Chapter 8: The Vedas and Upanishads
The earliest record of human aspiration is available to us in the Veda Samhitas, the sacred literature which endeavours to visualise the reality of the universe as constituted of intelligent units filling the whole of creation – these intelligent superintending principles being addressed as gods or angels in heaven. The vision is indeed super in the sense that it attributes the character of intelligent self-hood to the pervading principles of creation and they become gods because of the fact that they are self-sufficient, self-contained and complete individuals, not requiring any accretion from the external atmosphere of creation.
Gods differ from human beings in a particular way. A god is one who does not need any support from outside (there is no necessity for filling the sense organs with the percepts of objects outside), whereas in human nature (in the case of human individuals), their very existence is made possible by the contribution made by the objects of sense. If we are not able to see things, if we cannot hear, taste, smell or touch, we would not be meaningful human beings. That is to say, the character of visibility, tangibility, audibility, etc., makes for the value that we attribute to our own selves, so that we are not pure subjects; we are also partly objects.
We require objective diet and objective sensory contribution from the world outside. All the comforts that we require in this world are entirely objective; they do not emanate from our own selves. They are material, they are social, and they are natural, and many other things. Human existence, therefore, is partially subjective and, more properly, objective. We look at things, not from the point of view of the value that we may attach to our own selves, but from the point of view of the value that we seem to be attaching to things outside.
"What does this bring to me?" "What does this person signify in my relation to that person?" "How does this world contribute to my satisfaction?" "How do things in this world have a significance in relation to myself?" so that the significance that is attached to oneself is somehow a kind of imported commodity from the world of external perception; and every one of us knows to what extent we are dependent on objects outside in the world. Every little requirement of ours comes from the world. It does not emanate from our own selves inside, which means to say, for a person to exist in this world, the world has to contribute its own might; and to a large extent, the individual existence of a human being is the substance contributed by the values attached to things outside in the world.
The gods are different in their nature. A divinity is self-existent. The Veda Samhitas address their prayers to gods like Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Surya, Aryama, and such nomenclatures are common in these sacred scriptures. But each one of these divinities is self-existent. A god is one who does not need anything from outside; sensory contributions are not called for. If you can live by your own self, you are a veritable god. But to the extent that you are expecting comforts from the outside world, to that extent you are an object rather than the divine subject.
The extent of subjectivity and self-sufficiency will determine the extent of the divinity that is in a person. The gods populating the cosmos as envisaged by the Veda Samhitas are these realities as envisioned by the sages of the Vedas, who exist as the souls of things in the world, including our own selves – the divinities are inhabiting even our own individualities. Everything in the world is inhabited and indwelled by some divinity.
The meaning implied herein is that there is a pure subjectivity of an enlarged nature inhabiting all things in the world, which is the reason why there is so much of love for one's own self ingrained in each person. Our love for our own selves is supreme. It is unmatched and unparalleled.
Why should we be so much enamoured of our own selves? Why is this self-love so predominant and persistent in every individual? Even an insect would like to love itself. It would not like to be trampled upon by anyone. Even a crawling creature has a love supremely attached to its own existence. It would not like to perish as an insect. You may say, "Why should the insect live for a long time? It is a miserable wretch. Its life is horrible. It is better if it does not exist." That is not the feeling of the crawling creature. It is a self-hood by itself.
The divinity that is pervading the cosmos is inhabiting every little speck and nook and cranny in this world, so that there is no place in space and time where these self-sufficient gods do not operate from inside.
Apart from the character of self-sufficiency of the gods, there is also another character which is the inwardness of the spirit which constitutes divinity. A god is an inward existence and not an outward performance. It is more an existence and a being rather than a doing or an activity. Our existence is mostly a performance, a work. We attach a value to a person from the extent of worth or the output of performance of a person. "What does that person do? What is his work? What is his profession? What is his status in terms of the profession?" etc., is the way in which we many a time judge the utility and value of a human individual. But the gods are not to be judged in that manner.
It is not the work that the god does which is the defining character of a divinity. Its existence itself is the value, as, for instance, in the case of the sun that is shining in the sky. The sun is all value, and no value can be compared to the existence of the sun which controls, operates, every activity in the world and all the planets. But the sun does not work with hands and feet, with an office, with a secretary, with an appurtenance, with a bungalow. Nothing of the kind is necessary for the sun, though all these things that are so valuable to us are meaningful only because of the shining of the sun in the sky. The very existence of the sun is the activity of the sun.
The more you become self-sufficient, the more also you become divine; and conversely, the more you are divine, the more you are self-sufficient. It is not necessary for you to ask for anything in this world if divinity adequately manifests itself from yourself. Mere existence is God, and mere existence also is any kind of divinity which is a particle of this divine existence operating everywhere.
This is to give you a brief picture of the manner in which the great masters, the rishis of yore, envisioned divinity in the cosmos as gods pervading everywhere. The rise of the sun, the early morn, the mid-day heat, the beauty of the sunset, the flowing of the rivers, the grandeur of the mountains, the beauty of the sky and the process of time – everything is a divinity because of the fact that each aspect of the manifestation of creation is indwelt by a divinity and it has a self-hood of its own.
Everything in the world loves itself. This is a very important point that everyone should remember. Everyone loves oneself; everything loves itself. Even an atom is a self-existent, self-love. It would not like to be split into parts, and segregated into dismembered individualities.
The capacity of the atom to maintain a cohesion by the action of the electrons around, due to which it becomes a unit of an electron or a molecule, is actually the self-hood that it is manifesting in itself. That which refuses to be other than what it is, is the self. And the cohesive forces of the world, call them physical or chemical or biological, all indicate the intense pressure exerted upon units in the world by their own self-hoods. That is to say, divinities, gods or angels are present in the hearts, in the core of the being of everything, though you may call it animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, as the case may be.
So is the way in which the Veda Samhitas may be said to be looking at the world. The translation of the Veda Samhitas into the language of your own culture from the point of view of language and grammar will not bring out the meaning of these great proclamations of the great masters. A poetry, an exuberance of feeling, a musical note, cannot be translated into prose grammatically or linguistically. The outburst of divinity which envisioned itself in all creation which we have as the record of the Veda Samhitas is not to be translated in a grammatical fashion. All the translations that you have today are like husk, dried straw, without the essence in it.
One of the masterly interpreters of the Vedas has said that the meaning of the Vedas is in the heavens. It is not to be found on earth. The idea behind it is that a transcendent element is present in the outlook that is adumbrated in the Veda Samhitas and it is not to be seen with the physical eye of a written note-book or a printed literature. It is something that has to be felt inside.
Where the gods are abiding in the highest heaven, there you will find the meaning of the Veda mantras. You will not find it in libraries or linguistic or scholastic commentaries. This special significance attached to the vision of divinity in the world, whose verbal expression we have as recorded in the Veda Samhitas, became later on a cue to the austere contemplators of divinity whose performances and practices are recorded in a section of the Vedas known as the Aranyakas, which means a "forest treatise." People used to retire to sequestered areas, jungles, in order to live an inner contemplative life of self-sufficiency detached from all the encumbrances of outward entanglement.
The vision of the Veda Samhitas is to be considered as an outward panegyric or encomium poured on God as manifest in this vision of the cosmos. The Aranyakas are an inward vision, a contemplation of the very same thing which was outwardly glorified in the Veda Samhitas.
There is a threefold way of envisaging reality – outward, inward, and universal. The three sections of the Vedas known as the Samhitas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads pertain to these three ways of looking at the Ultimate Reality – outwardly, inwardly and universally. The inner contemplativeness of the Aranyakas ended in the deeper communion of the spirit as we have it recorded in the Upanishads.
Many of you might have come across most of the Upanishads and read them in original Sanskrit or in some translation. But as I mentioned, these scriptures are records of experience. They are not just school textbooks or a schoolmaster's notes. As experiences, as much as possible intensely recorded in verbal form, the Upanishads contain the quintessence of the Veda Samhitas and the Aranyaka texts. They try their best to portray before us the manner in which we have to commune ourselves with the Self-hood of the cosmos.
If the divinities are to be described as pure selves and if our own existence also is not to be excluded from this pervasion of the spirit, then to be true to the nature of reality or to be true to our own selves (it is always said, "To thine own self be true") and not to be untrue by transferring part of ourselves to the nature or to the outside, we have to commune ourselves with the spirit that is within us, the God that is indwelling us.
If the vision (whether of the Samhitas or the Aranyakas or the Upanishads) finally lands upon this great conclusion of the Self-hood of everything as the Final Reality that can be thought of, we would not be living a true life in this world if we are objectively conditioned. The more we require external appurtenances for our satisfaction and our existence, the more are we untrue to our own selves. We are sold to the outward world. We have become servants of nature and we are obeying the commands of the natural processes of the physical body and the biological existence of ours, ignoring the spirit that we really are.
The love that we evince in regard to our own selves can be explained only in terms of something very valuable that is in ourselves. Otherwise, so much love cannot be there in regard to one's own self. "If everything goes, let me be alive at least." This is the final love of a human being, of everything.
Let all property go; let all belongings, everything, vanish, but life is the last thing that one can expect to be granted. Permission to exist is the last desire. Why is this desire persisting so much? Even a beggar would like to continue his existence; it does not matter if he is a beggar. He is living on alms from door to door. What does it matter? But he is alive. We do not want to be a dead rich man; we would rather be a living beggar. Is it not clear – the difference? Wealth that is dead is not what we ask; it is poverty that is alive. Life is the crucial point. What exactly is this life? It is the persistence, the continuance in the process of time of a peculiar identity, a self-identical consciousness which one feels in one's own self. God speaks from within us: "You are to exist, and you are not, not to exist."
This inward communion with the true reality of one's own self (which is the divinity spoken of) is also to be respected as present in every other living being also, because if we commit the mistake of identifying this divinity with our individual spirit, we would make also the other mistake of considering other spirits as objects outside. If my spirit is inside me, the idea of insideness would preclude the inclusiveness of the spirit of other people and other things in the world, and the world would look like an external object once again. I would not be giving the same respect that is due to me, to others, also.
So, the mystical communion of the Upanishads is an advance over the worship of gods as we have in the Veda Samhitas and even the contemplations of the Aranyakas. The prescriptions of the Upanishads are difficult to comprehend. However much you may read them, very little meaning can come out because of this peculiar intricacy involved in the suggestions, the recipes,namely, everything has to be contemplated as a pure Self-hood.
"For the sake of the Self of a person, everything becomes dear in this world," says a great passage of the Upanishad.
We cannot understand how this can be possible. Am I loving things merely because I love myself? Is my love for my land and property and my wealth and my relations just a manifestation of my own love of myself? Very difficult indeed it is to appreciate this kind of point of view. It does not look like that, easily. Well, it will not look like that, because of the fact that the sense organs rule us, mostly, and the spirit is dead in many individuals. The senses are very active and they are dancing to the tune of the biological needs of the human being, and the spirit is sleeping.
As the Bhagavad Gita puts it in a verse: ya nisa sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami, yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh. When the senses are active in the daylight of their rejoicings through the objects of the senses, the spirit is asleep. When the spirit is awake to the daylight of its universal awareness, the senses are sleeping.
We are told that both Krishna and Christ were born at midnight, which may perhaps be a symbol of God manifesting Himself in the darkness of the sense organs. All the demons are sleeping at that time.
The inwardness of our spirit is also the inwardness of its existence in all things. The word inwardness has to be cautiously interpreted. It is not inside some person. It is the insideness of a non-objective character – that is, it is inside all things. Can you imagine what would be your experience if you are to contemplate an inwardness which is also the inwardness of everything in the world? If you make the mistake of imagining that people are sitting outside you, immediately their self-hood becomes an object of your perception and you are not giving sufficient respect to the spirit that is present in these individuals.
There is an inwardness even in the externality of things. In the same way as my spirit is inward to me, it is inward to others, also. So, my vision of your self, my perception of things in terms of the inwardness of my spirit, should not contradict in any manner the inwardness that you experience in your own self. This is a hard nut to crack, though it looks very simple when we read a translation of the Upanishads. There is no use of reading an Upanishad if this strange instruction of theirs cannot enter our heads. Otherwise, we would be worshipping an external god.
A transcendent divinity, high above in the heavens, creator-preserver-destroyer, far above space and time, inaccessible to mortal existence – this is one way of looking at God. Do you not believe that God created this world? And, naturally, the creator of the world should be above creation. And if the universe is so vast, with all its extended space and time, the creator of this space and time should be above space and time. How far? How distant? Inaccessible, infinitely far and incalculably distant in time. How many years will it take to reach God, if you have to transcend time to reach Him? And how much distance do we have to cover if we have to overcome the limit of space? This is the childhood of human aspiration, which looks at things in terms of space, time and cause,which means to say, in the light of externality, duration and isolation.
There are only three things that are apparent to our vision in this world. Everything is distant (everything is away and far from me); everything is in some time and not always, and everything is separate from the other things. This is called "desha-kala-vastu-pariccheda" in the ancient philosophic terminology, a conditioning by space-time and individuality. Due to this involvement of perception in such threefold categories, we begin to look upon God as an infinitely inaccessible, transcendent, extra-cosmic creator.
To some extent, the Veda Samhitas also contribute to this view. But the divine character of God, which is this Self-hood, is taken notice of by the austere contemplators of the Aranyakas, and they give up the description of God and the manifested divinities in terms of a distant far-off existence and try to visualise the existence of these divinities in the hearts of all. But it should not end merely in a visualisation, theoretically. It will not suffice if I merely accept the subjectivity of the divinity in all people in the world. Acceptance theoretically is one thing, but a practical implementation of it in one's own life is a different thing altogether. That practicality comes in the Upanishads.
"Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kim ca jagatyam jagat, tena tyaktena bhunjithah ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam" is the first mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad: The entire universe is indwelt, enveloped, covered by the Supreme Being, whatever this world be – moving or non-moving, living or otherwise. The second part of this mantra is a conclusion drawn from this vision: Live a happy life in this world. Enjoy your existence; do not suffer. Life is not intended to be a misery. We cannot expect God to have created a hell for us. Compassionate is He. It should be lived, and not merely got on as a drudgery. "Somehow I am getting on," – this is not the way of living. There must be some meaning, significance, and satisfaction in one's existence; therefore, enjoy – bhunjithah - enjoy. Live well, but in the light of what has been said earlier,the indwelling character of God.
Tena tyaktena bhunjithah: by renunciation effected in the light of the consciousness of the indwelling presence of God, enjoy this world. Do the gods enjoy? They do not eat and drink. They do not have any need for sense contact. Gods do not eat. They merely visualise by their consciousness, and they are satisfied because of the inwardness of the very object of enjoyment being in a state of unity with their own inner spirit. The object that I would like to enjoy is inseparate from the pure subjectivity of myself. This is the meditation of the Upanishads.
By a renunciation effected in the light of the all-pervading nature of God, you can live a life of happiness in this world. And you need not covet anybody's property. Actually, all property belongs to the Creative Principle. There is no such thing as property, in the strictest sense of the term. It is not possible to own anything, because all things are outside in space and time. The externality of an object precludes its being possessed by anybody. Even if something is within your palm and in your grip, you cannot say that it is yours, because it is outside and it can be dropped from your hand. Anything that is hanging on in an external fashion cannot be regarded as your belonging. Therefore, no one can own anything in this world. Property is a misnomer. It is a meaningless attachment which leads to misery; and everybody who owns, knows what misery it is to own anything at all.
Therefore, renounce this sense of ownership in the light of the indwelling all-pervasive enveloping character of the Supreme Being and then live a life of happiness. This is the crucial message of the first mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad. In a way, we may say, this is the seed sown for the entire gospel of the Bhagavad Gita.
I am trying to introduce your minds to the perspective of life as adumbrated in the Upanishads. The first mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad looks like a seed sown by the seer of that Upanishad for something that is to come in a more elaborate form later on, in the form of the karma yoga of the Bhagavad Gita.
The first half of this principal mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad is metaphysics – the philosophy thereof. The second half is the practical implementation of it. As the Bhagavad Gita tells you, there is Samkhya and yoga, knowledge and action, which both have to be brought together in a state of harmony for your beneficial existence. These two halves of the mantra tell the same thing to you. If God envelops all things and He is indwelling everything, how would you live in this world? What kind of vision will be conditioning your perceptions? How would you deal with anything: With this little desk in front of you, with people around you, with this world of space and time – what would be your attitude?
If you are to live according to the Upanishads, if that is the aim and objective of your life – "I would like to live according to the injunctions of the Upanishads," - if that is the case, you may have to look at things as you may be expected to look if God indwells everything. You will be veritably in the presence of God always. Is it a joy, or is it a sorrow to be in the presence of God?
Can there be a greater joy than to feel oneself at the feet of the master of the cosmos? Abundance will pour itself upon you. Everything will be given to you, not by somebody who is outside you as your potentate, but by your own communion with Reality. It is Reality that pours itself upon you.
The more you give out of your own self, the more also will be given to you by the abundance of the cosmos. How does it happen? "Give and it shall be given unto you," it is said. "Give and it shall be given unto you in a greater abundance than the measure with which you gave." How does this happen? Because of the largeness of the universe and the littleness of your personality which you have in large measure sacrificed by the performance you call yajna, which is the principal doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita, or the Vedas, or the Aranyakas, or the Upanishads. The entire culture of India we may say is contained in a capsule of the word "yajna."
Yajno vai vishnuh; yajnarthat karmano 'nyatra loko 'yam karma bandhanah. God Himself is sacrifice,that is the meaning of this grand statement. And the other one that I quoted from the Gita says, "Every action is binding, when not performed in the spirit of a sacrifice."
What is the sacrifice that you are expected to perform? What is it that you are expected to abandon in the sense of this sacrifice? The abandonment of what is wrongly associated with your personality, and what rightfully belongs to the cosmos – these accretions of the five koshas, this physical encumbrance, this entanglement, this biological, psychological existence which we consider as our true spirit is to be sacrificed, because, if they are to be held intact, the inwardness of the Universal Spirit will be marred to that extent. The externality of our physical existence would diminish to the extent of the inwardness of the all-pervading nature of God.
If you always persist in asserting yourself as an outward individual (you are there and I am here), if everything is "elsewhere" and nothing is internally related "organically," then the inward indwelling character of God is marred. Hence, we are supposed to live in the light of the existence of God as indwelling – isavasyam. Or to put it in the words of the Gita, "Nothing external to me exists," says the great Master. And the Upanishad affirms the same thing: isavasyam idam sarvam yat kim ca jagatyam jagat. "Everything, all things, all living beings, even that which you consider as dead, has an incipient presence of consciousness sleeping there."
Therefore, activity is incumbent upon every one of us, because work we must. Everybody has to work, but what kind of work? Work which is commensurate with the vision of the indwelling spirit of God. You should not, in your work, contradict the indwelling spirit of God. Each one of us should touch one's own heart and, deeply, closing one's eyes, contemplate how far we are successful in placing our daily routine in the context of this vision of the inwardness of God.
We are totally external, segregated, confused, scattered in our feelings and emotions, and we are more little pieces of individuality rather than an integrated personality. Wherever our thoughts are, there we actually are, and you can find out where your thoughts are. Somebody says, "I have to go to the railway station"; then, the mind is in the railway station. Another is somewhere else – some in the kitchen, some in the bank, some in the court case. The mind is in different corners of the world.
We are shreds of personality, fractions of individuality, as it were, in our daily life, rather than aligned, integrated persons. If these shreds of our so-called individuality persist in asserting their own individuality, we would be little, little individuals, like pebbles heaped on a roadside, and not individuals indivisible in our nature. Wherever there is indivisibility, there is joy. Wherever there is separability, there is sorrow.
The Upanishads are supposed to be attached to the Vedas as their conclusions. The inner secret of the Vedas is contained in the Upanishads. The word "Upanishad" signifies a secret teaching. It is not to be broadcast to the public, as the general mind of the masses will not be in a position to appreciate what this secret teaching is. It is so secret that you cannot even speak about it loudly. It is generally communicated by a guru to the disciple in a very intimately seated initiation process.
Another meaning of the Upanishad is "seated-ness closely." "Close seated-ness" is also the meaning of the word "Upanishad." "Upa" means near; "nishad" means sitting. The disciple sits close to the guru in order to receive this compact concentrated teaching of a universally conditioned inwardness of consciousness. How difficult it is to entertain this idea! The difficulty in keeping this consciousness, this idea of the Universality of God as harmonious with our inwardness, makes even great masters nod their heads in perplexity.
In one of the Upanishads, the Chandogya, we have a description of five or six great brahmavidya masters questioning among themselves, "What kind of thing is this – this Atman of the Universe, on which we are supposed to meditate? Where is it situated? How is it located? How are we to contemplate?" Each one was a great expert in some sort of contemplation. They were not ordinary persons. But each one had a doubt. They had a partial comprehension of the nature of the Self-hood of the Atman, but the total conception was not there. This mistake could not be detected.
When the disease goes deep, it is not easy to discover where it is located. Even a suffering person cannot always say what kind of suffering it is, as it is pervading the entire personality. With these questions, these masters sat together one day and wanted to have a solution as to where this Atman is – how we are to commune ourselves with It in the state of Its true reality. They could not come to any conclusion. They had heard that the king of the country, Ashvapati Kaikeya, is well versed in this knowledge. "Let us all go there and be humble disciples of this venerable king."
In ancient days, brahmins were considered as superior to kshatriyas. Kshatriyas would be students of brahmins, but for brahmins go to kshatriyas for teaching and learning is something unprecedented. But so much was their eagerness and their intensity of aspiration for gaining knowledge of Truth, they, in spite of their being great persons themselves, humbly went to the king of the country and expressed their feeling, "We have come as your disciples."