Understanding the Ancient Literature
Today we have not yet recovered even a quarter of the deeper meaning of the Vedic mantras, much less find the Vedic mantras explained in a meaningful way in most academic circles. The mantras of the great rishis are largely reduced to primitive nature worship and remained an unopened secret treasure. Here I am reflecting on what Sri Aurobindo said a hundred years ago and can state that the situation has not fundamentally changed, though alternative views can be found. This statement is extended not only to the Vedas but to the great teachings of the ancient world from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the I Ching of China among others.
There is much higher knowledge hidden in the lore of the ancient seers and sages that we find honored throughout the world. Yet little of it has been reclaimed. It is curious that the very cultures modern academia attribute the founding of civilization to, whether those in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Mexico or Peru, look back to many great cultures before them, and to an earlier ancient age of light and spiritual wisdom from which the present humanity has not so much progressed as fallen.
It’s been seen clearly stated in traditional Indian texts with the idea of five Manus, twenty-eight Vyasas, and long periods of yugas over thousands of years, during which civilization rises and falls at various levels, and that our current civilization, though advanced materially, remains spiritually unevolved.
Modern science notes that our current human species is likely more than 200,000 years old but only has a historical timeline of five thousand to perhaps ten thousand years total for what we regard as civilization. The remaining much longer period before is a matter of speculation and may yet hold much more than we might consider possible.
Reclaiming through ancient literature
Reclaiming our ancient spiritual heritage, particularly through the Vedas, our best-preserved ancient literature, is crucial for understanding the origins and capacities of our species. These do not simply reside in knowing the facts about the outer material or physical world but understanding the inner realm of consciousness that requires yoga and meditation.
It has to examine both the historical and spiritual dimensions of the ancient literature, though we must remember that the Vedas are primarily spiritual texts and cover historical factors only in an incidental manner.
The older generally western view that arose in the colonial era regarded the Vedas as dating from after 1500 BCE and as indicating a primitive nomadic culture, foreign or intrusive to India, with martial traits rather than any deeper spiritual focus.
The spiritual and cultural estimation of the Vedas from colonial scholars, which remains dominant in the West today, was that it represented a corresponding primitive polytheistic form of nature worship to nomadic groups from Central Asia. Such a view is a polar opposite to the traditional view of the Vedas as the scriptures of a great Rishi vision of cosmic reality.
When an extensive ancient civilization was discovered in north India along the Indus river in the early twentieth century, instead of connecting it to the Vedic or to any continuity of civilization in India, it was largely dismissed as pre-Vedic and little effort was made to connect it with Vedic literature. However, new studies of ancient India, particularly combining the archaeological evidence of the ancient Harappan or Indus civilization and the geological studies of the Sarasvati River, now indicate that historically the Vedic culture likely represents this great civilization in ancient India, including its extensive urban sites.
In addition to this discussion of outer aspects of history it’s been emphasized that on a spiritual and cultural level, the ancient literature back to the Rigveda indicates a yogic rishi culture with knowledge of the mind and access to higher states of consciousness that modern physics is just beginning to suspect.