Understanding Mind as the Eternal

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 4:  “He knew mind for the Eternal.  For from mind alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by mind, and to mind they go hence and return.  And when he had known this, he came again to Varuna his father and said, ‘Lord, teach me the Eternal.’  But his father said unto him, ‘By askesis do thou seek to know the Eternal, for concentration in thought (Or, concentration of force) is the Eternal.’  He concentrated himself in thought and by the energy of his brooding”

Matter is needed, life-energy is essential.  Yet together they do not provide a complete answer to the questions of our existence.  What power provides us with intelligence, organisation, the power of purposive action?  What power directs the life energy and impacts the operation of matter?

Bhrigu realised through his continued focus and concentration, looking within, that mind is such an organising power and thus, is the cause and sustaining power of life and matter.  In the ancient texts, mind is called the “leader of the life and the body”.    The philosopher, Rene Descartes famously declared “I think, therefore I am.”  As human beings become self-aware, they recognise the power of the mind in shaping their lives and in impacting their environment.

But we also recognise that mind has its limitations, and from its own limited action within ourselves, we do not see how it can be the complete answer.  Mind is also not an original creative power, and thus, its source must be found elsewhere.

Bhrigu was not yet fully convinced that he had the actual complete picture, so he returned to his father and asked once again to be taught the Eternal.  And once again he was sent back to concentrate through tapasya.  Clearly he had not reached the ultimate understanding yet.  Something was still lacking, but he was making progress in the right direction.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, pp.275-281, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 169-182

Prana, the Life-Energy Examined As the Foundation of Existence

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 3: “He knew Prana for the Eternal.  For from Prana alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by Prana and to Prana they go hence and return.  And when he had known this, he came again to Varuna his father and said, ‘Lord, teach me the Eternal.’  But his father said to him, ‘By askesis do thou seek to know the Eternal, for askesis is the Eternal.’  He concentrated himself in thought and by the energy of his brooding”

As we deepen our reflection on existence, we determine that Matter, while it may be a foundation for life, is not the actual source of life.  Something else enters into Matter in the form of a body to bring it to life, and when that life-force departs, the body dies and decomposes back into its purely material elements.  The seeker, as he continued his concentration, came upon this insight and thus, realised that Prana, the life-force, is what he was seeking.  Or was it?  What was still missing was whatever directs the life-force, so he returned once again to the teacher and asked once again for guidance.

A similar event occurred in Western thought, as various philosophers moved beyond Matter to examine the life-force in creation.  Science also came to realize that Matter itself is Energy and the atomic age was born.  Existence was brought about through the “big bang”, an enormous outpouring of Energy which created the galaxies and the stars and planets that populate them.  Thus we see the long, patient process of development outlined in the Taittiriya Upanishad working itself out step by step in the West.

Varuna encouraged Bhrigu to once again engage in tapasya, for ‘askesis, tapasya, is the Eternal.’

Sri M. P. Pandit explains further:  “Tapas, askesis, is really one end, a projection of a movement of consciousness which when sufficiently deepened or heightened, merges into the Being of whom Consciousness is the very nature.  That is to say, the self-concentration ultimately resolves itself into the basic origin of the entity in concentration which is nothing else than Brahman itself.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, pp.275-281, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 169-182

Matter Is the First Basis of Our Existence on Earth

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 2:  “He knew food for the Eternal.  For from food alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by food, and into food they depart and enter again.  And when he had known this, he came again to Varuna his father and said, ‘Lord, teach me the Eternal.’  And his father said to him, ‘By askesis do thou seek to know the Eternal, for askesis (Or, concentration in thought.) is the Eternal.’  He concentrated himself in though and by the energy of his brooding.”

The one thing that all human beings seem to agree on, before they apply logic or spiritual insight to it, is the fundamental nature and basis of Matter as a foundation of our existence.  Annam, “food”, stands for the material basis.  The past history of Western science and its vast achievements has been based on the idea that Matter is the reality that needs to be focused on, understood and controlled.  Religions tell us that we were created out of “dust” and to “dust” we return.  We see here, therefore, the natural first result of an intelligent and motivated human individual, who wants to understand his existence and his relationship to the Eternal, the Brahman, when he is asked to concentrate on the source of his existence, the sustenance of his existence and the end result at the end of the life of the body.

It is interesting to note that the student did not take this first insight as final.  Rather, he returned to the teacher, not with the pride of complete knowledge, but with the sense that he still needed to know more.  His deep focus on the material basis led him to the point where he could not explain some things, such as the source of Matter or the energizing of Matter by Life, nor the operation of Mind.

Western science has itself reached such a stage of further questioning over the last 100 or more years, and recognized that Matter is not itself the original source of all creation, but a secondary result.

The teacher, following the principle of the student learning from within, not through facts or ideas being crammed into him, once again suggests that the disciple go back and do further concentration in thought, tapasya, to achieve further realisation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, pp.275-281, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 169-182

Seeking to Know the Eternal

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 1:  “Bhrigu, Varuna’s son, came unto his father Varuna and said, ‘Lord, teach me the Eternal.’  And his father declared it unto him thus, ‘Food and Prana and Eye and Ear and Mind — even these.’  Verily he said unto him, ‘Seek thou to know that from which these creatures are born, whereby being born they live and to which they go hence and enter again; for that is the Eternal.’  And Bhrigu concentrated himself in thought and by the askesis of his brooding”

Food, or Matter, along with the vital force in the creation, Prana, the various sense organs, and the Mind which receives and interprets the impressions of the senses are the first hints provided by the teacher to the disciple in the attempt to know the Eternal.  It is interesting to note that the teacher focuses the process on where we start as human beings, a process which has also been followed in Western science with its initial focus on Matter, and its recognition of the need to understand the life energy and the actions of mind and the senses.  The student is enjoined to measure everything in the frame of where it originates, how it sustains itself, and where it goes when it dissolves eventually.  This provides a sufficient starting point for the disciple to go back and undertake an intensive process of concentration in conscious thought, tapas.

Sri M. P. Pandit observes:  “Yes, each of them is the Brahman; you have to look upon each as a formulation of Brahman; look into and through them to the Reality they veil.  Anna, Matter, Prana, Life, the very sense-powers, seeing, hearing and speech, the Mind which presides over them — all these are the doors through which one can enter Brahman.  And, he added, in order to give the disciple a sure touchstone on which to test the results of his effort:  ‘Seek thou to know that from which all existences are born, whereby born they increase and into which they enter in their passing hence.  For that is Brahman.’  Bhrigu was enjoined to seek for That alone which would fulfil the conditions of an Ultimate Truth.  Any principle, any truth which did not answer to these criteria was to be naturally ruled out.  These were the instructions with which Bhrigu launched upon his spiritual adventure.  He did tapas, he concentrated all of himself in an intense movement of thought and directed the pursuit of his enquiry on the liens indicated by the Teacher.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, pp.275-281, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 169-182

A Systematic Practice for Developing Knowledge of Brahman: Introduction to the Bhriguvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad

The Rishis of the Upanishads were seeking, not an intellectual idea of the Brahman, but a knowledge by identity that transcended the structures formulated by the mind.  The Taittiriya Upanishad systematically moves from an overview of categories and the building blocks for knowledge in the Shikshavalli, to an exposition of the nature of the universal manifestation and its underlying basis in the Brahmanandavalli, to a practice and methodology for obtaining direct knowledge in the Bhriguvalli.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine (Vol. II, Ch. 17):  “Ancient Indian thought meant by knowledge a consciousness which possesses the highest Truth in a direct perception and in self-experience; to become, to be the Highest that we know is the sign that we really have the knowledge.  For the same reason, to shape our practical life, our actions as far as may be in consonance with our intellectual notions of truth and right or with a successful pragmatic knowledge, — an ethical or vital fulfilment, — is not and cannot be the ultimate aim of our life; our aim must be to grow into our true being, our being of Spirit, the being of the supreme and universal Existence, Consciousness, Delight, Sachchidananda.”

The Bhriguvalli is framed as a seeking by Bhrigu, son of Varuna, for the highest teaching that will provide him the knowledge of the Eternal.  As is the method of the Upanishads, generally, the teacher does not provide a pat answer to satisfy the mind; rather, he provides some hints and asks the disciple to work out the answers by grappling with those hints in a very deep and real sense.  The teacher’s purpose is to spur the disciple to explore and open up his awareness, to work through, on his own, the various positive aspects, and limitations, until he can experience something that answers all questions and denies no fact nor aspect of the truth of existence.

Today we seek “instant solutions” that provide our minds with satisfaction.  Those who believe in an external, anthropomorphic Creator God are satisfied with the idea that God simply shaped and placed everything into existence as is.  Those who don’t believe in such an external actor creating everything “as is”, believe, in many instances, that some kind of random combining of chemical elements created by a “big bang” energy burst has led to the evolution of life as we know it, without need for a Creator God.  In order to accept either belief system, various elements of existence, various facts that we can observe and verify, need to be set aside, in order to develop a coherent belief system.  Eventually, those inconvenient facts, however, need to be addressed.

Thus we come to the method of the Rishis of providing hints and setting the disciple on the path to Truth by having them explore facts, explore life, explore thought, and eventually come to a realisation of the complex and integral Existence that is self-creating the universe for its own enjoyment.  This has been explained in the Brahmanandavalli.  Now the Upanishad goes on to provide a method of realisation as we follow the path of development of Varuna’s son, Bhrigu.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, pp.275-281, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 169-182

The Standpoint of the Knower of the Eternal

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 9:  “The Bliss of the Eternal from which words turn back without attaining and mind also returneth baffled, who knoweth the Bliss of the Eternal?  He feareth not for aught in this world or elsewhere.  Verily to him cometh not remorse and her torment saying ‘Why have I left undone the good and why have I done that which was evil?’  For he who knoweth the Eternal, knoweth these that they are alike, and delivereth from them his Spirit; yea, he knoweth both evil and good for what they are and delivereth his Spirit, who knoweth the Eternal.  And this is Upanishad, the secret of the Veda.  Together may He protect us, together may He possess us, together may we make unto us strength and virility!  May our reading be full of light and power!  May we never hate!  OM! Peace! Peace! Peace!”

The Upanishad repeats the statements of Chapter 4 as it reminds us that divine Bliss, Ananda, is beyond words and beyond the power of the mind to comprehend.  It proceeds then to analyze the state of mind of the seeker who has realized the Eternal.  Such an individual recognizes the Oneness of the entire manifestation and thus, has gone beyond the experience of difference, and the fear that arises therefrom.  Also overpassed are the moral and ethical rules and considerations that rule in the framework of the mind.  This is not a prescription for wanton license, as has been mistakenly taken up in certain philosophical developments, particularly in the interpretation of Nietzsche, where “beyond good and evil” was interpreted to mean that a superior man could basically do anything without moral scruples, essentially an unbridled ego-personality; rather, the Upanishad guides the seeker to a standpoint beyond the mind where the Eternal Truth is both known and acted upon, and the rigid rules of the mind are recognized as steps along the path of development, now no longer required, just as a young tree is staked to protect it from the gusts of wind, but the mature tree no longer needs such protection.  The knower of the Eternal is at peace, as he recognizes the entire play of universal forces of creation and his role within that play.

Sri M. P. Pandit observes:  “He who has realised his oneness with Brahman, and thus knows by identity of his being the Bliss of Brahman, has no fear from anywhere because to him all is one Bliss; there is no break in his extension which creates the ‘other’ giving room for fear. … He has risen above the dualities of pleasure and pain, good and evil.  Good and Evil are values that are pertinent as long as one’s consciousness is in a state of development where they are necessary to educate and process it towards its self-development.  Once the individual transcends the belt of Ignorance in which good and evil, right and wrong, are the necessary signposts, they cease to be. … The knower of the Eternal moves and acts directly from the Base of Brahman-Knowledge, the Eternal Truth, and whatever he does is the Right, whatever he expresses is the Truth.  It is the flawless, self-effectuating Truth that acts in him in its undeflected Power.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Calculus of Bliss

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 8:  (excerpts only provided here)  “Behold this exposition of the Bliss to which ye shall hearken.  Let there be a young man, excellent and lovely in his youth, a great student; let him have fair manners and a most firm heart and great strength of body, and let all this wide earth be full of wealth for his enjoying.  That is the measure of bliss of one human being.  Now a hundred and a hundredfold of the human measure of bliss, is one bliss of men that have become angels in heaven.  And this is the bliss of the Vedawise whose soul the blight of desire toucheth not. ….. A hundred and a hundredfold of this measure of Prajapati’s bliss, is one bliss of the Eternal Spirit.”

Between the measure of human bliss, and the bliss of the Eternal Spirit, the Upanishad recounts 9 other stages or levels of bliss.  While the circumstances surrounding one measure of human bliss are considered to be beyond comprehension for most of us, the bliss of the Eternal Spirit is infinitely greater.   Interestingly, the Upanishad equates the greatest possible conceived experience of bliss with that of “the Vedawise whose soul the blight of desire toucheth not.”

After this extensive recitation of bliss and the path to its attainment, the Upanishad continues:  “The Spirit who is here in a man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun, it is one Spirit and there is no other.  He who knoweth this, when he hath gone away from this world, passeth to this Self which is of food; he passeth to this Self which is of Prana; he passeth to this Self which is of Mind; he passeth to this Self which is of Knowledge; he passeth to this Self which is of Bliss.  Whereof this is the Scripture.”

Sri M. P. Pandit elucidates further:  “And so, it is to this Bliss of Brahman that the man who knows arrives.  Here is the clear answer of the Upanishad to the questions posed earlier as to what is the state in which the man of knowledge finds himself after death and what of him who hath not the knowledge.  One who realises in himself the truth that his own self and the self of the universe are One, the greater truth that it is the same eternal Spirit who is embodied in himself as well as in the universe, is not extinguished the moment he dies.  Withdrawing from the world of physical matter to the subtle and still more subtle levels of existence, in an ordered manner, he finally arrives at the inmost Self that is of Bliss.  And by implication it is clear that the man without knowledge fails to reach this consummation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Creation of the Universal Manifestation and the Bliss of Existence

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 7:  “In the beginning all this Universe was Non-Existent and Unmanifest, from which this manifest Existence was born.  Itself created itself; none other created it.  Therefore they say of it the well and beautifully made.  Lo, this that is well and beautifully made, verily it is no other than the delight behind existence.  When he hath gotten him this delight, then it is that this creature becometh a thing of bliss; for who could labour to draw in the breath or who could have strength to breathe it out, if there were not that Bliss in the heaven of his heart, the ether within his being?  It is He that is the fountain of bliss; for when the Spirit that is within us findeth his refuge and firm foundation in the Invisible, Bodiless, Undefinable and Unhoused Eternal, then he hath passed beyond the reach of Fear.  But when the Spirit that is within us maketh for himself even a little difference in the Eternal, then he hath fear, yea, the Eternal himself becometh a terror to such a one who thinketh not.  Whereof this is the Scripture.”

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “Before all this Existence came to be, says the Upanishad, there was only a Non-existence.  And Non-existence, we must note, does not mean a Nothing or a Nil or a Nihil.  For as the Chhandogya asks, how can anything arise out of nothing?  It can only mean a primal state, an Un-manifest, to which none of the terms of manifest existence can apply.  It is something beyond all our conceptions of Being; and to emphasise this transcendence of categories of phenomenal existence it is called non-Being or non-existence.”

The Creation myth in the Judeo-Christian tradition posits a Creator-God who systematically fashions the elements of the material universe and its motions, then brings forth plants and animals and finally the human being.  These are separate and external to God, who is thereby seen as some kind of divine artist working on an external medium in His creation, fashioning clay into the human form, as seen in the common image.  The Taittiriya Upanishad confronts the paradox of the Judeo-Christian approach by making it clear that the entire manifested universe is One and is self-creating.  In the Judeo-Christian approach, there is a duality between God and His Creation.  The Upanishad does not admit of duality.  Everything that exists is One.  Whenever we create duality in our minds, we are filled with fear.

The question then arises as to what causes the Eternal to move from an unmanifest state to manifestation.  Ananda, the delight of existence, is the cause of the creative process of the universe.  When the individual identifies with the Divine, he experiences this delight of existence and sees everywhere Oneness.  Fear cannot touch such an individual.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Creation of All That Exists

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 6 (part 2): “The Spirit desired of old, ‘I would be manifold for the birth of peoples.’  Therefore He concentrated all Himself (Or, strength.) in thought, and by the force of His brooding He created all this universe, yea, all whatsoever existeth.  Now when He had brought it forth, He entered into that He had created, He entering in became the Is here and the May Be there; He became that which is defined and that which hath no feature; He became this housed thing and that houseless; He became Knowledge and He became Ignorance; He became Truth and He became falsehood.  Yea, He became all truth, even whatsoever here existeth.  Therefore they say of Him that He is Truth.  Whereof this is the Scripture.”

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes what he calls “reality omnipresent”.  The manifested world is not simply an illusion or some kind of lesser reality to be abandoned in favor of the unmanifested silent Absolute.  The Upanishad declares that the entire manifestation is the self-creation of the Brahman for His own enjoyment.  It is not separate from the Brahman; rather it is created of the substance of the Brahman and it embodies the Brahman.  There is nothing else outside.  Both the manifested universe and the unmanifest are One.  The Brahman cannot be defined by any particular form, because the Brahman is all forms, and beyond all forms, it is both what exists and what is potential, the present and the future.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “It is out of Brahman, the Supreme Reality, that the All has issued.  Why did it issue forth?  Why did the Spirit, the One Brahman put out the Many?  It is because of its own urge for a varied play of its self-delight.  Blissful in its soleness of being, the Spirit would have Delight in a manifoldness of expression.”

Sri Aurobindo observes, in The Life Divine (as cited by M. P. Pandit):  “The self-delight of Brahman is not limited, however, by the still and motionless possession of its absolute self-being.  Just as its force of consciousness is capable of throwing itself into forms infinitely and with an endless variation, so also its self-delight is capable of movement, of variation, of revelling in that infinite flux and mutability of itself represented by numberless teeming universes.  To loose forth and enjoy this infinite movement and variation of its self-delight is the object of its extensive or creative play of Force.”

This creation came about through the concentration of conscious force of the sole Existent, through tapas.  

There are explanations of the Creation of the universe in religious and spiritual teachings from around the world.  The Upanishads are somewhat unique in this regard in that they do not posit an external creator separate and different from the creation; rather the creation is One with the creator, made of the substance of the creator, and embodies the creator in its existence.  Where others see duality, the Upanishad sees oneness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Reality Omnipresent in the Immutable and in the Mutable Existence

 

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 6 (part 1):  “One becometh as the unexisting, if he know the Eternal as negation; but if one knoweth of the Eternal that He is, then men know him for the saint and the one reality.  And this Self of Bliss is the soul in the body to the former one which was of Knowledge.  And thereupon arise these questions.  ‘When one who hath not the Knowledge, passeth over to that other world, doth any such travel farther?  Or when one who knoweth, hath passed over to the other world, doth any such enjoy possession?’

The experience of the still, unmoving, silent Brahman is overpowering to the human individual who has the opportunity to remove his awareness from the external world and refocus it on the unmoving Absolute.  Such an individual finds the world to be illusory, the attraction missing, and he turns his entire focus toward living in that state of stillness.  It is so overpowering, that there are many who consider this to be the highest experience and deny ultimate reality to the world and its activities.  These individuals abandon the life in the world, in what Sri Aurobindo calls “the refusal of the ascetic”.  Yet, this is not the only possible experience of Brahman, and clearly it does not answer the underlying question as to the purpose and significance of the manifested universe, if the goal is to abandon it in the end!

The Upanishad sets forth a truth of human consciousness; namely, we become that upon which we focus our attention.  The path of denial leads to renunciation of the world.  The path of affirmation leads to embracing and becoming one with the Divine in manifestation.  This focus also provides the direction for what happens hereafter when one leaves this life.  The Upanishad here poses the questions, and other Upanishads, such as the Katha Upanishad have provided direct answers in this regard.  The reality of existence transcends the individual life and death, as there is Oneness of the entire creation.  Thus, the focus and direction that animates the life also carries the consciousness forward beyond death.

Sri M. P. Pandit observes:  “The Truth of Non-Being is not the whole of Brahman.  Brahman is equally and more patently the Absolute Being, Absolute Consciousness and Absolute Bliss.  He is here manifest as and in the Universe which presses upon our consciousness at every moment in a thousand ways, constantly asserting the reality of its Being.  One who sees and recognises this fact, has perceived the Truth, the real foundation of all existence.  And as he realises it and organises his life around this perception, his life begins to acquire a new significance; he becomes a centre of new values, one who radiates and instils something of the positive Truth he is in possession of and all creatures look to him as an exemplar, as a Pillar to hold to amidst the bewildering vicissitudes of the life of Ignorance to which they are subject.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, pp.265-274, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182