Sri Aurobindo on the Secret Sense & Mystery of the Vedic Symbols

Sri Aurobindo as featured on 'The Secret of the Veda'  cover
The following excerpts are from The Secret of the Veda and Hymns to the Mystic Fire. The former book was written by Sri Aurobindo between 1914 and 1920, and the later was published in 1946, containing Sri Aurobindo's writings and translations spanning from 1915 ('The Doctrine of the Mystics') through the 1930's. The Forward from Hymns to the Mystic Fire was written in 1946. I am reproducing them here to give readers a sense of the yogic quest of which my book Geometric Keys of Vedic Wisdom is an extension. In this book I have revealed keys or secrets of the Rig Veda that have been lost upon humanity for multiple millennia. In this post, I also want to give readers a sense of why these keys or secrets of the Veda are important in our world's unfolding evolutionary play. One-hundred-plus years ago, Sri Aurobindo understood that their discovery would not only 'explain and justify rationally the whole ancient tradition of India' but might also '[throw light] on the obscurities of early [mystic] cult and myth in other ancient nations'. The discoveries I made and presented in the course of writing my book demonstrate that he was entirely correct in his suspicions regarding the deliberately veiled symbols of the Rig Veda, and that these secrets do indeed throw great light not only on India's ancient occult mythology, but that of other nations or civilizations as well. In both of these excerpts we see that the truth of the Vedic symbols was hidden behind a deliberate veil or covering mist of the ancient Mystics. My previous post 'The Miracle in the Mist' should help readers begin to see through this vision-restricting mist, to the simple secrets or keys that have lied in wait for thousands of years to be seen and utilized to uplift the dark consciousness of humanity.

The Secret of the Veda

'IS THERE at all or is there still a secret of the Veda? According to current conceptions the heart of that ancient mystery has been plucked out and revealed to the gaze of all, or rather no real secret ever existed. [According to this modern view] the hymns of the Veda are the sacrificial compositions of a primitive and still barbarous race written around a system of ceremonial and propitiatory rites, addressed to personified Powers of Nature and replete with a confused mass of half-formed myth and crude astronomical allegories yet in the making. …This modern theory is in accord with the received idea of a rapid human evolution from the quite recent savage. … It is my object in these chapters to suggest a new view of the ancient problem.

'…In the course of several thousands of years there have been at least three considerable attempts, entirely differing from each other in their methods and results, to fix the sense of these ancient litanies. [These attempts] present one characteristic in common, the extraordinary incoherence and poverty of sense which their results stamp upon the ancient hymns….

'Yet these obscure and barbarous compositions have had the most splendid good fortune in all literary history. They have been the reputed source not only of some of the world’s richest and profoundest religions, but of some of its subtlest metaphysical philosophies. In the fixed tradition of thousands of years they have been revered as the origin and standard of all that can be held as authoritative and true in Brahmana and Upanishad, in Tantra and Purana, in the doctrines of great philosophical schools and in the teachings of famous saints and sages. The name borne by them was Veda, the knowledge,—the received name for the highest spiritual truth of which the human mind is capable. But if we accept the current interpretations, whether Sayana’s or the modern theory, the whole of this sublime and sacred reputation is a colossal fiction. The hymns are, on the contrary, nothing more than the naive superstitious fancies of untaught and materialistic barbarians concerned only with the most external gains and enjoyments and ignorant of all but the most elementary moral notions or religious aspirations.…

'[In] ancient Europe the schools of intellectual philosophy were preceded by the secret doctrines of the mystics; Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries prepared the rich soil of mentality out of which sprang Pythagoras and Plato.… Much indeed of the forms and symbols of thought which we find in the Upanishads, much of the substance of the Brahmanas supposes a period in India in which thought took the form or the veil of secret teachings such as those of the Greek mysteries….

'...As things stand, a gap [between the internal and external meaning of the Vedic symbols] is left or else has been created by our exclusive preoccupation with the naturalistic element in the religion of the Vedic Rishis. 

'I suggest that the gulf is of our own creation and does not really exist in the ancient sacred writings. The hypothesis I propose is that the Rig Veda is itself the one considerable document that remains to us from the early period of human thought of which the historic Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries were the failing remnants, when the spiritual and psychological knowledge of the race was concealed, for reasons now difficult to determine, in a veil of concrete and material figures and symbols which protected the sense from the profane and revealed it to the initiated.… The ritual system recognised by Sayana may, in its externalities, stand; the naturalistic sense discovered by European scholarship may, in its general conceptions, be accepted; but behind them there is always the true and still hidden secret of the Veda,—the secret words, niṇyā vacāṁsi, which were spoken for the purified in soul and the awakened in knowledge. 

'[Fixing the import of Vedic terms, the sense of Vedic symbols] will explain and justify rationally the whole ancient tradition of India; for it will be found that, in sober truth … the great Indian religions do go back in their source to Vedic origins…. Incidentally, some light may be thrown on the obscurities of early cult and myth in other ancient nations. Finally, the incoherencies of the Vedic texts will at once be explained and disappear. They exist in appearance only, because the real thread of the sense is to be found in an inner meaning. That thread found, the hymns appear as logical and organic wholes and the expression, though alien in type to our modern ways of thinking and speaking, becomes, in its own style, just and precise and sins rather by economy of phrase than by excess, by over-pregnancy rather than by poverty of sense. The Veda ceases to be merely an interesting remnant of barbarism and takes rank among the most important of the world’s early Scriptures.'
CWSA, Vol. 15, pp. 1-9, [Bold emphasis added] 

Hymns to the Mystic Fire

'[The Mystics had] an enormous influence on … early civilisations; there was indeed almost everywhere an age of the Mysteries in which men of a deeper knowledge and self-knowledge established their practices, significant rites, symbols, secret lore within or on the border of the more primitive exterior religions. This took different forms in different countries; in Greece there were the Orphic and Eleusinian Mysteries, in Egypt and Chaldea the priests and their occult lore and magic, in Persia the Magi, in India the Rishis. … If men entered into [the occult knowledge of the Mystics] without a severe test and training it would be dangerous to themselves and others; this knowledge, these powers could be misused, misinterpreted, turned from truth to falsehood, from good to evil. A strict secrecy was therefore maintained, the knowledge handed down behind a veil from master to disciple. A veil of symbols was created behind which these mysteries could shelter, formulas of speech also which could be understood by the initiated but were either not known by others or were taken by them in an outward sense which carefully covered their true meaning and secret. This was the substance of Mysticism everywhere. It has been the tradition in India from the earliest times that the Rishis, the poet-seers of the Veda, were men of this type, men with a great spiritual and occult knowledge not shared by ordinary human beings, men who handed down this knowledge and their powers by a secret initiation to their descendants and chosen disciples. It is a gratuitous assumption to suppose that this tradition was wholly unfounded, a superstition that arose suddenly or slowly formed in a void, with nothing whatever to support it; some foundation there must have been however small or however swelled by legend and the accretions of centuries. But if it is true, then inevitably the poet-seers must have expressed something of their secret knowledge, their mystic lore in their writings and such an element must be present, however well-concealed by an occult language or behind a technique of symbols, and if it is there it must be to some extent discoverable…. [To] make this discovery will be the sole way of getting at the true sense and the true value of the Veda. We must … accept the Rishi’s description of the Veda’s contents as “seer-wisdoms, secret words”, and look for whatever clue we can find to this ancient wisdom. Otherwise the Veda must remain for ever a sealed book; grammarians, etymologists, scholastic conjectures will not open to us the sealed chamber

'For it is a fact that the tradition of a secret meaning and a mystic wisdom couched in the Riks of the ancient Veda was as old as the Veda itself. The Vedic Rishis believed that their Mantras were inspired from higher hidden planes of consciousness and contained this secret knowledge. The words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the verses withheld their hidden knowledge. In one of Vamadeva’s hymns in the fourth Mandala (IV.3.16) the Rishi describes himself as one illumined expressing through his thought and speech words of guidance, “secret words”—niṇyā vacāṁsi—“seer-wisdoms that utter their inner meaning to the seer”—kāvyāni kavaye nivacanā. The Rishi Dirghatamas speaks of the Riks, the Mantras of the Veda, as existing “in a supreme ether, imperishable and immutable in which all the gods are seated”, and he adds “one who knows not That what shall he do with the Rik?” (I.164.39) …. Elsewhere in the Riks the Vedic Word is described (X.71) as that which is supreme and the topmost height of speech, the best and the most faultless. It is something that is hidden in secrecy and from there comes out and is manifested. It has entered into the truth-seers, the Rishis, and it is found by following the track of their speech. But all cannot enter into its secret meaning. Those who do not know the inner sense are as men who seeing see not, hearing hear not, only to one here and there the Word desiring him like a beautifully robed wife to a husband lays open her body. Others unable to drink steadily of the milk of the Word, the Vedic cow, move with it as with one that gives no milk, to him the Word is a tree without flowers or fruits. This is quite clear and precise; it results from it beyond doubt that even then while the Rig Veda was being written the Riks were regarded as having a secret sense which was not open to all. There was an occult and spiritual knowledge in the sacred hymns and by this knowledge alone, it is said, one can know the truth and rise to a higher existence. [Yaksa] says further that “the Rishis saw the truth, the true law of things, directly by an inner vision”; afterwards the knowledge and the inner sense of the Veda were almost lost and the Rishis who still knew had to save it by handing it down through initiation to disciples and at a last stage outward and mental means had to be used for finding the sense such as Nirukta and other Vedangas. But even then, he says, “the true sense of the Veda can be recovered directly by meditation and tapasya”, those who can use these means need no outward aids for this knowledge. This also is sufficiently clear and positive.

'... [The] body of esoteric meaning in the Veda … is there deliberately hidden by a veil, but the veil is not so thick as we first imagine; we have only to use our eyes and the veil vanishes; the body of the Word, the Truth stands out before us.

'... Finally, as the summit of the teaching of the Vedic mystics comes the secret of the one Reality, eka sat, or tad ekam, which became the central word of the Upanishads. The Gods, the powers of Light and Truth are powers and names of the One, each God is himself all the Gods or carries them in him: there is the one Truth, tat satyam, and one bliss to which we must rise. But in the Veda this looks out still mostly from behind the veil. There is much else but this is the kernel of the doctrine.' 

CWSA, Vol. 16, pp. 5-21 [All emphasis added]