by Swami Krishnananda
Now follow some very difficult symbols of the Upaniṣhad. Literally, they cannot be easily grasped. Even the Sanskrit is not classical; it is highly archaic. It is a Vedic language. And the idea conveyed through this most difficult style is still more difficult, so that one cannot easily make out the sense of some passages, unless we deeply think over the words as well as the meanings that are hidden between the lines. An unphilosophical mind may not be able to understand the hidden meaning of these symbols, and perhaps it is the case with all symbols; they cannot be understood literally.
The symbolic description here is one of the process of creation. How things come; and what it is that we see with our eyes. Where are we living? What is the connection between the effect and the cause? What is our connection with the Universal Being? What is the relationship between the individual and the Absolute? All these points are discussed in a pithy and pointed way, in a few passages, commencing from the Brᾱhmaṇa, or the section of the Upaniṣhad that we are to study now.
Originally, there was nothing. Death was enveloping everything. That is all the meaning, literally, of this sentence. In the beginning of things, what was there? Nothing was there. There was a devouring, all-consuming death principle, as it were; nothing else can we conceive. In the Veda, also, there is this very same point reflected in the Nāsadīya Sūkta, which proclaims that, in the beginning, there was neither existence, nor non-existence. What was there, originally? Darkness enveloped, as it were, because there was not the light of sensory perception. What we call light is nothing but the capacity of the senses to perceive. When the senses cannot perceive, we say there is no light. In pitch darkness, a kind of light exists; but the eyes are incapable of catching the ray of that light. That frequency is quite different from the one that is necessary for the eyes to perceive. So, when there was no possibility of external consciousness, when there was no sensory activity, when there was no distinction between the subject and the object, when the seer was not distinguishable from the seen, what was there? We can imagine for ourselves, what can be there. If we are not to perceive anything outside, what would be our condition? We cannot imagine it, because such a condition has never been seen; but it would be a veritable abolition and obliteration of all consciousness, obliteration of all consciousness, because every kind of consciousness is equivalent, in our case, with externality. Therefore, in the condition of non-objectivity which is the origin of things, the cosmic beginning of things, where the distinction between the seer and the seen was not marked, where the one commingled with the other, where one entered the other, where the two could not be distinguished, for reasons obvious, what was there? Nothing was there! Naiveha kiṁcanᾱgra ᾱsīt: Originally, nothing was there, because our idea of 'something' is an 'object'. There is no object present, because the object enters the subject, and vice versa. What was there, then? If nothing was there, could you tell me that it is capable of definition in some way?
The devouring death principle is the element of hunger which grasps objects. Here, hunger does not mean merely the appetite for edible dishes like rice, barley, etc. Here is a metaphysical principle. Here, the hunger is a cosmic element. It is not an operation of the biological spleen or the liver or the stomach of the individual. What is here intended is the principle of grasping. The object can be regarded as the hunger of the soul of the individual. There was nothing except the desire to grasp the object, if at all one could say that anything was there. Aśanᾱyayᾱ is the hunger of the individual to grasp, absorb, contact, abolish and devour the object.
Now, this is a condition which cannot be easily analysed, unless we pause for a while on this subject, and visualise what actually is here the author's intention. How did diversity arise? How could here be a development of the distinction between the seer and the seen from that theoretic nebular condition of universal darkness and cosmic waters? That condition is not of the Absolute, but what sometimes is described in the Purānas, and in the Epics, as the precondition of the manifestation of the external universe. It is difficult to imagine this condition, because we cannot understand what could be the precondition of the manifestation of externality, which is what we call creation. Creation is nothing but the projection of externality in Indivisible Being. The creation of the universe, therefore, is not actually the manufacture of a new substance. This is the great point which will be explained in greater detail, further, as we proceed.
In creation, a new thing is not created, because nothing can come from nothing. If a new thing is to be created, it must have been produced out of nothing. How can 'nothing' produce 'something'? This is illogical. The effect must have existed in some causal state. This causal state is the substance of the universe. Now, what is actually the distinctive mark of the universe that is created, as different from the original causal condition? In what way does the effect get differentiated from the cause? If everything that is in the effect is in the cause, what is the distinctive feature, what is the distinguishing mark, which separates the effect from the cause? If the effect is entirely different from the cause, we cannot posit a cause at all, because the cause is non-existent. If the cause is non-existent, the effect also would be non-existent. So, the cause must have contained the effect in a primordial state; and, therefore, nothing can be visualised in the effect which could not have been in the cause. In a sense, therefore, what is in the effect is what is in the cause. The effect is the cause. There is no final non-distinction between the effect and the cause, inasmuch as in substance they are the same. But yet, we make a distinction between the two.
This peculiarity, Viśeshata, which characterises the distinction between the cause and the effect, is the principle of what we call space-time in modern philosophical language. But, otherwise, it is the principle of externality. The principle of externality is not a substance. It is a peculiar state of consciousness. That is the distinguishing principle. The effect gets isolated from the cause by a peculiar adjustment of consciousness within the cause, not necessarily involved in change or modification of the cause, but only a state of mind or consciousness. Now, when the effect gets psychologically isolated from the cause, there is the seed sown for the further diversity of creation. The two become four, four become eight, eight become sixteen, and multiplicity, thus, proceeds from the original Single Atom of the cosmos. And, when this diversity, which is creation, is conceived as possible and capable of being hiddenly present in the cause, we have to assume, also, a peculiar potency in the cause, which becomes the reason behind the manifestation of diversity. This is called the Śakti in certain philosophies, the force, energy, that is present in consciousness, a peculiar indistinguishable, indescribable, eluding something, without the assumption of which creation cannot be assumed. And, sometimes, people call it Māya, merely because they cannot understand what it is. It is not a substance that exists. It is rather an inability to grasp the meaning of it; that is all.
Now, this peculiarity, whatever we may call it, whatever designation may be applied to it, is the cause of the distinction of the effect from the cause, and that becomes the first breeding ground for the further multifarious division we see in the form of this vast creation. The moment this creation begins, the moment there is the potency released for the external expression of what was hiddenly present in the cause, there is a catastrophic change taking place. And, this is the urge for creation, the urge for diversity, multiplicity, colour, sound, activity, etc. This characteristic of self-division is called Mṛtyu (death principle), that which destroys the indivisible, that which isolates the one from the other, that which disfigures the original condition of things, the destroyer of the original state of affairs. That is symbolically called death here, and further, it is described as the hunger of things to grab other objects.
Now, what is this hunger mentioned here – aśanᾱyayᾱ hi mṛtyuḥ? It is the urge that is simultaneously present in the process of creation for an involution of things. When there is a separation of one thing from another in creation, the seer becomes distinguished from the seen, the subject is separated from the object, they struggle to become one; because that which is separated has hiddenly present in itself the capacity to unite also, as the two are nothing but the substance of the one. So, the indivisibility of the one presses itself forward even in the divisibility of the two. So, there is restlessness everywhere. Our sorrows, our difficulties or problems, our griefs and every kind of unwanted things here, are a tussle between two elements in our soul – the urge for diversity and the urge for unity, fighting with one another. This struggle is Samsāra, right from the original Creator, Brahma, down to a blade of grass. This Aśanᾱyayᾱ, the hunger of the spirit, is the activity of the cosmos, where, on one side, it struggles to become more and more wide in its physical quantitative expanse, and on the other side, it struggles to become one with the Universal Spirit. So, we have two elements present in us always – the tendency to unity and the tendency to diversity. We ask for expansion in quantity, and at the same time, we ask for a heightening of our value in quality. However, the Upaniṣhad here mentions, in a very difficult word, that the origin of creation is indescribable, and it is indescribable merely because it preceded a state which requires the presence of the effect in the cause, and which was also preceded by a state which has within it, invisibly present, the capacity to multiply and also the capacity to unite.
The mind of the cosmos, which is called the Cosmic Mind, in usual parlance, is regarded here as an evolute, and not the original Being. The Absolute is Transcendent Being, and not a mind, thinking. It is not even a causal state. Even the causal state is supposed to be posterior to the Absolute. We never associate the Absolute with the world. The Brahman of the Upaniṣhad, or the Absolute of philosophy, is the assertion of Being which is unrelated to creation. And, when we have to associate God with creation, we have a new word altogether for it. Īshvara is the word we use in the language of the Vedānta. Such words do not occur in the Upaniṣhads. They are all to be found in the later Vedānta, but they are assumed here.
In the Sāṁkhya and the Vedānta cosmological descriptions, we have certain grades mentioned of the coming out of the effect from the cause. Before we go further into the difficulties envisaged in these passages of the Upaniṣhads, it is better to understand the evolutionary principles as initiated in the Sāṁkhya and the Vedānta. The Sāṁkhya tells us that there was an original condition where everything was potent, though not patent. Everything was hidden, though not expressed. Everything was in a universal causal state. That is regarded as the non-existent, dark, undeveloped, indivisible state of things. That is called Prakṛiti in the Sāṁkhya language. Those of us who have studied the Sāṁkhya philosophy will know what is Prakṛiti, and how evolutes proceed, come out, from this Prakṛiti. Prakṛiti is only a Sanskrit term for the matrix of all things, the original state where everything is in a mass, where one thing cannot be distinguished from the other, what the astronomers would call the nebular dust, in some way. But this is something more than that. It is a cosmic death, one may call it. Everything is contained there, and everything is hidden; everything is undeveloped and indistinguishable, incapable of being perceived, because even the sense-organs are not developed there.
Then, there is a tendency to think. The cosmic thought develops itself. That is what is indicated here by the words, 'tan mano' 'kurata'. From this undeveloped Being which was equivalent to universal darkness, mind arose. That mind is the Cosmic Mind. In the Sāṁkhya, we call it Mahat; and in the Vedānta, we call it Hiraṇyagarbha. This cosmic undeveloped state is sometimes called Īshvara. Now, Īshvara is not undeveloped in the sense of a primitive state where intelligence is absent, but it is an exceedingly intelligent condition where distinctions are not present. We call it symbolically dark, because the light of the senses will not operate there. It is a light that is transcendent; and in the passages occurring in such verses as the Manusmriti, we are told that it was shinning as brightly as thousands of suns, Sahasramśusamaprabhm. How can we call it darkness? But, it was darkness to the eyes which were not developed, just as the blaze of the sun may be darkness to the eyes, when it is very intense.
So, the mind that is supposed to be the evolute, immediately proceeding from the undeveloped condition, is the Hiraṇyagarbha principle of the Vedānta, coming from the Īshvara principle, or Mahat coming from Prakṛiti. Then, there is the Ahamkāra proceeding from Mahat, the Self-sense of the cosmos. This is how the Sāṁkhya would describe the development of the original, Cosmic 'I'-sense from the Cosmic Intelligence, which, again, is an evolute of the Cosmic Prakṛiti. Then, there is the distinction between the subject and the object; on one side, there is the physical universe, and on the other side, there are the individuals. The physical universe is constituted of the Tanmātras – Śabda, Sparśa, Rūpa, Rasa, Gandha, which become concretised by a process called quintuplication into the five elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth. And, subjectively, they become the individuals with the five Koṣhas – Annamaya, Prānamaya, Manomaya, Vij˝ānamaya and Ānandamaya. These Koṣhas are the vestures of the individual soul – the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the causal bodies. These are called the five Koṣhas. And within these Koṣhas we have the Prāṇas, the senses of perception and action, and the mind, the ego, the subconscious, the unconscious, and the intellect; and ultimately, a very unintelligible substance within us which we experience in deep sleep – that is the causal state. So, this is how the Sāṁkhya would describe the process of creation, which is followed literally, to some extent, in the Vedānta also, with only a distinction in definition. Instead of the terms; Prakṛiti, Mahat, Ahamkāra, we have the terms; Īshvara, Hiraṇyagarbha, Virāt.
So, this cosmological process, the development of the effect from the cause, gradually, from the Universal Being, down to the lowest of diverse elements – this it is that is described here in this Brᾱhmaṇa, which says that originally nothing was, from where the element of distinction between the subject and the object, characterised by a double activity of grasping and separation, was evolved, and then arose the Cosmic Mind, Hiraṇyagarbha.
Here is a passage of great significance from the point of view of philosophical technique employed in the understanding of the relation between the individual and the Universal. This which is a symbolic statement in the Upaniṣhad, very hard, indeed, to understand, conveys a wealth of meaning. What exactly is the connection between the diverse individuals and the Universal Absolute? This has been a great point of discussion throughout the history of philosophy, and it is not easy to come to a conclusion. Often, it is thought that the Universal is a collection of all the individuals or particulars. Many a time, we are told by philosophers that the Absolute is the whole, and the individuals are the parts thereof; so that to get the Absolute, one has only to collect all the individuals and group them together, which means to say, anything that we find in the individual will be found in the Absolute. There will be nothing more in the Absolute than what we see in the individual. This conclusion also will follow, if this assumption is correct; and it is a very uncomfortable conclusion, because we are not seeking in the Absolute merely what is in us. A million people put together cannot be regarded as qualitatively superior to what a single individual is. It is also held that the Absolute is transcendent in the sense that it has no connection at all with the visible universe. Often, it is also held that the Absolute is so much absorbed in the universe that we cannot find it outside the universe. So, we have theories and theories, and doctrines and doctrines.
This Upaniṣhad, in this one single sentence, tells us what the fact is. The original condition, causing the manifestation of diversity, is the death of universality. This is what is called Mṛityu. The death of something becomes the birth of something else. For the birth of the individual, the universal has to die. Very strange, indeed! We cannot understand what this means. The death of the universal means the complete abolition of the consciousness of the universal; and for all practical purposes, death and absence of consciousness are the same. The condition that is requisite, absolutely necessary, for the manifestation of the universe in the form of diversity, is an abolition of the consciousness of the Absolute, because there is no question of the manifestation of diversity in the Absolute. Manifestation requires space, time and cause, and many other things that follow. If the Absolute is spaceless and timeless, durationless, infinitude, eternity, the question of creation, manifestation, etc. does not arise there. Then, how comes this universe? From where has this universe arisen, or the diversity come? It can be explained, says this Upaniṣhad, by a strange phenomenon that should be assumed to have taken place, if at all creation is to be taken as a fact.
The consciousness of the existence of the universe is different from the consciousness of the Absolute. That the two are not identical, is a point that is made out here. Once the existence of the universe is accepted in consciousness, everything else that follows from it can also be accepted. If two and two make four, four and four make eight, and so on, arithmetically, we can draw conclusions. But two and two must, first of all, make four. We must accept that. If that is not true, then any multiplication, therefrom, also is not true. There is a distinction between Absolute-Consciousness and universe-consciousness. That distinction is the cause behind this line drawn here between Pure Being that is Absolute, and the condition precedent to creation. It is difficult for the human mind to understand what the Absolute is. Whatever be our stretch of imagination, we cannot conceive it, because every conception is quantitative and qualitative. The Absolute is neither a quantity nor a quality, and therefore no thought of it is possible. Even the subtlest thought that can be applied to the Absolute is, after all, a magnified form of the quantity-quality relation in terms of which alone is the mind able to think. There is no such thing as 'thinking' the Absolute. Such a thing is not possible, because the thought which thinks the Absolute cannot exist independent of the Absolute; for, what we call the Absolute is that which includes everything, including even the mind. So, the mind that thinks the Absolute is a part of the Absolute itself, and therefore the mind cannot think the Absolute. This is a very reasonable conclusion. Inasmuch as the thinker is involved in what is thought, there is no such thing as thinking at all in terms of 'That'. Either the Absolute is outside the mind, in which case it ceases to be the Absolute, or it is not an object of thought. It is not even a concept for philosophical disquisitions. But that being the nature of the Absolute, we cannot attribute to it any quality that is visible in the universe of creation. What about diversions, three dimensions, for instance? The three-dimensional universe, which is of space and of time which is duration, cannot be correlated with the Absolute, if this is its character, this is its nature, and this is the essence of its Being.
In order that the universe may be manifest, some phenomenon should take place; and that phenomenon is described here as Mṛityu. And Mṛityu, here, does not mean the ordinary phenomenon of death or destruction of a body. It is a metaphysical concept that is introduced here. It is a tentative withdrawal of the consciousness of the Absolute, and a manifestation of a new universal which embodies within itself, in a seed form, everything that we call the gross universe. The Will of God is supposed to be the originator of the universe, as we hear of, as proclaimed in the scriptures of the religions. The God of the universe, who is the Creator, manifested through His Will all this creation. Now, the attribution of 'Will' to God is indeed a difficult task, because, as far as we know, Will is a psychological function, and it can be defined in certain specific manners. But the definition of the 'Will' that we have in psychology is something which cannot be attributed to a God who is Universal. However, we have to assume a different kind of 'Will', and the Will which is responsible for the projection of the universe in a seed form, originally, can be described as a kind of potency or potentiality or latency of being, as the seed may be said to be the latency of the tree. The vast banyan tree which is so big, grows towering to the skies, is hiddenly present in a very tiny seed, as we know. We may say that the seed is the potential condition of the tree, though if we cut the seed, we cannot see there anything of the tree. Visibly, there is nothing; but we have to infer the presence of all the diversity of the banyan tree in this little seed which is so tiny. Likewise, a condition is assumed which is the potential seed of all the diversities to be manifest.