Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION: THE LAW OF ACTION (PART-2)


There is a special meaning attaching to the number 26, which cannot be understood by means of addition or by dividing the word into parts. It is necessary to use our intelligence to understand the idea of numbers: for we have to take them together as well as separately, like the ribs of an animal; or we may compare them to the relation between husband and wife; or between the institutor of a sacrifice and the priests employed by him to assist. We should accept what the sacred books say about these numbers; but the idea of their total is important and so also of the ribs of an animal.

It is said that the horse has 34 ribs. But this number refers not to ribs of a horse, but to Nature or Prakrti, which is said to have thirty-four parts. This is supported by the sacred books, though we are permitted to make small changes in the details of this idea. We can obtain the meaning of certain words like syena, sala, Kasyapa, Kavasha, and sreka-parna from their reference to the context and the manner in which they have been formed. We can find out the meaning of adhrigu from the purpose for which it is used. But we cannot understand a main idea from a casual expression. The meaning of dharana should be of the best; and if the text refers to the idea of action, we should select that meaning of a word which has a bearing on action.

A thing should not be said to exist before its time has arrived. When we see food being prepared on the fire, we should take it that it is meant to be eaten. If a thing is not suitable for teaching, it would be found to be in a form which no one can understand; and except for this we should be able to understand the real meaning of all words. If it is necessary to give up this method of interpretation, we should do so, but only in conformity with rules: otherwise we should apply it without reserve. It is necessary to control desires; and this should specially be done in a state of prosperity; and it is necessary to control them even in eating and drinking.

This method of interpretation means a new approach to the Vedas, and throws a new light on their value; but we can understand this only if we admit the necessity of action, without which all our attempts would be futile. We should understand that the word ajya is a substitute for something else. So far as action is concerned, it is a law that if we suspend one, we must begin another. The idea of the renunciation of action is expressed in terms of forest trees; but that should come at the end of life. On the other hand the idea of sacrifice is represented in terms of a god.

The Number 26: When we say twenty-six, we get to this number by means of addition, as in the case of twenty-six animals. (But, so far as the text is concerned, this does not satisfy us). Yet, if we take the basic form of the word, we find that it is not a fit case for division into parts; and if we actually divide it, we find that it should not have been altered. Now, if we do not take these numbers in their totality, we find that they admit of a connection; but there is no connection if we change the form of the word, or take them in their totality. We cannot get the real idea of this number by means of addition, nor yet by dividing the word into parts; and we see that it is so when we understand its proper meaning. We do not have this problem in the case of all compounds (or combinations); and the direction in this case is that the meaning should be obtained by means of all the numbers and so far as reducing a word to its rudimentary form is concerned, it should be resorted to in the manner explained.

Use of Intelligence: It is necessary to use our intelligence in order to understand the idea of these numbers. For instance, the ribs of an animal are very important to its life, and function collectively; and they cannot be separated without injury to the animal. This is how (in order to understand the idea of these numbers) we have to use our judgment; and that is the real purpose of the intellect. The rule in such cases is that we must take all numbers together; but, as they cannot be combined, their association together is like that of the state of a wife, as has been taught in the sacred books. In such a case, if we may appeal to a precedent, the change of meaning would correspond to the idea of a person who institutes a sacrifice, but employs a priest to perform it; but if there is no precedent, their association should correspond to that of a wife.

The Mimansa tells us that if we take the number twenty-six as a whole number, it would not convey any idea to us. Nor can we understand anything if we count one, two, three, etc., and go up to twenty six; nor yet if we divide the word used in the text into its parts. We have to adopt some other method of finding out the real meaning of this number; but it is necessary that, when we fix upon the meaning, it should include all the numbers, from one to twenty six. The importance of this number may be compared to the ribs of an animal, and it is said that the ox has twenty-six ribs. These ribs function collectively, and cannot be separated; and we have to use our intellect to understand the idea of the number twenty six in the same manner. As these numbers cannot be combined, we might compare them to the status of a wife, who is associated with her husband, and yet has a personality of her own.

The number twenty six refers to the idea of God in relation to all that is contained in Nature as well as the soul. The Sankhya tells us of its twenty four topics, unmanifest Prakrti, intellect, ahankara, and the mind; the five great "elements" and their respective properties; and the ten senses of knowledge and action. The purusha or the individual soul, it says, is the twenty fifth. Above all this is the idea of the Supreme Purusha or God, and that is represented by the number twenty six. The number 26 refers to several categories that go to make up the idea of Nature, soul, and God. We can thus take them together as well as separately; and they may be said to assist one another. If, therefore, there is a precedent for the comparison, we may refer them to the idea of the institutor of a sacrifice, who engages a priest to assist him.

But if there is no such precedent, we may compare them to a husband and wife.

The Mimansa tells us that the idea of the number twenty six has been represented in various ways: in terms of the ribs of an animal, of the relation between husband and wife, and between the institutor of a sacrifice and the priests who assist him. We have already explained that the relation between husband and wife corresponds to that between Purusha and Prakrti (or God and Nature); and the "institutor of the sacrifice" is the soul, and the "priests" he employs are the different faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind, and the senses. The number twenty six refers to all these.

Importance of explanation given in the sacred books: What is taught in the sacred books in connection with the idea of numbers should be accepted without any change, because that is their all pervading character; but the total is as important as the ribs of an animal; and even if the numbers are added together, there should be no change in their idea. The total twenty-six is important, because it refers to God, soul, and all that is included in Nature or Prakrti; and when we understand what it signifies, it would make no change in the idea if we add its parts together. These, as has already been explained, are the senses, the "elements" and their properties, mind, ahankara and the intellect, together with the idea of the unmanifest Prakrti, soul, and God.

If there is no special explanation of a name in the sacred books, we should never say that there is; and if the ribs of an animal mean anything special, there should be a special mention of it in the sacred books. Thus the word pasu (an animal) is important; and if it is added to or combined with some other word, it is because of that importance. When the word pasu, meaning "an animal" occurs in connection with the idea of "ribs", we should take it that they refer to the ribs of an animal; not otherwise. For instance, when it is said that an ox has 26 ribs, we should take it that an animal is meant; but if there is only a general mention of these ribs, we should take it that they have some other meaning.

The Number 34: It is said that the horse has thirty-four ribs; and, as there is a special reference to this number, it has a special significance. The reference to the number thirty-four cannot be to the ribs of a horse; and if we reject this meaning, we should put Nature or Prakrti in its place, because it has thirty four parts, as has expressly been stated in the sacred books. There are verses in the Rig Veda in support of this explanation; and so it is only right that it should be accepted without hesitation or doubt. But there is authority for making a change in parts of this idea, even as we do in the case of water or food. But the whole idea would be negated if there were no connection between the parts of this number. (It is, however, permissible to make a little change in detail, without affecting the main idea; for instance, a liberal-hearted person, if he has the owl for a neighbor, may be described as a "mower of grass"; or we may substitute the word sword for a hatchet or knife, to express the glory of the arm of the person who uses it.

We have explained that the number twenty-four refers to Nature or Prakrti, as consisting of the unmanifest, intellect, ahankara and the mind; the five great "elements" and their respective properties; and the ten senses of knowledge and action. If to these we add the ten functions of the ten senses, we get the number thirty four, as completing still more fully the idea of Nature or Prakrti. The addition of the ten functions of the ten senses is by no means arbitrary, for we have a reference to the ribs of a horse which, as the (Upanishads and the Mimansa both tell us) refers to the senses; and so in dealing with the idea of this number we have to take into special consideration the significance attaching to the horse, who is said to have thirty-four ribs. But the Mimansa tells us that we can make a change in the details of this idea, even as we do in the case of water or food. Their essence remains the same; and any change we make can refer only to details.

Now the sacred books tell us that there are thirty-three gods, and their creator is Prajapati, the thirty-fourth; and all this should refer to Nature or Prakrti, for that is the general significance of the number thirty-four; and we have seen that the gods refer to the great forms and forces of Nature. It would therefore be of interest to consider how this number is made up. The sacred books tell us that this number is made up of twelve Adityas, eleven Rudras, eight Vasus, with Dyava-Prthivi or the two Asvins making a total of thirty-three. These should accordingly refer to the thirty-three manifest forms of Nature.

Now an Aditya is the name of the sun; and the twelve Adityas are said to refer to the sun in the twelve months of the year. But the sun is also a symbol of the intellect, as we have seen in the case of Agni; and so the twelve Adityas would refer to the function of the intellect, as including itself, ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, and the elements and their properties. With regard to the eleven Rudras, we have seen that the number eleven refers to the function of the mind, as including itself and the ten senses. The name Rudra also refers to the mind, for it is a name of Siva, who refers to it.

Special terms: The meaning of certain words like syena, salad, Kasyapa, kavasha, and sreka-parna, which have a well-known form, should be obtained in accordance with a definite juxtaposition or association of ideas; and these words should be taken in the manner in which they have been formed. The word Vasu - Va, su - means literally "(su) born of (va) Nature"; and so the eight Vasus refer to the eight divisions of Prakrti, intellect, ahankara, mind, and the five great "elements" mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita. There is a reference to the eight Vasus in the story of the Mahabharata, and there too their idea is the same. We have observed that Dyava-Prthivi refers to the senses of knowledge and action, and so do the two Asvins, or horses, as they are called. Thus we see that the number thirty-three refers to the manifest forms of Nature; and whatever variations there are do not affect the main idea. The thirty fourth, Prajapati, may be said to be the creator of all this; but his idea does not correspond to that of a moral creator of the universe. That is developed later in the ideas of Siva and Vishnu; and Siva means the good, and Vishnu is the supporter of life.

We have explained that the different entities included in this number are all connected with one another. Indeed, the "elements" and their properties, and the senses and their functions can all be integrated; while with regard to the rest, the intellect is said to be the first manifest form of Prakrti, and all the rest arise out it in order ahankara from the intellect, the mind from ahankara, and so on. In order to get the real meaning of the word adhirgu, we should find out the purpose for which it is used. We cannot understand the principal idea from a casual expression; but where an expression is meant to serve some higher purpose, its meaning in connection with the latter should be accepted. In the case of the word dharana, we should take it to refer to a higher purpose; and if the text refers to the idea of aiming at action, the meaning of other words should have a bearing on action.

A thing should not be said to have appeared (or to exist) if we are told that its time has not arrived. When we see a gift of food being prepared on the fire, we are confirmed in our belief that it is meant to be eaten; and so it may be compared to honey and water. Thus, where the correct formation of words is not possible (or we are unable to divide words into parts), we may have language of this kind; and the use of it arises from inability to divide words into parts. We can get the real meaning of these words in accordance with this method of interpretation: they have either to be divided into parts, or have a specially defined meaning. According to this syena would refer to Nature, which fills us with desire; sala is an argument relating to the functions of the ten senses; Kasyapa symbolizes a withdrawal of the senses from their objects; kavasha signifies protection from the evil effects of desire; and sreka-parna the relation of the universe to one creator. Adhrigu refers to the intellect, as has already been explained. The word dharana has a number of meanings, holding, preserving, restraining, immovable concentration of the mind. The last, being the highest, should be accepted. In the case of other words, the meaning bearing on action should be preferred.

If a thing is not suitable for writing or teaching, it should be deemed to be something that is contrary to the law of life (Dharma); and in such a case we shall find that there is no proper connection between the different parts of the text; and the whole arrangement of words would be irregular. Except for this, there should always be some explanatory reference or translation of meaning somewhere in the text, to indicate what the real meaning is; for the prohibition of knowledge would not be proper in such cases. If it is necessary to give up this method of interpretation, even where it is possible to apply it, for we can divide words into parts we should give it up where its application is expressly prohibited. Otherwise, on principle, we should apply it without reserve, as freely as if we had to go across and get at the thing (correct meaning). This rigid practice in connection with the application or otherwise of this method of interpretation follows a certain law, as in the case of food. There can be rigid rules in connection with eating food, what should or should not be eaten. Even so there are rules in connection with this method of interpretation, as to when it should or should not be applied.

Control of desire, how described: Desires are of many kinds, and we are required to restrain them, because that is the law of a man's life. This restraint should specially be exercised in a state of prosperity, because there is then a natural tendency to indulgence. Indeed, we have to exercise restraint even in the case of eating cooked food or boiled milk; and this is expressed by means of the word apanaya (which means "taking away"), and its idea should be understood in the light of the statement of particulars in the text, where it is said to be like a pot of milk (for carrying it away); while the expression "boiled milk" is for the sake of illustration. The word apanaya means "taking away; bad policy"; and its use implies that certain desires should be "taken away" or shunned; and soft is like a pot for "carrying away" milk, which is an object of desire. It is in this manner that the idea of restraint is illustrated.

Result of this method of interpretation: This method of interpretation means a new approach to the Vedas; and whenever we have recourse to it, we should accept the new meaning only when it has something worthwhile to teach; and the division of words into parts is intended for that purpose; and we need to resort to it when there is nothing else to guide us. Indeed, the value of the sruti arises from the chief importance of this method; and the explanation of the meaning of the text is intended to serve this purpose (or to give us something of real value). We make use of the correct formation of words (by means of their division into parts), in order to get sense out of the text; and when we do so, we get other things of importance out of it too. For instance, there is an expression which means "encircled with Agni or fire", but it makes little sense in that form; whereas if we apply the general rule of interpretation, we find that it has a meaning full of excellent sense. If, however, we are unable to get a proper meaning by means of this method, we shall find that we do not get any meaning at all; or if we do, the result would be self-contradictory, as in the case of the word idanta, which has no meaning at all. Indeed, as each word is connected with the one that precedes it, we cannot say that it is complete in itself; and we actually find that it is not so. As Agni refers to intelligence, "encircled with Agni" means full intelligence; and that makes excellent sense. There is no word like idanta in the dictionary.

Belief in action: But we can understand the real meaning of the text only if we admit the necessity of action; for action is the basis of all sacrifice; and if we deny the necessity of action, we might just as well give up all attempts at finding out the real meaning of the text by means of the proper formation of words (or their division into parts). If we do so (deny the necessity of action), it would be as futile to try to understand the text as to undertake a subsequent sacrifice (or a sacrifice with clarified butter) without performing a previous one. Action is the distinguishing attribute of all things; and if we deny action, it would mean the end (or destruction) of everything.

Ajya: When we get the word ajya in the text, we should understand that it is a substitute for something else; and we shall know what that is when we cast away the "substance" (that it commonly means); and understand it completely. Unless we understand the law of action, we cannot understand the Vedas, even as we cannot undertake a subsequent sacrifice (or action) without a preceding one. The word in the text is ajya, which commonly means "clarified butter poured over the sacrificial fire"; but, as has already been explained, it really signifies goodness. The point then would be that we cannot do a good deed unless we know how to act. We have already explained that the meaning of the word ajya has to be derived from aja - a-ja - when it would mean "(a) not (ja) poison" or "(a) like (ja) enjoyment". It accordingly refers to action that is not evil, and may even give joy.

Action and its renunciation: With regard to action, the rule is that when one action is suspended, we have to resort to another, for there is no essential difference between them. So far as the idea of the negation of action (or sacrifice) is concerned, it is expressed in terms of forest trees; but its proper place is at the end. On the other hand, the form of anything associated with the idea of sacrifice corresponds to the state of a god (godhead). The idea of renunciation of action is represented in terms of life in the forest; and there are innumerable references to it in the sacred books. But this is the last stage of our life, says the Mimansa, when alone renunciation has a meaning. We have already explained that the idea of sacrifice is associated with that of a god. Indeed, that is the literal meaning of the word Deva, da, i, va "(de) sacrifice (i) associated with (va) Nature": or Nature governed by the law of sacrifice.