The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets
By Dr David Frawley This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue 8 (June 2009)
(Interjection – In his summary, Frawley, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and basically a self-taught cultural anthropologist of Indian culture, correctly states:
“True history, not as mere technology, but as the development of enlightened cultures likely goes back tens of thousands of years on all the continents. The great civilizations of the early ancient world that we find like the Sumerians, Egyptians, Mayas or ancient Hindus are more likely the remnants or survivors of yet earlier great cultures that our history has so far failed to uncover. Indeed, all the great ancient cultures that we find at the beginning of history do not present themselves as the founders of something new but as connected to earlier cultures going back into the Ice Age and before.”
This paragraph implicitly advocates the independent appearance of human cultures around the globe, as opposed to the “out of Africa” model archaeologists advocate — but which is an unproven theory — and which is taught everywhere. Frawley’s version of humanity’s history, derived from cultural anthropology studies, is also in agreement with that presented in spiritually-oriented sources such as “The Urantia Book,” which presents the case for five different skin colors and locations of human origination. ~ Don Chapin)
Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, where even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue with its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed, it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.
Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world – including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives – remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. We could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations.
To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.
Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva), their various Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.
The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita – the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga – represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an ongoing tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.
The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature’s changes.
Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic ‘mantric code’ that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking of cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The ‘Egyptian Book of the Dead’, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.
The Vedas say, “The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious.” The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or ‘revelation’ behind the Hindu tradition.
The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realised the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.
Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able to decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognised that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures.
Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building.1 Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.
Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists.2
This failure to understand the ancient literature is often related to a failure to understand ancient archaeological ruins and their implications. Ancient sites abound in artefacts that reflect the same type of spiritual symbolism of the ancient literature. These are usually dismissed as fetishes rather than looking for any deeper meaning.
Once we have decoded the mantric and symbolic nature of the Vedic language, Vedic literature can help us understand the ancient world and the ancient mind, its symbols, rituals and aspirations, as well as the legacy and heritage that it has left for us. But it requires that we approach the ancient teachings with an honouring of the sacred, a respect for our elders and gurus, a regard for our ancient human spiritual heritage and a devotion to the cosmic powers of the greater Conscious Universe.
The Living Vedic Tradition
The Vedic tradition remains alive and many great modern yogis have given their comments on the Vedas and have revealed some of the Vedic secrets in the modern world. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), perhaps modern India’s greatest philosopher, among his voluminous writings wrote several books on the Vedas and translated many Vedic hymns according to an inner yogic meaning.3 Many of his disciples like Kapali Shastri, M.P. Pandit and R.L. Kashyap have expanded this work.
Ganapati Muni (1878-1936), the chief disciple of the great Indian guru Ramana Maharshi, left a number of important Sanskrit works on the Vedas, as did his disciple Brahmarshi Daivarata.
Swami Dayananda (1828-1886), founder of the Arya Samaj, the largest modern Hindu sect, based his entire movement on a return to the Vedas and a recognition of a deeper spiritual and scientific knowledge in Vedic texts, a task which many of his disciples have expanded in a number of books, teachings, research and schools.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (founder of the Transcendental Meditation or TM movement), based his work on the Vedic mantras and through them promoted a renaissance of all the Vedic sciences including Ayurveda, Vedic astrology and Vastu.
Other great modern Yogis like Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, have spoken of the greatness of the Vedas, their antiquity and the Vedic culture as the one of the main sources for ancient civilisation and world spirituality, though they have not written specifically on the Vedic texts themselves.
The Theosophical Society, also, particularly in the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, similarly affirmed the deeper meaning of the Vedas. She wrote of the Vedas as having been composed by the rishis mainly when they resided by the Manasarovar Lake by Mount Kailas in Tibet.
Such a view of the Vedas as a great spiritual treasure house of great antiquity remains at odds with dominant academic views that regard the Vedas as a primitive product of invading nomads into India around 1500 BCE, the so-called ‘Aryan Invasion theory’. This theory proposed the Vedic people, whom they called Aryans, were a white skinned racial group from Central Asia who invaded and destroyed the native cultures of India, bringing in the Vedic literature along with them. Though this theory has never been proved or linked to any conclusive evidence on the ground, it has not been abandoned by textbooks either. It has been reduced from an invasion to a migration and now to largely only a language change but still seems to persist in one form or another.
This theory of the Vedic culture as originally based outside of India was first proposed by western scholarship a few centuries ago to explain connections between languages of India and Europe, the Indo- European family of languages that show many connections of grammar and etymology. An equally valid theory, however – and one which agrees more with both the literary and archaeological data – would have such linguistic influences derive from India and its nearby regions.4 But during the colonial era, when the Aryan Invasion idea was formed, India as a source of western culture or languages was not such an appealing idea!
The Vedic tradition, we should note, has its own view of history. While the Vedas themselves as religious works do not contain specific or complete historical accounts, the Puranas, another set of ancient Indian literature, has a list of over a hundred kings going back before the time of the Buddha and a delineation of many dynasties from throughout greater India going back to Manu, the primal king at the time of a great flood.
More importantly, Vedic and Puranic literature speaks of previous world ages called yugas and kalpas, extending back many tens of thousands of years and connected to astronomical cycles of various
types going back millions of years. They hold that our current civilisation is neither the first, nor the highest. In fact, they regard it as a fallen materialistic culture of low spiritual development. Vedas and Puranas also speak of contact with beings of other worlds, both in subtle realms and other physical planets, regarding true human civilisation as linked to the greater universe. Such ideas of human history as determined by cosmic time cycles are shared by many other ancient cultures like Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Mexico and are characteristic of ancient thought as a whole.
Sri Yukteswar, guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, in his Holy Science relates the fifth and last Manu or founder of Indian civilisation to a period that ended around 6700 BCE. This information is similar to what the Greeks found in India at the time of Alexander circa 300 BCE. Megasthenes in his Indika, still available in fragments, recorded a tradition of 153 kings in India going back over 6,400 years, to a date around 6700 BCE. The king lists of Egypt are not as long as these.
This Vedic view of the Yugas or world ages, particularly the 24,000 Great Year, such as Yukteswar describes, is important for understanding Vedic thought and its antiquity, as well as its outlook for the future.5 It tells us that we cannot put the Vedas in an historical time line of three thousand years as scholars would still like to do.6
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