Narach Philosophy

THE LANGUAGE OF THE VEDAS: METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-1)


It is necessary to make a selection of our meaning; but if there is a special mention of a particular meaning or a particular cause, we should accept that in preference to anything else, even if some other meaning also makes sense. But there can be only one predominant thought, which must produce its own effect or result. The main and subordinate parts of the text are closely connected together, for otherwise the whole thing would become meaningless.

There are, however, certain terms or expressions which have a special meaning: for instance, "burning to ashes" means "burning everything"; inexhaustibleness" refers to the world; "tad" means sacrifice of all kinds; the idea of renewing the sacrificial fire and "cooked rice" is the same; the "offering of the five cups" is a substitute for something else; there is an idea behind the invocation of the deity of a substance without the worshipper; "conquest of the world" means harmony of thought, feeling and action; the austerities of a father means that he wants to benefit his son; the idea of Time arises from something that makes its appearance, or the word "immeasurable", or the birth of a son.

The meaning of the word "sva" or soul cannot be expressed in words; we can understand the idea of Time because of its connection with some characteristics of the soul; and we can understand the idea of both Time and the soul because of the purposefulness of Time. It is necessary to arrange things in an orderly manner; and it is this that gives us the idea of Time.

Importance of special meanings: When in our interpretation of the text we come to two meanings which are equally significant, we should select that which has a bearing on the result, because that is the purpose it has to serve. But if there is a special reference to some other meaning, it should be preferred; because, if there is mention of a special cause, result is but a poor support to uphold a different one. When there is special mention of a particular cause, it should be regarded as most important, and the result should be "absorbed" or explained away in some other way. But whatever the explanation, the meaning of the whole should be closely knitted together, with an intimate relation of each part to the other. However, the cause that has been specially mentioned, has an excellence of its own; and it is only in matters of great importance that there is a detailed description of things in the sruti.

No other explanation can make as good sense as the special meaning given in the text, because there can be no conflict with it anywhere. At the same time, as the whole meaning is closely inter-connected, the predominant thought of the text be found only in one place and two explanations cannot be equally satisfactory. But the predominant thought cannot exist without result, - for, were it so, it would be an unskillful way of handling it. Indeed, it is there for the purpose of producing a result. This should be so, and this is actually found to be the case; and anything else would be unthinkable. As all parts of the text are closely connected together, the meaning based on result cannot be regarded as subsidiary; and it would be a very unusual thing to think that it is.

Main and subordinate parts: So far as the subordinate parts of the text are concerned, since they are meant to serve the purpose of some higher object, they need to be supported by some statement in the text. Nor need the statement create a doubt as to the exact idea of these parts, because there is always a reason for them (this Sutra does not occur in certain texts); and their meaning cannot be different in different places, because it is obtained from the entire body of the text. Indeed, if they were to lose their meaning, the whole text would be broken up.

Special explanation for certain terms: There are certain expressions used in the text which have been explained in a special manner: for instance, when we speak of "burning to ashes", the meaning is the same as "the burning of everything", because we can put one for the other in the same place; and that is how we should understand the meaning of words used in the same place.

When the word "anya" is used, meaning "inexhaustibleness", we should understand that it means "etad" or "this world"; and the reason for this is to be found in the sacred books themselves.

Similarly, the word "tad" means "havis" or sacrifice, and we cannot say that their meanings are different, for the word havis should be deemed to refer to sacrifice because of its connection with the word tad. It is not necessary that all this should be contained in the sruti, for this is the very definition of the word; and so offering sacrifices to the god, religious bath, and even acts of eating and drinking are said to be like tad (or sacrifice. When a word has been specially defined, its meaning should be obtained in two ways, - the word itself and its definition; and no Dharma-shastra or code of laws is required further to explain it. the Bhagavad Gita tells us that there are three names of Brahma, - Om, Tad and Sat; and of these tad is specially associated with the idea of sacrifice. The literal meaning of the word (ta, d) is "(d) sacrifice, associated with (ta) the sense of action".

Again, the idea of "renewing the sacrificial fire" is the same as that of "cooking rice" for they both refer to food conceived in terms of sacrifice; and so the meaning of both the expressions arises from the mention of the object associated with them.

There is a mention of "an offering of five cups" in the sruti; and it should really be a substitute for something else. The five cups are obviously substitutes for the five organs of senses, by means of which we can act. As we can drink out of a cup, so we may be said to perform a function by means of these organs.

There is also a rule in regard to "the deity of an object"; but there is no express mention of "the worshipper" in every case. The idea of a "worshipper" is defined in the following Sutras as a limb or member of the body. As it is possible to conceive of the great forces of Nature (as that is the idea of the deity) acting without reference to man, the presence of a "worshipper" is not essential. But the worshipper would wish to be present at the sacrifice because of the opportunity it would give him. Indeed, we might say that each limb of the body is a worshipper or sacrificer, because it can be the instrumental cause of action.

If a person desires to conquer the world, he should put himself in such a state of thinking and feeling as would enable him to engage in action; and this idea is expressed in terms of "payment of a wage or price". There is an alternative reading, which means that "If we do not succeed in the conquest of everything, the failure should be attributed to our manner of action". The idea of "payment of a wage" is that we have to pay for our success, - which can be achieved by means of action.

When a father is devoted to his son, and wishes to do something for him, there is an impelling urge within him to submit even to austerities for his sake. A reference to the austerities of a father should be interpreted to mean that he wants to do something for the benefit of his son, because of his love for him.

The idea of time - how expressed: The idea of Time arises from something that makes its appearance; and we can get it from what has already been mentioned. We also get it from the meaning of the word immeasurable. When we get the word immeasurable in the text, it generally refers to Time; and we might say that Time cannot be measured, for it is without a beginning or end. But we can understand something of it as it passes, and sub-divide it too; and so the idea of the birth of a son in the text is that it refers to a sub-division of Time. Again, when there is mention of the birth of a son in the sruti, it should be understood to refer to a sub-division of Time. It should be regarded as pointing to Time, without reference to any other direction or rule; for the idea of birth of a son would be found to be meaningless if we associate it with action instead.

Soul and Time: The meaning of the word sva or soul cannot be expressed in words. It is not possible to describe the soul as it is; and we can only understand it in terms of the character of some other faculties, - intellect, ahankara, mind, or the senses. That is to say, we can describe it as supreme intelligence and the essence of rationality man; or say that it is an actor; or that it is characterized by desire; or that it is an instrument of knowledge as well as action. There is no other way of describing the soul; and its special characteristic is that all other faculties function because of it.

If Time enables us to associate ourselves with anything, it is because of its connection with some characteristic of the soul; and it is because of them alone that we can get an idea of Tine, or associate ourselves with anything in the world; and because Time has some purpose to serve (in the order of the universe), we can understand the idea of both Time and the soul. It is by means of our intellect that we can get a proper idea of Time; and as the intellect and the soul may, for practical purposes, be identified, it enables us to understand the character of the soul as well.

It may be of interest to point out that the ancient divisions of Time into Yuga, Manvantara, and Kalpa all refer to the exercise of our mental faculties. For instance, the word Yuga is derived from yug, one of the meanings of which is "to fix or concentrate the mind". The word, Manvantara is derived from Manu, which is the same as manas or the mind; while one of the meanings of the word Kalpa is "research, investigate". Indeed, the word Kala for Time is itself derived from kal, which means "to perceive, consider". Hence we might say that the idea of Time involves a process of thought or a function of the intellect or the mind.

The law of time: When ideas and objects are scattered about, their arrangement in some scientific manner is a source of comfort, like an asylum; and the idea of the law of Time arises from the existence of both things and their orderly arrangement. We cannot understand the idea of Time from anything else, however perfect it be; and if we pursue any other course to understand what is Time, we shall find that, far from coming anywhere near it, we are further removed from its idea; for we can succeed only if we look at it from a particular point of view.

It is only an orderly arrangement of things, - events occurring in proper succession, that can give us an idea of Time. The appearance of a new thing, or the birth of a son, is meant to express this idea of an orderly arrangement of things in the world; and that is why it represents the idea of Time, as the Mimansa tells us.