Jaldhar Vyas on Veda

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Apr 3 21:05:51 CST 2002

On Wed, 3 Apr 2002, Hemant wrote:

> Namaskara,
>          I reside in Sri Aurobindo Ashram. I would be grateful to learn
> from Sri Vyas something more about the following. a) Why Sri Aurobindo's
> interpretation of the Veda is unreliable.

Now I confess mostly what I know about him was from reading some of his
stuff a long time ago so I don't remember exact details but I got the
distinct impression that he belongs squarely in the Romantic school of
literature.  This movement stressed intuition over logic, the
creative power of the individual and the celebration of an idyllic

For Aurobindo, it seems that the Vedas represent a record of a "primitive"
people who worshipped nature.  Free from the fetters of repressive
civilization, they communed directly with divinity and created the highly
symbolic and meaningful poetry of the Vedas.  Because of this direct
experience, their words are much more significant than any philosophical
theorizing.  Mans goal is to transcend the limitations set by society and
the physical environment through the disciplined suppression of these
artificial constraints until only the pure natural essence remains.  Is
this is a fair assessment of his ideas?

So the differences between these view and the traditional ones can be
summarized as follows:

1.  What are the Vedas?

When Aurobindo talks about the Vedas he seems to mean only the Samhitas
particularly the Rk Samhita.  He also acknowledges the Upanishads but
totally ignore the vast mass of the Vedic literature, the Brahmanas and

For us, the Vedas are only the fountainhead of Dharma.  It is continued
onwards in Smrti (dharmashastras, puranas, itihasa etc.)  and shistachara
(the conduct of the wise.)  Except in cases of a conflict there is no
practical difference in authority bwetween the Rgveda or the Mahabharata
or the teachings of a particular acharya.  It is all "Vedic"

2.  Who created the Vedas?

For Aurobindo, the Rshis were poets par excellence who because of their
closeness to nature had superior intuition.  The Vedas are a record of
their experiences.

The words of Swami Chandrashekharendra sum up our view

"The mantras, as mentioned so often, were not created by the sages and are
not the product of their thinking. It was Bhagavan who caused them to be
revealed to them."

Notice the careful choice of words, "caused them to be revealed"  Even
Bhagawan cannot be said to be the author of the Vedas!  They sprang into
existence by methods we know not.  The importance of the Rshis is only
that they saw them first.

3.  What are the Vedas about?

For Aurobindo, the Vedas can be interpreted on several levels.  The
highest is the spiritual level.  At this level the Vedas teach a
universalistic, non-rational, and non-culture specific idea of
self-knowledge.  However they are not the only source of this knowledge
and a sufficiently realized person can achieve this knowledge without

For us the Vedas are not just descriptive but prescriptive.  In the karma
kanda it deals with what is to be done and not done.  In the jnana kanda
it deals with what is real and not real.  For Advaita Vedanta karma and
jnana are completely seperate and jnana is superior to karma--at least for
a certain type of person--but karma is perfectly valid in its' own sphere
and the Vedic prohibions and commands are 100% binding on all except the
sannyasis.  Supreme knowledge is to be known only through the Vedas.  (In
the above description bear in mind our more expansive definition of

4.  How are the Vedas to be studied?

For Aurobindo, the Vedas are books which depict the historical experiences
of particular people.  They should be approached as one would approach any
piece of literature primararily for their aesthetic and emotional content.
systematic theorizing as to their meaning is pointless and in fact
dangerous to spiritual progress.

For us the Vedas are a fixed body of knowledge, rational, and practical.
(Four of the six Vedangas deal with analysis of language, two with
ritual.)  They are ahistorical and impersonal.  Yet their cultural context
is intensely personal.  They are to be memorized.  Even though printed
books and manuscripts exist they are only grudgingly accepted as an aid to
memory.  They are taught only by and to specific groups of people in
specific ways.  As already mentioned "Vedic" does not apply to the Vedas
alone.  Those shastras based on the Vedas share their authority to a
greater or lesser degree.

I hope this comparison illustrates the wide gulf between Aurobindos'
understanding of the Vedas and Advaita Vedanta.  If I have misrepresented
him in any way do let me know.  His views are I daresay interesting but
their utility to a dharmic person is, I must state plainly, zero.

> b) What is this top downwards approach of modernists.

The modern Hindu movements have their origins in the western-educated,
colonial Indian elites.  None of them ever became a mass movement.  That's
one way.  But I was thinking more about ideas.  The modern movements are
overly enamored of big ideas and heedless of the actual practice of those
ideas.  Their followers tend to be ignorant of history and social context.
Thus I have found the curious phenomenon that despite their self-image as
being progressive and innovative, such people often have  theological
views that are fundamentalist or otherwise anti-intellectual.  Not all
modernists are like that and for that matter not all orthodox minded
people are paragons of clear thinking but despite seemingly being an ideal
candidate for the modern camp I personally have found the traditional
forms of Hinduism to be more satisfying philosophically and spiritually
and more relevant to my daily life.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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