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The Vision of Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Vedic Vision

The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita constitute a trio whose revelations may be regarded as the highest possible reaches ever achieved by mankind. The plumbing of the depths of the very nature of all life, which seems to have been the occupation of the ancient Vedic seers, is really an unparalleled adventure in the history of humankind. The Vedas are principally known as Samhitas, a body of invocations, prayers, supplications, attunements of spirit with spirit and a vision of things which beholds a uniform, unifying principle in the highest as well as the lowest, in what may be visible or what is not visible, what is related or what is not related to the human individual— physical, natural or religious, or even the occupations of daily workaday life—all these became the object of attention of the great seers of the Vedas. That which cannot be known through ordinary means is supposed to be capable of being known through the Vedas. Hence the Veda is called aloukika or super-physical in its power of perception, while all our normal perceptions are physical and personal as well as social.

The association of the very content of the Veda mantras with the ultimate facts of life has been deified to such an extent that one of the aphorisms of the Brahma Sutra makes out that the truths of life can be known only from the Veda shastra. It is also mentioned in an Upanishad that the Veda, the shastra, the scripture, is not merely a source of the knowledge with which one can come in contact with the ultimate realities of life, but this knowledge itself is a sort of divine breath, an exhalation emanating from the great reality itself. The Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva—the Veda is the nishvasita, the expiration of the great reality of the universe, which means to say that the essence of knowledge, which is the constituent of Ultimate Reality, is in the Veda as a visible embodiment, an accessible means of final and infallible knowing.

The mantras of the Vedas do not merely act as a kind of textbook which convey through their words a dictionary meaning of their contents or a stylish interpretation of the intention of the author. On the other hand, there is a specific characteristic of the Veda mantras. This is so because the mantras are not supposed to have been written by any person. They are not compositions by a human author. Apaurusheya is the Veda, which means to say the the source of the Veda mantras is non-human, superhuman and spiritual. From where does the Veda emanate? How did it come into being? The great advance that has been made in a doctrine of the word, called spotavada, on which subject intricate textbooks have been written, makes out that the sound principle, which is the vehicle through which the knowledge of the Veda is conveyed, is basically an eternal vibration. When it is said that the Veda is eternal in its nature and does not constitute a temporal textbook, what is intended is not that the printed book, the bound volume, is an eternal body, but that the knowledge is of a non-temporal nature. The non-temporality of this knowledge arises because this wisdom of the Veda is capable of being communicated through various degrees of the manifestation of a vibration, which ultimately is supposed to be the substance of the whole cosmos.

The universe is vibration; it is not a solid substance. In the beginning was a great vibration—this is the doctrine of the spotavada. We say, in modern language, that there was originally not a manifest universe of galaxies and solar systems, but there was something like a potentiality to manifest nebular dust, a kind of bang, sometimes called the big bang, at least from one angle of the vision of modern science. There are many other doctrines of this split—the coming forth, the concretisation of this great vibration. It is not easy to define what a vibration is because we always have the habit of thinking that the vibration should be 'of' something. Something has to vibrate in order that there may be vibration. But here, in the case of this peculiar cosmic vibration, it is not something that vibrates but vibration itself that is the ultimate stuff of things. This position is inconceivable to our present mentality due to our concept of the energy pattern of the cosmic make-up, energy being a potentiality but not a capacity manifest by something else as a substance. The energy of the universe is itself a substance. Electricity is itself what it is. It is not a manifestation from something—it itself is all things in itself. It is a manifestation as well as a substantiality.

The theory of sound, in its most in-depth character, has been studied in India. When we speak, we make a sound. There is an articulation in the expression of language. This outward mode of the manifestation of our inner intention through expression, vocally, is the grossest form of the manifestation of sound. This, in the Sanskrit language, is called the vaikhari form of the sound. The audible sound is the grossest, densest, most concrete form that the vibration can take. But this vaikhari form of sound, the audible, expressible nature of the sound form, has an inner content that is capable of classification in a fourfold manner. This fourfold classification of the essence of sound, which is not to be identified merely with the sound that we hear through our ears, this fourfold character of sound is designated in mystical circles, in the Sanskrit language, as para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. In the Mandukya Upanishad, which is incidentally an exposition of pranava or Om, a suggestion is made of the possibility of identifying the stages of sound with the degrees of reality. That means to say, the highest form of sound-potential, which is not a physical content but a highly rarified form of universality, is just the same as the Reality as it is in itself. The four stages of sound, which constitute pranava or omkara, are set in tune with the four manifestations of the Ultimate in this Upanishad, known as Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara and Brahman. The identification of the degrees of the manifestation of sound with the degrees of the manifestation of Reality will give us some hint as to why it is said that the Veda, which is the embodiment of the highest knowledge in the form of potential sound, is the emanation of the Supreme Being Himself.

Knowledge is not an uttered word. It is a potentiality; it is a possibility; it is a capacity for expression in a particular form. The vaikhari form of the sound, while it is the grossest form of articulation, is motivated by a vibration which is subtler than itself. This subtle background of the vaikhari form of the sound is inaudible. The inaudible potentiality of the audible sound, vaikhari, is madhyama. The inaudible form of the sound is also an expression of a pressure felt from another thing that is behind it called the pasyanti, a still more rarified form. But the most rarified form of the sound is para. The word is very significant indeed—it is Absolute.

'Amatra' is the word used in the Mandukya Upanishad to designate this soundless rarification of the sound, whereby the visible becomes the comic content, and it is no more a sound but the very background of the manifestation of sound. We have five sense organs. There is a particular sense which receives vibrations in the form of colour—the eyes. Another organ receives the vibration in the form of audible sound. A third organ receives vibration in form of taste, a fourth one by means of tangibility, and a fifth one by smell. We seem to feel that there are five things in this world—that which can be seen, or heard, or touched, or tasted, or smelt. They are not five things, but five types of impact that a single energy has upon five types of receptive potentialities or capacities in ourselves. We receive a common content of the cosmos in five different ways, as we can conduct the action of electric energy in different ways—as heat, or cold, or motion, or water.

The chanting of Om, the recitation of the pranava, is supposed to create in us a sympathetic vibration in the personality, commensurate with the deepest potentialities of the universal vibration. When we recite Om, chant Om systematically, we will feel, if we have done it properly, that there is a slow rarification, a passing from the gross to the subtle of the sound that we make in the chanting of Om, until a state is reached that it is one with thought itself. It is one with thought and one with the whole being.

The higher is the potency of a homeopathic medicine, the greater is the action that it has upon the body, because the higher potency alone can touch the higher levels of our being, whereas the lower potencies can act only on the lower levels, such as the physical body. Our personality is equally a systematised arrangement of degrees of reality, as we conceive the same degrees in the cosmos. As we have Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara and Brahman, the visualisation of the Supreme Being in a fourfold manifestation, we have also a corresponding fourfold manifestation in our own selves by way of the manifestation of our consciousness in waking, in dreaming, in sleep, and in a transcendent something which we are—the Atman, pure and simple.

The Atman in us, the Self that we are, the true being of ours corresponds in our microcosmic personality to the macrocosmic Brahman. The one is en rapport with the other. The condition we call deep sleep is the potentiality for outer manifestation in the form of dream and waking. This potential causal state of our personality is sympathetic with the universal causal condition, known as Ishvara. The dream condition where we have a translucent manifestation of the mind, which is neither causal nor actually expressed, is comparable with a faintly manifest condition of the universe in a state called Hiranyagarbha. The actual waking state is where we are conscious of externality in its true colour—in this state we are one with Virat. The Virat is one with us in our waking state, through our visualisations, by means of the sense organs. We are actually touching the cosmic reality, daily, from moment to moment in the form of this Viratsvarupa. The many heads and eyes and ears, which the Virat appears to have, as told to us by the Vedas, the Bhagavadgita, etc. are our own heads and eyes and ears. They are not somewhere else. A transportation of our individual perceptional manner to a cosmic position would suddenly transport us from an individual to the Virat in a single moment. It requires only a moment for us to transport ourselves to the Virat condition—not years of effort.

The Veda therefore, in its form as an embodiment of eternal knowledge, does not remain as a textbook for teaching in a pedagogical manner in a college or university—it is a spiritual content for daily meditation. Today researchers have gone the to extent of seeing, in the inner meaning of the Veda mantras, many things that are more than mere prayers to deities or gods of the cosmos, but are even instructions on the daily fulfilment of our requirements, including political, social, economic and technological. The Veda is difficult understand because of its fourfold implications. Disciples, great sages appear to have gone to Veda Vyasa one day and requested the great master, “Teach us the Veda.” We are told that a cryptic reply of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa to the disciples was “Ananta vai vedaha”—infinite is the Veda. Endless is the meaning of the Veda mantras. The endlessness of the content of the Veda is in its fourfold or fivefold inclusiveness of approach, which is not always available to us, humans that we are. The objective world is presented to our consciousness in one manner. This is also one method of the perception of reality—the world as an externally presented content to the sense organs, mind and intellect. But reality is not exhausted only by the externality that the world is; it is also the internality that the subjective individual is. The adhyatma or the individual is one viewpoint from which the knowledge of the Veda can be interpreted; the adhibhuta or external form of it is another altogether. But there is a third way which is predominantly known as the adhidaiva interpretation, the mantras being used as invocations of a transcendent content, present and operating between the adhyatma and the adhibhuta, myself and yourself, connecting us both.

This invisible content permeating through all that is objective as well as subjective is the god, the divinity that is adored through the Veda mantras under the names Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, etc. The bahu, or the manifoldness of the designations or names of these gods, signifies the varieties of approach possible in respect of the manifestation of this reality through various angles. The objective side is one, which is called adhibhuta, the subjective side is another, which is adhyatma, and the transcendent side is a third one altogether, which is adhidaiva. There is a fourth one which is adhidharma, a principle of cohesive activity to which I made some reference previously. Reality also operates in this universe as rule, law, order, system, symmetry and rhythm—this is dharma. Adhidharma is one aspect of the manifestation of reality. There is a fifth form which is adhiyajna, the activities of the cosmos, the manifestations right from creation onwards down to the lowest dust of the earth, including our own daily activities, individually. The ritualistic, activistic and relative performances of individuals in respect of the environment is the yajna that we perform. This is a sacrifice, as it were, the attempt that we make to commune ourselves with reality outside and above by social relationship, communication, work, sacrifice, cooperation, service, charity, sympathy, love, affection, etc. So at least among the manifold forms in which the knowledge of the Veda can be conceived, five basic factors can be stated—namely, the aspects of adhibhuta, adhyatma, adhidaiva, adhidharma and adhiyajna.

This being the inner potentiality of the meaning of the Veda mantras, ordinary linguistic interpretation or translation in an ordinary fashion will not bring about their true meaning. Ages passed in this manner when the visualisation of the Ultimate Being through the mantras was available only to great sages like Vashishtha, Vishvamitra, Guatama, Atri, Bharadvaja and many others who are mentioned as the Seers of the mantras in the caption of the suktas of the Vedas themselves.

The traditional concept of the Veda is that it is not a historical document, as sometimes modern readers of the Veda opine, but it is an indivisible presentation in the degrees in which it can be conceived but not temporally manifest, one coming after the other. That is to say, the vision of life through the Veda is a complete whole—not conceived merely chronologically in a historical fashion, one succeeding the other as an effect produced from a cause, but a sudden possibility of the manifestation of the vision of life in a manifold manner, simultaneously. It is not that we do one thing now and another thing tomorrow. We pray today, work tomorrow and achieve our goal the day after tomorrow—it is not like that.

Simultaneity is our being, simultaneity is our perception, simultaneity is our relationship with things. The world acts in a simultaneous manner. There is no chronology in natural history. Therefore we cannot even say that God created the world at some time in the past, which would be a child's conception of the creation of the world, as if there has been a slow coming down of things in a historical fashion. It is rather a logical development—a deduction, as it were, from a premise, rather than a chronological coming like the marching of people in a queue, one following the other. There is a deduction; one follows the other in the process of creation, no doubt, but this one following the other is a logical following and not a chronological following.

All this makes the attempt to understand the Veda mantras a difficult thing. This is the reason why the Veda is not taught in the form of a lecture or a teaching in the manner in which we are accustomed today, but it is considered as a holy yajna performed by a dedicated, devoted, holy disciple, seated before a holy master. The Veda mantras are not studied in the manner we study textbooks of mathematics, physics, history, geography, etc. At the very initial stage itself there is a dedication—spirit pervades even this devoted seatedness in the vicinity of a master. There are techniques of teaching the Vedas, and there are techniques of receiving the chanting and imbibing not only the manner of recitation, but also the manner of contemplation. The Veda mantras are not merely prayers, verbally offered to gods, though that also may be one of the meanings—they are certain indications of the highest meditations possible.

The Upanishads are the extract of this visualisation of the possibility of meditation on the inner significance of the Veda mantras, and we have been saved the trouble of personally going into this big forest of the implications of the meaning of these mantras. The sages of the Upanishads have been very kind—they have done the work for us. This implication of a great variety in nature, in respect of the inner meaning of the Veda mantras, is the Upanishad. It is the tattva, the quintessence, the final word or the import of the Veda mantras. So the Veda Samhitas and the Upanishads stand, not as two different approaches, but one complementing the other, one explaining the other, one actually, vitally related to the other.

The Upanishad is the tattva, the inner intention of the Veda mantras. Because there are varieties of approaches presented by the Vedas, the Upanishad also becomes a very difficult thing to understand. It is not just philosophy, it is not theorising or argumentation, it is not logical thought—it is a direct grasp, intuitively made available in deep meditation. Both the Veda mantras and Upanishads constitute meditations proper. They are spirituality embodied in the form of these holy texts available to us today. The trio that I mentioned—the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavadgita—form a body of friendly approaches, one corresponding to the other from a different angle of vision. Each approach supplements the other and makes the other more explicit for the purpose of understanding and practise.

In a way, we may say that the Veda mantras are the highest of visions and realisations. That is why the Veda mantras are considered the most sacred texts of the religion of the country. Nothing can equal it. No philosophy can exceed the reaches of the Veda mantras in their contents. Yet, because of their manifold possibilities, human minds found it hard to extract the inner meaning in daily practise. The visualisation of the inner depth of the Veda mantras is the Upanishad proper. It is the secret meaning of Vedas—that is the meaning of word 'upanishad'. While the word 'upanishad' has many other meanings, this is one of the meanings—a secret doctrine is the Upanishad. A grand visual form spiritually of the ultimate reality, in practical daily life, are the Veda mantras in their action.

The more we are taught a particular doctrine, the more we find it difficult to understand as time passes. This is due to the inability of the human mind to properly place itself in the context of the teaching, which is so comprehensive that a fractional approach of the mind, to which it is accustomed, finds it difficult to accommodate itself to this larger approach. The Bhagavadgita is the last word in the interpretation of the spiritual content of a complete vision of life, where everything is laid before us in a most intelligible manner. The perfect knowledge of the Veda and the Upanishad is perfectly presented in a most perfect manner by the great perfect master Himself. There is a verse which states that the Bhagavadgita is the milk, as it were, of the Upanishads. If the Upanishads are the milk of the Veda mantras, the Bhagavadgita is the milk of the Upanishads, the quintessential essence of spiritual teaching. The various approaches—adhibhuta, adhyatma, adhidaiva, etc.—are implied but not explicitly available in the Veda mantras or the Samhitas; but the meaning, considered only from a meditational point of view in the Upanishads, is practically presented before us as a daily instruction for our life, from morning to evening, in the greatest possible detail.

We find today that even the Bhagavadgita is difficult to understand. The numbers of commentaries that have been written on it, hundreds and hundreds in number, indicate that even this most explicit teaching of the Bhagavadgita, which is supposed to be clearer than even the intentions of the Upanishads and Veda mantras, is so hard that what the final word of the Gita is, is not known to most of us. The difficulty that we feel in our daily life is the adjustment of ourselves to the various calls of the sides of the personality, which are connected to the sides of the reality, objectively. We cannot think all aspects of our life at one stroke. Spiritual life is a total vision of life. It is the totality of its approach that makes it a very difficult thing for us to think in the mind and put into practise. We may do something in a particular way, we may think also from one angle of vision, but all aspects of the matter cannot be taken into consideration at the same time. Spirituality is the approach of the soul. It is not an activity of the mind or an argumentation of the intellect or the reason, and it is not a work that is done by our body or the limbs or organs. It is the soul rising into the level of its aspiration being fulfilled, the inner soul calling the Universal Soul.

When the soul within us summons the Soul that is above, we are in a state of spirituality. All life that is spiritual is the soul in action. If our spiritual life gets limited only to certain activities which are the work of our limbs or organs or even only mental processes, they would to that extent cease to be entirely spiritual. The spirituality of an approach is to be seen from the satisfaction that we feel by the implementation of that approach. The japa that we perform, the meditation that we conduct, or the communion that we try to establish in our depths in our spiritual practice will have to result in an experience of a greater potentiality and understanding in ourselves, a greater strength, a greater feeling of security, a feeling of betterment, both physically in the form of health and also mentally in the form of a satisfaction that was not present earlier. To rise from meditation in a dissatisfied way would not be an indication that the meditation has been conducted properly. For spiritual practice, the ancient system of preparedness, or adhikaritva, has to be emphasised even today. It is not that anyone and everyone can suddenly step into the paths of the spirit at one stroke, though everyone is eligible for it one day or the other, provided the necessary discipline is undergone. Everyone is eligible for everything, but under conditions of the required discipline that is made available in oneself.

The life that is spiritual—spiritual life, as we call it, is the highest achievement that we can expect in this birth. It is the highest point that can be reached in the evolution of the human species, beyond which there can be nothing, because the concept that is spiritual is basically non-temporal. The soul in us is not a temporal unit; it is not something that is moving in time. We ourselves, in our roots, are not temporal motions or the flux of creation. Our aspiration for eternity and an unending life is the argument of something within our own selves that is unending in itself. God speaks to us through the voice of our own spiritual aspirations. Our conscience is the voice of God. Thus these approaches, these proclamations, these revelations made available to us the through the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita are the touchstones of Reality, the treasures of mankind, our bosom friend, our vade mecum. They are not merely books—they are the visible God Himself. That is why that we feel such a holy and exalted mood in the presence of the visible form of this knowledge as the Veda, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavadgita. They are verbally embodied forms of the highest revelations of Vedic sages, the masters of the Upanishads, and in the case of the Bhagavadgita, the great vision of Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself.

Even a study of the Veda mantras, even a mere recitation of them, is supposed to be capable of purifying us. A mantra is that which protects, supports and gives security to anyone who even thinks of it and recites it. By a contemplation of it, it is protecting us every moment. The Veda mantras are a talisman that we are carrying with us always, particularly the Gayatri, which is considered as the essence of Vedic teaching for various reasons which we need not consider here.

The spiritual vision of life, therefore, is the highest vision of life. It is highest not merely in the sense of the pinnacle of a pedestal that we ascend from the lower to the higher—it is a comprehensive outlook from all angles of vision possible. It is all content, all substance, all soul, all fulfillment; this is why we call it the very soul of all things. To be spiritual is not to be in a state of occupation. It is not just to appear in a religions manner, it is not a mood which is other-worldly, but it is a purification of the personality in such a way that it becomes a friend and collaborator—a friend, philosopher and guide—that which is one with all things in the deepest spirit. A spiritual seeker is no more an ordinary human being. If the seeking is truly spiritual and it is an emanation from the soul, it at once transforms the human into that which is superhuman. Great glory is spiritual seeking. Great achievement is spiritual seeking. Great possession is spiritual seeking, and nothing can be greater than this achievement. Health and wealth follow from a truly spiritual vision of life. Every kind of protection from all corners of the earth follows, says the Upanishad. The great soul, who is tuned up to the soul of cosmos in a spiritual vision of things, receives tribute, as it were, from every quarter of the world. As everyone wishes protection to one's own self, everyone will wish protection to us. All creation will wish our welfare, because in our spiritual aspirations, we have ceased to be ourself—we have become everyone. Because in our spiritual aspirations we are no more ourself but we are all people, everyone wishes our welfare. We are not merely the friend of all—everyone also is our friend. Just as children cry for food, seated around their mother, so do all living beings cry, as it were, seated around this great personality who is the highest spiritual potential possible, and they wish their welfare.

The vishva who is the individual becomes the Vaishvanara who is the cosmic through the gradations of ascents—vishva, taijasa, prajna and the Atman or turiya individually, and cosmically through Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara. This great spiritual vision gets materialised in direct experience. Thus the spiritual vision of life is also the modus operandi of our daily activity in life. The spiritual vision is the actual constitution of the cosmos, and the administration of the universe is conducted from the point of view of this great vision, which is spiritual, whose inner intention and the variety of approach is available to us in these great texts mentioned—the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita.