by Swami Krishnananda
This is Chapter 2, Section 1
Tad etat satyam: yathā sudīptāt pāvakād visphuliṅgāḥ sahasraśaḥ prabhavante sarūpāḥ, tathākṣarād vividhāḥ, saumya, bhāvāḥ prajāyante tatra caivāpi yanti (2.1.1): O Master, how has this world come? The disciple raises the question.
There are various ways of answering this question of how this world has come. In the beginning the answer will depend on the ability of the student’s mind to understand, because the student imagines that the world has come from something. The student has not seen this world coming from something. Even without seeing the world coming from something, we put questions such as ”Who created this world?” and ”Why should the world be created by anybody?” We imagine that this world must have been created by someone, and as this assumption is already in the mind, one has to take the stand of the disciple in assuming that there is a cause for this world; so initially, by a kind of illustration and analogy, the cause of the world and the manner of its coming from the cause is described in this verse.
Here is the truth, the answer to your question. As from a large conflagration of fire thousands of sparks emanate in all directions, in a similar manner, varieties of individualities – species of beings and things – emerge from this imperishable Reality and return to it, as sparks of fire that rise from the conflagration shoot up and then go back to their source, which is the fire itself. Thus is the world coming from its cause, which is the imperishable Brahman. It comes, it is sustained, and it returns. There is a beginning and middle and an end for this world. Therefore the world is not real, merely because of this simple fact that it has a beginning and an end and a tentative middle.
The illustration of the fire and sparks is to indicate for the student’s comprehension that there is some quality in us which will enable us to reach God. If the effect is totally disconnected from the cause – if there is nothing in the effect which can be called similar to the essence of the cause – there will be no relationship between them. This is to indicate that in spite of our separation from God, our fall from Brahman, as it were, we are still endowed with that potential for returning to Brahman because the seat of Brahman is planted in our own heart. The Atman that we are is an indication of the Universal that Brahman is, just as the character of the spark is in essence the same as the character of fire. This illustration makes out that basically we are verily that which we are seeking. If we are entirely dissociated from that, there will be no possibility of our returning to it. The Atman is Brahman basically.
Divyo hy amūrtaḥ puruṣah sa bāhyābhyantaro hy ajaḥ aprāṇo hy amanāḥ śubhro akṣarāt paratah paraḥ (2.1.2). It was said that from that Imperishable Being, everything proceeds; the world is created by That. That Supreme Imperishable is the divine, formless Purusha. Here Purusha is to be understood in the sense of essential Consciousness. The origin of all things is Consciousness. It presupposes all thoughts, all actions and all types of awareness of objects. Even to think, there must be consciousness behind the thought. Even when we assert or deny a thing, consciousness is behind the act of affirmation and denial. If we totally doubt and become a confirmed agnostic or atheist, even in that act of our agnosticism or atheism there is a consciousness of our being such a thing. Even if we say nothing exists, there is a consciousness that affirms that nothing exists; therefore, something exists. That something is the consciousness of even the denial of all things. Such is the Purusha, which is the Supreme Consciousness.
Sa bāhyābhyantaro hy ajaḥ: Inside and outside, it is there. Consciousness cannot be divided into parts. It has no fractions. There is no division in consciousness. It is indivisible. Because of the fact that it is indivisible, it is all-pervading. If it is only in one place, it can be divided. If it is in one place, there should be a place where it is not. Now, to know that consciousness is not in some place, consciousness has to be there already, because the absence of consciousness cannot be known except by consciousness itself, and so even the location of the absence of consciousness is consciousness itself. We cannot negate it in any manner whatsoever. The denial of consciousness is an act of consciousness only, and therefore it is to be considered as pervading all things, and not located somewhere. It is not only in one place, it is everywhere.
Ajaḥ: It is unborn; it has no beginning. To conceive the beginning of consciousness is impossible, because there must be somebody to conceive that consciousness as the beginning. If we imagine that consciousness was created at some time, we must imagine that there was something prior to consciousness which created consciousness. Then there will be what is called infinite regression of argument: “Who created that which caused the coming of consciousness?” Then we can ask another question: “Who caused that second one?” etc. Finally, we will find that we will land on the lap of consciousness. It cannot be created by anybody, because the very question of the creation of consciousness is raised by consciousness itself. Hence, finally we have to accept that consciousness is Ultimate Reality; it is unborn in its nature.
Aprānaḥ: It is not an individual prana consciousness – breathing, etc. It has no mind, because there is no necessity for it to think anything. As there are no objects in front of it, why should there be a mind? And as it is not an individual with a body, there is also no prana. Śubhraḥ: Pure, simple radiance. Akṣarāt paratah paraḥ: Even the so-called imperishable prakriti is perishable in the light of a still higher imperishability that is beyond prakriti – paratah paraḥ.
Etasmāj jāyate prāṇo manaḥ sarvendriyāṇi ca, khaṁ vāyur jyotir āpaḥ pṛthivī viśvasya dhāriṇī (2.1.3): From this great Purusha, everything comes. The cosmic prana, Hiranyagarbha, emanates from this Supreme Brahman. The Virat, which is called here the manas, also emanates from that Brahman. All the indriyas, or the sense organs, also emanate from That. They are actually the feeders, the tentacles of consciousness. Khaṁ vāyur jyotir āpaḥ pṛthivī viśvasya dhāriṇī: The five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – the very Earth that sustains us, the basis of all, emanate from That. The whole Brahmanda, the fourteen worlds, seven above and seven below, which are the permutations and combinations, modifications of gross forms or subtle forms, or the real forms of the five elements, all these come from one breath, as it were, of this one Supreme Being.
Aginr mūrdhā cakṣuṣī candra-sūryau, diśaḥ śrotre, vāg vivṛtāś ca vedāḥ, vāyuḥ prāṇo hṛdayaṁ viśvam, asaya padbhyām pṛthivī hy eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā (2.1.4): This Cosmic Being is described here as something like the Vishvarupa Darshana of the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavagita. Aginr mūrdhā: Agni here represents Heaven. The radiant heavens are the head of the Supreme Being. Cakṣuṣī candra-sūryau: The Sun and the Moon are the eyes of that Supreme Being. Diśaḥ śrotre: The entire quarters of space are the ears, as it were, of that being. Vāg vivṛtāś ca vedāḥ: Vedas are its words, or the speech it utters. Vāyuḥ prāṇaḥ: The entire cosmic breath, the entire air, the wind, is the universal Prana. Hṛdayaṁ viśvam, asaya: The whole Universe is its heart. Padbhyām pṛthivī: The gross form of physical manifestation in the form of this Earth may be regarded as its footstool. Eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā: This is a picture before you of the all-pervading Soul of all beings.
This illustration is to point out that all things that we can conceive in our mind or see with our eyes are part of this great being, the limbs of the Virat Purusha. That something is the eye, something is the head, something is the foot is only illustrative of everything being somehow or other organically connected with this Being. The whole universe is its body: eṣa sarva-bhūtāntarātmā.
Tasmād agnis samidho yasa sūryaḥ somāt parjanya oṣadhayaḥ pṛthivyām, putmān retas siñcati yoṣitāyām bahvīḥ prajāḥ puruṣāt samprasūtāḥ (2.1.5). The creation process is described here in terms of the Panchagni Vidhya, which is described in more detail in the Chhandogya Upanishad. This is a very interesting concept that we have in the Upanishads – the Panchagni Vidhya, the fivefold descent through which any event in the world can be imagined to take place. Events do not take place merely on Earth. They take place in heaven first. A vibration takes place in the highest heaven, and here this heavenly vibration is called Agni, or the Supreme Fire of the original cosmic activity.
The Sun may be regarded as a representative of heaven. The heat and light of the Sun are responsible for everything that happens between the Sun and all the planets, including Earth. Any event that takes place in the world is caused by the Sun. You must have heard that sunspots sometimes occur and create catastrophes in the world, and their positions suddenly cause a rise or fall in the cost of materials. It depends upon the manner in which the sunspot affects the Earth.
There are also indications of the Moon acting in the same way. If we observe the Moon two or three days after the New Moon, amavasya, we will find a crescent visible on the horizon. This crescent is sometimes slanting, and not straight like a cup. Either it is slanting to the left side or it is slanting to the right side, but very rarely is it straight. The belief is, astronomically, that if it is slanting to the left, prices of commodities will fall in the direction where it is slanting, and where it is rising up – north or south, as the case may be – the price of commodities will rise.
Can we imagine this mystery, how the Sun and the Moon can control us? Someone has written a beautiful book called ‘Super Nature’. Moonlight does not penetrate deep into the waters of the ocean, but there are little molluscs living deep in the ocean that arrange their activities according to the movement of the moonlight, though the moonlight does not reach them. They must be great mystical astronomers indeed! And so is the wonder of the effect that is produced by the Sun and the Moon, and even by the interstellar cosmic rays that impinge upon the Earth and affect us in multifarious ways.
This heavenly vibration, therefore, is the cause of everything that is taking place here. And the vibrations created by the solar orb produce such an impact upon the atmosphere that the heat of the Sun sucks the waters of the ocean and converts it into vapour which forms clouds; by the action of wind blowing in various directions according to the circumstances of nature, rain falls.
Somāt parjanya: Rain falls. Oṣadhayaḥ pṛthivyām: When rain falls, plants grow. There is harvest in the fields, and vegetables and all edibles in the world become available to us. But how does rain fall? A great activity is taking place in the mid-heavens, over which we have no control. We cannot create rain, and we will all perish if there is no rain. These vegetables and foodstuffs are eaten by man and finally converted into the bloodstream, and then into the essences which are responsible for the production of children while living a married life.
Putmān retas siñcati yoṣitāyām bahvīḥ prajāḥ puruṣāt samprasūtāḥ: In this manner, the heavenly Purusha is causing, by its own vibration of will, the creation of every little thing in this world. Even the little crawling insects are created by the Supreme Purusha. Creation takes place in a variety of ways, which is only one illustration of the manner of the relation of cause and effect, highlighting how we, in our crude form of understanding, imagine how something could have come from something else. Why should anything come from something else? Because if something is not there which is causeless, and if the ultimate cause also has a cause, there would be a logical regression and the argument will break. A meaningful argument should have an end. Endless arguments are no arguments. And so, the argument in respect of the effect coming from a cause should lead to a cause which itself has no further cause.
This causeless cause must also be an intelligent cause. Therefore, this ultimate cause is, firstly, without any cause behind it – there is no other cause for it; secondly, it is intelligent because it is purposive and knows what to create; and thirdly, it is all-pervading because if it is located in one place only, it will be a perishable object. Thus, the Supreme Purusha is indivisible consciousness, all-pervading, causative of everything in this world. This is one answer of the Guru in reply to the disciple’s question how things have come at all. Generally, when disciples go to Gurus, this is the first question they put. Why was this world created, and who created it? They have many other questions, no doubt, but the first question that generally arises in the mind of a student is how this world has come. And here is a tentative answer according to the understanding of the disciple for the time being.
These passages of the Mundaka Upanishad that we are presently studying deal with the creative process of the Universe. In the previous session we had some inkling of it – the cause producing the effect and continuously having influence over the effect until the very end. The passage or the verse concerning the Panchagni Vidhya, which we discussed earlier, is an astounding doctrine of not only there being causes behind causes, an endless series of connections and concatenations, but also one thing influencing the other. The Upanishad is a knowledge that cuts off all attachments. It is the secret wisdom that severs the tree of bondage. One of the ways it adopts is to instil into the students’ minds the nature of the world, so that when it is properly understood or investigated into, it will no more be a source of attraction and repulsion, love and hatred.
The occurrences in the world, the events taking place in space and time, the very historical process of mankind – all these are certain occurrences taking place in the world that are above this Earth, just as the manifestation of our own physical body is not a sudden occurrence or an abrupt manifestation from nowhere but a gradual concretisation of impulsions and intentions coming from within. For instance, in order that the physical body may shape itself into this particular form that we see, it has first of all to be vitalised by the prana which is within. The within-ness of the prana is the reason why there appears to be life and vitality in the physical body. In a similar way, activities in this world, all the processes of human history, have a cause behind the physical realm. There is a super-physical cause for all that happens in the physical world.