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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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CHAPTER III

Ninth Brahmana: Many Gods and One Brahman (Continued)

  1. katame ṣaḍ iti. agniś ca pṛthivī ca vāyuś cāntarikṣaṁ cādityaś ca dyauś ca, ete ṣat; ete hīdaṁ sarvaṃ ṣad iti.

Katame ṣad iti: "How many gods are there? You said six gods." "The six are the same as already mentioned, minus two. Agnis ca prithivi ca vayus cantariksam cadityas ca dyaus ca, ete sat: ete hidam sarvam sad iti: The fire principle, the earth principle, the atmospheric principle, the sun and the moon, the sun and the heavens – these are the six. So they are not new things. I have already mentioned eight. Two I have excluded. By excluding two, I tell you, six gods are there."

  1. katame te trayo devā iti. ima eva trayo lokāḥ, eṣu hīme sarve devā iti. katamau tau dvau devāv iti, annaṁ caiva prāṇaś ceti. katamo'dhyardha iti, yo yam pavata iti.

Now – katame te trayo devā iti: "What are the three gods? The three worlds themselves are the three gods." We do not have gods outside the universe. They are inside the universe. In traditional theology, sometimes we are told that gods are outside. They are in paradise; they are in heaven. It is not true. They are not outside. The word 'outside' is inapplicable to the connection of gods to the bodies over which they preside. I have already mentioned, they are like causes with effects. They are immanently hidden in the bodies, which they preside over, which they control, and which are the effects thereof. So, the universe includes every effect – your body, my body and every body. All the fourteen realms of beings, called the Lokas, are what we call the worlds. They are constituted of three levels – the higher, the middle and the lower. These three worlds are the entire creation. These three levels may be regarded as the gods in the sense that the threefold conceivable division of the Eternal Reality in respect of these three worlds is the threefold god. Inasmuch as the gods are inseparable from the worlds, the worlds themselves are called gods, just as your body is pointed out by some other person, saying, "this is the person". This is not the person! The person is something transcendent to your body, and yet you identify the personality of yours, or the person in you, with the body that is appearing outside. Likewise, the worlds are identified with the gods which preside over them. So, in a way, the three worlds are the three gods. No other god, or gods, exist. Katame te trayo devā iti. ima eva trayo lokāḥ, eṣu hīme sarve devā iti: "All the gods are inside the three worlds." They are not outside. Even the heavens are inside these three worlds only.

Katamau tau dvau devāv iti: Now finally he says: "There are two gods." "Who are the two gods?" Annaṁ caiva prāṇaś ceti: "Energy and matter – these are the two gods." The whole universe consists of matter and energy. There is nothing else. Outwardly it is matter, inwardly it is energy. And these may be called the ultimate gods in one sense, matter and energy, called here Anna and Prāṇa. "Be satisfied Śākalya," says Yāj˝avalkya.

In the enumeration of the number of gods, in the conversation which one of the learned men in the assembly had been sage Yāj˝avalkya, the sage referred to various principles and designated them as gods because of their being causes of the corresponding effects in a special manner; not as extraneous or instrumental causes, but as immanent causes, inseparable from the effects of which they were presiding as superintending deities. And enumerating this number of the gods, he comes to a point where he said, in one context, that the "God is one and a half" by which he means that the Cosmic Vital Force functions in two ways, cosmically and individually. In its comprehensive transcendent aspect it is one; there is nothing second to it. But, inasmuch as it appears as if it is whole, even in individuals, it makes each individual imagine that he or she or it is complete and not a part thereof. This capacity of the Cosmic Prāṇa, or Sūtra-Ātman, to remain complete in the Cosmic status and yet make the individuals also complete in themselves, is responsible for the designation of this force as one and a half. It is this way and that way, both ways – katamo'dhyardha iti, yo yam pavata iti.

  1. tad āhuḥ, yad ayam eka ivaiva pavate, atha katham adhyardha iti. yad asminn idaṁ sarvam adhyārdhnot, tenādhyardha iti, katama eko deva iti. prāṇa iti, sa brahma, tyad ity ācakṣate.

Tad āhuḥ, yad ayam eka ivaiva pavate, atha katham adhyardha iti: "There is one Being which is the Sūtra-Ātman, the Supreme Vāyu Principle; how do you call it one and a half?" For that the answer is given by Yāj˝avalkya. Yad asminn idaṁ sarvam adhyārdhnot, tenādhyardha iti, katama eko deva iti. prāṇa iti, sa brahma, tyad ity ācakṣate: "Because of the fact, as mentioned, that everything flourishes on account of the function of this Vital Force." Adhyārdhnot has been translated as 'flourish', or that which is responsible for the nourishment of people. It is present in every individual, and yet it remains transcendent, so it is called Tyat. Tyat means remote. To the individuals, this Cosmic Immanent Being appears as a remote Reality, this is why we refer to God as something other than us, 'That'. The demonstrative pronoun 'That', which is usually used in pointing out or referring to the Universal Reality, is inapplicable, really. You cannot actually call it 'That', as if it is there far off in distant space. This Tyat, or Thatness, Bhūtātathata, as usually philosophers call it, is the Tyat mentioned in this passage, because of its transcendent character from the point of the individuals to whom it remains an external Reality and a cause, though it is also immanent in them. It is the Brahman, the Supreme which is, and which in other words is known in Vedānta language as the Hiraṇyagarbha principle.

Now follow a series of mystical contemplations which are peculiar to this Upaniṣhad, and Upaniṣhads in general. They are very strange, indeed, to people who are not accustomed to esoteric concepts and subtle meditations on the forces which work inside visible forms; to minds which are accustomed to forms alone and cannot conceive of the inner connection of these principles with the forms. The purpose of the Upaniṣhad, in what follows, especially, is to give us a series of meditations, not in the sense you think meditation is, but in a novel form, a strange form, a fantastic form. However, it is very common and normal to the Upaniṣhadic thinkers who are accustomed to conceive everything as sacred and holy. Especially to the Vedas and the Upaniṣhads there is nothing unholy, nothing secular, nothing profane, nothing external, nothing material. Everything is spiritual radiance. And therefore, to people who are used to making the bifurcation of the sacred and the profane, the good and the bad, the inside and the outside, the divine and the undivine, these meditations will look very strange. But we have to take our minds back to the ancient atmosphere of the Upaniṣhad in order to be able to understand what actually it means. We should not think as people do in the twentieth century if we are to understand the spirit of the Upaniṣhad. We have to go back to the atmosphere, to the circumstances, and the way in which the minds of these people worked. As I mentioned to you in a few words, they had a very large concept of everything. They could see a whole universe in a small grain of sand. We cannot see that. That is the only difference. We see insignificance in such particles as a grain of sand, but can see a tremendous significance the moment we are able to probe into the structure of this little formation.

The distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, arises on account of the universal and the particular. And as long as these distinctions are made by us, everything else follows automatically. They are to be abolished. The whole point is that. That is the purpose of meditation.

  1. pṛthivy eva yasyāyatanam, agnir lokaḥ, mano jyotiḥ, yo vai tam puruṣaṁ vidyāt sarvasyātmanaḥ parāyaṇam, sa vai veditā syāt, yāj˝avalkya. veda vā ahaṁ tam puruṣaṁ sarvasyātmanaḥ parāyaṇaṁ, yam āttha; ya evāyaṁ śārīraḥ puruṣaḥ, sa eṣah. vadaiva śākalya, tasya kā devatā iti. amṛtam iti hovāca.

Pṛthivy eva yasyāyatanam: Now, the meditations enumerated here begin with the physical body itself, which is not a 'brother ass', as you would like to call it, but something which has divinity in it. And you will find everything has something divine in it if you only go deep into its function, its existence and its relevance to the context to which it is connected. This body itself is an object of meditation. You will be surprised to know that the body can be an object of meditation. You try to get out of this body, but there is no 'getting out' or 'getting in' in the Upaniṣhads. Everything is all right provided it is taken in its proper place. Anything can take you to the Supreme Being. Even the smallest creature, even the tiniest little object, even the worst of conceivable things – everything can take you to the Ultimate Reality provided you are able to conceive, in a proper way, the connection that it has got with the Ultimate Cause of all causes. There is nothing that is not connected with this Ultimate Reality. Everything is, in some way or the other, connected with it. As all roads lead to Rome, everything leads to God. So, the physical body is the object of contemplation in this passage where Śākalya queries of Yāj˝avalkya in this respect.

Pṛthivy eva yasyāyatanam, agnir lokaḥ, mano jyotiḥ, yo vai tam puruṣaṁ vidyāt sarvasyātmanaḥ parāyaṇam, sa vai veditā syāt, yāj˝avalkya: Now, Śākalya puts a question to sage Yāj˝avalkya. "I regard, Yāj˝avalkya, that person as a real knower who can know or tell me what is that Being or Reality, whose support is the earth, whose eye is the fire principle, and whose light of understanding is the mind. Whoever knows what this is, can be regarded as a knower. Do you know this Being?" This is the question of Śākalya to Yāj˝avalkya. Everyone resorts to this Being. It is the support of all. Everyone loves it. And it is constituted of the physical elements. It works through the fire principle in its function of perception through the eye, and it thinks through the mind. What is that? "I know what is this," says Yāj˝avalkya. "I quite appreciate your question and I know the answer to your query. What is that Being you are asking, I tell you. Veda vā ahaṁ tam puruṣaṁ sarvasyātmanaḥ parāyaṇaṁ, yam āttha: I know that repository, or reservoir, or resort of all beings to which you are making a reference. It is this body itself."

It is this physical body of the human being which is constituted of the earth in its essence. Therefore it is called pṛthivy eva yasyāyatanam. It is the earth which is its abode. It is formed of the earth element, principally. You know very well that it cannot see unless there is a fire principle associated with it. The body's guiding light is nothing but its own mind. Everyone knows that mind is the guide of a person. We always take the advice of the mind.

So, this is the description of the Being to which everyone resorts and which is a deity by itself. "This physical body is the deity to which you are referring – ya evāyaṁ śārīraḥ puruṣaḥ, sa eṣah. vadaiva śākalya: Śākalya, put further questions if you have anything more to ask." Tasya kā devatā iti: "What is the deity of this body? I regard this body itself as a deity inasmuch as it is resorted to by everybody as a beloved object. Now I ask; has it also got a deity? Does it also depend upon something else? Is there something which it also worships, adores and depends upon." "Yes! Amṛtam iti hovāca: The Amṛta is the immortal essence, due to which the body exists, for the sake of which it is struggling day and night, and which is the food and the very life of this body." Amṛta was referred to in an earlier section of the Upaniṣhad as the Antāryamin – eṣa ta ātmāntaryāmy amṛitaḥ. In the Antāryamin Brāhmaṇa, which we have already studied earlier, we were told that the Antāryamin, or the Immanent God, the Supreme Immanent Principle, the Reality of all individuals, is immortal. That is therefore called Amrita, nectar, ambrosia. It is this immortal nectar, this ambrosia like Reality, which keeps this physical body in a hopeful existence, otherwise it would wither away like a dry leaf. We cannot exist by merely clinging to the body as an Ultimate Reality. It has a reality of its own. It is an instrument for further action in life. You know the utility of the body. It does not need further explanation. But it is not an Ultimate Reality; it is a dependent reality; it is an auxiliary; it is an accessory for further higher achievements. Thus, while the physical body is a value by itself, it has a higher value upon which it hangs, and that is Amṛta, the Immortal Being.

Now, in these descriptions you will be wondering, what is the meditational aspect involved? That aspect is difficult to understand. We have to go deep into the mind of these people. What they intend to tell us is that the object becomes a deity, whatever that object be, if you regard it as non-separable from you. In that sense everything is a god in this world. You can say, there are millions of gods just as there are millions of atoms in the universe which you cannot even count. They become gods in the sense that they are values by themselves. And their spiritual value comes into relief when we are in a position to appreciate the service they can render to us in our evolution, when we befriend them as our own selves. The value of a person, the value of a thing can be known only when we befriend that person or thing. When you become one with that object, you know the worth of it. And so, everything becomes an object of adoration, an object of servicefulness and divinity by itself, veritably, if it be taken as an ideal other than which nothing exists for you, for the time being at least. In the particular stage in which you are, it is an 'ultimate' reality for you. If we study the Taittirīya Upaniṣhad, we would be able to appreciate the nature of the ascent of thought through which we are taken gradually by these meditations. In the third section of the Taittirīya Upaniṣhad, a sage (Bhrigu) is asked to contemplate on various degrees of reality, right from matter onwards – Anna, Prāṇa, Manas, Vij˝āna, Ānanda. These are the stages through which the mind passes. Matter is one deity by itself. It is a god; it is a reality. So, even the lowest conceivable reality, the inanimate substance, is a reality. Inasmuch as it is a reality, it is a divinity. And inasmuch as it is a divinity, it is an object of worship and adoration. Thus even matter is god, said the Master, in the Taittirīya Upaniṣhad. But, there are higher concepts of this existence, and so the mind is taken gradually from matter to vital energy – Prāṇa, from there to the mind, from there to intellect and then to Ānanda (bliss). The same thing is repeated in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad in a different manner. The body is no doubt regarded as a value by itself in its material sense, yet dependent upon the immortal Being inside it, which exists hidden as a Reality. The inner constituents of the physical body – Prāṇa, Manas, Vij˝āna, etc. – are also taken into consideration here.