Understanding the Vedas : Highlighting the Spirituality and Wisdom in the Vedas

R Narayanaswami

Book Resources

Message for Portal Readers

This book addresses and discusses several aspects of dharma drishti. Firstly, the book emphasizes the dharma aspects as it is about the Vedas, the epistemological texts of Sanatana Dharma and the dharmic life embodied in the Vedas. Second, the “Reverse the gaze” aspects promoted by dharma drishti are emphasized in the book. The book exhorts the Sanatana Dharma followers to discard the ‘negative and ill-conceived’ branding of the Vedas as ritualistic and devoid of wisdom promoted by Max Mueller, Wilson and Griffith and their Indologist supporters and admirers in their English translations of the Vedas at the end of the 19th century. Many educated Indians and elites who grew up with English education but without studying the Samskritam language got their ideas of the Vedas mainly from these English translations and hence discarded the study of the Vedas. Third, this book will promote dharma drishti aspects because it explains the spirituality and the wisdom aspects of the Vedas so that the elites and educated Indians can start following the Veda Samhitas and Veda Mantras and benefit from Vedic wisdom. Fourthly, the need to understand the vedas drives the dharma drishti emphasis in the book, dharma is anyway, all the discussion in the Shastras, Darsanas and Agamas.

Book Summary

The Vedas, known from the days of origin of 6,000 BCE or earlier, as the oldest books of wisdom of the world, are the epistemological texts of Sanatana Dharma (SD) practiced by the people of the Indus Valley area in the Indian sub-continent. Though the Vedas are revered, they are neither studied nor properly understood by most of the SD followers in the land of origin of the Vedas. Instead, the conventional viewpoint projects the Vedas as ritualistic and devoid of wisdom. The book refutes the conventional viewpoint and emphasizes the spirituality and wisdom in the Vedas in a style that is easy to understand and keeps the reader engaged throughout.

The nearly one thousand (1,000) year period of foreign invaders ruling India (from around 1,000 CE to 1,947 CE) impacted the living standards and religious practices of the people. The English translations of the Vedas by the 19th century CE Western authors characterized the Vedas as ritualistic and lacking in wisdom. This book explains that such negative branding and the consequent loss of study and practice of the Vedas are due to mis-understanding and non-understanding of the essence of the Vedas because of their complexity, by the Western authors of the 19th century. The book proceeds to show that the Vedas are texts of karma with spirituality and wisdom. 

Veda mantras, and the Vedas, have multiple meanings. Madhvacharya in the 13th century CE stated that Veda mantras have 3 meanings –  trayārthaḥ sarva vēdēśu (literal translation: three meanings for all Vedas) – (i) the adhyatmic or the subtle, deeper and inner meanings of the Veda mantras, (ii) the adhidaivic or the god-related explanations of the Veda mantras and (iii) the adhibhoutic or the material or external or gross word meanings of the Veda mantras. He also translated few Suktas of Rig Veda (about 42 Suktas out of 1,028 Suktas) giving all 3 meanings of Veda mantras in the Suktas. The adhyatmic meanings suggested by Madhvacharya was not pursued by Sayana Acharya of the 14th century CE who provided only external word meanings of the Veda Mantras.

Sayana Acharya understood that the Veda mantras had adhyatmic or spiritual meanings (as Madhvacharya had stated only in the previous century of Sayana’s lifetime) but chose to provide the external word meanings and the outer yajna aspects only of the Veda Samhitas. The readers may be able to understand the wide gap in understanding the Vedas based on whether one reads the Veda translation that accounted for the spiritual word meanings versus a translation like that of Sayana Acharya that accounted only for external word meanings. The Western authors made further mistakes by neither following Sayana Acharya’s translations fully nor trying to delve deeper into the spiritual meanings. Instead, they made erroneous conclusions whenever they were unable to make sense of external word meanings. The irony though is that neither the Western authors nor the English-reading public doubted or showed any skepticism on how the English translations whose authors were recent entrants to the subject could be considered the ‘de facto’ standards.

The book’s great value and contributions to the Vedic Understanding lies in its explanation in easy to understand style the spirituality and wisdom in the Vedas as follows: The greatest power of the Vedic teaching resides in its application to the inner life of human beings. What follows below is author’s understanding expressed in his own words, in the form of Q/A in his own words, as appropriate and as needed, to introduce these concepts in a step-by-step process and to help explain the ideas in simple English for easy understanding of the readers.

  1. Human beings live in the physical cosmos subject to death and the much falsehood (anṛtasya bhūreḥ RV 7.60.5). To rise beyond this death, human beings must turn from the falsehood to the truth; must turn to the Light and to battle with and to conquer the powers of the Darkness. 
  2. How can the human beings turn from falsehood to truth, conquer the powers of Darkness and achieve Light?  By communion with the divine Powers and with their help. 
  3. How to commune with the Divine Powers and get their help? This is the secret of the Vedic Mystics. The symbols of the outer sacrifice or yajna are given an inner meaning. 
  4. What is that inner meaning?  The inner meaning of the outer yajna is a calling of the gods into the human being, a connecting yajna (or sacrifice), an intimate interchange, a mutual aid, a communion. There is a building of the powers of the devas (or gods) within the human being which gives rise to a formation in those human beings of the universality of the divine nature. For, these gods are the guardians and increasers of Truth, the powers of the Immortal, the sons of the Immortal Mother (Aditi). The way to Immortality is the upward way of the gods, the way of Truth, a journey, an ascent by which there is growth into the Law of the Truth (rtasya panthah, RV 3.12.7). Human beings arrive at Immortality by breaking beyond the limitations not only of one’s physical self, but of one’s mental and ordinary psychic nature into the highest plane and supreme truth; for there is the foundation of immortality and the native seat of the ‘triple infinite’.
  5. What are the ‘triple infinite’?  The ‘triple infinite’ are (a) ‘Existence or ēkam sat’, (b) ‘chit or Knowledge or the greater Truth of an Immortal life; ‘chit’ is consciousness-force or force with knowledge, and (c) ‘Ananda or Light or the bliss of ‘realized divinity’ and ‘immortality’. These are explained further in (vi), (vii) and (viii). 

On these ideas, stated above, the Vedic sages built up a profound psychological and psychic discipline which led beyond itself to a higher spirituality. The Vedas state these in ‘subtle’ terms, in seed form, the ‘nucleus’ sort of, not in their full expansion, of later Indian Yoga & Upanishads: 

  1. There is the Existence (ēkam sat, RV 1.164.46), supra-cosmic beyond the individual and the universe (the brahman of the later Upanishads, transcendent and immanent or ‘the Uttama purusha’ or ‘Purushotthama’ of the Bhagavad Gita). There is one god who presents to us many forms, names, powers, and Its or His personalities. 
  2. There is the distinction between the Knowledge (the greater Truth of an immortal life) and the Ignorance (the much falsehood or mixed truth and falsehood of ordinary mortal existence). 
  3. There is the discipline of an inward growth of human beings from the physical through the psychic (connected with the soul) to the spiritual existence. There is the conquest of death, the secret of immortality, the perception of a ‘realizable divinity’ of the human spirit. 

This was the inspired and intuitive psychic and spiritual teaching by which the ancient human fathers (purve pitaro manushyaah, RV 10.130.6) founded a great and profound civilization in India  And Vedas show the way to attainment of Knowledge (the greater Truth of an immortal life). This is the message of the Vedas and the how is described in the Veda Samhitas. This book is written with the hope of serving as an introduction to the how described in the Veda Samhitas. 

Ancient Hinduism aimed socially toward fulfillment of God in Life. Modern Hinduism looks at the escape from our life to God (Sri Aurobindo in ‘India’s Re-birth’, page 92, written during 1910-1912).

The book concludes by emphasizing that by divinizing our life and pursuing our fields of interest, we will be able to lead a happy and harmonious life with higher levels of perfection in all our activities. 

R Narayanaswami
R Narayanaswami

R. Narayanaswami was born and brought up in Tripunithura, Kerala State, India. After his B. Sc.(Engg.) degree from the College of Engineering, Trivandrum, and M. Tech. from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, and Ph. D. from the Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, he was selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation – National Research Council Fellowship to conduct post-Doctoral Research at the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia . He spent a further period as a Research Scientist at NASA. He was founder-Chairman of couple of successful engineering software companies which were later sold to multi-national corporations. He is fully retired from professional work and presently lives in Westlake Village, CA. His interests on the Vedas grew since his Upanayanam ceremonies when he was eleven years old and has been a Veda practitioner since. He has served in different capacities in the education and dissemination of the Vedas in the Southern California area during the past 40+ years. His interests include reading, listening to music, writing of travelogues, lecturing on Vedic and philosophical texts and watching sports games of the NFL and NBA.

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