Invocation for Peace and Protection

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter One:  “Hari OM.  Be peace to us Mitra.  Be peace to us Varuna.  Be peace to us Aryaman.  Be peace to us Indra and Brihaspati.  May far-striding Vishnu be peace to us.  Adoration to the Eternal.  Adoration to thee, O Vayu.  Thou, thou art the visible Eternal and as the visible Eternal I will declare thee.  I will declare Righteousness!  I will declare Truth!  May that protect me!  May that protect the speaker!  Yea, may it protect me!  May it protect the speaker!  Om!  Peace! Peace! Peace!”

The Shikshavalli is the first section of the Taittiriya Upanishad and as its name indicates, it is for students.  The first chapter is a peace invocation, but it is not simply a formal prayer but also a teaching in its own right.  Each of the names invoked represents a different aspect of the divine creation and a power at work in the human being.  They are asked to cooperate, rather than act as obstacles to the spiritual development.

Sri M. P. Pandit explains the deeper significance:  “Thus Mitra is the God who promotes harmony (as much among the different parts of man’s being as between him and others — men and gods), Varuna the God of Purity and Vastness, the keeper of the Law of Truth, Aryaman a leading Personality manifesting the Consciousness-Force of the Sun-God who symbolises the Supreme Truth, Brihaspati the Deity presiding over the Potent Word, the Power of Creative Speech, Indra the lord of the Divine Mind, Vishnu the All-pervader — striding across with his celebrated three steps –. sustaining the Creation, and Vayu the God of Life-force which palpably pervades and enlivens all existence.”

Right from the start, the Upanishad begins to prepare the student’s mind for the omnipresent reality.  Vayu is invoked as the visible Eternal.  The Eternal is not separate from and isolated from the world of creation, but is indeed One with the creation while concurrently transcending all the forms, forces names and characteristics that one can associate with the creation.

The Taittiriya Upanishad relies heavily on the use of the mantric force of sound, and the invocation and repetition of “Peace, Peace, Peace” is helpful to create the proper concentrated and calm status of mind needed for any serious effort to develop consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182


Truth, Knowledge, Infinity — The Brahman

Knowledge of the Brahman is not a mental process, but rather a knowledge by identity.  This implies that the knower take on the characteristics of the Brahman, which Sri Aurobindo identifies as the triple status of “truth, knowledge, infinity”.

“Infinity is the timeless and spaceless and causeless infinity of the eternal containing all the infinities of space and time and the endless succession which humanly we call causality.  But in fact causality is only an inferior aspect and translation into mental and vital terms of something which is not mechanical causality, but the harmonies of a free self-determination of the being of the Eternal.”

“Truth is truth of the infinite and eternal, truth of being, and truth of becoming only as a self-expression of the being.  The circumstances of the self-expression appear to the mind as the finite, but nothing is really finite except the way the mind has of experiencing all that appears to its view.  All things are, each thing is the Brahman.”

“Knowledge is the Eternal’s inalienable self-knowledge of his infinite self-existence and of all its truth and reality and, in that truth, of all things as seen not by the mind, but by the self-view of the Spirit.  This knowledge is not possible to the mind; it can only be reflected inadequately by it when it is touched by a ray from the secret luminous cavern of our superconscient being; yet of that ray we can make a shining ladder to climb into the source of this supreme self-viewing wisdom.”

“To know the eternal Truth, Knowledge, Infinity is to know the Brahman.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Knowledge of Brahman and the Delight of Existence

Traditional commentators on the Upanishads frequently describe the world as an illusion that needs to be abandoned in order to achieve the spiritual realisation of the Immutable, the Infinite, the Brahman.  Consciously or unconsciously, they create a division between the outer life in the world and the inner life of the spiritual aspirant.  It is fully understandable that, as an antidote to fixation on the objects of senses and the life of ego and desire, that spiritual teachers focused their students on the inner life at the expense of all else.  At some point, however, the Oneness of all creation, and the intention of the divine in the manifestation of the cosmos needs to be brought back into view, and these two extremes harmonised.  The Taittiriya Upanishad implies this in its focus both on achieving spiritual realisation through intense concentrated practice, tapasya, and its statement of results to be attained, which includes various evidences of success and achievement in the manifested world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Supreme is not something aloof and shut up in itself.  It is not a mere indefinable, prisoner of its own featureless absoluteness, impotent to define, create, know itself variously, eternally buried in a sleep or a swoon of self-absorption.  The Highest is the Infinite and the Infinite contains the All.  Whoever attains the highest consciousness, becomes infinite in being and embraces the All.”

“To make this clear the Upanishad has defined the Brahman as the Truth, Knowledge, Infinity and has defined the result of the knowledge of Him in the secrecy, in the cave of being, in the supreme ether as the enjoyment of all its desires by the soul of the individual in the attainment of its highest self-existence.”

“Our highest state of being is indeed a becoming one with Brahman in his eternity and infinity, but it is also an association with him in delight of self-fulfilment, ….  And that principle of the Eternal by which this association is possible, is the principle of his knowledge, his self-discernment and all-discernment, the wisdom by which he knows himself perfectly in all the world and all beings….”

“Delight of being is the continent of all the fulfilled values of existence which we now seek after int he forms of desire.  To know its conditions and possess it purely and perfectly is the infinite privilege of the eternal Wisdom.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Knowledge Leads to Enhancement of the Power and Delight of Existence

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that knowledge is intended to enhance both the power and the delight of existence.  Those who equate knowledge either with a dry detachment from life, or who expect knowledge to be accompanied by suffering in various forms, have simply limited their view of the divine intention in life.  True knowledge comes through identity with the divine, a shift in standpoint that lets us see and experience life from that viewpoint rather than from the limitations of the ego-consciousness.  The divine, in addition to having the characteristic of all knowledge, also has infinity of existence, absolute power of manifestation and complete delight of existence.  These characteristics are co-incident with divine knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Simply to know the eternal and to remain in the pain, struggle and inferiority of our present way of being, would be a poor and lame advantage.  A greater knowledge opens the possibility and, if really possessed, brings the actuality of a greater being.  To be is the first verb which contains all the others; knowledge, action, creation, enjoyment are only a fulfilment of being.  Since we are incomplete in being, to grow is our aim, and that knowledge, action, creation, enjoyment are the best which most help us to expand, grow, feel our existence.  Mere existence is not fullness of being.  Being knows itself as power, consciousness, delight; a greater being means a greater power, consciousness and delight.”

“If by greater being we incurred only a greater pain and suffering, this good would not be worth having.  Those who say that it is, mean simply that we get by it a greater sense of fulfillment which brings of itself a greater joy of the power of existence, and an extension of suffering or a loss of other enjoyment is worth having as a price for this greater sense of wideness, height and power.  But this could not be the perfection of being or the highest height of its fulfilment; suffering is the seal of a lower status.  The highest consciousness is integrally fulfilled in wideness and power of its existence, but also it is integrally fulfilled in delight.”

“The knower of Brahman has not only the joy of light, but gains something immense as the result of his knowledge, brahmavid apnoti.  What he gains is that highest, that which is supreme; he gains the highest being, the highest consciousness, the highest wideness and power of being, the highest delight; brahmavid apnoti param.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Ignorance and Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “To live in our present state of self-consciousness is to live and to act in ignorance.  We are ignorant of ourselves, because we know as yet only that in us which changes always, from moment to moment, from hour to hour, from period to period, from life to life, and not that in us which is eternal.  We are ignorant of the world because we do not know God; we are aware of the law of appearances, but not of the law and truth of being.”

The knowledge we acquire so painstakingly is generally knowledge of process and function, and it allows us to manipulate factors in our outer lives within the framework and limits of action in the world.  We do not thereby get any closer to any understanding of wherefrom we originate, what upholds our existence, and where we go when we die, nor what the significance of this entire life may be.

“The ignorance in which we live is not a baseless and wholesale falsehood, but at its lowest the misrepresentation of a Truth, at its highest an imperfect representation and translation into inferior and to that extent misleading values.”

“The true knowledge is that of the highest, the inmost, the infinite.  The knower of the Brahman sees all these lower things in the light of the Highest, the external and superficial as a translation of the internal and essential, the finite from the view of the Infinite.  He begins to see and know existence no longer as the thinking animal, but as the Eternal sees and knows it.  Therefore he is glad and rich in being, luminous in joy, satisfied of existence.”

A shift in viewpoint, from the ego-standpoint to the divine-standpoint, takes us outside the framework of the outer world and thereby allows us to see it for what it is, its role, its value, its significance, while at the same time, opening up to us the view of the wider intentions of the universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Brahman Can Be Known

The ultimate question we must ask ourselves is what is the significance of our lives.  We become self-aware and world-aware, but we have no reference point to determine why this may be.  For most people, it is simply a matter of accepting the conditions of life and striving to survive and thrive in whatever situation we may find ourselves.  For some, this is insufficient, and they seek to determine some purpose, and during that seeking, they try to understand how it is we came to be alive, to be conscious, and why and how we are born, survive and then eventually die.  Life for us is a puzzle and a mystery.

Some conclude that in order to know the truth behind our existence, we must abandon active participation in the world within which we exist.  Sri Aurobindo notes:  “In effect we should have to suppose that there is an eternal and irreconcilable opposition between Brahman and what we now are, between the supreme cause and all its effects or between the supreme source and all its derivations.  And it would then seem that all that the Eternal originates, all he supports, all he takes back to himself is a denial or contradiction of his being which, though in itself a negative of that which alone is, has yet in some way become a positive.  The two could not coexist in consciousness; if he allowed the world to know him, it would disappear from being.”

“But the Eternal is knowable.  He defines himself so that we may seize him, and man can become, even while he exists as man and in this world and in this body, a knower of the Brahman.”

The knower of Brahman does not, thereby, lose his footing in this world.  This knowledge “… is a knowledge that is a power and a divine compulsion to change; by it his existence gains something that now he does not possess in consciousness.  What is this gain?  It is this that he is conscious now in a lower state only of his being, but by knowledge gains his highest being.”

“The highest state of our being is not a denial, contradiction and annihilation of all that we now are; it is a supreme accomplishment of all things that our present existence means and aims at, but in their highest sense and in the eternal values.”

To know Brahman, then, is to affirm not only the negative aspects of “not this, not that” which reminds us that we cannot circumscribe the reality of existence within our logical mental forms and formulas, but also the positive aspects that “He is”.  All that we see and experience, and all that goes beyond our experience is also the Brahman.  This knowledge liberates us from the bondage of renunciation just as it liberates us from the bondage of attachment.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

What Is Brahman?

The term “Brahman” is used, in preference to the term “God”, because it allows connotations beyond those normally associated with the term “God”.  When we consider “God”, what is it that we think?  Many people have an anthropomorphic view of God and imagine some kingly individual sitting up in the clouds managing what we do, how we do it and judging us for our fitness to enter into heaven.  Others, of a more philosophical bent, talk about the characteristics of God as being all-knowing and all-powerful, again, with an anthropomorphic view, attributing these characteristics to God in the way we would say that an individual is “intelligent” or “strong”.   Still others reference an experience that overcomes them emotionally or physically which they attribute to being the spirit of God.

When we consider the term “Brahman” however, we are able to leave behind these various projections about the nature of God and leave aside also the built-in associations and connotations that have come to be associated with God”.

Sri Aurobindo gives us a sense of the meaning of “Brahman”:  “Whatever reality is in existence, by which all the rest subsists, that is Brahman.  An Eternal behind all instabilities, a Truth of things which is implied, if it is hidden in all appearances, a Constant which supports all mutations, but is not increased, diminished, abrogated, — there is such an unknown X which makes existence a problem, our own self a mystery, the universe a riddle.”

“It is the highest and this highest is the all; there is none beyond and there is none other than it.  To know it is to know the highest and by knowing the highest is to know all.  For as it is the beginning and source of all things, so everything else is its consequence; as it is the support and constituent of all things, so the secret of everything else is explained by its secret; as it is the sum and end of all things, so everything else amounts to it and by throwing itself into it achieves the sense of its own existence.  This is the Brahman.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad, as translated by Sri Aurobindo, states:  “The knower of Brahman reacheth that which is supreme.  This is that verse which was spoken; ‘Truth, Knowledge, Infinity the Brahman, He who knoweth that hidden in the secrecy in the supreme ether, Enjoyeth all desires along with the wise-thinking Brahman.”

The study of the Taiitiriya Upanishad is focused on knowing Brahman, not with the intellect, but through a knowledge by identity gained through the practice of the science of Yoga and its application in the life of the seeker.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Introduction to the Taittiriya Upanishad

The Taittiriya Upanishad contains an enormous amount of information about the nature of the Brahman, as well as practices of concentration to attain knowledge of Brahman.  There are also a number of diverse passages that appear to be “teaching notes” or outlines of subjects to be covered, without going into any depth.   The Taittiriya Upanishad is seminal in terms of several specific aspects of the teaching, and these areas will be treated in some depth, while those that appear to be general educational outline notes will be left behind.  For those who want to follow up on these other subjects, we recommend carefully reading of the Taittiriya Upanishad in Sri Aurobindo’s The Upanishads.

Sri M. P. Pandit, long-time secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and a noted author and lecturer in the field, provides an extensive and in-depth review of the Taittiriya Upanishad in the light of Sri Aurobindo, and we intend to quote extensively from his text Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge.

The Taittiriya, together with the Isha Upanishad, have contributed substantial basis for a number of subjects taken up by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine and elsewhere.  The knowledge is the result of in depth concentration, as explained in the third chapter, Bhriguvalli, and has clearly stood the test of time.

It is interesting to note that the Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the few that is frequently recited in Sanskrit.  The flow of the prose, the poetic use of repetitive sound, combined with the deep meaning, makes it a very special experience.  Ramanashram and others have created CD’s with monks chanting this Upanishad together in a very focused manner.

The Taittiriya Upanishad is part of a much larger body of knowledge and brings forward elements from the Veda.  This is only fitting as the Upanishads themselves claim to expound “the secret of the Veda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad, pp. 245-250, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Katha Upanishad Propounds the Science of God-Realisation and Yoga Practice

Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, Second Cycle: Third Chapter, Verse 18:  “Thus did Nachiketas with Death for his teacher win the God-knowledge: he learned likewise the whole ordinance of Yoga: thereafter he obtained God and became void of stain and void of death.  So shall another be who comes likewise to the Science of the Spirit.”

The Katha Upanishad declares itself as a teaching for knowledge of God and the practice of Yoga.  After obtaining this teaching, the seeker, Nachiketas was able to attain God-realisation and thereby overcome the control of death, through oneness with the Divine consciousness.  This teaching is not limited to this particular individual, but is open to anyone who puts the teaching into practice.  This is considered to be a “science” and thereby to be reproducible under similar conditions.

Death is indicated as the “teacher”.  Anyone undertaking the spiritual quest eventually has to confront the significance of death.  Wisdom traditions around the world take seekers through various ceremonies, rituals or practices that involve their putting themselves into a status of confronting death.  The outer symbolic meaning of these rites translates to the inner realisation that the seeker must be able to face death.

It is also a reality for practitioners of Yoga that as they move inwards, abandoning the awareness of the outer world and entering into a state of Samadhi, or trance, that they have to abandon the ego-consciousness, which tends to react with fear of death.  In some cases, this causes the seeker to draw back and return awareness to the outer consciousness.  It is only after overcoming this fear, and giving up the attachment to the ego, and the desire-soul of the ego, that the link to other states of consciousness can be effected.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp.  104-129

The Spirit Within, Seated In the Heart of Creatures

Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, Second Cycle: Third Chapter, Verse 17:  “The Purusha, the Spirit within, who is no larger than the finger of a man is seated for ever in the heart of creatures: one must separate Him with patience from one’s own body as one separates from a blade of grass its main fibre.  Thou shalt know Him for the Bright Immortal, yea, for the Bright Immortal.”

The divine Spirit inhabits the entire universe, including each living being.  Human beings are distracted by the apparently separate forms of the outer world and fail to recognize the divine presence either within themselves or in the world.  This verse provides a meditation technique to aid the seeker in recognizing the divine Presence.  It is not intended to be a literal statement of “size” but rather as an aid to focusing the concentration.

The seat of the aspiration is in what the scriptural texts call the “secret cave” behind the heart.  They are not describing the physical heart, but the general locale where the concentrated focus of the meditation can most easily recognize the divine Spirit in man.  All outer distractions are removed, the concentration focuses away from the impinging impressions of the senses, and all thought is withdrawn.  The concentration and aspiration are in the heart region, and as the seeker goes ever inwards, he can experience the Presence.  This is not necessarily an easy process, as the seeker must distinguish between the external being and its desires, emotions, impressions and thoughts and this inner divine Spirit, that is one with the Divine manifesting the entire universal creation.  It is likened to separating the main fibre from a blade of grass.

When the seeker eventually is able to identify with and experience this Presence, the overwhelming experience is one of Light, and there is a sense of changeless existence, of Immortality.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp.  104-129