Narach Philosophy

THE LANGUAGE OF THE VEDAS: METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-2)


As when we discover an error in a course of action, we adopt some other way to remove the defect, we must do the same in connection with the text of the sacred books. In some cases we may have to repeat the same process, while in others we have to find out where the weakness lies; and we should be satisfied only if a thing is found to be both intelligent and good.

There are certain directions enabling us to understand the meaning of the text; for instance, we know the idea of boiled milk and of sacrifice offered silently.

According to Asmarthya, we should take the meanings of the words as they are, without making any changes; and treat as exceptions those that have been defined in a special way; and this will enable us to understand the meaning of a number of words. This requires devotion to the task, but is amply rewarded by the results achieved.

In this manner we can understand the nature of action, its relation to time and desire, and how it can be purified of taint by means of control of the mind.

We need to understand the text of the Vedas in the light of all this; and should, where necessary, change the form of words to get their real meaning. The two meanings may create difficulties in some cases, but they can be overcome. In some cases they can be reconciled; while in others we must accept the second meaning, obtained by changing the form of words, as being the better of the two: only we must remember that the whole idea must remain consistent throughout.

An alternative method of action and interpretation: If at the commencement of an action, we find that we have committed a mistake in regard to occasion or time, we wish to invoke the gods and make an offering to them, like the sacrifice of the five cups (or five senses); and this is done in order to remove the error when it has been discovered. We have already explained that the five "cups" refer to the five organs of sense. The gods refer to the great forces of Nature; and "invoking" them would mean understanding the character of these forces. The point of this Sutra is that when we discover a mistake, we wish to take stock of things again, retrace our steps, and begin afresh, so that we might succeed in our next attempt. We have to do the same thing in the case of the sacred text, when we find ourselves at fault.

We are able to discover our error in connection with the text in the same manner, because such is the form of words used in it. We can discover our error in making curd by repeating the process, and gaining experience; for this is the manner of discovering error when we are new to the task. In case of deficiency of strength, we may find fault with the function of the five senses (five cups), although they might be faultless. We cannot say that this is possible in all cases, - even of good actions, which require exercise of the intellect, because such actions would be without fault, and their cause would be general, and not a particular one.

With regard to the intellect, the word in the text is samnayya, which means any "any substance mixed with clarified butter and offered as a burnt offering". We have explained that "clarified butter" refers to goodness; while anything partaking of the character of Agni or fire refers to the intellect. Hence the meaning here. Further, the cause of a good and intelligent action is a general and not a particular one, because it partakes of the character of a law.

Special meanings: Certain words have been specially defined; for instance, the expression "boiled milk" or "cooked rice" is for the sake of accurate description. Boiled milk or cooked food is but a detailed description of food, which, as the Mimansa has told us, refers to nature or Prakrti. There are a number of similar references in the Upanishads.

In the case of prayer uttered silently, - because no words are spoken, - the natural form of words should remain unchanged. There are three ways of reading the sacred text: singing aloud, silent repetition, and normal reading. In the case of the first we are told that the form of words should be changed, because that is what e do when we sing; and in the case of the second the Mimansa tells us that the natural form of words should remain unchanged; while in the case of the third we may do what is necessary in each case.

In such cases if we follow our own predilections, we are likely to commit mistakes, as it happens in a number of other cases: and we shall fritter away our energy without achieving any result, - which can only be done by understanding the real meaning of things. This is most important of all; with regard to the rest, it is all a matter of description or illustration; and we can understand the rest of the meaning of the text in this manner.

Opinion of scholars: Asmarthya says that we should normally take words in their natural or original form before they have been distributed into something else; and that will give us their correct idea. There are, however, certain words which have to be treated as exceptions, such as tandula (meaning "rice"). Rice, as the Mimansa has told us, is the best form of grain, and so refers to Prakrti or Nature in a special way. This is a special case even according to Asmarthya, where the common meaning of the word is not satisfactory, and a different interpretation is required.

Alekhana says that the word urdhava (meaning "raised above") is the opposite of bhuj ("possession") that is, it means non-possession; and it is because of this that it has been personified into a deity. Non-possession of the material objects of life is something that is "raised above": that is, it is a high ideal, and so is personified as a god.

The word mushti (a fist) may similarly be included in some other idea; but it does not belong to the class of exceptions; and that is due to the quality of the word. Indeed, we can get its correct meaning by taking it away from its own place, and putting it somewhere else; for this is the best way of dealing with it and anything else would make the whole thing meaningless. The word mushti has a number of meanings, including a fist (the hand closed to grasp something). It accordingly refers to the idea of possession; and, as the hand is an instrument of action, it implies action performed for the sake of possession. The Mimansa tells us that we can get its correct meaning by replacing it by the word possession, to which there is also a reference in a previous Sutra.

The real meaning of the word samnayya should be obtained from its connection with the word samnaya while that of the word aushadha ("consisting of medicinal herbs") from its connection with both. We cannot deny this connection of the ground that medicinal herbs are not always effective, because their failure is due to some other cause.

As has already been explained, samnayya refers to a good and intelligent action; while sam-naya means "bringing together". As the meaning of the one is to be derived from the other, it means that the idea of a good and intelligent action (samnayya) is obtained from bringing things together (sam-naya); that is to say, bringing things together is a good and intelligent act. Similarly, Aushadha means "consisting of herbs", and is derived from oshadhi, "a medicinal plant or herb". It is said that the meaning of aushadha or "what relates to medicinal plants", - that is, their healing power - should be obtained from a good and intelligent act as well as putting things together; that is to say, medicinal herbs get their healing power when things are put together intelligently and for a good cause.

Certain other expressions: Rising up, to depart too quickly, and making an all-inclusive bargain, express the idea of separation and union respectively. If a thing has occurred and we can establish that it has occurred, it means that we know what is called its efficient cause. If we understand the sruti in any other way, it would give us a substituted form of meaning and not the real one. A person can succeed in obtaining the desired result by dedicating himself to the study of the text; and then he would know the difference between the two meanings.

It is in this manner that, by means of inference, we can understand the idea of sacrifice lasting twelve days. Sacrifice means a great good action performed selflessly and in accordance with a law; while a period of twelve days is symbolic of intelligence and length and continuity of time; for the number twelve refers to the intellect, as the ten to the ten senses, and eleven to the mind. This is how we can understand its idea by means of inference: for if the number ten refers to the ten senses, eleven must refer to the mind, and twelve to Buddhi or the intellect. But there is an uncertainty in regard to the idea of the full moon, because there is no difference between one full moon and another and so an explanation becomes necessary. As has already been explained, the moon refers to the mind; and so the new moon signifies its awakening as desire, and the full moon its fulfillment in action. But as there are different kinds and conditions of action, a simple reference to the full moon cannot explain all, because one full moon is so like another, while actions are different.

If there is only a simple reference to the full moon, and nothing follows immediately after the statement has been made, it should refer to the full moon or the month of Chaitra. But the word ekashtaka in the sruti refers to the full moon in the month of Magha. Hence one kind of reference to the full moon refers to a particular full moon, - of the month of Chaitra, the beginning of the Hindu year, - and so points to action at the commencement of our career, an action that must go on for some length of time.

Another reference to the full moon, where the word ekashtaka occurs and it refers to Nature or Prakrti with its eight divisions - leads us to conclude that it refers to action at the end of our life, when it is necessary to renounce it, even as the month of Magha comes at the end of the Hindu year, for it is the last of the winter months.

Ekashtaka is said to be the eighth day after the full moon, and so it refers to the number eight. As a woman refers to Nature or Prakrti - and it is a noun in the feminine gender - it may be aid to refer to Prakrti too. This is further supported by the reference to night, specially of the dark fortnight of the moon, for that too refers to Prakrti. We may therefore, conclude that ekashtaka refers to Nature or Prakrti; and this is borne out by what follows. Prakrti is said to have eight divisions, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us.

We cannot say that there is another ekashtaka too, for there is no other ekashtaka; and it is only for the sake of convenience of understanding by the people that it has been divided into two. Indeed, we think of another ekashtaka, - and that too by mistake - when we are exclusively occupied with a certain idea, and think of it as something that confers benefits; for we get this idea of it according as it appears to us; but all its characteristics are this one form.

Ekashtaka or Prakrti is only one; and it is only for the sake of convenience of understanding its idea that we are told that there are two forms of it, one making for life and the other making for death. There is a reference to two kinds of Prakrti in the Bhagavad Gita too; but later on we are told of only one. Further, the Prakrti that confers benefits is the same as the higher Prakrti, referred to in the Bhagavad Gita, which is said to be the "life of all creatures, and sustains the universe". It is this idea of Prakrti that is closely associated with that of God, for it can easily be transformed into the latter by means of the idea of Sacrifice. This has already been explained.

Sacrifice purifies: As there is an appointed time for dedication to a task, to neglect it would detract from the idea of duty in regard to what ought to be done at the proper time. On the other hand, the common cause of action is the desire to rise to something higher, when we are prepared for the task. There is in this nothing against the acts of making oblations to the gods, as the ancients used to do; for actions take place when the time is ripe for them. But by controlling desire, we elevate ourselves, because the desire is removed or purified thereby.

As has already been explained, the gods refer to the great and beneficent forces of Nature; and making oblations to them means that we admit that these forces have a part to play in action. The idea of human action, performed as a duty, or as a sacrifice, is thus in complete harmony with the part that the great forces of Nature play in it; and this is exemplified by the fact that actions take place when the time is ripe for them. At the same time it is necessary to control our desires, for desires are removed or purified in this manner.

Function of the intellect and the mind: If there is anything against Homa, Agni-hotra offerings should be made every evening; but every morning we should make use of that which has sixteen parts; but it should always be under the authority of predominant thought or the intellect because evil is so common.

Homa is an act of making an oblation to the gods by casting clarified butter into the fire. As gods refer to the forces of Nature, clarified butter to goodness, and fire to the intellect, - it means a good and intelligent action associated with the great powers of Nature: that is to say, we believe that the latter are characterized by both goodness and intelligence, and regulate our life accordingly.

Agni-hotra is an oblation to Agni; and there are two kinds of Agni-hotra, - nitya or obligatory, and kamya or optional. As Agni refers to the intellect, it means an intelligent action, whether it be obligatory or optional.

The point of this Sutra is that even if we do not believe in the forces of Nature as being characterized by goodness and intelligence, our own actions, whether obligatory or optional, should be.

The reference to "evening" is also significant, as it is the end of the day, and so implies that, however we begin such actions, the end at least should be characterized by intelligence.

But the beginning (morning), though characterized by desire (an attribute of the mind, which consists of sixteen parts), should be governed by the highest thought or thought of death, for we should be afraid of evil which is so common. The morning refers to the beginning; that which consists of sixteen parts is the mind; and Prayas-chitta, the word used in the text, means "predominant though, or thought of death".

The text and its interpretation: There is a corresponding "evil" or difficulty in the text, and it arises from the use of words; but it disappears when their form is changed. When, however, a word is substituted by another, it loses its value, like food thrown into water, unfit to be eaten by a wise man. There would, be in such a case, be simultaneous alternative readings, and it would be impossible to grasp the main idea. This is only to be expected, because there can only be one instrumental cause of a thing, and it can be expressed by only one word at a time. But where there is a conflict of statements, there is likely to be a difference of opinion (or doubt) as to the exact idea of the text. In some places, however, the idea may improve with two readings; but that will not be commonly so, because things are united together into a single whole.

When one meaning is substituted by another, the original meaning becomes useless. However, when we are dissatisfied with the original meaning, there can be a number of alternative ways of handling the text; and we have to choose the best, for even two cannot be alike, though, in some cases, it may be an advantage to have them.

If two things are related as prior and posterior, the former is the weaker of the two; and such is the case with the natural form of a word. But if, on second thought, we find it necessary to change the form of words, the entire Veda should again hold together in the same manner as the other case; for if a work is continuous, - however extensive it be, there can be no break in it unless it is intended to be so.

This means the same things as saying that second thoughts are best. Similarly, if in the case of words we find it necessary to change their form, it would be found that, as between their original form and the changed one, the latter, being the last, is the better of the two.