WHAT WE OWE TO VEDA-VYASA
THE MAHASVAMI OF KANCHI
Vyasa is known as Veda-Vyasa. There were many Vedas. Before the commencement of Kali yuga, and at the end of Dvapara-yuga, Bhagavan Vyasa classified the Vedas into four. He thought: "In the yuga that is to commence, the life-span of people will be short; their memory- power will be weak; the super-normal powers of yoga will decrease; something should be done in order to save the Veda from utter destruction".
Bright day is succeeded by dark night; rainy season is followed by severe summer. So also, if at one time the Veda flourishes, at another time it is found to be on the decline. At that time, the Veda should be protected:
What should be done?
In rural areas, when days are short and nights are long, during night-time when the sky is dark, there could be cases of theft. At that time, if ten people keep watch by going round the village, will not cases of theft become less? Similarly, in the Kali-yuga that was about to commence, if the entire Veda was not to be lost, at least four people, if not all, might each save a part of the Veda. Thus thought Vyasa, and classified the Veda into four: Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharvana. He taught the four Vedas to four sages (rishis), one to each, so that the Veda would be in vogue from generation to generation, each hearing the Veda and reciting with the proper intonation, and thus transmitting it without a break. The four sages were: Sumantu, Paila, Jaimini, and Vaisampayana. Vyasa entrusted the four Vedas to them: to Jairnini Sama Veda, to Vaisampayana, Yajur Veda, to Sumantu. Rig Veda, and to Paila Atharvana Veda.
The entire Veda is full of mantras. If the mantras are repeated with great restraint and purity, by the operation of those mantras, good will rebound to the world. In order to achieve this end, restraint and purity are absolutely necessary. There are rules regarding the time when the Veda should be recited. One should not read from a book. Veda is Sruti, what is heard; one should hear it and utter it correctly.
In order to facilitate this, there are certain auxiliary disciplines. The Veda should be studied along with the auxiliaries. Those who entrusted with the task of preserving the Veda should observe the rules strictly. All that they have to do in the world is nothing but this. If the Veda is thus preserved, the entire world will fare well. It is not possible for all to devote themselves to this task. At least the sages (Rishis) and those who have come in their line should spend their whole time in preserving the Veda. And so it was that Maharshi Vyasa divided the Vedas into four and taught them to the four sages.
For the Veda itself, one of its names is rishi. Therefore, the one who sees a Vedic mantra is also called rishi.
The rishis are the seers of mantra. The meaning of this statement is not 'seeing with the eyes what is written in a book'.
There is the radio. The receiver receives the sound waves and amplifies them. There is the tape-recorder. What I speak now, it records and keeps. Whenever we want, at whatever time, it reproduces the same sound-waves. But, only if I speak, the recorder will take it on the tape.
Any number of sounds, from beginning-less time, pervade the ether. Through the practice of yoga, the rishis grasp the powers of mantra, the beginning-less sounds. It is those who have the ability to grasp in this manner that are called 'seers'. Just as Arjuna beheld the cosmic form (visva-rupa) of Maha Vishnu, these sages grasped, by their yogic power, the mantras which are of the nature of beginning-less sounds.
There is a special yoga-sastra which explains this matter. In that text there is reference to 'divine ear' (divyasrotra). With the ordinary eye we can see only upto a certain distance. What cannot be seen with the external eye can be seen with the inner eye. With the latter we can see things at any distance. The Lord says in the Gita:
"divyam dadaami te chakshuh"
"I shall give thee eye divine". The inner eye has the power to see what is limitless.
Similarly, with the ordinary ear we hear the outer sounds. But through yogic practice and meditation, one acquires the power to hear the beginning-less sounds that are in ether, Those, who can in this way grasp -- i.e. see the mantras, of the form of sounds, are called rishis. The mantras seen by them are also termed rishis. The knowledge that makes known what are supersensory is referred to as the Veda.
From time immemorial, the descendants of rishis preserved the Veda without the aid of a book. When we utter 'abhivadana' we mention the line of rishis to which we belong, the particular gotra, and sutra. From this we learn the rishi line in which we have come.
If a medicine is brought and kept without use for some time it loses its potency. Similarly, if the Veda is not repeatedly studied, the power of its mantras will diminish. In order to regain for it the power, along with puja and homa the mantra should be repeated many a time. For all lapses, what serves as the sure recompense is the repetition of Gayatri.
The main aim of those who are descended from the rishis should be to protect the Veda. Earning, eating etc., are only subordinate avocations.
'With a view to preserve the limitless Veda from destruction in the Kali- yuga, Maharshi Vyasa classified the Veda into four and taught it to four of his disciples. He did so, thinking that in the line of each disciple at least one of the Vedic branches might be studied.
After teaching his four disciples the Veda which has to be preserved through observing restraints and purity, Vyasa wrote the eighteen Puranas and the Mahabharata, embodying in them the essence of the Vedas, in order that all people might be benefited and taught these texts to Suta. This Suta was born in the Suta family he is celebrated as Suta Puranika.
We usually imagine that varna is jati; but it is not so. Varnas are four; but jatis are stated to be more than twenty in the Manu-smriti, and more than fifty in the Suta-samhita. In the Yajur Veda, seventh Kanda, there is mention, similarly, of many jatis.
Sometimes it so happened that a person belonging to one varna had to marry one that belonged to another varna; To which varna, could we say the child born to them belongs? If the woman is of the Vaisya caste and the man of the Kshatriya caste, or if the woman is of the Kshatriya caste and the man is of the Brahman caste, the progeny in such cases is said to belong to anuloma clans. This is the general name. There are also separate names for the clans. On the contrary, if the woman is of the Kshatriya caste and the man of the Vaisya caste, or if the woman is of the Brahmana caste and the man of Kshatriya caste, the progeny in such cases is said to belong to pratiloma clans.
Suta was born in such a clan, Seeing his ability and knowledge, Vyasa selected him for the status mentioned above. He was the first one made eligible to receive the eighteen Puranas. Vyasa taught him the Puranas, and blessed him so that he could teach the Puranas to people belonging to all the castes and clans.
After accomplishing all these, Vyasa wrote a work expounding the nature of Brahman the supreme reality, that is the purport of all the earlier works he had written. The name of that work is Brahma-sutra. It is also known as Bhikshu-sutra and Vyasa-sutra. Another name of Vyasa is Badarayana.
The age in which Vyasa lived is the end of Dvapara-yuga. We may take it that he was born as an avatara before the commencement of Kali-yuga, Anjaneya, Vyasa, Asvathama, Bali and such others live for ever.
To Vyasa's Brahma-sutra, many teachers who came after him wrote commentaries. Of those commentators, our Acharya, Sankara Bhagavatpada, is one. Of the extant commentaries, his is the earliest. There should have been commentaries prior to his. This is known from the references in Sankara's commentary. But, who were those commentators, it is not possible to say definitely. In his explanation of the sutras, the Acharya makes such remarks as follows: "For this sutra, they give this meaning. These views may be accepted. This is wrong. It is better to say thus". From such remarks it may be inferred that there were several commentaries before the Acharya.
After the Acharya's bhashya came the commentaries of Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya written according to the Vaishnava traditions. Ramanujacharya remained in Srirangam. Madhvacharya belonged to South Canara. Vallabhacharya who was in Gujarat wrote a commentary. Many saints and merchants of Gujarat regard him as their guru. He hailed from Andhra, but settled down in Gujarat. A Matha belonging to this order is in Madras too, in Sowcarpet.
Thus, many teachers have written commentaries on the Brahma-sutra. In South India, the best-known commentaries are those of Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. Mostly, it is these three that are taught to students. Shastraic discussions are held as based on these three; and periodical examinations are also conducted.
Srikantacharya wrote a commentary following the Saiva tradition; Appayya Dikshitar has written a lengthy gloss on this. In order to provide for the study of it by five-hundred students, the ruler of those times made a gift of lands. There is an inscription relating to this in the temple near Arni. Some of the Saivacharyas who officiate in Siva temple have studied that gloss. But this gloss is not widely known. Most scholars know only of the three commentaries referred to already.
When we consider the sutra and the Veda of these scholars, it is seen that they belong to one or other of the three Vedas Rig, Yajur, and Sama. That the Atharvana Veda was in vogue in our country until three or four centuries ago is known from inscriptions.
In Orissa, North India, there are eighteen clans of Brahmins. Of these, one is called Atharvanika. In the territories of Kosala and Gujarat, there are four or five scholars who have studied the Atharvanaveda. Near Tindivanam there is a place called Perani, and another known as Ennayiram; near Kanchipuram there is a place, Walajabad. There are quite a few inscriptions in these places. When we examine the inscriptions of Chola and Tondaimnandalam, we come to know that in those far-off days there were scholars well-versed in Atharvana-Veda.
There are some sutras: e.g. Apastamba-Sutra Bodhavana-Sutra, Asvalayana- Sutra, etc. The source of all these was Vyasa. For the commentaries of our Acharya, of Ramanuja. of Madhva, of Srikantha, of Vallabha, and of others, the basic text is Vyasa's Brahma-sutra. Whatever be one's Veda, the one who taught the Veda to the rishi who handed it down to us, was Vyasa.
There may be several branches. Seeing the branches, we may think: 'One branch is in one direction; another branch is right in the opposite direction. What relation there could be between the two?" But when we look down the tree, we realize that the trunk-and the root-is one and the same. Similarly, for our Vedas, Sutras, Puranas etc., the root is Vyasa. Let us honour his picture at least, and let us not forget the Veda; and let us unite in doing our allotted work.
The Veda should be studied by all. Not studying is a sin. For the sin, could not one pay a penalty? Collecting at the rate of rupee one from each person that does not study the Veda, with the money that is thus collected, the Vedic scholars should be honoured : this is the idea. Should we not respect those who have preserved the Veda through oral tradition, without the aid of any book? We may differ when it is a question of philosophy. I may be an advaitin, and you a Visishtadvaitin., and so on. All these schools of philosophy are the branches of one tree. In matters philosophical, let us differ. For me Sankara is great; for another Ramanuja. Let this be so. But all of us whatever be our respective philosophical pursuits, are under an obligation to honour Vyasa. We should celebrate his services by taking out his portrait in procession.
It is Veda-Vyasa who has enabled the Veda to survive during such a long stretch of time. We should honour him; that is our duty.
OM TAT SAT
Courtesy: Vanati Publications, Madras, A free translation from the book of compilation of the speeches by His Holiness Kanchi Paramacharyal as published by ”Vanati Publications” Madras.