The significance of Arya/Aryan

Virendra Verma (
7 JUL 95 12:54:45

The Sanskrit word arya, from which the English word aryan is derived, is
widely mis-used by archaeologists and anthropologists. For the benefit of
the readers of this group, I present the significance of word 'arya'
according to Sri Aurobindo, a scholar well versed in Indian literature. He
is characterized as one of the modern independent thinkers on the
study of Indian culture.


-- Virendra Verma
Arya - its Significance

Ref. - The Supramental Manifestation and Other Writings by Sri Aurobindo.
To those not familiar with Vedic culture, the word 'arya' is no more
than a hieroglyph which attracts or repels according to their
temperament. To some, the word has been converted to purely racial
terms, an unknown ethnological quantity on which different speculations
fix different values. To others, the word represents a difference of
culture because the Vedic rishis had accepted a particular type of
self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of aspiration.
Their gods were the supraphysical powers who assisted the mortal in his
struggle towards the nature of the godhead. All the highest aspirations
of the early human race, its noblest religious temper, its most idealistic
velleities of thought are summed up in this single vocable.

In later times, the word Arya expressed a particular ethical and social
ideal, an ideal of well-governed life, candour, courtesy, nobility,
straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity, compassion,
protection of the weak, liberality, observance of social duty, eagerness
of knowledge, respect for the wise and learned, the social accomplishments.
It was the combined ideal of the Brahmana and the Kshatriya. Everything
that departed from this ideal, everything that tended towards the
ignoble, mean, obscure, rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan or
anarya (colloq anari). There is no word in human speech that has a
nobler history.

In the early days of comparative Philology, when the scholars sought in the
history of words for the prehistoric history of peoples, it was supposed
that the word Arya came from the root 'ar', to plough, and that the
Vedic Aryans were so called when they separated from their kin in the
north-west who despised the pursuits of agriculture and remained shephards
and hunters. This ingenious speculation has little or nothing to support it.
But in a sense we may accept the derivation. Whoever cultivates the field
that the Supreme Spirit has made for him, his earth of plenty within and
without, does not leave it barren or allow it to run to seed, but labours
to exact from it its full yield, is by that effort an Aryan.

If Arya were a purely racial term, a more probable derivation would be
'ar', meaning strength or valour, from ar to fight, whence we have the
name of the Greek war-god Ares, areios, brave or warlike, perhaps even arete,
virtue, signifying, like the Latin virtus, first, physical strength and
courage and then moral force and elevation. This sense of the word also we
may accept. "We fight to win sublime Wisdom, therefore men call us warriors."
For Wisdom implies the choice as well as the knowledge of that which is best,
noblest, most luminous, most divine. Certainly, it means also the knowledge of
all things and charity and reverence for all things, even the most apparently
mean, ugly or dark, for the sake of the universal Deity who chooses to dwell
equally in all. But, also, the law of right action is a choice, the preference
of that which expresses the godhead to that which conceals it. And the choice
entails a battle, a struggle. It is not easily made, it is not easily enforced.

Whoever makes that choice, whoever seeks to climb from level to level up the
hill of the divine, fearing nothing, deterred by no retardation or defeat,
shrinking from no vastness because it is too vast for his intelligence, no
height because it is too high for his spirit, no greatness because it is too
great for his force and courage, he is the Aryan, the divine fighter and
victor, the noble man, aristos, best, the srestha of the Gita.

Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an effort or an
uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who strives and overcomes all outside
him and within him that stands opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is
the first law of his nature. He overcomes earth and the body and does not
consent like ordinary men to their dullness, inertia, dead routine and
tamasic limitations. He overcomes life and its energies and refuses to be
dominated by their hungers and cravings or enslaved by their rajasic passions.
He overcomes the mind and its habits, he does not live in a shell of ignorance,
inherited prejudices, customary ideas, pleasant opinions, but knows how to
seek and choose, to be large and flexible in intelligence even as he is firm
and strong in his will. For in everything he seeks truth, in everything right,
in everything height and freedom.

Self-perfection is the aim of his self-conquest. Therefore, what he
conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils. He knows that the
body, life and mind are given him in order to attain to something higher
than they; therefore they must be transcended and overcome, their limitations
denied, the absorption of their gratifications rejected. But he knows also
that the Highest is something which is no nullity in the world, but
increasingly expresses itself here, - a divine Will, Consciousness, Love,
Beatitude which pours itself out, when found, through the terms of the
lower life on the finder and on all in his environment that is caoable of
receiving it. Of that he is the servant, lover and seeker. When it is
attained, he pours it forth in work, love, joy and knowledge upon mankind.
For always the Aryan is a worker and warrior. He spares himself no labour
of mind or body whether to seek the Highest or to serve it. He avoids no
difficulty, he accepts no cessation from fatigue. Always he fights for the
coming of that kingdom within himself and in the world.

The Aryan perfected is the Arhat. There is a transcendent Consciousness
which surpasses the universe and of which all these worlds are only a side-issue
and a by-play. To that consciousness he aspires and attains. There is a
Consciousness which, being transcendent, is yet the universe and all that the
universe contains. Into that consciousness he enlarges his limited ego;
he becomes one with all beings and all inanimate objects in a single
self-awareness, love, delight, all-embracing energy. There is a consciousness
which, being both transcendental and universal, yet accepts the apparent
limitations of individuality for work, for various standpoints of knowledge,
for the play of the Lord with His creations; for the ego is there that it may
finally convert itself into a free centre of the divine work and the divine
play. That consciousness too he has sufficient love, joy and knowledge to
accept; he is puissant enough to effect that conversion. To embrace
individuality after transcending it is the last and divine sacrifice. The
perfect Arhat is he who is able to live simultaneously in all these three
apparent states of existence, elevate the lower into the higher, receive
the higher into the lower, so that he may represent perfectly in the
symbols of the world that with he is identified in all parts of his
being, - the triple and triune Brahman.