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(HinduDharma: The Vedas)
It is not possible to tell the age of the Vedas. If we say that an object is "anadi" it means that nothing existed before it. Any book, it is reasonable to presume, must be the work of one or more people. The Old Testament contains the sayings of several Prophets. The New Testament contains the story of Jesus Christ as well as his sermons. The Qu'ran incorporates the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. The founders of such religions are historical personalities and their teachings did not exist before then. Are the Vedas similarly the work of one or more teachers? And may we take it that these preceptors lived in different periods of history? Ten thousand years ago or a hundred thousand or a million years ago? If the Vedas were created during any of these periods they can not be claimed to be "anadi". Even if they were created a million years ago, it obviously means that there was a time when they did not exist.
Questions like the above are justified if the Vedas are regarded as the work of mortals. And, if they are, it is wrong to claim that they are "anadi". We think that the Vedas are the creation of the rsis, seers who were mortals. So it is said, at any rate, in the text book of history we are taught.
Also consider the fact that the Vedas consists of many "Suktas". Jnanasambandhar's Tevaram consists of number of patigams. And just as each patigam has ten stanzas, each sukta consists of a number of mantras. "Su+ukta"="sukta". The prefix "su" denotes "good" as in "suguna" or "sulocana". "Ukta" means "spoken" or "what is spoken". " Sukta" means "well spoken", a"good word" or a "good utterence" (or well uttered).
When we chant the Vedas in the manner prescribed by the Sastras, we mention the name of the seer connected with each sukta, its metre and the deity invoked. Since there are many mantras associated with various seers we think that they were composed by them. We also refer to the ancestry of the seer concerned, his gotra, etc. For instance, "Agastyo Maithravarunih", that is Agastya, son of Maithravaruna. Here is another : "Madhucchanda Vaisvamitrah", the sage Madhucchanda descended from the Visvamitra gotra. Like this there are mantras in the names of many sages. If the mantras connected with the name of Agastya were composed by him it could not have existed during the time of Mitravaruna; similarly that in the name of Madhucchandana could not have existed during the time of Visvamitra. If this is true, how can you claim that the Vedas are "anadi"?
Since the Mantras are associated with the names of sages, we make the wrong inference that they may have been composed by them. But it is not so as a matter of fact. "Apaurseya" means not the work of any man. Were the Vedas composed by one or more human beings, even if they were rsis, they would be called "pauruseya". But since they are called "Apauruseya" it follows that even the seers could not have created them. If they were composed by the seers they (the latter) would be called "Mantra-kartas" which means "those who 'created' the Mantras". But as a matter of fact, the rsis are called "Mantra-drastas", those who "saw " them.
When we say that Columbus discovered America, we do not mean that he created the continent : we mean that he merely made the continent known to the world. In the same way the laws attributed to Newton, Einstein and so on were not created by them. If an object thrown up falls to earth it is not because Newton said so. Scientists like Newton perceived the laws of Nature and revealed them to the world. Similarly, the seers discovered the Mantras and made a gift of them to the world. These Mantras had existed before the time of their fathers, grand fathers, great grand fathers,. . . . . . . . . But they had remained unknown to the world. The seers now made them known to the mankind. So it became customory to mention their names at the time of intoning them.
The publisher of a book is not necessarily its author. The man who releases a film need not be its producer. The seers disclosed the mantras to the world but they did not create them. Though the mantras had existed before them they performed the noble service of revealing them to us. So it is appropriate on our part to pay them obeisance by mentioning their names while chanting the same.
Do we know anything about the existance of the mantras before they were "seen" by the rsis? If they are eternal does it mean that they manifested themselves at the time of creation? Were they present before man's appearance on earth? How did they come into being?
If we take it that the Vedas appeared with creation, it would mean that the Paramatman created them along with the world. Did he write them down and leave them somewhere to be discovered by the seers later? If so, they cannot be claimed to be anadi. We have an idea of when Brahma created the present world.
There are fixed periods for the four yugas or eons, Krta, Treta, Dvapara and Kali. The four yugas together are called a caturuga. A thousand caturugas make one day time of Brahma and another equally long period is his night. According to this reckoning Bramha is now more than fifty years old. Any religious ceremony is to be commenced with a samkalpa("resolve") in which an account is given of the time and place of performance in such and such a year of Brahma, in such and such a month, in such and such a fortnight (waxing or waning moon), etc. From this account we know when the present Brahma came into being. Even if we concede that he made his appearence millions and millions of years ago, he can not be claimed to be anadi. How can then creation be said to have no begining in time? When creation it self has an origin, how do we justify to the claim that the Vedas are anadi?
The Paramatman, being eternal, was present even before creation when there was no Brahma. The Paramatman, the Brahman are the Supreme Godhead, is eternal. The cosmos, all sentient beings and insentient objects, emerge from him. The Paramatman did not create them himself : he did so through the agency of Brahma. Through Visnu he sustains them and through Rudra he destroys them. Later Brahma, Visnu, Rudra are themselves destroyed by him. The present Brahma, when he became hundred years old, will unite with the Paramatman. Another Brahma will appear and he will start the work of creation all over again. The question arises : Does the Paramatman create the Vedas before he brings into being another Brahma?
We learn from the Sastras that the Vedas has existed even before creation. Infact, they say, Brahma performed his function of creation with the aid of Vedic mantras. I shall be speaking to you about this later, how he accomplished the creation with the mantras manifested as sound. In the passage dealing with creation the Bagavatha also says that Brahma created the world with the Vedas.
Is this the reason (that Brahma created the world with the Vedic mantras) why it is said that the Vedas are anadi? Is it right to take such a view on the basis that both the Vedas and Isvara are anadi? If we suggest that isvara had made this scriptures even before he created the world, it would mean that there was a time when the Vedas did not exist and that would contradict the claim that they are anadi.
If we believe that both Isvara and the Vedas are anadi it would mean that Isvara could not have created them. But if you believe that Isvara created them, they cannot be said to be without the origin. Everything has its origin in Isvara. It would be wrong to maintain[according to this logic]that both Isvara and the Vedas have no beginning in time. Well, it is all so confusing.
What is the basis of the belief that the Vedas are anadi and were not created by Isvara? An answer is contained in the Vedas themselves. In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad(2. 4. 10) ---the Upanishads are all part of the Vedas---it is said that the Rg, Yajus and Sama Vedas are the very breath of Isarva. The word "nihsvasitam"is used here.
It goes without saying that we cannot live even a moment without breathing. The Vedas are the life-breath of the Paramatman who is an eternal living Reality. It follows that the Vedas exist together with him as his breath.
We must note here that it is not customory to say that the Vedas are the creation of Iswara. Do we create our own breath? Our breath exists from the very moment we are born. It is the same case with Iswara and the Vedas. We can not say that he created them.
When Vidyaranyaswamin wrote his commentary on the Vedas he prayed to his guru regarding him as Iswara. He used these words in his prayer : "Yasya nihsvasitam Vedah" (whose --that is Isvara's -- breath constitutes the Vedas). The word "nihsvasitam" occurs in the Upanishads also. Here too it is not stated that Iswara created the Vedas.
The Lord says in the Gita : "It is I who am known by all the Vedas "(Vedaisca sarvair aham eva vedyah). " Instead of describing himself as "Vedakrd" (creator of the Vedas), he calls himself "Vedantakrd" (creator of philosophical system that is the crown of the Vedas). He also refers to himself as "Vedavid" (he who knows the Vedas). Before Vedanta that enshrines great philosophical truths had been made know to mankind, the Vedas had existed in the form of sound, as the very breath of Isvara -- they were ( and are) indeed Isvara dwelling in Isvara.
The Bhagavata too, like the Gita, does not state that the Lord created the Vedas. It declares that they occured in a flash in his heart, that they came to him in a blaze of light. The word used on this context is "Sphuranam", occuring in the mind in a flash. Now we can not apply this word to any thing that is created a new, any thing that did not exist before. Bramha is the premordial sage who saw all the mantras. But it was the Parmatman who revealed them to him. Did he transmit them orally? No, says the Bhagavatha. The paramatman imparted the Vedas to Bramha through his heart : " Tene Bramha hrdaya Adikavaye" says the very first verse of that Purana. The Vedas were not created by the Parmatman. The truth is that they are always present in his heart. When he mearly resolved to pass on the Vedas to Bramha the latter instantly received them. And with their sound he began the work of creation.
The Tamil Tevaram describes Isvara as "Vediya Vedagita". It says that the Lord keeps singing the hymns of various sakas or recensions of the Vedas. How are we to understand the statement that the "Lord sees the Vedas"? Breathing itself is music. Our out-breath is called "hamsa-gita". Thus, the Vedas are the music of the Lord's breath. The Thevaran goes on : "Wearing the sacred thread and the holy ashes, and bathing all the time, Isvara keeps singing the Vedas". The impression one has from this description is that the Lord is a great "ghanapathin". Apparsvamigal refers to the ashes resembling milk applied to the body of Isvara which is like coral. He says that the Lord "chants" the Vedas, " sings " them, not that he creates ( or created ) them. In the Vaisnava Divya Prabandham too there are many references to Vedic sacrifices. But some how I donot remember any reference in it to the Lord chanting the Vedas.
In the story of Gajendramoksa told by the Puhazhendi Pulavar ( a Tamil Vaishnava saint - poet), the elephant whose leg is caught in the jaws of the crocodile cries in anguish. "Adimulame" [vocative in Tamil of Adimula, the Primordial Lord]. The Lord thereupon appears, asking "What? " The poet says that Mahavisnu "stood before the Vedas" ("Vedattin mum ninran"). According to the poet the lord stood infront of the Vedas, not that he appeared at a time earlier than the scriptures. The Tamil for "A man stood at the door" is "Vittin mun ninran". So "Vedattin mun ninran" should be understood as "he stood at the comencement of all the Vedas". Another idea occurs to me. How is Perumal (Visnu or any other Vaisnava deity ) taken in procession? Preceeding the utsava-murthy ( processional deity) are the devotees reciting the Tiruvaymozhi. And behind the processional deity is the group reciting the Vedas. Here too we may say that the Lord stood before the Vedas ("Vedattin mun ninran").
In the visnava Agamas and puranas, Mahavisnu is refered to specially as "Yajnaswaroopin" ( one personifying the sacrifice) and as "Vedaswaroopin" ( one who personifies the Vedas). Garuda is also called "Vedaswarupa". But non of these texts is known to refer to Visnu as the creator of the Vedas.
It is only in the "Purusasukta", occuring in the Vedas themselves, that the Vedas are said to have been "born" "(ajayatha)". However, this hymn is of symbolical and allegorical signifcance and not to be understood in a literal sense. It states that the Parama-purusa (the Supreme Being) for sacrifice as an animal and that it was in this sacrifice that creation itself was accomplished. It was at this time that the Vedas also made their appearence. How are we to understand the statement that the Parama-purusa was offered as a sacrificial animal? Not in a literal sense. In this sacrifice the season of spring was offered as an oblation (ahuthi) instead of ghee : summer served the purpose of samidhs (fire sticks); autum havis (oblation). Only those who meditate on the mantras and become absorbed in them will know there meaning inwardly as a matter of experience. So we can not construe the statement literally that the Vedas were "born".
To the modern mind the claim that the breath of Isvara is manifested in the form of sound seems nonsensical, also that it was with this sound that Bramha performed his function of creation. But on careful reflection you will realise that the belief is based on a great scientific truth.
I do not mean to say that we must accept the Vedas only if they conform to present-day science. Nor do I think that our scripture, which proclaims the truth of the Paramatman and is beyond the reach of science and scientist, ought to be brought within the ken of science. Many matters pertaining to the Vedas may not seems to be in conformity with science and for that reason they are not to be treated as wrong. But our present subject -- how the breath of the Parmatman can become sound and how the function of creation can be carried out withit -- is in keeping with science.
For a general background, please see here