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III.1. Vedic Knowledge and the Coming Planetary Age

Part III

A New Model of Vedic Science

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Part III.1

Vedic Knowledge and the Coming Planetary Age

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������ The Vedas are the oldest literature of India, preserved by the people of the region for thousand of years to represent their unbroken culture. The Vedas have survived the vicissitudes of time better than any ancient literature in the world. They became honored throughout the entire subcontinent over two thousand years ago, where Vedic verses and mantras resound in homes and temples to the present day. They are not simply a relic of the past but have inspired modern teachers like Sri Aurobindo to a new vision of humanity and the future of the planet.

 

The Vedas reflect a continuity of teachings, a rishi vision and an emphasis on Dharma that has characterized the culture of India in its many forms. The traditional name of India, Bharat, derives from the name of a famous Vedic king and the Bharata dynasty kings were the dominant kings in the Rigveda itself.

 

������ The Vedas are usually looked upon as religious documents, but this can be misleading. The Vedas deal not only with ritual but also with mantra, Yoga and meditation or the deeper spiritual and mystical practices that transcend outer religious formalities. They extend to all domains of culture and knowledge, with branches of the Vedas dealing with music, architecture, astronomy and medicine.

 

The term �Veda� itself means knowledge, wisdom or vision, from the root �vid� meaning to see or to know. This knowledge is defined twofold in the Upanishads as a higher, internal or Self-knowledge, through which immortality can be gained, and a lower or external knowledge, through which we can understand the external world. The lower knowledge includes what the modern world refers to as science and technology. This division is reflected in the Brahmanas as an adhyatmic or inner/spiritual knowledge and an adhibhutic or elemental/material knowledge.

 

The Vedas are not books of faith or revelations of prophets and do not rest upon a person, institution or belief. They teach a way of knowledge that is open, diverse and pluralistic. They realize that there is One great truth behind the universe, a universal being and consciousness, but that it can be approached from many different levels and angles. They honor the Divine Self as the supreme principle, not an external authority of person, book or institution.

 

Starting with the Rigveda, meditation is regarded as the way to true knowledge. The Rigveda recognizes a higher or meditative aspect of the mind, called �dhi� (later referred to as �buddhi�) as our main faculty of true perception. From this same root �dhi�, the term �dhyana� for meditation arises. Dhi is the higher and interior portion of the mind (manas), which enables us to perceive the eternal truth. This cultivation of dhi or buddhi is the main characteristic of Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism.

 

The Rigveda mentions other meditational powers as �kratu� or right intention, �daksha� or skill in action, �medha� or higher perception, �manisha� or intuition, and �chetana� or consciousness. Its deities like Agni are not simply outer powers or nature forces but possessed of a wise consciousness (pracetas) or discriminating awareness (vicetas). The Vedas emphasize mantra or energized speech for developing the mind, particularly satya mantra or the Divine word of truth. They are aware of a cosmic order of Satyam Ritam Brihat, the Reality, Truth and Vastness, showing an intelligible universe that is benefic in nature and pervaded by consciousness.

 

The Vedic Yajna

 

������ The Vedas have a ritualistic basis as a means of harmonization with Dharma, not as an enforcement of dogma. Our life consists of what could call be called �ritual offerings� of food, breath, thought, and consciousness. The universe is an interdependent organic field that has its own rhythm and harmony undergoing a constant dynamic interchange. Attuning our lives to the universal harmony, in which each being is an offering to the whole and in which the entire universe is reflected in each being, is the Vedic ritual or Yajna. This Yajna occurs on many levels inwardly and outwardly. Outwardly, the Vedic rituals consist of various tangible offerings, like wood or ghee, to the sacred fire, to generate a positive energy for the world. Inwardly, Vedic rituals consists of offerings of breath, speech and mind to the Divine or our higher Self to raise us to a higher consciousness and ultimate realization of our true nature.

 

Vedic Deities

 

������ The Rigveda consists of a thousand mantric hymns of various rishis with the purpose of promoting the inner and outer Yajna, to harmonize humanity with the universal order of life and consciousness. In this process various deities are worshipped, of which three are most important.

 

First is Agni, the deity of the Earth, which relates to the sacred fire, and refers to the higher Self within our embodiment. Agni, which means �the inner guide (agra ni)�, is the Divine being immanent within us as our own individual soul or jiva. He is called Vaishvanara (the universal person), Jatavedas (the knower of all births) and Kumara (the Divine Child). Agni is the Divine force behind the material world, the spirit hidden in nature and in the body, that we must bring forth in order to set our spiritual quest in motion. Just as fire can be brought forth from wood through friction, so this inner fire can come forth from the mind through meditative inquiry.

 

Second is Indra or Vayu, which relates to wind or spirit, the deity of the Atmosphere. Inwardly it refers to Prana, the cosmic energy or life-force that is the ruler (Indra) of the entire universe. Indra specifically is the perceiver, representing the lightning force of inner perception that opens up our higher consciousness. Indra relates to the transcendent aspect of the Self (Paramatman) and the cosmic lord (Ishvara). The union of Agni and Indra or fire and air is the union of the individual soul with the cosmic being.

 

Third is Surya or the Sun, the deity of Heaven, meaning not the outer luminary but the principle of light and consciousness, which is the knowledge aspect of our higher intelligence or dhi. Surya as wisdom complements the Indra principle as will power and also relates to Paramatman on a transcendent level and Ishvara or the cosmic lord on a manifest level. These two great deities of Indra and Surya are the basis for later Shiva and Vishnu, which like Indra and Surya, represent respectively Prana and the Sun. Agni, our inner flame, when enkindled, grows and becomes the Sun or the full light of truth and unity.

 

The goal of the Vedic Rishi is to become one with the deity as a part of the process of Self-realization. The seer Vishvamitra proclaims, �I am Agni, from birth the knower of all beings� (Rig Veda III.26.7).Similarly, Vamadeva proclaims, �I was Manu and I became the Sun� (Rig Veda IV.26.1). The Vedic Rishi himself is Agni, the Divine Fire on Earth.

 

Such Vedic insights gave birth to the Upanishadic tradition and their more evident teachings about the Atman. However, this teaching is also found in the Rig Vedic mantras hidden in a veil of mantra and symbolism. The Vedas often state, �Paroksha priya hi deva, pratyaksha dvishah,� meaning �the Gods prefer what is secret and dislike the obvious.� Few scholars West or East have been able to penetrate this veil of secrecy to discover the spiritual core of the Vedic teaching.

 

Vedanta and the Vedas

 

According a number of teachers both Indian and western, Vedanta is the main teaching that derived from the Vedas and the Vedas in themselves are not important. They regard the Vedas as obscure ritualistic texts from which Vedanta gradually emerged as way of Self-knowledge. Yet Vedanta is not simply the end (anta) of the Vedas. More appropriately speaking, it is the essence (rasa) of the Vedas. The Vedas begin and end with Vedanta, which is the very theme, harmony or concurrence behind all Vedic texts. We cannot claim to have the entire Vedantic tradition until we understand its Vedic foundation in the Rigveda itself.

 

Though all the specific terminology of Vedantic philosophy cannot be found in old texts like the Rigveda, a Vedantic meaning can be ascertained behind the Vedic mantras if one knows how to discern their essence. Even the Vedic ritual is a means of connecting the individual to the universal, through the great elements of nature or the deities that govern the universe. The outer Vedic ritual is an inner Vedantic thought exercise, gradually equating the factors of world experience (the deities) with factors of internal experience (the mind, prana and senses. The outer Vedic ritual leads to an inner Vedic ritual of offering speech, prana and mind to the higher Self, which takes us to Vedanta. A right understanding of the Vedas, therefore, connects us with the Vedantic roots of humanity and helps us connect with the Self of all beings.

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Vedanta and the Gods of the Vedas

 

������ The Vedas begin characteristically with a prayer to Agni or the sacred fire. This Agni is no ordinary fire but represents the inner flame of awareness, the practice of mindfulness that is the very foundation of Vedanta. Agni is the light of reason that we must enkindle within ourselves in order the find truth. It is the hidden light of the Self, which gives life the individual soul and holds its aspiration to Divinity that follows our every birth into this mortal realm.

 

������ The most commonly lauded deity of the Vedas is Indra, who represents energy, vitality, and shakti, particularly the power to break through ignorance and reveal the light of truth. Indra represents the Divine will within us, the seeking of self-expression and self-realization that is the very motive power within all creatures and the evolutionary force of life itself. Vedanta is the unfoldment of the Indra energy seeking supremacy over the entire universe, as life�s seeking of transcendence in Self-realization.

 

������ The Vedic Sun or Surya is the light of truth that illuminates reality. The Divine Self is the internal Sun that reveals all the functions of nature as well as all the faculties of the mind. Vedanta is about the rising of that Sun of truth and its ending of the dark night of Samsara, ignorance and rebirth. The Atman is the true light behind all.

 

������ Meditation takes us to Samadhi in which there is an experience of bliss. The Vedic God Soma represents the stream of spiritual delight from the inner perception of the unity of all. It is the understanding of the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self that frees us from all sorrow. The flowing Soma that the Vedas seek is the flow of bliss from the Absolute (Sacchidananda) into the human mind. Vedanta culminates in that Somic bliss born of Self-realization.

 

������ Just as Vedanta is reflected in these four major Vedic deities, it is reflected in the minor deities as well. The deities of the earth sphere are forms of Agni as the flame of awareness hidden in the material world. Those of the atmospheric sphere are forms of Indra as the power of truth perception hidden in our pranic movements. Those of heaven are forms of Surya and Soma or Sun and Moon as the wisdom and bliss of spiritual experience. The Sun as the light of consciousness is the Supreme Deity of the Vedas, the One God of all the Gods, the One Self of all the souls. All Vedic deities reflect its powers and qualities on various levels or to different degrees.

 

Relevance of Vedic Knowledge Today

 

������ What is the current relevance of Vedic knowledge and of the existent Vedic texts that we have? The Vedas show us the existence of a spiritual humanity from which we have perhaps not so much evolved as fallen. Modern man looks upon progress through science and technology as the real measure of progress and enlightenment. Yet, if we look deeply, we see that spiritual insight has not developed along with civilization and was actually higher in ancient times than today. The yogi in a cave is certainly at a higher level of consciousness than most scientists or technocrats today.

 

������ As a species, we have not just simply evolved out of a material basis in order to gain mastery of the external world. We have a deeper spiritual heritage, an ancestry of great rishis and yogis, that we must also recognize to truly find our place in the cosmic order. The Vedas pass on the legacy of this earlier spiritual humanity in the best preserved ancient texts that we have. But this emphasis on rishis, sages and seers as behind human culture can be found in all ancient civilizations whether those of China, India, Egypt, Babylonia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe or the Americas.

 

������ In the last few centuries, our civilization has developed greatly in terms of science, technology and the commercial world. However, we have not had a corresponding spiritual unfoldment. In fact, during this period many of our greatest spiritual traditions have been, if not lost, at least diminished. The earth wisdom of native peoples of Asia, Africa and America has often perished along with their cultures, facing the onset of modern civilization. The yogic wisdom of India and Tibet has been marginalized by western political and religious influences. The Vedas, as the older tradition of India, contain both this earth wisdom, such as revealed in the Bhumi Sukta of the Atharvaveda, and the great yogic tradition as well.

 

������ At the same time, we do see a renewed interest in the Indian spiritual tradition worldwide, with the growing popularity of Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism, along with related artistic, medical and astrological teachings. These Indic traditions have become linked with other spiritual traditions of Asia, America, Africa and Europe, including those outside of the field of the present dominant religions of Christianity and Islam. We can find the essence of all these ancient and modern spiritual paths in the Vedas. Through the Vedas we can reclaim our spiritual heritage as a species and use that as a foundation on which to build a new age of consciousness, universality and global responsibility.

 

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[1] Note my book Wisdom of the Ancient Seers for such an explication of Rigveda mantras. Also note the works of Sri Aurobindo and Kapali Shastri in this regard.

 

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