Veda in Sanskrit means knowledge in all forms. However, the plural Vedas ordinarily refers to the ancient sacred books of the Hindus which are dated not later than 3000 B.C. For most intellectual Indians having some acquaintance with Hindu philosophy, all the basic spiritual knowledge is contained in the books called Upanishads which are considered an extension of the Vedas. The questions that are posed and answered in this essay are:
What are the various books in the collection called Vedas in the broad sense of the word?
Does this collection have a core?
If so, what is it?
What is the connection between this core and other ancient books of knowledge like Upanishads?
What is the connection between this core and the ancient texts of yoga and Tantra?
What is the relevance of these texts to modern spiritual seekers?
Does this core of the Vedas indicate new paths of spiritual knowledge?
What does this core of the Vedas say on the ontological questions of the one and many, man and Gods, this world and other worlds?
Are there other modes of knowledge besides intellectual knowledge, which is the type of knowledge made familiar to most of us because of advances made by western science and technology?
The above questions are of interest to serious students of Indian culture whether they are Hindus or not. The primary reason why one should read the core of the Vedas, the so-called Rig Veda Samhita, is that it provides answers to most of the above questions. However, a casual reader of the Rig Veda Samhita finds only hymns to various Devas or Gods and the answers to the various questions raised above are not clear. The meaning of the hymns of Rig Veda will be transparent only if we remember, while studying the texts, the comments provided by Sri Aurobindo and Sri Kapali Sastry.
Both Sri Aurobindo and Sri Kapali Sastry suggest that Vedas have at least two interpretations, the surface or the external interpretation and the internal or esoteric or symbolic interpretation. The external interpretation has been the basis for most of the standard Sanskrit commentaries like that of the great medieval scholar Sri Sayanacharya or the English translations and commentaries authored by western indologists and their Indian followers. Obviously one cannot get the internal meaning of the Vedas from these texts. The translations and commentaries on the Vedas by Sri Aurobindo and Sri Kapali Sastry and their disciples like Sri M.P. Pandit give us a map to understand the esoteric meaning. Only by understanding the esoteric sense of the Vedas we can get the ability to find in them the answers to the various questions posed earlier.
Three objections are often raised about parallel interpretations of the Vedas.
The first objection is that in most of the current languages of today, one cannot envision several parallel interpretations even in small poem. Consequently, it is difficult to envision parallel interpretations in a composition of more than 10,000 stanzas. Furthermore, can we envision such parallel interpretations in Sanskrit? The answer to this objection is simple. Sanskrit is not like any other language, ancient or modern. Experts who have been working in the area of knowledge representation and computational linguistics have been amazed 1 at the precision in Sanskrit which is not available in other languages. Several examples are available in classical Sanskrit of stanzas having several different interpretations. For instance, a stanza of 4 lines is given in  which can be interpreted as a hymn to Shiva, a hymn to Vishnu and as the decimal representation of the number pi (ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) using the standard code for converting integers to the Sanskrit alphabet. Finally, it is not as if a reader is asked to blindly believe in the esoteric interpretation of the Veda. Sri Kapali Sastry has written a detailed commentary on every verse of every hymn in the first eighth part of the Rig Veda (121 hymn) pointing out the esoteric interpretation and the limitations of the external or surface interpretation of the Veda2. To illustrate the limitations of the external interpretation, take the word Soma. Its usual modern interpretation is that it is an intoxicating herb. Such an interpretation of Soma is not consistent with the following mantra RV (10.85.3)3, “when they crush the herb, one thinks that he has drank the Soma; but no one ever tastes him whom the Brahmins know to be Soma.’’ There are many similar mantras in the ninth boo of Rig Veda. Obviously, Soma is not a herb, even though it can be symbolized in rituals by a herb.
The second objection is why would the authors of the Vedas hide their real meaning? The answer to this question is straightforward. Nobody wants to hide the truth, but not all persons have the same aptitude for understanding the text. As one chants the hymns and meditates upon them, they gradually reveal their full meaning. An entity is evaluated by individuals in the light of their past experiences. This is best illustrated in one of the stories told by the great teacher Sri Ramakrishna . “A rich man gave a precious diamond to his servant and asked him to have it appraised by several different persons having different amounts of capital. The servant went first to the seller of eggplants who said that the diamond was not worth more than nine seers (a weight measure of about a pound) of eggplant. Next, the servant went to a cloth merchant whose capital is substantially more than that of the eggplant seller. He said that the diamond is a good thing and offered to pay nine hundred rupees for it. Next, the servant went to a diamond jeweler who offered one hundred thousand rupees for the same diamond. One offers a price according to one as capital.
Take a living incarnation of God. Some take him for an ordinary man, some for a holy man, and only a handful recognize him as an incarnation.’’
The third objection to parallel interpretations of the Vedas is that whereas they have been around for more than five thousand years, why is it only Sri Aurobindo has recognized its esoteric meaning? Even the famous commentator Sri Sayanacharya does not deny the spiritual meaning of Veda. Sri Sayanacharya says that he wrote the commentary to elucidate the meaning of the hymns when they are used in rituals. Secondly, there do exist Sanskrit commentaries which uphold the spiritual interpretation. The most famous of these is due to the great teacher of dualist Vedanta, Sri Madhwacharya, who predates Sri Sayanacharya. Sri Madhwacharya affirms that the Vedas have three parallel interpretations, namely interpretation for use in a ritual, interpretation as hymns addressed to the cosmic powers or Gods, and finally, interpretation as hymns addressed to the Supreme One. The sixteenth century South Indian saint Sri Raghawendra Swami, a spiritual descendent of Sri Madhwacharya, wrote a detailed gloss on the first 40Suktas of the Rig Veda Samhita, pointing out all the three interpretations.