Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION: THE PROBLEM OF DESIRE


There are certain rules of interpretation of the text. It is possible to have this system because a number of words are new; but the existing words may also be used if they are equally suitable, and there is no difficulty in using them. The sacred books have examined the idea of a total renunciation of desire; and it really refers to certain special cases where, because of some dangerous obstacle, action is not advised or allowed; otherwise they enjoin action, and we can understand the meaning by dividing words into parts.

It is a rule that in the Mantras or hymns of the Vedas, no words should be left out; and we can understand the meaning of all if, where necessary, we divide words into parts. Thus, if we understand the meaning of the words Agni and mas, we shall be able to make progress with the text. But it requires some skill to coin a word to have a particular meaning; and when we understand their character, we can interpret them by dividing them into parts, as in the case of ajya and the number seventeen.

Good and evil desires can both be associated with an intelligent action; but, though he who uses his mind can combine goodness with intelligence, there is no constant union of the two.

We need to use our intelligence in testing the correctness of our meaning; and in this manner we can understand the idea of the silent perusal of the text as well as of Prajapati. It is not possible to describe adequately the laws of Nature in words, for language is all too weak for the purpose; and so their idea is expressed in accordance with certain rules.

Vishnu refers to the function of the mind in association with the intellect and the objects of Nature; and all his actions can be understood in this light. It is this idea that has been expressed in terms of the no-moon and the full-moon night. Certain expressions have only one meaning, while others have two; and it is necessary to use our intelligence to understand them; otherwise we shall find that we have made a change for the worse. Nor should we give an arbitrary meaning to a word; and a meaning can be regarded as properly fixed only when it yields a proper result; and it must, in any case, arise from the word itself, with all its parts unbroken. The flow of Time is like one desire following another in an endless chain; hence Time is represented in terms of two successive desires.

Rules of interpretation: If in the text there is a contradiction in respect of a matter that has been decided, or of a statement that has not been made, we should doubt if there really is such a contradiction. We cannot say that we must accept the meaning as we find it, because it is possible to define the meaning of a word in two ways, if there are equally good reasons for doing so. But if our doubt about the correctness of meaning is misplaced, we shall find that certain parts of the text will not fit into our ideas based on that doubt; and yet, whatever method of interpretation we use, the entire text should be included in it.

New words and old: It is because the words used in the text are quite new that it is possible to have an explanation of their meaning in this manner. This would not be possible in the case of existing words, used as they are, because they will make for a contradiction. But if a new word is not invented, an existing word may be used if it can explain the idea. But if it does not give the required meaning, or if its meaning remains the same as before, a better word should be used. But it may be done by means of an old word, if it is equally suitable; and a subsidiary statement can easily be made in this manner. It is not correct to say that we cannot succeed, on the ground that the use of old words will involve a contradiction of ideas, because they would be preceded by a number of other words, and that will enable us to understand the meaning.

Meaning of total renunciation: If there is a general statement, made by a sensible (or an initiated) person, to the effect that there should be no gifts, oblations, or the cooking of food; we should take it that it applies to all such acts (so that such a person may be said to believe in a total renunciation of action). But this is the law of life according to those who believe in the annihilation of all desires; whereas he who has desires, must accept what has clearly been taught, (namely, that he must act); and he can come to this conclusion from a general idea of things. If, however, we accept the other view, (namely, that all action should be renounced), we shall find that certain words in the text will have to be omitted; and in that case we should conclude that this view is unwarranted (or is true only in an exceptional case). In case of a total negation of action, we should doubt the correctness of our meaning. Even if there is a statement of a general rule that all actions should be renounced, and we are unable to find an appropriate alternative meaning, it should be construed to refer to some special case where, because of some dangerous obstacle, action is not advised or allowed. But if the statement refers to a subsidiary matter, we should take it that it relates to a particular case; and the words of the text, taken as they are, should be divided into parts in the same manner as we divide the word ajya, because their meaning in their common form is not permitted in such a case; and it can be obtained only by changing their form.

Character of the text: The character of the text is such that if, in interpreting it in the light of desire or action, certain words are left out or remain unexplained, we shall find that it is due to the fact that we have not understood some statement of particulars which has yet to be made. In the Mantras or hymns of the Vedas (it is a rule that) no words should be left out unexplained, if we understand their meaning in the light of their parts; and even if a particular idea does not appear to have been mentioned, we shall come to know of it, because there will be some contradictory statement to point it out.

Instances: If we know what the offering made to Agni means (namely, that it refers to the action of the intellect), we shall be able to make progress with the text; and the same thing applies to the word mas, because it is of the same kind, and we can understand it in the same manner, when we see through its "disguise".

When we interpret a word in this manner, its meaning should correspond to the statement of particulars given in the text; and so when we understand the meaning of the word mas, we see that it has been used (for the mind) to prevent repetition. The word mas mean "the moon", which, as we have seen, refers to the mind. If we see through its "disguise" or divide it into parts, m, a, s the meaning would be "(s) the mind, (a) associated with (m) the senses of knowledge"; and we notice that its idea is similar to that of Soma, which has the same meaning too.

Exercise of skill: To produce or coin a word to have a particular meaning is a matter of skill. When the principal idea is characterized by intelligence (Homa), it is possible to superimpose on it the idea of goodness (ajya) too. But when the two are not balanced, we should do as the people do (that is, balance them); and all this can be effected by means of the parts of words; but it can be accomplished by means of intelligence. For instance, in the case of the word ajya, the required effect is produced by means of its two parts; and if we use our intelligence, we can understand its meaning at once. The text tells us that it is sprinkled over the fire twice; and we should be able to understand the meaning of this too from what has been taught. Having equated words in this manner, we should proceed methodically to distribute them; and we shall find that their meaning can be determined in the same manner as that of the number seventeen; for if we wish to describe an intelligent act (havis), we shall find that it has to be divided into parts in the same manner.

The text refers to Homa and ajya; and the one means intelligence and the other goodness, as has already been explained. We have explained that it is necessary to reduce ajya to aja, from which it is derived; and then its meaning can be obtained by reducing aja to two parts, a, ja. The common meaning of ajya is "clarified butter"; and it is said to be sprinkled over the fire. But it really means "goodness", while "fire" means "intelligence". To sprinkle "clarified butter" twice over the "fire" would, therefore, mean a double measure of goodness added to intelligence, so as to make it extremely good. The number seventeen, as has already been explained, refers to the soul or the intellect. Havis, as has already been explained, refers to an intelligent action.

Two kinds of desire; a simile: There are some who maintain that an intelligent action is of two kinds of desire (good and bad); and they explain this idea in a manner that appeals to our intelligence, by comparing desires to a collection of peasants or working men (some good, some otherwise). This claim in regard to the character of desire is not unwarranted, because it is in accordance with an eternal law; and so the whole idea is complete and has been properly expressed. This being so, action cannot be performed by means of only one kind of desire, because we have to take into consideration the character of the doer of the deed; for the totality of desire is indeed like the mass of people (some good, some otherwise). All desire, however, does not arise from the doer of the deed; and since this can be understood from the meaning of the parts of words used in the text, it is not necessary to point this out separately. This is how we explain action; and because it is a proper method of doing so, the parts of words, in their "disguised" form, should tell us what is appropriate to the occasion. But, though he who uses his mind can combine goodness with intelligence, there is no constant union of the two, because at different times they can remain apart.

The word in the text is purodasa, which means "Soma-juice". As Soma refers to the mind, its juice is obviously desire. Hence purodasa means "desire arising from the mind". The word in the text is Soma, which refers to the mind.

The word in the text is samnayya, which means "any substance mixed with clarified butter and offered as a burnt offering". We have explained that "clarified butter" refers to goodness; while fire (burnt offering) to the intellect; and so the mixture of the two is a combination of goodness with intelligence. The author has already told us that an intelligent action is not always good action or characterized by a good desire; and this is emphasized again.

Need of intelligence: We need to use our intelligence to test the correctness of our meaning: for instance, if an idea is expressed by means of the parts of a word, and, while so interpreting it, we have a doubt in regard to its real meaning, it would give us two meanings, associated with the character of two great forces of Nature (gods). But it is not possible (to have two such forces), even as it is not possible to speak of two intellects in a man. Indeed, we have been taught that each idea (and so a part of a word) refers only to one great force of Nature; and Badarayana agrees that that is the rule; and we find that it is so when we understand which of the meanings has to be rejected, and know the other (or the correct) one. A god refers to the great forces of Nature. As the text deals with the working of the great laws of Nature, it describes the working of the great forces of Nature, which should not be mixed up.

Silent reading of the text: When in the text there is a reference to its silent reading, we may interpret it as we like, if the materials of action (sacrifice) are not known; or if they are fixed, it is so because it is of a universal character; and the same is true of the great forces of Nature. This is the system of those who follow rules in a scientific manner, because they can explain the text properly in this way; and we should be able to understand the real idea of Prajapati by means of the application of this rule. It is not possible to describe the laws of Nature adequately in words, for language is all too weak for the purpose; and so the whole idea is expressed by means of the governing rule in this system.

We have been told that in case where the text has to be recited silently, there should be no change in the form of words. Here we are told that we may do so if we like in certain cases, where either we do not know the "materials of action", or they are fixed, because they relate to universal laws, as in the case of the great forces of Nature. In such cases there is no difference in meaning whether we take words as they are or divide them into parts.

Prajapati is an instance of a great power of Nature, something of the character of a universal law; and so the meaning of his name is the same whether we take the word as it is or divide it into parts. Prajapati means "the lord or creator of all created beings"; and we must agree that there is one, for these creatures have not created themselves. But his idea is not the same as that of God, conceived in a moral sense; and this has already been explained. The governing rule in this system is that if we get a rational meaning without dividing words into parts, we should accept it; otherwise we should divide words into parts.

Vishnu: If we understand the idea of Vishnu through a study of the sacred books, we find that he refers to that which refers to the functions of the mind (hautra), where the mind is associated with the intellect as well as the objects of Nature. This is signified by the no-moon night, and becomes intelligible when we understand what relates to the functions of the mind (hautra means relating to Hotr, who refers to the mind).

The same idea can be understood in terms of the night of the full moon; and we can understand this if we know the meaning of the principal words. In the same manner we shall find that if we divide words into parts, the hymns of the Vedas become as easy to follow as the principal words. Then we shall understand how, when the no moon night changes into the new-moon night, it represents the uninterrupted succession of goodness combined with intelligence, by means of the character of desire; and when we understand the detailed description of Agni and Soma, we shall see how they can both be fitted into the idea of the full moon. Although the no-moon night is the opposite of the full-moon night, both of them represent, by special arrangement, the same idea; and Vishnu occupies the same place in both. It is in this manner that we can understand the meaning of other terms used in the text.

It is said that the moon is invisible on the no-moon night, because it dwells with the sun. As the moon refers to the mind, and the sun to the intellect, the idea of the moon dwelling with the sun is the same as that of the union of the mind and the intellect; while the night refers to Nature, as the day to Purusha or God, as we have explained. Thus we might say that the no-moon night is symbolic of the association of the mind (moon) with the intellect (sun) as well as the objects of Nature; and it is this that is represented by Vishnu.

The Mimansa has explained that if we divide words into parts, we should be able to get their real meaning. It has also told us that this should specially be done in the case of the gods referred to in the Vedas. As Vishnu is one of these gods, we should be able to get his exact idea by dividing the name into parts; and that will enable us to see if it fits into the meaning given here.

The word Vishnu, V, i, sh, n, u would mean "(u, a particle implying assent or emphasis) verily (n) the intellect and (sh) the mind (i) associated with (v) Nature"; and so we find that the analysis of the parts of the name gives us the same identical meaning. We are told that Krshna is a perfect "incarnation" or embodiment of the idea of Vishnu; and so his name too should give us the same meaning; and we find that it is so; for Krshna; K, sh, na means "(na) the intellect and (sh) the mind (r) associated with (k) Nature". We notice that the idea is exactly the same.

It has been said that the no-moon night refers to the union of the moon and the sun, or the mind and the intellect; and that is indicated in the conjunct consonant sh-n in both Vishnu and Krshna. It may be of interest to observe that the sun and the moon actually travel together during the period covered by the no-moon night. They are together in the east on the morning of that day, and set together in the west in the evening; and so they are said to dwell together.

We have already explained that the full moon refers to the full action of the mind, when desire develops into deeds; and the Mimansa tells us that the idea of Vishnu is represented also by the full moon, that is, by the full function of the mind, when the latter may, for practical purposes, be identified with the intellect. That is, it represents the union of goodness with intelligence in the working of the great forces of Nature; and that is the idea of Vishnu, says the Mimansa. It also tells us that we can understand it if we know the idea of the principal words, that is, the sun and the moon here. If we understand that they refer to the intellect and the mind, we shall know what the exact idea is.

We have been told that if we understand the real meaning of words by means of this method, the Mantras or hymns would be transformed into Vidhi or the laws of Nature. The word used in the text is samnayya which, as has already been explained, refers to goodness combined with intelligence. The word in the text is purodasa which, as has already been explained, refers to desire as an attribute of the mind.

We have already explained that Agni refers to the intellect and Soma to the mind; while the full moon refers to the full function of the mind, when it may, for practical purposes, be identified with the intellect. Thus the combination of Soma and Agni is the combination of the mind and the intellect, which is symbolized by the full moon. The no-moon night gives us the idea of the union of the moon and the sun or the mind and the intellect; and the fall-moon does the same. Vishnu refers to the union of the mind with the intellect; and so is associated with both the no-moon and full-moon nights.

Special cases: An expression for a formless or abstract idea, uttered at once, should not be arranged in two different ways, as it would lose its connection thereby; and that is due to the fact the parts of words are intended to serve a different purpose; and the use of such words enables us to understand the law of symbols used in the text. But if there is lack of intelligence in the application of this method, we shall find that we have made a change for the worse; for instance, we shall get two meanings of the word purodasa, because of the different ways of understanding it; and we must use our intelligence so as not to create (unwarranted) relationships between the meanings of words. We must not agree to an arbitrary meaning of a word, because the words used in the text have a special significance of their own; and they are so inter-connected, that not a single word can be left out. But the meaning should be regarded as properly fixed only when it yields a proper result, and that should be obtained with all the parts of a word remaining uninjured or whole, when we have discovered a suitable meaning, and there is a proper effect of that meaning on the rest of the text. In the absence of this, we should take it that the method of interpretation has not been intelligently applied. However we interpret the text, whether in the common way or by division of words into parts, the meaning in both cases should arise from the manner in which the words are arranged; and we must remember that the parts of a word exist not for themselves, but for the sake of the meaning of the whole; and they serve this purpose like sticks of green wood used to stir the sacrificial fire whenever required.

As one desire follows another in an endless succession, such is the uninterrupted flow of Time; and so Time is represented in terms of two successive desires. This is done to avoid repetition, and to elicit praise.

The Mimansa has already explained that the purpose of the parts of a word is to express the idea of the different parts of an action or an object; that is, to define things exactly and accurately but if the thing itself is formless or indefinite, no useful purpose will be served by dividing the corresponding word into parts.

The word purodasa has a number of meanings, sacrifice, prayer, Soma-juice, etc., and we have to use our intelligence to fix upon a proper one and to explain it correctly too. Even if we take it to mean Soma-juice, we have again to explain it as meaning desire. If we do not use our intelligence, we shall get more than one meaning of the word, and that will cause confusion.