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The Concept of God in the Vedas Swami Tattwamayananda The composite fabric of Vedic religion has been woven

out of various shades of belief systems and forms of worship. This has given birth to multifarious concepts of the supreme Reality ranging from exuberant pantheism and polytheism to the most abstract type of monistic Advaitism. It is almost impossible to define the Vedas without reference to the concepts of dharma and brahman. The wellknown synonyms of the Veda, shruti and amnaya, make this point clear. The term shruti is defined as 'shruyete dharmadharmau anaya iti shrutih; that by which one learns about dharma and adharma is shruti', and amnaya as 'amnayate upadishyate dharma ityanena; that by which one is instructed in dharma'. Shankaracharya's definition is more philosophical, scientific, and essentially monistic:

'Herein, the Rig and other Vedas discuss That (Brahman) with a view to Its attainment; or they establish the existence (of Brahman); or they lead to the Paramatman that rests on Brahman, and are therefore termed Veda.' (1) In other words, Veda is that by the study of which we attain the knowledge of Brahman. Since the Sanskrit root vid can mean 'to know', 'to experience', 'to discover' or 'to learn', Shankaracharya's definition seems to be more comprehensive and relevant from the standpoint of the evolution of the concept of God in Vedic literature.

Vedic Concept of God

The Vedic literature reveals the origin, progress and culmination of man's concept of God or the ultimate Reality: from polytheism to monotheism and from monotheism to monism; from the many with names and forms to the one impersonal Reality that is beyond name and form. The Rig Vedic concept of the ultimate Reality is unique. It has monistic as well as dualistic components. The whole process of creation and evolution of nature (from a primeval state) is expressed in mythological language in the Rig Veda. Parallel to the evolution of the concept of Reality, we can also see the progress of the concept of God. The Vedic mind is seen to progress from prayers for long and happy life (pashyema sharadah shatam jivema sharadah shatam) to lofty idealism. There are verses in which the devotee asks various deities for wealth, intelligence and prosperity. For instance, 'Dhiyam pusha jinvatu ; May Pushan, who is the benefactor of all, be propitious.' (2) On the other hand, in some verses the rishi says that the same god (Agni) appears in various forms as Indra, the giver of rains, Vishnu, who, dwelling within the hearts of all, protects the world, and so on. Several mantras in the Upanishads and several Vedic suktas describe the evolution of the Vedic mind. The Kena Upanishad, for example, asks: 'Keneshitam patati preshitam manah? Willed by whom does the directed mind go towards its object?' Though it can be argued that the central theme of the Rig Veda Samhita is the propitiation of gods and goddesses (devas and devis), yet behind these multifarious rituals and hymns runs the thread of gradual evolution of the concept of spiritual life. In most Vedic suktas the gods are depicted as the controlling and presiding powers behind natural phenomena, such as rain, storm and thunder. Very often, the same characteristics are attributed to various deities. The Vedic seers saw the moon, the stars, the sea, the sky, the dawn and nightfall as divine phenomena and not as

integral parts of lifeless nature. Saraswati is described as 'nadinam shuci; sacred and pure among rivers'. (7.95.2) The rivers Vipash and Shutudri (modern Beas and Sutlej) are described as rushing to the ocean as charioteers (to their goal) at the behest of Indra: 'Indreshite samudram rathyeva yathah.' (3.33.2) Sometimes, it is asserted that the Reality behind the fire principle is one; the same Truth is behind the sun which illumines the universe; the same Reality underlies Ushas which makes everything effulgent, and so on. In the tenth mandala there is a mantra where the question is raised:

'How many are the fires, how many suns, how many dawns, how many waters? I address you, O pitris (ancestors), not for the sake of disputation; I ask you sages, in order to know (the truth).' (10.88.18) In reply to this, there is the mantra in the eighth mandala where the unity of the divine principle is established:

'Agni is one though ignited in various forms, the one sun rises in all the worlds, the one dawn lights up all this; the One alone has become all this.' (8.58.2) In the Nirukta, Yaskacharya has defined the word 'deva' as follows: 'A deva is one who gives gifts (devo danat), who is effulgent (devo dipanat), who illumines (devo dyotanat), and who resides in heaven or the celestial world (dyusthane bhavati iti).' (3)

The word isha is defined by Yaska as 'ishte iti ishah; because he controls and rules over the whole creation, he is called isha'. Following the first definition given for the word 'deva', the word isha is defined as one who bestows the eight powers like anima (the capacity to turn infinitesimally small), garima (the power to become massive in size), and the like. According to the Brahmavaivartaka Purana, Ishvara is one who rules, controls and bestows powers:

To the ordinary man living in this world, external phenomena, which he perceives with his senses, constitute the only reality. So far as he is concerned God, whom he cannot see or hear, is just a word. As he progresses in rational thinking and evolves spiritually he realizes that the world-phenomena that he sees around him are always in a flux and therefore, being impermanent, cannot be the ultimate Reality. So he may consider this world as something inexplicable or indefinable. But when one reaches the highest level of philosophical contemplation and spiritual evolution one realizes that this phenomenal world is real only in a relative sense. God is the only true Reality; everything else is ephemeral. The Mimamsakas consider the devata as the very embodiment of the respective mantra. This idea has a special significance from the point of view of spiritual practice. In the beginning the aspirant considers the particular deity as saguna (with attributes) and sakara (with form), the very personification of the meaning of the particular mantra. But gradually, he elevates himself to a higher position and progresses to the next stage of realization. Here the aspirant prays to the Lord (with form):

'By the lid of the golden orb is your face hidden. Please

remove it, O nourisher of the world, so that I may see you, I who am devoted to Truth.' (4) Yaska's Nirukta discusses the question whether devatas have (human) form or not. After discussing the three different views (namely, they have form, they do not have form, and a combination of these two views), the Nirukta finally concludes that, in reality, there is only one devata who can be addressed in various ways depending upon the temperament of the aspirant. In fact, our concept of the Godhead is largely determined by our cultural milieu, intellectual make-up, and spiritual stature. That is why the Mimamsakas argue that the devata is of the form of the mantra itself. Most of the hymns of the Rig Veda, addressed to various gods and goddesses for help and protection, are prayers at various stages of evolution. In the fifth mandala, for example, there is a prayer where the sage prays to Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Agni for a happy life in this world:

'May Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Agni, the waters, the herbs, and the trees be pleased (by our praise); may we, (resting) in the lap of the Maruts, enjoy felicity; do thou ever cherish us with blessings.' (5) Here, there is an echo of the monotheistic ideal. The same God appears in the form of Indra, Varuna and others. The seer expects that the gods will be pleased to hear his hymn.

Evolution of the Concept of God

In most of the hymns referring to various gods such as Surya, Agni, and so on, we can find the underlying divine principle to be the same Paramatman. The glory of the various gods and goddesses is, in fact, the glory of the same divine Reality. This idea is explained in the form of a story in the Kena Upanishad (belonging to the Sama Veda tradition). The Upanishad tells us that when gods like Agni and Vayu, forgetting that it was really Brahman's power that gave them strength to do various deeds, became proud of their mistaken greatness, Brahman appeared before them in the form of a yaksha and taught them humility. The Rig Veda also states that all gods and goddesses are under the control of Brahman: 'All the gods have taken their seat upon the Supreme Space (in the form) of the imperishable riks (Vedas).' (6) At one stage, the Vedas speak of thirty-three different deities. The important principle behind the concept of Vedic gods and goddesses is that they are all reflections and manifestations of the one God. According to the Shatapatha Brahmana, these thirty-three deities include eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Dyaus, and Prithvi. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, sage Yajnavalkya tells Shakalya: 'In reality there are only thirty-three gods; the others are only their manifestations (mahimanah).' To the question from Shakalya, 'Which are those thirty-three gods?' Yajnavalkya replies: 'The eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati are the thirty-three gods.'7 In the beginning Yajnavalkya had enumerated the number of gods as three hundred and three, and three thousand and three but, on repeated questioning, finally scales down their number to just one - Prana identified with Brahman. A sukta in the third mandala addressed to Agni says:

'Three thousand three hundred and thirty-nine divinities have worshipped Agni; they have sprinkled him with melted butter, they have spread for him the sacred grass, and have seated him upon it as their ministrant priest.' (8) Agni is the symbol of Paramatman and all the other gods are different aspects or manifestations of the same Agni. According to many scholars, the most appropriate Vedic symbol for the supreme position among the innumerable Vedic gods is Agni. Agni is the fire principle that shines in the sun and also the one who carries our offerings to other gods. He is the friend of man and mediates on his behalf. He is the symbol of wisdom, knowledge, compassion and lordship. That was the reason he was worshipped by three thousand three hundred and thirty-nine gods. Suktas like the one which begins with 'Tvamagne prathamo anggira; You, Agni, were the first Anggiras rishi' (1.31.1) and the one which begins with 'Tvamagne dyubhistam; You Agni pure and all-radiating' (2.1.1) portray Agni as the embodiment of omnipotence and omniscience. The god Pavamana Soma, in fact, is Agni himself. Soma is symbolic of Brahman and realizing Pavamana is nothing but realizing Brahman. In the Vedic and Vedantic tradition the ultimate supreme Reality is designated (though it is beyond description or definition) as sat-chit-ananda. According to the Rig Vedic sages Agni, Surya and Soma are the symbols of sat, chit and ananda respectively. In other words Agni, Surya and Soma together constitute Satchidananda. Sometimes sat and chit are described as aspects of ananda, especially in the Upanishads (for instance 'Anando brahmeti vyajanat; (He) knew bliss as Brahman' (9)). Perhaps, that is why a whole mandala is devoted exclusively to Soma. The Rig Veda

Samhita says:

'The Soma flows, the generator of praises, the generator of Heaven, the generator of Earth, the generator of Agni, the generator of the Sun, the generator of Indra, and the generator of Vishnu.' (10)

The Rig Vedic Gods

It may be remarked here that some of the important and well-known deities of popular Hinduism do not appear prominently in the Rig Veda Samhita. This view is based on the number of suktas used to propitiate the individual gods. But we must remember that deities like Vishnu and Shiva who became very prominent during the Puranic period had their origin in the Rig Veda itself. It is said that devas are born of Aditi and dasyus, who stand in opposition to them, are born to Diti. They are the lords of light and darkness respectively. The Rig Veda describes Aditi as svarga, as antariksha, and as the mother of the universe. (1.89.10)

Vishnu

Yaskacharya, in his Nirukta, defines Vishnu as 'vishnu vishateh; one who enters everywhere', and 'yad vishito bhavati tad vishnurbhavati; that which is free from fetters

and bondages is Vishnu.' Vishnu is also characterized as 'veveshti vyapnoti vishvam yah; the one who covers the whole universe, or is omnipresent, is Vishnu.' The word itself originates from the root vish meaning 'to enter'. In other words Vishnu can be considered the omnipresent dimension of the supreme Lord. The 'Vishnu Sukta' of the Rig Veda (1.154) mentions the famous three strides of Vishnu so well known in later iconography and legends associated with this god. It is said that the first and second of Vishnu's strides (those encompassing the earth and air) are visible to men and the third is in the heights of heaven (sky). The second mantra of the 'Vishnu Sukta' says that within the three vast strides of Vishnu all the various regions of the universe live in peace:

Here Vishnu is praised and his uniqueness and greatness are compared to that of the mighty lion who lives on top of a forested hill. Besides the praise of strength, glory and power, we can also notice the gradual evolution of the spiritual aspect (omniscience) of the Godhead. The Vedic seer prays to Lord Vishnu to enable him to reach his high abode, which is also the abode of spiritual bliss:

'May I attain his favourite path in which god - seeking men delight - (the path) of Vishnu with giant strides, in whose exalted station is a (perpetual) flow of felicity - for he is truly a friend (to all).' (1.154.5) According to the Vedic sages this universe is constituted of three different planes of existence: the dyuloka (celestial plane) presided over by the deity Savitri or Surya; antarikshaloka (intermediary space) presided over by Indra or Vayu; and the bhurloka (terrestrial plane) presided over

by the deity Agni.

Indra

Indra is one of the important Rig Vedic gods and is described as 'Yo jata eva prathamo manasvan; He who, from his very birth, is the first (of the deities)'. (2.12.1) Indra is the lord of the universe. The idea of an omniscient and omnipresent Godhead is also applied to Indra when he is addressed as 'ashrutkarna; whose ears hear all things'. (1.10.9)

Vayu

The Rig Veda calls the presiding deity of the wind as Vata or Vayu. The god when conceived as the element (vata) is described as moving wherever he wants, at his pleasure. Describing it as the soul and indweller of other gods, a sukta in the tenth mandala says that we can hear his rushing sound but we are not able to see his form:

'The soul of the gods, the germ of the world, this divinity moves according to his pleasure; his voices are heard, his form is not (seen); let us worship that Vata with oblations.' (10.168.4) The wind god, Vayu, conceived as god in contrast to the elemental wind, is called 'the messenger of gods':

'O Vata, bring us medicinal balm; blow away all evil; you are the universal medicine; you move as the messenger of the gods.' (10.137.3) Mitra and Varuna are two deities who, on occasions, appear as friends. Mitra-Varuna are supposed to be the guides and protectors of rita. But in some later suktas, Mitra is associated with the light of dawn and akasha of night. Rudra, who came to be known as Shiva in the Puranas, also appears in the Rig Veda. (4.3) The Vedic gods are not depicted as independent of the rest or opposed to each other. Thus both Varuna and Surya are sometimes presented as being subordinate to Indra. Varuna and the Ashvins are often subordinate to Vishnu. A god who is praised along with others may be elevated to a supreme position in another context. For instance, Varuna, the controller of rita, literally controls 'the course of events and things'. In Rig Vedic literature rita is often used to mean dharma, which, as the stabilizing influence in all spheres of individual and collective life, is the bedrock of Indian culture. ________________________________________________ __________ From Many to One

At the earlier stages of spiritual evolution and metaphysical thought the Vedas mention the names of various gods and goddesses: Mitra, the Sun; Varuna, the god of night and of the blue sky; Dyu and Prithivi, the Sky

and the Earth; Agni or fire god, the friend of all; Savitri, the Refulgent; Indra, the master of the universe; Vishnu (though not a major divinity in the Rig Veda), the measurer of the three worlds; and Aditi, the mother of all other gods (the Adityas).

Gradually, however, we come across a tendency towards extolling a god as the greatest, controlling all other divine entities. This marks the progress of mans concept of God or the ultimate Reality from polytheism to monotheism, ultimately leading to monism. That is why the Rig Vedic rishi asks: Kasmai devaya havisha vidhema? To what god shall we offer our oblations? (1) And again, Ko dadarsha prathamam jayamanam? Who saw the first-born? (1.164.4)

The first mandala of the Rig Veda brings out this idea most beautifully:

They (the men of wisdom) call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is the heavenly, noble-winged Garutman. The Reality is one, but sages call it by many names; they call it Agni, Yama, Matarishvan (and so on). (1.164.46)

The idea that names may be many and different but they all denote the one God occurs in Vishvakarma Sukta too. Therein it is stated:

The name-giver of the gods is one; other beings come to him to inquire. (10.82.3)

Samprashnam here refers to the two questions from the Nasadiya Sukta: Kah veda? Who had known? and Kah pravocad? Who had announced? These questions, which are in fact an enquiry into the one impersonal, attributeless, formless Principle behind all concepts of God, occur in the Hiranyagarbha Sukta (10.121, cited above), in the Shatapatha Brahmana (Ko hi prajapatih? Who is Prajapati?), and also in the Aitareya Brahmana (Ko nama prajapatirabhvat? Who became Prajapati?)

One of the grandest conceptions of God in the whole of Vedic literature is found in the last chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita, which is known as the Ishavasya Upanishad. It is said that whatever there is in this world is to be filled and covered with isha or Ishvara (ishavasyamidam sarvam). God creates this world, then enters into everything. The idea is put forward even more forcefully in the Taittiriya Upanishad:

It created all this that exists. Having created (that) It entered therein. Having entered, It became the formed and the formless. (2)

The Upanishad says that It contemplated and projected (created) the universe, and then entered into the created objects and became one with both the manifest, gross and concrete creation as well as the unmanifest, subtle and abstract.

The universe is the abode of God. The Lord is the ruler of the universe as well as its indweller. The various aspects of gods and goddesses exist within the body of this Lord in their subtle and causal forms. At this stage He is called Prajapati or Hiranyagarbha. The concepts of Prajapati (the supreme Lord of all beings) and Vishvakarma (the Creator in instrumental mode) constitute an important stage in the conception of God in the Rig Veda. The idea of a great deity who is the repository of all power and virtue was a gradual and natural process of growth.

Prithvi is the feet of this Lord; antariksha is his belly; dyu his head; the Sun and the Moon are his eyes; different corners of the universe are his ears. The microcosm and the macrocosm are the two dimensions of the same Ishvara. The concept of Prajapati or Hiranyagarbha marks an advanced state of monotheistic evolution of Vedic philosophy. The question repeatedly raised in the famous Hiranyagarbha Sukta, Kasmai devaya havisha vidhema?

shows that polytheistic conceptions of the Godhead had been left behind by then.

Anthropomorphism at an advanced monotheistic level is revealed in the Purusha Sukta, which is widely used in a number of rituals. The sukta says: Purusha evedam sarvam, yadbhutam yacca bhavyam; Purusha is all this world of movable and immovable objects. He constitutes the past, the present and also the future.

The Purusha of the Purusha Sukta is the manifested state of unmanifested karana brahman. Possessed of an infinite number of heads, eyes and feet, he has enveloped the whole of his creation. He manifests as virat, the sum total of all existence. Depicting the macrocosmic dimension of creation, he reminds us of the essential unity and oneness of existence, the unity of God and His creation. The Hiranyagarbha Sukta announces: Hiranyagarbhah samavartatagre bhutasya jatah patireka asit; Hiranyagarbha was present at the beginning; when born, he was the sole lord of created beings. (10.121) From this stage it is only a small step to the Advaitic concept of an ultimate Reality without name, form or attributes.

The Concept of God and Rita

Rita is the cosmic order that guides not only the individual life of man, but also the totality of universal life. So, a god is sometimes called ritavan and a goddess ritavati. The god Varuna is supposed to be the custodian of rita, which, according to Vedic seers, is praised and glorified even by the devas. The Rig Veda calls Vishnu ritasya garbha, the embryo of rita. The dawn, the sun, the moon, in fact the entire universe, is based on rita. The twenty-third sukta of the fourth Rig Vedic mandala, addressed to the god Indra, ends with the glorification of rita. As a moral principle it encompasses the psychological life of individuals. As the cosmic Order or eternal Law it is responsible for the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Rita integrates chaos into cosmos, gives order to the universe and shows the righteous path for the mind to follow. It is the psychological principle teaching man how to lead a moral life. Thus we can see that according to the Vedic seers, the same ideal functions as the guiding principle for individual as well as universal life. That is why in the first sukta of the Rig Veda itself, addressed to Agni, the sages call their deity ritasya didivim, the illuminator of truth.

The Concept of Self-surrender in Vedic Literature

It may be interesting to note here that even the concept of prapatti or sharanagati (the path of self-surrender through total subservience to God), usually associated with the bhakti tradition, has its origin in the Vedas. This supreme ideal of devotion consists of six factors:

A sattvic motive, abstinence from all kinds of disservice to God, conviction and unflinching faith in the saving grace of the Lord, seeking His grace, complete self-offering, and longing for the earliest extinction of this worldly existence constitute the six forms of self-surrender. (3)

The Varuna Sukta found in the seventh mandala of the Rig Veda is, perhaps, the origin of the ideal of self-surrender which later became an essential element of Vaishnavism. In the first four mantras the rishi is repeatedly asking Varuna to have mercy on him, to bestow joy and happiness on him. He is craving for mercy and favour:

May I never go, royal Varuna, to a house made of clay; have mercy, Almighty, have mercy. (Rig Veda 7.89.1)

The word nyasa is often used to mean the sharanagati ideal that is normally denoted by prapatti in Vaishnava devotional scriptures. For example, it is said in the Taittiriya Aranyaka that self-surrender is the highest form of

austerity: Etanyavarani tapamsi nyasa evatyarecayat. (4) It is also stated that, nyasa iti brahma, brahma hi parah; renunciation is Brahma, and Brahma is the Supreme. (5)

Some of the Vedic statements, which form the origin of the six elements of the sharanagati ideal, may be identified as follows:

He is the sun dwelling in the heavens, the air dwelling in the sky, Vasu (the appointer of the stations of all creatures) in the mid region, the fire existing in the altar (the agni on earth), the guest in the house; He dwells among men, among the gods, in Truth and in space. He is born in water, born on earth, born in the sacrifice, and born in the mountains. He is the Truth. (He is the Great One.) (6)

The idea of sattvic motives, anukulyasya sangkalpa, that is reflected in the pervasive vision of the Supreme in the above mantra, has been expressed even more forcefully in the Rig Vedic shanti mantra beginning Vangme manasi pratishthita mano me vaci pratishthitam; May my speech be based on (be in accord with) my mind; may my mind be based on my speech.

The ideal of complete abstinence from all types of

negative action or disservice (pratikulyasya varjanam) is indicated in the Rig Vedic mantra:

Saviour gods, speak favourably to us; let not sleep, nor the censurer overpower us. (8.48.14)

Similarly, different aspects of the ideal of sharanagati are found in the following Vedic mantras:

I invoke, at repeated sacrifices, Indra, the preserver, the protector, the hero, who is easily propitiated - Indra, the powerful, invoked by many. May Indra, the lord of affluence, bestow prosperity upon us. (7) (Faith in the saving grace of God.)

O Bounteous One! You are our father and mother. (8)

O Indra, with you as our helper, let us answer our enemies. You are ours and we yours. (9)

The well-known shanti mantra of the Krishna Yajur Veda beginning with Saha navavatu; May He protect us, reflects the souls yearning to take refuge in God, goptritvavaranam.

Offering prayers, performing Vedic rituals to various gods and goddesses and leading an integrated life of pursuit of the path of artha and kama without deviating from the path of dharma, in complete harmony with nature and the rest of creation - this was the guiding ethical principle of Vedic society. To understand the idea of God conceived at the early stages of Vedic thought, it is essential to take note of certain fundamental features of the Vedic scheme of life. The social life portrayed in Rig Veda reveals certain interesting features. Monogamy, sanctity of the institution of marriage, domestic purity, a patriarchal system, a just and equitable law of sacrifice, and high honour for women were some of the noteworthy features of the social life during the Vedic period. We find the Vedic seers praying for fullness of life:

May we see the sun rise a hundred autumns. May we live a hundred autumns, hear (through) a hundred autumns, speak (through) a hundred autumns, and be happy and contented a hundred autumns, nay, even beyond these years. (10)

The Origin of Advaita

In the Bhagavadgita, Sri Krishna himself says that those who are devoid of proper knowledge of the real purport of the Vedas and the proper method of propitiating the Almighty, are deluded by ignorance. They think that they themselves are capable of performing Vedic sacrifices, even without the help or grace of God. (11)

One of the most striking depictions of the relation between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the absolute and the relative, the ultimate cause and its effect (karana brahma and karya brahma) and the assertion that both are, in reality, infinite, full and perfect, occurs towards the end of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita in the shanti mantra for the Ishavasya Upanishad beginning with Purnamadah purnamidam; That (supreme Brahman) is infinite, and this (conditioned Brahman) is infinite.

Several portions of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita (for instance, the Rudradhyaya) contain ideas that are strikingly Advaitic in content and form. Some mantras of the Purusha Sukta (which occurs in the Shukla Yajur Veda as well) are interpreted even by Sayanacharya in Advaitic terms. Commenting on the mantra beginning with Paridyava prithivi sadya itva parilokan paridishah parisvah; Having gone swiftly round the earth and heaven, around the worlds, around the sky, around the quarters, Sayana states: Here the nature of jiva is Brahman. (12)

Similarly, the Krishna Yajur Veda Samhita too is full of mantras which have an Advaitic content. The Tandya Brahmana and the Samavidhana of the Sama Veda are equally rich in Advaitic ideas. So also the Atharva Veda.

The literal meaning of Advaita has been explained by Madhusudana Saraswati as that in which there is no twofoldness. Shankaras Advaita siddhanta is not only the climax of philosophical speculation and the highest philosophy of ethics, but also a way of life. As the culmination of mans metaphysical contemplation and spiritual evolution it is the natural final goal of our spiritual sadhanas. In fact, some of the most beautiful Upanishadic verses which Shankara has interpreted in the light of Advaita occur in the Samhita portion of the Rig Veda. For example, the following mantra traditionally associated with the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) is found in the Rig Veda as well:

Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of divergent tastes, and the other looks on without eating. (13)

The mantra brings out the essence of Advaita philosophy and the identity of jiva and Brahman. The bird on the lower branch is the jiva and the one sitting on the upper branch of the tree as witness, without eating fruits, is God Himself. This mantra shows that though its philosophical and logical perfection is reached in Upanishadic literature, the origin of Advaita philosophy is, in fact, to be found in the Rig Veda Samhita itself.

The well-known Devi Sukta (10.125) is another striking example of a Samhita mantra depicting Advaitic experience. The word cikitushi in the third mantra of this sukta is explained by Sayana as:

She (the rishi) had known or realized as her own Self the supreme Brahman, that which must be realized.

Innumerable mantras of the Rig Veda Samhita have been explained by Sayana in an exclusively Advaitic sense.

The Rig Veda gives a great message in the first mantra of the thirteenth sukta of the tenth mandala. This is perhaps the most forceful expression of mans divinity and immortality found in the whole of Vedic literature. It runs as follows:

O my sense organs and their presiding deities, I salute you (that is, I merge you all with the eternal Brahman through meditation). May this hymn of praise spread everywhere through the medium of the wise. May you all, children of immortal Bliss, and all those living in the bright (divine) worlds, listen to me!

The famous Nasadiya Sukta (Rig Veda 10.129) contains the most sublime depiction of Advaitic monism that was later elaborated upon in the Upanishads and expounded by the great Shankaracharya. In this hymn all phenomena are traced to the one Principle which is beyond opposites like life and death, existence and non-existence, being and nonbeing, day and night, and so on. The one Reality is neither existence nor non-existence; it is beyond name and

definition. The concept of maya, which explains why the perfect Reality appears as this imperfect world, has its roots in the Nasadiya Sukta. Here we may very well remember that Advaita is, after all, a matter of inner experience (anubhavaikavedyam; known through experience alone, in the language of Shankaracharya) and not a subject for philosophical speculation.

The Nasadiya Sukta is perhaps the most scientific description of the ultimate Reality as well as of the projection of the phenomenal world. It makes the relative and the Absolute, nature and Spirit, the twin aspects of that one Reality and shows that men of wisdom (kavayah), who had controlled their senses, found out the ultimate cause of this world (which appears to be real) in their own hearts (hridi) through concentrated intellects (manisha).

References

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Rig Veda, 10.121. Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.6.1. Ahirbudhnya Samhita, 37.28. Taittiriya Aranyaka, 10.62. Ibid. Rig Veda, 4.40.5. Rig Veda, 6.47.11; Atharva Veda, 7.86.1. Rig Veda, 7.98.11; Atharva Veda, 20.108.2. Rig Veda, 8.92.32.

10. 11. 15.15. 12. 32.12. 13.

Shukla Yajur Veda, 36.24. See Ramanujas commentary on Bhagavadgita, Sayanacharyas commentary on Shukla Yajur Veda, Rig Veda, 1.164.20.

Universe and terrestrial atmospheres. Painting. Rajasthan. c. 18th century A.D.

References

1. Shankaracharya's commentary on Sanatsujatiya, 3.37. 2. Rig Veda, 2.40.6. 3. Nirukta, 7.15.1. 4. Isha Upanishad, 15. 5. Rig Veda, 7.34.25. 6. Ibid., 1.164.39. 7. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 3.9.3. 8. Rig Veda, 3.9.9. 9. Taittiriya Upanishad, 3.6.1. 10. Rig Veda, 9.96.

Manipura chakra

From Many to One

At the earlier stages of spiritual evolution and metaphysical thought the Vedas mention the names of various gods and goddesses: Mitra, the Sun; Varuna, the god of night and of the blue sky; Dyu and Prithivi, the Sky and the Earth; Agni or fire god, the friend of all; Savitri, the Refulgent; Indra, the master of the universe; Vishnu (though not a major divinity in the Rig Veda), the measurer of the three worlds; and Aditi, the mother of all other gods (the Adityas).

Gradually, however, we come across a tendency towards extolling a god as the greatest, controlling all other divine entities. This marks the progress of mans concept of God or the ultimate Reality from polytheism to monotheism, ultimately leading to monism. That is why the Rig Vedic rishi asks: Kasmai devaya havisha vidhema? To what god shall we offer our oblations? (1) And again, Ko dadarsha prathamam jayamanam? Who saw the first-born? (1.164.4)

The first mandala of the Rig Veda brings out this idea most beautifully:

They (the men of wisdom) call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna,

Agni, and he is the heavenly, noble-winged Garutman. The Reality is one, but sages call it by many names; they call it Agni, Yama, Matarishvan (and so on). (1.164.46)

The idea that names may be many and different but they all denote the one God occurs in Vishvakarma Sukta too. Therein it is stated:

The name-giver of the gods is one; other beings come to him to inquire. (10.82.3)

Samprashnam here refers to the two questions from the Nasadiya Sukta: Kah veda? Who had known? and Kah pravocad? Who had announced? These questions, which are in fact an enquiry into the one impersonal, attributeless, formless Principle behind all concepts of God, occur in the Hiranyagarbha Sukta (10.121, cited above), in the Shatapatha Brahmana (Ko hi prajapatih? Who is Prajapati?), and also in the Aitareya Brahmana (Ko nama prajapatirabhvat? Who became Prajapati?)

One of the grandest conceptions of God in the whole of Vedic literature is found in the last chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita, which is known as the Ishavasya Upanishad. It is said that whatever there is in this world is to

be filled and covered with isha or Ishvara (ishavasyamidam sarvam). God creates this world, then enters into everything. The idea is put forward even more forcefully in the Taittiriya Upanishad:

It created all this that exists. Having created (that) It entered therein. Having entered, It became the formed and the formless. (2)

The Upanishad says that It contemplated and projected (created) the universe, and then entered into the created objects and became one with both the manifest, gross and concrete creation as well as the unmanifest, subtle and abstract.

The universe is the abode of God. The Lord is the ruler of the universe as well as its indweller. The various aspects of gods and goddesses exist within the body of this Lord in their subtle and causal forms. At this stage He is called Prajapati or Hiranyagarbha. The concepts of Prajapati (the supreme Lord of all beings) and Vishvakarma (the Creator in instrumental mode) constitute an important stage in the conception of God in the Rig Veda. The idea of a great deity who is the repository of all power and virtue was a gradual and natural process of growth.

Prithvi is the feet of this Lord; antariksha is his belly; dyu his head; the Sun and the Moon are his eyes; different corners of the universe are his ears. The microcosm and the macrocosm are the two dimensions of the same Ishvara. The concept of Prajapati or Hiranyagarbha marks an advanced state of monotheistic evolution of Vedic philosophy. The question repeatedly raised in the famous Hiranyagarbha Sukta, Kasmai devaya havisha vidhema? shows that polytheistic conceptions of the Godhead had been left behind by then.

Anthropomorphism at an advanced monotheistic level is revealed in the Purusha Sukta, which is widely used in a number of rituals. The sukta says: Purusha evedam sarvam, yadbhutam yacca bhavyam; Purusha is all this world of movable and immovable objects. He constitutes the past, the present and also the future.

The Purusha of the Purusha Sukta is the manifested state of unmanifested karana brahman. Possessed of an infinite number of heads, eyes and feet, he has enveloped the whole of his creation. He manifests as virat, the sum total of all existence. Depicting the macrocosmic dimension of creation, he reminds us of the essential unity and oneness of existence, the unity of God and His creation. The Hiranyagarbha Sukta announces: Hiranyagarbhah samavartatagre bhutasya jatah patireka asit; Hiranyagarbha was present at the beginning; when born, he was the sole lord of created beings. (10.121) From this stage it is only a small step to the Advaitic concept of an ultimate Reality without name, form or attributes.

The Concept of God and Rita

Rita is the cosmic order that guides not only the individual life of man, but also the totality of universal life. So, a god is sometimes called ritavan and a goddess ritavati. The god Varuna is supposed to be the custodian of rita, which, according to Vedic seers, is praised and glorified even by the devas. The Rig Veda calls Vishnu ritasya garbha, the embryo of rita. The dawn, the sun, the moon, in fact the entire universe, is based on rita. The twenty-third sukta of the fourth Rig Vedic mandala, addressed to the god Indra, ends with the glorification of rita. As a moral principle it encompasses the psychological life of individuals. As the cosmic Order or eternal Law it is responsible for the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Rita integrates chaos into cosmos, gives order to the universe and shows the righteous path for the mind to follow. It is the psychological principle teaching man how to lead a moral life. Thus we can see that according to the Vedic seers, the same ideal functions as the guiding principle for individual as well as universal life. That is why in the first sukta of the Rig Veda itself, addressed to Agni, the sages call their deity ritasya didivim, the illuminator of truth.

The Concept of Self-surrender in Vedic Literature

It may be interesting to note here that even the concept of prapatti or sharanagati (the path of self-surrender through total subservience to God), usually associated with the bhakti tradition, has its origin in the Vedas. This supreme ideal of devotion consists of six factors:

A sattvic motive, abstinence from all kinds of disservice to God, conviction and unflinching faith in the saving grace of the Lord, seeking His grace, complete self-offering, and longing for the earliest extinction of this worldly existence constitute the six forms of self-surrender. (3)

The Varuna Sukta found in the seventh mandala of the Rig Veda is, perhaps, the origin of the ideal of self-surrender which later became an essential element of Vaishnavism. In the first four mantras the rishi is repeatedly asking Varuna to have mercy on him, to bestow joy and happiness on him. He is craving for mercy and favour:

May I never go, royal Varuna, to a house made of clay; have mercy, Almighty, have mercy. (Rig Veda 7.89.1)

The word nyasa is often used to mean the sharanagati ideal that is normally denoted by prapatti in Vaishnava devotional scriptures. For example, it is said in the Taittiriya Aranyaka that self-surrender is the highest form of austerity: Etanyavarani tapamsi nyasa evatyarecayat. (4) It is also stated that, nyasa iti brahma, brahma hi parah; renunciation is Brahma, and Brahma is the Supreme. (5)

Some of the Vedic statements, which form the origin of the six elements of the sharanagati ideal, may be identified as follows:

He is the sun dwelling in the heavens, the air dwelling in the sky, Vasu (the appointer of the stations of all creatures) in the mid region, the fire existing in the altar (the agni on earth), the guest in the house; He dwells among men, among the gods, in Truth and in space. He is born in water, born on earth, born in the sacrifice, and born in the mountains. He is the Truth. (He is the Great One.) (6)

The idea of sattvic motives, anukulyasya sangkalpa, that is reflected in the pervasive vision of the Supreme in the

above mantra, has been expressed even more forcefully in the Rig Vedic shanti mantra beginning Vangme manasi pratishthita mano me vaci pratishthitam; May my speech be based on (be in accord with) my mind; may my mind be based on my speech.

The ideal of complete abstinence from all types of negative action or disservice (pratikulyasya varjanam) is indicated in the Rig Vedic mantra:

Saviour gods, speak favourably to us; let not sleep, nor the censurer overpower us. (8.48.14)

Similarly, different aspects of the ideal of sharanagati are found in the following Vedic mantras:

I invoke, at repeated sacrifices, Indra, the preserver, the protector, the hero, who is easily propitiated - Indra, the powerful, invoked by many. May Indra, the lord of affluence, bestow prosperity upon us. (7) (Faith in the saving grace of

God.)

O Bounteous One! You are our father and mother. (8)

O Indra, with you as our helper, let us answer our enemies. You are ours and we yours. (9)

The well-known shanti mantra of the Krishna Yajur Veda beginning with Saha navavatu; May He protect us, reflects the souls yearning to take refuge in God, goptritvavaranam.

Offering prayers, performing Vedic rituals to various gods and goddesses and leading an integrated life of pursuit of the path of artha and kama without deviating from the path of dharma, in complete harmony with nature and the rest of creation - this was the guiding ethical principle of Vedic society. To understand the idea of God conceived at the early stages of Vedic thought, it is essential to take note of certain fundamental features of the Vedic scheme of life. The social life portrayed in Rig Veda reveals certain interesting

features. Monogamy, sanctity of the institution of marriage, domestic purity, a patriarchal system, a just and equitable law of sacrifice, and high honour for women were some of the noteworthy features of the social life during the Vedic period. We find the Vedic seers praying for fullness of life:

May we see the sun rise a hundred autumns. May we live a hundred autumns, hear (through) a hundred autumns, speak (through) a hundred autumns, and be happy and contented a hundred autumns, nay, even beyond these years. (10)

The Origin of Advaita

In the Bhagavadgita, Sri Krishna himself says that those who are devoid of proper knowledge of the real purport of the Vedas and the proper method of propitiating the Almighty, are deluded by ignorance. They think that they themselves are capable of performing Vedic sacrifices, even without the help or grace of God. (11)

One of the most striking depictions of the relation between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the absolute and the relative, the ultimate cause and its effect (karana brahma and karya brahma) and the assertion that both are, in reality, infinite, full and perfect, occurs towards the end of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita in the shanti mantra for the Ishavasya Upanishad beginning with Purnamadah purnamidam; That (supreme Brahman) is infinite, and this (conditioned Brahman) is infinite.

Several portions of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita (for instance, the Rudradhyaya) contain ideas that are strikingly Advaitic in content and form. Some mantras of the Purusha Sukta (which occurs in the Shukla Yajur Veda as well) are interpreted even by Sayanacharya in Advaitic terms. Commenting on the mantra beginning with Paridyava prithivi sadya itva parilokan paridishah parisvah; Having gone swiftly round the earth and heaven, around the worlds, around the sky, around the quarters, Sayana states: Here the nature of jiva is Brahman. (12)

Similarly, the Krishna Yajur Veda Samhita too is full of mantras which have an Advaitic content. The Tandya Brahmana and the Samavidhana of the Sama Veda are equally rich in Advaitic ideas. So also the Atharva Veda.

The literal meaning of Advaita has been explained by Madhusudana Saraswati as that in which there is no twofoldness. Shankaras Advaita siddhanta is not only the climax of philosophical speculation and the highest philosophy of ethics, but also a way of life. As the culmination of mans metaphysical contemplation and

spiritual evolution it is the natural final goal of our spiritual sadhanas. In fact, some of the most beautiful Upanishadic verses which Shankara has interpreted in the light of Advaita occur in the Samhita portion of the Rig Veda. For example, the following mantra traditionally associated with the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1) is found in the Rig Veda as well:

Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruits of divergent tastes, and the other looks on without eating. (13)

The mantra brings out the essence of Advaita philosophy and the identity of jiva and Brahman. The bird on the lower branch is the jiva and the one sitting on the upper branch of the tree as witness, without eating fruits, is God Himself. This mantra shows that though its philosophical and logical perfection is reached in Upanishadic literature, the origin of Advaita philosophy is, in fact, to be found in the Rig Veda Samhita itself.

The well-known Devi Sukta (10.125) is another striking example of a Samhita mantra depicting Advaitic experience. The word cikitushi in the third mantra of this sukta is explained by Sayana as:

She (the rishi) had known or realized as her own Self the supreme Brahman, that which must be realized.

Innumerable mantras of the Rig Veda Samhita have been explained by Sayana in an exclusively Advaitic sense.

The Rig Veda gives a great message in the first mantra of the thirteenth sukta of the tenth mandala. This is perhaps the most forceful expression of mans divinity and immortality found in the whole of Vedic literature. It runs as follows:

O my sense organs and their presiding deities, I salute you (that is, I merge you all with the eternal Brahman through meditation). May this hymn of praise spread everywhere through the medium of the wise. May you all, children of immortal Bliss, and all those living in the bright (divine) worlds, listen to me!

The famous Nasadiya Sukta (Rig Veda 10.129) contains the most sublime depiction of Advaitic monism that was later elaborated upon in the Upanishads and expounded by the great Shankaracharya. In this hymn all phenomena are traced to the one Principle which is beyond opposites like life and death, existence and non-existence, being and nonbeing, day and night, and so on. The one Reality is neither existence nor non-existence; it is beyond name and definition. The concept of maya, which explains why the perfect Reality appears as this imperfect world, has its roots in the Nasadiya Sukta. Here we may very well remember that Advaita is, after all, a matter of inner experience (anubhavaikavedyam; known through experience alone, in the language of Shankaracharya) and not a subject for philosophical speculation.

The Nasadiya Sukta is perhaps the most scientific description of the ultimate Reality as well as of the projection of the phenomenal world. It makes the relative and the Absolute, nature and Spirit, the twin aspects of that one Reality and shows that men of wisdom (kavayah), who had controlled their senses, found out the ultimate cause of this world (which appears to be real) in their own hearts (hridi) through concentrated intellects (manisha).

References

1. Rig Veda, 10.121. 2. Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.6.1. 3. Ahirbudhnya Samhita, 37.28. 4. Taittiriya Aranyaka, 10.62. 5. Ibid. 6. Rig Veda, 4.40.5. 7. Rig Veda, 6.47.11; Atharva Veda, 7.86.1. 8. Rig Veda, 7.98.11; Atharva Veda, 20.108.2. 9. Rig Veda, 8.92.32. 10. Shukla Yajur Veda, 36.24. 11. See Ramanujas commentary on Bhagavadgita, 15.15. 12. Sayanacharyas commentary on Shukla Yajur Veda, 32.12. 13. Rig Veda, 1.164.20. Shalagram, a cosmic spheroid.