The Vision of the Ṛṣis
Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati
The Sanskrit word “ārṣa” means that which comes from the ṛṣi. Ṛṣi is one who knows or sees, so a ṛṣi is a Seer. Seer of what? He is a seer of what is, of things that others don’t see. Vidyā means knowledge, that which is opposed to error and ignorance. Thus, ārṣa-vidyā means knowledge of the ṛṣis. We have a body of knowledge coming down from generation to generation through the lineage of teacher and student (guruśiṣya-paramparā). This body of knowledge is called the Veda. It consists of two main topics.
One is the topic dealing with values, right and wrong, various forms of prayer, and rituals for different ends. A human being has a number of desires. And the desires of a given person need not be the desires of another person. Further, a person who has a desire now many not have the same desire later even though it was not fulfilled. He may grow out of it. Thus, these desires, kāmāḥ are many and varied, bhinnāḥ. In order to fulfill these desires, a person makes attempts according to his skill and knowledge, but still there are many hidden variables. To control the hidden variables one resorts to prayer. This kind of prayer, a specific prayer to get a given result, is mentioned in the first part of the Veda. There are many such prayers for the many different ends.
Finally, in the end, the Veda has a topic called Vedanta. This topic deals with the desirer. It is important to understand the
difference between these two topics. One deals with your desires; it tries to help you to fulfill your desires and the other
deals with the very desirer. Why are you a desirer? Even if you fulfill a few desires, you are not going to say that you have fulfilled all your desires. There were desires that you could not fulfill when you were young. Even now there are desires that you cannot fulfill—desires like those for an ideal society, an ideal disposition of a friend or spouse that you always dream of. These desires are never met with and perhaps will never be met with. One can never relax saying, “I have fulfilled all my desires.”
The desire that you have is only the privilege of a happy, free, and complete person. Being a human being endowed with this freedom of choice, unlike an animal, you have this privilege of desiring. It is one of the three capacities given to a human
being—the power/freedom to desire, to know, and to act, icchāśakti, jñāna-śakti, kriyā-śakti. It is a privilege for you to entertain
a desire and then fulfill it. If it is fulfilled you are happy; if it is not fulfilled you are happy. But one doesn’t generally feel like
this. A desirer, in the beginning, is a desirer in the middle and continues to be a desirer at the end. As a child, you were a desirer,
and when you reach ninety you are still a desirer. That you are a desirer is a reality. If this reality is true, then you have no chance
of finding fulfillment in your life. So you continue struggling all your life. You cross oceans, reach distant places, and accomplish
a lot. Still, that person who is wanting, that person who has a sense of inadequacy never goes. He is always present. So it looks
as though all your efforts are futile because you don’t see any difference in yourself in spite of all your accomplishments. That is
a really tragic situation; I wanted to become somebody and in that somebody, I don’t see a person who has made it. I see only another “becoming” person, in fact, the same “becoming” person. I reach a point where I cannot “become” anymore because of my old age. This is something peculiar to a human being.
The human being is self-conscious and because of that, has complexes. You want to be “somebody,” because there is the conclusion that you exist only within the confines of your body-mind-sense complex. You are only this much and you want to be “somebody.” The attempt stems from your conclusion; a conclusion that is universal. That conclusion is that you are incomplete and have to become complete. In this, each one has certain peculiar wants according to his background, but that one wants is a universal phenomenon. This wanting person continues to exist without any sense of fulfillment and consequently, there is always a search. If one recognizes this and wants to solve this problem of searching, the search becomes a spiritual search.
A search is a search, whether you search for money, power, or position and work for it, or you search for a solution to this basic problem. We call this basic search spiritual, inasmuch as there is no particular desire that is met with. That you are a desirer, a wanting person, confined to this body-mind-sense complex, different from everything else, and therefore an inadequate, incomplete person, that you must become adequate and complete—this search doesn’t have any particular object in the world. It is centered on yourself. When your desire is centered on an object, you call it a material desire. If it is centered on yourself, on the problem of being a wanting person, that person has to change. Can that person change? If that person has to change then there should be a different reality about that person. Otherwise, no change is possible. If you are an incomplete person in essence, then in reality you are incomplete. There is no way of fixing up that problem. But you are constantly striving to fix up that problem.
This is not something unique to a given person. Everybody has this spiritual urge if we can call this spiritual.
Vedānta is so-called because it is at the end of the Veda. It has no other meaning; it is just a positional name. This body of knowledge that we call the Veda has at its end a second topic which deals with this problem of you being a desirer. You can be a desirer without it being a problem if you see it as a privilege given to you. Then you are free enough to have some desires and fulfill them. You are also free enough to be happy even if they are not fulfilled. Then alone does it become a privilege. Otherwise,
every desire is a binding desire because it has to be met with. This problem is addressed in Vedanta.
The topic is you; your thinking of yourself as a desirer, and the fact that this is an error. You have the privilege of desiring, no
doubt, but you are not a desirer. While the desirer is you, you are not the desirer. Desire is something that you enjoy as a privilege.
Vedanta accepts that. In fact, if you are free, you can have some more desires, because the desire does not involve a desire to
become free from incompleteness. Behind every desire, there is a desire to be secure. The desire to have more money is not for
the sake of money itself, but for security. That you are insecure is a conclusion. This conclusion makes your search for a security,
and in money you see security. Behind the object of every desire, there is something else that you are searching for. This is what is
identified by Vedanta as a spiritual urge. The pursuit of your life is spiritual whether you like it or not because you seek security.
You cannot accept that you are insecure because your nature is secure. There is nothing more secure than yourself. That is
what Vedanta says.
Vedanta asks you to see what it has to say. On what basis do you conclude that you are insecure? Did you make an inquiry (vicāra) into yourself? It is not after an inquiry that you have come to the conclusion that you are insecure. It is without any inquiry. Everybody is born with ignorance, and this ignorance is twofold: One is ignorance of yourself and the other is ignorance of the world. Your mind, senses, and capacity to infer can be improved upon as you grow. Perception and inference means of knowledge, are meant for understanding things that you can objectify. But the original ignorance about yourself, with which you started your life, doesn’t go away. Without knowing what the self is, the conclusion that you are a desirer, incomplete, insecure, and unhappy is taken for granted. It is regarded as real because everybody has similar conclusions. But in determining the truth, the majority doesn’t play any role. Everybody believed that the sun rose in the eastern sky and traveled across the heavens every day. One
person said that this was not true. The whole of humanity was against that person.
Everyone thought the earth was flat but one person said that it is a globe. That is how the truth is. It is not determined by the consensus of the majority. It is determined by whether it is true or not true. In the vision of Vedanta, you are the security that you are seeking through money, power, etc. You are the very happiness that you are seeking in various forms of pleasure and so on.
Happiness here means the fullness that is opposite to the sense of incompleteness. You want to be a whole person because that
is exactly what you are. You don’t really want to be a mortal; that is why there is always an attempt to be free from this
mortality. You want to prolong your longevity, knowing full well, of course, that one day you will succumb. Still, it is very
difficult to accept death. You want to live a day more. But what about people who commit suicide? It is not that they want to
put an end to their lives; it is because there is another equally powerful urge to be happy and secure. If there is a danger to
that security or happiness in that person’s perception, he may commit suicide. The search for security and happiness is as real
as the love for longevity.
In the vision of Vedanta, the conclusions that you are time-bound, incomplete, insecure are wrong. In its vision, you are the truth
of everything. You cannot become more than fullness, because fullness is your nature. You are the very essence of time, and thus
you are timeless. In other words, you are sat-cit-ānanda. In its vision, you are all of this, and this is what you are searching for in
life. Vedanta deals with the reality of living. It gives meaning to your life, as opposed to the groping that everybody goes about doing in life, searching for one thing or another. It gives freedom from this constant struggle. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you can find yourself free enough to be what you are. That particular freedom is innate to you, and that is what is unfolded in the statement that you are sat-cit-ānanda. It is not a mystic statement but is unfolded methodically by Vedanta through a very sophisticated method of teaching.
As a part of this program of teaching, which makes you see that you are free, this ārṣa-vidyā, or Vedanta, has a program for your own self-growth. This is what we call yoga. As unfolded in the Gītā and also in the Upaniṣads, yoga is a way of living
that helps you to grow to your potential. As human being there is room for further growth. A tiger cub needs to eventually
lead a tiger’s life—independent and strong. To do this, the cub has to grow to become an adult. When it becomes an adult it
has no other program to follow. It lives a tiger’s life without complexes. The human child also grows to become an adult,
but with that, the growth is not over. There is constant conflict, and every conflict is for growth. One has to deal with
each conflict and grow to be a person who is free from conflict. Everybody has to grow into that person. Let it take the whole life; it
is still a program that one can afford to accomplish, that one cannot afford not to accomplish. Everything has to become meaningful
to you and if that ‘you’ is always subject to conflict, there is a real problem of growth. One has to take the initiative to grow into that complete human being.
Thus, there are two programs in Vedanta: one is to help the person grow, to become objective, dispassionate, and free from conflict, and live a life of richness. That kind of life, one that is enriched by your own self-growth is what is aimed at by the
program of yoga. Vedanta teaches you how to go about it. Then it has the final say that you are the whole. In fact, you have to
prove that you are not. The whole process of rubbing against what Vedanta says is what we call the learning process. You
try to prove that Vedanta is wrong and Vedanta always has an answer. Finally, you have to say, “I am the whole.” Once you
say that, and see that you are the whole, nobody can take it away from you. That is the beauty of it. There is no promise
held out here. Vedanta doesn’t say that you will become the whole. It says that you are the whole. What is it that inhibits this
understanding? Vedanta removes all the inhibiting factors methodically, cognitively. This is what you are interested in life. Your entire life can be converted into yoga so that everything becomes meaningful. That is because of the attitude you discover in yourself in the wake of understanding certain realities. Vedanta is a body of knowledge dealing with the reality of living, intelligent living, and finally of finding one’s own fulfillment.