Evolution of the Vedic System
By Saurav Sarmah - 22.12 2016
The Origin and Evolution of the Vedic System
Veda means knowledge. The word Veda is related to the Sanskrit root ‘vid’ meaning ‘to know’. So, it encompasses the entire corpus of knowledge, both phenomenal and numinous. Actually, knowledge is established through three primary epistemological premises, viz., sense perception, logical-mathematical inference and reliable testimony. However, when a subject employs inductive methodology to acquire knowledge, it is inhibited by four defects, viz., limited senses, illusory perception, mistaken inference and cheating propensity. As a result, inductive methodology cannot reliably establish any type of knowledge, let alone the ultimate conclusions on reality. (For instance, throughout history, men have died and they continue to die; but we can never conclude that man is mortal applying induction because there may be an unidentified man or a future man who will never die).
On the other hand, Veda is ‘apauruseya’ meaning that it is not a composition of any agency, whether human, divine or demonic. Indeed it is co-eternal with God: His very cognitive and contemplative function. Therefore, Veda is untouched by the four defects. The unauthored Veda, also known as ‘sruti’, remains in the mind of God and at the beginning of material creation, He gives this infallible knowledge to the seers or ‘drsta’ in the form of ‘mantra’ or sound vibrations because they are qualified by their sinless character. The entire cosmos alongwith the laws of nature is designed according to this knowledge. Thereafter, the ‘sruti’ (including both the exact sounds and their meanings) is received by the worthy disciples of the seers through the aural medium and they in turn, instruct the next generation of qualified disciples and so on. Thus, the Veda has been preserved and transmitted through generations in its exact form.
The Veda holds a unique status among all sources of knowledge that it is the authoritative parameter for establishing the validity of any other source of knowledge, which may be based on empiric, rational or prophetic evidence, because the Veda contains the perfect cognition and contemplative logic of God. Hence, even God respects its authority and His statements (like those in Bhagavad Gita) conform to the Vedic conclusions. Only in special circumstances, when He wants to delude the demons that He may criticize the Veda. (For instance, Lord Buddha preached atheism to stop animal slaughter in the pretence of Vedic injunctions).
Moreover, in the absence of Vedic authority, there would only remain contending and evolving schools of thought, with their separate gods, prophets, theologians, philosophers, etc. As a result, it would be impossible to create a universal standard of morality and the society would gradually degenerate to moral relativism, which means, each person would abide by his own whims and societal consensus, although uncertain and unreliable, would assume the guise of authority.
Due to the existence of the stated properties, the Vedic injunctions have to be accepted as self-evident or axiomatic standard of reality. However, one need not accept the Vedic authority on blind faith. It is not a revelation to a single person or a group of persons at a particular point in history and at a particular geographical location. It is an eternal tradition of plurality, which is based, not only on philosophical disputation but also progressive levels of self-realization. We can accept the Veda only if the stated results of its injunctions, according to the merit of place, time and subject, are attained. Throughout the Vedic history, we have many instances of personalities who have lived according to the Vedic standard and achieved proper results, including the most conclusive realization of direct audience with God. Thus, the validity of Veda is established.
Since the Veda is unauthored and self-evident, its authority does not depend on any other source of knowledge. Indeed, only the assertions issued by the agencies recognized by the Veda can be accepted as authoritative. The recognized agencies are ‘sastra’ (scriptures: Veda, Pancharatra, Purana, Ramayana and Mahabharata), ‘sadhu’ (statements of the bona fide teachers affiliated to or honoured by any of the four traditions: Sri, Brahma, Rudra and Kumara) and ‘guru’ (the bona fide teacher or spiritual master who initiates or instructs an individual subject). The mechanism of sastra-sadhu-guru (together known as ‘sabda pramana’) is fine-tuned to resolve all contradictions inherent in the process of knowledge acquisition.
The Vedic authority is not limited to any geographical, temporal or cultural co-ordinates. It is applicable in all circumstances. So, it is improper to refer to the Veda as Hindu or Indian scripture. In fact, societies paying allegiance to Vedic authority existed throughout the entire planet Earth about 5000 years ago (corroborated by Purana, archaeology and local traditions). Of course, misinterpretations (Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, etc.) and deviations (Pasupata, Shakta, Jaina, Lokayata, sophism, paganism, animism, etc.) also prevailed in many places. The core of this knowledge-based civilization remained within the territory bound by the Himalayas in the north and the ocean in the south. On February 18, 3102 BC, the Earth entered a temporal phase known as Kali-yuga, in which quarrel and hypocrisy are the pre-dominant qualities among human species. Since then, the true import of the Veda, gradually, faded from the collective memories of several societies, reducing them to uncivilized (non Aryan) status.
The first major split within the core of the Aryan civilization occurred in the vicinity of the great river known as Sindhu. A philosopher known as Zarathustra (Zoroaster) rejected the conclusion of the Veda that God is the singular cause of material creation and preached the doctrine of two separate and antagonistic causes. He thus introduced a rival to God (later referred to as Satan within the Semitic tradition) and rejected His omnipotence. This doctrine became popular within the Persian Empire and assumed the status of state religion. The Persians (from Cyrus the Great to Nadir Shah) invaded the Sindhu valley and beyond several times. They used to pronounce Sindhu as Hindu (because the Vedic sound S is pronounced as H in the Avestan language), which in the course of time, became the name for the entire civilization beyond the river. Later, when the Greeks (under Alexander the Great) overran Persia and intruded into the Sindhu/Hindu valley, they began to refer to the river as Indus (dropping the H), from which the name Indika/India is derived. Hence, both the terms Hindu and Indian are based on limiting co-ordinates and are foreign to the Veda.
The Vedic civilization weakened further when the priestly class forgot the conclusion of the Veda (Vedanta) and continued indiscriminate slaughter of animals in sacrifices meant for the satisfaction of Vishnu (God). Then, out of compassion, Vishnu descended as Buddha, deluded the demons (in the guise of priests) by preaching atheism and wrecked havoc on the infallible status of the Veda. The message of Buddha spread throughout the Asian continent (except perhaps the Western reaches beyond Persia). Another threat to Vedanta philosophy emerged in the form of Adi Shankara, when he twisted the meaning of Upanishadic statements to deny God’s personal qualities and His eternal dominion over all living entities. The demonic class of men became his followers all over the Indian sub-continent and thus, he tacitly re-established the Vedic religion (after a prolonged period of atheistic dominance).
The Vedic superstructure nearly crumbled under the sword of Islam, which defeated the weakening and unpatriotic ruling class and ruled for about 800 years. The so-called Hindus were persecuted and their places of worship and pilgrimage were destroyed. In fact, the entire trace of the ancient civilization was wiped out from the Sindhu valley (now in Pakistan). However, the mechanism of sastra-sadhu-guru was preserved by great teachers like Visnuswami, Ramanuja, Nimbarka and Madhva and the pure theistic message of the Veda was gradually propagated in different parts of the sub-continent. The devotional fervour induced the appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who inaugurated the Sankirtana Movement (the pristine form of Vedic religion recommended for the invincible Kali-yuga) for the deliverance of the entire planet Earth from clutches of nescience.
Meanwhile, Europe had emerged from the Dark Ages (when knowledge was choked by the doctrines of the Church) and the Crusades (the inconclusive contest of arms between two great Semitic faiths, viz., Christianity and Islam). The project of colonial expansionism took the European adventurers, traders, missionaries and mercenaries to all the continents of the planet and the indigenous cultures alongwith their traditional socio-religious structures and self-sufficient economies succumbed to the European onslaught. Although the physical control over the planet was reluctantly ceded by the Europeans, they continue to control the global knowledge system (elitist culture, school curricula, universities, mass media, pseudo religious institutions, etc.) and people have been turned into consumers to pump profits for the corrupt business class. Therefore, there are so many resistant movements like Jihadism, Maoism, local nationalist insurgencies and civil society protests. However, such forms of material struggles have failed to resolve the real problems of our existence.
Until the late 19th century, the Sankirtana Movement was limited within India, where it got lost amidst the conglomeration of false doctrines (voidism, impersonalism, mysticism, ritualism, casteism, etc.) and illicit practices (Tantric sex, ganja smoking, etc.). Due to the efforts of three great teachers in the lineage of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, viz., Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Prabhupada, the Movement was purged of the degrading elements, institutionalized and then transformed into a global phenomenon.