The most ancient of the religious writings of the Indian Aryans, and now constituting the sacred canon of the Hindus, being to them what the Bible is to the Christians, or the Koran to the Mohammedans. The word Veda denotes in Sanskrit, the language in which these books are written, wisdom or knowledge and comes from the verb Veda, which, like the Greek signifies "I know". The German Weiss and the English wit came from the same root. There are four collections of these writings, each of which is called a Veda, namely, the Rig-Veda, the Yazur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda; but the first only is the real Veda, the others being but commentaries on it, as the Talmud is upon the Old Testament.
The Rig-Veda is divided into two parts: the Mantras or hymns, which are all matrical, and the Brahmanes. which are in prose, and consist of ritualistic directions concerning the employment of the hymns, find the method of sacrifice. The other Vedas consist also of hymns and prayers; but they are borrowed, for the most part, from the Rig-Veda. The Vedas, then, are the Hindu canon of Scripture-his Book of the Law; and to the Hindu Freemason they are his Trestle-Board, just as the Bible is to the Christian Freemason.
The religion of the Vedas is apparently an adoration of the visible powers of nature, such as the sun, the sky, the dawn, and the fire, and, in general, the eternal powers of light. The supreme divinity was the sky, called Varuna, whence the Greeks got their Ouranas; and next was the sun, Called sometimes Savitar, the progenitor, and sometimes Mitra, the loving one, Whence the Persian Mithras. Side by side with these was Agni, meaning fire, whence the Latin ignis, who was the divinity coming most directly in approximation with man on earth, and soaring upward as the flame to the heavenly goals.
But in this nature-worship the Vedas frequently betray an inward spirit groping after the infinite and the eternal, and an anxious search for the Divine Name, which was to be reverenced just as the Hebrew aspired after the unutterable Tetragrammaton. Bunsen (God in History, book iii, chapter 7) calls this "the desire-the yearning after the nameless Deity, who nowhere manifests himself in the Indian pantheon of the Vedas-the voice of humanity groping after God." One of the most sublime of the Veda hymns (Rig-Veda, book x, hymn 121) ends each strophe with the solemn question: "Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?" This is the question which every religion asks; the Search after the All-Father is the labor of all men who are seeking Divine Truth and Light.
The Semitic, like the Aryan poet in the same longing spirit for the knowledge of God, exclaims, "Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to His seat." It is the great object of all Masonic labor, which thus shows its true religious character and design.
The Vedas have not exercised any direct influence on the Symbolism of Freemasonry. But, as the oldest Aryan faith, they became infused into the subsequent religious systems of the race, and through the Zend Avesta of the Zoroastrians, the Mysteries of Mithras, the doctrines of the Neo-platonists, and the school of Pythagoras, mixed with the Semitic doctrines of the Bible and the Talmud, they have cropped out in the mysticisrn of the Gnostics and the Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, and have shown some of their spirit in the religious philosophy and the symbolism of Speculative Freemasonry. To the Masonic scholar, the study of the Vedic hymns is therefore interesting, and not altogether fruitless in its results. The writings of Bunsen, of Muir, of Cox, and especially of Max Müller, will furnish ample materials for the study.