Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-1)


The meaning of the entire text should be in accordance with the teachings of the sruti. This will convince us of its correctness; and we shall find the description to be so accurate that the ideas and objects appear to be like living beings.

If, however, the common meaning be the real meaning of the text, it should make sense, and the actions of persons should be consistent with their character; but it is not so. The method of interpretation applies to both the sruti and the smrti.

When a word has number of meanings, it is necessary to make a selection; and it is the principle that has been applied in this method of interpretation, as may be seen from the meaning of certain words. The new meaning transforms the whole idea of the text, and the words retain their meaning throughout. There are, however, certain words the meanings of which have been specially defined.

The method of interpretation: When the meaning of the principal word has been explained in accordance with the authority of the sruti, the meaning of the rest of the text should also be explained in accordance with the same authority. It will then be found that the text, unseparated from its original meaning, comes to possess its true essence, and retains the same character throughout. We shall thus find, from the conclusions arrived at and the truth disclosed, that the direction we have followed is the correct one, as it will partake of the characteristics of the original words. Indeed, the description is so accurate, that the idea and objects appear in every case to be like living beings. This would explain why the characters in the Epics and the Puranas, which are really ideas of philosophy personified, appear to be like living beings. As the Mimansa tells us, this method of composition, and so of interpretation, is common to both the sruti and the smrti, or Vedas and post-Vedic literature, and the latter includes the Epics and the Puranas.

An Objection: It may be argued that this is not possible, because the meanings cannot be divided in such a manner as to give us this result; and so it is not possible to agree that there can be two different meanings in this way.

An Answer: But if this contention were correct, and if the meaning of the text has no bearing on the laws of life, it follows that what the text teaches should be true, and all that we are told should take place, so that if we act in conformity with it, our actions should blossom forth and produce the promised results. If the names are real names, and if this is the normal form of the text, we should be able to grasp the essential characteristics of all things. If, however, we must take the meaning as they are, and cannot divide words into parts, it is possible to say that the names are the names of objects; but the text also refers to their actions, which do not appear to be consistent with their character. Hence we cannot apply the same rule to the rest of the text (and say that the names refer to living beings).

Method applicable to both Sruti and Smriti: It may be argued that this method may apply to the smriti, but not to sruti. But this is not possible, because the smriti is nothing but conclusions drawn from what precedes it (sruti). This shows that this method of interpretation applies to both Vedic and post-Vedic literature. It has been applied to the Mahabharata, and is found to be equally applicable to the Ramayana and the Bhagavat Puranas; and so it follows that it would apply to all sacred books.

Need of selection: The words used in the text have a number of meanings; and it is only because we restrict ourselves to a particular explanation that (a difficulty arises, and) we get a different meaning. (It is a common rule of interpretation that) if a word has similar meanings, we should accept that which has already been referred to in the text. But this does not apply to the word syena, because it does not make sense. (The word syena commonly means a "hawk or falcon" which is said to have brought down the Soma-juice to man. The Mimansa tells us that we cannot accept this or any other meaning given in the dictionary, because it does not make sense, and so we have to divide the word into parts). Again, if a word is quite new, and has more than one meaning, the term "similar" should apply only to such meanings as have a bearing on a law of Nature,- as, for instance, that which is derived from Jyotishtoma. (Jyotishtoma, said to be a Soma ceremony, refers really to the rays of light. The Mimansa tells us that "similar" meanings, which we are asked to accept, should refer to the laws of life,- for that is the essential idea of the text). If, however, there is a reference to "five motions" in the text, it is easy to explain its meaning ("Five motions" would obviously refer to the function of the five senses,- especially those of action, for motion and action are closely allied); and we get it by substituting one expression for another; and this substitution can be made throughout the text, because it is one and the same idea that is expressed, which can be understood when we see this "disguise".

Oneness of meaning: There are some who maintain that it is not possible to have the same meaning throughout, because the sense is fixed by the context in each case. But this cannot be accepted; for if we take the meanings as they are, we find that they are unsuitable, and we are compelled to reject them; and it is in this manner that we find that there is but one assemblage of ideas in connection with Indra and Agni. We have already explained that Indra really refers to the self-conscious soul (Prajnatman) and Agni to the intellect; and this is the meaning they retain throughout the range of sacred books.

Words for fixed meanings: There are certain words which have only one meaning: for instance Visvedevas (all-gods) refers to Nature or Prakrti; and the agrayana sacrifice should be understood to include all sacrifices. There is also a reference to avabrtha sacrifice, and it is only once that the word has to be divided into parts; and that too in accordance with an express direction. As has already been explained, a god refers to the great powers of Nature; and so Visva-devas or all gods would refer to all the powers of Nature,- that is, the whole of Nature itself.

Agrayana is said to be the first Soma-libation at the Agnistoma sacrifice. As Soma refers to the mind and Agni to intellect, while sacrifice is action,- agrayana, being associated with both, would refer to the functions of both the mind and the intellect. As the attribute of the mind is desire, which is characterized by an element of goodness,- and always so where the doer of the deed himself is concerned - we have here the association of goodness and intelligence, which is of the essence of the idea of sacrifice. Hence agrayana includes all kinds of sacrifice.

Avabrtha means "the purification or ablution of the sacrificer and sacrificial vessels after a sacrifice"; it also means "a supplementary sacrifice". The Mimansa tells us that it generally retains this meaning; and it is only once that its meaning is different, and it has to be divided into parts to be understood.