by Swami Krishnananda
The substance and the structure of an object depend upon various factors associated with space and time. The location of the object, the observational centre of the subject and the relationship of the object to other objects; all these determine the structural nature of any single given object. Here I would advise you, if you so like, to study some of the discoveries made by modern science, especially physics. The objects are organically involved in space and time. They are not merely dove-tailed into space and time, externally or mechanically. It is not that objects are hanging in space, unconnected with space. No, says modern physics. Space and time are regarded as one, these days. It is not that space is one and time is another. They are two names for one continuum, called space-time continuum, and the things of the world are only modulations of space-time. Things in space, as they say, are certain structural differences in the continuum of space-time itself. Ultimately, we are told, there is only space-time, not even objects. and the so-called persons and things with which we are so much engaged are only space-time. We are hugging objects unconsciously without knowing what we are doing. So, even the structural differences are illusory, ultimately, and even the spatial and temporal difference is not valid, finally. Hence, substance is one, and the spatial and temporal differences get merged into this unity behind the variety. 'Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti', is the Vedic proclamation. The One existence is regarded as many by the great sages. They behold the One as many. Many names are given to the One. On account of this reason, because of the fact that the names and the forms which constitute the world are immediately resolvable to the structure of space-time, and finally resolvable to consciousness itself, Sarvam hyetad brahma, all this universe is Brahman. It is God illumining Himself in His variety, in His glorious multiple Form.
Well, if all this is Brahman, it goes without saying that this so-called self of ours, also, is Brahman: Ayam atma brahma. We need not, once again, explain this matter. It becomes clear because this self is also included in the All. Sarvam hyetad brahma: All is Brahman; therefore, Ayam atma brahma: this Atman is Brahman. Which self? This is another question. What is this self? We generally regard the self as constituting an animating consciousness within our body. We speak of 'I myself', 'you yourself', 'he himself', etc. Such terms are used by us in common language. Now, this self is the false self, not the real Self, because we have created a variety of selves by saying, myself, yourself, himself, herself, etc. This is the Mithya-Atman or the Gauna-Atman, the secondary self, the unimportant self, not the real or primary Self, or the Absolute Self – Mukhya-Atman. If all is Self, because Brahman is Self, it is impossible to regard anything as an object. All objects, again, coalesce into the Subject, because Brahman is the Subject, the Seer, the Drashta-Purusha, the final Beholder, the Consciousness that is at once the Seer as well as the seen. Brahman never becomes an object. If it is not an object, and if, also, all things are It – Sarvam hyetad brahma, then all things should be the Self. There is, then, in this experience, a Universal Beholding, a Cosmic Seeing, which means seeing without an object outside the Seer. This is an uncommon way of perception, because, here, we have a perception without a perceived object. This is knowledge without a known. All becomes knowledge when there is no object outside knowledge, Jnanam, jneyam, jnanagamyam, says the Bhagavad-Gita. It is knowledge as well as the known, that which is to be obtained by knowledge. It is the ocean of knowledge because outside it, there is no object. It is on account of this reason that we call it the Self or the Atman. The nature of the Atman is knowledge, not known-ness, not objectivity. This Universal Atman is Brahman; not the individual Jivatman, but the Universal Paramatman is Brahman – Etad brahma. This Brahman is the very Self which is Universal. To give a common analogy of the omnipresent space contained in a vessel: Space is universal, and it may appear to be limited on account of being apparently contained within the walls of a vessel, or a room. Can you say that space is limited because it is inside a hall? It is not really limited by the erection of brick walls, and when a vessel moves in space, we cannot say that the space also moves inside it. Likewise, the Atman does not move, when you move. You may travel distances, but the Atman does not move, because it is Universal; the Universal cannot move – Sarvam hyetad brahma; Ayam atma brahma.
This Brahman, which is the Universal Atman, is attainable by a process of personal experience. This process of experience by which we can attain the Atman which is Brahman, designated by Om, with a definition of which the Mandukya Upanishad commences, is a process of analysis and synthesis – Anvaya and Vyatireka – of the Self, the Subject. As was pointed out earlier, we are not concerned with objects here, but with the Subject, because the Subject is the means of the attainment of Brahman. Why? Because Brahman is the Supreme Subject; it is not an object. We cannot reach Brahman through objects; we attain It through the Subject alone. So, the analytical and synthetic processes of experience, of which we are making a study in the following verses of the Upanishad, are of the Subject, the Self, and not of objects with which we are not concerned in this endeavour here, because objects are not, when we consider the nature of the Universal Subject.
This Subject, this Atman, whose investigation we are to make now, is regarded as fourfold for the purpose of this analysis – So'yamatma chatushpat. Four-footed, as it were, is this Atman. What is this four-footed Atman? Is it like a cow, with four feet? The four feet of a cow are different from one another by a spatial distinction among them. One foot of the cow is different from another foot. We can see the four feet of a cow separately. Has the Atman four feet in the same way? What does the Upanishad mean by saying, So'yamatma chatushpat, four-legged, four-footed is the Atman? It is not true that the four quarters of the Atman are like the four feet of a cow, but rather these are like the four quarters contained in a Rupee coin. You may say that the four quarters are contained in a coin, a Rupee, which you cannot see distinctly. The four quarters are in the coin, and yet they are not distinguishable. You recognise their presence, but you cannot behold them with the eyes. In this sense, we may say that the Atman has four feet, and not in the sense of the four feet of a cow. The four quarters of the Atman described in the Mandukya Upanishad are the four aspects in the study of the Atman, and not four distinguishable, partitioned quarters of the Atman. These quarters, these four aspects in the study of the nature of the Atman, which are the main subject of the Mandukya Upanishad, are also a process of self-transcendence. The whole scheme is one of analysis and synthesis and also transcendence of the lower by the higher. This Mandukya Upanishad itself is an exhaustive study of the Vedanta, because, in a few words, phrases or sentences, it states what our primary duty in life is. A transcendence of the lower by the higher by way of analysis, excluding nothing, but including everything, is the way to synthesis. We enter into an analytical process by self-transcendeace, because synthesis, by itself alone, is not sufficient. If you total up all particulars into a synthesis of unity, you may get the vast physical cosmos. You may think: this is Brahman. To remove this misconception, the Upanishad introduces the subject of self-transcendence. You have not only to total up the entire visible universe into a single unity and take it as one substance, but also transcend the nature of this total unity, because the physical character of the universe is not the essential nature of Brahman. Brahman is not physical, not even the universal physical which is the cosmos. So, we have to transcend it, step by step. Four steps are stated. These are the four feet referred to in the Upanishad, the four stages of self-transcendence.
We have attained to a unity by bringing together all particulars into the universal. Now we transcend even the universal physical for the sake of the attainment of the universal psychic or the astral; transcend that also, later, and then reach the universal causal; and transcend that, too, further, and reach the universal Spiritual, the Spiritual which we cannot designate even as the universal. We have only to call it the Absolute. So, we have the physical, the subtle, the causal and the Spiritual. These are the four feet of the Atman, or rather, four aspects of the study of the nature of the Atman, four stages of self-transcendence described in the Upanishad. These four stages are called Jagrat, Svapna, Sushupti and Turiya – the waking state, the dreaming state, the sleeping state, and the transcendent spiritual state. There are the four states of Consciousness, and a study of Consciousness is the same as the study of the Absolute or Brahman, because Brahman is Consciousness. Prajnanam brahma: Brahman is Prajnana or Consciousness. A study of consciousness is the subject of the Mandukya Upanishad; – the four states of consciousness; – the states in which the consciousness appears to be connected to certain temporary, accidental circumstances in waking, dreaming and sleep, and its pristine, purified state of Absoluteness. So, we have to take, one by one, the stages of waking, dream, sleep and the pure Spirit, or the Absolute, for the sake of attaining this self-transcendence. In this progress of transcendence of the lower by the higher, the higher does not negate the lower, reject the lower or abandon the lower, but includes the lower within itself by sublimation, just as the eighth standard is included in the matriculation standard, the matriculation standard in the graduate standard, the graduate standard in the master of arts, and so on. When you advance in the educational career, you do not reject the lower standards, but sublimate them into a higher condition. So is this process of self-transcendence. When you go to a higher state, you do not reject or abandon the lower, but the lower is contained in the higher in a transfigured form. The lower is there in its real value. When you wake up from dream, you do not negate the value or the substantiality of dream, but you sublimate it into a higher value in what you call the waking consciousness, so much that you are happier when you wake up from dream. You do not feel grieved that some dream objects are lost, just because you have woken up. 'O, why did I wake up! I have lost my treasure of the dream world'; you do not feel grieved like that. You only feel happy that the phantasmal worry has gone. You feel better, then. So is the grand process of self-transcendence and God-realisation in the end. The highest process of self-transcendence is that by which we attain God Himself, and the last thing which we attain is God-Being, wherein the world is not negated or abandoned, but absorbed into Its vitality, taken entirely into the supra-essential essence of God; and in God we wake up into a consciousness of Reality, just as we wake up from dream into this so-called waking world. God-realisation is an integrated consciousness where we gain everything and lose nothing. That is why it is said that God-realisation is the Goal of life, because when we attain God, we have attained everything. By knowing That, we have known all things. By acquiring That, we have possessed everything. And it is not a distant aim of certain people alone in the world, like Monks, the Brothers or Fathers or Sannyasins; it is for humanity, for creation as a whole. It is creation that longs for God; not merely you or I. The whole universe surges towards God, which longing is expressed in the process of evolution. Why does the universe evolve? Because it is restless until it reaches that state. So, we are driven to that state of perfection, and this urge is the urge for cosmic evolution. God-realisation, therefore, is the Goal of life. Brahma-sakshatkara is the aim for which we are here, and this is the finale of the process of self-transcendence described in the Mandukya Upanishad.