Ritual and Spiritual Aspects of the Vedic Tradition

Hindu ritual puja

A Hindu ritual puja

by Jayaram V

The word Veda means knowledge. It is derived from the root word Vid, which means to know. The Vedas are considered sacred and revealed knowledge. They are described as apaurusheya (not man made) and nitya (eternal). No one knows for sure how the hymns have come into existence or who were the earliest recipients of this body of divine knowledge.

The Vedic tradition believes that the Vedas exist eternally in the highest heaven and God brings them out at the beginning of each cycle of creation for the benefit of the worlds. The Vedas are considered to be the source books of ritual and spiritual knowledge. Its outer visible body is made up of ritual prayers. Its inner subtle from is filled with the effulgence of spiritual knowledge hidden beneath a layer of deep symbolism just as the state of deep sleep is hidden behind the world of dreams.

For Hindus the Vedas are the word of God. They validate true knowledge and help us to discern truth or ascertain truth in a world of conflicting images and duality. The Vedas are the teachers of the teachers. They let you know the path to gods and the highest Brahman. They explain the mysteries of existence and the need to live your life dutifully and religiously to fulfill your obligations and avoid negative consequences. The rituals mentioned in the Vedas are meant for world welfare, while the spiritual practices are meant for your own welfare. You perform rituals loudly in public view, whereas you practice the spiritual methods internally in silence.

There is no conflict in the approaches of both. The outer form of rituals becomes internalized in the inner form of austerities, yoga and meditation. You can see a deep correlation between the two as you analyze the components of a sacrificial ritual and their symbolic representation in the internal sacrifice. For example, in the practice of meditation, your body is the sacrificial pit, your breath is the fire, your prayer is the mantra, the food you offer to gods before eating is the offering, and the peace and the Wellbeing you experience in the process are their blessings. In that sacrifice you become the sacrificer, the sacrificed and the recipient of the sacrifice, Like the Cosmic Being Himself for whom the whole creation is the consequence of a self-sacrifice.

Hindus believe that without the Vedas it would be difficult for people to discern truth. The seven ancient rishis 1, who are known to the Hindu tradition as satparishs, were the earliest recipients of this knowledge. Since the Vedic hymns were either revealed or heard only, they constitute the shruti (heard) literature of the Hindu tradition

The Vedic hymns that we know are but an insignificant part of a vast body of knowledge that resides in the higher realms and known only to a chosen few. What we have are the revealed knowledge of a little portion of them. The Vedas are meant to protect dharma (religion) and maintain cosmic order (Rtam). They provide us with a glimpse of the macrocosmic and microcosmic aspects of our creation and existence and serve as a connecting link between the gods of the higher realms and humans as they are common to both. They reveal the knowledge of gods and our own inner subtle planes, where also most of the gods reside in subtle form and assist us in our spiritual awakening.

The Vedas are not mere magical chants to appease gods or seek their blessings, but cryptic prayers in which are hidden many mysteries and symbols. Magic is an inherent part of them. They do produce magical results in the physical worlds although it is not the only reason why they are meant to be chanted. Their essential purpose is to help humans perform sacrifices and nourish the gods who depend upon them for their nourishment and energy.

Having become energized by the offerings, they participate in God's creation as the upholders and protectors of Dharma and manifest his will for the welfare and order and regularity of the worlds. The Vedas help humans to invoke gods and communicate with them to fulfill their desires and seek their help and protection. With their help, they can perform their obligatory, sacrificial duties as householders, and in the end seek liberation (moksha), which is the ultimate goal of all.

Suggestions for Further Reading


1. The seven sages are also identified with the constellation of Ursa Major. They are Bhrigu, Angirasa, Atri, Gautama, Kashyapa, Vashishta and Agasty

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