The idea of the Mahabharata as great picture of a great Philosophy of Life, occurred to me almost like a dream. I have pursued it for nearly eight year and the result of my study, relating to the Vedas, is contained in this volume; and that, relating to the Mahabharata; will follow in the next. My study of the Mahabharata led me to the. Vedas, Upanisads, Satapatha Brahmana and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy; for the “story” is, even as it claims to be, picture of all sacred philosophy an literature; and it is in this light that I have explained and interpreted it.
The First Volume ends with the Gods of the Vedas, and the Second star with an examination of the Story of the Mahabharata. But, in order to give an idea of the whole, I have added a brief explanation of the main incidents of the Story in the Introduction, as it might t helpful in fixing its true scope and character. While examining words and names in accordance with the method of letter-analysis, I have, in a number of cases, omitted to give a full explanation of letters in the Introduction, as I did not wish to burden it with too many details. The reader can easily get all the meanings by reference to Chapters VI and VII, dealing with the Sanskrit language and the method of interpretation.
The main idea of the present work is that the sacred books of the Hindu: from the Vedas to the Mahabharata described as the fifth and the last Veda deal, with the one problem of all problems- the Truth of life conceived in various ways. The Vedas examine the different theories of life,-its origin, manifestation, and end-in the form of Hymns; the Brahmanas represent the Supreme creative energy conceived as Action in Sacrifice; the Upanisads and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy deal with the same subject with less symbolism and more directly; while the Puranas and the great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata describe it in Story- form.
In the present work, I have as far as possible, referred to the original Sanskrit texts, and thought it desirable to give ample references. But, for obvious reasons, I have limited myself to the Rg-Veda, the most ancient as well as the most sacred, where other Vedas only repeat the same hymn or the same idea. Nor have I given many references, though easily available, where one has sufficed. The sacred works of the Hindus are the legacy of India-and the heritage of the world.
Late Principal Hindu College, and Rector, University of Delhi; Author of Krishna’s Flute & Other Poems; Asoka & Other Poems; etc.
The Mahabharata is so widely known as a great and fascinating story of ancient India, that perhaps an apology is needed for interpreting it as a picture of pure Philosophy. But I hope lovers of the story would find their interest enhanced and no diminished by this presentation. It has, however, been suggested to me to indicate the best manner of approach to the subject. For obvious reasons I have had to refer to Vedic literature, Upanisads, and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy, and base the whole idea of the work on principles, energies, and laws; for this is what the Mahabharata really is. But I have tried to be as simple and concrete as possible. The reader would be well advised in going through the Introduction first, and acquainting himself with the principles, of the Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy as soon as possible; and when this is done, he would find the interpretation of the Story easier than he imagines. Should he, however, find it difficult to grasp the idea of the Systems of Philosophy all at once, he might glance through them, and pass on to the Construction of the Story of the Mahabharata (p. xxii), and return to the philosophical Systems afterwards. Once he has realised that the Story is a picture of Philosophy, it would be easy for him to understand the idea of the whole.
Then it is necessary to have an elementary idea of the form, structure and action of the organic Cell; for it is the Cell that constitutes the basis of all theories and speculations of the Hindus, from the tiniest forms of life to Brahmanda, the Golden Egg of the Creator of the universe. This is given in Chapter III, which explains, in some detail, also the principal Systems of Hindu Philosophy. When the reader has grasped the idea of the Cell, he would find how easy it is to construct upon it the whole fabric of Hindu Science, Philosophy, and Religion. As the subject is new, and its conclusions wide and far reaching, I have thought it necessary to limit myself severely to facts, and would ask the reader to bear with me for any omissions of style. I hope he would be convinced that the Sacred Books of the Hindus are pictures of systems of thought, written in a peculiar form or Sanskrt. In any case nothing is more valuable than understanding criticism in a work of this character.
The First Volume ends with the Gods of the Vedas, and the Second will contain an examination of the Story of the Mahabharata. But, in order to give an idea of the whole, I have added a brief explanation of the main incidents of the Story in the Introduction, as it might be helpful in fixing its true scope and character. While examining words and names in accordance with the method of letter analysis, I have, in a number of cases, omitted to give a full explanation of letters in the Introduction, as I did not wish to burden it with too many details. This will be done in the Second Volume; but the reader can easily get all the meanings by reference to Chapters VI and YD, dealing with the Sanskrt language and the method of interpretation.
The idea of the Mahabharata, as a great picture of a great Philosophy of Life, occurred to me almost like a dream. I have pursued it for nearly eight years; and the result of my study, relating to the Vedas, is contained in this volume; and that, relating to the Mahabharata, will follow in the next. My study of the Mahabharata led me to the Vedas, Upanisads, Satapatha Brahmana and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy; for the “story” is, even as it claims to be, a picture of all sacred philosophy and literature; and it is in this light that I have explained and interpreted it.
It was my intention to publish the work as a whole, from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, in order that my interpretation might be properly understood. But the work was vaster than I had imagined; and, as a number of persons with whom I had occasion to discuss the subject, desired to see as complete a statement of it as possible without waiting for the end of the whole, I prepared the present volume ending with the Vedas, to be followed by another, relating to my interpretation of the “story” of the Mahabharata, as soon as possible. The present volume was accordingly written more than two years ago, and printed last year. But I felt that the character of the subject was such that its full significance could hardly be realised without an interpretation of the “story” of the Mahabharata itself; and so I took the second volume in hand. Though a number of points, dealt with in the first volume have been amplified and explained in greater detail in the second, I have had little reason to alter the conclusions of the first part, and it is issued without any change. The second part, relating to the “story” of the Mahabharata, will appear at an early date.
The main idea of the present work is that the sacred books of the Hindus, from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, described as the fifth and the last Veda, deal with the one problem of all problems, the Truth of life conceived in various ways. The Vedas examine the different theories of life, its origin, manifestation, and end-in the form of Hymns; the Brahmanas represent the supreme creative energy conceived as Action in Sacrifice; the Upanisads and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy deal with the same subject with less symbolism and more directly; while the Puranas and the great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata describe it in Story-form and all this can be demonstrated by means of the ancient method of interpretation based on the analysis of words and names into their component syllables and letters, which has the sanction of all the sacred works of the Hindus. I have dealt with only the Vedas and the Mahabharata in this manner; but a method that applies to the first and last of the sacred works, must apply equally to all.
I am conscious of the character of the present work and its new point of view, when judged in the light of modern theories and modern criticism, specially those that come from the West. But no student of the original works of the Hindus can, I believe, lightly dismiss this interpretation; for the heart of Hinduism has always held that there is a deep philosophy of life, now lost, behind the “hymns “of the Vedas, the “sacrifices” of the Brahmanas, and the “stories” of the Puranas and the great Epics; and this is also the old traditional belief and in the light of this method of letter analysis, the sacred works of the Hindus are easily found to admit of this view. But if this be correct, the principal Sanskrt works will all require a new interpretation, not only in the mass, but in detail; and this is beyond the power of a single individual, however devoted to his task. I therefore hope that some others also may feel interested in the work and assist.
The present volume was part of my original scheme of the explanation of the Mahabharata; but the work increased beyond expectation, and I did not feel equal to the task. After the publication of the first volume, however, I was taken back to my original idea, and felt that, as the Mahabharata was a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, it could not be properly understood unless the essential idea of the systems themselves was properly grasped. I cannot help thinking that, in spite of the great scholarship of modern times, the fundamental idea of the chief systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion has not been properly understood. We do not know that the five great systems of Hindu Philosophy are based on the five great creative energies of life-Soul, Buddhi, Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action-and correspond to the five different ways of examining the problem of life, conceived of as created by God, Nature, or both; while the sixth system, the Purva Mimamsa, is a connecting link between them all. Nor do we know their exact connection with the Vedas, Brahmanas, or the Upanisads. The same is the case with the different systems of Religion-of Visnu, Siva, Brahma, Buddha, and Mahavira-and the Tantra as a connecting link between them. I felt that unless all this was properly explained it would be impossible for the reader to understand the Mahabharata as a picture of all this in Story-form. This will follow as soon as possible, in the next volume. I have added a chapter on Hindu Thought and the Holy Bible at the end of this volume, as I believe it might be of interest to the reader.
The idea of the Mahabharata as a picture of all systems of Philosophy and Religion, as the ancients understood them, occurred to me nearly eleven years ago, and I have come to the end of my task. The reader will now be in a position to judge for himself whether the Epic is a mere Story of mythical heroes and gods, or a historical or semi-historical account of princes and their wars, or else a picture-narrative of the conflict of great moral and spiritual forces of life eternally at play within and without us.
But, assuming that the Mahabharata is a great argument in regard to all systems of ancient Philosophy, what is its use to us to day? We have had enough of Philosophy and Religion; modern life has enough problems of its own without adding to them the solution of the mystery of the Mahabharata; but if the Epic is really a sacred work, what is its contribution to modern life and modern thought?
This question has been put to me a number of times, and might be asked again. All research has a fascination of its own; but in these days of stress and strife we demand something useful from even archaeological finds and antiquarian inquiry and interpretation of inscriptions and texts. Nor does it interest the average man very much to know whether the five Pandava brothers were great heroes or else but five different parts of one Man personified, or Draupadi the wife of five men or a symbol of Sacrifice, or Krsna a man or god, who did or did not do certain doubtful deeds. The more earnest inquirer demands a solution to the problems of life as he sees them today, and neither Philosophy nor Religion, ancient or modern, has any use for him unless it can resolve his doubts and convince his reason in a warring world such as he sees around a mere re-interpretation of an ancient Epic, however correct or ingenious, is but an irrelevance to him if. it has no bearing on the problems of modern life.
All civilization is an application of Knowledge to Life, and all Knowledge is an attempt to solve the problems of life from different points of view. This is specially the aim of all Science, Philosophy, and Religion. But Science has proved to be a double-edged weapon, even more powerful to destroy than to create; Philosophy offers but a doubtful solution, and Religion is often lost in the mist of speculation, with little hold on the actualities of life. Modern civilization presents a spectacle of power and waste, achievement and futility, with the Soul of Man starving in the midst of plenty around. Knowledge has meant not only pleasure and power but pain, not only activity and improvement but strife; and neither Science, nor Philosophy, nor all the great Religions of the world have been able to satisfy the hunger in the heart of Man. Can the Mahabharata, as a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, offer a better solution than all of them?
This conflict in our mind today is the result of conflict between Science, Philosophy and Religion. The discoveries of Science appear to contradict the teachings of Religion, and Philosophy has attempted to reconcile them in vain and it is only when they can be reconciled that the heart of Man will be at peace and this conflict come to an end. But the question is-Can they be reconciled?
The Sacred Books of the Hindus, from the Vedas to the Epic of the Mahabharata, are an attempt at such a reconciliation, and the problem was solved by the ancients as far as human knowledge, and experience can solve it and so, if this be true, a re-interpretation of the Mahabharata, as a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, including as it does the substance of all Sacred Books, must have an abiding interest for all. It explains the problem of Life as it presented itself to the ancients in the past, as it presents itself to ua today, and as probably it will present itself to the future ages too. The inquiry of the ancients was both scientific and speculative, their quest both idealistic and practical; and, starting from the fundamental principles of Physics and Biology, they constructed their magnificent schemes of Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Religion, and directed them to the most practical of all ends-the work-a-day life of the average man.
What then is this solution'! The ancients Proceeded in their quest of Truth from the known to the unknown, and starting from the world of life around, examined all that it had to show, and then tried to construct their theories about the Unmanifest that lay beyond. They saw that there were five great creative energies in the universe, one unmanifest and tour manifest. The four manifest energies are Heat, Electricity, and two forms of Magnetic energy, with north and south poles; while the unmanifest is higher than Heat, and appears like Electric energy of an extraordinary intensity, and may be called Super-electric. It is this that is transformed into Heat, which again is transformed into Electric energy, and the latter in its turn into Magnetic energy with its north and south poles. It is out of this that all forms of life, both organic and inorganic, evolve.
Further, they believed that, since there is one great Law for all forms of life in the universe, the tiniest Cell contains the same creative energies; and these in Man correspond to his Soul, Buddhi or the power of Reason, Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action and so, in order to explain their idea in simple, yet popular form, they personified these creative energies and conceived of their gods in their light, and constructed their five great systems of Philosophy corresponding each to each, and the four great systems of Religion according to the range of their thought. All this has been explained in the first two Volumes.
But the question still remains, How does this solve the problem of life? The ancients believed that the central figure amidst all problems of life is Man. It is he who is haunted by doubts, and it is he who must be satisfied and so they held that the solution of the problem must be examined in relation to Man himself. Now Man consists of the five great creative energies of the universe, corresponding to which he has the Soul, Buddhi Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action; and so the solution of the problem must be examined in the light of each of these, and then alone we can understand the whole.
All Knowledge is from the known to the unknown, and it is necessary to begin at the bottom of the scale. When we use our senses, we see the world of life around us, full of sorrow, suffering and death, and there is none who believes that he is happy. There is a measure of joy indeed, but it soon passes away, leaving the marks of pain deeper than before. We wish to be happy but are miserable, we wish to live but we die, and there is none but has some desire unfulfilled, some great yearning unsatisfied.
Nor does our quest end here. We see that our life is but a span between two unknowns, and we know not whence we came and whither we pass. Hence, while we must study and examine the known, we need to argue and speculate about the unknown, but systematically and logically, and on the analogy of what we see within and without us in the world. Even so we realize that the analysis of the material world is not the end, and there is something else that lies beyond.
Then, when we ask the question-Who made the universe? three answers appear: (i) that the universe is created by itself, and there is no other creator outside it; (2) that there is an outside creator, whom we may call God, who is higher than the universe. and all life is created by him; and (3) that God and the universe (Nature) unitedly create all forms of life, like man and woman in the world. The first two points of view are clear and unambiguous; but when we consider the relation of God and Nature in their joint creation, we might hold (1) that the share of God is more than that of Nature, or (2) that the two are equal, or (3) that the share of Nature is more than that of God. This gives us five points of view, corresponding to the five great creative energies of life in the universe and in Man; and it is on these that the five great systems of Hindu Philosophy are based. This has been explained in the previous Volume.
But the question is.-What is God? If we can argue only from the known to the unknown, how do we get the idea of God, who is beyond this universe and is said to create it? the real question, however, that troubles the human mind is not What is God? but Why do we think at all of God? If we were perfect, if we were happy, if we could do what we desired, live as long as we wished, we would not think of God or any other power higher than our own. We are compelled to think of a higher power or God because of our mortality, imperfections and unhappiness. We wish to live and we wish to be happy: and so we must agree that Life and Happiness are not only desirable but possible of attainment too; and so the Being who, we imagine, is supremely happy and lives for ever, is God.
Hinduism, as the ancients conceived it, was a great University of Religions, where they studied Nature in a scientific and systematic form, founded their schemes of Philosophy on its essential laws, reared their systems of Religion on both, and applied them to the use of the average man in his work-a-day life. They believed that there was a Science of Life, that there was one Law made manifest in many forms, governing the universe; and so, by extending the truths of the Known to the Unknown, they constructed their theories of this and the other world, comprehending all that the human mind can understand or imagine and he who entered the portals of this great University and studied the Law of Life in a systematic and scientific manner, was a Hindu. All truth arises from doubt; we ask questions when we think; and all knowledge is born when, not knowing, we wish to know. We begin with denial or doubt, and end with conviction of truth: but to come to this conclusion we must pass through a number of stages of thought. This must necessarily be so when we attempt to study the whole universe, and the origin and end of things. The problem is so vast, that it cannot be examined from a single point of view; and the different ways in which we can make the attempt, give us the different schemes of Hindu Philosophy and Religion. We might deny or doubt even the existence of God; we might associate him with Nature in the creation of life, or regard him as the sole creator of the universe, but so long as we make an attempt to study the question in a proper manner, we are Hindus and so atheists and agnostics, dualists, qualified Monists, and pure Monists-Jainas, Buddhists, Saivites and Vaisnavites-are all Hindus, because they all belong to one brotherhood of thought, and their systems of religion constitute but different stages in the attainment of Truth in a scientific and systematic form. As in a great University we have different Faculties and courses of study, different examinations and degrees, to mark the scholar’s attainments-matriculation, the Intermediate stage, the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and finally the doctorate-and all students, from the lowest rung of the ladder to the highest landing, claim the University for their alma mater, even so was it with Hinduism as it was originally conceived; and all those who belonged to this great University of Life and were prepared to study its problems under proper discipline were Hindus. Those, however, who were outside its pale, were not Hindus, even though they might accept its conclusions, because they could not understand the different stages through which we must pass to attain to the ultimate Truth. Hinduism is perhaps the oldest religion existing in the world and has passed through many vicissitudes through its long and chequered history, and it should hardly cause surprise that its original conception has been altered the lapse of years. But its systems of Philosophy and Religion, as described in the Sacred Books, are still unchanged; and, though actual practice can seldom conform to principles, we may still find in the daily worship of the Hindus to-day the basis of essential ideas as originally conceived. Indeed, there is no religion in the world which receives the atheist and the agnostic as well as a believer in God equally into its fold; and that is because atheism leads to agnosticism, and the latter to dualism; and thence we rise to qualified Monism, and end in belief in God as the sole supreme creator of the universe. This is the fundamental idea of Jainism and Buddhism, Saivism and Vaisnavism as we have explained.
But is it possible to study Religion in a scientific manner? We are often told that Religion begins were Science ends, that it is a matter of faith and not reason, and that it is impossible to reconcile things that are contradictory in their fundamental conception. But the ancients believed that the human mind cannot be satisfied unless Science, Philosophy and Religion are harmonized into one great whole-the universal Law of Life; and that is their conception of Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Religion, which teaches us how to rise from atheism and agnosticism to pure belief in God. Indeed, no other religion in the world can convert an atheist or agnostic into belief in God; nor do we get a proper definition of God anywhere else.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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