The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter I (Continued)

Sixth Brahmana: The Threefold Character of the Universe

  1. trayaṁ vā idam, nāma rūpaṁ karma; teṣāṁ nāmnāṁ vāg ity etad eṣām uktham, ato hi sarvāṇi nāmāny uttiṣṭhanti: etad eṣām sāma; etadd hi sarvair nāmabhiḥ samam; etad eṣām brahma, etadd hi etadd hi sarvāṇi nāmāni bibharti.

Everything in this world may be classified into names, forms and actions. Trayaṁ vā idam, nāma rūpaṁ karma: Name, form and action are the three categories into which everything can be brought together. What we call name is one of the characteristics of objects. The appellation or the nomenclature of objects is called name. It is a part of language, and so what we call name is nothing but speech, says the Upaniṣhad. Speech is language, and the way in which an object is named is the joint activity of various other aspects of the personality, the main function being the mind working in conjunction with the organ of expression, namely, speech. Whatever be the difference among the names given to the various objects, there is a common substratum among all these names, that is, the basic vibration which is the principle of language. Just as the various colours have a basic substance which, by different permutations and combinations, takes varying shades called colours, likewise the different appellations, the names given to objects, even the different languages of the world, are the various shapes taken by a single vibration called the mode of speech. Speech is therefore not the particularised word that we utter, nor even the particular language that we speak, but that which is prior to the expression of speech itself. And that generalised form of the very intention to express by name any particular object is what we may call the fundamental speech. According to mystical sciences, speech is not merely the spoken word. The word is perhaps the grossest form of speech. The subtler forms of expression are deeper inside. The grossest or the visible form of speech is called, in Sanskrit, according to this science, Vaikhari. There are other deeper levels of the expression of speech and they are not audible, not even thinkable by the mind. They are subtler in the deeper layers of personality. And the other one which is internal to Vaikhari is called Madhyamā. Internal to it is Paśyantī, and the deepest is Parā. Just as there is in Prāṇava, or Omkāra, a transcendent form called Amātra, likewise there are transcendent levels of expression of speech which are not sensible in the ordinary manner, but still exert a tremendous influence on the mode of expression. So, the Upaniṣhad may be having all these aspects in its mind when it says that speech is the common equalising factor existing and operating behind and prior to all ordinary expressions by way of naming, wording, etc. Etad eṣām sāma: Here Sāma means an equalising force. That which is the common denominator behind every form of expression is Sāma, and speech is such in its essential nature; etadd hi sarvair namabhih samam; this fundamental speech is equal to every language and every form of expression. Etad eṣām brahma, etadd hi sarvāṇi nāmāni bibharti: Speech is Brahman itself, because it supports in a universal form, as it were, every type of verbal expression or linguistic manifestation.  

  1. atha rūpāṇām cakṣur ity etad eṣām uktham, ato hi sarvāṇi rūpāṇy uttiṣṭhanti, etad eṣāṁ sāma, etadd hi sarvai rūpaiḥ samam, etad eṣām brahma; etadd hi sarvāṇi rūpāṇi bibharti.

Likewise, in the same way, as all names or word formations are basically rooted in a fundamental universalised source, namely, the transcendent speech, likewise all forms that we perceive or visualise have a common background. There is a general form which manifests itself as particular forms. What we call form is nothing but a kind of abstraction which the senses make, a function of isolation performed by the senses from the general reservoir of forms which has many other forms within it, apart from the one that we perceive with our eyes, even as a block of stone may contain many statues inside it. You cannot know how many statues are inside a block of stone. You have every blessed thing there. Whatever form you wish, you can extract from that stone. Likewise, from this general ocean of form, you can extract any particular form. That depends upon the structure of the eyes and the nature of the light rays that fall upon the object, and many other things. We are mainly concerned here with the structure of the senses. It does not mean that if the eyes were manufactured or constituted in a different manner, we would perceive colours in the same way. Not so. Something else would be the perception; some other form would be before us, because the light rays of the sun and the energy formations or configurations in the universe impinging on the retina of the eyes have much to do with the perception of forms. It is the manner in which the general universal form is received or reacted upon by the structure of our eyes that is responsible for the type of perception of forms with which we are familiar in this world. Hence, there is the visual isolation of a particular aspect of the universe of forms for the purpose of perception, assisted by every other sense-organ. Universal sound is there; universal taste is there; universal touch is there. And from this universality of sensation, a particular aspect is segregated, isolated or extracted by a particular given sense of an individual or a species of individuals, and then we have a common world of perception, as we call it. It does not mean that this world is 'all the world'. There are many other worlds, as the scriptures will tell us, especially the Yoga-Vāsiṣhtha, for instance. This is not the only world that exists. This is just one of the possibilities of abstraction. Such abstractions can be infinite in number.

Atha rūpāṇām cakṣur ity etad eṣām uktham: The particular perception is based on a general form. Ato hi sarvāṇi rūpāṇy uttiṣṭhanti: From this, all the forms arise. Etad eṣāṁ sāma: This is the equalising factor. The common form is the equalising factor behind particular forms. Sarvai rūpaiḥ samam: This is common among all forms, just as the same wood may be present in various types of furniture. Etad eṣām brahma: It, as their Absolute, supports all other particular forms. The Universal Form is Brahman, as is the Universal Name.  

  1. atha karmaṇām ātmety etad eṣām uktham, ato hi sarvāṇi karmāṇy uttiṣṭhanti, etad eṣām sāma, etadd hi sarvaiḥ karmabhiḥ samam, etad eṣām brahma, etadd hi sarvāṇi karmāṇi bibharti. tad etad trayaṁ sad ekam ayam ātmā, ātmā ekaḥ sann etat trayam. tad etad amṛtaṁ satyena channam, prāṇo vā amṛtam, nāma-rūpe satyam; tābhyām ayam prāṇaś channaḥ.

Likewise, there is a general form of action and a particular type of it, atha karmaṇām ātmety etad eṣām uktham: the individuality is the source of action, which is the complex of body, mind, etc., the intellect included. Action proceeds from individuality. The nature of the action that one performs is determined by the nature or the pattern of individuality into whose mould one is cast. Otherwise, there is no such thing as any determined action. The way in which one conducts oneself in a given atmosphere is what is called action. Now, this manner of conducting oneself depends upon the nature of the individuality itself. The determining force behind the way of conducting oneself in the world is the nature of one's personality which is not merely the body, but every blessed thing that is inside it also – the five vestures, or three layers, as we may call them. So, this is also a kind of abstraction, we may say. There are many ways in which one could conduct oneself. There are many types of action possible, other than the one we are performing, but we do only certain types of action, because they alone are possible under the circumstances of this particular individuality of ours. If all people in the world behaved in a common way, even that would be only an abstraction, because humanity is not the entire creation. It is only one aspect of the whole set-up called creation. There are other beings in existence. So, there can be millions and millions of types of manifestation, and each type of manifestation would behave according to its own structural pattern of individuality. We, being humans, conduct ourselves in one particular manner. Thus, there is a general reservoir of possibility out of which particular actions emerge on the basis of different types of individuality.

Atha karmaṇām ātmety etad eṣām uktham, ato hi sarvāṇi karmāṇy uttiṣṭhanti: In this general possibility of action, God's action, we may call it, Hiraṇyagarbha's action, or Virāt's action – there is potentiality of every type. From that source, the particular possibility arises. Etad eṣām sāma: The universal possibility is the equalising factor behind all particular possibilities of action. Etadd hi sarvaiḥ karmabhiḥ samam: The general form of possible action matches at the root every particular manifested action. Etad eṣām brahma: This universal action is Brahman itself, because it is common to all, and etadd hi sarvāṇi karmāṇi bibharti, because it supports all particular actions.

Tad etad amṛtaṁ satyena channam, prāṇo vā amṛtam, nāma-rūpe satyam; tābhyām ayam prāṇaś channaḥ: The Cosmic Form is called Amṛtam. Name and form are called Satyam; the apparent reality is Satyam; the visible world is Satyam. It is real from its point of view and to the extent it is workable, but the immortal is behind it. The Ultimate Reality is different from the appearance. Cosmic Prāṇa, Hiraṇyagarbha, Universal Energy, the Supreme Being, is Amṛta, or the immortal. From it, everything proceeds. It is all names, all forms, all actions. There, the senses do not differ from one another. It is not that the eyes can only see and the ears only hear. Anything can be done by any other function or an aspect of Being. That is why, perhaps, the scriptures tell us that everywhere it has feet and everywhere it has eyes and everywhere it has heads, which means to say, any limb of it is equal to any other limb, and everywhere any function can be performed by it, different from the way in which individuals act on account of the limitations of the body-mind complex. The Cosmic Being, who is called Prāṇa here, is immortal; and that is the ocean of all possibilities of name, form and action, whereas what we call ordinary name and form from our point of view, the visibilities and the possibilities of formation, are only temporarily real. They are Nāma-Rūpa; they are Satya, or true, for the time being only-not eternally. The eternal Reality is Amṛta-Prāṇa, Immortal Force. This Supreme Being is covered over by Nama-Rupa Prapancha-the name-form world. We are unable to see the ocean because of the waves dashing on the surface. We see only the movement of waves. The basic substratum is not visible on account of the activity on the surface. There is a substratum behind every name, every form, and every action. If that could be discovered and plumbed into, one becomes immortal at once, and frees oneself from the clutches of births and deaths, which are the characteristics of all particularised names and forms. This is the philosophy and the advice given to us in the concluding portion of this chapter of the Upaniṣhad.