The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter I (Continued)

Fifth Brahmana (Continued): The Three Worlds and the Means of Winning Them

  1. atha trayo vāva lokāḥ, manuṣya-lokaḥ, pitṛ-lokaḥ. deva-loka iti. so’yam manuṣya-lokaḥ putreṇaiva jayyaḥ, nānyena karmaṇā. karmaṇā pitṛ-lokāḥ, vidyayā deva-lokaḥ, deva loko vai lokānāṁ śreṣṭhaḥ: tasmād vidyām praśaṁsanti.

There are three worlds, as we have already studied – this world, the atmospheric world and the celestial world: Manuṣya-loka, Pitṛ-loka and Deva-loka, as the scriptures tell us. We have to gain entry into all these worlds and have mastery over them. Renown in this physical world is attempted to be perpetuated by people. Even after death, they want to be known to men. How can you perpetuate your greatness even after death? The progeny of yours is the perpetuation of your glory. The son says his father is such-and-such a person. So, the great man's name continues through the son. The progeny is the continuation of the glory and the value of the person. So, one gains renown in the physical realm by the progeny that he has. The family continues its tradition; otherwise, he would be cut off root and branch by the death of the physical body. The physical world remembers the individuality of a person through the legacy that he leaves in the form of the family tradition and the children. Hence, one gains this world, as it were, through the progeny – manuṣya-lokaḥ putreṇaiva jayyaḥ. Nānyena karmaṇā: You cannot achieve renown in this physical world after your death by any other means than by this that is suggested.

Karmaṇā pitṛ-lokāḥ: But, if you want to gain entry into the world of the forefathers, the ancestors, there is no other way than to perform certain rites which are of a sacrificial nature. Certain libations, certain Yajñas are performed whose effect, called Apurva, produces a force which carries the soul after death to Pitṛ-loka wherein the soul enjoys the results of its deeds until their momentum is exhausted, and then it comes back to this world to repeat the same actions, and so on, endlessly, in the cycle of time.

Vidyayā deva-lokaḥ: The higher, celestial realms are to be attained only through knowledge, not by progeny, not by any kind of ritual, but by understanding, by spiritual contemplation. Here, Deva-loka is to be understood in the sense of every realm that is superior to the Pitṛ-loka. There are seven realms, according to the tradition of India's culture particularly, also recognised in many other cultures. The first three are temporal; the last four are spiritual, ethereal in their nature, and connected to divine ordinance. The celestial realms, the divine regions, are to be attained by knowledge and not by action of any kind, not by ritual, not by progeny, not by possession, not by wealth.

The lower worlds are attained by action, but the higher ones by worship, adoration and knowledge. The higher does one reach, the more one comes near to one's own self. That is the reason why actions become less and less applicable as the soul rises higher and higher. The more distant is the object of one's quest, the greater is the effort that is needed in the acquisition of it. The nearer it comes, the lesser is the effort, both in quantity and quality, so that, when it becomes almost inseparable from oneself, the question of action does not arise. There is then an awakening, an understanding and an enlightenment by which one realises one's affinity with the object of one's attainment; this is called knowledge. By worships or adorations, which are also meditations at the lower levels and are called Upāsanās or devotions, one gains entry into those higher realms due to the force of thought which is exerted upon those ideals which one wishes to attain. Yathā yathā upāsate tathā bhavati: As you contemplate, so you become. And that also is the nature of the object which you attain. Thus it is that knowledge is regarded as the highest of achievements, and the divine regions, the celestial realms transcending even the paradise of angels, are attainable not by ordinary action, but by deep contemplation, Upāsana, worship, which is the knowledge spoken of in this section.