July 2017 By Ritu Khurana In this modern age where religion is often symbolised by ritualism, material desires, superstitions and ignorance, the Vedas stand as a beacon of purity, deep chintan, truth and inner consciousness. At the outset, one must confess that Vedas are as deep and unfathomable as the ocean. To add to the complexity, the Vedas have been interpreted differently by different schools of Vedic studies. From a literal understanding of the Vedas by Max Mueller to an Indian perspective from Sri Aurobindo, the interpretations are vastly different. We don’t know whether in the Vedic times people believed only in the natural phenomena influencing human lives or in One Supreme God.Even if they did believe in God, was it considered male, female, formless or personal ? Therefore while trying to understand the concept of God in the Vedas, one should be aware that one is playing with fire which could lead to burnt hands. The Vedas are the oldest literature of Hinduism. They are described as ‘authorless’ but in reality, they are an anthology of various sages including women, and their revelations after deep inner thought, mindfulness, observations and contemplation. The seers revered natural phenomenon such as wind, fire, earth, water, trees and animals. These natural phenomenons were worshipped as forms of energy, and as deities identified as 330 million in number. The cognitive and non-cognitive forces, regarded as devas helped the universe to play its functional role and bless the humankind with their bounties. However, these forms of energy were not regarded as God. The essence of the Vedas is that God is a state of consciousness. The Absolute Reality (Brahman). The source of everything, or the cause of all causes. ‘It’ or the Brahman includes the entire universe including the human beings. This omnipresent reality encompassing time and space, is unborn, changeless and unequalled. The Vedas lay emphasis on how God is formless or ‘nirakara’ and without attributes or ‘nirguna’. There are multiple hymns in the Rig Veda glorifying and propitiating different devas for cattle, long life and good health. Inspite of this, the Vedas lay emphasis on God as One Supreme Reality. Everything else is the material. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand, that even while venerating 330 million devas, the main veneration is that of one central all pervasive Brahman. Such is the beauty, complexity and utter simplicity of the Vedas. It is interesting to observe, even while outlining a single, formless, bodyless sat chit ananda, the Vedas mention God as ‘sakara’ or an entity with form. They go further and give vivid, expansive descriptions of God in his bodily attributes and physical strength. How do the two understandings match? An absolute formless consciousness or a God with many forms? Vedic wisdom helps to understand that limitations of the body and form are not limitations for God. He is spiritual and not material. It helps us to rise to transcendental levels and realise the difference. According to ‘Gurudev’, both the concepts of religious personal God and philosophical impersonal realism run parallel, meet and intermingle. God has the immense and powerful capacity to be both nirakara and sakara. A spiritual god can only take form. (Bg 14.27 brahmano hi pratishalam.) To come to the question, did the trinity exist during the early vedic period? Some of the most popular Gods of Hinduism _Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh do appear exclusively in the Rig Veda Samhita. It is likely that from early Vedic literature to later Vedic literature, classical Hinduism emerged assimilating into its fold, various streams of thought, rituals and prayers, It is also likely that by the time of Sri Shankaracharya, the need was to make abstract Vedic concepts simpler for the masses to follow. As a result, divine tales emerged which made God appear nearer, more personal, in valiant forms and who could easily be pleased through prescribed prayers and procedures. The Vedas contain the core spirit of Hinduism, its roots, and its underlying spirit of liberalism. Inspite of a graded pantheism of legendary Gods and their incarnations, there is knowledge of a single cosmic energy. Irrespective of all the modern day conventions, complications, and contradictions of Hinduism, the Vedas are the flame which light the way inward and help us merge with the Absolute.
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