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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Vedas

A large body of hymns, liturgical texts, forest treatises, and philosophic speculations compiled in four collections: Rg (often written Rig), Sama, Yajus, and Atharva. To each of the collections of hymns (samhita), each with its own particular style of chanting, is appended Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. Scholars believe the hymns were composed between 1500 and 900 BCE, although Hindus and Helena P. Blavatsky (CW XIV:361) claim they are very much older, dating back to as much as 30,000 BCE. The word veda is derived from the Sanskrit root vid, “know,” “understand,” “be wise,” etc. This large body of literature is called sruti(lit. “heard”) and is claimed to have been revealed to sages (rsis) by the gods; until relatively recent times it was considered so sacred that it was not written down. Another body of sacred literature, termed smti (lit. “remembered”) and including several Puranas and the two long epic poems, Mahabharataand Ramayana, was written and forms the basis of what is usually called popular Hinduism. Some time during the Common Era, the portion of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad-Gitagained such popularity that it is now treated almost on a par with sruti.

Of the Vedic hymns, the ¬g is considered to be the oldest, an assessment to which Blavatsky agrees, for she says, “Thus, the Rig Veda, the oldest of all the known ancient records, may be shown to corroborate the occult teachings in almost every respect. Its hymns — the records written by the earliest Initiates of the Fifth (our race) concerning the primordial teachings — speak of the Seven Races (two still to come) allegorising them by the ‘seven streams’. . .” (SD II:606).

Although scholars consider the Vedic hymns to be nothing more than praise of various gods (devas, lit. “shining ones”), when studied theosophically they are seen to reveal a vision of cosmic order wherein all the various deities are seen to be working together, linking each other and humans in a harmonious whole, a cosmic solidarity. This is the Vedas’ particular contribution to world religions, a revelation so hidden under the mass of songs to the many gods and under a multiplicity of symbols and metaphors that it has remained unnoticed by Western scholarship. Using The Secret Doctrine or Treatise on Cosmic Fire by Alice Bailey, or the writings of Sri Aurobindo and Sri Krishna Prem, as well as hints found in the writings on mythology by C. G. JUNG or Joseph Campbell, one may be able to reconstruct this vision. Useful also is the introduction to Hymns from the Rig Veda translated by Jean Le Mée (NY: Knopf, 1975).

R.W.B./J.Mr.

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