March 03, 2007

It is for the exegete to demonstrate how an all-pervasive and abiding internal consistency remains the hallmark

Prashant Khanna, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi Branch
Indian philosophy, embracing several streams of widely divergent persuasions, also includes in its fold, the six schools of Vedantic metaphysical thought. These again, though differing considerably in their conclusions, have one feature common and unique to them all, namely that they have the sacred texts, called Sruti in Sanskrit, as their starting point. In other words, at least for these six schools, all metaphysical enquiry resolves itself to the interpretation of the Sruti.
All six schools are agreed on the primacy of the ancient texts – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita and believe them to be the possessors and expressions of the Supreme Truth and it is left to the philosophers only to interpret and explain their true meaning. The role of the metaphysicians, therefore, is not to discover the Truth independently with the help of Reason and Logic, as in other philosophical traditions, primarily of the West, but rather to act as true, consistent, accurate and faithful exegetes – interpreters of the text. Since these scriptures are often very abstract in content and pithy and terse in their expression, they provide ample scope for widely varying interpretations and conclusions.
The bulk of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical writings, generally described as “Integral Vedanta” too fall in the category of exegesis. In Sri Aurobindo’s view, correctness of interpretation would imply that the various verses of each text are self-consistent with the particular text taken in totality. In other words, whether we study an individual text or all of them together as a whole, it is for the exegete to demonstrate how an all-pervasive and abiding internal consistency remains the hallmark at every level.
In order to derive maximum benefit from these texts, it is imperative that they be treated as being not only abstract expressions of great metaphysical truths but also as organic and living entities imbued with the power to redeem and transmute. It is for the Seeker of Truth to forge an umbilical chord for the knowledge contained in them to pass into him. The most appropriate description of this phenomena is found in the metaphor used in one of the texts itself, viz. of a very coy mistress who yields herself up only after ardent and persistent wooing, vivrinute tanum svam.
According to Sri Aurobindo, while trying to understand and interpret these texts, it may also be worth our while to go back to their point of genesis and their method of actualization – how did they come into being?...In other words, while the source of inspiration is an Absolute, Eternal, Cosmic and Supracosmic Reality which is the Creator, Upholder, Final Arbiter and Final Goal of this phenomenal world, the mode of transmission of the knowledge is Intuition. The Rishi by a process of self-purification and internal development – Yoga – experienced and even attained unity with this Reality and then became a completely spontaneous, transparent and unalloyed medium for the transmission and reception of knowledge by the mode of Intuition.
These texts have no authorship; they are only “receiving from above” manifested through perfect mediums. It is, therefore, incumbent on the part of the Seeker to cover the same ground and discover and realize for himself the truth of the text. To the extent that his aspiration for right understanding of the text is sincere and earnest, paradoxically enough, he will find maximum help by invoking the grace of the text itself.
In this context one also needs to bear in mind that however comprehensive the experience and perfect the medium, the individual should be in full possession of the necessary Adhars as well. The basic desiderata are good education, a well trained intellect and deep knowledge of the meaning of the Scriptures even if it be at a purely intellectual level to begin with.
A correct, proper and fully rewarding interpretation of Sruti would require that the exegete be also a seeker and should undertake to trace his steps backward with aasrha (faith) and shraddha (devotion) in his mind, making it receptive for inspiration to flow into him as revelation of the deeper meaning of the text, rather than have recourse merely to his own individual labour and intellectual reasoning. As the Gita itself declares, shraddhavan labhate jnanam – it is the devotee who is blessed with knowledge.

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