Hymns to the Mystic Fire
Commentary on the Rig Veda - The Planet's most Ancient Text
Web Publication by
Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
This tradition persevered in the Brahmanas and continued to maintain itself in spite of the efforts of the ritualistic commentators, Yajnikas, to explain everything as myth and rite and the division made by the Pandits distinguishing the section of works, Karmakanda, and the section of Knowledge, Jnanakanda, identifying the former with the hymns and the latter with the Upanishads. This drowning of the parts of Knowledge by the parts of ceremonial works was strongly criticised in one of the Upanishads and in the Gita, but both look on the Veda as a Book of Knowledge. Even, the Sruti including both Veda and Upanishad was regarded as the supreme authority for spiritual knowledge and infallible.
Is this all legend and moonshine, or a groundless and even nonsensical tradition? Or is it the fact that there is only a scanty element of higher ideas in some later hymns which started this theory? Did the writers of the Upanishads foist upon the Riks a meaning which was not there but read into it by their imagination or a fanciful interpretation? Modern European scholarship insists on having it so. And it has persuaded the mind of modern India. In favour of this view is the fact that the Rishis of the Veda were not only seers but singers and priests of sacrifice, that their chants were written to be sung at public sacrifices and refer constantly to the customary ritual and seem to call for the outward objects of these ceremonies, wealth, prosperity, victory over enemies. Sayana, the great commentator, gives us a ritualistic and where necessary a tentatively mythical or historical sense to the Riks, very rarely does he put forward any higher meaning though sometimes he lets a higher sense come through or puts it as an alternative as if in despair of finding out some ritualistic or mythical interpretation. But still he does not reject the spiritual authority of the Veda or deny that there is a higher truth contained in the Riks. This last development was left to our own times and popularised by occidental scholars.
The European scholars took up the ritualistic tradition, but for the rest they dropped Sayana overboard and went on to make their own etymological explanation of the words, or build up their own conjectural meanings of the Vedic verses and gave a new presentation often arbitrary and imaginative. What they sought for in the Veda was the early history of India, its society, institutions, customs, a civilisation-picture of the times. They invented the theory based on the difference of languages of an Aryan invasion from the north, an invasion of a Dravidian India of which the Indians themselves had no memory or tradition and of which there is no record in their epic or classical literature. The Vedic religion was in this account only a worship of Nature-Gods full of solar myths and consecrated by sacrifices and a sacrificial liturgy primitive enough in its ideas and contents, and it is these barbaric prayers that are the much vaunted, haloed and apotheosized Veda.
There can be no doubt that in the beginning there was a worship of the Powers of the physical world, the Sun, Moon, Heaven and Earth, Wind, Rain and Storm etc., the Sacred Rivers and a number of Gods who presided over the workings of Nature. That was the general aspect of the ancient worship in Greece, Rome, India and among other ancient peoples. But in all these countries these gods began to assume a higher, a psychological function; Pallas Athene who may have been originally a Dawn-Goddess springing in flames from the head of Zeus, the Sky-God, Dyaus of the Veda, has in classical Greece a higher function and was identified by the Romans with their Minerva, the Goddess of learning and wisdom; similarly, Saraswati, a River Goddess, becomes in India the goddess of wisdom, learning and the arts and crafts: all the Greek deities have undergone a change in this direction -- Apollo, the Sun-God, has become a god of poetry and prophecy, Hephaestus the Fire-God a divine smith, god of labour. In India the process was arrested half-way, and the Vedic Gods developed their psychological functions but retained more fixedly their external character and for higher purposes gave place to a new pantheon. They had to give precedence to Puranic deities who developed out of the early company but assumed larger cosmic functions, Vishnu, Rudra, Brahma, -- developing from the Vedic Brihaspati, or Brahmanaspati, -- Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga. Thus in India the change in the gods was less complete, the earlier deities became the inferior divinities of the Puranic pantheon and this was largely due to the survival of the Rig-veda in which their psychological and their external functions co-existed and are both given a powerful emphasis; there was no such early literary record to maintain the original features of the Gods of Greece and Rome.
This change was evidently due to a cultural development in these early peoples who became progressively more mentalised and less engrossed in the physical life as they advanced in civilisation and needed to read into their religion and their deities finer and subtler aspects which would support their more highly mentalised concepts and interests and find for them a true spiritual being or some celestial figure as their support and sanction. But the largest part in determining and deepening this inward turn must be attributed to the Mystics who had an enormous influence on these early civilisations; there was indeed almost everywhere an age of the Mysteries in which men of a deeper knowledge and self-knowledge established their practices, significant rites, symbols, secret lore within or on the border of the more primitive exterior religions. This took different forms in different countries; in Greece there were the Orphic and Eleusinian Mysteries, in Egypt and Chaldea the priests and their occult lore and magic, in Persia the Magi, in India the Rishis. The preoccupation of the Mystics was with self-knowledge and a profounder world-knowledge; they found out that in man there was a deeper self and inner being behind the surface of the outward physical man, which it was his highest business to discover and know. "Know thyself" was their great precept, just as in India to know the Self, the Atman became the great spiritual need, the highest thing for the human being. They found also a Truth, a Reality behind the outward aspects of the universe and to discover, follow, realise this Truth was their great aspiration. They discovered secrets and powers of Nature which were not those of the physical world but which could bring occult mastery over the physical world and physical things and to systematise this occult knowledge and power was also one of their strong preoccupations. But all this could only be safely done by a difficult and careful training, discipline, purification of the nature; it could not be done by the ordinary man. If men entered into these things without a severe test and training it would be dangerous to themselves and others; this knowledge, these powers could be misused, misinterpreted, turned from truth to falsehood, from good to evil. A strict secrecy was therefore maintained, the knowledge handed down behind a veil from master to disciple. A veil of symbols was created behind which these mysteries could shelter, formulas of speech also which could be understood by the initiated but were either not known by others or were taken by them in an outward sense which carefully covered their true meaning and secret. This was the substance of Mysticism everywhere.
It has been the tradition in India from the earliest times that the Rishis, the poet-seers of the Veda, were men of this type, men with a great spiritual and occult knowledge not shared by ordinary human beings, men who handed down this knowledge and their powers by a secret initiation to their descendant and chosen disciples. It is a gratuitous assumption to suppose that this tradition was wholly unfounded, a superstition that arose suddenly or slowly formed in a void, with nothing whatever to support it; some foundation there must have been however small or however swelled by legend and the accretions of centuries. But if it is true, then inevitably the poet- seers must have expressed something of their secret knowledge, their mystic lore in their writings and such an element must be present, however well- concealed by an occult language or behind a technique of symbols, and if it is there it must be to some extent discoverable. It is true that an antique language, obsolete words, -- Yaska counts more than four hundred of which he did not know the meaning, -- and often a difficult and out-of-date diction helped to obscure their meaning; the loss of the sense of their symbols, the glossary of which they kept to themselves, made them unintelligible to later generations; even in the time of the Upanishads the spiritual seekers of the age had to resort to initiation and meditation to penetrate into their secret knowledge, while the scholars afterwards were at sea and had to resort to conjecture and to concentrate on a mental interpretation or to explain by myths, by the legends of the Brahmanas themselves often symbolic and obscure. But still to make this discovery will be the sole way of getting at the true sense and the true value of the Veda. We must take seriously the hint of Yaska, accept the Rishi's description of the Veda's contents as "seer-wisdoms, seer-words", and look for whatever clue we can find to this ancient wisdom. Otherwise the Veda must remain for ever a sealed book; grammarians, etymologists, scholastic conjectures will not open to us the sealed chamber.
For it is a fact that the tradition of a secret meaning and a mystic wisdom couched in the Riks of the ancient Veda was as old as the Veda itself. The Vedic Rishis believed that their Mantras were inspired from higher hidden planes of consciousness and contained this secret knowledge. The words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the verses withheld their hidden knowledge. In one of Vamadeva's hymns in the fourth Mandala (IV.3.16) the Rishi describes himself as one illumined expressing through his thought and speech words of guidance, "secret words" -- ninya vacamsi -- "seer-wisdoms that utter their inner meaning to the seer" -- kavyani kavaye nivacana. The Rishi Dirghatamas speaks of the Riks, the Mantras of the Veda, as existing "in a supreme ether, imperishable and immutable in which all the gods are seated", and he adds "one who knows not That what shall he do with the Rik?" (I.164.39) He further alludes to four planes from which the speech issues, three of them hidden in the secrecy while the fourth is human, and from there comes the ordinary word; but the word and thought of the Veda belongs to the higher planes (I.164.46). Elsewhere in the Riks the Vedic Word is described (X.71) as that which is supreme and the topmost height of speech, the best and the most faultless. It is something that is hidden in secrecy and from there comes out and is manifested. It has entered into the truth-seers, the Rishis, and it is found by following the track of their speech. But all cannot enter into its secret meaning. Those who do not know the inner sense are as men who seeing see not, hearing hear not, only to one here and there the Word desiring him like a beautifully robed wife to a husband lays open her body. Others unable to drink steadily of the milk of the Word, the Vedic cow, move with it as with one that gives no milk, to him the Word is a tree without flowers or fruits. This is quite clear and precise; it results from it beyond doubt that even then while the Rig-veda was being written the Riks were regarded as having a secret sense which was not open to all. There was an occult and spiritual knowledge in the sacred hymns and by this knowledge alone, it is said, one can know the truth and rise to a higher existence. This belief was not a later tradition but held, probably, by all and evidently by some of the greatest Rishis such as Dirghatamas and Vamadeva.
The tradition, then, was there and it was prolonged after the Vedic times. Yaska speaks of several schools of interpretation of the Veda. There was a sacrificial or ritualistic interpretation, the historical or rather mythological explanation, an explanation by the grammarians and etymologists, by the logicians, a spiritual interpretation. Yaska himself declares that there is a triple knowledge and therefore a triple meaning of the Vedic hymns, a sacrificial or ritualistic knowledge, a knowledge of the gods and finally a spiritual knowledge; but the last is the true sense and when one gets it the others drop or are cut away. It is this spiritual sense that saves and the rest is outward and subordinate. He says further that "the Rishis saw the truth, the true law of things, directly by an inner vision"; afterwards the knowledge and the inner sense of the Veda were almost lost and the Rishis who still knew had to save it by handing it down through initiation to disciples and at a last stage outward and mental means had to be used for finding the sense such as Nirukta and other Vedangas. But even then, he says, "the true sense of the Veda can be recovered directly by meditation and tapasya", those who can use these means need no outward aids for this knowledge. This also is sufficiently clear and positive.
The tradition of a mystic element in the Veda as a source of Indian civilisation, its religion, its philosophy, its culture is more in consonance with historical fact than the European scouting of this idea. The nineteenth century European scholarship writing in a period of materialistic rationalism regarded the history of the race as a development out of primitive barbarism or semi-barbarism, a crude social life and religion and a mass of superstitions, by the growth of outward civilised institutions, manners and habits through the development of intellect and reason, art, philosophy and science and a clearer and sounder, more matter-of-fact intelligence. The ancient idea about the Veda could not fit into this picture; it was regarded as rather a part of ancient superstitious ideas and a primitive error. But we can now form a more accurate idea of the development of the race. The ancient more primitive civilisations held in themselves the elements of the later growth but their early wise men were not scientists and philosophers or men of high intellectual reason but mystics and even mystery-men, occultists, religious seekers; they were seekers after a veiled truth behind things and not of an outward knowledge. The scientists and philosophers came afterwards; they were preceded by the mystics and often like Pythagoras and Plato were to some extent mystics themselves or drew many of their ideas from the mystics. In India philosophy grew out of the seeking of the mystics and retained and developed their spiritual aims and kept something of their methods in later Indian spiritual discipline and Yoga. The Vedic tradition, the fact of a mystical element in the Veda fits in perfectly with this historical truth and takes its place in the history of Indian culture. The tradition of the Veda as the bed-rock of Indian civilisation -- not merely a barbaric sacrificial liturgy -- is more than a tradition, it is an actual fact of history.
But even if an element of high spiritual knowledge, or passages full of high ideas were found in the hymns, it might be supposed that those are perhaps only a small factor, while the rest is a sacrificial liturgy, formulas of prayer and praise to the Gods meant to induce them to shower on the sacrificers material blessings such as plenty of cows, horses, fighting men, sons, food, wealth of all kinds, protection, victory in battle, or to bring down rain from heaven, recover the sun from clouds or from the grip of Night, the free flowing of the seven rivers, recovery of cattle from the Dasyus (or the Dravidians) and the other boons which on the surface seem to be the object of this ritual worship. The Rishis would then be men with some spiritual or mystic knowledge but otherwise dominated by all the popular ideas proper to their times. These two elements they would then mix up intimately in their hymns and this would account at least in part for the obscurity and the rather strange and sometimes grotesque jumble which the traditional interpretation offers us. But if, on the other hand, a considerable body of high thinking clearly appears, if there is a large mass of verses or whole hymns which admit only of a mystic character and significance, and if finally, the ritualistic and external details are found to take frequently the appearance of symbols such as were always used by the mystics, and if there are many clear indications, even some explicit statements in the hymns themselves of such a meaning, then all changes. We are in the presence of a great scripture of the mystics with a double significance, one exoteric the other esoteric, the symbols themselves have a meaning which makes them a part of the esoteric significance, an element in the secret teaching and knowledge. The whole of the Rig-veda, a small number of hymns perhaps excepted, becomes in its inner sense such a Scripture. At the same time the exoteric sense need not be merely a mask; the Riks may have been regarded by their authors as words of power, powerful not only for internal but for external things. A purely spiritual scripture would concern itself with only spiritual significances, but the ancient mystics were also what we would call occultists, men who believed that by inner means outer as well as inner results could be produced, that thought and words could be so used as to bring about realisations of every kind, -- in the phrase common in the Veda itself, -- both the human and the divine.
But where is this body of esoteric meaning in the Veda? It is only discoverable if we give a constant and straightforward meaning to the words and formulas employed by the Rishis, especially to the key-words which bear as keystones the whole structure of their doctrine. One such word is the great word, Ritam, Truth; Truth was the central object of the seeking of the Mystics, a spiritual or inner Truth, a truth of ourselves, a truth of things, a truth of the world and of the gods, a truth behind all we are and all that things are. In the ritualistic interpretation this master word of the Vedic knowledge has been interpreted in all kinds of senses according to the convenience or fancy of the interpreter, "truth", "sacrifice", "water", "one who has gone", even "food", not to speak of a number of other meanings; if we do that, there can be no certitude in our dealings with the Veda. But let us consistently give it the same master sense and a strange but clear result emerges. If we apply the same treatment to other standing terms of the Veda, if we give them their ordinary, natural and straightforward meaning and give it constantly and consistently not monkeying about with their sense or turning them into purely ritualistic expressions, if we allow to certain important words, such as sravas, kratu, the psychological meaning of which they are capable and which they undoubtedly bear in certain passages as when the Veda describes Agni as kratur hrdi, then this result becomes all the more clear, extended, pervasive. If, in addition, we follow the indications which abound, sometimes the explicit statement of the Rishis about the inner sense of their symbols, interpret in the same sense the significant legends and figures on which they constantly return, the conquest over Vritra and the battle with the Vritras, his powers, the recovery of the Sun, the Waters, the Cows from the Panis or other Dasyus, the whole Rig-veda reveals itself as a body of doctrine and practice, esoteric, occult, spiritual, such as might have been given by the mystics in any ancient country but which actually survives for us only in the Veda. It is there deliberately hidden by a veil, but the veil is not so thick as we first imagine; we have only to use our eyes and the veil vanishes; the body of the Word, the Truth stands out before us.
Many of the lines, many whole hymns even of the Veda bear on their face a mystic meaning; they are evidently an occult form of speech, have an inner meaning. When the seer speaks of Agni as "the luminous guardian of the Truth shining out in his own home", or of Mitra and Varuna or other gods as "in touch with the Truth and making the Truth grow" or as "born in the Truth", these are words of a mystic poet, who is thinking of that inner Truth behind things of which the early sages were the seekers. He is not thinking of the Nature-Power presiding over the outer element of fire or of the fire of the ceremonial sacrifice. Or he speaks of Saraswati as one who impels the words of Truth and awakes to right thinkings or as one opulent with the thought: Saraswati awakes to consciousness or makes us conscious of the "Great Ocean and illumines all our thoughts". It is surely not the River Goddess whom he is thus hymning but the Power, the River if you will, of inspiration, the word of the Truth, bringing its light into our thoughts, building up in us that Truth, an inner knowledge. The Gods constantly stand out in their psychological functions; the sacrifice is the outer symbol of an inner work, an inner interchange between the gods and men, -- man giving what he has, the gods giving in return the horses of power, the herds of light, the heroes of Strength to be his retinue, winning for him victory in his battle with the hosts of Darkness, Vritras, Dasyus, Panis. When the Rishi says, "Let us become conscious whether by the War-Horse or by the Word of a Strength beyond men", his words have either a mystic significance or they have no coherent meaning at all. In the portions translated in this book we have many mystic verses and whole hymns which, however mystic, tear the veil off the outer sacrificial images covering the real sense of the Veda. "Thought," says the Rishi, "has nourished for us human things in the Immortals, in the Great Heavens; it is the milch-cow which milks of itself the wealth of many forms" -- the many kinds of wealth, cows, horses and the rest for which the sacrificer prays; evidently this is no material wealth, it is something which Thought, the Thought embodied in the Mantra, can give and it is the result of the same Thought that nourishes our human things in the Immortals, in the Great Heavens. A process of divinisation, and of a bringing down of great and luminous riches, treasures won from the Gods by the inner work of sacrifice, is hinted at in terms necessarily covert but still for one who knows how to read these secret words, ninya vacamsi, sufficiently expressive, kavaye nivacana. Again, Night and Dawn the eternal sisters are like "joyful weaving women weaving the weft of our perfected works into the form of a sacrifice". Again, words with a mystic form and meaning, but there could hardly be a more positive statement of the psychological character of the Sacrifice, the real meaning of the Cow, of the riches sought for, the plenitudes of the Great Treasure.
Under pressure of the necessity to mask their meaning with symbols and symbolic words -- for secrecy must be observed -- the Rishis resorted to fix double meanings, a device easily manageable in the Sanskrit language where one word often bears several different meanings, but not easy to render in an English translation and very often impossible. Thus the word for cow, go, meant also light or a ray of light; this appears in the names of some of the Rishis, Gotama, most radiant, Gavishthira, steadfast in the Light. The cows of the Veda were the Herds of the Sun, familiar in Greek myth and mystery, the rays of the Sun of Truth and Light and Knowledge; this meaning which comes out in some passages can be consistently applied everywhere yielding a coherent sense. The word ghrta means ghee or clarified butter and this was one of the chief elements of the sacrificial rite; but ghrta could also mean light, from the root ghr to shine and it is used in this sense in many passages. Thus the horses of Indra, the Lord of Heaven, are described as dripping with light, ghrtasnu [[Sayana, though in several passages he takes ghrta in the sense of light, renders it here by `water'; he seems to think that the divine horses were very tired and perspiring profusely! A Naturalistic interpreter might as well argue that as Indra is a God of the sky, the primitive poet might well believe that rain was the perspiration of Indra's horses.]] -- it certainly does not mean that ghee dripped from them as they ran, although that seems to be the sense of the same epithet as applied to the grain of which Indra's horses are invited to partake when they come to the sacrifice. Evidently this sense of light doubles with that of clarified butter in the symbolism of the sacrifice. The thought or the word expressing the thought is compared to pure clarified butter, expressions like dhiyam ghrtacim, the luminous thought or understanding occur. There is a curious passage in one of the hymns translated in this book calling on Fire as priest of the sacrifice to flood the offering with a mind pouring ghrita, ghrtaprusa manasa and so manifest the Seats ("places, or planes"), the three heavens each of them and manifest the Gods. [[This is Sayana's rendering of the passage and rises directly from the words.]] But what is a ghee-pouring mind, and how by pouring ghee can a priest manifest the Gods and the triple heavens? But admit the mystical and esoteric meaning and the sense becomes clear. What the Rishi means is a "mind pouring the light", a labour of the clarity of an enlightened or illumined mind; it is not a human priest or a sacrificial fire, but the inner Flame, the mystic seer-will, kavikratu, and that can certainly manifest by this process the Gods and the worlds and all planes of the being. The Rishis, it must be remembered, were seers as well as sages, they were men of vision who saw things in their meditation in images, often symbolic images which might precede or accompany an experience and put it in a concrete form, might predict or give an occult body to it: so it would be quite possible for him to see at once the inner experience and in image its symbolic happening, the flow of clarifying light and the priest god pouring this clarified butter on the inner self-offering which brought the experience. This might seem strange to a Western mind, but to an Indian mind accustomed to the Indian tradition or capable of meditation and occult vision it would be perfectly intelligible. The mystics were and normally are symbolists, they can even see all physical things and happenings as symbols of inner truths and realities, even their outer selves, the outer happenings of their life and all around them. That would make their identification or else an association of the thing and its symbol easy, its habit possible.
Other standing words and symbols of the Veda invite a similar interpretation of their sense. As the Vedic "cow" is the symbol of light, so the Vedic "horse" is a symbol of power, spiritual strength, force of tapasya. When the Rishi asks Agni for a "horse-form cow-in-front gift" he is not asking really for a number of horses forming a body of the gift with some cows walking in front, he is asking for a great body of spiritual power led by the light or, as we may translate it, "with the Ray-Cow walking in its front." [[Compare the expression which describes the Aryan, the noble people as led by the light -- jyotir-agrah.]] As one hymn describes the recovery from the Panis of the mass of the rays (the cows, -- the shining herds, gavyam), so another hymn asks Agni for a mass of abundance or power of the horse -- asvyam. So too the Rishi asks sometimes for the heroes or fighting men as his retinue, sometimes in more abstract language and without symbol for a complete hero-force -- suviryam; sometimes he combines the symbol and the thing. So too the Rishis ask for a son or sons or offspring, apatyam,as an element of the wealth for which they pray to the Gods, but here too an esoteric sense can be seen, for in certain passages the son born to us is clearly an image of some inner birth: Agni himself is our son, the child of our works, the child who as the Universal Fire is the father of his fathers, and it is by setting the steps on things that have fair offspring that we create or discover a path to the higher world of Truth. Again, "water" in the Veda is used as a symbol. It speaks of the inconscient ocean, salilam apraketam, in which the Godhead is involved and out of which he is born by his greatness; it speaks also of the great ocean, maho arnah, the upper waters which, as one hymn says, Saraswati makes conscious for us or of which she makes us conscious by the ray of intuition -- pra cetayati ketuna. The seven rivers seem to be the rivers of Northern India but the Veda speaks of the seven Mighty Ones of Heaven who flow down from Heaven; they are waters that know, knowers of the Truth -- rtajna -- and when they are released they discover for us the road to the great Heavens. So, too, Parashara speaks of Knowledge and universal Life, "in the house of the waters". Indra releases the rain by slaying Vritra, but this rain too is the rain of Heaven and sets the rivers flowing. Thus the legend of the release of the waters which takes so large a place in the Veda puts on the aspect of a symbolic myth. Along with it comes the other symbolic legend of the discovery and rescue, from the dark cave in the mountain, of the Sun, the cows or herds of the Sun, or the Sun-world -- svar -- by the Gods and the Angiras Rishis. The symbol of the Sun is constantly associated with the higher Light and the Truth: it is in the Truth concealed by an inferior Truth that are unyoked the horses of the Sun, it is the Sun in its highest light that is called upon in the great Gayatri Mantra to impel our thoughts. So, too, the enemies in the Veda are spoken of as robbers, dasyus, who steal the cows, or Vritras and are taken literally as human enemies in the ordinary interpretation, but Vritra is a demon who covers and holds back the Light and the waters and the Vritras are his forces fulfilling that function. The Dasyus, robbers or destroyers, are the powers of darkness, adversaries of the seekers of Light and the Truth. Always there are indications that lead us from the outward and exoteric to an inner and esoteric sense.
In connection with the symbol of the Sun a notable and most significant verse in a hymn of the fifth Mandala may here be mentioned; for it shows not only the profound mystic symbolism of the Vedic poets, but also how the writers of the Upanishads understood the Rig-veda and justifies their belief in the inspired knowledge of their forerunners. "There is a Truth covered by a Truth", runs the Vedic passage, "where they unyoke the horses of the Sun; the ten hundreds stood together, there was That One; [[Or, That (the supreme Truth) was one;]] I saw the greatest (best, most glorious) of the embodied gods." [[Or, it means, "I saw the greatest (best) of the bodies of the gods."]] Then mark how the seer of the Upanishad translates this thought or this mystic experience into his own later style, keeping the central symbol of the Sun but without any secrecy in the sense. Thus runs the passage in the Upanishad, "The face of the Truth is covered with a golden lid. O Pushan, that remove for the vision of the law of the Truth. [[Or, for the law of the Truth, for vision.]] O Pushan (fosterer), sole seer, O Yama, O Sun, O Child of the Father of beings, marshal and gather together thy rays; I see the Light which is that fairest (most auspicious) form of thee; he who is this Purusha, He am I." The golden lid is meant to be the same as the inferior covering truth, rtam, spoken of in the Vedic verse; the "best of the bodies of the Gods" is equivalent to the "fairest form of the Sun", it is the supreme Light which is other and greater than all outer light; the great formula of the Upanishad, "He am I", corresponds to That One, tad ekam, of the Rig- vedic verse; the "standing together of the ten hundreds" (the rays of the Sun, says Sayana, and that is evidently the meaning) is reproduced in the prayer to the Sun "to marshal and mass his rays" so that the supreme form may be seen. The Sun in both the passages, as constantly in the Veda and frequently in the Upanishad, is the Godhead of the supreme Truth and Knowledge and his rays are the light emanating from that supreme Truth and Knowledge. It is clear from this instance -- and there are others -- that the seer of the Upanishad had a truer sense of the meaning of the ancient Veda than the mediaeval ritualistic commentator with his gigantic learning, much truer than the modern and very different mind of the European scholars.
There are certain psychological terms which have to be taken consistently in their true sense if we are to find the inner or esoteric meaning. Apart from the Truth, Ritam, we have to take always in the sense of "thought" the word dhi which constantly recurs in the hymns. This is the natural meaning of dhi which corresponds to the later word Buddhi; it means thought, understanding, intelligence and in the plural 'thoughts', dhiyah. It is given in the ordinary interpretation all kinds of meanings; "water", "work", "sacrifice", "food", etc. as well as thought. But in our search we have to take it consistently in its ordinary and natural significance and see what is the result. The word ketu means very ordinarily "ray" but it also bears the meaning of intellect, judgment or an intellectual perception. If we compare the passages in the Veda in which it occurs we can come to the conclusion that it meant a ray of perception or intuition, as for instance, it is by the ray of intuition, ketuna, that Saraswati makes us conscious of the great waters; that too probably is the meaning of the rays which come from the Supreme foundation above and are directed downwards; these are the intuitions of knowledge as the rays of the Sun of Truth and Light. The word kratu means ordinarily work or sacrifice but it also means intelligence, power or resolution and especially the power of the intelligence that determines the work, the will. It is in this latter sense that we can interpret it in the esoteric rendering of the Veda. Agni is a seer-will, kavikratu, he is the "will in the heart",kratur hrdi. Finally the word sravas which is constantly in use in the Veda means fame, it is also taken by the commentators in the sense of food, but these significances cannot be fitted in everywhere and very ordinarily lack all point and apposite force. But sravas comes from the root sru to hear and is used in the sense of ear itself or of hymn or prayer -- a sense which Sayana accepts -- and from this we can infer that it means the "thing heard" or its result knowledge that comes to us through hearing. The Rishis speak of themselves as hearers of the Truth, satyasrutah, and the knowledge received by this hearing as Sruti. It is in this sense of inspiration or inspired knowledge that we can take it in the esoteric meaning of the Veda and we find that it fits in with a perfect appositeness; thus when the Rishi speaks of sravamsi as being brought through upward and brought through downward, this cannot be applied to food or fame but is perfectly apposite and significant if he is speaking of inspirations which rise up to the Truth above or bring down the Truth to us. This is the method we can apply everywhere, but we cannot pursue the subject any further here. In the brief limits of this Foreword these slight indications must suffice; they are meant only to give the reader an initial insight into the esoteric method of interpretation of the Veda.
But what then is the secret meaning, the esoteric sense, which emerges by this way of understanding the Veda? It is what we would expect from the nature of the seeking of the mystics everywhere. It is also, as we should expect from the actual course of the development of Indian culture, an early form of the spiritual truth which found its culmination in the Upanishads; the secret knowledge of the Veda is the seed which is evolved later on into the Vedanta. The thought around which all is centred is the seeking after Truth, Light, Immortality. There is a Truth deeper and higher than the truth of outward existence, a Light greater and higher than the light of human understanding which comes by revelation and inspiration, an immortality towards which the soul has to rise. We have to find our way to that, to get into touch with this Truth and Immortality, sapanta rtam amrtam, [[I.68.2.]] to be born into the Truth, to grow in it, to ascend in spirit into the world of Truth and to live in it. To do so is to unite ourselves with the Godhead and to pass from mortality into immortality. This is the first and the central teaching of the Vedic mystics. The Platonists, developing their doctrine from the early mystics, held that we live in relation to two worlds, -- a world of higher truth which might be called the spiritual world and that in which we live, the world of the embodied soul which is derived from the higher but also degraded from it into an inferior truth and inferior consciousness. The Vedic mystics held this doctrine in a more concrete and pragmatic form, for they had the experience of these two worlds. There is the inferior truth here of this world mixed as it is with much falsehood and error, anrtasya bhureh, [[VII.60.5.]] and there is a world or home of Truth, sadanam rtasya, [[I.164.47; also IV.21.3.]] the Truth, the Right, the Vast, satyam rtam brhat, [[Atharva XII.I.I.]] where all is Truth-Conscious, rtacit. [[IV.3.4.]] There are many worlds between up to the triple heavens and their lights but this is the world of the highest Light -- the world of the Sun of Truth, svar, or the Great Heaven. We have to find the path to this Great Heaven, the path of Truth, rtasya panthah, [[III.12.7; also VII.66.3.]] or as it is sometimes called the way of the gods. This is the second mystic doctrine. The third is that our life is a battle between the powers of Light and Truth, the Gods who are the Immortals and the powers of Darkness. These are spoken of under various names as Vritra and Vritras, Vala and the Panis, the Dasyus and their kings. We have to call in the aid of the Gods to destroy the opposition of these powers of Darkness who conceal the Light from us or rob us of it, who obstruct the flowing of the streams of Truth, rtasya dharah, [[V.12.2; also VII.43.4.]] the streams of Heaven and obstruct in every way the soul's ascent. We have to invoke the Gods by the inner sacrifice, and by the Word call them into us, -- that is the specific power of the Mantra, -- to offer to them the gifts of the sacrifice and by that giving secure their gifts, so that by this process we may build the way of our ascent to the goal. The elements of the outer sacrifice in the Veda are used as symbols of the inner sacrifice and self-offering; we give what we are and what we have in order that the riches of the divine Truth and Light may descend into our life and become the elements of our inner birth into the Truth, -- a right thinking, a right understanding, a right action must develop in us which is the thinking, impulsion and action of that higher Truth, rtasya presa, rtasya dhitih, [[I.68.3.]] and by this we must build up ourselves in that Truth. Our sacrifice is a journey, a pilgrimage and a battle, -- a travel towards the Gods and we also make that journey with Agni, the inner Flame, as our path-finder and leader. Our human things are raised up by the mystic Fire into the immortal being, into the Great Heaven, and the things divine come down into us. As the doctrine of the Rig- veda is the seed of the teaching of the Vedanta, so is its inner practice and discipline a seed of the later practice and discipline of Yoga. Finally, as the summit of the teaching of the Vedic mystics comes the secret of the one Reality, ekam sat, [[1.164.46.]] or tad ekam, [[X.129.2.]] which became the central word of the Upanishads. The Gods, the powers of Light and Truth are powers and names of the One, each God is himself all the Gods or carries them in him: there is the one Truth, tat satyam, [[III.39.5; also IV.54.4 and VIII.45.27.]] and one bliss to which we must rise. But in the Veda this looks out still mostly from behind the veil. There is much else but this is the kernel of the doctrine.
The interpretation I have put forward was set out at length in a series of articles with the title "The Secret of the Veda" in the monthly philosophical magazine, Arya, some thirty years ago; written in serial form while still developing the theory and not quite complete in its scope or composed on a preconceived and well-ordered plan it was not published in book-form and is therefore not yet available to the reading public. It was accompanied by a number of renderings of the hymns of the Rig-veda which were rather interpretations than translations and to these there was an introduction explanatory of the "Doctrine of the Mystics". Subsequently there was planned a complete translation of all the hymns to Agni in the ten Mandalas which kept close to the text; the renderings of those hymns in the second and sixth Mandalas are now published in this book for the first time as well as a few from the first Mandala. But to establish on a scholastic basis the conclusions of the hypothesis it would have been necessary to prepare an edition of the Rig-veda or of a large part of it with a word by word construing in Sanskrit and English, notes explanatory of important points in the text and justifying the interpretation both of separate words and of whole verses and also elaborate appendices to fix firmly the rendering of keywords like rta, sravas, kratu, ketu,} etc. essential to the esoteric interpretation. This also was planned, but meanwhile greater preoccupations of a permanent nature intervened and no time was left to proceed with such a considerable undertaking. For the benefit of the reader of these translations who might otherwise be at a loss, this Foreword has been written and some passages [[In the present edition the entire essay has been reproduced. - Ed.]] from the unpublished "Doctrine of the Mystics" have been included. The text of the Veda has been given for use by those who can read the original Sanskrit. These translations however are not intended to be a scholastic work meant to justify a hypothesis; the object of this publication is only to present them in a permanent form for disciples and those who are inclined to see more in the Vedas than a superficial liturgy and would be interested in knowing what might be the esoteric sense of this ancient Scripture.
This is a literary and not a strictly literal translation. But a fidelity to the meaning, the sense of the words and the structure of the thought, has been preserved: in fact the method has been to start with a bare and scrupulously exact rendering of the actual language and adhere to that as the basis of the interpretation; for it is only so that we can find out the actual thoughts of these ancient mystics. But any rendering of such great poetry as the hymns of the Rig-veda, magnificent in their colouring and images, noble and beautiful in rhythm, perfect in their diction, must, if it is not to be a merely dead scholastic work, bring at least a faint echo of their poetic force, -- more cannot be done in a prose translation and in so different a language. The turn of phrase and the syntax of English and Vedic Sanskrit are poles asunder; to achieve some sense of style and natural writing one has constantly to turn the concentrated speech of the Veda into a looser, more diluted English form. Another stumbling- block for the translator is the ubiquitous double entendre marking in one word the symbol and the thing symbolised, Ray and Cow, clear light of the mind and clarified butter, horses and spiritual power; one has to invent phrases like the "herds of the light" or "the shining herds" or to use devices such as writing the word horse with a capital H to indicate that it is a symbolic horse that is meant and not the common physical animal; but very often the symbol has to be dropped, or else the symbol has to be kept and the inner meaning left to be understood ; [[The Rishis sometimes seem to combine two different meanings in the same word; I have occasionally tried to render this double sense.]] I have not always used the same phrase though always keeping the same sense, but varied the translation according to the needs of the passage. Often I have been unable to find an adequate English word which will convey the full connotation or colour of the original text; I have used two words instead of one or a phrase or resorted to some other device to give the exact and complete meaning. Besides, there is often a use of antique words or turns of language of which the sense is not really known and can only be conjectured or else different renderings are equally possible. In many passages I have had to leave a provisional rendering; it was intended to keep the final decision on the point until the time when a more considerable body of the hymns had been translated and were ready for publication; but this time has not yet come.
Hymns to the Mystic Fire
Commentary on the Rig Veda - The Planet's most Ancient Text
Web Publication by
Mountain Man Graphics, Australia