The Vedas

The Vedas and the Sense of Wonder

The Vedas are an extraordinarily old and beautiful piece of literature that articulates the values and the hopes and fears of people who lived a life very different from ours. Although the archeological sites along the Indus Valley of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro demonstrate to us that at least as early as 6000 years ago, cities of over 25,000 people were organized in South Asia, the people of the Vedas did not know anything about the level of urbanization we experience today as a matter of course.

View of the YamunaThe people of Vedic times lived basically from the earth, from the land, and saw the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. Without any kind of scientific instrumentation, they observed very carefully the phases of the moon through the centuries, and they observed the movement of the constellations in the sky. They observed very carefully the impact of these movements on their individual lives and on their environment. They developed predictive systems that served them so well that this Vedic culture is the only traditional culture that you can still see traces of walking through the streets of Mumbai or Delhi or Chennai. It had richness and depth and strength that gave it great longevity.

The relationship of these people to the earth and their awareness of their environment was extraordinary enough that they understood that the light of the stars and the light of the planets and, most importantly, the light of the sun and the moon had a tremendous impact on their environment. They understood that the whole cosmos was available to them to observe as one totally integrated dynamic system.

They marveled at the power of nature and the variety of ways in which this power manifested. To the degree that they appreciated it, they personified it and paid their respects to it.

So, for the people who lived in the time of the Vedas, their first duty as an authentic human being living an authentic life was to live in alignment with the earth and the powers of all the various energy sources that demonstrated themselves in their environment as Life. While it is not explicitly articulated in the Vedas, there is the intuition that the light in the sky and the light on the earth and the light of fire and lightning was all one. That energy was one and the source of all life, and intrinsic to life was a quality of illumination that made everything visible.

Lots of Western scholars have found the Vedas to be pantheistic--to be filled with the worship of lots of different gods. But that is not my reading of it at all. My reading of them is that the Vedas articulated a sense of wonder about the natural world, a sense of wonder about all naturally occurring phenomenon that left these people in awe and at the end of the day caused them to feel it was essential that they live in alignment with those forces and to acknowledge and express their gratitude for the abundance that those forces made possible in their lives. Their technology for living in alignment, for becoming aligned and staying aligned, for putting themselves in touch with the health and well-being and abundance that was the natural manifestation of the balance of the natural world, was ritual sacrifice --Vedic ritual.

The Vedas are about the forces that give rise to the elements that compose life and the technology by which human beings will live in alignment with that vibrancy, thereby coming into contentment. The Vedas also appreciated that human beings and in fact all forms of life, all living beings emerge out of the natural vibrancy of life itself. As the natural vibrancy arises and meets all of the forces of the natural world, there is a condensation of energies that come together as five sheaths. Those five sheaths come together as living being and also as human beings. It is the coalescing of these five sheaths into a human life set in motion in the world that become integrated through Vedic ritual and aligned with the natural forces of the world. This alignment allows the person to experience the fullness and abundance that is intrinsic to life itself.

The Experience of Bliss

There is a special kind of Vedic ritual called the soma sacrifice that was once very important and done on a regular basis. It was done during a time when all the practitioners in a particular community gathered together, all the priests who had memorized a particular Veda and a particular set of these works – the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, or the Upanishads, tens of thousands of lines. All these people would gather together and perform the soma sacrifice, in which they drank a liquor made from a hallucinogenic plant, and they got completely spun out. They even offered it into the fire, so that Indra would become equally blissful. Later on, the soma sacrifice fell into disuse. It fell into oblivion to the degree that, today, nobody even knows what plant was actually used to create soma. That’s unusual because there are still literally thousands of people who can recite the entire Rig Veda. The reason why the soma practice fell into disuse, in my opinion, is because it became obsolete. It became obsolete because people understood that the bliss that unites us with the ultimate reality is ever-present within us. The intoxicating substance was really taken to shift our neurochemistry just enough that our tensions could be suspended for a moment, and we could experience the movement of our own creative energy and the bliss that is inherent in our own inner power. Once that is understood, there is no substance necessary for any support because we can simply turn our attention within and, on our breath, awaken our energetic mechanism and experience this bliss.

In the context of that joy, what activity does your mind engage in? My own experience is that when my heart is really open, my mind is dead quiet. In that dead quiet, all the forms of all the phenomena that manifest in my sensory experiential field take on the appearance of rainbows. Cultivating our capacity to make contact with our own hearts, to open our hearts and feel within ourselves the joy of the flow of life itself within us, liberates us from the ordinary garbage of our ordinary day and brings us to a state within ourselves that is transcendent and sacred, and incredibly simple. Cultivating within ourselves the capacity to live in that state transforms our lives completely and is a total blessing to the lives of all the people we’re connected with.

Feel your breath, focus your mind, relax your body and discover the soma, the bliss that is the essence of you. Discovering that bliss, that richness, that joy, that sweetness, that love that is ever present within us – cultivating and living from that – liberates our life to express itself in its fullest, unlimited potential. That is the message of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras and all of the Tantras. What I hope to express is that I wish that all for you, all of it.

Revisiting the Vedas

I’ve been reading the Vedas again recently for the first time in a very long time. The Vedas are not actually religious texts–they have a more humane perspective. There is no dogmatism. They are about the miracle of consciousness and the wonder of the phenomenal world, and the writers had a very refined and sophisticated perspective on their environment.

The Vedic peoples understood the complexity of their environment and the limitations of their senses. They grasped that a unifying element underlies all experience, and that everything is part of one pure being, a presence that pervaded them as well as the natural world. They appreciated that there are forms of life that are more subtle than our senses can perceive.

The Vedas mention a number of gods and goddesses. These gods and goddesses are not anything at all like our conception of God. They are a physical reality connected to daily experiences. They are all interconnected in the dynamic system that is the whole of reality. They arise and subside as an expression of pure being, which is the most refined expression of that dynamic system. The Vedic gods were not intended to be objects of worship in the way that we are used to worshipping. Instead, they were seen as beings with greater longevity and more power than we have.

The people of the Vedas had a sensibility about the whole of reality and a humility in the face of its immensity. Unlike us, they did not attempt to quantify their experience. They didn’t consider it appropriate, because the universe was understood to be permeated with mystery that was indescribable and unfathomable. In their experience, the entire environment of the earth was alive.

The people in the time of the Vedas appreciated the vibrancy and the vitality and the vastness of the the abundance that is the essence of life. Having the experience of that abundance is something we should strive for, and you’ll read more about it in the next post.