by Swami Krishnananda
It is a favourite theme of the Upaniṣhads to consider the whole Reality as matter and spirit, or as the material universe and the universe of Prāṇa, energy. A meditation is prescribed on the correlation between Anna and Prāṇa, the two terms here representing matter and energy. There are those who think that matter is everything, it is the whole of creation, forgetting the fact that it is an expression of Prāṇa, or energy, which is equally cosmic; there are others who think that energy alone is the ultimate reality, forgetting the fact that it manifests itself as matter, or object form, in the world of experience.
Annam brahma ity eka ᾱhuḥ, tan na tathᾱ: 'It is not true that mere material bodies can be regarded as real ultimately, because they decompose themselves into their original components when Prāṇa is absent in them.' It is the Prāṇa, or the energy, or the force that is behind things which keeps them in shape and maintains the form which they have taken at any given moment of time. It is also not true that matter does not exist, because it is an expression in space and time of the very same energy which is behind it as the invisible formless substance. So, form and formless being are the two aspects of Reality. They have to be blended together in contemplation. Neither should we go to the invisible, ignoring the visible, nor should we concentrate upon the visible merely, ignoring the aspect of the invisible reality behind it. Pῡyati vᾱ annaṁ: 'Everything that is material or of the nature of food decomposes itself and decays when Prāṇa is absent.' And Prāṇa, too, sustains itself on matter because it operates through matter. Our life is sustained by the food that we consume, and food in turn is maintained in its original freshness by the energy that pervades it. So, there is an interdependence of matter and energy. On this, there is a linguistic concept introduced for the purpose of meditation, just as we had a mention made of contemplation on the literal significance of the letters of the word Hṛidya, or heart, on an earlier occasion. Here we are asked to contemplate symbolically on the meaning of a certain word – 'Vi'. Vi, iti; annaṁ vai vi; anne hīmᾱni sarvᾱṇi bhῡtᾱni viṣṭᾱnī: 'Everything is rooted in the material form and the food that is consumed, because of the fact that they are rooted in the material form.' The Sanskrit word for rootedness is Viṣṭatva, Viṣṭānī, and so, contemplate on the very first letter Vi of this significant word Viṣṭa, to be rooted, to be fixed or to be encompassed by something. Similarly, ram iti prᾱṇo vai ram, prᾱṇe hīmᾱni sarvᾱṇi bhῡtᾱni ramante: 'it is on account of the manifestation of life, or Prāṇa, that people are happy'. The joy of life is nothing but the joy of breathing, and energy manifesting itself as Prāṇa, and the Sanskrit word for this is Ramana. To Ram is to enjoy, to be happy, to be pleased and to be delighted. So, the words Ram and Viṣṭā – these two are semantically conceived and the first letters of these words are taken together, Vi and Ra. 'Contemplate on these only,' says the teacher. This is a way of meditation, using merely the first letter of the two words which indicate certain significances of the function of the two aspects of Reality – Anna and Prāṇa. 'Whoever contemplates thus on a blend of the two aspects of Reality as Anna and Prāṇa, matter and energy, enters into these two at the same time, combines the two in his own being and in his personal experience and life.' One who knows this secret of meditation does not over-emphasise either the aspect of matter or the aspect of energy. In other words, he combines in his practical life the two aspects of externality and internality. He is neither externally engaged as the extroverts are, nor is he internally engaged too much as the introverts are, but strikes a balance between the two.
The whole moral of the teaching in this section of the Upaniṣhad seems to be that we must strike a via media, a golden means between the outward looking attitude and the inward investigation of a psychological nature. We should neither be too much engaged in external investigation of material form to the exclusion of the internal aspect of Reality which is psychological and of the nature of energy, nor should we emphasise too much on the internal aspect only, namely, things psychological, ignoring the external aspect, because the internal and the external, the energy aspect and the matter aspect are two sides of a single Reality. Meditation should ideally be on a harmony between the two. This is, perhaps, the intention of the teacher in this section.