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

The Eternal and the Transient Represent One Reality

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verse 16:  “He hath made all and knoweth all; for He is the womb out of which Self ariseth, and being possessed of the Nature Moods, He becometh Time’s Maker and discerneth all things.  And Matter is subject to Him and the Spirit in man that cogniseth his field of matter and the modes of Nature are his servants.  He therefore is the cause of this coming into phenomena and of the release from phenomena — and because of Him is their endurance and because of Him is their bondage. (Or, There is eternal Matter and there is the Spirit within that knoweth his field in matter; He is lord of both, He ruleth over Nature and her workings (or, the modes of Nature).  The world and deliverance out of the world and the endurance of things and the bonds of their endurance, of all these He is the one Cause and reason.)”

The Eternal is both “beyond time” and manifests through Time.  The Eternal transcends the manifestation of Nature and embodies Himself through the manifestation of Nature.  Everything that exists in the manifested world of Nature is under the operation of the three Gunas, or modes, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas and their constant changing balance and interaction.  Yet the Eternal remains beyond while simultaneously creating these modes and their action to manifest the natural world.

As long as we remain fixed in our limitations of the operation of the Gunas, we experience a sense of bondage.  The Spirit is present within this operation of Nature and when we recognise that, then we are liberated from this sense of bondage.

The logical intellect always struggles with the idea of the “contradictions” that arise when one tries to understand “eternal” and “temporal” having the same source and cause, or “infinite” and “finite”.  Transcendence while simultaneously causing and experiencing the forms, systems and modes of manifestation is another difficult concept.

The mind is generally designed to look at things as “either/or” while the higher understanding that comes with the spiritual development, can integrate into a “both/and” viewpoint.  From the spiritual standpoint there is no contradiction between all of these limited mental viewpoints.

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

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