David Frawley, Author of the Month for December 2008
The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets
By David Frawley
David Frawley (or Vāmadeva Śāstrī वामदेव शास्त्री) is an author on Hinduism, Yoga and Ayurveda, and the founder and director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is also a Professor of Vedic Astrology and Ayurveda at the International Vedic Hindu University (IVHU). He is a Vaidya (Ayurvedic doctor), and a Jyotishi (Vedic astrologer).
In 2000, his book How I Became a Hindu, details his own spiritual journey from his earlier Catholic upbringing to finally embracing Hinduism as his religion. He learned Sanskrit from a Sanskrit grammar book and a copy of the Vedas around 1970
Through his institute, he offers courses on Yoga philosophy, Hindu astrology (jyotisha), and Ayurveda. In addition to directing his institute, he conducts major lecture tours in India every year, delivering talks at universities, Hindu conferences, and to the general public.
As an American Hindu, Frawley is one of the few Westerners to be recognized by a major Hindu sect in India as a Vedacharya or teacher of the ancient wisdom.
His complete works can be accessed through www.vedanet.com
Secrets of Ancient Civilizations: the Vedic Connections
Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, which even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue and its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.
Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world - including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives - remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. Indeed we could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations. To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.
Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur,Sama and Atharva), their various Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.
The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita - the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga - represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an on-going tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.
The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earth quakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature's changes.
Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic 'mantric code' that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.
The Vedas say, "The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious." The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or 'revelation' behind the Hindu tradition.
The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realized the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.
Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognized that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures. Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building.[i] Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.
Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists. [ii]
[i] Frawley article, The Vedas and Ancient Egypt.
[ii] Frawley, book Yoga and the Sacred Fire: Self-realization and Planetary Transformation, for the role of Fire in ancient religions and as a cosmic symbol.