Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-6)


We can get only the main idea by changing the form of a word; while subsidiary ones are obtained from words that lie in close proximity. There is no difficulty in understanding the real meaning of the text in this way.

Words have been newly coined to fit into this scheme, and each succeeding idea is connected with the preceding one. A single word can describe a composite action in this manner. But all words cannot be treated in the same way and the meaning of certain words, like hiranya is the same, whether we divide them into parts or accept their common idea. This method of interpretation is based on the substitution of one form of a word for another. It becomes necessary to resort to it because we cannot get a rational meaning of the text otherwise; for instance, it is only in this way that we can get a proper meaning of the number six when it is used in a certain context. But it requires deep study and repeated practice, as may be seen from an illustration.

The meaning of the principal word enables us to understand the rest; and this may be illustrated too. The meaning may sometimes be obtained by means of effect produced by a certain cause. In the case of dravyas or fundamental substances referred to in systems of philosophy, their idea is obtained by dividing words into parts. All words are directly or indirectly connected with the principal word.

The meaning of certain words has been defined; of others can be obtained by dividing them into parts; but the two are often connected with each other. This change of one form of a word for another is like an exchange; but it is a strictly equal one; and the whole idea can be illustrated. The test of the correctness of this method consists in the result it can produce, as we may see from certain illustrations.

Importance of the principal word: When the form of a word is changed, such is the character of the language used that it can express only the main idea; while with regard to subsidiary ones, they are expressed by means of other words in close proximity. When a word is changed to its rudimentary form, there is no difficulty in the way of understanding its real meaning; and that is due to the fact that we get a kind of power over the meaning of words in this way.

Newly coined words: The meaning of the principal word is connected with its parts; and so it should be deemed to have been newly coined for the purpose. If we follow this method, we shall find that every succeeding idea is connected with what precedes it; and we accept it because of its uniform application throughout. Indeed, if it is correct that words should be divided into parts to get their meaning, we cannot use any other method which does not divide them into parts. It would obviously be impossible to get the correct meaning of words by dividing them into parts, unless they are newly coined or specially formed for this purpose; and that is what the Mimansa tells us.

A single word can describe a composite action: If the idea of an action can be described by putting down a single word, it would need to be subjected to this method (that is, divided into parts), when we shall get its real meaning in the manner explained. This has to be done because the original name, as were is ineffective otherwise; whereas the parts have the power to give us a meaning equally like the word itself.

Can all words be treated alike?: It is possible to say that all words should be regarded as principal words in this manner (that is, they should be divided into parts to be understood). But if that were so, all methods or rules of interpretation should give us the same true meaning of the text; so that there would be but one uniform method of interpretation, and those who believe in reducing words to their rudimentary form would be able to change all of them. This method would then apply to all words denoting action; and all other words would correspond to the form of the principal word. Thus when all words can be treated uniformly, and we are able to get the required result, that would be our authority for holding this to be the correct way of using words.

The argument of these Sutras is that if there is but one method of interpretation, we should always be able to get the correct meaning, however we interpret the text. Thus, if we are able to get the correct meaning by dividing words into parts, that should also be their common meaning; and if we find that it is so, we shall agree that all words are like principal words, and can be treated alike. However, as we find that the common meaning is not the same as that obtained by means of division of words into parts; it is not possible to have a single method of interpretation. But there are cases where the common meaning is the same as that obtained by means of division into parts; and the Mimansa goes on to give an illustration of that; and it is only in such cases that we can do what we like, take the common meaning or divide words into parts.

Hiranya-garbha: The word Hiranya-garbha is of the aforesaid kind, as is evident from the hymns of the Vedas; and that is so because it does not conflict with its rudimentary form; and we shall find that its latter meaning is in harmony with the meaning of the hymns. The word Hiranya-garbha belongs to that class where the common meaning is the same as that obtained by means of its division into parts. The common meaning of the word hiranya is gold imperishable matter; and of Hiranya-garbha the Golden Egg, out of which the great creator Brahma is said to have been born.

Now if we divide the word hiranya into parts, and that is the principal word we get h, i, ra, n, ya and the meaning is "(ya) that which is (n) the intellect, associated with (ra) the senses of action, and (i) connected with (h) the mind". Thus it signifies intellect, associated with the mind and the senses, that is, in action; and the Mimansa has already explained that the real meaning of the word is intellect, to which the idea of gold is said to correspond; and so the meaning is the same whichever way we interpret the word.

Similarly, Hiranya-garbha would mean "(garbha) contains (hiranya) imperishable matter" or Prakrti, which is said to be imperishable: hence it refers to Nature, the first manifest form of which is the intellect, which is said to correspond to gold. Thus the parent of Brahma is Prakrti itself; or he may be said to be the first idea of God arising out of an examination of the character of Nature, for that is how we get the idea of God.

Substitution of one form for another: This method of interpretation is based on the substitution of one form of a word for another; and that may be described as its transformation or change; and the meaning of its parts is in accordance with what is taught or authorized. Indeed, we accept the traditional meaning of words because we do not know the real import of the Vedic hymns. But when we "purify" words or use them correctly, we find, as a result, that they convey a very different idea (or refer to a very different business); and there is no difficulty in reducing them to their rudimentary form. The meanings of the letters of the alphabet as well as syllables, which constitute the parts of words, are such as may be found in a good dictionary.

Need of a new interpretation: The rule in regard to this method of interpretation is that, if we have a doubt in regard to the meaning of a word, whatever other meaning we give it should be in conformity with the nature of the word; and that is possible because of the suitability of the new (or correct) form of words, and the connection of their parts with one another. We have to resort to this method because the statements in the text are conflicting; and that calls for an explanation (and we are able to get it in this way).

An instance: For instance, it has been said that a person consecrates himself for the purpose of a Soma sacrifice by means of six things. As we are unable to understand this, we find it necessary to make out the idea of these things; and we can do so by using our intellect. Soma refers to the mind, and it is the sixth in order after the five senses. Hence the six things required in a Soma sacrifice (or the function of the mind) are the senses and the mind.

Need of study: It is by means of repeated study or practice that we can get the meaning of the principal word in this way; and we can get the result (or the real meaning) of the hymns by thinking over the same point again and again. But the composition of the sacred text is such that those who believe in the method of reducing words to their rudimentary form cannot fail to get the correct meaning; and in their case even constant practice is not necessary. A succession of ideas cannot be produced by means of constant practice, for they are produced by some other cause; and so we have to adopt some other way of understanding the text. Thus, it is not possible to have a uniform method of interpretation applicable to all cases.

An illustration: This may be illustrated by means of an example. It is said that there is a special cause for kindling the sacred fire; but if a change is made in its subsidiary parts, an additional fee should be paid (to the priest); for that is how the statement is connected together. If we understand how all this is arranged, (that is, if we understand the correct meaning of this), the rest will be in its proper place. We find that a change is necessary (and it has to be made in the principal words); for it is only in what does not refer to the main subject that we have the option to do as we like. When, however, a person is in doubt as to whether he should give up (omit) a particular course or not, both the options may be open to him. Thus the words vasa and vatsa, though apparently different, may express the same idea. We can understand their character by means of inference, when we shall find that the reason for these names lies in the close connection of their parts.

It is not difficult to understand this: for Agni means the intellect, and so kindling the sacred fire refers to the function of the intellect. Similarly, dakshina or "fee" is skill in action; and "payment" or dana implies satisfaction. The real meaning would thus be as follows:

"It is said that there is sometimes a special cause for the exercise of the intellect (kindling the sacrificial fire); but the action consists of a number of parts; and if it is necessary to make a change in any of these parts, we should see to it that the work is done with proper skill and gives satisfaction (an additional sacrificial fee should be paid)".

The two options are that we may take the common meaning of a word or divide it into parts. The Mimansa tells us that both these options are possible in certain cases; and gives instances of the words vasa and vatsa to explain the idea. The common meaning of vasa is "clothes"; and of vatsa "a young one." These two meanings are apparently very different; but the Mimansa says that, if we divide these words into parts, we shall find that they are closely allied; and then we shall see, by means of inference, the reason for their common meanings too. Accordingly, the word vasa - v, a, sa means "(sa) the mind (a) associated with (v) Nature"; while vatsa - va, t, sa - means "(sa) the mind associated with (t) the senses of action, and (va) Nature". We see that there is very little difference between the ideas they convey; for both refer to the association of the mind with the objects of Nature: only vatsa implies more of (the senses of) action.

The Mimansa tells us that both the meanings of these words are correct and allied together; and that the idea of "clothes" and "young ones" is connected with the function of the mind and its association with the objects of Nature. Let us see how that can be made good. If the common and "literal" meanings of these words are connected together, it means that a person should wear clothes, and have children, when his mind functions properly in association with the objects of Nature.

Now the attribute of the mind is desire; and we know that a man desires to live, and also to propagate his species, for then he lives through his young ones again. The most elementary desires in connection with existence are food, shelter, and clothes; and a man shares the first two of these with the lower animals; and it is only the third, wearing clothes that distinguishes him from them. The art of making and wearing clothes is thus a distinguishing characteristic of a civilized man though even savages cover their bodies in some sort of way. Wearing clothes may thus be said to symbolize a belief that certain desires, over and above those for the barest existence are good, and it is necessary to satisfy them. It implies, therefore, a belief in the necessity of performing good actions, which too is a distinguishing characteristic of a civilized man.

There are a number of references, to the wearing and removal of clothes in the sacred books; and they need all to be interpreted in this light. For instance, the attempt to remove the clothes of Draupadi in the story of the Mahabharata is meant to illustrate the point of view of those who believe that it is not necessary to perform good actions, for sooner or later all things must come to an end. The attempt fails, because this cannot be admitted; for that would mean that we must put an early end to our own life. The idea of Krshna taking away the clothes of the Gopis in the story of the Bhagavat Purana has a similar significance; and the whole idea would be explained in its proper place.

It may be of interest to observe that this is the real explanation of the difference between the Digambara and Svetambara schools of Jainism: the one believing that we should not, and the other that we should wear clothes. The real point of the Digambara School is that it is not necessary to perform even good actions if one wishes to make himself free from all association with Nature; while the Svetambara School holds otherwise.

The idea of having young ones has already been explained; and it is for this reason that the Mimansa tells us that one of the duties of a Brahmana or an intellectual person is to have children. Thus we see how both the words vasa and vatsa are closely connected with the desires of man or the function of his mind.

Special meanings: If we wish to know the real meaning of the word dana (gift), we should understand it through the effect (or result) it can produce. The Mimansa has already explained that dana or gift signifies satisfaction in action; and that is the reason why it is made. It produces a certain effect, satisfaction and so that is what it signifies. The real meaning of the word paka (cooking) is obtained from what is done to anna or food. It is necessary to cook food; and that is signified by the word paka: that is, it refers to the necessity of performing actions. We can get the meaning of the word abhigharana (sprinkling clarified butter on the fire) in the same manner. We have seen that clarified butter refers to goodness; and sprinkling it over the fire is associating goodness with intelligence, for that is what fire really means.

The rule in regard to dravyas (fundamental substances like the "elements", etc.) is that the meaning of the names should be obtained by means of their division into parts. If, however, the parts of names appear to be alike, we should get the meaning of the principal substance by using our intelligence. The Mimansa has already told us that this is the way of getting the real meaning of dravyas or fundamental substances like the great "elements," time, space, mind and the soul.

Relation of principal word with other words: When a word is placed in juxtaposition to the principal word, its meaning should conform to the statement of the text. But there may be some words which are not connected with the principal word, but have been spread over, and are connected with the rest of the text: we should assume that they too are in their proper place. With regard to other words, which do not appear to conform to this rule, they too are in their proper place, and do not contradict the rest of the text. Their meaning is easy to understand, even like that of the common people; and their �place in the text corresponds to the idea of animals, which have their different characteristics. But there is no restriction in regard to the use of the term (animal), because of uniformity (among all). The word pasu is applied to five kinds of animals, men, cows, horses, goats, and sheep. They are different, and yet, says the Mimansa, they have certain common characteristics.

Meaning of "Gau" and "Dana": But the real meaning of the word "gau" (cow) should be obtained by means of its division into parts; and we feel convinced that that is the correct way of getting it; and that is what is meant by seeing through its "disguise". Similarly, the word dana should also be understood by means of its division into parts, when it would be found to convey a different idea from that of a "gift".

If we divide the word "gau" into parts, ga, u the meaning would be "(ga) the senses of knowledge, associated with (u) the senses of knowledge". The "gau" or the "cow" accordingly refers to the senses in general and to those of knowledge in particular. We have already explained that the senses of knowledge are closely allied to those of action, and one of them the tongue is both a sense of knowledge and of action. Hence their ideas can be interchanged; and we can say that the "cow" refers to both the senses of knowledge and action, or to the sense of knowledge alone, as should suit the context. If we divide the word dana into parts, "d, a, na" the meaning would be "(d) sacrifice (a) associated with (na) the senses of knowledge"; and it would signify "the sacrifice or proper function of the senses of knowledge;" and the idea becomes different from that of a "gift".

Character of change of form of a word: We change one meaning for another in the same manner as is popularly done when we purchase an article; and we can see for ourselves that it is so when we divide words into parts. The meaning of words should, however, be the same throughout, for otherwise we cannot understand them; and that should be so even though they refer to different actions.

The test of correctness: When, however, we buy or exchange one thing for another, we know that the two things are not absolutely equal, and they have different names. (On the other hand) the rule in regard to the interpretation of the Vedic text is not based strictly on the model of buying or exchange (for in this case, though one form is exchanged for another, the terms are equal and the names are the same): only it is necessary to use our intelligence, for they are special terms, and our criterion of correctness is the result that is achieved.

An illustration; Dhenu: An example of this is the word dhenu (meaning "a cow"). The meaning of the word gau (a cow) is the same; and if we reduce the words to their rudimentary form, we shall find that they are similar too. We can make this change (divide dhenu into parts) in the same manner as we divide the word ishti into parts. All such words are like that; and in the same manner the word dakshina fits into the plan of the text, and means only one thing ("skill in action"). When we divide words into parts, we should use our intelligence in the process of making a change, so as to produce unity of result; and it is in this manner that we get a connection between the different meanings of a word in the light of the idea of different actions signified by it.

We are told that if we divide the word dhenu in the same manner as the word ishti, we can get its correct meaning, and it will be found to be the same as that of the word gau; and their common meaning is the same, viz., a cow. Now we can divide the word ishti into ish, t, i, when it's meaning would be "(ish, to desire)" desire, associated with (t) the senses of knowledge and (i) the mind; and that is the idea of desire it conveys. We are asked to divide the word dhenu in the same manner, that is into dhe, n, u, when the meaning would be (dhe, "to nourish") nourishing (a) the senses of knowledge, associated with (a) the senses of knowledge. Thus we find that the word dhenu, when divided into parts, refers to the senses in general, and the senses of knowledge in particular, in the same way as the word gau; and their meanings are also the same.

Similarly the word dakshina, which is a feminine form of dakshina, has to be divided into, daksh, i, na, when its meaning would be "(daksh, "to act to the satisfaction of") action performed to the satisfaction of (i) the mind and (na) intellect"; and that is why it means skill in action, and is associated with dana, which means satisfaction. These are instances to explain this method of interpretation, where roots or verbs like ish, dhe, daksh, can be combined with other letters in the division of words into parts. But we are told that roots themselves are not to be subdivided. These examples explain how the common meanings of words are linked up with their real ones.

Test of correctness: These rules of interpretation do not depend on authority so much as on what they can establish or prove. In the light of this the number five is like(means the same thing as) a dhenu; and the number three means the same thing as vatsa; and it is in this manner that we can see through their "disguise". Dhenu refers to the senses of knowledge, and there are five such senses. The meaning of the number five is said to be the same; that is, it refers to the senses. Vatsa refers to the mind in association with the senses and the objects of Nature, as has already been explained. The Mimansa tells us the idea of tri, or the number three, is the same; and if we divide it into t, r, i, the meaning would be "(i) the mind associated with (r, t) the senses of action"; and we see that the idea of the two is the same. And so the Mimansa tells us that the number three refers to the function of the mind.

How to find out the meaning: If in a particular case, say of the word "gau" we assume that it has been intelligently used, and reflect on it, we shall find that we can understand its real meaning by means of certain special symbols used in the text. This Sutra tells us that if we think over the words used in the text, we shall get certain suggestions which would indicate what the correct meaning is. Experience has shown that this is correct.

An objection answered: It is possible to argue that there are two equally satisfactory ways of explaining the same word. But were it so, there should be no change in the meaning of a part of a statement (or logical argument) (in its common form and) when a word is reduced to its rudimentary form.

Difference between horse and cow: The dakshina of the horse is like that of the cow; and it belongs to the Brahmana. The mistake committed by people in grasping this is the same as in the case of the word hiranya. But the difference between the idea of a horse and a cow is that the former is associated with an actor, because it can turn or wind about (more freely than a cow). It is by means of this special symbol that we can obtain the meaning of the word. But this method of interpretation also makes a special claim, according to which, if we change the form of the word asva (meaning a horse), we shall get its real meaning in the same manner as in the case of the word hiranya. In the same way we can get the meaning of Soma-chamasa (a cup for drinking Soma).

The common meaning of this would be that the gift of a cow or a horse is the same (or there is no difference between them), for both are to be given to a Brahmana. But we know that the word "gau" (cow) refers to the senses of knowledge, and a Brahmana to the intellect, while dakshina means skill; and so the real meaning is that the idea of the senses as expressed by the word "gau" (cow) is the same as that expressed by the word "asva" (meaning a horse). That means that the horse also refers to the senses in the same manner as the cow, for both are associated with the intellect (Brahmana); and their "skill" in action is the same.

The next Sutra, however, tells us that there is also a difference between their idea: for the horse is associated with an actor, that is, the senses are those of action, as distinguished from those of knowledge, with which the cow is associated; and we are able to make this distinction, because the horse can turn about more freely than a cow. Thus both the cow and the horse refer to the senses in general; but when we distinguish between them, the one refers to the senses of knowledge, and the other to those of action; and it is by means of this special symbol, says the Mimansa, that we can understand this distinction. It may be of interest to point out that the Upanishads too tell us that the horse refers to the senses, more specially those of action.

We are asked to divide the word asva into parts in the same manner as the word hiranya when, we are told, we shall get its real meaning as referring to the senses of action. We have seen that we have to divide the latter into all the letters composing it; and so we must do the same in case of asva too (and if we divide it into as, va, as in the case of words like ishti, dakshina, etc., we shall not be able to get any sense out of it). Now if we divide the word asva into a, s, va, the meaning would be "(a) like (s) the senses of knowledge, associated with (va) Nature or Prakrti"; and we know that what is "like" or resembles the senses of knowledge are the senses of action; and that is further indicated by the reference to Nature, the special attribute of which is action. This is how we can get the meaning of the word asva (meaning a horse), as the senses of action.

We are asked to divide the word Soma-chamasa in the same manner to get its meaning. We have seen that we have to divide the word Soma into sa, u, ma to get its meaning as "(sa) the mind associated with (u, ma) the senses"; and now we have to divide chamasa into cha, ma, sa, when the meaning would be "(sa) he who is (ma) the senses of knowledge, associated with (cha) the mind"; and so chamasa gives us the same idea as Soma. In this case the last part of the word (sa) means "he" in the same manner as "ya" does in hiranya; and that is why the two have been put in the same class. We can now understand why chamasa means "a cup for drinking Soma".

Words for animals: In this scheme of interpretation we have to change the form of all words denoting animals, if we cannot admit that they can be animals. It is not possible regard animals, so called; as animals, because their actions do not correspond to those of the latter. For instance, they all can speak monkeys, cranes, and fish. The monkey-chief, Hanuman knows the Sanskrt language too. We are told that we must change the form of these words to understand their meaning. Indeed, we shall then find that their idea is very different. This has been explained in the story of the Mahabharata, and will be found to be true in the Ramayana and the Puranas too.

Need for a change of form: It is possible to hold that there is nothing special in the giving of a gift to a Brahmana. But, if the gift is to be made in connection with an act of sacrifice, it should not be in connection with a prohibited act. (Since, however, it is to be made in connection with the latter too,) that is the reason why the meaning of the word dakshina has to be obtained by means of division into parts. Thus, when there is this kind of defect in the character of a Brahmana, it becomes necessary to make a change in the form of a word. That is so because we get a meaning bearing on the misdeeds of men, whereas the idea of dakshina (or sacrificial fee) is always associated with excellence of design or plan. When we understand the real idea of a prohibited act and of dakshina, we shall understand why there is no objection to giving dakshina in connection with such an act too.

As the Mimansa tells us in the course of these pages, a prohibited act is one which should not be done because of the obstacles in its way; but there can be no real objection to a man attempting to do even the impossible and showing skill in it too. Hence, as dakshina means skill in action, a person may get recognition for his skill even in an action believed to be impossible. But if we take the meaning in its ordinary sense, a Brahmana or a good man is shown to be of shady character, for doing prohibited things; and he who gives him dakshina on such occasion is equally so. But if we understand the meaning of a Brahmana as an intelligent person, of prohibited action as an action full of obstacles, and of dakshina as skill in action, the whole idea would be changed, and we shall find everything to be in its proper place. As dakshina means "skill in action", it is always associated with "excellence of design or plan".

Dakshina and Adhvaryu priest: Thus, when there is a mention of the Adhvaryu priest in connection with a sacrifice, the form of the word dakshina should always be changed. Indeed, as all kinds of dakshina are produced by the intellect, the share of the Adhvaryu is of a restricted kind. We have seen that the Adhvaryu "priests" refer to the senses of knowledge and action; and the Mimansa tells us that whenever there is a reference to their taking part in a sacrifice or a good and intelligent action, we should assume that they would act with skill, and so they should be paid their dakshina in recognition of it; and if we change the form of the word into daksh, i, na, we shall know that it refers to skill.