The Essence of the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Secret of Sadhana

We hear in the scriptures that when creation was complete, a war took place between the Devas and the Asuras, the celestials and the demons. The Epics and the Puranas in India are replete with stories of Devasura Sangrama, the yuddha or the war continuously taking place between the gods and the demons. The gods sometimes had an upper hand, but mostly they were defeated. In the Upanishad we are told that the gods are lesser in number than the Asuras. Also in the epic of the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were lesser in number than the Kauravas.

The evil forces are larger in quantum than the beneficent forces in the world. Acharya Sankara, while commenting on the Upanishad, tells us that it is quite obvious because the impulse towards evil, which is the urge towards contact with the objects of sense, is more powerful than the impulse towards God. Rarely people turn to God; mostly they go down to objects of sense. So the number of spiritual seekers moving towards the light of God, perhaps, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But the downward forces rejoicing in contact with senses are plenty, and therefore their number is more. So the war went on for ages and ages.

The gods had a brainwave. They conferred among themselves. “This state of affairs cannot be for a long time. We must find out a means of overcoming the Asuras. We shall chant the holy Udgitha Saman, which is a Veda mantra, and some of us will be engaged in doing this work of holy recitation to quell the Asuras.” So the deities, who were all implanted in the sense organs such as the eyes, ears, etc., and even the mind, were all requested to undertake this discipline of chanting the Udgitha. The deity of the speech was told: “You chant the Udgitha for us, and with the power of this great force, we shall overcome the Asura forces.”

The Asuras got wind of it. They knew that a great spiritual discipline was being undertaken by the Devas so that they may overcome the Asuras. So the Asuras thought, “We shall not allow this to happen. We shall not permit this spiritual discipline to go on. We shall attack it.” When speech was chanting the holy mantra, the Udgitha, Asuras came and attacked, and speech was quelled and thrown down. The Upanishad says that this is the reason why often speech that is uttered by people is not beneficent, not worthy, not delicate, but is harsh, barbaric, cruel, cutting and insulting to others. This detrimental negative attitude adopted by speech often is the effect of the evil influence imprecated upon it by the Asura forces. So the deity of speech was defeated.

Then the gods told the deity of the nose, “You chant the mantra; speech is defeated.” So the deity of the nose started chanting the holy mantra, and the Asuras understood this. They came with a force and attacked this deity of the nose. That is why it is said that we can also smell bad odour, and not only fragrance. So sometimes we close our nose when certain odours enter our nostrils. The nose was defeated.

The angels told the other sense organs, one by one, to chant the mantra, and all had the same fate. They were all overcome. The Upanishad tells us that every sense organ has, therefore, a double activity. It can do good and it can do bad; it can receive what is good and it can receive what is bad. We can hear nice things and we can hear bad things also. The mind also was defeated. The mind was inflicted with the evil by the Asuras when it chanted the mantra. So it can think right and it can think wrong. Thus, there was no way out. The gods were defeated repeatedly. They were utterly helpless.

When they were all thus defeated, they joined together and considered as to what could be done under the circumstances. They thought that they had made a mistake in choosing their agents for chanting the Udgitha. So they asked the vital force, the Prana Sakti, which is prior to the operation of the senses, which impels the senses to act—as the sun impels all activity in the world, himself not doing anything. They said: “O Prana, chant the Udgitha for us.” And the Prana, the unifying force, the vital energy, chanted the Udgitha. And when the Prana started the chant, the Asuras came in a large battalion to attack it. What happened? They were thrown back. As a mud ball thrown against a hard rock breaks into pieces and becomes dispersed in all directions, the Asuras were thrown and cast in various directions, powerless by the force of the Udgitha chant conducted by the vital force, Prana Sakti—a thing which the senses could not undertake, and could not succeed in doing. Then the Devas won victory over the demons. They assumed their original positions of angels, which had been occupied by the Asuras, the demons. Now, inasmuch as the Asuras were quelled and overthrown completely in this battle with the force of a chant conducted by the vital force, the gods regained their original positions. The lost kingdom was regained. “One who knows this secret also regains one’s own position,” says the Upanishad.

Here is a very mystical anecdote given to us in the sacred text, the Upanishad, which is very precise and goes to the point. The meditational process, or spiritual discipline, is described here in the form of a story. The angels fall and lose their positions due to the evil influence of the Asuras. And in order to regain their lost positions, they have to take recourse to the vital force, and not to the sense organs. The sense organs are not our friends in the practice of spirituality. They succeed in making an attempt only, but really they do not succeed in the end.

Now what does all this mean to us? It means everything to us. The gods, the angels, the celestials are the denizens of the Garden of Eden. They are bosom friends of God, limbs of the Almighty, scintillating sparks of the Divine Conflagration, inseparable from the Supreme Being. That is the angelic condition. There, in that condition, the consciousness of the angel is a perpetual awareness of its relation to the Almighty. The angels never lose consciousness of God. Whether it is Deva, or Michael, or Gabriel, or any other angel mentioned in the scriptures, whatever be the name given to these angels, they are perpetually in the presence of God. They are the guardians of heaven; they are parts of the Divine Kingdom.

There is eternal daylight there, says the Upanishad. “Sakrit vibhato hi brahmalokah.” In Brahmaloka, which is the Indian counterpart of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, there is eternal day—no night there. It is all blazing radiance. This blazing radiance does not come from some object hanging in the skies, as it is the case here in this world. The radiance of Brahmaloka is not the effect of a light coming from some lamp, not even a lamp like the sun or the moon. It is self-radiance. It is the light emanating from everything that is there. It is light shining upon its own self, and not shining on some other object which cannot shine. This is the Kingdom of God, this is the Garden of Eden, this is Brahmaloka, this is the world of the angels, the gods, the celestials.

The angels fell. What is this falling? The Upanishad’s answer is that the fall took place due to the Asura influence, which is a difficult thing for us to understand. The problem of evil is an indescribable problem for everyone. Philosophically conceived, the Asura is the impulse towards sense objects. The desire for anything other than one’s own self is the Asura, or the demon. This is something very interesting. We can know where we stand by the measure of this yardstick. One who desires anything other than one’s own Self is the Asura. The angels have no such desires. They are self-satisfied, self-contained, self-complete, radiant sparks of divinity. Something happens! Nobody knows the mystery of creation. This mystery, this so-called something seems to have occurred, whether it was the cause of the fall of Lucifer or the cause of the fall of anybody else. Something happened. This mystery diverted the attention of the angels in a direction which is contrary to the original angelic vision. So we do not think like angels. We think like men and women, like human beings. What is the difference between the vision of the celestials and the vision of the mortals like us?

The Upanishads have many things to tell us in regard about this interesting feature in the process of creation. An explanation of the significance behind this anecdote can be found in the Aitareya Upanishad, wherein the description of the descent is characteristically described. When the angel, the celestial or the god becomes the mortal, the subject becomes the object and the object becomes the subject. This is what has happened. In the beginning of the creation process, the universe remains as an inseparable body of the Almighty. Since God revealed Himself as this creation, all things in creation are inseparable from God’s Being; and since God cannot be regarded as an object, nothing in this world can be regarded as an object. Since the world is the body of God, it is an appearance of the glory of the Almighty Himself.

But, for every one of us, the world is an object of sense, as if God Himself has become a sense object. We are running after things which were originally inseparable from us but which have now assumed the context or the position of the things which are external to us. The origins of our own present individualities, the causes of our present form of existence have erroneously assumed the position of an object of sense outside. The world is an object of sense for every one of us. And we have assumed a false position of subjectivity or the position of a seer or experiencer, while we are the experienced objects from the angelic or the cosmic point of view. The so-called subjectivity in us is an objectivity to God, and to assume that we are subjects is to assume what Lucifer assumed in the presence of the Almighty. Now what position we are all occupying in this world will be clear to every one of us.

The senses were asked to chant the holy mantra. We also chant the mantra every day. We employ our sense organs in the practice of spiritual sadhana. The chanting of the Udgitha is nothing but the invocation of God, the Almighty, for the purpose of overcoming this evil influence by which we have somehow or other become entangled in attraction to objects, the evil influence inflicted upon us by the Asuras. But the senses are not reliable instruments for spiritual practice. The ears, the nose, the senses of seeing, touching, tasting, etc., are not our friends. And, therefore, to ask them to chant the spiritual mantra would be to court defeat in this battle. This has actually happened.

The cosmical envisagement is impossible for the sense organs. The very idea of contemplation in yoga or meditation on the Divine Principle is a non-sensory or a super-sensory aspiration arising from us. Spiritual aspiration is a super-sensory impulse. It is not a sensory impulse. It has very little to do with the sense organs. What we call pratyahara, the well-known word, is the accumulation within ourselves of a force which overcomes the distracting influences of the senses—the production of a cumulative energy within ourselves which precedes the distracting movements of the senses. This is actually what is meant by the Prana which sang the Udgitha and won victory.

There is something in us that is different from, superior to, and transcending the sensory diversifications. We cannot see God with the eyes, cannot hear Him with the ears, touch Him with the fingers, taste Him with the tongue, or smell Him with the nose. That which is transcendent is not an object of these senses. That means to say that the recourse to spiritual practice is not a sensory activity. It is not anything that is done by the eyes or the ears, the fingers, the nose or the tongue. So the chanting of the holy text, the Udgitha, which is an invocation of the glory of God, cannot be undertaken except by that which is divine in us. And the senses are the undivine henchmen which force us to go contrary to the righteousness of the Kingdom of God.

So all the senses were defeated. The gods had to take recourse to that which is superior to all the senses, viz., the Prana, which has a variegated meaning. We do pranayama, control the breath, by withholding inspiration and expiration, and we speak of the restraint of the prana. We are also told that there are various functions of the pranaprana, apana, vyana, samana, udana, etc. Actually prana is the vitality in the whole human organism. It is not located in any particular sense organ, but the sense organs move on account of this dynamo that is working inside. This dynamo is the power generator, and the energy can be utilised for any purpose—to move a train, light a bulb, power a refrigerator or heat a stove. We can do anything we like, but the generator is not concerned with that. Likewise is the Prana Sakti. We can use it for seeing with the eyes or hearing with the ears, smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, etc., but it has no concern with all these, even as electricity has no concern with light and movement, etc.

So there is a super-sensory integrating vitality in us, which was the thing that finally succeeded in chanting the holy invocation and quelled the Asuras. How could it be done? Because the integrating force is the only power that can put down the distracting force. The impulse of the senses in terms of or in relation to objects is the evil spoken of as the Asuras here in this battle. This sensory impulse cannot be overcome by employing the senses themselves. It would be like employing a thief as a policeman to catch the thief. He will not succeed in that, because he is a friend of the thief. Therefore, the senses are not good instruments in the practice of yoga. They have to be withdrawn in pratyahara, and this is done by various ways, as we all know. So the Udgitha, the divine invocation, was the recital by that integrating vitality which sung the chant; and the concentration of this force, which is the total energy of the system, melted the impulses of the senses, and there was a retention of the activity of the senses. A true pranayama-kumbhaka took place, in yogic parlance. The senses ceased from operating in their own ways.

The Asura spoken of is not a human being or something like a human being, but it is a power. Finally, everything in this universe, in all this creation, is a force moving in this direction or that direction. The Deva, the angel, the god, the celestial, the power divine is the impulse towards cosmic integration, divine experience. The Asura, the demon, the Rakshasa, the evil that is spoken of is the counter-energy that rushes towards the periphery of creation, away from the centre, to the farthest gross form of objects of sense; it recognises a drop of honey there and licks it, like a dog licking a broken bone. The spiritual practice of yoga is the union of the powers of the senses together and the centralising of this force in the great vitality in us, which is indescribable, finally. This energy, or Sakti, is in every one of us. This Sakti is not a physical power merely; the physical power of ours is only an expression of this internal Prana Sakti. The Udgitha mantra was chanted thus by the Prana, and the Asuras were quelled, and the gods assumed their original positions.

What is the meaning of gods assuming their original positions? It means that the gods went to heaven. Otherwise, they were banished as exiles and they were wandering anywhere, helplessly. When the Asuras were defeated in battle, the angels got back their original positions. The angel is a limb of the Virat who visualises everything as a subject rather than an object. There is no object for the Virat, or the Supreme Universal Consciousness; and we were all parts of it. We are all parts of it even now, but we are blindfolded and afflicted with some kind of evil, as the Upanishad mentioned already, and so we have lost our positions. We have been thrown out as exiles from this relation that we had with the Cosmic Virat or the Hiranyagarbha. The origin that we aspire for, the position that we have to regain, is that position in the limb of the Almighty.

Everything was visible in that Cosmic Form described in the Mahabharata, particularly in the Bhagavadgita. Everything is found there. Even the one who sees it is there, already included. The seer of the Virat is also inside the Virat. That means to say that there is nothing outside it. So the so-called outsideness and the running after the things that are outside is something totally undivine. And the practice of yoga, the living of the spiritual life, is the chanting of the Udgitha. It is the Divine Name for all practical purposes. It means the invocation of the Divine Principle in our practical lives, implanting God in our hearts and seeking the blessing of the Almighty.

This is a hard job, because when we visualise the Divine Being, or when we invoke the divine into us, the senses persist in their action; the Asuras attack us, as the Upanishad tells us again and again, and we do not succeed in our attempts. Because there is always a tendency in us to objectify everything, we cannot think in terms of the angel’s vision; that is out of question. But we have to succeed in doing it. Otherwise, there is no entry into this Divine Kingdom. “A flaming sword is placed at the gate, and an angel guards it that no mortal may enter.” It means to say, no sensory appetite may be permitted there. Not only appetite, even an activity of a sensory type will not hold water. “Straight is the gate, narrow is the way.” The gross objects of sense cannot enter that narrow gate. It is so narrow that even this body cannot go. We cannot carry this body there; we have to shed it.

The angels have no physical body. The angel is an ethereal existence, which can penetrate through walls and pierce through everything. It is not physicality; it is rarified angelity. That is the Spirit within us. The angel is still speaking within us; it is not dead. The Spirit within us is the angel. But the whisper which compels us to divert the attention of this angel to the body and all its external relations is the Asura, the Satan speaking. The voice of the divine is the voice of pure divine subjectivity in affiliation with God’s omnipresence; but this is not the way in which we are working in the world. We have a different way altogether. We are not in the Kingdom of God; we are in a mortal world of birth and death. The process known as transmigration is consequent upon this divine impulse, stifled by the urge for sensory contact, struggling to regain its original position but getting defeated again and again. Birth and death are processes of the struggle of the spirit to regain its original position. But in every attempt, it gets defeated. And so it is born and it dies, it is born and it dies, and there is no end to it. So the gods fight and get defeated, fight and get defeated again and again, because they have not employed the proper means in the battle with the Asuras.

After ages of struggle, we awaken ourselves to the proper means. We have to know the tactics of the enemy in order to meet the inimical forces. Already we have been told that the angels are lesser in number and the evil forces are more, and they can threaten us. The quantity of the world always surprises us. And the quality of our Spirit seems to be a little spark before this mighty magnitude of the physical world. We are awe-stricken even by looking at this world. We do not know whether we can do anything here at all. Such a mighty giant is this world before us. So the quantity engulfs the quality; the Asuras overpower the gods. But, the gods have their own strength; quality is superior to quantity, as we all know. Yet, we are frightened by the quantity of things because of the incapacity of this little quality of the spark to assert its pure independence in its primitive originality.

This is the meaning behind the Upanishadic story of the Devasura Sangrama, very interestingly told us, though not in much detail. But it becomes a large epic like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Puranic stories later on, all meaning finally the agelong struggle between the divine and the undivine forces. It is a conflict between Spirit and matter, Light and darkness, the Subject and the object, the Seer and the seen, the ‘I’ and the ‘you’, and so on. For this purpose, we have to conduct a very incisive analysis of our position and engage ourselves in the very same discipline which was contemplated by the gods in heaven after receiving several kicks and blows and getting defeated. We have been defeated many a time. We have passed through many, many forms of earthly existence. We are told that we have passed through 84 lakhs of species of living beings, etc.; and now we have come to the end of it, as it were, by assuming human form.

It is not really the end, but it is the end in the sense that we have a consciousness of the future or the destiny of ours. So the purpose in existence has awakened itself in man, while in the earlier species this consciousness of the purpose is supposed to be completely obliterated in sleep and there is only a kind of instinctive action without the consciousness of a higher purpose or a destiny in life. But even though man’s existence is not the finale in creation, in a way it is a great achievement indeed. It is a kind of pass mark that we have obtained in an examination, but it is not complete. A pass mark is not an entire success. It is only a patting on the back that we are well, and it is good. But there is a lot to be done further, above the human level, to reach that original position which we have lost.

We have to traverse a long distance, but we have the consolation that we know how much time it will take, what are the means that we have to employ, where is the destination, etc. Even to have this consciousness of purpose is an achievement, though this is a meager achievement because, though we have a consciousness of the purpose of our existence and the nature of the destiny ahead, it has not yet been realised and achieved. So while we are aware of the fact, we have not yet come to possession of this fact. This effort towards the coming into direct contact and realisation of the great purpose of existence, and to regain our original position as angels, is the art of yoga.