by Swami Krishnananda
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.