The Essence of the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Introduction

The great issues of life, whether personal or social, hinge upon the concept of duty—what one ought to do in life. We know very well that the whole enterprise of mankind is a struggle of duty towards a particular end, and it makes no difference what position a person occupies in life insofar as the broad question of duty is concerned. The division of duty may vary from person to person, or from condition to condition; but that there is a duty of some sort cannot be denied, because duty is another name for the function that one is expected to perform in a given location of one’s life.

But what one ought to do cannot be decided easily unless another question is answered: what is it that one is aiming at? Our aim will decide to a large extent the nature of our expectations, whether in our individual capacity or in our capacity as units in human society. What is it that we seek, finally? If this is clear to the mind, evidently what one ought to do, also, would be clear. But, neither of these questions is easy to answer. And without properly conceiving the background of our efforts in life, we seem to be going headlong every day, right from morning till evening, taking for granted that everything is clear to our minds.

In fact, if there has been a proper clarity of thought in respect of one’s duty and the aim of one’s life, there would be no such thing as conflict in life. Conflict or disharmony arises in mankind due to the fact of missing the very purpose of life and, consequently, missing the knowledge of the functions that one is supposed to perform in life. Often we hear people saying: “This is my duty; this not my duty.” But, on what grounds does one make this statement? How do we know that this is our duty, or this is not our duty? Is it because we have been born in a particular family, our father has been performing this function, and, therefore, it is ours, or it is not ours? Or is there any other logical foundation for this concept of one’s having this to do, or not to do?

We, generally, do not go deep into these matters. Mankind, unfortunately, is averse to go into the depths of any question. We like to float on the surface in every kind of activity of ours. Whatever be our walk of life, we seem to be content merely by glossing over things without going into the profundity of the issues on hand. But no problem is merely a surface issue; every problem is as wide as life itself. We can imagine how vast and how immense in magnitude human life is, and our concept of duty cannot be ‘smaller’ than that. There is something in us which is vitally connected with everyone else. But for this fact, there would not be an endeavour to talk in terms of mankind or humanity.

It is very strange that we speak of mankind, as if there is some sort of relationship between oneself and another in the group that we call humanity. The desire to form organisations, institutions, bodies, etc., whether in the small unit of a family or larger units like the nation or an international organisation—whatever be the concept of the body that we form—the hidden desire seems to be to form a harmonious whole out of the little ingredients we call human individuals. This desire is enough to indicate that there is some purpose we are aiming at in life.

An organisation is a general term and it can apply to any kind of people coming together. If two people join and harmoniously work, it is an organisation. If it is more than two—it can be a thousand—it is still an organisation; and if the whole of humanity is taken as a single body, that too is an organisation. Whatever it is, the point is that we seem to be discontented by any form of isolated life that we may be compelled to live. An individual is not always happy by being absolutely cut off from human society. There is an instinct inborn in our nature to come together with other people; we call it a social instinct without understanding what it actually means.

An instinct is an intelligent seeking on our part for the purpose of the achievement of a goal. An instinct is not a blind and chaotic urge that arises in ourselves; it is a rational, purposive movement which is unintelligibly conducting itself towards a particular aim, and when we cannot understand the rational background of the instinct, we call it irrational. But if we can understand the purposive movement of the instinct, it becomes logical, and there would be then no distinction between these two. And why is it that we have an instinct for social life? Why do we wish to come together and form bodies, whether it is a religious body, or a social body, or a political body, whatever be that body?

We have some un-understandable and inscrutable feeling within us from a part of ourselves which speaks in its own language. There are depths in our personality which are deeper than our conscious level, as we all know very well. This instinct for social collaboration does not necessarily arise from a conscious deliberative thinking of the human individual. It is automatic. We feel. Many people say: “I feel.” But this feeling arises not from the conscious level. It is not a logically deduced conclusion arrived at by induction or deduction. It is a feeling which has a reason of its own which transcends ordinary organisational thinking in logical terms.

We have an aim behind our coming together. This necessity to come together, to work together, implies that we seek a common purpose; otherwise, there would be no point in such a longing. If each individual flies at a tangent and there is absolutely no connection between the aim of myself and yourself, there would be absolutely no meaning in our joining together, coming together, meeting together or performing a work through a body or an organisation. It is taken for granted that every organisation of human society, of whatever nature, has an implication behind it—that there is a common purpose behind human individuals. Otherwise, people would not sit together or speak together in the same language.

Stretching this argument a little further, we are very fond of speaking in terms of ‘mankind’ these days—humanity. We would be happy if there were no wars, no battles, would be happy if there were no quarrels, and if there was a single government for the whole world. This is a great aspiration, no doubt; but how does this aspiration arise, unless the whole of mankind has a single purpose or aim before it? If every individual is differentiated from every other, there cannot be such an aspiration at all. That we seek such a possibility, whether it is immediately practicable or not, is itself an indication of what humanity is basically made of. It is substantially one. But for the fact of this substantial unity of the building blocks of mankind, there would be no such thing as talk of universal government, etc. Even this idea will not arise in one’s mind. We know that the effect cannot contain what is not in the cause. The idea of universal government, or a single mankind, and human solidarity, etc., which arises as a kind of effect, a psychological product, from our minds has a cause behind it. If we are logical thinkers, we would naturally accept that there cannot be an effect without a cause. The very functioning of the human mind in terms of universal collaboration and achievement is an indication that it is based on some cause which is characterised by similar purposes.

So, our concept of duty in life is naturally dependent on the aim that we have before ourselves, and, as was explained, the final aim of mankind does not seem to be segregated internally, a fact that comes to high relief on account of our basic aspirations. We feel happy if we see our own brothers. There is a feeling between man and man. It is a common feeling, no doubt, arising on account of kinship of character, sympathy of feeling, and unity of purpose. If this had not been there, there would be no such thing psychologically as mankind or humanity.

If the aim seems to be an organisational unity—a thing that automatically comes out as a consequence of our ways of thinking—our duties also cannot be of a dissimilar character. If there is a purposive collaboration of the aims of life among mankind tending towards an organic perfection in itself, there cannot be different sets of ideals or duties before mankind, because duties or functions are nothing but activities directed towards the achievement of the purpose of humanity. The duties are as much related one to the other as the segments of the different aspirations of individuals are in respect of the total purpose of mankind.

As there cannot be an effect without a cause, a cause is logically implied behind the manifestation of an effect. This effect that we are speaking of today seems to be so large that the cause should be at least as large as itself. We have a single humanitarian psychology before us—man’s mind working in its generality. It is not my mind or your mind that is working, but the mind of mankind as a whole aiming at human perfection, mankind’s solidarity, and a peaceful existence. This is the way in which the total mind of mankind works, as an effect of a cause which is prior, naturally, to this effect of the total thinking of mankind.

We may have a doubt in our minds as to whether it is true that we all think alike. Surely, we are not always thinking alike. Each individual has a world under his own hat, as they say, but this is only an apparent diversity that we see. When we are brought deep into the levels of our basic aspirations and likes, we will realise that these differences vanish. I’ll give you a concrete example. You are a patriot and lover of your nation, and there are millions of people inhabiting a nation, forming a nation, with each individual having his own or her own ideas, whims and fancies, ideals and ideologies. Suppose a war breaks out and the whole nation is threatened by a disastrous situation. One can imagine how all the individuals join together, gird up their loins, and aim at a single purpose. The isolated whims and fancies disappear at once.

This can be very easily proved by a little bit of deep thinking. When a common purpose is before us, the individual idiosyncrasies recede to the background. The individual whims come to the forefront only when the basic security is granted, not otherwise. If our life itself is going to be threatened, if the whole mankind is to be visited by a catastrophe, one can see how mankind joins together to avert this possibility. There would be no man-woman distinction, there would be no distinction of east, west, north, south, black, white, etc. People would, then, all stand up vigilant, wakeful to face this threat that is endangering mankind as a whole. This has been seen through the course of history, and we can see it at any time under similar conditions. We seem to be isolated only when the basic necessities are supplied to us, not otherwise. If the basic roots are shaken, then our different ideologies on the surface vanish altogether. All this is a little bit of thinking along logical lines for the purpose of coming to a conclusion as to the duties of mankind based on the aims or purposes of life.

Unless there is some kind of a connecting link lying at the background of human thought, the mind would not function in this manner. There cannot be any such thing as international thinking, unless there is a foundation for such a possibility. We know very well that diversities imply a kind of unity. Even two minds cannot communicate with each other unless there is a corresponding medium between the two minds. If one mind is absolutely cut off from another mind due to totally dissimilar characters, the one cannot communicate with the other. There would be no congress between one person and another person.

But we communicate our thoughts; we speak language which can be transmitted to another; we understand each other. The fact that we are able to know one another implies that we can psychologically come together. This, again, implies secondarily that this understanding or thinking or communication of thought between one and the other is an external indication of a basic unity between the two persons. There would be no such thing as the concept of two unless there is the concept of the one already behind them. One cannot imagine that there are two things unless one is able to synthesise these two things in one’s consciousness. So, carrying this deduction to the larger dimension of humanity, or mankind as a whole, we seem to be floating on the ocean of a single Mind—the Mind of mankind, the total Mind of humanity, of which the individual minds are, as it were, drops. This Total Mind seems to be urging us forward for the realisation of a purpose.

With this introduction, we may now turn to the message of some of the Upanishads, the great legacy not merely of this country but of mankind as a whole, one should say. The Upanishads are the record of the experiences of superhuman thinkers, those who had risen above the level of ordinary mankind and beyond the limitations of sensory knowledge. It is the Upanishads that will guide us in answering these questions which we raised at the beginning. We cannot independently walk with the strength of our own legs in this arduous task of solving universal questions.

The Upanishads, among which we are to take up here one or two for the purpose of the analysis of the subject, are documents left by people who, by the power of their meditations, soared above the ordinary level of human thinking. They could plumb the depths of this Total Mind, to which we made reference just now. For us, the Total Mind of mankind is only a theory; it is a logically deduced, abstract something. We are inferring that there should be a Total Mind on the grounds that mankind seems to be moving towards the realisation of a common purpose.

But these masters were not merely theoreticians. They were those who thought in terms of that single Mind only. As I think through my mind, you think through your mind and each one thinks through one’s mind, these masters were able to think through this Total Mind, so that their thoughts were not individual thoughts; they were thoughts of all people blended together into an amalgam of completeness. These are the Upanishads.

The reason why we feel like taking the aid of these thoughts of the Upanishadic masters in answering our questions is that they have gone to the very roots of the cause of all causes of these effects manifested as this world, this society, mankind, the efforts of mankind, etc. We speak of human life, human duties and human purposes and so on, without properly paying sufficient heed to the conditioning factors that underlie these phenomena behind mankind. Our minds work in a particular fashion, being conditioned by certain factors.

Now, we gradually move to a philosophical realm from the ordinary social and empirical level of thought on which we have been traversing up to this time. Philosophy is a study of causes, rather ultimate causes, and an explanation of everything in terms of these causes. Sometimes they call it metaphysical thinking. Whatever be the name we give to it, it is the study of ultimate causes and an explanation of everything through these.

The ultimate causes should be such that there should not be causes behind these causes; else they would not be the ultimate causes. The meaning of an ultimate cause is that it stands by its own right, and it does not need an explanation or a cause precedent to it or prior to it. If every cause has a cause behind it, naturally there should be a final cause which is an explanation of every other cause. Otherwise, we would land in an infinite regress of causes behind causes without coming to any decision whatsoever. But we know very well that our minds are averse to any kind of infinite regress. We strive for a final conclusion.

But, this would not be possible unless there is an ultimate cause of causes, the causeless cause. This causeless cause we call the final cause. The ultimate cause should be capable of containing in itself every effect. And before we try to understand the nature of this cause which is ultimate, we also have to understand the effects which are contained in the cause. The effects are what we are capable of thinking about anything which we confront in our life.

The whole objective universe is the effect. Why do we call it an effect? Because the universe has a tendency to move forward through the process of evolution. We would never see one atom in this world lying static without movement. There is a motion of everything towards something of which there is no proper idea at the present moment. Rivers are flowing, the sun and the moon and the stars are active, and we are more active; the whole world is busy with doing something. The astronomical universe and the subatomic world are active, moving vibrantly. All seem to be ever engaged for some purpose which they have not yet fulfilled. If the purpose had been fulfilled, there would be no activity afterwards. The very fact that everything in nature seems to be busily doing something is an indication that it is aiming at a purpose. This is the characteristic of an effect. An effect is that which is aiming at its own transcendental nature. There is an effort on the part of everyone to transcend oneself, to rise in dimension, to become better quantitatively and qualitatively. This is what they call the urge of evolution, whether it is physical evolution, biological evolution or psychological evolution.

So, from this point of view, one can very easily conclude that the whole universe is in the position of an effect, and is not the ultimate cause. For, if it had been an ultimate cause, there would have been no tendency to move or transcend; there would not be such a thing as an urge to move forward, to outgrow itself. Everything in the world seems to have a tendency to outgrow itself, to become more and grow larger. That is why it is said that the universe is an effect, and not a cause. It turns towards the cause, and its activities cease on the realisation of the final cause, the purpose of existence.

The universe is moving towards the realisation of its purpose. This is cosmic evolution, which takes place through different manifestations. The lowest level of it is physical, the stage of material evolution. The higher is the biological evolution or growth, to become inwardly subtler, a tendency to psychological growth. This is mental evolution, intellectual ascent and so on. The whole world conceived of in any of its levels seems to be restlessly moving forward for the realisation of its one purpose. What this purpose is, is the subject of the Upanishads.

Two of the important Upanishads are the Aitareya and the Taittiriya, which are related to each other in a way, and coextensive in content—the one emphasising one aspect of the matter, and the other a coordinated theme. The Aitareya and the Taittiriya Upanishads speak of the same theme, but from two different points of view.

They try to answer the question of life by reference to causes. This is a very proper attitude, no doubt. We know very well that every question, when it is attempted to be answered, brings us to its causative factors. Why is there a disease? Why is a person sick? We ask questions of this kind. In reply, we try to find out the present cause of the situation. If one is sick, we must find out the reason behind the sickness. If there is a war, we must find out the cause behind the war. If there is some kind of discrepancy, we have to know the cause behind it. If there is any kind of tension, we argue out why this kind of tension has arisen. Unless we find out the cause of a particular circumstance, we cannot probe into the context of its circumstance, whether it is a physical, social, biological or medical one. This is a philosophical attitude we are adopting towards everything in life. There is no one who is not a philosopher, in the sense that everyone wants to know the cause of particular effects. This is the philosophical trend of thinking.

The great masters of the Upanishads moved from the lower causes to the higher ones, until they were able to grasp the final cause of things, and they gave out their conclusions, the final truth for mankind. The ills of mankind are effects in their nature, and they become causes of other illnesses to which we are heir. By the process of deep yoga and meditation in which the masters of yore engaged themselves, plumbing the depths of reality, the ultimate cause and the truths of life were unravelled. These experiences are recorded in the Upanishads.

The way in which we can encounter anything is twofold: inductive and deductive. Students of logical intelligence move from particulars to generals, which is inductive reasoning. If it is a movement from the general to the particular, we call it deduction. Both ways are permissible according to the nature of the case. Every day the sun rises in the east. We are seeing the sun rising in the east for days, months and years. We collect the particular instances of the sun rising in the east every day. Then we make a general conclusion: we say the sun always rises in the east.

But there is a flaw in inductive reasoning. Our conclusions may not be correct. The sun may have been rising in the east for thousands of years, but why should we conclude that the sun shall rise only in the east in the future also? It need not be a valid conclusion, because the sun is not bound by our conclusions. It can change its position for some reason or the other. Some law may operate differently, and tomorrow the sun may rise in the west. Induction is not valid as an ultimate form of reasoning. Going from the particular to the general may be a practically useful way of thinking, as far as things go, but it is not ultimately reliable.

Deductive reasoning is the other way round; it is argument from the general to the particular. For example, ‘all men are mortal’ is the theory. We know very well that everyone dies. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal by nature. This is the way of argument from the general to the particular. From the general concept of all humanity being mortal, we come to the conclusion that Socrates must also be mortal, since he is also a man. This is to give an idea of inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. Philosophy is mostly inductive, especially from the point of Western thought. Western philosophers are very much inclined to the inductive way of thinking. They cannot suddenly jump to generals, inasmuch as there are great controversies concerning the nature of the universal. We are not going to enter into this subject now. Our purpose is different.

The masters of the Upanishads had a direct experience; and from this experience which is of the general, they drew conclusions on particular consequences in a deductive fashion. When we study the Aitareya and the Taittiriya Upanishads, we will find that both of them adopted the deductive process of reasoning. The thought is deductive in the sense that the ultimate conclusion has already been given to us. The nature of the cause need not be investigated by the sweat of one’s brow through inductive reasoning. We can try that method also, of course; but, for the present moment, it is not necessary. The Upanishads come to the conclusion of an ultimate generality. This declaration pertains to eternal verities: to the ultimate nature of reality, the cause of all causes. The ultimate cause is the determining factor in the effects. The whole of this world, this universe, is the effect of the ultimate cause, Brahman.

We have already noticed that the ultimate cause cannot have another cause behind it; if that was the case, it cannot be regarded as the ultimate cause; it would then be an effect of another cause altogether. There cannot be two ultimate causes; else there would arise the difficulty of understanding the relationship between the two causes. We cannot come to any conclusion without a definite notion of relation. The concept of relation is the most difficult thing to imagine in the mind. We cannot understand how one thing is related to another thing. The very fact of our ability to communicate our thoughts among ourselves is an indication of there being one Mind behind ourselves. Otherwise, there would not be such thing as communication at all. Likewise, the imagination of two ultimate causes would imply that there is something connecting these two causes, transcendent to these two causes, which will become the ultimate cause. So, somehow or the other, the ultimate cause cannot be more than one, and there cannot be another cause behind it.

Now we have an idea of what an ultimate cause can be. There cannot be something behind it, something prior to it, something larger than it or greater than it; and there cannot be something equal to it. Such is the unique character of the Ultimate Reality. This is the Cause. We call it Reality, because we cannot see anything further than itself. It has no purpose beyond itself. Everything proceeds from that. It does not have anything beyond it to move to. The Ultimate Cause and the Ultimate Reality mean one and the same thing. This existed, this exists and this shall exist always. There cannot be anything more than this. Here earthly bondage ceases.