by Swami Krishnananda
The predominant tone of the Samhitas and Brahmanas was one of piety and ceremonialism, interspersed with raptures of religious feeling and contemplative ecstasy, which led occasionally to a spiritual vision of the Virat or the Cosmic Almighty. Though the undercurrent of the thought of the Vedic Rishis had an overtone of a spiritual vision in the things of the world, and their idea of sacrifice reached its zenith in a meditation on the Universe itself as a sacrifice of the Supreme Purusha, the tendency to material sacrifices or yajnas for propitiating the gods hymned in the Samhitas still continued to receive great stress in the ordinary life both of the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, who formed the upper classes of the social strata. Side by side with the concept of sacrifice and an obedience to the laws of rita and satya, the concept of samsara or worldly existence as a part of the requirements of the principle of reincarnation of souls due to karma received more and more attention, and the thoughtful began to feel a need for discovering a way of redemption from transmigratory life, since it was realised that transmigration is the result of subjection to a law which was being violated in life by the individual. The necessity felt for an austere achievement of freedom from desire, which was the cause of the violations of law, crystallised itself in the doctrine of tapas or asceticism and self-control which finds expression in the Aranyakas as a fruit ripening from the Brahmanas and Samhitas. The Tapasvin or anchorite, living a life of retreat in the forest, began to command more respect than the priest of the Brahmanas and the hymnist of the Samhitas. The tendency to regard the Vedic sacrifice more as an act of internal meditation than outward oblation gained firm ground and the ceremonial piety of the earlier part of the Vedas flowed into a mystical contemplation of creation, while, at the same time, it was discovered that the inner sacrifice is more powerful than the outer in producing results.
The sages who dedicated their lives more and more to meditation in sylvan retreats rather than to the external yajnas of the Brahmanas demonstrated their superiority over others by the spiritual prowess they possessed. The sage rose above the conventional formalities of ritualistic dogma and concerned himself with the duty of mastering Nature through tapas or self-restraint, which enabled him to have a knowledge of everything in the world simultaneously. He gained omniscience and could have access to the different regions of the Universe without hindrance. Certain sages almost approximated God in their powers and could create, preserve or destroy things, if they so wished, by a mere glance or even a thought. By meditation the sage solved the cosmic mystery and attuned himself to the Absolute, or the Divine Lord of the Universe. He overcame mortality and attained salvation from birth and death. He was regarded as the supreme conqueror, and in the words of the Upanishad, 'the world belongs to him, nay, he himself is the world'. Such was the dignity of spiritual realisation. The collection of the revelations of such sages formed the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
The Doctrine of Creation: The Upanishads do not reject the authority of the Brahmanas or the efficacy of sacrifice. But they go behind the sacrificial cult and regard it as a spiritual exercise. The thirst for knowledge could not be quenched by a routine of external yajnas or ceremonies. It was necessary to find an answer to the question of the creation of the Universe and one's relation to it inwardly and outwardly. The creation hymn of the Rig-Veda, the Nasadiya Sukta, heralded the quest for the Absolute, and in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the Asvamedha sacrifice is contemplated as a process of the Universe, to be regarded in meditation. From the various theories of creation advanced in the Upanishads, we may sum up the whole scheme as follows:
Brahman is the Reality, and is often identified with Purusha. The condition when Brahman is potent with the possibility of a future creation is called the Avyakrita or Unmanifest, known also as Ishvara in the later Vedanta. In the Sankhya terminology, this condition is the Prakriti of all things. When the Cosmic Will is fully projected, it is Hiranyagarbha, or in Sankhya parlance, Mahat. Hiranyagarbha or the Cosmic Intellect, when fully manifest as the Cosmos, becomes Virat. Now the subsequent process of creation is the beginning of samsara or individualisation by separation.
The universal Virat is conceived as adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva, when the diversified forms appear as divisions therein. The senses of knowledge and the organs of action, as well as the psychological functions, have their external counterparts and also their presiding deities ruling over them. Thus, the sense of hearing has sound (ether) as its physical counterpart and the deities of the quarters as its presiding deities. The sense of touch has tangibility (air) as its physical counterpart and Vayu as its presiding deity. The sense of seeing has colour (fire) as its physical counterpart in the world and Sun or Aditya as its presiding deity. The sense of taste has gustatory enjoyment (water) as its physical counterpart and Varuna as its presiding deity. The sense of smell has odour (earth) as its physical counterpart and the Asvins as its presiding deities. The organs of speech, grasping (hands), locomotion (feet), procreation and excretion have respectively Agni, Indra, Vishnu, Prajapati and Yama as their presiding deities. The faculties of thinking (manas), understanding (buddhi), self-arrogation (ahamkara) and memory (chitta) have Soma (Moon), Brahma, Rudra and Vishnu as their presiding deities. Apart from the physical counterparts and the presiding deities, the individual functions mentioned above have their locations in the body, such as ears, skin, eyes, palate, nostrils, mouth, hands, feet, genitals and anus. The psychological functions are the mind, intellect, ego, and the subconscious, including the unconscious. These details are all not fully available in the older Upanishads but have to be gathered from the elucidations in the later Upanishads.
The doctrine of creation delineated up to this stage is as far as what can be gathered into a systematic whole from the different statements on the subject made in the Upanishads. But this scheme of creation is developed into a further detail of completeness in the Epics and, especially, the Puranas, which we can consider here with benefit, though these developments are not to be seen in the creation theories of the Upanishads. Together with the senses of knowledge and organs of action, and their locations in the body of the individual, there is the creation of their physical counterparts, viz., Ether, Air, Fire (with light and heat), Water and Earth. The Creator Brahma or Hiranyagarbha projects out of his Mind the original individuals - Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata. There is, then, the manifestation, from the cosmic body of Brahma, of the first progenitors of beings - Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Bhrigu, Vasishtha, Daksha and Narada. Then is described the appearance of Rudra or Siva who is one of the trinities or primary gods of the Universe. Then, out of the body of Brahma we hear of the creation of Manu and Satarupa, the first king and queen, who formed two halves of an aspect of the body of Brahma. Manu and Satarupa had Priyavrata and Uttanapada as their sons, and Akuti, Devahuti and Prasuti as daughters. The relationships of these offsprings of Manu and Satarupa with the earlier progeny of Brahma, such as Marichi, Atri, etc., became the sources of the entire creation in all its Lokas or planes of manifestation.
The Puranas go into more detail of the creation of lesser divinities, such as the Devas, Gandharvas and Apsarases, Pitris, Yakshas, Siddhas, Charanas, Vidyadharas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas and lower still Nagas, Rakshasas, Bhutas, Pretas and Pisachas. The creation of the plants, animals and humans is said to have taken place, according to the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, simultaneously with these lesser grades of beings.
One important feature in creation is that in the case of Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat, the appearance or existence of objects is posterior to perception by the ramified Cosmic Will (drishti-srishti), while individual psychological perceptions are posterior to the existence of the objects so manifested cosmically (srishti-drishti).
The Puranic classification of the seven regions or planes viz., (1) Bhuloka, (2) Bhuvarloka, (3) Svarloka, (4) Maharloka, (5) Janaloka, (6) Tapoloka and (7) Satyaloka may be regarded as pertinent to the worlds respectively of (1) inanimate matter, plants, animals and humans; (2) Pitris, and beings of their category; (3) Devas, Gandharvas and Apsarases with Indra as their ruler and Brihaspati as their preceptor; (4) the Siddhas and Rishis engaged in meditation (who may be considered as occupants of Maharloka, Janaloka and Tapoloka; the higher order of creation above the manifestation of Rudra being hailed as the presiding divinities in the region of Satyaloka. There is also to be mentioned a superior order of spiritual beings like Narayana and Nara, Vasishtha, Vyasa, Suka and such other Rishis, who may be residing in any region at their will. These subsequent descriptions of detail in greater concreteness are not to be found in the Upanishads, but form the central theme of the creation theory in the Puranas.
Metaphysics: The Upanishads hold that the universe is in essence a spiritual unity. All this is pervaded by the Lord (Isa), whatever moves or moves not. To worship Him, therefore, implies a relinquishment of one's possessorship in regard to things. Covetousness is, thus, a denial of God's existence as the all-pervading reality. Life and its activities are non-different from divine contemplation. To bear what comes with fortitude and to act without initiative is real contemplation, in the light of the consciousness that He is all things.
The Supreme Being can neither be seen, nor heard, nor thought, nor understood, with the faculties of the individual. He can be recognised where the ego is abolished. He sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, thinks through the mind, understands through the intellect and breathes through the breath; but these instruments cannot apprehend Him. One who thinks that he knows, knows not. He is known by him who does not think that he knows anything in particular. If He is known here in this life, then there is the true end of all aspirations. If one does not know Him in this life, great indeed is the loss to such a one. Sages become immortal, after death, having seen Him alone in each and every being in this world as its very Self. Hence one should adore and contemplate on Reality as Supreme Love and Delight, whereby the universe begins to reciprocate this love to the votary of such a meditation.
The pleasures of the senses are ephemeral. They wear away one's energies, and tend to one's destruction. Even the longest life with the greatest pleasure is indeed worth nothing in the end. The only desirable aim in this world is the knowledge of the Self. The pleasant is one thing and the good is another. Both these come to a man together for acceptance. The wise man discriminates between the two and chooses the good rather than the pleasant. But the foolish one chooses the pleasant and falls into the net of the widespread death, on account of attachment to personal comfort. There is really no diversity here. As an indivisible Being alone should one behold it in all these things. He goes from death to death in a series of transmigration who perceives diversity here.
By knowing it, everything is known at once. He becomes it, who knows it. It is 'all this', and it ranges above perception. It transcends the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is the cessation of all phenomena, the peaceful, the blessed, the non-dual. It is Truth, Knowledge, Infinity. One possesses all things simultaneously, becomes all things at one stroke, and enjoys all things at once, who knows this as identical with his own being. Wonderful is that experience, marvellous is that man, great is his fortune, blessed are his friends, freed for ever are his relatives, gone is the bondage of those who have his blessings.
The Absolute is consciousness. It is the root of all existence. It blazes as the sun, shines as the moon, twinkles as the star. It sleeps in stones, breathes in plants, thinks in animals and discriminates in man. No part of this world is to be regarded as complete unless it is taken together with all its other parts. The sun and moon are only a part of it. The solar system is a part. The stellar regions are a part. The earth and the heavens are a part. No meditation can be perfect when any particular thing alone is taken as its object. Meditation is defective when it does not comprehend all existence. Meditation is rightly done when its object is the totality of which the visible and the conceivable are just aspects. In such meditation individuality is swallowed up into Universal Being. Here meditation itself ceases, and the object of meditation alone remains. The actions of one who knows this secret are universal actions. The food that he takes in is the food offered to the universe, and the universe rejoices in such satisfaction. The food offered to him by anyone is a spiritual sacrifice performed in the altar of creation. Knowing this, if one were to throw some grains of food to an outcaste, it shall be veritably offered into the Absolute. As children sit round their mother for food, hungry and craving for her benign look, so do all beings in this creation look to him for their existence, who knows this secret.
The Infinite alone is bliss. There is no bliss in the small and finite. Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else - that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else - that is the finite. The Infinite is the immortal. The finite is the mortal. The Infinite is based on its own greatness. It has no resting place or support other than itself. It is in front, behind, to the right, the left, above, below and everywhere. It is all this at once. For one who knows this, everything springs from his own Self. The whole universe, manifest and unmanifest, arises for him from his Self, and serves him without limitation of time and place. This is the consummation.
One who knows that He is the 'All' becomes the 'All'. Knowing is being. Knowledge is power. Consciousness is existence and bliss, immediately. He who seeks for the 'All' in any particular thing here, finds it not. The Eternal is not reached through the non-eternal. The permanent cannot be attained by the impermanent. The means and the end are both the Absolute.
None loves an object for its own sake. All love is for one's own universal Self. Things are dear because of the Infinite that peeps through them. The Infinite summons the Infinite in the perception of the beloved. Persons and things are not dear for their own sake. Though all love has a selfish origin in the world, it has a transcendent meaning above the phase of the seer and seen. He who knows the secret behind temporal loves knows Truth and is liberated from the thraldom of mortality. The knowledge of the Self is knowledge of everything. But he who, by an error, regards anything as being outside himself in truth, shall lose that thing, whatever it be.
Where there is duality, as it were, there one sees the other, hears the other, smells the other, speaks to the other, tastes the other, touches the other, thinks the other, understands the other. But where the One alone is, who can see what and by what, who can hear, smell, speak, taste, touch, think or understand what and by what? How can one know that by which one knows all these things? How can one know the Knower? This is the great admonition. This is the treasure-house of knowledge. If one were to give the whole earth as a gift for the sake of this knowledge, one should regard this knowledge as greater than that. Lo, this is greater than all things.
The Upanishads proclaim in this strain the content of spiritual realisation and have as their aim and objective of existence the aspiration to rise from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from mortality to Immortality.