by Swami Krishnananda
The first Mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad describes the nature of Omkara and its connotation in relation to the whole universe. Now, it also denotes some object, as was pointed out earlier. It is a Universal Name which refers to a Universal Form in such a manner that the Name and the Form coalesce to constitute one Being. As the Name is Universal and the Form also is Universal, they have naturally to blend into a single existence, because we cannot have two Universals standing apart from each other. There is, therefore, the Universal Name coalescing with the Universal Form; Nama and Rupa become one in this experience-whole. That experience is neither Nama nor Rupa, by itself. It is both, and yet neither. God is not merely a form denoted by a name, nor is He an object that can be described by any person. As all persons are included within the body of God, there is no naming God by any other entity outside it. Hence, in a sense, we may say that God is nameless. Who can call Him by a name? Where is that person who can call Him by a name! As there is, therefore, essentially, no name, in the ordinary sense of the term, that can designate God, He cannot also be regarded as a Rupa or a form which corresponds to a Nama or a name. There is an indescribable something which is designated ultimately by Omkara or Pranava, and, being indescribable, it is visualised by a name that conveys the best of possible meanings. Though it may itself have no name, and it cannot also be said to have any particular form, we, as Jivas, individuals here on earth, cannot envisage it in that transcendent nature. We have to conceive it in our minds before we can contemplate or meditate upon it for the sake of realisation. This meaningful and suggestive designation of that indescribable, transcendent something, is Brahman, the Absolute.
Sarvam hyetad brahma: All this is, verily, Brahman. Thus begins the second Mantra. "All this creation is just the Absolute alone", is the real meaning of this statement. All that can be regarded as what you call this universe is that Brahman. Etat vai tat: "This, verily, is that": "That" and "this" are two terms demonstrating two separate entities, objects or things; "that" referring to a distant object and "this" to an object which is near. Now, "this" cannot be "that", and yet the Upanishad proclaims, "this" verily is "that"; if "this" is "that", if one thing can be another thing, then there are no two things. Where comes the necessity for these two demonstrative pronouns, "this" and "that"? By a process of definition called Bhaga-tyaga-lakshana (characterisation by division and elimination of certain properties), a reconciliation of these two suggestive terms, Etat and Tat, "this" and "that" is brought about. The famous example usually cited is of a person whom you might have seen in a distant place once, and whom you might now see near you in another place. Soyam Deva-dattah – "This" is "that" Devadatta. That person called Devadatta whom I saw in a distant place, now I see here, near me, in another place altogether. The places are different; he might have even grown in age; he might be speaking a different language now; he might not even recognise me due to lapse of time; there is distance of space and difference in time, yet I recognise that person now. This, verily, is that person, Etat vai tat. The reconciliation of "this" and "that" is done not by a unity of the two meanings of the pronouns "this" and "that", but a unity of the single object which these two pronouns designate. "This" and "that" do not represent any object. They only indicate an object. These are indicative pronouns pointing out to an object, and the unity of the object is established by discarding the connotation of "that" as well as of "this". It does not matter if that person was somewhere else at one time and now he is in another place at another time; these distinctions make no difference to us in recognising the person. Spatial and temporal differences are abandoned for the sake of the recognition of the unity of the person who is the same always; then, as well as now, there as well as here. This very method is employed in understanding such Upanishadic statements as 'Sarvam hyetad brahma'; 'Ayam atma brahma': All this is Brahman; and this Atman, also, is Brahman. Here you have; as it were, the quintessence of all Upanishadic teaching, the last word of the Vedanta, as you may call it, the culmination of the wisdom of the sages. This universe which appears to be proximate to our senses is that Brahman which seems to be distant or away from us, and this personality of ours which appears to be so proximate is also reconcilable with that Absolute which appears to be far from your reach. And, finally, on a consideration of the fact that every individual can make a reference to oneself as "this" and to Brahman as "that", and inasmuch as "this" is verily "that", all "this" also is "that". This personality, this individuality, this Jivatva, is ultimately unifiable with that Absolute, which is Supreme, but appears to be distant. If every individual is to make an assertion of this nature, the total "I" becomes reconcilable with "That"; – "This is That". All becomes That – Sarvam hyetad brahma.
How can many things be one thing, is another question. Sarvam brahma: All is Brahman. A multitudinous variety seems to be unified with a single entity. This is intriguing because we have never seen many things being equated with one thing. Many things are many things and one thing is one thing. The manifold variety of the universe is perceived by us because of the differentiating characters of objects. What about this differentia, then? What happens to the differentia when we try to identify all things with a single reality? Here, again, we have to apply the same method of Bhaga-tyaga-lakshana, of shedding something and taking something else, in the act of understanding. Just as you recognise a person who was there and who is now here by a method of sublimation of characters, all this manifold universe is recognised as one single Being by the method of elimination of redundant characters which are not essential to the structure of the variety, which cannot be called the essence of the variety and which are only accidental to the particulars. That which is accidental is to be abandoned and that which is essential is to be taken. Brahman is essence and therefore it can be equated only with essence. The essential Brahman cannot be identified with the accidental attributes of the objects of the world. The name and the form, the structural distinctions that we observe in the things of the world are accidental in the sense that they persist only as long as there is space and time. As was pointed out in the first Mantra itself – Yaccanyat trikalatitam tadapyomkara eva – Brahman transcends the three periods of time, and therefore all space. For this reason it cannot be said to have the characters of space and time.
What are the essential characters of space and time? They are distinction and formation, differentiation of one thing from another by attribute, definition, etc. Because of perception of specific characters called Viseshas, we begin to distinguish one set of Viseshas from another, calling each centre or set as an individual or entity. Minus these Viseshas, these entities would vanish. We know water as drops. One drop is different from the other. When all the drops are one and there is no differentiating character between one drop and another, we call it the ocean. We, then, name it by a different epithet altogether. There is a merger of properties due to the overcoming of the difference of space and the barrier of time, in some sense, and in this merger of characters, there is no perception of variety.
There are said to be five characters in all existence: Nama, Rupa, Asti, Bhati and Priya. Nama and Rupa are name and form. Asti, Bhati and Priya mean existence, illumination and the character of pleasurableness. Existence, illumination and satisfaction seem to be permeating Nama and Rupa, whatever be the place or the time of the Nama and the Rupa. We are all constituted of Nama and Rupa, name and form. Each one of us has a name and a form. Everyone has a name and a form. There is name-form complex and, therefore, the world is caIled Nama-Rupa-Prapanca, the network of names and forms. But, notwithstanding the fact that we are in a position to perceive only names and forms, and nothing beyond, we are impelled by the urge of something else beyond name and form, which fact comes into relief in our hectic activities of day-to-day life, wherein we express a desire not merely for name and form but for something more than name and form. Why do you act, why do you think, why do you engage yourself in any kind of work? There seems to be a purpose behind all these endeavours, and the purpose is not merely a contact with a name or form, but a utilisation of name and form for a different aim altogether. All our activities hinge upon a single objective, that is, relationship with externals, contact with objects; but for a purpose higher than the objects themselves, the putting into use or harnessing the object, including persons, for bringing about an effect which we regard as beneficial to ourselves. This effect is the final objective, and not Nama and Rupa. You pursue in this world not some persons and things, but certain effects, consequences which you want to follow by your contact with persons and things. If these consequences do not follow, you reject the persons and things. It is not that you want persons or things; you want certain consequences to follow from the contact with persons and things. If they do not follow, you do not want them. Your friends become enemies or at least things of indifference when the consequences desired from them do not follow, and your desires become aversions when the required consequences do not materialise. So, it is not name and form or objects as such that we long for, but a desired consequence. What is that consequence?
The ultimate longing of all aspiring centres is to bring about a release of some tension. The release of tension of any kind is equal to pleasure. You are unhappy when you are in a state of tension, and you are happy when tensions are released. There are various kinds of tensions in life and every tension is a centre of suffering. There is family tension, communal tension, national, or international tension, which is usually called a cold war, all which place one in a state of anxiety and agony. The release of tension brings satisfaction and one works for that satisfaction. You want the tension to be released. But all these are outward or external tensions. There are inner tensions which are of greater consequence than the outer ones – the psychological tensions caused by a variety of circumstances: These circumstances in the psychic set-up of our personality form a network called the Hridaya-Granthi, in the words of the Upanishads. The Tantra-Sastras and Hatha-Yoga Sastras call this Granthi by a threefold name: as Brahma-Granthi, Vishnu-Granthi and Rudra-Granthi, which you have to pierce through by the release of the Kundalini-Sakti. All this you might have heard and learnt earlier. This is the Granthi of Avidya, Kama and Karma, ignorance, desire and action; this is the tension of Vasanas or Samskaras; this is the tension of the subconscious or unconscious mind; this . is the tension of unfulfilled desires and frustrated feelings. This is 'personality' in its essential nature. We are a network of these tensions. This is Jivatva. What is the Jiva made of? It is made up of a group of tensions. That is why no Jiva can be happy. We are always in a state of anxiety and eagerness to find the first opportunity to release the tensions. The Jiva tries to work out a method of release of tensions by what is called fulfilment of desires, because, ultimately these tensions can be boiled down to unfulfilled desires. It appears on the surface that by a fulfilment of the desires the tensions can be released and we can enter into Asti-Bhati-Priya by coming in contact with Nama and Rupa. But the method that we adopt is an erroneous one. It is true that desires have to be fulfilled, and unless they are fulfilled there cannot be release of tension. But how are we to fulfil the desires? We adopt a very wrong method; therefore, we never fulfil our desires completely, at any time, in all the births that we take. The desires cannot be fulfilled by contact with objects, because a contact excites a further desire for a repetition of the contact which, again, in turn, excites an additional desire, and this cycle goes on endlessly – desire for things and things exciting desires, desire for things and things exciting desires. This cycle is the wheel of Samsara, again. By contact with things, desires are not fulfilled. On the other hand, desires are ignited, as it were, into a state of conflagration by such contact. Desires arise on account of an ignorance of the structure of things. Unless this ignorance is removed, the tension is not going to be released. And, what is this ignorance? The ignorance in the form of the notion that multiplicity is a reality; and that by an aggregate of all the finite things constituting the multiplicity, we can have the infinite satisfaction that we long for. A total of the finites is not the infinite, and therefore contact with finite things cannot bring infinite satisfaction. Nama-Rupa-Prapanca is, therefore, not the way to the realisation of Asti-Bhati-Priya, which is what beckons us every day in our activities.
We want perpetual existence. We do not want to die. This is the sense of Astitva, being, in us. We want to be called intelligent at least. We do not want to be regarded as stupid. This is the urge of Bhatitva or Chit, consciousness, in us. And we want happiness and not pain. This is the urge of Priya, bliss, in us. The urge for perpetual existence, if possible immortal existence, is the urge of Asti or Sat – existence. The urge for knowledge, wisdom, illumination, understanding, information, is the urge of Bhati or Chit – consciousness. The urge for delight, satisfaction, pleasure is the urge of that infinite delight of existence-consciousness, Priya or Ananda, bliss. It is this threefold blend of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that reveals itself even through Nama and Rupa, and it is not the Nama and the Rupa or the name and the form that we really want in our life. In our contact with things, or names and forms, we seek Asti, Bhati and Priya. We seek Satchidananda through Nama-Rupa; we seek Reality in appearance; we seek the Absolute in the relative; we seek Brahman in all creation; we seek Isvara in the world. That is what we seek. In all our activities, whether it is office-going or factory-labour, whatever be the work that we do, the purpose behind is the seeking for a final release of all internal tension and an acquisition of unlimited satisfaction.
So, Nama-Rupa-Prapanca, all this variety, this universe, is ultimately that Brahman – Sarvam hyetad brahma. This unity can be established by the recognition of Asti, Bhati, Priya or Satchidananda in Nama-Rupa, even as we find gold in ornaments. The form of an ornament is not a hindrance to the existence of gold in it. Whatever be the structural differences of the ornaments, gold is common to all of them. We may say, all these ornaments are gold. Is there any contradiction in the statement? Ali the ornaments are gold because the ornaments are made of gold. Likewise, all this is Brahman – Sarvam hyetad brahma. The structural formations do not impede the recognition of the one essence in them. All earthen pots are made of clay. We may say, all these pots are clay; all the trees are wood; all the ocean is water. The difference is not, in these cases, an obstruction to the existence of the essence. The variety does not negate the essence, The variety also is the essence, and in the case of this vast universe of variety, we, therefore, need not be intrigued as to how this can be unified with That, how the proximate can be the same as the remote.
There are two aspects of the matter that we have to consider, namely, the substance of the universe, and the distances involved in the universe. The substances of the things of the world appear to be variegated on account of the forms, and not because of their essence. Take the case of a forest. One tree is not like another tree. Even a leaf in a tree is not like another leaf in the same tree. There are tall trees, short trees, thick ones, thin ones, of this kind and that kind. In spite of all this difference, all trees are wood. Whatever be the difference in the make of chairs and tables, all are wood. Likewise is the case with the things of the world. All things are substantially one, though structurally different. Now, this is one aspect of the matter. The other aspect is: why do they appear structurally different? This structural difference is an effect of the interference of space and time in existence. There is what is called 'space-and-time' which is something difficult to understand and which seems to be playing, a very important role, if not the most important role, in the interpretation of the things of the world. We do not merely see things in space and time. This is a very important aspect of perceptional psychology. We always engage ourselves with things, ignoring the fact of space and time involved in things. We may be under the impression that space and time are some non-entities, as it were, which can be ignored, and we are concerned only with things or solid objects. This is a misconception. Modern scientists will tell us how space and time are equally important, as important as the substantiality of objects, if not more important than their substantiality.