The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter V

Sixth Brahmana: The Divine Person

  1. manomayo’yam puruṣaḥ, bhāḥ satyaḥ tasminn antar-hṛdaye yathā vrīhir vā yāvo vā. sa eṣa sarvasyeśānaḥ, sarvasyādhipatiḥ, sarvam idaṁ praśāsti yad idāṁ kiṁ ca.

'This Supreme Puruṣha who is conceived by the mind, meditated upon by the mind and embodied as the Universal Mind on one side and the individual mind on the other side, is radiance is essence.' Bhāḥ means lustre, light, luminosity, and the characteristic of this Puruṣha, or Satya, or truth. Reality is the nature of this Puruṣha, which means to say that what you call the Puruṣha, within or without, is indestructible. That which is subject to transformation or destruction is not called Reality. So, when it is called Satya, or real, it is understood that it is free from the trammels of change of any kind. Now, this Puruṣha is 'the smallest of the small and the biggest of the big, the greatest of the great' – ano'raniān mahato mahiān. Nothing can be smaller than that, and nothing can be larger than that. Nothing is nearer than that, and nothing is more distant than that. If you are trying to locate it somewhere outside, you are not going to catch it however much you may pursue it, even as you cannot succeed in grasping the horizon. It is apparently in front of us, but is not capable of being grasped. It recedes as we proceed onward in its direction. It is inward; it is also outward. Tad antarasya sarvasya: 'It is inside everything' and yet it is outside everything. It is inside everything because of the fact that it is the Self of all beings; it is outside everything because it is beyond the limitations of the body-individuality. It is that which envelops the whole universe, and because of this universality of character it is very distant to you. Who can know the boundaries of the cosmos. It is very far, and yet very near. Because of the expanse which it is, because of the largeness of its comprehension, because of its infinitude, because of its omnipresence, it is very distant. But, because it is inseparable from what we ourselves are, it is the nearest. 'It is smaller than a grain of rice; it is smaller than a grain of barley – so small!' It is smaller even than these illustrated examples, 'but it is the Lord of the whole universe – sarvasyeśānaḥ, sarvasyādhipatiḥ. It is the controller of all things, and it rules everything' – sarvam idaṁ praśāsti. One who knows this truth also shall become like this – yad idāṁ kiṁ ca.

It is not possible to rule, or to become the lord of anything, or to become the controller of all things, unless one becomes tuned up to the reality of all things. The great point that is driven home to our minds in the Upaniṣhads, especially, is that power is not that which we exercise externally. It is an influence that we exert internally that is called power. An external coordination and organisation may look like a power, but it is capable of disintegration. Anything that is of a complex nature can decompose itself into its components. Everything is complex in its nature, including the constitution of the body. This body is complex; it is made up of different ingredients. So is every type of organisation, whether it be social or cosmic. Everything shall come to an end. It is not possible for one thing to control another, on account of the absence of coordination between them. It is impossible to exert any kind of influence on a totally external being, because externality is the character of a total isolatedness of existence. If an external being is to be the subject of another who rules it, that power which is exerted on the subject will not last long, because the self which exerts the power on the external is different in character from the thing upon which this power is exerted. That which is the Self, and that which is recognised as the Self in all, alone can be the source of power. So power is not a force that emanates from one being to another – it is the recognition of one's own being in another. So, ultimately, no real power is conceivable or practicable unless the Selfhood which is recognised in one's own self is felt and realised in the object also. That which is the smallest is supposed to be Self, this is called the ātman. And that which is the biggest is Brahman. These are the two great terms in the Upaniṣhads. The two are identified. The extreme of the cosmic is identified with the extreme of the microcosmic. It is the subtlest and the smallest because it is the deepest in us. It is the principle that precedes even the function of the understanding in us. Even the intellect is external to it, though for all practical purposes we may think that the intellect is the internal faculty with which we think and understand. We have a being within which faintly manifests itself in deep sleep when our presence is felt, yet the intellect does not function. The endowments of the psychic being, intellect, feeling, will, etc. are all absent in deep sleep, and yet we do exist. So, we can exist independent of psychological functions. Hence, even the subtlest of rationality in us is external to the deepest in us, which is the ātman. Because of the depth and profundity of its reality, it is called subtler than the subtle, deeper than the deep, smaller than the small. It is not small in a mathematical or an arithmetical sense. The smallness that is attributed to it is on account of its subtlety. And the largeness that is attributed to Brahman outside is due to its infinitude.

So, that which is deepest in us, the subtlest ātman or Self in us is the same as the Cosmic Ruler, Īshvara, or Brahman. Thus can meditation be practised. Consciousness which is designated as the ātman, the subtlest and the smallest, is indivisible. It cannot be partitioned; it cannot be conceived as having parts within itself; it has not any internal distinctions. This is an essential characteristic of consciousness which is the ātman. Whatever be our conception of the magnitude of this consciousness in it, it has to be accepted that it is incapable of partition or division. The consciousness that there is something outside oneself would not be possible if our consciousness were limited to our own body. How could we be conscious of the limitation of anything or the boundary set to anything unless consciousness exceeds the limit of that boundary. We cannot know that something is finite unless we know that something is infinite, because the very awareness of finitude is an implication that we are subconsciously aware of the being that is infinite. Thus we can contemplate the ātman which apparently is located in our own bodies as if it is finite, but is infinitude; is consciousness; is Chaitanya. Consciousness cannot be finite because the very consciousness of finitude is an acceptance of the fact that it is infinite. Hence, consciousness must be infinite, and this infinitude of consciousness is called Brahman, the Absolute. Hence the ātman is Brahman. In this manner one can meditate.

Seventh Brahmana: Brahman as Lightning

  1. vidyud brahma ity āhuḥ; vidānād vidyut, vidyaty enam pāpmanaḥ, ya evaṁ veda, vidyud brahmeti, vidyud hy eva brahma.

Here you have another Upāsanā prescribed. We can meditate on the flash of lightning, the radiance which projects itself through the clouds when there is a clap of thunder or a heavy downpour of rain. It is a mystery by itself; it is a great beauty. You can wonder at the beauty of nature by the perception of the flashes of lightning and the thunder that you hear during the pouring of rain. And the beauty of nature in the monsoons is, of course, something which needs no explanation. One can contemplate even the beauty of nature as representing God's beauty itself. 'The flash of lightning can be taken as an object of Upāsanā,' says the Upaniṣhad. And in meditation we are supposed to have flashes of this kind. We have visions, and visions come like flashes of lightning. So, the similarity between the inward flashes that we experience in meditation and the outward flashes of lightning in the sky is that they are both flashes. With this comparison in mind, one can contemplate the flash of lightning as an object, so that through this finite symbol of the flash of lightning one can raise one's conception to the larger one which is the flash of reality itself in meditation.

Just as a flash of lightning pierces through the darkness of the cloud, so is this flash of consciousness which breaks through the darkness of ignorance. Vidānād vidyut: 'That which breaks through darkness of any kind, that which dispels that atmosphere where we cannot see anything, that can be regarded as Vidyut, or lightning.' Just as lightning outside dispels darkness caused by the clouds or by the absence of the sun in the darkness of the night, so this lightning or flash of consciousness within, in meditation, dispels ignorance in respect of oneself as well in respect of others.

There are two kinds of ignorance – the external and the internal. In technical language, we call external ignorance Sthūla-Avidyā and internal ignorance Mula-Avidyā. is the ignorance that covers the objects outside on account of which you cannot perceive them. The perception of an external object is made possible by the flash of an external light, but the internal being cannot be seen like that unless the Mula-Avidyā, or the root ignorance, is dispelled. It can be done only in deep meditation. So, the capacity to dispel darkness is common to both lightning inside and outside. With this commonness in mind, one can meditate on the flash of lightning. Vidyud brahmeti: 'Where lightning is Brahman.'

Vidyud brahma ity āhuḥ; vidānād vidyut, vidyaty enam pāpmanaḥ: 'This light of consciousness breaks through not only the darkness of ignorance, but also breaks through the fortress of sins.' All sins are destroyed when this flash takes place inside, just as all the errors that you commit in dream are incapable of production of any effect when you wake up. Even the worst of sins that you commit in dream have no effect when you wake up, merely because you have woken up, not that you have done something else to counteract the sins in dream. It is not one action that counteracts another action. It is mere illumination that counteracts all actions. This is the case with any sin, any action, for the matter of that, which is otherwise regarded as binding. No action can bind if illumination is there, just as no action in dream can bind you once you have woken up from the dream. But if you have not woken up, you have to reap the consequences thereof as the law of Karma operates. No law of Karma can operate where there is awakening from the realm where this law operates.

So, it is this flash, this resplendence of consciousness which destroys not only the darkness of ignorance, but also sins of every kind. 'One who knows this secret is afraid of nothing. He becomes a flash to every one else. He becomes a light to others. He illumines the lives of other people also.' Thus meditate, therefore, on 'lightning as Brahman'. This is one Upāsanā.

Eighth Brahmana: The Veda Symbolised as a Cow

  1. vācam dhenum upāsīta tasyāś catvāraḥ stanāḥ; svāhā-kāro vaṣat-kāro hanta-kāraḥ svadhā-kāraḥ; tasyai dvau stanau devā upajīvanti, svāhā-kāraṁ ca, vaṣat-kāraṁ ca; hanta-kāraṁ manuṣyāḥ, svadhā-kāram pitaraḥ. tasyāḥ prāṇa ṛṣabhaḥ, mano vatsaḥ.

Now the Upaniṣhad goes to another kind of meditation, the meditation which requires the identification of the Veda with a cow. ‘The Veda is like a cow’, says this Upaniṣhad. What is this cow? The cow has four nipples through which the milk oozes out. Likewise is the Veda with four nipples. It exudes milk, the milk of knowledge, just as the milk of nourishment is given by the cow through its nipples. This is a symbol. If you cannot think of anything abstract, you can think of your own cow and compare its function of secreting milk with the capacity of the Veda to secrete knowledge. Vācam dhenum upāsīta: ‘The Veda is to be meditated upon as the cow.’ Tasyāś catvāraḥ stanāḥ: ‘There are four nipples for the Veda, like those of the cow.’

Svāhā-kāro vaṣat-kāro hanta-kāraḥ svadhā-kāraḥ: These are all peculiarities of the application of Vedic Mantras in sacrifices. When a Mantra is chanted in a particular sacrifice, it is concluded with a particular colophon. This colophon, or completing part of the Mantra, is fourfold. Svāhā, Vasat, Hanta and Svadhā—these are the ways in which a Mantra is concluded when it is utilised for the purpose of offering oblations in a sacrifice. Indra-e-svāh, etc. means, these oblations we give to Indra. According to the nature of the recipient, the colophon varies. To some it is Svāhā, to certain others it is Svadhā, Hanta or Vasat.

Tasyai dvau stanau devā upajīvanti: ‘Two nipples of this cow are connected with the gods, the celestials in heaven.’ Svāhā-kāraṁ ca, vaṣat-kāraṁ ca: When any oblation is offered in the sacrifice towards gods, then Svāhā or Vaṣat is the word used to complete the chant of the Mantra in the sacrifice. So, ‘Svāhā and Vaṣat are the two nipples of the cow of the Veda which have correspondence with the gods in heaven’, in paradise. Hanta-kāraṁ manuṣyāḥ: ‘But, when an offering is made to a human being, the word Svāhā or Svadhā is not used. What is uttered is Hanta.’ You offer anything to a human being by recitation of a particular Mantra. For instance, when a sacred offering is given to a guest, a particular chant is taken resort to and it concludes with Hanta. It implies a sentiment of sympathy or readiness to serve or to give hospitality to people who have come as guests—hanta-kāraṁ manuṣyāḥ. Svadhā-kāraṁ pitaraḥ: But if you offer any oblation to the ancestors, the forefathers, not to the gods, not to human beings, then the Mantra ends with Svadhā. So, ‘Svadhā is the term used for Pitṛs’. All the Mantras in the Veda are of this kind. Either they are used for offering to Pitṛs, to human beings, or to the gods. So, these four ways of chant endings are like the four nipples of the cow of this great reservoir of wisdom which is the Veda.

Tasyāḥ prāṇa rṣabhaḥ: The cow is associated with a bull. The bull is always with the cow and cow is with the bull. So, this cow has a bull with it, and ‘this bull is the Prāṇa’. Just as the ox or the bull is responsible in some way for the secretion of milk from the cow, Prāṇa is responsible for the chant of the Mantra. It is the Prāṇa that actually comes in the form of the chant. If the Prāṇa is not to operate, there will be no chant of the Veda. So, in certain parts of this Upaniṣhad we have been already told that the Veda is nothing but Prāṇa manifest in some form. A particular modulation of the voice is the Veda, and what is modulation of the voice but a particular manifestation of Prāṇa itself. So, you can say that it is the Prāṇa that vibrates through the Mantra of the Veda. The force of the Mantra is nothing but the force of the Prāṇa, ultimately. Hence the bull of the Veda is Prāṇa and the Veda-cow is taken care of, protected and enabled to secrete the wisdom or the Vedic knowledge by its very presence. Mano vatsaḥ: ‘The calf is the mind.’ If the calf is not there, the cow will not yield milk. It will give a kick. What is this cow? The Veda is the cow. Who is the bull? The Prāṇa is the bull. Which is the calf? The mind is the calf. Just as the connection of the calf with the udder of the cow becomes responsible for the secretion of the milk through the udder, so the thought generated in the mind at the time of the chant of the Mantras of the Veda becomes responsible for the manifestation of knowledge. If the mind is absent, knowledge will not manifest itself in spite of the chant. So, this is a beautiful combination for the purpose of contemplation. The bull, the cow and the calf; the Prāṇa, the Veda and the mind—these three have to be combined in a blend as one organic force for the purpose of the realisation that we expect through these processes of contemplation.

As we have already observed, these are methods of meditation. These are symbols. They do not represent in themselves the goal that is aspired for through meditation. Just as the road is not the destination, the symbol is not the goal. But the road is necessary to reach the destination. Likewise, the symbol is necessary to drive the mind along this path of contemplation to the realisation of the ultimate goal.

Ninth Brahmana: The Universal Fire

  1. ayam agnir vaiśvānaro yo’yam antaḥ puruṣe, yenedam annam pacyate yad idam adyate; tasyaiṣa ghoṣo bhavati yam etat kaṛnāv apidhāya śṛṇoti, sa yadotkramiṣyan bhavati, nainaṁ ghoṣaṁ śṛṇoti.

Now, the Upaniṣhad tells us that we can also contemplate on the great Vaisvanara present in our own selves. The great Vaisvanara, the Supreme Being, performs a unique function in our own bodies as the fire that digests food. The gastric fire is God Himself working. It is a mysterious force within us. It is connected with a particular Prāṇa within us called Samāna. It is centred round the navel in the stomach. What that heat is, we cannot understand. From where does this heat come? It generates great energy in us and digests any kind of food that we take. You know very well that a corpse cannot digest food. The corpse also has a stomach, it has a mouth, it has a tongue, it has teeth, it has an alimentary canal, it has intestines; it has everything. But the corpse cannot digest food. What is lacking in the corpse? Some peculiar thing is lacking in it. That thing is what we call life. You may say it is Prāṇa. It is Prāṇa, no doubt, but what is Prāṇa? It is the Universal Divine Energy that works in an individual.

This Vaiśvānara, this Agnī, this Fire in the stomach produces a peculiar sound. A rumbling sound is produced in the stomach. It is not the sound that is produced when you have any trouble in the stomach, but it is a psychic sound which can be heard only when you close both the ears and the nostrils, through the performance of a Mudra called Shambavi Mudra. It is practiced as an exclusive method of meditation by certain seekers. Close the eyes, close the two nostrils, close the two ears also, and then observe very carefully what is taking place inside your body. You should not hear any sound from outside, because your hearing of the sound from outside will disturb your attention on what is happening inside; nor should you see anything with the eyes outside, because the eyes will distract you by drawing your attention to other objects; nor should you have the distraction of breathing. Every distraction is stopped at the time of this meditation. Close the nostrils, close the eyes, close the ears and then you will hear the sound. A very beautiful, mellow, rumbling sound like that of an ocean wave is heard inside us.

Ayam agnir vaiśvānaro yo'yam antaḥ puruṣe, yenedam annam pacyate: 'The fire inside the stomach is the Supreme Vaiśvānara Himself. He is the Puruṣha within. By Him the food that is taken is digested' – tasyaiṣa ghoṣo bhavati. 'The sound that is made by the fire inside is heard when – yam etat kaṛinav apidhāya śṛṇoti – you close your ears and hear it properly.' Closing the ears one can hear this sound, not by opening the ears. Sa yadotkramiṣyan bhavati, nainaṁ ghoṣaṁ śṛṇoti: 'When you are about to die, this sound will not be heard.' So, they say that one can apprehend the time of one's own death by observing the presence or absence of this sound. If you are about to pass away from this world, this sound will stop. The Vaiśvānara will withdraw Himself. Just as when war takes place, ambassadors are withdrawn by governments, so when some catastrophic thing is to take place, Vaiśvānara withdraws its force. So close the ears and see if you hear any sound, then you can find out how long you are going to live. If no sound is heard, be prepared to quit. This is what the Upaniṣhad tells us. But, if the sound is heard in a very sonorous way, very melodious manner, it means that your health is all right.

You know very well how doctors find out the condition of health of a person by hearing the sounds of the heart. Everyone has some sound in the heart, but various types of sound are produced by the heart under different circumstances of health. By the very sound the doctor can find out what is wrong. Likewise is the sound here inside, produced by the great Divine Being in us. Now, contemplate in this manner. This is one of the Upāsanās. Close the eyes, nostrils and the ears and hear the sound inside. Gradually the mind will get absorbed in this Anāhata. It is a sound that is not produced by the contact of two things, like the stick and the drum, for instance. The sound that is produced by the contact of stick and drum is āhata. Ahata means produced by contact, but this is Anahata because it is not produced by contact of one thing with another. It is an automatic sound. So, this Anāhata Muni, or the spiritual sonorous sound or vibration within, can be heard and converted into an object of meditation. This is Anāhata Upāsanā, one of the important meditations.

Tenth Brahmana: The Course After Death

Those who practise meditation on any kind of symbol, those who are engaged in meditation which is connected with some form, even if it be a largely extended form, reach up to salvation through stages. This gradual ascent of the soul to final emancipation is called the process of Krama-Mukti. In mystical circles, two ways of the attainment of salvation are recognised – the gradual one and the immediate one. Under certain circumstances, due to the intensity of the force of meditation, one may attain immediate liberation at one stroke, like the sudden awakening from sleep into the world or reality. This sort of immediate awakening is called Sadya-Mukti, awakening, or emancipation at once, an entering into spaceless and timeless eternity by being suddenly shaken up from the perceptional consciousness of the temporal world. Such an immediate experience of final liberation is hard to obtain, and it is not given to those who are accustomed to ordinary types of meditations. But, what happens to those who are engaged in meditation throughout their lives, on some form or the other, intently concentrating upon their Ishta-Devata or even Saguna Brahman, the Absolute, with a conceptual form attached to it? Because of the form, because of the peculiar relationship of the mind concentrating upon the form with the form on which it concentrates, because of the interference of the space and time between the meditating mind and the object of meditation, irrespective of the quality of the object or the immensity of the object of meditation, because of this reason there is a passage in space and time. This rise of the soul to final emancipation through a passage is called Krama-Mukti – gradual ascent. So, here in this section of the Upaniṣhad we have a mention of the various stages through which the soul passes in its gradual ascent to the Absolute. More detailed passages occur in the Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad and in another place in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, but here it is a very succinct and precise statement. When the soul leaves the body, having been absorbed in meditation throughout life, what happens to it? Here we are not speaking of the ordinary souls of people who are bound with their desires to the mortal world. Here the subject is the status of that soul after death, which has been spiritually inclined and absorbed in spiritual meditation throughout life. What happens to such a soul? Such a soul, after it casts off the body, reaches a step that is immediately above the physical world. Here, very symbolic language is used by the Upaniṣhads, symbolic in the sense that the names or epithets of the various stages represent not merely the grammatical meaning or the geographical meaning of the names given, but the deities superintending over these stages. A particular deity, a particular divine force takes possession of this soul, and through these ascents the soul confronts various divinities who become its friends on account of the meditation that it has practised in life.

We are told that the immediate ascent is to the deity of the flame or fire, which is subtler than the physical plane. The human mind cannot conceive how many degrees of Reality there are. We cannot understand what these stages actually mean. No one has seen these stages, and the language also is such that the intention of the Upaniṣhad cannot be easily intelligible. Commentators have always failed with passages of this kind. We have such a description in the Eighth Chapter of the Bhagavadgītā also, where two paths are described – the Northern path and the Southern path. Now, the ascent to the Absolute through these graduated stages is through the Northern path, the Archaradi-Marga, or the Uttarayana-Marga. The deity of fire, which is identified with flame, takes possession of the soul. The physical realm is transcended and the soul becomes lustrous. The physical body, having been cast off, the soul assumes a new body of an ethereal character. A subtle body is there no doubt, but it is not the physical body. The Sukshma Śarīra, or the body that is characterised by mere mind, Prāṇa and senses, remains even after the physical body is cast off. As there is a gradual ascent from the lower to the higher; there is also a gradual effectuation of the transparency of this body. The soul's body becomes more and more pellucid, more and more transparent, more and more capable of reflecting Reality in itself, which it was most incapable of doing while in the physical plane. The physical life is opaque to the influence of Reality. The existence of Reality is completely outside the purview of the existence of the individual in the physical world. For instance, we are apparently not influenced by the existence of other people outside. We have an intensity of feeling of personality, so that we are tied down to the reality of the body alone. But, this is not the case during the ascent. There is an increasing feeling of Reality outside oneself as the ascent continues. So, from the physical realm there is the ascent to the realm of fire. Archi is the word used in the Upaniṣhad. Archi means flame, a luminous fire. Having been purified by contact with the deity of fire, or Agnī, it rises still further and goes to the deity of the day. Every day is presided over by a particular force. That is why we have the difference of different days. Each day is different from the other on account of a particular influence exerted upon it by certain natural forces. These forces are divine in their nature. They are super-physical. superphysical. So, from the deity of flame the soul goes to the deity of the day, and from the deity of the day it rises to the deity which presides over the bright half of the lunar fortnight. A lunar month consists of two halves – the bright and the dark. The bright half is superintended over by a particular deity, and that deity here takes possession of the soul. This is the stage to which it reaches after the day is transcended. Then the soul goes up further to the deity which presides over the six months during which the sun goes to the North. This is what is called Uttarāyana in the traditional language. In Indian tradition, the Northern course of the sun has always been regarded as very sacred, for reasons highly mystical. And even such great Masters like Bhishma of the great Mahābhārata have waited for the coming of the sun to the North before discarding the body. The deity that presides over the half of the year during which the sun moves to the North takes possession of the soul further on. Then the soul goes up to the realm of the deity which presides over the entire year. There are sixty years in a particular cycle, according to calculations astronomically made. Each year has a particular name, just as there are names for particular days – Sunday, Monday, etc. The deity that presides over the year is responsible for the purification of the soul further on after it ascends from the lower level. Then the soul is supposed to go up to the realm of the wind, or Vāyu. The atmosphere itself takes possession of it. It becomes a citizen of a larger area, not merely of a limited locality. Then it goes up to the sun. The sun is regarded as a very important halting place of the soul in its passage to the Supreme Being during the Northern movement, or by the Archaradi-Marga. Then there is a movement further to a realm which is designated as moon, in the language of the Upaniṣhad. Here, commentators differ in their opinion as to what is this moon. Evidently, it cannot be the moon that we see with our eyes, because that is not be supposed to be superior to the sun or transcending the sun. So, some teachers think that it is a more blissful intermediary condition, very cool like that of the moon.

The stages beyond the sun are very hard to describe. They are something most unthinkable. They have nothing to do with this world practically, and they are not characterised by any kind of experience usually available in this world. Up to the region of the sun we may be said to be in the temporal realm. Beyond that it is non-temporal and something unusual. Then, the Upaniṣhad says there is a flash – the realm of lightning – not this physical lightning, evidently. Maybe the light of the Supreme Being Himself, the light of Brahman flashes. Just as there are lightning flashes in the sky during the monsoons which indicate the movement of electricity in their atmosphere, likewise we are given an indication of our approach to Brahman as if we are on the borderland of the Absolute. The flashes of light of a supernatural nature the soul is supposed to behold. Beyond that, what happens to the soul? This is a great mystery, says the Upaniṣhad itself. Evidently, the gravitational pull exerted by its own existence is inadequate for the purpose of further ascent. The ocean pushes even the river back a number of miles when the force of the waves is too much, too intense. The gravitational pull of the rocket of the soul, which moves of its own accord, with its own energy, is now inadequate. So, at this level of lightning some supernal help comes to its aid. A superhuman being comes, Puruṣho-Amānavah, says the Upaniṣhad. Someone who cannot be called human comes there and takes the soul by the hand onwards. It is guided by another force altogether, not the force of its own personality or its own understanding. There are people who think that this superior being is the Guru who comes there, the Guru who has initiated you, who has taught you, who has shown you the path and who has taken care of you spiritually. He is not dead even after the physical body is cast off. His soul visualises the course of the soul of the disciple and He comes there in His subtle form and takes the disciple's soul by the hand, as it were, and directs it onwards. There are others who think that it is God Himself coming in one form. Well, it makes no difference to us whether it is God or Guru, because the Guru is a form of God only, as far as the spiritual life is concerned. Then it goes up further to the realm of the Cosmic Waters whose deity is designated as Varuṇa, not of the ordinary waters, but of the Cosmic Waters. The soul becomes cosmic and universal in its nature. It sheds its personality, its individuality, and then goes to the Supreme stage of Virāt where it becomes practically absorbed into Universality. Then it reaches the Absolute.

So, this is the gradual ascent of the soul, stage by stage, through Karma-Mukti.

  1. yadā vai puruso'smāl lokāt praiti, sa vāyum āgacchati; tasmai sa tatra vijihīte yathā ratha-cakrasya kham; tena sa ūrdhvā ākramate, sa ādityam āgacchati; tasmai sa tatra vijihīte yathā lambarasya kham; tena sa ūrdhva ākramate, sa candramasam āgacchati, tasmai sa tatra vijihīte yathā dundubheḥ kham; tena sa ūrdhva ākramate, sa lokam āgacchaty aśokam ahimam; tasmin vasati śāśvatīḥ samāḥ.

Here, the passage is short. It mentions only a few of the stages, not all those that I mentioned to you just now. 'When the soul leaves this world it reaches the wind,' it says. And the wind-god releases the soul from the clutches of the atmosphere. The force of this earth is relaxed and it does not pull you any more downward, as it used to do earlier. As if there is a hole in the atmosphere through which one can pass, the soul visualises a passage. Highly symbolic language is this, again. As large a hole as the size of a wheel of a chariot, is the hole which the soul visualises in the atmosphere, and it passes through it to the realm of the wind. Thence it goes to the region of the sun, who also allows passage, which passage in turn is as wide in diameter as that of a kettledrum. The sun is very large. Many people cannot reach it. He will obstruct the ascent of the soul further, but he allows the movement of the soul onwards if it has practiced meditation, especially on the Vaiśvānara as has been indicated in the earlier section. Then it goes up to the realm of the moon, to which we made reference just now, by a passage which is as wide in diameter as that of a big drum. Sa ūrdhva ākramate, sa lokam āgacchaty aśokam ahimam; tasmin vasati śāśvatīḥ samāḥ: 'A sorrowless world is reached where the physical laws do not operate.' Neither the ordinary psychological laws which bring about sorrow to the mind operate there, nor does any other law pertaining to this world. Such is the blessedness which the departed soul obtains by practice of meditation on the Vaiśvānara, which is the context of the subject on hand. This particular section on meditation, whose object is Vaiśvānara, is here concluded.

There are other kinds of symbols through which one can practice meditation. Many of these symbolic suggestions given in the Upaniṣhad look fantastic to people who are not used to appreciate the relationship between the physical world and the higher world. Why do we use symbols for descriptions? Because transcendental truths are not visible objects, and so they cannot be explained through a language which is useful only to describe objects of sense. If I ask you to describe what is fourth dimension, what language can be used? No scientist will be able to explain in available language what is fourth dimension. He will only say, it is fourth dimension. It is impossible to describe it because it is not of the nature of anything that we can think of in this world. There is no such thing as four-dimensional to our mind, because everything here in this world is three-dimensional only. So, whatever be the stretch of your imagination, that thing called fourth dimension will be outside the ken of your knowledge. How will you meditate upon it if I ask you to contemplate that realm? Inasmuch as language is impotent here, symbols are used. It is something like this, something like that-this is what is called a symbol. So is the utility of symbols in meditation.

Eleventh Brahmana: The Supreme Austerities

  1. etad vai paramaṁ tapo yad vyāhitas tapyate; paramaṁ haiva lokaṁ jayati, ya evaṁ veda; etad vai paramaṁ tapo yaṁ pretam araṇyaṁ haranti; paramaṁ haiva lokaṁ jayati, ya evaṁ veda etad vai paramaṁ tapo yam pretam agnāv abhyādadhati. paramaṁ haiva lokaṁ jayati, ya evaṁ veda.

If one is sick, one need not grieve, says the Upaniṣhad. The Upaniṣhads do not want grief of any kind. They are accustomed to a life of exuberance, joy and positivity. What you call sorrow or grief is a condition into which the mind enters when it cannot adjust itself with that condition. After all, pain or sorrow of any kind is nothing but a conscious experience of an irreconcilable position. If it can be reconciled, it is not sorrowful. But our physical and mental states are such, unfortunately for us, that they cannot reconcile themselves with anything and everything in this world. So, when certain things impinge on us, physically or psychologically, when we are forced to undergo experiences of conditions which cannot be reconciled with our physical or mental states, then it is called pain. Now, merely because something is painful or sorrow-giving, it need not mean that it is an undesirable object. It only means that we cannot reconcile ourselves with it. I cannot adjust myself to the conditions demanded by the presence of that thing which is immediate to me. Therefore it causes pain to me. It does not mean that it will cause pain to everybody. To me it causes pain. The particular environment in which I am living, the particular atmosphere in which I have to continue my life in this world, the particular object or person in front of me is irreconcilable for reasons of my own, and therefore it causes pain. But the Upaniṣhad tells us, this is not the correct attitude to things. Even if you have high fever, you are supposed to understand why the fever has come. You are not supposed to cry and shed tears. So, that itself is a meditation – the understanding of the nature of sorrow and an attempt on the part of the meditating mind to reconcile itself with it through understanding.

Etad vai paramaṁ tapo yad vyāhitas tapyate: 'When you are suffering due to fever or illness, contemplate on the condition of illness.' What is the meaning of illness? Something which I do not like. A physical condition mostly which is tormenting my mind – that is illness. Why is the mind tormented when my body is ill? Because the mind requires of the body certain given conditions only. It does not require other conditions. There is an agreement or a pact signed, as it were, between the mind and the body. We have to adjust ourselves in this manner – I give this, you give that. That is called a pact or an agreement. That pact has to be followed by the body as well as the mind. Then there is psychophysical health. But if the mind revolts against the body, there would be insanity, and if the body revolts against the mind, there is what is called Vyādi, or illness. You do not want any kind of revolt. Now, the Upaniṣhad does not talk of mental revolution, because then the question of meditation does not arise. It is taken for granted that the mind is sane and it can understand things, but the body is not reconciling itself with the condition of the mind. It is in a state which we call ill-health. Ill-health is itself an object of meditation. When you have temperature, you contemplate on temperature itself. Naturally it is difficult, because it is painful. You are undergoing a Tapas, says the Upaniṣhad. A Tapas is a heat that is generated by intensity of thought, and fever is a great heat produced in the body. Now, this heat itself becomes an object of meditation. How is it an object of meditation? You will be laughing at the Upaniṣhad. How is it possible? It is not a deity; it is not a god; it is not going to help you in any manner, you think. It is going to help us in the manner of an understanding because, as I hinted earlier, the incompatibility of physical illness with the present mental state is the cause of pain, and the mind is supposed to understand the nature or the reason behind this incompatibility. Why is there this incompatibility between the condition of the body and the mind? Because the mind cannot adjust itself with the condition of the body. When you are dipped into the cold waters of the Ganga in winter, you know what you feel. You shiver to death. You may actually die if you are placed inside the water for one hour. But why do not the fish feel the cold? They are inside the water and they are so happy. How are they so happy? Because the condition of the body of the fish is compatible with the condition of the water of the Ganga. That is all. There is no incompatibility. But our body is irreconcilable with that condition. So, it is a kind of maladjustment of personality with the outer atmosphere and the outer conditions prevailing, that is called ill-health and any kind of sorrow or pain, for the matter of that. So let the mind contemplate on the possibility of a reconcilability or a compatibility with everything. That is one kind of Tapas.

The Upaniṣhad tells us further that you can also contemplate the condition of your being carried to the cremation ground. You have not yet been taken like that; but just imagine that you are still on the deathbed, and that you will be carried to the cremation ground in procession. Can you imagine this condition? 'Yes, I am gone, here I am on the stretcher, people are weeping, some are happy, perhaps; they carry me, and to the cremation ground do I go.' Contemplate like this. Then the sorrow of death also will be averted. You are deliberately contemplating the practicability, the possibility of going to the cremation ground and being burnt there.

When you are carried to the forest or the jungle to be buried there or to the cremation ground, a very uncomfortable experience is of course capable of being entertained in the mind. Nobody wishes to undergo that experience of falling ill, of being taken to the jungle for being buried or on a stretcher to the cremation ground to be burnt there. Who would like such an experience? But every experience is an experience. It has to be taken philosophically and scientifically. You will lose nothing by being buried; lose nothing by having an illness; you will lose nothing by going to the cremation ground. It looks like a horror on account of incompatibility again, an inadjustability of the mind with conditions outside. The whole point of the meditation here is that the mind should be able to contemplate a reconcilability of itself with any and every condition. In other words, it is a symbolic hint at meditation on universality.

Twelfth Brahmana: The Via Media of Attitude

  1. annam brahma ity eka āhuḥ, tan na tathā, pūyati vā annaṁ ṛte prāṇāt; prāṇo brahma ity eka āhuḥ, tan na tathā, śuṣyati vai prāṇa ṛte’nnāt, ete ha tv eva devate, ekadhābhūyam bhūtvā, paramatāṁ gacchataḥ tadd ha smāha prātṛdaḥ pitaram, kiṁ svid evaivaṁ viduṣe sādhu kuryām, kim evāsmā asādhu kuryām iti. sa ha smāha pāṇinā: mā prātṛda, kas tv enayor ekadhā bhūyaṁ bhūtvā paramatāṁ gacchatīti. tasmā u haitad uvāca; vi, iti; annaṁ vai vi; anne hīmāni sarvāṇi bhūtāni viṣṭānī; ram iti  prāṇo vai ram, prāṇe hīmāni sarvāṇi bhūtāni ramante; sarvāṇi ha vā asmin bhūtāni viśanti, sarvāṇi bhūtāni ramante, ya evaṁ veda.

It is a favourite theme of the Upaniṣhads to consider the whole Reality as matter and spirit, or as the material universe and the universe of Prāṇa, energy. A meditation is prescribed on the correlation between Anna and Prāṇa, the two terms here representing matter and energy. There are those who think that matter is everything, it is the whole of creation, forgetting the fact that it is an expression of Prāṇa, or energy, which is equally cosmic; there are others who think that energy alone is the ultimate reality, forgetting the fact that it manifests itself as matter, or object form, in the world of experience.

Annam brahma ity eka āhuḥ, tan na tathā: 'It is not true that mere material bodies can be regarded as real ultimately, because they decompose themselves into their original components when Prāṇa is absent in them.' It is the Prāṇa, or the energy, or the force that is behind things which keeps them in shape and maintains the form which they have taken at any given moment of time. It is also not true that matter does not exist, because it is an expression in space and time of the very same energy which is behind it as the invisible formless substance. So, form and formless being are the two aspects of Reality. They have to be blended together in contemplation. Neither should we go to the invisible, ignoring the visible, nor should we concentrate upon the visible merely, ignoring the aspect of the invisible reality behind it. Pūyati vā annaṁ: 'Everything that is material or of the nature of food decomposes itself and decays when Prāṇa is absent.' And Prāṇa, too, sustains itself on matter because it operates through matter. Our life is sustained by the food that we consume, and food in turn is maintained in its original freshness by the energy that pervades it. So, there is an interdependence of matter and energy. On this, there is a linguistic concept introduced for the purpose of meditation, just as we had a mention made of contemplation on the literal significance of the letters of the word Hṛidya, or heart, on an earlier occasion. Here we are asked to contemplate symbolically on the meaning of a certain word – 'Vi'. Vi, iti; annaṁ vai vi; anne hīmāni sarvāṇi bhūtāni viṣṭānī: 'Everything is rooted in the material form and the food that is consumed, because of the fact that they are rooted in the material form.' The Sanskrit word for rootedness is Viṣṭatva, Viṣṭānī, and so, contemplate on the very first letter Vi of this significant word Viṣṭa, to be rooted, to be fixed or to be encompassed by something. Similarly, ram iti prāṇo vai ram, prāṇe hīmāni sarvāṇi bhūtāni ramante: 'it is on account of the manifestation of life, or Prāṇa, that people are happy'. The joy of life is nothing but the joy of breathing, and energy manifesting itself as Prāṇa, and the Sanskrit word for this is Ramana. To Ram is to enjoy, to be happy, to be pleased and to be delighted. So, the words Ram and Viṣṭā – these two are semantically conceived and the first letters of these words are taken together, Vi and Ra. 'Contemplate on these only,' says the teacher. This is a way of meditation, using merely the first letter of the two words which indicate certain significances of the function of the two aspects of Reality – Anna and Prāṇa. 'Whoever contemplates thus on a blend of the two aspects of Reality as Anna and Prāṇa, matter and energy, enters into these two at the same time, combines the two in his own being and in his personal experience and life.' One who knows this secret of meditation does not over-emphasise either the aspect of matter or the aspect of energy. In other words, he combines in his practical life the two aspects of externality and internality. He is neither externally engaged as the extroverts are, nor is he internally engaged too much as the introverts are, but strikes a balance between the two.

The whole moral of the teaching in this section of the Upaniṣhad seems to be that we must strike a via media, a golden means between the outward looking attitude and the inward investigation of a psychological nature. We should neither be too much engaged in external investigation of material form to the exclusion of the internal aspect of Reality which is psychological and of the nature of energy, nor should we emphasise too much on the internal aspect only, namely, things psychological, ignoring the external aspect, because the internal and the external, the energy aspect and the matter aspect are two sides of a single Reality. Meditation should ideally be on a harmony between the two. This is, perhaps, the intention of the teacher in this section.