Reading the Texts: Reflection and Prescription
I realized that this page was needed, in order for people to make greater sense of the posts and also further appreciate the purpose of this blog.
The Hindu canon is huge and complex and this is hardly helped by the fact that we have attached quasi-divine status to the Vedas/ That in itself is not wrong; we have to look upon the Veda with reverence and affection. But the source of this reverence has been misplaced when we treat the Vedas purely as a revealed, sacred scripture that is Apaurusheya (Not created by human) and Anadi (Not originating in time).
Do we see what we are doing here? Such a perspective would serve to strip the Veda of its historical value and a interpretative void is what remains. In the absence of a sound, chronological narrative, we are compelled to supply multiple and contradictory layers of symbolic meaning to the texts. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati and Aurobindo had interpreted the entire Veda as a text that speaks of advanced scientific discoveries or highly sophisticated concepts about consciousness. Does it really hold up to common sense for us to say that the struggles between the Aryas and their enemies were symbolic struggles between the forces of light and darkness? We understand the good intentions but would also warn people about the dire consequences of molesting the text in such a way? Some people go on to interpret Divodasa and Sudasa, two of the greatest heroes of the Rig Veda, as “Servant of Heaven” and “Good Servant” based on the literal meanings of their names and even import the medieval idea of a Bhakta(i.e. A Servant of God) into the Rig Veda!!! So the hymn becomes an allegory for a devotee of God who through his faith tramples over ignorance!
We are interpreting the Vedas through tainted lenses, marred by our personal prejudices and assumptions.
1. Why should so many Hindus reply to a Monotheist like this: “We also believe in one God. He just has different forms and names.”
What is wrong about being a Polytheist? The ancient Aryas of the Rig Veda, like all other indo-european polytheists, did believe in many Gods. The Veda occasionally hinted at a larger unifying concept, like Rta or Hiranyagarbha or as in the later texts: Prajapati in the Brahmanas and Brahman in the Upanishads. Nevertheless, the practice was and still is oriented towards a polytheistic pantheon. I am not denying the existence of Ishvara; but the Veda has its own independent existence outside the Monotheistic framework. Why should we feel the need to “defend” ourselves? Let us instead recognize the way of life followed by our heathen ancestors.
2. What is this obsession with digging advanced science out of the Vedas? Again, this is another trend we are copying from the Abrahma matam. The Vedas have their own historical context and we have to respect that. Also, such an attitude is not encouraged even among traditional teachers. For example, Sri Sankara, one of the greatest exponents of the Advaita school, states in his Gita Bhashyam for verse 18.66, the famous Carama shloka that begins with “Sarva Dharman Parityajya” that
“Surely, even a hundred Vedic texts cannot become valid if they assert that fire is cold or nonluminous! Should a Vedic text say that fire is cold or non-luminous, even then one has to assume that the intended meaning of the text is different, for otherwise (its) validity cannot be maintained; but one should not assume its meaning in a way that might contradict some other valid means of knowledge or contradict its own statement.” (Swami Gambhirananda’s Translation)
So, yes; the Vedas do not talk about quantum physics, hydrogen bombs, or manuals to make planes or surgical instruments. It chronicles the lives of an ancient people who were the ethno-cultural descendants of a larger Indo-European identity. And we have to recognize the Veda for what it is and this is the true way to pay homage to the great Rishis and Rajas from whom we have inherited this precious heritage.
3. Yet another memorized response: “The Vedas are all symbolic. There were no animal sacrifices in the literal sense. All personal names in the Veda are referring to good forces, knowledge and consciousness”
How utterly disrespectful to the memories of the Rishis who composed these Vedas!! Animal sacrifices were commonplace in the ancient world. It was seen as a sacred way to recognize our dependence on other lives and was an integral aspect of Indo-European culture. As for the names of kings and sages, they are not mere “symbols”. When we do encounter personal names in the Veda, we have to study them in the light of other texts, like the Itihasas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) and the Puranas. The Mahabharata, which we hold in high esteem, says:
itihāsa purāṇābhyāṃ vedaṃ samupabṛṃhayet
bibhety alpaśrutād vedo mām ayaṃ pratariṣyati
“By the aid of history and the Puranas, the Veda may be expounded; but the Veda is afraid of one of little information lest he should hurt it.” (Translation by Ganguli)
And yet we treat the Puranas as secondary scriptures! Without the aid of the Puranas, we are only hurting the Veda! When we study the puranas, we realize that the Sudasa, unarguably the greatest hero of the Rig Veda and will be often mentioned in many of my posts, is a king of the North Panchala dynasty, which is an offshoot of the Bharatas, who themselves were descendants of the great king Puru. The Veda is what we have left of one of our ancestral cultures, the Indo-Aryan heritage on which Bharatavarsha is built upon. Meanwhile, the Puranas are an irreplaceable source of guidance in properly interpreting the Vedas.
It is with this approach towards text, this blog was conceived and it is hoped that the readers too can handle the texts with respect, rationality and objectivity.