Sri Aurobindo and his disciples uncovered connections between the Vedas and the later scriptures such as Upanishads, Puranas and the Tantra by tracing the evolution of concepts, use of common verses and the underlying symbolism between these scriptures. This is a synopsis of their discoveries collated from a variety of sources.
The traditional view of the scriptures
Traditionally, the Vedas, although referred to as Shruti (Divine revelation), had been misinterpreted and perceived as the records of a bucolic life revolving around sacrificial fires, cows, horses and incantations to Nature Gods. By contrast, the Upanishads were regarded as a sapient and discerning treatise on metaphysics and philosophy. This dichotomy gave rise to two schools of philosophy, the Purva Mimansa and the Uttara Mimansa/Vedanta. Purva Mimansa treated the Vedic Samhitas and Brahmanas as a system of rituals (Karma Kanda) while Vedanta contemplated on the Upanishads as a source of wisdom (Jnana Kanda). The Purunas were seen as a compilation of the legends of the past which contain accounts of cosmogeny, genealogy of mankind, cycles of time and the rolls of dynasties of kings. The Tantra system( with Agamas) was perceived as a system disparate from the Vedas, where a set of deities different from the Vedas was worshipped using a codified system of Mantra, Yantra(diagrams), etc.
Sri Aurobindo’s discovery
When Sri Aurobindo began reading the Vedas, he found that the verses of the Vedas illuminated his own spiritual experiences in a clear light. With his mastery of several languages, he was able to trace the roots of the words, decipher the dual meaning behind the symbolism and unlock the esoteric sense behind the Vedic verses. He realized that the Vedas were the records of spiritual experiences of ancient sages recorded such that they could only be deciphered by those who had had similar experiences. As the Rig Veda says of itself – “eta visva viduse tubhyam vedho, nithani agne ninya vacamsi; nivacana kavaye kavyani, asamsisam matibhir vipra ukthaih” (All these are secret words that I have uttered, O Agni, O Disposer, words of seer-knowledge that will reveal their inner meaning only to the seer) (Rig Veda 4.3.16)
Based on the esoteric interpretation of the Vedas, Sri Aurobindo and his disciples were able to trace some of the symbology and substance of the Upanishads, Tantra and Puranas back to the Vedas. They found that the Upanishads represented the revival and continuation of the philosophical side of the Vedas, the Puranas conserved and propagated the exoteric ritualistic basis of the Vedic religion while the Agamas took up the esoteric teaching and practice of the Vedic mystics and developed it into external forms suitable for the changing needs of later times. As M.P. Pandit, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, wrote, “the Upanishads frequently invoke the authority of the Vedic seers in confirmation of what they say e.g. tadetadrcabhyuktam, (this is said by the Rik) or taduktam rsina bhuktyam” (that is said by the Rishi) etc. or quote a whole Rik in clinching their pronouncement. Many of the ideas expounded by the Upanishads can be found present in germ form in the Vedas.” .
Now we will outline some points of correspondence discovered by Sri Aurobindo and his disciples between various scriptures:
- Seven cosmic Planes
- Vedic Vak – the theory of sound
- The metaphor of two birds on the tree
- The golden lid
- The triple cord
- Vijnana and Prajnana
- Vidyas (paths of realization)
Seven cosmic Planes
The Universe is, in occult terms, said to be constituted of seven planes of varying gradations of consciousness (see Cosmology). The Vedic equivalents of these cosmic planes can be seen in the table below.
|Urja||Chit or Tapoloka||Consciousness/Energy|
Sri Aurobindo also noted that “the seven rivers of the Vedas are conscious currents corresponding to the sevenfold substance of the ocean of being which appears to us formulated in the seven worlds enumerated by the Puranas” [The Secret of the Veda: Saraswati and Her Consorts].
Furthermore, Sri Aurobindo discovered that Vedanta and Tantra bifurcated on the function of the second principle – Chit – mentioned above. Vedanta interpreted Chit as Consciousness while Tantra saw Chit as also Tapas (Energy). Consequently, Vedanta saw the phenomenal world as an epiphenomenon from which the soul must be liberated while Tantra saw the world as the Divine Being itself in its Power (Shakti) aspect. In the words of Nolini Kanta Gupta, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo:
The exclusive stress of the Vedantic system on Chit, Pure Consciousness, led to the realisation of the Pure Being(Purusha) as mere Witness, Observer, a passive consciousness. Subsequently, it was also added that the Purusha is not merely a Witness, (saksi), but the Upholder (bharta), even Enjoyer (bhokta) of the world and creation; finally it was added also that the Purusha may be a creator also (karta), but all this is somewhat outside the pale of orthodox Vedanta, Mayavada. Tantra equated Consciousness with Energy; for it Conscious Energy or Consciousness-Energy is the indivisible Mother-Reality. The Vedanta ends in Ananda, it is a static unitary Ananda. The Tantra posits a dynamic Ananda, a dual Ananda between Ishwara and Ishwari, Shiva and Shakti .
In the Vedic conception of the Universe, Gods represent Cosmic Powers which represent various creative aspects of the Supreme Divine, much like the way cabinet ministers represent the leader of the country. Sri Aurobindo discovered the Gods conceptualized in the Puranas, Upanishads and Tantra were actually derivatives of the Vedic Gods.
The Vedic conception of the Divine is fundamentally a monotheistic system wherein the various Gods can be seen as flavors that represent some essential Puissance of the One Supreme. This fact is left vague in the Vedas but clearly expressed in the Upanishads, where the same Vedic Gods such as Surya, Agni, Indra, Vayu are depicted but are shown to occupy a subordinate position to the Divine .
To demonstrate the correspondence between the Puranas and the Vedas, I will borrow some quotations from R.L. Kashyap’s SAKSI website:
Brihaspati, Brahmanaspati, Brahma are the three names of the god to whom the Rishi Vamadeva addresses this mystic hymn of praise. In the later Puranic theogonies Brihaspati and Brahma have long become separate deities. Brahma is the Creator, one of the Three who form the great Puranic Trinity; Brihaspati is a figure of no great importance, spiritual teacher of the gods and incidentally guardian of the planet Jupiter; Brahmanaspati, the middle term which once linked the two, has disappeared .
The evolution of the Vedic Brahma into Ganapati of the Puranas and Tantra is illustrated here:
In the Veda the three deities Brahma, Brhaspati and Brahmanaspati denote one Deity. In the Veda Brahma stands for the Potent Word, mantra. Brahmanaspati is thus the Lord of the mantras. This deity is also the popular elephant-faced God worshipped in the Puranas whose tusk is in the form of the sacred syllable OM or AUM. He appears in the Tantra Yoga in the form of Ganapati, presiding deity over the para-vak, the speech supreme with his abode in the muladhara chakra, subtle body of every human .
Furthermore, Sri Aurobindo showed that in the later Puranic forms of worship, Saraswati is the goddess of speech, of learning and of poetry and Bharati is one of her names, but in the Veda Bharati and Saraswati are different deities [The Secret of the Veda: Saraswati and Her Consorts]. In addition, the Puranas have Gods by the name Maruts, who are brothers of Indra and Agni has become Kumara [6, 7].
To examine the correspondence between Vedic Gods and Tantric Gods, we turn to S. Shankaranarayanan, who adumbrated how the Tantric Gods were inspired by the Vedic Gods . Although this correspondence was not one-to-one, each of the ten personalities of the Divine Mother in Tantra had been formulated based on certain concepts and realizations of the Vedic seers. Also, for certain deities, in addition to prescribing the Tantric Mantras, the Tantric Seers prescribed Vedic verses for worship. Some of the examples cited by Shankaranarayan are .
- In the Rig Veda, Agni is shown as having the power of carrying the spiritual aspirant across all tribulations while Aditi (Divine Mother) is said to afford shelter as a ship. In Tantra, these functions are built into the conception of Tara.
- The Vedic symbolism of “primordial darkness covered by darkness” gave rise to the concept of Dhumavati (Divine Smoke Screen) in Tantra.
- The Rig Vedic primal seed of mind, Desire (Kama) was amplified as Kamakala, the concept of Tripurasundari.
- The all-pervasive indivisible infinity of the Divine Mother, Aditi, was used to build the concept of Bhuvaneshwari (she who pervades the worlds).
- The mounting aspiration concentrated at the base of things, flaming forth as Agni became the principle of Tripura Bhairavi.
Kapali Sastry notes that in the Vedas, Agni is the seer who finds the way, who burns the dross and cleanses the seeker of all sin and impurity, carries him through all obstacles, like a boat over the seas. In the Shakta Tantra, this same Deity came to be worshipped as Durga, the indomitable, the protectrix who carries the devotee safe across the sea of misery, the ocean of birth and death. More importantly, he found that in one place the exact Mantra addressed to Agni in the Vedas had been applied in Tantra to Durga .
As this passage from SAKSI points out, the Vedic Goddess Saraswati became the Guptagamini in Tantra:
The goddess Sarasvati appears in the Tantra as the, ‘secret channel or river’ (guptagamini). Recall the three channels connecting the bottom Chakra (Muladhara) to the Chakra between the eye-brows (Ajna chakra), namely Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. The first two are identified with the subtle currents of the names Ganga and Jamuna. The subtle current flowing in the Sushumna, the middle channel, is Sarasvati. She is asleep normally. When she is activated by spiritual practises, she rises up indicating her manifestation (Rig Veda 1.164.49). She reaches the ajna chakra and starts to descend. Her descent indicates the manifested inspirational power is being directed to the performance of actions. The importance of the tantrik experience and explanation is that it acknowledges that the power of inspiration or Sarasvatī is not only in cosmos (brahmanda) but also in our subtle body (pindanda) .
Vedic Vak – the theory of sound
The Vedic theory of Vak posits a Universe created by sound (cosmic vibrations) and it says that this Sound exists at four levels, from the subtle to the gross, in the Universe (see blog post Vedic Vak : four levels of sound). In his book Sidelights on Tantra, Kapali Sastry discloses how Tantra incorporated the Vedic theory of Vak and adapted it for practical purposes. Tantra correlated the four levels of Vak to the four subtle centers (Chakras) in the human subtle body (Para to the Muladhara Chakra; Pashyanti Vak to the Manipura Chakra in the navel; Madhyama to the heart; Vaikhari to the throat). In the Vedas, the beginning of creation is signified by the symbol of the “Bull that Roars” (Rig Veda 4.58.2). In Tantra, this concept is represented by the Adya Spanda (i.e. primal vibration). The original Word (AUM – primal root sound) of the Veda was further developed by Tantra into the theory of seed sounds (bija-aksara) which was then applied to the practice of Mantras .
The metaphor of two birds on the tree
In spiritual jargon, Man is said to have a transient frontal personality coupled with an inner eternal soul or Divine Self. This is the referred to as the metaphor of “two birds on the tree” (Rig Veda 1.164.20) in which one bird is seen as actively eating the fruit of the tree (i.e. the transient personality enjoying the world) while the other bird sits passively and eats nothing (i.e. the eternal Self within man). This metaphor was carried over to the Upanishads. See the blog post Inverted Banyan tree for the relevant references.
The golden lid
It is said that there is a Golden Lid which separates the Lower Triple Worlds (Mind, Vital and Physical) from the Superconscient. Sri Aurobindo in his commentaries revealed that this Golden Lid described in the Rig Veda is also alluded to in the Upanishads. See the blog post Golden Lid for the relevant references.
The triple cord
In the Rig Veda, Sri Aurobindo unveiled the symbolism of the three knots which (bodily) bind the human consciousness to the phenomenal world and showed that the same triple cord also occurs in the Upanishads (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9). Kapali Sastry pointed out that this triple cord was carried over to Tantra as well – “there is no doubt whatsoever that the triple bondage corresponds to the three knots famous in the tantra yoga under the names of Brahma, Vişhņu and Rudra.” (KS1 ). Furthermore, this triple cord is also found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. See the blog post Triple Cord for the relevant references.
Vijnana and Prajnana
In the Upanishads, the terms Vijnana and Prajnana refer to modes of knowledge. The significance of Vijnana and Prajnana is elucidated in the blog post Epistemology of Perception. According to Sri Aurobindo, these concepts occur in the Rig Veda as Pracetas and Vichetas or as Prabhu and Vibhu. As he states,
The words prabhu and vibhu in the Veda are used not in the later sense, “lord”, but in a fixed psychological significance like pracetas and vicetas or like prajñāna and vijñāna in the later language. “Vibhu” means becoming, or coming into existence pervasively, “Prabhu” becoming, coming into existence in front of the consciousness, at a particular point as a particular object or experience. Soma comes out like the wine dropping from the strainer and then pervading the jar; it emerges into the consciousness concentrated at some particular point, prabhu, or as some particular experience and then pervades the whole being as Ananda, vibhu [The Secret of the Veda: Soma, Lord of Delight and Immortality].
Vidyas (paths of realization)
The Upanishads outline various paths of realization of the Divine called Vidyas (e.g. realize the Divine as Bliss, realize the Divine as Creative Energy) . For more on these Vidyas, see the blog post Vidyas in the Upanishads. Kapali Sastry showed that these Vidyas actually build upon various verses in the Rig Vedas. Here are some of these presented in tabular form:
|Vidya||Rig Veda verses cited|
|Madhu of Brihadranyaka (2.5)||RV 1.116.12, 1.117.22, 6.47.18|
|Nachiketa Vidya||RV 10.135|
|Vaishvanara Vidya||too numerous to be written here!See his book|
|Prana Vidya||RV 5.82.1|
There is also a connection between the Upanishadic Vidyas and the Tantric Goddesses. In his book Ten Great Cosmic Powers, Shankaranarayanan credits Sri Vashishtha Ganapati Muni, disciple of Ramana Maharshi, with revealing how the ten Personalities of the Divine Mother can be traced to the Vidyas in the Upanishads. This table illustrates the correspondence. For more information, see the book by Shankaranarayanan .
|Tara||Akshara Vidya Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III. 8|
|Tripura Sundari||Vaishwanara Vidya|
|Bhuvaneshwari||Parovariyasi Vidya of the Chandogya Upanishad 1.9.|
|Tripura Bhairavi||Shandilya Vidya of Chandogya III.14|
|Chinnamasta||Jyotirvidya of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad|
|Dhumavati||Dhuma Vidya of Chandogya Upanishad|
|Bagalamukhi||Indra Yoni Vidya of Taittiriya Upanishad|
|Kamalatmika||Madhu Vidya of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad|
- M.P. Pandit. The Upanishads Gateways of Knowledge. p 8
- Nolini Kanta Gupta. Beyond Vedanta in Collected Works Vol 4, p 182.
- M.P. Pandit. The Upanishads Gateways of Knowledge.
- Kapali Sastry. Sidelights on Tantra in Collected Works. Vol 1, pp 15-18. (SABDA)
- zS. Shankaranarayanan. Ten Great Cosmic Powers.
- ibid., pp 114-125.
- Kapali Sastry. Sidelights on Tantra in Collected Works. Vol 1, p 23. (SABDA)
- Kapali Sastry. Sidelights on Tantra in Collected Works. Vol 1, pp 79-93. (SABDA)
- Kapali Sastry. Lights on the Upanishads. (SABDA)
- S. Shankaranarayanan. Ten Great Cosmic Powers.