THE RAMALA CENTRE
Jeffrey Armstrong has spent the last 30 years studying Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra and Mantra practices. For the last 15 years he has been a corporate executive and speaker for Fortune 500 companies. He has degrees in Psychology, Literature and Comparative Religion. Simultaneously he’s been practising Vedic Astrology for the last 25 years and has read horoscopes for thousands of clients. Jeffrey travels and lectures in Canada, USA and internationally. He can be reached in Canada at 604-681-1099 or firstname.lastname@example.org
THE GREATNESS OF THE VEDAS
Thirty years ago, when I began my spiritual journey, I was studying English literature, and if you study English literature you will be taught that English and all of the romance languages of Europe can be traced back to the Latin, and then from the Latin back to the Greek. Modern Western history teaches us that the trail mysteriously stops at that point in time, although it is a well-known fact that the ancient Greeks sat at the feet of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. So when India was discovered by the West a few centuries ago there was a clash of cultures over the origins of human civilisation. The West held a viewpoint of time that ended with the Greeks whereas the East, and India in particular, spoke of a time span of well over fifty thousand years. The Western vision simply could not accommodate this understanding. So they made up a story to explain away this anomaly. When people from the West colonised India and began to study the Indian culture, they established a chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University called the Boden chair. The main function of the Boden chair of Sanskrit was to translate the Bible into Sanskrit. The people who studied Sanskrit then went to India and occupied various ministerial posts within the British Government, and they began to study the Vedas. As they began studying, they discovered that Sanskrit was the mother language for both Greek and for Latin and, in fact, for all the romance languages of Europe. This discovery gave rise to the modern science of Linguistics. The classification of modern languages was only made possible by an understanding of Sanskrit.
This revelation caused a problem because at that time India was a colony of the British. As one of my professors used to say, “You refer to India as the sub-continent, but could you tell me exactly what it is sub too?” Of course, the saying was intended to imply subordinate to Her Majesty the Queen. It was a bit of an embarrassment to run into a culture that not only claimed that its history went back fifty or sixty thousand years, but that it was also the basis for your own language and literature! The British couldn’t accept this and so the scholars of the time made up a theory, which said that there was a group of people called the Aryans, who lived in the Steppes of Russia, and this horseback riding people rode into India one thousand five hundred years ago with these books called the Vedas under their arms. Unfortunately, what they did not take into account was the fact that the Vedas contained astronomical calculations that went back seven thousand years! Now there is no instance or evidence of a horseback riding culture having observatories who watched the stars over a period of seven thousand years. Nevertheless, Western scholars overlooked this inconsistency and believed the theory that the Aryans came riding into India and conquered the dark skinned Dravidians with their superior technology and their superior wisdom.
This theory was very similar to the one put forward by Adolph Hitler in his promotion of the Aryan Race. He took this great term Aryan from the Vedic culture, a term which literally means noble people who are trying to liberate their soul from the darkness of matter. It has nothing to do with race, has nothing to do with culture, but it has everything to do with spiritual aspiration, with the liberation of the atma from tamas or darkness. Hitler took this word because he believed that Aryans were the people who had invaded India from the North and he thought that his ancestors came from them. No one has honoured the fact, until very recently anyway, that Sanskrit is the language from which all the other languages of the world evolved.
Some very exciting things have been happening in recent years. You probably know that the Vedas refer to three sacred rivers in India, the Jamuna, the Ganga and the Saraswati, but if you go to India today, you will find no Saraswati River. There is only the Jamuna and the Ganga. Therefore, some scholars have argued that the Vedas were just legends, stories made up by Indians to prove that their culture was indeed fifty thousand years old. However, quite recently, satellite photography has provided evidence of the dried up bed of the Saraswati, meandering just like a river, many miles away from the Ganga. Thus modern technology has proved what the scholars of India have always proclaimed, that there was a river but that it had dried up. Indian history relates that there was a thriving culture all along the Saraswati River but that that culture migrated over to the Ganga River when the river dried up sometime between 10,000 and 7,000 BC.
So with the discovery of the Saraswati River whole groups of archaeological facts have now begun to fall into place. Archaeologists are re-examining the sites of the ancient cities of India and it is now generally accepted that there was no Aryan invasion of India. The Aryans did not come from the foot hills of Russia simply because they were already in India. The evidence clearly shows that this Indian culture existed over fifteen thousand years ago and that it was from this group of people that the great culture of the country of Bharat, now known as India, came.
The Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic of ancient India, records the history of Bharat. Within it is the Bhagavad-Gita which describes the events of five thousand years ago when Lord Krishna appeared and spoke to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, which saw the triumph of the Pandavas over the Kauravas, the triumph of good over evil. That event marked the beginning of Kali Yuga. So the Sanskrit of the Vedas refers to an era before that time and to the existence of a pool of knowledge that has survived for thousands of years. That is why India and Indian culture is the mother of all modern civilisations.
You could say that our greatest enemy is forgetfulness, because history, which is nearly always a subjective viewpoint, erases memory and the true story gets lost. In India, however, scholars have been trying to maintain the story of ancient Bharat because this story, this history, is in fact the story of God coming down to Earth. That is what is so significant about the history of Bharat. It is an actual record, a recollection of God coming down to Earth and of His teaching, His Life and the display of His powers.
The Vedic scholars understood that it is difficult for us to learn things in this physical world. For example, we are all trapped in this room right now and we don’t know what’s going on outside. This is a similar situation to us living in the physical world. We live in the physical world but our physical senses cannot see outside of it. There are three ways of learning, of getting knowledge. Firstly, we learn through our senses, we experience something through one of our senses, be it sight, hearing, taste, touch or smell. Secondly, we can make an inference as to the reality of something, we can speculate as to what the reality might be, based on our present knowledge. For example, we can speculate as to the size of the sun in the sky based on our own knowledge that distant things appear smaller than closer things, but as we draw closer to them they become bigger. Therefore, we deduce that the sun must be large, but if we want to know what is inside the sun, how can we find out? If we want to know who created the sun or how the sun was created, how can we answer such questions?
The sages and rishis of the Vedic culture had great wisdom. They understood that you really can’t get ultimate answers about life from your own investigations into matter or from your own speculations. You will never get such conclusive knowledge. They recognised that there was a third method of getting knowledge, namely, from the descent of knowledge by the Divine. This descent of knowledge is sometimes called Divine testimony. It is a testimony given by the Divine so that we may have an understanding of things that exist beyond our sight, beyond our senses and beyond our speculation. This Divine testimony is transmitted to us through sound, through the vibration of the spoken word, as recorded in the Vedas. So the Vedas are a recording of the actual words spoken by God Himself to Brahma the Creator and to the great cosmic beings who created the Universe. Ever since that time, these sounds have been passed down from master to student, in a disciplinic succession, whose sacred trust was not to alter or deviate from the original knowledge, and to keep it as pure as the day it was given.
The culture that was dedicated to that sacred trust worshipped the Goddess Saraswati and so her name was given to the river along which they lived. That Golden Age culture worshipped Saraswati as the Goddess of pure swath, which means truth. Saraswati was the consort of Brahma, and so first I had better tell you a little about of Brahma. Brahma was born from Vishnu. Now the legend goes that Vishnu lies in a divine sleep at the bottom of the Universe with a lake in his navel. A lotus flower grows up out of the lake and when the flower opens Brahma and Saraswati appear on the lotus. Brahma soon begins to ask from whence he came, and so he climbs down the lotus saying that he is going to find out! Well he goes as far as he can go but he still can’t find an end to the lotus stem. So he comes back up in frustration only to have Saraswati tell him that it doesn’t matter because she came with a mantra and that if he chants this mantra and does a certain meditation then he will understand why he is here. So Brahma says a thank you to Saraswati and then sits down and chants the mantra. When he has perfected the mantra Vishnu does indeed come to him, shakes his hand and says “Hi, nice to meet you, I am God, and I’m here now to tell you how to create the Universe.” This story is very important because, you see, the Vedic vision of life is that we are all, at all times, supported by great love and great intelligence and that everything that we see in the physical world has behind it that great love and great intelligence. So the Earth is not just a rock on which we are walking around; the Earth is Bhumi, the grandmother of us all, who gives us our bodies, feeds us and nourishes us. She is not inanimate and unintelligent; she is divine and beautiful, a deva, full of wisdom and intelligence beyond our understanding. What the sages of old recognised was that even though we are trapped by being in our physical bodies, the one thing that we can do is to contact Brahma, is to contact Vishnu, is to contact Bhumi, by the sound of a mantra.
We have a practical demonstration of this with television today. Everyone across the country gets the same television show that is being broadcast from the base station. So the whole world can know what the sages have always known, that the Universe is supported by love, by intelligence and by truth and by the good intentions of the Creator who created it for our well being. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita “In the beginning of creation I sent forth generations of men and demi-gods, or devas, and if you do this sacrifice to Vishnu it will give you all good things.” The original Aryan culture recognised this. It proclaimed that we are all atmas, we are all souls, here on this Earth to have a human experience. The Vedas are sometimes called Sruti which means mother. Why is this so? Because if you want to know who you father is, you ask your mother. The authority on your father is your mother!
So truly, the Vedas are a whole body of knowledge given to us through sound to help us to understand that which is beyond our perception and our speculation. The teachers and the avatars that are sent to us always personify the Vedas and that is why from Sai Baba’s lips you will only hear sat, which translates as truth. I’ve never heard Sai Baba say anything but pure sat. That is how you tell a true guru. They embody their teachings. They teach by their example. Within our own heart, each one of us has Paramatma, the supreme atma or soul, which is God, present. So when someone honours us or praises us they are in fact honouring and praising the Paramatma within us. If you look into someone’s eyes, you are looking into their heart, because the eyes are the window of the heart, and so you are seeing the deity within the heart, which is Paramatma. So when I look into your eyes I’m having the honour of looking into your heart and of seeing the aspect of the deity that is dwelling there. I have the privilege of seeing a divine vision. You are giving me darshan of your Paramatma. So everyone should tend the deity in his or her heart very carefully. This, of course, is what Sai Baba is teaching.
When you chant the mantras of the Vedas your body resonates to the sound and an important process takes place. You’ve probably heard many people say that meditation is simply a means of emptying the mind of self and, in one sense, this is true, especially if your mind is full of garbage and bad thoughts. However, the Vedas have another viewpoint on this. Let me give you an analogy to show you. If there is some ink (bad thoughts) in a glass and you want to get the ink out of the glass, there are two methods of doing this. The first one is simply by tipping the glass and by shaking the ink out. Inevitably, though, some ink will cling to the glass and will not come out. This analogy applies to people who are living in a busy material world and who are probably creating fresh garbage as fast as they get rid of the old. It’s not very easy to empty your being of garbage. The other way, the way of the Vedas, is to fill the glass with milk, because ink floats on milk. If you fill the glass with milk, the ink will float to the surface and then it will flow out of the glass leaving the glass full of milk.
You’ve probably heard the Sanskrit word paramahamsa, which literally means supreme swan. The swan is a symbol of purity. Incidentally, the Goddess Saraswati rides on a swan. The swan is also a symbol of So Hum, the basic mantra of the breath, the incoming (So) and the outgoing (Hum). When you reverse the mantra, it is hamsa which means swan. Saraswati is the Goddess of speech. She wears a white sari which she keeps white by purity, she wears crystal beads and she rides on a swan. Why a swan? The swan has a secret. If you pour milk on the water, the swan can take the milk out of the water, because there is an acid in the mouth of the swan that allows it to absorb the milk and leave the water behind. So the swans or the paramahamsas (the pure ones) know what is the nectar, the milk, and are able to drink in the nectar and leave the water (the world) behind. So by drinking in the sacred sounds of the Vedas and sounding the mantras you are in fact filling the glass of your being with this sacred milk, the Vedic sound vibration. This sacred milk fills your being and displaces all of the ink, the tamas or darkness, from your being. The real presence of the Divine occurs when the transcendental divine sound flows through us.
The Sanskrit language was a gift from the Devic Realm, a gift that would last throughout the Ages. It was a gift from the divine beings who created the Earth to those who would live on the Earth. It is the perfect way to ensure the perpetuation of divine truth. Sanskrit is such a perfect language that NASA, the American space agency, contemplated using it as a programming language. I’ll give you a comparison so that you will understand just how perfect Sanskrit is! Imagine that Bill Gates came out with a version of Windows that was so good that it did not need to be upgraded for 2,500 years! He would have created a monopoly. Well Sanskrit has the monopoly on languages, because Sanskrit is a perfect language. It cannot be improved upon.
My teacher of Sanskrit was raised in a Brahmin family where both his parents spoke pure Sanskrit in the house. They were that developed. As such, he learned a grammatical rule every day and his father would give him eight rupees every time he learned a grammatical rule of Sanskrit. As a matter of interest, there is a Sanskrit grammar in India that lists 3,800 grammatical rules. My Sanskrit teacher knew them all by heart. Now there was a time when the whole culture of India was like this, when everyone was educated to this standard.
A famous trial took place when the English were governing India. Two men were accused of being thieves. There was a witness who was a Brahmin and at the trial, he was put on the stand to give his evidence. However, when he was being sworn in it became self-evident that he could not speak English, which was a problem since the trial was being conducted in English, the two thieves who were being tried were English and the conversation that he had overheard, when they talked about the crime, was in English! So the judge rightly inquired as to how he was going to give his testimony. The lawyer for the prosecution said that although the Brahmin didn’t speak or understand English, he had memorised their conversation! So the Brahmin took the stand to give his testimony and he replayed their conversation in English verbatim, exactly as he had heard it. The two thieves were convicted of the crime. It’s on the record. So this level of scholarship, of understanding, was prevalent amongst the Vedic culture.
Thousands of years later we can still resonate to these holy sounds. There are great exponents, such as Sai Baba, of the Vedic way of life, of the Vedic culture. We, in turn, need to support what he is doing by becoming students of the Vedas, by imbibing the Vedic culture. The Vedas are the milk, the nectar, that we seek. So instead of reading other things and filling our mind with other teachings we should dig deeply into the Vedas. It may take a little bit of extra effort to learn the stories of the Vedas and to become a part of them, but once they are inside you, then your heart will be filled with sat or truth. The whole essence of the Vedic culture is that you have to make a choice. You choose what you will eat each day. If you eat all kinds of food that is not vegetarian, food that is not good for you, food that is not sacred, then your temple will become filled with all kinds of garbage. That is your choice. If you listen to all kinds of negative things rather than to sacred sounds, if you fill your heart with garbage, that is your choice too. It is the same with all of your senses. You have to discipline yourself; you have to practise certain austerities, to do tapas. This may not be comfortable for you, it may not be easy for you, but it is the path that all true seekers have to walk. It is hard work to study the Vedas, to the read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Mahabharata, to imbibe Sai Baba’s discourses, but it is important that you do this regularly to ensure that that sacred vibration is vibrating within you. The great yogis realise that whatever the tongue vibrates the ears have to listen to, that whatever the ears listen to the mind has to think about, that whatever the mind thinks about it will become. That is the great secret of walking the spiritual path.
Lord Krishna, at the end of the Bhagavad-Gita, says to Arjuna, “Arjuna have you heard me with full attention, have you really been listening to what I have been saying and are you now ready to act upon my instructions?” This warning, of course, holds true if you are listening to any holy conversation, if you are listening to Sai Baba or to any true follower of the Vedas, to any guru. A guru simply means he who speaks the truth, so anyone, at any moment, can speak the truth to you and in that moment can be your guru, and listening to the outer guru is but a preparation for listening to the guru within you. The Paramatma is present in everyone and so there are millions of gurus in incarnation. A guru could be anyone on the street who, all of a sudden, speaks the truth to you. You have to ensure, though, that your ego does not block the truth. If you have learned how to hear and to imbibe the truth, if your body is accustomed to a diet of the Vedas and of the sacred sounds, so you will be able to distinguish between good and bad sounds, just as you distinguish between good and bad food. If food doesn’t smell or taste good, you won’t eat it. So you learn to recognise good sound vibrations, and by controlling what you hear you control what you speak, you control the very nature of your being. You will find that you will only emanate sacred sounds and people will only hear sacred sounds coming from you. Sacred sounds are the mantras and the stories of the Vedas.
So you should tell each other the stories of the Vedas and thus pour milk inside your being which will cleanse you of all negativity. If you can memorise a pop song that you hear on the radio, you can memorise a Vedic chant. Remember the analogy of the milk displacing the ink. “Am I filling myself with milk?” is the question that you should all be asking yourselves. “What am I doing each day to drink from the divine stream of truth?” is the question that you should pose to yourselves. The analogy of the three rivers is that they flow down from the celestial regions serving God. Nobody in the divine realms ever forgets that they are serving God. Here in the material realm in which we live, we tend to forget that fact. So we must choose between remembrance and forgetfulness. The divine sound of the Vedas will lead us back to the Source, will make us remember.
One of my favourite stories is of an elderly man who was sitting in the square of a village in India, holding a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita upside down and he was crying. The people around him were laughing at him and were making fun of him. A yogi walked up to the group and asked why they were making fun of the man. The people said “Look, can’t you see, he’s pretending to read the Bhagavad-Gita, but he’s holding the book upside down!” So the yogi went to the man and asked, “Why are you crying? Are you upset because they are making fun of you?” The man replied “No, no, that doesn’t bother me at all.” The yogi said “Then why are you crying? Is it because you can’t read the book?” The man replied “No, you are right, I can’t read the book. I am crying because I’m thinking about Krishna and Arjuna. I’m thinking about Krishna, who is the supreme Lord of the Universe, and yet he becomes Arjuna’s chariot driver.” (Now when you are the chariot driver you sit beneath the person being pulled on the chariot, and he puts his feet on your shoulders and pushes down hard on the left or right shoulder to tell you which way to turn the chariot. Naturally, you wind up with bruised shoulders.) “So Krishna, the Lord of all, the supreme divine delight, has taken the lowly position of chariot driver to help Arjuna and to guide him in the battle. When I think of this sacrifice my eyes fill with tears and I cry.” The yogi then turned to the group and said, “This man understands the Bhagavad-Gita, even though he cannot read it.”
Every seeker must have a guru, a guru who will lead them out of the darkness. When you have a guru, the way to honour your guru is to become like him. This is what Sai Baba wants, for you all to be like him. Sathya Sai Baba’s very name is truth. Sathya or sat means truth. When you imbibe his teachings you imbibe truth, you become truth. When you are in the company of truth, you are having satsang. That is what you are doing right now. It is a time when you place all the things that you would normally talk about to one side and concentrate on talking about the things that are good for your atma. By doing this you ensure that no ego is present, so that you can truly imbibe sat or truth. When you have true satsang you are filling yourselves with sat from the reservoir of the Vedic knowledge that has been passed down to you, through much effort and sacrifice, by all of the sages of the past.
By following Sai Baba you have all embarked on the path to becoming yogis, you have become students of the Vedas. You should all have a personal notebook in which you put down your understandings. You should get the Mahabharata. You should get the Ramayana. You should read about the Vedic culture and understand what lies behind the stories of ancient Bharat. You should read Sai Baba’s discourses. If you had been a devotee of Sai Baba for twenty or so years and Sai Baba called you in for an interview and asked what you had been doing in those twenty years, would you tell him about mundane things, about your life in the community, or would you tell him about your spiritual insights. If you could recite to him from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, if you could praise him with a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita, or quote a verse in Sanskrit, it would be like you were singing music to his ears. He would be so happy at your diligence. He would be so delighted that you had really placed your ego to one side, that you were no longer thinking as an American, a Canadian or an Englishman. He would be overjoyed that you had done it of your own free will.
If you study and pursue sat or truth very soon you will discover that you can’t live without it. In no time at all you will not be able to imagine a day going by without you reading from the Bhagavad-Gita or the Vedas or from one of Sai Baba’s books. As you listen to Sai Baba or read his discourses, you will recognise that his message comes straight from the Vedas. The knowledge of the Vedas is eternal. When the Vedas live inside you, you become eternal, the soul becomes eternal, and you become eligible to go and live in the realm of the Devas and when you went there, you would be an honoured guest. If you could speak the language of the Vedas, you would become eligible to enter the court of the highest realm of the Heavens.
Just consider where our lives would be if we had not met Sai Baba or great yogis like him. We would be bonded to the karma with which we were born, to the limitations of our ancestors, to the limitations imposed on us at birth. I would not be on this stage talking to you today, unless I had embraced this sat, this knowledge of the Vedas and had allowed it to pass through me. The Vedic tradition is real. It is not a fairy story. It is history. In the beginning, Vishnu really did speak to Brahma. The Vedic stories take us into the deepest recesses of our heart, where truth wants to manifest. If we allow this to happen, if we finally surrender that ego, and enter into a proper relationship with God, then we will become God. Though we live in darkness, we have a connection to the light. So please, believe in the Vedas and the stories of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita and the truth that Sai Baba is teaching and know that it is not just coming from him. Sai Baba is a shining representative of truth, that is why he is Sathya, the embodiment of the sat which has been passed down by generations of yogis and sages who have kept the message alive. But what are you going to do with his message? Will it fall on deaf ears? Will you listen to it but then not go home and work with it, become it. You should be students all of your lives, until you can speak and act just like Sai Baba. It is by studying the Vedas and believing in them that you will embody and speak truth in any given situation. People will begin to hear God speaking through you because you will only be letting that divine sound come through. That is the essence of the Vedic culture.