In today’s post modern world, it appears that humanity is more and more vexed with means of production. Any conversation that is not directly or indirectly related to means of production, is generally considered unnecessary and superfluous. Most of the intentions, ideas, thought, and actions are immediately judged with the yardstick of their ability to prove themselves in concrete terms – either an increase in productivity, efficiency, or monetary value. If not these, for the most liberals, at-least the “objectivity” of the idea and its so called “validity” in terms of being able to see and prove it “scientifically” is the minimum litmus test that the conversation must pass through. It is about believing and articulating an idea only when it is proved and is repeatable by a deterministic sets of well defined steps. This vexation with the so called scientific and rational discipline of judgement has its own very important place. Most of the scientific discoveries (ofcourse except those of Einstein’s theory of relativity) are based out of the foundation of such empirical rigour of empirical experimentation before they were postulated.
Given the importance of this rigour of ‘seeing is believing’, one must also acknowledge the other end of the spectrum – ‘believing is seeing’. It is a powerful narrative that sets the ground for being able to establish something ground breaking and novel, before that has already happened in concrete terms. The bias towards the former in most of the world communities appears to be the biggest detrimental force impeding a contended, fearless, joyous and creative existence of mankind. This article is an attempt to present that it is a powerful narrative – out of purely internal inspiration – that creates the ground and foundation for manifestation of an external achievement, that can be measured and judged via scientific yardstick.
In the means and ways of scientific pursuits of Einstein, this idea was most powerfully demonstrated. He approached Physics from the standpoint of imagination, and kept nurturing his childhood dream of being able to ride by the side of a travelling beam of light throughout his life. His rich imaginative mind had developed an intuition on nature of gravitation, space and time. And throughout his life, he continued to reverse engineer that hunch using mathematical means to prove the same. There were theories of his that got empirically proven after 100 years after their pronouncement. This nature of things is not limited the life of a Genius like Einstein. Rather the role of narrative is the most prevalent value in an Indian social context. One note of caution is that the mention of ‘narrative’ here is not a wishy-washy superficial whim of a shallow dreamer. Rather it means a strong but aesthetically inspiring articulation of a committed reality, before that reality is physically observable in concrete terms. However, the narrative leads one to that physical experience in concrete terms. Only that it it is the second step. The first step is coming up with that narrative in the first place, and ofcourse having that set of skills and abilities to come with such a narrative. Like for example, Einstein’s narrative would not have much value, if he was not already a master of traditional Newtonian physics and advanced Mathematics.
Yesterday we did a small ‘homa’ at our home. The pandit was a Yajur Veda expert. During the entire 2 hours ritual, the pandit, did some chanting with a polished small round black stone (Salligram), a copper pot, inside which was the water from kitchen tap. On the top of the pot there was a 5 leaves from the mango tree, a coconut, decorated with flowers, vermilion, turmeric, coloured rice grains etc. All these were established on an ‘asana’ on a raised platform. For a rationalist all these certainly is wastage of time and a child’s play, coming from a deep seated superstition. But then, if one goes a little deeper into this so called drama, the real significance of all this alights in the one’s comprehension. The secret of all the understanding is the ‘Narrative’. The pandit, while doing all those trivial rituals with mundane objects all around him, was not quietly sitting. He was chanting Vedic mantras that were intended to convey something. Mantras are short poems that were revealed to ancient Vedic Rishis several thousands of year ago. Their exact origin are not known. The most inspiring aspect of these mantras are two things – the unique meter(chhandas) in which these mantras are chanted, and the meaning of these mantras. The frequency of sound that is generated while chanting these mantras has its own healing nature. But that is just the starting point. When one is able to go deep into these mantras, and is able to understand, reflect and apply their meanings, it is then when one is able to really leverage their immense power.
One needs to understand that, at the source of anything concrete there is a realm of inspiration, idea and intent. That realm is invisible, and is at source of conception of the idea as well as sustenance of the idea in long term. We have umpteen examples of people taking up something and then unable to continue that in long run. Projects, relationships, institutions, families, societies, countries have see eventual dissipation and weathering-away, due to entropy that sets in them in long run, in the absence of an opposing creative force, to nurture them and strengthen them. For example, we all know that exercise is good for our body, and we have scientific evidence that a regular regime of stretching and exercise is good for our health. But our daily experience shows how very small proportion of people are really regular with this daily regime. Same is true for learning new domain, reading, re-skilling oneself in something new and difficult, or taking up a difficult hobby, or for that matter continue to maintain love, respect, dignity and harmony in our relationships both inside our homes and offices and outside in the general public places.
But, once these rituals and impregnated with a narrative, the probability of their continuance and eventual blossoming increases. So, a set of exercises that is done in the yoga tradition was named as “Surya Namaskaar”. The name literally means bowing down in respect, love and wonder to the Sun. There is a detailed literature and a very strong narrative present in the Vedas and Puranas on Surya. That narrative goes a long way in establishing an emotional bond with the cosmic force, and then man gets pulled to this ritual daily to experience that love he has with this power. As he continues the ritual on daily basis, that love strengthens and holds him more established in the path. Just observe the difference in quality of the experience of doing a dry rounds of exercise in a gym, and doing a daily action of love to experience the bond, and closeness with a divine being! The former is focused on result – either producing abs, or a rounder but, or broader chest, or for the most unambitious, a healthy body. But the latter is an act of rendezvous with one’s own beloved. It is about a conversation with the beloved. And mind it the beloved is not a normal mortal, rather an immortal and endless cosmic power, which has His reflection deep in human psyche too. We humans are emotional and social beings, and such congenial narrative helps to re-enforce a beneficial practice with lots of purpose and meaning. We need to see a purpose and meaning to what we do. Otherwise, we lose the commitment, and the action loses its sheen and rigour.
It is this invisible domain of inspiration, purpose, meaning and love that was topic of interest of the ancient Vedic Rishis. They took each and every such creative and constructive aspects of human psyche and nature, meditated on them, and by some complex neural process, these mantras were revealed to them, which in poetic forms attempted to echo that hidden inspiration. That created a powerful narrative aimed at damping away the destructive forces of entropy inherent in any physical systems. You name an inspiration, there is a detailed narrative for the same. Following are some keys to these narratives. Keys are the proper nouns that are used to index all the inspirations of the similar nature together. They are also known as Devas. Some indicative examples are given below for the reader to get an idea. There are several other equally powerful narrative spread all across the Vedas.
Agni (Will, Inspiration, Spark of intention)
Indra (Mental clarity)
Soma (Delight of existence one experience having done a difficult task that needs high degree of skills. In psychology this state is known as “FLOW”)
Varuna (Magnanimity and openness)
Saraswati (Inspiration and Knowledge)
Mitra (Friendship, love and harmony)
Rhbus (Execution excellence)
Ashwins (Wellbeing and healing)
Marut (Life forces)
Usha (Creative beginning)
The narrative obviously does not end withe just the keys. Vedas have systematically arranged and indexed mantras which beautifully develops these ideas more fully and extensively.
There is a powerful inspirational effect that happens within one’s soul, when one chants these mantras, knowing their contexts and meaning.
The impact is made even more powerful by the impersonal nature of the Sanskrit and the resonating effect of the chants.
Given this huge and rich inspirational literature given to all Indians and the world as a legacy, it builds a strong case of being able to
add aesthetics and power in one’s narrative. That narrative injects life in the concrete world, and gives meaning and purpose of our existence.
The meaning, purpose and love are aspects that science will never be able to quantify and create in labs. Rather they linger over time in the soul of man,
out of his constant efforts in understanding such powerful narratives in the extant literature and scriptures. This is something that does not come from birth.
This is an aspect of the culture, that mankind has created over last thousands of years. No matter how much the post modern world underplays the importance of
narrative, culture, and that invisible aesthetics of what is known as “Divine”, the importance of it will remain. It will continue to make its presence felt
through psychological and neurological studies.
A strong narrative is a thing of art, elegance, aesthetics and inspiration. That is the first step of doing anything worthwhile.
If you are interested to know about Vedas and these powerful narratives hidden in the mantras, I strongly recommend you to read the books by Rishi Aurobindo on Vedas, and the translation of the Vedas to English by Dr. R. L. Kashyap. You can find more information on Dr. Kashyap’s work at http://www.vedah.com