The Essence of the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 3: Ishvara and Jiva

The great cause of all causes, the Supreme Being, projected this universe, and Itself arose out of the universe, as it were, in a character of immanence, not losing the transcendence of its own essential being. And all the functions that we see in our own selves, jivas or individuals that we are, were present there in their original form. But the seeds of the manifestation of diversity were also sown in the body of this Cosmic Being. There is a great difference between the original and the reflected parts that we are.

Thus it is mentioned in the Upanishad that the causative factors of all the functions were projected first. These are what are usually known as the adhidaivas or the superintending divinities, the gods of religion, the various Devatas, the supreme celestials. They began to twinkle forth in the body of this universal manifested Being. So the adhidaiva is nothing but the Supreme Being Himself appearing in part or essence as the controlling principle behind all functions in the universe.

This is the point of a sudden transformation taking place in many quarters of creation. We cannot actually have an idea as to what are the various transformations that took place. The entire constitution of the government of the universe was laid down at one stroke: “Yathatathyatah arthan vyadadhat sasvatibhyah samabhyah.” It is a nonamendable constitution. It cannot be meddled with or interfered with; it does not stand in need of any kind of change in the process of time. Such an eternal setup of administration of the whole cosmos was contemplated and laid down.

The basic principles of human experience also were laid down and made manifest in the form of the subjective experiencers, called jivas, and the objective world, known as the adhibhuta-prapancha. The individual may be called the adhyatma and the external world is the adhibhuta. The adhidaiva has already been mentioned as the controlling divinities. But all this does not happen at once. There is a gradational procedure followed. From the Cosmic-conscious Being, who as a total of the entire divinity rose up from the manifested universe, there was the multiplicity of divinities, the adhidaivas.

As mentioned towards the conclusion of the previous chapter, there was a drop of the curtain, as it were, and a sudden unexpected and unpalatable change or transformation took place by which the divinities begin to assert a sort of independence. This is the beginning of individuality. As Plato said, “Marriages always take place in the heavens first. They manifest themselves on earth afterwards.” Likewise, this can be said in regard to everything. Even wars take place in the heavens first; they reveal themselves on earth afterwards. Every function takes place in the heavens first—which means to say the adhidaivas contemplate the possibility of every action in the beginning, and these are manifested gradually into the adhibhuta-prapancha, and felt and experienced by the adhyatma, the jiva.

So there was a split of a universal character, as if every drop in the ocean began to feel its own independence. This is a very good example, because the drops in the ocean are not qualitatively different from the ocean. And it appears that, at least at the very outset, there was no qualitative distinction of the individual divinities from the total of the Universal Being. This isolation of particulars was, therefore, in consciousness. We have to underline this word because a real split is not possible; it was not an actual bifurcation, but a consciousness of one’s having been bifurcated, separated, segregated from the Whole.

To give an illustration, it is perhaps exactly as one would experience in dream. There is a split of consciousness into the knowing subject and the world of experience; but the split has not taken place. If it had really taken place, we would not wake up into the integrity of our mind. But nevertheless, there is an experience of such a transformation, change and division having taken place.

The first consequence of this division is, as the Upanishad puts it, an intense hunger and thirst. Well, this is a very beautiful word, implying much more than what our usual hunger and thirst would connote. The hunger and thirst of the divinities who wrenched themselves, as it were, from the total of the Universal can be called, in the language of our modern philosophers, the constitutional appetition of the individual. It is not merely the stomach asking for food or the throat asking for water; it is the entire setup of individuality craving for experience in an objective manner. They craved for objective immortality, a thing that they had lost on account of their isolation from the Whole. They became mortal. Mortality is the consciousness of the isolation of the part from the Whole; and then every disease crops up at once.

Hunger and thirst visited these divinities who were cast into this restless ocean of experience objectively, which is what we call this samsara or the world, the universe. But how could this hunger be satisfied? The hunger and the thirst, or the appetition of the individual for satisfaction, can be satisfied only through a medium of experience. There must be a body; there must be a food to appease this hunger. Where is this food and where is the vehicle? Where is the body in which these divinities are to ride and to have their experience of the satisfaction of their hunger and thirst?

The whole Upanishad is very symbolic and metaphorical in explaining a highly spiritual experience. The divinities were archetypal, superphysical essences. These are the deities. They are not physical bodies like ours, and there was no food for them to satisfy their hunger of the appetition for contact. What were they to contact? So, they asked for an abode: “Give us a body. Give us a vehicle. We want a house to stay in.”

Now the metaphor continues. The Great Being projected a bull before them and said, “Here is the abode for you. This is the body for you. You enter this body and satisfy your hunger and your thirst.” The divinities looked at the bull and said, “This is not suitable. This is not a proper abode for us.” Then He projected a horse. They looked at the body of the horse and concluded that the horse, too, was not a proper body for real satisfaction. Then He projected a human body. “This is correct,” they said. “We want this body only,” and they entered it.

The Aitareya Upanishad is very precise. It does not go into long details of the evolutionary process of the individual body. But certain other Upanishads, such as the Maitrayani for instance, give us hints of there having been a gradual ascent, or we may call it a descent from another point of view, of the consciousness of these individual divinities from one category of experience to another category. We may call it, in the language of our evolutionary doctrines, the rise from the abode of inorganic matter to the abode of the vegetable kingdom, then further up to the abode of the animal world, and finally to the human level. Then we find ourselves in the state in which we are.

The divinities entered every body and rejected the earlier ones on account of not finding adequate facilities for the satisfaction of their appetitions through those bodies. Even if we have a desire, there must be a proper instrument to fulfil that desire. If the instrument is defective, the desire cannot be fulfilled. So they wanted a perfected embodiment or tool for the satisfaction of their appetition—the hunger and the thirst, as the Upanishad puts it. And the human body, which is superior to the lower categories of manifestation of the mineral, the vegetable and the animal, was considered by them as the fittest instrument, and the Great Being ordered them to enter this body. “This is your house. Live in this house. This is your vehicle, and now you do whatever you like through this.” They entered. How did they enter?

Here is the peculiar characteristic of the individual explained in contradistinction with the original status of the divinities in the body of the Cosmic Being. The Upanishad mentions that when the divinities were originally projected from the body of the Cosmic Being, there was first the location of the function, for instance, the mouth; then there was the urge of the expression of that location in the form of speech; and then the divinity Agni, the presiding deity over speech, manifested itself—and so on with every other function.

Thus, the god or the divinity came afterwards; the function came first, so that the controlling principle of even the divinities was co-extensive with the existence of the Universal Being Himself. The gods were not independent, but were dependent on the Total from which they were projected. The gods were not the controllers; rather, they were controlled by the forces that worked integrally behind them, which arose from the total being of the Universal Virat.

But now, what has happened is that when the divinities entered the human body, there was a reversal of the whole process. The human functions correspond to the universal functions in the same way as the functions in a reflected image correspond to the functions in the original that is reflected. Or, to give another example, when we look at our face in a mirror, there is a reflection of the face seen in that mirror, but there is a reversal of parts taking place—the right looks left and the left looks right. Also, if we stand on the bank of a river and see our reflection, we will find the head as the lowermost position in the reflection, though it is the topmost in us, the original.

Some such distorted reversal of processes took place when the divinities entered the body of the individual; instead of the mouth projecting the speech and then the Agni, or the Devata coming thereafter, Agni entered into the body as speech and found the mouth as the abode. So Agni is the controller here, and we are dependent. We are the effects. The effect in the universal status becomes the cause in the individual realm. So the jiva is different from Isvara in this manner, though it has come from Isvara only. It is a tremendous difference, notwithstanding the identity of essence, because of the same divinities operating there as well as here.

When this individual experience takes place in the body of the human personality on account of the entry of these divinities in the manner mentioned, something else also happens. There is immediately a grabbing attitude of the individual in respect of the food that is necessary for the satisfaction of the appetite. The food also was created in the form of this objective universe, and it has to be grasped by the senses.

The particular function in the human individual especially by which food is grasped and assimilated is the apana. The food that we throw into the alimentary canal is digested and absorbed by the apana vayu in our system; the organs cannot have this kind of experience. For example, by speaking about food we cannot be satisfied; by seeing food we will not be satisfied; by hearing about food we will not be satisfied; only by absorbing it through the apana through the alimentary system can we be satisfied.

This again is symbolic of every kind of food that the senses require. They have a desire to contact objects merely for the sake of maintaining their original status. It is a very artificial way, no doubt, that they are inventing, but they have no other alternative. The object of the senses is the medium through which the appetite of the individual is satisfied. This is something very strange, if we go very deep into the matter. This appetite is nothing but the hunger of the self to come in union with the Universal, from which it has been isolated. This point cannot be forgotten in the whole process of our studies.

We are not hungry in the ordinary sense. Any amount of food that we eat, whatever may be the diet that we take, cannot satisfy us because our real requirement is not this food. It is not the khichadi, the dal, the chapatti, the puri or the laddu that can satisfy us. But it appears as if this is what we require. It is not any kind of drink that we are actually in need of. Something else is the need; and that need is very deep. It is like the very deep-rooted chronic illness of which we have no knowledge on the superficial surface.

We are not asking for any kind of contact, really speaking. We are thoroughly mistaken, and that mistake itself is lost sight of completely. This complete oblivion of the very reason behind this hunger is called avidya. These terms do not occur in the Upanishad. I am explaining from the terminologies of the later philosophies.

Ignorance precedes every kind of action in the direction of the possession of the requirements of the senses. We run after things on account of an ignorance, which covers our consciousness, of the reason behind the very existence of this hunger. There is only one need that we have, and not more than one—the need to become one with That from which we have been separated, and out of which we have been thrown. That is all. The divinities within are hungering. It is not the tongue or the ear or the nose that asks for things; it is the divinities within that are hungry. Indra, Varuna, Surya, etc., are the deities which are superintending over every part of our body. They are the rulers, they are the masters, they are the actual occupants of this habitat called this body. They ask for a reunion and a rehabilitation with the status they have lost. This hunger for reunion with the Universal manifests itself in a diversified form through the senses as desire to see, desire to hear, desire to taste, desire to touch, and so on. Hence, these are artificially created tentative satisfactions, because no other satisfaction is available. When everything has gone, whatever is available satisfies us.

The senses are thus duping us in this way by making us think that our need is something different from what it really is. What the child cries for is something, and what we give it is something else. It may be having an acute stomach ache, but we give it a sugar candy. We say, “Take this sugar candy. Don’t weep.” We do not know why the child is weeping. It has some ailment. It cannot express itself, poor thing! It has some deep-rooted agony which it is not able to speak out in its own language. But we are trying to pacify it, pamper it by things which are actually not what it needs. So is the case with the hunger or the thirst of the soul.

The word ‘soul’ is very important in this context. Here the soul means the jiva, or the individualised divinity. It has been satisfied with this body. “Enter this abode,” said the great Lord, and the jivas entered this abode of the human being. This abode has become a source of inadequate satisfaction, unfortunately, even though they thought that the human body is the best of all the productions. They did not want the earlier ones—the horse, the bull, etc.

But the human individuality also is found inadequate to the purpose because of the fact that it is conditioned by the five sense organs and the mind, which works in terms of the activities of the senses. The restless activities of the senses for contact with objects throughout the day, in all the walks of life, are for the appeasement of the hunger of the soul. Whatever work we do in this world, whatever status we are occupying is for the satisfaction of the appetite of this soul which is asking for a union with that which it has lost. But we fail miserably in this attempt because our activities in life are not a remedy for the trouble in which we are at present. We seem to be satisfied only because we have not understood what our problems are. We are totally ignorant of our actual situation.

The senses are tired of these activities. They get exhausted. How long can we go on grabbing things? We can do it for one day, one month, one year, ten years; but throughout our life we cannot engage ourselves in this activity. It is futile, ultimately. It is futile because it does not satisfy us. We eat today, tomorrow also we eat, and every day we eat; but we cannot be satisfied, and the appeasement of the hunger does not take place. Not only that, any amount of getting will not satisfy a person. Whatever be the possession that we have, it will not satisfy us. It does not satisfy us because it is not what we want. Our need is one thing, and we are getting something else through the sense organs. So there is natural fatigue.

The wearing out of the senses, the exhaustion of the mind and the tiresomeness of the whole physical system bring about certain conditions. There are what are called the avasthas—the jagrat, svapna and sushupti states. We are sunk into the cycle of waking, dreaming and sleeping due to a complex of psychophysical activity taking place on account of our weddedness to the activities of the senses.

When the divinities entered the body, perhaps they did not enter the physical body first. It must have been the astral body, though this is not very clearly stated in the Upanishad, because there is a gradual hardening of the individuality through the causal and the subtle states into the physical state. The physical one is the grossest manifestation and the most exteriorised form of the appetition of the individual. It is here, in this physical condition in which we are, that we are in the worst of conditions because we are completely isolated, cut off from things, as it is clear to every one of us. In the subtle condition, at least there is an apparent feeling of affinity of one for the other. But in the so-called waking condition of physicality, there is a complete isolation; you have nothing to do with me, and I have nothing to do with you. This is the present state of affairs.

So on account of this situation and the fatigue that comes as a consequence thereof, there is the cycle of jagrat, svapna and sushupti experience. And there is a struggle again. This struggle is the battle of life. We are striving hard by one means or the other to get out of this cycle of transmigratory existence, which comes automatically as a result of the impossibility of satisfying desires in the life of one particular body. The body that is given to us, the human body for instance, is inadequate because it cannot last eternally. As it is made up of physical components, naturally it will disintegrate when the time for it comes. The disintegration of the bodily individuality takes place when the forces of the appetite of the individual which gave rise to the manifestation of the body cease and withdraw their momentum. Then the body dies. But the momentum of desire does not cease. It seeks satisfaction once again in some other direction, in some other corner of creation. So there is rebirth, and the whole process continues once again. There is again dissatisfaction, birth and death, etc.; the samsara-chakra continues.

All this entire drama is beautifully explained in one verse of the Panchadasi by the author Sage Vidyaranya, where he says that from the time of the original will of the Universal to become the many, up to the entry of the Universal into the individual, it is the work of God; it is Isvara-srishti, as we call it. But from the time of the assertion of individuality by the jiva in the waking condition, through the physical system, etc., until there is liberation from this mortal experience—all this is Jiva-srishti. The entry into the body, consciousness of there being an individuality, the affirmation of it, the desires expressed through the senses, the sufferings coming as a consequence thereof, and the ultimate liberation from this so-called bondage—all these are experiences of the jiva; they are not connected with Isvara.

This, in essence, is the story of the creation given in the Aitareya Upanishad. It asserts at the same time that in spite of all this manifestation, this diversity, variety, subtlety, physicality, etc., He is still the same One Absolute Universal. He has not become something else. This is a very great solacing message to us. If we had been really thrown out from the Garden of Eden and exiled forever as captives thrown into prison, then there would be no hope of liberation, or moksha. What has happened is something else altogether. It is not an actually historical occurrence that has taken place once upon a time. It is not that God was angry with us and drove us out of the Garden. What has happened is that there has been a twist of consciousness. There has been a malady of the mind, and it has to be treated as we treat the mentally ill. The consciousness has to be treated, and the illness of the consciousness has to be removed. Then it regains its original condition.

To come to the analogy of dream once again, our fall from the Garden of Eden, or descent into the mortal body from the original condition of universality, is akin to the condition of entry into dream. We have not become a fly or a moth or a butterfly, as it appears to be in dream. Though we think that we are a butterfly in dream, we have not become a butterfly. We are only imagining through the mind due to a peculiarity in consciousness. But, if we had actually become that, there would be no coming back to the waking consciousness of the human body. It is exactly like a disease of the mind. It is nothing but a consciousness-illness. The consciousness projecting itself externally in an imagined space and time is called creation. There is, therefore, a chance of our returning to the original state by untying these knots through which we have been tied to samsara.

There are grades of knots. These are called granthis in mystical psychology. Granthis are like rope knots but are actually psychic knots, the knots of the mind. We may call them the knots of consciousness, if we like, which have somehow or other got stifled into a consciousness of these knots, so that the knots cannot become aware of there being a long rope behind them. If there is a longish rope with several knots at various places on the rope, the knots do not cease to be the rope, though they are knots; they are knots of the rope itself. There may be a hundred knots, but they are constituted of the very stuff of the rope. But if the structure of the knot becomes conscious of that particular structure only, and not the rope aspect of the structure, that would be bondage, or samsara. Similarly, we are conscious of the name-and-form aspect of our personality, and not the essential part of our personality. We are like this rope that is tied into a knot. The knot is the nama-rupa. It is the form, the shape, the configuration, but it is not the essence. The essence is something else.

Now, we have to slowly untie these knots of nama-rupa and realise the essence, and the way of doing this is the practice of yoga. The various stages of yoga, for instance, are mentioned in the system of Patanjali—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These are the stages of the untying process of the knots of consciousness, by which we gradually expand the dimension of our being and become conscious of larger and larger vistas of our own personality, getting wider and wider as we go higher and higher until we reach the highest Universal which includes all the particulars.