Religion is based on revelations. Revelations are manifestations of God, received by human beings in meditation. Coming from God Himself, divine manifestations also disclose His attributes – omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and universal love. Divine revelations convey God’s eternal wisdom and hold eternal validity beyond time and space.
Religion essentially consists in the connection between the soul and God which is established through His Self-manifestation. The divine wisdom as revealed to the devotee in deep meditation – from heart to heart, without the medium of language – was expressed by the Vedic seers or rishis in the spoken language of their time, i.e. Sanskrit. These verbal testimonies were at first transmitted orally and subsequently written down in the four Vedas. All sacred scriptures originate in this way: First, God’s messages – as have been passed down to us in the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Quran, the Adi Granth and others – were received by the prophets, seers, or masters in their soul and were written down later in the language of the respective culture – be it Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, or Gurmukhi.
God is Spirit: and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.
God reveals Himself in spirit, and His revelations serve to renew the soul (Psalm 19,7). They nourish the soul with divine “food” or sustenance, and confer consciousness on it; they never serve mundane material purposes.
This fundamental understanding is the key to an adequate translation of the scriptures. Numerous translators of the Vedic verses miss their timeless spiritual message because, from a range of varying meanings of one and the same term, they opt for the empirical meaning instead of the spiritual meaning. Thus, they render go as “cow”, ashva as “bull”, surya as “sun”, prithvi as “earth”, or apo as “water” instead of taking the spiritual variant, i.e. “that which flows from heaven by itself”, “the sound carrying (the soul) to God”, “spring of omniscient divine light”, “sustainer of the universe”, and “the omnipresent one”.
The wisdom of the Vedas is as old as humankind itself. The revelations of God testified therein are the same since time immemorial. The four Vedas convey this wisdom in such a comprehensive and exhaustive form that it is rightly considered to be the most complete and oldest testimony of spiritual wisdom at our disposal. This wisdom is of eternal validity, and is as up to date today as at the time of its original revelation. The varying translations of the Vedas which exist in many languages in no way provide us with a homogenous reflection of their message. The mere age of this sacred scripture and the fact that, starting from some time in the untraceable past, it was originally passed down by word of mouth have given rise to the problem that for most of its terms there exist today several variant meanings because the language has developed and changed in the course of the millenniums. Since the oral tradition of the verses itself lies in the dim and distant past, it is impossible to determine the “right variant” on the basis of historical language phases.
For this reason, a “key” to the complete message of the scripture is needed, one which does justice to its nature as revealed scripture: Revelations are not subject to temporal change, and therefore they must convey a consistent and invariable message in all parts. If a rendering leads to contradictory and incoherent verses which do not make sense, the claim that the content is based on revelations must be relinquished; it has reduced the text to the level of simple human thought with all its discrepancies and fluctuations. If such a flawed text refers to God its content cannot be more than speculative and cannot authoritatively say anything about the universal, unchanging God of the whole creation. Even though we are dealing with different rishis (seers) in the Vedas, this does not make the text at large less conclusive or coherent, provided that we read it as a testimony of revelation, i.e. of one and the same truth coming from one and the same God. This is why a verse which is repeated literally in a number of different contexts must always be rendered identically in the same words. The same applies to particular expressions which occur again and again.
A conclusive spiritual rendering of the Vedic verses requires a translator who himself has access to the same spiritual knowledge that God has imparted throughout time in spirit to the rishis and seers and to whoever has striven for it. This is the only way to avoid vagueness, ambiguity, contradictions and overlapping of different levels of meaning.
It follows from this that the Vedas cannot be considered as a description of historical events. Such an approach results from misunderstanding specific terms as proper names, as happens not only here with the Vedas but also with the interpretation of other sacred scriptures. This is the case, for example, with the terms “Krishna” and “Buddha” which are arbitrarily taken as referring to a certain historical or pre-historical teacher; but in the beginning these terms simply meant “the attractive one”, “the wise one” or “the awakened one”, and were only later connected in the memory of mankind with a certain teacher and finally changed into honorary titles or even proper names.
One of the best known misconceptions of this kind is manifested in the common understanding of every Hindu that the deity Vishnu is supposed to have incarnated in ten different forms: fish, tortoise, boar, lion, Rama, Parushram, Buddha, Baman, Krishna, and Kalki. In actual fact, God incarnates only in one form – in the human form of Saint –, again and again in all times and ages since the beginning of the human race. Such a Godman or Saint is possessed of those ten attributes symbolized by the ten different forms mentioned above (see for example Rig Veda 8-1-33 in volume 2). Concerning those ten divine attributes, we find the number “ten” in the Vedas repeatedly as a term for the Saint; this term has been translated accordingly.
At first sight, the reader finds that the Veda endlessly repeats the same message again and again. This is due to the fact that, particularly in the Rig Veda, the testimonies of revelations of more than four hundred rishis resp. of their followers have been collected. Although each verse has its meaning and its rightful place, the reader needs patient perseverance to penetrate to the heart of the message. In fact, the wisdom of the Veda cannot be understood only on the basis of words. True understanding is not arrived at by words, but by meditation – the perfect method by which Vedic wisdom reveals itself. The intellect can never arrive at this depth of insight.
The purpose of the translation presented here in a total of four volumes is, to convey knowledge of the Vedic wisdom to the reader, though wisdom itself can be attained only by meditation. May reading these verses inspire the reader to turn to meditation in order to attain genuine, perfect wisdom himself.
May this translation help the reader recognize the same message from the same God in the Vedas as is revealed in the sacred scriptures of his or her own religious tradition.