I consider the ancient tradition of knowledge in India, the most profound academic tradition ever. One of the basic characters of this tradition, is the unquestioned belief in The Veda as the ultimate source of knowledge. And so, I naturally tend to attribute the success of the tradition to The Veda.
Vedas are not a set of books containing a set of facts. They are a doorway into the vast human capability of knowing beyond what the organs can sense and the mind can think. They are a method that gives humans the great capability to act beyond ones physical limitations, to fulfill ones desire, to overcome what is destined. They are a song capable of evoking those human emotions which open the doors to bliss. Thus, they validate the divinity of humans, and proclaim the supremacy of human endeavor over any other force in nature.
They are an inquiry into the nature of truth itself. They are like a finger pointing towards something that can be perceived but not said. They are a necklace of pearls of wisdom, knitted together by an invisible thread. If you perceive the invisible thread, you know that it is a necklace. If you don’t, they sound to you absurd pieces of poetry somehow put together. This is the same invisible thread which connects two human beings, which enable one human being to empathize with another human being. Therefor, it states emphatically “एकम् सत् विप्रा: बहुधा वदन्ति” … the truth is one, wise men say it differently. Therefore, it welcomes with open arms, everything good coming from any direction… “आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः”.
For me, the Veda is not the truth. Whatever truth is, is the Veda.
And, the Sukta, which I like the most in The Veda, is the नासदीय सूक्त, the creation hymn (Mantra 129, Mandala 10, Rigveda):
नास॑दासी॒न्नो सदा॑सीत्त॒दानीं॒ नासी॒द्रजो॒ नो व्यो॑मा प॒रो यत् ।
किमाव॑रीवः॒ कुह॒ कस्य॒ शर्म॒न्नम्भः॒ किमा॑सी॒द्गह॑नं गभी॒रम् ।।
न मृ॒त्युरा॑सीद॒मृतं॒ न तर्हि॒ न रात्र्या॒ अह्न॑ आसीत्प्रके॒तः ।
आनी॑दवा॒तं स्व॒धया॒ तदेकं॒ तस्मा॑द्धा॒न्यन्न प॒रः किं च॒नास॑ ।।
तम॑ आसी॒त्तम॑सा गू॒ऴमग्रे॑ ऽप्रके॒तं स॑लि॒लं सर्व॑मा इ॒दम् ।
तु॒छ्येना॒भ्वपि॑हितं॒ यदासी॒त्तप॑स॒स्तन्म॑हि॒नाजा॑य॒तैक॑म् ।।
काम॒स्तदग्रे॒ सम॑वर्त॒ताधि॒ मन॑सो॒ रेतः॑ प्रथ॒मं यदासी॑त् ।
स॒तो बन्धु॒मस॑ति॒ निर॑विन्दन्हृ॒दि प्र॒तीष्या॑ क॒वयो॑ मनी॒षा ।।
ति॑र॒श्चीनो॒ वित॑तो र॒श्मिरे॑षाम॒धः स्वि॑दा॒सी३दु॒परि॑ स्विदासी३त् ।
रे॑तो॒धा आ॑सन्महि॒मान॑ आसन्स्व॒धा अ॒वस्ता॒त्प्रय॑तिः प॒रस्ता॑त् ।।
को अ॒द्धा वे॑द॒ क इ॒ह प्र वो॑च॒त्कुत॒ आजा॑ता॒ कुत॑ इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टिः ।
अ॒र्वाग्दे॒वा अ॒स्य वि॒सर्ज॑ने॒नाथा॒ को वे॑द॒ यत॑ आब॒भूव॑ ।।
इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टि॒र्यत॑ आब॒भूव॒ यदि॑ वा द॒धे यदि॑ वा॒ न ।
यो अ॒स्याध्य॑क्षः पर॒मे व्यो॑म॒न्सो अ॒ङ्ग वे॑द॒ यदि॑ वा॒ न वेद॑ ।।
Translation by V. V. Raman, University of Rochester:
Not even nothing existed then
No air yet, nor a heaven.
Who encased and kept it where?
Was water in the darkness there?
Neither deathlessness nor decay
No, nor the rhythm of night and day:
The self-existent, with breath sans air:
That, and that alone was there.
Darkness was in darkness found
Like light-less water all around.
One emerged, with nothing on
It was from heat that this was born.
Into it, Desire, its way did find:
The primordial seed born of mind.
Sages know deep in the heart:
What exists is kin to what does not.
Across the void the cord was thrown,
The place of every thing was known.
Seed-sowers and powers now came by,
Impulse below and force on high.
Who really knows, and who can swear,
How creation came, when or where!
Even gods came after creation’s day,
Who really knows, who can truly say
When and how did creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He, up there, knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He.
You can find alternative translations here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10129.htm.
Another translation is this: http://www.astrojyoti.com/NasadiyaSuktam.htm.
The anvaya of the verses is here: http://titus.fkidg1.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/etcd/ind/aind/ved/rv/mt/rv966.htm#RV_RVS_10_129_(955).
The title song of the doordarshan serial “Bharat ek khoj” was Hindi poetic translation of this Sukta only: सृष्टी से पहले सत् नही था.
This is best recital I could get: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyrXdEi8i_I&feature=player_embedded (Though there’s not so good pronunciation, and pretty superficial translation). I’d post a better recital if I found one.
And, if you have patience you can look for the 129 Sukta of the 10th Mandal in the entire of the Rig Veda here: http://www.astrojyoti.com/rigvedamp3part1.htm.