THE VEDAS AND THEIR SUBJECT MATTER
June 6, 2011 Leave a comment
The Vedas are three in number, Rik, Sama, and Yajur. A fourth, called Nigada, is sometimes added; but it should really be included in the Yajur. Apart from certain improvements, the text of the Rig Veda is the same as that of Sama Veda; and the repetition of certain parts is meant to complete the chain of reflection. The name Sama refers to active life; and so we have an account of all that relates to living creatures in the Sama Veda. However, in its absence, we may refer to the Rig Veda.
The Vedas consist of Mantras and Brahmanas, hymns of praise addressed to the gods, and laws of life together with their explanation, respectively.
There are some who believe that the Mantras are nothing but hymns of praise addressed to the gods, and should be understood to refer to the offering of sacrifices made with material objects, for that is the simple meaning of words used in the text. But we are unable to accept this view, because we find that the text, construed even as hymns of praise, makes little sense; and, in certain cases, casts reflections on those who are otherwise highly esteemed. On the other hand, if we construe it in a different manner, and associate it with the idea of action, we find that it gives us complete satisfaction throughout; and the idea of hymns of praise is transformed into one of laws of life. Where, however, a Mantra does not refer to action, it would be found to refer to the soul.
The problem of the soul and action: According to some, the Vedas deal with the problem of the soul as their principal subject-matter. But this is not correct, for we find that they deal with the whole world of Nature, and the problem of action, and tell us what actions to perform and how to perform them.
Action and Dharma: The real subject-matter of .the Vedas is action, and Dharma is founded on their word; and it would be meaningless to interpret them in any other light. They are an exposition of the Gunas or the inherent attributes of the objects of Nature, and refer to the laws of knowledge as well as action, which constitute the fundamental problem of life; and we can understand them in this light if we interpret their text correctly.
The Angas of the Mantras of the Vedas are called “limbs”, because purpose, action and result are connected together like the limbs of the body; and that is their real subject-matter.
Action and prohibition against action: The Vedas enjoin action, but do not promise their fruit. They contain prohibition against action too; but that does not mean inaction. It only means prohibition against such actions as ought not to be performed by a good man.
The text of the Vedas: All prescribed texts are an integral part of the Vedas, and the difference between them is due to the difference in the manner in which their ideas have been expressed. Their text is authoritative, and no unauthorized additions should be made. Their language is perfect, and we should not venture to alter it. It is difficult to understand, but it is possible to grasp it by means of devotion and proper study. All these things were taught long ago, aid we have forgotten them; but we can understand them again: only we should use the proper method of interpretation, and consider them in the light of action; and then we shall find that they make good sense, and are consistent throughout.
Need of a new interpretation: We cannot have a single method of interpretation of the Vedas; but whatever method we adopt, it should have a regular plan, and be governed by definite rules. Indeed, if the Vedas have any real value, they cannot have the meaning commonly assigned to them; and so it is necessary to have a different method of interpretation. We are led to the same conclusion by the use of certain special terms in the text, such as those in connection with the god Indra. But it is necessary to have a regular method of interpretation, and we find that it exists; only it requires skill to use it for different words have to be handled in different ways.
Three ways of explanation: There are three ways of explaining the meaning of words used in the Vedas. We may take their common meaning if it is suitable; but, if the meaning of a word has been specially defined, we should take it in that sense. On the other hand, if the common meaning does not make sense, or if there is no special definition of a word, we should divide it into parts, and take the meaning of each part to make up the meaning of the whole.
The use of words: The whole idea of the composition of the Vedas and the method of their interpretation is based on the use of words, and it is necessary to understand it.
Conflicting opinions: But different people have different ideas about the use of words. There are some who believe that if a word refers to Gunas or the attributes of the objects of Nature, there should be a clear reference to these attributes. But this is not always possible, for a word may have more than one meaning, and refer to more than one idea or object. Others believe that a word and its attributes should go together, and it should not be divided into parts to give its meaning, and that the rules in regard to all words should be the same. But this too is not possible; for if a word and its attributes should go together, so should a word and the object to which it refers. But we know that this is not possible.
The test of correctness: Thus we see that we cannot lay down any hard and fast rules to get the correct meaning of words, and their only test is that they should suit the context. This means that an attribute should be in its proper place with reference to its object, and nothing should be meaningless, and nothing should be left out, Indeed, the real test of correctness is the result that can be achieved.
The use of language; verbs and nouns: Life means action, and it has two parts, its performance, and the doer of the deed; and corresponding to this there are two principal kinds of words in a language, verbs and nouns; and the rest are all associated with them. Of these, nouns precede verbs, for verbs cannot be used without reference to nouns; and verbs are of two kinds, transitive and intransitive.
The best form of expression: We have to express our ideas by means of language; and the best form of expression would be that in which a single word has a single meaning, and a single idea can be expressed by means of a single word. But if an expression has more than one meaning, it should consist of more than one part. If there are equal ideas to express, there should be separate statements for each; and the close connection of word with word should make for perfection of statement, and there should be no gaps anywhere. Where, however, an idea is intricate, and is likely to cause confusion, it should be described by means of a number of statements, especially where there are a number of parts of an action. These statements should normally be separate, and it is not necessary that they should be placed in close proximity to one another. Words, the origin of which can be traced, are the best.
The language of the Vedas: It is in the light of this that we have to understand the language of the Vedas. Different words have been used to express different ideas in different ways; and in a number of cases the text has two meanings, the apparent and the real both of which are consistent in themselves throughout. But the real meaning contains a reference to the law of action; and the whole composition is of this kind. But it does not appear to be in harmony with the objects described; and so it is necessary to reject the apparent meaning of words. But we should do so only if it does not refer to the laws of life.