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.
For a general background, please see here