THE TEACHER-PROPHETS OF VEDANTA
Those of you who are acquainted with the principles of Vedanta must have recognized that they are universal and eternal in character. Even if Vedanta is thought of as a religion —which it is, in addition to being a philosophical system one finds that it does not exist on anyone’s authority; it is impersonal. In Indiawe have always taken the attitude that truth is its own justification and foundation. It does not require the authority or support of a person; rather, a person, to be worthwhile, requires the support of truth.
So from ancient times in India efforts have been made to find truths truths which are ordinarily called ‘supernatural’, but which are as impersonal as the laws of external nature and it is claimed that at least four thousand years before Christ a great body of such truth was discovered.
In spiritual knowledge, the highest truth is utter unity, and it is probable that this highest truth of all was discovered earliest. Such a statement no doubt appears strange, because, after all, the highest is always the culmination of a process; it is not reached first. However, so far as we have records, we find that the discovery of the unity of everything, the utter unity of the individual and the universal, beyond which nothing can be conceived, is recorded in one of the earliest hymns of the Rg-Veda. I have sometimes mentioned this to you with gladness, because the person who is considered to have arrived at this truth was a young woman, the daughter of a Vedic sage. Her name was Vak. Some say that this account must be allegorical, because Vak means speech, or the goddess of speech or of wisdom, and probably the name Vak was just a reference to that goddess. But there is no reason to think that, because afterwards there were others who arrived at the same truth and were celebrated in the ancient books. This young woman, then, was the first to realize that there is only one Being and that she was herself that Being. She composed a beautiful hymn, which is even now sung whenever the ultimate Deity is worshipped as goddess. So the very highest truth was arrived at in those earliest recorded times. Of course there are many preceding stages of spiritual realization, all of which were described in later Vedantic texts; in fact, it can be said that the three main stages of spiritual experience are represented in the Vedanta.
I think I should explain very briefly the word vedanta. You know, the body of religious literature called the Vedas is the most ancient in the world. A good part of the Vedas was lost at an early time; it is conceded that probably the major part is forever gone. But whatever remained became systematized into four books by a very great sage, named Veda Vyasa. (Vyasa was his original name,but because he worked on the Vedas, the word veda became permanently prefixed to it —Veda Vyasa.) He divided the Vedas into four books: Rg-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, andAtharva-Veda. Each Veda, again, is classified into different sections. There is first of all the Samhita portion, which is composed of hymns, usually written in verse.
Then comes the Brahmana portion, usually written in prose. At the end of the Brahmanas there are sometimes philosophical discourses, which are called Upanisads or Vedanta. Each Veda has also been differently divided; for instance, sometimes the ritualistic portion is called Karma-kanda, and the philosophical portion, Jhana-kanda. Or sometimes they have been divided into the Samhitds, or hymnal portions, and ten Aranyakas, or forest books, which are more or less composed of the Brahmanas and the Upanisads.
Now, here we are concerned, of course, with the very last part of Vedantic literature, which is called Vedanta—veda anta, ‘the end of the Vedas’. Many have thought that these portions came last of all in the Vedic age: at first the ancient Aryans practised rituals; then afterwards, being dissatisfied with rituals, they began to become philosophical and to- find philosophical truths, which they embodied in the books of energy was given to the search for and finding of hidden spiritual truths.