When Wise Men Speak, Wise Men Listen
Chapter 4 – Have the Vedas Advanced Civilisation?
“Have the Vedas Advanced Civilization?” was written by Śrīla Narasiṅgha Mahārāja in response to a question by a young Indian student. Śrīla Narasiṅgha Mahārāja responds by defining civilization, and giving examples of how the Vedas have helped mankind.
Question: Have the Vedas advanced civilisation? If so, then how?
Answer: Yes. The Vedas always help to advance human civilisation, because such literature informs the inquisitive human being about his eternal nature, the Supreme Lord, the material world, the laws of karma, and the process of liberation from all material sufferings.
The Vedas have helped to advance human civilisation not just once but many times, starting from the very creation itself. In the beginning of the universe there was only Brahma, and he began the search for the origin of his existence. Brahma received mantra from Krishna and later he received the Vedic knowledge by revelation. Brahma in turn taught the Vedic knowledge to his sons like Narada. Indeed, that was the beginning of civilisation.
Some time later the mantras of the Vedas were stolen from the mind of Brahma by two Asuras named Madhu and Kaitabha. Then Vishnu again taught the Veda to Brahma in the form of what is now known as Pancharatrika literature. In the estimation of Lord Vishnu, Who is the maintainer of this universe, there can be no civilisation without the guidance of the Vedas. That is not unreasonable.
Civilisation, if it is to be called as such, must be based on complete and proper knowledge, both material and spiritual. This complete knowledge as a whole is called the Vedas. At the beginning of the age of Kali, some 5000 years ago, the Vedas were written down and have thus become available at present in the form of books. It certainly behooves any intelligent man or woman to take advantage of those books and advance the cause of civilized human life.
There have been many periods in history, particularly here in India, where kings took the injunctions of the Vedas very seriously and ruled their kingdoms accordingly. Thus civilisation in general prospered materially and at the same time many individuals made great spiritual advancement. Vijayanagar, the city never to be forgotten, is one such example.
The history of Vijayanagar has been thoroughly documented in numerous textbooks. When the famous world traveler Marco Polo reached Vijayanagar in the 12th Century, he was in awe of the incredible standards of that civilisation. Indeed he commented that a greater civilisation did not exist in the world. It should be remembered that Marco Polo, being a Venetian, had already seen the greatest civilisations in Europe, and he had also traveled extensively and seen the great civilisations of the world including China. But he looked at India, whose basis of civilisation has always been the Vedas, with the greatest admiration.
Ultimately the human form of life is meant for self-realization, and the Vedas are certainly meant for that aim. However, the Vedas also promote other activities, such as material enjoyment and elevation to the heavenly planets. These activities are recommended in the Vedas for those less intelligent persons who cannot understand the ultimate goal of life. In any case if one follows the injunctions of the Vedas then, step-by-step, one gradually advances and finally one becomes fully God consciousness.
In the arena of material life, the Vedas have given and continue to give great impetus to human society to become more civilized. From architecture to medicine, from astronomy to political science, from metallurgy to martial arts, and from music to pharmacology – to name but a few of the most prominent Vedic sciences – the wisdom of the Vedas today continues to amaze and inspire the advancement of civilisation in India and abroad.
Hundreds of thousands of educated persons and medical professionals in the West are turning to Ayurveda because of its notable contributions in the effective diagnosis and treatment of chronic disorders for which western medicine has mere palliatives. Without a doubt, Ayurveda, the mother of all healing, is the fastest growing medical science in the world today.
Equally impressive, but less well known by the western public, are the Vedic contributions to mathematics. It is no exaggeration to state that there would be no mathematics as we know it today without the fundamental contribution of the Vedas. In fact, not only are the very numbers that are used internationally of Vedic origin (erroneously called ‘Arabic’), but Vedic mathematics introduced the concepts of zero, simple and compound numbers, arithmetic progression, the radix 10, fractions, and multiplication by suffix, amongst other things.
We could continue enumerating Vedic advances to human civilisation, but we do not want to make this answer too lengthy. However, it is important to note that one of the major contributions of the Vedas is its system of social organization known as varnashrama, which is both natural and sophisticated. This system classifies individuals according to natural propensities and stages of life, and gradually leads all persons toward God consciousness, accepting their present situation as the appropriate point of departure.
Vyasadeva is the compiler of the Vedas and his treatise known as Vedanta-sutra was considered to be the end of knowledge. However, even after compiling the Vedanta-sutra Vyasadeva was not fully satisfied. Then under the instruction of his spiritual master, Narada Muni, Vyasadeva achieved the final perfection — he compiled the Srimad Bhagavatam. The Srimad Bhagavatam is therefore considered to be the most beneficial Veda for people in the age of Kali.
krishne sva-dhamopagate dharma-jnanadibhih saha
kalau nashta-drisham esha puranarko ‘dhunoditah
This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana. (Bhagavatam 1.3.43)
In our modern times many sages and great thinkers like Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada have recommended Srimad Bhagavatam as the single most important literature in the world. Srimad Bhagavatam can certainly help civilisation to advance because it gives one direct perception of the self by realization and puts one in immediate contact with the Supreme Person, Sri Krishna.
Our conclusion is that any eastern or western civilisation that avails itself of the Vedas is sure to make advancement. The only requirement is that people must take the injunctions of the Vedas seriously.