Narach Philosophy

THE VEDAS AND THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION (PART-2)


The Mimansa later on tells us again that one of the reasons why it is necessary to change the form of words, by dividing them into parts, is that the common meaning involves a censure on the actions of gods, who are otherwise esteemed and regarded as good; and it mentions Indra specially in this connection.

As it is impossible to conceive that they are guilty of misconduct, the Mimansa tells us to see if it is possible to get a different and more suitable meaning out of the same words. So, we hit upon this method of interpretation, by the means of which we divide words into the parts which comprise them, and find that they bear a very different meaning, which involves no censure on anyone, which has a reference to the laws of Nature, and is consistent in this sense throughout.

The Mimansa tells us that this method applies to the text of the Smrtis too. And so if we apply it, we shall find that the real meaning of the great Epics and Puranas is very different from what it is commonly believed to be.

For instance, we find that if we accept the common meaning of the text, a number of actions of the gods and heroes who figure in these works,- Krishna in particular and even Rama - are not free from censure. But if we adopt this method of interpretation, we find that the whole idea is very different; and the entire "story" is transformed into a narrative of the different systems of philosophy and religion. This has been explained in the case of the Mahabharata, and a similar explanation of the Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana, which includes an account of all the principal incarnations of Vishnu, will follow in due course. As these constitute the subject matter of a large number of Puranas, it would be found that this method of interpretation applies to the entire range of the sacred books of the Hindus; and that is what the Mimansa tells us.

The sacred books, when properly interpreted, refer to action of all kinds; but more specially in connection with the Gunas, which are associated with Prakrti. It is not difficult to give a rational explanation of why a word should be divided into parts to give its correct meaning; but there are cases where words do not need to be altered in this way, and their common meaning remains. We cannot lay down any hard and fast rules to get the real meaning of words; and the only test is that it should fit into the context. That is the proof of its correctness, and of the glory and greatness of the Vedas. But it must fill all gaps and be taken as whole.

Character of a name: There are some who believe that, in such a case, when a name is given to an object, the rule should be that there should be a clear mention of the Gunas. But this is not possible, for a name may refer to two equal actions; and in such a case a single word would need to have another meaning too.

There are others who maintain that a word and its attributes should go together; that we should not divide it into parts to get the idea of action; and that there should not be different rules in connection with different words. But this is not always possible; for if a word and its attribute should always go together, so should a word and the object to which it refers. Again, suppose there is mention of the word barhis (meaning sacrificial grass) and ajya (meaning clarified butter poured over the sacrificial fire) in the text, but no consecrating ceremony,- should we then say that these words have no meaning? We should, of course, agree that they have their ordinary meanings if they were used in connection with vessels of holy water required for a sacrifice. The same would be true in connection with another word,- nirmanthya (meaning, being stirred or churned). It is true that there is no variation in the meaning of the word Vaisva-deva (meaning, relating to all gods); and that is so because of the nature of what it signifies,- something that is perceptible to the senses, and requires no discussion of the thing itself; and if we were to give a different meaning to the word, it would make no sense at all. The idea of the Gunas, however, is different.

No fixed rules: As has already been observed, we cannot lay down any hard and fast rules to get the correct meaning of words; and their only test is their suitability in connection with the context. We must, however, remember that an attribute is meant to describe the characteristics of an object; and this requires that the attributes should be in their proper place, and that nothing should be meaningless; for the whole significance of the text depends on their use. This means that nothing should be left out.

Requirements of interpretation: Now, in order to interpret a Vedic text in the light of action or the law of creation, we have to show that the whole of it,- with all its names - remains unbroken when understood in this manner; whereas it makes little sense when understood in terms of the praise of the gods. It is not necessary that there should be any authority in support of this; for the authority is the manner in which we have to fix a meaning, when we are able to find a cause, and the text makes little sense. For instance, when there is a reference to an actor, there may be a number of causes for his action, and we have to find them out; and we fix the meaning of a word in the same manner. That is the proof of the correctness of our meaning,- namely, that it fits into the text; and testifies to the glory of the Vedas, and their wealth, and shows that the matters of which they speak are eternal.

The value of this interpretation lies in its ability to fill all gaps of thought in case of confused, doubtful or ambiguous expressions; but we have to understand it in the light of the meaning it yields, and conceive of it as part of a great whole.