We must not distrust the belief that the Vedas are not the work of mere mortals. Followers of other religions too ascribe divine origin to their scriptures. Jesus says that he merely repeats the words of God and, according to Muslims, the prophet speaks the words of Allah. What we call "apauruseya" is revealed text in their case. The word of the Lord has come through the agency of great men to constitute religious texts.
Whatever our field of work, must be dedicated to it with one-pointedness of mind for its truths to be revealed. They say that such truths come to us in a flash. A professor told me that the Theory of Relativity occurred to Einstein in a flash, that he knew it intuitively. If we accept such claims, how can we dismiss the belief that Vedas are not the work of mortals, that they revealed themselves to the seers in their heart-space, seers who were inwardly pure?
The Vedas are Infinite
If the cosmos of sound (sabda-prapanca) enfolds all creation and what is beyond it, it must naturally be immensely vast. However voluminous the Vedas are, one might wonder whether it would be right to claim that they embrace all activities of the universe. "Anantah vai Vedah", the Vedas themselves proclaim so (the Vedas are endless). We cannot claim that all the Vedas have been revealed to the seers. Only about a thousand sakhas or recensions belonging to the four Vedas have been revealed to them.
Brahma, the Creator, alone knows the Vedas in their entirety. Before the present Brahma there was a great deluge and, preceding it, there was another Brahma. And, similarly, before him too there must have been another Brahma. But through all these vast vistas of time, through successive deluges, the vibrations caused by the Paramatman's breath have existed in space, the vibrations that urged the first Brahma to do the work of creation. These vibrations are indestructible. The Brahma who appears after each great deluge performs his function of creation with them.
The sounds we produce are never destroyed. I remember reading that what Jesus Christ spoke 2, 000 years ago could still be recaptured in his own voice and that efforts are being made for the same. I don't know how far these efforts have succeeded. But I do know that there does exist such a possibility (of receiving a voice or sound from the past). We know that a sound, once it is produced, remains in space without ever being destroyed.
Brahma created this world with the sound of the Vedas and this sound is not destroyed even during a great deluge. We build a village or town with stone, earth, timber, iron, etc. All these materials are derived from the will of the Paramatman, from his thought, from the vibrations that are his will or thought. Brahma saw the sounds corresponding to these vibrations as the Vedas and the chanted them and brought all the world into existence.
We often see reports in the newspapers of trees flowering or fruiting in abundance in response to the vibrations of certain sounds. Some vibrations have also the effect of stunting the growth of plants. Here is proof of the fact that sound can create, sustain and destroy.
Brahma could create the universe with the sound of the Vedas because of his power of concentration. A siddha can cure a sick man if he intones the Pancakasara mantra - the mantra that we mutter every day - and applies holy ashes to the patient's body. He is able to do it because he has greater power of concentration than we have. If the mantra is to be efficacious it has to be chanted without any tonal error whatsoever. Only then will it bring the desired result. Brahma had the power of concentration to the full since he came into being as an "instrument" for creation.
Much could be accomplished from the void of space through electricity. From the spiritual reality called the Nirguna Brahman (the unconditioned Brahman without attributes) emanates everything. During the deluge, this spiritual reality goes to sleep. Take the case of a sandow. When he is asleep his strength is not evident. But when we see him wrestling with an opponent we realise how strong he is. Similarly, during the time of creation, the spiritual reality is revealed to perform manifold functions. From the Nirguna Brahman comes a flow of energy to perform such functions. Brahma came into being as a part of this flow. Since he was all tapas all concentration, he could grasp all the Vedas with his extraordinary power. He created the world with their sound. The Vedas are infinite and so too creation takes forms that are countless.
The great sage Bharadvaja kept chanting the Vedas over three lifetimes. Paramesvra appeared before him and said to him: "I will grant you a fourth life. What will you do during it? " The sage replied: "I will keep chanting the Vedas again. " It is not possible to learn the Vedas in the entirety even over many, many lifetimes. Paramesvra took pity on Bharadvaja for all his efforts to accomplish a task that was impossible to accomplish. Wanting to change his mind, Paramesvara caused three great mountains to appear, took a handful of earth and said to the sage: "The Vedas you have learned all these years are like this handful of earth. What you have yet to learn is vast, like these mountains. " It is believed that Vedagiri or Tirukkazhukkunram is the place where the Vedas appeared in the form of these mountains. When I was circumambulating the hill there, people accompanying me intoned instead, "Veda, Veda, Mahaveda".
The story of Bharadvaja occurs in the Kathaka of the Vedas. We learn from it that the Vedas are so infinite. The classification into the four Vedas and the one thousand or so recensions was a later development. Brahma came into being, his heart was filled with all Vedic sound. The Vedas showed him the way to perform his function of creation. he recognized that the sound of the Vedas pervaded everywhere. To him occur all Vedas. Only some mantras have revealed themselves to the sages and these constitute the Vedas that are our heritage.
At the time of chanting a mantra we usually mention the rsi associated with it, its chandas or metre and the name of the deity invoked. In the Telegu country they mention the three for all mantras. The sages learned the mantras with the power of concentration acquired through austerities. They were bestowed with celestial ears, so they could hear the mantras in space. It is said in the science of yoga that if our heart-space becomes one with the transcendent outward space we will be able to listen to the sounds in it. Only those who have attained the state of undifferentiated oneness of all can perceive them. It is in this way that the seers became aware of the mantras and made them known to the world. It must be remembered that they did not create them. They brought us immeasurable blessings by making the mantras known too us.
If someone offers us water form the Ganga(Ganga-tirtha, Gangajal) we receive it, prostrating ourselves before him. The man did not of course create the Ganga, but all the same reverence him in recognition of the fact that the must have travelled a thousand miles to bring us the few drops of the holy water. We cannot adore the seers sufficiently for their having made us the gift of the mantras which are beyond the grasp of our ears. That is why before canting a mantra we hold the sacred feet of the rsi concerned with our head.
The fourteen worlds constitute an immensely vast kingdom. It has an emperor and all living beings are his subjects. This kingdom as well as its ruler is eternal and it has its own laws. If the kingdom and the king-emperor are eternal, the law also must be so. This law is constituted by the Vedas. Though the kingdom, the cosmos, is called "anadi", it is dissolved and created again and again. The only eternal entities are the Paramatman and his law, the Vedas.
The world comes into being, grows and is dissolved in the deluge. Thus it alternates between being and non-being. The emperor and the law remain eternal. At the time of every creation the emperor, the Paramatman, also creates authorities or "officials" and invests them with the yogic power necessary for them to function. In the yoga sastra is taught the truth that one's ears are not to be differentiated from outward space. When we meditate on this truth we acquire a celestial ear. It is with this ear and with the grace of the Paramatman that the authorities appointed by him obtain the sound waves that are always present in outward space. They were the first to know the Vedas and they are the maharishis (the great seers or sages) of the mantras.
Vedic chanting is a mantrayoga. The vibration in each nadi creates certain feelings or urges in the consciousness. Sensual desire is aroused by some, sloth by some and sorrow by some others. To reverse this, when there is sensual desire there is a vibration in some nadis, and when there is anger there is vibration in some other nadis, and so on for each type of feeling or emotion or urge. We know this from actual experience. When we are at ease there is a special glow on our face and this glow is caused by some nadis being cool and unagitated. There is a saying "One's inner beauty is reflected outwardly on one's face". Our emotions cause their own reactions in our nadis. If we succeed in bringing the nadis under control we shall be masters of our urges and feelings. There will then be no need to depend on any external agency for the purpose.
One way of acquiring control over the nadis is the practice of Rajayoga of which pranayama is the most important feature. Mantrayoga is another. When we vocalize a syllable, the vital breath is discharged through the space intervening our throat, tongue, lips, the upper and lower parts of the mouth, etc. It is then that the syllable is voiced or the "aksara dhvani" produced. Vibrations are created in the nadis located in those parts of the body where the vital breath courses through as a consequence of the aksara-dhvani.
What are the Vedic mantras like in this context? Chanting them means only voicing such syllables as would cause beneficent vibrations of the nadis, beneficent vibrations that would produce such mental states as would lead to well being in this world and the hereafter and ultimately to liberation. No other type of vibration is caused by the chanting of the mantras.
What is a mantra? "Mananat trayate": that which protects you by being turned over again and again and again in the mind. By birth the Brahmin is invested with the duty of chanting mantras again and again and producing such vibrations in the nadis as would bring Atmic well being. Through the power of the mantras he must create this well-being not only for himself but also for all creatures.
How are the mantras to be chanted so that we may master them and derive the full benefit from them? But first let us consider the faulty ways of chanting.
Giti sighri sirahkampi tatha likhitapathakah
Anarthajno lpakanthasca sadete pathakadhamah
"Giti" means one who chants a mantra as he likes setting it to tune, as it were, like a raga. The Vedas must be recited only in accordance with the tones appropriate to them. " Sighri" is one who hurries through a hymn. To derive the full benefit from the mantra the right matras must be maintained in the chanting. "Sirahkampi" denotes one who keeps shaking his head as the chants. There must be a certain poise about the man who chants the Vedas. The nadi vibrations must be such as are naturally produced in the course of the intonation. There must be no other vibrations. If the head is shaken as in a music recital the nadi vibrations will be affected. The "likhitapathaka" is one who chants, reading from the written text. As I have said so often the Vedas must be taught and learned without the help of any written text. The "anarthanjna" is one who does not know the meaning (here one who does not know the meaning of what he chants). All those belonging to these six categories are described as "pathakadhamah" belonging to the lowest types among those who chant the Vedas.
Sound and Meaning
An interesting thought occurs to me here. In Sanskrit the suffix "taram" is used for the comparative degree. "Viryavat" means "strong", "Viryavat taram" means "stronger". It is said in the Chandogya Upanishad (1. 1. 10) that he who meditates on the truth of Omkara (Aumkara) with a knowledge of its meaning, will gain benefits that are "viryavat taram". The implication here is that those who practice such meditation without knowing the meaning will obtain benefits that are " viryavat". In his commentary on this Upanishad, Sankaracharya remarks that those who meditate on Omkara, even without grasping the principle behind it, will gain much benefit though it may not be the same measure as that gained by those who meditate on it knowing its meaning.
We may or may not know the meaning or significance of a religious rite, but we will be duly rewarded if we perform it in deference to great men who have urged us to do it or because we follow the example of our forefathers who have done it. What matters is the faith inspiring our action. This applies particularly to mantra upasana (worship through chanting mantras) more than to anything else. The reason is that in such worship the proper voicing of the syllables of the mantra and the vibrations created are what matter in bringing beneficial results. The meaning of the mantras comes later.
In this context it seems to me that performing a rite without knowing its meaning yields results that are "viryavat taram", that is more potent than performing it with a knowledge of its meaning (the benefits in the latter case are "viryavat"). The chanting of mantra, or the muttering of it, without knowing it's meaning, is also more rewarding than chanting or muttering it knowing the meaning. How?
A man sends a petition to the collector through his lawyer. Another man, an unlettered peasant, has his petition written by somebody else but he personally hands it to the collector. He requests the official to treat his case sympathetically. The latter is moved by the man's simple faith and decides to help him. If we approach the collector through a lawyer and if he takes it amiss, he might turn against us. Also, if he finds that we have knowingly committed a wrong, he will have greater reason too be displeased with us. But if he realises that we have committed a mistake unknowingly, he may be inclined to forgive us.
We must not refuse to perform a rite because we do not know it's meaning, nor must we ask why we should perform what is prescribed in the sastras. Conducting a ritual without knowing its significance, it occurs to me, is "viryavat taram".
You may take it that this observation of mine has not been made in any seriousness. But, when I see that intellectual arrogance and deceit are on the increase and that the ignorant are being deprived of their one asset, humility, it seems to me that doing things in mere faith is to be lauded.
You must, in fact, be intellectually convinced about the need to perform a religious duty and, at the same time, you must be humble. The mantras are the laws of the dharmasastras. If we knew their meaning we would be better able to live according to them.
The term "alpakantha" in the verse quoted above [in the previous chapter] means one who has a thin voice (one who chants the Vedas in a thin voice). The Vedic mantras must be intoned full-throatedly, sonorously and their sound must pervade space to the maximum extent possible.
The sound of the mantras does good to the man chanting them as well as to the listener by producing vibrations in the nadis of both. As it fills the air it will be beneficent both in this world and in the next. This is the reason why the Vedas must be chanted with vigour, so that their sound reaches the utmost limits possible.
The Glory of the Vedas
The Vedas are eternal and the source of all creations and their greatness is to be known in many different ways. As I have already stated, their sound produces in our nadis as well as in the atmosphere vibrations that are salutary not only to our own Self but to the entire world. Here we must understand "lokakshema" or our welfare of the world to mean the good of mankind as well as of all other creatures. This concern for all creation that finds expression in the Vedas is not shared by any other religion. "Sanno astu dvipadesancatuspade"-- this occurs in a mantra: the Vedas pray for the good of all creatures including bipeds, quadrupeds etc. Even grass, shrubs, trees, mountains and the rivers are not excluded from their benign purview. The happy state of all these sentient creatures and inert objects is brought about through the special quality of the Vedas.
The noble character of their sound apart, the Vedas are also notable for the lofty truths that find expression in the mantras. The tenets of these scriptures have aroused the wonder of the people of other lands, of other faiths. They are moved by the poetic beauty of the hymns, the subtle manner in which principles of social life are dealt with them, the metaphysical truths embedded and expounded in them, and the moral instruction as well as scientific truths contained in them.
Not all mantras that create benign vibrations are necessarily meaningful. In this context we have the example of the music. The alapana of a raga (the elaboration of a musical mode) is "pure" sound, that is, it has no words, but it is still is capable of producing emotions like joy, sorrow, etc. During the researches conducted by a university team, it was discovered that the vibrations created by the instrumental music quickened the growth of the plants and resulted in a higher yield. Here is a proof that the sound has the power of creation. Also to be noted is the fact that the instrumental music played to the plant does not obviously have any verbal contact--- this establishes that the sound has its own power.
The remarkable thing about the Vedas is that they are of immeasurable value as much for their sound as for their verbal content. While the sound has its creative power, the words are notable for the exalted character of the meaning they convey.
There are Tamil hymns of a very high order. To read them is to be moved by them; they touch our hearts with their intense devotion. But we have recourse only to a few of them for repeated incantation to expel a poison or to cure a disease. The authors of these hymns like Nakkirar, Arunagirinadhar and Sambandamurti have composed poems that are more moving and beautiful. But the sound of the hymns chosen for repeated incantation are potent like mantras. Among our Acharya's works are the Saundaryalahari and the Sivanandalahari. the recitation of each stanza of the Saundaryalahari brings in a specific benefit. The same is not said about the Sivanandalahari. The reason is the special mantrik power (of the sound) of the former.
There are mantras that are specially valuable for their sound but are otherwise meaningless. Similarly there are works pregnant with meaning but with no mantrik power. The glory of the Vedas is that they are a collection of mantras that are at once notable as much for the energising character of their sound as for the lofty truths they proclaim. A medicine, though bitter, does the body good, while some types of food, though delicious, do harm. Are we not delighted to have something like kusmanda-lehya, which is sweet to taste and is at the same time nourishing to the body? Similarly, the Vedas serve a two fold purpose: while they have the mantrik power to do immense good to each one of us and too the world, they also contain teachings embodying great metaphysical truths.
It must here be emphasised that on the doctrinal level the Vedas deal both with worldly life and the inner life of the Self. They teach how to conduct ourselves in such a manner as to create Atmic well-being. And their concern is not with the liberation of the individual alone; they speak about the ideals of social life and about the duties of the public. How the Brahmin ought to lead his life and how the king must rule his subjects and what ideals women are to follow: an answer to these-stated in the form of laws-is to be found in these scriptures. The Vedas indeed constitute the apex of our law-books.
Yajna or Sacrifice
I spoke about the glory of the Vedas, about the features that contribute to their greatness as a scripture. One such feature yet to be dealt with is yajna or sacrifice.
What is a yajna? It is the performance of a religious duty involving Agni, the sacrificial fire, with the chanting of the mantras. The word itself is derived from the root "yaj" meaning "to worship", to evince devotion. The performance of a yajna is meant to please the Paramatman and the various deities. Yajna is also called "yaga".
We have already seen the definition of the word "mantra" : "mananat trayate iti mantrah" (that which protects us by being repeated and meditated upon). "Tranam" means to protect. All of you must be familiar with the words in the gita: "paritranaya sadhunam" (to protect the virtuous). "Mananam" means repeating, turning over something in the mind. There is no need to vocalise the words of the mantra. Even if it is repeated mentally, healthy vibrations will be produced in the nadis. If the same --the Vedic mantra -- is chanted loudly ("Vedaghosa") it will give divine joy to the listeners even if they do not understand the meaning. Such a sound has the power to make mankind happy.
Mind, speech and body are dedicated to the Vedas when you mutter a Vedic mantra mentally and vocalise it outwardly during the performance of a rite involving the body. Of the Vedic rites of this kind yajna or yaga is the most important.
Not in Other Religions
The concept of yajna or sacrifice is not present in other systems of worship. There is a big difference between our religion, the "Vedic mata", and other faiths. Religions like Christianity and Islam speak of one God. The Vedas too proclaim that there is but one God and that even an ordinary mortal is to be identified with him. This Paramatman, this Godhead, is to be realised as an experience by constant inquiry conducted with our inner being. It needs much wisdom and maturity to attain this state. When we unite with this one and only Reality, all those world disappears for us.
How do we prepare ourselves for such a state? The answer is: now itself, when we are deeply involved in worldly affairs. In the very midst of our mundane existence we must live according to the dictates of dharma and the teachings of the sastras. In this way our consciousness will be purified. We will become mature within and will be severed from the world. The duties and rites that will take us to this goal are enshrined in the Vedas. The most important of the rites is yajna. There is a very old Tamil word for it - "velvi". In yajna, offerings are made to different deities instead of to the one and only Paramatman. This sacrament is unique to our religion.
In a yajna we are enjoined to offer various materials in the sacred fire with the recitation of mantras. Making such offerings in the sacrificial fire is called "homa". Though the materials are placed in the fire it does not mean that they are necessarily offered to Agni. Only such materials as are placed in the fire with the chanting of mantras invoking Agni himself are meant for that deity. But the oblations meant for other deities like Rudra, Vishnu, Indra, Varuna, Matarisvan(Vayu), and so on are also made in the holy fire. Agni conveys them to the deities invoked. Just as letters addressed to various people are put in the same letter-box, the oblations meant for various deities are conveyed through one devata, Agni.
An important difference between the Vedic religion and other faiths is this: while followers of other religions worship one God we worship many deities and make offerings to them in the sacrificial fire.
We often say, don't we, that the Lord is pleased if we keep helping one another? Reformists forsake puja and ritual, saying, "Serving people, serving the poor, is as good as serving God". We will receive the Paramatman's blessings if we serve the devas also through sacrifices, for they too are His creation.
The Vedas proclaim that the one Brahman, call it the Truth or Reality, is manifested as so many different devatas or deities. Since each devata is extolled as the Paramatman we know for certain that monotheism is a Vedic tenet. It is wrong to believe that the Vedas subscribe to polytheism merely because they speak of many deities. In doing so they mean that the one and only Brahman is revealed as many deities. It is for the conduct of the affairs of the cosmos that the Paramatman has created the various divine powers. These (divinities) dieties are also in charge of the forces of nature, the feelings and urges of man. The Supreme Godhead has created them in the same way as he has created us. He fashioned us out of himself - which means that he is that came to be so many human beings also.
This is the reason why non-dualism proclaims that the Paramatman and the jivatman (the individual self) are one and the same. In the same way, it is he who is manifested as the many deities. However, until we are mature enough to recognise the truth of non-dualism and realise it within, and until we reach the state in which we realise that we are not separate from the Paramatman, we have to perform rituals and help one another. In the same way the deities are also to be looked upon as separate entities and are to be worshipped through sacrifices. This is the law of the Vedas.
If we and all other creatures are to be happy in this world, we must have the blessings of the deities who govern the cosmic forces. It is for this purpose, to propitiate and please them for their grace, that the Vedas impose on us the duty of performing sacrifices.
If we attain jnana, the wisdom to realise within the oneness of all, there will be no need for these deities. We may worship the Paramatman directly. However, so long as we make efforts to find release from this pluralistic cosmos, we have to worship the deities as separate entities.
The Threefold Purpose of Yajna
The Vedic sacrifices have threefold purposes. The first is to earn the blessings of the deities so that we as well as all other creatures may be happy in this world. The second is to ensure that, after our death, we will live happily in the world of the celestials. But our stay in devaloka, the celestial world, is not for all time. It will last only until such time as we exhaust the merit earned by us in this world. The joy known in the celestial world is also not full or entire unlike the bliss experienced by great devotees and jnanins. It is nowhere equal to the bliss of the Atman: which is also described as "experiencing" Isvara.
Sankara has stated in his Manisa-Pancaka that the joy that Indra knows is no more than a drop in the ocean of Atma-ananda or the bliss of Self-realisation. However, life in svarga, the paradise of the celestials, is a thousand times happier than life on earth with its unceasing sorrows. The second purpose of performing sacrifices is to earn residence in this paradise.
The third purpose is the most important and it is achieved by performing sacrifices, as taught by the Gita, without any expectation of reward. Here we desire neither happiness in this world nor residence in paradise. We perform sacrifices only because it is our duty to invoke the blessings of the Gods for the welfare of the world. In this way our consciousness will be cleansed, a pre-requisite for enlightenment and final liberation. In other words the selfless performance of sacrifices means that we will eventually be dissolved in the Paramatman.
Sankara, who has expounded the ideals of Self-realisation and jnana, says: "Vedo nityam adhiyatam taduditam karma svanusthiyatam" (Chant the vedas every day. Perform with care the sacrifices and other rites they enjoin upon you). The Acharya wants us to conduct sacrifices not for happiness in this world, nor for the enjoyment of the pleasure of paradise. No, not for any petty rewards. Sankara exhorts us to carry out Vedic works without our hearts being vitiated by desire. This, according to his teaching, is the way to make our mind pure in order to realise the Self.
The Celestials and Mortals Help Each Other
The sacrifices, you will have seen, are of the utmost importance to our Vedic religion. The Lord himself has spoken about them in the Gita. When Brahma created the human species he also brought the yajnas or sacrifices into existence, bidding mortals thus: "Keep performing sacrifices. You will obtain all good fortune. May these sacrifices of yours be the cow (Kamadhenu) that grants you all you desire"
Saha-yajnah prajah srstva puro'vaca Prajapatih
Anena prasavisyadhvam esa vo'stvista-kamadhuk
If we assume that Brahma "created humans and with them sacrifices", it is likely to be construed that he first created human beings and then sacrifices. But actually it is stated in the Gita that Prajapati created yajna along with humankind (saha-yajnah prajah srstva). Yajna is mentioned first and then praja (mankind).
Since the mantras of the Vedas are the source of creation, the vibrations produced by chanting them will bring the divine powers invested with the authority of performing certain functions. To recite such mantras at a sacrifice is like writing the address on an envelope. It is by performing homa in this way that the oblation is conveyed to the deity invoked by Agni.
The dog is stronger than the cat, the horse stronger than the dog, the elephant stronger than the horse, and the lion stronger than the elephant. To extend this sequence, who are stronger than men? The devas, or celestials. While in this world they remain dissolved in the five elements, in the celestial world they exist in a visible form. Those who have obtained siddhi or perfection by chanting the mantras can also see them in their gross form in their celestial abode besides receiving their blessings in their subtle form. The gods emanated from the Paramatman as a result of the vibrations produced by the mantras. We may therefore describe the mantras as the "sonic" form of the deities.
The deity appears during a sacrifice when he is invoked with mantras. Those who are wise and mature will perceive them with their eyes. Even if they do not, the power of the deities will be subtly revealed to them. However, offerings cannot be made directly to them. When you write a letter you have to stick a stamp on it or put the seal of the registrar. According to the "regulations" of the Vedas, any oblation intended for the celestials must be offered in the sacred fire in a form acceptable to them.
What remains after the sacrificial fire has consumed the offering ("yajnasista") is taken as prasada by the performers of the sacrifice. The question is asked: how does the same reach the deities invoked? We should not entertain such doubts. The deities are not like us created of the five elements. So they do not require food in the gross form. Even in our case the food we eat is burned (digested) by the gastric fire. Its essence alone is conveyed to all parts of the body in the form of blood. The subtle essence of the offerings are conveyed by the sacrificial fire to the deities invoked.
You know how a toast is proposed to the guest of honour at a dinner or banquet. The host and invitees drink to his health. This means that, when a group of people drink or eat ceremonially, the benefit goes to someone else. Do you ask how this is possible? Such things can be explained only on the basis of a certain mental attitude. Good intentions and good thoughts have their own creative power.
When the thought waves of the Paramatman have come to us in the form of mantras, they must truly be pregnant with the utmost power for good. The offerings made to the deities with the chanting of mantras will increase their strength. The celestials are of course strong but they are neither almighty nor full. They too have their wants and desires and these are met by the sacrifices performed by us. If they help us by making our mundane existence happier we have to help them by performing sacrifices. If we conduct yajnas so that they may flourish, they will in return bless us with well-being. Sri Krsna says in the Gita:
Devan bhavayata'nena te deva bhavayantu vah
Parasparam bhavayantah sreyah param avapsyatha
Our religious texts are replete with accounts of how people have merited the grace of Isvara and pleased the celestials by performing sacrifices.
If the celestials bring us rains, bless us with food, health, etc, why should we perform sacrifices so as to provide them with food, we are asked. " Why should we feed the deities when we ourselves are dependent on them for our food and clothing? Why cannot they manage to obtain food on their own? How would you explain the Lord's statement (in the verse quoted above), 'Parasparam bhavayantah'? To say that we must regard the celestials as great beings and make obeisance to them seems reasonable enough. So let us worship them. But, instead of this, why are we seemingly elevated and placed on an equal footing with them? What is the meaning of our being told: 'You sustain them and let them sustain you - you feed them by performing sacrifices and let them bless you with rains'? "
When I consider such questions, it seems to me that the world of the celestials is like England and that they themselves are like Englishmen. Is there much agricultural land in England? No. Yet Englishmen lorded it over the world. They boasted: "The sun never sets on our empire. " What was the secret of their world dominance?
England is poor in food resources. It has plenty of coal and chalk - coal that is black and chalk that is white. These are the main resources of Englishmen but they cannot eat them. If machines and factories are to be installed in countries where food crops are grown in plenty, they will need a lot of coal and chalk. That coal is essential to industry is well known. (Petrol and electricity came later. Now there is atomic power also. ) For some industries like cement, chalk (limestone) is essential.
Englishmen thought up a shrewd plan. They induced other countries to start factories using machinery and fomented new, unnecessary desires among people there. And they sold lumps of coal and chalk to these countries and got in return foodgrains, cotton, etc, in abundance. In this way they brought country after country under their heel.
There are no agricultural lands in the celestial world. The vedas have no means to feed themselves. "Durbhiksam devalokesu manunam udakam grhe", so it is said in the first prasna (first part) of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. Rain is produced when the clouds precipitate. It is only on earth that rain can be made use of - it fills the rivers, lakes and wells. The celestials have to come to our households for water. On earth alone there is plenty because of cultivation carried on by irrigating the fields. There is famine in the celestial world since it has no agricultural land: this is the meaning of the words quoted from the Aranyaka.
However, we need the grace of the gods if we are to be blessed with rains. To deserve such grace we must perform sacrifices. Otherwise there will be no rains on earth. The result will be famine or the rain will fall into the sea and not on land, or it will be either ativrsti (too much rain) or anavrsti (no rain). We have to depend on the denizens of the celestial world to send us the right quantity of rain to create abundance on this planet.
Just as England has plenty of coal but does not have sufficient agricultural land, the celestials have an abundance of grace but no crops to grow - they cannot also sustain themselves with their power of grace. Because they send us rain we are able to raise crops and sustain ourselves. For our part we can enhance their power of grace by chanting the Vedas. The oblations offered in the sacrificial fire with such chanting become their nourishment.
Our country grows cotton. When our spinning mills did not prosper, the English took our cotton to Lancashire, made "nice" cloth and sold it to us, making in the process four times profit. The celestials produce rain for us from the water vapour formed from our own seas. But, unlike the English, they do not make any profit out of it (in the transaction). In fact the blessings they give us are far more than the sustenance we give them. As I said earlier, the celestials are much stronger than we are. The Lord has assigned us the duty of performing various rites and the celestials have to find satisfaction in them. By doing so, it seems, he has raised us to the level of the celestials. "Parasparam bhavayantah" he says in the Gita. The gods and mortals support each other.
The Capacity to Work and the Capacity to Protect
The Lord has endowed us with the capacity to work and the celestials with the capacity to protect. There is a similiar division of functions in this world also.
The field and the factory are associated with labour. The police station, the lawcourt and other offices have the function of protection. The administrative offices are meant to ensure that what is produced in the field and in the factory is made available to the households in an equitable manner. The offices do not "produce" anything, nor do they have any crops to harvest. They are free from the noise of the machines and from cowdung and dust. Those who work in an office need not make their hands aand nails dirty and can spend their time sitting comfortably on chairs with the fans whirling over them. There is hardly any bodily exertion-it is allpen-pushing. The celestial world is like this: it is the office that affords protection to all the worlds. We do not find fault with people who man offices for not ploughing the fields or operating the machines. If they start doing such work, they will not be able to do their duty of protecting us. The celestials resemble these officials.
The earth is the field as well as the factory. It is all slush and mud, all din and noise, and it is oily, sticky, dusty. We have to toil here all day long. Performing the rites according to the canons means suffering all this, like the smoke of the sacrificial fire, exhaustion due to fasting-indeed you have to sweat through the elaborate rites.
The Lord does not regard the celestials as belonging to a higher plane nor does he think that we mortals belong to a lower one. The peasant and the factory worker produce food and other articles. The official sitting stylishly in his cubicle will starve and will be denied essential goods but for the work done by the peasant and the factory hand. All the same, it is because of the protection afforded by the official that the corn harvested by the farmer and other essential articles produced by the factory worker are made available to all members of soceity.
The engineer gives the order to dig irrigation canals. The agricultural officer supplies pesticides. , Another official issues the license to start a factory. The government, which means also the police, assists in the just distribution of the goods manufactured by it. (It is for this purpose that the government is constituted, no matter how it functions in practice. ) Thus it is a system in which one is dependent on another. A contributes to B's happiness and B to A's.
It is against such a background that we have to consider the words of the Gita, "Parasparam bhavayantah". Though the devas look to us for our help, it must not be forgotten that they belong to a higher plane and that we must be respectful towards them.
In other religions the one God is worshipped directly by all. They do not have a system of sacrifices meant to please a number of deities. Among us, only sanyasins worship the Paramatman directly. Others have to please and propitiate the various deities and obtain well-being through their blessings. It is to please the deities that we perform a variety of sacrifices.
A big king is not directly approached by all. The subjects have their favours granted by the officials appointed by him. These officials do not function on their own; they look after the welfare of the people under royal orders. Some customs of our religion are reminiscent of such a system. Paramesvara is the supreme king-emperor. We, human-beings, are his subjects. Varuna, Agni, Vayu and such celestials are his officials. We have to obtain a number of benefits through them and we perform sacrifices with a view to enhancing their power to do us good. The oblations we make in the sacrificial fire constitute their food:"Agnimukhah devah".
We say "na mama" (not mine) when we offer any material in the sacred fire. Such an oblation is consumed by Agni aand conveyed to the celestials invoked. It is thus that they obtain their sustenance. In this way we also propitiate our fathers(pitrs), those belonging to our vamsa or clan. The Vedas contain directions about how rites meant for pitrs are to be performed.
Rites for Celestials and Rites for Fathers
The rites meant for the deities must be performed with devotion and those meant for the pitrs or fathers must be performed with faith. What is done with devotion is yajna and what is done with faith is sraddha. While performing the former, the sikha must be gathered into a knot and the sacred thread must rest on the left shoulder, and while performing the latter the sikha must be worn loose and the sacred thread must rest on the right shoulder.
The sikha and the sacred thread are meant for these two purposes. Sannyasins do not have either. When they renounce the world they also renounce the rites for the fathers and cease to worship a number of deities. They adore the Paramatman directly without any worldly desire in their hearts. The followers of other religions too wear neither a sikha nor a sacred thread and they worship the Supreme God directly [that is without going through the stages in which the various deities are worshipped].
Let me tell you about the two positions of the sacred thread while performing the rites for the celestials and the fathers. We must face the east as we conduct various rituals. The north is the direction in which we make the passage to the celestials. This path is called ""uttarayana". Our departed fathers reside in the south. The saint-poet Tiruvalluvar calls them "tenpulattar", those dwelling in the south. "Dakshinayana" is the way to the world of the fathers. Bhagavan Krsna speaks of the two paths in the Gita.
When we sit facing the east to perform rites for the pitrs, which shoulder is to the south? The right one. So the sacred thread must rest on it.
To do "pradakshina" means to go facing the south. (In majority of temples the raja-gopuram-the main entrance tower -is in the east. When you enter it and start circumbulating you will be facing the south. )
When we sit facing the east to perform rites for the gods our left shoulder is to the north. So the sacred thread must rest on it. When we are not engaged in either of these two rites- that is when we are doing our office work or something else- the sacred thread must not rest on either shoulder and must be worn like a garland. (No one seems to observe this rule in practice now. Except during the rites for the fathers, most people have their sacred thread resting on their left shoulder. )
The Purpose of Sacrifices
Why is it that religion alone has the rites called yajnas or sacrifices?
If a crop grows in surplus in our place we trade it with what is available in plenty in another and is not produced in our own. The carpenter, the blacksmith and other artisans make useful articles and serve us in many ways. In return we give them what they need for their upkeep. We feed the cow grass and it yields us milk. We pay the government taxes and it gives us protection. The affairs of the world are conducted on the basis of a system of exchange. Similarly, we conduct an exchange even with worlds other than our own. Engineers and other experts can canalise water obtained from the rains but they cannot produce the rains. If we want the rains to come, we have to despatch certain goods to the abode of the celestials. It is this kind of exchange that the Gita speaks of:
Devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah
Parasparam bhavayantah sreyah param avapsyatha
It means: " You keep the devas satisfied with the performance of sacrifices. And let them look after your welfare by producing rain on earth. Thus, helping each other, be more and more prosperous and happy. "
Is Sacrificial Killing Justified?
A yaga or sacrifice takes shape with the chanting of the mantras, the invoking of the deity and the offering of havis (oblation). The mantras are chanted (orally) and the deity is meditated upon (mentally). The most important material required for homa is the havis offered in the sacrificial fire-- in this "work" the body is involved. So, altogether, in a sacrificial offering mind, speech and body (mano-vak-kaya) are brought together.
Ghee (clarified butter) is an important ingredient of the oblation. While ghee by itself is offered as an oblation, it is also used to purify other sacrificial materials - in fact this is obligatory. In a number of sacrifices the vapa(fat or marrow) of animals is offered.
Is the performance of a sacrifice sinful, or is it meritorius? Or is it both?
Madvacharya was against the killing of any pasu for a sacrifice. In his compassion he said that a substitute for the vapa must be made with flour and offered in the fire. ("Pasu" does not necessarily mean a cow. In Sanskrit any animal is called a "pasu". )
In his Brahmasutra, Vyasa has expounded the nature of the Atman as found expressed in the Upanishads which constitute the jnanakanda of the Vedas. The actual conduct of sacrifices is dealt with in the Purvamimamsa which is the karmakanda of the Vedas. The true purpose of sacrifices is explained in the Uttaramimamsa, that is the jnanakanda. What is this purposse or goal? It is the cleansing of the consciousness and such cleansing is essential to lead a man to the path of jnana.
The Brahmasutra says: "Asuddhamiti cen na sabdat". The performance of sacrifices is based on scriptural authority and it is part of the quest for Self realisation. So how can it be called an impure act? How do we determine whether or not an object or an act is impure or whether it is good or bad? We do so by judging it according to the authority of of the sastras. Vyasa goes on to state in his Brahmasutra that animal sacrifice is not sinful since the act is permeated by the sound of the Vedas. What is pure or impure is to be known by the authority provided by the Vedas or rather their sound called Sabdapramana. If sacrifices were impure acts according to the Vedas, they would not have accepted them as part of the Atmic quest. Even if the sacrificial animal is made of flour (the substitute according to Madhvacharya) it is imbued with life by the chanting of the Vedic mantras. Would it not then be like a living animal and would not offering it in a sacrifice be taken as an act of violence?
Tiruvalluvar says in his Tirukkural that not to kill an animal and eat it is better than performing a thousand sacrifices in which the oblation is consigned to the fire. You should not take this to mean that the poet speaks ill of sacrifices.
What is in accordance or in pursuance of dharma must be practised howsoever or whatsoever it be. Here questions of violence must be disregarded. The Tirukkural says that it is better not to kill an animal than perform a thousand sacrifices. From this statement it is made out that Tiruvalluvar condemns sacrifices. According to Manu himself conducting one asvamedha (horse sacrifice) is superior to performing a thousand other sacrifices. At the same time, he declares that higher than a thousand horse sacrifices is the fact of one truth. If we say that one thing is better than another, the implication is that both are good. If the performance of a sacrifice were sinful, would it be claimed that one meritorious act is superior to a thousand sinful deeds? You may state that fasting on one Sivaratri is superior to fasting on a hundred Ekadasis. But would you say that the same is better than running a hundred butcheries? When you remark that "this rite is better than that rite or another", it means that the comparison is among two or more meritorious observances.
In the concluding passage of the Chandogya Upanishad whwre ahimsa or non-violence is extolled you find these words, "Anyatra tirthebhyah". It means ahimsa must be practised except with regard to Vedic rites.
Considerations of violence have no place in sacrifices and the conduct of war.
If the ideal of non-violence were superior to the performance of sacrifices, it would mean that "sacrifices are good but non-violence is better". The performance of a thousand sacrifices must be spoken of highly but the practice of non-violence is to be regarded as even higher: It is in this sense that the Kural stanza concerning sacrifices is to be interpreted. We must not also forget that it occurs in the section on renunciation. What the poet want to convey is that a sanyasin does better by abstaining from killing than a householder does by conducting a thousand sacrifices. According to the sastras also a sanyasin has no right to perform sacrifices.
There are several types of sacrifices. I shall speak about them later when I deal with "Kalpa" (an Anga or limb of the Vedas) aaand "Grihasthasrama" (the stage of the householder). What I wish to state here is that animals are not killed in all sacrifices. There are a number of yagnas in which only ghee (ajya) is offered in the fire. In some, havisyanna (rice mixed with ghee) is offered and in some the cooked grains called "caru" or "purodasa", a kind of baked cake. In agnihotri milk is poured into the fire; in aupasana unbroken rice grains (aksata) are used; and in samidadhana the sticks of the palasa (flame of the forest). In sacrifices in which the vapa of animals is offered, only a tiny bit of the remains of the burnt offering is partaken of - and of course in the form of prasada.
One is enjoined to perform twenty-one sacrifices. These are of three types:pakayajna, haviryajna and somayajna. In each category there are seven subdivisions. In all the seven pakayajnas as well as in the first five haviryajnas there is no animal sacrifice. It is only from the sixth haviryajna onwards (it is called "nirudhapasubandha") that animals are sacrificed.
"Brahmins sacrificed herds and herds of animals and gorged themselves on their meat. The Buddha saved such herds when they were being taken to the sacrificial altar, " we often read such accounts in books. To tell the truth, there is no sacrifice in which a large number of animals are killed. For vajapeya which is the highest type of yajna performed by Brahmins, only twenty-three animals are mentioned. For asvamedha (horse sacrifice), the biggest of the sacrifices conducted by imperial rulers, one hundred animals are mentioned.
It is totally false to state that Brahmins performed sacrifices only to satisfy their appetite for meat and that the talk of pleasing the deities was only a pretext. There are rules regarding the meat to be carved out from a sacrificial animal, the part of the body from which it is to be taken and the quantity each rtvik can partake of as prasada (idavatarana). This is not more than the size of a pigeon-pea and it is to be swallowed without anything added to taste. There may be various reasons for you to attack the system of sacrifices but it would be preposterous to do so on the score that Brahmins practised deception by making them a pretext to eat meat.
Nowadays a large number of animals are slaughtered in the laboratories as guinea-pigs. Animal sacrifices must be regarded as a little hurt caused in the cause of a great ideal, the welfare of mankind. As a matter of fact there is no hurt caused since the animal sacrificed attains to an elevated state.
There is another falsehood spread these days, that Brahmins performed the somayajnas only as a pretext to drink somarasa (the essence of the soma plant). Those who propagate this lie add that drinking somarasa is akin to imbibing liquor or wine. As a matter of fact somarasa is not an intoxicating drink. There is a reference in the Vedas to Indra killing his foe when he was "intoxicated" with somarasa. People who spread the above falsehoods have recourse to " arthavada" and base their perverse views on this passage.
The principle on which the physiology of deities is based is superior to that of humans. That apart, to say that the priests drank bottle after bottle of somarasa or pot after pot is to betray gross ignorance of the Vedic dharma. The soma plant is pounded and crushed in a small mortar called "graha". There are rules with regard to the quantity of essence to be offered to the gods. The small portion that remains after the oblation has been made, "huta-sesa", which is drunk drop by drop, does not add up to more than an ounce. No one has been knocked out by such drinking. They say that somarasa is not very palatable. .
The preposterous suggestion is made that somarasa was the coffee of those times. There are Vedic mantras which speak about the joy aroused by drinking it. This has been misinterpreted. While coffee is injurious to the mind, somarasa cleanses it. It is absurd to equate the two. The soma plant was available in plenty in ancient times. Now it is becoming more and more scarce: this indeed is in keeping with the decline of Vedic dharma. In recent years, the Raja of Kollengode made it a point to supply the soma plant for the soma sacrifice wherever it was held.
Animal Sacrifice in the Age of Kali
An argument runs thus: In the eons gone by mankind possessed high ideals and noble character. Men could sacrifice animals for the well-being of the world because they had great affection in their hearts and were selfless. They offered even cows and horses in sacrifice and had meat for sraddha. As householders, in their middle years, they followed the karmamarga (the path of works) and performed rites to please the deities for the good of the world. But, in doing so, they desired no rewards. Later, they renounced all works, all puja, all observances, to become sannyasins delighting themselves in their Atman. They were men of such refinement and noble character that, if their brother, a king, died heirless they begot a son by his wife without any passion in their hearts and without a bit detracting from their brahmacharya. Their only motive was that the kingdom should not be plunged in anarchy for want of an heir to the throne.
In our own Kali age we do not have such men who are desireless in their actions, who can subdue their minds and give up all works to become ascetics and who will remain chaste at heart even in the company of women. So it is contended that the following are to be eschewed in the Kali age: horse and cow sacrifices, meat in the sraddha ceremony, sannyasa, begetting a son by the husband's brother. As authority we have the following verse:
Asvalambham gavalambham sanyasam palapatrikam
Devarena sutotpattim kalau panca vivarjayet
According to one view "asvalambham" in this verse should be substituted with "agniyadhanam". If you accept this version it would mean that even those sacrifices in which animals are not killed should not be performed. In other words it would mean a total prohibition of all sacrifices. The very first in the haviryajna category is agniyadhana. If that were to be prohibited it would mean that, apart from small sacrifices called "pakayajnas", no yajna can be performed.
According to great men such a view is wrong. Sankara Bhagavatpada, whose mission in life was the re-establishment of Vedic dharma, did not stop with the admonishment that Vedas must be chanted every day ("Vedo nityam adhiyatam"). He insisted that rites imposed on us by the Vedas must be performed: " "Taduditam karma svanusthiyatam. " Of Vedic rites, sacrifices occupy the foremost place. If they are to be eschewed what other Vedic rites are we to perform? It may be that certain types of sacrifices need not be gone through in the age of Kali.
If, according to the verse, agniyadhana is interdicted, and no big sacrifice is to be performed in the age of Kali, why should gavalambha (cow sacrifice) have been mentioned in the prohibited category? If agniyadhana is not permissible, it goes without saying that gavalambha also is prohibited. So, apart from certain types, all sacrifices are to be performed at all times.
According to another verse quoted from the Dharmasastra, so long as the varnasrama system is followed in the age of Kali, in however small a measure, and so long as the sound of the Vedas pervades the air, works like agniyadhana must be performed and the sannyasasrama followed, the stage of life in which there is no karma. The prohibition in Kali applies to certain types of animal sacrifices, meat in sraddha ceremonies and begetting a son by the husband's brother.
The One Goal
Briefly told, a yajna is making an oblation to a deity in the fire with the chanting of mantras. In a sense the mantras themselves constitute the form of the deities invoked. In another sense, the mantras, like the materials placed in the fire, are the sustanence of the celestials invoked. They enhance their powers and serve more than one purpose. We pay taxes to the government. However, the various imposts - professional tax, land tax, motor vehicles tax, and so on - are collected by different offices. There are also different stamp papers for the same. Similarly, for each karma or religious work there is an individual deity, a separate mantra, a particular material, etc, but the ultimate goal of all these is dedication to the Supreme God. We know that different departments are meant for the same government. Similarly, we must realise that the sacrifices performed for the various deities have behind them one goal, the Paramatman.
The king or president is not personally acquainted with us who pay the taxes. But Paramesvara, the Supreme Monarch, knows each one of us better than we know ourselves. He also knows whether we pay the taxes properly, the taxes called sacrifices. Paramesvara cannot be decieved.
As mentioned before, for each sacrifice there are three essential requirements: the mantra, the material for oblation, and the deity to be invoked, the three bringing together speech, hand [body] and mind
Those who conduct Sacrifces
One who performs a yajna or sacrifice spending on the material and dakshina is called a "yajamana". "Yaj" (as we seen already) means to worship. The root meaning of "yajamana" is one who performs a sacrifice. In Tamil Nadu nowadays we refer to a "mudalali" as yajaman. It is the mudalali who pays the wages. So it is that we have given him the same place as the yajamana who pays dakshina in sacrifices. That even common folks refer to the mudalali as yajaman shows how deep-rooted the Vedic culture is in the Tamilland.
There is another word which also testifies to the fact that Tamil Nadu is steeped in the Vedic tradition. A place where people are fed free is called a "cattiram" by Tamils. In the North the corresponding word for the sameis "dharamsala"(dharmasala).
How would you explain the use of the word cattiram in the South? It is derived from "sattram" which is the name of a type of Vedic sacrifice. In other sacrifices there is only one yajamana who spends on the material and the dakshina. The priests recieve the dakshina from him and conduct the sacrifice on his behalf. In a sattra all are yajamanas. As we have mentioned earlier any sacrifice brings benefits to all mankind and also serves to cleanse the mind of all those who participate in it - even those who witness the rites are benefitted. But the merit accrues chiefly to the yajamana.
The speciality of a sattra is that all the priests conducting it are yajamanas. It is a kind of socialist yajna in which the merit is equally shared. From this type of sacrifice has originated the term signifying a place or establishment where anyone can come and eat as a matter of right. In a cattiram the one who feeds does not consider himself superior to the one who eats. There is reason to believe that satras had a special place in the tradition of Tamil Nadu.
Among the rtvik Brahmins there are three classes. The "hota"(hotr) chants the rks, the hymns from the Rgveda in praise of the deity, invoking the devata to accept the oblation. Because of the high place accorded to him in a sacrifice we hear even today the remark made with reference to anyone occupying a high position, " hota".
The Rgveda is replete with hymns to various deities. The Yajurveda contains mostly the methods and directions for the conduct of sacrifices. The Brahmin who looks after the conduct of the sacrifice is the "adhvaryu". The "udgata"(udgatr) intones the mantras of the Samaveda to please the deities. There is a Brahmin supervising the sacrifice and he is called the brahma.
The Vedas themselves are called "Brahma". That is why one who learns them (the student) is called a "brahmacharin". The supervisor of the sacrifice, brahma, performs his function in accordance with the Atharvaveda. Thus the hota, the adhvaryu, the udgata and the brahma represent the four Vedas in a sacrifice. In later times, however, the opinion emerged that the brahma is not connected with the Atharvaveda to the same extent as the hota, adhvaryu and udgata are connected respectively with the Rg, Yajur and Sama Vedas. In actual practice also we see that those taking part in sacrifices are conversant with the first three Vedas only and not with the Atharvaveda. For this reason the view is put forward that all sacrifices, from the somayaga to the asvamedha, are to be performed only on the basis of the Rg, Yajur and Sama Vedas.
There are sacrifices which come independently under the Atharvaveda. Acording to Valmiki's Ramayana, Indrajit performed the Nikhumbhila sacrifice mentioned in this Veda. The other three Vedas have a far wider following. Though we customarily speak of the four Vedas (Caturveda), the Rg, Yajur and Saman are bracketed together and specialy spoken of as "Trayi".
(There are three types of sacrifices mentioned in the Atharvaveda: "santikam" for peace; "paustikam" for strength; and " abhicharikam" to bring injury to enemies).
The Four Vedas
"Anantah vai Vedah", the Vedas are unending. The seers have, however, revealed to us only a small part of them but it is sufficient for our welfare in this world and next. We are not going to create many universes like Brahma that we should know all the Vedas. We need to know only as many as are necessary to ensure our good in this world.
In each of the four Vedas there are different "pathas" and "pathabhedas" or "pathantaras". The same musical composition or raga is sung in different "panis". For instance, the same musical composition or raga is expounded in different styles by, say, Maha-Vaidyanatha Ayyar, Konerirajaouram Vaidyanatha Ayyar and Sarabha sastri. Just as in some panis there are more sangatis to a composition than in some others, there are more suktas in some pathas than in others. There may also be differences in the order of the mantras.
Each pathantra or each version is called a sakha or recension. The various sakhas are branches of the Vedic tree, indeed a great tree like the Adyar banyan [in Madras]. The branches big and small belong to one or another of the four Vedas, Rg, Yajur, Saman and Atharvan.
Modern indologists are of the view that the Rgveda came first, that the Yajurveda came later and so on. But, according to our sastras, all Vedas are eternal. To state that one Veda belongs to a period prior to, or later than, another is not correct since all the Vedas are associated with the sacrifice that came to mankind with creation itself. The same argument holds good in the matter of fixing the dates of the divisions of any of the sakhas - the Samhita, the Brahmana and Aranyaka. The Vedas belong to a realm in which there is no scope for any research. If we believe that they were discovered by seers who knew past, present and future -- themselves, though, remaining in a state beyond time -- we will realise that it is meaningless to attempt to fix their date.
In the Rgveda itself the Yajurveda and the Samaveda are mentioned in a number of passages. In Purusasuktha occuring in the Rgveda (tenth mandala, 90th suktha) there is a reference to the other Vedas. We learn from this, don't we, that one Veda does not belong to a period prior to, or later than another?
I stated that each recension consisted of the Samhita, the Brahmana and the Aranyaka. When we speak of "Veda-adhyayana" (the study or chanting of the Vedas) we normally have in mind the Samhita part only. When we bring out a book consisting of the Samhita alone of the Rgveda we still call it the "Rgveda". The Samhita is indeed the very basis of asakha, its life-breath. The word means "systematised and collected together".
The Rgveda Samhita as all in the form of poetry. What came to be saled "sloka" in later times is the"rk" of the Vedas. "Rk" means a "stotra", a hymn. The Rgveda Samhita is made up entirely of hymns in praise of various deities. Each rk is a mantra and a number of rks in praise of a deity constitute a sukta.
The Rgveda, that is its Samhita, has 10, 170 rks and 1, 028 suktas. It is divided into ten mandalas or eight astakas. It begins with a sukta to Agni and concludes with asukta to the same deity. For this reason some believe that the Vedas must be described as the scripture of fire worship, a view with which we would be in agreement if Agni were believed to be the light of the Atman (the light of knowledge of the Reality). The concluding sukta of the Rgveda contains a hymn that should be regarded as having a higher significance than the national anthem of any country: it is a prayer for amity among all nations, a true international anthem. "May mankind be of one mind, " it goes. "May it have a common goal. May all hearts be united in love. And with the mind and the goal being one may all of us live in happiness. "
"Yajus" is derived from the word "yaj" meaning "to worship". "Yajna" (as we have already noted) is also from the same root. Just as "rk" means a hymn, "yajus" means the worship associated with sacrifices. The chief purpose of the Yajurveda is the practical application of the Rgvedic hymns in the religious work called yajna or sacrifice. The Yajurveda describes in prose the actual conduct of the rites. If the Rgveda serves the purpose of adoring deities verbally the Yajurveda serves the same purpose through rites.
The Yajurveda is different from the other Vedas in that it may be said to be divided into two Vedas which are considerably different from one another: the Sukla-Yajurveda and the Krsna-Yajurveda. "Sukla" means white, while "Krsna" means black. The Samhita of the Sukls-Yajurveda is also called "Vajasaneyi Samhita". "Vajasaneyi" is one of the names of the sun god. It was the sun god who taught this Samhita to the sage Yajnavalkya.
There is a long story about this, but let me tell it briefly. Before the time of Yajnavalkya, the Yajurveda was an undivided scripture. Yajnavalkya learned it from Vaisampayana. Later some misunderstanding arose between the two and the guru bade his student to throw up what he had taught him. Yajnavalkya did so and went to the sun god for refuge. The latter taught him a new Vedas, an addition to the scripture that is endless. That is how we came to have Vajasaneyi or Sukla-Yajurveda. The other Yajurveda already taught by Vaisampayana acquired the apellation of "Krsna", so "Krsna-Yajurveda"
In the Krsna-Yajurveda, the Samhita and the abrahmanas do not form entirely different parts. The Brahmanas are appended here and there to the mantras of the Samhita.
The glory of the Rgveda is that it is replete with hymns to all deities. Scholars are of the opinion, besides, it contains teachings for our life. The wedding rites are based on tht part of this Veda which pertains to the marriage of the daughter of the sun god. There are also passages of a dramatic character like the dialogue between Pururavas and Urvasi. In later times Kalidasa based one of his dramatic works on this [the Vikramorvasiyam]. The hymn to Usas, the goddess of dawn, and similiar mantras are considered to be of high poetic beauty by men of aesthetic discernment.
Since the Rgveda is placed first among the four Vedas it must naturally have an exalted position. It is the matrix of the works (karma) of the Yajurveda and the songs of the Samaveda.
The importance of the Yajurveda is that it systematises the karmayoga, the path of works. The Tattitiriya Samhita of the Krsna-Yajurveda deals with sacrifices like darsa-purnamasa, somayaga, vajapeya, rajasuya, asvamedha. Besides it has a number of hymnic mantras of a high order not found in the Rgveda. For example, the popular Sri Rudra mantras are from the Yajurveda. The Rgveda does contain five suktas known as "Pancarudra", but when we mention Sri Rudra we at once think of the mantras to this deity in the Yajurveda. That is why a supreme Saiva like Appayya Diksita laments that he was not born a Yajurvedin - he was a Samavedin.
Among the followers of the four Vedas, Yajurvedins predominate. The majority in the North(Brahmins) belong to the Sukla-Yajurveda while most people in the South belong to Krsna-Yajurveda. The day on which Yajurvedins perform their upakarma is declared a holiday. There is no such holiday for upakarma of Rgvedins and Samavedins. This is because Yajurvedins are in a majority. The Purusasukta of the Rgveda occurs with some changes in the Yajurveda. Today it is generally understood to be a Yajurvedic hymn.
For non-dualists, the Yajurveda has a special importance. A doctrine and its exposition consist of three parts: the sutra, the bhasya and the vartika. The sutra states the doctrine in a apophthegmatic form; the bhasya is a commentary on it; and the vartika is an elucidation of the commentary. To non-dualists the term "vartikakara" at once brings to mind Surasvaracharya. What is the commentary or bhasya for which he wrote his vartika? Sankara's bhasya on the Upanishads are to be regarded as sutras. He wwrote, in addition, a bhasya for the Brahmasutra also. His disciple Suresvara wrote a vartika on his master's commentaries. In this work he chose only two of the ten Upanishads for which Sankara had written his commentary - the Taittiriya Upanishad and the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. These two are from the Krsna and Sukla- Yajurvedas respectively, which means both are from the Yajurveda. Nother distinction of the Yajurveda is that of the ten Upanishads ("Dasopanishad") the first and the last are from it - the Isavasyopanishadnand the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.
"Sama" denotes that which brings equipoise or tranquillity to the mind. There are four well-known ways of dealing with an opponent or rival: sama, dana, bheda and danda. The first method is that of conciliation, making an enemy a friend through affection. THe Samaveda enables us to befriend the divine forces, even the Paramatman. How do we make a person happy? By praising him. If the panegyricis set to music and sung he would be doubly pleased. Many of the mantras of the Rgveda are intoned with a cadence in the Samaveda; thus we have Samagana. While the rks are chanted with the tonal differences of udatta, anudatta and svarita, the samans are intoned musically according to certain rules. Our music, based on the seven notes (saptasvara), has its origin in Samaveda. All deities are pleased with Samagana. We become recipients of their grace not only through the offerings made in the sacrificial fire but through the intoning of the samans by the udgata. Samagana is particularly important to soma sacrifices in which the essence of the soma plant is offered as oblation.
Though the samans are indeed Rgvedic mantras, they are specially capable of pleasing the deities and creating Atmic uplift because they are intoned musically. This is what gives distinction to the Samaveda. Sri Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita : "Vedanam Samavedosmi"(Of Vedas Iam samaveda). The Lord is everything, including good as well as bad. Even so, as he speaks to Arjuna about the things in which his divine quality specially shines forth, he mentions the Samaveda among them. In the Lalitha-Sahasranama (The One Thousand Names of the Goddess Lalitha), Amba has the name of "Samagana-priya (one who delights in Samagana); she is not called "Rgveda-priya" or "Yajurveda-priya". Syamasastri refers to the Goddess Minaksi as "Samagana-vinodhini" in one of his compositions. In the Siva-astottaram ["Siva astottara-satam, the 108 names of Siva], Siva is worshipped thus:"Samapriyaya namah" The Tevaram extols Siva as one who keeps chanting the Chandoga-Saman (Chandoga-Saman odum vayan). Appayya Dikshita has sought to establish that Isvara or Siva, Amba and Visnu are "Ratna-trayi" (the Three Gems) occupying the highest plane. And all three have a special relationship with Samaveda.
"Atharvan" means a purohita, a priest. There was a sage with this name. That which was revealed by the seer Athrvan is the Atharvaveda. It contains mantras with which one wards off misfortunes and disasters and brings about the destruction of one's enemies. The Atharvaveda is a mixture of prose and poetry. The mantras of other Vedas also serve the same purpose as those of the Atharvaveda. But what is special about the latter is that it has references to deities not mentioned in the others and has mantras addressed to fierce spirits. What has come to be known as "mantrikam" (magical rites) has its source in this Veda.
But it is to be noted that the Atharvaveda also contains mantras that speak of lofty truths. It has the Prithvi-sukta, the hymn to earth, which glorifies this planet with all its creatures.
The Atharvaveda is noteworthy for the fact that the brahma, the supervisor of sacrifices, is its representative. The Atharvaveda, that is its Samhita, is rarely chanted in the North and is not heard at all in the South. But we must remember that of the ten important Upanishads three belong to this Veda - Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya. It is believed that those who seek liberation need nothing to realise their goal other than Madukya Upanishad.
We learn from stone inscriptions that the Atharvaveda had a following until some centuries ago. Information about Vedic schools is provided by such inscriptions found near Perani, not far from Tindivanam, at Ennayiram and a place near Walajabad, in the neighbourhood of Kancipuram. Even during the reign of the later Colas the Atharvaveda was learned in the Tamil country.
There are eighteen divisions among the Brahmins of Orissa. One of them is made up of "Atharvanikas", that is Atharvavedins. Evev today Atharvavedins are to be met, though their number is small, in parts of Gujarat like Saurashtra and in Kosala( in U. P).
Gayatri is the mantra of mantras and it is believed to be the essence of the three Vedas - which means that the Atharvaveda is excluded here. According to one view, before he starts learning the Atharvaveda, a brahmacharin must go through a second upanayana ceremony. Generaly, the Gayatri imparted to a child at Brahmopadesa ceremony is called "Tripada- Gayatri" - it is so called because it has three padas or three feet. Each foot encompasses the essential spirit of one Veda, The Atharvaveda has a seperate Gayatri and if people belonging to other Vedas want to learn this Veda they have to go through a second upanayana to receive instruction in it. For the followers of the first three Vedas, however there is only one Gayatri and those belonging to any one of them can learn the other two Vedas without another upanayana.
To Discover The One Truth
All Vedas have one common goal though there are differences among their adherents. What is the goal? It is the well-being of the entire world and all creatures living in it, and the uplift of the Self of each one of us and its everlasting union with the Ultimate Reality.
We may take pride in the Vedas for another reason also. They do not point to a single way and proclaim, "This alone is the path" nor do they affirm, "This is the only God" with reference to their own view of the Supreme Being. Instead, they declare that, if one adheres to any path with faith or worships any deity with devotion, one will be led towards the Truth. The scripture of no other religion speaks thus of the many paths to liberation. On the contrary, each of them insists that the way shown by it alone will lead to liberation. The Vedas alone give expresion to the high-minded view that different people may take different paths to discover the one and only Truth.
Brahmana and Aranyaka
So far, in speaking of the Vedas, I have dealt mainly with the Samhita part of each sakha or recension. We have already seen that the Samhitas are the main text of the Vedas. Apart from them, each sakha has a Brahmana and an Aranyaka.
The Brahmana lays down the various rites - karma - to be performed and explains the procedure for the same. It interprets the words of the mantras occuring in the Samhita, how they are to be understood in the conduct of sacrifices. The Brahmanas constitute a guide for the conduct of yajnas.
The word "Aranyaka" is derived from "aranya". You must have heard of places like "Dandakaranya" and "Vedaranya". "Aranya"means a "forest". Neither in the Samhita nor in the Brahmana is one urged to go and live in a forest. Vedic rites like sacrifices are to be preformed by the householder (grhastha) living in a village. But after his mind is rendered pure through such rites, he goes to a forest as a recluse to engage himself in meditation. It is to qualify for this stage of vanaprastha, to become inwardly pure and mellow, that Vedic practices like sacrifices are to be followed.
The Aranyakas prepare one for one's stage in life as an anchorite. They expound the concepts inherent in the mantras of the Samhitas and the rites detailed in the Brahmanas. In other words, they explain the hidden meaning of the Vedas, their metaphorical passages. Indeed, they throw light on the esoteric message of our scripture. For the Aranyakas, more important than the performance of sacrifices awareness of their inner meaning and significance. According to present-day scholars, the Aranyakas incorporate the metaphorical passages representing the metaphysical inquires conducted by the inmates of forest hermitages.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, as its very name suggests, is both an Aranyaka and an Upanishad, and it begins with a philosophical explanation of the horse sacrifice.
The Upanisads come at the close of the Aranyakas. If the Samhita is the tree, the Brahmana the flower and the Aranyaka the fruit (i. e. in its unripe stage), the Upanishads are the mellow fruit - the final fruit or "phala". The Upanisads are to the seeker the direct means of realising the non-difference between the jivatman (individual self) and the Paramatman. The purpose of the Samhita and the Aranyaka is to take us to this path of knowledge. Though a number of deities are mentioned here and there in the Upanisads, the chief objective of these texts is inquiry into the Ultimate Reality and the attainment of the stage in which one becomes wise enough and mature enough to sever oneself from all karma. It is on this basis that the Vedas are divided into the karmakanda and the jnanakanda, the part dealing with works and the part dealing with knowledge [enlightenment]. The two are also spoken of as the Purvamimamsa and the Uttaramimamsa respectively.
The great sage Jaimini's sastra based on his inquiry into the karmakanda is called Purvamimamsa. His teaching is that the karmakanda, constituting the Vedic rites and duties, is itself the final fruit of the scripture. Similiarly, Vyasa has in his work, the Brahmasutra, inquired into the jnanakanda and come to the conclusion that it represents the ultimate purpose of the Vedas. The Upanisadic jnanakanda is small compared to the karmakanda. The Jaiminisutra has a thousand sections ("sahasradhikarani"), while Vyasa's Brahmasutra has only 192 sections. Just as the leaves of a tree far outnumber its flowers and fruits, in the case of the Vedic tree the karmakanda is far bigger than the jnanakanda.
In other countries philosophers try to apprehend the Truth on an intellectual plane. The Upanisadic inquiry is differnt, its purpose being to realise inwardly the Truth perceived by the mind or the intellect. Is it enough to know that halva is sweet? You must ecperience its sweetness by eating it. How are the Upanisads different from other philosophical systems? They (the Upanisads) consist of mantras, sacred syllables, and their sound is instinct with power. This power transforms the truths propounded by them into an inward reality. The philosophical systems of other countries do not go beyond making an intellectual inquiry. Here, in the Vedas - in the karmakanda - a way of life is prescribed for the seeker with actions and duties calculated to discipline and purify him. After leading such a life and eventually forsaking all action, all Vedic karma, he meditates on the truths of the Upanisads. Instead of being mere ideas of intellectual perception, these truths will then become a living reality. The highest of these truths is that there is no differnce between the individual self and the Brahman.
It is to attain this highest of states in which the individual self dissolves inseperably in the Brahman that a man becomes a sannyasin after forsaking the very karma that gives him inward maturity. When he is initiated into sannyasa he is taught four mantras, the four [principal] mahakavyas. The four proclaim the identity of the individual self (jivatman) with the Brahman. When these mahavakyas are reflected upon through the method known as "nididhyasana", the seeker will arrive at the stage of realising the oneness of the individual self and the Brahman. The four mahavakyas occur in four differnt Upanisads. Many are the rites that you have to perform, many are the prayers you have to recite and many are the ways of life you are enjoined to follow - all these according to the Samhitas and Brahmanas. But, when it comes to achieving the highest ideal, the supreme goal of man, you have no alternative to the Upanisads and their mahavakyas.
"The Brahman means realising the jnana that is the highest" (Prajnanam Brahma): this mahavakya occurs in the Aitareya Upanisad of the Rgveda. "I am the Brahman" (Aham Brahmasmi) is the mahavakya belonging to the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad of the Yajurveda. "That thou art" or "the Paramatman and you are the one and the same" (Tat tvam asi) is from the Chandogya Upanisad of the samaveda. THe fourth mahavakya, "This Self is the Brahman" (Ayam Atma Brahma), is from the Mandukya Upanisad of the Atharvaveda.
In his Sopana Pancaka, which contains the sum and the substance of his teachings, the Acharya urges us to chant the Samhitas (of the Vedas), perform the duties laid down in the Brahmanas and, finally, to meditate on the mahavakyas after recieving initiation into them, the purpose being our oneing with the Brahman.
The Vedas find their final expression in the Upanisads. Indeed, the Upanisads are called "Vedanta". They form the final part of the Vedas in two ways. In each recension we have first the Samhita, then the Brahmana which is followed by the Aranyaka, the Upanisad coming at the close of the last-mentioned. The Upanisads throw light on the meaning and the purpose of the Vedas and represent the end of the scripture in more than one sense: while their text forms the concluding part of the Vedas, their meaning represents the Ultimmate Truth of the same. A village or town has a temple; the temple has its gopuram; and the gopuram has a sikhara over it. The Upanisads are the sikhara, the summit, of our philosophical [and metaphysical] system.
"Upa-ni-sad" means to "sit near by". The Upanisads are the teachings imparted by a guru to his student sitting by his side [sitting at his feet]. You could also take the term to mean "that which takes one to the Brahman". "Upanayana" may be interpreted in two ways: leading a child to his guru; or leading him to the Brahman. Similiarly, the term Upanisad could also be understood in the above two senses.
If a student sits close to the teacher when he is recieving instruction it means that a "rahasya" (a secret or a mystery) is being conveyed to him. Such teachings are not meant to be imparted to those who are not sufficiently mature and who are not capable of cherishing their value. That is why in the Upanisads themselves these words occur where subtle and esoteric truths are expounded:"This is Upanisat. This is Upanisat". What is held to be a secret in the Vedas is called a "rahasya". In the Upanisads the term "Upanisat" is itself used to mean the same.
I said that every doctrine or system has a sutra (text consisting of aphoristic statements), a bhasya (commentary) and a vartika (elucidation of the commentary). The systems founded by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Srikantha (acarya of Saiva-Sidhanta) belong to Vedanta. All these acaryas cite the authority of the Vedas in support of their respective doctrines and they have chosen the same ten Upanisads to comment upon according to their different philosophical perceptions. The Upanisads are not in the form of sutras; yet for the Vedantic system they must be regarded as having the same "place" (or force) as the sutras.
How is a sutra to be understood? It must state truths in an extremely terse form. What is expressed in the least possible number of words to convey an idea or truth is a sutra, an aphorism. According to this definition the Upanisads cannot be said to be sutras. However, there does exist a basic text for all Vedantic schools in the form of sutras. This is the Brahmasutra.
In the Brahmasutra, on which there are commentaries according to the various philosophical schools, Vyasa presents in an extremely terse form the substance of the ten (principal) Upanisads. Since he dwelt under the badari tree (jujube) he came to be called "Badarayana" and his work became well-known as "Badarayana-sutra". Who or what is man (the individual self)? What is the nature of the world (jagat) in which he lives? And what is the truth underlying all this? The Brahmasutra, which is a basic text of all Vedantic schools, seeks to answer these fundamental questions. Vyasa does not project his personal views in his work. All he does is to make a penetrating study of the science of Vedanta that is already constituted by the Upanisads. Since it is an inquiry into the Upanisads which form the latter part of the Vedas, the Brahmasutra is called "Uttaramimamsa"
There are 555 sutras in the Brahmasutra which is divided into four chapters, each consisting of four padas (or "feet"). Altogether there are 192 sections or "adhikaranas" in it. The Brahmasutra is also called "Bhiksu-sutra" since it deals with sannyasa, the final goal of the seeker. And, because it is all about the Self in the body, it has another name, "Sariraka".
"Sutra" literally means a rope or string. The word occurs in the term "mangala-sutra", the thread worn by the bride at her wedding. Keeping the meaning of thread or string in mind, our Acarya has made a pun on the word in his commentary: "Vedanta-vakya-kusuma-grathanarthatvat sutranam". If the flowers that are Upanisads in the tree called the Vedas are strewn all over the earth, how can we gather them to make a garland? Our Acarya remarks that in the Brahmasutra the flowers are the Upanisads are strung together to form a garland.
All Hindu philosophical systems are based on the Brahmasutra, but the Brahmasutra itself is based on the Upanisads. That is why it has become customary to describe all Vedic schools of thought as "Upanisadic systems". When Westerners keep extolling our philosophy, chanting, "Vedanta! Vedanta!", they have in mind the Upanisads. If a person turns against the petty pleasures of this world and makes a remark suggestive of jnana, people tell him, "Arre, are you mouthing Vedanta? "
If the Vedas were personified as Purusa, the Upanisads would be his head or crown. That is why these texts are called "Sruti-siras".
Veda and Vedanta : Are They Opposed to One Another?
The rituals mentioned in the karmakanda of the Vedas are sought to be negated in the jnanakanda which is also part of the same scripture. While the karmakanda enjoins upon you the worship of various deities and lays down rules for the same, the jnanakanda constituted by the Upanisads ridicules the worshipper of deities as a dim-witted person no better than a beast.
This seems strange, the latter part of the Vedas contradicting the former part. The first part deals throughout with karma, while the second or concluding part is all about jnana. Owing to this difference, people have gone so far as to divide our scripture into two sections: the Vedas (that is the first part) to mean the karmakanda and the Upanisads (Vedanta) to mean the jnanakanda.
Vedanta it is that Lord teaches us in the Gita and in it he lashes out against the karmakanda. It is generally believed that the Buddha and Mahavira were the first to attack the Vedas. It is not so. Sir Krsna Paramatman himself spoke against them long before these two religious leaders. At one place in the Gita he says to Arjuna :"The Vedas are associated with the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. You must transcend these three qualities. Full of desire, they (the practitioners of Vedic rituals) long for paradise and keep thinking of pleasures and material prosperity. They are born again and again and their minds are never fixed in samadhi, these men clinging to Vedic rituals. " In another passage Krsna declares : "Not by the Vedas am I to be realised, nor by sacrifices nor by much study. . . . "
Does not such talk contradict all that I have spoken so far about the Vedas, that they are the source of all our dharma?
With some thinking we will realise that there is in fact no contradiction. Would it be possible for us, in our present condition, to go beyond the three gunas even to the slightest extent and realise the true state of the Self spoken of in the Upanisads? The purpose of the Vedic rituals is to take us, by degrees, to this state. So long as we believe that the world is real we worship the deities so as to be vouchsafed happiness. And this world, which we think is real, is also benefited by such worship. Thinking the deities to be real, we help them and in return we are helped by them. Living happily on this earth we long to go to the world of the celestials and enjoy the pleasures of paradise. So far so good. But if we stopped at this stage would it not mean losing sight of our supreme objective? Is not this objective, this goal, our becoming one with the Paramatman? Would it not be foolish to ignore this great ideal of ours and still cling to mundane happiness?
In our present state of immaturity it is not possible to think of the world being unreal. Recognising this, the Vedas provide us the rituals to be performed for happiness in this world. Because of our inadequacies we are unable to devote ourselves to a formless Paramatman from whom we are not different. So the Vedas have devised a system in which a number of deities are worshipped. But, in course of time, as we perform the rituals and worship the deities, we must make efforts to advance to the state of wisdom and enlightenment in which the world will be seen to be unreal and the rites will become unnecessary. Instead of worshipping many deities, we must reach the state in which we will recognise that we have no existence other than that of our being dissolved in the Paramatman. We must perform Vedic sacraments with the knowledge that they prepare us to go to this state by making our mind pure and one-pointed.
If we perform rituals with the sole idea of worldly happiness and carry on trade with the celestials by conducting sacrifices (offering them oblations and receiving benefits from them in return), we will never come face to face with the Truth. Even if we go to the world of the celestials, we will not be blessed with Self-realisation. Our residence in paradise is commensurate with the merit we earn here and is not permanent. Sooner or later we will have to return to this world and be in the womb of a mother. The ritual worship and other sacraments of the Vedas are to some extent the result of making an adjustment to our present immature state of mind. But their real purpose is to take us forward gradually from this very immature state and illumine us within. It would be wrong to refuse to go beyond the stage of ritual worship.
If, to begin with, it is not right to refuse all at once to perform Vedic rites, it would be equally not right, subsequently, to refuse to give them up. Nowadays, people are averse to ritual to start with itself. "What? " they exclaim. "Who wants to perform sacrifices? Why should we chant the Vedas? Let us go directly to the Upanisads. " Some of them can speak eloquently about the Upanisads from a mere intellectual understanding of them. But none has the inward experience of the truths propounded in them and we do not see them emerging as men of detachment with a true awareness of the Self. The reason for this is that they have not prepared themselves for this higher state of perception through the performance of rituals. If this is wrong in one sense, refusal to take the path of jnana from that of karma is equally not justifiable.
If one has to qualify for the B. A. degree one has to begin at the beginning - one has to progress from the first standard all the way to the degree course. One cannot naturally join the B. A. class without qualifying for it. At the same time, is it not absurd to remain all the time as a failure in the first standard itself?
In the old days there were many people belonging to the latter category (that is people who refused to take the path of knowledge and wished to remain wedded to the path of karma). Now people belonging to the former category predominate (that is those who want to take the path of jnana, without being prepared for it through karma). During the time of Sri Krsna also the majority clung to rituals. His criticism is directed against them, against those who perform Vedic sacraments without understanding their purpose and who fail to go beyond them. Unfortunately, this is mistaken for criticism of the Vedas themselves. The Lord could never have attacked the Vedas per se. After all, it was to save them that he descended to earth again and again.
In keeping with his times, Krsna Paramatman spoke against people who confined themselves to the narrow path of karma. If he were to descend to earth again to teach us, he would turn against those who plunge into a study of the Upanisads, spurning Vedic rites. It seems to me that he would be more severe in his criticism of these people that he was against those who were obsessed with karma.
Graduating to the Upanisads without being prepared for them through the performance of Vedic rites is a greater offence than failure to go along the path of jnana from that of karma. After all, to repeat what I said before, on has to go through the primary and secondary stages of education before qualifying for admission to college. The man who insists on being admitted to the B. A. class without qualifying for it is not amenable to any suggestion. The one who wants to remain in the first standard learns at least something; the other type is incapable of learning anything.
The Vedas and Vedanta are not at variance with one another. The karmakanda prepares us for Vedanta or the jananakanda. The former has to do with this world and with many deities and its adherents are subject to the three gunas. But it is the first step to go beyond the three gunas and the sever oneself from worldly existence. If we perform the rites laid down in the karmakanda, keeping in mind their true purpose, we shall naturally be qualifying for the jnanakanda.
Some questions arise here. The sound of the Vedas and the sacrifices benefit not only the person who chants the Vedas and performs the sacrifices but all creatures. If such a man (that is like the one who learns the Vedas and conducts sacrifices) renounces the world thinking it to be unreal and becomes a jnanin, what will happen to the world, to its welfare? Even if you think that the world is unreal, it is real in the sense that it is the cause of so much suffering. The jnanin does not perform any rites like sacrifices so as to rid the world of its troubles. Who will then work for the welfare of the world?
The answer: the jnanin is an exalted state of awareness and while being in it he does not have to perform any sacrifices or other rites to ensure the good of the world. His life itself is a sacrifice, a yagna, and through him the world will receive the Lord's blessings even if he looks upon it as unreal or a "sport" of the Supreme Being. Whey do people flock to a jnanin? Why do they fall at his feet even if he keeps himself aloof from them? It is because they receive his grace. Whether or not he wants to give any blessings, the Lord's grace flows into this world through him. In his very presence people feel tranquil and, sometimes, even their worldly desires are satisfied. A jnanin who realises within that there is no deity apart from himself can give his blessings in greater measure than the deities themselves. So it is wrong to think that, since he does not perform sacrifices, he does not do anything for the good of the world.
Followers of other faiths are mistaken in their view of Hinduism. they separate the Vedantic system from the Vedic system of sacraments and observe: "To the Hindus what matters is individual salvation. They ignore the wellbeing of the world. Meditation, yoga, samadhi are a means of individual liberation. Hindus are unlike the followers of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammed because they do not preach love and brotherhood nor do they promote the growth of social consciousness among themselves. "
One who has a proper understanding of our religion will recognise that it is wrong to divide Hinduism into two compartments, the Vedic religion and the Vedantic. As a sannyasin in the final stage of his life a man becomes a Vedantin and jnanin and merits liberation for himself. But we must remember that he leaves behind him another stage of life in which he has worked for the welfare of the world by chanting the Vedas and by performing rituals. Indeed it was because of this work that he became mentally pure and qualified for the Vedantic path and for his own release from worldly existence.
Also to be noted is that even after achieving perfection in Vedanta and becoming a jnanin, he keeps blessing the world without performing any rites and, indeed, by virtue of his mere presence. I am not examining here the big question of which of the two goals of a religion is greater, individual liberation or collective welfare. That is a separate subject. Let us leave aside for the present the question of social welfare. The question to be answered now is this: If an individual owing allegiance to a religion does not become a jnanin with inward experience of the Truth of the Supreme Being, what does it matter whether or not that religion exists?
All rituals, all worship, are meant to make a man aware of the Reality. Varnasrama with its one hundred thousand differences and with its countless stipulations as to who can do what is a preliminary arrangement to arrive at the stage in which there is a oneing of all, with all the differences banished. If we fail to go beyond the stage of karma, observing all the differences of varnasrama, we shall be committing a wrong. Krsna Paramatman directs his criticism against those who claim that the karmakanda of the Vedas alone matters, that the jnanakanda does not serve any purpose. In doing so he seems to attack the Vedas themselves. In reality he faults those who are, in his words, "Veda-vada-ratah", those who are deceived by flowery accounts of the Vedas without realising their true meaning and those who do not exert themselves to rise to the level of experiential jnana.
To start with, we must perform the rites prescribed by the Vedas. But in this there must be the realisation that they are but steps leading us to the higher state in which we will ultimately find bliss in our Self, a state in which there will be neither rites nor duties to perform. Similarly, to start with, the deities must be worshipped but again with the conviction that such worship serves the ultimate purpose of arriving at the point where we will recognise that the worshipper and the worshipped are one. Thus, to begin with, all differences in functions must be recognised and life lived according to them. Different divisions of people have different duties, and the customs and rites assigned to each are such as to help them in the proper discharge of those duties. But in the very process of maintaining such differences there must be the conviction within that ultimately there are no differences, that all are one.
If the Vedas are to be learned and chanted and if the Vedic rituals are to be practiced - and the Vedas must be learned and chanted even as the Vedic rituals must be practiced - it is because in this way we shall be led to that supreme experience of the Reality in which there will be no need for these very Vedas. First the flowers, and from them the fruit. Though the flower looks beautiful, the fruit emerges only when it wilts or falls to earth. A tree does not fruit before it flowers. In the same way, to plunge into Vedanta without first going through a life of Vedic discipline is neither wise nor in keeping with reality. It is equally wrong to remain confined to the karmakanda and refuse to make an effort to acquire Vedantic knowledge: it is like wishing that we must have only flowers and no fruits. There must be a sense of balance, a sense of proportion, in everything we do.
There is a passage in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad similar to that in the Gita: "He who becomes aware of the nature of the Atman - for him the Vedas will no longer be Vedas, the gods will cease to be gods, Brahmins will no longer be, Brahmins. . . . . . . ".
As we have already seen, "Sruti" by which we mean the Vedas, contains not only the Samhitas but also the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanisads. The Gita is not Sruti and it is customary to regard it as belonging to the category of Smrti. I shall speak to you later about Smrti when I deal with Dharmasastra, one of the fourteen branches of learning (caturdasa-vidya). The Smrti that is the Gita observes: "Vedic rites and worship are futile if they do not take you to the path of jnana. " The Puranas too are among the three categories of authoritative texts of our religion - the other two being Sruti and Smriti - and they have the same view about a life confined to rituals. The sages in the Daruka forest were proud about their sacrificial worship, but Paramesvara curbed their pride - how he did so is narrated in the Saiva Puranas. The Bhagavata tells us how the yajnapatnis, the simple and unpretentious wives of the sages, were able to see Mahavisnu as he appeared in the form of the Yajnapurusa. But their husbands who were wedded to ritual could not see the Lord and very much regretted it.
Sruti is higher as an authority than Smriti or the Puranas. I referred to a passage from the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad to show that we have the testimony of the Sruti itself to prove that rituals are not enough for Atmic advancement. However, it might be argued that Sruti itself is divided into the karmakanda and the jnanakanda and that, after all, it is natural that in the jnanakanda the quest for jnana should be spoken of highly. So there is nothing remarkable about it declaring that rituals cannot be the final goal of the seeker.
However, in the karmakanda itself there is criticism of the view that rituals are all and they are the ultimate goal. Sri Krsna declares in the Gita that it is laudable to perform the many sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas realising their true purpose ("Evam bahuvidha yajna vitata Brahmano mukhe"). However, all these sacraments have their culmination in jnana ("Sarvam karm'akhilam Partha jnana parisamapyate").
The same idea is expressed forcefully through an illustration in the Vedic karmakanda itself: "He who performs only rituals, without wakening to Isvara feeds the fire to raise the smoke and nothing else" (Taittiriya Kathakam, first prasna, last anuvaka, fourth vakya). If you feed the fire with firewood you must keep the pot over it to cook rice. Once who does not exert oneself to be "cooked" in jnana is like the man who lights the kitchen fire without keeping the cooking pot on it. This is what the Vedas say. What purpose is served by building a big sacrificial fire if you do not offer the oblations in it? The result will be only smoke and more smoke. A sacrifice must be performed with the consciousness that you are offering the fruit of your karma itself as an oblation. Otherwise there will be nothing but smoke.
"The Self must be offered as an oblation in the fire of the Brahman. All sensual pleasures must be offered in the fire of self-control. The five vital breaths must be given over in sacrifice in one another ", says the Gita. Vedic sacrifices involving materials and works have this goal. A man may perform any number of sacrifices but he would be a fool to perform them without realising this truth. The Vedas too say that such a man in unintelligent. What do you expect his buddhi (intuitive intelligence) to become> It would also be like the smoke of the sacrificial fire that darkens everything in its course and ends up in nothing.
When Vedic rites are performed in a spirit of dedication to Isvara they will loosen your ties little by little, instead of keeping you bound to this world. If you perform rites to please the Lord, without expecting any reward, your mind will be cleansed and you will transcend the three gunas. This is the meaning and purpose of "yajna". Is not the word understood in English as "sacrifice"? "Yaga" also means sacrifice, "tyaga". When an offering is placed in the fire we say "na mama" ("not mine"): it is this attitude of self-denial that is the life and soul of a sacrificial rite. Is it possible to retrieve what has been offered in the fire? Even if it were, it would soon disintegrate. In this way you must reduce your ego-sense to ashes, also your possessiveness ("ahamkara-mamakara"). One who performs a sacrifice without being conscious of such high ideals but with the purpose of petty gains like ascending to paradise - is he not a fool?
There is no contradiction between the karmakanda and the jnanakanda. In the karmakanda itself jnana is given an elevated place and the limitations of karma mentioned. There are hymns incorporating high philosophical truths in the Samhita part itself of the Vedas like, for instance, the "Nasadiyasukta", the "Purusasukta" and the "Tryambaka mantra". Also to be noted is the fact that the Upanisads themselves mention rites (karma) like the "Naciketagni". How would you explain this if the karmakanda and the jnanakanda were opposed to one another? The underlying idea is that we must graduate from the one to the other [from karma to jnana].
As we have already seen, the Gita (which is a Smrti) says that sacraments performed in a spirit of dedication to Isvara are a means of obtaining jnana. The same idea is found expressed in a Sruti text, the Isavasya Upanisad. The first of the ten major Upanisads, it commences with the statement : "Live a hundred years performing Vedic rites. But do so in a spirit of dedication to Isvara. Then it will not keep you bound. " So it would be wrong to believe that the Upanisads teach inaction.
Karma, however, is not the goal of the Vedas. You must go beyond the stage of performing Vedic rituals even if they be for such a noble purpose as that of creating welfare in the world, cleansing your consciousness and propitiating the deities. Your must rise higher to the plane where you will realise that nothing other than the Paramatman exists, that the phenomenal world is unreal, that there are no entities called deities (devatas) with an independent existence of their own and that there is no "I". When you come to this state there will be no need for the Vedas too for you: this is stated in the Vedas themselves.
The Vedas are the laws laid down by Paramesvara. All people, all his subjects, must obey them. But there is no need for the man who is always steeped inwardly as well as outwardly in the Reality that is the Paramatman to refer to this law with respect to all his actions. That is why it is said that for such men the Vedas cease to be Vedas. (We too do not respect the Vedas as the law. For us also the Vedas are not Vedas. But we do not have even a whiff of jnana!).
If you do not realise that the karmakanda is a means to take you to the "paravidya" that is constituted by the Upanisads, then the Vedas (that is their karmakanda) is an apara vidya like any other subject such as history or geography that is learned at school. It is for this reason that the Mundaka Upanisad includes the Vedas in the category of apara-vidya. This Upanisad describes a person who performs Vedic rites for ephemeral enjoyments, mundane benefits, as a mere beast (pasu).
To the jnanin who is united with the Paramatman the deities are not entities outside of himself for they too have emanated from the same Parmatman. Indeed, these deities inhere in him since he is dissolved in the Paramatman to become the Paramatman. If he does not have such inward experience of being dissolved in the Supreme Godhead, when he worships a deity as an entity separate from him, he must do so regarding it as integral to the Atman. Even if it be necessary to carry out all our outward functions according a system based on differences, we must always be conscious of the truth that in the end we will be united with that fundamental Reality in which all these differences wil cease to exist. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad declares: "He who worships the deities as entities entirely separate from him does not know the truth. For the gods he is like a pasu (beast)". (1. 4. 10).
The word "pasu" is very meaningful here. In a superficial sense it means one who does not possess the sixth sense of a human and lives on an animal level. Let me tell you the inner meaning. Why do we keep a cow? Because it gives us milk. That is why we feed it grass, oil cake, cottonseed and so on. We offer oblations in the fire to please the gods. In return they grant us blessings in the form of rain, crops, etc. These celestials, as we have seen, are superior to us but they do not know the bliss that is boundless. Indeed they are unaware of even a fraction of the bliss that a jnanin who is but a mortal experiences.
The Taittiriya Upanisad (2. 8. 1) and the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (4. 3. 33)deal with the ananda, bliss, experienced by various orders like bumans, the fathers, the celestials. We have here something of an arithmetical table on bliss. The bliss experienced by each order is a hundred times greater than that experienced by the preceding one - it is all in the ascending order. Among the celestials the degrees of bliss known to Indra, Brhaspati and Prajapati are given separately. The highest bliss is experienced by the jnanin, the bliss of knowing the Brahman (Brahmananda). Thus the devas (celestials) are deficient in the matter of bliss. Also, they do not make any effort to attain to the highest state of blessedness. they look forward to the gains to be made from us, from the sacrifices we perform from our worship. For this reason they do not like us humans to become jnanins. This is clearly stated in the Brhadranyaka Upanisad: "The celestials do not like humans who realise the Self" (1. 4. 10). Why? When a man realises himself he will not perform any sacrifices and other rites to please the deities.
Take the case of our domestic servant. We pay him a small wage and we know that we will have to pay more if we appoint a new man in his place. He wants to go to school, pass some examination or other so that, eventually, he will be able to take some better job and do well in life. If he really appeared for an examination, would we honestly like him to pass? No. We would like him to fail. If he passes he will find a better job for himself and have a better "status" than now. We may not find it easy to hire a new servant on the same small wages. We are similarly situated in our relationship to the celestials. They will not like us to become jnanins because we will then cease to worship them.
If a jnanin is not dear to the devas, it follows that one who is not jnanin is dear to them. In other words he who is dear to the gods is an ajnanin. That is why in grammar an idiot ("murkha") has the name of "devanampriya:" ("dear to the gods or celestials "). This term has its source in the Upanisads. In his commentary on the Brahmasutra, Sankara Bhagavatpada says to one who maintains that the Paramatman and the jivatman (individual self) are different: "Idam tavad devanamapriyah prastavyah" (This is what you idiot should be asked). You had probably thought that "devanampriya" to be a big title of honour.
In the Asokan edicts the emperor is referred to as "devanampriya". Even before the time of Asoka, Panini had said that the term meant an idiot. For this reason it would be wrong to believe that the followers of the Vedic religion in later times took the word to mean an idiot with the deliberate intent of denigrating the Buddhist Asoka. Our Acarya, as I have said earlier, refers in his commentary on the Brahmasutra to one who does not know the true purpose of the Vedas as a "devanampriya", meaning by the term an "idiot". But now in the Asokan edicts the same appellation in given to one opposed to the Vedas, one who belongs to the non-vedic Buddhist religion.
One who follows the Vedic tradition and becomes a jnanin by learning the truths propounded in the Upanisads no longer performs sacrifices to please the gods. No more will he be dear to them now. Since sacrifinces are prohibited in Buddhism obviously the celestials do not like followers of that religion. Then why is Asoka, who was a great supporter of Buddhism, called "devanamapriya"? As a Buddhist he would not have performed Vedic rituals, but at the same time he would not have come under the influence of Vedanta to become a jnanin. Asoka must have earned the appellation of "devanamapriya" in the sense that anyone who did not follow the teachings of Vedanta does not become a jnanin.
(It is also likely that someone not acquainted with such matters, a sculptor or a government official, must have inscribed the title "devanampriya" thinking it to be highly complimentary to the emperor. )
When a man, dear to the celestials, ceases to perform sacrifices on turning to the path of jnana, they place obstacles before him. We read in the Puranas stories of the apsarases who disturb the sages in meditation and austerities.
Until a man becomes a jnanin he keeps performing the rites intended for the celestials. In return they bring him various benefits. They have to be given their share of the oblations. If a man helps us we have to help him in return. Is that not so? We have to help the celestials who bring us rain and other benefits. That is why we perform sacrifices. Some Brahmin or other gives the "havirbhaga" (a share in the oblations) to the devas, doing so as a representative of us all. It is like one man paying taxes on behalf of all.
To the celestials a person who performs Vedic rituals is like a milch cow. When the cow goes dry what use is it to man (its owner)? The celestials will be pleased with a person so long as he remains a milch cow (performing sacrifices and other rites). If he ceases to be a milch cow they will dislike him, cause him suffering. That means man is like a cow to the devas in more that one sense: in the sense that he is ignorant (not a jnanin); and in the sense that they do not protect him when he stops performing rites (do we take care of a cow that has gone dry? ).
It is part of wisdom and enlightenment to realise that the gods are not separate from us. Vedanta points a way to realise this truth, and shows us how we may free ourselves from works and even worship of the gods and reach the stage where there is no difference between us and all the rest. Let me tell you about the great esteem in which Vedanta has been held in this country.
Though the Vedas are infinite, the seers have brought us only a few of them. But since, in this age of Kali, even these are difficult to master, they divided them into 1, 180 sakhas or recensions, each with Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanisad. Later, out of these many passed into oblivion. Now the remaining too are threatened with extinction because people belonging to this generation have brought Vedic studies to such a sad state and earned merit thereby!
We have some Upanisads belonging to recensions of which neither the Samhitas nor the Brahmanas are studied. Even their texts are not available. The Samhita of the Sankhayana Sakha of the Rgveda is no longer chanted now; the fact is we have lost it. But the Kausitaki Upanisad which is a part of this recension is still extant. The Baskala Mantropanisad, also from the Rgveda, is still available: I am told a palm-leaf manuscipt of the same is in the Adyar Library, Madras. But neither the Samhita nor the Brahmana of the Baskala Sakha is known to us. The Katha Upanisad belongs to the Katha Sakha of the Krsna-Yajurveda. Did I not tell you that the Upanisad comes at the end of the Aranyaka? The Kathopanisad is very famous and is one of the major Upanisads; but its Aranyaka is not available. The Atharvaveda is totally forgotten in the South and is studied but in one or two parts of the country. But still extant are Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya which belong to this Veda and which form part of the Dasopanisad.
All this points to the fact that, while parts of many Vedic recensions that pertain to karma or works have become extinct or have been forgotten, many of the Upanisads which are the means of jnana have been preserved. Great care has been taken to protect that part of our heritage which shows us the way to wisdom and light.
The Upanisads are believed to have been large in number. Two hundred years ago, an ascetic belonging to Kancipuram wrote a commentary on 108 Upanisads. He earned the name of "Upanisad Brahmendra". His monastic institution is still to be seen in Kanci.
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)