The Vedas are an extraordinarily old and beautiful piece of literature that articulates the values and the hopes and fears of people who lived a life very different from ours. Although the archeological sites along the Indus Valley of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro demonstrate to us that at least as early as 6000 years ago, cities of over 25,000 people were organized in South Asia, the people of the Vedas did not know anything about the level of urbanization we experience today as a matter of course.
The people of Vedic times lived basically from the earth, from the land, and saw the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. Without any kind of scientific instrumentation, they observed very carefully the phases of the moon through the centuries, and they observed the movement of the constellations in the sky. They observed very carefully the impact of these movements on their individual lives and on their environment. They developed predictive systems that served them so well that this Vedic culture is the only traditional culture that you can still see traces of walking through the streets of Mumbai or Delhi or Chennai. It had richness and depth and strength that gave it great longevity.
The relationship of these people to the earth and their awareness of their environment was extraordinary enough that they understood that the light of the stars and the light of the planets and, most importantly, the light of the sun and the moon had a tremendous impact on their environment. They understood that the whole cosmos was available to them to observe as one totally integrated dynamic system.
They marveled at the power of nature and the variety of ways in which this power manifested. To the degree that they appreciated it, they personified it and paid their respects to it.
So, for the people who lived in the time of the Vedas, their first duty as an authentic human being living an authentic life was to live in alignment with the earth and the powers of all the various energy sources that demonstrated themselves in their environment as Life. While it is not explicitly articulated in the Vedas, there is the intuition that the light in the sky and the light on the earth and the light of fire and lightning was all one. That energy was one and the source of all life, and intrinsic to life was a quality of illumination that made everything visible.
Lots of Western scholars have found the Vedas to be pantheistic–to be filled with the worship of lots of different gods. But that is not my reading of it at all. My reading of them is that the Vedas articulated a sense of wonder about the natural world, a sense of wonder about all naturally occurring phenomenon that left these people in awe and at the end of the day caused them to feel it was essential that they live in alignment with those forces and to acknowledge and express their gratitude for the abundance that those forces made possible in their lives. Their technology for living in alignment, for becoming aligned and staying aligned, for putting themselves in touch with the health and well-being and abundance that was the natural manifestation of the balance of the natural world, was ritual sacrifice –Vedic ritual.
The Vedas are about the forces that give rise to the elements that compose life and the technology by which human beings will live in alignment with that vibrancy, thereby coming into contentment. The Vedas also appreciated that human beings and in fact all forms of life, all living beings emerge out of the natural vibrancy of life itself. As the natural vibrancy arises and meets all of the forces of the natural world, there is a condensation of energies that come together as five sheaths. Those five sheaths come together as living being and also as human beings. It is the coalescing of these five sheaths into a human life set in motion in the world that become integrated through Vedic ritual and aligned with the natural forces of the world. This alignment allows the person to experience the fullness and abundance that is intrinsic to life itself.