About sriaurobindostudies

studying the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since 1971, this blog is meant to systematically review the writings of Sri Aurobindo.

The Powers That Support Human Existence

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, Second Question, Verses 1-2:  “Then the Bhargava, the Vidarbhan, asked him: ‘Lord, how many Gods maintain this creature, and how many illumine it, and which of these again is the mightiest?’  To him answered the Rishi Pippalada:  ‘These are the Gods, even Ether and Wind and Fire and Water and Earth and Speech and Mind and Sight and Hearing.  These nine illumine the creature: therefore they vaunted themselves, ‘We, even we, support this harp of God and we are the preservers.’ ”

The second question shifts the focus to the human being and questions what the powers are that act in and illlumine the human being.  The term “gods” in the Vedic sense represents universal forces active in the creation.  The Rishi thus begins by enumerating earth, water, fire, air and ether, the 5 “elements” that underlie the entire creation.  He then moves to the powers that act specifically within each individual, “speech, mind, sight and hearing” as powers that illumine the being.

The image of the “harp of God” shows that the human being is an instrument of the manifestation, which originates and is controlled by the Divine Spirit in its expression.  The action of fragmentation and individuation that is the key to the multiplicity of the manifestation leads to the sense of the ego, at work even within these powers.  Thus, each of the powers claims precedence in terms of creating and preserving the life of the individual beings in the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315

The Paths of the Northern and the Southern Solstice

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, First Question, Verses 14-16:  “Food is the Eternal Father: for of this came the seed and of the seed is the world of creatures born.  They therefore who perform the vow of the Eternal Father produce the twin creature.  But theirs is the heaven of the spirit in whom are established askesis and holiness and in whom Truth has her dwelling.  Theirs is the heaven of the Spirit, the world all spotless, in whom there is neither crookedness nor lying nor any illusion.”

With the background of the earlier responses, starting with the origin of the created universe with energy and matter, and the creation of the divisions of Time, the process of determining the direction and rebirth of the soul through the processes of birth and death, the sage now focuses on the individual action.  The processes of perpetuation of the creation take place at the individual level through the combining of the seed in the body of the woman, which creates children, male and female.  The sage has previously distinguished between those who follow the path that leads to this action of perpetuation, the path of the southern solstice, and those who follow the path of seeking the Eternal through tapasya, and spiritual focus, who live the Truth of existence through their Oneness in Knowledge with the Spirit.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315

The Origin of Living Beings, Part Three–the Divisions of Time

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, First Question, Verses 9-13:  “The year also is that Eternal Father and of the year there are two paths, the northern solstice and the southern.  Now they who worship God with the well dug and the oblation offered, deeming these to be righteousness, conquer their heavens of the Moon:  these return again to the world of birth.  Therefore do the souls of sages who have not yet put from them the desire of offspring, take the way of the southern solstice which is the road of the Fathers.  And this also is Matter, the Female.  But by the way of the northern solstice go the souls that have sought the Spirit through holiness and knowledge and faith and askesis: for they conquer their heavens of the Sun.  There is the resting place of the breaths, there immortality casteth out fear, there is the highest heaven of spirits: thence no soul returneth: therefore is the wall and barrier.  Whereof this is the Scripture: Five-portioned, some say, is the Father and hath twelve figures and he floweth in the upper hemisphere beyond the heavens: but others speak of him as the Wisdom who standeth in a chariot of six spokes and seven wheels.  The month also is that Eternal Father, whereof the dark fortnight is Matter the Female and the bright fortnight is Life the Male.  Therefore do one manner of sages offer sacrifice in the bright fortnight and another in the dark.  Day and night also are the Eternal Father, whereof the day is Life and the night is Matter.  Therefore do they offend against their own life who take joy with woman by day: by night who take joy, enact holiness.”

The motions of the earth revolving around the sun create two major periods in the cycle, the northern and the southern solstice periods.  During one period the sun (prana) is more intense and has a more powerful influence on the earth.  Similarly, the month is divided into two halves, this time related to the influence of the moon (earth).  And then there is the division between day and night, which once again sets forth another energetic cycle moving within the larger lunar and solar cycles.  The divisions spoken of include the 12 months, and, as based in India, either the 5 or 6 seasons of the year.

There is a time and a season for all things, and these are formed by the interactions of Life (Prana) and Matter and the cyclical markings of Time to manifest the universal creation based on the Knowledge of the One Eternal that is systematically rolling out the creation through these divisions of Time.

There is also a psychological component that looks at the energetic action of these different cycles and applies it to the focus and energy of the seeker.  There are those who seek the perpetuation of the creation and the race, who follow the energy of the southern solstice, and then there are those who seek the silent, ineffable Oneness of the Eternal, who follow the path of the northern solstice.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315

The Origin of Living Beings, Part Two

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, first question, verses 6 – 8:  “Now when the Sun rising entereth the East, then absorbeth he the eastern breaths into his rays.  But when he illumineth the south and west and north, and below and above and all the angles of space, yea, all that is, then he taketh all the breaths into his rays.  Therefore is this fire that riseth, this Universal Male, of whom all things are the bodies, Prana the breath of existence.  This is that which was said in the Rig Veda: ‘Fire is this burning and radiant Sun, he is the One lustre and all-knowing Light, he is the highest heaven of spirits.  With a thousand rays he burneth and existeth in a hundred existences: lo this Sun that riseth, he is the Life of all his creatures.’ ”

The Rishi takes a deeper look at the interplay of Matter and Energy.  Energy is seen as the universal Prana, and it enlivens all bodies, that is, all Matter.  We see this interplay in the energy of the sun as it brings forth all forms of life on the earth.  It goes beyond this to the entire creation as a universal phenomenon.

There is also the esoteric symbolism that the Vedic Rishis used to communicate a secret inner sense to those they were teaching, while holding an external meaning for those without this further grounding in the practices being taught.  Sri Aurobindo describes this use of dual meaning at length in The Secret of the Veda.  

As the Isha Upanishad describes, the sun is the sun of illumination of knowledge, covered by a brilliant golden lid which, when the seeker pierces it, gives him access to the higher planes of knowledge, the Vijnana, as described in the Taittiriya Upanishad.  Knowledge of the entire universal manifestation is lodged at this level, and in fact, this is the effective level that acts to transform the Oneness into the Multiplicity, which is the birth and “life of all his creatures.”  This sun of illumination creates, directs, motivates and actualises all the life-force in the universe.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315

The Origin of Living Beings, Part One

Sri Aurobindo translates Prashna Upanishad, 1st Question:  “Lord, whence are all these creatures born?”

There are multiple parts to the answer provided by the Sage Pippalada.  First he declares that the Eternal through concentration of conscious force created Energy and Matter:  “The Eternal Father desired children, therefore he put forth his energy and by the heat of his energy (n.b. tapas), produced twin creatures, Prana the Life, who is Male, and Rayi the Matter, who is Female.  ‘These,’ said he, ‘shall make for me children of many natures. The Sun verily is Life and the Moon is no more than Matter: yet truly all this Universe formed and formless is Matter: therefore Form and Matter are One.”

Rayi, the term used for Matter, also means “food”.  Prana, the life-force, is, as we have seen in the Taittiriya Upanishad, considered to be the “eater of food”.  The Sun is the source of the energy that creates and sustains Matter and Life.  The conversion of energy into matter, and matter into energy, is therefore implied.  Further implied is a concept that is actually a modern scientific concept being proven out by scientists of today — namely, that “all this Universe formed and formless is Matter.”  The amount of visible matter in the universe is very small, but the universe reacts as if there is something other than visible matter.  This is being called “dark matter”.  We could understand that visible matter is the “formed” and dark matter is the “formless”.  Others are exploring the idea of whether there is a subtle material “ether” as the ancient sages indicated, to help describe the phenomena they see in their measurements of energy and the movement of celestial bodies.  Thus, the insight of the Upanishadic sage is being confirmed, similar to the insight that energy and matter are interchangeable, that energy creates matter.  Finally, the insight of the Eternal, the All-Conscious, forming both energy and matter, is now becoming known to science as they follow the path of “matter is energy, energy is consciousness”.

The further Western science delves into the secrets of the universe and the origins of living beings, the closer they get to the spiritual truths as seen and experienced by the ancient sages.

There are additional subtleties to be understood here as well.  In the Vedas and Upanishads, the Sun does not simply represent a physical body that radiates energy through conversion of matter, but also psychologically, the force of consciousness that creates the multiplicity we experience as the universal manifestation, the Vijnana.  The Isha Upanishad describes this Sun as a power of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Prashna Upanishad, pp.297-315

Ordering of Posts from Yesterday and Today

i was working on both posts and inadvertently posted today’s post yesterday and yesterday’s post today.  So you will see the final post for the Aitareya Upanishad showing up sequentially after the first post for the Prashna Upanishad in the sequential listings.  Sorry for any possible confusion that was involved.

Consciousness is the Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Aitareya Upanishad, Chapter 3: “Who is this Spirit that we may adore Him?  and which of all these is the Spirit?  By whom one seeth or by whom one heareth or by whom one smelleth all kinds of perfume or by whom one uttereth clearness of speech or by whom one knoweth the sweet and bitter.  This which is the heart, is mind also.  Concept and will and analysis and wisdom and intellect and vision and continuity of purpose and feeling and understanding, pain and memory and volition and operation (Or, application) of thought and vitality and desire and passion, all these, yea all, are but names of the Eternal Wisdom.  This creating Brahma; this ruling Indra, this Prajapati, Father of his peoples; all these Gods and these five elemental substances, even earth, air, ether, water and the shining principles; and these great creatures and those small; and seeds of either sort; and things egg-born and things sweat-born and things born of the womb and plants that sprout; and horses and cattle and men and elephants; yea, whatsoever thing here breatheth and all that moveth and everything that hath wings and whatso moveth not; by Wisdom all these are guided and have their firm abiding in Wisdom.  For Wisdom is the eye of the world.  Wisdom is the sure foundation, Wisdom is Brahman Eternal.  By the strength of the wise and seeing Self, the sage having soared up from this world, mounted (Or, ascended) into this other world of Paradise; and there having possessed desire, put death behind him, yea, he put death behind him.”

The focus of chapter 3 is to remind the reader of the conscious awareness, behind the operations of mind and senses, behind the operations of the universal forces, and behind the operations of the evolutionary process of the manifestation, and to equate this conscious awareness with Brahman Eternal.  This represents an expansive description of the concise formulation “All This is the Brahman,” which, taken together with “One without a Second” represents the Upanishadic view of existence.

The term “Wisdom” in this text is a translation of the term prajnana.  The sense of this word is what we would call “consciousness”.  It comes from the root term jnana, which means knowledge and is related to the term vijnana, which is the term used for an all-embracing and detailed knowledge which acts as the intermediary between the undifferentiated Oneness and the world of Multiplicity in all of its complexity and inter-relationships.

The Upanishad describes the experience of the sage who discovers the Self within and thereby overcomes the force of desire and puts the concept of death behind him.  This is a common theme in the Upanishads describing the shift in standpoint from the individual egoistic view to the divine status of Oneness with the Transcendent and the Universal aspects of Brahman.  Such a sage gains the all-encompassing conscious awareness of the Brahman and shares, thereby, in the immortality of the Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Aitareya Upanishad, pp.285-294