Adapted from Dr Kenneth Chandler’s Origins Of Vedic Civilisation
What is Rig Veda and the Vedic literature ?
What is the Vedic tradition really about ?
What is Vedic Cognition and How is it Passed On ?
The Rig Veda was not “created” out the human imagination, as works of poetry or literature are created. Unlike poetry or literature, the Veda is experienced and then the experience of the Veda is recited in hymns that directly express the experience of the Veda. This is called Vedic cognition. Cognition means that the Vedic rishis or seers heard what is there in the universal field of consciousness and they sang out the sounds that they heard.
This experience is what the recited sounds of the Veda express. But the hymns of the Rig Veda are not about the Veda, as if the expression were something different from the Veda itself, which they were describing. The rishis heard the Veda and saw its structure, and this sound itself is expressed in the hymns of the Rig Veda. The experience of the Rig Veda flowed through the rishis into the hymns of the Rig Veda.
The hymns of the Rig Veda sought out those rishis who were fully awake and made themselves known to them, and the rishis passed on these hymns in a long unbroken tradition that endures to the present. The Rig Veda, the most ancient hymns of the Vedic tradition, has been preserved over time by a method of memorisation and recitation, and passed over from father to son in an unbroken sequence over vast stretches of time. By two pundits chanting the hymns (and by chanting them forwards and backwards), a method of ensuring their purity was established that allowed these hymns to be passed on over thousands of years without loss. The Veda we possess today, unbelievable as it may seem, is thus an expression of the sounds heard many thousands of years ago.
It was only in relatively recent times, probably around 3000 BC, that the Veda and Vedic literature, were committed to writing. Before that Veda was an oral tradition.
There are at least 40 distinct branches of the Veda and the Vedic literature. These include, first and foremost, the Rig Veda samhita, and the Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. These four bodies of sound are what is meant by the Veda. In addition to the Veda, the Vedic literature includes 36 branches, all based on the Veda itself : six branches of Vedanga, six branches of Upanga, and six branches of Ayur-Veda, for example. All branches of Vedic literature are considered, like the Veda itself, uncreated or eternal structures of knowledge.
The extent of the Veda and the entire Vedic literature is vast, huge—much larger, for example, than the remaining body of literature of all of ancient Greece and Rome. There are ten volumes of the Rig Veda alone in one of the best editions available in English (the Wilson translation). There are 54 books of Kalpa, just one of six branches of the Vedangas. There are 18 books of Puranas. The Itihasa includes the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the latter printed in an English edition having 20 volumes. There are thus, for example, over a hundred volumes in just these four branches of the Veda and the Vedic literature.
Seers see this vast body of the Veda and the Vedic literature as a systematic body of literature that has a detailed, intricate structure in every part, and all systematically related in a whole. It is systematic in the sense that is not a random collection of books that were written over vast stretches of time, but it forms a complete whole, with a comprehensive organisation and structure. Each of the books of Vedic literature relates in a systematic way to all the others and each forms an essential part of the whole of Vedic literature.
The Veda itself, which is expressed in the Vedas, exists in the unmanifest field of unbounded pure consciousness, called param vyoman. This is a universal silent field of consciousness that pervades everything in the universe. Since it is all-pervading, it pervades the body and mind of every individual. It exists on the most subtle, or fine scale, of activity. It is smaller than the smallest particle of the atomic nucleus. It is on a scale smaller than the smallest quark and lepton. It is the field of consciousness in its least excited state. Everything in nature is an excitation of this field. All particles of matter and force are excited states of this one all-pervading field.
To know the Veda, which is everywhere as the most subtle foundation of the world, we have only to take our awareness from the excited states of consciousness to the least excited state of consciousness. By taking our awareness from the active, gross level of activity to the silent field of pure consciousness, we allow our individual mind to become settled and stilled to that state of wakeful silence, and in that state the mind spreads out to identify with the all-pervading field of consciousness. On that level of awareness, the entire Veda and Vedic literature can be directly experienced as the fabrics of our own consciousness. We simply dive from the surface level of activity to the silent all-pervading depth where consciousness is eternally awake and interacting within itself. This self-interaction of consciousness as its flows from unity into diversity is the Veda. It is the eternal reality at the foundation of everything that exists in the observable manifest world.
The Veda has a structure. It is structured in the form of mandalas, or circles. The structure of the Veda and the Vedic literature is a flow of knowledge, not a static, frozen structure. As the eternal consciousness flowing within itself and knowing itself, it flows and creates within itself a structure that is dynamic and flowing. This flowing structure of Veda is an eternal flow of pure knowledge of the self as it unfolds knowledge of itself. It is the flow of consciousness as it knows itself while it flows from unity to diversity. It is the flow of self-knowledge within consciousness, giving rise to the entire diversity of creation. It is the flow of the oneness of eternal pure consciousness into the many formed unity of the Veda and, from there, to the forms and phenomena of the manifest universe, the visible material world.
The first flow of knowledge of the Veda is the flow from the One into the many. The eternal oneness of pure Being or pure consciousness knows itself. And in knowing itself, it breaks itself into many. The infinite One collapses into a point, and into infinitely many points. These points of consciousness are finite, separate, isolated points of individual consciousness. But they are all ultimately points of the one infinite whole of consciousness. Each is a collapsed point of the infinite whole, and in the process of returning to wholeness, the finite points of consciousness expand back into the infinite One from which they began. This is the fundamental process of creation that is expressed in the Rig Veda and in the Vedic literature.
The Rig Veda expresses this process in sound. The Rig Veda is essentially this sequence of vibrations that manifest as the process of consciousness knowing itself. It unfolds out of the process of consciousness knowing itself. This entire process is a necessary sequence of sounds that unfold the pure knowledge of consciousness to itself. It is the eternal murmuring of consciousness to itself.
The Rig Veda does not describe the process in articulate language, using descriptive terms, the way a scientist might describe an object of nature. The vibrations of consciousness as it moves within itself create unmanifest sounds in the unmanifest field of pure consciousness, which manifest as the sound of the Veda, and these sounds within the infinite field of pure consciousness become the vibrations that manifest in the forms and phenomena of physical creation.
The basic process of consciousness knowing itself takes the form of a collapse of the infinite whole of pure consciousness into finite points of consciousness. This process of infinity collapsing to a point, and the points expanding into infinity, is the basic process that structures the Veda. It is the process by which the eternal Oneness of pure consciousness knows itself.
The Rig Veda has a marvelous structure in which each of the parts reflects the structure of the whole. Thus, for example, the First Mandala of the Rig Veda, which gives the meaning of the Veda as a whole, has 192 suktas. The Tenth Mandala has the same number of suktas, mirroring the gaps between the suktas of the First Mandala. This is not an accidental structural parallel, but an indication of the intricately interlocked structure of the Veda as a whole. This kind of structural identity is reiterated in many places throughout Vedic literature.
First Syllable, First Verse…
The first syllable of the Rig Veda, “Ak,” could be seen as containing the whole Rig Veda within itself. It represents the collapse of the continuum of flow of infinite wholeness to its own point. The “A” sound represents flow or continuum, and the “k” sound represents the stop, or collapse of the flow. This sound is actually the process of the infinite whole of consciousness collapsing to its point values. The line however continues …
अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम | होतारं रत्नधातमम ||
aghnimīḷe purohitaṃ yajñasya devaṃ ṛtvījam |
hotāraṃ ratnadhātamam ||
Griffith translates it as :
I Laud Agni,
The chosen Priest,
God, minister of sacrifice,
The Hotar, lavisher of wealth.
The traslation above is purely “Adhiyajñika“, in accord with Sayana’s commentary of 14th Century AD. It interprets the Vedic rik at ritual level in terms of performance of works accompanying its utterance. It entirely misses the Ādhyātmika sense that the mantra includes at the spiritual and psychological level in terms of being, individual and universal, commonly signified with use of terms such as God, Heaven, etc. And, lastly, there is always the Ādhidaivika or naturalistic or cosmological sense the reader or hearer obtains, pertaining to phenomenal creation and its laws observed in nature.
The unstrung Adhyatmika sense is included in the syllables as herebelow :
Agnim [Arc : to illuminate + Nī : to lead]
Īle [Īḍ : to praise, to glorify]
Purohitaṃ [Pṝ : full, complete, first
+ Hu : to sacrifice, to conduct]
Yajñasya [Yaj : to exalt, to offer]
Devam [Div(u) : to shine with power]
Ṛtvijaṃ [Ṛ : to guide rightly, to steer
+ Vij : to arouse, to strengthen]
Hotāraṃ [(1) Hve : to call;
(2) Hu : to sacrifice, conduct]
Ratna [Ram : to be or make content, to please]
Dhātamaṃ [(1) Dhā: to put, to order, to set in place;
(2) Dhṛ: to hold, to sustain]
Left unstrung, the sense which arises with utterance of syllable would fill the heart and intellect in accord with one’s own age, exposure and acquired sagacity, leaving the individual with his own meaning overall as his mind would string the parts up.
One such Adhyatmika translation would perhaps read thus :
Praise, the Prime Illuminator
Who lights up all and enlightens;
The Supreme who offers all
Whose exalted act
At first offered all in creation;
Who gloriously shines of own power
Who vests strength in each to arise;
Who rightly guides and steers all
With the call to our being
To be, to be blissful and content;
And sets each to order
In our own place.
The material or naturalistic is not attempted here for want of context.
In line with the spiritual sense offered above, the first syllable of the Rig Veda is elaborated and commented on in the first 24 richa (verses), which are further elaborated in the corresponding 24 pada (phrases) of the next eight richa, giving 192 meaning of the syllable Ak or [Arc]. These all emerge from the 24 sandhi (gaps) of the first richa. From the 192 gaps between the 192 akshara (syllables) of richa 2-9, emerge the 192 suktas of the First Mandala of the Rig Veda.
The 192 sandhi between the 192 suktas of the first Mandala give rise to the 192 suktas of the Tenth Mandala, a circular structure that precisely fills the gaps of the First Mandala. Similarly, the gaps between the nine richas of the first sukta are elaborated in Mandala 2-9 of Rig Veda, unfolding the total Rig Veda with all its ten Mandalas.
The whole of the Rig Veda has therefore a marvelous and intricately interwoven structure that is beyond the capacity of the human mind to create. It was not created, but cognised by the seers of ancient India. This is part of the reason that seers recognise the tradition and agree that the Veda and the Vedic literature is “eternal” or uncreated.
*** See Tony Nader, The Human Physiology : Expression of Veda and the Vedic Literature,
(Vlodrop, Holland: Maharishi Vedic University Press, 2000), p. 57.
The Three-in-One Structure of Pure Knowledge
The flow of Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas in the Structure of the Veda is one other structure of the Veda that is basic to understanding the Veda. In the process of knowing itself, the infinite pure consciousness, which is eternal knows itself, creates a division within itself of knower, known, and process of knowing. This is necessary for it to know itself. It is both eternally one and yet eternally three—knower, knowing, and known—making a three-in-one structure of self-knowing consciousness.
This is another fundamental feature of pure consciousness that it is both eternally one and eternally many. From the three-fold structure of knower, known, and process of knowing, consciousness continues to reflect on itself, giving rise to many more reiterations of itself, until the one has evolved into the diversity of the entire Veda.
This threefold structure of pure knowledge, that it is one and three at the same time, seers call “the three-in-one structure of pure knowledge.” It is expressed in the Veda in the terms rishi (knower), devata (process of knowing) and chhandas (known). Every sukta of the Rig Veda has a structure of rishi, devata, and chhandas, which is announced at the beginning of the hymn. There are infinitely many values of rishi, infinitely many values of devata, and infinitely many values of chhandas. These provide the basic key to understanding the structure of the Rig Veda, as well as Sama, Atharva, and Yajur Veda.
Not only the Veda but all of Vedic literature reflects this structure of knower, knowing, and known. Each branch of the Vedic literature flows out of the mechanics of self-knowing consciousness. The Vedic literature, with its six-fold organisation, reflects the process of movement from rishi, to devata, to chhandas, and from chhandas back to devata and rishi. This process is the basic process that structures the entire Rig Veda and the entire Vedic literature. It is the process of self-knowing consciousness.
Readers are encouraged to rediscover the structure of the entire Veda and Vedic literature. This is an immense voyage of discovery into a new world of knowledge that has been lost for thousands of years. It is a journey into the fabric of our own consciousness. It is regaining lost knowledge of our own infinite Self.