“Subjects” of Vedic Knowledge (II)
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 5th May 1973
You know how it is said that after the night of the Enlightenment the Buddha spent many many days under different trees, as they are called, experiencing the bliss of Enlightenment and remaining in the state of complete samādhi, the ultimate meditative condition which is the state of total communion. He first sits under what is called the Ajapāla tree, and Ajapāla is usually translated as the goatherd’s banyan tree — aja means “a goat” and pāla means “he who tends.” Aja also means the Unborn, and I always look at it in this way only: he sat at the foot of the tree of the Unborn, the Tree of Life in its supreme sense of Eternal Life, and at the end of seven days he said these words, “The Brahman whose nature is unsinful, not harsh, unstained, self-restrained, who has mastered knowledge and fully traversed the Brahma path, (the Brahma path means the path of the Holy Life), he, rightly a Brahman, ought to announce the Brahma word, the word of truth; he who has no self-obtrusiveness in the world.” I want you to note the statement, “who has mastered knowledge.” Dr. Horner translates it as “Master of the Vedas”, and that far and away is a proper translation.
“Master of the Vedas” — the original word is Vedantagu, “he who has come to the end of the Vedas.” He, rightly a Brahman, may speak the prophetic word, the word of scripture, the word of truth, and remember that the word Brahman, which we understand ordinarily as referring to a man belonging to a particular caste, is not the original meaning of the word. The original meaning of the word Brahman, as you find in the Vajrasuci Upaniṣad, is “he who has become one with Brahman,” and the Upaniṣad says unequivocally that, whatsoever caste he may belong to by birth, the man who has realized the Ultimate Reality has become the Perfected Holy One, one with Brahman — he rightly is called a Brahman. It is very important to notice how often the Buddha used this word Brahman. Particularly remember how the last canto of the Dhammapada is devoted entirely to the Brahman.
Now it is one of the noticeable features in the Buddha’s teaching that he more or less, to all intents and purposes, confines himself to the training in morality, in samadhi, (concentration as it is usually called, meditation if you like the word), and in wisdom — the release of unerring insight into truth, into reality. He does not tell you in detail (or at least it is not published in any of the Buddhist texts) what could be the meaning of the words “Master of the Vedas” — “gone to the end of the Vedas.” What was all this Vedic knowledge about? He confines himself, because he was extremely practical minded, to that part of religious teaching which enables the person to become free of all the obstructions that stand between himself and the fulfilment of his divine destiny. There are certain discourses which give a clue to the fact that there was so much other than what is in the recorded scriptures. For instance in one of the discourses he tells his disciple Udāyin, “And, Udāyin, a course has been laid down by me by which disciples of mine can attain this, that and the other.” And he repeats that several times with regard to several different types of attainments, but nowhere in the written records is there any description of these particular disciplines, nowhere. Again, when talking about the kind of training he sets before his disciples, he says that, when this has been realized by you, you must not stop, that is not the end, there is something more; and when that has been realized, no, don’t you stop there, there is something more, and it goes on and on like that. Discourses of this type are generally confined to the moral development, to the development in the power of attentiveness and the release of insight, but of all the other aspects which do bear upon knowledge, vidyā, spiritual wisdom, he gives you no details. But a phrase like “gone to the end of the Vedas” would give us an insight of some of the things that were included in all this Vedic knowledge.
Let us look at the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, at that famous conversation between Nārada and Sanatkumāra. I have often quoted this, but only in relation to the first verse, where Nārada wants to learn about Brahman from Sanatkumāra, and Sanatkumāra says, “Tell me what you already know and I will tell further”, and he gives a list of what he already knows. I will read you the English translation, and this is by Radhakrishnan. I mention Radhakrishnan because he is a very distinguished Indian scholar, and Indian scholars, just like western scholars, follow more or less this sort of phraseology — it is only one verse I am going to read to you.
Narāda tells Sanatkumāra, “Venerable Sir, I know all the Four Vedas; the epic and the ancient law as the Fifth Veda; I know the Veda of the Vedas (then within brackets as an explanation, ‘grammar’); I know about the propitiation of the Fathers; the science of numbers (and within brackets they put ‘mathematics’); the science of portents; the science of time, chronology (some have thought that this might even be history); I know logic, ethics and politics; the science of the Gods; the science of sacred knowledge; the science of elemental spirits; the science of weapons; astronomy; the science of serpents and the fine arts. This, Venerable Sir, I know.”
Now let us look at and examine the words which are translated in this manner. Up to a point the translation stands, but in a much greater degree the translation is misleading. These translations are made by us, living in our age, conditioned in our way, and therefore words like mathematics, logic, polity and all the rest of it have their own specific meanings which I would like to suggest do not apply in this old context. This is part of the old esoteric knowledge.
Take the words “the Four Vedas” — that is all right, the Vedas as they stand, the Ṛg-veda, the Yajur-veda, the Sāma-veda, and the Atharva-veda. He knows all the hymns and their meanings and how they lay at the base of the great Vedic ritual ceremonial. He knows all about that.
Now take the word Pitryam which is translated as propitiation of the Fathers, or, if you like, the rites in honour of the ancestors and progenitors. Now when we read that we think in terms of the little ceremonies that were performed to propitiate the spirits of the fathers of our own biological ancestors. The Romans had that sort of thing, the Chinese had it and still have it. Ancestor worship is a thing which is well known to anthropologists who dismiss all that as the remnants of a primitive, backward people. Who are these progenitors? Who are these ancestors? There is an enormous list of names in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, but I would ask you to consider Genesis because probably you will be better acquainted with that. You know how in chapter 5 for instance you get the line starting from Adam, Seth, going up to Enoch, who is number 7, going up to Noah, who is number 10 in the list, and so forth. These are not historical personages — they are archetypal representations of the stages through which humanity went from its beginning with it primordial condition. This is what is meant by the ancestors and the progenitors in its most concrete sense. There is a deeper sense. These progenitors, these ancestors, represent the different stages which came into being in the process of the evolution of man as the cosmic energies interplayed with each other. These are the workings of Transcendence. Don’t ask me what books to read in order to find this. I have never come across any books which told me this. But this is the real meaning of the progenitors, they are archetypal representations of the stages through which man has gone. There are similarly archetypal representations to mark the different stages of cosmic evolution — the universe as we see it and know it, and also the whole of the universe which we cannot see and which we do not know about as yet. And these rites in honour of the ancestors and progenitors was the way in which the Holy Ones of those days expressed their reverence, their homage, their understanding of the play of these Transcendent forces which brought us as we are now into being. This is something which we must really appreciate and understand. It is, so to say, the story of our spiritual umbilical cord which connects us through this wonderful evolutionary process in time to the ever present timeless eternal reality, which ever was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. It is an umbilical cord of consciousness, if you like, from you yourself now as you are, from I myself now as I am, to that ultimate reality, not only backwards in time but eternally present in the Now also. We are all related in that way to it; this is our great spiritual unity, our Transcendent Reality. You cannot conceive of it — don’t try to make a picture because you will just be indulging in a foolish game if you try to make mental pictures of it.
Don’t let the imagination work here, let the wheel of imagination be stilled and, in the stillness and silence, that which I do not know, and should not try to know in the ordinary sense, will take place and bear fruit in a harmless and totally beneficent way in daily life and consciousness. So you see, this puts a completely different complexion upon what is somewhat contemptuously described as ancestor worship.
The next word is Rāśim (which is translated as the science of numbers and in brackets mathematics). Mathematics in those days was two and two make four. Forget all that as far as the science of numbers is concerned. Nārada learnt that at school, he did not need to go to the Perfected Holy One in order to be enlightened in such respects! What is this science of numbers? I believe, I don’t swear to this but I believe, that the Qabalah is a more developed system of presentation than the original Veda. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet are all associated with numbers, 1 to 9, then multiples of 1 to 9 by 10, that is 10, 20, 30 to 90, and then multiplied by 100 — 100 to 900. That covers all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the 22 letters, plus the other 5 which are known as the final form in which 5 of the letters are written. Each of these letters in the Hebrew alphabet, far more so than the Sanskrit alphabet, are proper names. Take the letters as such, Aleph, Bayt, Ghimel, Dallet, Sammekh, Lammed and so forth. They are obviously complete words in themselves and then they are written out in full; they are not just ABCD sort of letters, but they are names composed of the letters of the alphabet. So you see each single letter becomes a very complex thing. Every letter and each number was intimately associated with profound metaphysical concepts; metaphysical realities, not merely spun out by intellectual activity, but known through total experience, in consciousness, in mind and in body. This is something which the whole world has quite forgotten, this is all really part of that ancient esoteric wisdom. I have used the term metaphysical concepts purely for convenience. Regard these metaphysical concepts not merely as so many thoughts composed of words in the brain but as actual functioning energies, powers, forces. Now, these are creative energies. The word “God” is fundamentally associated with creation — God the Creator of everything. Now do you understand why the scripture is called the word of God? The Hindus claim that Brahma, God the Father, was himself the author of the Vedas. It is perfectly obvious that he did not take a pen, ink and paper and write out the Vedas for anybody’s dilectation, his own included! It is power in operation which is represented pictorially as that which is written. This is why the secret of Genesis has never yet been completely unravelled — there are things which defeat us when we try to understand Genesis. It is the same with the Veda — there are things which defeat us all along the line, defeat the intellect. Now this is what is implied in the term Rāśim as the science of numbers, the play of cosmic energies and how they worked and perpetually and everlastingly work throughout the universe as that One Total Reality manifested in terms of multitudinous particulars. This is a tremendous thing. If you take for example the first word of Genesis in Hebrew, Bereshyt, it is made up of so many letters, Bayt, Raysh, Aleph, Sheen, Yod, Tav. The word itself has its ordinary colloquial meaning, but now you take the different letters and take their own individual numbers assigned to them, work out their meanings, and then, since each letter is a name in itself, work out those meanings, and you will get the whole universe evolving out of the One! The many coming out of the One, out of the first word only! You see what sort of a realm we are in, why in the supreme realms of religion and the supreme depths we associate awe, majesty. We veil our face, we shut our eyes before that supreme truth, that supreme reality. What is the significance of it that we do not let the senses with their limited capacities intrude upon that indescribable immensity? When one is really aware of these things and wakes up to them, one is in the supremely religious state. The Holy Ones of the Vedas, of the Upaniṣads, knew all about this. There are so many hints throughout the Upaniṣads, provided that you yourself have become so purified that at last the mind, empty, pure, receptive, can light up from within itself, and you know what the truth is, the knowing which is indescribable and incommunicable.
I am saying these things because they may just produce a vibration, stimulate, and something worthwhile may happen, that’s all, not as a fixation of truth or reality. That is why I always say, forget the words, forget the thoughts, just get the impulse, let it fructify and let the life process go on and on and on. It is very difficult, but there we are!
Now let us take the next word Daivam, which is translated as the science of portents or augury. I have put down as the translation “the way to look at it.” It is the science of the nature and function of Devas; you know the word Deva has been translated as “God.” The Devas are the Gods, we say quite loosely, simply because of the root of the word Deva which is div, which means to shine. Deva also means to give — you know how in all the religions we talk of God the Giver of all good things. Deva is God in that sense, the Giver, the one who bestows, the one who shines, who is in other words enlightened. And the first and concrete meaning of Devas is those who are great ones in the worldly sense - kings and queens, people with power, who are important, and those who are the artists, the scientists, etc., the shining ones. They shine out in the world, don’t they? Nowadays too many tycoons also shine out in the world, but we will forget them for the moment! Devas means that and it is the science of the nature and function of the Devas.
Now let us look at the deeper aspect of Devas. The Buddha is constantly talking of Devas — he takes the Devas of the Ṛg-veda, Indra and Prajāpati particularly, he mentions them again and again.
It is when one is in the deep states of consciousness, especially from the time when one enters into and abides in the plane of infinite Akṣsa, as in Buddhist terms; in Hindu terms, Brahmanical, Upaniṣadic terms it is in what is called suṣupti. This is compared with, not to be identified with, but compared with dreamless slumber. In that state everything that belongs to the disturbance and activity of the sense world, sense impressions and the discursive mind, has become perfectly pacified and calm, and therefore one is a receiving set, so to say, for the energies which belong to that Transcendent state, which in India we call Akaṣa — Transcendent energies. There is no description of these energies because you cannot give a scientific description of them, an analytical description, quite impossible. That energy functions in and through us and changes us and our innermost state of consciousness, our mode of awareness of existence. It is not to be thought of, not to be understood as states of mind, moods or an exalted or inspired state of mind, not just that.
When you come back to ordinary sense-mind activity again, you must remain quiet and still for a long time, and it must be a long time. Consider the significance of the Holy Ones when they return from the states of the supreme samādhi. They stay quiet for days together. The Buddha for instance spent so many weeks in perfect quietness on returning from Enlightenment, performing different kinds of meditation, as they are called. If you stay in that state of quietness, then the impress of this Transcendent energy slowly gives rise to thought forms and verbal formulations by the brain. The verbal formulations by the brain are the prophetic speech, the Word of God, which comes out. Amongst these verbal formulations are formulations which suggest the different main ways in which this Transcendent energy functions in us. When we for example in our own day and age talk of Transcendent love or wisdom or goodness or beauty or truth or something like that, we are trying to name the different forms in which that One and Only Transcendent energy functions, according to the context in which it is functioning. Therefore, according to the context, it functions thus, and we say that this is divine love or transcendent love — in that context a different shape or pattern of expression comes out, and we say that this is insight, wisdom etc. These are the Devas in the supreme sense of the term — the Gods, the great Gods. You see you have to meditate deeply on it. My own interest has been half a century and more with this. Meditate deeply on this and you will understand what is the meaning of the great Gods of the Ṛg-veda, the Greek pantheon, the Scandinavian pantheon, or any of the great pantheons. These are names which represent Transcendent energy, creative energy at work, or, if you like to use a theistic expression, the ways in which God works, or providence works, or whatever it is. But these are realities within the consciousness of you, a human being, provided that you or I, the human being, are not so preoccupied with our little mud pie in this world that we are just totally blind, deaf and dumb where the eternal reality is concerned. And you will find if you look deeply enough that all these great pantheons correspond beautifully. Zeus of the Greek is Dyaus in the Ṛg-veda, and he is also related to Indra, because Zeus is the Thunderer, Indra is the Thunderer. YHWH is also the Thunderer, and so forth — they all have their relationships. You get the God of Wisdom and in the Greek pantheon we have the Goddess of Wisdom, and so forth. We have in terms of the names of the archangels and angels the representations of different ways in which the One Transcendent energy functions. The great names, Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel for instance all have their significances and meanings, and they are all related to the actual physical universe, as we experience it and know it. This was ancient Vedic knowledge, ancient religious knowledge. What would happen in our universities if we tried to teach this sort of thing?
Then we will take the next word Vākovākyam, which is translated as logic, literally the Word of the Word, (I like to equate it with the original Veda or the original Qabalah which was transmitted orally — the Word of the Word). In the Upaniṣads you find this wonderful expression with regard to the Ātma — Ultimate Reality, talking of it as Satyasya Satyam — Satyam, the Truth, Satyasya of Truth, the Real of the Real, Very God of Very God, we have the Christian phrase, the Absolute Essence perhaps in Buddhist terms, the Essence of the whole thing, the Ultimate Real, the Wordless Word, so to say, the Word which is not merely a representation of another something which we name the Reality, but which is Reality itself. Supposing I use these phrases; the Reality stands before you, alight, full of form and beauty and marvel, in itself empty — emptiness is form, form is emptiness — it stands before you as light, it stands before you as sound, it stands before you as smell, taste, touch and everything. There are so many hints in the Upaniṣads about this. Scholars have never touched these matters, they have never written about it — I suppose they cannot, this is the difficulty.
Now take the word Ekayanam, which is translated (and this is the correct literal translation) as “the one and only way to do things.” They have translated it as ethics and politics. Do you think that the Holy Ones were interested in political philosophies or economic systems? Political philosophies as such hardly existed in the days when the Chāndogya Upaniṣad and these teachings came into being, that is to say intellectual systems called political philosophy. ”The one and only way to do things,” in other words, the perfect way, the perfect life in every aspect of our being, physically, psychologically, aesthetically, spiritually. Practically, how does one follow that, express it in actual fact? The supreme point in connection with this is not to do things in the way in which we attempt to do things, that is to say, we positively desire to do this, that and the other. ”The one and only way to do things” is to let things happen. This is the way of growth and flowering where the mind and the spirit are concerned. You let it happen because the mind and the spirit are not my property, they are not something which I can control and direct. The mind is universal, altogether universal. This body, this living body, can more appropriately be called mind, and this body whilst alive can move its limbs, can do this, that and the other, all within its limited confined sphere. But this mind, no. If a person feels and lives according to his mind, deciding to do this, that and the other, and he goes and does this that and the other, he is the slave of his desire, is the slave of that which will bring dukkha, the ill state, he is a perpetuator of dukkha. It is the one who has ceased to do with the mind and the spirit on his own who is the one who has ceased to be a producer of dukkha, the far from the Infinite, the Transcendent clouded. And then Transcendence and the reality, whatever it is, functions through him unhindered and he allows that to happen. And that is the one and the only way to do things in terms of religious living. Extremely difficult, but once you have really seen it, once that inner sensitivity has woken up to it (and it wakes up if you really care), it means that Love in its Transcendence at last has come into operation, and you are not going to spoil and destroy that which is eternally wonderful and beautiful and perfect. It is the one and the only way to do things. Let the bud open out, don ‘t start pulling the petals apart, let them all come to flower. This is the meaning of selflessness isn’t it?
The next word, Devavidyām, which has been translated in the books as “the knowledge of the Gods, the science of the Gods”, is the knowledge of how to be in tune, in line with the constructive as well as with the so-called destructive archetypal energies. That perhaps is the sort of practical expression of the knowledge (in the ordinary sense) of what the different Gods, their names, suggest, stand for — Zeus, Apollo, Athene, Indra, Varuṇa, Agni. They all stand for this, and that and the other, and a knowledge of them, that is, an intellectual knowledge. It means that: as well as the other part of it where you can let these energies function unhindered and co-operate with them by being aware, by being watchful, mindful (this mindfulness which we have so strongly emphasized in the Buddhist teaching, the attentiveness that Krishnamurti talks of so very strongly). You then become aware of those Transcendent forces at play and you are working with them. Something like this may have been, perhaps unintentionally, in Milton’s mind when he wrote that line in Paradise Lost. He says amongst other things, “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen.” Something like this may have been meant. I rather think that Milton himself knew. There are so many things in Paradise Lost which indicate that he knew far more than those around him thought he knew.
Then there is Brahmavidyām, which is translated as “sacred knowledge, the knowledge of Brahman.” We need not talk about that for the moment simply because any and all knowledge which is a force, an energy, to move us in the right direction towards the fulfilment of our human existence is divine knowledge, is the knowledge of Brahman.
Then we have the Bhūtavidyām — here some different translations get given — “knowledge of the elemental spirits.” Bhūta also means the form of the thing, the factual elements composing anything, the knowledge of all that. But I think that it would probably be useful also to bear in mind that the whole universal process is an anabolic/catabolic process, building up, and, after anything has been built up, the form undergoes a transformation. But the transformation cannot take place unless that which was put together and produced this form, this particular saṁkhāra (the “put together” as the Buddha used to say) has been taken apart again and brought back to its primordial condition, and then there is fresh creation which goes on. So this Bhūtavidyā refers I think also to the taking apart process, the disruptive aspect if one may so put it. But beware of using the words destruction, disruption and so forth, because our minds are conditioned in such a way that analogically we associate destruction with annihilation. There is no annihilation, annihilation cannot take place — it is transformation.
Then Kṣatravidyām. The translation given is “the science of weapons”. Kṣatra is associated with the word Kṣatriya. Kṣatra is a man who belongs to the Kṣatriya caste, which is not only the warrior caste. He was not only a member of the armed forces but anybody who wielded power. Your judge in the court, your king or town clerk or anybody who wielded power, he who dealt with authority or capital or power in any shape and form was of that Kṣatriya group. So now the Kṣatravidyām in the spiritual sense means the science of handling power, mental power, psychical power and those Transcendent energies which are beyond mental and psychical in the way we understand the words mental and psychical. We rebel strongly against the word “magic”. But magic is a very simple commonplace reality. Let me say this much then, that Kṣatravidyām was the knowledge also of the manipulation of psycho-mental forces and/or cosmic energies.
Then we come to Sarpavidyām — the serpent science. Of course one has to use the word serpent in its symbolic sense. The serpent is associated with the one who has knowledge, who has skill, and one interesting significance of the serpent is this — the serpent symbolises the memory of the total past held in the sub-conscious.
Then there is the Devajanam, the knowledge of serpents as it is called. Here it is translated “the fine arts”, which is a sort of distant cousin to the meaning, because it means the group of people — the serpent society, if you like! It simply meant the ones who knew, the knowing ones around you. How to cultivate your membership in that group was part of the knowledge that Nārada had. And remember that Deva also means the Gods, and it also means the Shining Ones in the world of things, of affairs. So now this is a fragment of all this knowledge which is Vedic knowledge, and remember the Buddha’s words, “He who has gone to the end of the knowledge of the Vedas.”