Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-8)


When we divide a word into parts, some parts which have the same meaning may be dropped. We may begin with the first part and go on successively to the last; or, when so directed, begin with the last and go back to the first. This is illustrated in a set of strophes consisting of three verses, where there is a description of what a man desires to do at mid-day.

The rule in regard to the expression of new ideas is that there should be a "disguise"; but when we see through it, the meaning should be clear, and there should be no doubt about it. The meaning of principal words is obtained by means of division into parts; of their synonyms without it; while with regard to the rest, we should change their form if their meaning does not appeal to reason. But it is necessary to have knowledge to be able to understand the meaning of some synonyms; while in some cases we may have to "negotiate" their meaning, though not in the case of the best synonyms.

Apart from certain "improvements", the text of the Rig Veda is the same as that of the Sama Veda; and the repetition of certain parts is meant to complete our chain of reflection. In certain hymns this repetition is made by means of words which need to be divided into parts, but not in others; and in any case we must judge the whole thing by the results achieved.

The number sixteen refers to the mind, but not to its complete action, which can be understood only when the mind functions in association with the intellect. That is expressed by the number three; and that is how we distinguish between the two numbers. But the word tra ("three") does not always refer to the mind; it does so only in certain cases. The number four signifies complete or full development.

We have an account of all that relates to living creatures in the Sama Veda; but in its absence we may refer to the Rig Veda, which contains it too. It is important to understand the meaning of the principal words; and that will enable us to understand the rest. If we know what Indra and Vayu mean, we shall understand that they are inseparable, though they have their own special characteristics; and, as their connection is important, it is expressed by means of the word agra, which means "chief, foremost". The importance of their connection is proved by the fact that when they leave the body, it decays; and when they, abide in it, it cannot.

If we examine the function of the mind, as represented by the number three, we shall find that it is like that of the intellect; but the latter is more important, because it can create order out of disorder by means of reasoning or proof, provided there is unity of action. The idea of the number three and eleven is the same, and they can be substituted for each other; and this enables us to understand the idea of the number thirty-three, which is a multiple of the two. All desires undergo a change through lapse of time; and so do words, expressing this idea, a change of form.

Omission of certain parts of Words: When a number of things are mentioned in succession and we have to make a choice in a particular place, those that come last are rejected, as in the case of a meaningless letter or syllable. That has to be done when we see through the "disguise" of an expression; because otherwise there would be a doubt in regard to its correct idea where more than one part has the same meaning in succession.

An instance of this is the word Soma or dadhi. When we divide Soma into sa, u, ma, both u and ma refer to the senses of knowledge; and unless one of them may be said to refer to the senses of action too, it has to be omitted. Similarly, in the case of dadhi, "da, dh, i" both dh and i refer to the mind; and, unless we specially emphasize the idea of the mind, the last one has to be omitted.

Rule of composition and interpretation: There is a rule sanctioned by tradition that the subordinate part of a word should come at its end; and the proof of this calculation lies in the meaning we are able to obtain. When we explain the meaning of a word by means of its division into parts, we should commence with the first part first, because that is how it begins. If, however, we begin with the last part first, we should do so when there is a direction to that effect.

An instance: An instance of this is to be found in a set of strophes consisting of three verses, where there is a. description of what a person desires to do at mid-day, and it is a perfectly reasonable desire. To begin with, we get this from the propriety of the manner of life at midday; and, as for the rest, we understand the idea from inference: for instance, we desire to halt or encamp at mid-day; and the idea of this can be obtained by reducing words to their rudimentary form, at the very beginning of the verse triad. In one place there is a reference to 10 the letting of a dwelling place, for that is the right thing to do at the time.

Rule regarding new ideas: There is, among the rules we have, a fixed rule in regard to the peculiar characteristics of things, namely, that where there is a new idea to express, it should be done by means of a "disguise"; and when we see through this "disguise", the meaning should be as clear as that of the word ratri ("night"). But when altogether new names are used, there is likely to be a doubt as to their correct meaning, because they must all have a proper meaning to convey.

Ratri means "night", and is one of the few words in Sanskrt with a small number of meanings, which are clearly defined, and have all a bearing on the idea of night.

Synonyms and other words: When there are a number of additional names or synonyms used in their common form, we should be able to get their meaning without making any change in that form. With regard to the principal names, which have these synonyms, we should get their meaning by means of their parts. With regard to the rest, we should change their form only if they are obscure or their meaning does not appeal to reason.

Need of knowledge: In case we are unable to understand the meaning of synonyms, we should acquire more knowledge, when we shall be able to understand them. We shall then find that these names have an individuality of their own, because of certain arrangement of ideas expressed by them, which are objective or refer to the outside world; and we can get their meaning without making any change in their utterance. It is possible to hold that we should do all this only if the meaning is obscure or opposed to reason, for meaning is the measuring rod of all rules of interpretation. But in the case of synonyms we do not have the same orderly arrangement as in the original names; and we have to "negotiate" their meaning in order to conform to the latter. This, however, is not necessary in the case of the best synonyms, which contain the idea of the original names in them.

Text of Rig Veda and Sama Veda: Apart from certain "improvements", the text of the Rig Veda, as fixed by tradition, should be the same as that of the Sama Veda; and the idea of repetition is to complete our reasoning or chain of reflection. In the Samidheni verses, (which are recited when the sacrificial fire is kindled, and so refer to the commencement of intelligent action), this repetition is made by means of words which have to be divided into parts to be understood. This, however, may not be true of all; but the peculiar character of these verses is such that they have a number of words which have to be reduced to their rudimentary form in order to complete their chain of thought. However, as has already been stated, the method of interpretation is to be judged by the measure of the result that is achieved, even as in all other things we judge as we see. We cannot say that this applies to action too, because there is a rule which enjoins otherwise. An action is to be judged more by its motive than its actual result; and a motive cannot be seen.

The idea of numbers; number 16: It is necessary to understand the idea of certain numbers in this connection; for instance, we can understand the idea of that which consists of sixteen parts by means of a certain change; and that, in this case, refers to a statement of all these parts. The number sixteen consists of the five great "elements", their five properties, and the five senses of knowledge, with the mind making sixteen. We have to do this, because the rudimentary form of the word makes no sense; and it does not refer to the idea of a sacrifice (or action). It does not refer to action, because it does not contain any reference to the senses of action. Where we can reduce a word to its rudimentary form only if we are specially directed to do so; and we can understand this if we reduce (such an expression) to its rudimentary form. This number occurs in the sacred books, and we study them in order to reason about or reflect on things exhaustively; and it has already been stated that they do not make much sense. When, however, we say that this number does not refer to action, what is meant is that it refers to its subordinate part; but the senses of knowledge perform a kind of action too, only it is of a subsidiary character; and as the number sixteen refers to them, it is associated with a subordinate kind of action. For we can understand the idea of sacrifice (or action) only when the mind functions in association with the intellect; and that is why it is expressly mentioned that such actions are worthy of praise.

The word in the text is agrayana, which means "the first Soma libation at the Agnishtoma sacrifice". As Soma refers to the mind and Agni to the intellect, this has been rendered as "the function of the mind (Soma libation) in association with that of the intellect (Agnishtoma sacrifice)". We have already seen that it is only when the intellect plays its own part that an action can be complete.

Number 3: It has expressly been mentioned that the number three refers to Soma (or the mind); and unless there is a reference to some expected result, it should be deemed to refer to that (Soma or the mind); and it has been praised for a variety of reasons. As the function of the mind is closely connected with that of the intellect, the mind may be identified with the intellect, when it is concentrated on a particular point or place (and it is this that is represented by the number three). We have to make a distinction between the idea of the two numbers (three and sixteen), because they have common properties, (and that is how it is made). The number three refers to the mind as being, for practical purposes, identified with the intellect, and so with action; while the number sixteen does not refer to action, as the Mimansa has told us; that is the distinction between them. We have already explained that Soma refers to the mind.

The literal translation of the Sutra is as follows:-

"And because of agrayana, the direction of the word (number three), because of its signifying a particular point or place, is like the renewal of the sacred fire".

We have explained that agrayana means "the first Soma libation at the Agnishtoma sacrifice", and so refers to the function of the mind (Soma) in connection with that of the intellect (Agnishtoma). Again, as fire refers to the intellect, the "renewal of the sacred fire" would mean the renewal of the function of the intellect. The real meaning of the Sutra would accordingly be as follows:-

"And because the function of the mind is linked up with that of the intellect (agrayana), the direction of the word (the number three, or the mind), when it signifies a particular point or place, is like that of the renewal of the function of the intellect".

Other uses of the word Tra (Three): The number three (idea of the mind) is praised in the sacred books because of its connection with Agnishtoma (or the function of the intellect); but this does not mean that whenever the syllable tra (meaning "three") occurs, it conveys the same idea: for instance, we have it in the word sastra (sas-tra), and in this case the idea of "tra" is very different. But even the word astra is worthy of praise because of its association with "tra"; and we can understand what it means when we see through its "disguise". There are a number of references to the number three in the sacred books, and it should always be understood to refer to the mind as closely allied to the intellect.

The word sastra means "a sword"; and its syllable "tra" is derived from the root "trai" which means "to protect". Sastra (sas-tra) accordingly means "(tra) a protector of (sas, "to kill") what kills"; that is, something that enables us to slay; and so it means "a knife or sword". "Seeing through a disguise" means dividing the whole word into parts; and so if we divide the word sastra into sa, s, t, ra, the meaning would be "(sa) the senses of knowledge, associated with (s) the mind, and (t, ra) the senses of action". The word sastra refers, therefore, to the function of the senses of knowledge and action in association with the mind, and so it is a complete function of both. Thus when we speak of sastra as "a knife or a sword", it really means an argument relating to the character of this function, which can "cut" like a knife or a sword. The word sastra gives us another instance of a redundant letter (ra) which has the same meaning as the preceding one (t), and needs to be omitted.

The difference between the two forms of "tra" is due to the different statements made in the text. The syllable "tra" also occurs in the word ati-ratra; but there it does not refer to these meanings of "tra"; though there may be a connection between them, which can be understood with reference to a statement which has not yet been made. The two meanings of "tra" have already been explained in connection with the word sastra.

The Mimansa tells us that the syllable tra in ati-ratra has to be taken differently; though even in this case it may have a reference to the mind, in connection with a subject that has not been dealt with in these pages. Let us see what that means.

Ati-ratra is said to be a part of the Jyotishtoma sacrifice; but, as we have explained, the latter refers really to the mass of rays of light, of which ati-ratra is only one. It means "(ati) beyond (ratra) the night"; and so would correspond to the ultra-violet ray (See Appendix II). In the circumstances we have to take the word ratra as a whole word, and not divide it into parts; and so the syllable "tra" in it would not refer to the mind or (t, ra) the function of the senses. But the Mimansa says that even here the "tra" of "ratra" may be connected with the idea of the mind, in which case the meaning of ati-ratra, ati, r, a, tra would be "(ati) beyond (r) the senses of action (a) associated with (tra) the mind" and so it refers to something that is beyond the character of the functions of the senses and the mind.

As ati-ratra is said to refer to a ray of light, we can make sense of its association with the function of the senses and the mind only if the latter refer to certain energies; and we are told that the energy of the mind is electric, while that of the senses magnetic; and so the association of the two gives us electro-magnetic energy (or electric energy in motion or action). The word ati-ratra would thus refer to something that is beyond or more powerful than electro-magnetic energy; and, as it refers to ultra-violet light, it implies that that is the character of the latter too. It follows from this that ratra or night has electro-magnetic properties.

Number 4: The number four signifies completeness or full development; and so we are told that on the fourth day we should take hold of the whole or the most perfect thing. We can verify this by examining the development of things, and see how results take shape, as in the case of eating food. But if we count this number (as one, two, three, four,) we cannot find the idea of completeness or wholeness in it; and that is so because this meaning of the number is to be found in a special way; and then we should be able to count (the four stages of development) too, as in the case of eating food. When we understand all this, we can count the four stages in connection with eating food; and this has already been explained.

We have already explained that the number four refers to four stages of development in all states of life, beginning with the organic cell. We can think of four stages in eating food too: the materials, which must be prepared as food; then they must come to us as our share, to be finally eaten as food.

We have explained the special manner in which the idea of the number four can be obtained. We can understand that it refers to completeness or the different stages of development when we examine it with reference to the development of the organic cell. We find that the cell passes through four stages to become mature; and, as the ancients say that whatever is in the cell is also in the whole universe (Yatha pinde tatha Brahmande), we may conclude that it is a law of universal application.

This would enable us to understand the idea of the "four arms" of certain gods and goddesses to which there is a reference in the sacred books. As the number four signifies completeness or perfection, and as arm is an instrument of action, "four arms" would express the idea of perfection of action; and when they are associated with a god or goddess who, as we have seen, represents the idea of a great force of Nature working in accordance with a good and intelligent law, they imply perfection in the working out of that law. Thus the four arms of Krshna would convey the idea of God as a perfect actor, who acts and yet is free from the bondage of action, because all His actions are a sacrifice: and we see that this is what the Bhagavad Gita tells us about Krshna.

Subject matter of Sama Veda and Rig Veda: We have an account of all that relates to living creatures in the Sama Veda or Saman hymns; but in its absence, we may refer to the Rig Veda; and that is the reason why the Sama Veda is regarded as important. Whatever is in the Rig Veda is also in the Sama Veda. If, however, there is something of special importance, it may occur in a different form; but it must have the same meaning, which is regulated by the principal word. When we remove the cause of difficulty in the way (that is, understand the meaning of the principal word), we shall be able to understand the whole idea of action in an intelligent manner. The importance of the Sama Veda has been emphasized in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krshna says, "Of Vedas I am Sama Veda"; and we can now understand the reason for it.

In this connection we have already referred to the range of all the four Vedas: the Rig Veda deals with the problem of action, conceived in its widest significance and embracing the whole world of Nature. The range of the Sama Veda is more restricted, as it deals with the problem of living creatures; but all that relates to them is to be found in both the Rig and Sama Vedas. Then the Yajur Veda is said to deal with the problem of Sacrifice, which is a moral and intelligent action. The idea of action in the Rig Veda is a much wider one, as it includes all kinds of action, and not merely action conceived as a sacrifice. The Yajur Veda limits its range to such action alone; and as both man and Nature can be associated with such action, it deals with its character in relation with both; and it is for this reason that it is divided into two parts, the black and white Yajur Veda. Finally, the Atharva Veda deals with the moral and intelligent action of living creatures, especially human beings. Thus we come down by stages from Nature to Man; and this is the subject-matter of all the Vedas.

Indra and Vayu: If we understand from the beginning what Indra and Vayu really mean, we shall know that they are inseparable. But because of their different characteristics, there is a difference in their actions too; and it is for this reason that each has his own place and distinguishing qualities. But they are connected together at the highest point; and are, in any case, combined 64 together, because of association with desire. As there is an inherent connection between the parts of what they represent, it should enable us to understand the nature of desire, because it is connected with both. We have already explained that Indra refers to Prajnatman or the self-conscious soul.

Vayu is said to mean Air; and that would obviously refer to the vital breath in connection with Indra or the soul. Indeed, the soul is said to have the vital breath for its vehicle, because it is by means of it that it moves through the body; and we see that when the breath departs from the body, so does the soul, and a creature is said to be dead. Thus, if we understand the idea of Indra and Vayu as soul and vital breath, we can see that they are inseparable. There are a number of references to them in the Vedas and later works; and they are both described as Soma drinkers, and are invoked together as partakers of the juice; and this will explain the connection of the two with the character of the mind and desire, for that is the idea of Soma and its juice respectively. They are said to be friendly-minded, and a sovereign pair of heroes, which is easy to understand. They are associated with horses and cows, (which refer to the senses), and are seated in the same chariot (or the body); while in the Satapatha Brahmana they are even identified. But the Mimansa tells us that they have different characteristics, and there is a difference in their actions too.

In this connection it would be of interest to observe that the great "element" Air is associated with Action, corresponding to which the Hand or the Arm is the special organ of action associated with it. Vayu would accordingly refer also to ahankara or the I-as-an-actor and the relation of Indra and Vayu corresponds also to that between the soul and ahankara (the I within us that acts). Now all systems of philosophy agree that the attributes and actions of the two are different, and it is necessary to distinguish between them. Indeed, the Sankhya tells us, and it is followed by the other systems, that ahankara is a creation of Prakrti, while the purusha or the individual soul is altogether different. The Sankhya believes that the purusha is not an actor, but only imagines, according to it wrongly, of course, that it is so; and it is only when it comes to have true knowledge of itself as something entirely different from all that is in Nature, and as devoid of all action too, that it can become happy and free. On this point, however, there is a sharp difference of opinion among the different systems; and the final conclusion of Vedanta is that it is the soul that is the real actor within us. All this would be explained in due course.

Indra refers to the soul and Vayu to its vital breath; and so the Rig Veda tells that they are seated together in the same chariot which, according to both the Upanishads and the Mimansa, refers to the body; and so they both abide in the body of living creatures, and cannot be separated. The chief place of the soul is said to be the heart; and the Upanishads tell us that it abides in the "ether of the heart". As the chief characteristic of Ether is motion or sound, this means that the soul abides in the motion of the heart, which produces sound as well. The vital breath is also linked up with the heart; for though the lungs regulate the motion of breath in the body, they themselves are controlled by the heart.

There can be no action without desire; and so Vayu as ahankara or the I-as-an-actor must be characterized by desire; and if we believe that the soul is an actor too, it also must be associated with desire. It may be of interest to point out that the Nyaya, Vaiseshika and the Mimansa all agree that the soul is characterized by desire. We have explained how desire is connected with the soul as well as with vital breath, or the instrument of its action, ahankara or the I-as-an-actor. Even if we assume that the soul does not act, we must admit that it is characterized by knowledge; and we have seen that desire begins as knowledge, and ends as action; and the idea of the two is expressed by means of the new and the full moon.

Their connection is expressed by the word Agra: The connection between the two Indra and Vayu is of the highest importance, and lasts from beginning to end; and that is expressed by the word agra (which means "chief"). But even if we believe that the bond between them is not of the highest (or it is without the connection of the word Agra), we must admit that they are connected together by means of a common invariable object (viz., life); and we can see this connection for ourselves. Indeed, the connection between Indra and Vayu exists from the very beginning, (and is really expressed by the word agra) because of the position accorded to the latter; and that is due to the fact that their essential character is the same, as can easily be proved; for we see that there is decay of the body when they leave it behind. We can understand their meaning when we see through the "disguised" form of these words (Indra and Vayu).

We can see for ourselves that the soul and vital breath are connected together from the very beginning. It is they together that make the body live; for they depart together, and when they do so, the body dies. This is made still clearer in the following Sutra. Seeing through the "disguise" means understanding the meaning of a word by means of its division into parts; and it is in this way that the meaning of both Indra and Vayu has been explained elsewhere.

The act of sustenance (of the body) is similar to that of its decay (it is due to the association of Indra and Vayu); for so long as they abide in the body in their pre-eminence, it cannot decay. There are a number of references to this idea in the story of the quarrel of the pranas or the vital organs of the senses in the Upanishads. We are told that it was agreed among the senses that he by whose departure the body seemed worse than the worst, should be deemed to be the best; and it was found that the vital breath had this eminence.

Mind and the Intellect: In connection with the character of the mind, as represented by the number three, when something is to be properly expressed in the sacred books, its meaning should be obtained by means of division into parts. Indeed, if we consider the character of its functions over any calculated period of time, we shall find that it is like the intellect. But the function of the intellect should be regarded as a higher one, as it can create order out of disorder (or what is disarranged); and that is done when proper proof is seen, and we attain the object of our desire. But in both cases (whether is the mind or the intellect that functions), it is necessary that there should be unity of action.

We have seen that the word tri (meaning three) should be divided into parts, t, r, i when it would give us the idea of the mind functioning in association with the senses. This idea of the mind, as signified by the word tri, is, for all practical purposes, the same as that of the intellect; and we have seen how when the intellect desires anything, it is called the mind. Nevertheless, the intellect has its own special function too; and that is reasoning, decision, discrimination; and that is said to be higher than its association with desire, when it is transformed into the mind. But the proper function of the intellect as pure intellect, or in its form as mind, means that there is unity of action.

Number 3 and Number 11: The idea of the mind, as represented by the number three, and as consisting of the number eleven, is the same, and they can be substituted for each other; and this is how we should amplify the idea of the number of these days, when it is not clear otherwise. We have seen that the number three refers to the mind in association with the senses; and the same idea is even more clearly expressed by the number eleven, which refers to the ten senses of knowledge and action, with the mind as the eleventh.

The words used in the text are tryanika and ekadasini, meaning "three-faced" and "consisting of eleven days" respectively. The Mimansa tells us that both these refer to the character and functions of the mind in association with the senses, when it may even be identified with the intellect; and this is how we should understand their idea when it is not clear otherwise.

Number 33: If we are able to rise to a height of thought, we can, by understanding the function of the mind in. association with the intellect, see that all that is contained in the number thirty-three is but a substitute for what belongs to Indra and Vayu (or the soul and its vital breath). We are taught that we can understand all this if we substitute what can be substituted for the numbers representing eleven; and we can know what this means if we see through their "disguise".

We have already explained that the number thirty-three, like the number twenty-three, refers to all manifest forms of Nature or Prakrti; and all systems of philosophy agree that all this exists for the sake of purusha or the soul. Now the Mimansa tells us that the same idea of the soul, associated with its vital breath, is expressed by Indra and Vayu; and so we might say that all that is comprised in the number thirty-three is but a substitute for what belongs to them. The number thirty-three is a multiple of the numbers three and eleven; and if we know what they represent, we shall find that they refer to all that is contained in Nature; for they refer to the function of the mind in various forms, where the mind may, for practical purposes, be identified with the intellect.

The Mimansa further tells us that if we see through the "disguise" of the words tri and ekadasa (three and eleven), we can understand all this. We have seen that tri t, r, i refers to the association of the ten senses with the mind. Now ekadasa may be divided into a, i, k, a, dasa meaning "(dasa) the ten (a) associated with (k) the intellect (i) arising from (a) the unmanifest". If we understand the "ten" here as referring to the five "elements" and their five properties, we get almost all that is contained in Nature from these two words, tri and ekadasa.

Special terms: All desire undergoes a change with lapse of time; and so words which express this idea also undergo a change of form. Such are words like bhaksha (food), pavamana (flow of mind), paridhi (enclosure, etc.), and kapala (an alms-bowl); and their form should be changed according to the effect produced by them.

We are told that it is necessary to change the form of these words to understand their meaning. But, as we can do so only with reference to the context in which they are used, it would not serve any useful purpose to analyze them here. We have however seen that we can get the real meaning of the word kapala by dividing it into parts, when it gives us the idea of renunciation of action.