Editor’s Note: We remaind readers that the prefix “Sa” means with and the prefix “Nir” means without.
Last week, we wrote about the concept of Nir-Gun or Nir-Aakaar, the Supreme Divine Entity as being one with no properties or attributes and no shape. As we said, this is fine for an academic setting or a scholarly discussion. Most people need some identifying attribute to be able to express their devotion and seek help. Hope of eternal salvation and relief from earthly problems are important human needs.
The Vedic Sages were themselves deep believers in Divinity and the importance of prayers in daily life. They believed in approaching the Divine Entity with deep devotion. They believed that life was for living and not just for existence. To this end, seeking the help of the Divine Entity through prayer was necessary.
So they added the concept of Sa-Gun (with properties or attributes) and Sa-Aakaar (with shape) to Eternal-Dharma. Prima facie, the Sa-Gun & Sa-Aakaar concept sounds directly contradictory to the Nir-Gun & Nir-Aakaar concept, both in terminology and in content.
Well, it is and it is not. The Sages developed the doctrine of Duality which is beyond the scope of this Blog. The easiest way to think about it is the modern theory of wave-particle duality in Physics. Over the past 3 centuries, physicists have come to believe that all matter exhibit both wave-like properties as well as particle-like properties. As wikipedia writes “Being a central concept of quantum mechanics, this (wave-particle) duality addresses the inadequacy of classical concepts like “particle” and “wave” in fully describing the behavior of quantum-scale objects”.
The Sa-Gun & Nir-Gun and Sa-Aakaar & Nir-Aakaar Duality became a deep and abiding tenet of Eternal Dharma. This duality allowed a Scholar as well as a commoner to equally approach the Divine Entity both via learning as well as devotion.
The concepts of with shape & without shape and with properties & without properties of one Supreme Divine Entity were brought together in the original declaration in the Rg-Ved.
इन्द्रं मित्रं वरुणं अग्निम आहुर्योहो दिव्यः स सुपर्न्नो गरुत्मान
Indram, Mitram, Varunam, Agnim, Aahuryoho Divya Sa Sapurno Garutman
They call him Indra, Mitra, Varun, Agni, heavenly noble-winged Garut-man
एकं सत विप्रः बहुधा वदन्ति
Ekam Sat Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti
To What is One Truth, the Sages give different Titles
Rg-Ved, I. 164.46
In other words, Sages give different names or titles to their perception of the different attributes of the Supreme Entity. But it is one Eternal Truth to which they give these different names.
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