Worshipping OM as the Eternal Manifesting in the World as Prana

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verses 7-9:  “Then the Gods worshipped OM as this which is Breath in the mouth and the Demons rushing against it dashed themselves to pieces; as when an object striketh against firm and solid rock, it dasheth to pieces upon the rock.  And even as an object hurling against firm and solid rock dasheth itself to pieces, so he hurleth himself upon destruction whose desireth evil against the Knower or whose doeth him hurt; for the Knower is as that firm and solid rock.  With this Breath one cogniseth neither sweet scent nor ill odour, for it hath flung Evil from it.  Whatsoever one eateth with this or drinketh, thereby it cherisheth the other breaths.  At the end and last when he findeth not the breath, the Spirit goeth out from the body; verily he openeth wide the mouth as he goeth.”

The “breath in the mouth” symbolically represents Prana, the original energy of the Eternal that manifests the universe.  While the breath in the nostrils is one of the subsidiary sense functions and thus, can experience both “good” and “bad” scents, the breath in the mouth is independent of this sense function.  The Eternal, worshipped as OM, in the form of its energy of manifestation is impervious to the action of fragmentation, division, individual desire which is what underlies the action of the demons called “evil” and thus, represents the true fulfillment of the aspiration of the higher forces in the evolutionary creation.

When this “breath” is present, there is life in the body and when it departs, then the body dies and disintegrates back into its constituent elements.

The “Knower” of this breath resides in the status of the Brahman and thus is not able to be misled or drawn out from his knowledge of the Eternal; thus making him impervious to the action of the demonic energies of the fragmented view of the lower nature seeking its own self-aggrandisement as if it is separate from the Oneness of the universal creation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Struggle Between Good and Evil in Human Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verses 1-6: “The Gods and the Demons strove together and both were children of the Almighty Father.  Then the Gods took up for weapon OM of Udgitha, for they said, ‘With this we shall overcome these Titans.’  The Gods worshipped OM as Breath in the nostrils; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it smelleth both alike, the sweet scent and the evil odour.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as Speech; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it speaketh both alike, Truth and Falsehood.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as the Eye; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it beholdeth both alike, the fair to see and the foul of favour.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as the Ear; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it heareth both alike, that which is well to hear and that which is harsh and unseemly.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped Udgitha as Mind; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it conceiveth both alike, right thoughts and unlawful imaginations.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.”

The symbolism of the gods and the titans is tied to the internal focus and direction of the being, the force of impulsion of the individual either towards light, growth and advancement, increase of knowledge and oneness with the Eternal, or towards self-aggrandizement, egoistic fulfillment of desire and the darkness of the unenlightened vital nature.  The gods express their aspiration through focus on OM.  When this is applied, however, to the instruments of the manifestation, the sense organs and the mind, this focus is generally overwhelmed by the demands of the physical and vital nature.  This is called being “smitten with Evil”.  Evil in this sense is not a moral judgment, based on some specific social mores, but a description of the focus and direction and limitation of the being which tries to achieve its separate fulfillment from the rest of the creation of which it is a part and partial expression, in other words, a false or “unlawful imagination”.

This describes the difference between “good” and “evil” and the complexity of human nature with both an outward and downward urge and an upward and inward aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Significance of OM for the Seeker of Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 9-10:  “By OM the triple knowledge proceedeth; with OM the priest reciteth the Rik, with OM he pronounceth the Yajur, with OM he chanteth the Sama.  And all this is for the heaping up of the Imperishable and by the greatness of It and the delightfulness.  He doeth works by OM who hath the knowledge, and he also who hath it not; but these are diverse, the Knowledge and the Ignorance.  Whatso work one doeth with knowledge, with faith and with the secret of Veda, it becometh to him more virile and mighty.  This is the exposition of the eternal letters.”

The references to the sacrificial chants of the Rig-veda, Yajur-veda and Sama-veda have, once again, a two-fold purpose.  The outer purpose is to explain the significance of OM in the rituals, the inner purpose is to remind the seeker that all of these actions are based in and founded upon the Eternal Brahman.

There is a debate then as to whether rote effort done in ignorance has the same result as a similar action done with knowledge.  The Vedic Rishis clearly indicate that knowledge makes the work more powerful and fruitful of result.  Either way, the power of OM is operative, as it is the Eternal Brahman.  We can see this in everyday work-life.  Some people work at a job as a mechanical or rote process and they tend to “get the job done” but do not grow or advance quickly as a result.  Others may undertake the same job, but with an intention and insight to understand its principles of action and apply them.  These individuals turn the job into a growth opportunity and advance more swiftly along the way.  Similarly, anything undertaken with ignorance of its action and goal is subject to deviations and errors that can mitigate to a great degree the end result.  By applying knowledge and insight, the result can come more directly.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “This then is the meaning of the Upanishad that OM, the syllable, technically called the Udgitha, is to be meditated on as a symbol of the fourfold Brahman with two objects, the ‘singing to’ of one’s desires and aspirations in the triple manifestation and the spiritual ascension into the Brahman Itself so as to meet and enter into heaven after heaven and even into Its transcendent felicity.  For, it says, with the syllable OM one begins the chant of the Sama-veda, or, in the esoteric sense, by means of the meditation on OM one makes this soul-ascension and becomes master of all the soul desires.  It is in this aspect and to this end that the Upanishad will expound OM.  To explain Brahman in Its nature and workings, to teach the right worship and meditation on Brahman, to establish what are the different means of attainment of different results and the formulae of the meditation and worship, is its purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

OM, the Syllable of Assent and Fulfillment of Humanity’s Desires

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 7-8:  “He becometh a gratifier of the desires of men who with this knowledge worshippeth OM the eternal syllable.  Now this OM is the syllable of Assent; for to whatsoever one assenteth, one sayeth OM; and assent is blessing of increase.  Verily he becometh a blesser and increaser of the desires of men who with this knowledge worshippeth OM the eternal syllable.”

OM is the symbol and the sound-body of the Eternal.  When one worships OM, one is worshiping the Eternal and there is a union of the devotee with the object of devotion, thus bringing about knowledge by identity.  When one is identified with the Eternal, both the unmanifest and the manifest, everything that exists comes within the purview of that seeker.  It is thus that all things become possible to such a one as this.

Desire is a force of propulsion in the universal creation.  It is the creative impulse and the seeker who has become one with the Eternal Brahman thus supports and helps drive forward the universal creation.  The Rig Veda calls desire “the primal seed of mind”.

The desires of humanity are actually the driving force of the progressive evolutionary stream within which we grow, achieve and exceed our current limitations.

There is a truth, of course, to the idea that even individual desires or gratification can be sought, and received, as wherever the attention is turned with concentration, the force moves to bring that about.  The seeker of the Eternal becomes one with the Eternal.  The seeker of worldly satisfactions can receive those along the way as well.  Everything is accessible to the seeker who has become one with the Eternal Brahman through concentration on OM.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Union of Speech and Breath in OM

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 4-6:   “Which among things and which again is Rik; which among things and which again is Sama; which among things and which again is OM of the Udgitha — this is now pondered.  Speech is Rik, Breath is Sama; the Imperishable is OM of Udgitha.  There are the divine lovers, Speech and Breath, Rik and Sama.  As a pair of lovers are these and they cling together in OM the eternal syllable; now when the beloved and her lover meet, verily they gratify each the desire of the other.”

The Rig-veda is considered to be like the leaves of the eternal Ashwattha tree with its roots above and its branches and leaves below.  On an exoteric basis it manifests the fruits of the created universe.  Speech is the power that manifests through differentiation of sounds, as the sound-body of each thing manifests that thing.  .  “In the beginning was the Word” exemplifies this concept.  The Sama-veda represents the breath.  The word translated as ‘breath’ is Prana.  Prana is the force of creation in the universe.  Speech relies on Prana, as Prana utilizes speech to create the manifestation.   The Sama-veda consists, over 90%, of hymns of the Rig-veda, set to melodic singing or chanting of the Riks.  Thus, there is an intimate interrelationship between the Rig-veda’s hymns and the Sama-veda’s chants.

Modern day researchers have begun to explore the psycho-physical effects of the chanting of the Rig-veda or the Sama-veda.  In one experiment, Maharishi International University determined that chanting of Sama-veda actually was able to increase the temperature, viewed by thermal imaging, of the primary chakra centers in the body.  Others are studying the vibrational frequency of what is called the Solfeggio scale, popularized in the Gregorian chants, and the impact on the body and opening of new capabilities.  We have yet to fully understand the esoteric impact of the chanting of the Vedas.  Traditionally their role in the sacrificial rites of the Hindu tradition is quite well-recognized.  Those who experience the chanting or singing first-hand are clearly impacted by the experience.  Many have had what appear to be openings of new understanding, new energy, new aspiration, new spiritual directions when they are immersed in this chanting in a deep and abiding way.  The Rishis clearly had an esoteric sense behind their teachings, not just the external result of a sacrifice.  The dual meanings behind the words is also likely amplified by a dual sense to the recitation that occurs.

OM is the sound-body of the Eternal, which manifests through the joining of Speech and Prana to create the forms out of the Eternal’s own body.  OM has the ability to take one beyond the manifested to the unmanifest, as well as integrating the two into the oneness that they actually represent.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

OM: the Highest and Most Essential Essence of Things

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 1-3:  “Worship ye OM, the eternal syllable, OM is Udgitha, the chant of Sama-veda; for with OM they begin the chant of Sama.  And this is the exposition of OM.  Earth is the substantial essence of all these creatures and the waters are the essence of earth; herbs of the field are the essence of the waters; man is the essence of the herbs.  Speech is the essence of man, Rig-veda the essence of Speech, Sama the essence of Rik.  Of Sama OM is the essence.  This is the eighth essence of the essences and the really essential, the highest and it belongeth to the upper hemisphere of things.”

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Chhandogya, we see from its first and introductory sentence, is to be a work on the right and perfect way of devoting oneself to the Brahman; the spirit, the methods, the formulae are to be given to us.  Its subject is the Brahman, but the Brahman as symbolised in the OM, the sacred syllable of the Veda; not, therefore , the pure state of the Universal Existence only, but that Existence in all its parts, the waking world and the dream self and the sleeping, the manifest, half-manifest and hidden, Bhurloka, Bhuvar and Swar, –the right means to win all of them, enjoy all of them, transcend all of them, is the subject of the Chhandogya.  OM is the symbol and the thing symbolised.  It is the symbol, aksaram; the syllable in which all sound of speech is brought back to its wide, pure indeterminate state; it is the symbolised, aksaram, the changeless, undiminishing, unincreasing, unappearing, undying Reality which shows itself to experience in all this change, increase, diminution, appearance, departure which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the world, just as OM, the pure eternal sound-basis of speech shows itself tot he ear in the variations and combinations of impure sound which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the Veda.”

In the Vedic view of things, there is an upper hemisphere of pure Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that is the true source, continent and basis of all that manifests.  The image of the tree with its roots above and its branches and leaves below characterises this upper hemisphere as the most essential, the source of the world and all its forms.  OM is the sound-body of this highest essential truth.  By worshiping OM the worshiper becomes one with this highest truth of existence, which transcends all, contains all and embodies all that exists.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

Introduction to the Chhandogya Upanishad

The Chhandogya Upanishad (Chandogya Upanishad) is considered to be one of the most ancient, if not actually the oldest, of the major Upanishads.  In its sprawling scope it includes a number of different teachings, vidya, as it seeks to illuminate the ‘secret of the veda’ for a developing humanity.

Sri Aurobindo provides an historical context:  “After the destruction of the conservative Kurus and Panchalas at Kurukshetra, the development of the Vedanta commenced and went on progressing till in its turn it reached its extreme and excessive development in the teachings of Buddha and Shankaracharya.  But at the period of the Chhandogya it is in its early stage of development.  The first sections of the Upanishad are taken up with an esoteric development of the inner meaning of certain parts of the sacrificial formulae, which in itself is sufficient to show that the work belongs to the first stratum of Vedantic formation..”

As with all the Upanishads, the Chhandogya is concerned with the ultimate knowledge of “that which, being known, all is known”.  The knowledge of Brahman.  It approaches this knowledge from a number of different directions.  Sri Aurobindo has focused on brief sections of this extensive Upanishad, as he has translated specific segments of Chapter 1, and provided brief commentary on this opening section, as well as on one of the latter segments of the text.  The first section is focused on OM, the udgitha, in a very similar manner to that seen in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.  The importance of OM and its esoteric significance can be seen from the multiple treatments provided in various Upanishads.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Gods and the Titans Strive for Control of the Human Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Three, Verses 1-2:  “Two were the races of the Sons of God, the gods and the Titans.  Thereafter the gods were weaker, mightier the Titans.  They in these worlds strove together, and the gods said, ‘Let us by this udgitha overpass the Titans in the Yajna.’  They said to Speech, ‘Do thou go upward (by the udgitha) for us.’  ‘So be it’, said Speech and he went upward for them; the enjoyment that is in speech, he reached for the gods, the good that it speaks, he reached for the self.  They thought it was by this singer they would overpass them, but they ran at him and penetrated him with evil.  The evil that one speaketh, this that hath no correspondence (to the thing in fact to be expressed), — this is that evil.”

The battle of the gods and the Titans is an allegory of the inner struggle between the impulses driven by ego, and the aspiration of the higher self seeking to attain knowledge and realisation. The actions of each individual are governed by the predominance and balance of the three gunas, or qualities of Nature.  Those with a predominant sattwic nature, focused on peace, harmony, compassion, seeking for knowledge and devoted to truth, are carrying out the action of the gods, focusing on the growth of the higher principles of action, and reducing the impact of the ego-nature’s seeking for satisfaction of its desires.  Those with a predominant rajasic nature tend to try to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others, want to satisfy the urgings of their lower desires and do not care about truth in their attempt to gain a victory for their egoistic pursuits.

In his Essays on the GitaSri Aurobindo comments: “These are the human representatives of the Devas and Danavas or Asuras, the Gods and the Titans. This distinction is a very ancient one in Indian religious symbolism. The fundamental idea of the Rig Veda is a struggle between the Gods and their dark opponents, between the Masters of Light, sons of infinity, and the children of Division and Night, a battle in which man takes part and which is reflected in all his inner life and action.”

The egoistic nature and the rajasic and tamasic elements are naturally stronger in man in his animal nature.  Seeking physical satisfaction, vital achievement and the seeking for power are thereby predominant for a long while in human nature, and the vital force, oriented towards the process of “eating” in order to survive and thrive, naturally favors the ascendancy of these forces.  Those who seek truth, who seek oneness, who seek a wider and higher action of harmony try to overcome the force of desire through the chanting of the udgitha, the OM.  This action is beneficial, but for a long time the force of desire continues to arise and it can hijack the thoughts, and deeds of the individual even as they begin to carry out their higher seeking.  The force of speech, when it is not chanting OM, engages still with the human nature, and brings about the expression of falsehood as part of the egoistic approach to success in life.  This is that evil that is spoken of here.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Esoteric Sense of the Ashwamedha, the Horse Sacrifice

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 7 (partial): “He desired, ‘Let this have sacrificial capacity for me, by this let me be provided with a body.  That which has expressed power and being, that is fit for the sacrifice.  This verily is the secret of the Ashwamedha and he knoweth indeed the Ashwamedha who thus knoweth it.  He gave him free course and thought, then after a year ( a fixed period of time) he dedicated him to the self. … ”

We have seen that the Ashwamedha, the traditional Horse Sacrifice, has a deep esoteric significance.  The horse in this sacrifice is equated with the universal manifestation.  There is a power of creation put forth by the Eternal to manifest through Time and Space.  It should be noted that the Sanskrit term Ashwa, generally translated as “horse” has underlying meaning, as described by Sri Aurobindo “to the Rishis meant the unknown power made up of force, strength, solidity, speed and enjoyment that pervades and constitutes the material world.”  The term medha, putting aside for the moment its external translation of “sacrifice”, has underlying sense of intelligence, wisdom, sharpness of penetration.  The combination of intelligence and force is the characteristic of the Vijnana, the Supramental consciousness, which is the power that carries out the manifestation through the creation of differentiated forms that represent through Time and Space the Eternal in its embodied presence.

The portion of this verse not translated here by Sri Aurobindo includes references to the sun being the horse sacrifice, with his body being the time span of the year, the cycle of the earth’s rotation around the sun.  The embodied fire is the manifested world.  Death is a form of the action set forth in the sacrifice, and thus, he who knows this becomes one with Death and cannot be vanquished by death, and thus, achieves oneness with the manifested Eternal.

Sri M. P. Pandit concludes:  “Thus are fire, the Sacrifice (of the embodied World-Force), the Horse and Death one Divinity.  He who knows, he who realises this truth in himself becomes that very God with death for his limb, a process of his living.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Process of Differentiation of Forms and Beings in the Creation

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 6:  “He desired, ‘Let me sacrifice more richly with richer sacrifice.’  He laboured and put forth heat of force, and of him thus laboured and heated splendour and strength came forth.  The life-forces are that splendour and strength, therefore when the life-forces go forth, the body sets about to rot, yet in his body even so mind was.”

Once the process of differentiation of forms begins, it multiplies and creates the manifold creation that we experience around us.  This is the “richer sacrifice”.  Sacrifice is the process of aspiration, of a concentration of conscious force.  Sri Aurobindo translates the word tapas here as ‘heat of force’.  The Taittiriya Upanishad equates tapas as the Eternal and the concentration brings about everything that exists.  The forms take on this energy in the form of the Life-Force.  When it is time for a particular form to disintegrate and return to the original state of matter, the life-force departs and the body “rots”.  Existence is a constant process of offering, of sacrifice, as each form takes shape, plays its role, and then is given up to another form in the process of birth, life, and death.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “He desired to sacrifice, to lend Himself for further becoming.  To the exclusion of His other self-formulations, He concentrated and brooded upon his developing body to render it fit for the great Sacrifice.  And with the maturity of Time He sacrificed His own Body to Himself the Godhead presiding over this creation.  And lesser creatures He offered to the emanations of the Godhead, the gods participating in the Manifestation.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193