Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-7)


The meaning of seeing through the "disguise" of a word is that we should reduce it to its rudimentary form, connect the parts together, and understand its real meaning. We can understand the meaning of all the Prajapatis in this manner; only we must not import our own ideas in the matter, for there is a unity of idea underlying the "disguised" form of words.

In certain Saman hymns it is not necessary to change the form of words to understand their meaning; in a number of others, however, it is. In the Pavamana hymns sung at the Jyotishtoma sacrifice, it is necessary to change the form of words; we are also permitted to make a change at our discretion. The words used are quite new, and the method of interpretation depends on the nature of the text; and the only test is that we should be able to understand the text properly.

When we divide a word into parts, the word itself should remain intact; but there should be no change in its form if it makes good sense otherwise. The word budh needs to be understood in a special manner. If it is stated that there should be no change in the form of the name of a god, no change should be made. We have to use our intelligence in interpreting the text, especially if there is a conflict of opinion. Certain ideas have been expressed by means of similes and metaphors; and the "purification" or correct form of a word really means that it is being expressed more exactly than before; that is, by means of division into parts.

In the hymns of the Rig Veda beginning with the word Manota, the form of words should not be changed. We can understand the meaning of words in different ways; and in certain cases from the effect they produce. We should be able to get the idea of a god from a strophe consisting of three verses. Planets too are a kind of gods; and in some cases the form of their words should not be changed. But we need to use our intelligence to understand their idea.

All things exist for the sake of others, except the soul, which exists for the sake of its own self. This is expressed by means of the invocation of the gods, who represent the great powers of Nature; and we can understand their idea from the fundamental substances themselves. The idea of dadhi (curd) is important, and we can understand it if we divide the word into parts; so too in the case of the word ajya (clarified butter). Where the form of a word is changed, there is an implication that it has not been clearly expressed in its original form. But this may not be so; and we may change its form because it has been stated that we should do so.

Criterion of correctness: If the symbols used in the rudimentary form of a word are not properly connected together, far from getting a proper idea of action, we shall get confused more and more. The rule in regard to the connection of these symbols is that the change made in the form of a word should correspond exactly to its rudimentary form and in every case we should be able to understand more and more of what is taught in the sacred books by means of this rudimentary form. There is unanimity of opinion on this point; and this is the meaning of seeing through the "disguise".

These symbols are the letters and syllables which compose the original word, the parts into which it can be divided. The point of this is that when we alter the form of a word by dividing it into its parts, there should be no change in the contents of the word; for instance, when we divide the word prshtha into parts, we cannot have it as Pra-stha (as is often done), but only as Pr-shtha. Similarly, Krshna must remain as K, r, sh, na, and not as K, ra, sh, na; and so on.

An instance; Prajapatis: This is true in respect of what relates to the Prajapatis (lords of creatures), as we find from what is handed down in the sacred books; and we can understand their meaning if we see through their "disguised" form. If we are able to fix upon their correct meaning, we shall find that it is like arrows that have hit their mark, for such is the connection of the symbols used in the rudimentary form of these words. If, on the other hand, we are unable to do so, the whole idea would become redundant; and then we shall have to get at the correct meaning by means of some other connection. We cannot say that the idea of Prajapatis corresponds to that of a pre-sacrifice (or desire), because they have a different meaning. The word in the text is prayaja, which is said to mean a "pre-sacrifice"; but, as has already been explained, it refers to desire, which precedes action, for that is the meaning of sacrifice.

Prajapati means literally "lord of creatures"; and the term is applied to a number of gods, Sun, Soma, Agni, Indra, etc. in the Vedas. In later times it is applied to Vishnu, Siva, Time, etc. It is also used specially in connection with the ten "lords of creatures" created by Brahma, viz., Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaka, Kratu, Vasishtha, Daksha or Prachetas, Bhrgu, and Narada. It would obviously be impossible to divide all these names into parts to explain their meaning: for the Mimansa says that this is what we must do to understand their idea. It would be enough to mention that the Mimansa is dealing with the Vedas; and so would refer to the idea of the Prajapatis, as they are mentioned in the Vedas, Soma, Agni, Indra, etc.; and the meanings of all these gods can be obtained by means of dividing these names into parts. But the meaning of all other names of Prajapatis, even in later times, can be obtained in the same manner; for the same method of interpretation applies to all the sacred books throughout. The meaning of the ten Prajapatis created by Brahma would be explained in connection with the story of that god in due course.

The Mimansa tells us that the idea of Prajapatis is not identical with that of desire, for they have a different meaning. As the Prajapatis would refer to the gods of the Vedas, their idea is obviously different; for Agni, for instance, refers to the intellect. Soma refers to the mind, and is associated with the idea of desire; but not all Prajapatis. The same is the case with their names in later literature: for instance, Marichi refers to desire; and Atri, (A-tri) means "he who is like the mind"; but the idea of others is different.

The test of correctness: There is a unity of idea underlying the "disguised" form of words, and we can understand them if we change their original or common form. But if we resort to some other way of interpreting them, the whole idea would become redundant. If, on the other hand, we grasp them correctly, we can understand the whole idea.

Scope and limitation of this method: In the Saman hymns, because of the different (or special) circumstances of the sacred text, no alteration in the language is allowed. But if in these hymns we are unable to understand the meaning, and something is left out (or obscure), we should make a change in the common form of words; and that will enable us to understand the meaning of all words without exception. In the case of one set of these hymns, however, we can get a proper meaning from the text as it is; and it is not necessary to make any change in the common form of words.

We have been told that, as a general rule, all Saman hymns, which are intended to be sung, contain words the form of which has to be changed. We are now told that certain Saman hymns contain matter of a special kind; and it is not necessary to change the form of words or make any alteration in the language. But even in these hymns, if we are unable to understand the meaning, we can change the form of words. The author then goes on to explain that there is a general rule in connection with the interpretation of these hymns, based on the kind of words used in the text. If they are long and sound pleasing to the ear, no change should be made in their form; in another case, we may make a change.

A general rule: There is a general rule in connection with the interpretation of these hymns. Where the words are long and give pleasure in their utterance, we can get an excellent meaning out of them as they are. Where, however, this is not the case, the form of words expressing the idea of fundamental substances (dravyas) should be changed. With regard to the rest, we should make a change only when we do not understand the meaning.

Special cases; Pavamana Hymns: There are, however, some special cases. In the Pavamana hymns, sung at the Jyotishtoma sacrifice, it is necessary to change the form of words; and we are also permitted to insert an additional word or to remove one according to our judgment. The words in this text are quite new, and the method of interpretation depends on the nature of the text, for that is the rule. But so far as the result is concerned, there is only one rule, namely, that we should understand the text properly; for that is the reason why we hear of (or read) these books everywhere; and the same names occur in the whole mass of later works, because we can get their real meaning from their rudimentary forms.

We have observed that Jyotishtoma refers to the mass or rays of light; and, as it is a matter of science, the knowledge of which is not stationary, we are permitted, says the Mimansa, to make certain additions and alterations. As we have explained, the number of these was at first only three, and then was increased to four, five, and finally seven. This would show that the knowledge of these rays was changing from time to time in those days; and the ancients came finally to the conclusion that there were seven such rays.

A large number of names which occur in the Vedas are repeated in later works; and that is so because they refer to ideas and have the same meaning throughout. The Mimansa tells us how we can understand them.

Application of this method: When we wish to understand the meaning of a word by dividing it into parts, we should see that the word itself remains intact, and all its parts are put together. But we should not make any change in its form if it makes good sense as it is. Similarly, if a word does not make any sense from the very beginning, we should deal with it as we have been enjoined to do (that is, divide it into parts). But if, in spite of this, it conveys no intelligent idea, the rule regarding its division into parts would be valueless. Again, when objects fit into one another from the very beginning, there should be no change in the form of words, because they and their meaning agree.

Special cases: Certain expressions have to be understood in a special way; for instance, a word containing the root budh has to be understood in a special manner, like words in the Pavamana hymns, because there is a special instruction to that effect. Again, when we are specially told that there should be no change in the form of the name of a god, no change should be made. If, however, we adopt a different method in regard to such a word occurring in a certain passage of the Vedas, and reduce it to its rudimentary form, it would not make any sense.

The root budh has a large number of meanings; and the Mimansa tells us that we have to use our judgement in selecting that which suits the context; and we have the same latitude in this case as in that of the Pavamana hymns, referred to in the preceding Sutras.

In case of conflict of opinion we have to exercise our intelligences, for, as has already been stated, there can be no rules to guide us in such a matter. But if there is a conflict of opinion in regard to the meaning of the name of a god, the character of whose actions we know, especially as in the case of Agni, we should reject all other forms of the name, and interpret it as we know it. If, however, there is agreement of opinion, arising as a result of inference drawn from circumstances, we should fix the meaning of the name in the light of actions performed by that god.

Agni, as has already been explained, refers to the intellect; and the Mimansa tells us that wherever we have such definitions of words, we should not depart from them in any case. We have a number of such definitions in the sacred books: for instance, Indra has been defined to mean Prajnatman or the self-conscious soul; and that is how he should always be interpreted. We shall of course have to bear in mind the exact idea of the self-conscious soul, to be able to understand all the actions of Indra described in the sacred books, from the Vedas downwards.

Where it is possible to divide a name into parts, but its meaning has specially been defined, without reference to these parts, what has already been stated should be done (that is, we should not divide it into parts, but accept the meaning as defined); and this should be done specially where such words refer to a single action. If there is a reference to a supplementary action (or sacrifice), it should come at the end of the previous action; for there it can serve a useful purpose, and we can get a connected meaning by dividing it into parts.

Use of Similes: Certain ideas are expressed by means of similes; for instance, when a word has been pronounced, it cannot be recalled; so too is an action; and it may be compared to the action of a sword. That is another rule in this connection.

Purpose of "Purification" of words: The "purification" or correct formation of words is for the purpose of enabling us to understand the meaning of such statements. It is possible to say that this is not a case of "purification" at all, for what is done is to express more clearly (or properly) what is not clear otherwise, and that is done by means of the meaning of parts.

Certain hymns of Rig Veda: In any case, certain expressions have to be interpreted in a particular manner; for instance, in the hymns of the Rig Veda, beginning with the word Manota, there should be no change in the form of words, because there is a special direction to that effect. Again, if there is a word, the meaning of which is important, but different from what, on mature consideration has already been approved by our intellect, we should not accept it, unless it has occurred in a previous context too, and has been understood by means of the method of division into parts. Indeed, from all that has been stated in the text, we should be able to get at the source of what we want somewhere. We may not be able to say that the whole idea is as clear as that of the word yupa (a sacrificial post), because it can be understood from its connection with action. But where there are two possible ways of looking at a thing, we can understand its idea from the effect it produces as surely as we can by reducing a word to its rudimentary form.

The word in the text is Rathantara, which is said to be a form of Agni; and Agni, as we have seen, refers to the intellect.

The Mimansa describes the meaning of yupa (or a sacrificial post) as follows:-

"If no particular object is secured when an action takes place, it should be deemed to have been done for the benefit of all, because it has been done at its own time. This is represented by the yupa (sacrificial post), because it is not fixed at the time of action".

We can now understand how the idea of yupa can be obtained by means of its "connection with action", as we are told here.

As yupa means selfless action or action meant for the benefit of all, the idea of "being tied to a yupa" is that a person should act in this manner; and it is for this reason that it is said that he who desires heaven (happiness) should "bind" himself to a yupa made of khadira (or function of the mind).

Idea of a God and the Planets: Similarly, we should be able to get the idea of a god from a strophe consisting of three verses, without dividing the word into parts. The planets are another type of gods, and there are stotra and sastra hymns, to be sung and recited in their praise. They refer to action; and there should be no change in the form of these words. But we have to use our intelligence to understand their idea, just as in the case of curdled butter we know that there is curd in it, and it is the result of the union or mixing together of two things, curd and butter. Even so if we examine the text carefully, and consider the statement of what has taken place, we shall know the implications of it, although there is no specific mention of anything.

We have already been told that the gods represent the great powers of Nature. The planets are such powers too, and so they are described as gods.

The terms of praise used in honor of the planets are said to refer to their actions; but we have to use our intelligence to understand the idea, in the same manner as we understand the nature of curdled butter.

Object of action, how represented; soul and the Gods: Certain things exist for their own sake and not for the sake of something else; and their idea is represented by the soul or "the master of the sacrifice". But certain other things exist for the sake of others; and their idea is expressed by means of invocation of the gods. But we cannot understand all this from the "purification" of words or their division into parts, but rather from the names of the dravyas or the fundamental substances themselves. The "master of the sacrifice" is the soul, for whose sake the different Ritvij priests (or the faculties of man) take part in the sacrifice (or action). All these act for the sake of the soul or the "master"; but the soul acts for its own sake, its "purification" or perfection through experience. This is explained in the Sankhya, and accepted by all systems.

Dadhi: There are passages in the Vedas where dadhi (curd) has been described as a protector of ajya (clarified butter); and we can understand the idea if we divide the word into parts. It is only reasonable that we should do so, because the idea of ajya is important. The idea of dadhi is important too, because it is connected with ajya both at the beginning and the end. But the idea of ajya is also important; and there is a statement to the effect that the meaning of the word should be obtained by means of division into parts and that is what is meant by "purification" or correct formation of a word. The great powers of Nature (or Nature itself) act for the sake of others, not their own; and so the gods, who represent them, are invoked at a sacrifice to show how the forces of Nature work in the world. The Sankhya tells us that the actions of Prakrti or Nature are all meant for the sake of the soul; and when the latter has had experience of all that is Nature, the bond between them breaks, and the soul becomes for ever free.

The common meaning of dadhi is curd, and of ajya clarified butter; and when it is said that dadhi is the protector of ajya, because it comes both at the beginning and end of ajya, the common meaning is that, as we make clarified butter out of curd, there is curd or dadhi at the beginning of clarified butter or ajya: then we find that after clarified butter has been made out of curd, some remnants of curd are left still; and so there is curd at the end of clarified butter too; and it is in this metaphorical sense that we can call curd the "protector" of clarified butter, because like a "protector" it is to be found both at its beginning and end. But we have seen that the real meaning of ajya is "goodness"; and so dadhi must have a bearing on this idea. The Mimansa tells us that we can get the real meaning of the word by dividing it into parts.

The word dadhi, da, dh, i would accordingly mean "(da) sacrifice associated with (dh) the mind, functioning as (i) mind"; that is, the action of the mind as pure mind, having desire for its attribute. Now ajya is goodness associated with the function of the mind, and desire and goodness are closely allied; for every desire has an element of goodness in it, so far at least as the person who has the desire is concerned; for no one can desire anything that will do harm to his own self. Indeed, it is meant to give him some kind of satisfaction, pleasure, or good. Now, as it is the mind that creates desire, which has this element of goodness in it, dadhi, which means the proper function (sacrifice) of the mind (or desire), comes before ajya or goodness.

Again, we have been told that desire is at the root of action; and when one action ends, some desire still remains; and that is the cause of a succeeding action. Thus we might say that there is an element of dadhi (function of the mind or desire) after ajya (goodness or a good deed) once more. We may also say that dadhi "protects" ajya even as a proper function of the mind or a proper desire can protect goodness. It is in this manner that we can understand the real meaning of the text. We have already explained that the meaning of the word ajya has to be obtained by dividing it into parts. It has first to be reduced to aja, and then divided into a, ja, when we shall get its real meaning as goodness.

Reason for division of a word into parts: When the form of a word is changed, there is an implication that its idea has not been clearly expressed in its original or common form. But it may not be so; and we may divide it into parts because there is a direction to the effect that we should do so.