Narach Philosophy

THE ESSENTIAL IDEA OF THE SACRED BOOK


We are now in a position to understand the essential idea of the sacred books of the Hindus. The Vedas, as the Mimansa has told us, deals with the laws of Nature and the problem of action, with special reference to the life of man; and we can understand them in this light if we interpret them in accordance with the method it has explained. The Mimansa mentions the Vedas, Rik Sama and Yajur; and refers to a fourth, Nigada, but observes that it should be included in the Yajur. The real fourth Veda, which would appear to be of later origin, Atharva; and it too should belong to the same class as the previous three.

Mantras and Brahmanas: The Vedas consist of the principal parts, Mantras, believed to be hymns of pra addressed to the gods, and Brahmanas, consisting of Vidhi and Artha-vada, believed to be directions in regard to ceremonies at which the Mantras are to be recited, and exp nation of legends etc. connected with the Mantras. But Mimansa tells us that, if we interpret the Mantras properly we shall find that they deal with the laws of Nature and problem of action, while the gods will be transformed into personifications of the great forms and forces of Nature. Similarly, as the word Vidhi also means a law, the Brahma deal really with the same laws of Nature and Artha-vada is but an explanation of these laws, even as the word literally signifies. But they too would need to be interpreted in accordance with the method explained in the Mimansa to be understood in this light.

Rig Veda: The Mimansa tells us that the Rig-Veda deals with the problem of action, conceived in its widest significance, that is, with reference to all that the ancients knew of the world of Nature, including man.

Sama Veda: The Sama-Veda, we are told, deals with the problem of all living creatures; and so a considerable portion of the text of the Rig-Veda is repeated in the Sama-Veda.

Yajur Veda: The Yajur-Veda, even as is signified by the name, would accordingly deal with the law of sacrifice or good, intelligent and joyous action, with reference to both Nature and man.

Atharva Veda: The Atharva-Veda is said to have been composed by Atharvan, and is believed to consist chiefly of spells, incantations and formulas intended to prevent or cast out disease and counteract calamities. Atharvan, however, is said to be a priest who is associated with Agni and Soma; and we have seen that the one refers to the intellect, and the other to the mind. Hence, as the Veda is called after his name, it means that it deals with the problem of intellect and the mind, with special reference to the life of man; and if we understand their laws, we can avoid evil and disease. We can, however, understand all this only in accordance with the method of interpretation explained in the Mimansa.

The Upanishads: It is said that out of the Brahmana part of the Vedas arose the Upanishads and the Sutras; and the Upanishads are said to describe the secret doctrine of the Vedas. As we can now understand the "secret" form of the Vedic text, and know that they deal with the laws of life, we can understand that the Upanishads are really an exposition of the secret doctrine of the Vedas, for a great body of the text is composed in a form which is easy to understand, is not necessary to divide words into parts to their meaning. But a considerable portion of even their text is symbolic and written in the form of stories, which need to be understood in the manner explained in Mimansa.

The Sutras: The Sutras are said to be short, pithy sentences, or aphoristic rules, believed to hang loosely together like threads; and the Vedangas and the systems of philosophy are composed in this form. These Sutras have commonly been regarded as unintelligible in themselves, and our present-day knowledge of what they contain is based on certain commentaries of learned men, which are taken to be authoritative. But we have seen that the Sutras of the six systems of philosophy are not only not unintelligible, but describe the different problems of life in a brief, direct, connect and coherent manner. If the Sutras of the Vedangas are the same kind, and they appear to be so indeed they too should yield similar results.

Sruti and Smriti: The Vedas and Vedic literature a called sruti, which means literally "what is heard"; and they are believed to contain sacred knowledge orally transmitted from generation to generation. This is followed by what called smrti, meaning "memory"; for it is believed to have been remembered by heart; and, in its widest application it includes the Sutras, the law-books of Manu, the Epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Puranas. But the terms sruti and smrti can also refer to what is objective and subjective respectively, for what is heard is largely objective; while memory, being a special characteristic of the soul, is largely subjective. Taken in this sense, the Vedas and all Vedic literature, dealing as they do with Nature and its laws, and being objective in their approach, would be spoken of as sruti or what is possible orally to explain. On the other hand, post-Vedic literature, dealing as it does with the problem of soul and God, would be largely subjective, and refer to spiritual experiences, which are not so easy to explain, and can best be remembered. This division between Vedic and post-Vedic literature enables us to understand their division of thought and different points of view, as well as the connection between them.

The Ramayana: The Ramayana deals with the story of the life of Rama, said to be a prince, and is called a Veda. Rama is also said to be a great avatara or "incarnation" of Vishnu, the highest of the three great deities of the Hindus. Now we know that the Vedas deal with the great problems of Nature and man; and, if the Ramayana is said to be a Veda, its subject matter would be the same. The "story", however, appears to be very different; but if we interpret it in the light of the method explained in the Mimansa, we find that it is transformed into an account of some of the great systems of philosophy and religion; and the "fights" between Rama and the Rakshasas, more specially Ravana are but an exposition of their apparently conflicting points of view. The idea of Rama as an "incarnation" of God is similar too.

Puranas: The Puranas are believed to be a collection of ancient tales and legends, and are said to be eighteen in number. They are grouped together in different ways, but more generally in three divisions of six each, and associated with the three principal deities, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu; and there are also separate Puranas dealing with each one of them. A number of them deal with the "stories" of some of the "incarnations" of Vishnu, Matsya (Fish), Kurma (Tortoise), Varaha (Boar), and Vamana (Dwarf); and there are also some in the name of Agni and Vayu and a number of other gods and sages.

We have seen that the three principal deities, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnus are associated with the great systems of religion which bear their names; and their accounts, as given in these works, will be found to correspond to what has been stated about them here. Agni, as we have seen, refers to the intellect; and Vayu or Air to vital breath, the vehicle of the soul; and the two Puranas deal with their special problems; and the same would be true of other gods and sages, when we understand what they really signify.

The "incarnations" of Vishnu have a special place in all post-Vedic literature, for there is a reference to them in all the principal Puranas; and it would be found on examination that they give us the different ideas of God in all the great systems of philosophy and religion. This will explain why they are regarded as so important.

The Mahabharata: The Mahabharata is perhaps the greatest, as indeed it is the longest, of all the sacred books of the Hindus. It is said to be the fifth and last of the Vedas, and is called "the history of the Puranas"; and we are told in all seriousness that that which is in it, occurs elsewhere too; while that which is not in it occurs nowhere else. There is also a detailed description of the contents of the Epic in it opening chapter; and the claim made for it is so vast that, if true, it would appear to he nothing short of an encyclopedia of all ancient knowledge.

But the "story" of the Epic, the conflicts and rivalries of the heroes of the Kaurava and Pd1ava groups of families does not appear to have anything to do with any great schemes of thought, or moral and spiritual values of life; and even the life of Krshna, said to be a perfect "incarnation" of Vishnu, does not seem to be free from criticism or blame. The Mahabharata contains the Bhagavad Gita indeed; but the teachings of the latter appear to be so far removed from the idea of the main "story", that there are not a few who believe that it is an interpolation, and has nothing whatever to do with the Epic as such.

There is thus an obvious contradiction between the "story" of the Epic as it is, and the claim that is made for it; and so it is a fit subject for the application of the method of interpretation explained in the Mimansa. If we do so, and get a new meaning of the principal words used in the text by dividing them into parts, we shall find that what is claimed for the Epic is in effect true, and that it is the story of the life of man in terms of all the great systems of philosophy and religion, including the ascending and descending scales of thought that is, from birth to perfection, and thence to death. We shall then understand that, since it is not possible to go beyond the range of thought of the six systems of philosophy, and the three great systems of religion, ail that is written in it is also contained in the other sacred books, and what is not written in it, is contained nowhere else. It is thus an all-inclusive "story" of the sacred books; and it is in this sense that we have to understand its idea as a "history of all the Puranas".

There is however, a difference in the form of presentation of ideas in these works. While the Ramayana and the Puranas deal with the problem of life in terms of wars and conflicts between gods and demons, who represent different aspects of the great forms and forces of life, and different ways of looking at them, the Mahabharata presents the same conflict in terms of the life of human beings, with Krshna or God to help each side in proportion to their faith in Him. Indeed, the personification of ideas and systems of thought in the Mahabharata as well as the Ramayana, is so perfect, that the "characters", as in the case of the Vedas, to which there is a special reference in the Mimansa, appear to be like living creatures; and it is for this reason that they have so long been regarded as such.

The Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita occupies an important place not only in the "story" of the Mahabharata, but also all the principal sacred books of the Hindus. When we understand the "story" of the Epic in terms of an account of the great systems of philosophy and religion, we shall find that the central idea of the Bhagavad Gita is also the same; and each of its eighteen chapters has a bearing on the corresponding Purva (or section) of the Epic or a day of battle between the contending hosts. It may accordingly be said to be the quintessence of all the sacred books classified as smrti; and it is for this reason that it is possible to illustrate the ideas of all the systems of philosophy by its means.

A common pattern: Thus we see how the whole body of sacred literature, from the Vedas to the Epics and the Puranas, presents the same essential pattern of thought and expression. The Vedas tell us of the great gods, who are but personifications of the great forms and forces of life; and if we understand that Indra refers to the soul, Agni to the intellect, Soma to the mind, and the two Asvins to the senses of knowledge and action, and if we realize that they are believed to have their counterparts in the, sun and the moon, and the planets and the stars, we can understand how we can make up a "story" of the life of man in the midst of the great objects of Nature. We notice a tendency in this direction in the novelists of modern times, attempting to work out a "story" with a Scientific bias or background. But the whole form of ancient thought and mode of expression is unique, and must have called forth all the powers of invention and the genius of man. It is a vast body of literature, produced over hundreds of years, but all along the same lines of thought a synthesis of science, philosophy and religion, worked out in the life of man, and expressed in the same form throughout. And the secret of the sacred books lies in the method of interpretation explained in the Mimansa.