by Swami Krishnananda
The existence of Brahman proclaimed in the scripture, such as the Chhandogya Upanishad, can be inferred even from an analysis of the nature of the physical elements, the Mahabhutas. As Brahman, by itself, is beyond perception, it has to be known by an investigation into its effects. The qualities of the elements beginning from ether downwards, are sound, touch, colour, taste and smell, respectively, as their special features, but each succeeding element in this series has one quality more than the preceding one, so that ether has one quality, air has two, fire three, water four and earth five qualities, the property of each preceding element being carried forward in the succeeding one. It is these qualities that become the objects of perception of the different senses of knowledge. The senses are, again, inferred to exist by their external activities and they really exist in the subtle body, their manifestation being made possible through certain locations in the physical body which we call the Karanas or instruments, while the internal powers are called the Indriyas or senses. The senses cannot see or feel the presence of the substratum of the elements, since it is their substratum, too. They can only come in contact with their manifest qualities. The substratum is to be inferred by way of analysis. The seats of the senses are ear, skin, eyes, palate, nose, tongue, hands, feet, genitals and anus, grasping objects like sound, etc., as stated in the first chapter. They all have a tendency to move outward into the space-time world of objects.
The senses of knowledge and the organs of action are situated in the subtle body and their presence is inferred by the effects that we observe externally in the form of perception and action. They themselves are not perceived, as they are constituted of the subtle elements. The senses, though they usually perceive only external things, do occasionally have internal perceptions, as when we hear internal sounds produced by the Pranas or by gastric fire on our closing ears; feel the sense of touch within while drinking liquids, taking food etc.; have inner vision of darkness on closing the eyes; taste and smell internally when there is an ergot or hiccup. These are certain types of internal perception, though, strictly speaking, all bodily sensations are to be regarded as external perceptions, since even the body is an object in the world. The mind is the ruler over the senses of knowledge and action, because it is capable of synthesising their functions into a harmony, while the functions by themselves are discrete. The mind is supposed to have its seat in the heart, though it pervades the entire body, like the light of a lamp that pervades an entire room though the lamp may be at a particular place in it. The mind is called the internal organ as it is incapable of functioning outwardly, independent of the senses. It is as much bound by the conditioning factors of space, time and causation as the senses are. This is its weakness, but its speciality over the senses is that it can remember things even when they are not perceived, and can bring about the needed synthesis in the perceptual and conceptual activities. The mind considers the pros and cons of the reports made by the senses and decides as to what should be done when a particular sensation or perception is brought to its notice. It functions through the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and changes itself in accordance with the preponderance of one or more of these properties within. It is called Santa (peaceful), Ghora (terrific), and Mudha (torpid), respectively, in the states of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Virtuous qualities like knowledge and dispassion, forbearance and magnanimity are caused by Sattva. Qualities like desire and anger, greed and activity are the results of Rajas. Lethargy, inertia, confusion and sleep are the modifications of Tamas. Merit accrues in the state of Sattva, sin in Rajas, and nothing at all in a condition of Tamas. The principle within that appropriates and arrogates to itself all these functions and thus gets bound in Samsara is called Ahamkara, the relative agent of all actions in this world.
It is clear that physical objects are material in their nature, from an observation of the fact that they are being perceived externally. We have now to understand that even the powers of the senses are of a similar nature, through scripture and reasoning. The scripture says that the mind is formed of the subtlest essence of food, Prana of the subtlest essence of water, and speech of the subtlest essence of heat. It is also known that there is a relation of Anvaya and Vyatireka between the senses and their elemental objects. The senses and the mind are incapable of perceiving non-physical things such as the celestial spheres or the still higher planes. The senses are correlative with the physical universe, the one being impossible without the other.
This whole universe, which is capable of being known by the powers with which a human being is endowed, whatever one is capable of knowing by reason or scripture – all this, taken together, is referred to by the term ‘Idam’ (This), in the great statement of the Chhandogya Upanishad: Sadeva somya idam agre asit (This was just Existence alone in the beginning). The Universe is created, and so, prior to creation, there was One alone without a second, all variety and form being absent then. Form is the shape of a concrete manifestation, known to the senses or the mind, while name is to be taken in the sense of that determining force within all things, which marks out a particular individuality apart from the others by means of its special constitution or make-up. It is the name-form nexus that determines an individual, and explains the variety of creation. In Brahman no such thing exists. (Verses 1-18)
We have three types of difference: Svagatabheda or difference as between the limbs of one’s own body, Sajatiyabheda or difference of one from another of the same species, and Vijatiyabheda or difference of one from another of a different species. The scripture asserts that Brahman is one without a second, and we cannot conceive of limbs or parts in its universal existence. Existence was prior even to the manifestation of names and forms, and therefore it should be naturally free from names and forms. We cannot conceive of parts within existence, because the differentiation of parts cannot be explained without an assumption of existence. Existence is not different from another existence; as such a reasoning makes no meaning. Nor can we say that existence is different from non-existence, because non-existence has no validity. We cannot think of difference in the Infinite, without limiting it and making it finite. Existence is absolute, and when we say that It is, we have said everything about it, and no adjective or attribute can in any way help us in understanding its real nature. Existence is Brahman. Name and form cannot be considered to be its parts as they subsist on existence.
The state of Pure Existence appears to some as non-existence, inasmuch as it is a negation of all names and forms and the mind finds it impossible to conceive of a thing which has no names and forms. The mind gets stupefied when it is confronted with an indeterminate Absolute, because it is never used to such an experience. It moves fearlessly when it is presented with familiar objects, and is in a state of fear when it finds nothing to hold on, its activities get stilled and tacts confounded when it is lifted to the status of trans-empirical being. The great teacher, Gaudapada, refers to this supreme Yoga of the Absolute as Asparsa-Yoga, or the Yoga of non-contact, which means, a ‘union without a real union’ where the soul’s realisation is not a ‘coming together’ but mere being. It is difficult to approach because of its uncommonness, and the mind dreads it, as it is not familiar with it, having never seen it or known it before. Like a baby that cries in fear when placed in an unfamiliar atmosphere, the mind turns back from the Absolute, unable to reach it and repelled by its stupendous nature. The schools of thought which consider void as the ultimate Reality arrive at such a curious conclusion because of their extreme dependence on inferential logic without the aid of scripture or intuition. They say that void was or is, not knowing that thereby they posit its existence unwittingly. It is impossible even to think or conceive of anything without the presupposition of existence. Denial of existence would mean a simultaneous denial of even the function of thought. We cannot say that the names and forms of the world are characters superimposed on something else, nor that they may have some sort of reality at least temporarily, because these cannot be super-imposed either on existence which underlies them or on non-existence which itself has no meaning, or on the world which is only another name for a large group of names and forms.
In the statement of the Upanishad, ‘Existence alone was’, the words Existence and Was do not denote two different things or even concepts, but convey one and the same meaning, the difference of words being introduced only with a concession to the weakness of human language which consists of sentences with verbs. Thus no kind of duality is intended in the statement, but only the undifferentiated Brahman is asserted.
‘Existence alone was in the beginning’. In this statement the terms ‘in the beginning’ do not imply the non-existence of Brahman at the present time and its presence only prior to creation. The declaration is meant only to make the student understand that prior to the manifestation of names and forms Brahman was undifferentiated. It does not mean that time is existent apart from the Absolute, and we should remember that questions and answers are possible only in the language of duality, and non-dual can never be designated as such-and-such. The teacher has to employ, perforce, the language of the student who finds himself in duality. The truth is that the origin of things, the state of existence, was one which was absolutely changeless, deep and incapable of mental approach in the sense of light or darkness as we know them, impossible to describe, unmanifest to the faculties known to us, something which cannot be said to be either this or that. It is that which remains after every concept is set aside as inadequate, above space, and experienced directly in a state of stillness of mind, rid of all desires. The mind may mistake a sense of voidness for actual realisation of Brahman, but from the fact of its being self-luminous, Brahman should be experienced as a state of doubtless Existence. The student or aspirant should be careful not to get ensnared by the temptations, perturbed by the oppositions, terrified by the states of stagnation, or confused by the various tricks of side-tracking which the mind resorts to at different times in the practice of Yoga. The Atman is the witness of even the ideas of there being no meditation, and it stands above even the modes of Sattva in one’s thought. It is known in non-relational experience or Aparokshanubhava. Existence is not a void or nothingness, for it is known and realised in one’s own being, it is not empty like space, but the plenum of Reality revealed in a state of freedom from desire, as that which is prior to the distractive work of Maya. (Verses 19-46)