The Wisdom of the Rishis – Guru Datta

Chapter I

The Terminology of the Vedas

THE question of the origin, nature and eter­nity of Shabda-human articulate and inspired speech-has been a very important question in Samskrita literature. The highly philosophical character of this question cannot be doubted, but the peculiar characteristic, which attracts the attention of every Samskrita scholar is, the all-pervading nature of the influence it exerts on other departments of human knowledge. It is not only the Nairukta and the Vaiyakaranas, the grammarians, ety­mologists and philologists, of ancient Samskrita times, that take up this question; .but even the acute and subtle philosopher – the last and the best Samskrita metaphysician – the disciple of the learned Vyasa – the founder of one of the six schools of philosophy – the religious aphorist Jaimini cannot isolate the treatment of his subject from the influence of this question. He runs in the very beginning of his Mimamsa ( dissertation ) into this question and assigns a very considerable part (proportionately) of his treatise to the elucidation of this question. It is not difficult for a reader of the modern philology, well-versed in discussion on onomatopoeian (the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss) and other theories of human speech, to perceive the amount of wrangling which such questions give rise to.  We have mentioned the position assigned to this question in Sams­krita literature not so much with a view to put an end to all this wrangling, which, perhaps, is unavoidable,  but with a view to take up, in a brief way, another and a more practical question involved therein, i.e., the question of the interpretation of Vedic terminology.

Up to this time all the plans that have been adopted for the interpretation of Vedic termi­nology have been based on some pre-conceived notions. The philosophy of the subject requires that, these pre-conceived notions should be carefully examined,  studied and pruned of the extraneous matter liable to introduce error, whereas new and more rational methods should be sought after and interposed – methods such as may throw further light upon the subject. To examine, then, the various methods that have up to this time been pursucd. Briefly speaking, they are three in number, and may, for want of better denomination, he called the Mythological, Antiquarian and Contemporary method.

Firstly, the Mythological method. This method interprets the Vedas as myths, as an embodiment of simple natural truths in the imaginative language of religious fiction, as a symbolic representation of the actual in the ideal, as an imbedding of primitive truth in the super-incumbent strata of non-essential show and ceremony. Now, in so far as this concretion of thought in mythological network goes, it assumes a comparatively rude and simple stage of human life and experience. From this basis of a primitive savage-state it gradually evolves the ideas of God and religion, which no sooner done than mythic period ends. It further argues thus: – In the ruder stage of civilization, when laws of nature are little known and but very little understood, analogy plays a most impor­tant part in the performance of intellectual functions of man. The slightest semblance, or vestige of semblance,  is euongh to justify the exercise of analogy. The most palpable of the forces of nature impress the human mind, in such a period of rude beginnings of human experience, by motions mainly. The wind blow­ing, the fire burning, a stone falling, or a fruit dropping, affects the senses essentially as moving. Now throughout the range of conscious exerrtion of muscular power, will precedes motion, and, since even the most grotesque ex­perience of a savage in this world assumes this knowledge it is no great stretch of intellectual power to argue that these natural forces also to which the sensible motions are due, are en­dowed with the faculty of will. The personifi­cation of the forces of nature being thus effect­ed, their deification soon follows. The overwhel­ming potency, the unobstructible might, and


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