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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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CHAPTER I

Third Brahmana: The Superiority of the Vital Force Among All Functions (Continued)

In the Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad also, we have a very interesting anecdote, concerning the force that is generated around a person who devotes himself to meditation on the Hiraṇyagarbha Prāṇa. There was a simple person who was very poor, but a meditator on the Cosmic Prāṇa, Hiraṇyagarbha, and he was begging for food, asking for alms, moving from place to place. One day, he went to a Yajaśāla, a sacrificial ground, where Brāhmāṇas were performing rituals of various kinds. This gentleman thought that he will get some charity in that sacrificial ground. So, he went there, and found those people busy performing the rites. They were offering sacred ghee to the consecrated fire. And he said, "I am hungry; give me some food." No one paid any attention. They did not even look at him. They were busy performing the sacrifice. He asked a second time, and third time, "Give me food; I am hungry." And nobody cared; they did not talk. Then he uttered thus: "Do you know whom you are refusing food; you are refusing food to the Cosmic Prāṇa." The very word was sufficient to shake their whole person. They rose up, "Come; come, please sit, take food," said they all in great fear.

The vibration of the meditator of the Cosmic Prāṇa is a power which can influence anything and everything. The incapacity of the individual, the powerlessness, the impotency that we feel, is due to the isolation of our individual Prāṇa from the Cosmic Prāṇa. The Cosmic Prāṇa moves into us, it is within us, like the all-pervading space which is inside everything. The all-pervading space which is illimitable is inside this hall. The little space inside this hall is the same as the space that is outside and everywhere. In the same manner, the Prāṇa that is within us is the same as the Cosmic Prāṇa called the Sūtra-Ātman, or Hiraṇyagarbha. But, due to arrogance, egoism, self-assertion, we began to appropriate for own selves whatever is within our body as our own. We begin to say, "my mind, my Prāṇa, my limbs, my organs, my senses" etc. This 'mineness' in respect of properties and acquisitions, born out of the 'I'ness of self-affirmation, is the cause of cutting oneself away from the inflow of the energy that is everywhere. And, therefore, we feel weak vitally and psychologically. The moment this bund is broken, the wall that separates us from the Cosmic Prāṇa is lifted by a contemplation which is called the Udgītha-Vidyā, meditation on the Sūtra-Ātman. As long as this art of meditation on the Sūtra-Ātman is not learnt, we feel impotent in every respect. The contemplator on the Sūtra-Ātman is an all-powerful being.

The story is not merely a description of the powers of the Prāṇa. It is a statement on the powers of everything that is within us. The Prāṇa is the most forceful principle in the subtle body within us, but there are other principles, the sense-organs, for the eye, the ear, etc. They are also powerful if they are properly located. Any person can assume strength when placed in a proper position. But, if we put a person in the wrong place, even the powerful one becomes weak. So, the senses, like the Prāṇa, should be placed in their proper positions. The mind also has to be placed in its proper context. When the mind becomes powerful, the senses also become powerful. One can convert things and bring about transformation by the operation of the mind and the senses, properly attuned to their sources. The whole meditation described here, in this context of Prāṇa-Vidyā, is the placing of the mind, the Prāṇa and the senses in their proper places. What is the proper place? The eye must go back to the Sun. That is its proper place. It should not regard itself as isolated from its deity. Just as the soul cannot be separated from the body, the deity of an organ cannot be separated from the organ. The senses should not regard themselves as independent individuals working for their own purpose. They are only outer instruments of action for the divinities that are within. So, the contemplation of the divinity, Devatā-Dhyāna, is the attunement of the sense-powers with the divinity that is superintending over them. The divinity, again, has to be placed in its proper place. What is it? It is the limb of the Virāt. Every god is a limb of the Cosmic Virāt, and so, when the senses are placed in their identity with their divinity, and likewise, the divinity is placed in its proper place, in its identity with the Virāt, the Virāt begins to work in us at once. It is like putting on a switch, connecting our little light bulb with the power house, though far away from us. This is the art of meditation. The object which is usually regarded as external to the senses should not be regarded as such, because it is not really an object. From the point of view of its own location, it may be a subject. We know this very well. You are an object for me, because I see you, but you are a subject to your own self, and I may be an object for you. So, if I am a subject for myself, and you are a subject for yourself, and if everyone and everything is a subject from his own or her own or its own point of view, where is the object? The object does not exist. It is only an hallucination. There is only One Subject. Everywhere, there is subjectivity. Even in the minutest atom and electron, there is a subjectivity. A principle of the affirmation of self is present in every little nook and corner of the universe. So, the affirmation of the subjectivity of things in their proper places, i.e., to regard all beings as limbs of the Virāt, to regard everyone as a self, rather than an object, would be the highest meditation conceivable.

This is the greatest meditation that can be taught to anyone. It is great because it reaches the pinnacle of Reality. When we respect a person, that person begins to help us. If we disregard the person, no help can come from that person. To regard a person as an object is to insult that person, because that person is not an object. From that person's point of view, that person is a subject, with self-regard, self-esteem and value, and so is the case with everyone and everything. We shall be in a position to regard everyone and everything from the point of view of the location of his own or its own being, as we locate our own being. The Selfhood of all things is the ultimate meditation. This state cannot be achieved easily. It is a hard and arduous technique, and for this purpose we are asked to go slowly, from the lower rungs to the higher ones in the order of creation. This is the principle laid out in a beautiful injunction in the Katha Upaniṣhad, also.

Yacched vāṅ manasī prājas tad yacchej jāna-ātmani jānam ātmani mahati niyacchet, tad yacchec chānta-ātmani.

The senses have to be centred in the mind; the mind has to be centred in the intellect; the intellect has to be centred in the Cosmic Intellect; the Cosmic Intellect has to be centred in the Absolute. This is how we have to proceed, gradually.

The principle of the Prāṇa was considered by the powers of the different senses, as the one that is capable of overcoming Mṛityu, death, evil. This is the moral that we have been given out of this story which arose from the context of a conflict that seems to have arisen between the gods and their opponents.

  1. te hocuḥ, kva nu so׳bhῡd yo na ittham asakteti, ayam āsye׳ntar iti, so׳yāsya āṅgirasaḥ, aṅgānāṁ hi rasaḥ.

The senses began to wonder, "What is this, who is this that has been able to enable us in overcoming the demons? Where is this power, what is this principle," was their question. The one that enabled the senses to overcome the principle of death was within themselves. The help did not come from outside. It was from within, and that principle, the Prāṇatva, is designated Ayāsya Āṅgirasa. The word Āṅgirasa is explained here. Aṅgānām hi rasaḥ: The essence of all the senses, the vital force – that is the principle which could not be overcome by death, because it was not specially affiliated to any particular limb of the body, and it was not connected particularly with any sense-organ. It was a uniform principle, impersonally operating throughout the system of the body, present in its manifested form as Prāṇa, by the power of which one is able to speak. It is operating in the mouth of a person – āsye'ntar iti. And that functions through the act of speech. The vocal organ is only one of its functions, and it does not represent the whole of the Prāṇa; it has many other aspects. But the most ostensible manifestation of it is what we call Prāṇa, in ordinary language. But it is only a symbol of a larger reservoir of Prāṇa-Śakti, which is the Cosmic Sūtra-Ātman, or Hiraṇyagarbha, the connection with whom at once frees one from the fear of death. It is that from which death runs away in fear.

  1. sā vā eṣā devatā dῡr nāma, dῡraṁ hy asyā mṛtyuḥ, dῡraṁ ha vā asmān mṛtyur bhavati ya evaṁ veda.

This great principle is Maha-Prāṇa, the Great Power, which is mystically designated in the Upaniṣhad as Dūr, a peculiar nickname given to it. What is the meaning of Dūr? Dūraṁ ha vā asmān mṛtyur bhavati: Mṛtyu is Dūra, or 'far from this'. Therefore, it is called Dūr – destruction is removed from it. Death, evil, suffering, sorrow is far away from it. Therefore, it is called Dūr, mystically, symbolically, as a special designation of it.

Dῡraṁ ha vā asmān mṛtyur bhavati ya evaṁ veda: One who has realisation of this fact will also be free from the fear of death. It is not merely a story which gives us a description of an event that took place some time ago, historically. There is a philosophical truth that is declared, an eternal fact, which applies to each and every person, everyone, at any time, under any condition. Whoever comprehends the essential nature of this Prāṇa will be free from fear. And, as it has been described earlier, death is either an outcome of an element present in the external structure of the senses and the mind, or it is equivalent to a peculiar thing which we cannot understand easily, and this peculiarity can be called transformation, or the urge within an individual to go out of itself into that which is not itself. This is desire. So, in one way, we may say that desire is death; and wherever there is death, there is desire; and wherever there is desire, there is death; and one dies only because of desire. Desire cannot be in the case of the one who has been endowed with this knowledge and experience, because the senses are freed from the evil of desire when they are affiliated to the Maha-Prāṇa, Sūtra-Ātman, for the principle of desire in the senses arises on account of their dissociation from the presiding deities, the gods as we call them, in their activity towards objects outside.

The senses move towards objects, forgetting that they are superintended by higher deities, who are, in turn, controlled by the Supreme Virāt, or Hiraṇyagarbha. The energy of the senses gets depleted in respect of objects of desire, due to a confusion in their structural pattern, a peculiar urge that arises in the senses on account of their pursuing reality only in the objects and not in that which is prior to them, namely, the superior divine principle. The element, the principle, the reality that is behind the senses is incapable of being observed by the senses. We see only what is outside, and not what is inside.

The contemplation on Hiraṇyagarbha, which is the subject of this discourse in the Upaniṣhad here, is the art of transmuting, completely, the energy of the senses into cosmic principles, whereby every sense operates, or is made to operate, in terms of its context in the Cosmic Form, where death cannot enter; and therefore it is said that one who has this realisation, one who has this understanding, one who has this knowledge, will be free from death. He will not have the sufferings, consequent upon desire for objects.

  1. sā vā eṣā devataitāsāṁ devatānām pāpmānam mṛtyum apahatya, yatrāsāṁ diśām antaḥ, tad gamayāṁcakāra, tad āsāṁ pāmano vinyadadhāt, tasmān na janam iyāt, nāntam iyāt, net pāpmānam mṛtyum anvavāyānῑti.

This, again, is a passage very symbolic. Its literal meaning is that this Prāṇa, the moment it took up the charge of the senses, the moment the senses surrendered themselves to this Prāṇa, the evil of the senses was driven out of the kingdom of reality. Evil was exterminated; it was asked to quit the kingdom of truth, and it was driven to the farthest corner of a distance. And, the Upaniṣhad tells us not to go to that place where the evil has been driven. That is outside the realm of reality, do not move, because within the realm of reality desire cannot function, evil cannot be, death cannot operate. And, inasmuch as evil has been driven out of the kingdom of reality, do not desire to go out of this kingdom into that corner of the realm where the evil has been dispersed or thrown off, which means that the senses should not perform the forbidden act of supererogating to themselves the function which does not really belong to them, but which really belongs to a higher reality, due to whose presence alone are they able to function at all. The mistake committed by every individual is the forgetfulness of the role that is played by forces which are transcendent, and that is the reason why there is the element of egoism predominating in the individual. It is like one taking hold of the property of another and driving the owner out by saying, 'I am the owner'. The tenants are the senses; the owner is the deity of each sense. But the tenants have taken hold of the entire organisation and administration of the realm which really belongs to the deities.

The deities, again, are subtle individuals, and they, too, have to function in the context of another superior existence. In the Kena Upaniṣhad we are told that even the gods can go wrong, as human beings can. And, in the story that is given in the Kena Upaniṣhad, we are instructed that even the gods had the pride of having won victory over the demons, not knowing that they were helped by another power of which they had no knowledge, of which they had no vision at all.

So, the Mantra here cited tells us that evil is there where reality is not, and where reality is, evil cannot be. So the clinging of the senses to unreal phantoms is the cause of the evil operating through them, and thus desire is nothing but desire for the unreal. It cannot be a desire for the real. If it is a desire for the real, it cannot bind. So, go not to that realm where the unreal rules in suzertainty but be within the realm of reality; which means to say that outside reality, nothing can be. And so, all desire is a phantasmagoria that arises in the mind for things which do not exist.