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The Essence of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter One:

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad announces in its First Chapter the very renowned prayer which it calls Pavamana-Abhyaroha, meaning thereby an ‘Elevated Chant'. This prayer, or recitation, is as follows : Om Asato ma sad gamaya; Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; Mrityor ma amritam gamaya. The meaning of this Mantra is obvious: ‘Lead me from the unreal to the Real; Lead me from darkness to Light; Lead me from mortality to Immortality.' The prayer is supposed to be a regular meditation to enable the soul to reach the Supreme Being.

In the context of the Purushavidha-Brahmana, it is stated that the Supreme Reality should be meditated upon as one's own Self (Atmetyevopasita) for herein, the Upanishad says, all beings are centred in the One, which is all the gods, all names and forms, as It is the Self of all. One should meditate upon the Self alone as what is the dearest, for anything else which one may regard as dear, as external to oneself, will naturally be subject to bereavement.

In this connection it is also pointed out by way of a hint that it would be wisdom on the part of oneself to properly propitiate the lesser gods in the various levels of manifestation, before one attempts to meditate on the Absolute, since an unceremonious enterprise to skip suddenly to the Absolute is likely to be thwarted by opposition from lesser realities, which are all divinities in their own way.

Chapter Two:

The presence of Deities in one's own body is stated to be of the following nature: The gods Rudra, Parjanya, Aditya, Agni, Indra, the Earth and the Heaven rule over the different parts of the eyes. The right and the left ears represent the Sages Gautama and Bharadvaja; the right and the left eyes represent the Sages Visvamitra and Jamadagni; the right and the left nostrils represent the Sages Vasishtha and Kasyapa; Speech represents the Sage Atri.

One who meditates in this manner is regarded as being capable of converting everything in Creation into one's food, that is to say, the Universe does not stand outside such a person but gets organically involved in his own being.

Chapter Three:

The Antaryamin-Brahmana has the following passage which clinches its essential purport: “He who is in all beings, Who is the innermost reality of all beings, Whom all beings do not know, Whose body are all beings, Who controls all beings from within—this is your Self, the Indwelling Essence, the Immortal.”

The questions of Sakalya involve many interesting facts concerning the number of gods, the method of meditation in an integral manner, etc.

The thirty-three gods referred to by Yajnavalkya are the eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati. The eight Vasus are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Sun, Moon, and Quarters. The original text, however, substitutes the Stars for Water. The eleven Rudras are the Ten Senses, and the Mind. The twelve Adityas are the twelve Solar presiding principles of the Sun corresponding to the twelve months of the year (here one may refer with benefit the description of this theme in the twelfth Book of the Srimad-Bhagavata). Indra is identified with the Rain-god, and a Source of indomitable Power. Prajapati is associated with Yajna, or Sacrifice, as That which compels everything to be subservient to It as what are fit to be sacrificed to It. he three gods are Earth, Atmosphere and Heaven. e two gods are Matter (Anna) and Energy (Prana). The one God is Cosmic Energy (Prana).

The injunction of Yajnavalkya that every meditation should be comprehensive and no object of meditation should be considered as an isolated something is brilliantly stated in the following descriptions:

Every object of meditation has a Form (Sarira), an Abode (Ayatana), an Eye (Chakshus) of cognition, a Light (Jyotis), and a Deity (Devata), all which have to come together in the Integral Concept of meditation. 1. The Personal Body of an individual which is the Form has the Earth (Prithvi) as its Abode, Fire (Agni) as its Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and the Immortal Antaryamin as the Deity. 2. The Desire-Body which is the Form has Desire (Kama) as the Abode, the Heart (Hridaya) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and one's Sexual Counterpart as the Deity. 3. The Purusha in the Sun which is the Form has Colour (Rupa) as the Abode, the visible Eye (Chakshus) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and the Eye of Virat as the Deity. 4. The Power behind reverberations of sound which is the Form, has Ether (Akasa) as the Abode, the Ear (Srotra) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and the Quarters as the Deity. 5. The Phantom-Body (Chhayamaya-Purusha) seen by the senses, which is the Form, has Ignorance (Tamas) as the Abode, the Heart (Hridaya) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and Death (Mrityu) as the Deity; because the attraction of the senses to external objects is the way to death. 6. The Imaginary Person seen in a mirror, which is the Form, has reversed Perception (the right becoming the left and the left becoming the right) as the Abode, the visible Eye (Chakshus) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and Love of Life (Asu), or the hope of the senses as the Deity. 7. The Person as seen reflected in water (as in the mirror), which is the Form, has Water (Apas) as the Abode, the Heart (Hridaya) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and Varuna as the Deity. 8. The Urge for progeny (Putramaya-Purusha), which is the Form, has Virility (Retas) as the Abode, the Heart (Hridaya) as the Eye, the Mind (Manas) as the Light, and Prajapati as the Deity.

The Deity of the East is the Sun, who is rooted in the Eye of Virat, which is rooted in the perception of Form, which, again, is rooted in Intelligence or Feeling. The Deity of the South is Yama, whose Abode is rooted in Sacrifice, which is rooted in the Hope for reward of the Sacrifice, which is rooted in the Faith of the Heart in the efficacy of the Sacrifice to produce results. The Deity of the West is Varuna, whose abode is Water, whose essence is the Virile Seed (Retas), which is rooted in the Heart, for Desire is a quality of the Heart which ushers in every endeavour at its fulfilment. The Deity of the North is the Moon (Soma), the attainment of whom is rooted in the religious Vow (Diksha), which is rooted in Truth (Satya), which is a characteristic rooted in the Conscience (Hridaya). The Deity of the Above, or the Fixed Direction overhead, is Agni (because of the brilliance of the light in the sky above), which is rooted in the Speech of Virat, which is rooted in the Feeling (Hridaya) for the perception of Name, Form and Action. The Feeling, or the Heart, is identical with one's own Self.

The Body and the Mind are rooted in the Prana, which is rooted in the Apana, which is rooted in the Vyana, which is rooted in the Udana, which, again, is rooted in the Samana.

Thus are the Great Comprehensive Meditations.

Chapter Four:

Yajnavalkya's instruction to Janaka that the latter's meditation constituted only one-fourth of the essential position, and there should be actually four aspects for every fact is illustrated as follows, in respect of the different objects of meditation mentioned:

1. Speech is the Abode (Ayatana), the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support (Pratishtha), the Consciousness involved in expression is the Mode of meditation (Upasana), and Fire (Agni) is the Deity (Devata). 2. Prana is the Abode, the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support, Self-Love is the Mode of meditation, and Vayu is the Deity. 3. The Eye is the Abode, the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support, Truth (rootedness in the Eye of the Virat) is the Mode of meditation, and the Sun is the Deity. 4. The Ear is the Abode, the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support, the Endlessness of Direction is the Mode of meditation, and the Digdevatas (Divinities presiding over the Quarters of Space) are the Deity. 5. The Mind is the Abode, the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support, Happiness (for which one woos the objects of sense) is the Mode of meditation, and the Moon is the Deity. 6. The Reality in the Heart is the Abode, the Undifferentiated Ether is the Support, Stability as the Selfhood of all things is the Mode of meditation, and Brahman is the Deity.

Yajnavalkya, following his description of the Supreme Consciousness as operating through the senses in their perceptions of waking life, diverts further to the phenomenon of dream as an effect produced by the experiences of waking life, and regards deep sleep as a virtual merger in the Absolute, where, if only one were to be endowed with Consciousness, there would be transcendence of all relativistic values and experience of the Undivided Ocean of Reality. While, here, one does not appear to see anything or know anything, because there is nothing outside Oneself, there is a real seeing and knowing of the Absolute as the All.

In the Attainment of Liberation, one perceives no existence except the Self (Atman), loves nothing but the Self (Atmakama), has all desires fulfilled (Aptakama), is without any desire (Nishkama), is free from desire (Akama), and so does not have any desire (Akamayamana). Here, every subsequent position is said to be the result of the preceding one.

Chapter Five:

The Invocatory Verse of this Upanishad, namely, “That is Full, This is Full,” etc., occurs at the beginning of this Chapter, suggesting that the Infinite, which appears to permit all the changes in the Universe, is Itself changeless, and there is really no change anywhere at all, even in the apparently changing Universe.

Chapter Six:

The different stages of the ascent of the soul through the Northern Path to Brahma-Loka are said to be the Deities of the Flame of Fire, the Day, the Bright Half of the Lunar Fortnight, the Six Months during which the Sun moves in the North, the Year, Air, Sun, Moon, Lightning, Varuna, Indra and Prajapati. It is at the stage of the Lightning that a Superhuman Being is supposed to visit the soul on its way and lead it onwards to Brahma-Loka.

The Upanishad states that the so-called delicate tendencies of life are really the incentive of a spiritual pressure for self-transcendence, as is taught by the Sages Uddalaka-Aruni, Naka-Maudgalya and Kumara-Harita, who pity the fate of those that suffer by mistaking the invisible Universal for the visible particular, due to ignorance of the meaning which is hidden behind the mask of form. The form is the vehicle of the Universal, and it has to be adored as such in one's encounter with the form through which the principle of life has to ascend as a wholeness of being in every stage, as a tree grows through a fullness of structure at all the levels of its development.