The most important thing is sacrifice, because it sanctifies; and is also associated with Dharma. Purification and sacrifice. Purification and sacrifice are synonymous terms, and their relationship corresponds to the fruit of action and the deity who grants it; and it is not necessary to divide words into parts to understand this. Sacrifice is associated with the idea of a god; and we may also compare the idea of its importance with that of a guest.
When we give a particular name to an object, there is usually a good reason for it, that is, because it has certain qualities; and this can be done when the word is quite new. When names are arranged in this manner, they can cover the entire range of the subject-matter of Dharma; and their meaning is fixed. There are also certain instructions in connection with them; and when a name is repeated, the repetition is for the sake of further explanation. When the intellect is associated with desire, it is like the full function of the mind; but it can perform only one act at a time.
The relation of the intellect to the other faculties is like that of the husband to his wife; and this enables us to understand the idea of dedication. However, a person can perform only one action at a time.
If the mantras of the Vedas have a rational meaning, we must find out a way of interpreting them in that light; and when we do so, we shall find that the whole idea is transformed into that of a law of life. But it does not lead to the conclusion that we must renounce action, for the meaning is different and of a higher character. Certain ideas have been personified: for instance, Sarasvati has been described as a woman; and the result is that an object gets a special distinction from being described in that way, and all this can be done by using a single correct word. there are, however, certain instructions given in the text which should be strictly adhered to, specially in connection with Saman hymns; while with regard to the rest, we can use our intelligence.
With regard to hymns that are not to be sung aloud, the instructions are that they should be understood without any change; and it is only in the case of those that are to be sung aloud that we are required to change the form of words or divide them into parts; and that is indicated by their having to be sung aloud.
Sacrifice and purification: An act of sacrifice is the chief thing, and it is obligatory. Its sanctifying effect exists in all things, and it is performed for the sake of that effect. An act of sacrifice makes for the purification of a proper person, and it should be performed for the sake of that purification. Sacrifice is associated with Dharma (the law of righteousness) because its object is purification, and it is linked up with purification; and that is the reason why sacrifice should be performed. Indeed, purification and sacrifice are synonymous terms. The relation between purification and sacrifice corresponds to that between the fruit and the deity who grants the fruit.
This means that the fruit or result of an action performed as a sacrifice is the purification of the doer of the deed. There are a number of references to this idea in the Bhagavad Gita. All action makes for bondage, except that performed as a sacrifice; and those who partake of the remnants of sacrifice are freed from sin. There are many kinds of sacrifices; but the best is the sacrifice (or proper use) of knowledge, for all action is made complete in knowledge; and it is by means of knowledge that a person can cross over all evil, for there is nothing in the world which can purify like knowledge. These ideas are easy to understand and have been directly expressed; and we do not need to divide words into parts to know their meaning.
Sacrifice and a God, sacrifice and a guest: In all our actions we should aim at acting like a god; and that should be our object, even as the object of food is to satisfy hunger. It is in this way that we can have a complete idea of the meaning of sacrifice; and it is for this reason that sacrifice is associated with the idea of a god. But, as has already been stated, an act of sacrifice is the best in itself, and that is its primary conception; while its association with the idea of a god arises in a secondary manner. We get this idea of importance in that of a guest, but not in every action; for the satisfaction in connection with a guest arises from his own importance.
The gods represent the great forces of Nature working according to the law of sacrifice, that is, intelligently and for the well-being of all; while the opposite idea of Nature, that it makes for sorrow, evil and death, is represented by the demons or asuras; and the conflict between the two, as described in the sacred books, is the conflict between these two points of view, and the systems of thought based on them. Acting like a god would therefore signify action as a sacrifice or perfect action like that of a good force of nature, like the sun, moon, etc.
A reference to a guest in the sacred books is sometimes meant to illustrate the idea of sacrifice; for it is obligatory to be kind and considerate to a guest; and that is the basis of action conceived as a sacrifice.
Reason for a name: When we give a particular name to an object, it is because there is usually a good reason for it; and when the meaning has been fixed, there should be no variation from it, so far as the object is concerned. The name given to an object is intended to serve some purpose, though there are several names for which no particular reason can be assigned. But very often the reason why an object is given a particular name is that it possesses certain qualities; and its meaning can be fixed if it is quite new.
Names and the idea of Dharma: When names are arranged in this manner, they can cover the entire range of the subject-matter of Dharma. This does not apply only to such words as have been specially adapted for the purpose, as that is likely to cause confusion. Nor is it due to the subject-matter of the text or the authority of learned men, because they are used in the same sense in different places, and this cannot be ordered by force. There is a reason for the meaning of these words: for instance, good people, though widely apart, are drawn together by means of objects of sacrifice; and that is why sacrifices are performed. Even so words of the same kind, though widely apart, have the same meaning because of a common bond between them.
The meaning is fixed: The meaning of these words is fixed; and if we utter them in a low tone, it is because of the instructions of the sruti, which are due to the character of the ideas sought to be expressed. It is in this manner that we get the real meaning of yajna or sacrifice.
We have explained that there are three ways of reading the Vedas; singing aloud, silent recitation in low tone and normal reading. Of these the first indicates that the form of words should be changed, for that is what we do in singing; the second, the opposite of this, indicates that there should be no change; while in the third, we can do as we think appropriate.
Idea of repetition: When a name is translated or repeated in some other form, the repetition is for the sake of explanation, and is intended to convey the same idea. This is not so merely because we have been taught that it is so, because there is no mention of the word yajna or sacrifice in the text (and so the idea is inherent in the words themselves. These words are found in the same place, and are closely allied; and this cannot be secured by compulsion or force.
Law of the intellect: The Dharma of Agni (or the law of the intellect) with reference to an object of desire, when the latter is intense, is that it is like the full moon (or the full function of the mind). But the intellect (Agni) can function in association with only one object at a time; and the other faculties, subordinate to it, act only to serve its purpose. It is because the intellect comes under the influence of desire, that its sate becomes like that of the full function of the mind (full moon).
Agni refers to the intellect, and the full moon to the full function of the mind when it is engaged in action. This Sutra tells us that when the intellect desires anything intensely, it becomes just like the mind when it acts. We get the same idea in the Mahabharata, where we are told that when the intellect desires anything, it is called the mind.
Relation of intellect and other faculties: The relation of the intellect and other faculties may be compared to that of a husband and wife. A wife may offer sacrifice together with her husband; but she comes after him, and that is true in all cases without exception. We arrive at this conclusion by means of inference, because all things are directed towards the best; otherwise the explanation of the idea or an act of dedication would be as difficult as the erection of a building at night. There may be an error because of improper arrangement of words or their parts, or inconsistency of our inference; but the repeated experience of those who have studied the functions of the intellect should, because of their superiority, be regarded as the law of life. The word in the text is samidheni, meaning "a verse recited when the sacrificial fire is kindled". As fire refers to the intellect, the "kindling of fire" would refer to the function of the intellect.
The reference to husband and wife in the text signifies the relation subsisting between the intellect and the other faculties of man, his mind and the senses; and is meant to illustrate their idea. It must not, therefore, be taken in its literal sense, as referring to the actual relationship of husband and wife. Indeed, we have been told that man includes a woman too; and the precedence given to the "husband" does not necessarily belong to a man unless he is really the best.
First things first: When we are surrounded by a number of desires, we should, as in the case of preliminary sacrifice, attend to those which are necessary; for a man can do only one thing at a time, even though he may attempt to do a number of things simultaneously. So long as he lives, he has to begin every time afresh whenever he wishes to perform an action, because that is the law.
How to interpret the text: If we believe that some (rational) meaning has been put in the language of the mantras or hymns of the Vedas, we shall have to agree that it is something that has been left out and not included in their ordinary meaning. But if we do not search for it, we shall not find it, because it has been fixed in the names themselves; and since that is so, there is no further mention of it. There is thus a different and a more suitable meaning of these hymns. We cannot, however, say that the exact qualities of an object have been expressed in these words in this manner, because they can be obtained only by means of a closer, inner connection. But when we understand the real meaning of the text, we shall find that, because it has a different and a higher meaning, the whole idea is transformed into that of a law of life; and this transformation takes place in the most essential part of the text. The new meaning would be found to have no connection with any other meaning, and would be acknowledged to be the best. But this is not based on the conclusion that we should renounce all actions, because there is a different and a higher meaning of the text.
Personification: There is mention of certain special forms that can be given to things: for instance, what relates to Sarasvati has been given the garb of a woman, because it is not possible to find the same exact details of description in any other statement of particulars regarding her. Sarasvati is said to be the name of river; and, as water symbolizes Nature, and so does a woman, she is represented as a woman. Indeed, this is the idea of all goddesses in sacred literature: they represent Prakrti and are described as women. The gods too refer to Nature, but with special reference to the law of sacrifice, with which the goddesses are only indirectly concerned.
That is the purpose served by describing an object as an animal. That is what we are enjoined to do; that is why we have the category of a man; and that is what is repeated again and again in the sacred books. Indeed, an object gets a special distinction from being described in this way; and it can be done by using but a single correct word. to personify an idea or to represent it as a man is the simplest and the briefest way of describing it. It is perhaps also the best. All this that has been stated has been done by putting things together, and representing them correctly. In case, however, there is a different explanation (or authority) in the sacred books themselves, this statement should be modified; for if there are two equally satisfactory ways of interpreting the text, there is likely to be a doubt about it (and so the direction given in the text should be preferred).
How to interpret the Saman hymns: The meaning of the Saman hymns should be in accordance with this teaching; for there is a fixed rule in regard to the interpretation of these hymns, based on a special reference in the sruti (the special reference in the sruti would indicate that these hymns have to be sung aloud, implying that the form of words used in them has to be changed) while with regard to the rest, we can use our intelligence. With regard to the hymns which are not to be sung aloud, the teaching is that they should be understood in their original form, as they are (this has already been explained). It is only the part of the sruti which has to be sung aloud, that has to be given its proper place; and it has a different position because of its special importance, which is indicated by means of its connection with singing aloud. the fact that these hymns have to be sung aloud is not due merely to an injunction to that effect; it is so because of their special importance.
The Mimansa tells us that the Sama Veda deals with the problem of all living creatures; and, as some of this would be secret knowledge, the words used are under a "disguise", and we need to change their form to understand their real meaning. That is the important reason why this method has been adopted.