Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION: NATURE, SACRIFICE AND THE SOUL


Certain names, which appear to be unconnected with the rest of the text, refer to nature; but we should be careful in arriving at this conclusion. Nature is associated with the soul, without which we cannot understand the idea of action. Certain terms used in connection with the performance of a sacrifice, refer to nature; others refer to the function of the mind, and so on.

The result of a sacrifice accrues to the sacrificer, and so he should engage in it himself, - at least so far as its principal part is concerned; and he may employ others to do the rest. All this is described in the sacred books under different names. For instance the ten Adhvaryu priests refer to the ten senses; and we have also the idea of detachment or disinterestedness in action. There are also other terms used in the text; and all the constituents of action are called Ritvij priests. They are sixteen in number, and the "master of the sacrifice" or the soul is the seventeenth; and all these perform all kinds of actions referred to in the sacred books.

Similarly the function of Mitra and Varuna is to ordain action; but we should come to this conclusion when certain words are also used in the text. We can get the meaning of Adhvaryu and other words by means of this method of interpretation. This is the method of interpretation of the Vedas, and it should be applied to other sacred books as well. This will enable us to understand the idea of Dharma. All this is given explicitly in the Angas of the Vedas and in the remaining works not so explicitly.

Certain words refer to nature: When certain names appear to be unconnected with the text, they should be deemed to refer to nature (Pradhana), because of the special manner in which they have been explained. But all unconnected expressions are not of this kind. Nor can we apply this rule to the expressions, however removed from the context, because this mode of expression is intended to serve a special object, which can easily be proved. The special object is to explain the character of action, which is so closely connected with nature; and this is made clear in the following Sutras.

Nature and the soul: This reference to nature is due to the fact that, nature is always associated with its "master" or the soul, because all action has a result, which would be meaningless otherwise. We cannot understand the character of action, so closely associated with Nature, without reference to the soul. We can grasp its idea only in the light of our own actions, or the experience of those who live; and, as we cannot have an idea of life without that of the soul, we cannot understand the character of action without it. Hence the necessity of associating nature with the soul. The word for the soul in the text is Svamin, which means "master, ;lord", and is also the name of Vishnu or Shiva. The "master" of nature is the soul or God.

This result is achieved by means of the desire to act; and that is possible only through the union of the soul with nature, - for desire arises when they are brought into close contact with each other; and the result is also achieved by means of the union of the two, - for that is the purpose of desire.

Other references to Nature: By putting together the attributes of an object we put together its idea or meaning; and we find that the consecration for a religious sacrifice and the fee paid to the priest also refer to nature; because, like all other things in nature, these too must come to an end. In the same manner the Vedi (raised piece of ground for the sacrificial altar) of Yupa (a sacrificial post) also refer to nature.

This means that the forces of nature can be associated with the idea of sacrifice; that is to say, we can believe that they act in accordance with a law, which is characterized by both goodness and intelligence, and is applicable to all alike. It is this that gives us the idea of God; and we might say that nature itself is transformed into God by means of the idea of sacrifice. This is exemplified in the story of Sikhandin in the Mahabharata, to which reference has already been made.

Reference to the mind: Some one, incapable of being taught in connection with what has been stated above, might ask, 'What is the idea of measuring the sacrificial ground, the recitation of Samidheni verses, and the two vessels in which the Soma plants are conveyed to be pressed, which, according to instruction, are associated with these verses?' Samidheni verses are recited while the sacrificial fire is kindled, and so would refer to the function of the intellect, for that is the idea of fire in the sacred books. As the Soma plant refers to the objects of nature, the two "vessels" which convey it to be pressed, would obviously refer to the two kinds of senses, - of knowledge and action, - which come into contact with these objects. Measuring the ground refers to the function and purpose of the mind; and the whole narrative is like that. the word used on the text is Soma, which refers to the mind, as has already been explained.

Sacrificer and his servants: The result of sacrifice, referred to in the sacred books, is obtained by the performer of the sacrifice, because he is the cause of sacrifice; and he should engage in it himself. In any case, the principal part of the sacrifice, being the most important, should be performed by him; and, as for the rest, he may do it himself, or get it done by someone else. Another person maybe engaged to do the less important part of it; and the hiring out of such a person is permitted by the sacred books, specially when the sacrificer is prevented from doing it himself. Thus, the measure of the part of the sacrificer depends on the circumstances of each case; and no fixed rule can be laid down, because no special distinction can be made.

Different kinds of actions: However, the sacred books make a distinction in regard to different kinds of actions, and different names have been given to their actors. We cannot say that these different names refer to the same actor who performs these different actions, because the results are clearly different.

Adhvaryu priests: The names of Adhvaryu priests have been given to them in accordance with this statement; and they have been stated in a number of the sacred books. Their number should be ten, because we can verify it for ourselves. Adhvaryu priests refer to the senses of knowledge and action, which are ten in number.

Detachment: There should also be a samitr (detachment, which keeps the mind calm), because there is a special mention of that name. This is clear from the subject under discussion, because we are told that we should not think of results. Samitr means "one who keeps his mind calm"; and it refers therefore to detachment or disinterestedness in action. There are a number of references to this in the Bhagavad Gita; and tells us that we are entitled to act, but not to claim the fruit or result of action.

Other factors of action: There is also a reference to other constituents of action, - those actions that are inclined towards their objects, as we can see for ourselves. For instance, the "seller" represents the slow movement of action, for he is the person who makes it move slowly.

Ritvij priests: All the constituents of action are called Ritvij priests, because they cannot be distinguished, and are not exclusive of one another. The Ritvij priests, as has already been pointed out, refer to the four faculties of man, - his intellect, ahankara or the I-as-the-actor, mind and the senses. As the Mimansa explains later on, all these are closely connected with one another, and it is not always easy to distinguish between them. For instance, the intellect and the mind may, in certain circumstances, be identified. On the other hand, the mind is sometimes regarded as an organ of sense.

this is not a mere theory or hypothesis, because all of them have the right to engage in an act of sacrifice; and there is a rule, about which there is general agreement, that all these "priests" should be given "gifts" when a sacrifice is performed. Although these faculties are connected with one another, they yet have their special function to perform; and the "gifts" or "fee" paid to them indicates that their work has been properly done. The Mimansa has explained that a "gift" signifies satisfaction in the performance of action. Indeed, their different functions have been laid down, for they alone are initiated in the work. All these faculties have their special functions, and the work of the sense cannot be done by the mind, and so on; nor can the function of one sense organ be performed by another. Thus each is specially initiated to do its own work.

Master of sacrifice: The "master" is the seventeenth to share it with them. There are four principal Ritvij priests, each of them is assisted by three more, - making a total of sixteen; and their idea has already been explained. The 'master" or Svamin is the soul; and he is the institutor of the sacrifice; and all these "priests" work for him, and are paid their "fee".

Their actions: All these perform all kinds of action, according as they are suited to them; and the idea of the "fire" is the same, because they have their proper time. As has already been explained, "fire" refers to the intellect or intelligent action; and the three fires, - Garhapatya, Ahavaniya, and Dakshina - refer to the three ways in which an intelligent action can be performed: to preserve one's self or the family; to work for others in the world; and so to act that one is not tainted by the evil effects of action. It is because of their combination that there is constancy in action; and that is why their combination is so important. The importance of the combination of all these faculties is described in terms of the three assistants of each one of the principal Ritvij priests. The idea is that, even if we assign the principal role to the intellect, ahankara, mind or an organ of sense, the remaining three must also be there before an action can be taken. That is why each of the Ritvij priests has three assistants to help them.

There is a reference to all this in the sacred books, and a detailed description of it in the form of a narrative; and we can see it for ourselves in that form.

Mitra and Varuna: According to the teachings of the sacred books, the function of the two gods, Mitra and Varuna, is to ordain action, and to lay down instructions in connection with its performance. But this conclusion can be drawn only when certain words are repeated in the text, and the word Praisha (meaning "direction") occurs in close proximity; and there is also a reference to the Hotr (the mind) in the hymns to be recited in the morning.

The original form of the word Mitra is Mit-tra; and Mit is derived from Mi, meaning "to measure, to judge", which is a function of the intellect; while Tra is the same as Tri, meaning "three", which, as the Mimansa tells us, refers to the mind. Mitra or Mit-tra, accordingly, signifies the function of the intellect and the mind; and the two, as the Mimansa tells us, may even be identified.

Varuna is described as the lord of waters which, as the Mimansa tells us, refers to nature. He represents, therefore, the idea of nature or Prakrti as the supreme creator of life.

Now, if we believe in nature as the chief creator of life, the logical conclusion is that we must renounce all actions if we wish to be happy and free. The idea of renunciation of action is accordingly associated with Varuna, and this is said to be his "noose", from which it is difficult to escape.

But Varuna and Mitra are often invoked together; and when that is done, they ordain action, for so the Mimansa tells us. As Mitra refers to the function of the intellect and the mind, it means that if we look at nature in an intelligent manner, we realize that we cannot refrain from all actions; for to do so would be to put an end to one's life.

Varuna accordingly does not represent an uncompromising attitude towards action, and so is friendly to other gods, who represent different points of view. The attitude of total renunciation of actions represented by Vrtra, the serpent-deity, who stops all flow of waters or the working of the great forces of nature, and so must be "slain".

But even Varuna and Mitra do not represent the idea of action without end: they do so under certain conditions, which are represented in a particular manner in the Vedas. According to their idea, we can act only when all life is before us (or we are in the morning of our life), and our mind is fresh and vigorous; and so there should be a reference to the Hotr priest, who refers to the mind, in the hymns recited in the morning. When, however, the evening of life approaches (or we are at the point of death), all action must cease; and so the idea of the renunciation of action has its point too.

The idea of Vedanta, on the other hand, is that after death there is life again, and even God himself is born from age to age; and so there is no end whatsoever to action.

Meaning of Adhvaryu: The Adhvaryu priests get their share of sweetmeats (satisfaction), because it is so stated in the text; and the meaning of the word can be obtained by applying the method of interpretation. We can do so when we understand the other meaning of the word Chamasa, and also grasp the idea of Adhvaryu in a state of weakness.

We are told that there are ten Adhvaryu priests; and, as the number ten refers to the ten sense of knowledge and action, this enables us to understand that the Adhvaryu priests refer to these senses.

Again the word Adhvaryu means "one who institutes an Adhvara", which is said to be the name of a Soma sacrifice. The word Adhvara is A - dhvara; and the latter is derived from the root Dhvr; and we have to get its meaning from "a" and "Dhvr"; and the latter is composed of Dh, v, r; so the whole word depends on the meaning of these four letters. Of these "a" is a particle of negation; "dh" refers to the mind; "v" to the sense of knowledge; and "r" to the senses of action; and so the meaning is "(a) not (dh) the mind; but (v) the senses of knowledge and (r) the sense of action". However, as the senses cannot be dissociated from the mind, Adhvara is said to be a name of a Soma sacrifice or a function of the mind.

Chamasa is said to be a vessel used for drinking Soma. It also means sweetmeat, which symbolizes satisfaction.  We are required to take the latter meaning.

When we are in a state of weakness, our senses refuse to function, and we get no satisfaction in action. This enables us to understand the part of the senses in satisfaction; and this corresponds to the Adhvaryu priests getting their share of sweetmeats.

Result of interpretation: This is the method of interpreting the Vedas, and it should be applied to other sacred books as well. This will enable us to get a proper idea of Dharma. The authority for this is given explicitly in the Angas of the Vedas, because the meaning there is clear; while it is not so explicit in the remaining work.

The word Veda is mentioned in the text twice; and, as it refers to Vedas as well as a book of sacred knowledge, it has been taken in both these senses. It is in this sense that both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are spoken of as Vedas. The Mimansa tells us later on that this method of interpretation is applicable to sruti as well as the smrti. Indeed, it applies to the great Epics and the Puranas as well as the Upanishads and the other sacred works.

This method of interpretation enables us to understand that the Vedas deal with the problem of Dharma or the law of action in the world, conceived in its widest significance, and characterized by both goodness and intelligence.

There are six Vedangas (Angas or sub-divisions of the Vedas). They are regarded as auxiliary to, and a part of, the Vedas, and are composed in Sutra form. The Mimansa tells us that we can understand their idea directly and explicitly from their text; while in the case of other works we have to resort to this method of interpretation.