Directing his view towards the whole universe holistically, amazingly, the Rgvedic man as
this study shows was awakened to the cosmic Law and Order (Rta); he saw how nothing:
nature, environment, or the universe itself, was ever static; and how the orderly Energy was
at the root of all changes and movements. Instinctively, he not only bowed down to the
'Order' that reigns supreme, but also tried to attune himself, his behaviour, and his
everyday activity to the eternal laws of the universe. Which, says the author, he recognized
as his dharma.
A sequel to her earlier, well-received title: Ecological Readings in the Veda, Dr.
Marta Vannucci's this book sets out fresh, insightful analyses the Vedic writings to
highlight the ancient rsis' perceptions of the Universe, the ancient rsis' perceptions of
the Universe, Nature, and cause-effect relationships; and how, millennia ago, these sages
came to revere, even adore, Nature in its different manifestations and, wittingly or
unwittingly, evolve an environmentally friendly culture. In support of her findings, the
author also analyses a few selected hymns from the Rgveda, using a biological key to
'decode' these songs. Additionally, she also explores some important aspects of two Vedic
gods: Indra and Varuna, who respectively represent the 'material' and 'immaterial'
Highly relevant appendices apart, the book includes a comprehensive glossary of
Sanskrit/non-English words and numerous bibliographic references.
About the Author
Marta Vannucci, a Brazilian citizen, born in Italy in 1921, is a globally distinguished
biological oceanographer, with a versatile mind. An erstwhile UNESCO's Senior Expert (Marine
Sciences) and Director of its Regional Office in Delhi, she has held a number of
high-ranking academic/advisory/administrative positions at national and international
A resident of India since 1970, Dr. Vannucci is Vice-President of the International
Society for Mangrove Ecosystems, Japan and a member of several learned societies including
the Academy of Sciences of Brazil. She is honoured with the Grand Cross of the 'Order of
Merit in Science', of Brazil. Besides intensive eight years studies of Latin, she knows
almost all Latin derived languages, English, German, Sanskrit and Hindi.
When I was writing the book Ecological Readings in the Veda I was very worried because I
feared that I would be unworthy of the task. While I still feel that I am very far from the
lofty heights, I am grateful to the Gods and to the many learned persons and scholars who
encourage me to continue along the arduous path of learning from the Vedic lore. The
passionate urge to understand that is peculiar to Man, as I wrote at that time, pushed me
deeper and deeper along this path of studies, trying to absorb as much insight into Vedic
wisdom as my personal limitations would allow.
Part I of the present book is vastly based on my earlier book 'Ecological Readings
in the Veda' and reflects my endeavour to express in simple terms what reason shows to be
the understanding that the rsis had of the universe. The eagerness to attain to the Absolute
Truth caused the ancient sages to express in poetical metres the result of their
observations of nature, of their studies of the relations of causes and effects, of the
empirical and experimental science that they practised for survival, for better living and
for war. In their search for the Absolute Truth, the Vedic and pre-Vedic sages uncovered
particular truths, which are each and every one part of the Absolute Truth. The unveiling of
Rta proceeded step by step; each step translated into norms and regulations for everyday
each step translated into norms and regulations for everyday healthy living; each one was
then represented, reconstructed and lived over again through rituals. Clearly the Vedic
sages had a notion of the fundamental pairs of opposites that keep the system going, such as
Lord Agni and common fire. They perceived that matter and energy are the two interchangeable
and interdependent extremes of a continuum and that Agni sublimates matter into energy, that
solar energy and water create matter in mother Earth and in what grows from her. They
realized that the life principle being undefinable, Hope, Bhaga, or the urge to go on
living, is indelibly lined to Life and the sources of life were identified, hence the pair
Savitr-Bhaga. The ancient sages also saw the continuum time/space, but that aspect of Vedic
wisdom I have not dared approach.
The mental torment grew after the book was published and felt more and more
belittled by my audacity; I am fully aware that I was not entirely successful in expressing
clearly enough my 'readings'. The wealth of knowledge expressed in concise and often cryptic
form by the ancients is not tolerant of simple interpretation and explanation.
One of the serious omissions of that book is the absence of a discussion of what I
consider to be one of the significant differences between Western and Eastern philosophies.
I the West Nature, the environment, the universe were considered to be static in time. The
word evolution did not exist and when it was first used in relation to evolving nature, it
was anathemized. Nature was taken to be immutable since first created by God, the Infinitum
Ens (the Infinite Being) and the idea is present already in the Aristotelic principles of
classic Greek philosophy that bridled all creative thinking, from cosmogony to theatrical
presentations. Judaic, Christian, Islamic philosophies willfully disregarded the obvious
changes over time and the evolution of everything in the universe. One of the great merits I
see in Vedic and Vedic-derived philosophies, and other oriental philosophies, is the
recognition that nothing is ever static, everywhere in the universe. Hence the impermanence
of everything, as the Epicurean philosophers of Democritus' school knew well.
Due to these reasons I revised the first text and selected a few hymns that support
the above and that have remained living. Guides for mankind over the centuries. These show
both the impermanence and continuous change of everything, the need for mutual adjustment of
the components of the system and at the same time show that the basic laws of physics,
chemistry, physico-chemistry, movements of the astral bodies, remain unchanged over infinite
time and space, at least as man could detect them without powerful instruments. They further
show that the interaction of the parts of the very complex time/space continuum inevitably
causes changes and evolution of the constituent parts.
Part I of the present book contains much of the earlier text, revised and enlarged.
The general conclusion is that the formulation of dharma is based on fundamental ethical
laws of nature to which all living beings as well as man are subject. Further, because of
his intrinsic nature and his position in the community, nobody can escape his dharma, though
ecological constraints influence his behaviour and karma. Any deviation from one's dharma is
an aberration that carries with it dire consequences for the offender.
Part II is the analysis of three hymns and discusses some aspect of two important
personalities that offer much support to the concepts expressed above. The hymn to the
'Manduka' (the Frogs), RV, VII; 103, describes the seasonal cycles, the role of Visnu as
Preserver and the corresponding rituals to ensure man's participation in the cosmic drama in
tune with Rta, the Law and Order of the Universe. The hymn for the wedding of Surya, the
sun's daughter, RV, X; 85, focuses on the biological and social role of marriage and woman,
valid even for present-day changing lifestyles. The third is one of the shortest of the
whole Rgveda, RV, X; 146. It is dedicated to Aranyani, the lady of the forest; it visualizes
the forest as an ecosystem with a strong personality of its own, but not immutable. The
first appendix reflects the rsis' perception of different aspects of reality, material and
virtual reality, as personified in certain traits of the Great God Varuna and the King of
the Gods, Indra. In the second Appendix I formulate the hypothesis that the inebriating
drink: soma, was originally grapes' wine, though substitutes of the soma plant may have been
and are still used at different time and places.
Finally, I would say as I presume, that the Great Truth discovered by the ancient
sages is that the ethics of nature dictates the dharma of man and communities, and this in
turn is subject to ecological imperatives which position the individual karma.
I acknowledge with deep gratitude the support given by the Bhandarkar Oriental
Research Institute, Pune, and in particular Dr. Uma Chakravarty from whose constructive
criticism I learned so much. Too many other generous persons have helped me and guided me in
my search; it would be impossible to mention them all. To my publisher, Sri Susheel Mittal I
am grateful for steadily and gently pushing me out of my innate shyness and laziness.
Rsi Vasista and other rsis could distinguish wisdom from folly and dharma from adharma,
truth from non-truth. However, when the relations between cause and effect were not
apparent, they would use impossible or 'fantastic explanation' that we now call myths. The
myth goes from the general to the particular and substitutes explanations, it substitutes
logical deductions and jumps from the cause to the observed or desired effect. Myths are
used as an 'explanation' ad hoc and never are generally valid. The myth gives no general
explanation based on particular effects or consequences. There are no inferences in
mythologies, this is why they are called myths, rather than legends, rules or laws. The
short-cut from cause to effect is called a 'myth'. Myths are important for the development
of the culture typical for each civilization, because they preserve a quantum of knowledge
or wisdom of the collective mind of the people, generation after generation. Myths gradually
fade away with time when the correct, logical, possible and factual, experimental and
scientific explanations gradually substitute fantasy. For instance the myth of Rahu
devouring the sun and/or moon is a mythical and easily memorized way of 'explaining'
eclipses, though the correct explanation, namely the projection of the shadow of the Earth
on the sun or moon was well known already at the time of the rsis. This could also be used
as an example of how 'esoteric' knowledge which in all cultures is the science of the
priesthood, was purposefully kept away from the masses, either because it is too difficult
to explain to the non-initiated or because the knowledge could be misused.
In all cultures, myths and legends were also created to engrave into the collective
memory of the people the tradition and history of their clan or race. An example from more
recent times is the deification of Demetra into the goddess of agriculture in ancient
Greece; she give the knowledge and expertise which was purposefully transformed into a myth
to ensure that the teachings be correctly applied. My studies show (Vannucci, under press
in: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute) that the 'Great Gift' that the
Greek goddess Demetra gave to mankind was the practical knowledge of how to cultivate
hexaploid wheat. History became legend and the legend was transformed into a myth and the
religious practices called 'Mysteries' instituted by Demetra herself at Eleusis in Attika
were performed for over 2000 years out of gratefulness because she gave the seeds of a
special variety of wheat to a Greek called Triptolemus and taught how to cultivate it.
Legends are usually the poetical presentation of history or just wishful thinking.
However the truths discussed in the Veda are mostly the result of the study of nature and of
men's place in the universe, they are backed by carefully prepared rites and rituals, as
were also the 'Mysteries' that took place at Eleusis.
The rsi accumulated a great wealth of correct knowledge translated or not into
myths. Much of this was used to acquire wisdom and is expressed in the sacred texts either
in mythical or explicit language. Many hymns of the Vedas have maintained their validity
over 50 or 60 centuries.
The fundamental difference between the science of the ancient rsis and the science
of the west, lies in the aims for which the learned persons of the priesthood sought truth:
the 'unveiling' or Rta'. Knowledge, in the West, was basically used to acquire power;
technicalities had priority over pure knowledge. Even scholastic philosophy is in many ways
the methodological and technical aspect of ancient philosophies, but discusses no new
truths. In the East, as revealed clearly in the Vedas, knowledge was gained basically for
the purpose of acquiring wisdom. Wisdom was the aim of the rsi and wisdom was applied even
for developing techniques to improve the quality of life, as for instance Ayurveda or
Vedic man had his views directed holistically towards the whole universe and was
amazed at what he saw: the order and energy that reign throughout the world he lived in,
these he called Rta and Agni and he consciously worshipped the orderly energy that is at the
root of all movement, including all forms of life. The details of how the system functions,
the dynamics of the universe and its parts were still beyond man's power of understanding.
Though he often could see the effects he could not understand. The causes. He instinctively
had to obey and he in tune with the order that reigns supreme. Hence religion and the rites
that accompany religions.
It was recently brought to my attention that speaking in biological terms, dharma
and karma may to a certain extent be understood respectively as the genotype and the
phenotype of man as a biological species. Dharma corresponds to the hereditary endowment,
the genome, the DNA which is unique of each individual, while karma regulates the behaviour
and action of each one of us. Behaviour and actions the phenotype as well as the
physical aspect are the result of the forces of the world around us the within us: the outer
and the inner worlds. All and every individual action and each person's individual behaviour
bear consequences that act on each person's individual karma.
Part I of this book gives the general frame of mind, and the evolution of the
thinking of Vedic man over several centuries, while man was migrating and living in a
variety of different environments, prior to and much earlier than the written text. Part II
gives some details of the wisdom acquired in relation to societal health of the community
and of the individual. It further gives some details on the observation of the seasons, of
the respect due to Nature and its preservation, and in general to some of the norms that
should be followed for the well-being of the individual, the family, the community, to
promote health of the body, of the mind and of the spirit.
Looking at the world we now live in, in spite of all the knowledge, the science, the
previously unimaginable technological knowhow, the world looks very much like a madhouse and
is much less wise than the world of the ancients. Personally I would like to express an
utopic wish: that man would distinguish between wisdom and folly.
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