The Divine Standpoint Takes the Seeker Beyond Sin and Virtue

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 3, Section 1, Verse 3:  “When, a seer, he sees the Golden-hued, the maker, the Lord, the Spirit who is the source of Brahman (Or, ‘whose source is Brahman’; Shankara admits the other meaning as an alternative, but explains it as ‘the source of the lower Brahman’) then he becomes the knower and shakes from his wings sin and virtue; pure of all stain he reaches the supreme identity. (Or, ‘pure of all staining tinge he reaches to a supreme equality’.)

In the Isha Upanishad, the rishi declares “the face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid”.  The imagery of bright, golden color is not purely a poetic description, but rather the result of the experience as the seeker opens to higher realms of conscious awareness.  The experience takes one out of the normal mental awareness, through this brilliant gateway to a new standpoint that re-frames the entire experience of life and its significance.  As the current verse indicates “then he becomes the knower”.  A result of this shift is the recognition that neither sin nor virtue have any further relevance.  This is a truer meaning of the concept raised by Friedrich Nietzsche of going “beyond good and evil”.  This phrase has been used to justify self-aggrandisement and placing oneself, through that process, beyond judgment and without responsibility for effects; self-will has been taken as the right and due of the evolved man.  However, the actual sense is that it is through surrender of the ego-personality and a shift to the divine standpoint that brings an equal vision to all, the terms sin and virtue simply no longer apply.  This is not then a license to undertaken wanton fulfillment of desires, but a status whereby satisfaction of individual desires is not any longer a goal of the being.

It is through attaining identity with the Brahman in the shift to the divine standpoint that the seeker becomes free of the attachment and thereby the “stain” of karmic consequence.  The seeker becomes a “doer of divine works” as the Bhagavad Gita explains and does not get troubled by sin and virtue any longer.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

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Two Birds on a Common Tree

Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 3, Section 1, Verses 1 and 2, as translated by Sri Aurobindo:  “Two birds, beautiful of wing, close companions, cling to one common tree: of the two one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other eats not but watches his fellow.  The soul is the bird that sits immersed on the one common tree; but because he is not lord he is bewildered and has sorrow.  But when he sees that other who is the Lord and beloved, he knows that all is His greatness and his sorrow passes away from him.”

The parable of the two birds is famous and appears in multiple Upanishads.  (It appears also in the Shwetashwatara  Upanishad for instance)  The individual soul, the Jivatman, is focused on the life of the world, eating the sweet fruit of the tree, and because it is immersed in that life and the results of action in the world, it is subject to the illusion of separation and the suffering that attends it.  The other bird represents the Divine consciousness which exists in a state of unity, not fragmentation.  It witnesses the action of the fragmented consciousness of each individual, yet remains aloof and unmoved by the joy and suffering of the individuals.  When the soul recognizes its oneness with the Divine, then it passes beyond sorrow and grief.

The parable illustrates the shift needed from the individual standpoint to the divine standpoint, and the result achieved thereby includes the release from suffering and the piercing through the veil of Maya and its illusion of separateness of the individual in the manifested world.

There is a practice of Yoga that involves the cultivation of the witness consciousness that observes the action of the body, life and mind of the individual.  This practice helps bring about detachment and at the same time provides the seeker with a method to shift the standpoint to the divine standpoint.  It leads to the awareness of the witness Purusha observing the active Prakriti.  The witness sustains and supports but does not intervene in the action of Nature in the individual.  As the practitioner becomes more successful in shifting to the witness consciousness, a new viewpoint arises which has its effects upon the action of Nature.  As the Upanishad states “he knows that all is His greatness and his sorrow passes away from him.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

All This Is the Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verse 12:  “All this is Brahman immortal, naught else; Brahman is in front of us, Brahman behind us, and to the south of us and to the north of us and below us and above us; it stretches everywhere.  All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent universe.”

There can be no clearer statement about Brahman as the sole Existent who manifests the entire universe and everything we experience.  There is this one Brahman; there is no other.  Dualistic views of the universe, which indicate there is a Creator who fashions the universe and observes it from outside are specifically rebuffed.  At the same time, those who speak of the universe being something of an illusion and who must renounce the world in order to find the Divine are also cautioned here.  Earlier in the Mundaka Upanishad it may have appeared that renunciation was the goal.  With this verse, it is now clear that renunciation is a tactic, not a goal, and that its purpose is to orient the understanding and focus of the seeker.  Once the standpoint of the seeker has been altered, the reality of the universe as Brahman can now be affirmed.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo resolves the tension between the materialist view that the world is real and the Divine is unreal versus the renunciate’s view that the Divine is real and the world unreal, with the concept of “reality omnipresent”.  In this view, the world is Brahman, and thus, not to be denied its significance, while at the same time, Brahman is not defined or limited by the framework of the manifested universe; rather the specific forms and forces are expressions of Brahman, without being limiting factors.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Light of the Supreme

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verses 10-11:  “In a supreme golden sheath the Brahman lies, stainless, without parts.  A Splendour is That, It is the Light of Lights, It is That which the self-knowers know.  There the sun shines not and the moon has no splendour and the stars are blind; there these lightnings flash not, how then shall burn this earthly fire?  All that shines is but the shadow of His shining; all this universe is effulgent with His light.”

These verses delineate an inner spiritual experience that comes to the seeker when there is an opening to the inner sight.  The light that is experienced is far more intense and brilliant than the outer lights of the sun, moon, stars, lightning or fire, which are the outer forms of light that we can use for comparison purposes.  Even the slightest opening of the spiritual vision can be an overwhelming experience and we see in the words of the Upanishadic sage here, the attempt to provide some form of understanding to the disciple who is following in the path of the Spirit.

We see a similar reference in various religious traditions.  We generally try to take these statements metaphorically, but in reality, they represent a real and present experience when the spiritual vision takes over from the outer sight.  Sages and religious founders have spoken of a state of “illumination”.  They are referring to this flooding of inner light which accompanies the spiritual realisation and which provides them the stamp of its authenticity and its veracity.  In the glow of this experience, the world itself is transformed and everything radiates and vibrates with an intensity of light and color that far exceeds the normal perceptions of the mental-nervous mechanisms that feed us our perceptions of the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

Dissolution of Attachment and the Bonds of Karma Results from Unity of the Individual Self with the Supreme

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verse 9:  “The knot of the heart-strings is rent, cut away are all doubts, and a man’s works are spent and perish, when is seen That which is at once the being below and the Supreme.”

The shift from the ego-standpoint to the divine standpoint impacts the individual’s entire response to life.  The Upanishad outlines the changes that take place.  “The knot of the heart-strings is rent”.  The ego-attachment to the things of the world, to specific actions, results, people is dissolved as the universal standpoint takes over the consciousness.  “cut away are all doubts” resolves the limitations of the mental consciousness which always feels a lack of complete knowledge.  The knowledge by identity provides a certainty about the significance of life and the role of the individual which cannot be obtained through any processes of the mind.  “a man’s works are spent and perish” implies that the bondage of karma does not cling to the individual who has identified himself with the Divine and its purpose in the manifestation of the universe.   The condition for this change is the realisation of the unity and oneness of the individual Self and the Supreme.  As long as there is a consciousness of division, this realisation is not complete, the mind is still active and still creating a sense of separateness and division.

The Upanishads are filled with inspired outbursts when the seer experiences this conversion:  “I am He” and “Thou art That” and “All this is the Brahman” and “One Without a Second” are all expressions that try to explain to the mind the vision of Oneness of the Self and the Supreme.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

A Mental Being Takes Its Foundation in Matter

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, verse 8:  “A mental being, leader of the life and the body, has set a heart in matter, in matter he has taken his firm foundation.  By its knowing the wise see everywhere around them That which shines in its effulgence, a shape of Bliss and Immortal.”

The Western approach, enshrined in both the scientific and philosophical disciplines, to the existence of the human being, the “mental being”, has mainly been based on the idea that Matter came first, and somehow, through random chance or some kind of chemical reactions, life, and mind eventually resulted.  The approach of the Bible was a miraculous creation by an external God of a fully formed human being made out of clay and a subsequent eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to develop the analytical mental capacities.  Mythological stories tell of a forerunner, a Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods for the sake of humanity.  All of these approaches treat the mental capacity as somehow arising from material existence without any realistic “cause”.

The Upanishad takes a different approach, as it indicates that the mental being essentially preexists the material and vital foundation and shapes these to its requirements.  This implies that nothing can “evolve” out of Matter that is not already “involved” in Matter.  The analogy of the seed, having the tree encoded in its material form, is a reasonable image to describe what has taken place.  The tree does not magically appear out of a dead, material form; rather there is a complex genetic map that is built into the seed, and when planted and given proper conditions, this genetic coding begins to act and gathers Matter and infuses life-energy to create the eventual tree.

Man is recognized as “the mental being” because of the obvious capacities of the mind that are evident in humanity, and the results that eventuate with human beings systematically reshaping the material and vital existence of the world.  The involution of mind into the material world, and its subsequent evolution and expression, shows both the preexistence of mind and what we may call a “mental world” in the formation of existence as we know it.  This is consistent with the idea that the Brahman creates the entire universe out of His own substance, according to His own plan of development, with the progression from Sat-Chit-Ananda through the supramental level that maintains its awareness and oneness with Sat-Chit-Ananda while creating the multifarious forms and forces that make up the play of life in the world, encompassing the actions of mind, life and matter.

Those who follow a spiritual aspiration, who practice a form of Yoga, or who are dedicated to a religious life of self-examination find that there is a secret heart wherein resides the Self, the Immanent Divine.  Through connection with that Self, they identify with and unify the being with the Divine Presence.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Unity of the Immanent Divine and the Self of the Individual

Sri Aurobindo translates Chapter 2, Section 2, Verses 5-7 of the Mundaka Upanishad:  “He in whom are inwoven heaven and earth and the mid-region, and mind with all the life-currents, Him know to be the one Self; other words put away from you: this is the bridge to immortality.  Where the nerves are brought close together like the spokes in the nave of a chariot-wheel, this is He that moves within,– there is He manifoldly born.  Meditate on the Self as OM and happy be your passage to the other shore beyond the darkness.  The Omniscient, the All-wise, whose is this might and majesty upon the earth, is this Self enthroned in the Divine city of the Brahman, in his ethereal heaven.”

While still couched in language that could conceivably be interpreted in some external sense, these verses clearly represent the inner psychological reality and the process of realisation of the unity of the Brahman as the universal creation with the internal experience of the individual seeker.  Heaven, earth and the mid-region refer not just to some external world-reality, but to the mental, physical and vital planes within the human individual.  Other Upanishads, such as the Taittiriya, provide a key to understanding such terms as psychological states, not just physical realities.    The connection to the meditation on OM is further evidence that these verses are intended as an instruction to a disciple or student on how to attain the realisation of the unity of Brahman as the entire creation, and beyond, that was stated in verse 4.

The Taittiriya Upanishad summarizes the unity of the Self in the individual and the Self in the universe as follows:  “The Spirit who is here in man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun, lo, it is One Spirt and there is no other.”  (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Ch. 10, pg. 281)

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210