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RE: Vedic Term "Rtam "and its many meanings : Part 1

From: Sadagopan (
Date: Thu Sep 17 1998 - 19:32:35 PDT

Dear BhakthAs :

A friend recently sent this note to me and asked me
to comment on the significance of the Vedic Term 
" Rtam " on behalf of his friend.Inview of the importance
of the concept of Rtam as one of the most important concepts
of Vedam , I thought you might be interested in this 
posting . The word Rta or rtam is quite complex and has
many meanings . I will share with you what little I know 
and seek the blessings of Veda Purushan  in this effort .

The question from the friend of my friend is as follows :  
>> Namo Narayana!
>> I was wondering if you could help me out with a term 
>>I've come across  in a  lecture. My professor was 
>>using the word "Rta" and said it was from  the
>>Vedas. He said it was synonymous with the Confucian 
>>term Tao. I don't  think  he knows much of anything 
>>about Vedas, though, so I wanted to see if I  could
>> get accurate info. from you ( Sri Jaganathan ).

First , the most ancient of the Vedams , Rg Vedam has 
42 rks , which start with Rta or its different cases
and adjectives . Here is the frequency of occurence
of the manthrams starting with the Rta and its dative ,
vocative and other vibhakthis:

KhAndam 1: 6 Rks ; KhAndam 2: 3 Rks ; KhAndam 3: 5 Rks;
KhAndam 4: 8 Rks ; KhAndam 5: 5 Rks ; KhAndam 6: 2 Rks;
KhAndam 7: 1 Rk; KhAndam 8: 4 Rks ; KhAndam 9: 2 Rks;
KhAndam 10(Final KhAndam ): 7 Rks.

It will be wonderful to study the meanings of all these 
42 Rks to gain a measure of understanding of the depth 
of meaning of the Vedic term , " Rtam". Inview of the 
need to be brief , I will stay away from that temptation .

Rtam is the pinnacle of the ethical ideals 
that Bhagavan Himself represents as " DharmO 
VigrahavAn" or the embodiment of DharmA .
Rtam is the virtue of virtues , the axle that holds the 
wheels of the dharma chakram . That virtue of virtues 
is simply Truth or SATYAM . The Nigantu defines 
this SATYAM as having six synonyms , one of which 
is Rtam :

" Bhat , srath , sathrA , addhA , ItthA , RTAM ithi
shat SATYA NAAMAANI " ( Nigantu III.10) .

It has been pointed out this description of Satyam 
and its six synonyms is given by an YajamAnA about
to undertake a Yajna Or Vratha DhIkshai or vow of 
abstinence during the entire duration of the vratham .

This vratham of truthfulness is undertaken in front of
the Vrathapathi , who is Agni , who is none other than 
the Lord Himself . In these circumstances , Truth or Rtam 
is equated to reality or Godhead; anrtam or falsehood 
or ungodly entities are perishable ( satyamEva JayatE ).
While taking this vow or observing the Vratham , 
the Yajna karthA recognizes that the sacredness of 
this dharmic pursuit confers on him a divine body 
DURING THE OBSERVANCE  of the vratham and 
he is no longer a mere mortal . As a result , 
the Vratha karthA is convinced that he is bound
to speak the Truth (satyam ) and nothing but the Truth. 

Swami Satya Prakash Sarasvathi quotes Yajur Veda 
Passage , " AgnE vratapatE vratam charishyAmi tacchakEyam
tanmE rAdyatAm , idhamaham anrutAth SATHYAMUPAIMI ( YV 1.5)
(Meaning ) : O Lord of Vrathams (vows ) ! I will now
observe the vow (for the Yaj~nam ) O adorable Lord ! 
May I have the strength for the observance of this vratA 
with your blessings ! may I conclude this Vratam 
successfully (with Your grace). NOW INTO TRUTH FROM
UNTRUTH DO I ENTER .            

The truth here is rtam and the untruth is anrutam .
>From mere man , the vrata karthA elevates himself
to that of divinity and thereby aspires to speak
the truth and act in consonance with the eternal
dharmam (rtam ) . From asatya (anruta ) state ,
he wishes to enter the satya( rtam ) state to
qualify himself  for the observance of the role
as yajamaanA for the Yaj~nam . 

In a similar spirit , Atharva Vedam passage (AV.XII.1.1)
elaborates further on this concept of Rtam . 
It proclaims: satyam bruhat , rtamugram , dhIkshA 
tapO Brahma Yaj~na: pruthivIm vArayanthi 

According to this manthram , the 8 virtues that 
nourish and sustain this world are : Satyam (truth) ,
bruhat ( the vastness with its three cosmic divisions) , 
rtam ( the right attitude of vratha kaari) , ugram 
( formidable majesty) , dhIkshA ( consecration , Initiation ) , 
Tapas ( austerity ,study and teaching ) , Brahman 
( motivation for learning as one of its many meanings )
and Yaj~nA ( dedication to the sacred rite and the sacred
rite itself in a spirit of selfless dedication and for
the well being of the world and its beings ) .

The importance of Yaj~nam and its close connection 
with rtam , satyam is summarized in the following 
Yajur Veda manthram ( XVIII.6):

rtam cha mEamrutham cha mEayakshamam cha mEanAmayaccha 
mE jIvAthusccha mE dhIrgAyuthvam cha mEanamithram
cha mEabhayam cha mE sukham cha mE sayanam cha mE 
sushAsccha mE sudhinam cha mE yaj~Ena kalpathAm 

In this resonant passage , a moving plea is made to
the Vrathapathi , Yaj~na NaarAyaNan : " May my 
religious rite (rtam ), my immortality (amrutham ),
my freedom from consumption and disease ( Kshaya rOgam ),
my life , my longevity , my freedom from enemies ,
my freedom from danger, my happiness , my lying down
(sayanam) , my fair dawn ( susha ) , my fair day 

The fearlessness , security , safety , universal 
love and freedom from hatred , efforts , victory in 
those efforts to conquer anrtam and asatyam , 
the discriminating intellect and more are sought 
as fruits of the Yaj~nam performed with rtam .
Many of these prayers are tied with the central Vedic 
doctrine of Rtam or dharmam .

TaittirIya Upanishad proclaims : BrahmavidApnOthiparam 
(II.1.1).Here , it proclaims that the knower of Brahman
attains the Highest good and attaining that highest good .
That Highest , Brahman is defined as three fold :
Satyam(rtam ) Jn~Anam anantham BrahmA( Brahman is 
reality/truth,knowledge and infinity ). It goes on to 
define Brahman as " yathO vA imaani bhUthAni jAyanthi, 
yEna jAthAni jIvanthi, yath prayantyabhisamvisanthi"
( TaittirIyam III.1.1: "Develop your desire to know well
that from which all things are born,  in which they live 
on being born and into which they enter , when they 
perish : That is Brahman )". 

The TaittirIyA passage II.6.1 states 
" whoever knows Brahman as non-existent 
becomes himself non-existent indeed . Whoever knows 
Brahman as existent , him therefore they know as existing ".
This is Satyam , Rtam in the Vedic sense , the very 
essence of the teachings of Upanishads , the Siras 
of VedAs .

In the post-Vedic period , Rtam was 
called Dharmam . The fundamental
nature of Dharmam (rtam ) is understood 
from the two revelatory statements : "KrishNam 
dharmam SanAtanam and RaamO vigrahavAn dharma:".

To protect the DharmA from decline , to maintain
the rtam , the Lord appears in every yugam
( Dharma samsthApanArthAya sambhavAmi yugE yugE ).
That the world civilization stands on the foundation
of Rtam ( dharmam ) is understood from another Vedic
passage :dharmO visvasya jagatha: prathistitha:
         dharmE SARVAM prathishtitham .

This concept of dharmam is also standing in
for discipline ( vrata , Rtam ).Discipline 
and the disciplined life has its sweet fruits as
stated by another famous veda Manthram :
" madhu vAtA rtAyatE madhu ksharanthi
  sindava: --- gaavO bhavanthu na: " 

Lest the posting get even longer , I stop here
and salute the Veda PurushA for His blessings 
to empower us with rtam .

DaasOham , V.Sadagopan