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.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.9.1), when Yajnavalkya is asked how many devas there are, he gives multiple answers – ‘thirty-three’, ‘six’, ‘three’, ‘two’, ‘one’. After explaining the others, he states that the one deva is prana and this is known as Brahman (3.9.9). With this context, we can understand the ‘one’ in Rig Veda 1.164.46 as referring to the same thing, even though the word ‘Brahman’ itself is not mentioned.

Elsewhere in Brihadarayanka Upanishad (1.4.6), we find the similar declaration that,  

When they say, “Worship to that one! Worship to another!”, every single deva is his creation and he himself is all the devas.

This means that Brahman is all the devas and they are Brahman’s creation. Worshipping a certain deva is worshipping Brahman in that form and each deva is created out of the wish to worship Brahman another way. In the Vedas, for example, sometimes Agni is worshipped, whereas at others it could be Indra, Surya or Soma. By having a flexible view of the devas, we can see they are used interchangeably and that there is no conflict between them.   

Rig Veda 1.164.46 is direct in its language and the spirit of Advaita is undeniable, but this is not the case throughout the Vedas. By using it as a reference point for other mantras whose meaning may not be as clear, it becomes easier to understand how they also ultimately lead back to Brahman and there is no longer any mystery. Without unveiling the truth of Advaita, the content of a mantra remains as if secret. In Rig Veda (10.71.1), this is described as being ‘hidden in a cave’. Similarly, Chandogya Upanishad (8.3.2) compares it to walking over buried treasure every day without realising.

In this way, Advaita is the key to knowing the essence of the Vedas, what’s hidden in the cave and the treasure which is walked over. It takes us beyond the mantras themselves, to the source behind their words which they and the devas are all creations of. Finally, it teaches us that what appear to be separate and differentiated by name are really the many ways of speaking about ‘what is one’ – Brahman.  

2 thoughts on “Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 1.164.46

  1. Thus, one can say that, while all pluraity (of forms, individuals) is false from the paramarthika level, which is their underlying reality or substrate, the forms themselves have a degree of reality as appearances, as per vyavahara (or anirvacharia?).

  2. Great start, Lewis! I haven’t encountered such an approach before and I know very little about the Vedas apart from the Upanishads. But I can see that comparing quotations in this way can throw new light on topics and be really helpful. I look forward to future posts!

    Best wishes,

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