object:1.10 - The Secret of the Veda
book class:Vedic and Philological Studies
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
The history of the Veda is one of the most remarkable & paradoxical phenomena of human experience. In the belief of the ancient Indians the three Vedas, books believed to be inspired directly from the source of all Truth, books at any rate of an incalculable antiquity and of a time-honoured sanctity, were believed to be the repositories of a divine knowledge. The man who was a Veda knower, Vedavid, had access to the deepest knowledge about God and existence. He knew the one thing that was eternally true, the one thing thoroughly worth knowing. The right possession of the ancient hymns was not supposed to be possible by a superficial reading, not supposed to result directly even from a mastery of the scholastic aids to a right understanding,grammar, language, prosody, astronomy, ritual, pronunciation,but depended finally and essentially on explanation by a fit spiritual teacher who understood the inner sense that was couched in the linguistic forms & figures of the Scriptures. The Veda so understood was held to be the fountain, the bedrock, the master-volume of all true Hinduism; that which accepted not the Veda, was and must be instantly departure from the right path, the true truth. Even when the material & ritualistic sense of the Veda had so much dominated & hidden in mens ideas of it its higher parts that to go beyond it seemed imperative, the reverence for this ancient Scripture remained intact. At the time when the Gita in its modern form was composed, we find this double attitude dominant. There is a strong censure of the formalists, the ritualists, who constantly dispute about the Veda and hold it as a creed that there is no other truth and who apply it only for the acquisition of worldly mastery and enjoyments, but at the same time the great store of spiritual truth in the old sacred writings and their high value are never doubted or depreciated. There is in all the Vedas as much utility to the Brahma-knower as to one who would drink there is utility in a well flooded with water on all its sides. Krishna speaking as God Himself declares I alone am He who is to be known by all the Vedas; I am He who made Vedanta and who know the Veda. The sanctity and spiritual value of the Vedas could not receive a more solemn seal of confirmation. It is evident also from this last passage that the more modern distinction which grew upon the Hindu mind with the fading of Vedic knowledge, the distinction by which the old Rigveda and Sama and Yajur are put aside as ritualistic writings, possessing a value only for ceremonial of sacrifice, and all search for spiritual knowledge is confined to the Vedanta, was unrecognised & even unknown to the writer of the Gita. To him the Vedas are writings full of spiritual truth; the language of the line Vedaish cha sarvair aham eva vedyo, the significance of the double emphasis in the etymological sense of knowledge in Vedavid, the knower of the book of knowledge as well as in vedair vedyo are unmistakable. Other means of knowledge even more powerful than study of the Vedas the Gita recognises; but in its epoch the Veda even as apart from the Upanishads still held its place of honour as the repository of the high and divine knowledge; it still bore upon it the triple seal of the Brahmavidya.
When was this traditional honour first lost or at least tarnished and the ancient Scripture relegated to the inferior position it occupies in the thought of Shankaracharya? I presume there can be little doubt that the chief agent in this work of destruction was the power of Buddhism. The preachings of Gautama and his followers worked against Vedic knowledge by a double process. First, by entirely denying the authority of the Veda, laying a violent stress on its ritualistic character and destroying the general practice of formal sacrifice, it brought the study of the Veda into disrepute as a means of attaining the highest good while at the same time it destroyed the necessity of that study for ritualistic purposes which had hitherto kept alive the old Vedic studies; secondly, in a less direct fashion, by substituting for a time at least the vernacular tongues for the old simple Sanscrit as the more common & popular means of religious propaganda and by giving them a literary position and repute, it made a general return to the old generality of the Vedic studies practically impossible. For the Vedas were written in an ancient form of the literary tongue the real secret of which had already been to a great extent lost even to the learned; such knowledge of it as remained, subsisted with difficulty by means of a laborious memorising and a traditional scholarship, conservative indeed but still slowly diminishing and replacing more & more real knowledge by uncertainty, disputed significance and the continuously increasing ingenuities of the ritualist, the grammarian and the sectarian polemical disputant. When after the fall of the Buddhistic Mauryas, feeble successors of the great Asoka, first under Pushyamitra and his son and afterwards under the Guptas, Hinduism revived, a return to the old forms of the creed and the old Vedic scholarship was no longer possible. The old pre-Buddhistic Sanscrit was, to all appearance, a simple, vigorous, living language understood though not spoken by the more intelligent of the common people just as the literary language of Bengal, the language of Bankim Chandra, is understood by every intelligent Bengali, although in speech more contracted forms and a very different vocabulary are in use. But the new Sanscrit of the revival tended to be more & more a learned, scholarly, polished and rhetorical tongue, certainly one of the most smooth, stately & grandiose ever used by human lips, but needing a special & difficult education to understand its grammar, its rhetoric, its rolling compounds and its long flowing sentences. The archaic language of the Vedas ceased to be the common study even of the learned and was only mastered, one is constrained to believe with less & less efficiency, by a small number of scholars. An education in which it took seven years to master the grammar of the language, became inevitably the grave of all true Vedic knowledge. Veda ceased to be the pivot of the Hindu religion, and its place was taken by the only religious compositions which were modern enough in language and simple enough in style to be popular, the Puranas. Moreover, the conception of Veda popularised by Buddhism, Sanscrit as the more common & popular means of religious propaganda and by giving them a literary position and repute, it made a general return to the old generality of the Vedic studies practically impossible. For the Vedas were written in an ancient form of the literary tongue the real secret of which had already been to a great extent lost even to the learned; such knowledge of it as remained, subsisted with difficulty by means of a laborious memorising and a traditional scholarship, conservative indeed but still slowly diminishing and replacing more & more real knowledge by uncertainty, disputed significance and the continuously increasing ingenuities of the ritualist, the grammarian and the sectarian polemical disputant. When after the fall of the Buddhistic Mauryas, feeble successors of the great Asoka, first under Pushyamitra and his son and afterwards under the Guptas, Hinduism revived, a return to the old forms of the creed and the old Vedic scholarship was no longer possible. The old pre-Buddhistic Sanscrit was, to all appearance, a simple, vigorous, living language understood though not spoken by the more intelligent of the common people just as the literary language of Bengal, the language of Bankim Chandra, is understood by every intelligent Bengali, although in speech more contracted forms and a very different vocabulary are in use. But the new Sanscrit of the revival tended to be more & more a learned, scholarly, polished and rhetorical tongue, certainly one of the most smooth, stately & grandiose ever used by human lips, but needing a special & difficult education to understand its grammar, its rhetoric, its rolling compounds and its long flowing sentences. The archaic language of the Vedas ceased to be the common study even of the learned and was only mastered, one is constrained to believe with less & less efficiency, by a small number of scholars. An education in which it took seven years to master the grammar of the language, became inevitably the grave of all true Vedic knowledge. Veda ceased to be the pivot of the Hindu religion, and its place was taken by the only religious compositions which were modern enough in language and simple enough in style to be popular, the Puranas. Moreover, the conception of Veda popularised by Buddhism, a Scripture of ritual and of animal sacrifice, persisted in the popular mind even after the decline of Buddhism and the revival of great philosophies ostensibly based on Vedic authority. It was under the dominance of this ritualistic conception that Sayana wrote his great commentary which has ever since been to the Indian Pundit the one decisive authority on the sense of Veda. The four Vedas have definitely taken a subordinate place as karmakanda, books of ritual; and to the Upanishads alone, in spite of occasional appeals to the text of the earlier Scriptures, is reserved that aspect of spiritual knowledge & teaching which alone justifies the application to any human composition of the great name of Veda.
But in spite of this great downfall the ancient tradition, the ancient sanctity survived. The people knew not what Veda might be; but the old idea remained fixed that Veda is always the fountain of Hinduism, the standard of orthodoxy, the repository of a sacred knowledge; not even the loftiest philosopher or the most ritualistic scholar could divest himself entirely of this deeply ingrained & instinctive conception. To complete the degradation of Veda, to consummate the paradox of its history, a new element had to appear, a new form of intelligence undominated by the ancient tradition & the mediaeval method to take possession of Vedic interpretation. European scholarship which regards human civilisation as a recent progression starting yesterday with the Fiji islander and ending today with Haeckel and Rockefeller, conceiving ancient culture as necessarily primitive culture and primitive culture as necessarily half-savage culture, has turned the light of its Comparative Philology & Comparative Mythology on the Veda. The result we all know. Not only all vestige of sanctity, but all pretension to any kind of spiritual knowledge or experience disappears from the Veda. The old Rishis are revealed to us as a race of ignorant and lusty barbarians who drank & enjoyed and fought, gathered riches & procreated children, sacrificed and praised the Powers of Nature as if they were powerful men & women, and had no higher hope or idea. The only idea they had of religion beyond an occasional sense of sin and a perpetual preoccupation with a ritual barbarously encumbered with a mass of meaningless ceremonial details, was a mythology composed of the phenomena of dawn, night, rain, sunshine and harvest and the facts of astronomy converted into a wildly confused & incoherent mass of allegorical images and personifications. Nor, with the European interpretation, can we be proud of our early forefathers as poets and singers. The versification of the Vedic hymns is indeed noble and melodious,though the incorrect method of writing them established by the old Indian scholars, often conceals their harmonious construction,but no other praise can be given. The Nibelungenlied, the Icelandic Sagas, the Kalewala, the Homeric poems, were written in the dawn of civilisation by semi-barbarous races, by poets not superior in culture to the Vedic Rishis; yet though their poetical value varies, the nations that possess them, need not be ashamed of their ancient heritage. The same cannot be said of the Vedic poems presented to us by European scholarship. Never surely was there even among savages such a mass of tawdry, glittering, confused & purposeless imagery; never such an inane & useless burden of epithets; never such slipshod & incompetent writing; never such a strange & almost insane incoherence of thought & style; never such a bald poverty of substance. The attempt of patriotic Indian scholars to make something respectable out of the Veda, is futile. If the modern interpretation stands, the Vedas are no doubt of high interest & value to the philologist, the anthropologist & the historian; but poetically and spiritually they are null and worthless. Its reputation for spiritual knowledge & deep religious wealth, is the most imposing & baseless hoax that has ever been worked upon the imagination of a whole people throughout many millenniums.
Is this, then, the last word about the Veda? Or, and this is the idea I write to suggest, is it not rather the culmination of a long increasing & ever progressing error? The theory this book is written to enunciate & support is simply this, that our forefathers of early Vedantic times understood the Veda, to which they were after all much nearer than ourselves, far better than Sayana, far better than Roth & Max Muller, that they were, to a great extent, in possession of the real truth about the Veda, that that truth was indeed a deep spiritual truth, karmakanda as well as jnanakanda of the Veda contains an ancient knowledge, a profound, complex & well-ordered psychology & philosophy, strange indeed to our modern conception, expressed indeed in language still stranger & remoter from our modern use of language, but not therefore either untrue or unintelligible, and that this knowledge is the real foundation of our later religious developments, & Veda, not only by historical continuity, but in real truth & substance is the parent & bedrock of all later Hinduism, of Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga, of Vaishnavism & Shaivism&Shaktism, of Tantra&Purana, even, in a remoter fashion, of Buddhism & the later unorthodox religions. From this quarry all have hewn their materials or from this far-off source drawn unknowingly their waters; from some hidden seed in the Veda they have burgeoned into their wealth of branchings & foliage. The ritualism of Sayana is an error based on a false preconception popularised by the Buddhists & strengthened by the writers of the Darshanas,on the theory that the karma of the Veda was only an outward ritual & ceremony; the naturalism of the modern scholars is an error based on a false preconception encouraged by the previous misconceptions of Sayana,on the theory of the Vedas [as] not only an ancient but a primitive document, the production of semi-barbarians. The Vedantic writers of the Upanishads had alone the real key to the secret of the Vedas; not indeed that they possessed the full knowledge of a dialect even then too ancient to be well understood, but they had the knowledge of the Vedic Rishis, possessed their psychology, & many of their general ideas, even many of their particular terms & symbols. That key, less & less available to their successors owing to the difficulty of the knowledge itself & of the language in which it was couched and to the immense growth of outward ritualism, was finally lost to the schools in the great debacle of Vedism induced by the intellectual revolutions of the centuries which immediately preceded the Christian era.
It is therefore a Vedantic or even what would nowadays be termed a theosophic interpretation of the Veda which in this book I propose to establish. My suggestion is that the gods of the Rigveda were indeed, as the European scholars have seen, masters of the Nature-Powers, but not, as they erroneously theorise, either exclusively or even mainly masters of the visible & physical Nature-Powers. They presided over and in their nature & movement were also & more predominantly mental Nature-Powers, vital Nature-Powers, even supra-mental Nature-Powers. The religion of the Vedic Rishis I suppose on this hypothesis to have been a sort of practical & concrete Brahmavada founded on the three principles of complex existence, isotheism of the gods and parallelism of their functions on all the planes of that complex existence; the secret of their ideas, language & ritual I suppose to rest in an elaborate habit of symbolism & double meaning which tends to phrase & typify all mental phenomena in physical and concrete figures. While the European scholars suppose the Rishis to have been simple-minded barbarians capable only of a gross & obvious personification of forces, only of a confused, barbarous and primitive system of astronomical allegories and animistic metaphors, I suppose them to have been men of daring and observant minds, using a bold and vigorous if sometimes fanciful system of images to express an elaborate practical psychology and self-observation in which what we moderns regard as abstract experiences & ideas were rather perceived with the vividness of physical experiences & images & so expressed in the picturesque terms of a great primitive philosophy. Their outward sacrifice & ritual I suppose to have been partly the symbols & partly the means of material expression for certain psychological processes, the first foundations of our Hindu system of Yoga, by which they believed themselves able to attain inward & outward mastery, knowledge, joy and extended life & being.
This theory, although it starts really from a return to the point of view of the early Vedantic writers, appears at the present day doubly revolutionary, because it denies the two established systems of interpretation which have conquered and still hold the modern mind and determine for it the sense of the Veda. Sayana is for the orthodox Indian the decisive and infallible authority; for the heterodox or educated the opinions and apparent discoveries of European philologists are the one infallible and irrefutable pramna. Is it then really true that either from the point of view of orthodox Hindu faith or on the basis of a rational interpretation based on sound philology and criticism the door is closed to any radically new interpretation and the true sense of Veda has, in the main, been settled for us & to all future generations? If so, if Sayanas authority is unquestionable, or if the system of the Europeans is sound and unimprovable in its essential features, then there is no room for the new theory of which I have briefly indicated the nature. The Veda then remains nothing more than a system of sacrificial ritual & mythology of the most primitive crudeness. I hope to show briefly that there is no such finality; the door is wide open, the field is still free for a better understanding and a deeper knowledge.
The modern world cares little for orthodox Hindu opinion, for the opinion of its Pandits or for the ancient authority of its received guides; putting these things aside as the heavy and now useless baggage of the dead past it moves on free and unhampered to its objective, seeking ever fresh vistas of undiscovered knowledge. But a Hindu writer, still holding the faith of his ancestors, owes a certain debt to the immediate past, not so much as to hamper his free enquiry and outlook upon truth, but enough to demand from him a certain respect for whatever in it is really respectworthy and some attempt to satisfy his coreligionists that in opening out a fresh outlook on ancient knowledge he is not uprooting truths that are essential to their common religion. Nothing in those truths compels us to accept the plenary authority of Sayana or the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas. The hymns of the Veda are, for us, inspired truth and therefore infallible; it follows that the only interpretative authority on them which can claim also to be infallible is one which itself works by the faculty of divine inspiration. The only works for which the ordinary tradition claims this equal authority are the Brahmanas, Aranyakas & Upanishads. Even among these authorities, if we accept them as all and equally inspired and authoritative,and on this point Hindus are not in entire agreement,the Brahmanas which deal with the ceremonial detail of Vedic sacrifice, are authoritative for the ritual only; for the inner sense the Upanishads are the fit authority. Sayana can lay claim to no such sanctity for his opinions. He is no ancient Rishi, nor even an inspired religious teacher, but a grammarian and scholar writing in the twelfth century after Christ several millenniums subsequent to the Rishis to whom Veda was revealed. By his virtues & defects as a scholar his interpretation must be judged. His erudition is vast, his industry colossal; he has so occupied the field that everyone who approaches the Veda must pass to it under his shadow; his commentary is a mine of knowledge about Vedic Sanscrit and full of useful hints for the interpretation of Veda. But there the tale of his merits ends. Other qualities are needed for a successful Vedic commentary which in Sayana are conspicuous by their absence; and his defects as a critic are almost as colossal as his industry and erudition. He is not a disinterested mind seeking impartially the truth of Veda but a professor of the ritualistic school of interpretation intent upon reading the traditional ceremonial sense into the sacred hymns; even so he is totally wanting in consistency, coherence and settled method. Not only is he frequently uncertain of himself, halts and qualifies his interpretation with an alternative or not having the full courage of his ritualistic rendering introduces it as a mere possibility,these would be meritorious failings,but he wavers in a much more extraordinary fashion, forcing the ritualistic sense of a word or passage where it cannot possibly hold, abandoning it unaccountably where it can well be sustained. The Vedas are masterpieces of flawless literary style and logical connection. But Sayana, like many great scholars, is guiltless of literary taste and has not the least sense of what is or is not possible to a good writer. His interpretation of any given term is seldom consistent even in similar passages of different hymns, but he will go yet farther and give two entirely different renderings to the same word though occurring in successive riks & in an obviously connected strain of thought. The rhythm and balance of a sentence is nothing to him, he will destroy it ruthlessly in order to get over a difficulty of interpretation; he will disturb the arrangement of a sentence sometimes in the most impossible manner, connecting absolutely disconnected words, breaking up inseparable connections, inserting a second and alien sentence in between the head & tail of the first, and creating a barbarous complexity & confusion where the symbolic movement of the Rishis, unequalled in its golden ease, lucidity and straightforwardness, demands an equal lucidity & straightforwardness in the commentator. A certain rough coherence of thought he attempts to keep, but his rendering makes oftenest a clumsy sense & not unoften no ascertainable sense at all; while he has no scruple in breaking up the coherence entirely in favour of his ritualism. These are, after all, faults common in a scholastic mentality, but even were they less prominent & persistent in him than I have found them to be, they liberate us from all necessity for an exaggerated deference to his authority as an interpreter. Nor, indeed, were Sayana an ideal commentator, could he possibly be relied upon to give us the true sense of Veda; for the language of these hymns, whatever the exact date of their Rishis, goes back to an immense antiquity and long before Sayana the right sense of many Vedic words and the right clue to many Vedic allusions and symbols were lost to the scholars of India. Much indeed survived in tradition, but more had been lost or disfigured, and the two master clues, intellectual & spiritual, on which we can yet rely for the recovery of these losses, a sound philology and the renewal in ourselves of the experiences which form the subject of the Vedic hymns, were the one entirely wanting, the other grown more & more inaccessible with time not only to the Pandit but to the philosopher. Even in our days the sound philology is yet wanting, though the seeds have been sown & even the first beginnings made; nor are the Vedic experiences any longer pursued in their entirety by the Indian Yogins who have learned to follow in this Kali Yuga less difficult paths and more modern systems.
But the ritualistic interpretation of the Rigveda does not stand on the authority of Sayana alone. It is justified by Shankaracharyas rigid division of karmakanda and jnanakanda and by a long tradition dating back to the propaganda of Buddha which found in the Vedic hymns a great system of ceremonial or effective sacrifice and little or nothing more. Even the Brahmanas in their great mass & minuteness seem to bear unwavering testimony to the pure ritualism of the Veda. But the Brahmanas are in their nature rubrics of directions to the priests for the right performance of the outward Vedic sacrifice,that system of symbolic & effective offerings to the gods of Soma-wine, clarified butter or consecrated animals in which the complex religion of the Veda embodied itself for material worship,rubrics accompanied by speculative explanations of old ill-understood details & the popular myths & traditions that had sprung up from obscure allusions in the hymns. Whatever we may think of the Brahmanas, they merely affirm the side of outward ritualism which had grown in a huge & cumbrous mass round the first simple rites of the Vedic Rishis; they do not exclude the existence of deeper meanings & higher purposes in the ancient Scripture. Not only so, but they practically affirm them by including in the Aranyakas compositions of a wholly different spirit & purpose, the Upanishads, compositions professedly intended to bring out the spiritual gist and drift of the earlier Veda. It is clear therefore that to the knowledge or belief of the men of those times the Vedas had a double aspect, an aspect of outward and effective ritual, believed also to be symbolical,for the Brahmanas are continually striving to find a mystic symbolism in the most obvious details of the sacrifice,and an aspect of highest & divine truth hidden behind these symbols. The Upanishads themselves have always been known as Vedanta. This word is nowadays often used & spoken of as if it meant the end of Veda, in the sense that here historically the religious development commenced in the Rigveda culminated; but obviously it means the culmination of Veda in a very different sense, the ultimate and highest knowledge & fulfilment towards which the practices & strivings of the Vedic Rishis mounted, extricated from the voluminous mass of the Vedic poems and presented according to the inner realisation of great Rishis like Yajnavalkya & Janaka in a more modern style and language. It is used much in the sense in which Madhuchchhandas, son of Viswamitra, says of Indra, Ath te antamnm vidyma sumatnm, Then may we know something of thy ultimate right thinkings, meaning obviously not the latest, but the supreme truths, the ultimate realisations. Undoubtedly, this was what the authors of the Upanishads themselves saw in their work, statements of supreme truth of Veda, truth therefore contained in the ancient mantras. In this belief they appeal always to Vedic authority and quote the language of Veda either to justify their own statements of thought or to express that thought itself in the old solemn and sacred language. And with regard to this there are spoken these Riks.
In what light did these ancient thinkers understand the Vedic gods? As material Nature Powers called only to give worldly wealth to their worshippers? Certainly, the Vedic gods are in the Vedanta also accredited with material functions. In the Kena Upanishad Agnis power & glory is to burn, Vayus to seize & bear away. But these are not their only functions. In the same Upanishad, in the same apologue, told as a Vedantic parable, Indra, Agni & Vayu, especially Indra, are declared to be the greatest of the gods because they came nearest into contact with the Brahman. Indra, although unable to recognise the Brahman directly, learned of his identity from Uma daughter of the snowy mountains. Certainly, the sense of the parable is not that Dawn told the Sky who Brahman was or that material Sky, Fire & Wind are best able to come into contact with the Supreme Existence. It is clear & it is recognised by all the commentators, that in the Upanishads the gods are masters not only of material functions in the outer physical world but also of mental, vital and physical functions in the intelligent living creature. This will be directly evident from the passage describing the creation of the gods by the One & Supreme Being in the Aitareya Upanishad & the subsequent movement by which they enter in the body of man and take up the control of his activities. In the same Upanishad it is even hinted that Indra is in his secret being the Eternal Lord himself, for Idandra is his secret name; nor should we forget that this piece of mysticism is founded on the hymns of the Veda itself which speak of the secret names of the gods. Shankaracharya recognised this truth so perfectly that he uses the gods and the senses as equivalent terms in his great commentary. Finally in the Isha Upanishad,itself a part of the White Yajur Veda and a work, as I have shown elsewhere, full of the most lofty & deep Vedantic truth, in which the eternal problems of human existence are briefly proposed and masterfully solved,we find Surya and Agni prayed to & invoked with as much solemnity & reverence as in the Rigveda and indeed in language borrowed from the Rigveda, not as the material Sun and material Fire, but as the master of divine God-revealing knowledge & the master of divine purifying force of knowledge, and not to drive away the terrors of night from a trembling savage nor to burn the offered cake & the dripping ghee in a barbarian ritual, but to reveal the ultimate truth to the eyes of the Seer and to raise the immortal part in us that lives before & after the body is ashes to the supreme felicity of the perfected & sinless soul. Even subsequently we have seen that the Gita speaks of the Vedas as having the supreme for their subject of knowledge, and if later thinkers put it aside as karmakanda, yet they too, though drawing chiefly on the Upanishads, appealed occasionally to the texts of the hymns as authorities for the Brahmavidya. This could not have been if they were merely a ritual hymnology. We see therefore that the real Hindu tradition contains nothing excluding the interpretation which I put upon the Rigveda. On one side the current notion, caused by the immense overgrowth of ritualism in the millennium previous to the Christian era and the violence of the subsequent revolt against it, has been fixed in our minds by Buddhistic ideas as a result of the most formidable & damaging attack which the ancient Vedic religion had ever to endure. On the other side, the Vedantic sense of Veda is supported by the highest authorities we have, the Gita & the Upanishads, & evidenced even by the tradition that seems to deny or at least belittle it. True orthodoxy therefore demands not that we should regard the Veda as a ritualist hymn book, but that we should seek in it for the substance or at least the foundation of that sublime Brahmavidya which is formally placed before us in the Upanishads, regarding it as the revelation of the deepest truth of the world & man revealed to illuminated Seers by the Eternal Ruler of the Universe.
Modern thought & scholarship stands on a different foundation. It proceeds by inference, imagination and conjecture to novel theories of old subjects and regards itself as rational, not traditional. It professes to rebuild lost worlds out of their disjected fragments. By reason, then, and without regard to ancient authority the modern account of the Veda should be judged. The European scholars suppose that the mysticism of the Upanishads was neither founded upon nor, in the main, developed from the substance of the Vedas, but came into being as part of a great movement away from the naturalistic materialism of the early half-savage hymns. Unable to accept a barbarous mummery of ritual and incantation as the highest truth & highest good, yet compelled by religious tradition to regard the ancient hymns as sacred, the early thinkers, it is thought, began to seek an escape from this impasse by reading mystic & esoteric meanings into the simple text of the sacrificial bards; so by speculations sometimes entirely sublime, sometimes grievously silly & childish, they developed Vedanta. This theory, simple, trenchant and attractive, supported to the European mind by parallels from the history of Western religions, is neither so convincing nor, on a broad survey of the facts, so conclusive as it at first appears. It is certainly inconsistent with what the old Vedantic thinkers themselves knew and thought about the tradition of the Veda. From the Brahmanas as well as from the Upanishads it is evident that the Veda came down to the men of those days in a double aspect, as the heart of a great body of effective ritual, but also as the repository of a deep and sacred knowledge, Veda and not merely worship. This idea of a philosophic or theosophic purport in the hymns was not created by the early Hindu mystics, it was inherited by them. Their attitude to the ritual even when it was performed mechanically without the possession of this knowledge was far from hostile; but as ritual, they held it to be inferior in force and value, avaram karma, a lower kind of works and not the highest good; only when performed with possession of the knowledge could it lead to its ultimate results, to Vedanta. By that, says the Chhandogya Upanishad, both perform karma, both he who knows this so and he who knows not. Yet the Ignorance and the Knowledge are different things and only what one does with the knowledge,with faith, with the Upanishad,that has the greater potency. And in the closing section of its second chapter, a passage which sounds merely like ritualistic jargon when one has not the secret of Vedic symbolism but when that secret has once been revealed to us becomes full of meaning and interest, the Upanishad starts by saying The Brahmavadins say, The morning offering to the Vasus, the afternoon offering to the Rudras and the evening offering to the Adityas and all the gods,where then is the world of the Yajamana? (that is to say, what is the spiritual efficacy beyond this material life of the three different sacrifices & why, to what purpose, is the first offered to the Vasus, the second to the Rudras, the third to the Adityas?) He who knows this not, how should he perform (effectively) ,therefore knowing let him perform. There was at any rate the tradition that these things, the sacrifice, the god of the sacrifice, the world or future state of the sacrificer had a deep significance and were not mere ritual arranged superstitiously for material ends. But this deeper significance, this inner Vedic knowledge was difficult and esoteric, not known easily in its profundity and subtlety even by the majority of the Brahmavadins themselves; hence the searching, the mutual questionings, the record of famous discussions that occupy so much space in the Upanishadsdiscussions which, we shall see, are not intellectual debates but comparisons of illuminated knowledge & spiritual experience.
If this traditionlet us call it mystic or esoteric for want of a less abused wordwas already formed at the time of the Brahmanas and Upanishads, when and how did it originally arise? Two possibilities present themselves. The tradition may have grown up gradually in the period between the Vedic hymns and the exegetical writings or else the esoteric sense may have already existed in the Veda itself and descended in a stream of tradition to the later mystics, developing, modifying itself, substituting new terms for oldas is the way of traditions. The former is, practically, the European theory.We are told that this spiritual revolution, this movement away from ritual Nature-worship to Brahmavada, begun in the seed in the later Vedic hymns, is found in a more developed state in the Upanishads & culminated in Buddha. In these writings and in the Brahmanas some record can be found of the speculations by which the development was managed. If it prove to be so, if these ancient writings are really the result of progressive intellectual speculation departing from crude & imperfect beginnings of philosophic thought, the European theory justifies itself to the reason and can no longer easily be disputed. But is this the true character of the Upanishads? It seems to me that in most of their dealings with our religions and our philosophical literature European scholars have erred by imposing their own familiar ideas and the limits of their own mentality on the history of an alien mentality and an alien development. Nowhere has this error been more evident than in the failure to realise the true nature of the Upanishads. In India we have never developed, but only affirmed thought by philosophical speculation, because we have never attached to the mere intellectual idea the amazingly exaggerated value which Europe has attached to it, but regarded it only as a test of the logical value to be attached to particular intellectual statements of truth. That is not truth to us which is merely well & justly thought out & can be justified by ratiocinative argument; only that is truth which has been lived & seen in the inner experience. We meditate not to get ideas, but in order to experience, to realise. When we speak of the Jnani, the knower, we do not mean a competent and logical thinker full of wise or of brilliant ideas, but a soul which has seen and lived & spoken in himself with the living truth. Ratiocination is freely used by the later philosophers, but only for the justification against opponents of the ideas already formed by their own meditation or the meditation of others, Rishis, gurus, ancient Vedantins; it is not itself a sufficient means towards the discovery of truth, but at best a help. The ideas of our great thinkers are not mere intellectual statements or even happy or great intuitions; they are based upon spiritual experiences formalised by the intellect into a philosophy. Shankaras passionate advocacy of the idea of Maya as an explanation of life was not merely the ardour of a great metaphysician enamoured of a beautiful idea or a perfect theory of life, but the passion of a man with a deep & vast spiritual experience which he believed to be the sole means of human salvation. Therefore philosophy in India, instead of tending as in Europe to ignore or combat religion, has always been itself deeply religious. In Europe Buddha and Shankara would have become the heads of metaphysical schools & ranked with Kant or Hegel or Nietzsche1 as strong intellectual influences; in India they became, inevitably, the founders of great religious sects, immense moral & spiritual forces;inevitably because Europe has made thought its highest & noblest aim, while India seeks not after thought but soul-vision and inner experience and even in the realm of ideas believes that they can & ought to be seen & lived inwardly rather than merely thought and allowed indirectly to influence outward action. This has been the mentality of our race for ages.Was the mentality of our Vedic forefathers entirely different from our own? Was it, as Western scholars seem to insist, a European mentality, the mentality of incursive Western savages, (it is Sergis estimate of the Aryans), changed afterwards by the contact with the cultured & reflective Dravidians into something new and strange, rationality changing to mysticism, materialism to a metaphysical spirituality? If so, the change had already been effected when the Upanishads were written. We speak of the discussions in the Upanishads; but in all truth the twelve Upanishads contain not a single genuine discussion. Only once in that not inconsiderable mass of literature, is there something of the nature of logical argument brought to the support of a philosophical truth. The nature of debate or logical reasoning is absent from the mentality of the Upanishadic thinkers. The grand question they always asked each other was not What hast thou thought out in this matter? or What are thy reasonings & conclusions? but What dost thou know? What hast thou seen in thyself? The Vedantic like the Vedic Rishi is a drashta & srota, not a manota, a kavi, not a manishi. There is question, there is answer; but solely for the comparison of inner knowledge & experience; never for ratiocinative argument, for disputation, for the battles of the logician. Always, knowledge, spiritual vision, experience are what is demanded; and often a questioner is turned back because he is not yet prepared in soul to realise the knowledge of the master. For all knowledge is within us and needs only to be awakened by the fit touch which opens the eyes of the soul or by the powerful revealing word.We find throughout the Vedic era always the same method, always the same theory of knowledge; they persist indeed in India to the present day and later habits of metaphysical debate unknown to the Vedic Brahmavadins have never been able to dethrone them from their primaeval supremacy. Let a man present never so finely reasoned a system of metaphysical philosophy, few will turn to hear, none leave his labour to receive, but let a man say as in the old Vedantic times I have experienced, my soul has seen, & hundreds in India will yet leave all to share in this new light of the eternal Truth.
concrete visualisation & passion for his ideas & experiences which mark off the religious from the merely philosophical mind.
The distinction is of the greatest importance; for not only does it show that the substance of our religious mentality and discipline goes back to the prehistoric antiquity of the Upanishads, but it justifies the hypothesis that the Vedantins of the Upanishads themselves held it as an inheritance from their Vedic forefathers. If the Upanishads were only a record of intellectual speculations, the theory of a progression from Vedic materialism to new modes of thought would be entirely probable and no other hypothesis could hold the field without first destroying the rationalistic theory by new and unsuspected evidence. But the moment we perceive that the Upanishads are the result of this ancient & indigenous system of truth-finding, we are liberated from the burden of European examples. Evidently, we have here to deal with phenomena of thought which do not fall within the European scheme of a rapid transition from gross savage superstition to subtle metaphysical speculation. We have phenomena which are either sui generis or, if at any time common to humanity both within and outside India, then more ancient or at any rate earlier in the progression of mind than the modern intellectual methods first universalised by the Hellenic & Latin races; we have an intuitive and experiential method of truth finding, a fixed psychological theory and discipline, a system in which observation & comparison of subjective experiences forms the basis of fixed & verifiable psychological truth, just as nowadays in Europe observation & comparison of objective experiences forms the basis of fixed and verifiable physical truth. The difference between the speculative method and the experiential is that the speculative aims only at logical harmony and, due to the rigid abstract tendency, drives towards new blocks of thought and new mental attitudes; the experiential aims at verification by experience and drives towards the progressive discovery or restatement of eternal truths and their application to varying conditions. The indispensable basis of all Science is the invariability of the same result from the same experiment, given the same conditions; the same experiment with oxygen & hydrogen will always, in whatever age or clime it is applied, have one invariable result, the appearance of water. The indispensable basis of all Yoga is the same invariability in psychological experiments & their results. The same experiment with the limited waking or manifest consciousness and the unlimited unmanifest consciousness from which it is a selection and formation will always, in whatever age or clime it is applied, have the same result, the dissolution, gradual or rapid, complete or partial according to the instruments and conditions of the experiment, of the waking ego into the cosmic consciousness. In each method, physical Science or psychological Science, different Scientists or different teachers may differ as to some of the final generalisations to be drawn from the facts & the most appropriate terms to be used, or invent different instruments in the hope of arriving at a more rapid or a more delicate process, but the facts and the fundamental truths remain common to all, even if stated in different terms, because they are the subjects of a common experience. Now the facts discovered by the Indian method, the duality of Purusha and Prakriti, the triple states of conscious being, the relation between the macrocosm & the microcosm, the fivefold and sevenfold principles of consciousness, the existence of more than one bodily case in which, simultaneously, we dwell, these and a number of other fixed ideas which the modern Yogins hold not as speculative propositions but as observable and verifiable facts of experience, are to be found in the Upanishads already enounced in more ancient formulae and in a slightly different language. The question arises, when did they originate? If they are facts, when were they first discovered? If they are hallucinations, when were the methods of subjective experiment which result so persistently in these hallucinations, first evolved and fixed? Not at the time of the Upanishads, for the Upanishads professedly record the traditional knowledge of older Rishis which is still verifiable by the moderns, prvebhir rishibhir dyo ntanair uta.Then, some time before the composition of the Upanishads, either by the earlier or later Vedic Rishis or by predecessors of the Vedic Rishis or in the interval between the Vedic hymns and the first Vedantic compositions. But for the period between Veda & Vedanta we have no documents, no direct & plain evidence. The question therefore can only be decided by an examination of the Vedic hymns themselves. Only by settling the meaning of Veda can we decide whether the early Vedantins were right in supposing that they were merely restating in more modern terms the substantial ideas & experiences of Vedic Rishis or whether this grand assumption of the Upanishads must take its rank among those pious fictions or willing & half honest errors which have often been immensely helpful to the advance of human knowledge but are none the less impostures upon posterity.
European scholars believe that they have fixed finally the meaning of Veda. Using as their tools the Sciences of Comparative Philology & Comparative Mythology, itself a part of the strangely termed Science of Comparative Religion, they have excavated for us out of the ancient Veda a buried world, a forgotten civilisation, lost names of kings and nations, wars & battles, institutions, social habits & cultural ideas which the men of Vedantic times & their forerunners never dreamed were lying concealed in the revered & sacred words used daily by them in their worship and the fount and authority for their richest spiritual experiences deepest illuminated musings. The picture these discoveries constitute is a remarkable composition, imposing in its mass, brilliant and attractive in its details. The one lingering objection to them is a possible doubt of the truth of these discoveries, the soundness of the methods used to arrive at them. Are the conclusions of Vedic scholarship so undoubtedly true or so finally authoritative as to preclude a totally different hypothesis even though it may lead possibly to an interpretation which will wash out every colour & negative every detail of this great recovery? We must determine, first, whether the foundations of the European theory of Veda are solid & certain fact or whether it has been reared upon a basis of doubtful inference and conjecture. If the former, the question of the Veda is closed, its problem solved; if the latter, the European results may even then be true, but equally they may be false and replaceable by a more acceptable theory and riper conclusions.
We ought at least to free our minds of one misconception which has a very strong hold of the average Indian mind and blocks up the way for free investigation & the formation of a strong & original school of Indian scholars better circumstanced than the Europeans for determining the truth about our past and divining its difficult secrets. The triumphant & rapid march of the physical sciences in Europe has so mastered our intellects and dazzled our eyes, that we are apt to extend the unquestioned finality which we are accustomed to attach to the discoveries & theories of modern Science, to all the results of European research & intellectual activity. Even in Europe itself, we should remember, there is no such implicit acceptance. The theories of today are there continually being combated and overthrown by the theories of tomorrow. Outside the range of the physical sciences & even in some portions of that splendid domain the whole of European knowledge is felt more & more to be a mass of uncertain results ephemeral in their superstructure, shifting in their very foundations. For the Europeans have that valuable gift of intellectual restlessness which, while it often stands in the way of mans holding on to abiding truth, helps him to emerge swiftly out of momentarily triumphant error. In India on the other hand we have fallen during the last few centuries into a fixed habit of unquestioning deference to authority. We used to hold it, & some still hold it almost an impiety to question Shankaras interpretation of the Upanishads, or Sayanas interpretation of the Veda, and now that we are being torn out of this bondage, we fall into yet more absurd error by according, if not an equal reverence, yet an almost equal sense of finality to the opinions of Roth & Max Muller. We are ready to accept all European theories, the theory of an Aryan colonisation of a Dravidian India, the theory of the Nature-worship and henotheism of the Vedic Rishis, the theory of the Upanishads as a speculative revolt against Vedic materialism & ritualism, as if these hazardous speculations were on a par in authority & certainty with the law of gravitation and the theory of evolution. We are most of us unaware that in Europe it is disputed and very reasonably disputed whether, for instance, any such entity as an Aryan race ever existed. The travail of dispute & uncertainty in which the questions of Vedic scholarship & ethnology are enveloped is hidden from us; only the over-confident statement of doubtful discoveries and ephemeral theories reaches our knowledge.
We should realise that these so-called Sciences of Comparative Philology and Comparative Mythology on which the European interpretation of Veda is founded are not true Sciences at all. They are, rather, if Sciences at all, then pseudo-Sciences. All the European mental sciences, not excluding Psychology, though that is now proceeding within certain narrow limits by a sounder method, belong to a doubtful class of branches of research which have absorbed the outward method of Science, without its inward spirit. The true scientists in Germany, the home of both Science & Philology, accustomed to sound methods, certain results, patient inquiry, slow generalisations, have nothing but contempt for the methods of Philology, its patchiness, its haste, its guesswork, and profess no confidence in its results; the word Philologe is even, in their mouths, a slighting & discourteous expression. This contempt, itself no doubt excessive, is practically admitted to be just by the great French thinker, Renan, who spent the best part of his life in philological & kindred researches, when he described apologetically his favourite pursuits as petty conjectural sciences. Now, a Science that is conjectural, a Science that proceeds not by fixed laws and certain methods, but by ingenious inference & conjecture, & this is in truth the nature of Comparative Philology & Comparative Mythology,is no science at all; it is a branch of research, a field of inquiry & conjecture in which useful discoveries may be made; it may even contain in itself the germs of a future science, but it is not yet itself worthy of that name & its results have no right to cloak themselves falsely in the robe of authority which belongs only to the results of the true Sciences. So long as a science is conjectural, its results are also conjectural, can at any moment be challenged and ought at all times even in its most brilliant & confident results to be carefully and sceptically scrutinised.
Among such branches of research which can even now be used in spite of new & hostile conclusions as a sort of side support to the modern theory of the Veda stand in a curious twilit corner of their own the researches of the ethnologists. There is no more glaring instance of the conjectural and unsubstantial nature of these pseudo-Sciences than the results of Ethnology which yet claims to deduce its results from fixed and certain physical tests and data. We find the philological discovery of the Aryan invasion supported by the conclusions of ethnologists like Sir Herbert Risley, who make an ethnological map of India coloured in with all shades of mixed raciality, Dravidian,Scytho-Dravidian, Mongolo-Dravidian, Scytho-Aryan. More modern schools of ethnology assert positively on the strength of [the] same laws & the same tests that there is but one homogeneous Indo-Afghan race inhabiting the whole peninsula from theHimalayas to Cape Comorin. What are we to think of a science of which the tests are so pliant and the primary results so irreconcilable? Or how, if the more modern theory is correct, if a distinct homogeneous race inhabits India, can we fail to doubt strongly as a philological myth the whole story of the Aryan invasion & colonisation of Northern India, which has been so long one of the most successful & loudly proclaimed results of the new philology? As a result perhaps of these later conclusions we find a tendency even in philological scholarship towards the rise of new theories which dispute the whole legend of an Aryan invasion, assert an indigenous or even a southern origin for the peoples of the Vedic times and suppose Aryanism to have been a cult and not a racial distinction. These new theories destroy all fixed confidence in the old without themselves revealing any surer foundations for their own guesses; both start from conjectural philology & end in an imaginatively conjectural nation-building or culture-building. It is exceedingly doubtful whether the Vedic terms Aryan & unAryan at all refer to racial or cultural differences; they may have an entirely different and wholly religious & spiritual significance & refer to the good and evil powers & mortals influenced by them. If this prove to be the truth, and the close contiguity & probable historical connection between the Vedic Indians & the Zoroastrian Persians gives it a great likelihood, then the whole elaborate edifice built up by the scholars of an Aryan invasion and an Aryan culture begins to totter & seek the ground, there to lie in the dust amid the wrecks of other once confident beliefs and triumphant errors.
The substance of modern philological discovery about the Vedas consists, first, in the picture of an Aryan civilisation introduced by northern invaders and, secondly, in the interpretation of the Vedic religion as a worship of Nature-powers & Vedic myths as allegorical legends of sun & moon & star & the visible phenomena of Nature. The latter generalisation rests partly on new philological renderings of Vedic words, partly on the Science of Comparative Mythology. The method of this Science can be judged from one or two examples. The Greek story of the demigod Heracles is supposed to be an evident sun myth. The two scientific proofs offered for this discovery are first that Hercules performed twelve labours and the solar year is divided into twelve months and, secondly, that Hercules burnt himself on a pyre on Mount Oeta and the sun also sets in a glory of flame behind the mountains. Such proofs seem hardly substantial enough for so strong a conclusion. By the same reasoning one could prove the emperor Napoleon a sun myth, because he was beaten & shorn of his glory by the forces of winter and because his brilliant career set in the western ocean and he passed there a long night of captivity. With the same light confidence the siege of Troy is turned by the scholars into a sun myth because the name of the Greek Helena, sister of the two Greek Aswins, Castor & Pollux, is philologically identical with the Vedic Sarama and that of her abductor Paris is not so very different from the Vedic Pani. It may be noted that in the Vedic story Sarama is not the sister of the Aswins and is not abducted by the Panis and that there is no other resemblance between the Vedic legend & the Greek tradition. So by more recent speculation even Yudhishthira and his brothers and the famous dog of theMahabharat are raised into the skies & vanish in a starry apotheosis,one knows not well upon what grounds except that sometimes the Dog Star rages in heaven. It is evident that these combinations are merely an ingenious play of fancy & prove absolutely nothing. Hercules may be the Sun but it is not proved. Helen & Paris may be Sarama & one of the Panis, but itis not proved. Yudhishthira & his brothers may be an astronomical myth, but it is not proved. For the rest, the unsubstantiality & rash presumption of the Sun myth theory has not failed to give rise in Europe to a hostile school of Comparative Mythologists who adopt other methods & seek the origins of early religious legend & tradition in a more careful and flexible study of the mentality, customs, traditions & symbolisms of primitive races. The theory of Vedic Nature-worship is better founded than these astronomical fancies. Agni is plainly the God of Fire, Surya of the Sun, Usha of the Dawn, Vayu of the Wind; Indra for Sayana is obviously the god of rain; Varuna seems to be the sky, the Greek Ouranos,et cetera. But when we have accepted these identities, the question of Vedic interpretation & the sense of Vedic worship is not settled. In the Greek religion Apollo was the god of the sun, but he was also the god of poetry & prophecy; Athene is identified with Ahana, a Vedic name of the Dawn, but for the Greeks she is the goddess of purity & wisdom; Artemis is the divinity of the moon, but also the goddess of free life & of chastity. It is therefore evident that in early Greek religion, previous to the historic or even the literary period, at an epoch therefore that might conceivably correspond with the Vedic period, many of the deities of the Greek heavens had a double character, the aspect of physical Nature-powers and the aspect of moral Nature-powers. The indications, therefore,for they are not proofs,even of Comparative Mythology would justify us in inquiring whether a similar double character did not attach to the Vedic gods in the Vedic hymns.
The real basis of both the Aryan theory of Vedic civilisation and the astronomical theory of Aryan myth is the new interpretation given to a host of Vedic vocables by the comparative philologists. The Aryan theory rests on the ingenious assumption that anarya, dasyu or dasa in the Veda refer to the unfortunate indigenous races who by a familiar modern device were dubbed robbers & dacoits because they were guilty of defending their country against the invaders & Arya is a national term for the invaders who called themselves, according to Max Muller, the Ploughmen, and according to others, the Noble Race. The elaborate picture of an early culture & history that accompanies and supports this theory rests equally on new interpretations of Vedic words and riks in which with the progress of scholarship the authority of Sayana and Yaska has been more & more set at nought and discredited. My contention is that anarya, dasa and dasyu do not for a moment refer to the Dravidian races,I am, indeed, disposed to doubt whether there was ever any such entity in India as a separate Aryan or a separate Dravidian race,but always to Vritra, Vala & the Panis and other, primarily non-human, opponents of the gods and their worshippers. The new interpretations given to Vedic words & riks seem to me sometimes right & well grounded, often arbitrary & unfounded, but always conjectural. The whole European theory & European interpretation of the Vedas may be [not] unjustly described as a huge conjectural & uncertain generalisation built on an inadequate & shifting mass of conjectural particulars.
Nor does the philological reasoning on which the astronomical interpretation of Vedic hymns is supported, inspire, when examined, or deserve any more certain confidence. To identify the Aswins with the two sons of the Greek Dyaus, Kastor and Polydeuces, and again these two pairs conjecturally with two stars of the constellation Gemini is easy & carries with it a great air of likelihood; but an air of likelihood is not proof. We need more for anything like rational conviction or certainty. In the Veda there are a certain number of hymns to the Aswins & a fair number also of passages in which they are described and invoked; if indeed the purport of their worship is astronomical and the sense of their personality in the Veda merely a fiction about the stars and if they really bore that aspect to the Vedic Rishis, all these passages, & all their epithets, actions, functions & the prayers offered to them ought to be entirely explicable on that theory; or if other ideas have crept in, we must be shown what are these ideas, how they have crept in, in what way these are in the minds of the ancient Rishis superimposed on the original astronomical conception and reconciled with it. Then only can we accept it as a proved probability, if not a proved certainty, that the Aswins are the constellation Gemini and, in that known character, worshipped in the sacred chants. For we must remember that the Aswins might easily have been the constellation Gemini in an original creed & yet be worshipped in a quite different character at the time of the Vedic Rishis. In the Vedic hymns as they are at present rendered whether by Sayana or by Roth, there is no clear statement of this character of the Aswins; the whole theory rests on metaphor and parable, and it is easy to see how dangerous, how open to the flights of mere ingenuity is the system of interpretation by metaphor. There ought to be at least a kernel of direct statement in the loose & uncertain mass of metaphor. We are told that the Aswins are lords of light, ubhaspat, and certainly the starry Twins are luminous; they are rudravartan, which interpreted of the red path, may very well apply to stars moving through heaven; they are somewhere described as vrisharath, bull-charioted, & Gemini is next in order & vicinity to Taurus, the constellation of the bull; Sry, daughter of the Sun, mounts on their chariot & Sry is very possibly such & such a star whose motion may be described by this figurative ascension; the Aswins get honey from the bees and there is a constellation near Gemini called by the Greeks the Bees whose light falls on the Twins. All this is brilliant, attractive, captivating; it does immense credit to the ingenuity of the human intellect. But if we examine sceptically the proofs that are offered us, we find ourselves face to face with amass of ingenious & hazardous guesses; it is not explained why the Aswins particularly more than other gods, should have this distinctive epithet of ubhaspat, as peculiar to them in the Veda as is sahasaspati to Agni; rudra in the sense of red is a novel & conjectural significance; vrisharatha interpreted consistently as bull-charioted in connection with Taurus, would make hopeless ravages in the sense of other passages of the Veda; the identification of Sry, daughter of the Sun is unproved, it is an airy conjecture depending on the proof of the identity of the Aswins not itself proving it; madhu in the passage about the Bees need not mean honey and much more probably means the honeyed wine of Soma, the rendering bees is one of the novel, conjectural & highly doubtful suggestions of European scholarship. All the other proofs that are heaped on us are of a like nature & brilliantly flimsy ingenuity, & we end our sceptical scrutiny admiring, but still sceptical. We feel after all that an accumulation of conjectures does not constitute proof and that a single clear & direct substantial statement in one sense or the other would outweigh all these ingenious inferences, these brilliant imaginings. To begin with a hypothesis is always permissible,it is the usual mode of scientific discovery; but a hypothesis must be supported by facts. To support it by a mass of other hypotheses is to abuse & exceed the permissibility of conjecture in scientific research.
I have thus dwelt on the fragility of the European theory in this introduction because I wish to avoid in the body of the volume the burden of adverse discussion with other theories & rival interpretations. I propose to myself an entirely positive method,the development of a constructive rival hypothesis, not the disproof of those which hold the field. But, since they do hold the field, I am bound to specify before starting those general deficiencies in them which disqualify them at least from prohibiting fresh discussion and shutting out an entirely new point of departure. Possibly Sayana is right and the Vedas are only the hymn-book of a barbarous & meaningless mythological ritual. Possibly, the European theory is more correct and the Vedic religion & myth was of the character of a materialistic Nature worship & the metaphorical, poetical & wholly fanciful personification of heavenly bodies & forces of physical Nature. But neither of these theories is so demonstrably right, that other hypotheses are debarred from appearing and demanding examination. Such a new hypothesis I wish to advance in the present volume. The gods of the Veda are in my view Nature Powers, but Powers at once of moral & of physical Nature, not of physical Nature only; moreover their moral aspect is the substantial part of their physiognomy, the physical though held to be perfectly real & effective, is put forward mainly as a veil, dress or physical type of their psychological being. The ritual of the Veda is a symbolic ritual supposed by those who used it to be by virtue of its symbolism practically effective of both inner & outer results in life & the world. The hymnology of the Veda rests on the ancient theory that speech is in itself both morally & physically creative & effective, the secret executive agent of the divine powers in manifesting & compelling mental & material phenomena. The substance of the Vedic hymns is the record of certain psychological experiences which are the natural results, still attainable & repeatable in our own experience, of an ancient type of Yoga practised certainly in India, practised probably in ancient Greece, Asia Minor & Egypt in prehistoric times. Finally, the language of the Vedas is an ambiguous tongue, with an ambiguity possible only to the looser fluidity belonging to the youth of human speech & deliberately used to veil the deeper psychological meaning of the Riks. I hold that it was the traditional knowledge of this deep religious & psychological character of the Vedas which justified in the eyes of the ancient Indians the high sanctity attached to them & the fixed idea that these were the repositories of an august, divine & hardly attainable truth.
If this hypothesis were wholly at variance with the facts known to the students of Comparative Religion or the interpretation [on] which it is based not clearly justifiable by sound principles of Philology, it would be an act of gross presumption in the present state of our knowledge to advance it without a preliminary examination of the present results held as proved by modern Philology & by the Study of Comparative Religion. But my hypothesis is entirely consistent with the facts of religious history in this & other countries, entirely reconcilable with a sound method of Comparative Religion, entirely baseable on a strict and rational use of Philology. I have criticised & characterised these branches of research as pseudo-Sciences. But I do not for a moment intend to suggest that their results are to be entirely scouted or that they have not done a great work for the advancement of knowledge. Comparative Philology, for instance, has got rid of a great mass of preexistent rubbish and unsoundness and suggested partly the true scientific method of Philological research, though it seems to me that overingenuity, haste & impatience in following up exclusively certain insufficient clues have prevented an excellent beginning from being rightly & fruitfully pursued. If I cannot attach any real value to the Science of Comparative Mythology, yet the study,not the Science, for we have not yet either the materials or the equipment for a true Science,the comparative Study of Religions & of religious myths & ancient traditions as a subordinate part of that study is of the utmost use & importance.
The researches of Comparative Religion although they cannot yet constitute a science, should at least follow as far as possible the lines & methods adopted by the physical Sciences, especially of Biology; they should therefore consist mainly, apart from the mere collection of data, first, in the tracing of existing or later forms to their earlier history & origins, if possible, to their embryonic origins and, secondly, in the careful comparison both of the origins & later history of similar forms in different environments. In India [incomplete]
Nietzsche stands perhaps on a different plane because he had something of the
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