Yogic Anatomy, Physiology and Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, chapter six:  “Lo, this heaven of ether which is in the heart within, there dwelleth the Being who is all Mind, the radiant and golden Immortal.  Between the two palates, this that hangeth down like the breast of a woman, is the womb of Indra; yea, where the hair at its end whirleth round like an eddy, there it divideth the skull and pusheth through it.”

“As Bhur He is established in Agni, as Bhuvar in Vayu, as Suvar in the Sun, as Mahas in the Eternal.  He attaineth to the kingdom of Himself; He attaineth to be the Lord of Mind; He becometh Lord of Speech, Lord of Sight, Lord of Hearing, Lord of the Knowledge.  Thereafter this too He becometh, — the Eternal whose body is all ethereal space, whose soul is Truth, whose bliss is in Mind, who taketh His ease in Prana, the Rich in Peace, the Immortal.  As such, O son of the ancient Yoga, do thou adore Him.”

The first section of this chapter addresses yogic anatomy and psychology.  The references to locations in the physical body are for orientation of the awareness, not representations of functions of the physical body; rather, they refer to the subtle body of the chakras and the nadis, or “channels” of energy of the subtle body.  The yogic texts and the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita all refer to the seat of the Atman as being in the heart.  The primary channel of the flow of consciousness through the chakras is the Sushumna which begins at the base of the spine and moves upwards through the major chakras, and exits out the top of the head, as described here. It is said that at the time of death, if the consciousness exits through the locus at the top of the skull, the soul achieves liberation.  In the interim, if the consciousness has been awakened, the energy flows through the Sushumna, activates the chakras and brings about union, yoga, between the individual Atman and the universal and transcendent consciousness.

The experience that follows the process of identifying with the Atman, opening of the subtle energy centers and flow of that energy through the Sushumna is one of a reversal of the normal human consciousness which is focused and originates in the physical body and life.  The seeker identifies with the Atman and becomes master of mind, life and body, which become instruments of his interface and interaction with the world.  Stationed in the Atman, one with the Brahman, the seeker becomes a soul of peace and oneness.

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

The Worlds of Matter, Life, Mind and Supermind

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter 5:  “Bhur, Bhuvar and Suvar, these are the three Words of His naming.  Verily the Rishi Mahachamasya made known a fourth to these, which is Mahas.  It is Brahman, it is the Self, and the other gods are his members.  Bhur, it is this world; Bhuvar, it is the sky; Suvar, it is the other world: but Mahas is the Sun.  By the Sun all these worlds increase and prosper. … These are the four and they are fourfold; — four Words of His naming and each is four again.  He who knoweth these knoweth the Eternal, and to him all the Gods carry the offering.”

Additional descriptions are related in this chapter, relating to the Shining Fires, the Vedas and the breaths.  The treatment is similar.  Sri Aurobindo describes these three worlds as relating to planes of consciousness.  Bhur is the world of the plane of Matter.  Bhuvar is the world of the life-plane.  Suvar is the world of the mental plane.  In this configuration Mahas represents the Supramental plane.  The etymology of the name Mahachamasya provides a further clue.  “Maha” means vast or great.  “chamasya” is the vessel that holds the Soma, the nectar of the gods, the bliss or Ananda of the Immortals.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes regarding Mahas:  “This is the vyahrti which is termed the Supermind by Sri Aurobindo, the Gnosis standing at the summit of this lower creation of the worlds of matter, life and mind.  The Upanishad declares that this is Brahman itself, the very Self of the Manifesting Reality, of which the other worlds, the Gods presiding over them, are limbs.  They live, increase and prosper by the Power of this Mahas which is compared to the Sun — Mahas is the source of Light (and fire) of the worlds.  … Mahas ‘is called the fourth world, because it is above the triple world of ours, bhuh, bhuvah, svah.’  It stands between the two — between the higher triple world of the plenary Sat-Chit-Ananda above on the one hand and the lower triple on the other.It carries within it, above it, and one with it in a sense the higher triple, and it also releases the lower triple world through various agencies for the formation and perfection of the higher half — what is called Parardha — in terms of the lower, the created lower triple.  Radically, it is this world of the Mahas that is responsible for the lower triple creation and it is from this world that forces of manifestation of the Many are released and set to play to work out certain possibilities of the Immense Intelligence and power of the Spirit in the finite formations of the world-being and Force-movement.  Because its centre is charged with the infinitude of Sat-Chit-Ananda, it is one with it Above; because its face is turned towards Manifestation, it is one with the Many that represent the self-limiting and self-conditioning attitude and capacity of the Supreme Spirit.’ (cited by M P Pandit from T.V. Kapaly Sastry, Lights on the Fundamentals, pg. 42)”

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

The Teacher Invokes the Powers of the Divine Mind to Transfigure His Life and Action

Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter Four begins with a prayer to Indra for illumination.  Sri Aurobindo has provided two translations of this prayer of which this one is directly referenced by him in his introduction to the Upanishads::  “‘He who is the Bull of the Vedas of the universal form, he who was born in the sacred rhythms from the Immortal, — may Indra satisfy me through the intelligence.  O God, may I become a vessel of the Immortal.  May my body be full of vision and my tongue of sweetness, may I hear the much and vast with my ears.  For thou art the sheath of Brahman covered over and hidden by the intelligence.”  He mentions that this passage clearly breaks through the veil of outer coverings of the esoteric teachings and identifies Indra as the power of the divine mind.

Having invoked the powers of the divine mind, the teacher now requests the bodily capability and the material support required to sustain himself and the disciples, whom he also now calls forth to share in the illumination he has been vouchsafed.

The teacher recognises that the results are not something achieved through his own effort alone.  “Thou art a river with a hundred branching streams, O Lord of Grace, in thee may I wash me clean.”

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “It is the Divine Lord who is to bend and take up into Himself him who is striving to reach out to Him, who by dint of tapasya has arrived near his proximity but cannot go further without His Grace.”    As Sri Aurobindo translates:  “O Lord, thou art my neighbor, thou dwellest very near me.  Come to me, be my light and sun.”

Some traditional commentators consider the verse to be construed somewhat differently, by indicating that the reference to the “bull of the hymns of Veda whose visible form is all this Universe” (as translated by Sri Aurobindo in his second translation of this section) refers to OM, which is the preeminent symbol of the creation and the epitome of the Vedas.   The grammatical structure would tend to support the first approach as it appears to be an epithet of Indra, not a segue from one thought to the next.

In the end, the focus of this verse is clearly on the invocation of the higher powers of the mentality to illuminate the teacher and prepare him to receive and support sincere students who are ready to receive this illumination.

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

Contemplation on Oneness and Inter-Connectedness

Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter 3, translated by Sri Aurobindo, concerns itself with “the secret meaning of Sanhita whereof there are five capitals; Concerning the Worlds; Concerning the Shining Fires: Concerning the Knowledge: Concerning Progeny: Concerning Self.  These are called the great Sanhitas.”

The Upanishad develops a similar format for explaining each of these, as illustrated:  “Now concerning the Worlds.  Earth is the first form; the heavens are the second form; ether is the linking; air is the joint of the linking.  Thus far concerning the Worlds.”

We see here that earth and heaven are inter-connected and linked.  Everywhere we look around us, everything we experience, can be understood through this process of discovering the Oneness and through seeing the symbiotic relationship between all beings.  A similar meditation is set forth for the other capitals noted here.

“Fire is the first form; the Sun is the latter form; the waters are the linking; electricity is the joint of the linking.”   “The Master is the first form; the disciple is the latter form; Knowledge is the linking; exposition is the joint of the linking.”  “The mother is the first form; the father is the latter form; Progeny is the linking; act of procreation is the joint of the linking.”  “The upper jaw is the first form; the lower jaw is the latter form; speech is the linking; the tongue is the joint of the linking.”

Gaining a true understanding of the unified field of existence brings with it results and success in the physical, vital and mental worlds:  “He who knoweth thus the great Sanhitas as we have expounded them, to him are linked progeny and wealth of cattle and the radiance of holiness and food and all that is of food and the world of his high estate in heaven.”

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “The mind is to be trained to perceive and conceive newly.  Behind the multitudinous variety of forms which people this universe, one must begin to see that there is one underlying Reality which manifests as the many and governs them in an indissoluble unity.  Whatever the categories or the terms of the manifestation, they are all interlinked and interdependent. … There is one Principle, one Term of the Sole Being which manifests in several forms — all mutually forming one connected Whole.  One must meditate upon this truth in the creation around and let it naturally govern the inlook and outlook.”

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

Key Elements of Phonetics and Spiritual Practice

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter two:  “OM We will expound Shiksha, the elements.  Syllable and Accent, Pitch and Effort, Even Tone and Continuity: in these six we have declared the chapter of the elements.”

There is both an outer and an inner significance to this chapter.  Outwardly, it is something of a “grammar” lesson.  The teacher starts the deeper teaching by first inculcating the importance of proper pronunciation, meter, and form.  The Taittiriya Upanishad uses the power of Mantra to communicate much of its sense.  The recitation must be precise.  The concept of Mantra is that the word is the “sound-body” of the thing itself, and thus, to the extent that the sound-body has been properly created, the power or form which was being invoked can manifest.  Any inaccuracy or imprecision in the expression can lead to either a lack of result, or a different result than intended.

The scriptures have stories of just one intonation error creating the opposite of what was intended.  It is thus important that the student pay close attention to the proper form for the mantric effect to have its intended result.

But there is another message here as well, an inner message.  Achieving any form of spiritual realisation takes serious effort and focus, a “concentration of conscious force” as Sri Aurobindo elsewhere translates the term tapasya.  A right concentration is required or it will wind up fruitless, or even wind up with negative results   Knowledge can lead to harm if it is inaccurately or incompletely understood or applied wrongly in a way not intended.  We see that everywhere around us in today’s world.  We gain knowledge of the atom and live in constant fear of world-destruction.  We gain the power of fire through control of hydrocarbons, and result in massive climate change that threatens not just individual species, but the entire range of life on earth.  Unintended consequences follow when we fail to fully understand the knowledge we are acquiring and put it into the right place of harmony and application within the larger framework of the world we are living in.

In today’s world we see many people who undertake efforts carelessly or without full knowledge.  They “get by” but wonder why they struggle in their lives.   We breed a culture of indifference and then wonder at the disharmony in our society.  There is a need to find a proper balance of expression, what is being expressed, how it is being expressed, and in what circumstances and for what time it is being expressed.  The same holds true in the application of the spiritual principles.  Narrow-mindedness, fanaticism, imbalance in expression lead to eventual failure.  All of this is implied in the six elements of Syllable and Accent, Pitch and Effort, Even Tone and Continuity!

There must be a detailed and focused effort, and it must be consistent, persistent and done without any carelessness or loss of concentration.  Thus, the “grammar lesson” turns into a teaching that provides the basis for the effort and study that follows.

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

Invocation for Peace and Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth, Knowledge, Infinity — The Brahman

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

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

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

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

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

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