A friend discussed on a private facebook page about 3 levels of meaning of Veda (adhiyajnika, adhidaivika & adhyatmika) mentioned by Nirukta and asked for my views. I’ll share my 2 cents publicly so that others can also read.

  • To understand ANY layer of meaning of Veda (adhiyajnika, adhidaivika or adhyatmika), linguistic skill alone is insufficient. One needs to be “in tune” with the hymn in question, its Rishi and Devata, which comes only with subtle awareness developed through sadhana and, more importantly, kripa (grace) of Rishi.

  • NONE of the 3 levels mentioned above actually covers the so called “literal meaning”, i.e all of them are still way above the literal meaning! In fact, literal meaning is irrelevant.

  • It is important to understand these 3 terms clearly. Lord Krishna uses them in 7.29-30 of BhagavadGita, where he says, “those desirous of liberation should know Brahman as the all-pervading adhyatma or transcendental Self. They should be clearly aware, even at their final moment, that Self alone becomes all objects (adhibhutam), becomes all ethereal forms behind those objects (adhidaivam) and becomes all actions between all forms (adhiyajnam).”

  • Though some may translate “adhiyajna” in the light of rituals, Swami Krishnananda wisely translates it as “the transcendent purpose behind all activities”.

  • When nirukta says that Veda has adhiyajnika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika meanings, it is 3 perspectives rather than 3 layers. These 3 perspectives are: (1) how supreme Self appears as multiple selves (2) how supreme Self appears as multiple ethereal beings operating through those selves, (3) how Self appears as interactions among those beings.

  • As I type this write up, Brihaspati operates in my consciousness and does his job of inspiring a thought. Budha operates in my consciousness and does his job of coming up with the right articulation. Similarly, various ethereal beings operate through my consciousness and do their job. The result is this writing! I may suffer the delusion that “I, Narasimha Rao, typed this write up”, but it is the work of several ethereal beings inside me working in harmony, governed by some cosmic laws applied on the prior momentum of their interactions within this being (self) currently called Narasimha Rao. Vedic hymns describe how Self becomes multiple selves, how Self becomes various ethereal beings and how Self also becomes actions by them.

  • To be blunt and honest, I do not think much of Sayanacharya’s translation - it is too literal. Swami Dayananda Saraswati goes deeper, but his symbolism is often highly superficial and tends to be more adhibhautika (i.e. not adhiyajnika or adhidaivika or adhyatmika).

  • On the last day of his life, Swami Vivekananda told his disciples that none of the commentaries on Veda was reasonable and wished for a better commentary in future. It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo, who was imparted some subtle knowledge in his prison cell by Swami Vivekananda, wrote in later years what is in my opinion the most insightful commentary on Veda written in the last 4 millennia.

  • The best way to understand any Vedic hymn is to learn to chant it, think of its deity and rishi with reverence, seek their blessings and keep chanting & contemplating it. If you are lucky, an insight may dawn one day. Don’t be greedy when it comes to understanding Vedic hymns. Real understanding of even one hymn can transform one’s life.