vedAhametam puruSHam mahAntam | AdityavarNam tamasastu pAre | sarvANi roopANi vicitya dheera: | nAmAni krtvAbhivadan yadAste || 16 ||
(yat) That (dheera:) valorous puruSHa (Aste) who is, who has
(vicitya:) materialized (sarvAni) all (roopANi) forms, and (krtya:)
made (sarvAni) all (nAmAni) names, (abhivadan) and maintains all
of these, (etam) that (mahAntam) glorious (AdityavarNam)
sun-brilliant (puruSHam) puruSHa, (astu) who is (pAre)
beyond(tamas) darkness, (aham) I (veda:) Know him.
This verse is probably closest to the Sri Sampradaya visualization of Sriman Narayana, as creator and maintainer of all, ( refer back to 'namo bhagavate tasmai krSHNaya adbhuta karmaNe roopa nAma vibhedena jagat kreedati yo yata:'), full of kalyANa guNas such as mahimA, brilliant as the sun, and beyond all darkness. What is the advantage of knowing this then ? This is explained in later verses. Also, in sAyaNa's commentary " mantradraSHtA svakeeyam dhyAnAnubhavam prakatayati". This mantra is how to visualize him for meditation, and thus to know him. Compare this to Vishvamitra in the Ramayana " aham vedmi mahAtmAnam rAmam satya-parAkramam / vasiSHto api mahAtejo ye ceme tapasi sthitA:" - I know the great souled Rama, of deeds beyond measure, powerful in truth, more brilliant than Vasishta, who protected my yagnya well". Or Mandodari's praise of Rama as Mahavishnu in the same, " tamasa: paramo dhAtA shankacakra gadhAdara" - O Creator, who bears the Conch, the Disk, and the Mace as weapons, who is Supreme above all darkness. The image of the sun here is especially effective, as the tamas referred to here is the darkness of the soul, ignorance and inactivity.
dhAtA purastAdhyamudAjahAra | shakra: pravidvAn pradishashcatasra: | tamevam vidhvAnamrta iha bhavati | nAnya: panthA ayanAya vidhyate || 17 ||
(ayaNaya) To moksha, liberation (na vidhyate) I know not of
(anya:) other (panthA:) paths. (yam) Whom (dhAtA) Bramha
(udAjahAra:) saw as the Supreme Being, and revealed (purastAt)
in the beginning, (yam) whom (shakra:) Indra (pravidvAn) knew
well, (pradishas-ca-tasra) in the four quearters, and everywhere,
(vidvAn) who knows (tam) Him (evam) in this manner (bhavati)
becomes (amrta:) immortal (iha) in this very birth.
In the beginnning, Bramha said to the puruSHa, "You are who was before me.. You are my guide in this", naming him the cause of himself, and all. Indra learnt of the glory of the parama puruSHa from vAmadeva, and from the four directions - Ranganathamuni.
The object of almost all vedic rites was to make life, or death, a little less dangerous ( see, eg., Wendy Doniger-O'Flaherty). The refrain of the mantras for these rites is 'Who knows this conquers death'. Even the stories in several bramhaNas involves seers 'seeing and praising with this hymn or metre, and thereby conquering death'. It is interesting to note that the goal is not life eternal (chiranjeevitva) but a-mrta, or not-dying. This is a matter of the soul rather than the body, a difference worth appreciating.
The puruSHa is manifested by the chanting of this mantra, to who chants this, in thheir hearts. This is thebeginning - of the world, of contemplation of the worlds, of knowledge. In this knowledge, in knowing this by the heart, by the soul, is the beginning of liberation. To know of no other way but this reflects mahAvishvAsa - great faith. This, 'nAnya: panthA vidhyate ayanAya' refrain is also found in several upanishadas.
yagnyena yagnya-mayajanta deva: | tAni dharmANi prathamAnAsann | te ha nAkam mahimAna: sacante | yatra poorve sAdhyA: santi devA: || 18 ||
(yagnyena) By sacrifice (devA:) did the Gods (ayajanta)
sacrifice (yagnyam) to sacrifice. (tAni) The (dharmANi)
associated dharmas (Asan) became (prathamAni) the first.
(te mahimAna:) By the glory of these very dharmas (sacante)
will the great ones achieve (yatra nAkam) that heaven where
(poorve) the ones who were, before, (devA:) and the Gods
also called (sAdhyA:) the achievers, (santi) are.
Here then is the importance of the sacrifice. The two words yAga and tyAga are both related, and may be translated as the one word, sacrifice, giving us a clue to the nature of the rite. The world is established by sacrifice - the puruSHa giving his all, which is his self, his body, to form this world, the lives on it, giving them name and form. Why did this happen ? The nAsadiya sookta relates, when neither being nor non-being was (na sat Aseet, na asat Aseet), the One breathed, without air. But then, "kAmastadagre samavartatAti" - desire first moved it. desire to be. And in its being, the world is. This One, we call puruSHa, Sriman Narayana, God. And this is sat - Existence, along with Knowledge and Bliss, part of the nature of the divine. So the next time someone tells you St. Augustine was the first to define God as the verb "to be", you can refute them with this.. =).
All that is, is born of this love, this desire. And all was given (sarvahut) to bring this about. This is the nature of this being.
This is the sacrifice, whose results were the beginning of all. This is why the verse says "tAni dharmAni prathamAni Asan" - these dharmas became the first. They are the fruits of the sacrifice, that provide us the means to our own liberation, our very own stairway to heaven.