by Swami Krishnananda
It is this Atman which holds together in a state of harmony the various worlds in the cosmos, so that they may not create chaos. The various elements, earth, water, fire, air and ether, the different worlds, the realms of being, as we call them-all these are held in position on account of the law of the Atman. The law ordains that what passes for a particular form should maintain that form until the duration of time prescribed for it is exhausted by it in experience. If this Atman were not to exert its law by its very presence, there would have been no system or order or method of any kind. What we call system or method, symmetry or systematic action, internally or externally, is due to the presence of this all-comprehending Being, the Atman. The integration that we feel in our own body, in our minds and the orderliness that we see in nature outside, all these are due to the presence of the Atman. Else there would be confusion everywhere. Anything could be anything. Anything could happen at any time in any manner, without any kind of relevance whatsoever. But this does not happen. There is a cause and effect relationship between one experience and another. There is a relationship vitally established between various things in this world, on account of the symmetrical balancing character of the consciousness of the Atman.
This bridge, as it were, which is the Atman that connects one world with another world, is also like an embankment over which days and nights cannot pass, which means to say that time cannot touch this realm. Days and nights represent the time factor. There is no time here. When you cross this bridge which connects the world of ordinary experience with the realm of pure Being, there is a transcendence of time. This Upanishad says that in the Atman there is no contact with anything that is phenomenal. Anything that you call temporal cannot touch this Being. Neither old age, nor death, nor sorrow can touch it. Actions of any kind cannot touch it, whether they be virtues or vices. Neither good nor bad, nothing that we regard as valuable here, no kind of regulation of this world can have any validity in that realm of Supreme Integrality. Every evil turns back after having touched this embankment. This supreme world we call Brahman is untouched by evil of every kind. Evil is nothing but the consciousness of body and consciousness of objects. This type of consciousness cannot be there. So it is free from every kind of contamination.
Even a blind one becomes free from the evil of blindness the moment he crosses this bridge which is called the Atman. Wounded ones are no more wounded there. People who are distressed are no more distressed there. And grieved ones have no grief there. Even night looks like day there. Night does not exist there. Because time does not exist, night and day cannot exist. Eternal light is this Brahman. It is eternal, perpetual, unending Self-luminosity. This is Brahma-loka. Here, Brahma-loka does not mean some world or realm comparable with the one in which we are living. Brahmaiva loko brahma-lokah-Brahman, the Absolute Itself, is called the world of Brahman. It is a symbolic way of representing its own Being as the totality of experience. The field of experience is called loka.
Freedom untrammelled is the blessing of those who have reached this realm of Brahman through practice of continence, and no limit can be there either to their powers or to their capacities to visualise things, or to their knowledge, or even to their own existence. It is limitlessness from every side, as the concluding portions of the third chapter have already told us.
Now, the means to the realisation of this great Truth is emphasised in the present section. The word used for this means is brahmacharya. The character of Brahman is brahmacharya. The conduct of Brahman is what we call brahmacharya. Charya is conduct. The meaning of the word Brahman, of course, we know very well. The conduct of Brahman is brahmacharya. To live as Brahman would be brahmacharya. How Brahman is, in that way one should be. It is very difficult to conceive this. It is a total abstraction of the senses in a sublimation of consciousness which recognises itself alone, to the exclusion of everything else. This is the only practice which one has to endeavour for. By the practice of this, one would have performed every other duty in this world, because every other duty is a tendency towards the fulfilment of this duty. This is what the Upanishad tells us in the following passages.
What we call sacrifice, a holy performance, worship, all this is equivalent to the practice of continence, because continence brings all those results which any kind of sacrifice would bring to the performer of the sacrifice. The knower of Truth, through the practice of self-control, attains those benefits which accrue by the performance of a sacrifice. What we call the sacrificial performance from the point of view of Vedic injunctions is also equivalent to the practice of self-control, brahmacharya, continence by which one attains to every benefit which would otherwise come as a result of the performance of Vedic rituals.
Sattrayana is again a session for sacrifices. Sattra is a yajna, a sacrifice, and a session for the performance of these sacrifices is sattrayana. It is a great ritual enjoined in the Vedas. But, this ritual called sattrayana is equivalent to the practice of continence, self-control. Sattrayana is the word used to designate this particular sacrifice, and here the Upanishad gives a peculiar etymological resemblance of the result that follows by the practice of continence to the meaning of the word sattrayana. Sath atmanastranam vindate sattrayana is the way in which we split the word sattrayana. Sat is Being, trayana is the way of freedom or attainment of the benefits of protection in every way. One protects one's self, frees oneself by contact with true Being. This protection or freedom which one gains through contact with Being is also achieved by the practice of self-restraint, brahmacharya. So it is equivalent to sattrayana, the performance of the Vedic sacrifice. What we call observance of silence, not speaking, maunam, is the same as brahmacharya, because that again is the silence of all the senses, on account of the contact of the Atman which is the Supreme Silence. One understands things correctly and enters into a natural state of psychic silence by the acquisition of the knowledge that automatically follows the practice of self-control.
Anasakyana is a vow of fasting. This vow of fasting which people engage themselves in is also equivalent to brahmacharya. Here again, an etymological semblance is introduced into the interpretation. Atman does not perish at any time. Therefore, this imperishable character of the Atman is comparable with the imperishable results that accrue to one by the practice of the religious vow of fasting. Whatever benefits accrue to a person by this vow come to him spontaneously by self-control. Forest dwelling which is the vanaprastha life, living in seclusion, etc., are all great vows and austerities, no doubt. But whatever one gains by these austerities, vows and practices, one gains merely by self-control, because it is the highest austerity and nothing can be comparable to it.
A person who transcends mortal experience and is blessed with an access into the realm of Brahma has to pass through various mystical experiences. Some of the words contained in the passage that we are discussing refer to certain subtle experiences in the higher realms of Being which a seeker would encounter on his ascent to Brahman, the Absolute. It is said here that there are two oceans in the realm of Brahman filled with nectar where the world this and world that both come together in a fraternal embrace. It is as if two oceans join together to form a single ocean. Ara and Nya are the two names given to these two different oceans. They exist beyond this world. They are in the third world altogether, not in the physical world, not in the atmospheric world or even the astral world, but in the spiritual world they are. There is another miraculous thing there which one can see after going there. There is a tank filled with exhilarating nectar which is the food of the gods and the food of those who have shed their physical bodies. It is immortal bliss that one would experience there. It does not mean that it is actually a physical food which one would taste through the tongue. As I mentioned, they are subtle references to mystical experiences of the soul, which are referred to here as contact with tons of nectar of exquisite sweetness. There is a tree there which yields all one asks for, which exudes nectar from its body. It is a huge peepul tree, very vast in its expanse from every pore of which nectar exudes. It is the kalpavriksha, as the Puranas call it, a tree that gives anything you ask. If you think something while sitting under it, it immediately materialises itself. That is called kalpavriksha. Such a kind of peepul is present there in this higher realm where nectarine immortality flows, as it were, from every side. This is the city of Brahman which cannot be entered by those whose minds are extrovert, whose senses seek sense objects outside. It is an invincible fortress of Brahman. No one can conquer it, no one can pierce through it, no one can break through it, no one can touch it or contact it, because it is not a physical fort. It has very, very rarely been conquered by anyone. Those who have been wedded to world experience through the mind and the senses are unfit to contact or enter into this city. There is inside this city a hall which is called prabhuvmitam, built by Brahma himself, shining like gold, resplendent in every way, into which the soul is introduced. These experiences are also described in other Upanishads in different ways, all very mystical indeed, referring to different exhilarating experiences of consciousness through which we pass when we get separated from the body and come nearer and nearer to that which is more and more universal. Language fails here and words cannot express what all this really means. It is only an indication symbolically of miraculous experiences and wonders which we cannot dream of, through which we have to pass as a result of self-control and practice of meditation on Brahman.
Freedom untrammelled is our reward if we could practise this technique of meditation. We would be the possessors of all these treasures, the nectars and the trees exuding ambrosia, and the oceans of nectar, etc., referred to here. All these would be our possessions and we would be rejoicing in these experiences and be one with them provided that - a great condition is here - we are able to withdraw our senses and mind and centre our consciousness in that which we call Brahman. Then we are free and this freedom is what we call moksha, Liberation.