Like Adi Shankar himself, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi spent many years walking the length and breadth of India. At the age of 84, he walked 3 kilometers across the railway bridge to the island of Rameshwaram, one of the great pilgrimage sites in the south. There was no walkway at the time, just the train tracks, and this walk was remarkable, not because it was three kilometers, but because he was stepping on the railway ties with the waters of the Bay of Bengal swirling below through the open spaces between his footsteps.
The Vedas is a book written by Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi who was the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham; this is one of the leading spiritual centers in India, set up in the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, around 1300 years ago by the Hindu saint, Adi Shankara. The Shankaracharya, a post handed down through the centuries, is the spiritual head of the center.
Known as the Sage of Kanchi, Sri ChandrasekharendraSaraswathi, one of the great saints of modern India, was chosen and anointed in 1907 at the age of thirteen as the 68th Shankaracharya of the spiritual center, or matham.
In addition to being a saint, he was, simply, a remarkable man. At the age of 100, shortly before his death, he was still actively teaching crowds who gathered around him.
He had a command of 17 languages, was a gifted musician, had a keen understanding of current world events, and, although not a political figure, he strongly supported the Indian independence movement. He greeted everyone, from heads of state to the poorest of Indians with caring and interest. Videos of him, which can be viewed on YouTube (see the link below) often show him with a charming, delightful smile. Kind and inclusive, he spoke of all religions as the various facets of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), saying “truth and non-violence are the cardinal principles of dharma for the entire human family.”
First published in 1988, the book The Vedas wasn’t written directly by Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, but is a compilation of the words he spoke on numerous occasions, written down by his disciples.
At the end of the book is a chart that folds out. It lists hundreds of sacred books of India. The first and original four are the Vedas: the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world, then the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Artharvaveda. All are several thousand years old; they are the most sacred texts of Hinduism. Even today, they are memorized in the original Sanskrit by Brahmin priests, who chant the Vedas during rituals and temple celebrations.
The Vedas have attached to them Upanishads and also Aranyakas, which means “books of the forest.”
In the first chapter, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi explains that the Vedas have no beginning.
In the fifth chapter, he asserts that they have no end. They are timeless. Only a very small portion of the true Vedas, which exist on another level, were given to the rishis, to record. The Vedas were composed by these ancient seers, or rishis. About half of them were women. Their names are still known today. Then, after being passed down through many generations as oral teachings, they were eventually written down in their current form.
Explaining the Vedic view of the world’s creation, he says:
The breath of the Paramaatma, the Supreme Being, or Brahman, inspired Brahma, God the Creator, to create the universe. After every deluge, or ending of the universe, a new Brahma, appears who creates the new world. He creates the world from the vibrations or the sound of the breath of the Paramaatma. (This reminds one of the concept in Christianity which is expressed in the beginning of the Book of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”)
The origin of the Vedas is the movement of vibration. With the chanting of this vibratory movement, creation came into being.
He says that we can see that when plants are exposed to certain sounds, they grow faster and are healthier. This is because sonic vibrations have the power of creation, preservation, and destruction.
The Sanskrit word tapas means austerity. It also means power of meditation. Brahma created the world with the power of his tapas. All the Vedas have their origin in the breath of Brahman, and Brahma has brought them forth with the help of resonances. They are beyond all limits and have no beginning and no end.
It is a profound but simple book, written with great clarity.
Today it may seem that the world is like a ship that has no anchor, buffeted by the waves in a storm. We need only watch the news to observe this, as violence and impending disasters take over our television screens.
And yet, in the wisdom of the East, there lies a deeper perspective. Ages have come and ages have gone. There may be times of light and awareness, and there may be times of gloom and obscurity. There is an ultimate peace beyond the worlds and the ages to which all returns in the end. The Vedas, the sacred books that arise from the breath of Brahman, remind us of this peace – especially when they are seen through the eyes of this holy man with steady, clear vision.
Top photo: Sharon St Joan / View from the Pamban Bridge, the bridge to Rameshwaram
Second photo: Public Domain / Photo of a painting by Raja Ravi Varma / Adi Shankar
Third photo: Nvvchar / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license”. / Gunjanarasimhaswamy Temple, Narasipur, Mysore, Karnataka
Fourth photo: Sanjay_Kumar / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / River Ganga meandering through the Shivalik ranges, Rishikesh.
To find The Vedas on Amazon, click here.
To find videos of Sri ChandrasekharendraSaraswathi’s life, click here.
These are real-life views of his life, except for a few scenes of his childhood which are reenacted.