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The Chhandogya Upanishad

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Chapter Two: Uddalaka's Teaching Concerning the Oneness of the Self

Section 3: Threefold Development

  1. Tesam khalv esam bhutanam triny eva bijani bhavanti, andajam, jivajam, udbhijjam iti.

The organic bodies also have originated on account of the mixture of these three elements only. There are various types of organisms. Those which sprout up from the earth, like the plant, the tree, the vegetables, etc., are called udbhijja. That is one kind of organic creation-the vegetable kingdom. There are other beings that come out bursting through the egg, not like plants coming from the earth, but egg-born beings. This is another type of organic beings; they are called andaja. There are others that come out of the womb of the mother; they are called jivaja or jarayuja. There is a fourth type which is called svedaja, coming out of dirt, dust, sweat, etc. All these varieties of organic creation are also made possible on account of the substance of their bodies being provided by these three original elements only. The entry of consciousness in varying proportions and intensity into these bodies is responsible for the variety of these organic bodies. They are different from one another on account of the different intensity of consciousness present there. The lesser the degree of the manifestation of consciousness in a particular body, the less is the capacity of the organism in every respect. The more the intensity, of course, the greater is the capacity.

Now the Upanishad says: The Supreme Being willed through these manifested parts—"May I reveal Myself in this multiform of creation."

  1. Seyam devataiksata, hantaham imas tisro devata anena jivena tmana nupravisya nama-rupe vyakaravaniti.

"May I enter into these three elements that I have created-fire, water and earth-and through them, may I become further manifold, by means of the triplication of these."

  1. Tasam trivrtam trivrtam ekaikam karavaniti, seyam devatema tisro devata anenaiva jivera'tmanra'nupravisya nama-rupe vyakarot. Tasam trivrtam trivrtam ekaikam akarot.

Name and form came into existence on account of this action of multiplication brought about by the triplication of the elements by the Will of the Supreme Being. So the whole world is nothing but nama and rupa, name and form. There is a particular shape and that is called a form and that has got a name also, by which you distinguish it from another. Minus name and minus the particular shape, what is that object? It does not exist. The three dimensions of an object, length, breadth and height, the weight and the features, which are sensible to the perceptive organs, are the constituents of the object, and if these sensations are not there, if the aspects of three dimensions are not there, there will be no objectivity at all. And, therefore, there will be no nomenclature of any kind. So there will be no name and form. Then, what is this world ultimately? It is a formation of a single substance which originally became threefold—fire, water and earth—and then divided itself into manifold forms, to which many names have been given. Thus, what is this universe of diversity before us? It is the one Being alone; except That, nothing is. It is said, "Being alone was." Now we have to say, "Being alone is." Even after creation, that Being alone is—not that It was, only once upon a time, in ancient times and not now. Even now when there is the so-called creation or manufacture of the variety, It has not ceased to be. The variety is not really there, as the causative factors of this variety are also constituted of the substance of this Being alone. That which causes the difference of one thing from another is also that Being only, manifested in some other form. So how can there be difference? If the differentiating factor itself is a part of that which is differentiated, then there is no such thing as differentiation. So we have the world which is only notional, ultimately. It is in the mind. Well, you need not go further into this subject, as to where the mind is situated and whether the object is in your mind or my mind. That is another subject into which we shall enter later on. It is not anybody's mind. It is the consciousness that vibrates in some particular manner and makes it appear that there is something other than itself. The appearance of the multiplicity of the world is something like the circular shape of the fire that you see in the vigorous movement of a firebrand. If you very vehemently circulate or turn round a torch, you will find that there is a circle of fire or light in front of you. There is no circle actually. It is only an optical illusion created before you on account of the intensive velocity of the movement of the torch. So a vibration of consciousness in a particular manner becomes cognisable as an object. The object is not there at all. Therefore, what you call creation is nothing but consciousness appearing in a particular manner due to a certain vibration, a particular density, a movement of it in a particular manner. So Being alone was and Being alone is, even now, in the form of this creation. Again we are brought back to the conclusion that there is no creation, and that it is Being only that appears as creation. However, it is not very clear, so the argument goes on further.

  1. Tasam trivrtam trivrtam ekaikam akarot, yatha tu khalu saumya, imas tisro devatas trivrt trivrt ekaika bhavati, tan me vijanihiti.

"My dear boy," says father to son, "listen to me further."

Section 4: Threefold Development (Continued)

  1. Yadagne rohitam rupam tejasas tadrupam yat cuklam tadapam yat krsnam tadannasya apagad agner agnitvam vacarambhanam vikaro namadheyam trini rupanityeva satyam.
  2. Yad adityasya rohitam rupam tejasas tad rupam yat cuklam tadapam yat krsnam, tadannasya apagad adityasya adityatvam vacarambhanam vikaro namadheyam trini rupanityeva satyam.
  3. Yat candramaso rohitam rupam tejasas tad rupam yat cuklam tadapam yat krsnam tad annasya apagad candrat candratvam vacarambhanam vikaro namadheyam trini rupani ityeva satyam.
  4. Yad vidyuto rohitam rupam tejasas tad rupam, yat cuklam tad apam yat krsnam tad annasya apagad vidyuto vidyuttvam vacarambhanam vikaro namadheyam, trini rupanityeva satyam.

Every object in creation has been reduced to its constituents, and it has been discovered that there is nothing in an object except its constituents. This is a law that can apply to every object, whatever its character be. The difference in the contour or the shape of the object is not very important. What is important is the nature of the substance out of which it is formed. You know very well that from the point of view of shape, a walking stick is different from a table, but from the point of view of the substance, both of them are made of the same wood. So, the knowledge of the walking stick would imply the knowledge of the table also, irrespective of their differences structurally. In a similar manner, the rule can be applied to everything in the world, and the Upanishad points out to us that all things in the world are permutations and combinations of the original untriplicated elements—fire, water and earth. The redness in the sun, says the Upanishad, is a vibration that is emitted from the fire that is in the sun. The whiteness that dazzles us is due to the water principle, and the darkness there is due to the earth principle. So is the case with the moon, so is the case with the lightning, and so is the case with every other object.

The colours mentioned here are not the colours as we understand them in our ordinary language. A colour is a capacity which is present in something structurally, which emits certain vibrations causing a perception of a kind of colour in its body. So the colour is only a reaction that is set up in the process of perception. This reaction is caused by the nature of the object that is inherent in the thing, which actuates the perceiving eye to recognise it in the form of the colour that we appreciate. So is the case with the redness and the whiteness or the blackness that the Upanishad speaks of in respect of objects. They are not merely abstract qualities, but are substances in essentiality, and the Upanishad is trying to analyse the substance of an object and is not merely giving information on colour in the way we understand it in the world. The redness in the sun referred to here is something substantially present in the sun. It is the body or the orb of the sun partially, and if it looks red to us it does not mean that it has a character of redness apart from the substance that it is. It is the substance itself that is presented before our eyes in the form which we interpret as redness. So, the colour of an object is not something different from the object, as it is the way in which the object sets up vibratory reaction in respect of the perceiving apparatus. What the Upanishad points out is that the three colours that we see in objects are really the threefold presence of the elements-fire, water and earth-so that if these elements are to be withdrawn from the object, there will be no object left at all. If you really know the wood that is in a table, there would be no table. And so is the case with any other complex substance which is in turn constituted of particulars, and if every particular element within it is withdrawn, the object is no more there. This is the case with every object in this world. We are under the impression that there are millions of things in this world; many things, uncountable, we think, is the number of the objects of the world. What is the importance of this countlessness? They are all but various dimensions of one single mass of triplicated elements and, because of the difference in the dimensions and the proportion of the mixing of the elements, we mistake one object to be something different from the other. Essentially they are the same. The difference of the object is notional; it is not physical. Physically, substantially, essentially or basically, they are identical. But we are unable to perceive this basic essence on account of our weddedness to the complexity of perception and our belief in the externality of things. The otherness in the object is the cause of our belief in the diversity of things. We have separated ourselves as perceivers, separating ourselves from the atmosphere of the object.

It is unfortunate that the connectedness of the subject with the object is not perceivable to the eye. There is a very important intrinsic connection between the perceiving individual and the object perceived. It is more than what appears on the surface. The subject plays a very important role in the perception of an object. It is not that something is located outside the earth or far off in space, undetermined by everybody else from its own point of view, under its own setup. Everything is determined by everything else so that there is no such thing as an absolutely independent object, whether it be organic or inorganic. The independence of an object is an illusion. That illusion of the perception of an independence in the object arises on account of a false abstraction of the circumstances of an object from the other factors in which the same object is involved. Whenever we perceive an object, we take into consideration only those aspects of the presentation of the object which the eyes can grasp or which the senses can cognise. There are other factors in the object which the senses cannot contact. It does not mean that our five senses are everything. Suppose we have one thousand senses; we would have seen many other things in the world. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we have only five senses. So we can see only five aspects of an object. But we mistake these five aspects for everything. There are other rudimentary elements in the location of an object which are unrecognisable by the senses. That which exists between me and you is not an object of perception. Therefore, it is not possible for the senses to report towards the existence of that which is between me and you and, so, because we are wedded to the reports of the senses, we completely ignore the aspect of that which is invisible and intangible. If the relationship of the perceiving subject with the object and vice versa could be recognised and also the relationship of the object with other objects be evaluated properly, then there would be an immediate merger of objects into an ocean of Being and that will be a single eye seeing a single object and not the many eyes or many senses seeing a multitude of things. So this is the philosophical background to which our mind is driven by the analysis of the Upanishad when it says that every object is constituted of three elements-the fire, the water and the earth elements.

  1. Etadd ha sma vai tad vidvamsa ahuh purve mahasala mahasrotriyah na no'dya kascana asrutam, amatam, avijnatam, udaharisytiti hy ebhyo vidamcakruh.

The great men of the past, the realised souls of ancient times, immediately awoke to the reality of this situation—"Oh, this is the truth. The redness is fire, the whiteness is water and the blackness is the earth element." These are the only three things that exist everywhere. Whenever we see redness anywhere, we see fire there; whenever we see whiteness, we see water there; whenever we see blackness, we see the earth element there. So what do we see anywhere? We see only three things. We do not see any other thing in the world. Other things do not exist in the world. There are only these three elements—the fire element, the water element and the earth element. So what is it that the world is made of? It is made up of these three strands of substance which we call fire, water and earth. Again, these three have been already mentioned to be the manifestation of the Supreme Being. They are the threefold ejection of the force of the Absolute. And so, again, we come to a universality of perception. Whenever we see an object, we are seeing a face of the Absolute, one aspect of the manifestation of a single Being. So it is not a multitude that you see, it is a universality that is abstracted by the senses falsely and imagined to be an isolated object, as if it is disconnected from the others. This is what the ancient masters found out and then they said, "Now there is nothing unknown to us. Oh, we have understood the secret! We know everything." So, if one thing is known, everything is known. This is the answer which the master Uddalaka gives to his own question that he put before his son, Svetaketu. "Do you know what that is, by knowing which everything can be known?" "Yes, now I know all these things. The one has become three, the three have become many. So what are these many? They are the one. So, the moment I know the one, I know the three, and I also know many at the same time."

  1. Yad u rohitam ivabhud iti tejasas tad rupam iti tad vidam cakruh, yad u suklam ivabhud ity apam rupam iti taa vidam cakruh yad u krsnam ivabhud ity annasya rupam iti tad vidam cakruh.

So, they concluded that whenever there is a perception of anything that is red, we should not think that we are seeing any red object, but that we are seeing only the fire principle there; whenever we see anything white, we should not think that we are seeing any independent object, but that we are seeing the water element there; and whenever we see anything dark we should know that we see the earth element predominant in that. So there are no things in this world. There are only these three elements.

  1. Yad avijnatam ivabhud ity etasam eva devatanam samasah, iti tad vidamcakruh, yatha nu khalu, saumya, imas tisro devatah purusam prapya trivrt trivrd ekaika bhavati, tan me vijanihiti.

Whatever was apparently unknown to us was due to our inability to recognise the presence of these elements in the apparently distinguished objects. The unknownness of an object is due to the incapacity of the mind to probe into the structure of that object. The moment we understand what it is made of, we know the object at once. So, the ultimate analysis is that we must know the basic substance of everything and not be carried away by the formation of that substance into variety. Everything is a complex of this threefold manifestation-fire, water and earth.

"Well, listen now, my dear boy," says the father to the son, "I have explained to you how everything in the world outside is made of these three elements. The whole world of objects outside is constituted of these three elements—fire, water and earth. Now I am going to tell you something very startling. I am going to show you that your personality itself is also of that nature. You yourself do not exist apart from these elements. Whatever is in you is the mixture in some form or the other of these three elements."