Chapter I: The Absolute and the Universe
The First Chapter of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad commences with the description of a symbolic meditation, the famous Aśvamedha Sacrifice, renowned in the Vedas and the Brāhmaṇas. The Aśvamedha Sacrifice is a liturgical performance, a ritual of the Brāhmaṇa portion of the Vedas, but the Upaniṣhad converts every activity external into an internal contemplation. So the Aśvamedha Sacrifice is taken here as a symbol for cosmic meditation, comparing the universe to a horse and the limbs and bodily structure of the horse to the various structural patterns of the universe; how we can mentally perform the sacrifice and conceive sacrifice as, ultimately, a contemplation of the universal harmony of things rather than lay too much emphasis on the external performance of it by means of physical objects and oblations, etc. in a literal sacrifice. The Aśvamedha Sacrifice, which is a visible performance from the point of view of the ritual of the Mimāmsa and the Brāhmaṇa, is the object of meditation in the very beginning of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, occurring in the Satapatha Brāhmaṇa, the most important of the Brāhmaṇas, belonging to the Yajurveda. There is a beautiful symbology provided to us for meditation on the whole universe as the sacrifice itself – a subject that is adumbrated in the Puruṣha-Sūkta of the Veda and certain other hymns of the Veda where God's creation is regarded as a sacrifice on His part, a Self-alienation of God Himself, as it were, by which He has become 'the other'. This is the contemplation in the beginning of the Upaniṣhad, the creative process envisaged as a great sacrifice on the part of God. The Upaniṣhad has some resemblance to the Puruṣha-Sūkta, and what follows from the Puruṣha-Sūkta and certain other Upaniṣhads by way of deduction. The creative process is further elaborated in the Sections which come after the description of the contemplative Aśvamedha Sacrifice – how, originally, it appeared as if there was nothing, there was just non-being. This is a famous concept in philosophical parlance, that originally it was a non-being 'as it were'. The words 'as it were' are very important. It is not that something comes out of nothing. Nothing can come from nothing. It is not nothingness that 'was', it is rather an imperceptibility of things. The Nāsadīya-Sūkta of the Veda is a famous precedent to this concept in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, even as the Aśvamedha Sacrifice contemplation is connected with the Puruṣha-Sūkta. Originally, it was nothing in the sense of an imperceptibility of all things, because space, time and objectivity of things were all comprehended in the bosom of what are called the 'original waters', the 'cosmic waters', a symbology which is familiar to all religious and mystical doctrines.
There was, therefore, nothing visible, because nobody was there to see things. The seer and the seen were clubbed together into a single mass of content, which could not be described in any other way except that it was non-being. It was imperceptible not because it was really so, but because it was not an object of the perception of anyone. Neither was it an object of the perception of anyone, nor was there any chance of its being perceived by anyone, on account of the absence of subjects, and therefore absence of objects. This supreme imperceptibility was the Supreme Being Himself, who revealed Himself as this creation, gradually, in grosser and grosser forms, in various degrees of manifestation, known to us these days, in philosophy, as Īshvara, Hiraṇyagarbha, Virāt, and the diversity of experiences. He became the supreme seer and 'consumer' of everything, to use the word of the Upaniṣhad. Sarvasya atta bhavati – God became the 'eater' of all things; the word 'eater' here means the 'consumer', the 'perceiver', the 'experiencer' and the 'being' of everything. He was the Subject of everything; there was no object before Him. As He was the experiencer of all things in an identity of Himself with all things, He could not be regarded as an individual subject, and the objects could not stand outside Him; hence He was in a position to convert everything into the Subject of experience in the sense of 'Identity of Being'. Therefore, the whole universe was like food for Himself. He is regarded as the Supreme Eater, in a symbolic language. And one who meditates thus, also becomes That, the Absolute Eater.
This is how the Upaniṣhad began. Then we are gradually taken to more subtle subjects and brought nearer to our own selves; from the distant, remote, cosmic creative process, we come nearer to our own selves and to more intelligible forms of manifestation as Prāṇa, mind, senses, etc. It was necessary for the Upaniṣhad to point out the distinction between the cosmic manifestations and the internal personal manifestations. The senses are internally operative, even as gods are externally operative. The gods are the superintending principles over the senses and the mind, etc., of the individuals. If the gods were not to perform their functions, the senses would not act; just as, if the electricity is not to flow from the power house, the electric bulbs are not going to shine – this is a very gross example for you. The cosmic forces are responsible for the operation and action of all individual principles including the mind, the Prāṇa, and the senses. But the individual is impotent, as he has lost all contact with the cosmic forces. He has no consciousness of even the existence of these divinities. When we look at things with our eyes, we never for a moment imagine our connection with the Sun, for instance. We are oblivious of the existence of these superintending principles and we are intent merely upon the immediate action of the senses in respect of the visible objects. Why is it that the individual has become so weak, so powerless, so much deprived of energy? This is the subject of the Sections that follow further on, in the form of a story, an analogy.
There was a war that took place between the Asuras and the Devas, the demons and the celestials. There was a battle going on, and the Asuras wanted to overcome the Devas, the gods. The gods thought: "We shall contemplate the Supreme Being in the form of Uktha or Omkāra, meditate and derive energy, and then overcome the Asuras." So they started this contemplation. How did they do it? They employed the various senses, including the mind, as means of contemplation – the eyes, the ears, the nose and the various senses, and finally the mind itself. When these meditations were attempted by the gods through these instruments of action, the senses and the mind, the Asuras came to know of this fact, and attacked them. So the symbology of the story is that you cannot contact Reality either with the senses or with the mind, because of the Asura attack. The Asura is the urge for separation, the impulse for externalisation, the desire of the senses to come in contact with objects, and a complete oblivion of the existence of divinities cosmically precedent to the internal manifestations in the body, and prior to our existence itself. The gods could not attempt this contemplation; they were not successful because the Asuras attacked them in this way, from every side, but they succeeded when they employed not the senses or the ordinary mind for the purpose of this contemplation but the internal Prāṇa which was in tune with the Cosmic Prāṇa, which means to say that we become successful only in so far as we are in harmony with the Cosmic and we are defeated in so far as we are away from it. When speech, as the Upaniṣhad tells us in this connection, was rid of the Asuric element in it, it ceased to be speech and became Agnī or Fire, the Deity itself. Likewise, every sense-organ became the Deity, the 'Pinḍānda' jumped into the 'Brahmānda', the senses resumed their original conditions as gods, as they were once upon a time in the pristine position which they occupied in the Virāt, prior to separation into individuality. The senses, when they are placed in proper position in the Virāt-Consciousness, are called the gods – they are themselves the gods. But when they are rid of the connection with Virāt, they become ordinary senses running like slaves towards external objects. The Upaniṣhad tells us, by way of this analogy, that it is no use trying to contact Reality through the senses or the mind; they have to be placed, first, in the context of cosmic universality. This is the meditation to be practised, which means to say that Virāt is to be the Object of meditation. Whenever you contemplate an object located as a part of the Body of the Virāt, then immediately it assumes a divine character, it ceases to be mortal and it assumes a grand beauty which is characteristic of divinity. This is how we have to meditate really, and not merely look upon some object as if it is outside. Even spiritual meditations should not be attempted by mere sensory activity or mental function. This is the great truth told us by this analogy of the Asuras and the Devas battling with each other and the gods attempting to overcome the Asuras by means of meditation.
Then we have, perhaps, the most central part of the Upaniṣhad, which is the Fourth Section of the First Chapter, called the Puruṣhavidha Brāhmaṇa, a very grand and eloquent exposition of the supreme heights that our ancient Masters reached in their meditations. By means of this Puruṣhavidha Brāhmaṇa, the Upaniṣhad gives us a complete description, not only of the nature of Reality, but also of the process of creation down to the lowest limits of manifestation. This is not only a subject for meditation, but also for philosophical analysis and comparative study of various religious concepts.
The Puruṣhavidha Brāhmaṇa of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad is a classical exposition of the famous Puruṣha-Sūkta of the Veda. The very beginning of this section proclaims that there was One Being at the origin of things and It is the Cause for the Primal Will to create. So the 'Will-to-create' is the expression of the Universal Being, whose identity with this Will is of an inscrutable nature. Neither can we say that it is identical, nor can we say that it is different. In order to explain the relationship of the creative process and the created individuals with the Supreme Cause, the doctrine of creation is enunciated in the cosmological hymns of the Veda as well as in this section of the Upaniṣhad. The characteristic of the Supreme Being is said to be an eternal 'I', or the Consciousness 'I-Am-That-I-Am', 'I-Am-What-I-Am', or, merely, 'I-Am', or even the word 'Am' is redundant; there is just 'I', the Absolute. This was the Primary Status of Being.
In order to make us understand our connection as individuals with this Universal 'I', the Upaniṣhad explains how the One tended to become the many in the form of space, time and objects. This is the story of the Fourth Section of the First Chapter – the Puruṣhavidha Brāhmaṇa. The One does not suddenly become the multitude. According to the Upaniṣhad, the One becomes two. There is a split of feeling or experience, as it were, which alienates the Self into the subject and the object. It is a peculiar state of consciousness where oneself becomes the object one's own self. The Absolute is neither the subject nor the object, because these appellations, subjectivity and objectivity, do not apply to a state where Consciousness is not thus divided into two self-alienated aspects. The Supreme, somehow, becomes Its own Object. This is what we call the state of Īshvara, the condition described at the very beginning of this Brāhmaṇa of the Upaniṣhad. It is the Universal Tendency to objectivate that is called Īshvara. The objectification has not yet taken place; there is a potentiality of manifestation, as there is a hidden presence of the vast banyan tree in a little seed of the tree. So was this universe contained in the Seed of the Will of the Absolute. The Seed was the cosmic repository of every manifestation that was to take place subsequently. There was, thus, the beginning of a cosmic subject-object consciousness, inseparable one from the other. Now, this split becomes more and more accentuated as time passes, so that there is a greater and greater intensity and density of this feeling to isolate oneself from oneself, into the object of one's own perception and experience. It is oneself experiencing oneself – the subject deliberately condescending to become an object of its own self for purpose of a peculiar kind of joyous experience, which the scriptures describe as Lilā, or play of God. What else can be the explanation for that tendency in one's consciousness where one begins to will the objectivity of one's own Universal Subjectivity? This is apparently a logical contradiction, but the whole of creation is nothing but that; it is a logical contradiction, indeed; logically it has no meaning, and it cannot be deduced; but yet it is there. The relationship between the individual and the Absolute is not logically inferrable from any kind of premise, it cannot be deduced from any kind of assumption, nor can we argue it out by any kind of inductive process. But we have to take things as they are. The whole purpose of the story of creation, given in this section of the Upaniṣhad, is to help individuals to return to the Absolute, enable the purpose of the practice of Sadhana. It is not an explanation in the sense of a historical or chronological event that took place in some early periods of time, but a practical suggestion given to individuals as to how they can reunite themselves with That from which they have been alienated in consciousness.
There is, therefore, a split of the One into two, and the two becomes a multitude with the same creative urge, continuing in every part of the manifested individualities; that means to say, there is a tendency to go down and down into greater and greater forms of objectivity. From the causal condition there is a descent into the subtle state, and from the subtle there is a descent further into the grosser condition which we call the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether, and everything that is constituted of these five elements. Thus, we have a cosmic integration with an implied multiplicity or, the other way round, there is a cosmic multiplicity with an implied integration or unity hidden behind it. This is the universe in its apparent form. The Upaniṣhad tells us that the manifestation was twofold and then it was threefold, and then it was multiple. It was twofold in the sense that the Subject became the Object, and the whole universe was its own Body which it opposed to its own consciousness as that on which it contemplated as 'I-am-I'. Then the consciousness of the threefold creation came into being; the threefold creation being called, in the language of the Upaniṣhad, the Adhibhūta, or the physical, external universe; Adhyātma, or the internal, individual perceivers; and the Adhidaiva, or the connecting link between these two. The transcendent spiritual presence which connects the subject of perception with the object of perception is the Adhidaiva. There is a peculiar principle which operates between the seer and the seen, on account of which this seeing becomes possible, but that transcendent element in the process of perception and external experience is always invisible to the normal ways of consciousness.
So, there is a threefold creation – the creation of the outer world or the physical universe; the individual experience, or Jīvas, or souls; and the gods, the celestials, the divinities who are the Adhidaivas presiding over everything that is external or internal. This is the threefold creation. Immediately, the Upaniṣhad asserts that none of these celestials is complete in itself. No part in creation can reflect the total Absolute. Yet, the whole Absolute is present in every part. This is, again, a quandary for us to contemplate. The entire completeness of the Supreme Being is present potentially in every atom of creation, and yet no atom, no part, no individual, no human being, no god, no celestial, nothing created ever, can be a vehicle for the Total Reality. The finitude of any particular manifestation is a hindrance to the reflection of the Total in it. To regard a finite object as complete in itself would be just ignorance. Here we have a corresponding enlightenment, a ray of light, thrown upon the subject in the Bhagavadgītā in its Eighteenth Chapter, where we are told that it is the lowest kind of knowledge to consider any finite object as a Total Reality in itself. The whole of truth or reality is not contained in any object, but the ignorance of the individual is so profound that every perception mistakes a finite object for the Total Reality. That is why there is a connection established between a particular percipient and a corresponding object under stress of emotion, for instance, where the object is taken for the Total Reality. Whenever one gets engrossed in any particular object or a group of objects, there is a mistaken notion of the apparent presence of the Total in particulars, which is not true, says the Bhagavadgītā. To regard one's own family as everything, to regard one's own group as everything, to regard one's own community or even nation, even mankind as a whole, as everything, is a finitude of perception, because nothing that we regard as complete is really complete. The whole of reality cannot be manifest in anything that is finite, in space or time. This is to the credit of our wisdom which always takes finitudes as infinitudes. A higher knowledge is that which recognises an interconnectedness of finitudes amongst themselves. This, again, is a proclamation in the Bhagavadgītā itself. Where we consider one finite object as everything and cling to it as if it is all – this is the worst kind of knowledge. This happens on account of an obsession of consciousness in respect of a particular object due to the capacity of the object to invoke certain sentiments in the person at a given moment of time. But in higher moments of reflection, one begins to realise the interdependence of objects, that no finite object is complete in itself, that completeness lies in an interconnection of one thing with another, so that there comes about the philosophy of collaboration, cooperation, sociable and amicable relationship among beings. But this, too, is not the highest knowledge. It is not true that finite objects are complete in themselves; it is also not true that they are merely interconnected and therefore one is hanging on the other. All this is only a tentative concession to our vision of the Supreme Being as reflected in space and time. But what it is when it is not conditioned in space and time, that is the Reality. It is neither interconnected nor related; it has no internal variety and it has no external relationship. This is emphasised further on in the passages of this Brāhmaṇa of the Upaniṣhad.
All this creation is the manifestation of the One Supreme Being; nevertheless, not one particular object can be taken as the 'All'. Why? Because, the Supreme Being is the 'I', or the Centre of Consciousness, known as Selfhood, in every particular object. It cannot be regarded as an object, because the Self is not an object. The term Self, or Ātman, signifies a peculiar awareness in us which defies any kind of externalisation. The 'I'ness in me, or the 'Selfhood' in me, is of such a nature that it cannot be set aside, or set apart, or isolated from my own self. I myself cannot become my own object. It is impossible for me to segregate myself into another, as other than what I really am in my own experience. But this is what one actually does in respect of other people and other objects and other things in creation. If everything is an 'I' from the point of view of everyone, it would be unbecoming on the part of any particular individual to regard other such centres as external objects of perception or mere tools for the satisfaction of oneself. Unfortunately, each person regards every other person, and each thing holds every other thing, as an object outside. This situation where there is a universal objectivity alone and nothing of the Self in anything, is called Samsāra or bondage, the world of thraldom. But everything is a Self in itself from its own point of view. So if the point of view of the Selfhood of every object could be contemplated in one's own mind, there would be an awareness suddenly awakened in oneself of the Universal Selfhood of things. So at one moment of time we can have two types of awareness, as we would like to have them. It can be an awareness of Universal Selfhood, or it can be an awareness of utter objectivity, fear and sorrow. We can be at once in hell or we can be at once in heaven, as we would like. The consciousness of the Selfhood or the Ātman nature of everything is called liberation, which is true, because everything is a Self in itself; but everything is an object also from another point of view, the standpoint of self-aberration. So, to have an emphasis made on the object-aspect of creation would be to find oneself in Samsāra or bondage. One and the same thing is bondage as well as liberation. At one point you can see both heaven and hell. The earth and the heaven are both in one place, cross-sectioned, so that the Absolute and the relative are a single focus of experience. This is a great truth that is revealed to us in very precise passages of this section of the Upaniṣhad.
The Upaniṣhad continues, while it goes on explaining this process of creation, telling us that all the principles of creation in various degrees of manifestation are the one Reality itself. Whether it is in the form of gas, as hydrogen and oxygen, or it solidifies itself into what we call water, or it becomes ice, it makes no difference – it is one and the same thing that appears in all this threefold manifestation. Likewise, the causal, the subtle and the gross appearances are nothing but the appearances of Brahman in space and in time, by means of causal connection. There was an Awareness, says the Upaniṣhad, at once generated at this stage of creation when Consciousness rose to its status and identified itself with all the multiplicity of creation and knew 'I-am-I'. This Consciousness of 'I-am-I', in spite of the multiplicity of objects, is called Virāt; this is Hiraṇyagarbha; this is Īshvara; this is what we call God, or the Creative Principle. The Upaniṣhad tells us, by way of caution, that we cannot succeed in our endeavours in this world if we make a mistake in our attitude towards things. What should be our attitude towards anything in this world? The attitude that befits that particular thing! It should not be contrary to the essential nature of that object. If we put on an attitude towards any person or thing which is not becoming of the essential nature of that person or object, we shall not succeed in our attempt in coming in contact with it, or utilising it, or achieving success of any kind in respect of a relationship with it. What is the essential nature of any object, or any person, or any thing, for the matter of that? Again, to come to the same point, Selfhood is the nature of things. And what is Selfhood? This, again, is a hard thing for the mind to grasp. The Selfhood concept is a universal one, in the sense that it cannot be external. The Self cannot be manifold; it can only be one, because the Selfhood of Consciousness is asserted by every individual. There is none who has no Selfhood in himself, in herself or itself; so there can be only a totality of selves, all merging one with the other, as rivers merge in the ocean. And as we have not many rivers in the ocean, there cannot be many selves, too, in this Consciousness. There is one mass of Being, as we have in the ocean a mass of waters, where one does not know which river is where. Likewise, one cannot cognise the distinction of one Self from another, which is a mass of awareness, which is the Total Being, the Absolute. The Self can only be one. If that is the case, how can there by many selves? There is an illusion in our way, and we are not seeing things properly. When we consider any person or object as external to ourselves and put on a utilitarian attitude towards that external something, we are untrue to the nature of that particular thing, whatever that object be. Then, the Upaniṣhad says, 'Sarvam tam paradat', everything shall flee away from us when we regard anything as non-Self. There cannot be success in any walk of life where objects are regarded as non-selves, where we have a suspicious attitude towards things, when we dub an object as not what it really is but as what it is not. No object is an object in or to itself; it is a Self by itself, from its point of view. So to call it from another's point of view as an object and to treat it as such would be to be untrue to the salt of its nature, and so it shall flee away from such a cogniser. All failures in life, whatever they be, are thus the outcome of an erroneous attitude of consciousness towards the external environment. This is another great truth proclaimed in this Upaniṣhad.
Then the Upaniṣhad goes further into the description of the classification of society into what we call the Varnas, in Sanskrit language, which represent the grouping of characters in human society in accordance with their knowledge and capacity for the purpose of coming together in a harmonious mould, for the purpose of the achievement of a single goal. The whole of society, by which we do not mean merely the human society but the entire creation, is a manifestation in a multiple form intended for a higher purpose, namely, Self-realisation. The intention of the universe is God-consciousness, or Self-knowledge. This urge of the universe towards the All-Self is what we call evolution. From every stage there is an upward urge towards the Self-realisation of oneself in the Universal. So, whatever the stage of a particular manifested being be, whether it is human or subhuman or superhuman, from that particular stage there is an urge to go upward, vertically, as it were, towards a greater harmony and experience of integrality. This is what we know in science, today, as evolution. This is what we also call aspiration; this is what is called the moral urge; and this is what we call desire, in general. This is the pull of universal gravitation. All the groups of individuals have to work together, from the point of view of their own species at least, for the purpose of their ultimate good. The four 'Varnas' mentioned are the four capacities of individuals – the spiritual, the political or the administrative, the economic, and the working groups.
The social groups are really not connected one with the other; they are individuals, of course. How can anyone bring individuals into a harmony or a united formation? How can you ask many people to think singly? This is not possible, obviously. So, the Upaniṣhad tells us that God created what is called 'Dharma'. The law of integration is called Dharma; the law that binds multiplicity together in a harmony is Dharma; any cohesive force is Dharma; else there would be a split of parts into fragments which flee away hither and thither, without any connection among themselves. The parts of creation would apparently have no connection among themselves if Dharma were not to be there as a strong cementing force. We know there is always a tendency of things to meet together, to come together and unite themselves in some form or the other, for the purpose of a higher achievement. This tendency is present physically, vitally, subtly, grossly, socially, intellectually, ethically, spiritually, or whatever the way be – this uniting Law is called Dharma. Dharma simply means the law of the Righteousness of the Absolute, and this Law operates in every realm of creation, even the lowest form of subatomic structures. Here, too, is the cohesive force working, bringing particles together into a single formation called atoms, molecules, etc. In higher forms of life it is organically visible as the living body, and then there is the social group, etc., all which are indications of the fact that the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute, is operating as an integrating Law, or Dharma, in and through all these manifested varieties, which apparently are disconnected from one another. Thus there is the creation of the groups of individuals, and the Law of Dharma at the same time manifested, to bring them together into a harmony. So, the whole creation is complete in itself. It is a perfect constitution which is laid down with all details, right from the top to the bottom, for all time.
Then, there is a set of suggestions given by the Upaniṣhad from the practical point of view. All activity in the world is ultimately futile, if one condition is not fulfilled. We are not going to succeed in any attempt of ours in this world, we are going to be a miserable failure, whatever be our enterprise – you may be a great philanthropist, you may be a loving social worker, you may have big ambitions in life to do great things and magnificent things – all these efforts will go to dust and one will go repenting, achieving nothing of the nature of success in this world, if one essential point is missed. What is that? The Dharma, or the Law of Unity which is present as the Selfhood of all things, the Ātman-nature in things, even in the midst of all this apparent variety of activity and experience.
Every activity becomes divine, provided the element of Ātman is impregnated into it. Every activity becomes futile, if the Ātman is divested of it. Every body is alive, if the soul is present in it; every body is a corpse, if the soul is out of it. Thus, the Upaniṣhad very precisely tells us here, again, that we should not weep and cry if we do not succeed in life, for it is our mistake. We have an unspiritual attitude towards things, and this is the cause of our failures in life. We fail at home, we fail in our personal works, we fail in society, we fail even in our higher ambitions, all because of this small, big fault in approach. Where God is absent, nothing can be a success. Where God is present, everything shall be a success. This is the essence of this practical suggestion given by the Upaniṣhad. When we forget God, we shall be in the throes of misery at that very moment, and when we are in the presence of God, when we are able to practise the presence of God, when our consciousness is tuned to universality, then, whatever we touch would become gold, and any enterprise of ours is bound to be a success, whichever be the direction we take. Success will be in our hands and failure will be unknown, if the Ātman is our guide, if the Absolute is at the beck and call of our personal experience; otherwise, we are not going to succeed; everything shall be dust and ashes.
There are three personal desires in the individual, or we may say, there are three urges in the individual, which are three types of expression of the very same Absolute. The Upaniṣhad tells us that we cannot be completely closing our eyes to these desires in the individual. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad is a very complete scripture; it touches every point of psychology and spiritual aspiration. What we call desires and call bondages in life are the blind movements of the same spiritual force. It is God Himself walking, as it were, closing His eyes – that is called a desire; and we cannot call it undivine merely because it has closed its eyes. It becomes undivine only when it has lost the awareness of its purpose. The movements of the human nature in the form of desires, called Eshanas, or the primal urges of the personality, are the gropings of the very same cosmic force, attempting to unite itself with every blessed thing in creation, searching for the Selfhood in things. These are the functions of hunger, sex and renown. Even if one ignores only one of them, there is a sense of incompleteness of being. But, their activity is of a painful nature; it does not lead to success ultimately; it throws the individual into sorrow finally, because its well-intentioned activities or movements are blindly directed. It is an unawakened urge of the Universal, and these are the blind forces of Nature; they are also the Absolute Law working, only they are not conscious of themselves. The Upaniṣhad tells us that it is up to us to render them conscious, awaken them to the awareness of their own purpose, when desires shall become directives of the soul on the path to liberation. The Self is the true world of all living beings. By Yajña or sacrifice, study of sacred lore, offering of libations, providing boarding and lodging, giving grass and water and the like, tending and non-interfering with domestic animals, birds, etc., even down to such creatures as the ants in one's house, the knower of the Self recognises the Reality of the gods, sages (Rishis), ancestors (manes), human beings, animals, etc., respectively, and becomes one with all existence, evoking the love of all beings as they would love their own Self. This is, in essence, the doctrine of creation, as well as of the return of the soul to God, or Brahman, as expounded in the Fourth Section of the First Chapter of the Upaniṣhad.
The subject of the object of consciousness is again continued in the further passage, by way of description of what the Upaniṣhad calls 'the food of the soul'. We are told that there are seven kinds of food which God has created for the satisfaction of the individuals. The ordinary food that we eat every day is one kind of food. The milk that comes out from the breast of the mother is another kind of food, natural to children, whether they are human or otherwise. The sacrifices offered to the gods or the divinities called Darsha and Purnamasa, the offerings that we make to gods, especially during the new moon and the full moon occasions, are two other kinds of food that sustains the gods, because that is the way we establish a connection between ourselves and the celestials. There is then a threefold food which is psychological in nature, called in the Upaniṣhadic language as speech, mind and Prāṇa. These are the internal apparatus of the individual to come in contact with things outside, and therefore they are called the instruments of food. By means of entanglement in this sevenfold food, the subject-individual gets caught up in the object-atmosphere. The objects catch hold of the subjects by attracting them towards themselves and making the subjects depend on them. Anything on which you depend is the food of yours, and all these seven things are mentioned as things on which individuals depend for their sustenance. The internal or psychological foods – speech, mind and Prāṇa – are further described in their cosmical connotation, and we are told that we are supposed to spiritualise these external forms of manifestation called the foods, and when we spiritualise them, they become universal in their nature. An object, when it becomes universal, ceases to be an object; it is particularised, and so it looks like an object. The Upaniṣhad proffers certain meditations, or Upāsanās, according to which these seven kinds of food, especially the speech, mind and Prāṇa, get cosmically enlarged in their magnitude and become part and parcel of Hiraṇyagarbha-Prāṇa.
Anything can become a passage to God, provided it gets universalised in meditation. We are told that, individually, no sense-organ can be an instrument or help in our contacting God. Neither the senses, nor the mind, can be an aid, but they become aids when they are universalised, when they are united back to their original sources, namely, the deities presiding over them. If the senses and the mind act individually, as if they are disconnected from their sources, the divinities, then they cannot succeed in their attempts. When they are connected back to their divinities, they become cosmical in their nature, they become part of Virāt, they gain their status in the cosmos instead of being located merely in the individual bodies. This is one kind of meditation whereby the individual limbs get transferred to their respective locations in the Cosmic Body.
Name, form and action are what this world is. The world consists of nothing but name, form and activity. These, when they are externalised, particularised or finitised, become sources of bondage. Again, the Upaniṣhad goes to the technique of universalising name, form and activity. Then they become the name, form and action of Hiraṇyagarbha-Prāṇa. This is a meditation which, we may say, is the basis for the Karma-Yoga doctrine, according to which every action is supposed to be divinity manifest and a means to liberation of the soul, provided, of course, names, forms and actions get universalised in the meditation which is to be the background of one's activities in the world. As the Bhagavadgītā tells us, Karma should be based on Buddhi (Understanding) or Jñana (Knowledge). With this, the First Chapter of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad is concluded.
The Second Chapter begins with the famous conversation between Bālāki, the learned sage, and the king Ajātaśatru, the dialogue actually hinging upon the subject of the conditioned Brahman and the unconditioned Brahman, the formed or the manifested aspect of Reality and the formless or the absolute nature of It; the learned accoster insisting upon the forms of manifestation as objects of meditation and the king who was more educated in this line emphasising, on the other hand, that no form, no particular manifestation can be regarded as complete in itself unless its universal background is also taken into consideration. The whole conversation between these two persons is on the particular theme of recognising the universal in every particular mode of manifestation. And the highest universal is Consciousness whose faint inklings are observable in the state of deep sleep when all externality of being is withdrawn. That is the essence of the discourse between Bālāki and Ajātaśatru.
There is then the interesting and enigmatic instruction that everything that is cosmic is also present in the individual. What is in the 'Brahmanda' is in the 'Pinḍānda' The great Sages Vasishtha, Visvamitra, Bharadvāja, Atri, Jamadagni, Gautama and Kaśyapa are in our bodies. They are superintending over the different limbs of our personality. They are situated in our own senses. Even the gods themselves can be located in the eye itself. The various parts of the eye, which is the subtlest manifestation of the body, are presided over by certain subtle divinities, so that in our own selves we can recognise the cosmic realities and God can be realised in our own being. The Upaniṣhad, then, tells us that the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – can be classified into the mortal and the immortal, the Mūrta and the Amūrta, which can be converted into objects of meditation for purpose of establishing harmony between the individual and the cosmic, in their forms as well as essences.
The quintessential teaching is given to us in the famous conversation between Maitreyī and Yājñavalkya. This occurs towards the end of the Second Chapter. This is an eternal message that the Upaniṣhad gives us. All loves are loves for God. Every satisfaction is a satisfaction that comes by contact with God, and every affection, whatever be its nature, is a tendency towards God, and no one loves anything except for the sake of this universal Self present in that particular object. "Na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati, Ātmanastu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati" – Nothing is loved for its own sake; it is for the sake of the Absolute Self in it that anything is loved." This is the greatest truth that can ever be proclaimed, but it is also the most difficult thing that anyone can afford to understand. That which we are called upon to visualise as an object of attraction is the Universal Absolute. It is the Infinite summoning the Infinite, as it were, when the subject and the object pull each other for the purpose of personal evaluations. The evaluation is ultimately a universal one. It is the presence and the recognition of the Universal in the particular that evokes satisfaction. But on account of the preponderance of the clamour of the senses and the urges of the lower mind, the activity of the Universal subtly present in this contact of the subject with the object, is missed always, so that the sudden happiness that comes on account of affections is always miscalculated and projected upon an object of sense, because of the inability of the senses and the mind to recognise the presence of the Universal in the particular, which flashes forth in a moment's existence at the time of this contact. The Universal never manifests itself wholly in the particulars; it is manifest only when there is a forgetfulness of personality. Whenever there is a tendency in you to forget your own self, there is a gravitation of the mind to the experience of happiness. The more you forget yourself, the more are you happy; and this tendency to forget oneself is the pressure of the Universal to manifest itself in the particular. When it is consciously experienced, it becomes Yoga-practice; when it is unconsciously experienced, it becomes a rapture of the senses and a desire of the mind, which is binding in its nature. So, Yājñavalkya tells Maitreyī that all affections, all loves, all attractions, all pleasures, all happiness, anything that we like in this world, is ultimately the tendency to like the Absolute, and it is the Absolute casting its shadow on the various objects of sense which we mistakenly see in the vehicles of satisfaction. The Universal has neither a subjective side nor an objective side – "Yatra hi dvaitamiva bhavati, taditara itaram paśyati." When the Universal is lost sight of, when the particular alone is visualised, then it is that we miss the awareness of the real abode of the happiness that comes out at the time of the contact of the subject with the object. When we are awakened to the awareness of the Universal, we would see that it is neither a subject nor an object – that state of awareness is called Brahma-sākshātkāra, the realisation of the Absolute.
At the end of the Second Chapter we have what the Upaniṣhad calls the Madhu-Vidyā, or the knowledge of the interconnectedness of things, imparted by the great sage Dadhyaṅṅ ātharvaṇa. Usually, consciousness and object are regarded as exclusive of each other. The one cannot be in the position of the other. The perceiver is conscious, and the object is what is experienced by consciousness. The two are categorised as two distinct characters in the field of experience. Where the subject is, the object cannot be; and vice versa. The object cannot be the subject and the subject cannot be the object; consciousness cannot be matter and matter cannot be consciousness. This is our usual notice of things and our practical experience, too. But the Madhu-Vidyā gives us a revolutionary idea in respect of what we usually regard as a field of the duality of subject and object.
The Madhu-Vidyā is an insight into the nature of things, which reveals that there are no such things as subjects or objects. They are only notional conclusions of individual subjects from their own particular points of view, the one regarding the other as the object, so that there is a vast world of objects to a single individual perceiver, and this is the case with every other perceiver, also. The fact of experience itself is a repudiation of the phenomenal notion that subjects are cut off from objects, as if the one has no connection with the other. If there has been a gulf of difference, unbridgeable, between the experiencing consciousness and the object outside, there would be no such thing as experience at all. The great revelation of the sage Dadhyaṅṅ ātharvaṇa is that the Adhyātma and the Adhibhūta are linked together by the Adhidaiva, and a transcendent Divine Presence connects the phenomenal subject and the phenomenal object, through an invisible force, so that we have a universe of interrelated particulars, one entering the other, one merging into the other, one coalescing with the other like the waves in the ocean, and not the universe we see with our eyes, as a house divided against itself.
This experience is the revelation of the sage Dadhyaṅṅ a knowledge Madhu-Vidyā, which is supposed to have been imparted to Indra and to the Asvins, and to the other sages through them. The significance of the word 'Madhu' in the term, Madhu-Vidyā, is that everything is the 'essence' of everything. 'Madhu' is honey, which symbolises the quintessential essence of everything. The basic reality of all things is called Madhu in this Vidyā. The essence of everything is, thus, the essence of everything else, also. Whatever is the basic quality, the reality, the fundamental being of anything, is also the fundamental being of everything else. Thus, there is no prerogative on the part of any particular individual in respect of anything. There is no superior, qualitative excellence in any object or any subject. It is only a point of view that is called a subject, it is also only a point of view that is called an object. So, if the isolated points of view are lifted to a universal point of view, there would be neither subjects nor objects. In a universal expanse of experience, certain aspects are abstracted from others, and each aspect is emphasised from its own point of view. This particular point of view of a particular aspect of the total reality is called an individual subject, to which everything else stands in the position of an object. But this is not a correct point of view, because it is an abstraction from the total.
So, the Madhu-Vidyā reveals to us the truth of the immanence of the Reality that is universal in every particular, so that there can neither be an ultimate cause nor an ultimate effect in a world of mutual dependence and correlativity of things. Madhu-Vidyā is the knowledge of the correlativity of the subject and the object in such a way that they merge one into the other, cancelling the subjectness and the objectness of each, embracing each other in a union of their particularities, and revealing their inner essence called the Madhu. This applies to everything that is outside in the world called Adhibhūta, everything that is inside called Adhyātma, and everything that is transcendent called Adhidaiva. So, from three points of view the sage describes the correlativity of everything in the universality of being. Here is the conclusion of the Second Chapter.
The exponents of the Upaniṣhad tell us that the First and the Second Chapters lay down the thesis of the whole Upaniṣhad. They declare the essential content of the whole scripture, while the Third and the Fourth Chapters confirm this thesis by more elaborate discussions which happen to be in the context of an assembly held in the court of the King Janaka, where learned men and sages appeared to have conferred together for the purpose of mutual edification.
The sage Yājñavalkya is the leading figure in this great assembly of Janaka, and he is questioned by various sages. Eight of them are mentioned as principal ones, the first one being Aśvala, the chief priest of the sacrifices performed in the Yajñasala of Janaka, who queries Yājñavalkya as to the way in which death can be overcome by those who are really subject to death, namely the performers of actions, the means of action, as well as the goal of action. All these are perishable in the world of space and time; anything that you do has an end, just as you yourself will have an end one day or the other. If everything is to be destroyed, is there a way of escape from this destructibility of things, or is everything doomed to failure in the end, and all will be wiped out of existence? What is the escape? What is the remedy? What is the means? This was the question of Aśvala, and Yājñavalkya explained that the mortal becomes immortal the moment it returns to its cause. When the senses and the mind and the means of action and the performer himself – all get identified in their meditations with their deities from where they come and to which they actually belong and by which they are superintended; when the transcendent divinities which are the realities behind the various functions and organs of the individual are meditated upon as organically connected to oneself, then there is an internal relationship established between the individual and the universal. Then the mortal becomes immortal; otherwise every action is perishable and everything that an action brings as result, also, would be perishable. That was the point made out by Yājñavalkya in regard to the question of Aśvala, as to how the mortal can become immortal in spite of the fact that everything is subject to mortality in this world.
Then the next question was from Artabhāga about what the Upaniṣhad specifically calls Grahas and Atigrahas – how the senses are subjected to the influence of objects, so that there is finitude on the part of the subject, which is taken advantage of by every object, and which is also the cause of the attachment of the subject to the object. Every object of sense is an Atigraha, and every sense is a Graha. That which catches hold of an object is called a Graha, and that which intensifies the attachment of the subject is the Atigraha. So, like a crocodile catching hold of a person's legs in a river and not letting him off, the objects catch hold of the senses which are naturally prone to a movement towards the objects themselves.
Is there a way out of this predicament of subjection to utter suffering by way of dependence on objects which are not only perishable in their nature but also tantalising in their character?
Neither do they promise real satisfaction, nor are they in a position to give real satisfaction under any circumstance. So there is a phenomenal attachment of the subject to the object, on account of which there is a mutual destruction of both brought about by the power of death, which cannot be overcome as long as the senses and the mind, in their individual capacities, remain what they are and depend on the objects of sense which are in space and in time and are influenced by the objects, so that their attachments get intensified. The only solution, says Yājñavalkya, is the meditation on the Transcendent Being, which is beyond the realm of both the senses and their objects. Just as death consumes everything – there is nothing which cannot be subject to death in this world – there is something which can swallow death itself, and that has to be meditated upon – the Death of death – which is the Supreme Reality, Brahman.
Then, Bhujyu asks: What are the limits of the worlds? Where do the worlds end? Is there a limit or a consummation for this vast expanse called the universe?
Yājñavalkya says: There is no end. There are worlds within worlds and worlds beyond worlds, until we reach the cosmic border itself which hinges upon the existence of Hiraṇyagarbha; and the end of the worlds is the existence of the Supreme Being, Hiraṇyagarbha, the Final Existence, and there is no chance of having a knowledge of the limits of the worlds as long as we behold them as if they are outside us. The worlds are intertwined with us. We are a part of the worlds, and the only way of getting an insight into the vastness of the worlds, as they are, is an insight into one's own experience, which is inseparable from the worlds. Here do go, in the end, the performers of the true horse sacrifice.
The question, again, is put by Ushasta, as to how the internal Self can be experienced in its essentiality. Yājñavalkya replies that the internal Self cannot be experienced as objects are experienced. It is not an object, because it is the experiencer of things. It is that which sees things, that which understands things. The Understander cannot be understood, the Seer cannot be seen, the Hearer cannot be heard and the Experiencer cannot be experienced. So, the difficulty in the knowledge of Reality is that it is the Subject, par excellence, of every centre of experience. Therefore the question as to how the experiences, or the real Ātman, can be experienced is out of point. The Ātman cannot be experienced in the ordinary sense of the term, because it is the experiences himself. You cannot 'know' the Ātman as you 'know' things, is the answer of Yājñavalkya. The Ātman is Experience.
What happens when the experience comes? When the knowledge of the Ātman dawns, what is the consequence? This was another question posed before Yājñavalkya by Kahola. The answer is that when the knowledge of the Ātman arises, desire for things automatically subsides. Just as a person who has woken up from sleep is concerned not with all the gorgeous beauty that he saw in the world of dream and the magnificences which he possessed as his properties; there is an automatic rising above the various attractions of things, and likes and dislikes, which are common to the world of experience, spontaneously get transcended, because of the fact that the Ātman is the Self of all. It is the pull of the Ātman in the objects that is ultimately responsible for attraction towards objects. It is the Ātman that is mistaken for objects, and the objects are mistaken for the Ātman, in turn. When the Ātman is mistaken for objects, there is a transference of qualities taking place between the experiences and the experienced. It is the presence of the Selfhood of things which is responsible for the mutual connection of the seer and the seen, which fact is missed in the ordinary phenomenal perception of things. The intervention of space between the seer and the seen defeats the attempt on the part of any person to know the secret that is taking place in the process of perception. We are mistaken when we think that the object of experience is outside us. It is not outside because, if it were really outside, it would not have been possible to experience it. It is involved in the very process of knowledge, and as the process of knowledge is involved in oneself, the object, also, is involved in oneself only. So, it is the Universal's interference in things that is ultimately the cause of the experience of even the apparent duality of objects. This is the outcome of the answer of Yājñavalkya in the context of how the Ātman is realised and what follows as a consequence of the knowledge of the Ātman.
Then, Gārgi puts the question: What are the limits of things? Where is anything founded? Where is this world rooted and where are the other worlds fixed? Where is the last cause ultimately situated? What is the Cause of all causes?
Yājñavalkya says that the Cause of all things is Akshara, the Imperishable, the Absolute; and It is not rooted in anything, though everything and all the worlds are rooted in It. Under the law of the Absolute, everything moves, everything acts, and everything functions. Even the physical harmony, regularity and system that we observe in Nature is due to the existence of this Absolute. Its very being is the law of all things. It does not command things by word of mouth; it does not speak as we speak through speech. It exists! Its very existence is an influence exerted inexorably on everything. The symmetrical action and movement of things in every realm of experience, in every level of being, in every plane of existence, is due to the operation inwardly, subtly, of the law of the Absolute. It is due to it that the sun shines, it is due to it that rain falls, it is due to it that the earth revolves round the sun, it is due to it that we breathe, it is due to it that we exist, and think, and are happy. So, that is the ultimate Reality, and it is not founded upon anything else; everything is founded upon That, says Yājñavalkya. Anything that is done here without a knowledge of this Reality is a waste, concludes the sage.
Uddālaka asks: What is the Antāryamin, the Indweller? What does one mean by the Indweller, and where does He dwell; what does He indwell? Where is He?
The answer to this question, given by Yājñavalkya, is that the Antāryamin is the Ātman, and It cannot be known. While It knows everything, It is not known to anybody. The Antāryamin is the Indwelling Principle of all things. That which indwells an object, knows the nature of that object; but the object cannot know its Indweller at all, because the Indweller is the seeing Consciousness, the experiencing Reality. It cannot be externalised, It cannot be objectified, It cannot stand in the position of a known, and therefore Its existence is not known. No one can ever have even an inkling of Its existence, because the highest faculty of knowledge, which are our own mind and intellect, cannot reach even the fringe of this Reality. The mind and the intellect are thrust outwardly – they are extrovert; they are forced to move in respect of things external to them, and so they cannot know what is behind them. The mind, the senses and the intellect cannot know what is transcendent to their own existence. So, the propeller of even the mind and the intellect, the cause of the functions of even the senses, cannot be known by these faculties. This is the Indweller. This Indwelling Principle is not merely in me, or in you, but in everything – in physical, in astral and in causal beings. It is in every level of experience. It is outside, It is inside and It is universal, and, therefore, neither the objects outside can know It, nor the intellect and mind can know It, nor even the divinities which are apparently the superintending principles over the senses can know It. No one can know where It is, and yet without Its existence nothing can be. Its existence is the existence of everything. Such is what is called the Antāryamin. You cannot know It, you cannot see It; you cannot hear It, you cannot think It, you cannot understand It; because this Being is the Seer, the Hearer, the Thinker, the Understander, the Experiencer of all; It is the Sarvanubhuh – the Being of everything.
The last questioner was Śākalya who raised various types of queries, some of them being: how many gods are there; what are the presiding deities of the various quarters, and objects, etc., to which all a proper answer was given by Yājñavalkya.
Yājñavalkya mentions that there is a divine principle present in every little bit of things in this world. There is nothing undivine anywhere – in all the physical objects, in anything that we regard as phenomenal, external, anything that is apparently perishable, destructible, mortal, earthly – in all these things there is the hidden divine Reality. On account of the presence of this divinity, a thing appears to be there. Even appearance could not be, if Reality were not to be there. The presence of Reality in anything comes into relief not merely when an object is visualised, but when it is viewed in its organic connectedness with its perceiver as well as the deity transcending both.
Thus, all the questions put by the eight sages in the court of King Janaka were answered by Yājñavalkya, and finally he himself sums up his discourse by saying that the origin of the human being himself is Brahman. Everything comes from this Divinity. The individual existence of anything is not brought about by the mixture of elements, as the scientists would tell us. It is not a chemical combination that is the cause of the physical body or of the mental functions, because they are all inert things. That which is inert or unconscious cannot produce consciousness. Wherefrom does consciousness in human beings come? It cannot be due to a conglomeration or a mix-up of physical elements, because that which is not in the cause cannot be in the effect. When the cause is only hydrogen and oxygen, and such other chemical substances, which are inert in nature, how can consciousness come out of them? The consciousness which is the effect, apparently, seen in the individual, has to be traced back to a Universal Consciousness. Vijñānam anandam brahma rātirdātuh parāyanam: Consciousness – Bliss is Brahman, the Goal of all aspirations. This is what Yājñavalkya concluded, in answer to all the queries posed before him. There is one Reality behind everything, which appears as the manifold things in this world. Here is concluded the Third Chapter.
The Fourth Chapter is a direct conversation between Yājñavalkya and King Janaka, which goes deep into the subjects: how the practice of meditation can be faultless, how it could be integral, how the various instructions Janaka received from some teachers were partial, they were aspects of reality, and they were not definitions of the Total Reality; what happens to one in waking, dream, sleep and Mokṣha, or final liberation.
Whenever Janaka told Yājñavalkya that he was initiated by such-and-such a person into such-and-such a method of meditation, the sage immediately retorted it was only one-fourth of the Reality, and so not complete. What was it that was lacking in it? The three-fourths were wanting, and the sage supplied the three-fourths by saying that the divinity behind things and the transcendent superintending principles rising above the visible forms of things, as well as the experiencing consciousness or the meditating principle, are also to be taken into concentration, apart from the actual form of the object which we usually take as supports in meditation. This applies as a uniform law in respect of any kind of meditation on any object or concept. It is incomplete when the object alone is thought of. Everything that is responsible for its appearance is also to be considered in order that the meditation may become complete; otherwise, there would be distraction of mind. Every object is connected to various other factors which are invisible. Every object has a transcendent nature, apart from its physical quality. It is external; it is internal; it is also universal. So, all these aspects of a thing have to be duly considered before meditation is to become final, says Yājñavalkya in answer to the importunities of Janaka.
Then the sage goes deep into the questions of waking, dream and sleep, which are indications here of the presence of a vaster reality than is apparent in either waking, dream or sleep. It is the Light of lights – Jyotishām jyotiḥ. The Great Being which is the Supreme Reality, Brahman, is the Light with which everything is known. Our knowledge does not depend upon sunlight, moonlight, the twinkling of the stars, or the light of fire. Nothing of that kind! These lights are not the causes of our knowledge. Real knowledge is a new light altogether, which is internal, which is conscious and self-sufficient, which is self-luminous – that is the real Jyotis, Luminosity – and when every light fails, this Light will shine, and that is the Ātman of things. It cannot be known because it is not outside; it is not an object of the senses. It is not anything that can be comprehended by the faculties that are available to us. Thus it is that we are a failure in our attempts at the knowledge of the Ātman, while we are a success at everything else in the world.
The highest knowledge is also the highest happiness; this is a point which is driven home into the mind of King Janaka by Yājñavalkya. All our attempts, all our enterprises in this world are towards the acquirement of happiness, and no happiness in the world is permanent; it is all evanescent pleasure that we have here. It is evanescent because it passes away with the passing of the objects with which it is connected, with which it is identified. Our happiness is tied to the objects of the senses. We always try to find happiness in certain external things. Thus, when the objects pass away, the happiness also passes away. So, one cannot be really happy in this world. How can there be permanent happiness when there is nothing permanent anywhere? Everything upon which we pin our faith has to go one day or the other; not only does the object in which we put faith go, but we ourselves have to go. Naturally, then, there is a final catastrophe awaiting everyone some day. How can there be happiness ultimate in this world? But our very aspiration for permanent happiness is a symbol, an indication of its existence somewhere. It would not be possible for us to aspire for it, if it is not existent at all. Our mistake is that we seek it in places where it is not. It is not in the objects of sense. It is reflected in the objects but it is really not there, just as our face is not in the mirror. We can see our face in the mirror, but it is not really there inside the mirror. Just as the face is seen in the mirror, but it is not in the mirror, and we can mistake it for the reality of the face, likewise, happiness does exist, but it is not in the objects. It is only reflected in the objects on account of certain prevailing circumstances. We have to extricate the original from the apparent reflection and then we shall see that we have made a great mistake, a blunder in visualising the reality in the reflection, and clinging to the reflection as if it is the reality. The permanent happiness that we are aspiring after, the great bliss that we are seeking in this world, is not where we are seeking; it is elsewhere, behind us. It is not outside us, external to us. It is just another name for Universality of Being, the absoluteness of Reality. That is true happiness, Brahman, and for the purpose of the elucidation of the nature of happiness in its various levels, or gradations of manifestation, we are told that superior to the highest kind of human happiness conceivable, there is the happiness of the Gandharvas; beyond that is the happiness of the Pitṛis; beyond that is the happiness of the Devas, or the celestials; higher than the happiness of the celestials is the happiness of Indra; higher than the happiness of Indra is the happiness of Brihaspati; still higher is the happiness of Virāt; higher than Virāt is Hiraṇyagarbha; higher than Hiraṇyagarbha is Īshvara, and then the Supreme Being, Brahman. So, one can imagine where we stand. Our happiness is a little fraction, a finite reflection, a distorted form of the great ocean of Reality, which is Bliss itself in its essence. It is Sat, Being; It is Chit, Intelligence; It is ānanda, joy.
In this Reality, the ordinary conventions, morals, rules, laws, principles, get transcended, for It is All-Inclusive Being.
Thus, we have, in outline, the Fourth Chapter of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad, which also concludes, once again, with the Maitreyī-Vidyā, the conversation between Yājñavalkya and Maitreyī, as it was studied in the Second Chapter.
The Fifth Chapter is entirely devoted to various descriptions of symbolic meditations. We are told here that different symbols can be taken as helps in meditation on Reality, just as we can reach the ocean through any river in the world. Inasmuch as the whole of Reality cannot be envisaged by the senses, or conceived by the mind, some visible form of It is taken as a prop in meditation. But the object of meditation chosen is not the end of meditation; it is only a means to a transcendence of the quality of meditation through that object. We have to rise gradually from the external symbol, the form of the object chosen, to its deeper implications which are subtler than the visible gross form of the symbol, and subtler even than what we can conceive as the subtle reality behind it. It has a transcendent form and when it reaches its highest state, it ceases to be an external object. The more we go deep into the nature of an object, the more do we realise its affinity with our own existence. But the more we conceive of its externality and grossness of form, the more also remote does it appear to be from us. The grosser is our concept of an object, the farther it is from us, and the more difficult it is to come in contact with it. But the deeper we go into it by insight, the more does it reveal its connection with us in its essentiality, even as we go into the depths of the ocean and realise the background of all the waves on the surface which are apparently different, one from the other. This is the principle behind these symbolic meditations. The items mentioned are ether, heart, truth, creativity, sun, mind, lightning, Vedas, Vaishvānara-Fire, Austerity, Prāṇa, Power, and the Four Feet of the Gāyatrī-Mantra. In fact, anything can be such a symbol, provided the principle of the technique is not missed.
We are also told in this Chapter that there are three great obstacles to spiritual approach and they are the weaknesses of personality, whether it is celestial, human or demoniacal. Every personality has defects of its own, a characteristic weakness, which has to be overcome by great effort; otherwise the finitude of that personality would get emphasised by the repeated acquiescence in its weaknesses. These have to be stepped over by deep meditation, the principles of which have been described in the symbolic methods mentioned.
The passion of the mind to run after objects of sense is one weakness. It is characteristic of everyone. The mind rushes to objects outside and it cannot rest quiet without them. The mind is always thinking of something outside – this is the weakness of a polished quality. Everything else comes after it. This weakness has to be tackled properly. Why does the mind run after objects? What is its secret? What does it expect from the objects? While history has shown that every attempt at contact with objects has ended in the misery of the individual, why is it that there is a repeated attack on the object by the senses and the mind? This is the organic weakness of individuality.
The other form of finitude or weakness is greed, the desire to appropriate everything to one's own self. People have no desire to share anything with others. The more one would like to have, the better it is. Each one is fond of one's own self, much more than one is attached to anything else. When the test is made, it will be found that one loves one's own self much more than anyone else. Finally, one would try to save oneself only, as when a catastrophe threatens a person. This is the principal greed, the love of one's own self, which manifests itself as greed for objects outside – wealth, property, acquisitions, etc. The more you have it, the still more do you want to have of it. It is an irrational trait in the individual to appropriate things, even those things which may not belong to oneself, justly.
The third weakness is the finding of joy in the suffering of others, the inflicting of pain upon others, cruelty of any kind, harm done to others. This is the demoniacal instinct, whereby we get enraged and commit violence upon other living beings. The tendency to wreak vengeance, do harm or injury, bring about destruction in respect of others, is a weakness – the worst one. Greed, by which one appropriates things to oneself, is a weakness, and attachment to things, the great passion for objects, is another weakness. As long as these weaknesses preponderate in oneself, spiritual aspiration is out of question, God-realisation is far from one's reach. So the Upaniṣhad, by way of an anecdote, or a story, tells us that the Creator, Prajāpati, Himself told the celestials, the humans and the demons that they should restrain themselves (Dāmyata), that they should be charitable (Datta), and that they should be compassionate (Dayādhvam). These were the instructions given by Prajāpati to his children – the celestials, the humans and the demons.
In connection with the injunction of meditation on the Gāyatrī-Mantra, it is enjoined upon the meditator that the first foot of the Mantra should be identified with the three worlds – earth, atmosphere and heaven; the second foot with the three Vedas – Rik, Yajur and Sāma; the third foot with the three vital functions – Prāṇa, Apāna and Vyāna; and the fourth foot with the sun. The result of such meditation is mastery over the worlds, proficiency in the higher knowledge, control above all living beings, and transcendent spiritual excellence. This Mantra is called 'Gāyatrī' because it protects (Trayate) one who recites it (Gāyan). Thus, the Gāyatrī is all the worlds, all the Vedas, all beings, nay, Reality Itself. Whatever one wishes through it, that does take place.
The stages of the evolution of man's desires and aspirations may be said to rise from his economic needs (Artha), to his vital urges (Kāma), from these two, further on, to the fulfilment of the Universal Law (Dharma) and, finally, the liberation of the self in the Absolute (Mokṣha). The last-mentioned, the longing for spiritual freedom, is, again, constituted of certain stages of approach to Reality. From the ordinary impulse to the doing of selfish actions, there is an onward, rather an upward, ascent to the performance of unselfish activity (Karma-Yoga), and then through the more inwardised stage of devotion, adoration and worship (Upāsanā), one finds the culmination of one's aspiration in total spiritual absorption by means of the higher knowledge of Reality and meditation on It (Jñāna).
The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad purports to be a compendium of instruction on every one of these stages of the ascent of the soul to the Supreme Being. While the first four Chapters are confined pre-eminently to the elucidation of the nature of Reality (Jñāna) and Its Law as operating in the Universe (Dharma), there is a predominant emphasis on internal worship (Upāsanā) in the Fifth Chapter, to which subject it is entirely devoted. There is reference interspersed in different places, in some degree, to ritualistic performances as well as concrete meditations in practically all the Chapters of the Upaniṣhad.
The First Section of the Sixth Chapter is, again, a discourse on worship and adoration, the objects here being the supreme Prāṇa, the speech, the eye, the ear, the mind, etc., in their universalised forms. The superiority of the Universal Prāṇa over everything else is emphasised. The Second Section of the Sixth Chapter deals with the famous Panchāgni Vidyā, or the doctrine of the Five Fires, as taught by king Pravahana Jaivali to the Brāhmaṇa sage Gautama, in answer to the great questions: (1) Where do people go after death? (2) From where do people come at the time of birth? (3) Why is the other world never filled up even if many die here repeatedly? (4) How do the liquids offered as libations rise up as a human being? (5) What are the paths of the gods and the manes?
The Five Fires of the universal sacrifice mentioned here are the celestial realm, the atmospheric realm through which rainfalls occur, the physical earth or the world of living beings, the male, and the female, with all which, gradually, by succession, the souls, when they reincarnate, are supposed to get identified, until they enter the womb of the mother; i.e. the first urge for rebirth or the impulse to descend into grosser forms is supposed to originate in the super-physical realms, and then it grossens itself by greater and greater density through rainfall, the foodstuffs of the earth, man's virile energy and a woman's womb. On birth and after appreciable growth there is the natural tendency to work for ulterior gains, which produces effects (Apurva) causing the rise of the soul to other worlds after death here, only to bring about its descent to the lower worlds once again on the exhaustion of the force of the works done here.
However, those individuals who practise meditation on the Five Fires as universal forces and do not regard them merely as natural phenomena, getting subjected to them, go to the higher worlds through the path of gods (known also as the Northern Path), until they reach the region of the Creator. But those who do not perform such meditation, and are ignorant of the universal relatedness of all phenomena in creation and perform merely the so-called good works and charities known in this world as virtues, go after death through the path of the smoke (known as the Southern Path), only to return to the lower worlds on the exhaustion of the force of their merits. It is also added that those who do not go through either of these paths get reborn as animals, insects, etc., whose lives are either of utter ignorance and instinct or of immensely short durations.
The Third Section of the Sixth Chapter is devoted to certain mystical rites, explained in detail, intended to acquire earthly prosperity, wealth and glory in this world. Through the successful execution of these ritualistic performances, coupled with a sort of meditation as would be required in the context, the performer is expected to fulfil his desires for wealth and earthly glory (Artha). The Fourth Section, which is the conclusion of the Sixth Chapter, elaborates the mystical rites connected with the various stages of the procedure and process of childbirth, which includes a fairly detailed touch of the spiritual implications or the diviner aspects of ordinary love-making or the manifestation of the usual relationship between man and woman (Kāma). Uninformed students of the Upaniṣhad hold the erroneous opinion that the section dealing with the way of acquiring wealth and the romantic periods in one's social existence are unbecoming of an Upaniṣhad which is expected to deal with the nature of God, or the Absolute. The criticism arises from quarters having no knowledge of the connection of the temporal with the spiritual, or the interrelationship of every stage in evolution with every other stage, the higher stage at every level being implicit in the lower and the lower one getting illumined in the higher by the spotlight of knowledge. The spiritual is the vitalising value in the secular; which is what enables the latter, at the proper time, to evoke the deepest levels of even the mightiest genius. As stated earlier, the Upaniṣhad is a comprehensive text explaining the ways of an integrated life, pointing to ultimate perfection, as is abundantly made clear in the doctrine of the Five Fires – Panchāgni Vidyā – wherein the importance of every stage in creative integration is visualised in its relevance to the realisation of complete being.
The Bṛhadāraṇyaka is a great Upaniṣhad. The secret of life is revealed in it in various stages. It is a great meditation by itself, and it is an exposition of the internal meaning of the Vedas; it is real Vedānta. The other Upaniṣhads are expository in their nature; in fact we shall find that what is in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad is all-in-all. What is here, is elsewhere; and what is not here, is not anywhere.
Here is the foundation of Indian culture, we may say, which lays down that life is to be envisaged as a completeness and never merely in its partial aspects. The great message of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad in every one of its passages is that our sorrows are due to a partial vision of things and we cannot be happy as long as we are unable to entertain a total vision of anything. When we look at an object, we have only a limited vision of that object. When we look at our own selves, too, we have only a finite vision about our own selves. When we look at the world astronomically, physically, biologically, or chemically, we do not, even then, have a complete view of things. The Upaniṣhad tells us that everything has an external character, an internal nature and a transcendent reality. None of these can be ignored in the evaluation of that thing. When we ignore any aspect, then it cannot be called an insight into the nature of the thing. The plumbing into the reality of any object would be to enter into the basic essence of it, so that we shall realise in the end that the reality of anything is the reality of everything. If we can know one thing, we have also known everything, and we cannot know any single object in this world, ultimately, unless we know the whole of creation. There is no such thing as real knowledge which is partial; any true knowledge is complete, it is integral, it is totality of experience, and knowledge is experience. One of the points stressed here is that knowledge is to be a complete vision, and not a partial look; the other point is that knowledge is not information, it is not a function of the intellect, it is not a ratiocination of the understanding; but it is direct experience. Knowledge and experience are identical. That which has not become part of our being, cannot be called our knowledge. Knowledge is Being. This is the final message of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad.