Kaivalya Upanishad — the Significance of the First Verse

Sri Aurobindo has translated the first verse of the Kaivalya Upanishad, as well as provided a commentary:  “OM.  Ashwalayana to the Lord Parameshthi came and said, ‘Teach me, Lord, the highest knowledge of Brahman, the secret knowledge ever followed by the saints, how the wise man swiftly putting from him all evil goeth to the Purusha who is higher than the highest.’ ”

This verse is tightly packed with important guidance for the spiritual seeker, as Sri Aurobindo explains in his commentary.  There is specificity as to the type of knowledge sought:  “It is … the best or highest, because it goes beyond the triple Brahman to the Purushottama or Most High God; it is secret, because even in the ordinary teaching of Vedanta, Purana and Tantra it is not expressed, it is always followed by the saints, the initiates.  The santah or saints are those who are pure of desire and full of knowledge, and it is to these that the secret knowledge has been given sada, from the beginning.  He makes his meaning yet clearer by stating the substance of the knowledge — yatha, how, by what means won by knowledge, vidvan, one can swiftly put sin from him and reach Purushottama.”

“There are three necessary elements of the path to Kaivalya, — first, the starting point, vidya, right knowledge, implying the escape from ignorance, non-knowledge and false knowledge; next, the process or means, escape form sarvapapam, all evil, i.e. sin, pain and grief; last, the goal, Purushottama, the Being who is beyond the highest, that is, beyond Turiya being the Highest.  By the escape from sin, pain and grief one attains absolute ananda, and by ananda, the last term of existence, we reach that in which ananda exists.  What is that?  … that which is beyond … good and evil, … calm and chaos, … duality and unity.  Sat, Chit and Ananda are in this Highest, but He is neither Sat, Chit nor Ananda nor any combination of these.  He is all and yet He is neti, neti (not this, not that).  He is One and yet He is many.  He is Parabrahman and He is Parameshwara.  He is Male and He is Female.  He is Tat and He is Sa.  This is the Higher than the Highest.  He is the Purusha, the Being in whose image the world and all the Jivas are made, who pervades all and underlies all the workings of Prakriti as its reality and self.  It is this Purusha that Ashwalayana seeks.”

Several points should be noted.  The term “sin” does not have the same sense as we use it in modern day language.  Sin is anything that disrupts, disturbs the being, distracts or distorts the reality, so that the seeker is unable to focus the attention with a calm, serene and tranquil mind and heart.

The Bhagavad Gita describes the Purushottama as being beyond the Kshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the manifested world) and the Akshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the Unmanifest).  The Purushottama contains and exceeds, witnesses and sanctions both what is or has been manifested, and that which remains unmanifest, latent and potential, and yet is not bound by either or both of these aspects as He is beyond them.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kaivalya Upanishad, pp.387-390

Suitability for the Teachings

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 22-23: “This is the great secret of the Vedanta which was declared in a former time, not on hearts untranquilled to be squandered nor men sonless nor on one who hath no disciples. (Or, Thou shalt not bestow it on a soul untranquillized, nor on the sonless man nor on one who hath no disciple.)  But whosoever hath supreme love and adoration for the Lord and as for the Lord, so likewise for the Master, to that Mighty Soul these great matters when they are told become clear of themselves, yea, to the Great Soul of him they are manifest.”

The teachings are to be given to those who are prepared inwardly to benefit from them.  Planting a seed in rocky ground is not going to be fruitful.  The realized soul who understands, recognizes that without this inner preparation the effort is useless, and it is best not to disturb the balance and focus of those who are still attached to the outer life and its fruits.  At the same time, the spiritual teachings can lead to imbalance if they are taken up by those who do not have the experience and understanding of the outer life of the world, those “sonless” or “without disciple”.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is credited is stating that one should not “throw pearls before swine”, which was his colorful way of describing that the teachings he was propagating should not be placed before “hearts untranqillized”, that is, people who simply were not ready to hear and respond to the teachings.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna makes it clear that it is better for a man to follow an imperfect faith that is suited to his stage of evolutionary growth than to try to follow the faith of another that is not suited to him.  He admonishes not to disturb the faith of an individual unless that individual is ready, able and receptive to taking up a new growth or direction.

The spiritual truths of Oneness, of harmony, of peace, and the experience of infinity, eternity and the sense of timeless presence are covered over by the disturbed energies of desire, attachment and acquisition.  The quiet mind and heart can open with a sense of receptivity to a different order of truth and experience that brings forth the possibility of knowledge by identity.

The Upanishads recognize the need for a rise in Sattwa to counter either the darkness and sloth of Tamas or the hectic, disturbed rush of Rajas, in order to achieve the proper standpoint for spiritual experience.  Sattwa brings with it a calm mind and a heart that is open with love and devotion.

Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga, describes the process of attainment as needing the quieting of the mind-stuff, the chitta, so that the radiance of the Truth may reflect in the still depths of the being.  This is the foundation of the experience of Samadhi.

Spirituality is not a belief.  It is not philosophy, nor religion.  It is the direct experience of the Truth of existence.  The preparation of the being provides the basis for the Grace to act.

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

Concentrated Devotion and the Grace of God Leads to Knowledge of the Eternal

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 21:  “By the might of his devotion and the grace of God in his being, (Or, By the grace of the Lord, by the energy of his askesis,) Shwetashwatara hereafter knew the Eternal and he came to the renouncers of the worldly life and truly declared unto them the Most High and Pure God, to whom the companies of seers resort forever.”

As we see in a number of Upanishads, the power of tapasya is considered essential.  Concentration of will in the thought, one-pointed devotion to the seeking, is necessary preparation for the seeker to loosen the hold that external perceptions and events have on him, so that he can be ready and receptive for the response from the Divine, the Grace of God, to provide the illumination.  This triple process Sri Aurobindo describes in The Mother as one of aspiration, rejection and surrender.  The resultant receptivity in the being is the opening needed for the Grace to respond.

The seeker cannot command the Grace.  The seeker can only create the conditions within which the Grace can act if it so chooses.  When the seeker obtains the realisation, he becomes capable of communicating the process and the necessary pre-conditions to others who have similarly prepared themselves by renouncing attachment to the outer life of the world.

The question of renunciation of the worldly life is one that is subject to interpretation.  Ascetic paths ask the seeker to entirely abandon all actions in the world, other than those specifically necessary for basic survival and the inner focus needed for the realisation.  Others, including the Bhagavad Gita, define this renunciation as overcoming attachment to the objects of desire in the world.  The Taittiriya Upanishad refers to those “whose soul the blight of desire touches not.”  For those who achieve the knowledge by identity with the Eternal, there is a liberation from the bondage but a continuation of the participation in the manifestation.

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

Knowledge of God Is the Essential Requirement for Liberation of All Beings from Suffering

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 20:  “When the sons of men shall fold up ether like a skin and wrap the heavens round them like a garment, then alone without knowledge of the Lord our God shall the misery of the World have an ending.”

The Rishi declares the uselessness of attempting to solve the suffering of the world without attaining knowledge of God.  The two choices presented here represent the fruitlessness of action without realisation, for when shall men “fold up ether like a skin and wrap the heavens round them like a garment”?  If this is not possible, then attaining release from suffering for all humanity clearly cannot be attained through this direction.

The implication here is that it is only through “knowledge of the Lord our God”, we can see the end of suffering.  Clearly humans cannot carry out the alternative tasks listed here to achieve the end of suffering, in the absence of such knowledge.

The Buddhist concept of the Bodhisattva stresses that before anyone can truly help another being, he must himself achieve liberation, not for his own personal salvation, but as a means of communicating that realisation to the rest of the sentient beings in existence.  So long as one sentient being remains in bondage, and thereby in suffering, the Bodhisattva pledges not to depart into the realm of bliss or nirvana.  Other spiritual teachings have somewhat similar conceptions that moderating the intensity of the suffering, while remaining bound in the cycle of birth and death, does not actually solve the issue.   Therefore, the seeker must attain liberation, and then, from a sense of oneness and compassion, turn his focus back to the world and provide knowledge of the path of attainment and the liberation from the bondage of karma.

Knowledge by identity with the Supreme, devotion to the Lord of creation, and compassion in action are the elements of the evolutionary growth curve of humanity, and it is through these means that progress to go beyond suffering can occur.  The First Nations people have a saying that the suffering of one is the suffering of all.  We are in fact all one, and therefore, as the Bodhisattva has recognised, if any being is mired in suffering, we are not yet free of that suffering ourselves.    The liberation of one can be the first step in the liberation of all, as long as it is not done with egoistic intent of fleeing the world, but is part of the larger picture of providing a path and direction for all, eventually, in their own time and in their own way, to walk along and achieve the knowledge, and the freedom, in their own way.

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

When the Fire Has Consumed All Its Fuel

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 19:  “Who hath neither parts nor works, for He is utterly tranquil, faultless, stainless, therefore He is the one great bridge that carrieth us over to Immortality, even as when a fire hath burnt up all its fuel.”

When we reflect on the fire that has burnt up all its fuel, we recognize that the active manifestation of fire ends, while the principle of fire remains in a potential form.  Should new fuel, new opportunity for action arise, the fire can be reignited.  Similarly, when the seeker systematically quiets the mind, withdraws the senses from their objects, and focuses on the unmoving, unlimited, timeless Eternal, he can attain a shift of awareness from the ever-active focus on the external world and the action of the three Gunas, to that of the Timeless Eternal.  This shift of awareness is exactly what is described in the texts on Raja Yoga as the seeker achieves various stages of the state of consciousness called Samadhi.

A number of Upanishads describe the path to Immortality as the shift of consciousness from the focus on the outer events, actions and objects in the world of forms, all of which are transient in nature, to the transcendent, unlimited Eternal, achieved through knowledge by identity.  The Transcendent is not definable using any terms conceivable by the mind.  Any attempt to limit falls short of the reality.  The sages say “not this, not that” in order to make it clear that trying to identify the Eternal through individual forms is an approach that cannot possibly be successful.  It is by systematically withdrawing the mind’s attention to each of the objects presented to the senses, and from each of the directions for outer action proposed by the mind’s activity, that the “mind stuff” (chitta) can be brought to a state of absolute stillness, where the only awareness at that point is the existential awareness of Sat-Chit-Ananda, unconditioned by form, process, action, event or time.  This timeless state is one of immortal existence.

The Eternal is not limited even by its absence of forms or movement.  Therefore, just as the fire becomes quiescent when it has consumed all its fuel, the potential for fire remains.  So also, the Eternal possesses always the potential for action.  The ancient scriptures speak of the “waking” and the “sleep” of Brahma.  In one status, the manifested universe is active, in motion, the three Gunas are continually acting upon one another and trying to achieve a state of equilibrium.  In the other status, everything is withdrawn and there is simply the unmoving stillness of the vast conscious awareness that is the Absolute, the Eternal, the Transcendent.

 

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

The Eternal and the Process of Creation: the Action of the Supramental Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 18:  “To Him who ordained Brahma the Creator from of old and sent forth unto him the Veda, I will hasten unto God who standeth self-revealed in the Spirit and in the Understanding.  I will take refuge in the Lord for my salvation. (Or, To him who ordaineth Brahma of old and casteth out unto Him the Veda, God in whom the understanding of the Self findeth illumination, I desiring liberation make haste for refuge;)”

While some religious traditions treat the creation as an instant “miracle” whereby an external God simply creates beings and forms “ready made” and plants them onto the world that was fashioned by him in a similar manner prior to the creatures being placed there, the Rishi of the Upanishad looks at the creation as a process that develops over time through setting Nature in motion and having Nature work out the details according to certain laws of Nature.

The basic progression is the determination by the Eternal to manifest Himself in forms and through a process of Time and extension in Space.  At no time is the Eternal separate from the creation, as it consists of, is contained by and is set in motion through the will of the Eternal.  A need develops to transform the unlimited into the limited, the timeless into segments of time, and the infinite into the finite.  Sri Aurobindo describes this as occurrence through the mediation of the supramental consciousness, which maintains its awareness of and link to the ultimate Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda) while simultaneously creating individual forms, beings, and sequences of action that transmit the conscious intention of the Eternal into the world of manifestation which we then experience as the outer world.

Brahma, the Creator represents then the aspect of the Divine that takes up this process of manifestation of individuation.  The Vedas represent the creative force, the manifesting “word” or vibration that are distilled out into the individual forms.

The Spirit, not being separate from the creation, exists in all things and it is this Spirit which, when we shift our standpoint to that rather than to the external, fragmented consciousness that pertains to our existence and action in the world, that liberates us from the sense of bondage and mortality.

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

The Omnipresent Immortal Presence and the Lord and Witness of Creation

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 17:  “Lo, He is Immortal because He is utter existence; but He houseth Himself in the Lord and is the Knower, the Omnipresent that standeth on guard over this His universe, (Or, He is purely Himself, for He is the Immortal manifested in the Mighty One and becometh the Knower who reacheth everywhere and guardeth His cosmos,) yea, He ruleth all this moving world for ever and for ever, and there is no other source of greatness and lordship.

The Rishi here distinguishes various aspects of the One Eternal which later became more defined in Indian philosophy.  The Eternal is without limits, immortal, unencumbered with attributes, free and unbound by any specific form.  This does not imply that the Eternal is limited by this “freedom”.  The Eternal also can take on the attributes of existence, including the status of Lord and Witness of the creation, both manifesting and controlling it, and observing it in action in all of its forms, beings, and interactions and events.

The Bhagavad Gita explains that there is the Kshara Purusha, the Immanent Witness in the individual beings and forms being manifested; there is also the Akshara Purusha that is not involved in the actions or the beings, but acts as a silent consenting witness to the action of Nature, Prakriti, and then there is the Purushottama, the Supreme Purusha which incorporates both the involved and the uninvolved statuses in a transcendent standpoint, not bound by either, but not separate either.

Once again, the mind does not easily reconcile what appears to it to be contradictions.  This is the Upanishad’s attempt to explain “One without a Second” and “All This is the Brahman” in terms of the various standpoints and statuses that are operative.

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