by Swami Krishnananda
The conception of God in the Upanishads is of special significance. The God of the Upanishads is the Antaryamin, the Indwelling Presence in the Universe. This God is different from the God of the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika philosophies, who is entirely cut off from the universe of manifestation; the God of the Yoga philosophy, who has no intelligible relation to the principles of Purusha and Prakriti, and is not the ultimate goal of the aspirations of individuals; or the God of certain theistic schools, who is different from the manifested universe and the Jivas, though he is considered to be omnipresent and the existence of everything. The God or the Ishvara of the Upanishads is the Absolute-Individual, the only Person or Purusha, whose form is all that was, is and will be, who transcends the threefold time and is beyond spatiality and its concomitants. In this Great God are comprehended the possibilities and the potentialities of all the Jivas; in him are also all the actual forms of the Jivas. He is the Goal of knowledge and power. He is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. He is, to the universe, the highest representative of Satchidananda, Brahman. He is the universe and he is all the individuals. Different from this God, there is no universe, no individuals. Ishvara is Brahman from the cosmic standpoint. Brahman is Reality unrelated. As long as the Absolute is experienced as an object by differentiated individuals, it shall appear as a material universe of changing forms, a not-self contending with the self. Differences cannot be annihilated in individualistic perception. Only the Experience-Whole can reveal the reality of the indivisible Absolute, whose essence and existence is Consciousness, Eternal, without any relation to external appearances.
The Upanishads, it is true, do not give us a systematic account of reality. They are collections of statements of Truth in its various phases. These statements are made not by one but several seers in different Upanishads. We have to study the Upanishads carefully and thoroughly in order to gather a philosophical system from them. It is the genius of Acharaya Shankara that for the first time evolved a consistent system out of the diverse declarations of the Upanishads. It is the argument of Shankara that reason should not be unbridled, but should conform to the intuition expressed in the Upanishads; reason can be made use of till its limit is reached, but beyond this limit the Shrutis or the words of the spiritual preceptor alone are the support. Reason has, therefore, a value, but within certain limits. Tarka (discussion) and Anubhava (experience), Yukti (reason) and Shruti (revelation), logic and intuition, should go hand in hand. As long as it is possible to make use of the power of reason in determining truth, it is one's duty to use it; but when its limit is reached, it should be abandoned. Any further use of it would lead to error and not truth. We cannot conceive of a greater respecter of reason than Shankara, and yet no one could be more conscious of its defects and limitations. Reason and faith in the intuitional declarations together become the royal road to the realisation of Brahman. The lower truths are useful until higher truths are realised. The higher truth includes the lower in a transfigured condition.
An attempt at attaining to the truth of experience takes us through two ideas-the subjective and the objective. The subjective idea considers things as purely mental or idealistic. The universe, according to it, is an externalised form of mind or idea. But, it will be clear that this is not a tenable position. Experience shows that the object of consciousness is not more real or more unreal than the experiencing idea or consciousness. If the idea of the perceiver is to externalise itself as something in the universe, there must be a basis for it. We have objective perception in dream-experience. We have a dream-space, a dream-time and dream-objects. It may be said that all that we perceive in dream is an idea. But, if we critically examine this position, we shall notice that there is something deeper implied in the argument than what is apparent. What is the meaning of dream? It is known that, in dream-experience, there is a dream-subject together with dream-objects. I become the perceiver of the dream-objects in my dream. But is this dreaming individual identical with the waking individual?
I become a subject in dream; and I am a subject in the waking state also. The question that we have to put here is: Is this dreaming individual who is different from the dream-objects the same as the waking individual who is different from the objects of waking experience? If we think carefully over the issue, we will find that they are different from each other. The waking individual contains within himself the dream-subject as well as the dream-objects. It is the waking subject that has externalised his ideas as the dream-subject and his universe. When we wake up we find that not only the dream-universe is not there, but the dream-subject, also, is not there. The dream-subject and the dream-objects are unified in the waking subject. This can give us a clue to the relation of the individual to the universe. Even as the dream-subject is different from the dream-objects, this waking subject is different from the waking universe; but even as the dream-universe is not created by the dream-subject, so the waking universe is not the product of the waking subject. And, even as the subject and the objects in the dream state are resolved into another subject in the waking state, the waking subject and the waking universe are resolved into another subject which is Purushottama or Virat. Ishvara contains in himself all the objects and subjects. The universe is the objectification of the Cosmic or Universal Consciousness, and not of any individual mind.
Ishvara is the Soul of the universe, the Cosmic Self, the Cosmic Mind, who is the efficient and material cause of the individual minds; the individual has no independent existence apart from Ishvara; God includes in himself both mind and matter. Brahman (the Absolute) is Ishvara divested of cosmic relations, and Ishvara is Brahman in relation to the cosmos.
When we started philosophising, we came across three principles-God, the universe and the individual. We have advanced further and have found that God must include within Himself the universe and the individuals. He is not merely a relation, but true existence. He is That which resolves into Itself the universe and the individuals.
But, if, in God, the universe and the individuals are merged completely, why is there perception of difference? I cannot say that I am the same as the world that I see. This question can be answered by making a distinction between the human view of the universe and the divine view. We look at the universe in terms of space, time and causation. The moment we think, we think in terms of these three terms of knowing. Everything is involved in these three links. We imply in the fact of our thinking, our being individuals. We think of something in space; space objectifies experience. When we try to introduce a relation among these principles, i.e., God, the universe and the individual, we have already created difference. The difference implied in their conception is the very basis of our processes of thinking. How can we think of the nature of the Divine Being without objectifying it in space? This is why the Upanishads hold that Ultimate Truth is transcendental. The mind of man cannot think of anything independent of objectivity. This is the fundamental error in human perception. God transcends space, time and causation. In order to think of God, we have to transcend these limiting factors. And we cannot do that. The moment we try to avoid these things, we avoid our own existence. The thinker ceases to exist in the attempt at transcending relativity of perception and experience.
Philosophy leads us up to a certain stage of thinking; not to the Ultimate Truth. Philosophy trains the intellect in order to recognise its own limitations. It can only make us understand how much we can know in the universe and what we cannot know. The limit of the reasoning power is revealed by philosophy. But the Upanishads do not stop there, with mere reason or with understanding. They reveal the relation among the principles of God, the world and the individual. Only Aparoksha-Anubhava, or immediate experience, can reveal the truth of this relation. It is non-relational experience, without a relation between the perceiver and the perceived. It is not like man conceiving of God, but God knowing that he is. 'I am'-this is the knowledge of God. Here differs the knowledge of God from the knowledge of man. Man knows: 'I am; and others also are'. But God's experience is not like that. When He knows, 'I am', nothing else exists. This 'I' includes everything; there is no space, time or causation for Him; it is pure Consciousness.
The distinction that is ordinarily made between Ishvara and Brahman can be traced finally to the Upanishads. Though the rigid distinction which is made between these two metaphysical principles in the official Vedanta philosophy of Shankara and his followers cannot be found in the Upanishads clearly set forth, there is no doubt that the basis for this distinction is in the Upanishads themselves. Brahman is described sometimes as Purusha-Vidha which can, without difficulty, be identified with the Divine Being constituting the three phases of Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. The Upanishads, however, do not show much interest in distinguishing between Ishvara and Brahman, and the reason for this it is not hard to seek. It is our extreme attachmeht to the process of logical thinking that leads us conceive of Ishvara as somehow distinguished from the Supreme Brahman. For all practical purposes, this distinction need not be made, for it is not necessary. To us, who think as individuals situated in space, time and causal relations, the Absolute appears as something which must have some kind of connection with the universe of our experience. We take the universe of objective perception for granted, and then argue that there must be an Absolute beyond the universe. We cannot disregard the universe, for we see it before our eyes and experience it; and we cannot also abandon the Absolute, for without it all experience seems to become self-contradictory and meaningless. We have also to retain our own individuality, for we do not see any difference between our being and our individuality. We want everything, we want also difference, and we want consistency and logical perfection! We are aiming at Truth, but to get at Truth we make use of methods which are inconsistent with Truth. This explains our failure in grasping it in its completeness. The distinctions among Brahman, Ishvara, Jagat and Jiva are not fundamental; they are relative to individual experience. And the Upanishads, which concern themselves with Truth as it is, and not merely with the logical truth arrived at through speculation, would quite obviously not pay much heed to these relative distinctions created by individual experience. When Ishvara is directly realised, and not merely established by reason, it will be found that Ishvara sheds the relative attributes imposed upon him by the individuals and thus coalesces with the Absolute, Brahman. Brahman appears as Ishvara; it does not become Ishvara. And it appears as Ishvara to the Jivas. When Jivahood is transcended, Ishvarahood, also, has to get cancelled, for the latter is only the correlative of the former, and neither of the two can have irrelative existence. The Absolute alone is; Ishvara, Jagat and Jiva are not absolute existence; they are relations within the Absolute, and independent of the Absolute they cannot be. The Absolute is the All. This is the central doctrine of the Upanishads. But this purport does not easily make itself explicit in any of the proclamations of these texts. They are highly mystical, suggestive and intricate in the manner of their expressions. Nevertheless, this is the outcome of their long discourses, when they are well distilled and properly coordinated.