The Ten Upanasids
Sankara Bhagavatpada selected ten out of the numerous Upanisads to comment upon from the non-dualistic point of view. Ramanuja, Madhva and others who came after him wrote commentaries on the same based on their own philosophical points of view. These ten Upanisads are listed in the following stanza for the names to be easily remembered.
Aitareyan ca Chandogyam Brhadranyakam dasa
Sankara has followed the same order in his Bhasya (commentary).
"Isa" is Isavasya Upanisad (Isavasyopanishad). It occurs towards the end of the Samhita of Sukla-Yajurveda. The name of this Upanisad is derived from its very first word, "Isavasya". The next, "Kena", is Kenopanisad. The Isavasyopanisad proclaims that the entire world is pervaded by Isvara and that we must dedicate all our works to him and attain the Paramatman.
An elephant made of wood looks real to a child. Grown-ups realise that, though it resembles an elephant in shape, it is really wood. To the child the wood is concealed, revealing the elephant; to the grown-up the animal is hidden revealing the wood. Similarly, all this world and the five elements are made of the timber called the Paramatman. We must learn to look upon all this as the Supreme Godhead.
Marattai maraittadu mamada yanai
Marattil maraindadu mamada yanai
Parattai maraittadu parmudal bhutam
Parattil maraindadu parmudal bhutam
Tirumalar says in this stanza that, because of our being accustomed to seeing the five elements all the time, we must not forget that the Paramatman is hidden in them. We must recognise that it is indeed he who pervades them and learn to see that everything is instinct with Isvara. Sankara expresses exactly the same idea in his Bhasya when he speaks of "dantini daru vikare". I don't wish to enter into a debate as to who came first, Tirumular or Sankara. Great men think alike.
The Kenopanisad is also called the Talavakara Upanisad since it occurs in the Talavakara Brahmana of the Jaimini Sakha of the Samaveda. This Upanisad contains a story about the devas. The celestials in their arrogance failed to recognise the Supreme Being whose crown and feet are unknown. Ambika then appeared to give instruction in jnana to Indra, the king of the devas. She explained to him that all our power emanated from the one Great Power, from the one Mahasakti.
The Acarya has written two types of commentaries for this Upanisad, the first word by word as in the case of the other Upanisads and the second sentence by sentence. In his Saundaryalahari he has the Kenopanisad in mind when he prays to Amba: "Place your feet on my head, the feet that are held by Mother Veda. " The Upanisads (Vedanta) are also called "Veda-siras", "Sruti-siras", the "head" or "crown" of the Vedas - the Upanisads which are the "end" of the Vedas (Vedanta) are also their crown. To say that Amba's feet are placed on the head of Mother Veda means that they are held by the Upanisads. It is in the Kenopanisad that we see Amba appearing as Jnanambika (the goddess of jnana). "Samaganapriya" is one of her names in the Lalitasahasranama (The One Thousand Names of Lalita): this is in keeping with the fact that Amba's glory is specially revealed in an Upanisad belonging to the Samaveda.
What we see is the object and who see it are the subject: the seen is the object, the seer is the subject. We can see our body as an object, we can know about it, know whether it is well or ill. It follows that there is an entity other than it that sees it, the subject called "we". That which sees is the Atman. The subject called the Atman cannot be known by anything else. If it can be known, it also becomes an object and it would further mean that there is another entity that sees: and that will be the true "we". The Atman that is the true "we" can only be the subject and never the object. We may keep aside objects like the body and experience ourselves, the subject called "we", but we cannot know the "we". "To know" means that there is something other than ourselves to be known. It would be absurd to regard the Atman as something other than ourselves. The true "we" is the Atman, the Self. "Knowing " it implies that that which knows it("we") is different from that which is known (the Self). What can be there that is different in us from our true Self? What is it that is other than the Self that can know the Self? Nothing. We say "Atmajnana" which literally means "knowing the Atman". But is the phrase, "knowing the Atman", used in the sense of a subject knowing an object? No. "Atmajnana" means the Self experiencing itself, and that is how "jnana" or "knowing" is to be understood. This is the reason why the Kenopanisad says that "he who says that he knows the Atman does not know it". It goes on:"He who says that he does not know knows. He who thinks that he knows does not know and he who thinks he does not know knows. "
The Kathopanisad comes next. It occurs in the Katha Sakha of the Krsna Yajurveda. this Upanisad contains the teachings imparted by Yama to the brahmacarin Naciketas. It begins as a story and leads up to the exposition of profound philosophical truths. The Gita contains quotations from this Upanisad.
What I said just now about the subject-object relationship is explained in depth in the concluding part of the Kathopanisad. How do we remove the ear of grain from the stalk? And how do we draw the pith from the reed? Similarly, we must draw the subject that is the Self from the object that is the body, says the Kathopanishad. "Desire, anger, hatred, fear, all these appertain to the mind, not to the Self. Hunger, thirst and so on appertain to the body - they are not 'mine'. " By constant practice we must learn to reject all such things as do not belong to the Self by "objectifying them". If we do so with concentration, in due course we will be able to overcome the idea that has taken root in us that the body and the mind constitute the "we". We can then exist as the immaculate Self without the impurities tainting the body and the mind.
The Kathopanisad compares the spiritual exercise of separating the Self from the body and the mind to that of drawing off the pith, bright, pure and soft, from the reed. Before you is the spadix of a plantain. When it wilts do you also droop? Think of the body as a lump of flesh closer to you than this spadix of the plantain. This spadix is not the subject that is "we", but the object. On the same lines you must become accustomed to think of the body as an object in relation to the subject that is the Self. During our life in this world itself - during the time we seem to exist in our body - we must learn to treat the body as not "me", not "mine". Moksa or liberation does not necessarily mean ascending to another world like Kailasa or Vaikuntha. It can be attained here and now. What is moksa? It is everlasting bliss that comes of being freed from all burden. He who lives delighting in his Self in this world itself without any awareness of his body is called a "jivanmukta". The supreme goal of the Vedas and Vedanta is making a man a jivanmukta.
Krsna Paramatman speaks of the same idea in the Gita. He who, while yet in this world ("ihaiva"), controls his desire and anger before he is released from his body ("prak sariravimoksanat") - he will remain integrated (in yoga) and achieve everlasting bliss. "Ihaiva" = "iha eva", while yet in this world. If you realise the Self, as an inner experience, while yet in this world, at the time of your death you will not be aware that your body is severed from you. The reason is that even before your death, when you are yet in this world, the body does not exist for you. So is there any need for what is called death to destroy it? There is no death for the man who has absolute realisation of his body being not "he" (when you mention the body the mind is also included in it). Where is the question of his dying if he knows that the body is not "me" (that is "he")? The death is only for his body.
The man who has no death thus becomes "amrta" ("immortal"). Hymns like the Purusasukta which appear in the karmakanda of the Vedas also speak of such deathlessness. This idea recurs throughout the Upanisads.
The body, and the mind that functions through it, are the cause of sorrow. All religions are agreed that liberation is a state in which sorrow gives place to everlasting happiness. However, according to religious traditions other than Advaita (non-dualism), a man has to go to some other world for such bliss after his death. Sankara Bhagavatpada establishes that true liberation can be won in this world itself if one ceases to identify oneself totally with the body and remains rooted in the Self.
"Tadetat asariratvam moksakhyam", so he proclaims in his Sutrabhasya (1. 1. 4). The word "asariri" is popularly understood as a voice we hear without knowing its origin (disembodied voice). It means to be without a body. "Asariratvam", bodylessness (being incorporeal), is a state in which one is not conscious of the existence of one's body. This is liberation, says the Acaya. To remain bodyless, disincarnate, does not mean committing suicide. When we reduce our desires little by little a stage will be reached when they will be totally rooted out. When they are thus eradicated, consciousness of the body will naturally cease too. The Self alone will remain then, shining. To arrive at such a state is not necessary to voyage to another world. It is this idea that the Vedas and Vedanta refer to when they say "Ihaiva, ihaiva" (Here itself, here itself) - the ideal of liberation here and now.
We have two enemies who prevent us from reaching the state of amrta (deathlessness): according to the Gita they are desire and anger. The basis for this is the Chandogya Upanisad (8. 12. 1) which is a part of the Sruti - the passage in which "priya apriya" occurs: the words mean "what one likes and what one hates". The first is denoted by desire, of Kama, the second by anger. The Chandogya Upanisad says that one who has no body (that is one who is not conscious of his body) is not affected either by desire or by anger. That is (it says): "If you wish to be free from the evils of desire and anger you ought to make ourself without your body (free yourself of our body) right now when you are yet in this world".
A jivatman (individual self) is divided into three parts in association with the ego: "gaunatman", "mithyatman" and mukhyatman". These are mentioned in Sankara's commentary on the Brahmasutra.
Gauna-mithyatmano'sattve putradehadi badhanat
Sadbrahmatmahamityevam bodhe karyam katham bhavaet
-Sutrabhasya, 1. 1. 4
It is part of human nature to believe that one's children and friends are the same as oneself and that their joys and sorrows are one's own. That is what is meant by "gaunatman". "Gauna" denotes what is ceremonial or what is regarded as a formality. We know that our children and friends are different from us and yet we want to believe that they are our own.
The "I-feeling" in relation to the body which is closer to us than our children and friends is "mithyatman".
There is a state in which the pure Self is seen separate from the body and identified inwardly with the Brahman: it is called "mukhyatman".
When the first two - gaunatman and mithyatman - are separated from us we will be freed from attachments to our children, friends and the body as well as its senses. The realisation will dawn then that "I am the Brahman". Now there will be nothing for us to "do". This is the meaning of the Sutrabhasya passage.
Svami Vivekananda who wanted to rouse the people of India chose a mantra from the Kathopanisad ("Arise, awake", etc) for the Ramakrsna Mission. This Upanisad is the source of many a popular quote. For instance, there is the mantra which states that the Self cannot be known either by learning or by the strength of one's intellect. "Know that the Self is the Lord of the chariot, that the body is the chariot and that the intellect is the charioteer", is another.
"In the cavern of the heart the Supreme Being is radiant like a thumb of light. . . . . . "
Then there is the mantra we recite at the time of the "diparadhana rite" ("Na tatra suryo bhati. . . "): "The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor the stars. There is no flash of lightning. Agni too does not shine there. When he (the Paramatman) shines everything shines; all his shines by his light. " All our knowledge is derived from that Great Light. With our limited knowledge we cannot shed light on that Reality.
Later, the Kathopanisad mentions what Sir Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita about the cosmic pipal tree, the symbol of samsara or worldly existence. If all the desires of the heart are banished a man can become immortal and realise the Brahman here itself.
After the Kathopanisad comes the Prasnopanisad, the Mundakopanisad and the Mandukyopanisad, all three being from the Atharvaveda. "Prasna" means "question". What is the origin of the various creatures? Who are the deities that sustain them? How does life imbue the body? What is the truth about wakefulness, sleep and the state of dream? What purpose is served by being devoted to Om? What is the relationship between the Supreme Godhead and the individual self? These questions are answered in the Prasnopanisad.
"Mundana" means "tonsure". Only sannyasins, ascetics with a high degree of maturity, are qualified to study the Mundakopanisad - that is how it came to be so called. This Upanisad speaks of the Aksarabrahman, aksara meaning "imperishable" and also "sound". We speak of "Pancaksara", "Astaksara"and so on. The source of all sound in "Pranava", or "Omkara". Pranava is a particularly efficacious means to attain the Aksarabrahman.
One mantra in the Mundakopanisad asks us to string the bow of Omkara with the arrow of the Atman and hit unperturbed the target called the Brahman. Like the arrow you must be one with the Brahman. It is also in this Upanisad that the individual self and the Paramatman are compared to two birds perched on the body that is the pippala tree. The jivatman (individual self) alone eats the fruit (of karma) and the Paramtman bird is merely a witness. This is the basis of the biblical story of Adam (Atman) and Eve (jiva). Adam does not eat the apple (pippala) but Eve does.
The motto of the Union of India - "Satyameva Jayate" - is taken from this Upanisad. .
There is also a mantra which speaks of sannyasins who, after being jivanmuktas in this world, become "videhamuktas" (liberated without their body). It is chanted when ascetics are received with honour with a "purna-kumba".
The Mundakopanisad speaks of the jnanin thus: "Different rivers with different names lose their names and forms in the ocean. Similarly the knower (jnanin) freed from name and form unites inseparably with the Brahman. "
Next is the Mandukyopanisad. "Manduka" means "frog". Why the name "Frog Upanisad"? One reason occurs to me: the frog does not have to go step by step. It can leap from the first to the fourth step. In the Mandukyopanisad the way is shown to reach the turiya or fourth state from the state of wakefulness through the states of sleep and dream. By devoting oneself to (by intense meditation of) Om (that is by aksara upasana) 2one can in one bound go up to the fourth state. That perhaps is the reason why this Upanisad is called "Mandukya". According to modern research scholars, the Mandukya Upanisad belonged to a group of people who had the frog as their totem! (It is also said that the sage associated with the Upanisad is Varuna who took the form of a frog. )
The text of the Mandukyopanisad is very brief and contains only twelve mantras. But it has acquired a special place among seekers because it is packed with meaning. It demonstrates the oneness of the individual self and the Brahman through the four feet (padas) of Pranava. There is a famous passage occurring towards the end of this Upanisad which describes the experience of the turiya or fourth state in which all the cosmos is dissolved in "Siva-Advaita" (Sivo' dvaita). Sankara Bhagavatpada's guru's guru, Gaudapadacarya, has commented on this Upanisad (Mandukyopanisad-Karika) and Sankara has written a further commentary on this work.
Now the Taittriya Upanisad. I had referred earlier to the misunderstanding that developed between Vaisampayana and his disciple Yajnavalkya. In his anger the teacher asked his student to eject the Veda he has taught him. Yajnavalkya did as bidden. Later the sun god taught him the Sukla-Yajurveda which had until then not been revealed to the world.
It was with the power acquired throught mantras that Yajnavalkya beceame a gander to throw up the Veda he had first learned from Vaisampayana. Now that master's other disciples, bidden by him assumed the form of tittri birds (partridges) and consumed what had been ejected by Yajnavalkya. Thus this recension of the Yajurveda came to be called "Taittiriya Sakha". The name "Taittiriya" is also applied to the Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka of this sakha. The Taittiriya Upanisad is part of the Taittiriya Aranyaka and it is perhaps studied more widely thatn any other Upanisad. Many mantras employed in rituals are taken from it. There are three part to it - "Siksavalli", "Anandavalli" and "Bhruguvalli".
Sikshavalli contains matters relating to education rules of the brahmacaryasrama (the celibate student's stage of life), its importance, order of Vedic chanting, meditation of Pranava. The "Avahanti homa" is in Siksavalli. It is performed by the acarya to ensure that disciples come to learn from him without any let or hindrance. We know from our own experience that, even today, as a result of performing this sacrifice, Vedic schools which were in decay have received a new lease of life with the admission of many new students.
Siksavalli mentions "Atma-svrajya" that is eternal, a state which treanscends in meaning the "svarajya" we are familiar with in politics.
"Satyam vada, dharmam cara" (Speak the truth, do your duty according to dharma): such exhortations to students are contained in this Upanisad. Students are urged not to neglect the study of the Vedas at any time. They are asked to marry and beget children so that Vedic learning will be kept up from generation to generation. "Matr-devo bhava, pirt-devo bhava, acarya-devo bhava, athithi-devo bhava" (Be one to whom your mother is a god; be one to whom your father is a god; be one to whom your teacher is a god; be one to whom your guest is a god) - all such mantras are in this Upanisad. The importance of charity and dharma is specially stresed here.
Earlier I spoke to you about a "multiplication table" of bliss in which each successive type of bliss is a hundredfold greater that the previous one. Anandavalli is the part of the Taittriya Upanisad in which you see this. The highest form of bliss of ananda in this "table" is Brahmananda (the blis of realising the Brahman).
Different sheaths (kosas) of man are mentioned in this Upanisad. The first is the "annamaya-kosa" (the sheath of food), the flesh that grows with the intake of food. Inside it is the "pranamaya-kosa" (the sheath of vital breath). Then comes the "manomaya-kosa" (the sheath of mind) that gives rise to thoughts and felings. The fourth is "vijnanamaya-kosa" (the sheath of understanding). And, finally, the fifth, the "anandamaya-kosa" (the sheath of bliss). It is here that the Self dwells in blessedness. Each sheath is personified as a bird with head, wings, body, belly - there is a philosophical significance in this. This Upanisad contains the oft-quoted mantra ("Yato vaco. . . "). It says: "He who knows the bliss of the Brahman, from which speech and mind turn away unable to grasp it, such a man does not have to fear anything from anywhere. "
"Bhrguvalli" is the teaching (upadesa) imparted by Varuna to his son Bhrgu. "Upadesa" here is not to be understood as something dictated by the guru to his student. Varuna encourages his son to ascend step by step through his own experiments and experience. Bhrugu performs austerities and thinks that the sheath of food is the truth. From this stage he advances gradually through the sheaths of breath, mind and understanding and arrives at the truth that is the sheath of bliss. He realises as an experience that the Atman (the nature of bliss) is the ultimate truth.
This does not mean that the Taittriya Upanisad rejects the factual world represented by the sheath of food. Whiule being yet in this world, taking part in its activities, we must become aware of the supreme truth. For this we must strive to make life more dharmic, as a means of Atmic advancement. That is why even those who have attained the sheath of bliss are admonished. : "Do not speak ill of food. Do not throw it away. Grow plenty of food". Even the government has used this mantra for its grow more food campaign. The Taittriya Upanisad concludes with the mantra which says: "I am food, I am food, the one who eats it. . . ".
The Aitareya Upanisad forms part of the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rgveda. the name is dereived from the fact that it was the sage Aitareya who made is widely known. A jiva (individual self) originating in the father, says the Upanisad, enters the womb of the mother. He is born in this world and goes through his life of meritorious and sinful actions. Then he is born again and again in diferent worlds. Only by knowing the Atman does he find release from the bondage of phenomenal existence.
The sage called Vamadeva knew about all his previous births when he was in his mother's womb. He passed through all fortresses and, like an eagle soaring high in the skies, voyaged seeking liberation. In this context prajnana, direct perception of the Atman, is spoken of in high terms. It is not merely that one attains the Brahman through such jnana (prajnana) - the fact is such prajnana itself is the Brahman. And this is the mahavakya of the Rgveda: "Prajnanam Brahma".
The Chandyoga and Brhadaranyaka Upanisads are the last two of the ten major Upanisads and is also the biggest. They are bigger than all the other eight of the ten put together. The first is part of the Chandogya Brahmana of the Samaveda. "Chandogya" means relating to "chandoga", one who sings the Saman. The Tamil Tevaram refers to Paramesvara as "Candogan kan". The Zoroastrian scripture called the Zend-Avesta could be treaced back to "Chandoga-Avesta. "
Just as there are passages in the Gita form the Kathopanisad, so has the Brahmasutra passages from the Chandogya Upanisad. In these two Upanisads the teachings of a number of sages are put together.
The introductory mantras of the Chandogya Upanisad refer to Omkara as "udgita" and explains how one is to meditate on it. A number of vidyas are mentioned like "Aksi", "Akasa", "NMadhu", "Sandilya", "Prana", and "Pancagni". These help in different ways in knowing the Ultimate Reality. "Dahara vidya" is the culmination of all these: it means perceiving the Supreme Being manifested as the transcadent outward sky in the tiny space in our heart. A number of truths are expounded in this Upanisad in the form of stories.
From the story of Raikva we learn about the strange outward behaviour of one who has realised the Brahman. There is then the famous story of Satyakama who does not know his gotra, but is accepted as a pupil by Gautama. The guru thinks that Satyakama must be a true Brahmin since he does not hide the truth about him. Before the pupil is taught he is made to undergo many tests. The guru's wife, out of concern for the pupil, speaks to her husband for him. When we read such stories we have before us a true picture of gurukulavasa in ancient times.
In character Svetaketu was the opposite of Satyakama and was proud of his learning. His father Uddalaka Aruni teaches him to be humble and in the end imparts to him the mantra, "Tat tvam asi" (That thou art), the mantra which proclaims the non-difference between the individual self and the Brahman. "Tat tvam asi" is the mahavakya of the Samaveda.
Unlike Svetaketu, the sage Narada, who had mastered all branches of learning, was humble and full of regret that he had remained ignorant of the Atman. He finds enlightenment in the teachings of Sanatkumara which are included in the Chandogya Upanisad. In the Taittriya Upanisad Bhrgu is taught to go step by step to obtain higher knowledge [from the sheath of food to the sheath of bliss]. Here Sanatkumara teaches Narada to go from purity of form to purity of the inner organs ("antah-karanas"). That is the time when all ties will snap and bliss reached.
Another story illustrates how different students benefit differently from the same teaching according to the degree of maturity of each. Prajapati gives the same instruction to Indra, the king of the celestials, and to Virocana, the king of the asuras. This is what Prajapati teaches him: "He who sees with his eyes, he is the Self". He subtly hints at the object that is behind the eye, knowledge, etc, and that is the basis of all these. Without understanding this, the two se themselves in a mirror and take the reflection to be the Self. You see only the body in the mirror and Virocana comes to the conclusion that that is the Self. It is from this idea that atheism, materialism and the Lokayata system developed. Although Indra also took this kind of wrong view from his reflection, eventually [similar to the story in the Taittriya Upanisad of Bhrgu advancing from the sheath of food to the sheath of bliss] he goes in gradual stages from the gross body to the subtle body of sleep and later to the turiya or fourth state mentioned in the Mandukyopanisad - the turiya is the Self.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad comes last. "Brhad" means "great". It is indeed a great Upanisad, Brhadaranyaka. Generally, an Upanisad comes towards the close of the Aranyaka of the sakha concerned. While the Isavasyopanisad occurs in the Samhita of the Sukla-Yajurveda, the Brhar\daranyaka Upanisad is in the Aranyaka of the same Veda: as a matter of fact the entire Aranyaka constitutes this Upanisad. There are two recensions of it: the Madhyandina Sakha and the Kanva Sakha. Sankara has chosen the latter for his commentary.
This Upanisad consists of six chapters. The first two are the "Madhukanda", the next two are the "Muni-kanda" in the name of Yajnavalkya, and the last two are the "Khila-kanda". NMadhu may be understood as that which is full of the flavour of bliss. If we have the realisation that all this world is a personification of the Parabrahman it would be sweet like nectar to all cretures - and the creatures would be like honey to the world. The Atman then would be nectar for all. This idea is expressed in the Madhu-kanda.
It is in this Upanisad that the celebrated statement occurs that the Atman is "neither this, nor this" ("Neti, neti"). The Self cannot be described in any way. "Na-iti" - that is "Neti". It is through this process of "Neti, neti" that you give up everything - the cosmos, the body, the mind, everything - to realise the Self. After knowing the Atman in this manner you will develop the attitude that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are made up the same essence of bliss.
The first kanda contains the teachings received by the Brahmin Gargya from the Ksatriya Ajatasatru. This shows that kings like Ajatasatru and Janaka were knowers of the Brahman. We also learn that women too took part on an equal footing with the sages in the debates in royal assemblies on the nature of the Brahman. There was, for instance, Gargi in Janaka's assembly of the learned. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad also tells us about Yajnavalkya's two wives: of the two Katyayani was like any housewife and the second, Maitreyi, was a Brahmavadini (one who inquires into the Brahman and speaks about it). The instruction given by Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi occurs both in the Madhukanda and the Muni-kanda. Here we have a beautiful combination of story-telling and philosophical disquisition.
When Yajnavalkya is on the point of renouncing the world, he divides his wealth between his two wives. Katyayani is contented and does not ask for anything more. Maitreyi, on the other hand, is not worried about about her share. she tells her husband: "You are leaving your home, aren't you, because you wil find greater happiness in sannyasa that from all this wealth? What is that happiness? Won't you speak about it? "
Yajnavalkya replies: "You have always ben dear to me, Maitreyi. Now, by asking this question, you have endeared yourself to me more. " He then proceeds to find out what is meant by the idea of someone being dear to someone else. His is indeed an inquiry into the concept of love and affection. He says: "A wife is dear to her husband not for the sake of his wife but for the sake of his Self. So is a husband dear to his wife for the sake foor the sake of her Self. The children too are dear to us not for their sake but for the sake of the Self. So is the case with our love of wealth. We have affection of a person or an entity because it pleases our Self. It means that this Self itself is of the nature of affection, of love, of joy. It is to know this Self independently of everything else that we forsake all those who are dear to us and take to sannyasa. When we know It, the Self or the Atman, we will realise that there is nothing other than It. Everything will become dear to us. To begin with, when we had affection for certain people or certain things, we had dislike for certain other people and certain other things. If we cease to be attached to those people or to those things that we loved and realise the Atman, then we will become aware that there is nothing other thatn the Atman. Then, again, we will dislike none and will love all without any distinction. "
Before renouncing the world, Yajnavalkya held disputations on the Ultimate Reality with Kahola, Uddalaka Aruni and Gargi in Janaka's royal assembly. These debates, together with the teachings he imparted to Janaka, are included in Muni-kanda. The concept of Antaryamin (Inner Controller) belongs to Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism). The basis for this is to be found in Yajnavalkya's answer to a question put to him by Uddalaka Aruni.
According to non-dualism all this phenomenal world in Maya. The idea behind the concept of Antaryamin is that if the world is the body, the Paramatman dwells in it as its very life. Though Yajnavalkya accepts this concept on a certain level, at all other times his views are entirely in consonance with non-dualism. In his concluding words to Maitreyi, the supreme Advaitin that he is, Yajnavalkya remarks: "Even if you be little dualistic in your outlook, it means that you look at something other than yourself, smell, taste, touch and hear something other than yourself. But when you have realised the Self experientially, all these 'other things' cease to exist. That which is the source of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and so on - how can you see, hear, taste, smell That? " Expounding non-dualism Yajnavalkya tells Janaka (4. 3. 32), "Like water mingled with water all become one in the Paramatman. " "He who is freed from all desire existes as the Brahman even when he is in the world (with his body) and when he dies is united with the Brahmin.
The two concluding chapters that form the Khila-kanda of the Upanisad bring together scattered ideas. (If a thing is broken or divided it is called "khila". That which is whole and unbroken is "akhila". )
A story in the Khila-kanda illustrates how the same teaching is interpreted differently according to the degree of maturity of the aspirants. The devas (the celestial race), humans and the demons (asuras) seek instruction from Prajapati (the Creator). Prajapati utters just one syllable, "Da", as his teaching. The devas who do not possess enough control over their senses take it to mean "damyata" ("control your senses"). Humans who are possessive understand the syllable as "datta" ("give", "be charitable"). The asuras who are cruel by nature take the same as "dayadhvam" (be compassionate).
A mantra occurring in the concluding part of the Brhadranyaka Upanisad seems to me not only extremely interesting but also comforting. What does it say? "If a man suffers from fever it must be taken that he is practising austerities (tapas). If he recognises illnesses and afflictions to be tapas, he passes on to a very high world" (5. 11. 1). [Etadvai paramam tapo yadvyahitastapyate paramam haiva lokam jayati ya evam veda. . . ]
What is the meaning of this statement and what is interesting about it? And how is it comforting?
By observing vows, by fasting, by living an austere life and by suffering physically, we will become less attached to the body, and the sins accumulated in our past lives will diminish. Tapas is a way of expiating the sins of past lives. The offences committed with our body are wiped away by the very body when it undergoes suffering (that is by bodily tapas).
That is why the Puranas speak of great men having performed austerities. Ambika herself - she is the mother of the universe - performs tapas. Not heeding the word of her husband Paramesvara, she [as Sati] attends the sacrifice conducted by her father Daksa. Because of the humiliation she suffers there she immolates herself in the sacrificial fire and is reborn as the daughter of Himavan. As atonement for disobeying her husband's command during her past life and for the purpose of being united with him again, she performs severe austerities. Kalidasa gives a beautiful and moving account of this. How bitterly cold it will be during the winter in the Himalaya. But in that season Parvati (that is Ambika) performs austerities seated on icy rocks or standing on frozen lakes. In the summer, when the sun is beating down harshly, she does tapas with fires burning all round her. Performing austerities with the fires on four sides and with the sun burning above is called "pancagni-tapas".
Many great men have performed such severe austerities.
How about ourselves? If they, the great men, were guilty of one or two lapses, we cannot even keep count of our sins. But we have neither the will nor the strength to perform a fraction of the austerities that they went through. How then are we going to wipe away our sins?
It is when we are troubled by such thoughts that we find the foregoing Upanisadic mantra comforting. Since ours is not a disciplined life we keep suffering from one ailment or another. The Upanisadic mantra seems to be directed to us: "You must learn to think that the affliction you are suffering from is tapas. If you do so you will be freed from your sins and liberated. " Though the message is not given in such plain terms, such is the meaning of the mantra.
We often speak of "jvara-tapa" or "tapa-jvara" (literally "hot fever"). "Tapa" means "boiling" or "cooking". The root is "tap" to burn. "Tapana" is one of the names of the sun. Even if we do not perform the austerities mentioned in the sastras, we must take it that the fever contracted by us is the tapas Isvara has awarded us to become free from our sins.
When we are down with malaria we keep shivering in spite of covering ourselves with blankets. Our attitude now must be to suffer the affliction in lieu of the tapas we ought to perform in the winter months remaining on snow. Do you feel that your body is being roasted when your are suffering from typhoid or pneumonia and a running temperature of 105° or 106°F? You must comfort yourself, believing that God has given you the fever as a substitute for the pancagni-tapas you are unable to perform.
You will in due course learn to take such an attitude and develop the strength to suffere any illness. Instead of sending for the doctor or rushing to the medicine chest you may take it easy, telling yourself, "Let the illness take its course". When we happen to fall ill as a means of reducing our burden of sin, is it right to seek a cure for it? Also we save on doctor's fees, medicine, etc. The gain bigger that all the rest in that of learning to take the high attitude of treating suffering as not suffering. This is called "titiksa".
All this is briefly indicated in the Upanisadic mantra. When we keep lamenting that we are unable to expiate our sins - when we are unable to perform tapas - we may take comfort from the fact that when we suffer from a disease it is God's way of making us perform austerities.
In the last chapter of the Brhadranyaka Upanisad we have strong proof of the fact that Vedanta is not opposed to the karmakanda. Here are mentioned the pancagni-vidya and the rites to be performed to beget virtuous children (supraja).
What do the Vedas Teach Us ?
The Vedas speak of a variety of matters. So how are we to accept the view that their most important teaching is the concept of Self-realisation expounded in the Upanisads constituting the Vedanta? They mention a number of sacrifices like agnihotra, somayaga, sattra and isti and other rituals in addition. Why should it not be maintained that it is these that form their chief purpose?
What are the rites to be performed at a marriage? Or at a funeral? How best is a kingdom(or any country) governed? How must we conduct ourselves in an assembly? You will find answers to many such questions in the Vedas. Which of these then is the main objective of our scripture?
The Vedas tell you about the conduct of sacrifices, ways of worship, methods of meditation. How is the body inspired by the Self? What happens to it (the body) in the end? And how does the self imbue the body again? We find an answer to such questions in these sacred texts. Also we learn from methods to keep the body healthy, the rites to protect ourselves from enemy attacks. What then is the goal of the Vedas?
The Upanisads proclaim that all the Vedas together point to a single Truth (Kathopanishad, 2. 15)What is that Truth? "The Vedas speak in one voice of a Supreme Entity revealing itself as the meaning of Omkara. "
There was a judge called Sadasiva Ayyar. He had a brother, Paramasiva Ayyar, who lived in Mysore. "The Vedas deal with geology, "so wrote Paramasiva Ayyar. "In those early times, people in India looked upon the sun and the moon with wonder, " some Westerners remark. "it was an age when science had not made much advance. People then regarded natural phenomena according to their different mental attitudes. Not all are capable of turning their thoughts into song. But some have the talent for the same. The songs sing by people in the form of mantras constitute the Vedas. "
Though the Upanisads declare that the Vedas speak of the One reality, there is an impression that they speak of a variety of entities. There is a well-known stanza on the Ramayana:
Vedavedye pare pumsi jate Dasarathatmaje
"Vedavedye"=one who is to be known by the Vedas. Who is he? "Pare pumsi"=the Supreme Being. The Supreme being to be known by the Vedas descended to earth as Rama. When he was born the son of Dasaratha, the Vedas took the form of Valmiki's child Ramayana. According to this stanza, the goal of the Vedas is the Supreme Being or Omkara, the One Truth. Just as the kathopanisad speaks of "sarve Vedah", the lord says in the Gita:"Vedaisca sarvair ahameva vedyah"(I am indeed to be known by the Vedas)
Considering all this, we realise that, although the Vedas deal with many matters, all of them together speak of one goal, the One reality. But the question arises why they concern themselves with different entities also when their purpose is only the One entity?
It is through the various entities, through knowledge of a multiplicity of subjects, that we may know of this One Object. Yoga, meditation, austerities, sacrifices and other rites, ceremonies like marriage, state affairs, social life, poetry: what is the goal of all these? Itis the One Reality. And that is the goal of the Vedas also. All objects and all entities other than this true Object are subject to change. They are like stories remembered and later forgotten. (In our ignorance) we do not percieve the One object behind the manifoldness of the world. The Vedas take us to the One Reality through the multifarious objects that we do know.
To attain this One reality we need to discipline our mind in various ways. Performing sacrifices, practising austerities, doing the duties of one's own dharma, building gopurams, digging ponds for the public, involving ourselves in social work, samskaras like marriage, all these go to purify our consciousness and, finally to still the mind that is always agitated. (cittavrtti-nirodha). The purpose of different works is to help us in our efforts to attain the Brahman.
"Ved"[from"vid"] means to know. The Upanisads proclaim:" The Atman is that by knowing which all can be known. " The goal of the Vedas is to shed light on this Atman. The rituals enjoined on us in their first part and the jnana expounded in the second have the same goal-knowing Iswara, the Brahman or the Atman. The beginning of the beginning and the end of the end of our scripture have the same ultimate aim. During the "mantrapuspa" ceremony at the time of welcoming a great man this mantra is chanted:"Yo Veda dau svarah prokto Vedante ca prathisthitah. " These words are proof of the words mentioned above. The mantra means :" What is established in the beginning of the Vedas as well as their end is the One Truth, the Reality of Isvara. " The works associated with the beginning and the jnana associated with the end-there is no difference between the goals of the two.
For the rituals that are divided in a thousand different ways and for the knowledge(jnana) that is but one, the subject is common. That is the Vedas have a common subject. The senses are incapable of perceiving the Self. They are aware only of outward objects and keep chasing them. This is mentioned in the kathopanisad(4.1).when one's attention is diverted from the object in hand we say "parakku parppadu"[in Tami] Our object is the Self. To be diverted from it and to look around-or look away-is to be "paramukha"-it is the same as "parakku parppadu". It is this idea that is expressed by the kathopanisad. But the mind does not easily remain fixed on our goal. So it is only by performing outward functions that we will gain the wisdom and maturity to turn our look inward. We will develop such inner vision only by refusing to be dragged down by the mind and the senses, and for this we must perform Vedic works.
After learning about, or knowing all other matters by inquiring into them and by making an assesment of them, we are enabled to grasp that by knowing which we will know everything. That is the reason why the Vedas deal with so many branches of learning, so many types of worship, so many different works and so many arts and so many social duties. By applying the body in various rites we lose consciousness of that very body. By directing our thoughts to various branches of learning, by examining various philosophical systems and by worshipping various deities the mind and the intellect will in due course be dissolved.
We are more conscious when we are engaged in evil actions than otherwise. By thinking about evil matters the mind becomes coarser. Instead, if we perform Vedic sacraments and worship and chant Vedic mantras for the well-being of the world, the desires of the body and the mind will wilt. Eventually, we will develop the maturity and the wisdom to gain inner vision. In this way we will obtain release here itself("ihaiva") Release from what? From samsara, from the cycle of birth and death. When we realise that the body and the mind are not"we" and when we become free from them-as mentioned in the Upanisads- we are liberated from worldly existence.
The purpose of the Vedas is achieving liberation in this world itself. And that is their glory. Other religions promise a man salvation after his departure for another world. But we cannot have any idea of that type of deliverance. Those who have attained will not return to this world to tell us about it. So we may have doubts about it or may not believe it at all. But the Vedas hold out the ideals of liberation here itself if we renounce all desire and keep meditating on the Self. Moksa then will be within our grasp at once. there is no room for doubt in this.
Other paths give temporary relief like quinine administered to a person suffering from malaria. If malarial fever is never to be contracted by the patient again the root cause of the disease must be found and eradicated. The Vedic religion goes deep into the root of life and cuts away that which separates it from the supreme being The freedom realised in this manner is eternal and not "temporary relief"(from the pains and sorrows of worldly existence)
The karmakanda of the Vedas deals with matters that give only such temporary relief. However, it must be realised that a man racked by difficulties cannot at once be placed in a position where he would all the time delighting in his Self. Through the " Temporary relief" gained from performing Vedic rites, his consciousness is freed from impurities and he becomes "qualified" for everlasting peace. Sacrifices, vows, philanthropic work, and so on, do not take us to the final goal but they are necessarily to reduce ourselves physically, to cleanse our consciousness and make our mind one-pointed in our effort to reach our final goal.
A variety of subjects are spoken in detail in the Vedas but all of them have the one purpose of leading us to the Vedantic enquiry into Truth and jnana. The concluding portion of a work, speech, article etc, is usually the most significant. If we want to find what so-and-so has said in a speech or in an article, we do not have to read all of it. We glance through the first para and, skipping through, come to the last. Here we get the message of the speech or article. We are able to decide on the content of either by going through the first and concluding passages. The first and last parts alike of the Vedas speak of the Paramatman; so that can be said to be the "subject" of the Vedas.
The government enacts many laws. But, later in the course of their enforcement, doubts arise with regard to their intention. Then another law is enacted to settle its meaning:it is called the law of interpretation. In this way Mimamsa has come into being as the law of interpretation for the Vedas which constitute the eternal law of the Lord. I will speak to you in detail about Mimamsa which is one of the fourteen branches of the Vedic lore. But one aspect of it I should like to mention here itself.
According to Mimamsa sastra, there are six ways in which to determine the meaning of the Vedic pronouncement or "vakhya". They are listed in this verse:
Upakrama-upasamharau abhyasao purvata phalam
Arthavado pappati lingam tatparya-nirnaye
"Upakrama" and "upasamhara" together form the first method. The other five are "abhyasa", "apurvata", "phala", "arthavada" and "upapatti". These six are employed to determine the meaning or intent not only of Vedic passages but of, say, an article or discourse.
"Upakrama" means the initial part of work, treatise, and "upasamhara" the conclusion. If the first and concluding parts of a work speak of the same idea, it is to be taken as its subject. "Abhyasa" is repeating the same thing, the same idea, again and again. If the same view or the idea is repeated in a work, it must be understood as its theme. "Apurvata" denotes an idea not mentioned before or mentioned for the first time. So a view or idea expressed afresh in the course of work or discourse is to be taken as the purpose or message intended. "Phala" is fruit, benefit, reward or result. If, in the course of work or speech, it is said, " If you act in this manner you will gain such and such a fruit or benefit", it means that the purpose of the work or speech is to persuade you to act in the manner suggested so that you may reap the fruit or "phala" held out.
Suppose a number of points are dealt with in a work or discourse. Now, based on them, a story is told and, in the course of it, a particular matter receives special praise. This particular point must be regarded as the purpose of the work or speech in question. The method employed here is " arthavada ". If a viewpoint is sought to be established with reasoning it must be treated as the subject of the work concerned. Here you have " upapatti ".
A gentleman told me his view of the Vedas based on his reading of the first and last hymns: "The chief point about the Vedas is fire worship (Agni upasana). In the upakrama there is 'Agnimile' and in the upasamhara also there is a hymn to Agni. Both the beginning and the end being so, the purpose of the Vedas (their 'gist') is fire worship". Agni is the light of the Atman, the light of the jnana. The light of jnana is nothing but the spirit of the Self which is the knower, the known and the knowledge:this is the ultimate message of the Vedas.
However, to understand the hymns in question in a literal sense and claim that the Vedas mean fire worship is not correct. The greatness of our scripture consists in the fact that it does not glorify one deity alone. The Vedas proclaim that the Atman, the Self, must be worshipped, the Atman that denotes all the deities(Brahadranyaka Upanishad), 4. 5. 6 : "Verily, O Maitreyi, it is the Self that should be perceived, that should be seen, heard and reflected upon. It is the Self that must be known. When the Self is known everything is known". This truth that the Yagnavalkya teaches his wife Maitreyi is the goal of the Vedas.
What is the implication of the word "goal"? Now we are here at a particular point. From this point, where we start, we have to go to another point which is final. Such a meaning is suggested by the word"goal". "Atah" is what is pointed to at a distance("that") as the goal. "Itah" is where we are now(here), the starting point. From "here"we have to go "there" to reach the goal.
But as a matter of fact, is not "that", the goal, here itself(this)? Yes, when we recognize that everything is the Brahman, we will realise that "that" and "this " are the Brahman-in other words, "that"and "this" are the same. What we now think to be "this" becomes the true state denoted by "that".
Like "atah" the Vedas refer to the Paramatman as "TaT"which means "that". At the conclusion of any rite or work it is customary to say "Om TaT sat". It means, "That is the Truth".
We add the suffix "tvam" to some words:"purasatvam", "mahatvam" and so on. Here "tvam" means the quality or nature of a thing. The quality of "mahat" is "mahatvam". The nature of "purusa" being a "purusa"is "purusatvam". All right. What do we mean when we refer to the truth, the Ultimate Truth, as "tattvam"? "Tattvam"means" being TaT". When we speak of enquiry into tattva or instruction in tattva it means enquiring into the nature of the Brahman(or rather Brahmanhood or what is meant by the Brahman. )
If the Vedas proclaim the Paramatman as "Tat", that is a distant entity, how does it help us? Actually, it is not so. What is far away is also close by. The Vedas proclaim:"Durat dure antike ca"
Once the parents of a girl arranged her marriage to a boy who happened to be a relative. But the girl said "I'll marry the greatest man in the world. "She was stubborn in her decision and the parents in their helpnessness said to her "Do what you like. "
The girl thought that the king was the greatest of men and that she would get married to him. One day, as the king was being taken in a palanquin, an ascetic passed by. The king got down and prostrated himself before the sanyasin and got into his palanquin again. Witnessing the scene the girl thought to herself:"I was wrong all these days in thinking that the king was the greatest of men. The ascetic seems to be greater. I must marry him. "She then followed the holy man. .
The ascetic stopped on his way to worship an idol of Ganapati installed under a pipal tree. The girl saw it and came to the conclusion :"This Ganapati is superior to the sanyasin. I must marry him. " She gave up her chase of the ascetic and sat by the idol of Ganapati.
It was a lonely place and no devotee came up to worship the god. After some days a dog came and relieved itself on the idol. The girl now decided that the dog must be greater than Ganapati. She went chasing the dog and as it trotted along, with the girl keeping pace with it, a boy threw a stone at it and it wailed loudly in pain. a young man saw this and reprimanded the boy for his cruelty. The girl now told herself "I had thought that the boy was superior to the dog. But here comes a young man to take him to task. So he must be the greatest of them all. "Eventually it turned out that the young man was none other then the groom that her parents had chosen for her.
The girl in the story went in pursuit of one she thought was far away but in the end it turned out that what she had sought was indeed closeby.
"You look for God thinking him to be far from you. So long as your ignorant(that is without jnana)he is indeed far from you. Even if you look for him all over the world you will not find him. He is in truth with you. ""Durat dure antike ca, "says the sruti(Farther than the farthest, nearer than the nearest).
When we look afar at the horizon it seems to be the meeting point of the earth and the sky. Suppose there is a palm-tree there. We imagine that if we go upto the tree we will arrive at the point where the earth and the sky meet. But when we actually arrive at the spot where the tree stands we see that the horizon has receded further. The further we keep going the further the horizon too will recede from us. "We are here under the palm tree but the horizon is still far away. We must also go further to overtake it. "Is it ever possible to overtake the horizon? When we are at a distance from the palm the horizon seems to be near it. But when we came to it the horizon seemed to have moved away further. So where is the horizon? Where you are that is, the horizon. You and the horizon are on the very same spot. What we call "That" the lord who we think is far away, is by your side. No, he is in you. "That thou art, "declare the Vedas-He is you(or you are He).
"That you are "or "That thou art"(Tat Tvam Asi)is a Vedic mahavakya. The "Tvam" here does not mean the quality or essential nature of any entity or object. The word has two meanings:"essential nature"("beingness")is one meaning; and" you "or "thou" is another. The Acarya has used "Tvam" as a pun in a stanza in his saundaryalahari.
It is a combination of the two words "taat" and "tvam" that the word "tattvam" has come into use. Any truth arrived at the conclusion of an inquiry is "tattva"-thus it denotes the One Truth that is the Paramatman.
What we call "I", what we think to be "i", that indeed is Isvara; or such awareness is Isvara. If you do not possess the light within yiou to discern this truth you will not be able to even concieve of an entity called Isvara, The consciousness of "I" is what we believe to be the distant "That". "That and you are the same, child "is the Ultimate message of the Vedas.
What we call "this"("idam") is not without a root or a source. Indeed there is no object called "this" without a source. Without the seed there is no tree. The cosmos with its mountains, oceans, with its sky and earth, with its man and beast, and so on has its root. Anger, fear and love, the senses, power and energy have their root, Whatever we call "this " has a root. Whatever we see, hear and smell, what we remember, what we feel to be hot or cold, what we experience-all these are covered by the term"idam". Intellectual powers, scientific discoveries, the dicoveries yet to come - all come under Idam and all of them have a root cause. There is nothing called "idam" or "this"without a root. Everything has a root or a seed. So the cosmos also must have a root cause; so too all power, all energy contained in it.
To realise this Truth examine a tamarind seed germinating. When you split the seed open. you will see a miniature tree in it. It has in it the potential to grow, to grow big. Such is the case with all seeds.
The mantras have "bijaksaras"(seed letters or rather seed variables). Like a big tree (potentially)present in a tiny seed, these syllables contain immmeasurable power. If the bijaksara is muttered a hundred thousand times, with your mind one-pointed, you will have its power within your grasp.
Whatever power there is in the world, whatever intellectual brilliance whatever skills and talents, all must be present in God in a rudimentary form. The Vedas proclaim, as if with the beat of drums:"All this has not sprung without a root cause, The power that is in the root or seed is the same as the power thast pervedes the entire universe. Where is that seed or root? The Self that keeps seeing all from within, what we call "idam" is the root.
When you stand before a mirror you see your image in it. If you keep four mirrors in a row you will see a thousand images of yourself. There is one source for all these images. The one who sees these thousand images is the same as one who is their source. The one who is within the millions of creatures and sees all "this" is the Isvara. That which sees is the root of all that is seen. That root is knowledge and it is the source of all the cosmos. Where do you find this knowledge? It is in you. The infinite, transcendent knowledge is present partly in you-the whole is present in you as a part.
Here is a small bulb. There you have a bigger bulb. That light is blue, this is green. There are lamps of many sizes and shapes. But their power is the same-electricity, electricity which is everywhere. It keeps the fan whirling, keeps the lamps burning. The power is the same and it is infinite. When it passes through a wire it becomes finite. When lightning strikes in flashes, when water cascades, the power is manifested. In the same way you must make the supreme Truth within manifest itself in a flash. All Vedic rites, all worship, all works, meditation of the mahakavyas, Vedanta-the purpose of all these is to make the truth unfold itself to you-in you-in a flash.
Even the family and social life that are dealt with in the Vedas, the royal duties mentioned in them, or poetry, therapeutics or geology or any other sastra are steps leading towards the realisation of the Self. At first the union of "Tat" and "tvam"(That and you) would be experienced for a few moments like a flash of lightning. The Kenopanisad(4. 4) refers to the state of knowing the Brahman experimentally as a flash of lightning happening in the twinkling of an eye. But with repeated practice, with intense concentration, you will be able to immerse yourself in such experience. It is like the electricity produced when a stream remains cascading. This is moksa, liberation, when you are yet in this world, when you are still in possession of your body. And, when you give up the body, you will become eternal Truth yourself. This is called "videhamukthi"(literally bodiless liberation). The difference between jivanmukthi and videhamukthi is only with reference to an outside observer; for the jnanin the two are identical.
The goal of the Vedas is inward realisation of the Brahman here and now. we learn about happenings in the world from the newspapers. The news gathered by reporters stationed in different countries, at different centres, also through news agencies. It is recieved through letters, telegrams or teleprinter messages. There are things that cannot be known by such means, things that are not comprehended by the ordinary human mind. should we not have a special newspaper to keep us informed about them? The Vedas constitute such a paper. They tell us all about things that cannot be known to ordinary news-gatherers and also about things occuring in aplace where there is neither telegraphy nor any teleprinter. It is through the medium of this newspaper that the sages who possess trans-sensual powers keep us informed about matters that are beyond this world and beyond the comprehension of the average man.
There are, however, certain portions in the Vedas that are to be discarded. "To be discarded" is not to be taken to mean to be rejected outright as wrong. There cannot be anything wrong about any part of the Vedas. Even to think so is sacrilegious. There are matters in these texts that are prelimnary to an important subject or that lend support to it. According to the arrangement made by our forefathers the important part is to be retained and the other prelimnary or supporting portion is to be excluded. Certain things are necessary at a certain stage of our development. But these are to be excluded as we go step by step to a higher stage.
There are then passages that are of atmost importance and have the force of law. These are to be accepted in full, Things that are to be discarded belong to the category of "arthavada" and " anuvada".
The Vedas contain stories told to impress on us the importance of a concept, stories that raise ideas to a higher level. The injunctions with which these stories are associated must be acepted in full but the stories themselves may be discarded as "arthavada", that is they need not be brought into obsevance.
What is "anuvada"? Before speaking about a new rule or a new concept, the Vedas tell us about things that we already know. They go on repeating this without coming to the new rule or concept, that is things known to us in practical life and not having the authority of Vedic pronouncements. This is "anuvada".
Anuvada and artavada are not of importance and are not meant to convey the ultimate purpose or message of the Vedas. What we do not know otherwise through any other authority and what the Vedas speak of is "vidhi". And that is the chief "vada", the true tattva, the true intent of the Vedas.
To explain further. What is mentioned in the Vedas but can be known by other (mundane) means is not incontrovertible Vedic authority. The purpose of the Vedas is to make known what is not known. They speak about things we know and do not know, but their chief purpose is the latter- what they state about what we do not know. It is out of compassion that they speak about what is known to us as a prelude to telling us what we do not know. But if telling us they deal with things that we do not know? If the Vedas deal at length with the things that we are ignorant about, would it not be ridiculous to discard them and retain only what we know already? Indeed such an act would be sacrilegious. The question, however, arises: why should things known to us have been dealt with at length?
The Vedas could have been silent about them. Well, what is that we know, what is that we do not know?
There are two views about all mundane objects, worldly phenomena. Do all the objects that we percieve constitute one entity or are they all disparate? Opinion is divided on this. Based on our physical perceptions we regard all objects to be separate from one another. It is only on such a basis that our funtions are carried out properly in the workday world. Water is one hting and oil is another. To light a lamp we need oil [to feed the wick]. We cannot use water for the same. But if the lamp flares up and objects near by catch fire we will have to put it out with water. With oil the fire will only spread. We have thus to note how one object is different from another and to learn how best each is to be used.
To view each object as being distinct from another is part of "Dvaita", dualism. Many of the rituals in the Vedas, many of the ways of worship found in them, are based on the dualistic view. As Advaitins (followers of the non-dualistic doctrine) we need not raise any objections on this score. We must, however, find out whether or not the Vedas go beyond dualism. If they do not, we have to conclude that their message is Dvaita. But what is the truth actually found expressed in them?
The non-dualist truth is proclaimed in a number of hymns and in most of the Upanisads, but this is not in keeping with our outward experience. The ultimate Vedic view is that all objects are indeed not separate from one another but are the outward manifestation of the same Self.
Our religious and philosophical works have two parts - purvapaksa and siddhanta. In the purvapaksas or initial section of a work, the point of view to be refuted [the view opposed to that of the author of the work] is dealt with. If we read only this part we are likely to form an impression opposite to what the work intends to convey. To refute an opinion other than one's own, one has naturally to state it. This is the purpose of the purvapaksa. In the siddhanta section there is refutation of the systems opposed to one's own before the latter is sought to be established. scholars abroad are full of praise for the fact that in our darsanas or philosophical works the views of systems opposed to those expressed in the darsanas are not concealed or ignored but that their criticisms and objections are sought to be answered.
From what is said before, does it mean that non-dualism is incorporated in the purvapaksa of the Vedas so as to be refuted in the latter part? No, it is not so. The jnanakanda in which the Upanisads lay emphasise on non-dualism is the concluding part of the Vedas. The karmakanda which speaks of dualism precedes it. So if the Vedas first speak about the dualism that we know and later about the non-dualism that we do not know, it means that the non-dualistic teaching is the supreme purpose of the Vedas.
I will tell you why the dualism in te purvapaksa in the Vedas is not rebutted. The works and worship performed with a dualistic outlook are not a hindrance for us to advance on the path of non-dualistic experience. On the contrary, they are a means to make precisely such progress. So the works and worship are not to be taken as constituting a point of view opposed to the main message of the Vedas and to be refuted in the second part. First the flower, then the fruit. Similiarly, we have to afvance to non-dualism from dualism. The flower is not opposed to the fruit, is it? Do we despise the flower because the fruit represents its highest [natural development]?
From the non-dualistic standpoint there is no need to counter other systems, viewed on their own proper levels. It is only when these levels are exceeded that the need arises to counter them. That is how our Acarya and other exponents of non-dualism countenanced other systems.
By the grace of Isvara scientific advancement so far has done no injury to things Atmic and indeed modern science takes us increassingly close to Advaita whose truth hitherto could not be known by anything other than the Vedas. In the early centuries of science it wasd thought that all objects in the world were different entities, seperate from one another. Then scientists came to the conclusion that the basis of all matter was constituted by the different elements, that all the countless objects in the world resulted from these elements combining together in various ways. Subsequently when atomic science developed it was realised that all the elements had the same source, the same energy.
Those who meditate on the Self and know the truth realise that this power, this Atman, is made up of knowledge, awareness. And it is knowledge (jnana) that enfolds not only inert objects but also the individual self to form the non-dualistic whole.
Whether it is one energy or one caitanya, the One Object that both vijnanins (scientists) and jnanins (knowers) speak of is not visible to us. We see only its countless disguises as different objects, that is we see the One Object dualistically [or pluralistically]. You need not seek the support of the Vedas for this, for what is obvious. Why do you need the testimony of the Vedas for what our eyes and intellect recognize? If they speak of a truth that we are not aware of but which we can realise from what we know, and if this truth is proclaimed to be their final conclusion, we must accept it as their ultimate message. This message is the doctrine, the truth, that the individual self is inseperably (non-dualistically) dissolved in the Paramatman to become the Paramatman.
Essence of the Upanisadic Teaching
What is the essence of the Upanisadic teaching? How do we realise the ideal state mentioned in the Upanisads [the oneing of the individual self and the Overself]?
The phenomenal universe, in the view of modern science, is embraced by the concepts of time and space [It exists in the time-space frame]. The Upanisads declare that only by being freed from time and space factors can we grasp the ultimate truth that is at the source of the cosmos. I told you about the horizon - where we are right there the horizon is. A recognition of this truth takes us beyond space. In this way we must also try to transcend time.
Is it possible?
To give us the confidence that it is, an example could be cited from everyday life. To spend the time we lap up newspaper reports of the fight going on in a distant country like, say, the Congo [ now called Zaire]. If a dispute or trouble erupts nearer home, in a country like Pakistan (or at home in Kasmir), we forget the Congo and turn to Pakistan or Kasmir. The newspapers themselves push reports of the Congo trouble to some corner and highlight developments in Pakistan or Kasmir. But when a quarrel breaks out even nearer, say, a quarrel over Tiruttani between the Tamils and the Telugus, Pakistan and Kasmir are forgotten and the boundary quarrel claims all our interest, Now, when we come to know of a street brawl in our neighbourhood, we throw aside the newspaper to go out and see for ourselves what the trouble is all about. Again, when we are watching the street fight, a friend or relative comes and tells us that a war is going on in our own home between the wife and the mother. What do we do then? We forget the street brawl and rush home at once.
On an international level the Congo dispute is perhaps of great importance. But we pass from that to quarrels of decreasing importance. Our interest in each, however is in inverse proportion to its real importance. Why? The Congo is far away in space. We are more concerned about what happens nearer us than about distant occurences. It is all like coming to the horizon, the spot where we are.
Now let us turn our gaze inward. If we become aware of the battle going on within us, the battle fought by the senses, all other quarrels will become distant affairs like the Congo dispute. Let us try to resolve this inner conflict and try to remain tranquil. In this tranquility all will be banished including place, space, and so on. When we are asleep we are not aware of either knowledge or space, but the jnana (in the state of enlightenment of the inner truth) we will experience knowledge without any consciousness of space.
The time factor is similar. How inconsolably we wept when our father died ten years ago. How is it that we do not feel the same intensity of grief when we think of his death today? On the day a dear one passes we weep so much, but not so much on the following day. Why is it so? Last year we earned a promotion, or won a prize in a lottery. We jumped for joy then, did'nt we? Why is it that we don't feel the same thrill of joy when we think about it today?
Just as nearness in space is a factor in determining how we are affected by an event, so too is nearness in time. Evev when we are turned outward and remain conscious of time and space, they lose their impact without any special effort on our part. So the confidence arises that we can be totally freed from these two factors of time and space if we turn inward. When we are asleep we are oblivious of time and space without any effort on our part. But we do not then have the awareness of being free from them. We must go to the state spoken of by Tayumanavar, the state in which we sleep without sleeping and are full of jnana and are immersed in the bliss of freedom from time and space. Then nothing will affect us, not even a quarrel right in our prescence, in our home. Even when we recieve a stab wound we will not be affected by it - it would be like a happening in a remote land like Congo. When someone very dear to us dies in our prescence - husband, wife or child - it would be an occurence remote in time, like our father's passing ten years ago.
Let us, for the time-being, forget arguments about non-dualism and dualism. Let us think about our real need. What is it?
We are affected by good and bad things alike. We cry, we laugh. Both sorrow and joy have their impact on us. Even excessive laughter causes pain in the stomach, enervates us. When we are tickled we react angrily. "Stop it!" we cry. Even when we dance for joy we are fatigued. We like to remain calm without being affected by anything, without giving way to any type of emotion. Such is our need. Not dualism or non-dualism.
Let us consider what we must do for this goal. One point will become clear if we think about how the impact produced by a happening or an emotion is wiped away. "When news about the Congo war broke how we became engrossed in newspaper reports of the dispute. How did we lose interest in it later? Why does it not have any impact on us now? " If we think on these lines we will realise that the impact of any event - or whatever - is progressively reduced as it is pushed further in space. If we also consider why we are not as much affected now by our father's death as we were ten years ago when he died, we will realise that with receding time we are less and less affected by past events. So if we are to remain detached we must learn to think that what happens close by is happening in a remote place like the Congo.
Similarly, we must also learn to think that all the happy and unhappy incidents of the moment occured ten years ago. We must assiduously train ourselves to take such an attitude. No joy or sorrow is everlasting. They are all relative [that is they do not have their own integral or independent force but rely on other factors]. So without being part of anything or else dependent on anything, we must remain in the absolute state of being ourselves. Then alone will be free from all influences and experience eternal peace. This is how Einstein's Theory of Relativity is applied to the science of the Self (Atmavidya).
The essence of Upanisadic message is the burning desire to be from time and space. It would be in proportion to the extent to which we burn within in our endeavour to be free from the spatio-temporal factor that we will be rewarded with the grace of Isvara and be led towards the fulfilment of the great ideal.
There is no need to go to the mountains or to the forest for instruction. Space and time teach us how to remain unaffected by events. All that we need to do is to pray to the Lord and make an effort to develop the will and capacity to put happenings of the moment back in time and distant in space
The first of the ten [major] Upanisads. Isavasya, says:"It is in motion and yet it is still. It is afar and yet near. It is indeed within. . . . . ". This statement refers to space and time and creates the urge in us to be freed from both. The next mantra asks us to see time and space and all creatures in our Self itself. Then there will be no cause for hatred, delusion or sorow, that is nothing will affect us. Another mantra of the same Upanisad declares that the Self is all - pervading, going beyond space, and distributing things through the endless years according to their natures.
On the whole, the Upanisads speak of the same basic truth of space and time that modern science teaches. But there is this difference. For science this truth is a mere postulate. For the Upanisads it is a truth to be realised within as an experience.
This is a conclusion of the Upanisads which themselves are the concluding part of the Vedas.
When the Vedas are said to have no end, how can one talk of there being an "end to the Vedas (Vedanta)"? The mesage of the Vedas, the truths proclaimed by them, the teachings with respect to self-realisation occur in the concluding part (Upanisads) of each of the Vedas, that is Vedanta.
Why should the Vedas, which are infinite have been divided into so many sakhas or recensions? A man must be imparted all that is necessary to purify his mind and prepare him for Self-realisation. For this purpose he needs hymns, mantras, employed in the performance of sacrifices and other works; he has to examine the principles behind the sacrifices; and, finally, he has to inquire into the Paramatman adopting the meditative practice called nididhyasana so as to make the Ultimate Truth an inner experience. It is not necessary for him to learn all the countless Vedas; in any case it would be an impossible task. You remember the story I told you of the great sage Bharadvaja who could go only three steps up the Vedic mountain. What a man needs to learn to refine himself, become free from all impurities and finally mingle in the Supreme Being- the text confirming to such needs is separated from the unending Vedas to make a sakha.
A Vedic recension includes all the works relating to a Brahmin's life from birth to death. A Brahmin must memorise the mantras of the Samhita, perform sacrifices according to the Brahmanas to the chanting of the mantras, and later cross the bridge constituted by the Aranyaka, the bridge that connects the outward with the inward, that is study intensely the Upanisads that are concerned exclusively with the inward. In this way he finally becomes liberated, with the inward and the outward becoming one.
For the wise and the mature a single mantra is enough to free them from worldly existence. But to become pure an ordinary man needs to perform many works and conduct worship in many ways. He has to do japa and meditation. Each sakha contains mantras, rituals and instruction in the science of the Self to enable him to find release.
Brahmins and Non-Brahmins
What about non- Brahmins? Is it not necessary for them too to become pure within? Even if they do not have to perform Vedic rituals or chant mantras, they too have to become cleansed inwardly by doing their alloted work. Whatever his caste or jati, if a man performs his hereditary work in a spirit of dedication to Isvara he will become liberated. This is stated clearly in the Gita:"Svakaramana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah. "
One man has the job of waging wars, another that of trading and rearing cattle, a third has manual work to do. What work does the Brahmin do for soceity?
Is not he grace of the Supreme-Being important even in worldly life? The Brahmin's vocation is doing such works as would enable all jatis earn this grace. The devas or celestials are like the officials of the Paramatman. It is the duty of the Brahmin to make all creatures of the world dear to them. The work he performs, the mantras he chants are intended to do good to all jatis. Since he has to do with forces that are extra-mundane, he has to follow a religious discipline of rites and vows more strictly than what others have to follow so as to impart potency to the mantras. If it were realised that he has to perform rituals and observe vows for the sake of other communities also, people would not harbour the wrong notion that he has been assigned some special [ priveleged] job.
Apart from this, the Brahmin has to learn the arts and sastras that pertain to worldly life, the traits and vocations of all other castes and instruct them in such work as is theirs by heredity. His calling is that of the teacher and he must not do other jobs. His is a vocation entailing great responsibility and is more important than the job of affording bodily protection to people, or of trade or labour. For the Brahmin's duty is to preserve the arts and crafts and other skills by which other communities maintain themselves to nurture their minds and impart them knowledge.
If the man discharging such a responsibility is not mentally mature, his work will not yield the desired results. If he himself is not noble of mind he will not be able to rise others to a high level. At the same time, he has a handicap which he does not share with others. If he believes that he is superior to others because he does intellectual work, he will only be a hindrance to himself. That is why the Brahmin has to be rendered pure. Since there are reasons for him to feel superior to others, there must be the assurance that he does not suffer from the least trace of egoism and arrogance. That is why he is tempered by means of the forty samskaras and his impurities wrung out.
If the mantras are to be efficacious, the one who chants them must be disciplined and must observe a variety of vows. There is, for instance, the mantra to cure a person stung by a scorpion. The man who chants it must observe certain strict rules. If he is lax in the matter, the mantra will have no effect- this is what the mantrikas themselves say. There are rules for the recitation of each mantra, a time when it is to be chanted and when it is not to be. If the rules are violated it will have no effect. It is said that the mantras are more efficacious when recited during eclipses.
A Vedic sakha contains all the rites needed to be performed by a Brahmin to become pure within.
Sakhas now Studied
People in the distant past had remarkable abilities and possessed great yogic and intellectual power. So theym could gain mastery of many Vedic recensions. As for the great sages it wsas a matter of the Vedas revealing themselves to them in a flash. Others with their unusual abilities were able to master not only the Vedas but other branches of learning. The Vedas in their infinitude being like the expanse of an endless ocean, no one has been able to master all of them. Even so in the remote past there were individuals conversant with a large number of sakhas.
In later times men began to lose their divine yogic power. At the beginning of the age of Kali it became very weak indeed. The life-span of man began to get shorter and his health and intelligence declined. It is all the sport of the Paramatman. Why should there have been a dimunition in human power and human intelligence? It is dificult to answer the question. Would it not be natural to expect an increase, generation after generation, in the number of people learning the Vedas, performing sacrifices and conducting Atmic inquiry? Why is it not so? Again it is a question that is hard to answer.
The Paramatman conducts the cosmic drama playing in strange and ever new ways. Although scientists like Darwin speak of evolution, in the matter of Atmic strength, intellectual enlightenment, character and yogic power, we seem to have be en going further and further down on the scale.
Since the Krta-Yuga there has been a decline in the powers of man. In that age a man lived so long as his skeleton lasted. Even if his blood dried up and his flesh was destroyed he survived until his bones collapsed. People in the Krta age had much power of knowledge. They were called "asti-gata-pranas".
In the Treta age people were "mamsa-gata-pranas", that is they lived so long as their flesh lasted and did not perish even when their blood dried up. They had a special capacity for performing sacrifices. In the Dvapara age people were "rudhira-gata-pranas" and lived until such time as their blood dried up. They were known especially for the puja they performed. We of the Kali age are "anna-gata-pranas" and life will remain in our body so long as the food [nourishment] lasts. We have little capacity to meditate, perform rituals and puja. But we are capable of chanting the names of the Lord - Krsna, Rama, and so on. It is true that by muttering the names of the Lord we will be liberated.
Even so we must not allow the Vedas to become extinct. They were bequeathed to us from the time of creation. Must we allow them to be lost?
When Sri Krsna departed from this world, grim darkness enveloped the world. There is " darkness" in his name itself (" Krsna" means dark). He was also born in darkness, in the dungeon of a prison at midnight. But he was the radiance of knowledge for all the world, the light of compassion. When he departed much injury was done to jnana, and darkness descended into the world. Kali, who is the evil incarnate, acceded to authority. All this is the sport of Paratman, the sport that is inscrutable. Sri Krsna came as a burst of light. Then, urged by his compassion, he decided that the world must not go to waste. He thought that it could be saved by administering an antidote against the venom of Kali. This antidate was the Vedas. It would be enough if precautions were taken to make sure that the " Kali Man" did not devour them- the world would be saved. In the darkness surrounding everything they would serve the purpose of a lamp lighting the path of mankind. In the age of Kali they would not shine with the same effulgence as in the previous ages. But the Lord resolved that they must burn with at least the minimum of lustre to be of benefit to mankind and this he ensured through Vedavyasa who was partially his incarnation.
The sage who was to carry out Bhagvan Krsna's resolve was not then called Veda Vyasa. His name too was Krsna and, since he was born on an island, he had the appellation " Dvaipayana" ( Islander). Badarayana is another name of his. Krsna Dvaipayana knew all the 1, 180 sakhas( recensions) of the Vedas revealed to the world by various sages. They were mingled together in one great stream. Being remarkably gifted, our ancestors could memorise all of them. For the benefit of weaker people like us, Vyasa divided them into four Vedas and subdivided each into sakhas. It was like damming a river and taking the water through various canals. Vyasa accomplished the task of dividing the Vedas easily because he was a great yogin with vision and because he had the power gained from austerities.
The Rgvedic sakhas contain hymns to invoke the various deities; the Yajurvedic sakhas deal with the conduct of sacrifices; l the Samaveda sakhas contain songs to please the deities; and the Atharvaveda sakhas, besides dealing with sacrifices, contain mantras recited to avert calamities and to destroy enemies. The Samaveda had the largest number of recensions, 1, 000. In the Rgveda there were 21; in the Yajus 109( Sukla-Yajur veda 15, and Krsna Yajur veda 94); and in the Atharvaveda 50.
While, according to one scholar, the Visnu Purana mentions the number of sakhas to be 1, 180, another version is that there were 1, 133 recensions- the Rgveda 21, the Yajurveda 101, the Samaveda 1, 000 and the Atharvaveda 11.
Considering that people in the age of Kali would be inferior to their forefathers, Krsna Dvaipayana thought that it should be sufficient for them to learn one sakha of any one of the four Vedas. It was the Lord that put this idea into his head. Vyasa assigned the Rgveda sakhas to Paila, the Yajurveda sakhas to Vaisampayana, the Samaveda sakhas to Jaimini and the Atharvanaveda sakhas to Sumantu. ]
Krsna Dvaipayana came to be called "Vedavyasa" for having divided the Vedas into four and then having subdivided them into 1, 180 recensions. "Vyasa" literally means an "essay" or a "composition". Classifying objects is also known as "vyasa".
According to Krsna Dvaipayana's arrangement, though it is obligatory for a person [ that is a Brahmin] to learn only one recension, it does not mean that there is a bar on learning more. The intention is that at least one sadha must be studied. Even after Vyasa's time, there have been examples of panditas mastering more than one sakha from the four Vedas. ( Vyasa divided the Vedas some 5, 000 years ago. This has been established to some extent historically. Instead of accepting this date arrived at according to our sastras, modern historians maintain that the date of the Mahabarata must be 1500 B. C. But of late, opinion is veering round to the view that the epic dates back to 5, 000 years ago.
I said that there was no bar on anyone learning more than one sakha. Even today we find North Indians with appellations like "Caturvedi", "Trivedi" and "Dvivedi".
We had a "Trivedi", who was governor of one of our states. "Duve" and "Dave" are derived from "Dvivedi". One descended from a family well versed in the four Vedas is called a "Caturvedin". In Bengal he is called a "Catterji". Those who have mastered three Vedas are "Trivedins". Today it is rare to see a man who has learned even one Veda, but the fact that members of some families still call themselves "Trivedins" or "Caturvedins" show that in the past there must have been individuals who knew more than one Veda. Jnanasambandhar calls himself "Nanmarai Jnanasambandhar". Since he was suckled by Amba herself it must have been easy for him to master the four Vedas.
During these 5, 000 years and more since Vedavyasa divided the Vedas, many sakhas have been lost. Out of the 1, 180 we are in the unfortunate position of having only six or seven. Of the 21 sakhas of the Rgveda there is only one extant- it is called the Sakala Sakha, or the Aitareya Sakha, since the Aitareya Upanishad occurs in it. Of the 15 recencions of the Sukla- Yajurveda only two are extant, the Kanva Sakha having a large following in Maharashtra and the Madhyandina Sakha in North India. Of the 94 sakhas of the Krsna- Yajurveda, the Taittiriya has a large following, particularly in the South. We have lost 997 of the 1, 000 sakhas of the Samaveda. In Tamil Nadu those who follow the Kauthuma Sakha are more in number than those who follow the Talavakara Sakha, while in Maharastra there is a small following for Ranayaniya. Once it was feared that out of the 50 recensions of the Atharvaveda none was extant. But on inquiry it was discovered that there was a Brahmin in Sinor, Gujarat, who was conversant with the Saunaka Sakha of this Veda. We sent students from here ( Tamil Nadu) to learn the same from him.
The Aitareya Brahmana and the Kausitaki Brahmana ( also called Sankhayana Brahmana) of the Rgveda are still available to us. The Aitareya Upanisad and the Kausitaki Upanisad, which are part of the Aranyakas belonging to these, are still extant.
Of the Sukla- Yajurveda we have the Satapatha Brahmana. This is common- with minor differences- to both the Madhyandina and Kanva Sakhas. It is a voluminous work which serves as an explanation for all the Vedas. Only one Aranyaka is extant from this Veda and it constitutes the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad. I have already mentioned that the Isavasya Upanisad belongs to the Samhita part of the Veda.
Of the Krsna- Yajurveda the Taittiriya Brahmana alone is extant. Among the Aranyakas of this Veda we have the Taittitiya; the Taittiriya Upanisad and the Mahanarayana Upanisad are part of it. The latter contains a number of mantras commonly used. The Maitrayani Aranyaka and the Upanisad of the same name also belong to the Krsna- Yajurveda. As mentioned before, of the Katha Sakha only the Upanisad( Kathopanisad) is available, not the Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka.
(Similarly, the Svetasvatoaropanisad of the Krsna- Yajurveda is still extant, but no other part of the relevant sakha. )
Nine hundred ninety- seven sakhas of the Samaveda are lost and of its Brahmanas only some seven or eight have survived- Tandya, Arseya, Devatadhyaya, Samhitopanishad, Vamsa, ( Sadvimsa, Chandogya, Jaiminiya). The Talavakara Aranyaka of this Veda is also called the Talavakara Brahmana. The Kenopanishad comes at the end of it: so it is also known as the Talavakara Upanisad. The Chandogya Brahmana has the Chandogya Upanisad.
To repeat what I mentioned earlier, we still have three important Upanisads from the Atharvaveda- Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukya. ( The Nrsimha Tapini Upanisad also belongs to this Veda. ) The only Brahmana of this Veda to have survived is Gopatha.
We should be guilty of a grave offence if the seven or eight sakhas of the 1, 180 that still survive become extinct because of our neglect: there will be no expiation for the same.
In the South, which is called "Dravidadesa", Vedic learning is still kept alive by the Namputiris in Kerala. And it was well maintained in Andhra Prades until recently. A great encouragement to this was the annual Navrathri festival at Vijayavada every year when examinations for Vedic students and an assembly of Vedic scholars were held. Those who took part in the assembly were given cash awards as well as certificates. Brahmacarins and pandits came from all over the country to take part in the examination and the assembly respectively. The certificate was highly valued. A scholar returning home with the certificate was honoured by householders all along the way. There was a custom in Andhra Prades to set aside a tidy sum to be presented to Vedic scholars at weddings. Vedic learning flourished in that state because of such incentives.
A Brahmin ought not to run after money; if he does he ceases to be a Brahmin. However, we have to consider the fact that today any occupation or profession other than that of the Vedic scholar is lucrative. One learned in the Vedas cannot make ends meet. Such being the case it becomes incumbent on us to devise a system by which the Vedic scholar too can live without any care. It is because the minimum needs of Vedic students and scholars were met in the Telugu country that scriptural learning flourished there.
We are making efforts to promote Vedic learning all over India and in particular in Tamil Nadu- and a scheme has been drawn up to raise funds for pathasalsas( Vedic schools). In Tamil Nadu there was patronage for Vedic learning until the reign of Hindu rulers like the Nayakas. Later it received encouragement from the princely states. A Brahmin who has mastered an entire Veda sakha is called a "srotriya", from "Sruti" meaning the Vedas. It was customary for Tamil rajas to donate land to such Brahmins and sometimes an entire village was given away, it being exempt from taxes. This is described as "iraiyili" in old inscriptions. "Brahmadesam" is the name given to lands made over to Brahmins as gifts. In the royal edicts the word used is "Brahmadeyam". "Caturvedimangalam" was the name given to a village donated by royalty to Brahmins proficient in all four Vedas. Those who spent all thier time in learning and teaching the scriptures had no other source of income. So they were exempt from kisti. This exemption was in force even during the rule of the Nawabs, the East India Company and its successor British government. Even though the British did nothing to promote Vedic studies, they exempted srotriya villages from taxes. However, the Brahmins during the time sold their lands, converting them into certificates, and abandoned the villages of their forefathers to settle in towns. This also meant something most unfortunate, severing their connection with the long Vedic tradition.
Our country has an ages- old tradition- and it is a glorious tradition- that has no parallel in any generation, worked not only for their own Atmic uplift but for the well- being of the entire society. And this they have done to the exclusion of being involved in worldly affairs. Later, however, they ( Brahmins ) failed to recognise the unique importance of such a tradition and broke away from it to take to the Western way of life. A situation soon arose in which others also forgot the importance of having a class of people devoting themselves solely to the Atmic quest.
Duty of Brahmins
If any purpose has been served by listening to me all the while, it is up to you [Brahmins] to take whatever steps you think fit to promote Vedic learning. Every day you must perform " Brahmayajna" which is one of the five great sacrifices( mahayajnas). The term "Brahma" in " Brahmayajna" means the Vedas. The power of the mantras must be preserved in us as an eternal reality. It must burn bright like a lamp that is never extinguished. For this reason it is that we perform Brahmayajna. We must offer oblations to the presiding rsi or seer of our Vedic recension. Failing that, the least we can do is perform the Gayatri- japa every day. Gayatri is the essence of the Vedas, their substance. To qualify to chant it, you must be initiated into it by a Guru. The Gayatri you thus learn must be mentally repeated at least a thousand times every day. Again, the least you can do - and you must do it- is to chant the mantra atleast ten times morning, noon and dusk. The sun god is the presiding deity of Gayatri. Sunday, the day of the sun, is a universal holiday. On this day you must get up at 4 in the morning and, after your ablutions, recite the Gayatri a thousand times. This will ensure your well-being as well as of all mankind.
All Brahmins must learn to chant the Purusasukta, the Srisukta, Sri Rudram, etc. I am speaking particularly to office going Brahmins here. Since they will find it difficult to devote themselves fully to Vedic learning they must try to acquire at least a minimum of scriptural knowledge. But it should be creditable if they accomplish something- in the present case learning the Vedas- in the face of difficulties. If you start learning the scripture now you will be able to complete your study in a few years. But you need faith and devotion. The Vedas are a vidya that has come down to us through the millennia. If you study them with determination you are bound to succeed. Haven' t you seen 50- and 60- year- old people engaged in research in the hope of gaining a Ph. D. or some other degree? If you have the will you will have the way to accomplish anything however difficult. There are examples of individuals who at 40 had been totally in the dark about the Vedas but who later learned to chant them with ardour. As a matter of fact there are such men among the office- bearers of our Veda Raksana Nidhi Trust. So what is needed is faith as well as resoluteness.
Leave aside the question of Brahmins who are in jobs and are middle- aged or older. Whether or not they themselves can chant the Vedas or want to learn to chant them, they must see to it that their sons at least receive instruction in the scriptures. Perhaps the children cannot be sent for a full-time course in the Vedas, but the parents could at least ensure that, after they perform the upanayana of their sons at the age of eight years, the boys are taught the Vedas for one hour every evening for a period of eight years. A Vedic tutor may be engaged on a cooperative basis for all children of a locality or village. This should be of help to the children of poor Brahmins.
Above all, efforts must be made to ensure that the existing Vedic schools that are in bad shape are not forced to close down. These institutions must be reinvigorated and more and more students encouraged to join them. To accomplish this task both teachers and taught must be adequately helped with money.
Let me repeat that Brahmins ought not to be afforded more than the minimum cash or creature comforts. But we see today that there are many lucrative jobs to tempt them. So there is the danger of their not being fully involved in their svadharma (own duty) of learning and teaching the Vedas if they are not kept above their want. We must provide them with certain facilities so that we are not faced with the unfortunate situation in which such Brahmins become more and more scarce. There are new comforts, new avenues of pleasure, not known in the past. It is unrealistic to expect a few Brahmins alone to deny themselves all these and adhere to their svadharma. If we adopt such an attitude the Vedic dharma will suffer. So when some Brahmins are engaged exclusively in their dharma it is obligatory on our part to help them with money and material. Though they must not be afforded any luxuries, we must provide them with enough comforts so that they are not enticed into other jobs. We have drawn up a number of schemes bearing this in mind.
The sound of the Vedas must be kept alive. For this purpose, it would be enough if Brahmins memorised the mantras and chanted them every day. The power of the sound, the power of the mantras vocalised, is sufficient to bring good to mankind. I said, you will remember, that chanting the Vedas with faith, even though without knowing their meaning, is " viryavattaram". The statement, however, does not fully reflect my view.
A student will have to spend many years to memorise the Vedas and study their meaning. It is not easy to keep him confined to the Vedic school for such a long time. I must explain here why I said that " it is not necessary to know the meaning of the Vedas and their sound is all we need". To insist that a student should chant the Vedas only if he knows the meaning of the mantras is expecting too much of him. It might also mean that nobody would come forward even to memorise the hymns. In that case how will their sound be kept alive? That is why I said, half seriously and half sportingly, that " the meaning is not necessary, the sound would be sufficient. . . . ".
There must indeed be a large number of people who can chant the Vedas and keep their sound alive. In addition, there must be a system by which some of them at least will be taught their meaning. That is how we have come to be seriously involved in teaching the Veda-bhasya( commentary on the Vedas). It is because the Vedas are profound in their import that a number of great men have commented upon them. Their efforts must not go in vain.
We perform a number of rites in our home: marriage, sraddha, upakarma, and so on, and during these functions we chant Vedic mantras as instructed by the priest. By the grace of Isvara we have not reached the unfortunate state of totally discarding such rites. However, there is a declining trend, a weakening of Vedic practices. One important reason for this is that we do not know the meaning of the mantras chanted. Educated people nowadays have no true involvement in rites in which they have to repeat the mantras after the priest without knowing the meaning.
We cannot expect to convince people that the chanting of the mantras( even without knowing their meaning) is beneficial. The hymns for each function are different and also different in significance. If we appreciate this fact, we will realise that there is a scientific basis for them. Besides, they have an emotional appeal which willl be evident only when we know their meaning. So to know the meaning of the mantras is to have greater involvement in the functions in which they are chanted. That is the reason why the mouthing of syllables purposelessly has come to be [irreverently] likened to the chanting of " sraddha mantras". The meaning of the mantras ( including those chanted at sraddhas) must be understood by the priest as well as by the performer of the rites; we must evolve a scheme for theis purpose.
First the priest himself must know the meaning of the mantras and the significance of the rituals at which he officiates. Today the majority of priests are ignorant of the meaning of what they chant. If a karta or a yajamana (the man on whose behalf a rite is conducted) asks his priest, " What does this mean? ", the latter is unable to give an answer. How would you then expect the karta to have faith in the rites?
I believe that many middle-aged people today are keen to know the meaning of the mantras. I also think that if they tend to lose faith in rituals it is because they have to repeat parrot-like the hymns chanted by the priest. So we are making efforts to ensure that those who officiate at rituals (the upadhyayas) accquire proficiency in Veda- bhasya to enable them to explain the meaning of the mantras.
According to the Nirukta( one of the six Angas of the Vedas) a Brahmin comes under a curse by chanting the Vedas without knowing their meaning.
A number of great men have written commentaries on the Vedas so as to inspire faith in the sacraments. Sri Madhvacarya has written a commentary for the first 40 suktas of the first kanda of the Rg Veda. Skandasvamin has also written a bhasya on the Rg Veda. To BhattaBhaskara we owe a commentary on the Krasna-Yajur Veda, and to Mahidhara on that of the Sukla-Yajur Veda. In recent times, Dayananda Saraswati and Aravinda Ghose as well as his disciple Kapali Sastri have written expository treatises on the Vedas. Though there are so many commentaries, the one by Sri Sayanacarya is particularly famous: many scholars, including Western Indologists, treat it as authoritative.
There are five Vedas if you reckon the Yajur Veda to be two with its Sukla and Krsna divisions. Sayana has written commentaries on all the five. Expository treatises on the Vedas had been written before him but he was the first to write a bhasya for all the Vedas.
Though Sayanacarya's commentary had been studied for centuries, a stage came recently when we feared that it would cease to hold any interest for students. Those who learned to chant the Vedas, without knowing their meaning, became priests while those who studied poetry and other subjects did not learn even to chant the mantras. So much so interest in the study of the Veda-bhasya declined. It was at this time that the Sastyabdapurti Trust was formed with a view to maintain the study of the Veda-bhasya.
When the Trust started to conduct examinations, the Veda-bhasya meant no more than the printed text of the Vedic commentary kept in bookshops. The publishers were then worried that not many copies would be sold. After the creation of the Trust we gave students not only scholarships but also copies of the Veda-bhasya. Our worry now was whether there would be enough copies in stock for fresh students. It is with the grace of Parasakti, the Supreme Goddess that we have succeeded in reviving the study of the Veda-bhasya. And so long as we have her grace there will be students ready to learn the subject and there will also be enough copies of the text.
On the eve of a wedding, upanayana or simanta ceremony, we must consult a Vedic scholar who knows the Veda-bhasya to explain the meaning of the mantras employed in these rituals. On the day of the function itself the time at our disposal would be short. If we grasp the meaning and significance of the mantras beforehand we will have a more rewarding involvement in the function.
Nowadays, we do not have a month's time in which to prepare for a wedding. The problem facing the bride's people is which group is to play the band, who is to give the dance recital, how the marriage procession is to be conducted. . . We attach the least importance to that which is the very soul of the marriage sacrament, I mean the Vedic mantras chanted at that time. Those who recite these mantras, the Vedic panditas, are also treated as the least important to a marriage celebration. There are perhaps a few who have faith in the mantras and for their benefit and enlightenment at least some Brahmins must be instructed in the Veda-bhasya.
We print invitation cards for wedding and upanayana ceremonies and distribute them among a large number of friends and relatives - in fact we invite an entire town or village to the function. And we spend thousands. But we do not pay any attention to the ritual itself, to its significance. This is not right.
If we know the meaning of the mantras chanted at a function, we stand to gain more benefits from it. We go through rites because we do not have the courage to give them up. Similarly, we must come to realise that it is wrong to perform a rite without knowing the meaning of the mantras chanted; we must therefore take the help of a pandita in this matter. As mentioned before, going through works with a knowledge of the significance and meaning of the mantras is more beneficial. We must have faith in the Upanishadic saying" Yadeva vidyaya karoti tadeva viryavattaram bhavati".
At an upanayana, it is the brahmacarin (as the karta) who chants the mantras; similarly it is the groom alone who intones them at a marriage. What do you expect of all invitees to do at such functions? Do they come only for the luncheon or dinner, or to keep chatting, to see the dance recital or to listens to the nagasvaram music? Is their part only to make themselves happy in this manner? No. The Vedic mantras deserve our highest respect. When they are being intoned we must honour them by listening to them intently. The mantras create well- being for all. If the invitees and others at a function listen to them and are able to follow their meaning they will earn merit even though they do not have the role of the karta in it.
Take the case of the asvamedha (horse sacrifice). Only a king who has subdued all other rulers, that is a maharaja or a sarvabhauma, is qualified to perform it. So only a monarch during a particular period in history, a monarch whose sway extends all over the world, is entitled to conduct this sacrifice. The asvamedha brings more benefits than any other rite. Now the question arises: In any generation only one individual is perhaps capable of earning so much merit( by performing the horse sacrifice). Why are the Vedas so partial that they have made it impossible for the vast majority of people (who cannot perform the sacrifice themselves) to earn such merit? Is it true that only a ruler, who has immense strength and enormous resources at his command, is capable of benefiting from such a sacrifice? If people of good conduct and character are denied the same merit as a powerful emperor can earn, does it not amount to deceiving them? How can the Vedas be so partial to one man?
In truth no partiality can be ascribed to the Vedas. A Vedic rite is admittedly beneficial to the man who performs it. But, at the same time, it does good to all the world. If I light a lamp in the darkness here does it not bring light to all the people present and not to me alone?
It may be that the performer of a Vedic work receives more special benefits than others. But the sastras shows the way by which these others may also reap the same fruits as the karta- in fact the Vedas themselves mention it. If ordinary people cannot conduct a horse sacrifice they may get to know how it is performed. They may pay attention to the hymns chanted during the sacrifice and also try to follow their meaning. In this way they derive the full benefits of the sacrifice performed by an imperial ruler. This fact is referred to in the section dealing with horse sacrifices in the Vedas.
In the same way, whether it is a marriage or a funeral, the merit will be earned in full if we closely follow the rite and listen to the mantras with due knowledge of their meaning.
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)