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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad



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.