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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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CHAPTER V

Second Brahmana: The Three Principal Virtues

  1. trayāḥ  prājāpatyāḥ prājapatau pitari brahma-caryam ῡṣuḥ, devā manuṣyā asurāḥ, uṣitvā brahmacaryaṁ devā ῡcuh; bravītu no bhavān iti; tebhyo haitad akṣaram uvāca; da iti, vyajñāsiṣṭā iti; vyajñāsiṣma iti hocuḥ, dāmyata, iti na āttheti, aum iti hovāca, vyajñāsiṣṭeti.

Trayāḥ prājāpatyāḥ prājapatau pitari brahma-caryam ῡṣuḥ, devā manuṣyā asurāḥ, uṣitvā brahmacaryaṁ devā ῡcuh; bravītu no bhavān iti: On one occasion the gods, the human beings and the demons all observed self-restraint, Brahmacharya, Tapasya and austerity for the sake of gaining knowledge from the Creator. Having observed great austerity they went to Brahma, the Creator Himself, and said, "Give us instruction." Who went? Three groups. One group of the celestials, the gods, denizens of Indra-loka, paradise, who enjoy all sorts of pleasures, second the men of this earth plane, and third the demons, extremely cruel in their nature. To the gods he said, "I give you instruction. Listen! Da." He said but one word, "Da". "Do you understand what I say?" "Yes, we understand." "Very good! So, follow this instruction." Then he looked to the human beings, "Do you want instruction from me?" "Yes!" "Da," he said again. "Do you follow what I say?" "Yes, we understand." "Very good! Now go and follow this instruction." Then the demons were called and he said "Da" to the demons also, and the demons, like the others said, "Yes, we have understood what it is." "Go and follow this instruction." To all the three he told the same thing, but the meaning was taken differently by the different groups. "Da, Da, Da," he said. That is all he spoke.

The celestials, the people in paradise, are supposed to be revelling in pleasures of sense. They are fond of enjoyment. There is no old age there. There is no sweating, no toiling, no hunger, no thirst, no drowsiness and nothing untoward as in this world. It is all pleasure and pleasure, honey flowing everywhere in paradise. They are addicted to too much enjoyment. So the instruction to those people was Da-'Dāmyata'. In Sanskrit Dāmyata means, restrain yourself. Dāmyata comes from the word Dam, to restrain. Subdue your senses. Do not go too much in the direction of the enjoyment of the senses. That was 'Da' to the celestials. Kama is to be controlled by self-restraint.

Human beings are greedy. They want to grab everything. Hoarding is their basic nature. "I want a lot of money"; "I have got a lot of land and property"; "I want to keep it with myself"; "I do not want to give anything to anybody". This is how they think. So, to them 'Da' meant Datta – 'give in charity'. Do not keep with you more than what you need. Do not take what you have not given. Do not appropriate what does not belong to you. All these are implied in the statement – be charitable. Charitable not only in material giving but also in disposition, in feeling, in understanding and in feeling the feelings of others. So, to the human beings this was the instruction – Datta, give, because they are not prepared to give. They always want to keep. Greed is to be controlled by charity.

And to the demons, who are very cruel, who always insult, injure and harm other people 'Da' meant Dayadhvam – be merciful to others. The third 'Da' means Dayadhvam – be merciful. Do not be cruel and hard-hearted. Demons are hard-hearted people. They eat, swallow, destroy and demolish everything. Anger is to be controlled by mercy.

So, these three letters Da, Da, Da instructed three types of individuals in three different ways. All instructions were conveyed by a single word only; a single letter, but the meaning was conveyed properly to the individual groups concerned. Wear the cap that fits – tebhyo haitad akṣaram uvāca; da iti, vyajāsiṣṭā iti; vyajāsiṣma iti hocuḥ, dāmyata, iti na āttheti, aum iti hovāca, vyajāsiṣṭeti.

  1. atha hainam manuṣyā ῡcuh: bravītu no bhavān iti; tebhyo haitad evākṣaram uvāca; da iti; vyajñāsiṣṭā iti, vyajñāsiṣma iti hocuḥ, datta iti na āttheti; aum iti hovāca vyajñāsiṣṭeti.
  2. atha hainam asurā ῡcuḥ, bravītu no bhavān iti; tebhyo haitad evākṣaram uvāca; da iti, vyajāsiṣṭā iti, vyajāsiṣma iti hocuḥ, dayadhvam iti na āttheti, aum iti hovāca vyajāsiṣṭeti. tad etad evaiṣā daivī vāg anuvadati stanayitnuḥda-da, da, iti, damyata, datta, dayadhvam iti. tad etat trayaṁ śikṣet, damam, dānam, dayām iti.

These are the three great injunctions given by Prajāpati, the Creator, to three types of people. If this instruction can be followed in its spirit, then the desire, greed and anger of the personality can be sublimated by self-restraint, charity and mercy respectively.

This instruction, which was communicated to the Devas, Manushyās and Asuras – gods, men and demons – by the single letter Da repeated three times, meaning Dāmyata, Datta, Dayadhvam – be self-controlled, be charitable and be compassionate, is applicable to all mankind. This is like a thunder of teaching. Stanayitnuḥ: A 'roaring sound'. This message of Prajāpati is not merely an ancient one; it is an eternal one. This is what the Upaniṣhad tries to make out because it was not intended for only a particular time in creation, but is a teaching for everyone. Evaiṣā daivī vāg anuvadati stanayitnuḥda – da, da, iti, damyata, datta, dayadhvam iti. tad etat trayaṁ śikṣet, damam, dānam, dayām iti: 'This is a Divine teaching, a supernatural message.' Daivi vag anuvadati: 'Like a thunder coming from the clouds in the sky.' Like the thunderclap you hear during the monsoon, this thunderclap of message comes from God Himself, as it were, in the form of a mere sound 'Da' repeated several times. In fact, all instruction is comprehended in this teaching. That is why so much importance has been given to it in the Upaniṣhad.

Let us study further the three difficulties mentioned earlier, which have to be overcome before one realises the aim of one's perfection. The difficulties are the limitations of one's own personality. There are a variety of limitations and many permutations and combinations of these. But they all fall broadly into three major groups. The urge of the mind to go towards objects – this is one difficulty. The mind is always so engrossed in things that it cannot find time to think of itself. The mind has no time to think of itself. All its time is taken away by objects. This is a great problem before us. There is not one who can escape this difficulty. We always think of something or the other, but never our own thought. Thought is always directed towards something else. This urge of the mind towards an object outside is prevented from working havoc by the practice of self-retraint. Self-restraint is nothing but the withdrawal of the mind from its impetuous movement towards objects outside. The mind runs towards external things for reasons multifarious. It is not for a single reason that the mind goes towards objects. It has different reasons at different times, and different objects call for its attention under different circumstances. So the urge of the mind, the impulse of the mind, the force of the mind towards external objects, the inclination of the individual towards anything that is outside, like the inclination of the river towards the ocean, is a problem and that too a very serious one. Because of this externalising impulse of the mind, the attempt at universalisation miserably fails. When there is an urge for externalisation, how can there be universalisation! The universal impulse is the outcome of a sublimation of the other impulses, whether they be outgoing or ingoing. So the outgoing impulse of the mind, which is called desire in ordinary language, is a psychological urge felt from within for external things. It need not necessarily be an unholy desire; it can also be a so-called holy desire; it can be anything for the matter of that; it can be very pious in its intention, very religious in its motive, but it is all the same an externalised urge and it can be a counterblast to your aspiration for the universal. As unholy things bind, so holy things can also bind if they are not in consonance with the ultimate aspiration for Universal Being. This powerful expression of finitude of our nature known as desire can be held in check by self-restraint, as indicated by the teaching Dama implied in the first 'Da'.

The second difficulty with us is the desire to appropriate things. Greed is ingrained in everyone's mind. It is not merely the trader, the miser, or the shopkeeper who is greedy. Greed can take a very subtle form. A desire to keep everything is a form of greed. "It is a very beautiful thing made in Bavaria; I would like to have it." Why do you like it? Well, it is a tendency. Anything you see anywhere, you want to appropriate and keep; not that they are necessary. So greed is a kind of urge of the mind towards appropriation of things which are not really necessary for the maintenance of one's life. If they are absolutely essential for the maintenance of your psychophysical existence, they are permissible as necessary evils at least. But if they are not necessary for your existence and you can exist even without them and comfortably too from the point of your ultimate aim of life, then of course it would not be at all permissible to keep them. So greed is another expression of our finitude. This we have seen is to be kept in check by practice of charity.

Then we have a very peculiar trait in us of finding pleasure in the sorrow of others. It looks strange. How can one find pleasure in the grief of another? But this trait is present in every person. This is the cruel element in us, the demon working within us. The Asura is right here within us, not only in the nether regions. He is not in the army of Ravana or Hiraṇyakashipu merely. Any tendency in us to see others punished, put behind bars, hung up with chains or sent to the gaol; any tendency in us to see the subdual of others, our vindictive attitude, the attitude of reaping vengeance – whatever be the reason behind it, whatever be the justification behind it, is the Asura element within us. If you can be happy when others are made unhappy, you are a demon. You are not even a human being. This feeling has to be checked by practice of mercy. These are the three terrible traits within us – the general impetuous urge of the mind to go to any external object especially when it is an object of what you call enjoyment or pleasure, the tendency of the mind to appropriate things more and more, and the tendency of the mind to see the grief of another, sadistic instinct is the word that is used in psychoanalysis, which is the Asura instinct. How can you have an aspiration for the Universal when there is the presence of even one of these? All of them are never absent at any time! Sometimes one is predominantly present, sometimes two, sometimes all the three, but never are all of them absent! Impossible! So comes the importance of this great teaching – Dama, Dāna and Daya for the subdual of the urges of personality, for the purpose of the fructification of the aspiration for the Supreme Universal. Damyata, datta, dayadhvam iti, tad etat trayam śikset: These are the three types of advice that we have to imbibe, take in and learn from elders. These three instructions, self-restraint, charity and mercy are the three great virtues everyone has to acquire!

Now, as we have observed earlier, the Fifth Chapter of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad abounds in certain meditations, not the type of meditations which we have already studied in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Chapters, but another type altogether which we may call symbolic meditations. You can take a particular object, external or internal, or a particular concept or idea as representing the great object of your spiritual aspiration. That can be considered as a fit instrument for your meditation. How can you meditate on Brahman? You have not seen Brahman; therefore you cannot think of Brahman, and therefore you cannot meditate on Brahman. Hence, the scriptures, especially the Upaniṣhads, give us certain hints as to how we can raise the status of our thoughts from the lower to the higher, gradually by Upāsanā and symbolic meditation. The secret of meditation is one-pointedness. This is an essential feature that we have to remember. Ultimately and finally it matters little as to what is the object upon which we are meditating. What is important is how we are meditating, what is our attitude towards the object of meditation and what are the thoughts that come to the mind during the time of meditation. What you are concentrating upon is secondary, ultimately, because everything and anything in this world can become a symbol for meditation. Just as by touching any branch of a tree, you can go to the trunk of the tree; just as by rowing along any river in the world, you can reach the ocean; just as any road can take you finally to Delhi because they are all interconnected, likewise any object can take you to the Absolute, because any object in the world is but a part of the cosmic body. If you touch one finger of the body you have touched the body, as a matter of fact, and you can reach up to any other part of the body and even the whole body by merely grasping this little part. So the purpose is to hold on to the concept of the whole of which the symbol forms a part. Your intention is not to cling merely to the part or to the symbol. Just as when you take a boat in the Ganga and your intention is to reach Ganga Sagar in the Bay of Bengal and then from the Bay of Bengal to go to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific; you do not want to merely rest here in this very area, so you go further and further, rowing down and ultimately reach the Ocean, even so when you contemplate an object of meditation, the purpose is not to cling to the finitude or the shape of that object, but to convert it into a symbol or a pathway leading to that whole of which it is an integral part and to which it points, of which it is a symbol. From this point of view, anything that is dear to you as a philosophical concept or a religious ideal can be taken as an object of meditation. This is called the Ishta in ordinary parlance. The Ishta is that which is dear to your heart, not in a sensuous sense but in a religious and spiritual sense. It is that which you regard as fit enough to attract your attention entirely for the purpose of spiritual illumination and experience.

Some such symbols for meditation are mentioned in the following sections. The symbols mentioned here are not usual ones. They are very uncommon. They are not things which you have heard of in any book; neither are they easy of concentration, because they are the ideas of ancient Masters who lived thousands of years ago and whose vision of things was a little different from the vision of things we have in the twentieth century. So, while it may be a little difficult for us to sum up all the ideas that they have expressed through these passages due to our modernised way of thinking, yet if we deeply ponder over the significance and the important spirit behind the teaching, we will find that any of these can be a fit symbol or aid for meditation to any one of us.