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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter I

Fifth Brahmana: Prajapati's Production of the World as Food for Himself

Now, this object of desire, in the language of the Upaniṣhad, is generally called 'food'. It is a peculiar term used in the Upaniṣhads only. 'Anna' is the word that is used in the Upaniṣhad. Anna means food, or a diet of the senses. So, the diet of the sense is the object of desire. All objects of desire are the food of the senses and the mind. The whole world of manifestation may be regarded as the food of consciousness. All that is material is a food for the spiritual contemplating principle. Prakṛiti is the 'food' of Puruṣha, you may say. Now, what is this food? What is an object, and how many kinds of objects are there towards which the desire moves? This is a subject that is taken up subsequently in the following section.

The Supreme Being created food for the Spirit, which is this vast world of creation. Anything that you cognise; anything that you perceive; anything that you can sense and think through the mind, is the food thereof. The object placed in any context whatsoever, whether it is an object of the senses or of the mind, is in the position of a food that is grasped by the subject. That food is of various kinds. What these are, the Upaniṣhad answers in the following section.

  1. yat saptānnāni medhayā tapasā janayat pitā, ekam asya sādhāraṇam, dve devān abhājayat; trīṇy ātmane' kuruta, paśubhya ekaṁ prāyacchat. tasmin sarvam pratiṣṭhitam, yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na. kasmāt tāni na kṣīyante adyamānāni sarvadā? yo vaitām akṣitim veda, so'nnam atti pratīkena; sa devān apigacchati, sa ūrjam upajīvati. Iti ślokāḥ.

Yat saptānnāni medhayā tapasā janayat pitā: The Supreme Father created food, when He manifested Himself as this universe. The spirit, contemplating the Cosmos, is actually consciousness contemplating its own food. What are these? There are seven kinds of food, says the Upaniṣhad. The seven objects of satisfaction are the seven types of food manifested in the process of creation. One food is the common food of all – Ekam asya sadharanam. Dve devān abhājayat: Two foods were allotted for the celestials, or the gods. Trīṇy ātmane'kuruta: Three foods were appropriated to one's own self. Paśubhya ekaṁ: One food was kept aside for the animals. So, you have got seven types of food. What are these, will be mentioned later on. Tasmin sarvam pratiṣṭhitam: Everything is rooted in this sevenfold form of food. Yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na: Whether one is animate or otherwise, everything can be said to be dependent on the existence of these types of food. Kasmāt tāni na kṣiyante adyamānāni sarvadā? yo vaitām akṣitim veda, so'nnam atti pratīkena: People consume food of various types endlessly, for ages, over centuries, and yet the food is not exhausted. Why is it so, is the question of the Upaniṣhad. How is it that food is not exhausted? You go on eating it for centuries; it will not be exhausted. If anyone knows the reason why food is not exhausted in spite of its being consumed endlessly, such a person is provided with immeasurable food. So'nnam atti pratīkena; sa devān apigacchati: He goes to the gods and partakes of the immortality, or ambrosia of the gods. Sa ūrjam upajīvati. iti ślōkaḥ: He rejoices in the nectarine realm of the celestials. This is the thesis, mentioned in an outline, in the first Mantra of this section, whose meaning is explained in greater detail in the following section.

What is this sevenfold food that you mention, and how is it connected with the consumers or eaters of food question?

  1. 'yat saptānnāni medhayā tapasā janayat pitā' iti medhayā hi tapasājanayat pitā. 'ekam asya sādhāraṇam' iti. idam evāsya tat sādhāraṇam annam, yad idam adyate. sa ya etad upāste na sa pāpmano vyāvartate, miśraṁ hy etat. 'dve devān abhājayat' iti, hutaṁ ca prahutaṁ ca; tasmād devebhyo juhvati ca pra ca juhvati, atho āhuh, darśapūrṇamāsāv iti; tasmān neṣṭi-yājukaḥ syāt. 'paśubhya ekam prāyacchat' iti. tat payaḥ, pato hy evāgre manuṣyāś ca paśavaś copajīvanti. tasmāt kumāraṁ jātaṁ ghṛtaṁ vai vāgre pratilehayanti, stanaṁ vānudhāpayanti: atha vatsam jātam āhuḥ, 'atṛṇāda' iti; 'tasmin sarvaṁ pratiṣṭhitam yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na' iti, payasi hīdaṁ sarvam pratiṣṭhitam, yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na. tad yad idam āhuḥ saṁvatsaram payasā juhvad apa punarmṛtyuṁ jayatīti, na tathā vidyāt. yad ahar eva juhoti, tad ahaḥ punarmṛtyum apajayaty evaṁ vidvān; 'sarvaṁ hi devebhyo'nnādyam prayacchati.' kasmāt tāni na kṣīyante adyamānāni sarvadā 'iti, puruṣo vā akṣitiḥ, sa hīdam annam punaḥ punar janayate. 'yo janayate. 'yo vai tām akṣitiṁ veda' iti, puruṣo vā akṣitiḥ, sa hῑdam annaṁ dhiyā dhiyā janayate karmabhiḥ, yaddhaitan na kuryāt kṣīyeta ha. 'so'nnam atti pratīkena' iti, mukham pratīkam, mukhenety etat. sa devān apigacchati, sa ūrjam upajīvati ' iti praśaṁsā.

'Yat saptānnāni medhayā tapasā janayat pitā' iti medhayā hi tapasājanayat pitā:  It is by contemplation of consciousness that food is created. It has got a tremendous meaning. Many of the statements of the Upaniṣhad are difficult to understand. They have not got the usual open meaning which comes out of a study of the passage in a grammatical manner merely. They are highly symbolic and deeply hidden in their significance. The food that you can think of, is an object of consciousness. This is what the Upaniṣhad tells in this enigmatic passage. The Supreme Being Himself, by the act of Tapas or Will, projected this universe of food. Food becomes an effect of the activity or the austerity of consciousness, in the sense that it requires some sort of an effort on the part of consciousness to project an externality to itself. There is nothing external to consciousness, really speaking. It is everything. It is all. But, to make it possible for It to contemplate an object external to Itself, It requires an austerity on Its part. So, sometimes we are told in the Upaniṣhads that the creation of God is an austerity on the part of God, because there is no creation outside God. He has to contemplate in a particular manner, in order that He may appear as creation. It is He that appears as this vast universe of objectivity. In order that the Supreme Subject, God, may appear as the object which is the universe, the Consciousness which is the Supreme Subject has to perform a Tapas of contemplation, as it were, in order that It may become alien to Itself, an 'another' to its own Self. So, the Supreme Father contemplated, by means of a tremendous austerity, the universe which we behold in front of us as the food of all creatures – medhayā hi tapasājanayat pitā.

'Ekam asya sādhāraṇam' iti. idam evāsya tat sādhāraṇam annam, yad idam adyate: Well; first of all we are told that there is one type of food which is common to all – the ordinary food that you take, the meal that you consume. Every day you take meals. You have breakfast; you have lunch; you have dinner – all these come under what is called the common food of people. This is the first food, and everyone requires this kind of food, human, subhuman, etc.

Inasmuch as this food is a common property of all, it should not be appropriated. This is a caution administered here in this context – sa ya etad upāste na sa pāpmano vyāvartate. Very difficult to understand is this small sentence here. One who arrogates to oneself wholly the food that is intended for all, cannot be freed from the sin of appropriation. It means to say that the food, which is the common property of all, has to be proportionately distributed among the consumers of food, and cannot be exceptually appropriated by anyone. Hoarding is prohibited. No one can hoard foodstuff. Everyone can partake of food to the extent it is necessary for the maintenance of each. To keep for oneself what is in excess of one's need is prohibited, and the Upaniṣhad tells us that one who commits that mistake cannot be free from the sin of appropriation. There will be retaliation from the sources who have been deprived of the food which really belongs to them, and retaliation may come in any form. One cannot be a proprietor of anything in this world. One can only be, what in modern terms we may say, a trustee of an object, not an owner. You cannot own anything. You have not produced anything. So, how can you own anything? So, it is wrong on the part of anyone to say, 'this is my property'. You have not manufactured it; you have not created it; you have not brought it with you. So, how can you call it yours? It is entrusted to your care for certain purposes, just as a property in a trust is entrusted to the care of certain responsible persons. They do not own it as they may own their personal assets. But, they are protectors thereof for certain aims which transcend their own individual personalities. So it is said, in a very intelligent manner, that everyone has the freedom to partake of this general food that God has created for all, but no one has the right to appropriate this food for oneself. Otherwise, there is the sin accruing of appropriation, and the result of this appropriation would be some kind of suffering in this world or in the other world, because as the previous section has mentioned, you would be interfering with the lives of other creatures by depriving them of their needs, on account of the greed by which you hold things which are not necessary for you.

Miśraṁ hy etat. 'dve devān abhājayat' iti, hutaṁ ca prahutaṁ ca; tasmād devebhyo juhvati ca pra ca juhvati, atho āhuh, darśapūrṇamāsāv iti: You have also to consider two other aspects of food which are allotted to the celestials, apart from the common food of the human and the subhuman creatures. These foods for the gods are the oblations offered in the sacrifices. There are two important oblations, Darśha and Purnāmaśha, according to ancient tradition. These are offered on the full moon and the new moon day, and the manner in which they are offered, by the recitation of Mantras and contemplation accompanying them, determine the effect produced by these sacrifices. They are the food for the gods. They are sustained by these contemplations. Anything that sustains is a food. As the oblations offered during Darśha and Purnāmaśha sacrifices sustain and satisfy the gods, they are called the food of the gods.

Tasmān neṣṭi-yājukaḥ syāt: Therefore, do not perform any sacrifice for selfish purposes, says the Upaniṣhad. May it be a sacrifice, really speaking. It is not an oblation of a food or a charity made with an ulterior motive of personal satisfaction or gain. It is a charity, it is an offering, it is a sacrifice which has a purpose beyond itself. Then only it becomes divine. Then only it becomes an act of virtue.

'Paśubhya ekam prāyacchat' iti: There is one food which is allocated to the animals, and that is the milk of animals. Here, the milk of animals includes the milk of human mothers, also. Tat payaḥ, payo hy evāgre manuṣyāś ca paśavaś cōpajīvanti: Milk is the animal food of creatures. This is one kind of food which sustains beings. Tasmāt kumāraṁ jātaṁ ghṛtaṁ vai vāgre pratilehayanti, stanaṁ vānudhapāyanti: atha vatsam jātam āhuḥ 'atṛṇāda' iti: You know very well, says the Upaniṣhad, that milk sustains people right from childhood onwards, even up to adult age and old age, and even a calf of a cow is maintained by the milk of the cow. By milk, is meant the essence of the articles of diet.

'Tasmin sarvaṁ pratiṣṭhitam yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na' iti, payasi hīdaṁ sarvam pratiṣṭhitam, yac ca prāṇiti yac ca na. tad yad idam āhuḥ saṁvatsaram payasā juhvad apa punarmṛtyuṁ jayatīti, na tathā vidyāt: There are some people who imagine that offering ghee and milk, etc. into the sacred fire can free them for rebirth, make them immortal. It is not true, says the Upaniṣhad. You cannot become immortal merely by offering these articles of diet into the holy fire, because it is the knowledge that is connected with the production of this food which is the cause of the future prosperity of an individual, not the literal interpretation of it as an object which is purely physical and material in nature. Though every article of diet, every foodstuff is conceived as if it is an outside object unconnected with oneself, it has a spiritual connection with oneself. It is ultimately a cosmic stuff that we are consuming, not merely an individual object of food. A person who is bereft of knowledge of this cosmical significance of the consumption of food cannot be freed from mortality. So, it would not be proper on the part of people to believe, traditionally and literally, the saying that offering in holy fires, materially construed, can bring immortality.

The contemplation of the connection of the object, which is the food, with the subject who is the consumer, is the source of that particular event which can bring about the immortality of the soul. In certain other Upaniṣhads, such as the Chhāndogya, we have more detailed descriptions of this type of meditation, where all objects are taken together as a single object of contemplation – e.g., the Vaiśvānara-Vidyā (we are not concerned with that subject here).

So, the Upaniṣhad tells us that immortality is not the fruit of any kind of physical action on the part of a person, not even the result of an oblation materially offered into the sacred fire, but the result of a knowledge which is far superior.

'Kasmāt tāni na kṣīyante: Now the question, why foodstuff is not exhausted, is answered. It cannot be exhausted because the desire of the human mind, or any mind for the matter of that, is inexhaustible. As long as a desire is present, its object also will be present. You cannot exhaust the object of your desire as long as the desire itself is not exhausted. The presence of an object of desire is implied in the presence of the desire itself. So, as long as there is an inexhaustible reservoir of desire in people, there would be an inexhaustible reservoir of supply also. So, no food in this world can be exhausted as long as there is a need for food. When the need is there, fulfilment has to be there, in one form or the other. It is the presence of desire, or longing, or requirement, that is the cause of the presence of the counterparts of these requirements in the form of objects of desire, or foodstuff, etc. Adyamānāni sarvadā 'iti, puruṣo vā akṣitiḥ: The individual person is an inexhaustible source of desire, and therefore the universe of objects will not be exhausted for that person with such desires.

Sa hīdam annam punaḥ punar janayate: Again and again you create the objects of desire by the intensification of your desires. 'Yo vai tām akṣitiṁ veda' iti, puruṣo vā akṣitiḥ, sa hīdam annam dhiyā dhiyā janayate karmabhiḥ: By your actions you create circumstances for fulfilment of desires; and actions are nothing but manifestation of desires in the other world. It is desire operating in the form of action, and action is the movement of desire, in one way or the other, towards this object of fulfilment. So, by actions which are propelled by desire, the objects of desire are sustained. One who knows this truth will not be bound by the sting of desires – sa hῑdam annaṁ dhiyā dhiyā janayate karmabhiḥ.

Yaddhaitan na kuryāt kṣīyeta ha: If the desire is not to be propelled in this manner, the objects would exhaust themselves. In other words, if desire is to be absent, the world itself would become absent. The world in front of you exists because of your desires. If the desires of all created beings get absorbed into their own sources, the universe will vanish in one second. It cannot exist. So, if the desires are not present, there will be no objects of desire and the world would have immediately extinguished itself – kṣīyeta ha.

'So'nnam atti pratīkena' iti, mukham pratīkam, mukhenety etat. sa devān apigacchati, sa ūrjam upajīvati 'iti praśaṁsā: This whole passage is a very complicated structure, the meaning of which is manifold. It has an outward literal meaning which is called the Adhibhautika meaning; it has an individualistic meaning which is called the Adhyātmika meaning; and it has a spiritual meaning which is called the Adhidaivika meaning. As a matter of fact, every passage in the Veda and the Upaniṣhad has a threefold meaning. So, I have tried to give you all the three aspects of the meaning of this passage – all of which point ultimately to the fact that a desire is not an unspiritual activity of the mind, when its meaning is properly understood and its purposes are directed towards the Supreme Fulfilment which is its aim. But it becomes a binding factor if its meaning is not understood, and if one merely hangs on to the literal meaning of desire, without knowing its spiritual implication.

We do not continue from the previous topic. There is a change in the subject from the point that was discussed in the previous chapter, and it leads to certain discussions on mystical contemplations, which we shall not take up at present so as to keep up the continuity of the subject. So we shall proceed onwards with the Fourth Section of the Second Chapter which is known as the Maitreyī Brāhmaṇa.  This is one of the most important sections in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad. It may even be regarded as the topmost discussion that we have in the Upaniṣhad, comparable only with the profundity of thought expressed in the Fourth Section of the First Chapter which we have studied already.