The word apauruṣeya literally means “not by a puruṣa”. When used to qualify the Vedas, the word is commonly understood to mean that the Vedas are not authored by any person. This meaning, however, is problematic, because the śāstras state the Vedas emanate from the breath of Parameśvara at the onset of creation. How can one claim that the Vedas do not have a person as an author? Parameśvara, after all, is very much a person! Furthermore, how can one claim that the Vedas are eternal, when they have an author who clearly creates them?
The Vedas are not eternal
To understand what apauruṣeya actually means, we turn to the Vedanta paribhāṣā, a basic text in Advaita Vedānta. There, Dharmaraja Adhvarindra states the views of the Pūrva-mīmāṁsakas and the Naiyāyikas on why the Vedas are pramāṇa or valid means of knowledge –
वेदानां नित्यत्वेन निरस्तसमस्तपुंदूषणतया प्रामाण्यमित्यध्वरमीमांसकाः – The Pūrva-Mīmāṁsakas state, “The Vedas are a means of valid knowledge, because they are eternal, which expels all human defects.”
तत्र वेदानां नित्यसर्वज्ञपरमेश्वरप्रणीतत्वेन प्रामाण्यमिति नैयायिकाः – The Naiyāyikas say, “The Vedas, being created by the eternal and all-knowing Parameśvara, are a means of valid knowledge”
The Pūrva-mīmāṁsakas reject the notion that the Vedas were authored by anyone, including Parameśvara. For them, the Vedas are eternally existing, and therefore flawless. The Naiyāyikas on the other hand, maintain that the Vedas are created by the eternal, ominscient Parameśvara and therefore are flawless. So for the Naiyāyikas, the Vedas are pauruṣeya because they are created by Parameśvara but they are still a valid means of knowledge.
Dharmaraja Adhvarindra writes:
अस्माकं तु मते वेदो न नित्यः, उत्पत्तिमत्वात्। उत्पत्तिमत्वञ्च “अस्य महतो भूतस्य निःश्वसितमेतद्यदृगवेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोSथर्ववेदः” इत्यादिश्रुतेः
In our view, however, the Vedas are not eternal because they are created. That they are created is stated in the Śruti, “The Rg-, Yajur-, Sama- and Atharva-Vedas are the breath of this great being”.
The Vedas are created by Parameśvara but are still apauruṣeya
The fact that the Vedas are created by Parameśvara leads to the conclusion that the Vedas are not pauruṣeya. Parameśvara is a puruṣa by definition! To this objection, he writes:
न हि तावत् पुरुषेण उच्चार्यमाणत्वं पौरुषेयत्वम्, गुरुमतेSप्यध्यापकपरम्परया पौरुषेयत्वापत्तेः। नापि पुरुषाधीनोत्पत्तिकत्वं पौरुषेयत्वम्, नैयायिकाभिमतपौरुषेयत्वानुमानेSस्मदादिना सिद्धासाधनापत्तेः। नापि पुरुषाधीनोत्पत्तिकत्वं पौरुषेयत्वम्, नैयायिकाभिमतपौरुषेयत्वानुमानेSस्मदादिना सिद्धसाधनापत्तेः।
The world pauruṣeya does not mean “that which is spoken by a person”. The Vedas are spoken by teacher to teacher, even according to Prabhākara [a guru of the mīmāṁsakas who accept the Vedas as apauruṣeya], which would then make them pauruṣeya [if we take the “spoken by a person” meaning of pauruṣeya]. Nor does pauruṣeya mean “having their origin due to a person” which is the inference made about the Vedas by the Naiyāyikas, because in our opinion, this is proving what is already stated [in the Vedas].
Dharmaraja Adhvarindra then gives his definition of the word pauruṣeya –
सजातीयोच्चारणानपेक्षोच्चारणविषयत्वम् – That which is uttered independently of any other utterance of the same kind is pauruṣeya.
The reason for this definition is that a person can speak the same thing differently (i.e. independently) at different times. That which lacks such characteristics, i.e. that which is repeated verbatim is apauruṣeya, even if it is spoken by a person,. The word apauruṣeya is then a negation of the above definition –
apauruṣeya is that which is not uttered independently of another utterance of the same kind
Thus, apauruṣeya or pauruṣeya is not identified on the basis of whether something is related with a puruṣa. Dharmaraja explains –
सर्गाद्यकाले परमेश्वरः पूर्वसर्गसिद्धवेदानुपूर्वी-समानुपूर्वीकं वेदं विरचितवान् न तु तद्विजातीयं वेदम् – At the beginning of creation, Parameśvara created the Vedas with the same sequence of words as present in the previous creation, and not of a different kind.
According to this definition, the Mahābharata is pauruṣeya because it does not have an identical sequence of words in this sarga with the Mahābharata in the previous sarga. Its word sequence is subject to change and is therefore independent of what came before. As such, it is pauruṣeya. But the Mahābharata is still a valid means of knowledge because it is spoken by Parameśvara in the form of Veda Vyāsa, an āpta puruṣa. Therefore, it is not necessary that a pauruṣeya text has human defects or is not a valid means of knowledge. All apauruṣeya texts, however, are always a valid means of knowledge, free from any defects.
- The Vedas are not eternal because they are created by Parameśvara at the beginning of each creation.
2. The Vedas in this sarga are apauruṣeya, which means the sequence of their words is the same as the Vedas from the previous sarga.
3. The Mahābharata is pauruṣeya as its word-sequence is not rigid.
4. A pauruṣeya text can be free from human defects if it is spoken by an āpta puruṣa like Veda Vyāsa.