The Rig Veda: Cosmogenesis and a Mantric Ontology of Being
by Vijaya Rajiva on 14 Dec 2016 8 Comments
(This essay is a brief sketch of the central arguments of a recent book, Vedic Yoga,* by Dr David Frawley)


The Rig Veda, the sacred book of the Hindus, has since the last few hundred years been variously interpreted by philosophers and Vedic scholars writing for English-speaking readers. The most recent work in this genre is David Frawley’s Vedic Yoga (2014). It presents a Mantric theory of Being and an account of cosmogenesis. The word ‘ontology’ means ‘theory of Being’ and cosmogenesis means ‘the origin of the cosmos’.


The book is much more than that and is intended by the author to be a comprehensive account of Vedic spirituality, hence the title ‘Yoga’ meaning to bind, both in its limited customary sense and in the profound sense of Self Realisation. The book can be viewed as two basic interrelated segments: (1) ontology and cosmogenesis, (2) the relationship between various aspects of Being.


Here, we shall concentrate on ontology and cosmogenesis.


Frawley’s work is an attempt to describe Being as the Ultimate Reality and its evolution into manifest reality. He calls this ultimate reality by the Hindu name of Satchidananda. It is also referred to as the timeless Absolute (Vedic Yoga, 150). Satchidananda is composed of three words: Sat (that which is), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Bliss or Joy). Satchidananda, therefore, is that which is, that which is Consciousness, and that which is bliss. The word ‘Yoga’ is used both in the sense of physical exercise and meditation but also primarily as Mantra Yoga. The Vedic Rishis are said to have received the mantras of the Rig Veda from the universe, during heightened states of consciousness.


There are three levels of Being in the Mantric view which the book explores:

1)      The Level of the Elements and Nature (Adhibutas)

2)    The Level of the Deities (Adhidaivas)

3)     The Level of the Human (Adhyatmic)


All three taken together constitute the Cosmic Order, called Rtam in the Rig Veda. Mantra is the specific mode of Satchidananda’s communication with the Rishis and its own self revelation:

“Mantra is the light-sound pattern of the cosmic mind that creates, sustains, and transforms the universe, impelling all creatures towards the Divine. The Vedic language of light is a language of mantra or spiritually empowered speech. In Mantra the sound and meaning of words reflect one another and mirror all the forces of the cosmos and psyche” (Vedic Yoga, p.87).


The mantra, therefore, pertains to the Unmanifest and the Manifest universe and to that extent the Being of Satchidananda. The manifest universe is the cosmic order called Rtam in the Rig Veda. It is eternal and endless.


Since the other three Vedas (Yajur, Sama and Atharva) are integral parts of the Rig Veda, along with the Brahmanas (the ritual portions in prose), the Aranyakas (forest treatises) and the speculative Upanishads, along with the Rig Veda, they are collectively called the Veda.


Frawley points out that the mantric language of the Veda is the language of the Unmanifest and manifest universe. It also goes beyond the first level of meaning to the Unmanifest universe. At the first level of the forces of nature we have both light and sound patterns. At the second level they are embodiments of the cosmic intelligence of Satchidananda and hence of its Consciousness.


Light is both the presence of cosmic intelligence and the consciousness of the Rishis. In its objective mode, light creates the forms of the outer world or the seen. For instance, the Sun indicates the all-revealing light of consciousness. While light is the intelligence dimension of Consciousness, sound is the “core vibration of consciousness in the hearts of all beings.” (Vedic Yoga, p.151) Light and sound are not merely sensory qualities, they are cosmic principles. The interplay of light and sound are seen in that sound projects energy and meaning and is itself of the light of Consciousness, while light is the perceptual power of Consciousness and has its sound vibrations” (Vedic Yoga, p. 151-152).


Vedic Sanskrit is rooted in the syllables of the Sanskrit language which are based on cosmic qualities. Sacred sounds resolve into one syllable OM, described in the Veda as Pranava. Frawley cites Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who quotes from the Rig Veda:

“The Vedas rest in the imperishable syllable in the supreme ether (of the heart). Those who do not know that, what can they do with the Veda? Those who know that are gathered here.” (Rig Veda 1.164.39; Vedic Yoga, p. 152)


The sound referred to is not only a material or energetic phenomenon, it arises, says Frawley, from the Unmanifest space that exists before all time. It is unending cosmic vibration, anahata, unstruck (Vedic Yoga, p.152). Vedic Sanskrit takes these root sound vibrations which are the basis of the Sanskrit alphabet and develop them as broader statements that unfold our relationship with the cosmic powers (Vedic Yoga, p.153).


What is especially noteworthy is the observation that Vedic Sanskrit is the language of Ultimate Reality that “illumines all things, including visible light and darkness” (Vedic Yoga, p. 141). The reader will recall that modern science, chiefly physics, has shown that only a small percentage of the visible universe is the visible universe, the rest is dark energy and dark matter. Hence, Satchidananda is the “invisible” light that illumines all things, light and dark.


Readers may recall that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has pointed out in some of his recent lectures that the Nasadiya Sukta (from the Rig Veda) speaks about darkness upon darkness.


The Manifest Universe: Being and Levels of Being


Being is that which is. The Vedic word for this is Sat, that which is and is the Satchidananda. It manifests at various levels (cosmogenesis) such as the entire cosmos with deities (Devas), Nature and all living beings. All three levels of being have the three gunas (qualities) of earth, atmosphere and heaven. These three gunas, that which is tamasic (inert), that which is rajasic (energetic), and that which is sattvic (heavenly) act and interact to maintain equilibrium. Earth-like qualities can be found everywhere, so also rajasic and heavenly qualities. The deities, it would seem, project combinations of all three qualities and as Ayurveda tells us, they are also constituents of human selves.


The Rig Vedic ritual (yajna) enacts the cosmic order. It is also described as Karmic Action. It is simultaneously a reenactment of the cosmic order, a prayer to the cosmic deities, and an invocation of the elemental forces of Nature especially Fire which in its cosmic dimension is also a deity. All aspects of the ritual incorporate some aspects of Nature such as fruit, water, earth (grains) and so on.


I] The Adhibhutic Level of Being (Nature and the Elemental Forces)


Prakriti or Nature is characterised by constant change and shifting of qualities (gunas) of which there are three: sattva, rajas and tamas, “the cosmic forces of balance, movement, and inertia (Vedic Yoga, p.139):

-        Sattva stands for balance

-        Rajas stands for movement

-        Tamas stands for inertia


As Frawley points out: “Perhaps the simplest way to understand the three gunas for the modern mind is as matter (tamas), energy (rajas) and light (sattva), the three main factors of the physical universe” (Vedic Yoga, p.140). The entire universe consists of light (sattva) that moves in the form of energy (rajas) and becomes densified in the form of matter (tamas). The three Vedic deities Agni, Vayu and Surya express this cosmic dynamism: Agni, fire as light, Vayu, energetic mode of electric force and Surya, light as pure illumination.


Prakriti, then, is broadly speaking, the world of earth, atmosphere and heaven (matter, energy, light). Humans as part of Prakriti are matter (body), energy (breath) and mind (light). Beyond all these is Satchidananda or in Vedic terminology, Purusha, the highest Self.


The five great elements, the Pancha Mahabhutas, earth, water, fire, air, and ether are the basis of the five elements theory, which Frawley points out, is “perhaps the oldest existing formulation” (Vedic Yoga, p.144). This theory is also central to Ayurveda, and they are important for understanding the deities and their functions. The five elements represent the five densities of matter as solid, liquid, radiant, gaseous and etheric. The five elements are not a chemical theory, nor are they limited to physical matter. They indicate the five basic levels or “strata” of substances in the universe from the gross to the subtle. This can be seen in all aspects of Nature. Different layers of rock or a cliff, different layers of clouds in the atmosphere, different layers of galaxies and beyond. In our own bodies there is stratification with their different layers of tissue.


The five elements not only represent different levels of matter or substance, they also represent different forms and frequencies of light:

-        space is the field of light

-        air is the field of light

-        fire is heat and colour producing aspect of light

-        water is reflected light

-        earth is shadow


Ayurveda and the Adhibhutas (Elements)


As is well known the Ayurvedic biological theory is based on the three doshas, or biological humours. They are Vata, Pitta and Kapha which relate to the elements of air, fire, and water. According to Ayurveda, these three doshas are the main forces at work in our bodies. Vata is the basic motivating energy of the mind and nervous system, Pitta is the transformative power of the digestive system, and Kapha comprises the main bulk of the body which is watery in nature.


“Ayurveda goes into great detail into the locations, functions and subtypes of the doshas, along with their impact on the processes of growth, health, and disease within the organism. It classifies foods, herbs, lifestyles and environmental factors relative to their doshic effects (Vedic Yoga, p.146).


The three Doshas, which are usually described as disease-causing factors in Ayurvedic medicine, have their internal counterparts that are factors contributing to positive health. These are Prana, Tejas and Ojas. Prana is the health giving aspect of Vata or air. Tejas is the health giving aspect of Pitta or fire. Ojas is the health giving aspect of Kapha or water. The three Vedic deities of Indra, Agni and Soma represent Prana, Tejas and Ojas in that order. “They are a deeper level of the “internal alchemy of self- realisation” (Vedic Yoga,p.148).


Frawley adds that “we can use the physical understanding of the Vedic Gods in Ayurveda as a foundation to incorporate their deeper psychological and spiritual meanings” (p.146).


II. The Adhidaiva Level of Beings (Devas)


The Devas (deities) are principles of light and energy that operate within the world as their fields of activity. Agni or Fire operates on earth (Prithvi), Vayu/Indra or Wind in the atmosphere (Antariksha), and Surya or the Sun in heaven (Dyaus). These are aspects of Satchidananda, referred to as Purusha in the Rig Veda, the higher Self which is the light of Pure Consciousness:

“The three visible lights are manifestations of the invisible divine light of consciousness that illumines all things, including light and darkness (Vedic Yoga, p.141).


The reader may note the emphasis on the ‘invisible’ light. Contemporary science tells us that the visible universe is only a small percentage of the universe. The rest is dark matter and dark energy, of which we know virtually next to nothing. Its presence is inferred from the unexplained influences on the planets and other events in the universe. Therefore, Frawley’s emphasis on the ‘invisible’ light preempts possible criticism that the Vedic religion is one of visible ‘light’ only.


The link with Ayurveda can be seen in the importance of the four primary Vedic deities: Agni (Fire), Indra (Wind), Surya (Sun, light) and Soma (Moon, the fourth world of the waters, cosmic space, the watery aspect of Heaven).


III. The Adhyatmic Level of Being


Here we are at the level of the human (jiva), but not as isolated entities, rather they are within the context of the other two levels of Being, the Adhibhutas and the Adhidaiva. Here, the central emphasis is on the human as a conscious being, conscious not only in the sense of having rationality but as linked with the Consciousness of Satchidananda. In this dimension the human is also a Self. Understanding this is then Self Realisation. The individual can relate to both the manifest and the Unmanifest via a variety of paths, Yoga (including Ayurveda), through ritual and chanting, through devotion, through meditation, and through philosophical reflection.


This segment of the book (pp.130-265) is devoted to the relationship between individuals and the Unmanifest, ending in Self Realisation.


*David Frawley, Vedic Yoga, Lotus Press, 2014.

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