by Swami Krishnananda
After having gone through the whole process of creation and given some idea of what are the constituents of this creation; how things in creation are related to one another; in short, what is the internal connection between the world and the individuals in their relationship with the Creator; now, some important conclusion is drawn on the basis of this doctrine of the creation of the universe, namely, the way in which forces work in the world.
We have heard it said that there are divine forces and undivine forces, or, to put in a more intelligible phrase, the integrating forces and the disintegrating forces. The integrating powers are called the Devas, and the disintegrating ones are called the Asuras, the gods and the demons, which we hear of in the Epics and the Purāṇas and the mythological stories of religion. There is supposed to be a constant battle going on between the gods and the demons, the divine and the undivine forces, a subject that is dealt with also in the Sixteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgītā, entitled 'Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga-Yoga', or the Yoga of the conflict between the divine and the undivine forces. We have heard these words repeated many times – the divine and the undivine. But, what do they actually mean? How do we know what is divine and what is undivine? What is the characteristic of a divine force and what is the nature of an undivine force? This is explained in the following section of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, by way of an allegorical anecdote, a story. There was a war going on between the children of Prajāpati, a conflict between the elders and the youngsters, one may say, the gods and the non-gods, the Devas and the Asuras.
The gods wanted to overcome the demons. The great exponent Achārya Śankara tells us that the gods are always less in number, the demons are more in number, by which he means that people who follow their natural inclinations are more in number than those who are able to subdue the natural impulses. These urges of nature are designated as divine and undivine, from the way in which they work, and the purpose for which they work. And, the battle between the two forces was waged with the intention on either side for victory. The gods did not depend entirely on the strength of their arms, but wanted to take the help of a superior power, and that power is the power of a chant, a Mantra, or a vibration, a magical influence, we may say, a weapon which they wanted to employ against the Asuras. The Devas conferred among themselves, and concluded: "We shall employ a Mantra-Astra, a weapon which is driven, not by any material element, but by mere thought, viz., the Udgītha, the Divine Vital Power." We have heard of Astras, or divine weapons, such as Brahmāstra, Nārāyaṇāstra, Pāsupatāstra, etc. These are not physical weapons, but certain superphysical vibrations, like homeopathic potencies which cannot be seen with the eyes, but work vigorously. These weapons can be discharged even through a small, tiny material instrument. The weapon which is mystical, here contemplated to be employed by the Devas, was the Udgītha-Sāman, a Mantra of the Sāma-Veda which is called the Udgītha. "We chant, recite, and generate energy, so that we may overcome the Asuras, the demons."
Now, who will do the chant? The gods are the presiding deities over the senses, as far as the individuals are concerned. We have the gods in the cosmos, and gods in our own physical organism. The cosmical counterpart of the sensory powers in the individual are what are called the gods in the heavens. The macrocosmos and the microcosmos are correlated organically. The powers that are supermundane, which work as divinities in the heavens, as we hear of spoken in the scriptures, are the superintending principles over the sense-organs. The god of the eyes, for example, is the Sun, Surya. The Sun is the god of the eyes, and likewise we have gods or presiding principles, divinities, superior energies, presiding over every sense-organ and activity, including the psychological functions. The presiding deity of the eyes is Sūrya, of the nose are Aśvinī Kumaras, of the ears are the Dig-Devatas, of the taste principle is Varuṇa, of the touch principle is Vāyu, and there are Agnī, Indra, Viṣhnu, Prajāpati, Mṛityu, presiding over the organs of action, the Moon presiding over the mind, Brahma over the intellect, Rudra over the ego, and Viṣhnu over the subconscious and the subliminal psychological layers.
All these gods conferred together to work up an energy, or a force, to counteract the Asura energy. They wanted to chant the Mantra in order that the energy may be acquired. The chanting of the Mantra, here, does not merely mean a verbal recitation through the mouth, or a hearing of it through the ears, a fact which is made out by the story itself. What is actually meant by the chant of the Mantra is a setting in tune of oneself with the Powers that are invoked by the Mantra. If this attunement of the microcosmic with the macrocosmic is not affected, the Mantra does not work; it cannot produce effect. This is what actually happened when the chant of the Sāman was wrongly recited. The speech principle was asked to chant the Sāman, that is the Udgītha. The gods asked the speech: "You chant the Veda, the Sāman, the Udgītha," and the speech rose up into action and chanted the Sāman. The gods were very much pleased that the Sāman chanting was being recited by the speech, and that they were going to have more energy, and shall overcome the Asuras. But the Asuras came to know of this fact. The demons understood: "Oh, they are going to chant something, so that we may be overcome. We shall defeat their purpose." And what did the Asuras, the demons, do? They attacked the speech, afflicted the speech with evil, so that the Sāman may be spoilt. The evil with which the Asuras affected the speech is the wrong utterances which the speech expresses occasionally. We speak good things, and also not good things. That we are capable of speaking something not good and useful and beneficial shows that the Asuras also are working in us, not merely the gods. We can speak what is beneficial; we can also speak what is not beneficial. We are capable of doing both. We can do some good through the speech; we can do a great harm also through the speech. Why is the speech affected with this capacity to do harm? That is the result of the speech being attacked by the Asuras – the evil effect. The chant is defeated. The gods could not achieve their purpose.
The gods, then, thought and decided: "Somebody else has to chant; the speech is defeated; it is not chanting properly; it is uttering wrong things; it blabbers; it flounders." Then they asked the other organs to chant, one by one. The eye was asked to chant. The speech is not able to do what is required. So the eye, the principle of seeing, was requested by the gods: "You will chant the Sāman for us." The eye rose up into action and then started chanting. The Asuras understood this also. They attacked the eye with evil. So, we can see good things and also not good things with the eye. We can see the same object in two ways. We can visualise an object in two manners: in a manner that is conducive to proper judgment, and in a manner which is not proper judgment. The eye is capable of doing both, and that weakness of the eye to see wrong, evil, and misjudge things, is the result of the Asuras affecting it. Thus, the eye also could not do this work. Then, the gods told the ear: "Will you chant? The speech has found itself incapable, because the Asuras attacked it. Ear, can you chant?" The ear said: "Yes, I can." And it chanted. The Asuras understood that the ear is chanting. So, they attacked the ear with evil. Then what happened? The ear can hear both good and bad. We can receive good things and bad things through the ear. The ear is an open door; it is never closed. Anything can enter through it, and the capacity of the ear to receive what is not proper, what is not right, what is not good, is the result of the demons attacking it. Likewise, every organ was affected. We can taste good and bad; we can smell good and bad; we can hear good and bad; and touch good and bad. The gods requested the mind, and it, too, got affected with the habit of thinking what is improper. Then, what is the alternative? What is to be done now? The Devas had no way of escape. "Everywhere the Asuras are attacking us, from all sides. We cannot even chant the Mantra; they are spoiling everything."
Then they asked the internal unifying Prāṇa-Śakti, ultimately: "Can you chant the Sāman Mantra, Udgītha, for us? All the sense-organs have failed. Even the mind could not chant." When the mind was asked to chant, the Asuras attacked the mind. So they say, the mind can think right things and also wrong things. All thoughts are not really correct thoughts. So, everything went a fiasco; it was not successful. There was something which the gods could think of as the medium or the instrument for the chant of the Sāman, namely the Prāṇa. The Prāṇa does not belong to any sense-organ. It is a single force that works through the entire system, and without this element, principle, or vitality, which is the Prāṇa, no sense-organ can function – the eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear, etc. So, it is an impersonal unifying force. The total power of the organism, we may say – that is what is indicated by the word, Prāṇa here. And the Prāṇa was requested by the gods: "Will you chant the Sāman, Udgītha, for us?" "Yes." And the Vital Energy started chanting, and the Asuras wanted to attack it. "Oh, we see; this Vital Energy is chanting the Mantra; we shall attack." When the Asuras attacked the Prāṇa, what happened? They could not overcome the Prāṇa. They were thrown back and broken to pieces, and flung in all directions, as a clod of earth would be rendered to dust when it is struck against a rock, says the Upaniṣhad. A little ball of dry earth, if thrown against a hard rock, will break to pieces. The rock will not be affected; the ball will go to pieces. The Asuras went to pieces when they hit this inner Śakti the Power, the Prāṇa. Then, there was success for the gods, and the gods assumed their original positions which they had lost on account of their being subjected to the evil of the Asuras. The gods became what they were. One who knows thus becomes himself, and his enemies are crushed. This is a very interesting narrative. But, here is not merely a story; it is a cosmic phenomenon explained in an analogical language.
The Devas and the Asuras are two tendencies, and not substances. The tendency to unification is the divine principle, and the urge to diversification is the demoniacal principle. The sense-organs are incapable; they were defeated by the Asuras, which means to say, that the sense-organs cannot work up this unifying activity which is intended for regaining the original position of the deities of the senses. As mentioned earlier, the mistake that happened during the process of individual creation is a reversal of the subject and the object, placing them in wrong positions. In the Aitareya Upaniṣhad, we have a more clear exposition of this descending process. The Cosmic Being manifested Himself as all things, down to the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – which we regard as objects of sense. The five elements are the objects of our senses, but they were the last evolutes in the process of Divine manifestation. They were, therefore, part of the Cosmic Being who was the Universal Subject; and whoever knows this, also remains the Universal Subject as inseparable from this All-Being, Vaiśvānara, or Virāt. The five elements stand in the position of the subject to the isolated individuals; and they are not their objects. The mouth of the Virāt is supposed to be the location of the Fire principle. For instance, Speech is the effect of the Fire principle. While in the cosmic realm, Fire is the effect of the Cosmic Principle, of Speech, identified with the Virāt Himself, the Fire principle becomes an object for individuals, so that human speech is controlled by the Fire principle, as it is not the case in Virāt where Speech is the controller of Fire. The Organs which are attributed to the Virāt are causes, rather than effects. And, in our case, they become effects, like reflections. The evil which we are speaking of here, the Asuras or the demons, are the tendencies to regard the Universal Subject as an object, and the desire of the individualised subject to run after the object for 'contact' with it. The gods have lost their position. They are no more angels in heaven. We hear in the Purāṇas, stories being told that the celestials were driven away from heaven by the demons and they lost their position; they ran away; they did not know where to stand, and rushed to God for help. When the forces of desire in terms of external objects begin to operate in an intense manner, the position of the Universal Subject gets converted into that of an object, and then the gods are driven from the heaven. When the Subject is driven from its location and transformed into an object, what is really happening is that the angels are driven from heaven and the Asura has taken that position. The demon is ruling the kingdom of paradise. The idea is this: the god who is the subjective angel has become a fallen egoistic subject, under the spell of evil influences. This travesty can be obviated only if the evil element in the senses is removed. The eye, the ear, the nose, speech, etc. can regain their original position, as they had in the being of the Virāt, if the tendencies to diversification and movement towards objects are obviated by the operation of the Prāṇa. It was the Prāṇa whom evil, the Asuras, could not attack. Everything could be affected. The eye and the ear and all the sense-organs were afflicted by the Asuras, i.e., every organ is a diversifying principle. It is not a unifying power. No sense-organ is characterised by unification or the power of meeting. Every sense has an urge to move in the direction of its own particular object. The ear has its own object, sound; the eye has the object, colour; the nose has the object, smell; the tongue has the object, taste; and the skin has its object, touch. They can never have a unifying capacity. But the Prāṇa is a unifying force. This Prāṇa, here, is represented by Hiraṇyagarbha in the cosmos. So, this section in the Upaniṣhad really deals with Prāṇa-Vidyā, or meditation on the Cosmic Prāṇa, Hiraṇyagarbha, for the purpose of which the senses have to be turned back to their own sources, and not allowed to move towards objects, which is the disease that they have contracted on account of their being afflicted by what is called the Asura.
The centrifugal tendency is the Asura; the centripetal one is the divine aspiration. The disintegrating impulse, i.e., the movement towards further and further grosser form of objectivity, is the devilish element in the senses, and the divine element is that by which they can turn back upon their own source and contemplate their inner connectedness with the other divinities. The Prāṇa mentioned here is not merely the breathing principle or the breath, so-called. Some people translate Prāṇa as breath; but it is not just that. It is the energy, a subtle force, a vitality, that which keeps the whole body in unison. If we can feel a sensation of unity in the whole body, it is because of the harmonious movement of the Prāṇa in the whole system. Really, the body is not one whole, it is made up of parts; every cell is different from every other cell, every limb is different from every other limb. But, in spite of this diversification we are a whole. We have the heart; we have the lungs; we have the spleen; we have the liver and intestines; the hands and the feet; and the limbs and the organs, one different from the other, constituted of minute organisms called cells. But, how is it that, with all this diversity, we are able to feel a singleness of unity in ourselves? We are a whole, an indivisible completeness. This is due to the Prāṇa which is the immediate manifestation of the Ātmā-Śakti within us. Ultimately, it is the Ātman which is responsible for the sense of unity within us. It is indivisible, and everything which reflects this indivisibility in some percentage may be regarded as a manifestation of the Ātman. The Prāṇa-Śakti is regarded as an immediate expression of Ātmā-Śakti within us, and correspondingly in the cosmos, we may say, Hiraṇyagarbha is the reflection of the Absolute Brahman.
Such a meditation is to be practiced if the senses are to be controlled, and if the divinities are to regain their positions, i.e., if we are not to stand in the need of moving towards objects of sense for our satisfaction, and the objects have to come to us of their own accord. When this is achieved, things will not be objects. They will stand in the position of our own kith and kin. They become part of our larger dimension, which they really are, but which consciousness we have forsaken on account of the subjection of the senses to the Asura principle, the urge for diversification.
Thus, this section of the Upaniṣhad is a continuation of the history of creation which was narrated to us in the earlier section. The Prāṇa is the only unifying principle within us, not the sense-organs. The contemplator on the Prāṇa becomes indomitable at once. This is one of the things that the Upaniṣhad tells us. We achieve and get endowed with a power which cannot be confronted by anybody. A contemplator on the Hiraṇyagarbha Prāṇa is a powerful being. Nobody can stand before that person.