The Vedic Religion
- THE GREAT INITIATES
A Study of the Secret History of Religions
BY ÉDOUARD SCHURÉRAMA
5The Vedic Religion
Through his genius for organizing, the great initiator of the Aryans had created in Central Asia and Iran, a people, a society, a living impulse which was to radiate in all directions. The colonies of the primitive Aryans spread into Asia and Europe, carrying with them their customs, cults and gods. Of all the colonies, the branch of the Aryans of India most closely resembles the primitive Aryans.
The sacred books of the Hindus, the Vedas, have a threefold value for us. First, they lead us to the home of the ancient, pure Aryan religion, of which the Vedic hymns are brilliant rays. In addition, they give us the key to India. Finally, they show us an initial crystallization of basic ideas of esoteric doctrine and of all Aryan religions.10
Let us confine ourselves to a brief sketch of both the exterior and the heart of the Vedic religion.
There is nothing simpler and greater than this religion, in which an intense naturalism is mixed with a transcendent spirituality. Before sunrise, a man -- the head of a family -- is standing before an earth altar where a fire, lighted with two pieces of wood, burns. At one and the same time this man is father, priest and king of the sacrifice. "While Dawn disrobes," as a Vedic poet says, "like a woman leaving her bath: -- Dawn who has woven the loveliest of cloths," the leader repeats a prayer, an invocation to Usha (the Dawn), to Savitar (the Sun), and the Asuras (the spirits of life). The mother and sons pour the fermented liquors of the asclepus, the soma, into Agni, the fire, and the rising flame carries to the invisible gods the purified prayer spoken by the patriarch and the heart of the family.
The state of mind of the Vedic poet is far removed from both Hellenic sensualism (I refer to the popular cults of Greece, not the doctrine of the Greek initiates) and from the Judaic monotheism which worships the formless, omnipresent Lord.
For the Vedic poet, nature resembles a transparent veil, behind which move imponderable divine forces. These powers are the forces he calls upon, worships and personifies, but without being deceived by his metaphors. For him Savitar is less sun than Vivasvat, the creative power of life, who animates man and who moves the solar system. Indra, the divine warrior, crossing the sky in his gilded chariot, hurling thunder and making the clouds burst, personifies the powers of this same sun in atmospheric life, in "the great transparency of the atmosphere." When they call upon Varuna, the Greek Uranus, god of the vast, luminous sky, who embraces everything, the Vedic poets go even higher. "If Indra represents the active, militant life of heaven, Varuna represents its unchangeable majesty. Nothing equals the magnificence of the descriptions the hymns give of him. The sun is his eye, the sky his clothing, the hurricane his breath. It is he who established heaven and earth on unshakeable foundations, and who keeps them separate. He made everything and preserves everything. No one can touch the works of Varuna, no one fathoms him, but he knows all and sees all that is and will be. In the heights of heaven he lives in a palace with a thousand doors; he watches the path of the birds in the air and of ships on the seas. From that point, from the height of his golden throne with its brass foundation, he surveys and judges the deeds of men. He is the preserver of order in the universe and in society; he punishes the guilty; he is merciful to the man who repents. And to him the anguished cry of remorse is raised; before his presence the sinner comes to rid himself of the weight of his error. Elsewhere Vedic religion is ritualistic, sometimes highly speculative. With Varuna it goes down into the depths of consciousness and realizes the notion of holiness." In addition, it elevates itself to the pure idea of one God who permeates and overlooks the great All.
Nevertheless, the imposing pictures the Vedic hymns unroll in great quantity like bountiful rivers, present to us only the exterior sheath of the Vedas. With the conception of Agni, the divine fire, we are very close to the core of the doctrine and its esoteric, transcendent foundation. In fact, Agni is the cosmic agent, the principle of the universe, par excellence. "It is not only the terrestrial fire of lightning and the sun. Its true domain is the unseen, mystical heaven, temporary dwelling-place of the eternal light and of the first principles of all things. Its births are infinite, whether it bursts forth from the piece of wood in which it sleeps like the embryo in the womb, or whether as a 'child of the waves,' it issues with the noise of thunder from celestial rivers where the Acvins (celestial horsemen) engendered it with aranis of gold. Agni is the eldest of the gods, ruler in heaven as well as on earth, and he officiated in the abode of Vivasvat (the sky or sun) long before Matharicva (the lightning) brought him to mortals and Atharvan and the Angiras, ancient high priests, appointed him here below as protector, host and friend of men. Master and generator of the sacrifice, Agni becomes the bearer of all mystical speculations of which sacrifice is the purpose. He engenders the gods, he organizes the world, he produces and preserves universal life; in short, he is cosmogonic power.
"Soma is the teardrop of Agni. In reality it is the drink of a fermented plant poured as a libation to the gods during the sacrifice. But, like Agni, it has a mystical existence. Its supreme abode is in the depths of the third heaven where Surya, daughter of the sun, filtered it, and where Pushan, food-giving god, bound it. It is from there that the Falcon, a symbol of lightning, or Agni himself went and snatched it from the heavenly Archer, from Gandharva its guardian, and brought it to men. The gods drank it and became immortal; men also will become immortal when they drink it in the home of Yama, dwelling-place of the happy. In the meantime, here below it gives them vigor and fullness of life; it is ambrosia and the water of youth. It nourishes, permeates plants, invigorates the semen of animals, inspires the poet and provides wings for prayer. Soul of heaven and of earth, of Indra and Vishnu, with Agni, it forms an inseparable couple; this couple that lighted the sun and stars."
The conception of Agni and Soma contains the two essential principles of the universe, according to esoteric doctrine and all living philosophy. Agni is the Eternal Masculine, the creative intellect, pure spirit; Soma is the Eternal Feminine, the soul of the world, or the ethereal substance, womb of all the visible and invisible worlds before the eyes of the flesh, and finally nature, or subtle matter in its infinite transformations.11 And the perfect union of these two beings constitutes the supreme being and essence of God.
From these two major ideas springs a third and no less fecund one. The Vedas make of the cosmogonic act a perpetual sacrifice. In order to produce all that exists, the supreme being sacrifices himself; he divides himself in order to emerge from his unity. This sacrifice therefore is considered the vital point of all the functions of nature. This idea, surprising at first, very profound when one considers it further, contains in embryo the entire theosophic teaching of the evolution of God in the world, the esoteric synthesis of polytheism and monotheism. It will lead to the Dionysiac teaching of the fall and redemption of souls, which will have full expression in Hermes and Orpheus. From this will arise the doctrine of the Holy Word, proclaimed by Krishna and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
The fire sacrifice with its ceremonies and prayers, the unchangeable center of the Vedic cult, thus becomes the reflection of this great cosmogonic act. The Vedas attach a capital importance to prayer, to the form of invocation which accompanies sacrifice. For this reason they make a goddess of prayer, Brahmanaspati. Faith in the evocative and creative power of human speech, accompanied by a powerful activity of the soul or an intense projection of will is the source of all cults, and the reason for the Egyptian and Chaldean doctrine of magic. For the Vedic and Brahmanic priests, by means of fire, chants and prayers, called upon the Asuras, the invisible Lords, and the Pitris or souls of ancestors, whom they believed seated themselves upon the grass during the sacrifice, attracted by the fire, the songs and the prayers. The science relating to this aspect of the cult involves the hierarchy of spirits of every rank.
As for the immortality of the soul, the Vedas confirm this with unmistakable clarity. "There is an immortal side to man; that is the one, O Agni, which you must warm with your rays and quicken with your fires. O Jatavedas, in the glorious body, formed by you, carry it to the world of the godly." The Vedic poets not only indicate the destiny of the soul, but are also concerned with its origin. "Where were souls born? There are those who come to us and return, who return and come back again." That in brief is the doctrine of reincarnation, which will play a major role in Brahmanism and Buddhism, among the Egyptians and the Orphics, in the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato, the mystery of mysteries, the secret of secrets.
After this, how can one not recognize in the Vedas the broad lines of an organic religious system, a philosophic concept of the universe? In them is not only the profound intuition of anterior intellectual truth, superior to the observation, but also unity and breadth of vision in the understanding of nature and in the coordination of its phenomena. Like a beautiful rock crystal, the consciousness of the Vedic poet reflects the sunshine of eternal truth, and in this brilliant prism shine all the rays of a universal theosophy. The principles of the eternal teaching are even more visible here than in the other sacred books of India and in the other Semitic or Aryan religions, because of the extraordinary directness of the Vedic poets and the clarity of this primitive religion, so lofty and so pure. At that time, the distinction between the mysteries and popular worship did not exist. But in carefully reading the Vedas, behind the father of the family or the officiating poet of the hymns, one already perceives another more important person. One glimpses the Rishi, the wise man, the initiate, from whom he received the truth. One also observes that this truth was transmitted by an uninterrupted tradition which dates back to the beginnings of the Aryan race.
Thus, then, is the Aryan people launched in its conquering, civilizing career along the Indus and Ganges. Rama's invisible genius, the knowledge of things divine, Deva Nahusha rules over it. Agni, the sacred fire, flows in its veins. A rose-tinted aura surrounds this age of youth, power and virility. The family is established, the woman respected. Priestess of the home, sometimes she herself composes and sings the hymns. "May this wife and husband live one hundred autumns," said a poet. They love life, but they also believe in the after-life. The king lives in a castle on a hill which overlooks the village. In war he is set upon a splendid chariot, clothed in shining armor, wearing a tiara; he shines like the god Indra.
Later, when the Brahmans have established their authority, near the magnificent palace of the maharaja or great king, one sees the stone pagoda from which come the arts, the poetry and drama of the gods, pantomimed and danced by sacred dancers. Castes exist for the moment, but not in a strict sense and without absolute boundaries. The warrior is priest, and the priest, warrior; more often he is the chief or king's officiating priest.
Now here comes an individual, poor in appearance but with a rich future. His hair and beard are unkempt, he is half-clothed in red rags. This muni, this recluse, lives near the holy lakes, in a wild place where he gives himself to meditation and the ascetic life. From time to time he comes to admonish the leader or king. Often he is pushed aside and disobeyed, but he is respected and feared. Already he exercises a terrible power.
Between the king on his gilded chariot, surrounded by warriors, and the almost naked muni, having no weapons other than his thought, his speech and his gaze, a battle will take place. And the conqueror will not be the king; it will be the recluse, the almost fleshless, emaciated beggar, because he will have knowledge and strength.
The story of this battle is the same as that of Brahmanism, as later it will be that of Buddhism. In it is summed up almost all of India's history.
Notes for this chapter:
10. The Brahmans considered the Vedas their holy books par excellence. They found in them the science of sciences. The word Veda means knowledge. The scientists of Europe have been justifiably drawn to these texts by a kind of fascination. At first they saw in them only a patriarchal poetry; then they discovered in them not only the origin of the great Indo-European myths and our classic gods, but also a wisely organized cult, a profoundly religious and metaphysical system (See Bergaigne, La religion des Vedas, as well as the excellent and enlightening work of August Barth, Les religions de l'Inde.) The future perhaps still holds a final surprise, which will be to find in the Vedas the definition of that secret power of nature which modern science is in the process of rediscovering.
11. What clearly proves that Soma represented the absolute feminine principle is the fact that the Brahmins later identified it with the Moon. As the Moon symbolizes the feminine principle in all ancient religions, so the Sun symbolizes the masculine principle.
- Happy, merry, jolly Christmas day to you, Frank -- and to everybody else here. Yes, the Pythagoras chapter is the best in this book by Schuré, I think too.
Incidentally, the original files (ms word docs and tif images) are up until James has downloaded them for the RS Archive after the holidays:
--- In email@example.com, "Frank Thomas Smith" <fts.trasla@...> wrote:
> Ok, thanks Tarjei. I may include the Pythagoras chapter in the next - or future - Southern Cross Review.
> --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "elfuncle" <elfuncle@> wrote:
> > This volume is now on the web and therefore available, but the upload is a rush-job with poor navigation (use the Contents page if you need to) and no anchor-links yet for the footnotes. (Anchors are laborious and time-consuming; they'll have to be done later.) The index has also been skipped for the time being because it requires anchors as well.
> > http://uncletaz.com/great_initiates/
> > Tarjei