This is the third in a series of seven articles on certain aspects of the Rig Veda, written in simple language and avoiding technical terms. I aim to post an installment each day. I hope they find some readers.
1 . In its earlier stages, Rig Veda mentions various gods and goddesses. Mitra the Sun; Varuna the god of night and of the blue sky; Dyu and Prithivi the Sky and the Earth; Agni or fire god and the friend of all; Savitri the refulgent; Indra the master of the universe; Vishnu the measurer of the three worlds and Aditi the mother of all other gods (the Adityas) are some of them. The attempt is not to stack up a hierarchical pile of gods, but to discover the Great One the source of all gods. Gradually, a tendency to extol a God as the greatest and controlling all other divine entities comes into play. This marks the progress of man’s concept of God or the ultimate Reality from polytheism to monotheism, ultimately leading to monism.
2. The seeds of Advaita are found in Rig Veda. Some of the most beautiful verses that Sri Shankara interprets occur in the Samhita portion of the Rig Veda. For example, the mantra- dva suparna sayuja sakhaya,samanam vriksham praishasvajate – traditionally associated with the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) is found in the Rig Veda as well “Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of divergent tastes and the other looks on without eating”.
3. The tenth book of the Rig-Veda regards the highest conception of God as both the Impersonal and the Personal: The Nasadiya Sukta states that the Supreme Being is the Unmanifest and the Manifest, Existence as well as Non existence. He is the Jagat_pati, the Lord of the Universe, of all beings. He is the sustainer and the protector. The Purusha-Sukta (Rig Veda 5.10.90) proclaims that this Universe is God. The Supreme Person the Purusha with an infinite number of heads, eyes, hands and feet envelops the whole of his creation in His Cosmic Body. He is the cause of the world. He encompasses the whole cosmos and transcends it to infinity. He is the supreme and the solitary divinity.
Nasadiya Suktha – translation of Prof. Juan Mascaro.
(In the beginning…)
There was neither existence nor non-existence. There was not then what is not, what is not. There was neither sky nor any heaven beyond the sky. What power was there? What stirred ? Where? Who was that power? Was there an abyss of fathomless water?
There was neither death nor immortality then. No signs were there of night or day. The One was breathing with its own power, in deep space, windless, by its own impulse. Only the One was: And, Other than that , there was nothing beyond.
The darkness was hidden in darkness, in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign. And all this was water and formless. Therein, in the void, by the fire of fervour arose One.
And in the One arose Desire . Desire the first seed of the mind . The truth of this the sages found in their hearts: seeking in their hearts with wisdom, found the bond of existence in non-existence.
Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above ? There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above. The sages found that bond of union between being and non-being ; Between the manifest and the un-manifest
Who really knows this truth? Who can tell when and how this universe arose? The gods came after its creation. Whether this universe was created or uncreated only the God who sees in the highest heaven
He only knows when this universe came – perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – And, whether it was created or uncreated ; the one who looks down on it , in the highest heaven . Only he knows – or perhaps, He knows not?
4. Rig-Veda (10.129) uses the term Tad-Ekam (That or That One) to suggest a Reality, though an abstract one, that is the source and support of all manifest existence. Tad-Ekam is generally understood as a limitless, indescribable, absolute principle that exists independently.. Tad-Ekam exists in itself; all manifestation emanates from It and returns to It. It is the Tapas the heat, the latent energy in the Unmanifest that brings forth creation, the manifest world. The Rik thus promotes the concept of all existence being a unity.
In Rig-Veda the terms such as: ‘Tad Ekam’ (That one), Param (beyond), Ekam sat (one reality) signify the principle of “The one without a second” , which later developed into Para Brahman of the Upanishads.
5. The word Brahman or Brāhmaņa occurs more than a hundred times in the Rig-Veda. In only one place, the Purusha Sūkta occurring in the tenth mandala, a relatively late composition, it uses the term Brāhmaņa to signify a caste. In all other places, Brāhmaņa has nothing to do with caste. Again, Brahman of the Rig-Veda is not the Brahman, Para Brahman of the Upanishads, the highest principle of Existence
Brahman is used in the Rig Veda as term for a high divinity or as another name for Agni. “ He has come, chosen bearer, and is seated in man’s home, Brahman, Agni, the Supporter, He whom both Heaven and Earth exalt and strengthen whom, Giver of all boons, the Hotar worships”. ( http://oaks.nvg.org/rv7.html ).
The term Brahman is also used to represent the spoken word. It is said, “The development of Brahman into a word which designates formulated speech more than it does an independent power is the most significant change from the Family Books to the later Rig Veda
Brahman acquires the meaning of unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality at a later stage in the Upanishads.
6. Rig Veda primarily follows Saguno_pasana. The Supreme Being in Rig Veda is the abode of all auspicious qualities. The Ultimate supreme Reality is described (though it is beyond description or definition) as sat-chit-ananda. He is the one who created the world and sustained it. He is the omniscient and the original cause of the world (tasyedu visva bhuvanadhi murdhani). He manifests himself as the world (Visvarupah). Rig Veda pursues a strategy later expounded by Bhakthi yoga, the path of devotion. It calls upon the devotee to establish a relation ship with each Deva as one would do with a son, a friend, a father, a mother etc. He is omniscient, compassionate and easily accessible to devotees (Niyanta sunrutanam). It firmly believes in grace of God and preaches that a virtuous life in this world and the progression to Amrutatva, immortality is possible only with complete surrender to God and with the grace of God. The seeds of the Bhakthi moment and the attitude of complete surrender to the divine will , are in Rig Veda.
7. It preaches strong faith in God and that one should have a pure mind to realize God. It calls upon the devotee to establish a relationship with each Deva, Agni, Indra and others as one would do with a son, a friend, a father, a mother etc. The feeling of warmth and close relation with a god is most conspicuous in the hymns addressed to Varuna ‘ the most impressive deity among all the Vedic deities’.In these hymns Varuna , more than any other Vedic god, appears as mighty and merciful : “Instill in us a wholesome, happy mind, with goodwill and understanding. Then shall we ever delight in your friendship like cows who gladly rejoice in meadows green.” There is faith that the Devas would in turn communicate with the men and women and fulfill their desires.
8. Though the term Bhakthi occurs in Rig Veda it is not used in the sense with which we now familiar. The term derived from the root bhaj was understood in the sense of sharing and enjoying an object, say such as cattle, riches or even glory.
It was only later the term came to acquire the sense of emotional bonding or an intense personal relation say as between father and son, teacher and student, mother and child, lover and the beloved ; and as between a devotee and his/her god. The idea of Bhakthi germinates in Svethasvatara Upanishad was later developed in Bhagavad-Gita. In Svethasvatara Upanishad man is called upon to have Bhakthi in the divine, to resort to him who is the shelter to all. The concept of Bhakthi fully matures and is given full exposition in Srimad Bhagavatha., here Bhakthi is termed as trayi-vidya the wisdom of the three Vedas, as the highest good of man
Symbolism in Rig Veda
1. Rig-Veda is not a textbook or a manual. It is a collection of hymns, in a free-flowing language that is universal and that requires no elaboration. To make a connection with that ancient culture, we have to live the same inner experience.
2. Rig Veda is often criticized as being a book of rituals. However, not a single hymn in Rig Veda out of its 1017 hymns gives a description of a ritual or a rite. For instance, Agni translated as fire in the altar, is mentioned in several hundred verses, there is however no mention of a priest lighting a fire.
[Rig Veda does not appears to be serious about the rituals . For instance , a hymn to the frogs compares the repetitions of the priests around the soma bowl to the croaking of the frogs around a pond after the rains come. (RigVeda VII:103)]
Agni is used symbolically to signify the subtle energy in all beings. Sometimes, the fire principle is the same as the sun, which illumines the universe; the same Reality underlies Ushas that makes everything effulgent.
3. Creation, preservation and destruction are not distinct occurrences. In reality, the process of birth, growth and decay is ever present, ongoing and twined into one another. There is no death in the universe. It is transformation from one state to another. When we lose a desire, we mistakenly think it is destroyed. No, it is now transformed into a larger vision – the aspiration. Agni ignites aspiration. The cosmic god Agni is the one who transforms little desires into great aspirations. Agni is the fire of inner awakening. It illumines and elevates our consciousness. The aspiration to attain super consciousness is the theme of the Rig Veda.
4. The elements of the outer sacrifice are symbolic of the inner sacrifice and are representations of self-surrender. Behind these rituals and hymns runs the thread of gradual evolution of the concept of spiritual life. Our sacrifice is a journey towards super consciousness with Agni, the inner flame, as the pathfinder. The sacrifice is an act of self-surrender to God. That sacrifice is perpetual. That concept of life as a Yajna was later enlarged in the Gita.
The high idealism of the Rig Veda poetry represents the soaring human aspirations. It is the intense desire to grow out of the limited physical confines and to reach out to the super consciousness that inspired the Vedic rishis. Sri Aurobindo believed that the human being is at the crest, on the threshold of evolving into super consciousness. He asserted that Rig Veda encases that esoteric message and attainment of that super consciousness was the vision of the Rig Veda.
Rig Veda – its gods (4/7)