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Addressing the misinterpretations and distortions of the Vedas

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On the pretext of indological research and documenting history, the Vedas have been misinterpreted in an extreme manner by Indologists and historians. It is well known that the likes of Witzel, Thapar, Doniger and co. who promote the dubious “Aryan Invasion Theory” which finds no mention in the Vedas. But unfortunately, their opponents, who attempt to reply to these accusations in a well-intentioned manner, also end up distorting the actual meaning due to a lack of knowledge of the rules for interpretation.

What should be understood is that the Vedas are not historical records. They are considered “Apaurusheya” (unauthored by both man and god) and eternal in traditional circles. Being without an author, human or divine, there is no flaw in the Vedas, since flaws arise due to ignorance of an author. Authorlessness also means that they are entirely neutral– for bias also arises only due to an author. Furthermore, unauthoredness removes the logic of mutual fallacy that plagues man-made religions – the foundation of these religions being “God gave a book, so the book exists, and since the book exists, God exists”.

The proof for the apaurusheyatva of the Veda would span many pages and is not relevant here, so let us skip that.

The Vedas talk about many topics, and if anything at all is historical, it is the deeds of Gods which are mentioned there. These are regarded as history (ithihāsa) by traditional scholars, but not so by indologists. Thus, “history” as defined by them, does not exist. The Vedas do contain descriptions of means to attain certain worldly aims for seekers of different persuasions, but they also strongly exhort the seeker to reject these aims and strive for the highest purushArtha (object of attainment) enshrined in the Vedas which is brahma-jnAna. As such, the key information revealed in the Vedas can be considered to be the following, in a nutshell:

  • Nature of the Supreme Reality.
  • Nature of the Individual Self.
  • Means to attain the Supreme Reality.
  • Obstacles encountered in attaining the Supreme Reality.
  • Nature of existence post-liberation (upon attainment).

Different schools of Vedanta have different views on these five topics, but in general, all the knowledge of the Vedas is condensed under these headings. And as such, any alleged references to tribes, lands etc is nothing but a misinterpretation of the Vedas. For it is said,

itihāsa purāṇābhyāṃ vedaṃ samupabriṃhayet bhibhedyalpa śrutā dvedo māyayaṃ pratarediti (~ Mahabharata Adi Parva 1.267)

Meaning: The Vedas should be analysed with the help of Ithihasa and Purana.  Without the knowledge of these, the Vedas get frightened for fear of getting misinterpreted.

Besides a knowledge of the Vedangas, one must have a basic knowledge of philosophy (one of the three traditional schools of Vedanta that he may choose to follow) as well as a working knowledge of the countless smritis that are required to understand the Vedas. Without these, if one ventures into an “interpretation” of the Vedas, the end result would simply be chaotic nonsense.

This article is thus intended to show how several people, some being indologists with a  leftist slant, and others being favorable to right wing ideologies, have intentionally (in the former case) and unintentionally (in the latter case) misinterpreted the Vedas. Examples can be sourced from older articles in various websites to demonstrate this. The conclusion would be to highlight that the Vedas do not talk about history, and neither should they be considered in the light of “Vedic science” or “Vedic mathematics”, to which they have no relation to.

We take two examples from the internet below.

EXAMPLE 1 – A WELL-INTENTIONED MISINTERPRETATION

In this article, When Rigveda meets Indo-secularism , the author, who is behind the handle “True Indology” on twitter, interprets a Vedic mantra as follows,

Around us is the Dasyu: riteless, void of thought, inhuman, keeping other rituals (Rgveda 10.22).

And his explanation is quoted here as follows,

“Here, a Dasyu is described as “riteless” (akarmah) and “keeping other rituals”(anyavrata). He is also called inhuman (amanusha). Prominent Indologists (Elst 1999, parpola 1998) have identified Dasyus with proto-Iranians, Proto-zoroastrians and even proto-sakas. This identification lies on a fact that Dahae is a self-designation for North Iranian tribes of Central Asia even today. The classical Greeks have also located Dahae in central Asia. Elst speculates that these Dasysus were Zarathustra’s followers. SW Jamison notes that in another verse of the aforementioned Dasyu hymn that the krpanas (=karapans), the vedic enemies of Zoroastrians, are mentioned favourably. Whatever the identity of Dasyus, it is clear that their religion and rituals differed (even if slightly) from Vedic Aryans. Yet, they were differentiated in very clear terms.”

This is a clear example of how the shastras are misinterpreted despite the intentions being well-meaning.

Correct Interpretation

The author, who draws from interpretations of the likes of Elst, has completely misunderstood the intent of the mantra. It does not talk of any tribes in India, Iran or elsewhere. Here is the proper interpretation.

akarmā dasyurabhi no amanturanyavrato amānuṣaḥ | tvantasyāmitrahan vadhardāsasya dambhaya || (~Rg Veda 10.22.8)

Meaning: This perishable body (dasyu) surrounds us (the imperishable self), devoid of actions that constitute doership (akarmā), devoid of intellect as it is insentient (amantura), of conduct that is unnatural to the true nature of the self (anyavrata), distinct from the sentient selves which are capable of thinking (amānuṣaḥ). You (Supreme Being), who are the killer of desire which is the enemy of the self (which is the ego), destroy the mind of the embodied self, that impels one to attachments.

This mantra describes the difference between the body and the self.The body is called “dasyu” because it is perishable  (root of dasyu is “dasa” or “upakshaya” – that which wastes or decays away — perishable).The self in contrast, is imperishable.

akarmā – This body is to be understood as not being the doer. It is the self that directs the activities of the body. amantura – This body is insentient, as opposed to the sentient self. Anyavrata – “vrata” means vow, and in general, conduct. The individual self which is knowledge by nature, when embodied, acts in a manner different to its nature in the form of thinking itself as independent, exhibiting ignorance etc. Thus the body is said to be different in nature to the general conduct of the self.  amānuṣaḥ – The self is “mānuṣaḥ”  meaning it is capable of thinking (manana śīla). The body is distinct from the sentient self, hence it is “amānuṣaḥ”.

The Lord who is the killer of desire which is the enemy of the self, is requested to destroy the mind of the embodied self designated as “dambhaya” – that which impels one to attachments which cause transmigration (dambhayati iti dambhaya).

The embodied self is called “dāsa” because he abides in the body which is his servant. If the self resides in a man-body, it can say “I am a man”. Similarly, the self resides in the body which is called “dāsa” as it is subservient to him as it carries out all the actions he wants it to do, then the embodied self is called “dāsa” here.

“amitra” refers to desire and “dambhaya” to the mind. For it is said in the smriti,

kāmarūpeṇa kaunteya duṣpūreṇānalena ca। (~Gita 3.39)

Meaning: This constant enemy in the form of desire….

And other pramāṇās like the one below:

“The Lord destroys the monstrous mind (Ravana) with ten heads formed by the ten senses of the seeker of knowledge by the use of the arrows of wisdom.” (~sAtvata samhitA, pAncarAtra 12.51)

Thus, there is no inkling of tribes or invasions here.

EXAMPLE 2 –  A VIRULENT ANTI-HINDU MISINTERPRETATION

Here is a blog which seeks to prove that the Vedas discriminate on skin-color (!!)

The author writes,

“The Dasas and Dasyus are also described as brahma-dvisah in the Rig Veda RV 5.42.9; 8.45.23; 10.36.9; 10.160.4; 10.182.3, which Ralph T.H. Griffith translates as “those who hate devotion” or “prayer haters“.  —

We have already established that the term refers to the body and not to any tribe or person. The body is an enemy of “brahma” which refers to the individual self that is vast on account of its’ knowledge (root of brahma is brh- that which grows referring to knowledge of the self that expands) and thus is called “brahma-dvisah”. Ralph T.H. Griffith is not an authority on the Vedas.

Here is more of the opponent’s diatribe:

In the Rig Veda, Dasa, Dasyu and similar terms (e.g. Pani) occur sometimes in conjunction with the terms krsna (“black”) or asikni (“black”)……There are three instances in the Rig Veda where the phrase krsna (or ashikni) tvac occurs, literally translating to “black (or swarthy) skin”:

1.130.8de mánave śâsad avratân tvácaṃ kṛṣṇâm arandhayat — “Plaguing the lawless he [Indra] gave up to Manu’s seed the dusky skin” (trans. Griffith)

9.41.1 prá yé gâvo ná bhûrṇayas / tveṣâ ayâso ákramuḥ / ghnántaḥ kṛṣṇâm ápa tvácam[16] — “(Praising the Soma-juices) which descend like streams of water, swift, brilliant, rapid driving off the black covered (Rakshasa who are darkness)”[17]

9.73.5cd índradviṣṭām ápa dhamanti māyáyā tvácam ásiknīm bhûmano divás pári[18] — “Blowing away with supernatural might from earth and from the heavens the swarthy skin which Indra hates.” (trans. Griffith)’

Correct Interpretation

Let us see what those RKS actually mean.

indraḥ samatsu yajamānamāryaṃ prāvad viśveṣu śatamūtirājiṣu svarmīḷheṣvājiṣu | manave śāsadavratān tvacaṃ kṛṣṇāmarandhayat | (Rg 1.130.8)

Meaning: The Supreme Lord who is wealthy (Indra), who commands myriad weapons that protect (from samsara), protects in all the strifes (of samsAra), the wise one who knows the self, who performs the sacrifice of self-surrender (yajamānamāryaṃ) and also in the strifes (involving exhaustion of karmas for gaining knowledge) that enable attainment of the Supreme Abode. Chastising the senses which are opposed to enjoyment of Brahman, he (the Lord), subjected the black cover which is the body made of prakrti that is darkness, to the One who mediates (on his true nature).

“Indra”  refers to the Supreme Being Narayana and not to the devata Indra. Here, the root “idi- paramaiṣvarye” – means great wealth. Since the Lord pervades everything, all is his wealth.

He uses his weapons like conch, discus etc to protect the devotee – one who is the “Arya” or the wise person who has a knowledge of the distinction between body and the self, and who surrenders to the Lord. “yajamAna” means one who performs a sacrifice. What does he sacrifice? Himself, by surrendering to the Lord.

To such a person, the Lord offers protection in 2 types of strifes. One consists of several conflicts with myriad objects of enjoyment, and to cultivate detachment to all of them. The second type of conflict is with the innumerable karmas obstructing knowledge of the innumerable auspicious qualities of the Lord, which result in attainment of the supreme abode.

This is the same as the Gita Shloka:

daivī hyeṣā guṇamayī mama māyā duratyayā। māmeva ye prapadyante māyāmetāṃ taranti te।।(~Gita 7.14)।।

Meaning: This Maya of mine is prakrti which consists of the three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Because it is created by me for purpose of sport, it is divine in its power and therefore difficult to overcome. But those who take refuge in me alone – me whose resolves are always true, who has supreme compassion, and who is the refuge of all beings without exception and without consideration of their particular status – such persons shall pass beyond this Maya of Mine consisting of the three Gunas.

“Śāsadavratān”– Chastising the senses which are “avratān”-“vratayati iti vrata”- the term refers to enjoying food. And Brahman is mentioned in the Shastra as food, as his auspicious qualities are enjoyed. Thus, “Vrata” means “enjoyment of Brahman via meditation” and the senses are said to be “avratān” or opposed to such enjoyment due to their attachment to sense objects.

The line  “manave śāsadavratān tvacaṃ kṛṣṇāmarandhayat” has no reference to black skin or anything. “manave” refers to one who thinks, as in, one who contemplates continuously on his true nature as different to the body. “tvacam” means “cover”  and “krsnam” means black. By virtue of pramāṇās like “tāmasa paramo dhāta”, “tamasas parastāt” – it is the body made of prakrti which is called “tamas” or “krsnam” on account of causing the darkness of ignorance. It is ignorance which is the darkness referred to here. It is called a cover as it hides the true nature of the self.

For the next 2 mantras that the opponent quotes– “kṛṣṇâm ápa tvácam” and “tvácam ásiknīm” – the same meaning exists. Prakrti is called tamas or krsnam because it causes darkness of ignorance and it is called a cover as it envelopes the self, concealing its’ true nature.

And thus, we dispel with this absurd accusation of the opponent as well.

EXAMPLE 3 – MISINTERPRETATIONS BY INDOLOGISTS

Here is another RK that is misinterpreted by western indologists (quoted from An Ancient Indian Untold Story : Truth of Dasa and Dasyu

“Distinguish between the Aryas (the noble) and Dasyus (evildoers). Chastising the wicked and the infidels (who observe no sacred rites), encourage the noble in their performance of virtuous deeds.” —- Rig Veda 1.51.8.”

Correct Interpretation

The rk is:

vi jānīhyāryān ye ca dasyavo barhiṣmate randhayā śāsadavratān | śākī bhava yajamānasya coditā viśvet tā te sadhamādeṣu cākana || (~ Rg Veda 1.51.8)

Meaning: O Mind! Distinguish well those who are the individual selves who are knowledge by nature, hence imperishable (Aryas) and the bodies (Dasyus) which are perishable. Punishing the senses which are opposed to enjoyment of Brahman (śāsadavratān), subjugate them to the self which is shining as it is self-luminous (barhiṣmate randhayā). You (the mind) become a helper (śākī bhava) of the one who has performed the sacrifice of self-surrender to Brahman, and fixed (on Brahman), all of your perceptions (of the auspicious attributes of Brahman) are my delight.

“Arya” means “wise” and indicates the individual selves who are knowledge by nature and imperishable. “Dasyu” indicates the body which perishes as indicated earlier.

This is an appeal to the personified mind to distinguish between the perishable body and the imperishable self, to control the wayward senses and wean them away from attachment to sense objects and subdue them to the service of the self which is self-luminous on account of knowledge. Then, the rk hails the mind by saying that in doing so, it has become a helper to the one who has surrendered to Brahman, and such a mind is always fixed in meditation on the auspicious qualities of Brahman. The term “ādeṣu” is interpreted as “ādeṣayati” – to show – meaning to allow perception of the innumerable auspicious attributes of Brahman in meditation.

Conclusion

Whether well-intended or not, many people commit the mistake of reading the Vedas as historical records, or as a description of races or tribes or skin color. This couldn’t be further than the truth, as is seen by this article. There is a grand total of zero references to such things in the Vedas.

Sources:

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