A- A+

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


In all principles which guide human life, there are two aspects known as the 'exoteric' and the 'esoteric'. The formal routine of daily life is mostly guided by what we call the exoteric principles which have a working value and a validity within the realm of human action. In this sense, we may say that the values which are called exoteric are relative, inasmuch as every activity in human life is relative to circumstances. Hence, they do not have eternal value, and they will not be valid persistently under every condition in the vicissitudes of time. This principle which is exoteric, by which what we mean is the outward relative principle of life, becomes, tentatively, the guiding line of action, notwithstanding the fact that even this relative principle of exoteric life changes itself according to the subsidiary changes with which human life has to adjust itself. For instance, human history in its totality can be regarded as a process of exoteric value; but within this exoteric relativity of human history, there are internal changes and subsidiary modifications, calling for further adjustments, internally, as can be observed through the march of history. We adjust ourselves from day to day in different ways. Every day we may have to call for a new mode of adjustment in our practical life, suited to the changing conditions of different days, though all days are guided by the exoteric principles throughout the history of the cosmos. So, when we speak of the exoteric principles of life we actually mean two things at the same time the law that operates universally upon every human being, right from creation till the dissolution of the universe, as well as the minor adjustments which are called for in the daily life of the individual from minute to minute, from second to second. So, this is a very significant word the exoteric principle. It has meanings and meanings within it, but all these are comprehended within a single meaning, namely, the principle of the outward mode of behaviour, conduct and action.

This principle is seen applied even in the religions of the world, so that we have several exoteric religions. The religions, as they are known to us, the 'isms', as we call them, are exoteric religions, because they are modes of religious conduct, action and behaviour. The temple-worships, the church-goings and the performance of rites and the Mass, the reading of the scriptures, and the ritual celebrations, and whatnot all these come under the exoteric aspects of religion, so that whatever we do religiously from a practical point of view, comes under exotericism, because it is a mode of external behaviour.

But this exoteric mode of living, religious or secular, is based on another principle which is known as the esoteric value of life, because there must be some rationality behind our conduct in life, whatever be that conduct, religious or otherwise. Why do we go to the temple? Why do we have to go to the church? Why do we worship any god? Why should there be any kind of attitude at all? This is because there is a fundamental rock-bottom of deciding factor, though it always happens to be inside and never comes outside to the vision of the human eye. The principle of ultimate law is always invisible, though its activity can be seen in outward life. When law acts, we can see how it acts; but law, by itself, cannot be seen with the eyes. It is a general impersonal principle. This impersonal general principle of living which is not subject to the changes of time and which is permanently of a set value is known as the esoteric principle of life. And we have, thus, the aspects of exotericism and esotericism, both in religious and secular life, which means to say, there is an internal, secret, guiding principle, as well as an outward manifestation of it in every aspect of life.

Now, primarily at present, we are concerned with a very important subject the principle of life which can guide every individual, whether of the East or the West, North or South, of today or tomorrow, under every condition. Is there such a principle? We have in the Dharma-Śāstras, or the law codes and ethical mandates, mention made of Dharma, known as Sāmānya-Dharma and the Viśeṣha-Dharma. Dharma means a principle of behaviour and action, a law, a regulation, a rule. And it is Sāmānya or Viśeṣha, i.e., general as well as particular. The general Dharma or the generally applicable principle of life upon every individual is called Sāmānya-Dharma, but that which varies from individual to individual, from one class to another class etc. is the Viśeṣha-Dharma, which we need not dilate upon here, as it is not concerned with our present theme.

The laws of life are esoteric and exoteric, even as they are general and particular. All these divisions of law and principle are manifestation of an inviolable principle, that is, the ultimate principle of life which is impossible to grasp easily, inasmuch as our intellects, our minds, our total personalities are all involved in certain conditions of living. We cannot extricate our personalities from the circumstances in which we are involved. We cannot judge things, understand things or behave in a manner which is not conditioned by our atmosphere. Hence, it is impossible for ordinary human beings to appreciate what the ultimate principle of life is, because to understand this ultimate principle, one has to stand above conditions and circumstances, which is practically impossible for people. How can we stand above conditions and circumstances? We have the summer condition; we have the winter condition; we have the hunger condition; we have the thirsty condition; we have the sick condition; we have the healthy condition; we have the male condition; we have the female condition; we have the white condition; we have the black condition; we have the happy condition; we have the unhappy condition; and so on. So we are involved in millions and millions of conditions, and to stand above them is almost an impossibility. It is a superhuman task; and thus, the ultimate principle of existence cannot be known; and any judgment that we pass, any understanding that we project from our intellects has naturally to be conditioned. The conditions reflect the character of the unconditioned, which is a saving factor, though it is true that we are all conditioned and the unconditioned cannot easily be known. One solacing principle that is available to us is that the invisible and the impersonal principle of life, though it is impossible of grasp by conditioned intellects, casts certain reflections upon every condition in life and it is seen to be working in me, in you and in everyone under every circumstance. So, it is possible for us to reach the impersonal and the ultimate principle of life through the conditions, the circumstances and the vicissitudes. The esoteric can be known through the exoteric. The Superindividual can be reached through the individual, and conditions can be broken and the unconditioned can be reached.

This was the great theme of discussion in ancient times, recorded in the Vedas and Upaniṣhads, and masters and sages sat together in congregation, and discussed the problems of life, of here and hereafter. What is life? What is this world, and what is our duty? What are we expected to do and in what way are we to behave, and so on. Is there a life beyond, or is this life everything? Is this earth the evaluating principle of all, or is there something beyond? These questions were discussed in great detail through centuries, right from the time of the Vedas.

We have, in India particularly, a series of records available of such discussions of ancient masters, which are given to us today in the form of what we call the Veda-Rāśi, or the lore of sacred wisdom, normally known as the Vedas. It is a book of wisdom or we may call it a group of books of wisdom records of such discussions, findings, realisations and experiences of various experts who tried to dive into the depths of 'being' and brought out the pearl from the ocean of existence, and proclaimed to humanity the value of it, and the meaning of it to everyone.

The Veda-Śāstra is classified into the exoteric and the esoteric, as in the case of every religious lore. We have this distinction in Christianity, in Islam, and everywhere: the outward religion and the mystical approach to Truth. The Vedas are a general term for this entire group of scriptures which discuss by a long range of development of thought, every approach to Reality possible, from the lowest to the highest. These layers of approach, recorded in the Vedas, are available to us in the groupings, today known as the Samhitas, the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣhads. These are terms known to many of us, and we know very well that the Samhita portion of the Veda is constituted of hymns and prayers to deities, transcendent powers, spiritual forces, which guide the configurations in the form of bodies and created beings. They are the summonings of the soul in terms of the higher spirits which were felt to be present in the depths of contemplation, and visions of various kinds. These hymns, known as the Samhitas in the Veda, could be applied for two purposes for meditation, as well as for ritual. When they become instruments of meditation or contemplation, they are the contents of what are known as the Āraṇyakas; and when they become the guidelines for action, ritual and sacrifice and worship, they are called the Brāhmaṇas. So there are two further developments in the religious path of the Veda, known as the Brāhmaṇas and the Āraṇyakas, developed from the Samhitas, branching forth in two different directions, as it were contemplation and action. But there was a time when the peak of experience spiritual, culminated in a blend of both these approaches, in what are known as the Upaniṣhads; and the Upaniṣhads represent the quintessence of thought, the essence that is drawn out from the Veda knowledge, and the honey that is sucked, as it were, from the body of wisdom Samhita, Brāhmaṇa and āraṇyaka – not representing conditioned life merely, but reaching up to the utmost of effort to discover the nature of unconditioned existence.

The seers of the Upaniṣhads were bent upon entering into the kernel of Reality by casting off all vestures which limit human life, and attaining a kind of attunement with it, if necessity arose, and the unconditioned was plumbed and experienced. So, in a way, we may say that the Upaniṣhad texts are records of experiences and explanations of Masters who set themselves in tune with ultimate Truth. Such are the Upaniṣhads. It is a very strange word, 'Upaniṣhad', which is supposed to mean a secret knowledge, not to be imparted to the uninitiated or to the common public who are wedded to the exoteric approach only, who are totally conditioned in their life, and who cannot rise above the bias of sense life and social regulations. Hence the Upaniṣhad wisdom was kept very secret. It was never imparted to anyone except the near disciples who went to the Masters for training and underwent discipline for a protracted number of years, and made themselves fit to receive this knowledge which is unconditional. That was the greatness of it, and that was also the danger of it, because it is unconditioned.

The Upaniṣhads, therefore, are mystical revelations, secret wisdom; and, as the word itself denotes, they are supposed to be listened to, heard about, or learnt from a Master by one's being seated in front of him, beside him, near him U pa,ni,had. When the word splits, it is split into its components, and it is supposed to be the meaning of a knowledge that is secretly obtained from a Master by being seated near him in holy reverence and obedience. 'Sit near' – that is the literal meaning of the term, Upaniṣhad. Sit near the Guru, the Master, and receive the wisdom by attunement, at-one-ment of being. This is the peculiarity of Upaniṣhad knowledge. It is not like science or art or any other exoteric learning that we can have in a College or a University. It is not a lecture that is delivered, but a wisdom that is communicated to the soul by the soul. That is the speciality of the Upaniṣhad wisdom. It is a conversation between soul and soul, and not merely a discourse given by a professor to the students in a College. That is the speciality of the Upaniṣhad wisdom. It is a light that is to mingle with another light. Hence, the Upaniṣhads were kept as greatly guarded secrets.

The texts, known as the Upaniṣhads, are spread out throughout the range of the literature of the Veda, and each section of the Veda has its own Upaniṣhad or Upaniṣhads. We are proposing to take up the study of the most important of them, very rarely studied by people and very rarely still discussed about – the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad – the great forest of knowledge, as its name suggests. One can find everything there, as one finds in a forest. This Upaniṣhad, particularly, is never studied by students, nor is it taught by tutors, because of its complicated structure, difficult to grasp, and not safe also to communicate if its import is not properly rendered. If its meaning is properly grasped, it would be the ultimate, unfailing friend of a person, till death. It will guard you, protect you and save you, and provide you with everything, at all times. But, if it is not properly understood, it can be a sword in the hands of a child. So is this Upaniṣhad to be studied with great reverence and holiness of attitude, not as a mere book that you study from the library. It is not a book at all. It is Spirit that manifests itself in language, not merely a word that is spoken. Such is this Upaniṣhad, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad.

This Upaniṣhad, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, which we are trying to study, is a very lengthy text, ranging from thought to thought, in various stages of development; and I have particularly found that it is something like a very elaborate commentary on one of the Master-hymns of the Veda, that is, the Puruṣha-Sūkta. Some others have thought that it is an exposition of the principles of the Isavasya Upaniṣhad. It may be that they are right. But I, in my own humble way, tried to discover another meaning in it when I studied it and contemplated upon it – that it is a vast body of exposition of the inner significance of the Puruṣha-Sūkta and, perhaps, also, of the Nāsadīya-Sūkta, where the Cosmic Person is described, and creation hailed, about which we shall be studying, shortly, stage by stage.

The Upaniṣhad begins with a startling exposition of the very methodology of living adopted in our country. As I tried to mention to you, the method of the Upaniṣhad is secret, esoteric and intended to go into the meaning of action which is otherwise exoteric. I have also mentioned that the Veda has an aspect, namely, the ritual aspect, the aspect of sacrifice, performance of religious ceremony by the application of the Mantras of the Samhitas, as expounded in the section known as the Brāhmaṇas. The Āraṇyakas go to the contemplated side of the Brāhmaṇas, and tell us that a sacrifice need not necessarily be outward; it can also be inward; and the inward is as powerful as the outward. It can even be more powerful than the outward. The ritual that is performed by the mind, say the Āraṇyakas, is more puissant in the production of effect than the ritual that is outwardly performed through the sacred fire, or in the holy altar. The entire range of the Āraṇyakas is filled with this meaning, that mental action is a greater action than outward action. Its capacity is greater than external activity. Thought is more potent than word and deed. This principle is carried to its logical limit in the Upaniṣhads.

If thought is more potent than action, there may be something more potent than even thought; greater than thought, and more powerful than thought, which can explore even the content of thought itself. If action is superseded by thought, thought is superseded by 'being'. So, we go to the Upaniṣhads where the principle of 'being' is expounded as transcendent even to the operations of thought, which, otherwise, are superior to all action outside. The range of the Upaniṣhads, expounding the character of 'being' as transcendent to thought of every type, is very wide, and no one can understand a Upaniṣhad unless one understands what 'being' is. We cannot even know what thought is, far from knowing what 'being' is. We can know how we think at a particular time, but we cannot know exactly what mind is, what thought is, where it is situated, and how it acts. The reason is that what we call the mind or thought is involved in a process. Inasmuch as it is involved in a process or transition, it becomes difficult of exposition and investigation. And what are the processes in which thought, or the mind, is involved? Everything that we call outward life in that the mind is involved. We always think in terms of some thing. That something is what we call life, or at least an aspect of life. Since every thought is an involvement in a particular aspect of outward existence, thought never finds time to understand itself. Thought never thinks itself; it always thinks others. We never see at any time our own mind contemplating its own self. It always contemplates other persons, other things and other aspects of life. There is a peculiar proclivity of thought by which it rushes outward into the objects of sensual life, externally, into persons and things, and never can know what it is itself. How can the mind know what another thing is when it cannot know what it itself is? If you cannot know what you are, how can you know what others are? But this is life a great confusion and a mess and a conglomeration of involvements in the objects of sense. This is called Samsāra, the aberration of consciousness in spatio-temporal externality.

We are to free ourselves from this mess of involvement, through a deeper diagnostic technique applied to our own life; and this is the purpose of Upaniṣhad. The difficulty of this achievement is well-known. Every one of you knows what this difficulty is. Just as you cannot peel your own skin from the body, you cannot dissociate yourself from the conditions of life. But such a feat has to be performed in this superpsychic technique known as Upaniṣhadic contemplation of 'being'.

The beginning of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad is, thus, a rise of thought into the inward principles of outward sacrifice as advocated in the Brāhmaṇas of the Vedas: What is a sacrifice; what is a ritual; what is a performance; and what is an action? When this is understood in its principle, its inward significance, it becomes commensurate with human thought; it becomes inseparable from mind; it becomes a part of one's psychic life. You will find, on a careful investigation of the matter, that anything that you do is involved in a process of thought. It may be a religious ritual or a worship, a performance or a sacrifice, or it may be a secular deed it makes no difference. It is mind that is working in a particular fashion; that is all, and nothing more, nothing less. So, unless the mind in its essentiality is probed into, human action is not understood. The Upaniṣhad is a revelation of the inner principles of life as manifest in actions of a variegated nature. The ritual of the Brāhmaṇas is contemplated in the Upaniṣhads. The Vedic sacrifice, or, for the matter of that, any kind of religious performance, is a symbol, ultimately, which is the point of departure in all esoteric approaches to religion. External religion is symbolic of an internal principle which is true religion, towards which the Upaniṣhad drives our minds. This departure is to be found in every religion in the world. The symbolic character of human activity and religious performance is brought out in a study of esoteric principles, which is the philosophy of life. The activities of human life are symbolic in the sense that they are not representative of the whole Truth, but manifest only certain aspects of Truth. Every action is involved in cosmic relations of which very few are brought to the surface of one's notice when the action is really performed. We always think that an action is motivated by an individual or a group of individuals towards a particular relative end which is visible to the eye and conceivable by the mind, but never do we imagine for a moment that there can be farther reaches of the tentacles of this action, beyond the reach of the human eye and mind and our little action can really be a cosmic deed, that God can see what we do, and the whole universe can vibrate with the little word that difficult thing for us to understand; and the Upaniṣhad explains it to bring to the purview of our consciousness these inward secrets of outward action, telling us that the outward sacrifice is symbolic of an inward contemplation of Universal Reality.

The Upaniṣhads are embodiments of different types of contemplation on Ultimate Truth, and so is the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad. The beginning of the Upaniṣhad is a contemplation of the inward meaning of a great sacrifice described in the Brāhmaṇas, known as Aśvamedha Yajña. It is an external performance of a religious character for the purpose of achieving higher results in the form of celestial enjoyment, etc., but, the Upaniṣhad tells us that the proper approach to the aims of human life, such as ultimate satisfaction, delight, etc., need not be the method of the Brāhmaṇas, which is only symbolic, and there should be a technique more affiliated to the nature of Reality than is the external action of the Brāhmaṇas. The sacrifice known as the Aśvamedha signifies the consecration of a horse in a large ritual performance, mostly undertaken by princes and kings in ancient times for the purpose of name, fame etc. in this world and heavenly exaltation hereafter. The Upaniṣhad however, tells us that its meaning is something quite different and more profound. What we see with our eyes and what we do with our deeds are indicative of a deeper aspiration in our minds, and what we actually seek is not pleasure, not satisfaction in the ordinary sense, not power, not name or fame, because all these are transient and tantalising.

Everything passes away; nothing in the world can last. Everything shall end, one day or other. What are these joys in heaven? What is this power this world? What is this name and status? They are mirages; they are nothing but husk, because they pass like the wisp of wind. And how is it possible for the soul to ask for that which is perishable and vanishes the next moment? Will any wise person crave for a perishable joy? How could anyone engage oneself in activities, performances, religious or otherwise, which are capable of promising only apparent joys, which rob us of all our strength and then land us in sorrow most unconceivable? What is the real aspiration of the soul of the individual? What is it that it really needs? What is it that it hungers for? It is difficult to answer this question. The child cannot answer the question, 'What do you need?' 'I want a sweetmeat, a sugar candy, a toy.' What else can the child say? Such seems to be the reply of the untutored mind, the illiterate soul, sunk in the darkness of ignorance which speaks in terms of name, fame, power, wealth, rejoicing, diversion, gain, pleasures whether they are real and lasting, or not, it cares not. It asks for pleasure, which shall end in a complication from which it is difficult for one to free oneself.

The Upaniṣhad promises us a freedom which is above the turmoil of all earthly existence. It can make us happy perennially under every condition, even after death, not merely in this life. In fact, the Upaniṣhad assures us that death is not a bar and not a fear. There is no such thing as death as we think of it. Death is another kind of process which is intended for the training of the soul in its march to a greater perfection; and perfection is what we seek, not pleasure. This is what the Upaniṣhads teach us; that is what the Bṛhadāraṇyaka contemplates in vast detail.

The knowledge proclaimed in the Upaniṣhad is a science which deals with the removal of sorrow. Thus, it is a knowledge which is different in kind from the learning that we usually acquire or the knowledge that we gain in respect of the things of the world. It is not a science in the ordinary sense of the term. While there are sciences and arts of various kinds, all of which are important enough, and wonderful in their own way, they cannot remove sorrow from the human heart, root and branch. They contribute to the satisfaction of a particular individual, placed in a particular constitution, in a particular type of incarnation, but they do not go to the soul of the person concerned. In the sense of the science of the soul, the Upaniṣhad is also called ātma-Vidyā or Adhyātma-Vidyā. It is different from other Vidyās or learnings like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc., because all these latter pertain to objects of sense, the perceived world. Adhyātma-Vidyā, or the science of the Self, pertains not so much to the object-world which is the field of the operation of the senses, as the Subject which is the ultimate conditioning principle of every perception of every kind. The objects that are perceived by the senses are conditioned by the processes of perception, and the very process of perception is determined by the nature of the perceiver, and so it is important that the nature of the perceiver is known directly; because when the perceiver is known, everything connected with the perceiver also is known. If, fortunately for us, the objects that are perceived are in some way determined wholly by the character of the perceiver, the knowledge of the Self would be the knowledge of the whole cosmos. Towards this end, the Upaniṣhad takes us by hand, gradually.

The grief of the mind, the sorrow of the individual is not brought about by outer circumstances. This is a very important lesson we learn from the Upaniṣhad. We do not suffer by incidents that take place outside. We suffer on account of a maladjustment of our personality with the conditions of life, and the knowledge of this fact is supernatural and super-sensual. What has happened to us cannot be known by us, because it has happened to 'us' and not to somebody else. We cannot know what has happened to others because we cannot know what has happened to us, for who is to know our own selves? This is the crux of the whole matter, towards which the Upaniṣhad is to take us.

The Upaniṣhad, to reiterate, is the science of the Self, studied not for the sake of a diversion of the intellect or a satisfaction of the understanding, but for freedom of the spirit and removal of sorrow, utterly. The Adhyātma-Vidyā about which we hear so much in fields of spiritual living is not 'a kind' of Vidyā, just one of the branches of learning, but the Mother of all the branches of learning, including every other learning that can be conceived of in this world of sense, understanding and social living.

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, particularly, attempts to explain the various processes of bondage and liberation. It tells us how we are bound and how we are to get free; and it goes to the very cause ultimate, of the bondage of the soul. Our bondage is not merely physical or social. It is a more deep-rooted condition which has been annoying us through centuries and through our repeated births and deaths. Anything that we do in the outer world does not seem to be an adequate remedy for this sorrow of ours, because the sorrow has not come from outside. We can have a bungalow to prevent us from suffering from rain and sun and wind; we can have daily food to eat; we can have very happy and friendly social relationships; but we can also die one day, even with all these facilities. Nobody can free us from this fear. This is the greatest sorrow of the human being, that he has apparently everything but there is some secret sorrow of his which can swallow up every other satisfaction – that death can catch hold of a person, and no one can save him then.

What is this dependence of the individual on a circumstance over which no one has control; and why does death come, why is that sorrow? Why is there any kind of inadequacy felt in life at all. This is the subject of analysis and study in the Upaniṣhad, for the purpose of bringing to our own self a knowledge which is not a learning or information about things, but an enlightenment about our own self. It is again to be repeated that this enlightenment is not about any other person or object, but about our own self. It is an understanding of oneself, an enlightenment of oneself, an illumination of oneself; and when this illumination takes place, it is expected that everything connected with the self also gets illumined automatically.

The bondage of the self is intrinsically involved in the structure of the individual. We bring sorrow with us even when our birth takes place; and it is often said that we bring our death also together with our birth. The meaning is that all experiences – joys, sorrows, including our last moment of life all these are a fructification of circumstances with which we are born from the mother's womb. We are born under certain conditions, and they are the seeds of what will follow later, so that the entire life of ours may be said to be an unfoldment of that which is present in a seed-form at the time of our birth. We do not pass through newer and newer experiences unexpectedly, as it were, but they are all expected things only. Every experience in life is expected, as a corollary is expected from a theorem in mathematics. It follows; it has to naturally follow, logically, from the principle enunciated. Likewise, the experiences of life are natural phenomena that follow logically from the circumstances under which we are born. And these circumstances which seem to be powerful enough to condition our future are again the consequence of certain antecedents, and so on. There is, thus, a vicious circle, as it were, in which we are caught up, so that we cannot know which is the cause and which is the effect of any event or experience.

This vicious circle of suffering is Samsāra, the sorrow of the soul, and it cannot free itself from this sorrow by merely undergoing experiences through births and deaths, because the experiences in life, the sorrows and the joys, whatever they be, are powers which come out automatically from the nature of individual existence, and unless this character of existence as the individual is studied, its sorrow cannot be diagnosed, or eradicated.

The knowledge that is of the Upaniṣhad is thus inseparable from the 'being' of the self. This is the characteristic difference of the Upaniṣhadic wisdom, the Adhyātma-Vidyā. It is not a knowledge that one acquires 'about' a thing, but it is knowledge which is inseparable from the very 'being' of him who owns this knowledge. It is knowledge of Reality, Satta-Sāmānya, as it is sometimes called General Existence. Knowledge of Existence itself is the knowledge announced in the Upaniṣhad.  It is not knowledge of any person, an object or the structural pattern of anything. It is a knowledge of 'being'. It is a Consciousness of Existence which is going to be the freedom of the spirit. It is in this sense, perhaps, that we call the ultimate Reality as Satchidanānda-Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. It is a Consciousness of ultimate Existence which is at once Freedom and Bliss. It is not a definition of any person or individual form. The nature of Satchidanānda about which we have heard so much, is not a definition of any particular condition of life. It is not also a description of the happiness of the human mind. It is not a future condition that we are going to enter. It is a description of Eternity itself where 'being' and 'knowledge of being' become one and the same, where there are no sufferings, obviously. We cannot separate our own consciousness from the consciousness of our 'being', for instance. We are, and we are also aware that we are. Our awareness that we are cannot be isolated from the fact of our 'being'. Our 'being' and the knowledge of our 'being' are inseparable, so that 'knowledge' is 'being'. This is the type of knowledge that the Upaniṣhad promises to give us. It is, thus, something unique. Towards this end the Upaniṣhad, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka girds up its loins.

In the beginning, there is an attempt to describe the Aśvamedha Sacrifice by identifying the consecrated horse with the universe as a whole. The creation of the universe may be compared to a sacrifice which is symbolically performed by a ceremony through rituals; and when it is contemplated it becomes an attunement of consciousness with the ultimate nature of creation. This, in outline, is the description of the process of creation. The forms, names and phenomena which we see and pass through, are a reversal of the nature of Reality, a reflection, as it were, of the Original through some medium, so that we see everything topsy-turvy and never as it really is. This is a fact which escapes our notice often, that we can see a thing and yet it can be upside down in all the features presented to the perceiving senses. Though we may be seeing the object, we may not visualise it properly. Thus, any achievement in this world of sense-perceptions may not be regarded as an ultimate acquisition, even as a collection of many reflections in a basket is not equal to the acquirement of anything substantially.

The description of the creative process, afforded in the Upaniṣhad, in its First Chapter, is very grand and comprehensive. The exposition has some resemblance to the Puruṣha-Sūkta of the Veda, where the Cosmic Sacrifice, which is creation, is said to evolve gradually, stage by stage, and touch every aspect of the universe, animate as well as inanimate. Not only the animate and inanimate existences, but also social organisations and human activities – all these are comprehended in this process of manifestation we call creation.

We have, then, a very pertinent point expounded of a similar nature where the character of sense-perception is described, in the analysis of which we are interestingly told that there is a complete reversal of the order of Reality in all types of sense-perception. The cart is put before the horse whenever we see anything with our eyes, so that we are in a world of confusion, misunderstanding, and, therefore, necessarily, sorrow. Where the understanding is insufficient, sorrow has to come automatically. The senses do not perceive the world correctly. This is what is made out subsequent to the description of the creation of the universe, and this description is symbolic in its nature, like a story which goes, but its essence is simple enough to understand; that, as we see our face in a mirror, where the right is seen as left and the left as right, the thing is not contacted in its reality. There is a right and left reversal, as it were, in the perception of things, and the object which we cognise or perceive is really not in its proper context or position in the scheme of things. We are wrongly apprehending it as an object 'outside', while what has really happened in perception is something different. The object of sense-perception is the Ultimate Subject really, and we erroneously regard it as an 'object'. How it is the Subject, and how it is not the object, we shall see when we study this section as we come to it. The objects of perception are really subjects, says the Upaniṣhad, and this is the mistake that we make – the non-recognition of subjectivity even in what is regarded as an object.

Then we have, as the Upaniṣhad proceeds, the subsequent outcome of this principal exposition in the First Chapter, namely, the Second Chapter, where we are not told anything new. It is only an elaboration of the principle which is precisely stated in the earlier one. As a matter of fact, the main content of the Upaniṣhad is in the First, the Third and the Fourth Chapters. The Second is a secondary elaboration, and the Fifth and the Sixth are like an appendix and are not of much importance from the point of view of philosophical study, though they are very significant in one's practice of higher meditations. The central portion of the Upaniṣhad is in the First, Third and the Fourth Chapters, which contain the peak of human thought, and offer an exposition of the highest philosophy the human mind has ever conceived. The discussions that take place in the court of King Janaka, under the leadership of Sage Yājñavalkya, touch upon almost every subject relevant in spiritual life, all following a graduated technique of development of thought from the lower to the higher until the highest Universal is reached. The outward is described first, the inward afterwards, and the Universal finally. This is the system followed in this Upaniṣhad, especially in the central portion, the Third and the Fourth Chapters. This is precisely the way in which we have to approach things. The outward, the inward and the ultimate follow logically in the course of study. Though from the point of view of the evolutionary process or the chronological order of the descent of the individual from the Universal, we may say that the outward is the last and the inward is the intermediary link, the Universal being the first, yet, in our studies we would profitably go from the lower to the higher. We should not jump from the higher to the lower, because the higher is not known to us when the lower is not transcended. The lower can be seen and apprehended in a certain way, to the extent it has become the content of one's direct consciousness. So it is better to follow the inductive method of logic, in some sense, so that we proceed from more acquainted things towards less acquainted things, from particulars to generals, from the visible to the invisible, from the sense-world to the rational realm and then to the spiritual field. This is the methodology of the Upaniṣhad, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka particularly, in the central portion; and it concludes with the grandest proclamation ever made, in the conversation between Yājñavalkya and his consort Maitreyī, known as the Maitreyī-Vidyā, popularly, where a staggering description of the Reality is given to us. Perhaps, the discourses of Yājñavalkya are incomparable in literary beauty combined with profundity of thought.

This is to give a bare outline of how thoughts are developed in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad. We shall take up the study of the First Chapter in its proper order and consider, as the tradition goes, the meaning of the invocatory verse: Ōm pūrṇam adah, pūrṇam idam, pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate; pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvasisyate: 'That is Infinite, this is Infinite; from the Infinite does proceed the Infinite. On removing the Infinite from the Infinite, the Infinite alone remains.' This is the chant of invocation which is recited at the beginning of this Upaniṣhad. It is also chanted at the end of the study. This is the tradition. And this Mantra, this chant, occurs in the Upaniṣhad itself, a very interesting piece, which rounds up and piles infinities over infinities in a little recitation. Infinity plus Infinity is Infinity. It does not mean, then, two Infinities. Infinity minus Infinity is Infinity only; it does not mean zero. And Infinity divided by Infinity is Infinity, again. There is no mathematics of the empirical type or the geometry of space-time in the Infinite realm. The Infinite is incapable of logical understanding, because mathematics and logic are inter-related they are sister sciences. The invocatory chant tells that the Infinite alone is; and all this creation that has come from the Infinite is also Infinite. It is a wonder how the Infinite can come from the Infinite. That process of coming, also, is Infinite; and if this Infinite that is this creation is supposed to be the outcome of the Infinite which is the cause, and if we suppose, in a human fashion, that the Infinite has been taken away from the Infinite by way of creation, the answer is that what remains after creation, also, is the Infinite. This is another way of saying that there is no creation at all, but we cannot be told this truth suddenly, since we see creation with our eyes. So, by a process of reductio ad absurdum, as we have it in geometry, the conclusion is arrived at that the Infinite cannot move and does not move, and therefore there is no evolution or involution within it. The perception of the evolutionary process and the act of creation is relative to the condition of the individual, which fact cannot be enquired into unless one transcends individuality. The difficulty of knowing this secret lies in that the effect cannot know the cause. The enquiry into the Infinite is like trying to climb on one's own shoulders, which cannot be done, because the enquirer into the Infinite is an effect or, at least, stands in the position of an effect. The effect is conditioned by many factors, and unless these factors are known, that which transcends the factors cannot also be known. We cannot go behind the veil which covers our eyes, the veil of conditioned perception. The Infinite, the Reality, cannot be visualised by the apparatus of human understanding, because of the conditioning categories limiting human understanding. Mathematical and logical understanding are conditioned by the assumption of a three-dimensional space and a one-dimensional time. We cannot escape these hypotheses. Space is three-dimensional; it cannot be one-dimensional. And time moves in a linear fashion from past to future. This is how we think, and we cannot think in any other way, whether or not this is the only possible way of thinking. These limitations of thought prevent us from knowing what is the Infinite. Therefore, it is only an appropriate symbol that can explain what has really happened, not logic. Ultimately, all mystical expositions are symbolic; they are not just logical, and cannot be conveyed by argument, but they can be communicated in some way by image, art and story, and such media which touch the soul better than logic or mathematics. Thus, in this symbolic fashion, the chant tells us that the Infinite rolls within itself, and this rolling process also is the Infinite itself, like the ocean rumbling within itself, and even the rumbling is the ocean alone. So, the Infinite is, and everything is said when we say this, and nothing more can be said – pūrṇamadah, pūrṇamidam: Know it as 'That which is', and say not anything more. Any attribute or adjective that we add to it is only going to diminish its connotation and not add to its glory. Say that 'It is', and enough is it. Such is the Infinite. The Infinite was, the Infinite is, and the Infinite shall be; nothing else can ever be.

Ōm Śāntih! Śāntih! Śāntih – 'Om! Peace, Peace, Peace'. We always recite this peace chant three times, indicating that there should be peace in the three realms, or in three ways, or freedom from the three sources of trouble. We have three principal kinds of trouble, and all these three are to cease and peace is to prevail. We have trouble from within; trouble from without; and trouble from above. This threefold problem is known as Tāpatraya. If there is a heavy flood, or there is an earthquake, a thunderbolt, or a destruction of this kind caused by factors beyond human range, such catastrophe is referred to as supernatural ādhidaivika-Tāpa. When troubles come from outside, as those from animals, reptiles, wicked persons, etc., they are known as ādhibhautika-Tāpa. When troubles come from inside, such as illness, sorrow born of mental confusion, and the like, they go by the name, ādhyātmika-Tāpa. They merely appear to be three, from outside. There is a threefold appearance of a single problem, and it cannot be solved by any amount of intellectual logic, because it is ingrained in the very being of the individual. May the Vidyā, the Wisdom of the Upaniṣhad bring peace by causing the cessation of this threefold sorrow. May there be Peace everywhere.

The Upaniṣhad proper begins with the contemplation of the sacrifice, Aśvamedha. The Veda, in the hymn called the Puruṣha-Sūkta, contemplates the Universe as a vast Sacrifice of God. Creation is an 'othering' or self-alienation of the Absolute, as it were. Here is a symbolic concept of the Original Sacrifice. The Puruṣha, the Supreme Being, became an 'other' to Himself in the act of the manifestation of the Universe. But, the Supreme was 'as if' an 'other', but not truly, for He, nevertheless remained as the Absolute, Self-Conscious Being, and He knew Himself as 'I-am'. Even in the Biblical parlance we have the description of God as 'I-am-That-I-am'. One cannot say anything else about God. 'I-Am' is the highest description of God, but the Absolute is supposed to be transcendent even to this condition of 'I-amness' of the Universal Nature, because the state of 'I-am' is Self-consciousness, though it is Universal. So, in the phraseology of the Vedānta, a distinction is drawn between this Universal 'I-am' condition and the Absolute as it is, the distinction between Brahman and Īshvara, spoken of in this philosophy.

The Cosmic Sacrifice of the Puruṣha-Sūkta is an indication to us of the way in which a ritual can become a spiritual meditation, or a spiritual meditation itself can be interpreted as a magnificent ritual. The Brāhmaṇas of the Veda, ritual-ridden as they have been, are brought to a point of contemplative apotheosis in the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣhads, and here it is that every kind of action is identified with a form of sacrifice, and action made a part of inward contemplation, so that action becomes a process of thought, rather than a movement of the limbs of the body. Every activity is a psychological function; it is not just a physical process. This is what we have to understand when we convert action into a contemplation. The originally Existent Being thought an Idea, a Being inseparable from Consciousness. The Puruṣha-Sūkta tells us that God became all the Cosmos – puruṣha evedam sarvam, and the created beings contemplated God as the Original Sacrifice. Yajñena yajñam-ayajanta devāh – by Sacrifice did the celestials contemplate the Sacrifice. This is, in some way, an anticipation of a subsequent enunciation of a similar process in the Bhagavadgītā, when it says that the Absolute is the Supreme Sacrifice, contemplated universally, as also performed individually in the spirit of divine participation. (Brahmārpaṇam brahma havih, brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tēna gantavyam brahmakarma samādhina).

The act, the process and the end towards which the action is directed are all single in their essence, and they are not even a tripartite or a threefold process. It is a single development of Being which is impartite. This contemplation which was originally initiated in the Puruṣha-Sūkta, as the Cosmic Sacrifice, may be said to be the Mother of all other concepts of sacrifice, or Yajña in the Indian tradition, or perhaps any other tradition of this type. The offering up of oneself is the core of the Sacrifice, and, thus, the highest Sacrifice is supposed to be self-sacrifice, not the sacrifice of outward material or anything that one 'possesses'. The offering of what we have is a lower sacrifice in comparison with the sacrifice of what we are. This is the Jñāna-Yajña, or the knowledge-sacrifice that is spoken of in the Bhagavadgītā and such other scriptures. The Puruṣha-Sūkta is, therefore, a contemplation of a Jñāna-Yajña as if performed by God Himself in the act of creation or a universal Self-alienation.

A similar contemplation is envisaged in the beginning of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, where the Aśvamedha Sacrifice is made an occasion for a spiritual contemplation. The Aśva, or the horse, consecrated in the sacrifice, is identified with Prajāpati, or the Creator of the Universe, the Virāt or the Hiraṇyagarbha of the later Vedānta. And in the very description that we find in the commencement of the Upaniṣhad, the details of the parts of the horse are identified with the details of the Universe outside, so that here is a purely symbolic contemplation. The ritual becomes a Cosmic Act, and the horse of the Aśvamedha Sacrifice is the Prajāpati of the Veda. The Creator is the object of contemplation. In the beginning, this contemplation is religious in the sense that there is an 'externalisation' of the Idea of Prajāpati, as a transcendent Creator of the Universe, but later it becomes wholly spiritual, where the meditator identifies himself with Prajāpati, the All-Being, the Creator, so that the Upāsana (worship) becomes a Self-contemplation, Adhyātma-Vidyā, once again.

The Upaniṣhad takes us from ritualistic concepts to religious adorations, and then to spiritual visualisations. There is, again, a gradual ascent of thought, from the outward to the inward, and from the inward to the Universal. We withdraw from the outward mode of behaviour to the inward psychological factors which determine these external modes of behaviour, and then we contemplate the Being that is precedent even to psychological behaviour. What we do outside is determined by what we think in our minds, and what we think in our minds is conditioned by what we are in our true selves. So, there is a process of the rise of contemplative action from the outer realm of name, form and action to the inward thought-processes of the individual, and to thought-process in general, leading to 'being', not merely to the individual's apparent being, but to the Being of all beings; which the Upaniṣhad would describe as Sātyasya Satyam, or the Truth of all truths.

The Upaniṣhads do not regard anything as absolutely untrue. Everything is true, but relatively so. There is a passage from the lower truth to the higher truth. The Upaniṣhads have a strange way of envisaging things. The True alone prevails everywhere. Truth alone succeeds – Satyameva jayate – not untruth, because untruth is not. Therefore, the rise is from a lesser wholeness of truth to the larger wholeness which is above it. Actually, we reach, in the end, the Ultimate Wholeness which is Brahman, the Absolute. And also, simultaneously, it is an ascent of the soul from one condition of joy to another condition of joy. We do not rise from sorrow to joy, because sorrow is a misconceived tendency to happiness. It is a misplaced form of being which comes to us as a grief or agony. Just as untruth is not, sorrow also is not, because they are misplaced values, and when they are placed in their proper contexts, they look beautiful. As totally ugly things do not exist in the world, absolute sorrow also does not exist. An ugly thing is a misplaced value, again. When a thing is not properly placed, it looks ugly. When the very same thing is placed where it ought to be, it becomes the beautiful, so that perfection is the Dharma (law) of the Upaniṣhad gospel, and it sees perfection everywhere. The enlightenment of consciousness to this Perfect Being is the entire process of Upaniṣhad wisdom.