In this essay I would like to share the understanding that I have received so far about this topic. I still have a lot to learn, so the article is bound to have gaps and mistakes. I am excited at the prospect of engaging in meaningful dialogs with the readers to widen my understanding and further my journey.
For the purpose of this essay lets define the Vedic culture as sum total of various traditions and cultures that find their core roots and inspirations in the Vedic thought. It starts with Vedic processes discovered by the most ancient & pioneering Rishis, includes the era in which Veda as a scripture was composed; organised and taught, continues through the eras of brahmanas & arnakyas, upanishadic ages, puranic ages, the age of itihasa of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Bhagwad Gita & the Vedantic tradition in all its variations, various flavours of Tantra, all the regional & local forms of the spiritual knowledge and Bhakti that came via various saints of India, spiritual traditions of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, their religious forms along with Hinduism, and finally the traditions that have come alive via modern Rishis like – Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Sri Aurobindo and the likes. Lets also include any tradition which similarly qualifies but I may not have mentioned it. Also there is a lot of work that has happened and is happening in the domain of material science that is inspired by and aligned to the Vedic thought.
Studying the Vedic Culture
The topic of Vedic Culture has always generated interest and curiosity in the minds of numerous individuals across the globe and this interest has increased exponentially in the recent years. In current times, there is a plethora of information available and being generated on this topic. An interested person can start by studying the available information via books, online articles, videos, engaging with relevant social media channels and by talking to people who seem to know about it. As one starts to digest the information, the landscape of experts and various camps becomes clear. On one end there are camps which believe that the Vedic Culture is primitive, backward, oppressive, fascist, non-scientific, full of imaginary stories and say that all Indians need to drop the vedic past in order for the country to truly progress and fully embrace the modern global / western culture that is said to be based on science, rationality, free markets, democracy, equal human rights, etc.
Till the age of 35, I belonged to these camps, my position was based on the information & evidence I had seen, my modern upbringing and my western conditioning. Post that a deeper journey of learning about the Vedic Culture began, via direct experiences. (Refer to the article “The quest for Intuition” for more information on my context & journey)
On the other end there are camps which look at the Vedic Era as the Perfect Era where India was the most progressive land with best knowledge-producing eco-systems. It was the world’s largest economy along with China, it had very advanced systems in most aspects of the Sciences, it produced the greatest art of all times, all the world looked towards and learnt immensely from India; giving India a title of ‘Jagat Guru’ (Revered teacher of the world).
In the same pro-Vedic camp there are folks who say we need to stay in the current modern context, but drop the mindset of ignoring & bad-mouthing the Vedic culture. They talk about the need to adopt the mindset which looks at the Vedic Culture as a special source of innovations, knowledge(s) and wisdoms across a large number of domains. They further stress the need to systematically study and understand the fundamental principles of the Vedic life and see how we can apply them in the context of today’s life. This would mean merging the excellence of Vedic life with the excellence of modern life and manifesting a higher synthesis, which combines the excellence of both.
There are lots of other camps that fall in between these two extreme camps. One can find well-written books & articles, well presented videos and other material from all camps. If a person is who is free of positive or negative biases towards the Vedic culture undertakes an intellectual project of studying the available material, it will be very difficult for that person to come to a conclusive understanding that cannot be challenged based on some new material. So even after a long period of study one will be left confused and unclear.
During the beginning of my life towards gain an understanding of the Vedic culture, I also went through the intellectual phase that lasted many months and left me unclear. And then at some point I figured out that the understanding of the Vedic (also referred to as Sanatan) culture cannot come via an exclusively intellectual pursuit. There was a need to expand my journey by including an Experiential and Intuitive process that was the basis of Vedic knowledge. No amount of reading and debates would lead to any conclusive or comprehensive understanding I was seeking. But what are these “Intuitive and Experiential processes” ?
The Vedic Knowledge System
The Vedic culture was based upon the knowledge system setup by the Rishis & Seers, the leading lights of the Vedic era. They obtained this knowledge through an Experiential and Intuitive process of enquiry, and they created systems to ensure this knowledge was made available to the society of their times and to the future generations. The high quality design of these systems, which passed on and preserved this knowledge in accurate form, is the reason why the knowledge discovered during the Vedic era is still living in the present and has retained its power to impact the society.
The knowledge & inquiry systems of Vedic Era were built around a central theme – “Discovery and Expression of The Truth (Satyam)”. The Rishis were seekers, adventurers, experiencers and initial expressers of the highest Truths. This was an all-inclusive inquiry into the nature of everything, a search to discover the deepest Truths about all aspects of life until the final and ultimate reality was revealed everywhere. However, the starting point for every seeker of the Truth was to first discover the Truth about his own ‘Individual self’, a deep inquiry into the same begins with one commonly known process, that of “Who am I?” – an intense seeking to know the final Truth of one’s own existence and to realise it. This in itself is a multi-layer multi-level journey of many discoveries. The deeper one goes into this process the more one experiences a constant sense of oneness, contentment, peace, compassion and bliss (ananda).
In the Vedic era, numerous Yogic paths, practices and processes were discovered and taught by the Rishis to the seekers and students who had a sincere aspiration and a strong will to discover The Truth. To a sincere seeker, through the guidance of a teacher(s) and sincere practice of the Yogic paths, true identity of the individual self was revealed and realised, the realisation was that the individual self is and always was the same as the Universal Self / the Cosmic Self. The consciousness of individuals who got to this realisation became yoked at a certain level with the universal consciousness (chit) and over time such individual consciousness grew and gained awareness of various processes of nature / universe / cosmos. Getting to this realisation was a difficult and rare phenomenon even in the Vedic era. The details of this processes are beyond the scope of this article.
It is also important to mention here that these Vedic / Yogic processes predated and transcended all kind of modern religions (including modren form of Hinduism) & religious divisions, they were Truths that were discovered based on direct experiences of the Rishis and were universally applicable, just like the Truths discovered by modern science.
The access and flow of higher knowledge
The realisation of self, that the Rishis & the seekers could attain and live, was like getting an access card to a library of infinite universal knowledge that contained knowledge resources about all existing functions & future possibilities of the cosmos, the universe and its various worlds, planes of universal consciousness, knowledge about the world of living organisms, humans and the various structures of human worlds. In short, anything and everything that was possible to know could be known by this process. However not all knowledge became available to anyone in one go, initially one touched the universal planes of consciousness with few intense experiences and realisations, than one had to work systematically on getting established in that awareness, and as this awareness grew and expanded, more & more was revealed, understood, lived and passed on.
In these quotes – The Mother, of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, has talked about this phenomenon :
Behind the common idea that a Yogi can know all things and answer all questions is the actual fact that there is a plane in the mind where the memory of everything is stored and remains always in existence. All mental movements that belong to the life of the earth are memorised and registered in this plane. Those who are capable of going there and care to take the trouble, can read in it and learn anything they choose. But this region must not be mistaken for the supramental levels. (Source : Collected Works of the Mother, Questions and Answers 1929 – 1931, 23 June 1929 )
And then you go. It is like a very big library with many many small compartments. So you find the compartment corresponding to the information you wish to have. You press a button and it opens. And inside it you find a scroll as it were, a mental formation which unrolls before you like a parchment, and you read. And then you make a note of what you have read and afterwards return quietly into your body with the new knowledge, and you may transcribe physically, if you can, what you have found, and then you get up and start your life as before…. This may take you ten minutes, it may take one hour, it may take half an hour, it depends upon your capacity, but it is important to know the way, as I said, in order not to make a mistake. (Source : Collected Works of the Mother, Questions and Answers 1953, 30 September 1953 )
Thus, if you go deep into silence, you can reach a level of consciousness on which it is not impossible for you to receive answers to all your questions. And if there is one who is consciously open to the plenary truth of the supermind, in constant contact with it, he can certainly answer any question that is worth an answer from the supramental Light. The queries put must come from some sense of the truth and reality behind things. (Source : Collected Works of the Mother, Questions and Answers 1929 – 1931, 23 June 1929 )
It is said that, once the universal awareness stabilised in a seeker, he became a bridge between the universal planes of consciousness and the human planed of consciousness; where in the universal planes the consciousness is unified and reveals a greater truth and in the human planes, the consciousness is separate as multitudes of human egos and hides reality behind.
In the Vedic era, collectively these realised individuals seekers/ Rishis formed the nucleus around which the society was built. Through these bridges or instruments higher evolutionary knowledge flowed to humanity at large, collectively they worked like a “special channel” between knowledge that is a part of universal consciousness and knowledge that is part of collective human consciousness.
As a result, all the various streams of knowledges were revealed to the Rishis & Seers and further shared by them : Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Tantra, Ayurveda, Hatha Yoga, Natya Shastra, Nayaya Shastras, Dharma shastra, knowledge of Astronomy and advance mathematics & chemistry, and all different aspects of life – no aspect was left untouched. So a very high order of knowledge was discovered, realised and implemented in the Vedic era.
The Vedic Oneness
The central principle of life in the Vedic era was the principal of Oneness of the universal consciousness, all is manifestation of the One (Ekam evadvitiyam). For the Rishis and Seers this was a realised Truth and the rest of the society had deep faith in this principal and hence Vedic life was built around the principal of Oneness. This principal gave rise to seeing the whole cosmos as one family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). This also resulted in a culture that was highly diverse & pluralistic but very united while facing attacks from outsiders. India functioned as a republic from a long long time ago.
Based on my knowledge, experience and intuition I feel that the Vedic life was well-established and well-developed even 10,000 years back (could easily be more) and continued to develop, progress and rediscover itself till about 2000 years back. During this period of 8000 years, India was the land of very sophisticated eco-systems of higher knowledge and hence there was advanced knowledge about all aspects of life and cosmos, this knowledge was implemented into all of human life to the last detail. This was the force behind the well-run empires, a ubiquitous & highly sophisticated education system, marvellous temples, a sustainable industry & economy that was the heart centre of world trade, the deep knowledge of herbs and plants, research and development of many material and occult sciences, the art of war & weapons, design & architecture of cities. At the level of people (masses), the social fabric was made up of dharmic principles that provided detailed and constant guidance to an individual as he went through different phases of his / her life and performed roles in the society. These dharmic principals were not static in form, they were evolved, updated, changed to accurately align with the need of a particular space and time.
Whatever has been done in the world has been done by the very few who can stand outside the action in silence; for it is they who are the instruments of the Divine Power. They are dynamic agents, conscious instruments; they bring down the forces that change the world. Things can be done in that way, not by a restless activity. In peace, in silence and in quietness the world was built; and each time that something is to be truly built, it is in peace and silence and quietness that it must be done. It is ignorance to believe that you must run from morning to night and labour at all sorts of futile things in order to do something for the world. (Source : Collected Works of the Mother, Questions and Answers 1929 – 1931, 26 May 1929 )
The Vedic society considered this knowledge system as a gift from higher planes of consciousness to the whole of humanity. In that spirit this knowledge was shared and spread via land routes to East and West of India and via sea routes to Africa and other parts of the world. To the East was China and Southeast Asia and to the West was Persian and Arabic lands. Both these geographies were highly influenced by Indian knowledge and were very respectful towards India.
Decline of Vedic life
While the Vedic Life was dominated by the principal of Oneness, alongside there also existed the principal of separation, represented by the Human Ego. Which for a long time played a secondary role in the Vedic life.
The decline of the Vedic culture was directly connected to the rise of Ego principal and its increased dominance in the life of Indian society. This rise started around 2000-2500 years back and the Ego principal kept becoming a larger and larger influence. First expression of the Ego principal was frequent conflicts and clashes between various kingdoms and clans; and the rise of a powerful elite segment which wanted to control and oppress the rest of the population for it own benefits and beliefs. The power center of this era were the prominent Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (kings).
The next phase of decline started when some of the defeated kings invited the foreign invaders and collaborated with them to attack other Indian kingdoms, this is how the first Mughal attacks started and finally lead the establishment of Mughal empire in India. This was then followed by the British/ Colonial rule of India and in 1947, we started our journey as an Independent nation. However the Ego principal has continued to be the dominant force guiding the consciousness of Indian society over the last 2000 years. To me it is clear that the decline of the influence of the principle of Oneness in the Indian society was directly responsible for its internal decline which was followed by domination by foreign rulers, who further attacked and weakened the nucleus of Oneness and its expression in the Indian society.
During this era of decline the collective consciousness of the nucleus that guided the Indian society continued to shrink and when the scholars with such shrunk consciousnesses tried to connect with and understand the Vedic knowledge, whose source is the vast universal consciousness, they always came out with meanings and understandings that are distorted, shrunk and out of context. This shrunk scholarship provided justifications of the practice of discriminatory caste system and many other social ills that have become a part and parcel of Indian mindset over a period of time; many of them came from the shrunk brahmanical Indian consciousness and many from the consciousness of foreign rulers than dominated Indian for 1000 years or more.
Understanding the extreme views of the Vedic Culture
In my understanding there were two distinct Eras, first one is the Original Vedic era (OVE), dominated by Oneness and second one if Distorted Vedic era (DVE), dominated by Ego. As explained above, the OVE lasted till around 2000 years back and than began the DVE, which is continuing till today. During DVE the society was dominated by a nucleus of powerful rulers, brahmin scholars and rich merchants . They found it very effective to use the reverence of masses towards the vedic knowledge as a tool to control and manipulate the society. Many socially oppressive and unjust systems became prevalent in this era.
Religion itself had become fixed in dogmas and ceremonies, sects and churches and had lost for the most part, except for a few individuals, direct contact with the living founts of spirituality. A period of negation was necessary. They had to be driven back and in upon themselves, nearer to their own eternal sources. Now that the stress of negation is past and they are raising their heads, we see them seeking for their own truth, reviving by virtue of a return upon themselves and a new self-discovery. They have learned or are learning from the example of Science that Truth is the secret of life and power and that by finding the truth proper to themselves they must become the ministers of human existence.
Now by the time the Western scholars started to live in India and study the culture directly they noticed these social ills and also came across the mindset & texts which justified these on the basis of Vedic scriptures. What they saw came out in their writings about India. While there is a aspect of propaganda which drives some of this scholarship, but to outrightly dismiss all of them and all conclusions as baseless and discriminatory would not be a very intelligent thing to do, there is a certain degree of truth here which we need to face and accept what started happening in the DVE and is continuing till today.
The Eternity of Oneness (Sanatan Dharma)
Throughout these 2000 years of decline & shrinkage, the principle of Oneness has managed to stay alive and protect itself. Even though its influence shrunk immensely, it has stayed in continuous manifestation via the numerous Saints, Rishis & Seers so the Ego principal never got an exclusive & absolute control over the Indian consciousness. The Vedic knowledge remains always ready to be rediscovered and to be applied to modern life context. There must be higher purpose even in it staying shrunk for a certain period.
The Industrial & Capitalist era has contributed immensely to our material progress as humanity and given us a highly interconnected transactional world with uniform underlying principles of operation, to me this seems like a perfect setting in which the principal of Oneness can emerge as the dominant principal for the whole world. In Fact we are already witnessing the initial phase of this phenomenon, but this time while India remains an important source of this knowledge and energy, the application and spread of the Oneness culture is happening and will happen across the world.
And as aware and intelligent citizens of this world we can all participate in this process by deeply reflecting on our life in finding our true Identity. As the process deepens, automatically there will be an alignment of our actions and various aspects of our life with the Oneness principal, the True Vedic & Truly Eternal & Universal principal.