Since our earliest ages the Veda has been, in the invincible tradition of our race, the bedrock of all our creeds; in this our goddess of veiled and ancient speech we have always persisted in seeing the fruitful mother of all our Indian spirituality. For it is nothing but the simple truth, evident whenever we look below the surface and beyond the details, that every creed, sect, school of philosophy which has had any roots in our Indian temperament or any vitality of survival on our Indian surroundings has been in its secret nature, if not in its open features, a child of the eternal Vedic inspiration. All the outbursts of religious life that have helped to maintain or renew through the course of several millenniums the vitality of our race, the eternal richness and fruitfulness of our ancient culture, the fineness and profound sincerity of our undying spiritual attainment and endeavour, were derived, if we trace them to their remote sources, from the work or the substance of the Veda. All our religious innovators, restorers, systematizers, wittingly or unwittingly, of good will or against their grain, have been stirred to their task by some vibration that reached them from those far-off ages. Our Darshana, Tantra and Purana, our Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism; our orthodoxy, heresy and heterodoxy, even when they have been the most perfect misunderstandings of each other, have always been imperfect understandings of one Vedic truth. Shankara clasped the head of Vedic truth, Ramanuja embraced its heart; but both the great disputants were dazzled by their adoration of the body of one veiled deity. Our greatest modern minds are mere tributaries of the old Rishis. This very Shankara who seems to us a giant, had only a fragment of their knowledge. Buddha wandered away on a bypath of their universal kingdom. in our own day Ramakrishan lived in his being and concretized in his talk, Vivekananda threw out into brilliance of many-sided thought and eloquent speech the essence of ancient Veda. The Veda was the beginning of our spiritual knowledge; the Veda will remain its end. These compositions of an unknown antiquity are as the many breasts of the eternal Mother of knowledge from which our succeeding ages have all been fed.
Yet, of these our mighty origins, how much do we really understand? The four Vedas, written in a language which has ceased to be intelligible to us, couched in a vocabulary which, by its resemblance to classical Sanskrit as much as by its difference, offers an unequalled vantage-ground no less for natural misunderstanding than for the deliberate ingenuities of the scholar, using for their expression of deep religious and psychological truths a scheme of terms and symbols of which the key has long been withdrawn from us, remain to us even now a sacred but a sealed volume. Imperfectly understanding their secret even in our more ancient epochs, we have allowed them, as the current of time carried us farther away from our beginnings, to fall into a sacred neglect and almost into a revered oblivion. Only those whom a strong and unquestioning orthodoxy dispenses from the obligations of the critical spirit, can for a moment imagine that Sayana holds for us the key to their meaning. The advent and labours of European scholarship have rescued these divine hymns from a long secrecy and neglect, but have thrown no trustworthy illumination their secret. Rather, if Indians hardly understand the Vedas at all, the Europeans have systematized a radical misunderstanding of them. Their materialistic interpretation, now dominant in cultivated minds, translated into our modern tongues, taught in our universities, diffused unquestioningly by pen and tongue, has been more fatal to Vedic truth than our reverential ignorance. For, passed through a mentality at once modern and alien, these ancient writings present themselves to us in a strange and disillusioning garb, no longer obscure, indeed, to our fancy, but to our understanding crude, shallow and barbarous. They appear to us as the work, incoherent in utterance, arbitrary in fancy and void of intellectual content, of early savages, - savages with a singularly warped and insincere mind and a gaudy and incompetent imagination. In reality, these strange trappings are a modern masquerade. The scholars of Europe have constructed for themselves by a study from outside of degenerate humanity at the point of lapsing back into the animal, a fanciful psychology of prehistoric humanity; they have read into this psychology the most ingenious Alexandrian conceits possible to the richly stored and rapidly creative modern scholastic imagination, and this compound they have presented to us as the ascertained meaning of the Veda. They base their version on the inchoate sciences, so styled, but not so admitted by serious scientists, of Comparative Philology, Comparative Mythology and Archaeology, - branches of conjectural learning which my well be the obscure dawn of a great and illuminative knowledge, but as yet and in themselves, are so inchoate, so imperfect, so devoid of sure fundamental laws that they can be no more authoritative to future enquiry than the early gropings of Paracelsus and his contemporaries to the modern chemical analyst. And if they are not to be authoritative to future enquiry, neither can they be binding on the living seeker after knowledge. Anyone of Indian birth who wishes to occupy his life or his leisure with Vedic enquiry as it is at present conducted, my enjoy the pleasures of an interesting and liberal branch of speculative research, in which he will find ample sport for his imagination and a delightful satisfaction and freedom for the most extravagant gambols of his ingenuity; but more serious results need not be expected from his labour. After the ingenious toils of Roth and Max Muller, as after the erudite diligence of Yaska and Sayana, the Vedic mantras remain for us what they have been for some thousands of years, a darkness of lost light and a sealed mystery.
Driven from its ancient reverence for the mystic Veda, Indian spirituality under the stress of that modern scientific materialism which takes the savage for its basis and for its culmination the perfectly-equipped human ant or bee, felt the need of some ancient retreat in which it could cherish a profounder knowledge and a more delicate ideal, some anchor by which it could still fix itself, even in this invading flood, to its immemorial past. It found what it sought in the Upanishads. For the Europeans, our modern authorities without whose sanction we cannot trust ourselves to believe anything, know anything or so much as initiate a fruitful experiment, have admitted the subtlety, depth and sublimity of the Upanishads. Therefore we feel ourselves safe in honoring the Vedanta even if we have to renounce the Veda. Moreover, we have here the comfort of being able to assert truthfully that Indian and European authorities agree. The Upanishads, accepted by Schopenhauer, have been explained by Shankara; they have shaped the Particularism of Ramanuja and influenced the transcendentalism of Emerson. Great philosophies have been born of them, which, as Europeans have noted with an admitting or patronizing wonder and Indians with a sort of obsequious pride, are on a level or almost on a level with the metaphysical ideas of Kant and Hegel! Apart, even from these baser concessions of the subjugated Indian mind, it has been with a feeling of sincere relief and consolation that truly spiritual Indians, distressed by the clamorous pressure of Occidental scepticism, have found in the Upanishads a rock of refuge on which they can await securely the inevitable subsidence of these devastating waters. They find here an authority of which even European rationalism has been compelled to speak with some respect and a light which even this wild Western mind has been unable to extinguish.
But these are secondary and transient considerations. When we put them aside and look face to face, using the critical reason and without prejudgment, at these sacred writings, when we have perused carefully, and thoughtfully the twelve great Upanishads from end to end, how much have we understood of them? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we shall have to say, "Of half of what I have read, nothing at all; of the other half I understand uncertainly and at second hand, a large portion, and, certainly and perfectly, a lesser portion more or less considerable. "If we dwell little upon the eighteen verses of the Isha Upanishad, - one of the briefest, simplest and plainest of these Scriptures, - we shall soon realize how little we have really understood. We understand of the first three slokas what Shankara has explained to us about them, with the addition possibly of a few associations from the Gita awakened by such expressions as kurvanneveha karmani and na karma lipyate nare. We acquire from the next two verses a vague idea of the supreme universality of the Brahman without however attaching any very exact significance to the powerful and striking expressions of the Upanishads. We understand clearly enough, if a little superficially, the great idea of the sixth and seventh verses because of the exact consonance of the expressions with familiar lines in the Gita and the prominence which this particular disciplines has received in the life and practice of the famous saints and Yogins of mediaeval and modern India. From the eighth verse we get again a vague idea of God and the Brahman. In the six slokas that follow we wander in the half darkness created by the strange perversions of Shankara and the commentators. In the remainder of the upanishad we understand, again with sufficient clearness, the central Vedantic idea conveyed in the phrase, Yo asau purusha so'ham asmi, but, for the rest, nothing. We can attach no clear idea to the golden vessel by which the face of Truth is hid, to the marshalling and drawing together of the rays of the Sun or to the revelation of its "most auspicious shape of all". We have no key in our own ideas or experience to the association of Agni, the lord of fire, with the removal of sin and with the travelling of the good path to felicity. For these are Vedic figures and the European misinterpretation of the Vedas, which alone we know or accept, offers us no clue to these ancient ideas and their association.
Throughout the simpler and, as we suppose, the later Upanishads, we shall have the same experience; we shall find that we understand clearly only so much as has entered into the more prominent tenets of the Vedantic philosophies or is familiarized to our minds by the lives of our great saints and teachers or intertwined with the associations of comparatively modern scriptures like the Gita; that we understand less clearly and certainly so much of the less familiar ideas as Shankara has chosen or been able to explain to us; but that there is always a residuum of which we have not the slightest comprehension.
In the lesser Upanishads, however, with the exception of the Prasna, the residuum is not large enough in quantity or strange enough in character to produce any impression of bewilderment. But in those great and profound Upanishads built on a larger plan, which form the bulk of the early Vedanta, the Chandogya, the Brihad Aranyaka, the Kaushitaki, the Taittiriya, even the Aitareya, this unintelligible residuum becomes the major portion, sometimes almost the great mass of the writing. Often we feel ourselves to be in a mighty tropical jungle of strange intellectual flora and fauna, a jungle through which there is no road or bypath; in which indeed there are fortunate clearings and brilliant and familiar stars shine down upon us, but everywhere else only a luxuriant wilderness of foliage, deep scented unknown flowers, strangely-brilliant fruits and labyrinths of festooned roots and interlacing branches in which we are caught or over which we stumble. There is here a depth and strangeness of symbolism, a luxuriance of ancient and unfamiliar expression, a richness of elusive psychological experience inexpressible in less figurative and concrete language, which baffles our facile and active but shallower and more superficial modern experience. We have a right to suppose that this forest is worth entering, that it is no wilderness of flowery brambles, but full of profitable riches, for where we can understand, we find ourselves confronted by some of the deepest and most suggestive ideas that mankind has ever had about the mysteries of existence. Which of us can entirely enter into and identify himself with the ideas and images of the second chapter in the Brihad Aranyaka? Yet there are few profounder thoughts in philosophical literature than its great central idea of Ashanaya Mrityu, Hunger who is Death, as the builder of this material world. But who will be our guide in this forest? who can illuminate for us that which is dark in these Upanishads or, conquering the rapid and deafening surge of modern thought, plunge deep into the remoter, silent depths of our human experience and recover for us the divinations, perceptions, experiences of the early Rishis?
Not certainly our European guides, on whom we rely so implicitly for the sense of the Vedas. For they have a very summary method of dealing with whatever in Oriental thought they cannot appreciate or cannot understand. These portions are to them a mass of rubbish; they are, a great admirer of Vedanta has said, "the babblings of humanity's nonage". It is easy to get rid of the difficulty by a brilliant literary antithesis between the unexampled sublimity and wisdom of the higher speculations of the early Vedantic thinkers and the childish and savage stupidity of the bulk of their thinking. This method saves the trouble of farther inquiry; but apart from the danger to truth and to patient and impartial thinking involved in the rash and arrogant supposition that what we cannot understand or believe, must necessarily be rubbish, it involves also a psychological difficulty which cannot be lightly accepted. If indeed the admittedly valuable parts of the Upanishads were merely brilliant intellectual speculations , we might suppose that the human mind, emerging from its first barbaric inefficiency, rose above itself in a series of brilliant flashes; without being able to get rid of the smoke and obscurity in which it was still for the most part enveloped, and in this way we might explain the apparent intermixture of sublime wisdom with futile niaiserie in the Upanishads. But what we have is something much more solid, profound and durable. We find ourselves in the presence not of intellectual speculations which do not led beyond themselves, but of an enduring system of permanent and always verifiable spiritual experiences. The system is not only deep, but carefully developed, not only surprisingly penetrative but regular and well-ordered; the experiences depend on a perfectly grasped and long-established science of practical psychology, which may or may not be justified by modern psychological investigation, itself as yet only in its infancy, but has at any rate stood the test of thousands of years of practical experiment by men passionately in search not merely of speculative truth, but of actual, vital, verifiable experiences, to them of a more than life-and-death importance. Wherever it has been tested, this ancient system has always been justified by its results. In any field of scientific research such constant justification would be held conclusive of the validity of the system. But, in any case, it is the truth that the writers of the Upanishads were not infantile thinkers making happy uncoordinated guesses; they were, rather, careful inquirers in possession of a great system of thought, intuitional, no doubt, rather than logical, but still reposing for its material verity on a method of strenuous experiment and searching observation. This aspect of Vedantic thinking is not likely to be grasped by the European mind to which our Indian experiences seem foreign, fantastic and inadmissible; but to those of us in India who know anything of the ancient practice and experiment upon which the truths preserved in the Upanishads have been erected, this character of the old Vedanta is real, patent and undeniable. It is the contemptuous pseudo-rationalistic dismissal of the foundation, while admitting respectfully the superstructure, which seems to us fantastic and inadmissible. The Upanishads, being what they are, cannot be a mixture of perfect wisdom and childish babble; such an unusual and bizarre combination, becomes, under the circumstances, not only a paradox but a psychological impossibility. Only this is true that they are expressed in an imagery the key to which is lost and contain a great number of important ideas of which later metaphysical speculation has allowed itself to lose hold. If the Vedas are dark to us except in their outer ceremonial, the Upanishads are clear to us only in their central ideas and larger suggestions.
But how then can writings so obscure or at any rate so imperfectly understood have exercised over the thought of millenniums the vast and pervasive influence of which we know, so pervasive that all positive Indian thought, even Buddhism, can be described in Vedic in origin and shaping spirit when not Vedic or even when anti-Vedic in its garb and formed character? Thought has other means of survival and reproduction than its ordinary overt and physical instruments. After it has been deprived of propagation by speech and writing, even after it has disappeared out of the conscious mentality, it can return and recover itself not only in the individual, - that is common enough, - but, by a very similar act of memory, in the race. The workings of our psychology are as yet ill understood and we do not know precisely by what means or forces the subconscious operations or mentality are conducted; but some of the processes used by the great Universal in His more secret works are becoming apparent. Physical heredity is certainly one of them. It is true that thought is not inherited; but types of mentality and mental tendencies are, apparently, handed down with the physical plasm, and out of a persistent type of thought. The Vedic mental type was fixed in the Indian race at an early period of its formation and throughout all external variations has never really changed. There is, therefore, in the Indian mind a predisposition to the recovery of the fundamental Vedic ideas; those directions of mentality which are most natural to the Vedic mental type, easily recur and a light suggestion is all that is needed to set thought spinning in the old grooves.
But the physical inheritance is not sufficient in itself, nor is it even the only subconscious instrument in the persistence of human and national mentality. As psychology progresses, I think it will be more and more clearly recognized that just as men live in one physical atmosphere and are affected in their physical conditions by its state, currents and contents and by the physical conditions of others near to them, so also and even to a greater extent we live in one mental atmosphere and are affected in our mental condition and activities by its state, current and contents and by the mental condition and activities of others similarly affected in our near vicinity. The dynamic action of the mental atmosphere is evident enough in the psychology of crowds, in the rapidity of development of great thought-movements and general tendencies of corporate action and in their contemporaneous efflorescence in widely divided countries. Theses phenomena have given rise to a vague idea of thought-waves resembling the waves of electricity in the physical parts of Nature. But if, instead of confining ourselves to these superficial and striking phenomena, we go deeper down into the normal and obscurer action; we shall find in addition to the dynamic movements a constant static condition and pressure of the mental atmosphere which varies but seems hardly to change substantially from age to age. For waves and currents presuppose a constant sea out of which they rise and into which they again sink to rest. It is the pressure of this atmospheric sea that more permanently determines the constant mentality of a continent or a nation. Into it, after all revolutions and dynamic activities, humanity tends to sink back with whatever riches it has gained and often long periods are necessary for their absorption and assimilation. The mind-atmosphere has its needs and its conditions; it alters into its own image whatever is new and foreign and assimilates even when it seems to be assimilated; it reflects everything that would too radically disintegrate its enduring composition. It is at once infinitely yielding and plastic and infinitely persistent in its general character. It casts essential Buddhism out of India and replaces it by a huge phantasmagorical complex Hinduised Buddhism; it constantly purges mysticism out of Europe and replaces essential Christianity with its sublimely tender and delicate Oriental psychology by a strenuous, external, dogmatic, materialistic and practical creed. Individual men and even men in the mass are ready enough to change under a comparatively slight impulsion; it is the compelling pressure of the mental atmosphere which prevents them from changing too radically so that when we think we have effected a revolution, we find that we have only effected an external readjustment or new dress of an old reality. The soul of things in us tends to remain the same. For steadfastness in mobility is the sound law of our being and the condition of healthy survival, Nature keeps us to it on peril of prolonged disorder, deterioration of fatal decay. Into this circum-ambient mental atmosphere in which we live and by which we draw our mental inspiration and respiration, all the old thoughts have entered, are lying obscure, many of them disaggregated, but none entirely lost. Under the proper conditions they may, they even tend to reconstitute themselves, to reappear.
In India such returns upon our past are more common than in any other country, partly from certain external causes, from the persistence of certain external suggestions, but much more because of the constant practice of Yoga by a large number of typical and central souls who act, overtly or silently, upon the general mass of Indian humanity. The discipline of Yoga renders a man much more sensible to the surrounding mental atmosphere, than in his ordinary state. He becomes consciously aware of it, feels intelligently its impacts, stirs more quickly to its deep buried secrets and obscure suggestions. And as he becomes more quick to receive, so also he becomes more powerful to impart. Practising forms of the old Vedantic discipline, he recovers also forms of the old vedantic thought and mentality and, modifying them in expression but not in essence by his own present personality, he pours them out on his surroundings. This has been the secret of the persistent Vedism of Indian thought and spirituality from the earliest ages to those modern movements of which we are ourselves the witnesses or the partakers.
Outward aids have powerfully confirmed the effect of these inward processes, - the reign of Vedic philosophies, the dominance of religions rich with the sap of the old Vedic spirit, the traditional teachings of particular Yogic schools, the theory and practice of the Guru-parampara. It would be as great a mistake to exaggerate as to belittle the importance of any of these aids in themselves. Vedic knowledge was rich, many-sided, elastic, flexible; but the metaphysical philosophies are limited by the very law of their logical structure. They are compelled to select and reflect, to systematize only what can be harmonized in a single logical formula; and a logical formula, however wide, is always too narrow to contain God's truth which is universal, complex and many-faceted. The dominance of particular metaphysical systems has tended to preserve fragments of the old Vedic truth, but to disfigure and dissolve it as a whole in its comprehensiveness and catholicity. Moreover, a metaphysical system by itself can never lay powerful hold on a people. We of the present age, who are excessively intellectualized, are apt to attach too great an importance and power to the works of the pure intellect. Systems of pure metaphysics which have no connection with the constant psychological experience and practice of men, are apt to become, like the modern philosophies of Europe and unlike the old Greek philosophies, merely noble pastimes for the intellectual few. They influence the generality of men, but by a slight and indirect process, not profoundly, not puissantly, not permanently. The Indian metaphysical systems have influenced the whole mentality of the India people profoundly, puissantly, permanently, not because of their logical subtleties, not even so much by the force and loftiness of their general ideas, but by their close dependence on powerful and widely-practised systems of psychological discipline, - systems, as we say in India, of Yoga.
The influence of religion has been yet more dynamical; it is always indeed more dynamical than the influence of philosophy, because religion appeals to the higher, secret, unattainable parts of our nature through the emotions and sensations which are better developed in humanity than the pure intellect. But even the religious emotions and sensations, though strong, swift and tenacious of a satisfaction once given, yet eventually tire and change; for this reason religions tend after a time to decay and perish. But in India the Vedic religions do not decay and perish; they change and are reborn. And they have this good fortune precisely because of the Vedic element in them: Their ritual, forms, worship, ceremonies, high days are not Vedic; even if they enshrine old Vedic ideas, they do it ignorantly and under a disguise; but all these religions have in their recesses some core of constant psychological practice and discipline, in a word, some form of Yoga, by which they live; and always it is, in essence, a Vedic practice and a Vedic discipline. Religions think that they live by their dogmas, their sacred books, their ceremonies, but these are all aids and trappings; they live really by the men who practise them, by their clergy and mystics and much more by their mystics than by their clergy. So long as a religion has in its fold a sufficient number of souls who can retire within themselves and live there with God, so long it cannot help enduring, even though all the rest of the world is against it; once it loses this core of life, no amount of temporal power and prestige, of attractive ceremonial, of passionate belief and stiff dogmatism or even of wise and supple flexibility, savior-fair and self adaptation can save it from its inevitable disappearance. The great Vedic religions in India have always had this nucleus of mystics; they have always been rich in men capable of living with God, but they have not left the preservation of the indispensable nucleus to chance, they have attempted to secure it by a traditional practice and discipline, usually of what is known in India as Bhaktiyoga. By this Yoga and the experience of the saints and Sadhus who have practised it, much more than by Puranic legend and outward devotion, - though these also have helped, - our religious systems have done much to preserve the thoughts and experiences of the early Rishis to their distant posterity.
This vitalizing core of philosophy, this saving essence of religion, Yoga, has itself an inner reality and an outer body. It has organized and variously summarized its different parts of experience and various methods of experiment in a great number of schools; and it preserves in all its schools a common fund of essential experience which goes back to the ancient Vedic sources. In these days, when the natural ignorance of Europeans about this characteristic Indian discipline has been successfully acquired as a part of their enlightenment by educated Indians, there is a tendency to identify Yoga with the Rajayogic system of Patanjali, because that alone is known to the European scholar. But Yoga cannot be confined to a single school or a single system. Patanjali's Yogashastra is concerned only with Rajayoga and only with one system of Rajayoga; there are a hundred others of which a few have their written rules, practices or aphorisms but the rest, among them some of the most ancient and august, like the school of Dattatreya, have been handed down from an early era by the long linked generations of its Guru-parampara. This profuse ramification of Yogic systems, like the inexhaustible fertility of religious sects and orders, is a sign and an unfailing accompaniment of the richness, power and freedom of spiritual life in this country. It is not only an accompaniment, but a necessary condition. If, for instance, Yoga had allowed itself to formalize into the strict tenets and stereotyped methods of a single school, even a sound and great school like Patanjali's it would long ago have perished or become, like much of our religious observance, a soulless body. The Infinite within us demands an infinite freedom, of various experience, of various self-expression, of various self-realization; it loves order and arrangement, but will not long brook a confined immobility. It is only the material, the inert that depends for its stability on blind obedience to iron and immutable processes, the stability of inner things rests rather on a regulated, but still free and variable activity. Therefore, whatever in the mental world formalizes too rigidly, is preparing its own decadence; the movement towards rigidity too long persisted in, is usually a sign that the infinite Life is about to withdrew form the body it has been informing. India has not been exempt from the immobilizing tendency even in that Yoga which has been its hidden wellspring of life and the secret of its perennial vitality; there has been a disposition to formalize into one school or another and repeat from generation to generation its methods and experiences. But the Indian mental atmosphere tends always, by a return upon that which is most vital in it, to bring out great souls who, like Buddha, like Chaitanya, like Nanak, like Ramdas, like Ramakrishna, belong to no school, owe their knowledge to no spiritual preceptor, but go back to the Source of all within themselves and emerge from it with some perfectly realized truth of the eternal and universal Veda. As their source is universal, so too they tend to cast out their gains universally upon mankind, so far at least as their surroundings and time are able to bear the truth and live; thus they revivify and preserve the spirituality in our mental environment. Great are the Yogins who, faithful to some long-established school of spiritual discipline, renew perfectly in themselves its perfect results and hand down their sacred gains as in a sealed and jealously guarded vase to the most worthy disciple; but those have a greater effect on the world who break the vase before they depart and pour out its content of life-giving sweetness on the world around them. Here too, as in philosophy, as in religion, the outer and systematized forms have done much to preserve the ancient truth, in its parts, if not in its fullness; they have served the purpose of flasks for keeping a little of the Soma wine of the Veda. But it is to those who have gone back most freely to the inner source that is due the perpetual reflooding of the Indian mind with Vedic truth and its immortal permanence and unfailing reappearance in philosophy, in religious teachings and observance and in personal spiritual experience and discipline.
None of these puissant exterior aids to the permanence of the Veda would have been entirely effective without another, yet more characteristic of our Indian organization, the guru-parampara or unbroken succession of the human vessel of divine knowledge. This Indian institutions, ill-understood by the mechanical rationalistic temper of our modern times, is founded upon a perfectly correct appreciation of the essential conditions indispensable for the transmission of a difficult knowledge. All human knowledge consists of three necessary elements, the thing itself which is known, the word or form in which it is expressed and the sense of the word or form which is the link between the thing and its expression. The thing itself, existing always, is always and at any given time capable of being known; the word or form can also be constantly preserved and may, then, always and at any given time yield up its secret; but that secret lies in the right sense to be attached to the symbol and needs for its preservation an intermediary, a vessel, a fourth element. The existence of the thing to be known is not sufficient for knowledge; we need in addition as a receptacle of its sense the competent knower who is termed technically in the language of our philosophy, the aptajana, the expert and adept. The aptajana transmitting his knowledge to a fit disciple is our Indian guru. To take a simple scientific instance, it has always been true and will always remain true that the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen results in water; the chemical formula expressing the truth, may, having been once settled, remain permanently written; but unless there is also the competent knower who understands the sense of the formula, has submitted it to the test of realization by experience and is able to hand on his knowledge and his method to his successors, the existence of the formula would not save the knowledge form disappearing for a time from the grasp of humanity. The formula would then come to be regarded only as an incomprehensible superstitious jargon and abracadabra, as the mantras of our religious and Yogic schools are now regarded by many modernized Indians. In the things of the spirit this necessity of the human intermediary is a hundred times more keenly felt than in any material process; for the thing itself is more remote from daily experience, the methods which bring it into the range of intelligent realization are much more difficult and delicate and the formulas in which it is couched, are necessarily elusive and with difficulty intelligibly. Therefore India, supremely sensitive to the importance of spiritual knowledge and experience, unequalled in its instinct for the right spiritual method, has organized the institution of the guru-parampara as an essential instrument for the survival of Veda. The truth of Brahman is the thing to be known, the Veda and Vedanta are the word-symbol and formal expression of the Brahmen, - sabdam brahma, the guru is the human receptacle of the knowledge who transmits it to his worthiest disciples. Thus the guru-parampara forms the succession of spiritual torchbearers, who as in the ancient Greek festival, hand on the light of truth from generation to generation, so that the sacred knowledge received in the morning of our national daytime may last, even though with diminutions and obscurations; not only into its evening but on through whatever night of time is intended, to the dawn of another golden age of spirituality. Who shall say out of what distinct twilight of time the Veda was first revealed to mankind? Who shall say to what pre-cataclysm undreamed consummation of our present humanity it shall endure? But we preserved by his chosen vessels as the secret thing out of which all human activity dumbly emerges and to which it is destined by a conscious fulfillment to return.
It is this wise and necessary institution of our forefathers to which we owe the preservation of Vedic truth in our midst even after the actual words of the written Vedas have ceased to bear to us their original significance. Without its aid the abstruse and difficult generalizations of metaphysics could not have prolonged their vitality nor so powerfully propagated themselves that even the beggar in the streets and the peasant in his fields are permeated with some portions of their truth; the living truths of religion could not have maintained so persistent and so puissant a vitality; the schools of Yoga could not have transmitted the essence of their knowledge, methods and experiences from early Vedic times onward into the darkness of our own era. But like all external forms the guru-parmapara is liable to vicissitudes, to formalization, to loss of its perfect original virtue. The orthodox formalist supposes that by the mere mechanical act of transmission the unimpaired vitality of the truth is automatically secured. But there are many accidents to which that security is liable. The guru may not always find a perfect disciple; he still imparts his knowledge, but the vessel can only hold according to its capacity: then the truth is obscured if not permanently, then for one or more generations. There are also more general mishaps incidental to the general law of periodicity and decay which governs many parts of Nature.
As the mental and vital atmosphere in which we dwell becomes thickened with obscurations, the general capacity of men diminishes and a time comes when the essential office of the guru is only fulfilled in the exceptions and the name becomes ordinarily prostituted to the mercenary priest or the unworthy physical heir of ancient Masters and knowers, who either hands on the formula without any knowledge of its sense or is unable even to preserve the formula itself in its purity, - as if the scientific formula for the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen were to be mumbled faithfully from generation without any slightest knowledge or practice of the actual experiment which constitutes its value.
Even when this extreme degeneracy does not happen, the transmission is subject to the play of individuality and the varying tendencies of thought from century to century and under that influence this part of the truth may be overstressed, that deprived of its emphasis, much may be sacrificed as no longer useful to the actual practice of the new generations or too high for its attainment and what is preserved may be manipulated, extended, diverted by the enthusiasms of individual thought and experience. What is thus lost or blurred, may not be recovered or restored to its purity for long ages. Nevertheless the institution always preserves something of its value. Much of the body of the truth tends to survive even the worst vicissitudes, and in the body something must always remain of the spirit; even a formula long unintelligently repeated may, by passing into the possession of an alert and curious mind or an ardent and sincere nature, be a suggestion or a starting point for the recovery of the old lost experience which it keeps as its secret . Here again, as with the other external aids, we come back to the perennial source of the truth, the experience of the strong souls who passing beyond the school, the formula, the belief, the aid, the letter, go back into themselves for the light, respond to those buried suggestions ever laying in ambush for us in the mental atmosphere from which we draw our inner sustenance, and are strong enough to emerge with something of the ancient truth which gave so ineffable a vastness and profundity to the spiritual life of our forefathers. Behind and beyond all human gurus there dwells within us all the World-Teacher, the universal jagadguru of whom human teachers are only the masks and nominal representatives. He keeps for us the competent book of the Veda written in our secret being, nihitam guhayam; veiled, but accessible, He awaits our reverential approach and our questioning and, sincerely and constantly questioned, He lights the fire of Agni in our hearts and makes Surya to rise upon our darkness.
From these considerations there arise two apparently conflicting, but really complementary truths, - first, that in spite of powerful external aids, by the inexorable vicissitudes of Time, we have lost the sense of Veda and do not possess the full sense of Vedanta, secondly, that both these capital losses can, though with difficulty, by the methods of Yoga and the ( ) experience of great souls, be repaired. We possess intellectually the general truths of Vedanta, the transcendental unity of things and the universal unity, ekam advitiyam brahma and so'han asmi; the secret of divine renunciation of the Ascetic and the secret of divine joy of the Vaishnava, with much else that is sovereign, vital, a priceless heritage. We possess many symbolic forms of religious application by which we enter into possession of the eternal truth through the emotions, through the intellect or through active experience in our inner life and outward. We possess numerous methods and forms of psychological discipline by which we repeat old profound experiences and do even actually possess many apparently lost details of Vedic truth preserved in another form and couched in more modern symbols. All this is much; it has kept us alive through the centuries. But it is only in its totality that the Truth can work its utter miracles. Otherwise, if we live on her broken meats we tend either to lose ourselves in the outer formulae or concentrate dogmatically on fragments and sides of the living truth; when great spirits arise to give us their deep and vast experience, we prove ourselves limited and shallow vessels and are unable to receive more of the truth than in harmony with our confined intellects and narrow natures; and, if powerful floods of materialism invade us, as in the present European era of humanity, we have not the strength to resist, to hold fast to that which is difficult but enduring; we are overborne, lose our footing and are carried away in the vehement but shallow currents. Perfection of knowledge is the right condition for perfection of nature and efficiency of life. The perfect truth of the Veda is the fundamental knowledge, the right relations with the Truth of things, on which alone according to our ideas, all other knowledge can receive the true orientation needed by humanity. The recovery of the perfect truth of the Veda is therefore not merely a desideratum for our modern intellectual curiosity, but a practical necessity for the future of the human race. For I believe firmly that the secret concealed in the Veda, when entirely discovered, will be found to formulate perfectly that knowledge and practice of a divine life to which the march of humanity, after long wanderings in the satisfaction of the intellect and senses, must inevitably return and is actually at the present day, in the impulse of its vanguard, tending more and more, but vaguely and blindly, to return. If we can set our feet on the path, not vaguely and blindly, but in the full light that streamed so brilliantly and grandiosely on the inner sight of our distant forefathers, our speed will be more rapid and our arrival more triumphant.
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