The Essence of the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 4: Cosmology

Now this is, in a different way, the subject of the Taittiriya Upanishad also, wherein we are given a cosmological treatment of the entire bondage of the soul, and the process of the liberation of the soul from this bondage. As the Aitareya told us that the one Atman alone was, nothing else external to the Atman existed, it became the many as the Universal and entered into it, and projected itself as the various divinities, became the jivas, had these experiences, etc., so does the Taittiriya Upanishad tell us.

The original being is satyam, jnanam, anantam; or we may say satyam, jnanam, anandam—(satchidananda), where there is a simultaneous experience of everything, not a successive experience of particulars as we have today. This is the interpretation given by the commentators of the passage which reads as “saha brahmana vipaschita”. In that state of Brahman, there is an instantaneous experience of all things. Even when we use the word ‘instantaneous’, the idea of time lingers in our mind. We cannot get rid of the idea of the time factor. We think everything is experienced at the same time. This is how we think in our own temporal way. It is not a simultaneity of temporal events that is called an instantaneous experience there. It is a timeless experience, because it is spaceless Being.

Now the Taittiriya cosmological treatment is as follows. The universe of the five elements—ether, air, fire, water, earth—is a condensation, as it were, of the Atman itself. There was a gradual descent of the Atman into greater and greater particularity, and together with it greater and greater externality. There is particularity, externality and grossening of the cause into the effect. “Tasmadva etasmad atmanah akasah sambhutah, akasat vayuh, vayor agnih, agneh apah, adbhyah prithivi,” etc. The individual being comes as a consequence of these universal manifestations of the elements. Here again, even in the Taittiriya, we stand as effects to the Universal which stands in the position of a cause, as in the case of the doctrine of the Aitareya. Though the universe is an effect of God, it is a cause of our experience. We have no control over the elements. We cannot order the earth, water, fire, air or ether to behave in this way or that way. In this sense, they are causes of our experiences. The objects precede our experience.

There seems to be some great point in the doctrines of realism as well as idealism, which are the dominant schools of philosophy. The realist holds that objects come first, experience comes afterwards. But the idealist thinks that experience comes first and the object afterwards. There is a great quarrel among these schools of thought, but there need not be any quarrel. Both these standpoints seem to be correct because they speak from different positions and different points of view altogether. There is a metaphysical idealism implied behind even the empirical realism of perception of objects. We perceive the world, no doubt, as something external to us, and we know very well that the world was there even before we were born; therefore, realism is right. The world of objects in its physical form precedes the experience thereof by the individual experiencer. But idealism is also right, because there is a consciousness underlying the very manifestation of the things. The whole universe ultimately can be reduced into consciousness, because the objects which are apparently external to us are conditioned by this perceiving consciousness in various degrees.

The Taittiriya tells us that there was thus the creation down to the earth, and from the earth arose vegetation of various kinds, herbs or aushadhis which became the diet of the individual, the Purusha, “aushadhibhyah annam”. “Annat purushah”: The individual grows out of the food that he takes. Here is again an interesting factor that we have to observe.

We are constituted of anna, or food. It is not merely the physical body that is constituted of food; everything that we are is nothing but the food that we take. As cloth is made of threads, or as any composite object is made up of the component factors, so is the total individuality of ours, including the psychic individuality, constituted of certain bits of experience and bits of matter. Thought is nothing but the various functions it performs. The various feelings and emotions and the volitions put together constitute what we call the mind, the fabric of psychic personality. The body again is constituted of these elements only—earth, water, fire, air and ether, etc. Everything in the so-called individuality of ours is a composite structure, or sanghatta, of various factors which can be dismembered and broken into their component parts. These compositions of individuality become the causes of the various experiences we pass through in our life.

Our experiences are through the layers of our personality. These layers are called koshas in the language of the Upanishads. A kosha is a sheath, like a sheath or scabbard for a sword. These sheaths are something like peels of onion growing one over the other, and while there can be many such layers conceivable, five of them are mentioned as predominantly experienced by us in our day-to-day life. These are the so-called annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas. These koshas are not actually like peels of an onion, though the illustration gives some idea of what these koshas are, because one peel of an onion is not connected with another peel. They are independent; but the koshas are not so independent. They are various gradations of density, one slowly passing into the other, and we cannot know where one begins and where one ends. Thus, we can finally say that there is only one kosha, which appears as fivefold on account of the gradations of density, all of which are ruled over by the central light of the Atman.

All this is, of course, out of our sight. We have descended so low into the physical externality of our experience that the Atman, which is universal in its original status, has projected itself out of the senses and come out of the body, as it were; it is now looking back towards its own self as an object outside. It has completely lost itself in matter. To lose itself in matter is not so bad as to come out of it and then look upon it as an object of its own self. This is what the senses do. So in one sense we are far, far removed from reality, much more than even inorganic matter, because we have come out of the material body and then projected our consciousness backwards, as it were, looking to matter as an object of our own self.

The universal consciousness has been completely buried in the material content; and after getting buried, it comes out of it in a reflected form, becomes the jiva, and looks at its own body as an external something. So we can imagine why there is desire for objects. It is the desire of the Atman for its own self. It is not asking for anybody else; it is wanting its own self. It cannot get it. It has become mad completely, and is in the mental hospital now. The whole world is such a crazy house of delirious individuals. What has actually happened to us we cannot explain, and the less we say about it the better. Such a catastrophic event has taken place, which we regard as heaven itself. How happy we are in the world! We are very happy with a cool drink, with a fan or a refrigerator. Everything gives happiness to us, but we do not know that we are diseased to the core and we are trying to scratch the itch to some extent to see that it does not give us agony in an intensified manner. We are not going to cure the disease. No activity of ours in this world can be a cure of this disease of samsara, from the point of view of the magnitude of the suffering in which we are involved and the magnitude of the catastrophe that has taken place. It requires a herculean task to bring the consciousness back. Mere activity born of ignorance is not going to be an aid.

We have heard people say that Acharya Sankara was against karma. There is a point in what he says, though many people do not understand what the implication of his statement is. Every action that we do normally is a movement of ignorance in the direction of an object that is there outside—apparently, but not really. How can a movement in the direction of an apparently existent something liberate us from bondage? If our activities are directed to the sublimation of individuality, and have as their purpose the universalisation of our status, that could be Karma Yoga. That is not what Acharya Sankara condemns. He condemns karma which is binding in its nature, which is born of the ignorant feeling that body is real and, therefore, everything that is associated with the body is also real.

An activity that is directed to self-satisfaction of the body is bondage. That is not going to liberate us. But all that we do in this world is nothing but that. We are not doing Karma Yoga. We should not be misguided. If we are consciously directing our activity towards the efflorescence of our individuality towards the Universal, then it is Karma Yoga. On the other hand, if we merely drift like a fly from place to place, it is not Karma Yoga. Any activity involving sweating and toiling cannot be called Karma Yoga unless the consciousness is there behind it. Otherwise, it becomes an ordinary, empty, humdrum activity which is impulse-driven rather than consciousness-motivated.

This distinction has to be carefully drawn. Impulse-driven activity is different from consciously directed yoga practice. And how many of us are conscious of what we are doing? We are driven by impulse only. When we are feeling hot because of the atmosphere outside, we feel like mitigating it by a contrary activity. When we are hungry, we are doing something contrary to it. Everything that we do is a contrary activity in respect of the particular experience through which we are passing. We have no idea of the basic disease behind it or the ideal that is ahead of us. But if this is clear, well, it cannot be called action. It is a movement of consciousness.

So these are the five koshas, as I mentioned. The annamaya kosha is the physical body. But it is not that the physical body comes first in the process of creation; the causal body comes first. The causal hardens itself into the subtle, and the subtle becomes the gross. These three bodies are the objects of experience in the sleep, dream and waking conditions, respectively. It is the causal body that we experience in sleep, the subtle body in dream, and the physical body in waking. These three bodies are subdivided into the five koshas, or the sheaths. The innermost one is called the anandamaya kosha. The next one is called the vijnanamaya kosha. Further to it is the manomaya kosha. Then we have the pranamaya kosha, and lastly we have the grossest one, the annamaya kosha.

The annamaya kosha means the physical sheath constituted of the food that we intake. Anna is food; and as I mentioned earlier, the various impressions created by our sensory experiences contribute to the stability of the body, including the physical food that we take. And here we have a marked distinction of the limbs of the body—head, ear, nose, etc. We can feel that the various limbs of our body are completely cut off from the limbs of the bodies of others. In spite of the Upanishad crying out that all this manifestation has come from the One, we are least conscious of this fact, and we cannot even dream at any time in our life that we have any connection with the wall standing out there. Such is the condition of physical experience, where limbs are cut off completely into a little prison house of this body in which the Atman abides, as if it is its own property. Now these activities of the physical body are driven or motivated by inner impulses coming from higher realms, and these subtler realms which are more pervasive in their nature are the other koshas mentioned, which are inside the physical body.

We are not the physical body only, as many people may mistake themselves to be. Inside the physical body there is an energy body; it is called the pranamaya sarira. The subtle electric force that energises the whole physical system, as copper wires are energised by or charged with electric force driven by the power house, is the prana. The prana is an invisible sakti; it is a power. We cannot define it, just as we cannot define electricity. It is what we call the life principle, the breathing process; and the sense of ‘life’ that we feel in us is due to the presence of the activity of the prana. It is difficult to translate this word into English. It is vital force, vital energy, life principle, or whatever we may call it. Just as in a live wire electric energy charges every particle or atom of the wire and we cannot know which is the wire and which is electricity (but if we touch the wire we will get a shock), likewise we cannot know which is the body and which is the prana. They have become one, so that if we touch any part of the body, it looks as if we are being touched. Our life has become one with the vehicle which is the body; the vehicle has become one with the driver. They are identical; we cannot separate one from the other.

Now, this prana is the external-most manifestation of a still subtler energy which we call mind. The mind is transparent enough to reflect the consciousness of the Atman, whereas the prana is not so transparent. It is opaque, comparatively; it is rajas-ridden, and it is very active. Wherever there is an excess of activity, or rajas, there cannot be a reflection of the Atman and, therefore, prana does not reflect consciousness. It requires the help or aid of the mind that is more transparent in its nature. Though the mind, too, has rajas and tamas in it in a certain percentage, it has a greater predominance of sattva in it. So the thinking faculty, or the psychic faculty, becomes the interior controlling agent of the other external sheaths, the pranamaya sarira and the annamaya sarira.

The sense organs are contained in this body. We are generally told that the karmendriyas, or the organs of action—speaking, grasping, locomotion, etc., which are the tendencies to action and the limbs that help such activity—are all motivated and controlled by the prana. The prana is the synthesised form of rajasic force, and the karmendriyas, or the organs of action, are the discrete or the diversified forms of the same energy. So we may say that all our activities are nothing but prana working. But these activities have ideas behind them, thoughts behind them. Thoughts precede action.

The mind together with the senses of knowledge constitute the manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath. Here we are in an animal level, practically. On the pranic level, we are like vegetables; and on the purely physical level, we are like inanimate matter. But on the thinking level, we are like animals, and only on the intellectual level are we superior to animals. That is a still higher stage. The vijnana, or the intellect, is something like a purified form of the mind. It is purified in the sense that it is capable of determinate thinking, while the mind is usually engaged in indeterminate thinking. There is a translucent feeling of the presence of things and an indistinct thought of objects outside when the mind operates. It cannot decide, it cannot judge, it cannot discriminate, it cannot argue, and it cannot come to a conclusion. This is the mind, as we see it operating in animals, for instance. This is what we call the instinct level, when we are not self-conscious to the extent necessary for judging things in terms of pros and cons, etc.

The senses of knowledge—seeing, hearing, etc.—are the manifestations of the mind, just as the organs of action are the manifestations of the prana. While the organs of action are in the pranamaya kosha, or the energy body, the senses of knowledge are in the manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath. They are internal because they are conscious in some way, whereas the prana is not conscious; it is simply active. The manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath, acts in collaboration with the vijnanamaya kosha, or the intellectual sheath, which also works with the aid of the senses of knowledge, so that we may say the intellect, the mind and the senses of knowledge form a single family. They are a single group, and they work together. This is the highest point of individuality conceivable. We are now on the intellectual level, having risen above the mental level, the prana level of the vegetable kingdom, and the inorganic level. So we are able to think in a logical fashion, understand the causes of effects, and effects of causes, etc., and link causes with effects. This is a prerogative of the human individual that causative thinking is possible, whereas animals are incapable of doing that. They cannot remember things as we do. We can think of the past, and we can think ahead. This is the intellectual level.

Now, consciousness brilliantly manifests itself in the intellect, no doubt; but we are not satisfied merely with the intellect. Understanding alone does not make us happy. Happiness is a different thing altogether. The great Reality, the Supreme Being, is said to be constituted of three constitutive essences, we may say: sat, chit and ananda—Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

We can see existence even in a wall or a brick, but not consciousness. We can see existence and consciousness in a human being where the intellect functions—when we think, or argue and speak; but we need not be happy at that time. So happiness is not necessarily a condition which follows intellectual functions, because even in the intellect there is an element of rajas. Happiness is possible of experience only when there is freedom from rajas totally. There should not be an iota of rajas or tamas if we are to be happy. If there is tamas, we will be asleep like a stone. If there is rajas, we are awakened from sleep and we are conscious of things, but not happy. In that condition of rajas, we are like muddled water which is shaky, where a reflection of the sun is possible, but not a clear reflection. Only when sattva predominates is there a clear reflection of Reality and we can experience happiness.

Happiness is what we seek. We can understand that it is not ordinary knowledge that we are after in this world. We are after knowledge for the sake of a satisfaction that it brings. And, how knowledge brings satisfaction is a very important topic. Happiness is what we are after; it is happiness for which everyone works, and happiness seems to be the aim and objective behind even the operation of consciousness in this world. Consciousness is incomplete, and existence is incomplete, if bliss is not there. That bliss is the ultimate content of the Absolute. How it comes, and how we are partially experiencing it in our individual lives, we shall see later.

So these are the five koshas, as I mentioned. The annamaya kosha is the physical body. But it is not that the physical body comes first in the process of creation; the causal body comes first. The causal hardens itself into the subtle, and the subtle becomes the gross. These three bodies are the objects of experience in the sleep, dream and waking conditions, respectively. It is the causal body that we experience in sleep, the subtle body in dream, and the physical body in waking. These three bodies are subdivided into the five koshas, or the sheaths. The innermost one is called the anandamaya kosha. The next one is called the vijnanamaya kosha. Further to it is the manomaya kosha. Then we have the pranamaya kosha, and lastly we have the grossest one, the annamaya kosha.

The annamaya kosha means the physical sheath constituted of the food that we intake. Anna is food; and as I mentioned earlier, the various impressions created by our sensory experiences contribute to the stability of the body, including the physical food that we take. And here we have a marked distinction of the limbs of the body—head, ear, nose, etc. We can feel that the various limbs of our body are completely cut off from the limbs of the bodies of others. In spite of the Upanishad crying out that all this manifestation has come from the One, we are least conscious of this fact, and we cannot even dream at any time in our life that we have any connection with the wall standing out there. Such is the condition of physical experience, where limbs are cut off completely into a little prison house of this body in which the Atman abides, as if it is its own property. Now these activities of the physical body are driven or motivated by inner impulses coming from higher realms, and these subtler realms which are more pervasive in their nature are the other koshas mentioned, which are inside the physical body.

We are not the physical body only, as many people may mistake themselves to be. Inside the physical body there is an energy body; it is called the pranamaya sarira. The subtle electric force that energises the whole physical system, as copper wires are energised by or charged with electric force driven by the power house, is the prana. The prana is an invisible sakti; it is a power. We cannot define it, just as we cannot define electricity. It is what we call the life principle, the breathing process; and the sense of ‘life’ that we feel in us is due to the presence of the activity of the prana. It is difficult to translate this word into English. It is vital force, vital energy, life principle, or whatever we may call it. Just as in a live wire electric energy charges every particle or atom of the wire and we cannot know which is the wire and which is electricity (but if we touch the wire we will get a shock), likewise we cannot know which is the body and which is the prana. They have become one, so that if we touch any part of the body, it looks as if we are being touched. Our life has become one with the vehicle which is the body; the vehicle has become one with the driver. They are identical; we cannot separate one from the other.

Now, this prana is the external-most manifestation of a still subtler energy which we call mind. The mind is transparent enough to reflect the consciousness of the Atman, whereas the prana is not so transparent. It is opaque, comparatively; it is rajas-ridden, and it is very active. Wherever there is an excess of activity, or rajas, there cannot be a reflection of the Atman and, therefore, prana does not reflect consciousness. It requires the help or aid of the mind that is more transparent in its nature. Though the mind, too, has rajas and tamas in it in a certain percentage, it has a greater predominance of sattva in it. So the thinking faculty, or the psychic faculty, becomes the interior controlling agent of the other external sheaths, the pranamaya sarira and the annamaya sarira.

The sense organs are contained in this body. We are generally told that the karmendriyas, or the organs of action—speaking, grasping, locomotion, etc., which are the tendencies to action and the limbs that help such activity—are all motivated and controlled by the prana. The prana is the synthesised form of rajasic force, and the karmendriyas, or the organs of action, are the discrete or the diversified forms of the same energy. So we may say that all our activities are nothing but prana working. But these activities have ideas behind them, thoughts behind them. Thoughts precede action.

The mind together with the senses of knowledge constitute the manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath. Here we are in an animal level, practically. On the pranic level, we are like vegetables; and on the purely physical level, we are like inanimate matter. But on the thinking level, we are like animals, and only on the intellectual level are we superior to animals. That is a still higher stage. The vijnana, or the intellect, is something like a purified form of the mind. It is purified in the sense that it is capable of determinate thinking, while the mind is usually engaged in indeterminate thinking. There is a translucent feeling of the presence of things and an indistinct thought of objects outside when the mind operates. It cannot decide, it cannot judge, it cannot discriminate, it cannot argue, and it cannot come to a conclusion. This is the mind, as we see it operating in animals, for instance. This is what we call the instinct level, when we are not self-conscious to the extent necessary for judging things in terms of pros and cons, etc.

The senses of knowledge—seeing, hearing, etc.—are the manifestations of the mind, just as the organs of action are the manifestations of the prana. While the organs of action are in the pranamaya kosha, or the energy body, the senses of knowledge are in the manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath. They are internal because they are conscious in some way, whereas the prana is not conscious; it is simply active. The manomaya kosha, or the mental sheath, acts in collaboration with the vijnanamaya kosha, or the intellectual sheath, which also works with the aid of the senses of knowledge, so that we may say the intellect, the mind and the senses of knowledge form a single family. They are a single group, and they work together. This is the highest point of individuality conceivable. We are now on the intellectual level, having risen above the mental level, the prana level of the vegetable kingdom, and the inorganic level. So we are able to think in a logical fashion, understand the causes of effects, and effects of causes, etc., and link causes with effects. This is a prerogative of the human individual that causative thinking is possible, whereas animals are incapable of doing that. They cannot remember things as we do. We can think of the past, and we can think ahead. This is the intellectual level.

Now, consciousness brilliantly manifests itself in the intellect, no doubt; but we are not satisfied merely with the intellect. Understanding alone does not make us happy. Happiness is a different thing altogether. The great Reality, the Supreme Being, is said to be constituted of three constitutive essences, we may say: sat, chit and ananda—Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

We can see existence even in a wall or a brick, but not consciousness. We can see existence and consciousness in a human being where the intellect functions—when we think, or argue and speak; but we need not be happy at that time. So happiness is not necessarily a condition which follows intellectual functions, because even in the intellect there is an element of rajas. Happiness is possible of experience only when there is freedom from rajas totally. There should not be an iota of rajas or tamas if we are to be happy. If there is tamas, we will be asleep like a stone. If there is rajas, we are awakened from sleep and we are conscious of things, but not happy. In that condition of rajas, we are like muddled water which is shaky, where a reflection of the sun is possible, but not a clear reflection. Only when sattva predominates is there a clear reflection of Reality and we can experience happiness.

Happiness is what we seek. We can understand that it is not ordinary knowledge that we are after in this world. We are after knowledge for the sake of a satisfaction that it brings. And, how knowledge brings satisfaction is a very important topic. Happiness is what we are after; it is happiness for which everyone works, and happiness seems to be the aim and objective behind even the operation of consciousness in this world. Consciousness is incomplete, and existence is incomplete, if bliss is not there. That bliss is the ultimate content of the Absolute. How it comes, and how we are partially experiencing it in our individual lives, we shall see later.