The Gods and the Brahman: The Parable of the Gods, Part 1

The Vedic Gods represent powers and forces of manifestation in the creation.  Agni, Vayu and Indra represent the Material creation, the Vital creation and the Mental creation, respectively.  Each of them has a characteristic power.  As the creation  evolves, these powers systematically come to the fore and are brought up to a higher level of attainment and perfection.  The ego-consciousness (more generally the principle that separates and individualises forms and powers)  treats the increased power and success that ensues as its own and does not recognize that behind all these manifested powers there is the source, cause and original manifesting consciousness, the Brahman.  The creative impulsion and development of powers in the universe is the source and true power of all development.   The Kena Upanishad, in Part 3, illustrates this issue with a parable of the Gods which is illuminating.

Part 3, Verse 1:  “The Eternal conquered for the gods and in the victory of the Eternal the gods grew to greatness.  This was what they saw, ‘Ours the victory, ours the greatness.’

Sri Aurobindo adds:  “The gods, the powers that affirm the Good, the Light, the Joy and Beauty, the Strength and Mastery have found themselves victorious in their eternal battle with the powers that deny.  It is Brahman that has stood behind the gods and conquered for them; the Master of all who guides all has thrown His deciding will into the balance, put down His darkened children and exalted the children of Light.  In this victory the Master of all the gods are conscious of a mighty development of themselves, a splendid efflorescence of their greatness in man, their joy, their light, their glory, their power and pleasure.  But their vision is as yet sealed to their own deeper truth; they know of themselves, they know not the Eternal; they know the godheads, they do not know God.  Therefore they see the victory as their own, the greatness as their own.  This opulent efflorescence of the gods and uplifting of their greatness and light is the advance of man to his ordinary ideal of a perfectly enlightened mentality, a strong and sane vitality, a well-ordered body and senses, a harmonious, rich, active and happy life, the Hellenic ideal which the modern world holds to be our ultimate potentiality.  When such an efflorescence takes place whether in the individual or the kind, the gods in man grow luminous, strong, happy; they feel they have conquered the world and they proceed to divide it among themselves and enjoy it.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 104-106, 171-176

The Need to Attain Realisation Here In This World

The difficulty of attaining the realisation within the context of living life in the world, dealing with issues of survival, dealing with desires, interacting constantly with others has led many to believe that the true path to realisation is to avoid, escape or deny the reality of the external world of life.  Some choose the path of renunciation, and expect that by withdrawing from the world they can find true realisation through one-pointed focus on the Absolute.  Others believe that this world is a testing ground, an illusion or an interlude followed by a life in heaven or some other ideal existence elsewhere.  Hidden within each of these views is a sense of duality treating the Absolute Brahman as one reality and the life in the world as something other.  The divine standpoint of Oneness of all existence, however, leads to a different conclusion.  The Kena Upanishad clearly holds the need for achieving the realisation here in this world:

Part 2, Verse 5 states:  “If here one comes to that knowledge, then one truly is; if here one comes not to the knowledge, then great is the perdition.  The wise distinguish that in all kinds of becomings and they pass forward from this world and become immortal.”

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “This great achievement must be done here in this mortal world, in this limited body; for if we do it, we arrive at our true existence and are no longer bound down to our phenomenal becoming.  But if here we find it not, great is the loss and perdition; for we remain continually immersed in the phenomenal life of the mind and body and do not rise above it into the true supramental existence.  Nor, if we miss it here, will death give it to us by our passage to another and less difficult world.  Only those who use their awakened self and enlightened powers to distinguish and discover that One and Immortal in all existences, the all-originating self, the all-inhabiting Lord, can make the real passage which transcends life and death, can pass out of this mortal status, can press beyond and rise upward into a world-transcending immortality.”

” ‘There is no other path for the great journey.’ The Self and the Lord are that indeterminable, unknowable, ineffable Parabrahman and when we seek rather that which is indeterminable and unknowable to us, it is still the Self and the Lord always that we find, though by an attempt which is not the straight and possible road intended for the embodied soul seeking here to accomplish its true existence.  They are the self-manifested Reality which so places itself before man as the object of his highest aspiration and the fulfilment of all his activities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170

Knowledge of Brahman Comes When the Mind Becomes Reflective

The normal action of our minds is like a large train station during rush hour.  Thoughts are constantly arising, provoked by perceptions of the senses or due to direct influence of mental vibration on our minds.  As a result we become fixated on these outer forms, forces, events and the world that we have created in our minds.  When we consider that during the daytime, we are focused on all this world of activity, and we forget about the infinite universe that surrounds us, but with the coming of nighttime the clear sky reminds us of the stars, galaxies, universes beyond, we can recognize the powerful impact of the daily impressions on our focus of attention.  The action of mind cannot encompass the infinity or the extension in aeons of time of the Brahman, but experience shows us that when the mind becomes quiet, through meditation, contemplation, or through some form of grace, a new perception of the larger reality of existence can enter and seize our attention.

The Kena Upanishad, in the Second Part, Verse 4 takes up the issue:  “When It is known by perception that reflects It, then one has the thought of It, for one finds immortality; by the self one finds the force to attain and by the knowledge one finds immortality.”

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “The mind can only reflect in a sort of supreme understanding and experience the form, the image of the supreme as He shows Himself to our mentality.  Through this reflection we find, we know; the purpose of knowledge is accomplished, for we find immortality, we enter into the law, the being, the beatitude of the Brahman-consciousness.  By self-realisation of Brahman as our self we find the force, the divine energy which lifts us beyond the limitation, weakness, darkness, sorrow, all-pervading death of our mortal existence; by the knowledge of the one Brahman in all beings and in all the various movement of the cosmos we attain beyond these things to the infinity, the omnipotent being, the omniscient light, the pure beatitude of that divine existence.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170

The Way of Knowing the Brahman Amid the Limitations of the Mind

If we believe that we can know the ultimate reality through the mind, we are obviously going to be disappointed.  The mind captures the sensations of the physical senses, the nervous, vital impulses and then interprets them into a symbolic representation of what has been experienced.  In this sense, it knows the symbols it creates and the vibrational impacts it receives which it converts into those symbols.  The reality of the universe clearly lies beyond the limits of this mental processing.  Yet, we are ourselves one with the ultimate reality of the manifested universe, from the same substance, arising as forms and circumstances in time within that reality, and thus, while the mind may not encompass it in all its complexity, there must be ways of knowing that take us beyond the mind.  In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes various ways of knowing, one of which is “knowledge by identity”.  The mind has a role to play in preparing the being for achieving a new standpoint of knowing, but eventually, we must go beyond the limits of the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “I think not that I know perfectly, for that is impossible in the terms of our instruments of knowledge.  I do not think for a moment that I know the Unknowable, that that can be put into the forms through which I must arrive at the Self and Lord; but at the same time I am no longer in ignorance, I know the Brahman in the only way in which I can know Him, in His self-revelation to me in terms not beyond the grasp of my psychology, manifest as the Self and the Lord.  The mystery of existence is revealed in a way that utterly satisfies my being because it enables me first to comprehend it through these figures as far as it can be comprehended by me and, secondly, to enter into, to live in, to be one in law and being with and even to merge myself in the Brahman.”

“If we fancy that we have grasped the Brahman by the mind and in that delusion fix down our knowledge of Him to the terms our mentality has found, then our knowledge is no knowledge; it is the little knowledge that turns to falsehood.  So too those who try to fix Him into our notion of the fundamental ideas in which we discern Him by the thought that rises above ordinary mental perception, have no real discernment of the Brahman, since they take certain idea-symbols for the Reality.  On the other hand, if we recognise that our mental perceptions are simply so many clues by which we can rise beyond mental perception and if we use these fundamental idea-symbols and the arrangement of them which our uttermost thought makes in order to go beyond the symbol to that reality, then we have rightly used mind and the higher discernment for their supreme purpose.  Mind and the higher discernment are satisfied of the Brahman even in being exceeded by Him.”:

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170

The Self, the Gods and the Brahman

The human mindset looks at the universe as a compilation of different individuals, forms, and forces, separated and fragmented, joined together and either clashing or harmonizing as the case may be.  From the standpoint of the divine, however, there is one creation that is unified, one and inseparable and the fragmented parts are simply aspects, faces or expressions of that one in the universal creation.  From this standpoint, the gods are identified with the universal forces that create and carry out the manifestation.  What then is the purpose and role of the individual?

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “The other entity which represents the Brahman in the cosmos is the self of the living and thinking creature, man.  This self also is not an external mask; it is not form of the mind or form of the life or form of the body.  It is something that supports these and makes them possible, something that can say positively like the gods, ‘I am’ and not only ‘I seem’.  We have then to scrutinise these two entities and see what they are in relation to each other and to the Brahman; or, as the Upanishad puts it, ‘That of it which is thou, that of it which is in the gods, this is what thy mind has to resolve.’  Well, but what then of the Brahman is myself?  and what of the Brahman is in the Gods?  The answer is evident.  I am a representation in the cosmos, but for all purposes of the cosmos a real representation of the Self; and the gods are a representation in the cosmos — a real representation since without them the cosmos could not continue — of the Lord.  The one supreme Self is the essentiality of all these individual existences; the one supreme Lord is the Godhead in the gods.”

“The Self and the Lord are one Brahman, whom we can realise through our self and realise through that which is essential in the cosmic movement.  Just as our self constitutes our mind, body, life, senses, so that Self constitutes all mind, body, life, senses; it is the origin and essentiality of things.  Just as the gods govern, supported by our self, the cosmos of our individual being, the action of our mind, senses and life, so the Lord governs as Mind of the mind, Sense of the sense, Life of the life, supporting His active divinity by His silent essential self-being, all cosmos and all form of being.  As we have gone behind the forms of the cosmos to that which is essential in their being and movement and found our self and the gods, so we have to go behind our self and the gods and find the one supreme Self and the one supreme Godhead.  Then we can say, ‘I think that I know.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170

The Divine Power Manifesting in the Universe

Westerners understand the concept of “God” differently than people from other parts of the world, and have a hard time reconciling their concept with the numerous “gods” that are referenced in the Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptural texts of India.  The essential issue is the standpoint from which the individual is viewing things.  Westerners, who generally see the world as external and see themselves as individual actors trying to survive and thrive in this external world, look upon God as an external being of indefinite form, but generally conceived as having essentially human characteristics, but “more so”.  The gods of the Upanishads, however, are representations of the manifestation of the Brahman in the universe with various powers in the forefront.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “They represent the divine power in its great and fundamental cosmic functionings whether in man or in mind and life and matter in general; they are not the functionings themselves but something of the Divine which is essential to their operation and its immediate possessor and cause.  They are, as we see from other Upanishads, positive self-representations of the Brahman leading to good, joy, light, love, immortality as against all that is a dark negation of these things.  And it is necessarily in the mind, life, senses and speech of man that the battle here reaches its height and approaches to its full meaning.  The gods seek to lead these to good and light; the Titans, sons of darkness, seek to pierce them with ignorance and evil. (Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads)  Behind the gods is the Master-Consciousness of which they are the positive cosmic self-representations.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170

The Limits of Mental Knowledge and the Process of Knowing, Part 3: Knowing the Unknowable

We reach a point where we can recognize that mental knowing is limited and cannot possibly extend itself to the entire universal creation, much less the Absolute Brahman beyond the created universe.  Does this mean we reach a dead end and cannot ever achieve this knowledge?  Is there a type of knowing, other than the mental formations, that can reach this point?  The Kena Upanishad, part 2, verse 3 states:

“He by whom It is not thought out, has the thought of It; he by whom It is thought out, knows It not.  It is unknown to the discernment of those who discern of It, by those who seek not to discern of It, It is discerned.”

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “Much less, then, if we can only thus know the Master-Consciousness which is the form of the Brahman, can we pretend to know its utter ineffable reality which is beyond all knowledge.  But if this were all, there would be no hope for the soul and a resigned Agnosticism would be the last word of wisdom.  The truth is that though thus beyond our mentality and our highest ideative knowledge, the Supreme does give Himself both to this knowledge and to our mentality in the way proper to each and by following that way we can arrive at Him, but only on condition that we do not take our mentalising by the mind and our knowing by the higher thought for the full knowledge and rest in that with a satisfied possession.”

“The way is to use our mind rightly for such knowledge as is open to its highest, purified capacity.  We have to know the form of the Brahman, the Master-Consciousness of the Lord through and yet beyond the universe in which we live.  But first we must put aside what is mere form and phenomenon in the universe; for that has nothing to do with the form of the Brahman, the body of the Self, since it is not His form, but only His most external mask.  Our first step therefore must be to get behind the forms of Matter, the forms of Life, the forms of Mind and go back to that which is essential, most real, nearest to actual entity.  And when we have gone on thus eliminating, thus analysing all forms into the fundamental entities of the cosmos, we shall find that these fundamental entities are really only two, ourselves and the gods.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 103-104, 165-170