Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 1.164.46

This post marks the beginning of a series called ‘Advaita in the Vedas’, where different Vedic mantras are explored for their similarities with the Upanishads’ to highlight how they share the same truth of Advaita.

We start with Rig Veda 1.164.46. Its famous saying, “The wise speak of what is one in many ways”, perfectly encapsulates Advaita. In the mantra, it is explained that the various devas – including Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Agni – are some of the “many ways” spoken of. By understanding the devas as the different names for “what is one”, it cuts through any need to distinguish between them.

When we take the devas as being separate from one another, it may be confusing when we find instances in the Vedas where they overlap. For example, Agni being credited with Indra’s achievements of slaying Vritra and releasing the waters or attributed with Surya’s characteristic of being the light which shines down on all the worlds. The mantra reminds us that these three devas are not separate, but the diverse expressions of what is one which is at the heart of Advaita.

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Lewis introductory post

Hello, everyone! I am honoured to join Advaita Vision. As a new writer, it is only right that I introduce myself. My name’s Lewis and I live in the UK. I first came across Advaita in my first year at university for a presentation on the ‘Hindu views on consciousness’. We could use the Upanishads or Bhagavad Gita and I chose the Upanishads. What was apparent was that consciousness was not taught as how I had been. I found it difficult to reconcile the four states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep and Turiya with my understanding because they seemed so different. 

I was determined to make sense of what I had read and returned to the Upanishads for an essay examining ‘how Hinduism informs our modern understanding of the psychological self.’ I understood the Self to be one’s true nature and Brahman to be an underlying reality which is in and manifests everything, but I couldn’t see how the Upanishads pointed to either or that they are ultimately the same. 

I left the Upanishads alone for another four years, when I suddenly had a breakthrough. I was watching a video by Swami Tadatmananda on Advaita and he quoted Gaudapada’s declaration that, 

The world never really emerged, nor will it undergo dissolution.

There’s really no one who’s bound, no one seeking enlightenment, and no one who becomes enlightened.

This is the highest truth. 

He explained that nothing in the world truly exists as it’s merely a form of Brahman and that this was what Gaudapada was referring to. It finally clicked. With renewed vigour, picked the Upanishads up again and began applying what I had learned. 

During this period I graduated university and I started a Master’s course in the ‘Traditions of Yoga and Meditation’. I chose essay questions to challenge myself to see how well I understood the teachings of different texts. I was filling in gaps and familiarising myself with the key scriptures, but there was something else which kept cropping up I hadn’t yet looked into – the Vedas. 

When one of my coursemates introduced me to the work of Sri Aurobindo, I began exploring the different Vedic devas and their roles for myself. This was towards the end of my course, alongside working on my dissertation. It was during this period I had my first insight into the Vedas. When I looked for what they said about the senses, I found nothing. It was clear that the Upanishads were much more direct and transparent in which subjects they were dealing with. In comparison, the Vedas’ language seemed cryptic. If they were to make sense, I would have to go deeper. 

This is where the Upanishads come in again. In Katha 3.3, it is declared that the horses are the senses and the chariot is the body. Similarly, Shvetashvatara 2.9 states that the mind should be restrained just like untamed horses are yoked to a chariot. I realised that they were telling us what horses and chariots symbolised in the Vedas! With a new perspective on the Upanishads as the culmination of Vedic thought, I had a foothold in understanding and I have since delved deeper into the symbolism.     

Writing topics

All of this leads into which topics you can expect to see from me. My next post will be the start of a series called, ‘Advaita in the Vedas’, where I look at different mantras and highlight their similar (and, in some cases, identical) language to the Upanishads to show how they share the same truth. Aside from this, I plan on focusing on underexplored passages in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita and unpack how they contain the essence of Advaita. I also had the idea of examining references to the Vedas and their devas in both texts and contextualising how they point to Advaita.

There is nothing I would rather be doing than devoting my time to sharing the wisdom of Advaita as it has been my passion for many years, just as writing has. I have plenty to work with so I am looking forward to getting stuck in and thrilled to be on board!