object:1.07 - Note on the word Go
book class:Vedic and Philological Studies
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
The word Go in the Vedas appears to bear two ordinary meanings, first, cow, secondly, ray, light or lustre. In the hymns of Madhuchchhanda it occurs 6 times, in five hymns. It occurs twice in the fourth hymn addressed to Indra in the first three verses which are all of them important for the discovery of the proper sense of the word as it is used in this passage. In the third verse which is the key to the passage, we find the prayer Then may we know (of) thy ultimate good thoughts. Then may we know. When? as a consequence to what? Obviously as a consequence to the result of the second verse, which I translate Come to us, O bringer out of the nectar (savana), thou the Soma-drinker; drink of the ecstatic Soma wine, a giver of illumination, enraptured or in better English bringing out the sense & association of the words, Come to us, O thou who art a distiller of the nectar, thou, the Soma-drinker, drink of the impetuously ecstatic Soma wine & be in the rapture of its intoxication our giver of illuminating light. Then may we know thy ultimate perceptions of the intellect. Pass us not byO come! Id lays emphasis on goda as the capacity in which, the purpose for which Indra is to drink. Revato and madah give the conditions under which Indra becomes a giver of illumination, the rushing & impetuous ecstasy produced by the Soma wine. It is then that men know the ultimate perceptions of mind, the highest realisations that can be given by the intellect when Indra, lord of mental force & power, is full of the ecstasy of the immortalising juice. This clear & easy sense being fixed for these two verses, we can return to the first & discover its connection with what follows. From sky to sky, its Rishi says to Indra, thou callest forth for uti, (for favour or kindness, as the ordinary interpretation would have it or for manifestation, expansion in being, as I suggest), the maker of beautiful forms, (who, being compared with a cow, must be some goddess), who is like one that gives milk freely to the milker of the cows, or, as I suggest, who milks freely to the milker of the rays. Undoubtedly, sudugham goduhe may be translated, a good milch cow to the milker of the cows; undoubtedly the poet had this idea in his mind when he wrote. The goddess is in the simile a milch cow, Indra is the milker. In each of the skies (the lower, middle & higher) he calls to her & makes her bring out the beautiful forms which she reveals to the drinker of the Soma. But it is impossible, when we take the connection with the two following verses, to avoid seeing that he is taking advantage of the double sense of go, and that while in the simile Indra is goduh the cow-milker, in the subject of the comparison he is goduh, the bringer out of the illumination, the flashes of higher light which produce the beautiful forms by the power of the goddess. The goddess herself must be one who is habitually associated with illumination, either Ila or Mahi. To anyone acquainted with the processes of Yoga, the whole passage at once becomes perfectly clear & true. The forms are those beautiful & myriad images of things in all the three worlds, the three akashas, dyavi dyavi, which appear to the eye of the Yogin when mental force in the Yoga is at its height, the impetuous & joyous activity (revato madah) of the mingled Ananda and Mahas fills the brain with Ojas and the highest intellectual perceptions, those akin to the supra-rational revelation, become not only possible, but easy, common & multitudinous. The passage describes the condition in which the mind, whether by drinking the material wine, the Karanajal of the Tantrics, or, as I hold, by feeding on the internal amrita, is raised to its highest exalted condition, before it is taken up into mahas or karanam, (whether in the state of Samadhi or in the waking state of the man who has realised his mahan atma, his ideal self), a state in which it is full of revealing thoughts & revealing visions which descend to it from the supra-rational level of the mahat, luminous & unerring, sunrita gomati mahi, where all is Truth & Light. Uti is the state of manifestation in Sat, in being, when that conscious existence which we are is stimulated into intensity & produces easily to the waking consciousness states of existence, movements of knowledge, outpourings of bliss which ordinarily it holds guha, in the secret parts of being.
The next passage to which I shall turn is the eighth verse of the eighth hymn, also to Indra, in which occurs the expression , a passage which when taken in the plain and ordinary sense of the epithets sheds a great light on the nature of Mahi. Sunrita means really true and is opposed to anrita, falsefor in the early Aryan speech su and s would equally signify, well, good, very; and the euphonic n is of a very ancient type of sandhioriginally, it was probably no more than a strong anuswartraces of which can still be found in Tamil; in the case of su this n euphonic seems to have been dropped after the movement of the literary Aryan tongue towards the modern principle of Sandhi,a movement the imperfect progress of which we see in the Vedas; but by that time the form an, composed of privative a and the euphonic n, had become a recognised alternative form to a and the omission of the n would have left the meaning of words very ambiguous; therefore n was preserved in the negative form, omitted from the affirmative where its omission caused no inconvenience,for to write gni instead of anagni would be confusing, but to write svagni instead of sunagni would create no confusion. In the pair sunrita and anrita it is probable that the usage had become so confirmed, so much of an almost technical phraseology, that confirmed habit prevailed over new rule. The second meaning of the word is auspicious, derived from the idea good or beneficent in its regular action. The Vedic scholars give a third sense, quick, active; but this is probably due to confusion with an originally distinct word derived from the root , to move on rapidly, to be strong, swift, active from which we have to dance, & strong and a number of other derivatives, for although ri means to go, it does not appear that rita was used in the sense of motion or swiftness. In any case our choice (apart from unnecessary ingenuities) lies here between auspicious and true. If we take Mahi in the sense of earth, the first is its simplest & most natural significance.We shall have then to translate the earth auspicious (or might it mean true in the sense observing the law of the seasons), wide-watered, full of cows becomes like a ripe branch to the giver. This gives a clear connected sense, although gross and pedestrian and open to the objection that it has no natural and inevitable connection with the preceding verses. My objection is that sunrita and gomati seem to me to have in the Veda a different and deeper sense and that the whole passage becomes not only ennobled in sense, but clearer & more connected in sense if we give them that deeper significance. Gomatir ushasah in Kutsas hymn to the Dawn is certainly the luminous dawns; Saraswati in the third hymn who as chodayitri sunritanam chetanti sumatinam shines pervading all the actions of the understanding, certainly does so because she is the impeller to high truths, the awakener to right thoughts, clear perceptions and not because she is the impeller of things auspiciousa phrase which would have no sense or appropriateness to the context. Mahi is one of the three goddesses Ila, Saraswati and Mahi who are described as tisro devir mayobhuvah, the three goddesses born of delight or Ananda, and her companions being goddesses of knowledge, children of Mahas, she also must be a goddess of knowledge, not the earth; the word mahi also bears the sense of knowledge, intellect, and Mahas undoubtedly refers in many passages to the vijnana or supra-rational level of consciousness, the fourth Vyahriti of the Taittiriya Upanishad. What then prevents us from taking Mahi, here as there, in the sense of the goddess of suprarational knowledge or, if taken objectively, the world of Mahat? Nothing, except a tradition born in classical times when mahi was the earth and the new Nature-worship theory. In this sense I shall take it. I translate the line For thus Mahi the true, manifest in action, luminous becomes like a ripe branch to the giveror, again in better English, For thus Mahi the perfect in truth, manifesting herself in action, full of illumination, becomes as a ripe branch to the giver. For the Yogin again the sense is clear. All things are contained in the Mahat, derived from the Mahat, depend on theMahat, but we here in the movement of the alpam, have not our desire, are blinded & confined, enjoy an imperfect, erroneous & usually baffled & futile activity. It is only when we regain the movement of the Mahat, the large & uncontracted consciousness that comes from rising to the infinite,it is only then that we escape from this limitation. She is perfect in truth, full of illumination; error and ignorance disappear; she manifests herself virapshi in a wide & various activity; our activities are enlarged, our desires are fulfilled. The connection with the preceding stanzas becomes clear. The Vritras, the great obstructors & upholders of limitation, are slain by the help of Indra, by the result of the yajnartham karma, by alliance with the armed gods in mighty internal battle; Indra, the god within our mental force, manifests himself as supreme and full of the nature of ideal truth from which his greatness weaponed with the vajra, vidyut or electric principle, derives (mahitwam astu vajrine). The mind, instinct with amrita, is then full of equality, samata; it drinks in the flood of activity of all kinds as the sea takes in the rivers. For the condition then results in which the ideal consciousness Mahi is like a ripe branch to the giver, when all powers & expansions of being at once (without obstacle as the Vritras are slain) become active in consciousness as masterful and effective knowledge or awareness (chit). This is the process prayed for by the poet. The whole hymn becomes a consecutive & intelligible whole, a single thought worked out logically & coherently and relating with perfect accuracy of ensemble & detail to one of the commonest experiences of Yogic fulfilment. In both these passages the faithful adherence to the intimations of language, Vedantic idea & Yogic experience have shed a flood of light, illuminating the obscurity of the Vedas, bringing coherence into the incoherence of the naturalistic explanation, close & strict logic, great depth of meaning with great simplicity of expression, and, as I shall show when I take up the final interpretation of the separate hymns, a rational meaning & reason of existence in that particular place for each word & phrase and a faultless & inevitable connection with what goes before & with what goes after. It is worth noticing that by the naturalistic interpretation one can indeed generally make out a meaning, often a clear or fluent sense for the separate verses of the Veda, but the ensemble of the hymn has almost always about it an air bizarre, artificial, incoherent, almost purposeless, frequently illogical and self-contradictoryas in Max Mullers translation of the 39th hymn, Kanwas to the Maruts,never straightforward, self-assured & easy. One would expect in these primitive writers,if they are primitive,crudeness of belief perhaps, but still plainness of expression and a simple development of thought. One finds instead everything tortuous, rugged, gnarled, obscure, great emptiness with great pretentiousness of mind, a labour of diction & development which seems to be striving towards great things & effecting a nullity. The Vedic singers, in the modern version, have nothing to say and do not know how to say it. I sacrifice, you drink, you are fine fellows, dont hurt me or let others hurt me, hurt my enemies, make me safe & comfortablethis is practically all that the ten Mandalas have to say to the gods & it is astonishing that they should be utterly at a loss how to say it intelligibly. A system which yields such results must have at its root some radical falsity, some cardinal error.
I pass now to a third passage, also instructive, also full of that depth and fine knowledge of the movements of the higher consciousness which every Yogin must find in the Veda. It is in the 9th hymn of the Mandala and forms the seventh verse of that hymn. Sam gomad Indra vajavad asme prithu sravo brihat, visvayur dhehi akshitam. The only crucial question in this verse is the signification of sravas.With our modern ideas the sentence seems to us to demand that sravas should be translated here fame. Sravas is undoubtedly the same word as the Greek xo (originally xFo); it means a thing heard, rumour, report, & thence fame. If we take it in that sense, we shall have to translate Arrange for us, O universal life, a luminous and solid, wide & great fame unimpaired. I dismiss at once the idea that go & vaja can here signify cattle and food or wealth. A herded & fooded or wealthy fame to express a fame for wealth of cattle & food is a forceful turn of expression we might expect to find in Aeschylus or in Shakespeare; but I should hesitate, except in case of clear necessity, to admit it in the Veda or in any Sanscrit style of composition; for such expressions have always been alien to the Indian intellect. Our stylistic vagaries have been of another kind. But is luminous & solid fame much better? I shall suggest another meaning for sravas which will give as usual a deeper sense to the whole passage without our needing to depart by a hairs breadth from the etymological significance of the words. Sruti in Sanscrit is a technical term, originally, for the means by which Vedic knowledge is acquired, inspiration in the suprarational mind; srutam is the knowledge of Veda. Similarly, we have in Vedic Sanscrit the forms srut and sravas. I take srut to mean inspired knowledge in the act of reception, sravas the thing acquired by the reception, inspired knowledge. Gomad immediately assumes its usual meaning illuminated, full of illumination. Vaja I take throughout the Veda as a technical Vedic expression for that substantiality of being-consciousness which is the basis of all special manifestation of being & power, all utayah & vibhutayahit means by etymology extended being in force, va or v to exist or move in extension and the vocable j which always gives the idea of force or brilliance or decisiveness in action or manifestation or contact. I shall accept no meaning which is inconsistent with this fundamental significance. Moreover the tendency of the old commentators to make all possible words, vaja, ritam etc mean sacrifice or food, must be rejected,although a justification in etymology might always be made out for the effort. Vaja means substance in being, substance, plenty, strength, solidity, steadfastness. Here it obviously means full of substance, just as gomad full of luminousness,not in the sense arthavat, but with another & psychological connotation. I translate then, O Indra, life of all, order for us an inspired knowledge full of illumination & substance, wide & great and unimpaired. Anyone acquainted with Yoga will at once be struck by the peculiar & exact appropriateness of all these epithets; they will admit him at once by sympathy into the very heart of Madhuchchhandas experience & unite him in soul with that ancient son of Visvamitra. When Mahas, the supra-rational principle, begins with some clearness to work in Yoga, not on its own level, not swe dame, but in the mind, it works at first through the principle of Srutinot Smriti or Drishti, but this Sruti is feeble & limited in its range, it is not prithu; broken & scattered in its working even when the range is wide, not unlimited in continuity, not brihat; not pouring in a flood of light, not gomat, but coming as a flash in the darkness, often with a pale glimmer like the first feebleness of dawn; not supported by a strong steady force & foundation of being, Sat, in manifestation, not vajavad, but working without foundation, in a void, like secondhand glimpses of Sat in nothingness, in vacuum, in Asat; and, therefore, easily impaired, easily lost hold of, easily stolen by the Panis or the Vritras. All these defects Madhuchchhanda has noticed in his own experience; his prayer is for an inspired knowledge which shall be full & free & perfect, not marred even in a small degree by these deficiencies.
The combination of go & vaja occurs again in the eleventh hymn where the seer writes Purvir Indrasya ratayo na vi dasyanti utayah, yadi vajasya gomatah stotribhyo manhate magham. The former delights of Indra, those first established his (new &larger) expansions of being do not destroy or scatter, when to his praisers he enlarges the mass of their illuminated substance or strength of being. Here again we have Madhuchchhandas deep experience & his fine & subtle knowledge. It is a common experience in Yoga that the ananda and siddhi first established, is destroyed in the effort or movement towards a larger fullness of being, knowledge or delight, and a period of crisis intervenes in which there is a rending & scattering of joy & light, a period of darkness, confusion & trouble painful to all & dangerous except to the strongest. Can these crises, difficulties, perilous conditions of soul be avoided? Yes, says Madhuchchhandas in effect, when you deliver yourself with devotion into the care of Indra, he comes to your help, he removes that limitation, that concentration in detail, in the alpam, the little, that consequent necessity of losing hold of one thing in order to give yourself to another, he increases the magha, the vijnanamay state of mahattwa or relative non-limitation in the finite which shows itself by an increase of fundamental force of being filled with higher illumination. That support of vaja prevents us from falling from what we have gained; there is sufficient substance of being expressed in us to provide for the new utayah without sacrificing the joys already established; there is sufficient luminousness of mind to prevent darkness, obscuration & misery supervening. Thus we see still the same symbolic sense, the same depth, the same experience as true to the Yogin today as to Madhuchchhandas thousands of years ago.
Now that we have thus substantially fixed the meaning of go and gomat, we can go back to a passage already to some extent discussed, the third verse of the seventh hymn. Indro dirghaya chakshasa a suryam rohayad divi, vi gobhir adrim airayat; Indra for far vision ascended to the sun in heaven; he sent him abroad over all the mountain with his rays. This is so plainly the meaning of the verse that I cannot understand, once it is perceived & understood, how we can accept any other rendering. I have already discussed the relations of Indra, Surya & the Mountain of our graded ascent in beingSri Ramakrishnas staircase to the Sad Brahman. The far vision is the unlimited knowledge acquired in Mahas, in the wide supra-rational movement of our consciousness as opposed to the contracted rational or infrarational vision which works only on details or from & by details, the alpam; for that Mind has to ascend to the Sun in Heaven, the principle of Mahas on the higher levels of mind itself, not on the supra-rational level, not swe dame. Because it is not swe dame, the full illumination is not possible, we cannot become practically omniscient; all Indra can do is to send down the sun, not in itself, but in its rays to various parts of the mountain of being, all over it, it is true, but still revealing only the higher truth in its parts, not in its full sum of knowledge. The language is so precise, once we understand the Vedic terminology, that I do not think we can be mistaken in this interpretation, which, moreover, agrees perfectly with Yogic experience and the constant theme of Madhuchchhandas. He is describing the first dawn & development of the higher knowledge in the mind, still liable to attack & obstruction, (yujam vritreshu vajrinam), still uncertain in quantity (Indram vayam mahadhane indram arbhe havamahe). Irayat is naturally transitive, bears the meaning it has in prerana, prerita, and can have no object but Surya, unless we suppose, which is less natural, that it is Surya who sends Indra to the mountain accompanied by his rays.
There is only one other passage we have now left for examination but it is of considerable importance & interest. It is in the hymn ascribed to the son of Madhuchchhanda, though very probably it isMadhuchchhandas own, the eleventh hymn and the fifth verse. Twam Valasya gomato apavar adrivo bilam, Twam deva abibhyushas tujyamanasa avishuh. Thou, O dweller on the mountain, didst uncover the lair of Vala the luminous, Thee the gods entered unfearing & protected. Indra, the dweller on the mountain of being, he who established in Swarga looks ever upward, has, to assist the strivings of man, uncovered the lair of Vala the luminous. Who is Vala the luminous? Does gomat mean the fellow who has the cows & is Vala a demon of cloud or darkness afflicted with the cow-stealing propensities, the Titanic bovi-kleptomania attributed by tradition to the Panis? He is, I suggest, one of the Titans who deny a higher ascent to man, a Titan who possesses but withholds & hides the luminous realms of ideal truth from man,interposing the hiranmayam patram of the Isha Upanishad, the golden cover or lid, by which the face of truth is concealed, satyasyapihitam mukham. Tat twam Pushan apavrinu, cries the Vedantic sage, using the same word apavri, but he calls to Surya, not to Indra, because he seeks the possession of the Vedanta, the sight of the rupam kalyanatamam which belongs to those who can meet Surya in his own home. The Vedic seer, at an earlier stage of the struggle, is satisfied with the minor conquests of Indra. He does not yet rise to those heights where Indra working in the mind is no longer a supreme helper, but may even be, as the Puranas tell us, an obstacle and an opponentbecause activity of mind even the highest, so long as it is not abandoned and overpassed, interferes with a yet higher attainment. It is only by rejecting Indra that we can dwell with Surya in his luminous halls, Tena tyaktena bhunjithah. Nevertheless the conquest over Bala is for humanity in its present stage a great conquest, and when & because it is accomplished the other gods can enter safely into the mental force & work in it, fearless because protected by Indras victorious might. For he is now Balabhid; he has pierced Bala & is no longer liable to that fear which overtook him when Vritra only had been overthrowna fear due to his perceiving the immensity of the task that still remained & the more formidable enemies beyond. We shall come again to Bala & the Titans & the meaning of these divine battles,viryani yani chakara prathamani vajri.
All the passages I have quoted proceed from the hymns of Madhuchchhanda son of Viswamitra, the opening eleven hymns of the Rigveda. This seer is one of the deepest & profoundest of the spirits chosen as vessels & channels of the divine knowledge of the Veda, one of those who least loses the thing symbolised in the material symbol, but who tends rather to let the symbol disappear in that which it symbolises. The comparison of the maker of beautiful images to the milch cow & Indra to the milker is an example of his constant tendencythe word gavam is avoided with sudugham, so that the idea of milking or pressing forth may be suggested without insisting on the material image of the cow, & in goduhe, the symbol of the cow melts away into the thing symbolised, knowledge, light, illumination. A comparison with Medhatithi son of Kanwa brings out the difference. In Madhuchchhandas hymns the materialist rendering is often inapplicable & even when applicable yields a much poorer sense than the symbolic renderingbecause the seer is little concerned with the symbol except as the recognised means of suggesting things supramaterial. But Medhatithi is much concerned with the symbol & not indifferent to the outer life; in his hymns the materialist rendering gives us a good sense without excluding the symbolic, but often the symbolic has to be sought for & if we did not know the true Vedic tradition from Madhuchchhanda we could not gather it unaided from Medhatithi. The son of Viswamitra is deeply concerned with knowledge & with immortality & rapture as its attendant circumstances & conditions, the son of Kanwa, though not indifferent to knowledge, with the intoxication of the wine of immortality & its outpouring in mortal life & action. To use Vedic symbolism, one is a herder of kine, the other a herder of horses; Madhuchchhandas totem is the meditative cow, Medhatithis the rapid & bounding horse. There is a great calm, depth & nobility in the first eleven hymns, a great verve, joy, energy & vibrant force in the twelve that follow.
There is only one passage in which Medhatithi uses the word go and that passage is characteristic. There are only three main ideas in the hymn, the drinking of the Soma by Indra, the increase of his rapture & force by the drinking of the Soma, & the result of that increase, Semam nah kamam a prina gobhir aswaih shatakrato, Then do thou fill full this desire of ours with horses & with kine, O Shatakratu. Read apart from his other & deeper hymns, we should not venture to put any symbolic sense into these horses & kine; but from other passages it is evident that Medhatithi was not dispossessed of the tradition of Vedic symbolism, & it would be an injustice to him to suppose that he was lusting merely for a material wealth, that this was his desire and not the illumination of knowledge & the inner joy & vigour which is denoted by the symbol of the steed.
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