No, You are Not Vedic:: The “Oral Tradition” Fallacy

“Vedic” is an English word based on the Sanskrit वैदिक (vaidika), which means “from the Veda.” So, if we are going to describe something as “Vedic” — like we do when we say, “Hi, I am a Vedic Astrologer” — Then whatever we are describing should be soundly based on the Veda.

That’s a pain in the ass, because it means we have to know the Veda before we can call ourselves Vedic. Most people who describe themselves as Vedic haven’t even studied Bhagavad Gītā properly, much less actually studied the Veda as one should – from a teacher who explains it in context of the vedāṅga and in a specific school based on syncretic synthesis of all the vast components of the Veda taken as a whole.

As I said, being really “Vedic” is a real pain in the ass.

It’s not that you have to be a fully conversant Vedic scholar before you can legitimately do something Vedic. But at the very least you must know the basics of what “Vedic” means, and not disrespect that which is profoundly essential to being truly Vedic.

You would be surprised how often that minimum bar fails to be met.

How many people who say, “I am a Vedic _____” (whatever: guru, astrologer, yoga teacher, hairdresser, you name it)  then go on to say absolutely non-Vedic things like, “The Vedas are not important” or “The Purāṇas are just religious books”? Too many, that’s how many. I think this disrespect is their excuse for not taking the trouble to study the Veda properly from a paramparā guru, and is their way of avoiding a confession that they are hijacking the term “Vedic.”

Basically, what “Vedic” means in their vocabulary is “Super-mystical and totally cool, man.”

Try this.

Find some who describes themselves as a Vedic so-and-so. It won’t be hard. Listen to what they are teaching for a bit, and when you find something that’s not from the Veda, raise your hand and say, “Excuse me, you’re saying, ‘x-y-z,’ but ‘x-y-z’ isn’t what the Veda says on that topic.” (for example you could say, “You say the rāśi are sidereal, but the purāṇa’s say they are tropical”).

That might be hard, because you yourself would have to know the various things the Veda says on a given topic. So you could also try this: Listen to what they are saying for a while, and then ask, “Is that Vedic?”

If they say no, ask, “Then, why do you say you are Vedic?”

If they say yes, ask, “can you direct me to the Vedic reference which explains this?”

What will you hear next?

If you get an actual Vedic reference (to a veda not a guru or swāmī), you may have hit the jackpot and found a genuine Vedic teacher! Then you will cross into a new wonderland of trying to figure out whether their Vedic reference is contextually correct – but, hey, at least you know you’re not out here in the dark forest of “I’m Vedic” but “the Vedas are unnecessary.”

Otherwise, what you will probably hear next is the explosion of one of their idealogical WSP (weapons of self-protection).

The first weapon is usually intimidation. This will work especially well if they are more “Indian” and more elderly than you, or in whatever way, shape or form have more tenure somewhere supposedly important. They’ll say, “You don’t know what you are talking about. I do. Go away.”

If intimidation isn’t their style (give ’em a point for that, though) or if they just don’t feel like it will work on you, you’re likely to get hit with their second weapon. The “oral-tradition” bomb.

It sounds like this: “Well, you see, the Vedas are an oral tradition…” 

Oh, and this is usually launched with the “secret teachings” grenade, which sounds like this: “…These are secret teachings not revealed in the Vedas. Which I have received directly from my guru.” OK, Give ’em a point for mentioning guru at least. Sometimes they won’t bother to hijack the guru concept and will go directly to saying it is their own genius or divine status which is the origin of their amazing knowledge. Subtract an extra point for that. Heck, subtract five points for that. They will often add something pompous like, “You won’t find this in any books, (bah! books, pffft). It is beyond what can be given in books.”

If you yourself aren’t Vedic, you might think it all sounds pretty snazzy. “Wow, mystical secrets revealed by gurus and divine avatāras! Oh, how tingly!”

But, really, it’s not snazzy, it’s sleazy.

But, Isn’t it True that the Vedas are an Oral Tradition?

Yes, the Vedic Tradition was Oral.

No it was not a campfire story oral tradition.

The children of Brahmā, the Saptaṛṣi, set the Veda into mantra of such exacting verbal specificity and verbal precision that would make your head spin. It takes 7 to 12 years for full-time students to learn the linguistic specificity and precision required just to recite (what to speak of explain) this “oral tradition” (I am talking about the first two vedāṅga: śikṣa and canda).

Vedic mantra were taught, exactly as they were, from a realized teacher to their students. Once the students comprehended them fully, they would teach others the same mantras, exactly as they were. That’s why the Vedic mantra are called śruti (“heard”) – it means that sound is fixed and does not change.

It was not a “storytelling tradition.” It was an oral method for transmitting textual content exactly intact, and even more importantly, transmitting the knowledge and realization encapsulated in that text.

It’s Been a Written Tradition Since Before the Buddha

And, by the way, it stopped being an oral tradition a bazillion years ago (aka c.5,000). For millennia now it has been a written tradition, supported by oral explanation.

The transition from oral to written didn’t happen around a campfire, either. It was done by a (real) Viṣṇu-avatāra, Śrī Vyāsa, a yogi and scholar of unparalleled depth, learning and realization. Yes, he left a lot of things out for the sake of brevity. But what he left out  is just the stuff that was unnecessary to understand the essential meanings and uses of the Veda. Nothing important or secret was left out by Vyāsa.

Yes, instruction continued to be oral, in the same way that a teacher lectures from a textbook. The textbook is the standard from which the teacher cannot deviate without facing consequences from the school.

So, the next time you hear someone justify their non-Vedic “Vedic” status by claiming that they have some super-secret from some oral tradition, realize the audacity of what they are saying. They are saying they know something Vyāsa doesn’t know.

Anyone who says they know something Vyāsa doesn’t know is a laughing-stock.

vyāsocchiṣṭhaṁ jagat sarvam
“All knowledge is a remnant of Vyāsa’s knowledge.”

vyāsa-citta-sthitākāśād avacchinnāni kānicit anye
Everyone takes whatever they know
from the unlimited sky of Vyāsa’s comprehension.”
– Skhanda Purāṇa

Vyāsaṁ Nārāyanaṁ
Vyāsa is Nārāyana”
– Viṣṇu Purāṇa

If you want to start your own thing and do things you own way – I am fine with that! Go ahead and give it your all! Just don’t call it “Vedic.” It’s just not classy. It’s like calling yourself “Japanese” but living in America, born in Mexico, from Iranian parents – but a huge fan of sushi and ninjas.

Actually, it’s more than “not classy” – its an insult to the real Vedic traditions.

If you are going to call yourself Vedic, expect someone to come along sooner or later and test how much what you say is in line with what Vyāsa says and/or how some major school of Vedic thought interprets and understands what Vyāsa says. And when what you say is not in line, expect to see posts like this announcing, “bullshit alert!”

With love from the F.V.K.,

Vic DiCara