An Analysis of the Brahma Sutra
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: Upasana – Upanishadic Meditations

The method of upasana – meditation – as prescribed in the third chapter of the Brahma Sutra follows the principle laid down in the Upanishad itself. What is that principle?

Tam yatha yatha upasate, sa tathaiva bhavati.

As one adores, so does one become. Who will not adore from the deepest recesses of the heart the best of things conceivable, which goes deep into the feelings, on which one broods for ever and ever? That brooding, that deep thinking, creates an impress on the mind, like a groove on the gramophone plate; we can sing the same song again and again by replaying it. This impression created by continuous thinking, wanting and adoring whatever objective may be in one’s mind – that concretises itself into a form and presents itself before oneself, which is what we attain through meditation on anything.

Most people imagine that meditation is done to achieve something. You ask any person, ‘What do you want through meditation?’. ‘I want to achieve peace of mind’. Some may even meditate for acquiring wealth, prosperity, name, fame, long life, but such achievements do not change the person. The purpose of meditation is the change that should take place thoroughly inside and outside. Acquisitions or achievements will pass away one day or other. Wealth will pass away, long life also will have an end, name and fame will vanish, authority passes away – nothing lasts.

The Upanishadic meditations or the Brahma Sutra prescriptions should not be considered as recipes for ulterior achievements. What else is it? It is the doctrine of what you want to become and not what you want to achieve. There is a difference between achieving and becoming. People can easily answer the question, ‘What do you want to achieve?’, but nobody can answer the question, ‘What do you want to become?’!

‘Oh! You are asking this question – what I want to become!’ Nobody can give the answer. ‘What do you want to become?’ Who can answer this question, ‘What do you want to become?’ Unless this point is clear, the meditations would not be finally successful. There are two categories of meditation – one to achieve something, another to become something. The latter meditation will also help in achieving things; you can achieve anything – even up to the skies. But what would you like to become? Here comes in the Upanishad, and the Brahma Sutra. If you cannot answer this question, the Brahma Sutra answers the question.

You would like to be free from the shackles of limitation of every kind. This attainment is called moksha, Liberation. Freedom from every kind of limitation or finitude is moksha. It is not just some achievement. Even if you achieve the greatest authority and power in the world, that will not make you a different person – you will be the same mortal as you were. There should be no mistake in this regard. People are silly and childlike in thinking that it is for the peace of mind. They understand nothing, really.

Meditation, in the sense of the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, is to remove all conditioning factors which make you feel you are finite, that you are localised in one place – this is one kind of limitation; you cannot be in two places at the same time; you feel very much agitated over this matter – ‘you see I am stuck to one place only and the world is so big! What is the good of this? I want to know all things and I want to see everything – all places’! You would like to become as wide as the world itself, and you would like to see everything in the world. You would like to know all things and be and know everything for all time to come. This is possible only if you can defy the limitation of space and the limitation of time.

The prescription of the Chhandogya Upanishad, which is discussed in the Brahma Sutra also, is: Yo vai bhuma tat sukham – Perfection, utter freedom is in that which is not finite. The Infinite alone can be considered as utter Perfection, where every kind of finitude is abolished. Can we imagine what Infinitude is? You will have nothing to see outside you, because that which is Infinite is also that which is everywhere. What is the point in ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ through the ears what is everywhere, and what is the point in trying to worry the brain in understanding what is everywhere? The Upanishad discards this situation: Yo vai bhuma tat amirtam (The Full is the Immortal).

Yatra na anyat pasyati, na anyat srinoti,
No anyat vijanati, sa bhuma

Infinity is that where you need not have to see anything, nor hear anything or try to understand anything through the mind. But,

Yatra anyat pasyati, anyat srinoti,
Anyat vijanati, tad alpam.

That is futile whereby you see something outside you, hear something outside you and try to understand and think something outside you.

The Infinite is not inside or outside, It being everywhere. Therefore these organs of perception, which take you in the direction of what is outside, are useless in such meditations. Meditation is not done by the sense-organs. Actually, it is not even the mind that meditates, because the mind, unfortunately, is a principle of collecting information from the sense-organs, who give various kinds of reports, analysing them, synthesising them and forming an organisation of all the reports that the sense-organs bring to the mind. The mind, thus, cannot think something more than what the sense-organs give. It is only an organiser of sensory operations. If senses cannot be the means of meditation, the mind is also not the means. Then who meditates? That which wants to become something different – That meditates.

You want to become different from what you are. That ‘you’ is what is meditating. Here in this connection we have to add that it involves also the liberation from the shackles of the five sheaths of the body. The physical body is a source of limitation; the sense organs are a limitation; the mind, for the reason mentioned, is a limitation; the understanding which is only a judgement passed on what the mind thinks is also a limitation. All knowledge in this world is artificial knowledge, a shadow of the Real Knowledge, a reflection of the Original Knowledge; and so, who meditates?

You meditate. Who are ‘You’? Can you say you are the body? ‘My body is meditating’. Body does not meditate. Do the sense-organs meditate? No, it is also ruled out. Is the mind is meditating? No, because for the same reason again, it is not the meditator. Is the understanding, intellect meditating? No, because it is only a co-brother of the mind. Who meditates? You meditate. Who are ‘You’? Neither the body, nor the sense-organs nor the mind nor the intellect. All that you consider as what you are, is not really what you are. There is a confusion in everybody’s mind in regard to one’s own self! This is called superimposition, adhyasa, – confusing one thing with the other.

Look at it! All those things which you consider as yourself are not yourself. The ‘I’ that you refer to is an important thing to remember. When you say, ‘I am here’, do you mean that the sense-organs are here or the mind is here or the intellect is here? You do not mean that. You would not like to say, ‘My intellect is here’, ‘my mind is here’. You have already agreed to the conclusion that the senses, the mind, the body and the intellect are not you. Everybody knows it but still you say ‘I am here’. This ‘I’ is the principle that really meditates. The ‘I’ is the meditating principle.

The little ‘I’ that oneself is wishes to transform itself into the bigger ‘I’, even the Infinite ‘I’ – this is the purpose of meditation. Otherwise, any amount of meditation sessions will bring no proper result. The mind has to be clarified first. You must know what you want, before saying ‘I want something’. What you think and affirm about yourself, that which you are will come to you; that which you are not will run away from you. (Sarvam tam paradat yah anyatra atmanah sarvam veda).

The cobwebs of mistaken thinking should be cleared first. We must take enough time to do this. We should not say, ‘I am very busy; I am doing this work, that work’. Well, then you go on doing the work and be what you are. We have already mentioned that work and meditation are not contradictory. The bogey that people bring before them, ‘I am so busy, I have no time to meditate’ is meaningless. That is to say, they are neither doing right work nor doing right meditation. Mostly, the life that people live is a confusion. It is neither an achievement nor anything worthwhile.

To achieve this, to attain this path of Perfection which is what is known as meditation, continuous thinking is necessary. Close your doors in the room, put down the telephone, do not read any books, close your eyes or open your eyes as the case may be, go on thinking ‘what kind of person am I?’. This subject also we have touched previously – what kind of person you are. Nobody could answer this question. Now you need not ask somebody what kind of person you are. You ask yourself ‘What kind of person am I?’. Sincerely put this question from the bottom of your heart, ‘What kind of person am I?’ Very uncomfortable answer may come. ‘I am certainly not what I appear to be’. Dangerous is this answer, shocking is the conviction.

Are we leading a life which is contrary to what we think we are? This is the reason why it is said you must have a concourse on this subject with people who are treading this path. In this world, where a single Guru is difficult to find and people run from one to another, it is better to have a congregation of well-meaning people. We are all seated here and I would believe we are all well-meaning people and I can understand that everyone here is wanting the same thing and not different things.

Discuss among yourselves: ‘My dear friend! How are you progressing in your meditation?’ I will ask you, you ask me, I ask this man and that man – like schoolboys, collegiates discussing among themselves on subjects of examination ensuing tomorrow, let us discuss about this matter, thrash it.

Tat chintanam tat kathanam
Anyonyam tatprabodhanam
Etadekaparatvam cha
Brahmabhyasam vidur budhah

(Panchadasi 7.106)

Meditation is the practice of Brahman; in Sanskrit it is called brahmabhyasa. What does it mean?

Tatchintanam – like a mother who has lost her only child, like a husband who has lost his newly-wed wife, like a wife who has lost her newly-wed husband, like a person who has lost all his wealth – what does he think? There will be one thought only at that time. So tatchintanam – thinking only that. ‘Oh! I want That; Oh! I want That’! Mother cries when the child is dead: ‘Oh! My dear! I want you; where have you gone? Oh, my dear! Oh, where is my child? Where is my child?’ They won’t sleep, they won’t eat, they will cry. Like that you have to cry before the Almighty: ‘Oh! Where are you? I want you’! You need not say like that before other people because they will think that you are a little out of wits. You can do it within your room only. ‘My dear Almighty! Where are you?’ Like a child, put this question to your own self. Cry before That; ‘Where are you?’; ‘I want you only, I don’t want anything else; Don’t forget me; Don’t desert me; come now! I am eagerly wanting you’! Like a bereaved person in the world, you speak to God. You have lost Him and so you are bereaved. What a wretched condition! You don’t like to say anything; you don’t want any comfort in this world; you don’t want to talk to any person. ‘My dear God, where are you? I have lost You’. Go on brooding, brooding. This is called tatchintanam – thinking only That, that which you have lost.

Tatkathanam – talking to people on this subject only; if you meet anyone, you speak only this subject; don’t chit-chat on climate, country, how the country is going on, what is the international system – these chats are all no good! You talk to anybody, your friend, only this. ‘How are you progressing? How are you getting on? All is well with you in this matter? Let us discuss. Come on, let us sit, let us discuss this matter. What do you think? What is the difficulty?’ This is tatkathanam. Thinking deeply only That, speaking only about That.

Anyonyam tat prabodhanam – awakening each one by mutual conversation. Sometimes people go for a walk – some three, four, five people go for a walk. Why don’t you think only this at that time? ‘Hello, how are you? Yesterday I was thinking like this and I am feeling like this. What are you thinking about this matter?’ Instead of looking here and there – the shops and market places and monkeys, etc. – why don’t you discuss this even when you are walking? You must have no other thought. Anyonyam tat prabodhanam is the third method.

Etadekaparatvamha brahmabhyasam vidur budhah – depending entirely on That. What do you mean by ‘depending entirely’? You simply efface yourself. You have merged your thought in It. You are going to sink into It. You have lost interest in everything else because there is no ‘else’ to God Almighty. This is brahmabhyasa, the practice of meditation on Brahman.

The Upanishad goes further: sa eva adhastat, sa uparishtat (Ch. Up. 7-25). Where are you, God? Sa eva adhastat – He is below; sa uparishtat – He is above; sa purastat – He is in front; sa paschat – He is behind; sa dakshinatah – to the right; sa uttaratah – to the left; sa eva idam sarvam – everywhere you are. Oh God! This is what you are!

Whoever thinks like this, whoever understands like this, whoever meditates like this, that person does not want a friend. He or she, himself or herself will be the friend. ‘Here in this state, I am my friend; I do not want another friend; I do not want to rejoice over something else; I rejoice over myself. I am wonderful.’ ‘O Wonderful, O Wonderful’, says the Taittiriya Upanishad.

‘Ha-a-a-vu, ha-a-a-vu, ha-a-a-vu’ – you go on making sounds like this; that is, ecstasy is boundless; make any sound because you don’t know how to express ecstasy!

Aham annam; aham annadah.

‘I am the eater of food; I am also the food that is eaten because this ‘I’ is sitting in the food also – it is not sitting on the plate; I am the eater of the food; I eat myself as the food.’ These are Upanishadic statements. These are ecstasies of great Masters of yore. This is something wonderful to hear for everyone who would like to meditate for the sake of the realisation of Brahman.

There are essentially two types of meditation – one is Saguna and the other is Nirguna. Meditating on God Almighty as a Supreme Person is Saguna Upasana; ‘Father in Heaven’, Narayana, Vishnu, Rama, Devi, Jesus Christ, Allah – whatever be the name you give to God – this is the name of a personality which is Cosmic in its nature. The Cosmic expansion of the human concept of personality is the concept of God also, usually. If you meditate on this concept of God, you will achieve That. But the Infinite Personality is not sitting just here; there is a distance involved in It. So it takes time for you to reach the Personal God. Even when you consider God as a Person Infinite in nature and most powerful, you still stand outside It in your meditation. You cannot involve yourself in the largeness of the Personality of God. Acharyas like Ramanuja, Madhva and the Vaishnava theologians tell us, “you praise God, meditate on God, worship God but keep yourself at a distance from Him, because under no stretch of imagination can you imagine you yourself will be like God. According to Vaishnava scriptures, there are four types of salvation known as salokya, samipya, sarupya, and sayujya. This is purely a devotee’s idea, of closeness to God by degrees of nearness.

To live in the same domain as God is one kind of attainment. If God is in heaven, you also are in heaven; you may not be very near God, you may be far away, but you are in the same kingdom; where the king rules, that country is your abode also; you may not be able to see the king but you are happy that you are in the same land which is ruled by the king. This is salokya mukti. This is also a great thing. After all, you are in the Land of God though you may not see God.

Samipya means nearness to God; you are living just by the side of the Ruler of the country; you will feel some elation – the King’s Palace is just here and I am here. Though you have nothing to do with that Palace, you will gain nothing by the nearness, but the mind will say ‘I am so near the Palace of the King; He is here only!’ Thus, nearness to God also is a stage in liberation. This is samipya, closeness.

Still greater freedom is sarupya, assuming the same form of God; you become an ambassador of God. God has given you the powers which He wields. The ambassador has practically all the powers of the kingdom which he represents; he can speak for the whole country of which he is the ambassador. The Vaishnava scriptures say sarupya means not merely becoming an ambassador, because the ambassador does not himself look like the king, though he can be adored and invested with all the paraphernalia of the king also, there is something more here. In Vaikuntha, Abode of Vishnu, Narayana, they shine like Vishnu Himself. When you see the attendant of God, you cannot know whether He is God Himself or is an attendant; he will shine like God Himself, though he is not God. This is called sarupya. The last one is sayujya, merging in God, the Highest attainment. All these come under what is known as saguna Attainment, meditation on God as adorned with all the good qualities – kalyana guna sampanna; ananta koti kalyana guna sampanna – all the blessed things are there in God. Here ‘merging’ is something like merging, union of milk and water, though looking one, still not one.

This is qualitative meditation but still you are different from God. This is what the Acharyas of the Vaishnava cult emphasise again and again. They consider the aspiration to become ‘one’ with God is blasphemy. The Vaishnava Sampradaya follows Dasa Sampradaya. Dasas, Madhvacharya’s followers, consider themselves as dasa, servants of God, and Ramanujacharya’s followers think they are seshatvam; sesha and seshin – these are the words they use to describe the relationship between the individual and God, ‘You are a quality of God but not God Himself; you are an attribute of God’. All the cells of the body are yourself in one sense and yet the cells are not you. We don’t feel ourselves as a bundle of cells sitting here. No! I am here; why do you say ‘cells’?!’. Similarly, though you are an attribute of God, like cells as it were in the body of God, you are not the same as God.

This is the Vaishnava doctrine of seshatva and dasatva – ‘I am a dasa-dasa, servant, servant’; Vaishnavas emphasise this type of devotion.

Aham tu narayanadasadasadasa-syadasasyachadasadasah.

The devotee says – ‘I am the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Narayana’ – they will walk with lowered head, not with raised head. So humble before God one has to be.

Such people who adore God in this manner will attain the Kingdom of God but will not become God. In this connection, the Brahma Sutra says they have all the glory of God to enjoy but they do not have the powers of God; they cannot create the world; they cannot sustain the world; they cannot destroy the world. You can live in the palace of the President and enjoy all the goodies there in the President’s palace, but you cannot do what the President does. You may be the brother of the President himself living in his palace, but you are not the President. Enjoying the glories of God is different from being God.

This is the result of Saguna Bhakti, where according to the Brahma Sutra – jagat vyaparavarjam – all things are yours except the Power of creation, preservation and destruction. Here a controversy is raised by commentators on the Brahma Sutra. It is very good to hear all these things: God is great; you have to be humble; love God as a master, as a beloved, as the most high, Glory of all glories – ‘Very wonderful! We shall do that’, but some rational questions arise which are also discussed in some of the commentaries.

If you are not one with God, you maintain a distance from God even at that height of achievement. Then, what will be your future?! How long will you be in Vaikuntha-Loka, Kailasa, Brahma-Loka or the Heaven where God abides? How long will you stay there? To be in that condition will be to enjoy the contemplation of the Infinite but not to become the Infinite. You have the happiness of contemplating the Infinite but you cannot become the Infinite and do what the Infinite can do. This is a peculiar aphorism in the Brahma Sutra.

Sri Sankaracharya particularly, who comments on the Brahma Sutra elaborately, is, as I could understand, caught in the net of this kind of statement, because Acharya Sankara, whose commentary is the best, cannot agree that some limitation continues even in liberation! But he cannot say that the Sutra is wrong. Sankaracharya finds himself often in a difficulty of this kind. There are some places where he is between the accepting of the Brahma-Loka Attainment as the meaning of the Sutra and the insisting on the utter absorption in Brahman as true moksha.

If the Sutra is correct, the Identity doctrine of Sankara is not correct; if the Identity doctrine of Sankara is correct, the Brahma Sutra is not correct. But we must consider both as correct. We cannot reject Sankara’s idea or reject the Brahma Sutra. Sankara reconciled himself to the feeling that here the Brahma Sutra is not concerned with Nirguna Brahman even when it says in the end, anavrittih shabdat, anavrittih shabdat (no return); and that it just means attaining the Cosmic Creator, but not the Absolute.

A great difficulty arises here in understanding the Sutra’s intention. Ramanuja and the Vaishnava Acharyas have no difficulty! They say ‘Yes! It is like that only!’, because you cannot become God. But Acharya Sankara cannot accommodate himself to it – if you cannot become God, you will be finite again; if you are finite, then you have to return, having not attained moksha.