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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter II (Continued)

Third Brahmana: The Two Forms of Reality

Another set of meditations is being taken up in the following sections. The five elements, namely, Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, are classified into the invisible and the visible aspects of Brahman, known as the Amūrta and the Mūrta features. Amurta means formless, without any particular shape, but Mūrta is with form, and therefore visible to the eyes, or sensible in some way.  

  1. dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe, mūrtaṁ caivāmūrtaṁ ca, martyaṁ cāmṛtaṁ ca, sthitaṁ ca, yac ca, sac ca, tyac ca.

Dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe: Two forms, or two manifestations, as it were, there are of Brahman. These two manifestations are Mūrtam Ca and Amūrtam Ca – the formed and the formless, the visible and the invisible, that with shape and that without any particular shape. These are the two ways in which Brahman manifests itself in the five elements, mūrtaṁ caivāmūrtaṁ ca: And likewise, that which is with form is Martya, or perishable. That which is without form is not perishable – it is Amṛta. That which is with form is limited – Sthita. That which is without form is Yac, or unlimited. That which is with form is Sat, or perceptible. That which is without form is Tyat, or imperceptible. That which is Mūrta is also Martya; it is also Sthita; it is also Sat. That which is Amūrta is Amṛta; it is Yac and Tyat. These are peculiar terms used in the Upaniṣhad, representing the immediate and the remote forms of Reality. That which is with form is limited naturally, and therefore it is perishable. Every form has a tendency to outgrow itself and transcend itself into some other form. Forms are limitations imposed upon aspects of Reality, and the limitations naturally tend to out-step their limits in the process of growth, or evolution, because of the fact that no form can stand on its own legs forever. Every form has a particular purpose to fulfil; it has a single mission to execute through the particular medium of that form. Hence when that particular purpose is fulfilled, the form is shed automatically. On account of the fact that the form is for a particular purpose only, it is regarded as perishable, because it has a beginning, and so it has an end. But that which is without a form is not so limited, and hence it is not subject to the conditions of limitation, perishability, etc., as characterise the things with forms.

So, the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether – are classified in these two ways. The point made out in these passages is that Space and Air are comparatively imperishable, whereas the other three elements, Fire, Water and Earth, are perishable, because they are more concrete, more tangible, more formed in their structure. A greater limitation is there upon them than is imposed upon Space and on Air. There is no destructibility in the case of Space and Air in the sense it is visible in the objects constituted of Fire, Water and Earth. The formed objects clash or can come into clash with one another and then break to pieces. They can obstruct or impede the movement of one another, where Space and Air do not impede the movement of each other. They work harmoniously with each other. Space cannot be broken to pieces or affected by the presence of things. So is Air. The presence of objects does not in any way affect the movement of Air. But, the other objects which are more concrete in their nature are limitations, one upon the other. Hence it is said that the lower three elements are formed, and everything that is constituted of them also is formed, while Space and Air are non-formed.  

  1. tad etan mūrtaṁ yad anyad vāyoś cāntarikṣāc ca, etan martyam, etat sthitam, etat sat, tasyaitasya mūrtasya, etasya martyasya etasya sthitasya, etasya sata eṣa raso ya  eṣa tapati, sato hy eṣa rasaḥ.

Tad etan mūrtaṁ yad anyad vāyoś cāntarikṣāc ca: Everything other than Space and Air is formed; it is Murta. Etan martyam: It is, therefore, perishable. Etat sthitam: Therefore, this is limited. Etat sat: Therefore, it is perceptible. Tasyaitasya mūrtasya, etasya martyasya etasya sthitasya, etasya sata eṣa raso ya eṣa tapati, sato hy eṣa rasaḥ: Of this entire world, entire creation, which is formed, which is constituted of these three elements, Earth, Water and Fire, which are perishable in their nature, which are subject to transmutation of various kinds – of everything that is constituted of earth, fire or water, the essence is the sun, the solar orb. Ya eṣa tapati: That which shines in front of us in the firmament above as the solar radiance, this can be regarded as the quintessence of these elements.

You know very well that everything of this earth, everything that is formed, everything that is physical is ultimately reducable to the elements in the sun, both from the point of view of science as well as from the standpoint of astronomy and even theology. The sun is regarded as the presiding principle of everything. Apart from the fact that we are told of everything on earth as coming from the sun and everything being merely a chip of the old block which is the sun, there are other reasons also why the sun is regarded as the presiding force over everything that is physical. The quintessence of physical elements is divinity in the sun, in a highly intensified form. High energy formation is the structure of the sun, and it is as if the ultimate principles or the fundamental essences of all physical things are placed in the sky for the sake of superintending over everything that is physical. That is the solar orb above. The sun here is looked upon in two aspects – the physical orb and the inner divinity. Just as the physical body of ours cannot be identified with the soul in us, yet the one is not separable from the other, so is the solar orb that shines as the physical quintessence of all visible objects, the glory internally presided over by a divinity who is regarded in this Upaniṣhad as the essence of the immortal elements. While the mortal features are all condensed in the physical form of the sun as the shining light before us, the non-formed, or the more ethereal aspects of creation, namely, space and air, are transcendent to the physical feature of the sun, and the Upaniṣhad identifies the essence of these two ethereal principles with the Puruṣha in the sun.  

  1. athāmūrtaṁ vāyuś cāntarikṣaṁ ca, etad amṛtam etad yat, etat tyat, tasyaitasyāmūrtasya, etasyāmṛtasya, etasya yataḥ etasya tasyaiṣa raso ya eṣa etasmin maṇḍale puruṣaḥ, tasya hy eṣa rasaḥ, ity adhidaivatam.

Athamurtam: What is the formless? Vayus cantaraksam ca: Air and Space – these are Amurta, or formless. Etad yat: They are not limited. Etat tyat: They are imperceptible. Tasyaitasyamūrtasya etasyāmrtasya, etasya yataḥ etasya tasyaisa raso: Of these immortal aspects of manifestation in the form of these two elements, the quintessence is that which is inside the sun. Ya eṣa etasmin maṇḍale puruṣaḥ, tasya hy eṣa rasaḥ, ity adhidaivatam: There is something inside the sun apart from what we see with our eyes, on account of which there is a living force present in the sun apart from its being merely a hot or boiling mass of circling energy. It is a divinity; therefore, the Vedas regard Sūrya, the sun, as the eye, as it were, of the world. It is the soul, as it were, of all created things – sūrya ātmā jagatas tasthuṣasca. Of all that is visible, of all that is moving or non-moving, Sūrya Bhagavan, the sun, is the essence. The divinity aspect of the sun is called the Puruṣha. He is considered as the deity of even these immortal aspects of the five elements, namely, Space and Air. So much about the macrocosmic aspects of these five elements called the Adhibhūta (physical) and the Adhidaiva (divine). The physical macrocosmic aspect is called Adhibhūta and the spiritual macrocosmic aspect is the Adhidaiva.  

  1. athādhyātmam idam eva mūrtam yad anyat prāṇāc ca yaś cāyam antarātmann ākāśaḥ, etan martyam, etat sthitam, etat sat, tasyaitasya mūrtasya, etasya martyasya, etasya sthitasya, etasya sata eṣa raso yac cakṣuh, sato hy eṣa rasaḥ.

Now, the microcosmic aspect of the very same truth is being described, as Adhyātma. In the same way as the five elements are present in the outer world, they are also present in the inner world, this individual body. The five elements constitute our own being. We have earth, water, fire and also air and space inside our body, and the body is made up of these five elements only. Even as the three elements are mortal and two are not, comparatively in the outer world, so is the case with these elements in the inner world also. Athādhyātmam: Now describe the same truth in respect of the individual. Idam eva mūrtam yad anyat prāṇāc ca yaś cāyam antarātmann ākāśaḥ: This is the perishable aspect of this individual. What is that? That which is other than the vital-principle and other than the space-principle in us. The concrete and solid parts of our bodies are the perishable aspects. Etan martyam: This is perishable. Etat sthitam: Limited. Etat sat: Perceptible, etc., as before. Tasyaitasya mūrtasya, etasya martyasya, etasya sthitasya, etasya sata eṣa raso yac cakṣuh, sato hy eṣa rasaḥ: The subtle part of the physical body is supposed to be the eye. It is also believed that when the embryo develops into a physical formation, the first in manifestation the form of a limb is the eye. The eye protrudes itself first; every other organ comes afterwards. It is the subtlest and the most sensitive part of our body. It is therefore regarded as the quintessential part, or the physical essences, of the entire system. So, of all these perishable aspects in this body, which are constituted of earth, water and fire, the quintessence is the eye. Everything that is in the eye is the subtlest aspect of these three elements.  

  1. athāmūrtaṁ prāṇaś ca yaś cāyam antar-ātmann ākāśaḥ; etad amṛtam, etad yat, etat tyam, tasyaitasyāmūrtasya, etasyā-mṛtasya, etasya yataḥ, etasya tyasyaiṣa raso yo'yam dakṣiṇe'kṣan puruṣaḥ, tyasya hy eṣa rasaḥ.

Likewise, there is the subtle aspect of the other two elements which are compared to the immortal, namely, air and space. Athāmūrtaṁ: Now, the immortal side which is formless. Prāṇaś ca yaś cāyam antar-ātmann ākāśaḥ: The ether in the heart, the space within us, and the air that is inside form the immortal aspect in us which cannot be destroyed even if the body is destroyed. Etad amṛtam, etad yat, etat tyam, tasyaitasyāmūrtasya, etasyā-mṛtasya, etasya yataḥ, etasya tyasyaiṣa raso yo'yam dakṣiṇe'kṣan puruṣaḥ, tyasya hy eṣa rasaḥ: The subtle body inside us is the quintessence of these two elements. How they are the essence of these two elements is not described in the Upaniṣhad. However, the point made out is that there is some aspect of subtlety comparable with the subtlety of our own subtle body in these two subtle elements, namely, space and air. The subtle body inside us is constituted of physical substances alone, and for all theoretical purposes we may regard space and air also as physical. In fact, they are regarded as physical, but a comparison is made between the two degrees of manifestation of Brahman here as comparatively subtler, more immortal and comparatively grosser or mortal. The subtler aspect which is space and air is supposed to influence the subtle body in us which is the realm of the activity of the mind and the senses and the vital forces. The subtle essence, immortal, is the Puruṣha within the eye, Consciousness beaming forth in perception, comparable to the divinity in the sun, above. There is, therefore, a correspondence between the outer universe and the inner world, the macrocosm, or the Brahmanda, and the inner world or the Pinḍānda.  

  1. tasya haitasya puruṣasya rūpam yathā māhārajanaṁ vāsaḥ, yathā pāṇḍv-āvikam, yathendragopaḥ, yathāgnyarciḥ, yathā puṇḍarīkam, yathā sakṛd-vidyuttam; sakṛd-vidyutteva ha vā asya śrīr bhavati, ya evaṁ veda. athāta ādeśaḥ na iti na iti, na hy etasmād iti, na ity anyat param asti; atha nāma-dheyaṁ satyasya satyam iti. prāṇā vai satyam, teṣām eṣa satyam.

Tasya haitasya puruṣasya rūpam: This Puruṣha within us manifests himself in the subtle body as various colours. Now, these colours mentioned here actually represent the various types of impressions out of which the subtle body is made. It is difficult to distinguish between the impressions of the mind and the constitution of the subtle body. Well, something like the threads and the cloth which are related to each other, the mental impressions and the subtle body are related. The whole range of activity of the mind is what is called the subtle body, like the magnet field of a electromagnetic installation. It is not a substance in the ordinary sense; it is a limitation set upon the mind by its own activities in the form of impressions of experience. They are compared to colours because they are constituted of the three Gunas of Prakṛiti – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is generally said to be white, Rajas reddish, and Tamas is black. And by mutual permutation and combination of these three properties, we can have other colours also. So, the subtle body is a mixture of these three Gunas in various intensities or degrees, on account of the difference in the intensity of the thoughts of the mind, the feelings of the mind and the impressions created by mental activity. Tasya haitasya puruṣasya rūpam: Of this internal Puruṣha which is the subtle body, there are various colours as if it is turmeric – yathā māhārajanaṁ vāsaḥ. What is the colour of cloth dipped in turmeric water? Sometimes it looks as if it is yellowish. Yathā pāṇḍv-āvikam: Sometimes it looks greyish like grey wool cut from sheep's body. Yathendragopaḥ: Sometimes it looks reddish like an insect. Indragopa is a peculiar kind of insect which has a reddish body. Sometimes it is like luminous flame of fire – yathāgnyarciḥ. Sometimes it is apparently very tender looking and whitish like the lotus flower – yathā puṇḍarīkam. Sometimes it flashes forth like lightening – yathā sakṛd-vidyuttam. Sakṛd-vidyutteva ha vā asya śrīr bhavati, ya evaṁ veda: One who meditates on the inner constitution of the subtle body, internally in one's own self and externally in the cosmos, in this manner as constituted of the five elements outwardly and presided over by a divinity internally; one who practises this Upāsanā or meditation in this manner, bringing about a harmony between the outer and the inner, in fact constituting one's meditation as a contemplation on the whole cosmos at one stroke, both outwardly and inwardly, to such a person the following result accrues. Asya śrīr bhavati: His glory becomes lustrous like the flash lightning. Sakṛd-vidyutteva ha vā asya śrīr bhavati: The magnificence of this meditator becomes glorious and luminous, lustrous, shining like lightning itself. Ya evaṁ veda: One who knows this as the result in experience. Athāta ādeśaḥ na iti na iti, na hy etasmād iti, na ity anyat param asti; atha nāma-dheyaṁ satyasya satyam iti. prāṇā vai satyam, teṣām eṣa satyam: What can we say about this glory? What can we speak of in respect of this great Reality which appears outwardly as that and inwardly this, which manifests itself as the five elements grossly as well as subtly, except that it is not anything that is conceivable to the mind or visible to the senses – neti, neti. It is not anything that is graspable either by the understanding or by the sense apparatus. Therefore, it is 'not this', 'not anything' that one can think of. It has no other definition except in this manner as has been put forth in this passage of the Upaniṣhad. Its name is a secret. What is its name? It is the Truth of truth, Reality of reality, Being of being. It is the Soul of soul; it is the Self transcendent to the self. Prāṇā vai satyam, teṣām eṣa satyam: The individual self, of course, is real; anything connected with the individual self also is real. But, this is more real than the individual selves, more real than the mind and the understanding and the Prāṇas and the senses. It is the ultimate Reality; it is the Supreme Being; it is absolutely Real, while others are only tentatively real, workably real and real only from a utilitarian point of view. So, this is a meditation, a means of spiritual at-one-ment.