by Swami Krishnananda
We had occasion to probe into the implications of the involvement of consciousness in human individuality in terms of the five layers, or koshas, as they are called, in connection with the process of creation as described in the Taittiriya Upanishad. To recap, the Taittiriya Upanishad touches upon the structure of the human individuality, which is constituted of the five layers known as the koshas – annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnamaya, anandamaya, or the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal.
This suggestiveness of the involvement of consciousness in these koshas is also the subject of the Mandukya Upanishad. It lands us on the conclusion that this very consciousness which appears to be involved in the layers of creation – objectively as well as subjectively, macrocosmically as well as microcosmically – is basically universal in its nature.
The Aitareya is another Upanishad which, from another angle of vision, tells us how we as human beings, individuals, find ourselves in the predicament in which we are – one part of knowledge being available to us through the faculties of our understanding, and another part totally unknown to us. We live in this world in a particular condition, psychologically or socially. But why are we in this condition? Who placed us in this particular psychological, social context, especially as it does not seem to be a pleasant state of affairs? The world in which we live and in which we are involved does not appear to be a pleasant state of affairs. We have only complaints from morning to evening about things happening outside and about our own selves also.
The creation theory becomes almost complete in the Aitareya Upanishad. The projection of an externality to the Universal Consciousness is the principle of creation; an 'other' to the Universal appears to be there, revealed before itself – and as the Taittiriya Upanishad mentions, this projection takes place not suddenly or abruptly, but by stages. One such description of the stages of the involvement of the Universal Consciousness in the process of creation is available to us in the Taittiriya Upanishad. Now another aspect of it is mentioned in the Aitareya Upanishad, which is often considered as a complete description of what has happened.
The Upanishad begins by telling us, "The Universal Atman alone was." We should not say that the Atman was or will be, and so on; such a way of putting things would not be in harmony with what the Atman actually is. "The Atman was" is not the proper way of putting it because It also is, and shall also be in the future. But the word 'was', in the past tense, has been used often in the Upanishads from the point of view of our understanding of the process of creation, because we seem to feel that this world is a present condition, and the condition prior to the condition of the world prevailing now should be considered as something past. We see this world that has been created, manifested or revealed; and this world, which is now before our sense organs, is presently an object of our consciousness. The world is a present; it is not something that was. It is, but it was put in this fashion to imagine that the world of perception is something that is present. Thus, the condition prior to the creation of the world would be a 'past'. "God created the world"; this is what we generally say. We use the past tense, as if it took place many, many years back. Actually, God is not living in time. The Supreme Being is a timeless Existence and, therefore, to use the words 'is', 'was', 'will be', etc. – which have a meaning only in the world of time – is inappropriate in the case of a timeless and non-spatial Existence. Yet we, thinking in terms of time only, and absolutely unable to think in any other way, say "the Atman was" or "God created the world".
Inasmuch as time also is something that has been created, the creation itself could not have taken place in time itself. Space and time, which are also the evolutes of consciousness and which manifested from the Atman, could not be regarded as a condition of creation itself. The idea of time is involved in any statement like: "God created the world in ancient times. Many, many years back, centuries back, millions of years back, as it were, this world was created by God." When we say this, we imply that God created the world sometime. The word 'sometime' means time, but God is not in time. He is timeless, so we cannot think how creation actually took place.
However, we are eager to know how this world came to be. So, as a mother tells a story to a little child, the great metaphysical philosophers of the Upanishads, taking into consideration the weakness of human thought and its involvement in space and time absolutely, used the term – tentatively, for the time being, and not finally, of course – "the Atman alone was". Atma va idam eka evagra asit, nanyat kin cana misat (Ait. 1.1.1) is the first sentence of the Aitareya Upanishad. There was nothing alive anywhere at that time, when the Atman alone was. Outside the Atman, outside Brahman, outside the Absolute nothing can be, because it is a non-relative existence. The emanation of this universe is made possible by the appearance of space and time. It is humanly impossible to imagine how time can emanate from a timeless eternity. It is not possible for anyone to understand how that could be possible; yet, somehow, that has become possible. But when it has become possible, the process that actually follows this unthinkable, unintelligible, transcendental possibility is involved in certain stages, which are the very degrees mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad: inwardly, psychologically, the five koshas; outwardly, cosmically, the elements themselves – space-time, air, fire, water, earth. These are the names that we give to certain stages of the manifestation of matter – prakriti, concrete substance, object, or call it externality.
The Atman, the Universal Being which is Brahman universally, willed this cosmos. Usually religions tell us, "God created the world," "He created the heaven, the earth," and so on. As the Upanishad tells us, this Supreme Being, in willing this cosmos, firstly projected a negation of Universality. I touched upon this aspect of the matter some time earlier; I am briefly repeating it for your memory. The external, which is the universe, can become meaningful only on a tentative submerging of the Universal Principle; nothing that is external can be in harmony with the Universal. The word 'Universal' implies that which is inclusive of all things, outside which nothing can be. So if you imagine that the world, which is created, is to some extent external to the Creator – the word 'externality' comes in here – you have to explain what happened to the Universal Being when the external manifested itself. It had covered Itself, as it were – made Itself completely oblivious to all external perception.
When God created the world, it appears as if He has ceased to be, and that is why we see only the world in front of us. We do not see God in front of us, because seeing the Universal is an impossibility. We can perceive, see, only that which is outside, external. The total inclusiveness cannot become an object of perception because that Universal inclusiveness naturally includes the perceiving individual also. Therefore, no one can perceive or know that which is Universal; hence, God cannot become an object of sense perception. The world, which is an object of sense perception, is somehow a kind of alienation of consciousness into a negation of Universality in the form of an emptiness that we see – space, a large dimension, an extension before us, which equally appears to be infinite for our comprehension. We cannot imagine the end of space; it is a negative infinity that is presented before us in contradistinction with the positive infinity of the Absolute. The concept of space goes together with the concept of time; we cannot separate one from the other. So, modern people generally say space-time rather than space and time.
Creation starts with the five elements, to which reference was made in our previous sessions. And when creation starts in this manner, division takes place. Creation is not merely a manifestation of externality, it is also a manifestation of division or partition of the otherwise inclusiveness, or its extension. We do not merely see things outside but, at the same time, we see many things. So, creation involves two aspects of perception: externality and multiplicity. The externality aspect is caused by space-time manifestation. The very meaning of space-time is externality; extension and duration are the characteristics of space and time. As far as the multiplicity aspect of creation is concerned, it becomes very important for us, inasmuch as we ourselves seem to be involved in it, because we are all multiple beings – one person not having any connection with another person, as it were. Each one is for his own self. Every object, everything, every atom in the world may be said to be just for itself; one thing cannot become another thing. Here is the reason behind why we find ourselves in this condition in which we appear to be in this world.
When externality in the form of space-time, which is the basic principle of creation, also becomes a factor of multiplicity and division of things, the variety of species, as we say, appear to manifest themselves gradually: from the crude, earthly material existence of the elements to the living bodies of plants, vegetation, and animals, leading up to human beings. The Aitereya Upanishad takes us up to the level of the human being as evolved from the lower species, which are the mineral, vegetable and animal.
The Upanishad says, "The moment the individual was created, it was cast in the sea of sorrow." In Sanskrit, the sea of sorrow is called samsara; the Sanskrit word 'samsara' actually means an aberration – an isolation, an externalisation, an alienation, a becoming other than what one is. You can imagine what will happen to you if you have become something other than what you are. Can there be a greater tragedy conceivable than for one to become other than what one is? Would you not like to be what you are? Don't you value self-identity as being of pre-eminent importance? "I am, and I am this." You assert yourself so vehemently and would not even like to be called by another name than what your assumed name is, let alone be clubbed with qualities which you do not appear to have. Would you like to be associated with characteristics with which you cannot associate yourself, personally? You regard it as an insult. "You call me by this name and think that I am like this, which I am not!"
Hence, this self-identity, the affirmation of the egoistic principle in the individuality, becomes so prominent that its consequence follows immediately. The more intense the affirmation of individuality, the more intense also is the negation of universality taking place at the same time. The more vehement is your affirmation of your personality, your isolated individuality, the worse it is for you. The more intensely you are, correspondingly, God is not, because the affirmation of an egoistic principle is the negation of Universality, which is God's nature. The sorrow that follows from the affirmation of the individuality of a person is the samsara that is spoken of in Sanskrit. And how we fell into the sea of sorrow, headlong, is also something that is to be noted very carefully. We did not fall vertically from heaven; we fell headlong, with head down and legs up, as it were. There is basically a topsy-turvy event taking place at the time of the manifestation of human individuality in which we are presently concerned. Many things happened simultaneously; we cannot have time even to think as to what has happened to us. In a minute, a tragedy has fallen upon us.
Firstly, the Universal has been negated by the projection of the outer extension of space and time. That is bad enough, but then something worse took place. Multiplicity became the consequence of the further division of creation. That is worse, but even worse is to see things upside down. You are visualising the world of creation, as it were, by standing on your head with legs up. How would you see the world in that fashion? There was this predicament befalling the human individual, on account of the unavoidable involvement of individual consciousness in the externality, which is basic to all kinds of perception. Even your awareness that you are existing as an individual is spatio-temporally conditioned. Do not imagine that you are outside space and outside time. All that is in space and time is external; it is an object. It cannot be a subject. As space and time themselves are objects, all things conditioned by space and time are also objects; and to the extent you are involved in space and time, you are also an object only. The subjectivity in you becomes merely a veneer – an outer whitewash, a kind of coating over your pure subjectivity. You always consider yourself as one among many people, don't you? Where is the subjectivity in you? If you are a pure subject, which you sometimes, of course, assume yourself to be, why do you consider yourself as one among many people? This is because the manyness is nothing but the objectivity considered as a part of creation.
To the extent you are only one among many, you are an object among many other objects. You are a physical body, a psycho-physical complex; you have no pure subjectivity in you; and your affirmation of your worth, of your individuality, becomes a fake affirmation. Therefore, the world seems to be very heavy upon you; society is too much for you and you cannot understand the things that happen in this world, and why they happen at all. Human history, which is a process of events over which you do not seem to have any kind of control, has converted you into objects, as units over which the whole history sweeps. You must listen to all these things very carefully. It is a little difficult to understand because if you understand what it means, you will also know why you are in the condition in which you are.