Chapter 2: Section 1
Tad etat satyam: yathā sudīptāt pāvakād visphuliṅgāḥ sahasraśaḥ prabhavante sarūpāḥ, tathākṣarād vividhāḥ, saumya, bhāvāḥ prajāyante tatra caivāpi yanti (2.1.1): “O Master, how has this world come?” The disciple raises the question.
There are various ways of answering this question of how this world has come. In the beginning the answer will depend on the ability of the mind of the student to understand, because the student imagines that the world has come from something. Even without seeing the world coming from something, we put questions such as: “Who created this world?” Why should the world be created by anybody? We imagine that this world must have been created by someone, and as this assumption is already in the mind, one has to take the stand of the disciple in assuming that there is a cause for this world; so initially, by a kind of illustration and analogy, the cause of the world, and the manner of its coming from the cause, are described in this verse.
Here is the truth, the answer to your question. From a large conflagration of fire, thousands of sparks emanate in all directions. In a similar manner, varieties of individualities—species of beings and things—emerge from this Imperishable Reality and return to it, as sparks of fire that rise from the conflagration shoot up and then go back to their source, which is the fire itself. Thus is the world coming from its cause, which is the Imperishable Brahman. It comes, it is sustained, and it returns. There is a beginning, and a middle, and an end for this world. Therefore, the world is not real, merely because of this simple fact that it has a beginning and an end, and a tentative middle.
The illustration of the fire and sparks is to indicate for the student’s comprehension that there is some quality in us which will enable us to reach God. If the effect is totally disconnected from the cause—if there is nothing in the effect which can be called similar to the essence of the cause—there will be no relationship between them. This is to indicate that in spite of our separation from God, our fall from Brahman, as it were, we are still endowed with that potential for returning to Brahman, because the feet of Brahman are planted in our own heart. The Atman that we are is an indication of the Universal that Brahman is, just as the character of the spark is, in essence, the same as the character of fire. This illustration makes out that basically we are verily that which we are seeking. If we are entirely dissociated from that, there will be no possibility of our returning to it. The Atman is Brahman basically.
Divyo hy amūrtaḥ puruṣah sa bāhyābhyantaro hy ajaḥ aprāṇo hy amanāḥ śubhro akṣarāt paratah paraḥ (2.1.2). It was said that from that Imperishable Being, everything proceeds; the world is created by That. That Supreme Imperishable is the divine, formless Purusha. Here, Purusha is to be understood in the sense of essential Consciousness. The origin of all things is Consciousness. It presupposes all thoughts, all actions, and all types of awareness of objects. Even to think, there must be consciousness behind the thought. Even when we assert or deny a thing, consciousness is behind the act of affirmation and denial. If we totally doubt and become a confirmed agnostic or atheist, even in that act of our agnosticism or atheism there is a consciousness of our being such a thing. Even if we say nothing exists, there is a consciousness that affirms that nothing exists; therefore, something exists. That something is the consciousness of even the denial of all things. Such is the Purusha, which is the Supreme Consciousness.
Sa bāhyābhyantaro hy ajaḥ: Inside and outside, it is there. Consciousness cannot be divided into parts. It has no fractions. There is no division in Consciousness. It is indivisible. Because of the fact that it is indivisible, it is all-pervading. If it is only in one place, it can be divided. If it is only in one place, there should be a place where it is not. Now, to know that Consciousness is not in some place, Consciousness has to be there already, because the absence of Consciousness cannot be known except by Consciousness itself, and so even the location of the absence of Consciousness is Consciousness itself. We cannot negate it in any manner whatsoever. The denial of Consciousness is an act of Consciousness only; therefore, it is to be considered as pervading all things, and not located somewhere. It is not only in one place, it is everywhere.
Ajaḥ: It is unborn; it has no beginning. To conceive the beginning of Consciousness is impossible, because there must be somebody to conceive that Consciousness as the beginning. If we imagine that Consciousness was created at some time, we must imagine that there was something prior to Consciousness which created Consciousness. Then there will be what is called an infinite regression of argument: Who created that which causes the coming of Consciousness? Then we can ask another question: Who caused that second one? and so on. Finally, we will find that we will land on the lap of Consciousness. It cannot be created by anybody, because the very question of the creation of Consciousness is raised by Consciousness itself. Hence, finally we have to accept that Consciousness is the Ultimate Reality; it is unborn in its nature.
Aprānaḥ: It is not individual prana consciousness—breathing, etc. It has no mind, because there is no necessity for it to think anything. As there are no objects in front of it, why should there be a mind? As it is not an individual with a body, therefore there is also no prana. Śubhraḥ: Pure, simple radiance. Akṣarāt paratah paraḥ: Even the so-called imperishable prakriti is perishable in the light of a still higher imperishability that is beyond prakriti—paratah paraḥ.
Etasmāj jāyate prāṇo manaḥ sarvendriyāṇi ca, khaṁ vāyur jyotir āpaḥ pṛthivī viśvasya dhāriṇī (2.1.3): From this great Purusha, everything comes. The Cosmic Prana, Hiranyagarbha, emanates from this Supreme Brahman. The Virat, which is called here the manas, also emanates from that Brahman. All the indriyas, or the sense organs, also emanate from That. They are actually the feeders, the tentacles of Consciousness. Khaṁ vāyur jyotir āpaḥ pṛthivī viśvasya dhāriṇī: The five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—the very Earth that sustains us, the basis of all, emanate from That. The whole Brahmanda, the fourteen worlds, seven above and seven below, which are the permutations and combinations, modifications of gross forms or subtle forms, or the real forms of the five elements, all these come from one breath, as it were, of this one Supreme Being.
Aginr mūrdhā cakṣuṣī candra-sūryau diśaḥ: śrotre vāg vivṛtāś ca vedāḥ: vāyuḥ: prāṇo hṛdayaṁ viśvam, asaya padbhyām pṛthivī hy eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā (2.1.4): This Cosmic Being is described here as something like the Vishvarupa Darshana of the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Aginr mūrdhā: Agni here represents heaven. The radiant heavens are the head of the Supreme Being. Cakṣuṣī candra-sūryau: The Sun and the Moon are the eyes of that Supreme Being. Diśaḥ śrotre: The entire quarters of space are the ears, as it were, of that Being. Vāg vivṛtāś ca vedāḥ: The Vedas are its words, or the speech it utters. Vāyuḥ prāṇaḥ: The entire cosmic breath, the entire air, the wind, the universal prana, is its breath. Hṛdayaṁ viśvam, asaya: The whole universe is its heart. Padbhyām pṛthivī: The gross form of physical manifestation in the form of this Earth may be regarded as its footstool. Eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā: This is a picture before you of the all-pervading Soul of
This illustration is to point out that all things that we can conceive in our mind or see with our eyes are part of this Great Being, limbs of the Virat Purusha. That something is the eye, something is the head, something is the foot is only illustrative of everything being somehow or other organically connected with this Being. The whole universe is its body: eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā.
Tasmād agnis samidho yasa sūryaḥ somāt parjanya oṣadhayaḥ pṛthivyām, putmān retas siñcati yoṣitāyām bahvīḥ prajāḥ puruṣāt samprasūtāḥ (2.1.5). The creation process is described here in terms of the Panchagni Vidya, which is described in more detail in the Chhandogya Upanishad. This is a very interesting concept that we have in the Upanishads—the Panchagni Vidya, the fivefold descent through which any event in the world can be imagined
to take place. Events do not take place merely on Earth; they take place in heaven first. A vibration takes place in the highest heaven, and here this heavenly vibration is called Agni, or the supreme fire of the original cosmic activity.
The Sun may be regarded as a representative of heaven. The heat and light of the Sun are responsible for everything that happens on all the planets, including Earth. Any event that takes place in the world is caused by the Sun. You must have heard that sunspots sometimes occur and create catastrophes in the world, and their positions cause a sudden rise or fall in the cost of materials. It depends upon the manner in which the sunspot affects the Earth.
There are also indications of the Moon acting in the same way. If we observe the Moon two or three days after the new moon, amavasya, we will find a crescent visible on the horizon. This crescent is sometimes slanting, and not straight like a cup. Either it is slanting to the left side or it is slanting to the right side, but very rarely is it straight. The belief is, astronomically, that if it is slanting to the left, prices of commodities will fall in the direction where it is slanting, and where it is rising up—north or south, as the case may be—the prices of commodities will rise.
Can we imagine this mystery, how the Sun and the Moon can control us? Someone has written a beautiful book called Super Nature. Moonlight does not penetrate deep into the waters of the ocean, but there are little molluscs living deep in the ocean that arrange their activities according to the movement of the moonlight, though the moonlight does not reach them. They must be great mystical astronomers indeed! The effect that is produced by the Sun and the Moon, and even by the interstellar cosmic rays that impinge upon the Earth and affect us in multifarious ways, is a wonder.
This heavenly vibration, therefore, is the cause of everything that is taking place here. The vibrations created by the solar orb produce such an impact upon the atmosphere that the heat of the Sun sucks the water of the oceans and converts it into vapour which forms clouds, and by the action of wind blowing in various directions according to the circumstances of nature, rain falls. Somāt parjanya: Rain falls.
Oṣadhayaḥ pṛthivyām: When rain falls, plants grow. There is harvest in the fields, and vegetables and all edibles in the world become available to us. But how does rain fall? A great activity is taking place in the sky, over which we have no control. We cannot create rain, and we will all perish if there is no rain. These vegetables and foodstuffs are eaten by man and are finally converted into the bloodstream, and then into the essences which are responsible for the production of children while living a married life.
Putmān retas siñcati yoṣitāyām bahvīḥ prajāḥ puruṣāt samprasūtāḥ: In this manner, the heavenly Purusha is causing, by his own vibration of will, the creation of every little thing in this world. Even the little crawling insects are created by the Supreme Purusha. Creation takes place in a variety of ways, which is only one illustration of the manner of the relation of cause and effect, highlighting how we, in our crude form of understanding, imagine how something could have come from something else. Why should anything come from something else? If something is not there which is causeless, and if the ultimate cause also has a cause, there would be a logical regression and the argument will break. A meaningful argument should have an end. Endless arguments are no arguments. And so, the argument in respect of the effect coming from a cause should lead to a cause which itself has no further cause.
This causeless cause must also be an intelligent cause. Therefore, this ultimate cause is, firstly, without any cause behind it; there is no other cause for it. Secondly, it is intelligent because it is purposive and knows what to create. And thirdly, it is all-pervading because if it is located in one place only, it will be a perishable object. Thus, the Supreme Purusha is indivisible consciousness, all-pervading, and causative of everything in this world.
This is one answer of the Guru in reply to the disciple’s question of how things have come at all. Generally, when disciples go to Gurus, this is the first question they put. Why was this world created, and who created it? They have many other questions, no doubt, but the first question that generally arises in the mind of a student is how this world has come. And here is a tentative answer, according to the understanding of the disciple for the time being.
These passages of the Mundaka Upanishad that we are presently studying deal with the creative process of the Universe—the cause producing the effect, and the cause persisting to have influence over the effect continuously until the very end. The verse concerning the Panchagni Vidya is an astounding doctrine of not only there being causes behind causes, an endless series of connections and concatenations, but also one thing influencing the other. The Upanishad is a knowledge that cuts off all attachments. It is the secret wisdom that severs the tree of bondage. One of the ways it adopts is to instil into the minds of the students the nature of the world, so that when it is properly understood, or investigated into, it will no more be a source of attraction and repulsion, love and hatred.
The occurrences in the world, the events taking place in space and time, the very historical process of mankind—all these are certain occurrences first taking place in the worlds that are above this Earth, just as the manifestation of our own physical body is not a sudden occurrence or an abrupt manifestation from nowhere but a gradual concretisation of impulsions and intentions coming from within.
For instance, in order that the physical body may shape itself into this particular form that we see, it has first of all to be vitalised by the prana which is within. The within-ness of the prana is the reason why there appears to be life and vitality in the physical body. In a similar way, activities in this world, all the processes of human history, have a cause behind the physical realm. There is a superphysical cause for all that happens in the physical world.
The way in which the prana operates in the body determines the condition of its health. The prana decides whether we are healthy or sick. It is very important to know that life and prana are identical. If prana is harmoniously distributed in the body, there is a pacified state of mind also, at the same time, and there is lightness of body, buoyancy of spirit, and quickness in the ability to grasp things mentally. Therefore, internal to the body there is a prana that causes the so-called activities of the body. If the hands and the feet move, it is because the prana moves inside. The prana exerts pressure on a limb in a particular direction, and then it starts moving.
But inside the prana there is the thought which causes the prana to operate in that particular manner. When we walk, the prana will not impel the legs to move unless there is thought behind it. The mind wants the prana to work in such a way that it moves the legs. Within the mind there is reason, which says that it is necessary to move the legs. The mind is only a connecting link between the reason on one side and the prana on the other side. But there is something behind reason—namely, the very fact of our being individuals in this world. Why should there be a necessity to move the limbs? It arises on account of a certain kind of finitude in which we are involved. The jivatatva is the cause; and the jiva is nothing but a concentrated point of the Atman consciousness. Thus, the tapas of Brahman created the world, says the Upanishad in one of its passages: tapasā cīyate brahma tato’nnam abhijāyate (1.1.8).
Anna is the product of this concentration of the will of Brahman. All that is produced can be regarded as anna and, in this sense, the finitude itself is a product. It is anna for the concentrated will of the Atman to manifest itself as an individual. And the finitude causes another product which is its anna—namely, the reason or the intellect. The mind is the anna, or the product of the reason; the prana is the anna, or the product of the mind; the physical body is the anna, or the product of the prana. As it happens in this manner in an individual case, so is it that everything happens in the world. The Panchagni Vidya of the Chhandogya Upanishad is a cosmological iteration of the very same process that takes place in our own individuality, through which it is that we are what we are in this body.
The causes behind the causes is the story of creation, especially the Panchagni Vidya Tattva. There is a cause for the body, which is the prana. There is a cause for the prana, which is the mind. There is a cause for the mind, which is the reason. There is a cause for the reason, which is the jivatatva, or finitude. And there is a cause for that, which is the will of the Atman. So is this production of things and events in this world, which are occasioned by certain vibrations. The vibrations are one behind the other. In the beginning, originally there is the tattva, or the tapas concentration of Brahman itself, which gyrates and produces Hiranyagarbha tattva, Virat tattva, space-time. After that there are the tanmatras—shabdha, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha—then the five elements, and all things down to the very earth from where there is the harvest of diet, food, which when eaten produces vitality in the system, causing further enlargement of the species.
Tasmād ṛcaḥ sāma yajūṁṣi dīkṣā yajñaś ca sarve kratavo dakṣiṇāś ca, saṁvatsaraś ca yajamānaś ca lokāḥ somo yatra pavate yara sūryaḥ (2.1.6): From this Being, everything proceeds, it is said. The Vedic verses, mantras, are also emanations of this Being, which means the truths contained in the Veda mantras are eternally there as projections of certain aspects in the manifestation of Brahman tattva. The chants, the Yajurveda mantras and the formulae that are employed in the performance of sacrifices, the rites connected with these yajnas, the ceremonies of various types, the gifts and so on, even the time chosen for the sacrifice, and the worlds purified by the Sun and the Moon which the soul will attain after the departure from this body, all these are conditioned by that original tapas of Brahman. Our past, our present, as well as our future are in the hands of God. This is what is actually meant by this passage. The condition into which we are born in this world, the community in which we find ourselves, the length of life for which we will be living in this world, and the experiences which we will pass through are all written down while we are still in our mother’s womb.
Sati mūle tadvipākaḥ jāti āyuḥ bhogāḥ (Y.S. 2.13) is a sutra of Patanjali. Jati, ayuh, bhoga are already predetermined even before we come out of the womb of our mother. We cannot change one inch of it. Jati is the category of life into which we will be born—the community, so-called. Ayuh is the length of life. Bhoga is the joy or the sorrow that we have to reap in this world. In a similar manner are all these things mentioned here, the total concept of events taking place in all the worlds.
Not only the visible, tangible objects of sense, but also the processes of perception and the motive force that causes this perceptional process, are also to be regarded as conditioned by this original tapas of Brahman. And there is then nothing left for the jiva to contemplate individually. The individual remains merely as an instrument of action in the hands of that great tapas of Brahma-shakti. Here creation is considered in a total sense, not merely in a linear descending series, and is taking place from all sides, like winds sometimes blow from all sides and not only in one direction. It is not a single direction that the will of Brahman has taken in the production of effects from causes, but everywhere there is a spread-out series of causes, infinite in number, producing infinite products, or effects, from these countless causes everywhere, just as we have countless cells in the body, and they do not move only in one direction. They do not move in just a linear vertical, horizontal or whatever direction. There is a rounding-up of activity through the harmonious action of the cells from all directions.
Creation, therefore, is a multidirectional activity. It is not a single direction that is taken as we walk on the road, for instance. We walk only in one direction, but the will of Brahman does not act in that manner. It acts from all directions, and it is as infinite as Brahman itself is. This is why it is said that the creation of Brahman is infinite. The Infinite produces the infinite, limitlessness comes from Limitlessness, and Eternity produces eternity, as it were, we may say, in a most remarkable sense.
Tasmāc ca devā bhaudhā samprasūtāḥ sādhyā manuṣyāḥ paśavo vayāṁsi, prāṇāpānau vrīhi-yavau tapaś ca śraddhā satyam brahma-caryaṁ vidhiś ca (2.1.7): These passages connected with the creation of the universe occurring in the Mundaka Upanishad have some connection with the Purusha Sukta of the Veda, which also says that all the gods, all the sacrifices that are performed by the gods and also performed for the gods, and every animal conceivable, every little thing—birds, insects, even the grains in the fields, the very breathing process, and activities such as religious and philosophical considerations, faith and truth, self-restraint, law and order—all these are the will of Brahman. The author of the Upanishad has, as much as possible, tried to conceive everything. There is nothing left unsaid by these verses, which are very few in number but abundant in their meaning.
From Him, from that great plenum of felicity, these seven senses manifest themselves. Sapta-prāṇāḥ prabhavanti tasmāt saptārciṣas samidhas sapta-homāḥ, sapta ime lokā yeṣu caranti prāṇā guhāśayā nihitās sapta sapta (2.1.8). Seven orifices above the neck are referred to here as seven senses—the two nostrils, the two eyes, the two ears, and the mouth. These are the seven apertures which act like senses, performing their respective functions. These senses, and their powers of cognition—not only the location of the eyes, nose, ears, etc., but also the capacity involved in them to perform their function, and the particular objects to which they are directed, as also the knowledge that such objects are the requisites for the function of a specific sense organ, and the physical locations of these senses—are what is meant by these cryptic words prana, arcisas, samidhas and homa. The terminology of sacrifice is used here to describe an otherwise-vital function that is taking place in us.
Seven pranas are the seven functions of the sense organs mentioned, and the flaming anguish of these senses to grab their particular food, or object, is known as saptārciṣas, seven flames. Our desires are like flames. They rush forth like burning heat in the direction of their objects. And the objects themselves are called samit, which are offered into the sacrifice. The sacrifice—the word homa is used here—is the consumption of the object. This is a kind of prana-agnihotra, otherwise described in the Chhandogya Upanishad. As we have an external sacrifice which we perform on altars with physical fire, and oblations such as ghee, etc., are poured over them, we have an internal sacrifice taking place; that is called agnihotra inside the body. Only householders perform external sacrifice. Vanaprasthas, who are retired from household life, perform the very same sacrifice inwardly—that is, internal prana-agnihotra.
When we take our meals, we are actually offering an oblation into the fire of Vaishvanara, which operates in the stomach as the samana prana. It is the duty of any educated person in the field of spirituality not to eat food with greed like an animal, but to pay some attention to the process that is taking place in the very act of taking food. We just do not lap up, or grab like an animal, the diet that is offered. A prayer is involved in the very process of eating.
Life is a prayer. The sense organs, in their greed for their objects, are actually praying for relief from the agony, or the involvement, in this grizzly action of their longings for things. There is a deity operating inside the ear as a point of consciousness at the back of the nervous system and the eardrum, etc., that appear to be the causes of the sounds that we hear. So is the case with all the other sense organs. If we ignore the presence of these consciousness points called divinities, we would be paying disrespect to them, and the agnihotra sacrifice would not then be performed. Those who eat without offering to the gods first as a sacrament are actually thieves, says the Bhagavadgita.
In the Panchagni Vidya we have been told in a very dramatic fashion, picturesquely, that the diet that we take is actually something produced by the earth, which happens on account of the rainfall coming from the skies. And the rain is nothing but an effect produced by certain vibrations of the rays of the Sun in respect of the water element in the world. And even there, the final cause is not reached. Why should the Sun act in this manner? Who has empowered the Sun to project heating rays so that the water vapour may be absorbed, become clouds, and move about by the action of the wind that simultaneously cooperates in this process? Why should all this take place? Let the Sun convert water into vapour, but why should the wind also blow simultaneously? Who is the reason, who is the cause behind this cooperative activity? There is something beyond the Sun also. That is the heavenly Spirit willing that things should take place in this particular fashion.
Thus, this kind of Panchagni Vidya is taking place inside the body as well as outside the body. All occurrences in world history, inwardly as well as outwardly, inside us as well as outside us, are manifested by a series of causes and effects of the central will, the concentration, the tapas of Brahman: tapasā cīyate brahma (1.1.8).
Sapta ime lokā yeṣu caranti prāṇā guhāśayā nihitās sapta sapta: Seven are the worlds which will be reached by the performer of this kind of internal agnihotra, Panchagni Vidya Tattva, and any one of these worlds will be our fruit thereof. We know what the seven worlds are, and we may be reborn there in any way, in any fashion, according to the devotion with which the sacrifice has been performed. Both outer sacrifice as well as inner sacrifice have a common intention of lifting the soul above this physical body and taking it into the heavenly regions, even up to the highest Brahmaloka.
Atas samudrā girayaś ca sarve asmāt syandante sindhavas sarva-rūpāḥ, ataś ca sarvā oṣadhayo rasaś ca yenaiṣa bhūtais tiṣṭhate hy antar-ātmā (2.1.9): This inner Atman, appearing as Brahman outside and the kutastha tattva inside us, is the cause of even the mighty oceans and the towering Himalayan mountains. The rivers flow in a particular direction only, and not in another direction. The Sun rises only in one direction, and not elsewhere. The stars scintillate and maintain their positions not in any other manner, only because of terror of the operation of the system of law and order of Brahman tapas. All the trees and plants grow only because of the will of that tapas. There cannot be a breeze moving, wafting through the leaves of trees in the thick of the forest, unless that tapas operates. Do you believe that such a thing is possible, that even an atom cannot vibrate and act in the manner it does unless the central will is there operating at the nucleus of that atom?
Atas samudrā: Even the oceans are created by Him. Is it not a picturesque description? Girayaś ca sarve: The mountains, oceans and rivers cannot be there but for the will of That—asmāt syandante sindhavas sarva-rūpāḥ. The author of this Upanishad must have been a great poet like Kalidasa, who beautifully presents before us the forte of all the values applied as emanating from one single point.
Yenaiṣa bhūtais tiṣṭhate hy antar-ātmā: Through all these manifestations mentioned in various ways, this inner Atman rejoices and glories in itself. It plays in the form of this universe. Lokavattu lilakaivalyam (2.1.33), says the Brahma Sutra. Why does the Supreme Brahman manifest itself? Why does it do tapas and concentrate, and become all these things in this way? Why do children play? Why do they create mud houses, and then in the evening kick them apart and return home? Why to they skip and dance? There is no reason for that. So is the reasonless sport of Brahman in the form of this picturesque manifestation.
Puruṣa evedaṁ viśvaṁ karma tapo brahma parāmṛtam, etad yo veda nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ so’vidyā-granthiṁ vikiratīha, saumya (2.1.10): The whole cosmos is this Purusha only. We are seeing nothing but that in front of us. Karma tapo brahma parāmṛtam: Our actions, our austerities, our studies, and the fruits of our actions are all included in this vast manifestation. Puruṣa evedaṁ sarvam (P.S. 2). It is the Purusha Sukta speaking through the Upanishad, as it were.
Etad yo veda nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ so’vidyā-granthiṁ vikiratīha, saumya: The Guru speaks, “My dear disciple, listen! Whoever knows this secret that I have been telling you all the while, in connection with the Atman which is the deepest reality of every individual and the deepest reality of the cosmos, whoever knows this correctly and lives it, such a person breaks the knot of ignorance.” Avidyā-granthiṁ vikiratī: It tears it apart and scatters it into pieces. It scatters the knot of the ignorance which has caused us to believe that we are here as isolated individuals and the world is outside.