The Light of the Supreme: The Source of All Light in the World

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 14:  “There the sun cannot shine and the moon hath no splendour; the stars are blind; there our lightnings flash not neither any earthly fire; all that is bright is but the shadow of His brightness and by His shining all this shineth.”

The Rishi reviews the various forms of light in our world and finds that they are all caused by the light of the Supreme, and are essentially pale reflections of the intensity of the Supreme.  Just as we know the moon to glow as a pale reflection of the sun’s light, similarly, even the sun is a pale reflection of the radiance of the Supreme.

Light has both a physical and a metaphysical significance.  Light signifies knowledge and through the comparison of all the lights of the physical world with the light of the Supreme, the Rishi is also indicating that the Supreme is the source of all knowledge.  Whatever light we follow in this world, it is a reflection of the pure, unadulterated and intense knowledge that resides in the Supreme.

Sri Aurobindo developed a Gayatri mantra which captures this sense:  “Let us meditate on the most auspicious form of Savitri, on the light of the Supreme which shall illumine us with Truth.” (OM, tat savitur varum rupam jyotihi parasya dhimahi yannaha satyena dipayet.)

There is also an esoteric sense that relates to the spiritual experience of inner light as the higher force enters the mind.  Yogis report seeing various types of internal light as their meditation deepens, it can seem like sparks, or lightning flashes, stars, moon or sun.  The Isha Upanishad relates that the face of truth is covered by a brilliant golden lid.  The Rishis of the Veda and the Upanishads constantly invoke the higher light to bring forth the truth of existence.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384


One God: Supreme, Eternal, Transcendent, Universal, Immanent

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 12-13:  “One God and alone He controlleth the many who have themselves no separate work nor purpose; and He developeth one seed into many kinds of creatures; the strong-hearted behold God in their own Self, therefore for them is everlasting bliss and not for others. (Or, One God alone is hidden in all creatures; for He pervadeth all things and is the inner self of all beings, master of their works and home of all that liveth, the great Witness, the Well of conscious life, Absolute, without qualities.)  One Eternal of all these that pass and are not, One conscious in all consciousnesses; He being One ordereth the desires of many; He alone is the great Source to which Sankhya and Yoga bring us.  If thou know God thou shalt break free from every sort of bondage.”

We find that our mental logic cannot possibly suffice to encompass the nature of God.  Western religious traditions acknowledge One God, the Lord and Creator.  They claim omniscience, omnipotence, eternity and infinity for God, yet at the same time, make room for an externally fashioned universe and beings, who are somehow separate from God.  They even seem to recognise other gods in competition with or subservient to the One God.  The One God appears to sit outside the creation.

The Upanishad makes it clear that there is One God, but follows the logic out in a comprehensive manner.  It recognises that if there is indeed one God who has the characteristics of omniscience, omnipotence, eternity and infinity, then there can be no other form, being or creation that is separate or different from the One God, as that would limit God and set a boundary to infinity and eternity.  Thus, a recognition arises that the One God creates the many diverse forms and beings, through the processes of Nature, the active manifestation of God through Time, Space and Circumstance, and that these forms and beings are of the substance of God, are contained within God, and act under the impulsion of God.  This includes the multitude of gods, who are recognised as specific powers of Nature in the manifestation.  An individual may choose to worship one aspect or power of Nature primarily, but this does not negate the One God.  Whichever form one chooses to worship, the worship goes to the One, without a second.

This implies that when we seek the deeper truth of our being, we can, through a process of knowledge by identity, recognise God within ourselves.  This leads to the teachings of Sankhya and Yoga, which guide the seeker to this ultimate realisation of Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

The Analogy of the Spider and the Transcendent and Immanent Eternal

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 10-11:  “Even as is the spider that out of himself fashioneth his own web, so is God One and nought else existeth, but by his own nature covereth Himself up in the threads He hath spun out of primal matter.  May the One God ordain unto us departure into His Eternal. (Or, As the spider fashioneth a web and its threads are from his own body, so of his own nature the One God than whom nought else existeth, wrapt Himself from sight in the web born of eternal Matter.  May He ordain to us departure into the Eternal.)  One God who alone is and He lurketh hidden in every creature, for He pervadeth and is the inmost Self of all beings, He presideth over all work and is the home of all things living.  He is the Mighty Witness who relateth thought with thought and again He is the Absolute in whom mood is not nor any attribute. (Or, One God alone is hidden in all creatures; for He pervadeth all things and is the inner self of all beings, master of their works and home of all that liveth, the great Witness, the Well of conscious life, Absolute, without qualities.”

The analogy of the spider helps us ground our view of the Eternal with an illustration that our mind’s can begin to grasp.  The spider creates its web outside of itself from what it contains within itself.  Once the web is created, it acts within that framework in the outer world.  The spider transcends the limitations of the web, and can create new webbing as needed for its purposes in the world.

Similarly, the Eternal creates the entire world of universal existence from itself, and then uses that manifested reality for its own purposes of self-fulfillment, while nevertheless transcending all the forms of the world and having the inherent power to create new worlds and forms out of itself at any time.  The Eternal resides within the web of existence in all beings and forms.

The experience of the Witness, the consciousness that is aware of its own existence, and is the observer of the play of Nature and the action of the three Gunas, qualities, or moods, of Nature which, in their interplay and constantly shifting balance create the forms, forces and actions in the world.

All that is done in the universe is done under the direction of the Eternal through the instrumentality of Nature and the action of the Gunas.  Therefore, there is also a path of works, which can lead to the experience of Oneness with the Eternal, to complement the paths of knowledge and devotion.

Beyond all works, lies the unconditioned, the Absolute, the Transcendent, which cannot be limited by the framework of the web of life and action, although it pervades, manifests and enlivens all that exists.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

The One Creator and Lord of Creation Is Known Under Many Names

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 8-9:  “God needeth not to do anything neither hath He any organ of doing; there is none greater than He nor do we see any that is His equal — for His power is far over all, only men hear of it under a thousand names and various fashions. (Or, He hath nought that He must do nor any organ if His doing; there is none like Him seen nor any greater.  His might is over all and we hear of it in diverse fashions.)  Lo, the strength of Him and the works of Him and His Knowledge, they are self-efficient and their own cause and nature.  He hath no master in this world, there is none that shall rule over Him. Nor feature nor distinction hath He; for He is begetting cause and sovran over the lords of these natural organs, but Himself hath no begetter neither any sovran. (Or, but there is none that is His father or His sovran.)”

There are not a multitude of supreme Gods.  There is ONE who manifests in all aspects of the creation.  We tend to focus on one aspect or another and thereby laud a particular name or form of God.  In all instances, we are however referring to that One in a particular finite aspect.

The Supreme is not limited to any specific name, form or type of action.  There is nothing that the Supreme “must do” and at the same time, nothing that the Supreme must refrain from doing.  Unlimited, unbound, unconstrained — these are what the Upanishads mean when they say “not this, not that”.  This does not mean the Supreme is not manifesting in these specific forms, but that He is not limited by them.  The Supreme is truly “One without a second” and one can realistically say “All this is the Brahman.”  There is no contradiction if we understand the intent of encompassing, embodying and containing, but not thereby limiting either the infinity or the eternity, or the transcendent nature of God.

In whatever form we search for God, we find him.  Yet we are called upon to recognize that whatever the path one follows, the goal is the same, the One, the Eternal and the Infinite, the Transcendent who also constitutes the Universal and the Individual aspects of existence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

The One God, Transcendent Personality and Ruler Over All the Powers of the Creation

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 7:  “We will know this Mightiest one who is far above all the mighty — this summit of the gods and their godhead, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who towereth high above all summits and greatnesses.  Let us learn of God for He is this World’s Master and all shall adore Him. (Or, Him may we know, the Highest, Prince of Princes and King of Kings, the summit and godhead of the gods, High Lord over lords above all highness, the Master of the Worlds whom we must worship.)

In the Kena Upanishad, this concept is described in a somewhat different form.  The various powers of Nature, Agni, Vayu, Indra, representing the powers of the physical, vital and mental worlds are confronted with something which exceeds their knowledge and powers of action.  In their pride they believe they rule over everything in their field of action, but the Spirit challenges them and they find that they are helpless in the face of the Spirit.  Even the greatest of the gods is small compared to the Eternal.

We tend to conceive of the Eternal as Impersonal; yet there is both the Impersonal and also the Personal aspect.  The Personal aspect resides within all beings and forms and manifests through all interactions.  Our approach to the Divine is not solely through a feat of intellectual disassociation from all forms, beings and processes, what has been called the yogic path of knowledge.  This approach is a hard and, for most people, a virtually impossible task.  The heart’s adoration and love may find a more direct route to the Oneness that provides direct knowledge.  This is the secret truth of worship that provides the foundation for the yogic path of devotion.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

Beyond Time, Forms and Circumstance, the Lord of Creation Transcends, yet Inhabits, All that Exists

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 6:  “Time and Form and the Tree of Things, none of these is He for He is more than they and it is from Him that this Cosmos beginneth.  We will know this Master of grace and glory, for He cometh to us carrying righteousness in His hand and He driveth Sin from its strong place.  We will know Him for He is in our Self and immortal and the world’s foundation. (Or, He is other than Time and Form and the Tree of the Cosmos and He is greater than they, from Whom this world of phenomena becometh and revolveth.  Know ye the Master of Grace who bringeth virtue and driveth away sin.  He dwelleth in the Spirit of man, the Immortal, in whom the whole world hath its (or, all things have their) home and dwelling-place.)”

The Transcendent exceeds all the limitations of the sequencing of Time, the restrictions of forms and the rolling out of circumstance of forms interacting through Time.  The “Tree of the Cosmos” is the world-creation that has its roots above and its branches and leaves below, the Eternal Ashwattha tree, which represents the inter-connected and developing creation as it moves through Time.  But the Transcendent is not purely above and separate, but resides within the creation, not just as a universal presence, but also as the living Spirit within each being that is manifested.  We can thus experience the Spirit through inward awareness, not of the mind, but an intuitional relation granted to the soul through Grace.

The discussion of “sin” and “virtue” does not relate to temporal definitions of sin and virtue, but relates to those things which draw us into a state of distraction versus those which draw us into a state of Oneness with the Eternal Spirit.  Those things that stir up the vital forces and the emotions, or create mental or physical disturbance, are the creators of “sin” in this sense.  Those things that lend themselves toward a state of harmony, balance, calm poise and inward joy or bliss are the creators of “virtue” in this sense.

Sri Aurobindo, in his immortal epic poem Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol captures the sense of seeking the Divine inwardly:  “O Bliss who ever dwellest deep-hid within, While men seek they outside and never find.”  (pg. 345)

The Transcendent and the Individual Soul are One, and when we are granted, through Grace, the experience of that Oneness, all suffering departs and we are left in a state of peace, and bliss.  Our knowledge of the One Spirit comes, not through mental or logical effort, or any kind of aggressive, vital action, but through a knowledge by identity that arises through the purification of the nature preparing itself for the advent of the divine Grace, as described in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, where Arjuna is granted the vision of the Time-Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

Achieving Oneness with the Divine, Transcendent, Universal and Personal

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 5:  “Lo, we have beheld Him and He is the Beginning and the Cause of all Causes whereby these elements meet together and form ariseth; the past, the present and the future are this side of Him and Time hath no part in Him.  Let us worship the Ancient of Days in our own hearts who sitteth.  Let us wait upon God who must be adored, for the world is His shape and the Universe is but His becoming. (Or, We see Him to be the beginning, the Informing Cause whereby all standeth together; the past, the present and the future are this side of Him and Time hath no part in Him.  Worship ye the Adorable whose shape is the whole Universe and who hath become in the Universe, worship ye the Lord, the Ancient of Days, in your own hearts who sitteth.)”

The seers of the Upanishads had a difficult task.  Having experienced a Reality which went beyond the capacity of human mind and speech to communicate, they used conceptual frameworks which seemed contradictory and which led in later ages, to confusion as seekers latched onto one aspect, while denying the primacy, or even the ultimate reality of other aspects.  How after all can one reconcile “all this is the Brahman” with “not this, not that”?

A new paradigm of understanding is required that goes beyond the linear, exclusive and fragmented process of the mind.  The seers of the Upanishad use language to try to take us beyond the mutually exclusive boundaries of our normal thought process.  Thus, they reconcile the apparent contradictions between the Eternal and the temporal, between the Infinite and the finite, between the Absolute and Transcendent and the world of forms and beings.

The link between all of these things is that “all this IS the Brahman” and that the denials “not this, not that” are meant to remind us that we cannot define, we cannot exclude, we cannot truncate the Reality of the Brahman.  Brahman is personality as well as the Impersonal.  Brahman is Time as well as the Timeless.  Brahman is form, and Brahman is beyond form.

If we cannot approach the divine Personality and the divine Impersonal through the action of the mind, then how do we attain this realisation?  Adoration, worship, devotion all unify the heart of the being with the Adored, the Worshipped and the object of the Devotion, and thus, can bridge the gap in our understanding that is left when the mind retreats without comprehension into its normal “either/or” mode.  The divine Presence resides in the entire creation, and is “seated in the heart”.  Adoration, love and devotion can awaken us to the Presence and thereby bring us to the status of Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

Creation and Cessation: the Processes of the Action, and the Dissolution of Action in the Universe

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 3-4:  “The Lord doeth works and resteth again from His works, one or two or three or eight.  He yoketh Himself with the Principle of things in their essence and with Time He yoketh Himself and with Self in its subtle workings.  So He beginneth works that are subject to the Modes of Nature, and setteth all existences to their workings:  and when these things are not, thereby cometh annihilation of work that hath been done; and with the perishing of work, He departeth out of them; for in His final truth He is other than they.”

The Upanishads were not meant to be systematic written texts but rather notes and guidelines to a teaching that was oral and transmitted directly from the Guru to the disciples.  Certain verses, therefore, are somewhat difficult to understand when they enumerate items without specific reference, as we find here.  Some commentators speculate on the meanings of the numbers cited, based on traditional context.    An example of this type of extrapolation is found in the number 8 cited here.  In the Bhagavad Gita, the creation is said to consist of the five great elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth, along with Manas (mind), Buddhi (higher reason) and Ahankara (ego-sense).  Simillarly the three likely relates to the 3 modes of Nature, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, since they are specifically referenced here. (Other commentators hold the 3 to reference the 3 bodies, physical, subtle and causal.)

Some commentators reference the number 1 as ignorance, and the number 2 as Dharma and Adharma, essentially the power of past acts to form future consequences through the action of Karma.  .  It is however equally possible that given the description here of the subtle processes of the Creation, that the 1 is the Eternal and the 2 is the development of the bifurcation into Purusha and Prakriti, the Witness consciousness and the active power of consciousness in Nature.

The Upanishad indicates that the Lord sets the action of the worlds in motion.  The action of the three Gunas, modes of Nature, in their constant changes, leads to the entire “work” of the worlds, and when they reach equilibrium, and no changes take place, then the “work” of the world subsides.  The Lord, while containing, creating, and enlivening the universe, yet remains transcendent and is not dependent on the universe for His existence.

The Indian tradition holds that the worlds undergo a series of births and annihilations and that this process is based on the Will of the Lord, acting through the Gunas.  The Lord sets the subtle action in motion and the evolutionary development process then takes place with the support, and attention of the divine Presence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

The One Consciousness and the Processes of Natural Development of the World of Forms and Beings

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 1-2:  “‘Tis Nature and Self-existence, say one school of the Seers.  Nay, ’tis Time say another; both are deceived and bewildered.  ‘Tis the Majesty of the Lord in the world of His creatures whereby this Wheel of the Eternal whirleth about continually.  He envelopeth this whole Universe with Himself for ever, He that knoweth, Maker of Time, and the Modes of Nature dwell in Him; yea, all things He discerneth.  And by His governance the Law of Works revolveth in its cycle.  Earth, water, fire, air, ether, of these thou shalt consider (as the substances wherein it turneth).”

Many are those who try to determine the existence and process of the universe in terms of physical principles.  This is where Western science has been traditionally focused with its fixation on process of a “big bang”, and “expanding universe” and some kiind of physical development process over Time from a chemical soup to human existence!  This debate however has not been limited to Western science.  The same debate among ancient seers took place and is mentioned here.

On the other side of this are the religious doctrines that make existence into a fiat of God without any need for an evolutionary process.  What the Rishi here has done is to recognize the Self-existence of the divine Personality, as well as the process of that divine Personality to work through a sequential, evolutionary development through Time and through the action of the modes of Nature, tamas, rajas and sattva and their interaction to create and develop all forms and beings that exist in the universal creation.  This integrated viewpoint therefore is a method to harmonize the “scientific” and the “religious”.

It should be noted that researchers in modern science are beginning to recognize the primacy of consciousness and they have been systematically moving from Matter to a recognition that Matter is a form of Energy, and more recently, that Energy is a form of Consciousness.  It is this universal Consciousness that employs all the modes of Nature, and, through the instrumentality of extension through Time and Space created all that exists and sets the universe in motion.  Everything operates under the law of development, whether we call it “cause and effect”, “karma” or “evolution” (or some other name), set in motion and controlled by this one Consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384

Evolution of Forms and Beings and Transcendence of the Process of Evolution

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Five, Verses 12-14:  “Forms gross forms subtle, forms many, — the Spirit in the body evolveth them all by His own nature in its working; by the law of action of His works and the law of action of the Spirit in man, by these he evolveth them.  But there is Another in Whom we behold Cause whereby all these meet together. (Or, But there is yet Another in Whom we see the cause wherefore all these stand as one whole and have met together.)  Without beginning, without end in the welter and the chaos, who createth the world by taking many figures and as the One girdeth and encompasseth it, He is the Lord and if thou know Him thou shalt break free from all kinds of bondage.  Shiva, the Master of all becomings and not-becomings and from His this whole creation floweth and it is only one part of Shiva, but He is not named after any next of the winged Spirit, and the heart alone can apprehend Him — they who know Shiva, the Blessed One, abandon body for ever.”

Long before Darwin, Rishis identified the process of evolution of forms.  There was however a major difference.  While Darwin focused solely on the outer physical forms and their transformations over time, the Rishis identified the underlying cause, the One Spirit, and the mechanism, the law of action and the chain of consequence, called the law of karma.  They recognized that forms do not appear of themselves and there had to be a first cause, the One, who set the entire creation in motion.

They also addressed the question of both the Judeo-Christian and the Graceo-Roman  creation stories.  In both of these, forms were placed in the world fully formed in their actual shape that we see now before us.  In the case of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the various plants and animals were created and eventually mankind was created and set into action.  In the case of the Greek, there was the story of Minerva being born full-grown out of the head of Jupiter (Athena being born out of the head of Zeus).  The Rishis saw that forms undergo change and transformation based on the combination of the law of action of the Divine at the “macro” level and the law of action of the Spirit in Man at the “micro” level.  All of this is dependent on the One, Eternal, Infinite, unconditioned by time, space or circumstance.

When the seeker is able to shift his standpoint to the divine standpoint, he is released from the bondage of birth and death.  The Transcendent incorporates both the manifest and the unmanifest, the forms and beings conditioned by Time, and the pure Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that stands outside Time.  This being is “auspicious” (i.e. Shiva).  Shiva cannot be perceived by the senses of perception nor by the mind.  The shift in standpoint creates a status of Oneness between the seeker and the sought, and there is then an intuition of the One.  Such a seeker is no longer bound to the transitory creation as he has moved beyond.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384