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The Vision of the Vedic Poets (An Old and Rare Book)

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About the Book:

This book is primarily intended to be an investigation into the meaning and religious significance of the important Vedic term dhi, which has been variously and often inadequately translated. The author has tried to determine its central meaning or semantic nucleus from which the various contextual connotations were derived. This central meaning is "vision", not only in the literal sense (faculty of seeing), but in the Vedic texts mainly in the sense of "mental vision", supranormal vision establishing the contact with the transcendent sphere or world of the divine powers from which the poets obtained their inspiration and their insight into the higher supersensuous truth and reality which they endeavoured to express and formulate in their poems. The author elaborately describes the relevant processes and the activity of the poets and adds chapters on related subjects, e.g., the heart as the organ of these mental processes, poetical inspiration in post-Vedic literature, contemplation and meditation, the Buddhist ideas on vision as well as the term pratibha "flash of intuition".

About the Author:

Jan Gonda, born 1905, was professor of Sanskrit and Indology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands 1932-1976. He is the author of many books and articles on Sanskrit, Indian religion and literature, among them Aspects of early Visnuism, Sanskrit in Indonesia, Die Religionen Indiens, The Dual Deities in the Religion of the Veda, Triads in the Veda, Vedic Literature, The Ritual Sutras, Medieval Religious Literature in Sanskrit. He is honorary member of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute and other Indian Academies and Institutes of the Royal Asiatic Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences etc.


The methodological difficulties awaiting those who make an attempt at examining the religious vocabulary of the ancient Indians have not rarely been underrated. Too often scholars have contented themselves with more or less felicitous translations into a modem European language and more or less incidental observations on the contents of the ideas hiding themselves behind these translations and the original Sanskrit terms for which they stand. The translations were moreover often suggested by the authors' knowledge of Western religions and were therefore frequently apt to create serious misunderstandings. They were, in a frequency of cases, far from consistent, based on misinterpretations or influenced by an inadequate insight in 0 the sphere of thought and Weltanschauung of Vedic man. Not rarely also a more or less vague and seemingly passe- partout translation was for convenience adopted, which was apt to create the-impression that a single and usual German or English word was the exact equivalent of an ancient Sanskrit term. Notwithstanding Mac- donell's- easy translation "thought", a Vedic term such as dhi- is however no Indian counterpart of that modem English term.

It is indeed somewhat strange that scholars should have acquiesced for nearly a century in the translational and interpretative methods of Rudolph Roth" and Hermann Grassmann. To them the meaning of an ancient Indian religious term practically speaking resolves itself into an often rather large number of German or English terms. Thus dhih the main term with which this publication is concerned, was, in the eyes of the former savant: "1) Gedanke, Vorstellung; Absicht; 2) Einsicht, Er- kenntnis, Intelligenz, Geist; 3) Verstandnis, Kenntnis; Kunst; 4) reli- gioses Nachdenken, Andacht; Bitte, Gebet", according to the latter: "1) Gedanke, Absicht; 2) heiliges Nachdenken, Andacht, andachtige Stimmung; 3) Andachtswerk, Gebet; 4) Achtsamkeit, von den Gottern, sofern sie auf die heiligen Werke der Menschen achten, auch mit dem Nebenbegriffe des Wohlwollens, der Fursorge ; 5) Weisheit, insofem sie befahigt, Kunstwerke zu ersinnen, namentlich auch Lieder zu schaffen, oder Opferwerke richtig auszuftihren, Kunstverstand; 6) Einsicht, Weis- heit". In principle, Geldner's" much later work adopts the same trans- lational technique: the word dhi- is sometimes rendered by "Denken", "Gedanke" or "from mer Gedanke", sometimes by "Gedicht", "Lied" or "Dichtung", now by "Kunst", then by "Verstandnis", here by "Bedacht", elsewhere by "Andacht" etc. Geldner's note: "dhi- ist viel- deutig und nicht durch ein Wort wiederzugeben: das Denken bald als Wunsch, Absicht, bald als Bedacht, Weisheit, Andacht, Dichtung? is, though in so far correct as the noun cannot be translated by a single German word and may therefore impress us as 'vieldeutig', very inade- quate, because most of these German translations are in the passages exhibiting dhih' not applicable. In his former publication? the same scholar had however understood that one of the aspects of dhih can be indicated by such words as "Sehergabe, die Intuition des Sehers ... " (to which he adds: "Meditation etc."); the words "Gedanke; Kenntnis, Verstandnis, Kunst, Kennerschaft, Geisteskraft" are, as primary mean- ings, less felicitous.

What is surprising, is that these numerous rather different translations, even if they are intended to be no more than contextual senses, did not bring the authors to see that the very frequency and variety of the trans- lations proposed is closely connected with the impossibility of rendering these ancient Indian concepts into a modern language, that it did not lead them to conclude that these long enumerations of German or English "equivalents" or, rather: this distribution of aspects of the total meaning of a term over a number of "senses" or supposed equivalents arranged in an order which though impressing the reader as reflecting an historical development, is mainly a product of the ancient and antiquated procedure of "logical" classification of meanings.

Yet our knowledge of, and insight into, Vedic religion largely depends on a correct understanding of a considerable number of ancient Indian words and phrases, many of which, though debated for nearly a century, have not yet been satisfactorily investigated into. It is a deplorable fact that scholars - e.g. lexicographers in arranging various "meanings" of the same "word", philologists in discussing the connections between dif- ferent connotations of the same terms and historians in attempting to dis- cover the "original" use of a term of social, economic or religious im- port - have often failed to realize the considerable semantic difficulties with which they are confronted. Study of meaning and change of meaning of terms, names or phrases occurring in ancient literatures requires not only a thorough philological and historical understanding of the contexts and situations in which the terms occur, and - if they are of religious import - a knowledge of the fundamentals of the "phenomenology" of religion - or comparative study of religions -, but also an insight into semantic possibilities and intricacies and a readiness systematically to investigate the "semantic fields" to which the terms belong and the cultural systems to which they are related. Too often the, often super- ficial, discussion of semantic problems was - probably as a rule uncon- sciously - founded on preconceived opinions or suppositions anachro- nistically derived from modern conditions of life, our own Western traditions or agelong habits of thought.


I. Introduction 7
II. Dhih in the Rgveda 68
III. Dhitih in the Rgveda 170
IV. The verb dhi- in the Rgveda 202
V. The adjective dhira- in the Rgveda 209
VI. Some compounds and derivatives 222
VII. The relevant occurrences in the Atharvaveda 226
VIII. The terms dhih, dhitih, dhirah in the other samhitas and the brahmanah 233
IX. Dhih, dhirah etc. in the Upanisads 245
X. The Iranian cognates 259
XI. Light 266
XII. Some notes on the function of the "heart" 276
XIII. Dhyanam 289
XIV. Some notes on Buddhist ideas on "vision" 302
XV. Pratibha 318
XVI. The root ven- 349
XVII. Index of Sanskrit words 359
XVIII. General Index 362
XIX. Index of the main text-places discussed 366

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The Vision of the Vedic Poets (An Old and Rare Book)

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