Shri Datta Swami

You are here: Jnana Saraswati | For-All | Discourses

Is Reading the Veda Allowed?

Posted on: 22 Dec 2018
O Learned and Devoted Servants of God,

Discourse Podcast

 

[Datta Jayanti Message] Dr. Nikhil asked: Padanamaskarams Swamiji! In Your discourse on December 16, 2018, You have said that memorizing the Veda without knowing its meaning is wrong based on the following verse:

gītī śīghrī śiraḥkampī tathā likhitapāṭhakaḥ

anarthajñaḥ alpakaṇṭhaśca ṣaḍete pāṭhakādhamāḥ

But by the same verse, reading and reciting the Veda from a printed book, is also equally wrong. So, this verse cannot be used to justify Your recommendation given to the priests that they should give up blind memorization and recitation, and focus on knowing the Veda. If they are to not memorize and recite the Veda and instead use the printed mantras and explain the meaning of the verses to the public, this verse criticizes that too. Of course, this is only a superficial objection, since You have very clearly explained that recitation was done earlier only because it was the need of the time then. It is not needed anymore. You have also clearly explained that the knowledge of the Veda is the core essential aspect, which cannot be neglected under any circumstances. In any case, Your clarification would be valuable. Your servant. Nikhil.

Swami replied: The priests quote the above verse out of the fear that someone might read the Vedic hymns from a printed book and easily take away the money-offerings from the public that would have otherwise come to them. If that were to happen, all their hard work of memorization and the blind recitation of the Veda would go waste. Regarding the necessity of studying the meaning of the Veda, I have already quoted a number of authorities. On the other hand, you have quoted only the authority of this one verse discouraging the reading of the Veda from a printed book. You will be surprised to know that the same priests who quote this verse, also quote another verse which says the reverse. The other verse says that the priest shall recite the Veda only by reading from a printed book while doing the rituals after death, the annual ceremonies of departed souls etc., which are called aparam (Apare granthapaatakhah). You see this practice even today among the priests.

Another point in the verse mentioned by you is that one should not sing the Veda (Giiti). But this point fails since the Saama Veda is always to be sung. It means that such instructions are not very strict and are subject to alteration. As you have correctly said, this point of not reading the Veda from written scripts (likhita paathakaah) applies to ancient times when printing technology was absent and writing on palm leaves was the only technology that existed. Hence, the word likhita means the writing by hand on palm leaves. Such hand-written scripts used to be extremely few in number due to the difficulties in writing on palm leaves. The technology to preserve these palm leaf scripts was also absent. So, the preservation of the Veda through blind recitation and passing it from one generation to the other was inevitable. But the sages did not stop with mere recitation. They proceeded to study the Vedas. Today, human longevity and health have diminished. Memorizing and learning to recite the Veda is time-consuming and it takes more than ten years. By this time, the person is already exhausted and he cannot spend another ten years-time to study the meaning of the Veda. Moreover, now, the recitation is not even necessary since the Veda is well-printed and well-preserved. In view of the present situation, the more important point of studying the meaning of the Veda should be given priority compared to the point of blind recitation of the Veda. This is being said especially since the preservation of the Veda by recitation is serving no purpose when the Veda is already well-preserved by printing. Of course, there is some merit in memorization in that one can quote from the Veda without having to refer to a book. It makes a good impression on the public. But it is a very negligible advantage compared to being able to give a proper explanation of the meaning of the Veda.

Certain conditions are not strict and they can be altered as per one’s convenience. Such flexible rules or conditions are said to be vaikalpika. Let’s see an example of this. In the context of performing the Atiraatra ritual-sacrifice, the Veda makes two contradicting statements. The first statement is that one should see the star called Shodashi while performing the sacrifice called Atiraatra (Atiraatre shodashinam gruhnaati). The other statement is that the star Shodashi need not be seen while performing the same sacrifice (Naatiraatre shodashinam gruhnaati). This is actually not a mutual contradiction. Here two alternatives are being stated (vaikapika). One may see the star if convenient, but if it is inconvenient due to cloudy skies, one need not see the star. Similarly, one may sing the Veda if it is the Saama Veda since the Saama Veda is supposed to be sung. But if it is a Veda other than the Saama Veda, then one may not sing it, since the other three Vedas, being either poetry or prose, are recited, and not sung.

Several parameters have to be considered while drawing the true meaning of any statement. For instance, the specific time or situation in which the statement is applicable needs to be considered. In the case of the above verse, regarding likhita paathakaas, the instruction applies to ancient times, when the preservation of the Veda through memorization was essential. Similarly, the place where the statement is applicable also must be considered. For example, singing applies to the Saama Veda but not to the other Vedas. Only upon considering all such parameters can one reach the actual heart of the meaning.

Several authorities can be quoted, which all stress on the importance of studying the meaning of the Veda, which is required for explaining spiritual knowledge to others. Studying the meaning of the Veda is not vaikalpika, which means that it is not subject to alteration. The Veda has stressed on knowledge through statements such as “Ya evam Veda, Brahmanaa vividishanti, Saango vedo adhetavyo jneyashcha”. The Brahma Sūtras also stress on knowledge through sūtras such as “Athaato Brahma Jijnaasaa and Shaastra yonitvaat”. The Gita emphasizes the necessity of knowledge through numerous verses including “Vedaishcha sarvairahameva vedyaah, yat Jnaatvaa amruta mashnute, nahi jnaanena sadrusham, sarvam jnaanaplavenaiva and so on. Finally, I state once again that the very word ‘Veda’ means knowledge (Vidul-jnaane). I cannot give more stress on the importance of knowing the meaning of the Veda than this.

 
   

Browser Compatibility: Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome and IE10+ on all Desktops, Mobiles and Tablets

Visitor Statistics

free hit counters

Copyright: © 2003–2019 Shri Datta Swami