The Rig Veda is the oldest of all the Vedas. Most students of the Vedas are of the opinion that the Rig Veda is the most inspiring, most soulful and most fruitful Veda. This Veda embodies the earliest monument of India’s aspiration and realisation. India’s poetry, India’s philosophy, India’s literature, India’s religion and India’s science all owe their very existence to the Rig Veda, which was their source.
When it is a matter of choice between quality and quantity, the wise long for quality and the ignorant cry for quantity. The highest quality and the greatest quantity almost never go together. But to our great joy, the Rig Veda surpasses most strikingly the other three Vedas both in quantity and in quality. The Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda have borrowed a considerable amount of wealth from the Rig Veda.
In the Rig Veda, the gods are seen as personifications of nature-power. The seers invoke the cosmic gods with their heart’s prayers and their life’s dedication. These gods were supposed to have been thirty-three in number. Each god had his own origin; all of them did not come into being at the same time. It is said that at first they accepted human incarnation and were mortals, as we are now. But by drinking soma, nectar, immortal they became. In the subtle physical plane, they are retaining the quintessence of their physical forms and earthly appearances. Some are warriors, while others are priests. Indra is the champion leader of the warriors, and Agni is the champion leader of the priests.
Power they have. Power they are. Some have the power of Silence and Peace, while others have the power of Light and Delight. Ceaselessly they fought against the formidable forces of evil, and eventually they did win the victory.
The Rig Vedic gods are kind and compassionate. With their boundless kindness and compassion, they fulfil the desires of the matter-loving world and the aspirations of the spirit-invoking life. They live in different homes: Heaven, air and earth. Heaven is the home of Vishnu, Varuna, Surya, Mitra and a few others. The atmospheric region is for Indra, Rudra, the Maruts and others. Agni and Brihaspati are well known among those who are considered to be terrestrial gods.
In the Rig Veda we see the pure presence of devotion and the sure presence of knowledge. Devotion tells us how sweet and compassionate God is. Knowledge tells us how high and great God is. Devotion and knowledge find their complete satisfaction only in service. Service is concentration. Devotion is prayer. Knowledge is meditation. Only concentrated service, devoted prayer and illumined meditation can make us divinely great and supremely perfect.
According to the Vedas, action is a most essential part of life. Action is the conscious acceptance of our earthly existence. Action needs the body, which is its temple and fortress. Action needs life, which is its inspiration and aspiration. A man of action is an ideal hero in the battlefield of life. He lives with God’s human body, the earth, and works for God’s divine life, Heaven. Action is outer sacrifice and inner oneness. The Rig Veda offers us a supreme secret as to what kind of sacrifice we can make on the strength of our oneness. In action we see the universal presence of God. In action we embody the spirit and reveal the form. In the spirit is God the Absolute. In the form is God the Infinite. The Rig Veda speaks of God the Power:
Twam Indra balad adhi sahaso jata ojasah...
O God, the existence rests on strength, valour and energy. O Mighty One, You are Strength itself.
In order to manifest God considerably on earth, the seeker must live a long life.
Aum bhadram karnebhih srinuyam deva...
O cosmic gods, may we hear with our ears what is good and auspicious. May we see with our eyes what is good and auspicious...
But merely living a long life lacking in divinity is nothing short of stark ignorance.
The seers of the Rig Veda regard God as the eternal Father, Mother and Friend. They also feel that God is their Beloved. God has many aspects, but a devoted seer prefers the aspect of God as Lord. He prays to his Lord for compassion and benediction. He has come to realise that if he has God’s Love and God the Love, then he needs nothing else from either earth or Heaven.
The Rig Vedic seers are the teachers of mankind. The Rig Vedic gods are the saviours of mankind. The teachers are teaching the world the message of Light and Truth. The saviours are healing the unaspiring, blind and deaf world, and championing the genuine seekers. The Rig Vedic seers are the builders of Hindu culture and Hindu civilisation. They represent the dawn of Hindu inspiration and the noon of Hindu aspiration. They offer to the world at large the ultimate meaning of religion. According to them, religion is the code of inner life. In each religion is the love-branch of the Truth-Tree. The Rig Vedic gods tell us to accept life with love, enjoy life with renunciation and fulfil life with surrender to the Will of the Absolute.
The Vedas tell us that we are cattle of the gods. Unfortunately, we are now compelled to feel that we are slaves of the machine. Let us aspire. Our aspiration will once more make us cattle of the gods. Later, our realisation will make us lambs of the gods. Finally, our manifestation will make us lions of the Absolute Supreme.
Aspiration we have.
Realisation we need.
Manifestation God and we together need.
With loving gratitude I offer this talk to my eldest brother, Hriday Ranjan Ghose, who is a great lover of the Rig Vedic lore, and an erudite exponent of the four Vedas.
VI 4. Barnard College, New York, N. Y., 17 November 1972↩