The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter II (Continued)

Second Brahmana: The Vital Force Embodied in a Person

The Universal Being manifests itself in various ways, as has been mentioned, and one of the forms in which it is manifest is the Cosmic Prāṇa, the universal energy which functions not only in organic beings, but also in inorganic objects. The tendency to life, the urge for self-perpetuation, is an indication of the operation of the Prāṇa in everything. There is an effort exerted by everyone and everything in this world to exist. There is an incessant struggle for existence. This attempt to exist somehow, to live and to perpetuate oneself, is the action of the Prāṇa in all created entities. This Prāṇa is universal; it is everywhere. What we call cosmic energy is ultimately identifiable with the creative principle, Hiraṇyagarbha. It is universally present, and is equally spread out in everything. Life and non-life are only the manifestation or non-manifestation of it, or the higher degree or the lower degree of manifestation of it, but not the absence of it. Prāṇa is not absent even in so-called inorganic things. The vibratory activity that we discover even in lifeless matter is the action of Prāṇa. The gravitational pull exerted by objects, though they are inanimate, is the work of Prāṇa. The cohesive force that we discover in chemical elements, or physical objects, any kind of attraction, pull, whether it is organic, inorganic or even psychological, all this is the work of the universal Prāṇa. It exists in everyone. In the human individual, particularly, it is markedly manifest. The subject of the following discourse is the nature of this Prāṇa as manifest in the human individual.  

  1. yo ha vai śiśum sa-ādhānaṁ sa-praty-ādhānaṁ sasthūṇaṁ sa-dāmaṁ veda, sapta ha dviṣato bhrātṛvyān avaruṇaddhi: ayam vāva śiśur yo’yam madhyamaḥ prāṇaḥ tasyaidam evādhānam, idaṁ pratyādhānam, prāṇaḥ sthūṇā, annaṁ dāma.

Here is a purely mystical approach of the Upaniṣhad to the subject. Its importance is more occult and practical rather than philosophical or metaphysical. It is, especially, a method of meditation. The Prāṇa in the individual is said to be something like a baby calf, a new-born child, which has been tied to this body as a calf is tied to a peg with a rope. The Upaniṣhad says that one should know what this calf is, what its support is, what its ultimate anchor is, what the peg is to which it is tied, and what the rope is with which it is tethered. One who knows this secret destroys all opposition in the world, and particularly the seven opponents of man. This is the actual intent of this passage. The meaning, however, is unclear. One cannot make out what the Upaniṣhad is saying. But if you go deep into it, the intention becomes perspicuous.

The Upaniṣhad compares the Prāṇa to the calf, and the subtle body in which it is lodged, which it pervades, and of which it is the life, as its abode. The physical body, which it permeates by means of the subtle body, is its support. The energy of the whole system which maintains it is the peg to which it is tied by means of attachment to the body. The food that one consumes, by which energy is generated, is the rope by which it is tied to the peg. If this is known, the connection of the Prāṇa with the various parts of the body also is known. What the Upaniṣhad intends to tell us is that the entire structure of the body and the personality, whether subtle or physical, is a manifestation of the Prāṇa only. What is worthwhile in us is the Prāṇa working. If this secret is known, we would be able to realise the integrated nature of our personalities, rather than their complex nature as if they are made of bits of reality. Even the different sense-organs function only due to the operation of this Prāṇa. The seven inimical brethren mentioned in this passage are the urges of the personality manifested through the two eyes, the two nostrils, the two ears and the mouth. There is an impulse to see through the two eyes, to hear through the two ears, to smell through the two nostrils, and to speak and to taste through the tongue in the mouth. These instincts tie us down to this world. Our desires are grossly manifest through the senses. The desire to see, the desire to hear, the desire to smell and the desire to speak and the desire to taste – these are our enemies. They are called the inimical brethren; they are brothers-in-law, as it were; they are in us, related to us, inseparable from us, but yet, opposed to us. They are what politicians sometimes call fifth-columnists. They exist as your own friends, apparently related to you, as inseparable from you, but they work against you. These are the forces mentioned, the urges, the desires, the longings, or the appetites of the individual expressed through the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and speaking. If the secret of the integration of the Prāṇa by means of its pervasive character through the entire body is realised, one would also know the reason behind these urges. It is the Prāṇa seeking expression, so that it may become one with the cosmic source from where it has come. If the reason behind this expression is known, the urges are automatically subdued. If the reason is not known, the urges gain an upper hand. Many of the desires in the individual are uncontrollable on account of the absence of the knowledge of the cause of their manifestation – why they arise at all. If the reason is known, a knowledge of their expression is gained, they get controlled. So, the Upaniṣhad says that one who knows this secret of the Prāṇa which is lodged in the subtle body and the gross body, as a single force pervading the entire personality, overcomes these inimical urges – sapta ha dviṣato bhrātṛvyān avaruṇaddhi.

This central creative energy in us is called Madhyama Prāṇa by the Upaniṣhad. This is the Śiśu, the child. It is compared to the calf or the child because it cannot go out as it likes, just as a calf that is tied with a rope to a peg cannot go out here and there, as it likes. It can move within a certain ambit, to the extent of the length of the rope, but beyond it, it cannot go. The senses can move towards the objects outside; the Prāṇa cannot go, though it impels them to act. So, it is something that is struggling inside the body itself. On account this tendency of the Prāṇa to work within, as if it is a child tied to this body, the comparison is made of it with a calf, or a little baby. The subtle body and the physical body are the support and the abode of this Prāṇa. It moves within these circles. It is bound with the rope of food. The food that we eat is not necessarily the physical food that is consumed through the mouth, but any kind of intake of the personality through any of the sense-organs by which one is maintained. The support and the maintenance of the whole individual through the activity of the senses is the food by which the individual is tied to this world, and that is therefore the rope which binds the individual to earthly existence.  

  1. tam etaḥ saptākṣitaya upatiṣṭhante. tad yā imā akṣan lohinyo rājayaḥ, tābhir enaṁ rudro'nvāyattaḥ; atha yā akṣann āpas tābhiḥ parjanyaḥ; yā kanīnakā, tayā ādityaḥ; yat kṛṣṇam, tena agniḥ; yat śuklam, tena indraḥ; adharayainaṁ vartanyā pṛthivy anvāyattā; dyaur uttarayā; nāsyānnaṁ ksīyate ya evaṁ veda.

This Prāṇa is manifest through the sense-organs. It is actively manifest through the senses particularly because of their desire for objects. One of the senses through which it is predominantly active is the organ of sight. The eyes are supposed to be indicative, to some extent, of the entire personality of the individual. There are certain physicians who can diagnose the disease of a person merely by looking at the eyes. The iris of the eye is an indication of what the entire system is. There are others who can study the entire personality by looking at the soles of the feet. And there are occult teachers who tell us that the Cakras, or plexuses, studied in the Kundalini-Yoga system, are within the skull only; they are inside the head of a person, and not in the trunk of the body, as usually held. The idea is that the whole system above the neck is regarded as a centre for the operation of the other activities, as if it is the main switchboard for the entire activity of the total personality. Everything that is in us is microscopically and subtly present in the head. Here a special mention is being made of the action of the eye as the abode of the gods. How it is the abode of the gods is stated further.

Seven indestructible powers wait upon this Prāṇa. The seven gods are the seven powers. Seven superhuman energies are guarding this Prāṇa that is lodged in the individual. They take care of it – tam etaḥ saptākṣitaya upatiṣṭhante. What are these seven energies? Yā imā akṣan lohinyo rājayaḥ, tābhir enaṁ rudro'nvāyattaḥ: The red streaks in the eye are the passage of the action of Rudra. This divinity is supposed to be presiding over, superintending over, or acting upon, or lodged in that particular psychic manifestation in the eyes which is visible outside as the red streaks. Atha yā akṣann āpas tābhiḥ parjanyaḥ: The liquid portion that is visible in the eyes is presided over by Parjanya, Varuṇa, as the deity. Yā kanīnakā, tayā ādityaḥ: The pupil of the eye is presided over by āditya (Sun). Yat kṛṣṇam, tena agniḥ: The black spot in the eye is presided over by Agnī (Fire). Yat śuklam, tena indraḥ; adharayainaṁ vartanyā pṛthivy anvāyattā; dyaur uttarayā: What is white in the eye is presided over by Indra. The lower eyelid is presided over by the principle of Prithivi (earth), which pulls it down. The upper eyelid is presided over by Dyaus, the atmospheric region. All these are the food, as it were, of the Prāṇa, food because they wait upon it for their own sustenance. They protect it as long as it is inside the body. The cosmic divinities are minutely present as hidden forces even in this little organ of the eye. One who knows this is filled with abundance of every kind. Nāsyānnaṁ ksīyate ya evaṁ veda: One who knows the secret, as to how the divinities themselves are waiting upon the individual in this manner, draws all sustenance from everything in this world, and everything waits upon this individual. The quarters of the world, the deities of the heaven, the divinities that preside over the different manifestations in creation, perpetually take care of such a person. It is on account of the action of these divinities that this body is existing at all. The cementing force, as we may call it, which keeps the various parts of the bodily personality intact, is the divinity that is presiding over us. It is God that is working through us, finally. One who knows this in deep meditation, one who realises this secret in one's life, does not lack anything. Everything comes to that person automatically, as a food and support.  

  1. tad eṣa śloko bhavati: arvāg-bilaś camasa ūrdhva-budhnaḥ, tasmin yaśo nihitaṁ viśva-rūpam: tasyāsata ṛṣayaḥ sapta-tīre, vāg aṣṭamī brahmaṇā saṁvidāna iti. 'arvāg-bilaś camasa ūrdhva-budhnaḥ' itīdam tac chiraḥ, eṣa hy arvāgbilaś camasa ūrdhva-budhnaḥ, tasmin yaśo nihitaṁ viśvarūpam' iti, prāṇa vai yaśo nihitaṁ viśva-rūpam, prāṇān etad āha. 'tasyāsata ṛṣayaḥ sapta-tīre' iti, prāṇā vā ṛṣayaḥ prāṇān etad āha. 'vāg aṣṭamī brahmaṇā samvidānā' iti, vāg  aṣṭamī brahmaṇā saṁvitte.

There is a saying in this connection, an old maxim quoted by the Upaniṣhad, a mystical comparison of the head of the individual to the abode of divinities, for the purpose of meditation. This passage describes a bowl whose mouth is below and which is bulging on the top. The rotundity of this bowl is on the top; its opening is at the bottom. In this is hidden immense magnificence (yaśo viśva-rūpam). All the glory of the heavens is hidden within this bowl. The seven great sages also have their abode inside this. Not only the seven sages, the powers in us, including speech, the eighth, which is an embodiment of Vedic knowledge; are this little cup whose building part is on the top, whose mouth is below. This is a mystical passage, as is the one we have already studied just prior to it. The Upaniṣhad itself tells us what is this mystery, what are the seven sages and what is this bulging cup, etc.

This head of ours, in this body, is the bowl, the cup. Its round part is on the top; its mouth is at the bottom. We know very well what this means. Tasmin yaśo nihitaṁ viśvarūpam' iti, prāṇa vai yaśo nihitaṁ viśva-rūpam, prāṇān etad āha: Inside this skull, inside this head, is all the energy of the universe. Here is the force of all creation in the form of understanding, thinking and sensation. Whatever value we have in us is due to the understanding that we exercise, the way in which the senses act, and the manner in which the mind thinks, etc. All this is the action that is taking place within the head only. So, it is the glory of the individual; it is all glory, indeed. The entire magnificence of creation, in a sense, is present within the head of man. Here, the seven sages of yore also have their abode. The sages were masters who plumbed the depths of being, realised the cosmic reality, and were acclaimed as the seven great adepts in all creation. These sages are mentioned here. And the Upaniṣhad says that they are not far away; they are not living in the forest; they are not in the higher regions in space and time; they are not in Mahar-Loka, Jana-Loka, Tapo-Loka, or Satya-Loka, as the Purāṇas may tell us, as if they are far off somewhere. No, they are inside this head; they are within us. Where they are will be mentioned. The different sense functions themselves are the working of these sages. And the speech in us is capable of manifesting the Vedas as knowledge. This is connected with the highest wisdom because the energy of the Prāṇa that is manifest through speech is capable of the highest expression for which it is competent, and the loftiest expression of speech is the recitation of the Vedas. Every other woe, every other chant, any other speech, is secondary it.  

  1. imāv eva gotama-bharadvājau, ayam eva gotamah, ayam bharadvājaḥ; imāv eva viṣvāmitra-jamadagnī, ayam eva viśvāmitraḥ, ayam jamadagniḥ; imāv eva vasiṣṭha- kaśyapau, ayam eva vasiṣṭhaḥ, ayaṁ kaśyapaḥ; vāg evātriḥ, vācā hy annam adyate, attir ha vai nāmaitad yad atrir iti; sarvasyāttā bhavati, sarvam asyānnam bhavati, ya evaṁ veda.

The great sages, Gotama and Bharadvāja, two of the seven masters, are seated in the two ears the person. Inside the right ear is Gotama, and in the left ear is Bharadvāja. So, if you want to contact these sages, you can contact them through the ears themselves by concentration on the divinities of these ears. This right ear is the abode of Gotama, and the left ear is the abode of sage Bharadvāja. The sage Viśvamitra and Jamadagni, two others out of seven, are also here in us. You can invoke them, if you want, within your own personality. They are inside the two apertures of sight. In the right eye we have Viśvamitra's abode; in the left eye there is the abode of Jamadagni. This right eye itself is Viśvamitra; the left eye is Jamadagni. The sages Vasiṣṭha and Kaśyapa also are inside us. The right nostril is the abode of Vasiṣṭha; the left nostril is the site of Kasyapa. So, I have mentioned to you, says the Upaniṣhad, you need not go in search of Vasiṣṭha or Kaśyapa somewhere. They are here in the right nostril and the left nostril. By contemplation you may invoke them. The sage Atri, who is the seventh, is the tongue. As a matter of fact, the Upaniṣhad says the word Atri has come from the word Atti, to eat, to consume, to take, to swallow, which is done by the organ of the tongue. So, Atti has become Atri. The seventh sage is Atri; he is in the tongue. So, he can be invoked through this particular organ – vācā hy annam adyate, attir ha vai nāmaitad yad atrir iti; sarvasyāttā bhavati, sarvam asyānnam bhavati, ya evaṁ veda. One who knows this secret of the presence of cosmic energies, such as the sages and the wisdom of all the Vedas as present in one's own being, becomes an embodiment of all the powers of the sages, and of the wisdom of the Vedas.

The strength that the ancient masters had through practice of penance can be invoked in our own self by similar meditations, because all the secrets of the cosmos are hiddenly deposited, as it were, in our own internal personality. They do not manifest themselves ordinarily, because our individuality has taken possession of us. We have not yet become catholic enough to embrace, within our personality, the different forces which work outside the body, though it is true that even the existence and the function of this body is due to the operation of these forces. Even the physical body cannot exist if the five elements do not cooperate. Little portions of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – have been put together into the formation of this body, and they are held together in union by a force that is inside. If this cementing element in is withdrawn, the components of the body go back to their sources. But this is not the whole story. Everything in us, inside the physical body, the subtle body, and what is in the mind, what is in the intellect and everything inside us – all this, also, is finally controlled by higher forces. The various realms of being, the different planes, the various degrees manifestation of reality, are all located, in one way or other, in our own body. So, it is rightly said that this body of ours is the Pindānda, and the whole universe is Brahmanda. It is called Pindānda because it is a small universe, while the outer one is the larger universe in comparison with it. Whatever is outside in the larger universe is also within the small universe. It is a universe by itself. The sun and the moon and the thunder and the clouds and the rain and the wind that blows, and everything that we see outside in space is also in the inside space, says the Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad. Thus, here is a meditation to commingle the inward personality with the outer cosmos, so that the powers of the universe get realised in one's own being in meditation.