The one Vedic verse which modern Hindus quote most frequently is the third quarter (caraNa) of Rigveda 1.164.46 ‘ Ekam sad viprãh bahudhã vadanti (it is of One Existence that the wise ones speak in diverse ways).
The full mantra reads as follows:
Indram mitram varuNam agnim ãhuh,
atho divyah sa suparNo garutmãn,
ekam sad viprãh bahudhã vadanti,
agnim yamam mãtari’švãnam ãhuh.
(They hail Him as Indra, as Mitra, as VaruNa, as Agni, also as that divine and noble-winged Garutmãn. It is of One Existence that the wise ones speak in diverse ways, whether as Agni, or as Yama, or as Mãtari’švãn.)
Why do modern Hindus quote only one-fourth and not the whole mantra? Why do they forget or refuse to cite the rest of it, or at least consider three-fourth of it as irrelevant or superfluous? And why do they assign a disproportionate weight to just one word, ekam, out of the five words which comprise what they consider to be the weighty one-fourth?
A careful reading of the full mantra, particularly in the context of the sûkta of which it is a part, leaves no doubt that the three-fourth which is ignored is not at all a repetition or paraphrase of the one-fourth which is presented. On the contrary, that three-fourth is as significant, if not more, as the one-fourth when we take into account the spirit of the Veda from which the citation has been selected. In fact, the one-fourth which is flourished so forcefully remains meaningless unless it is read with the rest of the mantra.
Why do modern Hindus maim in this manner a mantra from what they hold as their most sacred shastra? What do they want to prove by this wanton misrepresentation of an entire and ancient ethos in spirituality, philosophy and culture?
The answer becomes obvious as soon as we look into the psychology behind the citation. Firstly, modern Hindus want to stake a claim for admission to the exclusive club of Monotheism maintained by Christianity and Islam. Hindus here are out to convince the monopolises of monotheism that the earliest Hindu shastra, the Rigveda, also supports and sanctions what is supposed to be the summum bonum of religion according to Christian and Muslim theology, or its apotheosis according to the modern Western ‘Science’ of Comparative Religion.
At the same time, there is an almost pathetic appeal to the monopolises of Monotheism that they should not be appalled by the multiplicity of gods and goddesses in the post-Vedic Hindu pantheon, and that they should judge Hinduism in terms of the ‘original aspiration’ rather than in terms of the latter-day ‘aberration’
Secondly, modern Hindus are pleading before the custodians of the ‘only true’ creeds that Hinduism is only a different way of stating the same truths which were revealed to the founders of the former. In effect, Hindus are praying with folded hands, ‘Please do not denounce Hinduism as polytheism, pantheism, idolatry, paganism, and kufr. Please ignore the differences of language and metaphor, and attend to the fundamental spirit which informs your faiths as well as ours.’
The Hindu psychology throughout this exercise is one of apology, of shamefacedness, of defence against what is initially conceded as a valid criticism of the idioms and forms in which Hindu spirituality has been spelled out in its shastras. This is a disastrous psychology. It leads to a supine surrender on the one hand, and to a slavish invitation on the other.
The psychology of surrender is best symbolised by the well-intentioned Hindu slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhãva when it is extended indiscriminately to Christianity and Islam. Hindus are shouting themselves hoarse in stressing the identity of Brahma with Abraham, of Manu with Noah, of Rama with Rahim, of Krishna with Karim, of Kashi with Ka’ba, and so on. But the monopolises of Monotheism remain far from mollified. The orthodox among the monotheists dismiss with contempt the Hindu claim of sharing the same faith with them fundamentally. The kinder (or craftier) among the monotheists take pity on this plight of poor Hindus, and invite them to renounce their nebulous, if not counterfeit, Monotheism in favour of the fully developed doctrine.