XIII. The Psychological and the Historical Bases for the Interpretation of the Veda
B. The Basic Approach and the Beginnings
In Sri Aurobindo’s view, in the first Sukta of the opening Mandala (I.1) of the Rig Veda, there are four verses, the fifth to the eighth (I.1.5-8), in which the psychological sense of the Veda comes out with a great force and clearness breaking through the veil of the symbol. These are:
Sri Aurobindo rendered these in English as follows:
“May Agni, priest of the offering whose will towards action is that of the seer, who is true, most rich in varied inspiration, come, a god with the gods.
‘The good that thou wilt create for the giver, that is that truth of thee, O Angiras.
‘To thee day by day, O Agni, in the night and in the light we by the thought come bearing our submission, –
‘To thee who shinest out from the sacrifices (or, who governest the sacrifices), guardian of the Truth and its illumination, increasing in thy own home.”2
“Who, then, is this god Agni to whom language of so mystic a fervour is addressed, to whom functions so vast and profound are ascribed? Who is this guardian of the Truth, who is in his act its illumination, whose will in the act is the will of a seer possessed of a divine wisdom governing his richly varied inspiration? What is the Truth that he guards? And what is this good that he creates for the giver who comes always to him in thought day and night bearing as his sacrifice submission and self-surrender?”3
“Agni is the most important, the most universal of the Vedic gods. In the physical world he is the general devourer and enjoyer. He is also the purifier; when he devours and enjoys, then also he purifies. He is the fire that prepares and perfects; he is also the fire that assimilates and the heat of energy that forms. He is the heat of life and creates the sap, the rasa in things, the essence of their substantial being and the essence of their delight.
He is equally the Will in Prana, the dynamic Life-energy, and in that energy performs the same functions. Devouring and enjoying, purifying, preparing, assimilating, forming, he rises upwards always and transfigures his powers into the Maruts, the energies of Mind. Our passions and obscure emotions are the smoke of Agni’s burning. All our nervous forces are assured of their action only by his support.
If he is the Will in our nervous being and purifies it by action, he is also the Will in the mind and clarifies it by aspiration. When he enters into the intellect, he is drawing near to his divine birthplace and home. He leads the thoughts towards effective power; he leads the active energies towards light.”4
“It is not the sacrificial Fire that is capable of these functions, nor can it be any material flame or principle of physical heat and light. Yet throughout the symbol of the sacrificial Fire is maintained. It is evident that we are in the presence of a mystic symbolism to which the fire, the sacrifice, the priest are only outward figures of a deeper teaching and yet figures which it was thought necessary to maintain and to hold constantly in front.”5
Behind the outward figures of the sacrifice, the psychological conception is that of “a truth which is truth of divine essence, not truth of mortal sensation and appearance. It is satyam, truth of being; it is in its action Ðtam, right, – truth of divine being regulating right activity both of mind and body; it is bÐhat, the universal truth proceeding direct and undeformed out of the Infinite. The consciousness that corresponds to it is also infinite, bÐhat, large as opposed to the consciousness of the sense-mind which is founded upon limitation.”6 The sense mentality which is at the root of the apparent facts of sensation and appearance which are full of falsehoods, has for its instruments the senses, the sense mind (manas) and the intellect working on their evidence. The truth-consciousness on the other hand, has for its instruments the faculties of dÐØti – the direct vision of the truth, Ùruti – the direct hearing of its word and viveka – the direct discrimination of the right. Whoever is in possession of the truth-consciousness or open to those faculties is called a Rishi or Kavi, sage or seer. It is in the light of these conceptions of truth, satyam and Ðtam that Sri Aurobindo interprets the opening Sukta of the Veda.
“Agni in the Veda is always presented in the double aspect of force and light. He is the divine power that builds up the worlds, a power which acts always with a perfect knowledge, for it is jÀtavedas, knower of all births, viÙvÀni vayunÀni vidvÀn, – it knows all manifestations or phenomena or it possesses all forms and activities of the divine wisdom. Moreover it is repeatedly said that the gods have established Agni as the immortal in mortals, the divine power in man, the energy of fulfilment through which they do their work in him. It is this work which is symbolised by the sacrifice.”7
“The Vedic sacrifice is, psychologically, a symbol of cosmic and individual activity become self-conscious, enlightened and aware of its goal. The whole process of the universe is in its very nature a sacrifice, voluntary or involuntary. Self-fulfilment by self-immolation, to grow by giving is the universal law. That which refuses to give itself, is still the food of the cosmic Powers. ‘The eater eating is eaten’ is the formula, pregnant and terrible, in which the Upanishad sums up this aspect of the universe, and in another passage men are described as the cattle of the gods. It is only when the law is recognised and voluntarily accepted that this kingdom of death can be overpassed and by the works of sacrifice Immortality made possible and attained. All the powers and potentialities of the human life are offered up, in the symbol of a sacrifice, to the divine Life in the Cosmos.”8
“Psychologically, then, we may take Agni to be the divine will perfectly inspired by divine Wisdom, and indeed one with it, which is the active or effective power of the Truth-consciousness. This is the obvious sense of the word kavikratuÕ, he whose active will or power of effectivity is that of the seer, – works, that is to say, with the knowledge which comes by the truth-consciousness and in which there is no misapplication or error. The epithets that follow confirm this interpretation. Agni is satya, true in his being; perfect possession of his own truth and the essential truth of things gives him the power to apply it perfectly in all act and movement of force. He has both the satyam and the Ðtam. …Therefore it is the power of Agni to apply the Truth in the work (karma or apas) symbolised by the sacrifice, that makes him the object of human invocation. The importance of the sacrificial fire in the outward ritual corresponds to the importance of this inward force of unified Light and Power in the inward rite by which there is communication and interchange between the mortal and the Immortal. Agni is elsewhere frequently described as the envoy, dÓta, the medium of that communication and interchange.
We see, then, in what capacity Agni is called to the sacrifice. ‘Let him come, a god with the gods.’ The emphasis given to the idea of divinity by this repetition, devo devebhir, becomes intelligible when we recall the standing description of Agni as the god in human beings, the immortal in mortals, the divine guest. We may give the full psychological sense by translating, ‘Let him come, a divine power with the divine powers.’ For in the external sense of the Veda the Gods are universal powers of physical Nature personified; in any inner sense they must be universal powers of Nature in her subjective activities, Will, Mind, etc. But in the Veda there is always a distinction between the ordinary human or mental action of these puissances, manuØvat, and the divine. It is supposed that man by the right use of their mental action in the inner sacrifice to the gods can convert them into their true or divine nature, the mortal can become immortal. Thus the Ribhus, who were at first human beings or represented human faculties, became divine and immortal powers by perfection in the work, sukÐtyayÀ, svapasyayÀ. It is a continual self-offering of the human to the divine and a continual descent of the divine into the human which seems to be symbolised in the sacrifice.
The state of immortality thus attained is conceived as a state of felicity or bliss founded on a perfect Truth and Right, satyam Ðtam. We must, I think, understand in this sense the verse that follows. ‘The good (happiness) which thou wilt create for the giver, that is that truth of thee, O Agni.’ In other words, the essence of this truth, which is the nature of Agni, is the freedom from evil, the state of perfect good and happiness which the Ritam carries in itself and which is sure to be created in the mortal when he offers the sacrifice by the action of Agni as the divine priest. Bhadram means anything good, auspicious, happy and by itself need not carry any deep significance. But we find it in the Veda used, like Ðtam, in a special sense. It is described in one of the hymns (V.82) as the opposite of the evil dream (duÕØvapnyam), the false consciousness of that which is not the Ritam, and of duritam, false going, which means all evil and suffering. Bhadram is therefore equivalent to suvitam, right going, which means all good and felicity belonging to the state of the Truth, the Ritam. It is Mayas, the felicity, and the gods who represent the Truth-consciousness are described as mayobhuvaÕ, those who bring or carry in their being the felicity. Thus every part of the Veda, if properly understood, throws light upon every other part. It is only when we are misled by its veils that we find in it an incoherence.
In the next verse there seems to be stated the condition of the effective sacrifice. It is the continual resort day by day, in the night and in the light, of the thought in the human being with submission, adoration, self-surrender, to the divine Will and Wisdom represented by Agni. Night and Day, NaktoØÀsÀ, are also symbolical, like all the other gods in the Veda, and the sense seems to be that in all states of consciousness, whether illumined or obscure, there must be a constant submission and reference of all activities to the divine control.
For whether by day or night Agni shines out in the sacrifices; he is the guardian of the Truth, of the Ritam in man and defends it from the powers of darkness; he is its constant illumination burning up even in obscure and besieged states of the mind. The ideas thus briefly indicated in the eighth verse are constantly found throughout the hymns to Agni in the Rig Veda.”9 For example in the second Rik of the 77th Sukta in the first Mandala we have, “He who in the sacrifices is the priest of the offering, full of peace, full of the Truth, him verily form in you by your surrenderings; when Agni manifests for the mortals the gods, he also has perception of them and by the mind offers to them the sacrifice.”10
“When we are obscure and revolt against the Truth and the Law, our progress seems to be a stumbling from ignorance to ignorance and is full of pain and disturbance. By constant submission to the Truth, surrenderings, namobhiÕ, we create in ourselves that image of the divine Will which is on the contrary full of peace, because it is assured of the Truth and the Law. Equality of soul created by the surrender to the universal Wisdom gives us a supreme peace and calm. And since that Wisdom guides all our steps in the straight paths of the Truth we are carried by it beyond all stumblings (duritÀni).
Moreover, with Agni conscious in our humanity, the creation of the gods in us becomes a veritable manifestation and no longer a veiled growth. The will within grows conscious of the increasing godhead, awakens to the process, perceives the lines of the growth. Human action intelligently directed and devoted to the universal Powers, ceases to be a mechanical, involuntary or imperfect offering; the thinking and observing mind participates and becomes the instrument of the sacrificial will.”11
“…it is this Will which annihilates all forces commissioned to destroy the effort, this strongest of all the divine Puissances in which the supreme Purusha has imaged Himself, that must bestow its presence on these human vessels. There it will use the mind as instrument of the sacrifice and by its very presence manifest those inspired and realising Words which are as a chariot framed for the movement of the gods, giving to the Thought that meditates the illuminative comprehension which allows the forms of the divine Powers to outline themselves in our waking consciousness.”12
“Agni is finally described as increasing in his own home. We can no longer be satisfied with the explanation of the own home of Agni as the ‘fire-room’ of the Vedic householder. We must seek in the Veda itself for another interpretation and we find it in the 75th hymn of the first Mandala.
‘Sacrifice for us to Mitra and Varuna, sacrifice to the gods, to the Truth, the Vast; O Agni, sacrifice to thy own home.’
Here ÐtaÌ bÐhat and svaÌ damam seem to express the goal of the sacrifice and this is perfectly in consonance with the imagery of the Veda which frequently describes the sacrifice as travelling towards the gods and man himself as a traveller moving towards the truth, the light or the felicity. It is evident, therefore, that the Truth, the Vast and Agni’s own home are identical. Agni and other gods are frequently spoken of as being born in the truth, dwelling in the wide or vast. The sense, then, will be in our passage that Agni the divine will and power in man increases in the truth-consciousness, its proper sphere, where false limitations are broken down, urÀv anibÀdhe, in the wide and the limitless.”13
“Agni is, preeminently, the Immortal in mortals. It is this Agni by whom the other bright sons of Infinity are able to work out the manifestation and self-extension of the Divine (devavÈti, devatÀti) which is at once aim and process of the cosmic and of the human sacrifice. For he is the divine Will which in all things is always present, is always destroying and constructing, always building and perfecting, supporting always the complex progression of the universe. It is this which persists through all death and change. It is eternally and inalienably possessed of the Truth. In the last obscuration of Nature, in the lowest unintelligence of Matter, it is this Will that is a concealed knowledge and compels all these darkened movements to obey, as if mechanically, the divine Law and adhere to the truth of their Nature. It is this which makes the tree grow according to its seed and each action bear its appropriate fruit. In the obscurity of man’s ignorance, – less than material Nature’s, yet greater, – it is this divine Will that governs and guides, knows the sense of his blindness and the goal of his aberration and out of the crooked workings of the cosmic Falsehood in him evolves the progressive manifestation of the cosmic Truth. Alone of the brilliant Gods, he burns bright and has full vision in the darkness of Night no less than in the splendours of day. The other gods are uØarbudhaÕ, wakers with the Dawn.
Therefore is he the priest of the offering, strongest or most apt for sacrifice, he who, all-powerful, follows always the law of the Truth. We must remember that the oblation (havya) signifies always action (karma) and each action of mind or body is regarded as a giving of our plenty into the cosmic being and the cosmic intention. Agni, the divine Will, is that which stands behind the human will in its works. In the conscient offering, he comes in front; he is the priest set in front (puro-hita), guides the oblation and determines its effectiveness.
By this self-guided Truth, by this knowledge that works out as an unerring Will in the Cosmos, he fashions the gods in mortals. Agni manifests divine potentialities in a death-besieged body; Agni brings them to effective actuality and perfection. He creates in us the luminous forms of the Immortals.
This work he does as a cosmic Power labouring upon the rebellious human material even when in our ignorance we resist the heavenward impulse and, accustomed to offer our actions to the egoistic life, cannot yet or as yet will not make the divine surrender. But it is in proportion as we learn to subjugate the ego and compel it to bow down in every act to the universal Being and to serve consciously in its least movements the supreme Will, that Agni himself takes form in us. The Divine Will becomes present and conscient in a human mind and enlightens it with the divine Knowledge. Thus it is that man can be said to form by his toil the great Gods.”14
Thus, according to Sri Aurobindo, in the four verses of the opening Sukta (I.1.5-8) of the Veda we get the first indications of the principal ideas of the Vedic Rishis, “– the conception of a Truth-consciousness supramental and divine, the invocation of the gods as powers of the Truth to raise man out of the falsehoods of the mortal mind, the attainment in and by this Truth of an immortal state of perfect good and felicity and the inner sacrifice and offering of what one has and is by the mortal to the Immortal as the means of the divine consummation. All the rest of Vedic thought in its spiritual aspects is grouped around these central conceptions.”15