DO THE INDIAN VEDAS TEACH MONOTHEISM?
The Indian Vedic Literature consists of:-
(1) The books commonly known as the four Vedas, Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva;
(2) The Brahmanas, subsequent writings that explain, illustrate and direct the ritualistic use of the old texts or hymns of the Vedas;
(4) The Upanishads, appended to the Brahmanas and intended to bring out more fully and systematically the reference in the earlier writings to the great problems of the universe.
(5) Six Darsanas or Schools of Philosophy – later developments of systematized philosophy of the Indians.
Speaking broadly these divisions of the Veda were written respectively by poets, priests and philosophers at great intervals of time. All alike are called the Veda, that is divine knowledge; or sruti, i.e., what has been directly heard or revealed.
Veda is derived from the root vid – to know, vidam – knowledge, wisdom, Vedam is used in two senses, general and limited. In its general acceptance it includes any book which throws any light in the destiny of man. In its limited sense it means the Mantrams handled down to us from the ancient Aryan Rishis. In its general application the word Vedam can be used to the sacred writings of the Zorastrians, Christians, Mahomedans, etc. The antiquity of the Indian Vedam cannot be doubted. It is an admitted fact that Alkoran – the vedam of the Mahomedans – is subsequent to the Bible and that the Christian Vedam – the Bible is subsequent to the Indian Vedam. Independent of other evidence the very name given to those Vedam clearly indicate that the latter is more ancient than the former. What is the name given to the Indian Vedam? It is called Sruti. What is the name given to the Christian Vedam? It is called the scripture. It is an admitted fact that writing was introduced into the world some thousands of years after man had been created. The world was ignorant of writing for centuries together. We may not all agree as to the date when writing was introduced. But it was introduced sometime or other. It was not coeval with man. Scripture means writing or what is written. The Bible must have been revealed after the introduction of writing into the world. The Bible itself says so – vide lines 15 & 16, Ch. 32. The Exodus:
15. "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand; the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
16. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables."
Sruti is what is heard. The Indian Vedam must have been revealed before writing was known. There is nothing in the Vedas which can show that writing was known at that time. Vedam is only what was heard.
Let us examine whether the Indian Vedam teaches Monotheism. The original Vedic hymns – the Mantras – were then followed by the subsequent ritual and legendary compilations – the Brahmanas. The former is called the Gnanakandam or knowledge portion of the Sruti or everlasting revelation and the latter the Karmakandam or the ritual portion of the Vedas. The Karmamarga or path of rites is intended for the ordinary people, living as if life with the pleasures were real, and the Gnanamarga or path of knowledge is intended for the sages that had quitted the world, and sought the quiet of the jungle, renouncing the false ends and empty fictions of common life, and intent upon reunion with the sole reality. Thus we see the difference between the original Mantra portion (Gnanamargam) and the subsequent Brhamana portion (Karmakandam) of the Vedas. When we begin to speak of the monotheistic aspect of the Vedas, Brahmanas should be excluded from the Vedas they are wrongly included under. It is included under it in as much as Mahabharata is included under by the name of Panchama Veda. If we want to know what our ancient Rishis taught us, we must confine ourselves to the Mantra portion and the Mantra portion alone. The reason is this. Brahmana is no more than commentary on the Mantram. Now we see at once the fallacy of the theory of mixing up the original and the commentary together and pleading equal authority for both. It is this combination that has produced so much shadow on the pure teachings of our venerable Rishis. It must therefore be affirmed that the Veda meaning the Mantra portion or better the Chanda portion teaches Monotheism.
The present Sanskrit is quite different from the Vedic Sanskrit. Sanskrit is called sister of Greek or Hebrew, but the Vedic language is the mother of all. It is called, Chandas. If we want to understand the purity of the Vedic teachings, we must learn Chandas. If we apply our present Sanskrit a great mistake will be made. Vedam will be misunderstood as it has been misunderstood. The word "Asura" in the present Sanskrit means "Rakshasa." But it meant in Chandas or Zend 'noble, living, great" How can Saraswati, Indra, Agni, etc., be Asuras? It may be startling but the meaning of the word is changed. It is now applied in latter portion of the Veda for Rakshasas. There are a number of passages in the Rig Veda (I. 174, 1 and VII. 96.1) where Asura is used for Devas. We do not find in the Veda the use of the word Sura as Deva.
Take another word "Aditi." The present Sanskrit scholars mean it as a goddess, wife of Kasyapa Prajapati. In the Veda the word means the "Infinite." Aditi is derived from diti, and the negative particle A-Diti; again regularly derived from a rood D A (Dyati), to bind, from which dita the participle, meaning bound, and diti, a substantive, meaning binding and bound. Aditi therefore must originally have meant without bounds, not chained or enclosed, boundless, Infinite, Infinitude.
Tested by the present Sanskrit, Veda is unintelligible, polytheistic, pantheistic and all absurd. But understood in a proper way it is monotheistic, simple and vivifying. It teaches us that the caste system which now separates us into so many sects and divisions is a lie, that prohibition of widow marriages has no foundation there; that early marriages are not sanctioned; that sea voyage is not prohibited. In short it teaches us what the present day Western civilization professes to teach us. As regards Monotheism, man felt the power of God and saw Him. He ought to be called. What name could be given? Nobody can suggest any name free from difficulty. We cannot give Him a proper name. He must be called either after His work or after His attributes or possessing an attribute. We see Agni shining and created by Him. We call Him by that name – Agni. The Rig Veda begins "Agni mulai." I praise the Lord, God. We see "good" in Him. So we call Him "Good" contracted into "God." This is the way in which the various names applied to Him in the Indian Vedas arose. The following passage from the book "Hinduism and its relation to Christianity" by Rev. Robson will support this axiomatic theory.
"The Aryans seem to have sought to realize the presence of God by naming Him after some of the noblest of His visible works. The hymns of the Vedas are addressed to various deities, whose names also express some of the phenomena of nature, or may be traced to them. But while this is the case, there is also evidence in the language that the worshipper originally looked from nature up to nature's God, and sought to worship the Creator by the name of His works."
"It was a fine sentiment which led the Hebrew priests of old to omit the name of Jehovah in the public worship and substitute for it the "incommunicable" or some such expression, for human language can never give a name to the Supreme. All that we have been able to do has been to take some attribute and ascribe to it the other attributes of the Deity. This will be found to be the case with nearly all the names which we employ, whether God – the good, the Jehovah – the Existent, the Eternal, the Lord, the Almighty, or the Supreme. All these are names which our moral consciousness testifies to us must be applicable to God. Each describes only a part of His nature, but we think of it as comprehending the whole. This difficulty, which we have got over by taking an attribute for the possessor of that attribute, the old Aryans got over by taking the work for the maker – creation or part of creation for the creator."
We thus see that Agni has two meanings one the created Agni and the other the Creator Agni. We can quote a very high authority that lived thousands of years ago. Dirghatamas, one of the Rishis of Rig Veda says "Ekam sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti." There is but one, though the wise call it by various names.
The Lord's prayer commences "our Father which art in Heaven. Hallowed by thy name." How did our ancestors that lived thousands of years ago, address Him? We can do no better than quote the words of Prof. Max Muller.
"And hero did our simple-hearted forefathers call that All-father?"
"Five thousand years ago, or it may be earlier, the Aryans, speaking as yet neither Sanskrit, Greek, nor Latin called Him Dyu patar, Heaven Father.
"Four thousand years ago, or it may be earlier, the Aryans who had travelled southward to the rivers of the Punjab, called Him Dyaushpita, Heaven-father.
"Three thousand years ago, or it may be earlier, the Aryans on the Shores of the Hellespont called Him Zeus, Heaven-father."
"Two thousand years ago, the Aryans of Italy looked up to that bright-heaven above, hoe sublime can dens, and called it Jupiter, Heaven-father."
"And a thousand years ago the same Heaven-father and all father was invoked in the dark forests of Germany by our own peculiar ancestors, the Teutonic Aryans and his old name of Zin or Zis was then heard perhaps for the last time."
"But no thought, no name, is ever entirely lost. And when we hear in this Ancient Abbey which was built on the ruins of a still more ancient Roman temple, if we seek for a name for the invisible, the infinite, that surrounds us on every side, the unknown, the true self of the world, and the true self of ourselves – we, too, feeling once more like children, kneeling in a small dark room, can hardly find a better name than "Or Father, which art in Heaven."
Thus we see that the same idea taught by Christ two thousand years ago was taught four thousand years ago by our Rishis. But alas in India the original meaning of the word Dyan Pita is lost. Some of the present Sanskrit Pundits misinterpret it thus: "Dyan is our father." Father suggests the word mother. He supplies it. Earth is our mother. He marries them both. Perhaps this is due to a misapprehension of the phrase. How shall we address our Heavenly father-male or female or neuter. He is neither male nor female nor neuter. On account of His power we apply the word main and so Rishis died. He was addressed by "He." On account of His loving kindness, grace and mercy, we address Him as a Female, what is the result? The ignorant people without understanding its true significance worship Him in the most indecent and hideous figures – Lingam, Kali &c. He is therefore neither male nor female. Let us then call Him neuter – "Tat, That, It." What is the result? What is Neuter? That which has no qualities, neither good nor bad; no love, no mercy, no grace. Brahman is understood as Nirgunam, i.e., having no gunam. There is no use of prayer. He cannot hear you. He cannot save you. Worse result is produced. Providence is taken away. He is no more loving Father. He is no more our happy Savior. Man has no refuge, no rakshana. Personal God is destroyed by the miserable neuter gender. Buddhism takes rest there. Action is looked upon as our savior. No doubt that good acts are necessary but they can never save a man. Every man is sinful. Man can never be saved by action, by his own action. This is the great lesson which the Vedas teach us. The divine song of Baghavat Gita affirms in clear terms the same doctrine – which is as follows: "Give up the theory that you can be saved by acts. Choose me alone as the refuge. I shall free you from all sins. Grieve not."
Some charge us that we have 33 crores of devatas or gods. Yes, we have. But what is the meaning of the word devata or god there. We have not 33 crores of gods; only one God but 33 crores of devatas, nay more. We have to point out here that god is not the proper rendering for the word devata. Devata is derived from the root Div-to shine. Panini says that Div means kreeda, vigigisha, vyavahara, dynti, moda, meda, svapna, kanti, gati. We thus see the word has not less than nine meanings. Devata may therefore mean any of them. It may be applied to God. It may be applied to something else. It is therefore important for us to know in what sense it is used in the various passages we meet with. In Vedam trees are described, frogs are spoken of, almost all things are treated. They are called Devatas and not gods. Devata means what is described, spoken of or treated. Devata simply means the object. This is not a new idea though lost in obscurity. The great Saunaka lived before Panini. Thousands of years ago Saunaka gave this definition of Devata in his Anukramalika, "Yatenochyate sa devata," what is described is called devata. Then we have and we can have not only 33 crores of devatas, but even more of devatas or things described, somebody was asked to describe a thing. It was his devata or subject. New Vedam is my devata i.e., my subject. The proper meaning being lost, each devata is personified and worshipped. Hence the mischief that is raging in India. Ignorance is the root of all evil. So we see clearly that Indian Vedas teach us monotheism and not polytheism.
The Upanishads speak of Him as 'the Highest great Lord of Lords, god of gods, king of kings, the Highest abode, as God, the Lord of the world, the adorable." He is the one God hidden in all beings, all pervading, the antaratma of all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all being, the witness, the perceiver, the only one, the Nirguna being. His High Power (Sakti) is revealed as manifold, as inherent, acting as force and knowledge," etc.
A religion such as is taught by the Vedas cannot be said to be polytheistic. In conclusion we quote below the opinions of some European scholars in support of our proposition.
Mr. Colebrooke believes that the "ancient Hindu religion, as founded on the Hindu Scriptures, recognizes but one God."
Mr. Charles Coleman says:
"The Almighty, Infinite, Eternal, Incomprehensible, self-existent Being; he who sees everything though never seen; he who is not to be compassed by description, and who is beyond the limits of human conception….. is Brahma, the one unknown true Being, the creator, the preserver and destroyer of the Universe. Under such and innumerable other definitions is the Deity acknowledged in the Vedas or sacred writings of the Hindus."
"It cannot be denied that the early Indians possessed a knowledge of the true God. All their writings are replete with sentiments and expressions, noble, clear, severely grand, as deeply conceived as in any human language in which men have spoken of their God."
Ward, the missionary says:
"It is true indeed that the Hindus believe in the unity of God. "One Brahma, without a second, is a phrase very commonly used by them when conversing on subjects which relate to the nature of God. They believe also that God is almighty, all-wise, omnipotent, omniscient, and they frequently speak of him as embracing in his government the happiness of the good and the subjection or punishment of the bad."