classes ::: Hymns_to_the_Mystic_Fire, Sri_Aurobindo, chapter,
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Instances, Classes, See Also, Object in Names
Definitions, . Quotes . - . Chapters .

object:1.01 - Foreward
book class:Hymns to the Mystic Fire
author class:Sri Aurobindo



N ANCIENT times the Veda was revered as a sacred book
of wisdom, a great mass of inspired poetry, the work of
Rishis, seers and sages, who received in their illumined minds
rather than mentally constructed a great universal, eternal and
impersonal Truth which they embodied in Mantras, revealed
verses of power, not of an ordinary but of a divine inspiration
and source. The name given to these sages was Kavi, which
afterwards came to mean any poet, but at the time had the sense
of a seer of truth, - the Veda itself describes them as kavayah.
satyasrutah., "seers who are hearers of the Truth" and the Veda
itself was called sruti, a word which came to mean "revealed
Scripture". The seers of the Upanishad had the same idea about
the Veda and frequently appealed to its authority for the truths
they themselves announced and these too afterwards came to be
regarded as Sruti, revealed Scripture, and were included in the
sacred Canon.
This tradition persevered in the Brahmanas and continued
to maintain itself in spite of the efforts of the ritualistic commentators, Yajnikas, to explain everything as myth and rite
and the division made by the Pandits distinguishing the section of works, Karmakanda, and the section of Knowledge,
Jnanakanda, identifying the former with the hymns and the latter
with the Upanishads. This drowning of the parts of Knowledge
by the parts of ceremonial works was strongly criticised in one
of the Upanishads and in the Gita, but both look on the Veda as
a Book of Knowledge. Even, the Sruti including both Veda and
Upanishad was regarded as the supreme authority for spiritual
knowledge and infallible.
Is this all legend and moonshine, or a groundless and even
nonsensical tradition? Or is it the fact that there is only a scanty
element of higher ideas in some later hymns which started this


theory? Did the writers of the Upanishads foist upon the Riks a
meaning which was not there but read into it by their imagination or a fanciful interpretation? Modern European scholarship
insists on having it so. And it has persuaded the mind of modern
India. In favour of this view is the fact that the Rishis of the
Veda were not only seers but singers and priests of sacrifice,
that their chants were written to be sung at public sacrifices and
refer constantly to the customary ritual and seem to call for the
outward objects of these ceremonies, wealth, prosperity, victory
over enemies. Sayana, the great commentator, gives us a ritualistic and where necessary a tentatively mythical or historical
sense to the Riks, very rarely does he put forward any higher
meaning though sometimes he lets a higher sense come through
or puts it as an alternative as if in despair of finding out some
ritualistic or mythical interpretation. But still he does not reject
the spiritual authority of the Veda or deny that there is a higher
truth contained in the Riks. This last development was left to
our own times and popularised by occidental scholars.
The European scholars took up the ritualistic tradition, but
for the rest they dropped Sayana overboard and went on to
make their own etymological explanation of the words, or build
up their own conjectural meanings of the Vedic verses and give
a new presentation often arbitrary and imaginative. What they
sought for in the Veda was the early history of India, its society,
institutions, customs, a civilisation-picture of the times. They
invented the theory based on the difference of languages of an
Aryan invasion from the north, an invasion of a Dravidian India
of which the Indians themselves had no memory or tradition and
of which there is no record in their epic or classical literature.

The Vedic religion was in this account only a worship of NatureGods full of solar myths and consecrated by sacrifices and a sacrificial liturgy primitive enough in its ideas and contents, and it is these barbaric prayers that are the much vaunted, haloed and apotheosized Veda.

There can be no doubt that in the beginning there was a worship of the Powers of the physical world, the Sun, Moon, Heaven and Earth, Wind, Rain and Storm etc., the Sacred Rivers and a number of Gods who presided over the workings of Nature.

That was the general aspect of the ancient worship in Greece, Rome, India and among other ancient peoples. But in all these countries these gods began to assume a higher, a psychological function; Pallas Athene who may have been originally a Dawn-Goddess springing in flames from the head of Zeus, the Sky-God, Dyaus of the Veda, has in classical Greece a higher function and was identified by the Romans with their Minerva, the Goddess of learning and wisdom; similarly, Saraswati, a river Goddess, becomes in India the goddess of wisdom, learning and the arts and crafts: all the Greek deities have undergone a change in this direction - Apollo, the Sun-God, has become a god of poetry and prophecy, Hephaestus the Fire-God a divine smith, god of labour. In India the process was arrested half-way, and the Vedic Gods developed their psychological functions but retained more fixedly their external character and for higher purposes gave place to a new pantheon. They had to give precedence to Puranic deities who developed out of the early company but assumed larger cosmic functions, Vishnu, Rudra, Brahma - developing from the Vedic Brihaspati, or Brahmanaspati, - Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga. Thus in India the change in the gods was less complete, the earlier deities became the inferior divinities of the Puranic pantheon and this was largely due to the survival of the Rig Veda in which their psychological and their external functions co-existed and are both given a powerful emphasis; there was no such early literary record to maintain the original features of the Gods of Greece and Rome.

This change was evidently due to a cultural development in these early peoples who became progressively more mentalised and less engrossed in the physical life as they advanced in civilisation and needed to read into their religion and their deities finer and subtler aspects which would support their more highly mentalised concepts and interests and find for them a true spiritual being or some celestial figure as their support and sanction.

But the largest part in determining and deepening this inward turn must be attributed to the Mystics who had an enormous influence on these early civilisations; there was indeed almost everywhere an age of the Mysteries in which men of a deeper knowledge and self-knowledge established their practices, significant rites, symbols, secret lore within or on the border of the more primitive exterior religions. This took different forms in different countries; in Greece there were the Orphic and Eleusinian Mysteries, in Egypt and Chaldea the priests and their occult lore and magic, in Persia the Magi, in India the Rishis.

The preoccupation of the Mystics was with self-knowledge and a profounder world-knowledge; they found out that in man there was a deeper self and inner being behind the surface of the outward physical man, which it was his highest business to discover and know. "Know thyself" was their great precept, just as in India to know the Self, the Atman became the great spiritual need, the highest thing for the human being. They found also a Truth, a Reality behind the outward aspects of the universe and to discover, follow, realise this Truth was their great aspiration. They discovered secrets and powers of Nature which were not those of the physical world but which could bring occult mastery over the physical world and physical things and to systematise this occult knowledge and power was also one of their strong preoccupations. But all this could only be safely done by a difficult and careful training, discipline, purification of the nature; it could not be done by the ordinary man. If men entered into these things without a severe test and training it would be dangerous to themselves and others; this knowledge, these powers could be misused, misinterpreted, turned from truth to falsehood, from good to evil. A strict secrecy was therefore maintained, the knowledge handed down behind a veil from master to disciple. A veil of symbols was created behind which these mysteries could shelter, formulas of speech also which could be understood by the initiated but were either not known by others or were taken by them in an outward sense which carefully covered their true meaning and secret. This was the substance of Mysticism everywhere.

It has been the tradition in India from the earliest times that the Rishis, the poet-seers of the Veda, were men of this type, men with a great spiritual and occult knowledge not shared by ordinary human beings, men who handed down this knowledge and their powers by a secret initiation to their descendants and chosen disciples. It is a gratuitous assumption to suppose that this tradition was wholly unfounded, a superstition that arose suddenly or slowly formed in a void, with nothing whatever to support it; some foundation there must have been however small or however swelled by legend and the accretions of centuries. But if it is true, then inevitably the poet-seers must have expressed something of their secret knowledge, their mystic lore in their writings and such an element must be present, however well-concealed by an occult language or behind a technique of symbols, and if it is there it must be to some extent discoverable.

It is true that an antique language, obsolete words, - Yaska counts more than four hundred of which he did not know the meaning, - and often a difficult and out-of-date diction helped to obscure their meaning; the loss of the sense of their symbols, the glossary of which they kept to themselves, made them unintelligible to later generations; even in the time of the Upanishads the spiritual seekers of the age had to resort to initiation and meditation to penetrate into their secret knowledge, while the scholars afterwards were at sea and had to resort to conjecture and to concentrate on a mental interpretation or to explain by myths, by the legends of the Brahmanas themselves often symbolic and obscure. But still to make this discovery will be the sole way of getting at the true sense and the true value of the Veda. We must take seriously the hint of Yaska, accept the Rishi's description of the Veda's contents as "seer-wisdoms, secret words", and look for whatever clue we can find to this ancient wisdom. Otherwise the Veda must remain for ever a sealed book; grammarians, etymologists, scholastic conjectures will not open to us the sealed chamber.

For it is a fact that the tradition of a secret meaning and a mystic wisdom couched in the Riks of the ancient Veda was as old as the Veda itself. The Vedic Rishis believed that their Mantras were inspired from higher hidden planes of consciousness and contained this secret knowledge. The words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the verses withheld their hidden knowledge. In one of Vamadeva's hymns in the fourth Mandala (IV.3.16) the Rishi describes himself as one illumined expressing through his thought and speech words of guidance, "secret words" - nin.ya vacamsi - "seer-wisdoms that utter their inner meaning to the seer" - kavyani kavaye nivacana. The Rishi Dirghatamas speaks of the Riks, the Mantras of the Veda, as existing "in a supreme ether, imperishable and immutable in which all the gods are seated", and he adds "one who knows not That what shall he do with the Rik?" (I.164.39) He further alludes to four planes from which the speech issues, three of them hidden in the secrecy while the fourth is human, and from there comes the ordinary word; but the word and thought of the Veda belongs to the higher planes (I.164.45).

Elsewhere in the Riks the Vedic Word is described (X.71) as that which is supreme and the topmost height of speech, the best and the most faultless. It is something that is hidden in secrecy and from there comes out and is manifested. It has entered into the truth-seers, the Rishis, and it is found by following the track of their speech. But all cannot enter into its secret meaning. Those who do not know the inner sense are as men who seeing see not, hearing hear not, only to one here and there the Word desiring him like a beautifully robed wife to a husband lays open her body. Others unable to drink steadily of the milk of the Word, the Vedic cow, move with it as with one that gives no milk, to him the Word is a tree without flowers or fruits. This is quite clear and precise; it results from it beyond doubt that even then while the Rig Veda was being written the Riks were regarded as having a secret sense which was not open to all. There was an occult and spiritual knowledge in the sacred hymns and by this knowledge alone, it is said, one can know the truth and rise to a higher existence. This belief was not a later tradition but held, probably, by all and evidently by some of the greatest Rishis such as Dirghatamas and Vamadeva.

The tradition, then, was there and it was prolonged after the
Vedic times. Yaska speaks of several schools of interpretation of
the Veda. There was a sacrificial or ritualistic interpretation,



the historical or rather mythological explanation, an explanation by the grammarians and etymologists, by the logicians, a
spiritual interpretation. Yaska himself declares that there is a
triple knowledge and therefore a triple meaning of the Vedic
hymns, a sacrificial or ritualistic knowledge, a knowledge of the
gods and finally a spiritual knowledge; but the last is the true
sense and when one gets it the others drop or are cut away.
It is this spiritual sense that saves and the rest is outward and
subordinate. He says further that "the Rishis saw the truth,
the true law of things, directly by an inner vision"; afterwards
the knowledge and the inner sense of the Veda were almost
lost and the Rishis who still knew had to save it by handing it
down through initiation to disciples and at a last stage outward
and mental means had to be used for finding the sense such as
Nirukta and other Vedangas. But even then, he says, "the true
sense of the Veda can be recovered directly by meditation and
tapasya", those who can use these means need no outward aids
for this knowledge. This also is sufficiently clear and positive.
The tradition of a mystic element in the Veda as a source of
Indian civilisation, its religion, its philosophy, its culture is more
in consonance with historical fact than the European scouting of
this idea. The nineteenth-century European scholarship writing
in a period of materialistic rationalism regarded the history
of the race as a development out of primitive barbarism or
semi-barbarism, a crude social life and religion and a mass of
superstitions, by the growth of outward civilised institutions,
manners and habits through the development of intellect and
reason, art, philosophy and science and a clearer and sounder,
more matter-of-fact intelligence. The ancient idea about the Veda
could not fit into this picture; it was regarded as rather a part
of ancient superstitious ideas and a primitive error. But we can
now form a more accurate idea of the development of the race.
The ancient more primitive civilisations held in themselves the
elements of the later growth but their early wise men were not
scientists and philosophers or men of high intellectual reason
but mystics and even mystery-men, occultists, religious seekers;
they were seekers after a veiled truth behind things and not of


an outward knowledge. The scientists and philosophers came
afterwards; they were preceded by the mystics and often like
Pythagoras and Plato were to some extent mystics themselves or
drew many of their ideas from the mystics. In India philosophy
grew out of the seeking of the mystics and retained and developed their spiritual aims and kept something of their methods in
later Indian spiritual discipline and Yoga. The Vedic tradition,
the fact of a mystical element in the Veda fits in perfectly with
this historical truth and takes its place in the history of Indian
culture. The tradition of the Veda as the bed-rock of Indian
civilisation - not merely a barbaric sacrificial liturgy - is more
than a tradition, it is an actual fact of history.
But even if an element of high spiritual knowledge, or passages full of high ideas were found in the hymns, it might be
supposed that those are perhaps only a small factor, while the
rest is a sacrificial liturgy, formulas of prayer and praise to the
Gods meant to induce them to shower on the sacrificers material
blessings such as plenty of cows, horses, fighting men, sons, food,
wealth of all kinds, protection, victory in battle, or to bring
down rain from heaven, recover the sun from clouds or from
the grip of Night, the free flowing of the seven rivers, recovery
of cattle from the Dasyus (or the Dravidians) and the other
boons which on the surface seem to be the object of this ritual
worship. The Rishis would then be men with some spiritual or
mystic knowledge but otherwise dominated by all the popular
ideas proper to their times. These two elements they would then
mix up intimately in their hymns and this would account at least
in part for the obscurity and the rather strange and sometimes
grotesque jumble which the traditional interpretation offers us.
But if on the other hand a considerable body of high thinking
clearly appears, if there is a large mass of verses or whole hymns
which admit only of a mystic character and significance, and
if finally, the ritualistic and external details are found to take
frequently the appearance of symbols such as were always used
by the mystics, and if there are many clear indications, even some
explicit statements in the hymns themselves of such a meaning,
then all changes. We are in the presence of a great scripture of



the mystics with a double significance, one exoteric, the other
esoteric; the symbols themselves have a meaning which makes
them a part of the esoteric significance, an element in the secret
teaching and knowledge. The whole of the Rig Veda, a small
number of hymns perhaps excepted, becomes in its inner sense
such a Scripture. At the same time the exoteric sense need not
be merely a mask; the Riks may have been regarded by their
authors as words of power, powerful not only for internal but
for external things. A purely spiritual scripture would concern
itself with only spiritual significances, but the ancient mystics
were also what we would call occultists, men who believed that
by inner means outer as well as inner results could be produced,
that thought and words could be so used as to bring about
realisations of every kind, - in the phrase common in the Veda
itself, - both the human and the divine.

But where is this body of esoteric meaning in the Veda? It is only discoverable if we give a constant and straightforward meaning to the words and formulas employed by the Rishis, especially to the key-words which bear as keystones the whole structure of their doctrine. One such word is the great word, Ritam, Truth; Truth was the central object of the seeking of the mystics, a spiritual or inner Truth, a truth of ourselves, a truth of things, a truth of the world and of the gods, a truth behind all we are and all that things are. In the ritualistic interpretation this master word of the Vedic knowledge has been interpreted in all kinds of senses according to the convenience or fancy of the interpreter, "truth", "sacrifice", "water", "one who has gone", even "food", not to speak of a number of other meanings; if we do that, there can be no certitude in our dealings with the Veda. But let us consistently give it the same master sense and a strange but clear result emerges. If we apply the same treatment to other standing terms of the Veda, if we give them their ordinary, natural and straightforward meaning and give it constantly and consistently, not monkeying about with their sense or turning them into purely ritualistic expressions, if we allow to certain important words, such as sravas, kratu, the psychological meaning of which they are capable and which they undoubtedly bear in certain passages as when the Veda describes Agni as kratur hr.di, then this result becomes all the more clear, extended, pervasive. If in addition we follow the indications which abound, sometimes the explicit statement of the Rishis about the inner sense of their symbols, interpret in the same sense the significant legends and figures on which they constantly return, the conquest over Vritra and the battle with the Vritras, his powers, the recovery of the Sun, the Waters, the Cows, from the Panis or other Dasyus, the whole Rig Veda reveals itself as a body of doctrine and practice, esoteric, occult, spiritual, such as might have been given by the mystics in any ancient country but which actually survives for us only in theVeda. It is there deliberately hidden by a veil, but the veil is not so thick as we first imagine; we have only to use our eyes and the veil vanishes; the body of the Word, the Truth stands out before us.

Many of the lines, many whole hymns even of the Veda bear on their face a mystic meaning; they are evidently an occult form of speech, have an inner meaning. When the seer speaks of Agni as "the luminous guardian of the Truth shining out in his own home", or of Mitra and Varuna or other gods as "in touch with the Truth and making the Truth grow" or as "born in the Truth", these are words of a mystic poet, who is thinking of that inner Truth behind things of which the early sages were the seekers.

He is not thinking of the Nature-Power presiding over the outer element of fire or of the fire of the ceremonial sacrifice. Or he speaks of Saraswati as one who impels the words of Truth and awakes to right thinkings or as one opulent with the thought: Saraswati awakes to consciousness or makes us conscious of the "Great Ocean and illumines all our thoughts." It is surely not the River Goddess whom he is thus hymning but the Power, theRiver if you will, of inspiration, the word of the Truth, bringing its light into our thoughts, building up in us that Truth, an inner knowledge. The Gods constantly stand out in their psychological functions; the sacrifice is the outer symbol of an inner work, an inner interchange between the gods and men, - man givingwhat he has, the gods giving in return the horses of power, the herds of light, the heroes of Strength to be his retinue, winning for him victory in his battle with the hosts of Darkness, Vritras, Dasyus, Panis. When the Rishi says, "Let us become conscious whether by the War-Horse or by the Word of a Strength beyond men", his words have either a mystic significance or they have no coherent meaning at all. In the portions translated in this book we have many mystic verses and whole hymns which, however mystic, tear the veil off the outer sacrificial images covering the real sense of the Veda. "Thought", says the Rishi, "has nourished for us human things in the Immortals, in the Great Heavens; it is the milch-cow which milks of itself the wealth of many forms" - the many kinds of wealth, cows, horses and the rest for which the sacrificer prays; evidently this is no material wealth, it is something which Thought, the Thought embodied in the Mantra, can give and it is the result of the same Thought that nourishes our human things in the Immortals, in the Great Heavens. A process of divinisation, and of a bringing down of great and luminous riches, treasures won from the Gods by the inner work of sacrifice, is hinted at in terms necessarily covert but still for one who knows how to read these secret words, nin.ya vacamsi, sufficiently expressive, kavaye nivacana. Again, Night and Dawn the eternal sisters are like "joyful weaving women weaving the weft of our perfected works into the form of a sacrifice."

Again, words with a mystic form and meaning, but there
could hardly be a more positive statement of the psychological
character of the Sacrifice, the real meaning of the Cow, of the
riches sought for, the plenitudes of the Great Treasure.
Under pressure of the necessity to mask their meaning with
symbols and symbolic words - for secrecy must be observed
- the Rishis resorted to fixed double meanings, a device easily
manageable in the Sanskrit language where one word often bears
several different meanings, but not easy to render in an English
translation and very often impossible. Thus the word for cow,
go, meant also light or a ray of light; this appears in the names of
some of the Rishis, Gotama, most radiant, Gavishthira, steadfast
in the Light. The cows of the Veda were the Herds of the Sun,
familiar in Greek myth and mystery, the rays of the Sun of Truth
and Light and Knowledge; this meaning which comes out in
some passages can be consistently applied everywhere yielding
a coherent sense. The word ghr.ta means ghee or clarified butter
and this was one of the chief elements of the sacrificial rite; but
ghr.ta could also mean light, from the root ghr. to shine, and
it is used in this sense in many passages. Thus the horses of
Indra, the Lord of Heaven, are described as dripping with light,
ghr.ta-snu,1 - it certainly does not mean that ghee dripped from
them as they ran, although that seems to be the sense of the same
epithet as applied to the grain of which Indra's horses are invited
to partake when they come to the sacrifice. Evidently this sense
of light doubles with that of clarified butter in the symbolism
of the sacrifice. The thought or the word expressing the thought
is compared to pure clarified butter, expressions like dhiyam
ghr.tacm, the luminous thought or understanding occur. There
is a curious passage in one of the hymns translated in this book
calling on Fire as priest of the sacrifice to flood the offering with
a mind pouring ghrita, ghr.taprus.a manasa and so manifest the
Seats ("places", or "planes"), the three heavens each of them
and manifest the Gods.2 But what is a ghee-pouring mind, and
how by pouring ghee can a priest manifest the Gods and the
triple heavens? But admit the mystical and esoteric meaning
and the sense becomes clear. What the Rishi means is a "mind
pouring the light", a labour of the clarity of an enlightened or
illumined mind; it is not a human priest or a sacrificial fire, but
the inner Flame, the mystic seer-will, kavi-kratu, and that can
certainly manifest by this process the Gods and the worlds and
all planes of the being. The Rishis, it must be remembered, were
seers as well as sages, they were men of vision who saw things in
their meditation in images, often symbolic images which might
precede or accompany an experience and put it in a concrete
form, might predict or give an occult body to it: so it would
1 Sayana, though in several passages he takes ghrta in the sense of light, renders it
here by "water"; he seems to think that the divine horses were very tired and perspiring
profusely! A Naturalistic interpreter might as well argue that as Indra is a God of the sky,
the primitive poet might well believe that rain was the perspiration of Indra's horses.
2 This is Sayana's rendering of the passage and rises directly from the words.



be quite possible for him to see at once the inner experience
and in image its symbolic happening, the flow of clarifying light
and the priest god pouring the clarified butter on the inner selfoffering which brought the experience. This might seem strange
to a Western mind, but to an Indian mind accustomed to the
Indian tradition or capable of meditation and occult vision it
would be perfectly intelligible. The mystics were and normally
are symbolists, they can even see all physical things and happenings as symbols of inner truths and realities, even their outer
selves, the outer happenings of their life and all around them.
That would make their identification or else an association of
the thing and its symbol easy, its habit possible.
Other standing words and symbols of the Veda invite a
similar interpretation of their sense. As the Vedic "cow" is the
symbol of light, so the Vedic "horse" is a symbol of power,
spiritual strength, force of tapasya. When the Rishi asks Agni
for a "horse-form cow-in-front gift" he is not asking really for
a number of horses forming a body of the gift with some cows
walking in front, he is asking for a great body of spiritual power
led by the light or, as we may translate it, "with the Ray-Cow
walking in its front".3 As one hymn describes the recovery from
the Panis of the mass of the rays (the cows, - the shining herds,
gavyam), so another hymn asks Agni for a mass or abundance or
power of the horse - asvyam. So too the Rishi asks sometimes
for the heroes or fighting men as his retinue, sometimes in more
abstract language and without symbol for a complete hero-force
- suvryam; sometimes he combines the symbol and the thing.
So too the Rishis ask for a son or sons or offspring - apatyam
- as an element of the wealth for which they pray to the Gods,
but here too an esoteric sense can be seen, for in certain passages
the son born to us is clearly an image of some inner birth: Agni
himself is our son, the child of our works, the child who as the
Universal Fire is the father of his fathers, and it is by setting
the steps on things that have fair offspring that we create or
3 Compare the expression which describes the Aryan, the noble people as led by the
light - jyotir-agrah..


discover a path to the higher world of Truth. Again, "water"
in the Veda is used as a symbol. It speaks of the inconscient
ocean, salilam apraketam, in which the Godhead is involved
and out of which he is born by his greatness; it speaks also
of the great ocean - maho, the upper waters which, as
one hymn says, Saraswati makes conscious for us or of which
she makes us conscious by the ray of intuition - pra cetayati
ketuna. The seven rivers seem to be the rivers of Northern India
but the Veda speaks of the seven Mighty Ones of Heaven who
flow down from Heaven; they are waters that know, knowers of
the Truth - r.tajna - and when they are released they discover
for us the road to the great Heavens. So too Parashara speaks
of Knowledge and universal Life, "in the house of the waters".
Indra releases the rain by slaying Vritra, but this rain too is the
rain of Heaven and sets the rivers flowing. Thus the legend of
the release of the waters which takes so large a place in the Veda
puts on the aspect of a symbolic myth. Along with it comes the
other symbolic legend of the discovery and rescue, from the dark
cave in the mountain, of the Sun, the cows or herds of the Sun,
or the Sun-world - svar - by the Gods and the Angiras Rishis.
The symbol of the Sun is constantly associated with the higher
Light and the Truth: it is in the Truth concealed by an inferior
Truth that are unyoked the horses of the Sun, it is the Sun in its
highest light that is called upon in the great Gayatri Mantra to
impel our thoughts. So too the enemies in the Veda are spoken
of as robbers, dasyus, who steal the cows, or Vritras and are
taken literally as human enemies in the ordinary interpretation,
but Vritra is a demon who covers and holds back the Light and
the waters and the Vritras are his forces fulfilling that function.
The Dasyus, robbers or destroyers, are the powers of darkness,
adversaries of the seekers of Light and the Truth. Always there
are indications that lead us from the outward and exoteric to an
inner and esoteric sense.
In connection with the symbol of the Sun a notable and
most significant verse in a hymn of the fifth Mandala may here be
mentioned; for it shows not only the profound mystic symbolism
of the Vedic poets, but also how the writers of the Upanishads



understood the Rig Veda and justifies their belief in the inspired
knowledge of their forerunners. "There is a Truth covered by a
Truth," runs the Vedic passage, "where they unyoke the horses
of the Sun; the ten hundreds stood together, there was That
One;4 I saw the greatest (best, most glorious) of the embodied
gods."5 Then mark how the seer of the Upanishad translates
this thought or this mystic experience into his own later style,
keeping the central symbol of the Sun but without any secrecy in
the sense. Thus runs the passage in the Upanishad, "The face of
the Truth is covered with a golden lid. O Pushan, that remove for
the vision of the law of the Truth.6 O Pushan (fosterer), sole seer,
O Yama, O Sun, O Child of the Father of beings, marshal and
gather together thy rays; I see the Light which is that fairest (most
auspicious) form of thee; he who is this Purusha, He am I." The
golden lid is meant to be the same as the inferior covering truth,
r.tam, spoken of in the Vedic verse; the "best of the bodies of the
Gods" is equivalent to the "fairest form of the Sun", it is the
supreme Light which is other and greater than all outer light;
the great formula of the Upanishad, "He am I", corresponds
to That One, tad ekam, of the Rig Vedic verse; the "standing
together of the ten hundreds" (the rays of the Sun, says Sayana,
and that is evidently the meaning) is reproduced in the prayer
to the Sun "to marshal and mass his rays" so that the supreme
form may be seen. The Sun in both the passages, as constantly
in the Veda and frequently in the Upanishad, is the Godhead
of the supreme Truth and Knowledge and his rays are the light
emanating from that supreme Truth and Knowledge. It is clear
from this instance - and there are others - that the seer of the
Upanishad had a truer sense of the meaning of the ancient Veda
than the mediaeval ritualistic commentator with his gigantic
learning, much truer than the modern and very different mind
of the European scholars.
There are certain psychological terms which have to be
taken consistently in their true sense if we are to find the inner or
4 Or, That (the supreme Truth) was one;
5 Or it means, "I saw the greatest (best) of the bodies of the gods."
6 Or, for the law of the Truth, for vision.


esoteric meaning. Apart from the Truth, Ritam, we have to take
always in the sense of "thought" the word dh which constantly
recurs in the hymns. This is the natural meaning of dh which
corresponds to the later word Buddhi; it means thought, understanding, intelligence and in the plural "thoughts", dhiyah..
It is given in the ordinary interpretation all kinds of meanings;
"water", "work", "sacrifice", "food" etc. as well as thought.
But in our search we have to take it consistently in its ordinary
and natural significance and see what is the result. The word
ketu means very ordinarily "ray" but it also bears the meaning of intellect, judgment or an intellectual perception. If we
compare the passages in the Veda in which it occurs we can
come to the conclusion that it meant a ray of perception or
intuition, as for instance, it is by the ray of intuition, ketuna,
that Saraswati makes us conscious of the great waters; that
too probably is the meaning of the rays which come from the
Supreme foundation above and are directed downwards; these
are the intuitions of knowledge as the rays of the Sun of Truth
and Light. The word kratu means ordinarily work or sacrifice
but it also means intelligence, power or resolution and especially
the power of the intelligence that determines the work, the will.
It is in this latter sense that we can interpret it in the esoteric
rendering of the Veda. Agni is a seer-will, kavi-kratu, he is the
"will in the heart", kratu hr.di. Finally the word sravas which
is constantly in use in the Veda means fame, it is also taken by
the commentators in the sense of food, but these significances
cannot be fitted in everywhere and very ordinarily lack all point
and apposite force. But sravas comes from the root sru to hear
and is used in the sense of ear itself or of hymn or prayer - a
sense which Sayana accepts - and from this we can infer that it
means the "thing heard" or its result, knowledge that comes to
us through hearing. The Rishis speak of themselves as hearers
of the Truth, satyasrutah., and the knowledge received by this
hearing as Sruti. It is in this sense of inspiration or inspired
knowledge that we can take it in the esoteric meaning of the
Veda and we find that it fits in with a perfect appositeness; thus
when the Rishi speaks of sravamsi as being brought through



upward and brought through downward, this cannot be applied
to food or fame but is perfectly apposite and significant if he is
speaking of inspirations which rise up to the Truth above or
bring down the Truth to us. This is the method we can apply
everywhere, but we cannot pursue the subject any further here.
In the brief limits of this foreword these slight indications must
suffice; they are meant only to give the reader an initial insight
into the esoteric method of interpretation of the Veda.
But what then is the secret meaning, the esoteric sense, which
emerges by this way of understanding the Veda? It is what we
would expect from the nature of the seeking of the mystics everywhere. It is also, as we should expect from the actual course of
the development of Indian culture, an early form of the spiritual
truth which found its culmination in the Upanishads; the secret
knowledge of the Veda is the seed which is evolved later on
into the Vedanta. The thought around which all is centred is the
seeking after Truth, Light, Immortality. There is a Truth deeper
and higher than the truth of outward existence, a Light greater
and higher than the light of human understanding which comes
by revelation and inspiration, an immortality towards which
the soul has to rise. We have to find our way to that, to get into
touch with this Truth and Immortality, sapanta r.tam amr.tam,7
to be born into the Truth, to grow in it, to ascend in spirit into
the world of Truth and to live in it. To do so is to unite ourselves
with the Godhead and to pass from mortality into immortality.
This is the first and the central teaching of the Vedic mystics.
The Platonists, developing their doctrine from the early mystics,
held that we live in relation to two worlds, - a world of higher
truth which might be called the spiritual world and that in which
we live, the world of the embodied soul which is derived from
the higher but also degraded from it into an inferior truth and
inferior consciousness. The Vedic mystics held this doctrine in a
more concrete and pragmatic form, for they had the experience
of these two worlds. There is the inferior truth here of this world
mixed as it is with much falsehood and error, anr.tasya bhureh.,8
7 I.68.2.

8 VII.60.5.


and there is a world or home of Truth, sadanam r.tasya,9 the
Truth, the Right, the Vast, satyam r.tam br.hat,10 where all is
Truth-conscious, r.tacit.11 There are many worlds between up
to the triple heavens and their lights but this is the world of
the highest Light - the world of the Sun of Truth, svar, or the
Great Heaven. We have to find the path to this Great Heaven,
the path of Truth, r.tasya panthah.,12 or as it is sometimes called
the way of the gods. This is the second mystic doctrine. The
third is that our life is a battle between the powers of Light
and Truth, the Gods who are the Immortals and the powers of
Darkness. These are spoken of under various names as Vritra
and Vritras, Vala and the Panis, the Dasyus and their kings. We
have to call in the aid of the Gods to destroy the opposition
of these powers of Darkness who conceal the Light from us or
rob us of it, who obstruct the flowing of the streams of Truth,
r.tasya dharah.,13 the streams of Heaven and obstruct in every
way the soul's ascent. We have to invoke the Gods by the inner
sacrifice, and by the Word call them into us, - that is the specific
power of the Mantra, - to offer to them the gifts of the sacrifice
and by that giving secure their gifts, so that by this process we
may build the way of our ascent to the goal. The elements of
the outer sacrifice in the Veda are used as symbols of the inner
sacrifice and self-offering; we give what we are and what we
have in order that the riches of the divine Truth and Light may
descend into our life and become the elements of our inner birth
into the Truth, - a right thinking, a right understanding, a right
action must develop in us which is the thinking, impulsion and
action of that higher Truth, r.tasya pres.a, r.tasya dhti,14 and by
this we must build up ourselves in that Truth. Our sacrifice is a
journey, a pilgrimage and a battle, - a travel towards the Gods
and we also make that journey with Agni, the inner Flame, as
our path-finder and leader. Our human things are raised up by
the mystic Fire into the immortal being, into the Great Heaven,
and the things divine come down into us. As the doctrine of
9 I.164.47; also IV.21.3.
12 III.12.7; also VII.65.3.

10 Atharva XII.1.1.
11 IV.3.4.
13 V.12.2; also VII.43.4.
14 I.68.3.



the Rig Veda is the seed of the teaching of the Vedanta, so is
its inner practice and discipline a seed of the later practice and
discipline of Yoga. Finally, as the summit of the teaching of the
Vedic mystics comes the secret of the one Reality, ekam sat,15 or
tad ekam,16 which became the central word of the Upanishads.
The Gods, the powers of Light and Truth are powers and names
of the One, each God is himself all the Gods or carries them in
him: there is the one Truth, tat satyam,17 and one bliss to which
we must rise. But in the Veda this looks out still mostly from
behind the veil. There is much else but this is the kernel of the
The interpretation I have put forward was set out at length
in a series of articles with the title "The Secret of the Veda"
in the monthly philosophical magazine, Arya, some thirty years
ago; written in serial form while still developing the theory and
not quite complete in its scope or composed on a preconceived
and well-ordered plan it was not published in book-form and
is therefore not yet available to the reading public.18 It was
accompanied by a number of renderings of the hymns of the Rig
Veda which were rather interpretations than translations and to
these there was an introduction explanatory of the "Doctrine
of the Mystics". Subsequently there was planned a complete
translation of all the hymns to Agni in the ten Mandalas which
kept close to the text; the renderings of those hymns in the
second and sixth Mandalas are now published in this book for
the first time as well as a few from the first Mandala.19 But to
establish on a scholastic basis the conclusions of the hypothesis
it would have been necessary to prepare an edition of the Rig
Veda or of a large part of it with a word by word construing
in Sanskrit and English, notes explanatory of important points
in the text and justifying the interpretation both of separate
15 1.164.46.
16 X.129.2.
17 III.39.5; also IV.54.4 and VIII.45.27.
18 The writings on and translations of the Veda that Sri Aurobindo published in the

Arya are now published in The Secret of the Veda with Selected Hymns, volume 15 of
19 The 1946 edition of Hymns to the Mystic Fire, containing the translations referred
to here, is reproduced in Part One of the present volume. - Ed.


words and of whole verses and also elaborate appendices to
fix firmly the rendering of key-words like r.tam, sravas, kratu,
ketu, etc. essential to the esoteric interpretation. This also was
planned, but meanwhile greater preoccupations of a permanent
nature intervened and no time was left to proceed with such a
considerable undertaking. For the benefit of the reader of these
translations who might otherwise be at a loss, this foreword has
been written and some passages from the unpublished "Doctrine
of the Mystics" have been included.20 The text of the Veda has
been given for use by those who can read the original Sanskrit.
These translations however are not intended to be a scholastic
work meant to justify a hypothesis; the object of this publication
is only to present them in a permanent form for disciples and
those who are inclined to see more in the Vedas than a superficial
liturgy and would be interested in knowing what might be the
esoteric sense of this ancient Scripture.
This is a literary and not a strictly literal translation. But a
fidelity to the meaning, the sense of the words and the structure
of the thought, has been preserved: in fact the method has been to
start with a bare and scrupulously exact rendering of the actual
language and adhere to that as the basis of the interpretation;
for it is only so that we can find out the actual thoughts of
these ancient mystics. But any rendering of such great poetry as
the hymns of the Rig Veda, magnificent in their colouring and
images, noble and beautiful in rhythm, perfect in their diction,
must, if it is not to be merely dead scholastic work, bring at
least a faint echo of their poetic force, - more cannot be done
in a prose translation and in so different a language. The turn
of phrase and the syntax of English and Vedic Sanskrit are poles
asunder; to achieve some sense of style and natural writing one
has constantly to turn the concentrated speech of the Veda into
a looser, more diluted English form. Another stumbling-block
for the translator is the ubiquitous double entendre marking in
20 "The Doctrine of the Mystics" is now published in its entirety in The Secret of the

Veda with Selected Hymns, pages 370 - 84. The excerpt from it included in the first
edition of Hymns to the Mystic Fire is reproduced after this foreword. - Ed.



one word the symbol and the thing symbolised, Ray and Cow,
clear light of the mind and clarified butter, horses and spiritual
power; one has to invent phrases like the "herds of the light" or
"the shining herds" or to use devices such as writing the word
horse with a capital H to indicate that it is a symbolic horse
that is meant and not the common physical animal; but very
often the symbol has to be dropped, or else the symbol has to be
kept and the inner meaning left to be understood;21 I have not
always used the same phrase though always keeping the same
sense, but varied the translation according to the needs of the
passage. Often I have been unable to find an adequate English
word which will convey the full connotation or colour of the
original text; I have used two words instead of one or a phrase
or resorted to some other device to give the exact and complete
meaning. Besides, there is often a use of antique words or turns
of language of which the sense is not really known and can only
be conjectured or else different renderings are equally possible.
In many passages I have had to leave a provisional rendering;
it was intended to keep the final decision on the point until the
time when a more considerable body of the hymns had been
translated and were ready for publication; but this time has not
yet come.

21 The Rishis sometimes seem to combine two different meanings in the same word; I

have occasionally tried to render this double sense.

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