Monday, June 14, 2010

Rtam and Satyam

                When we look at the translation of Rik Veda , we come across the word rtam, vrata and dharma all translated as Holy Law, Eternal law or Law for about 350 times and one is led to believe that rtam is the central idea of the Vedas.

                All devas [agni, vayu, indra varuna etc.] are said to be born of rtam. These devas are said to be the strengtheners and protectors of rtam.

                What is meant by rtam which gives birth to the devas and is maintained by them?
Rig vedic hymns say that Varuna is the king of rtam and he decides the routes of the sun, the dawn, the moon, the stars, the wind, the birds and the ships. Indra, another protector of rtam decides the course of the rivers and the growth of plants.  From these it can be inferred that rtam denotes the laws of nature. Every object in the universe has its own property (or own course of movement) and one supreme command coordinates all these. This supreme law is called rtam.

                Rig vedic hymns speak of different gods like Indra, Varuna etc. but they do not mention of one Omnipotent God. Rtam is called the all powerful. The Devas, who are said to be the protectors of rtam are themselves the offspring of rtam. Hence it may be said that the concept of the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and omniscient God was evolved from rtam.

                The natural forces that work according to rtam are called Devas. Though this word refers to all the Devas, the word Savita is always preceded by the attribute Deva in Rig veda . So it can be inferred that Savita (the sun) was the first natural object to attract the attention of the sages. The word Deva is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Div’ meaning light. Originally it might have referred to only luminous objects like sun, moon, stars, fire etc. But later, it came to include all the natural forces with or without light, visible or invisible such as Vayu.

                [Rtam and its Sanskrit synonyms Dharma, Vratha are variously translated in Griffith’s work as law, natural law, holy law, true law, order, holy order, eternal order, orderliness, truth, highest truth, eternal truth, sacred truth, righteousness, right ways, sacred duty, Genuine. ]

                The sage wonders what his role is in the vast universe. What is the relationship between me and the universe? One day he gets the first glimpse of the concept of rtam. He understands that he is a speck in the vastness. He could only bow before the Great Truth with a hymn.

What thing I truly am I know not clearly: mysterious, fettered in my mind I wander. When the first-born of holy law approached me, then of this speech I first obtain a portion.

Vedic Rishis did not hit upon the concept of rtam all on a sudden. They came to know of it gradually.

1.106.3 Two Mothers of the Gods strengthen Law.

5.5.6 Fair strengtheners of vital power, young Mothers of eternal law,
Morning and Night we supplicate.

                We learn that the occurrence of day and night alternately was the first thing in the natural order that caught the attention of the sages.

1. FROM Fervour kindled to its height Eternal law and truth were born:
Thence was the Night produced, and thence the billowy flood of sea arose.
2 From that same billowy flood of sea the Year was afterwards produced,
Ordainer of the days nights, Lord over all who close the eye.
3 Dhatar, the great Creator, then formed in due order Sun and Moon.
He formed in order Heaven and Earth, the regions of the air, and light.

                It is improbable that after the creation of day and night, Brahma crated the sun. Hence it should not be taken literally but should be interpreted as follows.

                The sages performed Tapas ( thinking and research) intensely. They came to know of Rtam and Satyam. The occurrence of night attracted their attention first. They realized that the cycle of day and night was caused by the sun. Then they observed the sea and noted its changes over a period of time. They found the same kind of seasons repeating in the same order and called them ‘rtu’s and the period of one cycle of rtus as year. Then they correlated the movements of sun and moon. Thus they gained the knowledge of the sky, the earth and the atmosphere.

                Rtam does not mean the truth as we understand it today. It denotes the orderliness which regulates the movements of the sun, earth, moon etc. It denotes the laws of nature. The question whether the sun moves or the earth moves does not arise here.The planets have their own orbit and their revolutions are governed by some laws though we have not understood them all. The vedic sage calls the orderliness by the name rtam.

                Thinking along the lines of the rishi, we can extend it as follows. Every object has its own properties. No two objects are similar. Among the living beings, no two species are identical. Within the species, no two animals, say men, are similar in appearance, ability etc. The living beings feed upon one another and no species becomes extinct because of this feeding. There is attraction between certain objects and repulsion between certain others. Changes keep on occurring and the old state never returns. There are endless varieties both horizontally and vertically. The law that governs all these is called rtam.

                It was in such a mood that the rishi moans the disappearance of the old rtam and asks whether the Devas, the protectors have failed in their duty.

Rik 1.105
4 I ask the last of sacrifice. As envoy he shall tell it forth.
Where is the ancient law divine? Who is its new diffuser now? Mark this my woe, ye Earth and Heaven.
5 Ye Gods who yonder have your home in the three lucid realms of heaven,
What count ye truth and what untruth? Where is mine ancient call on you? Mark this my woe, ye Earth and Heaven.
6 What is your firm support of law? What Varuna's observant eye?
How may we pass the wicked on the path of mighty Aryaman? Mark this my woe, ye Earth and Heaven.

                Later he realizes that rtam is never destroyed or defeated. There are many parts of rtam which remain hidden to us. We learn them one by one. This ‘gnanodayam’ flashes in his mind and he welcomes the new dimension as the birth of a new rtam.. The following verse of the same sooktam tells this.

15 Varuna makes the holy prayer. To him who finds the path we pray.
He in the heart reveals his thought. Let sacred worship (rtam) rise anew. Mark this my woe, ye Earth and Heaven.

                This is the age of science and we often boast that man has conquered nature or has learnt to circumvent the laws of nature. But remember that rtam (laws of nature) is infinite and we have known only a fragment of it. The materials to circumvent the laws of nature are also provided by another set of natural laws.

                For example, mercury is a known poison. If it is purified with the juices of some herbs, it becomes a life-saving drug. Has rtam been defeated? No. The herbs that make mercury non-poisonous are also a part of the law of nature.

                An object thrown up is bound to fall down. This is rtam. Now we know that if an object is sent up at a given speed and to a certain height, it will not fall down. Has man conquered nature? No. He has learnt a new dimension of the laws which overrides the known law.

Rik 1.152.
3 The Footless Maid precedeth footed creatures. Who marketh, Mitra-Varuna, this your doing?
The Babe Unborn supporteth this world's burthen, fuIfilleth law and overcometh falsehood.

                The theory of evolution is spoken of in the first line. Darwin says that the footless creatures like fish preceded the amphibians like frogs. This Rik verse tells that the evolution is caused by rtam, which remains invisible like a baby in the womb. Though unseen, it sees to the proper evolution of the world and does not brook any disorderliness.

Rtam and men

1.151.4 ye, Righteous Ones, proclaim aloud the Holy law. That efficacious power that comes from lofty heaven, ye bind unto the work, as to the pole an ox.
1.163. 5 Here, Courser, are the places where they groomed thee, here are the traces of thy hoofs as winner. Here have I seen the auspicious reins that guide thee, which those who guard the holy law keep safely.
1.130.8 Indra in battles help his Aryan worshipper, he who hath hundred helps at hand in every fray, in frays that win the light of heaven. Plaguing the lawless.
1.41.4 Thornless, Adityas, is the path, easy for him who seeks the law:
10.85.1. Truth is the base that bears the earth; by Surya are the heavens sustained.
By law the Adityas stand secure, and Soma holds his place in heaven.
7.76.4 They were the Gods' companions at the banquet, the ancient sages true to law Eternal.
8.31.13 The paths of law are fair to tread.

                From the above we come to know that the vedic injunction for men is to abide by rtam and this path is easy to tread, Those who follow rtam are rewarded with Amrtam. Others get punishment.

                What is ‘Amrtam’? The puranas say that it is a drink which makes one immortal. But as we understand the laws of nature today, immortality is impossible. I would like to interpret it as what J.K. termed as timeless living, and living from moment to moment. This is attained by meditation, that is, commentless observation. Bharathi says that the immortal state is attained by freeing ourselves from worries, anger, falsehood, fear and desires.

1.25.1 I WHATEVER law of thine, O God, O Varurna, as we are men,
Day after day we violate.
2 give us not as a prey to death, to be destroyed by thee in wrath,
To thy fierce anger when displeased.
1.51..8 Discern thou well Aryas and Dasyus; punishing the lawless give them up to him whose grass is strewn.

                From the above it is learnt that man violates the rtam and hence he is punished with death. What does it mean to abide by rtam? Just observe nature. Understand that there is orderliness in every natural phenomenon. Probe deeper and you will find that there is something (called satyam) behind all these laws of nature. Meditate on rtam and satyam.

                But man has mind. He is controlled by ego. He thinks that he can manipulate nature. Sometimes he succeeds. But sometimes, despite his clever planning, he fails and does not know the causes for his failure. He just names it fate.

                Now we will see what Rig Veda says about Satyam. In some of the verses (1.108.1, 1.127.8, 2.15.1, 3.54.4, 6.30.4) satyam is used as a synonym for truth. In some other verses, (1.1.5, 1.1.6, 1.12.7, 6.51.10, 8.59.5, 8.61.4) it is used in a more extended sense. Agni, Varuna and Indra are described as satyam, their blessings are satyam and their ways are satyam.

                Indra is said to be born of rtam in one verse and of satyam in another. So we can presume that rtam and satyam are one and the same. Since we have already seen that the concept of rtam evolved into that of one Almighty God, we can assume that satyam is also not different from God.

                1.164.46 says that what exists is one and the sages call it differently. The word used for ‘exists’ is ‘sat’ from which satyam is derived. This is the basic tenet of the Vedas and it gave rise to different forms of worship in Hinduism later and everything was accepted by the Vedas. This is also the cause for the tolerance of Hinduism. We accommodated other religions because we know that what exists is one though called differently. Vedas do not call the people with different ideology as fools but regard them all as sages.
The word satyam is derived from ‘sat’
सत् which is the present participle of अस् = to be. Satyam therefore means that which exists. The Tamil word for satyam is ‘unmai’ which is derived from ‘ullathu’ which has no past and future forms. It denotes all the three tenses- past, present and future. What is it that exists for ever? It is called God. So satyam refers to God

                There is the Upanishadic statement, “Satyameva Jayate, na anrtam”. We have all along understood it to mean that the truth will win some day in the future. Properly speaking, Satyam (God) keeps winning always. This is borne out by the word ‘jayate’ which is in the present tense and denotes the habitual, permanent, recurring actions. So it means, “God alone triumphs and anything against the laws of nature does not succeed.”

                Though all the devas are considered embodiment of satyam, the sun has a special relationship with it. We have already seen that only ‘Savita’ is always preceded by the attribute ‘Deva’ .

10.55. 6 Strong is the Red Bird (sun) in his strength, great Hero, who from of old hath had no nest to dwell in.
That which he knows is truth and never idle: he wins and gives the wealth desired of many.

                The sun’s chariot has two wheels- one is rtam and the other satyam. Only those who have understood the concept of rtam well can realize the existence of an almighty satyam.

10.85.16 The Brahmans, by their seasons, know, O Surya, those two wheels of thine:
One kept concealed, those only who are skilled in highest truths (rtam) have learned.
4.51.7 Blest were these Dawns of old, shining with succour, true with the truth (satyam) that springs from holy Order. (rtam)
7.56.12 By law (rtam) they came to truth (satyam).

                In 10.36.13. the sun is called the father of satyam, implying that satyam was reached by the sage through observing the sun.  Each vedic god has his/her own significance. While Varuna is considered the king of devas, Indra is considered supreme and the mightiest. It was Indra who raised the Sun high so that he (the sun ) can see the wide world. The prayer for the sun (savita) is the famous gayatri which forms a part of the veda and is cherished till today. Among the devas created by rtam, Surya occupies a place of importance. One can learn about rtam and satyam easily by observing the sun. Actually these devas are not separate entities but different aspects of one satyam. The antonym of both rtam and satyam is anrtam. In the vedic literature, One does not come across the word asatyam. When one acts or talks against the laws of nature, that is anrtam. Veda says that gods punish anrtam.

                Since we have seen that satyam refers to the supreme power which expresses itself through the laws of nature, the word asatyam means, ‘no supreme power’. Nobody in his senses will say that. Even the atheists accept the existence of one superhuman power and call it nature. They only deny the need to worship it. Hence no such word as ‘asatyam’ in the Vedas.

                We have already seen the Upanishadic statement, Satyameva Jayate, na anrtam. There is a popular sloka, perhaps from Mahabharata. It says, ‘Speak satyam, speak priyam. Never speak satyam which is apriyam. Never speak priyam which is anrtam.’ Note, here also the antonym for satyam is anrtam and not asatyam.

                We have seen so far that all the ideas have been encrypted into symbols in the Vedas. In tune with this system, we have to understand the word ‘parishinchaami’ (drench) also to mean, to mix, unite, take together.

                I drench satyam with rtam should mean, ‘I take satyam and rtam together in my mind.’ In other words, at every meals-time, we remind it to ourselves that we have to observe the nature, understand that there is orderliness in everything and behind all these there exists one, the unconquerable satyam. Let us admire the greatness of rtam and dissolve ourselves into the silence of satyam.

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