- History of India – The Vedic Age
- History of India – The Vedic Age (2)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (3)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (4)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (5)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (6)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (7)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (8)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (9)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (10)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (11)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (12)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (13)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (14)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (15)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (16)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (17)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (18)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (20)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (21)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (22)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (23)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (24)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (25)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (26)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (28)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (29)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (27)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (30)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (31)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (36)
- History of India – The Vedic Age (19)
The History of the Veda and the Secret of the Persistent Vedism of Indian Thought and Spirituality
A. The History of the Veda
“The history of the Veda is one of the most remarkable & paradoxical phenomena of human experience. In the belief of the ancient Indians the three Vedas, books believed to be inspired directly from the source of all Truth, books at any rate of an incalculable antiquity and of a time-honoured sanctity, were believed to be the repositories of a divine knowledge. The man who was a Veda knower, Vedavid, had access to the deepest knowledge about God and existence. He knew the one thing that was eternally true, the one thing thoroughly worth knowing. The right possession of the ancient hymns was not supposed to be possible by a superficial reading, not supposed to result directly even from a mastery of the scholastic aids to a right understanding, – grammar, language, prosody, astronomy, ritual, pronunciation, – but depended finally and essentially on explanation by a fit spiritual teacher who understood the inner sense that was couched in the linguistic forms & figures of the Scriptures. The Veda so understood was held to be the fountain, the bedrock, the master-volume of all true Hinduism; that which accepted not the Veda, was and must be instantly departure from the right path, the true truth. Even when the material & ritualistic sense of the Veda had so much dominated & hidden in men’s ideas of it its higher parts that to go beyond it seemed imperative, the reverence for this ancient Scripture remained intact….
When was this traditional honour first lost or at least tarnished and the ancient Scripture relegated to the inferior position it occupies in the thought of Shankaracharya[?] I presume there can be little doubt that the chief agent in this work of destruction was the power of Buddhism. The preachings of Gautama and his followers worked against Vedic knowledge by a double process. First, by entirely denying the authority of the Veda, laying a violent stress on its ritualistic character and destroying the general practice of formal sacrifice, it brought the study of the Veda into disrepute as a means of attaining the highest good while at the same time it destroyed the necessity of that study for ritualistic purposes which had hitherto kept alive the old Vedic studies; secondly, in a less direct fashion, by substituting for a time at least the vernacular tongues for the old simple Sanscrit as the more common & popular means of religious propaganda and by giving them a literary position and repute, it made a general return to the old generality of the Vedic studies practically impossible. For the Vedas were written in an ancient form of the literary tongue the real secret of which had already been to a great extent lost even to the learned; such knowledge of it as remained, subsisted with difficulty by means of a laborious memorising and a traditional scholarship, conservative indeed but still slowly diminishing and replacing more & more real knowledge by uncertainty, disputed significance and the continuously increasing ingenuities of the ritualist, the grammarian and the sectarian polemical disputant. When after the fall of the Buddhistic Mauryas, feeble successors of the great Asoka, first under Pushyamitra and his son and afterwards under the Guptas, Hinduism revived, a return to the old forms of the creed and the old Vedic scholarship was no longer possible. The old pre Buddhistic Sanscrit was, to all appearance, a simple, vigorous, living language understood though not spoken by the more intelligent of the common people just as the literary language of Bengal, the language of Bankim Chandra, is understood by every intelligent Bengali, although in speech more contracted forms and a very different vocabulary are in use. But the new Sanscrit of the revival tended to be more & more a learned, scholarly, polished and rhetorical tongue, certainly one of the most smooth, stately & grandiose ever used by human lips, but needing a special & difficult education to understand its grammar, its rhetoric, its rolling compounds and its long flowing sentences. The archaic language of the Vedas ceased to be the common study even of the learned and was only mastered, one is constrained to believe with less & less efficiency, by a small number of scholars. An education in which it took seven years to master the grammar of the language, became inevitabl[y]the grave of all true Vedic knowledge. Veda ceased to be the pivot of the Hindu religion, and its place was taken by the only religious compositions which were modern enough in language and simple enough in style to be popular, the Puranas. Moreover, the conception of Veda popularised by Buddhism, a Scripture of ritual and of animal sacrifice, persisted in the popular mind even after the decline of Buddhism and the revival of great philosophies ostensibly based on Vedic authority. It was under the dominance of this ritualistic conception that Sayana wrote his great commentary which has ever since been to the Indian Pundit the one decisive authority on the sense of Veda. The four Vedas have definitely taken a subordinate place as karmakanda, books of ritual; and to the Upanishads alone, in spite of occasional appeals to the text of the earlier Scriptures, is reserved that aspect of spiritual knowledge & teaching which alone justifies the application to any human composition of the great name of Veda.
But in spite of this great downfall the ancient tradition, the ancient sanctity survived. The people knew not what Veda might be; but the old idea remained fixed that Veda is always the fountain of Hinduism, the standard of orthodoxy, the repository of a sacred knowledge; not even the loftiest philosopher or the most ritualistic scholar could divest himself entirely of this deeply ingrained & instinctive conception. To complete the degradation of Veda, to consummate the paradox of its history, a new element had to appear, a new form of intelligence undominated by the ancient tradition & the mediaeval method to take possession of Vedic interpretation. European scholarship which regards human civilisation as a recent progression starting yesterday with the Fiji islander and ending today with Haeckel and Rock[e]feller, conceiving ancient culture as necessarily primitive culture and primitive culture as necessarily half savage culture, has turned the light of its Comparative Philology & Comparative Mythology on the Veda. The result we all know. Not only all vestige of sanctity, but all pretension to any kind of spiritual knowledge or experience disappears from the Veda. The old Rishis are revealed to us as a race of ignorant and lusty barbarians who drank & enjoyed and fought, gathered riches & procreated children, sacrificed and praised the Powers of Nature as if they were powerful men & women, and had no higher hope or idea. The only idea they had of religion beyond an occasional sense of sin and perpetual preoccupation with a ritual barbarously encumbered with a mass of meaningless ceremonial details, was a mythology composed of the phenomena of dawn, night, rain, sunshine and harvest and the facts of astronomy converted into a wildly confused & incoherent mass of allegorical images and personifications. Nor, with the European interpretation can we be proud of our early forefathers as poets and singers. The versification of the Vedic hymns is indeed noble and melodious, – though the incorrect method of writing them established by the old Indian scholars, often conceals their harmonious construction, – but no other praise can be given. The Nibelungenlied, the Icelandic Sagas, the Kalewala[,] the Homeric poems, were written in the dawn of civilisation by semibarbarous races, by poets not superior in culture to the Vedic Rishis; yet though their poetical value varies, the nations that possess them, need not be ashamed of their ancient heritage. The same cannot be said of the Vedic poems presented to us by European scholarship. Never surely was there even among savages such a mass of tawdry, glittering, confused & purposeless imagery; never such an inane & useless burden of epithets; never such slipshod & incompetent writing; never such a strange & almost insane incoherence of thought & style; never such a bald poverty of substance. The attempt of patriotic Indian scholars to make something respectable out of the Veda, is futile. If the modern interpretation stands, the Vedas are no doubt of high interest & value to the philologist, the anthropologist & the historian; but poetically and spiritually they are null and worthless. Its reputation for spiritual knowledge & deep religious wealth, is the most imposing & baseless hoax that has ever been worked upon the imagination of a whole people throughout many millenniums.
Is this, then, the last word about the Veda? Or, and this is the idea I write to suggest, is it not rather the culmination of a long increasing & ever progressing error? The theory this book is written to enunciate & support is simply this, that our forefathers of early Vedantic times understood the Veda, to which they were after all much nearer than ourselves, far better than Sayana, far better than Roth & Max Muller, that they were, to a great extent, in possession of the real truth about the Veda, that that truth was indeed a deep spiritual truth, karmakanda as well as jnanakanda of the Veda contains an ancient knowledge, a profound, complex & well ordered psychology & philosophy, strange indeed to our modern conception, expressed indeed in language still stranger & remoter from our modern use of language, but not therefore either untrue or unintelligible, and that this knowledge is the real foundation of our later religious developments, & Veda, not only by historical continuity, but in real truth & substance is the parent & bedrock of all later Hinduism, of Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga, of Vaishnavism & Shaivism & Shaktism, of Tantra & Purana, even, in a remoter fashion, of Buddhism & the later unorthodox religions. From this quarry all have hewn their materials or from this far off source drawn unknowingly their waters; from some hidden seed in the Veda they have burgeoned into their wealth of branchings & foliage…. The Vedantic writers of the Upanishads had alone the real key to the secret of the Vedas; not indeed that they possessed the full knowledge of a dialect even then too ancient to be well understood, but they had the knowledge of the Vedic Rishis, possessed their psychology, & many of their general ideas, even many of their particular terms & symbols. That key, less & less available to their successors owing to the difficulty of the knowledge itself & of the language in which it was couched and to the immense growth of outward ritualism, was finally lost to the schools in the great debacle of Vedism induced by the intellectual revolutions of the centuries which immediately preceded the Christian era.”
B. The Secret of the Persistent Vedism
“…the Vedas are dark to us except in their outer ceremonial, the Upanishads are clear to us only in their central ideas and larger suggestions.
But how then can writings so obscure or at any rate so imperfectly understood have exercised over the thought of millenniums the vast and pervasive influence of which we know, so pervasive that all positive Indian thought, even Buddhism, can be described as Vedic in origin and shaping spirit when not Vedic or even when anti-Vedic in its garb and formed character? Thought has other means of survival and reproduction than its ordinary overt and physical instruments. After it has been deprived of propagation by speech and writing, even after it has disappeared out of the conscious mentality, it can return and recover itself not only in the individual, – that is common enough, – but, by a very similar act of memory, in the race. The workings of our psychology are as yet ill understood and we do not know precisely by what means or forces the subconscious operations of mentality are conducted; but some of the processes used by the great Universal in His more secret works are becoming apparent.”2
(i) The Physical Heredity
“Physical heredity is certainly one of them. It is true that thought is not inherited; but types of mentality, and mental tendencies are, apparently, handed down with the physical plasm, and out of a persistent type of mentality there is always a possibility of the emergence from age to age of a recurrent type of thought. The Vedic mental type was fixed in the Indian race at an early period of its formation and throughout all external variations has never really changed. There is, therefore, in the Indian mind a predisposition to the recovery of the fundamental Vedic ideas; those directions of mentality which are most natural to the Vedic mental type, easily recur and a slight suggestion is all that is needed to set thought spinning in the old grooves[.]”3
(ii) The Pressure of the Mental Atmosphere
“But the physical inheritance is not sufficient in itself, nor is it even the only subconscious instrument in the persistence of human and national mentality. As psychology progresses, I think it will be more and more clearly recognised that just as men live in one physical atmosphere and are affected in their physical conditions by its state, currents and contents and by the physical condition of others near to them, so also and even to a greater extent we live in one mental atmosphere and are affected in our mental condition and activities by its state, current and contents and by the mental condition and activities of others similarly affected in our near vicinity. The dynamic action of the mental atmosphere is evident enough in the psychology of crowds, in the rapidity of development of great thought-movements & general tendencies of corporate action and in their contemporaneous efflorescence in widely divided countries. These phenomena have given rise to a vague idea of thought-waves resembling the waves of electricity in the physical parts of Nature. But if, instead of confining ourselves to these superficial and striking phenomena, we go deeper down into the normal and obscurer action, we shall find in addition to the dynamic movements a constant static condition and pressure of the mental atmosphere which varies but seems hardly to change substantially from age to age. For waves and currents presuppose a constant sea out of which they rise and into which they again sink to rest. It is the pressure of this atmospheric sea that more permanently determines the constant mentality of a continent or a nation. Into it, after all revolutions and dynamic activities, humanity tends to sink back with whatever riches it has gained and often long periods are necessary for their absorption and assimilation. The mind-atmosphere has its needs and its conditions; it alters into its own image whatever is new and foreign and assimilates even when it seems to be assimilated; it rejects everything that would too radically disintegrate its enduring composition. It is at once infinitely yielding & plastic and infinitely persistent in its general character. It casts essential Buddhism out of India and replaces it by a huge phantasmagorical complex Hinduised Buddhism; it constantly purges mysticism out of Europe and replaces essential Christianity with its sublimely tender and delicate Oriental psychology by a strenuous, external, dogmatic, materialistic and practical creed. Individual men and even men in the mass are ready enough to change under a comparatively slight impulsion; it is the compelling pressure of the mental atmosphere which prevents them from changing too radically so that when we think we have effected a revolution, we find that we have only effected an external readjustment or new dress of an old reality. The soul of things in us tends to remain the same. For steadfastness in mobility is the sound law of our being & the condition of healthy survival; Nature keeps us to it on peril of prolonged disorder, deterioration or fatal decay. Into this circumambient mental atmosphere in which we live & by which we draw our mental inspiration and respiration, all the old thoughts have entered, are lying obscure, many of them disaggregated, but none entirely lost. Under the proper conditions they may, they even tend to reconstitute themselves, to reappear.
In India such returns upon our past are more common than in any other country, partly from certain external causes, from the persistence of certain external suggestions, but much more because of the constant practice of Yoga by a large number of typical and central souls who act, overtly or silently, upon the general mass of Indian humanity. The discipline of Yoga renders a man much more sensible to the surrounding mental atmosphere, than in his ordinary state. He becomes consciously aware of it, feels intelligently its impacts, stirs more quickly to its deep buried secrets and obscure suggestions. And as he becomes more quick to receive, so also he becomes more powerful to impart. Practising forms of the old Vedantic discipline, he recovers also forms of the old Vedantic thought and mentality and, modifying them in expression but not in essence by his own present personality, he pours them out on his surroundings. This has been the secret of the persistent Vedism of Indian thought & spirituality from the earliest ages to those modern movements of which we are ourselves the witnesses or the partakers.”4
(iii) The Reign of Vedic Philosophies and the Influence of Religion and the Systems of Yoga
“Outward aids have powerfully confirmed the effect of these inward processes, – the reign of Vedic philosophies, the dominance of religions rich with the sap of the old Vedic spirit, the traditional teachings of particular Yogic schools, the theory & practice of the Guru-parampara. It would be as great a mistake to exaggerate as to belittle the importance of any of these aids in themselves. Vedic knowledge was rich, manysided, elastic, flexible; but the metaphysical philosophies are limited by the very law of their logical structure. They are compelled to select and reject, to systematise only what can be harmonised in a single logical formula; and a logical formula, however wide, is always too narrow to contain God’s truth which is universal, complex and many-faceted. The dominance of particular metaphysical systems has tended to preserve fragments of the old Vedic truth, but to disfigure and dissolve it as a whole in its comprehensiveness and catholicity. Moreover, a metaphysical system by itself can never lay powerful hold on a people. We of the present age, who are excessively intellectualised, are apt to attach too great an importance and power to the works of the pure intellect. Systems of pure metaphysics which have no connection with the constant psychological experience and practice of men, are apt to become, like the modern philosophies of Europe and unlike the old Greek philosophies, merely noble pastimes for the intellectual few. They influence the generality of men, but by a slight and indirect process, not profoundly, not puissantly, not permanently. The Indian metaphysical systems have influenced the whole mentality of the Indian people profoundly, puissantly, permanently, not because of their logical subtleties, not even so much by the force & loftiness of their general ideas, but by their close dependence on powerful and widely-practised systems of psychological discipline, – systems, as we say in India, of Yoga.
The influence of [r]eligion has been yet more dynamical; it is always indeed more dynamical than the influence of philosophy, because religion appeals to the higher, secret, unattainable parts of our nature through the emotions and sensations which are better developed in humanity than the pure intellect. But even the religious emotions & sensations, though strong, swift and tenacious of a satisfaction once given, yet eventually tire and change; for this reason religions tend after a time to decay and perish. But in India the Vedic religions do not decay and perish; they change and are reborn. And they have this good fortune precisely because of the Vedic element in them. Their ritual, forms, worship, ceremonies, high days are not Vedic; even if they enshrine old Vedic ideas, they do it ignorantly and under a disguise; but all these religions have in their recesses some core of constant psychological practice and discipline, in a word, some form of Yoga, by which they live; and always it is, in essence, a Vedic practice and a Vedic discipline. Religions think that they live by their dogmas, their sacred books, their ceremonies, but these are all aids and trappings; they live really by the men who practise them, by their clergy and mystics and much more by their mystics than by their clergy. So long as a religion has in its fold a sufficient number of souls who can retire within themselves and live there with God, so long it cannot help enduring, even though all the rest of the world is against it; once it loses this core of life, no amount of temporal power and prestige, of attractive ceremonial, of passionate belief & stiff dogmatism or even of wise and supple flexibility, savoir-faire & self adaptation can save it from its inevitable disappearance. The great Vedic religions in India have always had this nucleus of mystics; they have always been rich in men capable of living with God; but they have not left the preservation of the indispensable nucleus to chance, they have attempted to secure it by a traditional practice and discipline, usually of what is known in India as Bhaktiyoga. By this Yoga and the experience of the saints and Sadhus who have practised it, much more than by Puranic legend and outward devotion, – though these also have helped, – our religious systems have done much to preserve the thoughts and experiences of the early Rishis to their distant posterity.
This vitalising core of philosophy, this saving essence of religion, Yoga, has itself an inner reality and an outer body. It has organised and variously summarised its different parts of experience and various methods of experiment in a great number of schools; and it preserves in all its schools a common fund of essential experience which goes back to the ancient Vedic sources. In these days, when the natural ignorance of Europeans about this characteristic Indian discipline has been successfully acquired as a part of their enlightenment by educated Indians, there is a tendency to identify Yoga with the Raja-yogic system of Patanjali, because that alone is known to the European scholar. But Yoga cannot be confined to a single school or a single system. Patanjali’s Yogashastra is concerned only with Rajayoga and only with one system of Rajayoga; there are a hundred others of which a few have their written rules, practices or aphorisms, but the rest, among them some of the most ancient and august, like the school of Dattatreya, have been handed down from an early era by the long linked generations of its Guru-parampara. This profuse ramification of Yogic systems, like the inexhaustible fertility of religious sects and orders, is a sign and an unfailing accompaniment of the richness, power and freedom of spiritual life in this country. It is not only an accompaniment, but a necessary condition. If, for instance, Yoga had allowed itself to formalise into the strict tenets and stereotyped methods of a single school, even a sound and great school like Patanjali’s, it would long ago have perished or become, like much of our religious observance, a soulless body. The Infinite within us demands an infinite freedom, of various experience, of various self-expression, of various self-realisation; It loves order and arrangement, but will not long brook a confined immobility. It is only the material, the inert that depends for its stability on blind obedience to iron and immutable processes, the stability of inner things rests rather on a regulated, but still free and variable activity. Therefore, whatever in the mental world formalises too rigidly, is preparing its own decadence: the movement towards rigidity too long persisted in, is usually a sign that the infinite Life is about to withdraw from the body it has been informing. India has not been exempt from the immobilising tendency even in that Yoga which has been its hidden wellspring of life and the secret of its perennial vitality; there has been a disposition to formalise into one school or another and repeat from generation to generation its methods & experiences. But the Indian mental atmosphere tends always, by a return upon that which is most vital in it, to bring out great souls who, like Buddha, like Chaitanya, like Nanak, like Ramdas, like Rama-krishna, belong to no school, owe their knowledge to no spiritual preceptor, but go back to the Source of all within themselves and emerge from it with some perfectly realised truth of the eternal and universal Veda. As their source is universal, so too they tend to cast out their gains universally upon mankind, so far at least as their surroundings & time are able to bear the truth and live; thus they revivify and preserve the spirituality in our mental environment. Great are the Yogins who, faithful to some long-established school of spiritual discipline, renew perfectly in themselves its perfect results and hand down their sacred gains as in a sealed and jealously guarded vase to the most worthy disciple; but those have a greater effect on the world who break the vase before they depart and pour out its content of life-giving sweetness on the world around them. Here too, as in philosophy, as in religion, the outer & systematised forms have done much to preserve the ancient truth, in its parts, if not in its fullness; they have served the purpose of flasks for keeping a little of the Somawine of the Veda[.] But it is to those who have gone back most freely to the inner source that is due the perpetual reflooding of the Indian mind with Vedic truth and its immortal permanence and unfailing reappearance in philosophy, in religious teaching and observance and in personal spiritual experience and discipline.”5
(iv) The Guruparampara
“None of these puissant exterior aids to the permanence of the Veda would have been entirely effective without another, yet more characteristic of our Indian organisation, the guruparampara or unbroken succession of the human vessels of divine knowledge. This Indian institution, ill-understood by the mechanical rationalistic temper of our modern times, is founded upon a perfectly correct appreciation of the essential conditions indispensable for the transmission of a difficult knowledge. All human knowledge consists of three necessary elements, the thing itself which is known, the word or form in which it is expressed and the sense of the word or form which is the link between the thing and its expression. The thing itself, existing always, is always and at any given time capable of being known; the word or form can also be constantly preserved and may, then, always and at any given time yield up its secret; but that secret lies in the right sense to be attached to the symbol and needs for its preservation an intermediary, a vessel, a fourth element. The existence of the thing to be known is not sufficient for knowledge; the existence of the perfect symbol is not sufficient; we need in addition as a receptacle of its sense the competent knower who is termed technically in the language of our philosophy, the aptajana, the expert and adept. The aptajana transmitting his knowledge to a fit disciple is our Indian guru. To take a simple scientific instance, it has always been true and will always remain true that the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen results in water; the chemical formula expressing the truth, may, having been once settled, remain permanently written; but unless there is also the competent knower who understands the sense of the formula, has submitted it to the test of realisation by experience and is able to hand on his knowledge and his method to his successors, the existence of the formula would not save the knowledge from disappearing for a time from the grasp of humanity. The formula would then come to be regarded only as an incomprehensible superstitious jargon and abracadabra, as the mantras of our religious & Yogic schools are now regarded by many modernised Indians. In the things of the spirit this necessity of the human intermediary is a hundred times more keenly felt than in any material process; for the thing itself is more remote from daily experience, the methods which bring it into the range of intelligent realisation are much more difficult and delicate and the formulas in which it is couched, are necessarily elusive and with difficulty intelligible. Therefore India, supremely sensitive to the importance of spiritual knowledge and experience, unequalled in its instinct for the right spiritual method, has organised the institution of the guruparampara as an essential instrument for the survival of Veda. The truth of Brahman is the thing to be known, the Veda and Vedanta are the word-symbol and formal expression of the Brahman, – shabdam Brahma, the guru is the human receptacle of the knowledge who transmits it to his worthiest disciples. Thus the guruparampara forms the succession of spiritual torchbearers, who, as in the ancient Greek festival, hand on the light of truth from generation to generation so that the sacred knowledge received in the morning of our national daytime may last, even though with diminutions and obscurations, not only into its evening but on through whatever night of time is intended, to the dawn of another golden age of spirituality. Who shall say out of what distant twilight of time the Veda was first revealed to mankind? Who shall say to what pre-cataclysmal undreamed consummation of our present humanity it shall endure? But we Hindus believe it to be an eternal message which God will have preserved by his chosen vessels as the secret thing out of which all human activity dumbly emerges and to which it is destined by a conscious fulfilment to return.
It is this wise and necessary institution of our forefathers to which we owe the preservation of Vedic truth in our midst even after the actual words of the written Vedas have ceased to bear to us their original significance. Without its aid the abstruse and difficult generalisations of metaphysics could not have prolonged their vitality nor so powerfully propagated themselves that even the beggar in the streets and the peasant in his fields are permeated with some portion of their truth; the living truths of religion could not have maintained so persistent and so puissant a vitality; the schools of Yoga could not have transmitted the essence of their knowledge, methods and experiences from early Vedic times onward into the darkness of our own era. But like all external forms the guruparampara is liable to vicissitudes, to formalisation, to loss of its perfect original virtue. The orthodox formalist supposes that by the mere mechanical act of transmission the unimpaired vitality of the truth is automatically secured. But there are many accidents to which that security is liable[.] The guru may not always find a perfect disciple; he still imparts his knowledge, but the vessel can only hold according to its capacity: then the truth is obscured, if not permanently, then for one or more generations. There are also more general mishaps incidental to the general law of periodicity & decay which governs many parts of Nature[.] As the mental & vital atmosphere in which we dwell becomes thickened with obscurations, the general capacity of men diminishes and a time comes when the essential office of the guru is only fulfilled in the exceptions and the name becomes ordinarily prostituted to the mercenary priest or the unworthy physical heir of ancient Masters and knowers who either hands on the formula without any knowledge of its sense or is unable even to preserve the formula itself in its purity, – as if the scientific formula for the mixture of oxygen & hydrogen were to be mumbled faithfully from generation to generation without any slightest knowledge or practice of the actual experiment which constitutes its value. Even when this extreme degeneracy does not happen, the transmission is subject to the play of individuality & the varying tendencies of thought from century to century and under that influence this part of the truth may be overstressed, that deprived of its emphasis, much may be sacrificed as no longer useful to the actual practice of the new generations or too high for its attainment and what is preserved may be manipulated, extended, diverted by the enthusiasms of individual thought and experience. What is thus lost or blurred, may not be recovered or restored to its purity for long ages. Nevertheless the institution always preserves something of its value. Much of the body of the truth tends to survive even the worst vicissitudes, and in the body something must always remain of the spirit; even a formula long unintelligently repeated may, by passing into the possession of an alert and curious mind or an ardent & sincere nature, be a suggestion or a starting-point for the recovery of the old lost experience which it keeps as its secret. Here again, as with the other external aids, we come back to the perennial source of the truth, the experience of the strong souls who passing beyond the school, the formula, the belief, the aid, the letter, go back into themselves for the light, respond to those buried suggestions ever lying in ambush for us in the mental atmosphere from which we draw our inner sustenance, and are strong enough to emerge with something of the ancient truth which gave so ineffable a vastness and profundity to the spiritual life of our forefathers. Behind and beyond all human gurus there dwells within us all the World-Teacher, the universal jagadguru of whom human teachers are only the masks and nominal representatives. He keeps for us the complete book of the Veda written in our secret being, nihitam guhayam; veiled, but accessible, He awaits our reverential approach and our questioning and, sincerely & constantly questioned, He lights the fire of Agni in our hearts and makes Surya to rise upon our darkness.”6
- Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research, Issue April 1985, pp.23-28, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research, Issue Dec. 1985, pp.158-59, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Ibid, p.159
- Ibid, pp.159-61
- Ibid, pp.161-64
- Ibid, pp.164-67