By Tina Sadhwani
“As rivers lose name and form when they disappear into the sea, the sage leaves behind all traces when he disappears into the light. Perceiving the truth, he becomes truth; he passes beyond all suffering, beyond death and all the knots of his heart are loosened” – Upanishads
When one looks at the immense sea of knowledge that has come down to us from the Vedic civilization one cannot help but feel overwhelmed at the timeless grandeur and depth of such wisdom. Wisdom that has not only cast its eternal light upon the earth but wisdom that has laid the primal foundations for all the world’s scientific and spiritual ethos. The Supreme Vedic Experience had unfolded within the rishis of antiquity the discoveries of the immutable Source, furnishing cosmological insights into the macrocosm while revealing the transcendental truths of Atma-Vidya, the inner science.
These Vedic rishis, the oldest and highest luminaries of sentient intelligence have been recognized as the primary ‘seers’ of such wisdom. The ‘seers’ of the Veda. It has often been reiterated that the Veda has been ‘revealed’ and not composed. That it is ‘apauru?eya’, not authored or created by man. One is however bound to question the basis of such knowledge that has been mysteriously perceived or ‘revealed’ as opposed to logically arrived at through intellectual endeavour or scientific investigation. How were the ancient rishis, so early in human history, made privy to information that enabled them to understand the intrinsic operations of the universe without the use of scientific technology, the kind that we are so proud of today? How have the immense structures of civilization, of thought, of language, of communication and of knowledge of the workings of the cosmos been grown from and built upon the foundation of faculties that are often considered the antithesis of reasoning, intellect and science?
Most of us often think that our own perception of the world and analysis of things is the only level of thinking that exists and the only standard of reality and normality. Furthermore, the modern mind tends to give more credence to rationalism today and considers any deviation from that norm as invalid, unacceptable or merely the work of an inferior mind. The higher truths cognized by the ancient seers are therefore often dismissed as the primitive compositions of an ignorant race or sensational glorifications reflecting mere religious sentiment.
What is not commonly known is that the fountainhead of ancient enquiry has often been governed by non-ordinary modes of information-processing such as intuition, spiritual cognition and revelation. These have been considered not just alternate operations of the mind but superior and extraordinary modes of experience that transcended the mind.
Moreover, the Vedic mind has always been aware of the multifaceted nature of reality that escapes even the most ingenious forms of speculation and intellectualism. Consequently, the Vedic truths arrived at have been the off-spring of such mystical and intuitive revelations that have occurred through transcendental modes of consciousness. Nevertheless they have still displayed an integrity of the highest intellectual vigour. The supramental consciousness that has been established by the ancient seers in the earth-life, in the world-order, and the power and knowledge that it has unleashed in the form of the Veda, the self-expression of Spirit, cannot be compared to or evaluated by the crudities of the modern rational mind.
Truth of the Veda
By delving into the immense Vedic literature one can easily observe the fact that the Vedas are not a set of books or scriptures, for Vedic knowledge is eternal. More accurately speaking, the Vedas can be understood as a cosmic matrix of fundamental knowledge, embedded in the very fabric of existence, echoing the scientific and spiritual laws of the universe that was first revealed to and cognized by the ancient Vedic rishis in their advanced states of consciousness.
Without an ‘advanced state of consciousness’ which could serve as a provisional key term here to comprehend the basis of such metaphysical insight and knowledge, one could only be considered looking at the infinite knowledge base of the Veda through merely a key hole.
Sri Aurobindo affirms “The perfect truth of the Veda, where it is now hidden, can only be recovered by the same means by which it was originally possessed. Revelation and experience are the doors of the Spirit. It cannot be attained either by logical reasoning or by scholastic investigation… ‘Not by explanation of texts nor by much learning’, ‘not by logic is this realisation attainable.’ Logical reasoning and scholastic research can only be aids useful for confirming to the intellect what has already been acquired by revelation and spiritual experience. This limitation, this necessity are the inexorable results of the very nature of Veda.”
The Upanishads (Mandukya) further confirms this fact by explaining the gross, subtle and causal conditions of manifested consciousness corresponding to which there are different levels of reality embedded in the very nature of our experiences. Apparent reality (hallucination, dreams, etc), empirical reality (experiences of the conscious, waking state) and higher spiritual reality (experiences of the superconscious state). Therefore the type of cognition and experience we have (apparent, empirical or supramental) differs depending on the state of consciousness we are in and ‘true cognition’ is said to be cognition at the ‘spiritual level’ of direct experience and revelation.
When our consciousness is identified with the physical body (sthula sharira) then we are said to experience the waking state (jagrat). When consciousness is identified with the subtle body (sukshma sharira) then we experience the dream state. When consciousness is identified with the causal body (karana sharira) then we experience the deep sleep state. The common aspect shared by these three states of being is the ‘absence of knowledge’ of the true nature of reality. It is emphasized that it is only in the super-conscious state (turiya) that consciousness breaks free from the limitations of all the bodies and takes cognizance of the Absolute Reality (Brahman).
So the ‘way’ or mode in which we tend to ‘know’ things seems to determine the validity and substantiality of the knowledge thus gained. According to the Yoga Sutras (Patanjali) there are different ways in which we arrive at knowledge, understand it and respond to the environment. These ways of ‘knowing’ are set in a hierarchical mode of information processing in which sensory perception (utilizing the five senses) is considered to be an inferior form of awareness, followed by the conceptual mode (rational, linguistic) and finally by the supramental mode which is intuitive in nature and which reveals to us the true nature of reality.
The Age of Intuition
Observation and sensory perception serve as suitable methods of processing information when it comes to the lower functions of consciousness such as thinking, emotions, volition, etc. However our senses are limited in their range of information processing and cannot always solve all problems, especially those of a metaphysical nature. Reasoning and logic take place through the agency of the intellect (buddhi) and hence serve as useful modes when we cannot rely on our senses to provide us with adequate information. However, the intellect has been found to have its limitations too.
The super-conscious experience on the other hand, moves beyond the faculty of the senses, the mind and the intellect. It enables one to have a ‘direct’ experience of reality without being influenced by the conditioned filters of the mind. It is found most useful in cognizing metaphysical phenomena, true nature of reality, nature of self, etc. The mind and intellect are then meant to serve as useful intermediaries to organize and communicate such esoteric knowledge.
One can clearly see how the age of pure intuition which defined the early Vedic and Upanishadic thinking was then followed by the age of reason which organized the Vedic insights into scriptural, metaphysical philosophies. This period saw the rise of many conflicting schools of thought, each of which founded itself on the Veda but used its text as a weapon of reason against the others. Today’s age on the other hand is defined more by pursuits of experimental science.
Early Vedic thinking has however been more holistic, with a tendency towards the synthesis and unity of all knowledge. So by establishing itself in the higher, supramental mode of being the Vedic experience has very early in history discovered the eternal and spiritual fundamental reality that lies beneath all the formation and movement which constitutes the apparent physical reality.
Considering the intuitive knowing and holistic vision of the Vedic mind, mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace explained it very precisely,
“An intellect which at a given instant knew all the forces acting in nature, and the position of all things of which the world consists… would embrace in the same formula the motions of the greatest bodies in the universe and those of the slightest atoms; nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future, like the past, would be present to its eyes.”
The Doors of Spirit
Given the timeless nature and depth of Vedic insights, it would be safe to assume that the ancient rishis were host to such transpersonal and supramental modes of experience that made them privy to information that is normally out of the range of common awareness. Generally, each and every mode of consciousness gives us access to a different view of some aspect of reality, but the supramental mode offers a more complete and god-like view of existence as one’s consciousness expands to become a super-conductor of information that cannot be otherwise known to us by mere observation or speculation. Hence one seems to then be able to access the universal database or global mainframe because in this state there is a ‘transcendence’ of time, space, personal self and culture. Information processing becomes ‘impersonal’ as there is no longer just a separated, individualized ‘self’ that is having experiences because consciousness expands to include the world and universe at large. In other words, one’s consciousness literally steps out of the conditioned system of the three dimensional reality and moves from being ‘ego-centric’ to ‘world-centric’.
This kind of experience tends to surpass ordinary sensing, perceiving, conceptualizing, reasoning or understanding and is unlike anything remembered or imagined. It is, the Hindu mystics say, pure intuition, pure consciousness, ‘sat-chit-ananda’ if you may. Yet, even this description of the Supreme Experience is simply akin to the finger pointing to the moon, which is not the moon. It can never be conceptualized or described as it is beyond all thought and imagination. It is nothing within the mind or outside it, nothing in the past, present or future for all these are merely conceptions in time and space.
In the context of the Vedas, ‘sravas’ literally means ‘hearing’. From this is derived ‘sravana, sruti, sruta’, meaning “revealed” or knowledge that comes through the opening of the mind’s channels. Drsti- direct perception of the truth and Sruti- direct hearing of the truth are hence the two chief powers and faculties of that advanced consciousness, which corresponds to the old Vedic idea of the Truth, the Ritam. Whoever is thus at this advanced level of consciousness, possesses and becomes invariably open to the faculties of drsti and sruti and is then considered the Rishi or the Kavi, sage or seer of Truth.
In the secret of the Veda, Aurobindo explains that “The Rishi was not the individual composer of the hymn, but the seer (drast¯a) of an eternal truth and an impersonal knowledge. The language of Veda itself is S’ruti, a rhythm not composed by the intellect but heard, a divine Word that came vibrating out of the Infinite to the inner audience of the man who had previously made himself fit for the impersonal knowledge.”
Furthermore, according to psychologist and philosopher James, an important quality of these non-ordinary states of consciousness is that they are noetic or knowledge-laden. “They are basically states of insight into the depths of truth, unhindered by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations and revelations about the universe at large, full of significance and importance… they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.”
The Supreme Vedic Experience
Such has been the power and authority of the Supreme Vedic Experience that has left us the treasure of universal, eternal truths and insights. Such insights can only be decoded by the same process that led to its revelation. And it is for this same reason why everyone cannot be considered qualified to interpret the Vedas, unless their consciousness has expanded enough to transcend its own cultural conditionings.
Moreover, the symbols and terms used in Vedic verses when properly recognized and understood possess great value: they are ‘evocative’ and induce direct intuitive understanding. Hence they are meant to be meditated upon and not merely rationalized or intellectualized. He who takes the Vedic verses literally will not be able to move past them towards the higher realities that they point to. That is essentially why one requires the ability to synthesize all visions and perspectives expressed in the Vedas and comprehend it holistically, as an organic whole.
Interestingly, this is also the reason why in the ancient era ‘Brahmins’ were primarily entrusted with the responsibility of preserving and disseminating the Vedic knowledge, not because of some misconceived racial superiority but because they were considered the most advanced in their consciousness through intense yogic disciplines of meditation and tapasya.
The ancient Vedic seers have also been aware that no individual could claim to be the exclusive custodian of a direct link to the Divine which is why they never set up any hierarchy, dogma or religion to access or experience the Absolute Reality. With fullness of being, fullness of life and fullness of consciousness they have manifested on earth the sublime voice of Spirit and endowed with such Brahman-Vidya or Supreme Illumination they have ingeniously preserved and delivered to us these universal and sentient truths through the many changing cycles of time.
“Vast is That, divine, its form unthinkable; it shines out subtler than the subtle: very far and farther than farness, it is here close to us, for those who have the vision it is here even in this world; it is here, hidden in the secret heart” – Mandukya Upanishad III.1.6
Sri Aurobindo (1956) The Secret Of The Veda
Sri Aurobindo (1940) The Life Divine
Swami Prabhavananda (2003) Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Ramakrishna Math. Chennai.
Mandukya Upanishad – http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/mand_0.html
James William (1902) The varieties of religious experience. NY Modern Library.