllable), "anudatta"(lowered syllable) and "svarita"(falling syllable). Mistakes in enunciation are likely even if diacritical or some other marks are used in the printed text. Wrong chanting will not bring the desired results. There is much difference in the vibrations caused by pronouncing a syllable laying stress on it and pronouncing it without any stress. Correspondingly, there will be changes in our feelings and urges and the divine forces that rule nature. There is a story in the Taittiriya Samhita of the Vedas which illustrates how wrong chanting can produce results contrary to what is intended. Tvasta, the divine carpenter, chanted a mantra with the object of begetting a son who would be the slayer of Indra. But he went wrong in the intonation of some syllables. So, unwittingly, he prayed for a son who would be slain by Indra instead of one who would slay that celestial. And his prayer (that had gone wrong in the intonation) was answered. When the wavelength shifts even minutely on our radio we receive the broadcast of a different transmitting station. Fine-tuning has to be done to get the required station. So is the case with the intonation of Vedic mantras. There should not be the slightest mistake in the svaras. Just as we receive a different station on our radio when the wavelength is changed, so the result is different when we go wrong in the intonation.
This is the reason why it is of the utmost importance to learn the Vedas by listening - hence the name "Sruti", in Tamil "Ezhutakkilavi" (unwritten old text). Another explanation occurs to me for the name "Sruti". The sages heard, did they not, the sound of the divine vibrations that cannot be perceived by the common people? Did they read the Vedas in any book or did they compose them themselves? Sruti is an apt name for the Vedas since they were made known to the world after they had been first heard by the sages.
The Vedic seers have the name of "mantra-drastas" --a "drasta" is one who sees. In Tamil it is "parppavan". "Parppan" also means the same thing. If the sages "saw" the mantras it would mean that they did not "hear" them. Which of the two versions is correct? Did the sages see the mantras or did they hear them? If they saw them, in what script did they appear? There was no script at the time, neither Devanagari nor Grantha nor Brahmi, the basis of all. But, then, the sound of Vedas, their svaras, cannot be truly written down in any script.
The answer to this problem is that when the sages were meditating the mantras of the Vedas appeared to them in a flash in their hearts. It may be that in this state of theirs they could neither see nor hear anything. The mantras must have appeared in a flash in the inner recesses of their minds.
"Seeing" or "looking" does not denote merely what is perceived by the eye. It is a term that covers a variety of perceptions and experiences. When we say that a man has "seen" all sorrows in his life, does the term "seen" imply only what he "saw" with his eyes? Does it not mean what he has "experienced"? The term "mantra-drasta" also could be taken in a similar manner as referring to what is perceived through experience. It is further believed that the sages were able to hear the Vedas with their divine ears.
Arjuna wished to see the Lord's cosmic form (visvarupa). The Gita has it that Krsna Paramatman said to him: " You will not be able to see my cosmic form with this eyes of yours. I will give you a celestial eye. . . . . "
Just as Arjuna was endowed by the Lord with a divine eye, the sages must have been invested with celestial ears to grasp the sound emanating from the Paramatman and pervading the vast space.
The vibrations of the Vedas serve the purpose not only of creation and the conduct of life. There are indeed Vedic mantras that help us to transcend this life and become one with the Ultimate Truth. When a man returns by the same way as he comes, does he not arrive at the starting point? In the same way when we go seeking how creation came about, we are led to the point where there are no vibrations, no movements, where there is utter stillness. Some mantras that create vibrations in our nadis accomplish the same noble task of taking us to such a goal. Such are the Upanisadic mahavakyas and Pranava.
In sum, the Vedas are not anyone's compositions. The sages did not create them, nor were inscribed by the Paramatman on palm-leaves.
Western Vedic Research
In the present sorry state in which the nation finds itself it has to learn about its own heritage like the Vedas from the findings of Western soholars called "orientalists" and from Indians conducting research on the same lines as they. I concede that European scholars have made a very valuable study of the Vedas. We must be thankful to them for their work. Some of them like Max Muller conducted research out of their esteem for our scriptures. They took great pains to gather the old texts and published volume after volume incorporating their findings.
Two hundred years ago Sir William Jones, who was a judge of the Calcutta high court, started the Asiatic Society. The number of books this institution has published on Vedic subjects should arose our wonder. With the help of the East India Company, Sir William published the Rgveda with the commentry of Sayana and also a number of other Hindu works. Apart from Englishmen, indologists from France, Germany and Russia have also done outstanding work here. "The discovery of the Vedas of the Hindus is more significant than Columbus's discovery of America, " thus exclaimed some indologists exulting in their findings.
These foreigners discovered Vedic and Vedantic texts from various parts of the country. They translated the dharma-, grhya- and srauta - sutras. The Kundalini Tantra gained importance only after Arthur Avalon had written extensively on it. A number of Westerns have contributed studies of other aspects of our culture also. It was because of the Protection of Ancient Monuments Act that came into force during the viceroyalty of Lord Curzon that our temples and other monuments were saved from vandals. Fergusson took photographs of our artistic treasures (sculptures) and made them known to the world. Men like Cunningham, Sir John Marshall and Mortimer -Wheeler did notable work in Indian archaelogy. It was because of the labours of Mackenizie who gathered manuscripts from various parts of India that we come to know about many of our sastras. The department of epigraphy was started during British rule.
We suffered in many ways at the hands of the British but it was during their time that some good was also done. But this good was not unmixed and had undesirable elements in it. The intention of many of those who called themselves orientalists or indologists was not above reproach. They wanted to reconstruct the history of India on the basis of their study of the Vedas and, in the course of this, they concocted the Aryan- Dravidian theory of races and sowed the seeds of hatred among the people. Purporting to be rationalists they wrongly interpreted, in an allergorical manner, what cannot be comprehended by our senses. In commenting on the Vedas they took the view that the sages were primitive men. Though some of them pretended to be impartial, their hidden intention in conducting research into our religious texts was to propagate Christianity and show Hinduism in a poor light.
A number of Westerners saw the similarity between Sanskrit and their own languages and devoted themselves to comparative philology.
We may applaud European indologists for their research work, for making our sastras known to a wider world and for the hard work they put in. But they were hardly in sympathy with our view of the Vedas. What is the purpose of these scriptures? By chanting them, by filling the world with their sound and by the performance of rites like sacrifices, the good of mankind is ensured. This view the Western indologists rejected. They tried to understand on a purely intellectual plane what is beyond the comprehension of the human mind. And with this limited understanding of theirs they printed big tomes on the Vedas to be preserved in the libraries. Our scriptures are meant to be a living reality of our speech and action. Instead of putting them to such noble use, to consign them to the libraries, in the form of books, is like keeping living animals in the museum instead of in the zoo
Date of the Vedas : Inquiry not Proper
The idea that the Vedas are eternal does not fit into the mental outlook of Western indologists. Their claims to impartiality and to conducting research in a scientific manner notwithstanding, they are not prepared to accord an elevated status to the Hindu texts. Many Hindu research scholars have also found themselves unable to accept the view that the Vedas are eternal.
Modern historians have adopted chiefly two methods to determine the date of the Vedas: the first is based on the astronomical references in the scriptures and the second on the morphology of the language of the same. But have they, using either method, come to any definite conclusion? Each investigator has arrived at a different age. Tilak has assigned the date 6000 B. C to the Vedas. According to some others it is 3000 B. C or 1500 B. C.
There is no difference of opinion among historians about the dates of the scriptures of other religions. They are agreed that the Buddhist Tripitaka was written during the time of Asoka but that the teachings of the Buddha included in it belong to an earlier time. There is similar unanimity of view in that the New Testament is 2000 years old. And all are agreed that the Qur'an was composed 1, 300 years ago. In the case of Vedas alone have historians not arrived at a decisive date.
I mentioned that two methods were adopted in reckoning the age of the Vedas. There are references in these scriptures to the position of certain heavenly bodies. The date of the Vedas, fixed at 6000 B. C. or so, is based on an astronomical conjunction mentioned in them.
But is it right to say that such an astronomical conjuntion would not have occured earlier too? Conjunctions similar to the one on the basis of which the date of 6000 B. C. has been arrived at must have occured not only before the present creation, but even far far earlier. Which of these is to be taken as the one mentioned in the Vedas? The sages had a vision that could penetrate through the eons. So such calculations will not hold in the case of the Vedas which the great sages brought together with their trans-sensual powers of perception. We find thus that the internal astronomicl "evidence" found in the Vedas and made much of by modern researchers does not help in fixing their date.
The second method is linguistic. Here we have to consider not only the language but also the script. Brahmi is tha source of all the scripts in use today in most parts of the country. Devanagari and the Tamil scripts may seem totally unrelated, but the fact is otherwise. A study has been conducted on the changes the Brahmi script has undergone during all these centuries on the basis of the edicts found throughout the land. A chart made from the results of this study shows that the scripts in use today in different parts of the country, though seemingly unrelated, were evolved from the original Brahmi. An amusing thought occurs to me that the scripts prevelent today are Brahmi letters with moustaches and horns. Something like a moustache affixes itself to the middle of Brahmi letters. The Devanagari (u and u) appear similarly formed. Many letters of the Tamil alpbabet look like Brahmi letters that have sprung horns. From the edicts and inscriptions we can find out with some precision the period taken for each alteration in the script. It is in this manner that the dates of some edicts have been determined.
The Vedas, however, have never been inscribed on stone anywhere. So there is no question of our fixing their date on the basis of any of the scripts. Other aspects of language have to be considered in this context. The morphology of words and the character of their sound keep changing with time. Many Tamil words belonging to the Sangam period have changed thus. It is a phenomenon common to all languages. An erosion takes place in the case of some sounds. Sometimes their meaning also does not remain the same. Take the Tamil word " veguli": it means a "simpleton", but earlier it meant "anger" or " an angry man ". In the old days the Tamil "manda " did not mean "dead": a Tamil scholar told me that it meant "famous". Such instances are to be met with in Sanskrit also. We do not understand the Vedas the same way as later poetical works in Sanskrit. Compared to other languages such changes are not numerous in our own tongues. Even an Englishman cannot follow one line of Anglo-Saxon English (Old English) which is only 1, 000 years old. In the course of about 3000 years English has changed so much in America as to merit a name of its own, "American English".
The period over which a phoneme changes its character has been calculated. But the time taken for a change in the meaning of a word has not been determined with the same definiteness. Scholars have tried to fix the date of the Vedas by examining the character of the sound of their words. " Every two hundred years the sound of a word undergoes such and such a change, " observes one authority of linguistics. " A Vedic sound, in the form we know it today, is the result of a number of mutations. If it has undergone ten mutations, it means that the Vedas are 2, 000 years old. Or, if thirty, they are 30x 200 = 6, 000 years old, which would mean [according to this logic] that our scripture did not exist before 4000 B. C" We hear such views expressed frequently.
One example would be enough to prove how wrong such a basis of calculation is to fix the date of the Vedas.
We have so many utensils at home. We use some of them more often than others. The bell-metal in which cook rice morning and evening has to be washed twice a day. So it wears faster. Supposse we have another vessel, quite a big one, an "anda" for instance. It is kept in the store room and not used except perhaps during a wedding or some other festive occasion. Since it is washed only at infrequent intervals it does not wear as fast as the bell-metal vessel which we perhaps bought as recently as last year. The anda must have come as part of grandmother's dowry and must be very old. Even so, it does not show any sign of wear. Are we to infer that the bell-metal pot was bought before the anda? The dinner-plate and the rose water sprinkler came together as your daughter-in -law's dowry. In ten years, the plate has gone out of shape but the sprinkler retains its glitter and polish.
The same is the case with the sounds of words of everyday speech on one hand and the Vedic words on the other, the difference between them being similar to that between the two types of vessels mentioned above. Words in common daily use undergo erosion in many ways. Though the Vedas are chanted everyday special care is taken to preserve the original sound of their words. I shall tell you later about the Vedangas, Siksa and Vyakarana and about how a system was devised by our forefathers to preserve the sound of each Vedic syllable from undergoing any mutation. The Vedic sounds are not subject ot erosion like the utensils in daily use or the words in common speech. They are like the anda which, though old, is well preserved.
Modern indologists have also put forward the view that the Rgveda is the oldest of the Vedas, that the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda came later ( in that order). They also believe that in each recension or sakha of a particular Veda, the Samhita is the oldest part, the Brahmana and Aranyaka being of later origin. They try to fix the date of these different texts on the basis of the differences in their language. Also they have carried out research into how certain words used in the Vedas are seen in a different form in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the works of poets like Kalidasa.
The linguistic research conducted by these indologists will not yield true results because they ignore the basic differences that I have pointed out between the sound of the Vedas and that of other works. The slight changes perceived today in certain Vedic sounds, despite all the care taken to preserve them in the original form, could not have come about in 200 years but over some thousands of years. If you realise that the "wear and tear" we speak of cannot apply to the Vedas but may be to other works or to spoken languages, you will agree that to fix the date of the Vedas, as modern indologists have tried to do, is not right.
Hindi is only some centuries old. However, since it is spoken in a large area and contains Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian words, it has changed in a comparatively short period. Tamil, though spoken in a smaller region, has not changed so much. Even so you will not understand Kamban's Ramayana to the same extent as you will the songs of Tayumanavar. As for Jnanasambandhar's Tevaram itself you will not understand it as easily as Kamban's Ramayana. And then there is the Thirumurugarrupadai which is more difficult than the Tevaram. So Tamil has also not remained the same all these centuries. Though Sanskrit was known all over India it was not a spoken language like Hindi or Tamil. It was a literary language and has not changed even to the extent Tamil has. As for the Vedas, they have been preserved with greater care than the poetical works and it is rarely that you see changes in them. So, according to linguistic experts, if it takes 1000 years for certain changes to occur in other languages, it should take 100, 000 years for the same in the Vedas.
The Vedas have been preserved with the utmost care in the firm belief that the mantras will be efficacious only if each syllable is chanted with precision so far as its sound and textual correctness are concerned. It was for this purpose that a separate caste was assigned with the mission of caring for them. Research conducted without realising this truth will not serve any purpose. Modern investigations have not succeeded in establishing that the Vedas are not eternal. Faith in the belief that they are anadi will be strengthened if you appreciate the care with which they have been preserved during all these ages and also consider the different ways in which their sound has been kept alive.
Methods of Chanting
Our forefathers devised a number of methods to preserve the unwritten Vedas in their original form, to safeguard their tonal and verbal purity. They laid down rules to make sure that not a syllable was changed in chanting, not a svara was altered. In this way they ensured that the full benefits were derived from intoning the mantras. They fixed the time taken to enunciate each syllable of a word and called this unit of time or time interval "matra*"uot; . how we must regulate our breathing to produce the desired vibration in a particular part of our body so that the sound of the syllable enunciated is produced in its pure form: even this is determined in the Vedanga called Siksa. The similarities and differences between the svaras of music and of the Vedas are dealt with. So those differences between the sounds voiced by birds and animals on the one hand and the Vedic svaras on the other. With all this the right way is shown for the intonation of Vedic mantras.
A remarkable method was devised to make sure that words and syllables are not altered. According to this the words of a mantra are strung together in different patterns like "vakya", "pada", "karma", "jata", "mala", "sikha", "rekha", "dhvaja", "danda", "ratha", "ghana".
We call some Vedic scholars "ghanapathins", don't we? It means they have learnt the chanting of the scripture up to the advanced stage called "ghana". "Pathin" means one who has learnt the "patha". When we listen to ghanapathins chant the ghana, we notice that he intones a few words of a mantra in different ways, back and forth. It is most delightful to the ear, like nectar poured into it. The sonority natural to Vedic chanting is enhanced in ghana. Similarly, in the other methods of chanting like karma, jata, sikha, mala, and so on the intonation is nothing less than stately, indeed divine. The chief purpose of such methods, as already mentioned, is to ensure that even not even a syllable of a mantra is altered to the slightest extent. The words are braided together, so to speak, and recited back and forth.
In "vakyapatha" and "samhitapatha" the mantras are chanted in the original (natural) order, with no special pattern adopted. In the vakyapatha some words of the mantras are joined together in what is called "sandhi". There is sandhi in Tamil also; but in English the words are not joined together. You have many examples of sandhi in the Tevaram, Tiruvachakam, Tirukkural, Divyaprabandham and other Tamil works. Because of the sandhi the individual words are less recognisable in Sanskrit than even in Tamil. In padapatha each word in a mantra is clearly separated from the next. It comes next to samhitapatha and after it is kramapatha. In this the first word of a mantra is joined to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth, and so on, until we come to the final word.
In old inscriptions in the South we find the names of some important people of the place concerned mentioned with the appellation "kramavittan" added to the names. "Kramavittan" is the Tamil form of "kramavid" in the same way as "Vedavittan" is of "Vedavid". We learn from the inscriptions that such Vedic scholars were to be met throughout the Tamil country.
In jata patha, the first word of the mantra is chanted with the second, then the order is reversed-the second is chanted with the first. Then, again, the first word is chanted with the second, then the second with the third, and so on. In this way the entire mantra is chanted, going back and forth. In sikhapatha the pattern consists of three words of a mantra, instead of the two of jata.
Ghanapatha is more difficult than these. There are four types in this method. Here also the words of a mantra are chanted back and forth and there is a system of permutation and combination in the chanting. To explain all of it would be like conducting a class of arithmetic.
We take all kinds of precautions in the laboratory, don't we, to protect a life-saving drug? The sound of the Vedas guards the world against all ills. Our forefathers devised these methods of chanting to protect the sound of our scripture against change and distortion.
Samhitapatha and padapatha are called "prakrtipatha" (natural way of chanting) since the words are recited only once and in their natural order. The other methods belong to the "vikrtipatha" (artificial way of chanting) category. (In krama, though the words do not go in the strict natural order of one-two-three, there is no reversal of the words-the first after the second, the second after the third, and so on. So we cannot describe it fully as vikrtipatha). Leaving out krama, there are eight vikrti patterns and they are recounted in verse to be easily remembered.
Jata mala sikha rekha dhvaja dando ratho ghanah
Ityastau-vikrtayah proktah kramapurva maharsibhih
All these different methods of chanting are meant to ensure the tonal and verbal purity of the Vedas for all time. In pada the words in their natural order, in krama two words together, in jata the words going back and forth. The words tally in all these methods of chanting and there is the assurance that the original form will not be altered.
The benefits to be derived from the different ways of chanting are given in this verse.
Samhitapathamatrena yatphalam procyate budhaih
Padu tu dvigunam vidyat krame tu ca caturgunam
Varnakrame satagunam jatayantu sahasrakam
Considering that our ancestors took so much care to make sure that the sound of the Vedas did not undergo the slightest change, it is futile for modern researchers to try to establish the date of our scriptures by finding out how the sounds of its words have changed.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)