Editor’s Note: This coming week celebrates the Independence of India from British rule on August 15, 1947. We will celebrate this day with two articles, one this weekend and one next weekend, both taking readers back to the origin and glory days of India. And going back to the origin means going back to the Rg-Ved, the origin of Indian Thought. We are appalled at the ignorance about Indian Philosophy that we find in otherwise intelligent and educated people. This is also the week when evil personified murdered innocents in Wisconsin based on ignorance and misunderstanding of the Sikh Religion. That reminded us that ignorance is to be fought with education and falsehood has to be fought with the shining of light. In this article, we hope to shine a bright and inspirational light on the greatest treasure of humankind – the Rg-Ved.
The Rg-Ved is indisputably the oldest literary monument of the world. It is also the foundation of Indian thought. When you read the Rg-Ved, you see outpouring of poetic minds struck by the immensity of the Universe and the inexhaustible mystery of life. The Rg-Ved embodies a spirit of robust optimism and a keen desire to conquer obstacles that may hinder material and spiritual progress. There is no trace of the sad, fatalistic approach that Indian society has come to embrace in its years of failure.
The word Ved is derived from the root Vid or knowledge. The word Ved is itself used in Vedic texts to signify knowledge. The word Ved is both singular and plural.
In this article, we are mainly interested in the Rg-Vedic search for the Eternal Truth, the Supreme Entity that pervades the Universe, or the “Adhyaksha” (“President-CEO”) of the Universe in the words of one Rg-Vedic verse. This search led the Rg-Vedic Seers to the Duality.
1. The Supreme Entity as Inexplicable and Beyond Characterization
This is the core philosophy of the Rg-Ved – That the All-Pervasive Supreme Entity is Inexplicable and Beyond our Characterization. This is the doctrine that was codified as “Nir-Gun, Nir-Aakaar” (beyond and without properties, attributes or images) component of the Rg-Vedic Duality. This Supreme Entity is Unreachable by human minds via logic, argument or intelligence.
This doctrine of the Inexplicable & Un-Characterizable Supreme Entity forms the foundation of the UpaNiSad, the great works of philosophical speculation that were composed during 1,500-500 BCE. The depth and beauty of UpaNiSadic thought mesmerized European Philosophers like Schopenhauer & Max Mueller.
2. Attribute-based Roop or Iconification
The Vedic Seers did not merely postulate the existence of the Supreme Entity; they tried to discover the effects of Its powers. They looked at the brilliance, the munificence, the sheer violence of natural phenomena and tried to imagine the Abstract.
For example, they looked at the holy brilliance of the morning Sun and imagined the power of the Supreme Entity to illuminate their minds. So the Seers gave this phenomenon a name, Savitaar. They invoked Savitaar in one of the most famous Mantra of Indian thought, the Gayatri* Mantra. This Mantra is recited at sunrise by hundreds of millions around the world. It is a universal invocation that is independent of and beyond the boundaries of any faith:
- Om, We meditate upon the glorious splendor of Savitaar; May He illuminate our minds.* – Rg-Ved, III.62.10.
The Violence of a Rain Storm, the Destructive power of the Wind led them to wonder about the force of the Supreme Entity and they gave the powers behind these phenomena names like Parjanya and Vayu. They looked at the Purification phenomenon of Fire and called it Agni. They looked at the beauty of the Dawn and to them it represented the spiritual inspiration of the Supreme Entity. They named it Ushas and composed exquisite verses to praise the phenomenon.
The Rg-Vedic Seers knew exactly what they were describing. These were not Different Entities but Representations, Roop or Images of The Supreme Entity onto our physical universe. This doctrine was codified as the “Sa-Gun, Sa-Aakaar” (with properties, attributes & images) component of the Rg-Vedic Duality.
This Seamless Duality was laid out in the following definitive and immortal verse of the Rg-Ved:
- They call Him Indra, Mitra, Varun, Agni, the Heavenly Garutman. What Is One, the Seers Invoke with different names.** – Rg-Ved, I.164.46
Each such Representation or Image was called “Dev” or “God” in English nomenclature. By the way, the European word God itself is derived from an Indo-European root which means to call or invoke. And that is exactly what you see the Seers doing in the Rg-Ved – invoking a specific Dev when the defining attribute of that Dev is desired.
This Sa-Gun, Sa-Aakaar doctrine then evolved into the concept of a Personal God – a God you worship, you love, you surrender to in your total devotion. This concept of a Personal God is the basis of today’s Indian Religious practices. This concept is the foundation of the numerous Puraan, devotion based texts in praise of the various Dev.
The Sa-Gun, Sa-Aakaar doctrine also enabled different variations of the Roop or Image of a single Dev – the ultimate form of a Personal God in the image of the devotees. For example, you see different Roop of Vishnu through out India, each Roop being akin to the skin complexion, facial features and body types of the people in that community. This is also true of the various Roop of Shiv that are represented in various temples all over India.
But all these Roop, these various Representations, these different Dev or Gods are NOT distinct entities. Instead they are Visible Iconic Images, Representations in the Mathematical sense of the Nir-Gun, Nir-Aakaar Supreme Entity whose true knowledge is beyond human minds.
This Seamless Duality is the principle concept of Rg-Vedic and Indian Thought.
3. Confusion to European Philosophers But Clarity to European Mathematicians
European Philosophers were confused by the Duality that seems so clear to us. Max Mueller, the founder of European Indology, the man responsible for European Study of Indian Philosophy, the man under whose direction the mammoth 50-volume set Sacred Books of the East was produced; Yes, that Max Mueller could not fathom this elegant, simple Duality concept.
So Max Mueller came up with his hideous concept of Henothesism. He described Henotheism as belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshiped. This is an artificially contrived description that is appalling in its lack of rig
or, truth or elementary elegance.
We should not be too derisive of Max Mueller and of the European Philosophers that came after him. They all approached Indian Philosophy from their grounding in Greek framework. So they had great difficulty in fitting the universal, elegant Rg-Vedic Duality into Greek concepts. They could not understand the most obvious differences between Indian and Greek approaches:
- There is no fixed order of seniority among Rg-Vedic Dev or Gods.
- Each Dev or God is addressed in prayer as if He or She were the Greatest & the Only Dev or God.
- Worship of any one Dev or God is the same as worship of all other Dev or Gods.
- There is no limit to the number or diversity of Dev (the word is both singular & plural) or Gods that can be represented in the Rg-Vedic framework.
- The Rg-Ved also uses the concept of Vishwe-Dev or All-Gods.
Max Mueller was unable to fit this in his Greek-inherited framework or understanding. What you don’t understand, you deride. This is why he called the concept of images based on visible phenomena as primitive and dumped all he did not understand into the polyglot concept he called Henotheism.
What Max Mueller and European Philosophers could not understand, European Mathematicians of his time would have embraced.
4. “universe can be understood through Mathematics”
This was the quote attributed to Columbia University Physicist Brian Greene by the Washington Post in its coverage of the Higgs Boson discovery. Greene added “Math does add a window to reality“. Mr. Greene is correct. In our case, the Rg-Vedic Duality can be best understood by the concepts developed in Mathematics, specifically Representation Theory.
Mathematicians search for eternal truth just as philosophers do. History proves that European Mathematicians like Newton. Cauchy, Galois, Riemann were far more successful in their search than European Philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Spinoza.
Like Rg-Vedic Seers, Mathematicians study natural phenomena and become inspired to create Mathematical concepts from such phenomena. The simplest and perhaps the greatest example is Newton’s development of gravity from observing an apple falling from a tree.
When Mathematicians seek to decipher the mysteries of an inexplicable object, one of the techniques they use is to project that object onto something they know. Then they study the projected image, develop the properties of the projected image to get clues about the inexplicable object. Each such image is called a Representation of the original object. The more Representations you construct, the greater the possibility of understanding the original object.
This is exactly what the Rg-Vedic Seers did with their own Representations of the Supreme Entity. Just like their Mathematical counterparts, the Rg-Vedic Representations were all projections of the Supreme Entity and not independent of It. And there was no conflict between the various Rg-Vedic Representations just as there is no conflict between the various Representations of the same object in Mathematics.
This was beyond the ken of Max Mueller and other European Indologists. Max Mueller had studied Kant. Had he studied Cauchy or Galois, he would have been better able to understand the Rg-Vedic framework.
It is amazing to us that European Mathematics developed in the past 300 years presents the ideal way to understand elegant, profound Duality concepts laid out in Rg-Ved around the beginning of known time – around 2,500 BCE just to use a median date.
Below we give another example of this amazing correlation by using Cauchy’s Theory of Infinite Complete Spaces to understand the famous Introductory Verse of the Isha-UpaNiSad.
5. The concept of Infinite Complete
The Isha-UpaNiSad, one of the most important philosophical commentaries in Indian Thought, begins with the following Santi-Mantra:
- “This is Poorna (‘a’ silent), That is Poorna, From Poorna, Poorna can be created. When you remove Poorna from Poorna, what is left is Poorna.***”
What is Poorna? The concept has been described by Philosophers and Indologists as Infinite, Full, Endless and so on. But none have been able to provide a cogent philosophical explanation of this verse. Some Europeans have used Kant’s concept of inherent contradictions of the infinite to attempt an explanation.
The simplest. most elegant and the correct explanation comes from the Mathematical concept of Infinite Complete. And guess what, the most basic definition of Poorna is Complete.
For those who may not know, an Infinite Complete Space is one in which every infinite sequence that converges, converges to a limit within that space. The space of all fractions 3/5, 22/7 etc. is infinite but not complete. Why? Because the square root of 2 is not a fraction even though it can be approached by an infinite sequence of fractions. In contrast, the set of real numbers is an infinite complete space.
Now the Santi-Mantra of the Isha-UpaNiSad embodies the theorem of Representations of Infinite Complete Spaces:
- When you factor out an Infinite Complete Space from an Infinite Complete Space, the Represented Image (or what is left) is an Infinite Complete Space.
Think of the 3-dimmensional space with X,Y & Z axes. Now factor out the Z-axis, meaning flatten out the Z-axis. What you have left is the X-Y plane. In this case, you factored out the Z-Axis, an Infinite Complete Space, from the 3-dimmensional space, an Infinite Complete space, and the image or what is left is the 2-dimmensinal plane, another Infinite Complete Space. Really simple, isn’t it?
So far so good. Now what does this have to do with the Rg-Vedic Duality, the UpaNiSad and Indian Philosophy?
Every Rg-Vedic Dev or God is an Infinite Complete Roop or Image of the Supreme Entity which by definition is Infinite Complete. So when you worship the Dev or God of your choice, you are merely worshiping a Roop or an Infinite Complete Image of the Supreme Entity by factoring out all Others. In other words, your Personal Dev or God is just as Infinite Complete for you as the Infinite Complete Supreme Entity of which it is a Roop.
So remember this when you worship a Dev of your choice, your own Personal God, you are in essence, worshiping
that Inexplicable, Un-Characterizable, Infinite Complete Supreme Entity. This is the essence, the realization of the Seamless Rg-Vedic Duality between the Nir-Gun, Nir-Aakaar and the Sa-Gun, Sa-Aakaar doctrines.
* ॐ तत सवितूर वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमही धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात
** इन्द्रं मित्रं वरुणं अग्निम आहुर्योहो दिव्यः स सुपर्न्नो गरुत्मान एकं सत विप्रः बहुधा वदन्ति
*** ॐ पूर्णं अदः पूर्णं इदं पूर्णात पूर्णं उदच्यते पूर्णस्य पूर्णं आदाय पूर्णं एव अवशिष्यते
Editor’s PS: We gave a more detailed presentation of these thoughts & Rg-Vedic doctrine of Vijay at Waves 2012, the 10th International Conference organized by Worldwide Association of Vedic Studies (Waves) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA. A PDF of that presentation is available on request.
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