The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter I (Continued)

Fifth Brahmana (Continued): The Unfailing Vital Force

  1. athāto vrata-mīmāṁsā. prajāpatir ha karmāṇi sasṛje, tāni sṛṣṭāni anyo’nyenāspardhanta. vadiṣyāmy evāham iti vāg dadhre; drakṣyāmy aham iti cakṣuḥ; śroṣyāmy aham iti śrotram; evam anyāni karmāni yathā karma; tāni mṛtyuḥ śramo bhūtvā upayeme; tāny āpnot; tāny āptvā mṛtyur avārundha; tasmāt śrāmyaty eva vāk, śrāmyati cakṣuḥ, śrāmyati śrotram, athemam eva nāpnot yo’yaṁ madhyamaḥ prāṇaḥ. tāni jñātuṁ dadhrire. ayaṁ vai naḥ śreṣṭho yaḥ saṁcaraṁś cāsamcaraṁś ca na vyathate, atho na riṣyati, hantāsyaiva sarve rūpam asāmeti: ta etasyaiva sarve rūpam abhavan, tasmād eta etainākhyāyante prāṇā iti. tena ha vāva tat kulam ācakṣate, yasmin kule bhavati ya evaṁ veda. ya u haivaṁ vidā spardhate, anuśuṣyati, anuśuṣya haivāntato mriyate, iti adhyātmam.

This is a new subject into which we are entering, though not entirely new, because we have had a study of this kind earlier in the beginning of the First Chapter. But, the Upaniṣhad repeats this theme, again, in a more concise form, the theme being the position of the senses and the mind in the universal state, as distinguished from their condition in the individual form. This subject is discussed by means of an anecdote. The great Creator, Prajāpati, projected the senses and the mind. He diversified Himself into the form of this world, and each form He took became an individual by itself. Each individual felt a necessity to come in contact with other individuals. The necessity of one individual to come in contact with another brought forth another necessity as a corollary thereof, namely, the projection of certain instruments of contact. How can one come in contact with another? There must be a means of communication. The means are the senses and the mind. The diversification of Prajāpati into the universe of manifestation implies the individuality of these parts and the need of each one to contact others, as well as the rise of the senses and the mind. There was the world of senses and of meditation.

These senses are presided over by certain deities. On account of there being different deities, or divinities, superintending over different senses, there is likely to be a tendency on the part of the senses to assert themselves as independent functions. Just as every part of the Creator who diversified Himself into the many asserted itself as an individual, there could be a subsequent situation when each sense organ also may assert itself. And, it did so, actually. The senses asserted themselves independently, so that the eye cannot hear, the ear cannot see, and so on. There is no mutual give-and-take spirit between the senses. The harmonisation of the functions of these senses has to be effected by another principle altogether. The senses themselves cannot do this. As we require a governor or an administrator to harmonise the individualities of persons working in an organisation of people, to avoid mutual conflict and chaos, there is a need for a synthesising principle within us, without which each sense would work in its own way and there would be no coordination of one with the other. So, with a story the Upaniṣhad tells us that the senses asserted themselves. The eye said "I alone can see; I go on seeing. Nobody is like me. Ear, you cannot see. You are blind." Thus, the ego entered the eye. The ear said "Who are you? I can hear, but you cannot hear. My superiority is very clear." Likewise, the other senses also started asserting themselves. "I do this but you cannot." Each one started clamouring, "What I do, you cannot do. So, you are inferior."

The speech started speaking. It said, "I can speak endlessly." The eye said "I can endlessly see." The ear said "I can endlessly hear. Who can prevent me from doing this?" Egoism entered them all. And, what is the consequence of this sort of egoistic affirmation? Death possessed them!

Everyone who has this self-affirming ego shall be possessed by death. Death is the law of God operating in a world of egoistic individualities. It is not some terrible spectre in the form of a Yama, or Yama-dūtas that come and threaten us. The law of the universal justice raises the rod of punishment upon the ego which has sprung as an upstart in this creation. The ego has really no place to exist, but, somehow, it has usurped the place of cosmic powers and asserted its own independence, a false freedom, a vainglorious existence. Death operating and affecting individuals means the universal law acting in an inexorable manner, not in the form of a punishment or as a wreaking of vengeance upon anybody, but as an automatic function of the balancing power of the universe. Such a law took possession of the senses. So, the eye went on seeing, but got tired. How, long can you go on seeing? The ear went on hearing, but got fed up. It could not hear anymore. The speech gets exhausted by endlessly speaking. They get fatigued on account of excessive activity. This fatigue that comes upon oneself is a tendency to exhaustion, debility and destruction. This is the incoming of death.

The Upaniṣhad says that everything sensuous was affected by death, but that hidden Power, the central Prāṇa within, works as the force of the soul. It is the soul within us that can be equated with the Cosmic Prāṇa, in the end, which is not affected by death. Everything that is personal is subject to destruction, not the soul which cannot be so destroyed. That alone remained unaffected by the sway of death, because the soul does not assert itself egoistically. The ego is an external function; it is not the soul, or the essence of being in us. This essence in us is not affected, but the external appearance in the form of the ego, the senses, etc. was overpowered. Therefore, when one takes resort to the soul, i.e., this central Prāṇa, one neither increases nor decreases, neither exerts nor feels grief in the mind. That is the permanent nature in us, which temporal forms and influences cannot touch.

The senses conferred among themselves and decided: "There is no use of our asserting independence like this. Without this central being we are nowhere. So, let us collaborate with this central function, the Prāṇa, the soul force." Etasyaiva sarve rūpam abhavan: Then they acted in conformity with this divine force. Therefore, the senses also are called Prāṇa, in the language of the Upaniṣhad – tasmād eta etainākhyāyante prāṇā iti.

Tena ha vāva tat kulam ācakṣate, yasmin kule bhavati: Just as the head of a family rules the tradition of a family, the central Prāṇa rules the tradition of the senses. The surname of a person who is leading the family is continued by the progeny and everyone who comes afterwards. Likewise, in a similar tradition, as it were, the term 'Prāṇa' is applied to the senses also, in the Upaniṣhads particularly, because they follow this central Prāṇa, work together with it and harmonise themselves with it. Therefore, we do not see any conflict of sensations in one's personality. The eyes see, but do not hear; the ears hear, but do not see, and so on; but yet we are able to synthesise their functions in ourselves. It is the central 'I' which feels, "I see," and "I am the same person that hears also," and "I can taste and smell and touch," etc. The differentiated functions of the senses are brought together into a synthesis by an eternal principle within, which is the Prāṇa-Śakti, representative, or the ambassador, we may say, of the Cosmic Prāṇa, the Self in all.

Ya u haivaṁ vidā spardhate, anuśuṣyati: A person who is a meditator on the cosmic Prāṇa has no opponents. But, if anyone opposes that person, this opponent shall dry up, says the Upaniṣhad. One who meditates on the Universal Prāṇa has no enemies. He does not oppose any person, or any thing. If, by any indiscretion, someone else starts opposing this person, that person shall not survive any more. Antato mriyate: He dries up and perishes. So, hate not, oppose not, insult not, or harm not a being who is in union with cosmic forces. Iti adhyātmam: This is an anecdote in respect of our internal function the senses.

Now, the same analogy is continued in respect of the higher forces called divinities, or deities, Devatas, who superintend over the senses. Athād-hidavatam: jvaliṣyām avāham ity agnir: In the same way as the senses started asserting their independence, the deities also began asserting themselves. Agnī, the deity of fire, who is the presiding divinity over speech, began asserting himself. "I shall burn always." The sun asserted himself, "I shall shine forever." So was the case with other celestial divinities, also.

You know the story occurring in the Kena Upaniṣhad, where the gods are said to have won victory over the demons. Agnī, Vāyu, Indra, all these gods, very self-conscious, thought they had won victory over the enemies. Each one feels a sort of pride when he wins victory even in small acts; one need not go so far as victory in a big war. When you succeed in anything, there is a little pride. There can be even what is called spiritual pride, sometimes. These divinities had some ego-sense in them. The Great Being, the Master of all things, understood this. "I see! They think they have won victory in battle. Let me teach them a lesson." The Absolute itself took a form, a mysterious, inscrutable shape, and presented itself before the gods in heaven. It was a fearsome, funny figure indeed. The gods were surprised to see this majestic, gigantic being confronting them in the paradise, as if it cared not a fig for anyone. They were in consternation and did not know what was this that was there, threatening them. Indra told the deities, "Go, and find out what this is." He sent Agnī, first. "You are a very powerful hero. Nobody can stand before you. You can burn the whole world if you so wish. Go and see who is this sitting here." Agnī rushed forth and looked up. A giant was seated there. The giant Yakṣa asked Agnī, "Who are you?" Agnī said, "I am the deity of fire, Agnī-Devata. I am a celestial in heaven." "O, I see, you are that," said the Yakṣa. "What can you do?" Agnī said, "I can burn anything. I can reduce to ashes the world in a second." "Such a power you have? Good!" The Yakṣa placed a piece of dry straw in front, and said, "You burn this." To be challenged thus was naturally a kind of insult to the great power who could burn the world to ashes. To be told, "You burn a little piece of straw" was beyond the limit of tolerance. Agnī was irritated at this confrontation and, with his indomitable force, dashed at it to burn it, but could not succeed. He could not even touch it! Though he applied all his burning power, the straw could not be shaken. Agnī could not understand what had happened. He felt defeated, and would not wish to return to the gods announcing his shame. He merely went and told Indra, "I do not know who it is. I went and saw; I cannot understand who it is." The great one did not like to say that he was defeated. "Please send somebody else." "What is the matter?" wondered Indra. "Vāyu, you go." Vāyu felt, very well. He could blow up anything. Vāyu went, and the Yakṣa asked, "Who are you?" "I am Vāyu the wind-god." "What can you do?" "I can blow up anything, even the entire earth which I can throw off its orbit." "I see, you can blow away anything. Blow off this straw." He kept the straw there. Vāyu felt insulted, indeed, and then rushed forward to blow up that little piece of grass. But he could not move it. It was there like an iron hill; and much more than that. The grass was more than a match for the gods! Vāyu felt defeated. He came back to Indra and said, "I cannot understand what this terrible thing is. You may go and find out." When Indra himself came, that Divinity vanished out of sight. Why he vanished is a different matter, which we shall see in another context.

So, the story is that the gods also can feel themselves a little important, but this is not the truth, narrates the Upaniṣhad. There is no such thing as individual importance, finally, either in the case of the senses or the divinities, much less with ordinary mortals.

  1. athādhidaivatam; jvaliṣyāmy evāham ity agnir dadhre; tapsyāmy aham ity ādityah; bhāsyāmy aham iti candramāḥ; evam anyā devatā yathā-devatam; sa yathaiṣāṁ prāṇānāṁ madhyamaḥ prāṇaḥ, evam etāsām devatānāṁ vāyuḥ,  nimlocanti hy anyā devatāḥ, na vāyuḥ. saiṣānastamitā devatā yad vāyuḥ.

The deities, Agnī, āditya, Candra, and the others, are only an expression, a functional part of the Universal Cosmic Prāṇa. That being alone is free from the tendency to self-assertion. Everyone else has this urge to assert oneself. Neither āditya, nor Agnī, nor Candramācan be said to be independent deities. They are all His names. They do not shine of their own accord. They are supplied with energy from elsewhere. Bhayād agnis tapati, bhayāt tapati sūryaḥ, says the Upaniṣhad. Fire burns due to fear of this Supreme Being, as it were; Sun shines due to fear, Wind blows due to fear, Rain falls due to fear of this Being. There is the uplifted thunderbolt of the eternal Reality, without fear of which nothing would be in harmony in this world. The universal justice is there like a raised terror. One who knows this terror of the Absolute, which is the eternal justice prevailing everywhere, he alone is free from this devilish urge to assert oneself, the ego, which is the Asura in everyone.

So it is the Cosmic Being alone, the Prāṇa-Śakti, the Sūtra-ātman, Īshvara, who is real. Everyone else is just partaking of a facet or an aspect of this Divinity, even when one feels an importance in respect of oneself.

  1. athaiṣa śloko bhavati: yataś codeti sūryaḥ astam yatra ca gacchati iti prānād vā eṣa udeti, prāṇe'stam eti, taṁ devās cakrire dharmaṁ  sa evādya sa a śvaḥ iti yad vā ete'murhy adriyanta tad evāpy adya kurvanti. tasmād ekam eva vrataṁ caret, prāṇyāc caiva, apānyāc ca, nen mā pāpmā mṛtyur āpnuvad iti; yady u caret samāpipayiṣet teno. etasyai devatāyai sāyujyaṁ salokatāṁ jayati.

The sun rises and sets on account of the operation of this Cosmic Prāṇa. If the planets move round the sun due to the gravitational pull of the latter, who assists the sun to occupy its position? The sun also has a status in the astronomical universe. It has an orbit of its own. And likewise, everything has a function and an orbit and a place in this universal structure. There is a harmonious rotation and revolution of everything in respect of everything else. There is a relativity of motion in all the universe. How comes this relativity of motion? Why should there be this harmony? Why this following the course, or the orbit of each one? Why not jump from one course to another? Why does this not happen? Because there is that Power which holds everything in unison. Why does not one hand of a person fight with his other hand? You have never seen your right hand or left hand fighting with each other, because there is something in you, the 'you' which keeps both these in position, in harmony. So is everything in creation held in harmony by this invisible Being, which is the God of the universe. On account of its working alone is it that the sun rises and sets; else he could go anywhere. There is that Law, that Righteousness, which has its own principle of working, of which no one has knowledge, but without which no one can exist. Taṁ devās cakrire dharmaṁ: That is the Dharma, or the Supreme justice which every god has to obey, to which every individual bows, and every sense-organ works in accordance with it. That law is unamendable. It is an eternal constitution. It was, it is and it shall be the same at all times-sa evādya sa a śvaḥ.