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

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

Introduction to the Prashna Upanishad

The Prashna Upanishad is known as the Upanishad of the Six Questions.  It is organized as a meeting between six seekers from notable lineages and the sage Pippalada.  The six seekers were interested to learn about the Universal, the Most High of Existence.  They came before the sage with faith, devotion and awakened intelligence.

The method of the Upanishadic sages differs from our modern ways of teaching.  Today we believe that we can simply answer questions that arise without looking at the preparedness or receptivity of the students to not only hear or memorize the answers, but to reflect deeply on them and grow inwardly based on them.  Pippalada proposed to answer the questions of these seekers, but only after they fulfilled the condition:  “Another year do ye dwell in holiness and faith and askesis: then ask what ye will, and if I know, surely I will conceal nothing.”

The request for a year of quiet study with faith, desire kept under control and a concentration of thought prepared the seekers for deeper reflection and understanding.  At the end of the year, each of the seekers asked a question, starting with larger questions about the origin of the worlds and the nature of existence, to finer points that get into the details of achieving spiritual realisation.

It is useful to understand the importance of the various factors involved in the spiritual realisation.  There must be a seeker who has the background and readiness for spiritual development; there must be a teacher capable of imparting spiritual truth, not just intellectual understanding; there must be essential qualities of faith, quiet focus and perseverance, and there must be time for the inner aspiration to grow and the inner development to form.  In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo expands on the basic requirements in the chapter titled “The Four Aids”.

The Upanishad’s first two verses touch on these preliminary requirements and bring forward the suitable seekers with the right background to appreciate the teachings, the teacher himself, the call for development of the right qualities, and the investment of Time through a persevering action.

As we find with many of the Upanishads, there is clearly much that was intended to be communicated outside the outline of the questions and answers, and much that expresses various occult knowledge, symbolic statements and esoteric practices that are virtually impossible to nail down with precision.  We must rely somewhat heavily, then on traditional interpretations of some of the symbolic references described herein, to gain insight to what was intended.  For the rest, consistent contemplation and perseverance will have to be the key to understanding.

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

The Three Births of the Spirit

Sri Aurobindo translates Aitareya Upanishad, Chapter 2:  “In the male first the unborn child becometh.  This which is seed is the force and heat of him that from all parts of the creature draweth together for becoming; therefore he beareth himself in himself, and when he casteth it into the woman, ’tis himself he begetteth.  And this is the first birth of the Spirit.  It becometh one self with the woman, therefore it doeth her no hurt and she cherisheth this self of her husband that hath got into her womb.  She the cherisher must be cherished.  So the woman beareth the unborn child and the man cherisheth the boy even from the beginning ere it is born.  And whereas he cherisheth the boy ere it is born, ’tis verily himself that he cherisheth for the continuance of these worlds and their peoples; for ’tis even thus the thread of these worlds spinneth on unbroken.  And this is the second birth of the Spirit.  Lo, this is the spirit and self of him and he maketh it his vicegerent for the works of righteousness.  Now this his other self when it hath done the works it came to do and hath reached its age, lo! it goeth hence, and even as it departeth, it is born again.  And this is the third birth of the Spirit.  Therefore it was said by the sage Vamadeva, ‘I, Vamadeva, being yet in the womb, knew all the births of these gods and their causes.  In a hundred cities of iron they held me down and kept me; I broke through them all with might (Or, speed) and violence, like a hawk I soared up into my heavens. While yet he lay int he womb, thus said Vamadeva.  And because he knew this, therefore when the strings of the body were snapped asunder, lo, he soared forth into yonder world of Paradise and there having possessed all desires, put death behind him, yea, he put death behind him.”

This chapter focuses on the continuity of the manifested universe through the processes of birth and death.  Hunger and the force of desire were previously identified as a mechanism for development.  There needed still to be a mechanism for consciousness to systematically grow and this then led to the question of rebirth.

It must be noted that the sages clearly understood the concept behind the modern science of genetics.  They identified the first birth as the gathering of the essential elements of the father and the creation of the seed that transmitted this into the mother’s womb.  The mother incorporated this seed into her own being, representing the mother’s contribution to the child’s birth.  This was the second birth.  Along the way, the sages recognised the importance of pre-natal care, the “cherishing” of the mother during the course of the pregnancy.  Reference is then made to the death and rebirth of the individual, which is the third birth of the Spirit.  This provides for the continuity and development of the world.

The question of liberation of the soul from birth and death and the bonds of desire is next taken up in the final two verses which describe the sage Vamadeva.  It is implied that a realised soul can actually take up residence in the foetus and be born with full knowledge and awareness.  This is a further implication of rebirth.  While not every soul may take up residence at this stage, a realised soul may choose to do so.  Recognising the mechanism of birth and death, the action of desire and the bonds of attachment to the senses and their objects, the sage overcame desire and achieved liberation.

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

The Inhabitant of Nature, the Perceiver of the Spirit

Sri Aurobindo translates Aitareya Upanishad, Chapter 1, Section 3 (part 2):  “The Spirit thought, ‘Without Me how should all this be?  and He thought, ‘By what way shall I enter in?  He thought also, ‘If utterance is by Speech, if breathing is by the Breath, if sight is by the Eye, if hearing is by the Ear, if thought is by the Mind, if the lower workings are by apana, if emission is by the organ, who then am I?  It was this bound that He cleft, it was by this door that He entered in. ‘Tis this that is called the gate of the cleaving; this is the door of His coming and here is the place of His delight.  He hath three mansions in His city, three dreams wherein He dwelleth, and of each in turn He saith, ‘Lo, this is my habitation’ and ‘This is my habitation’ and ‘This is my habitation.’  Now when He was born, He thought and spoke only of Nature and her creations; in this world of matter of what else should He speak or reason?  Thereafter He beheld that Being who is the Brahman and the last Essence.  He said, ‘Yea, this is He; verily, I have beheld Him.’  There is He Idandra; for Idandra is the true name of Him.  But though He is Idandra, they call Him Indra because of the veil of the Unrevelation; for the gods love the veil of the Unrevelation, yea, verily, the gods love the Unrevelation.”

The Spirit has built a house, with all its machinery functional and ready to be put into operation.  But who is to experience and enjoy the operation of that machinery in that dwelling?  The three mansions referenced here have multiple different potential explanations, but within the context of the Upanishad itself, it is likely to refer to Matter, Life and Mind.  The three dreams appear to be the 3 states of awareness, waking, dream and dreamless sleep, which in one sense are all “dreams”.  Sometimes we experience the dream state as if it were our reality, and the waking state as if it is a dream.  In an ultimate sense, these are all states of “dream”.   What is missing in all of this is the witness, the experiencer of all experience.

The Spirit is not separate from this creation, so the Spirit, which is all-consciousness, must also have a seat in the house.  The Spirit inhabits this house and uses all the machinery of body, life and mind for its experience.  The conscious-awareness in the being is call the Jivatman, and it enters and departs the structure through the Brahmarandhra, the soft-spot in the top of the head.  As the Taittiriya Upanishad states “where the hair at its end whirleth round like an eddy, there it divideth the skull and pusheth through it.”

The human individual is immersed in the experience of Nature and therefore focuses his attention there.  It is possible however to turn the attention inward, to seek the being that “enjoys” Nature, and thereby to behold the Brahman, beyond and outside all the dream states.  The Upanishad names the perceiver of the Brahman as Idandra.  Idandra means “he who perceives”.  We see here a connection made to Indra, the universal power of the divine mind.  It should be noted that in the Kena Upanishad Indra is the one god who perceives the Brahman.  The universal powers, as noted in the Kena Upanishad, all take upon themselves the power and generally fail to recognise that it is the Brahman, not themselves, who is the source of their powers.  Thus, the statement that they “love the Unrevelation.”

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

Food, Hunger and Desire as the Operation of Universal Forces of the Creative Universe

Sri Aurobindo translates Aitareya Upanishad, Chapter 1, Section 3 (part 1): “The Spirit thought, ‘These verily are my worlds and their guardians; and now will I make me food for these.  The Spirit brooded in might upon the waters and from the waters brooded mightily over, Form was born.  Lo, all this that was born as form, is no other than Food.  Food being created fled back from His grasp.  By speech He would have seized it, but He could not seize it by speech.  Had He seized it by speech, then would a man be satisfied by merely speaking food.  By the breath He would have seized it, but He could not seize it by the breath.  Had He seized it by the breath, then would a man be satisfied by merely breathing food. …”

There follows a series of other analogous statements as various elements of the being try to seize food.  The Upanishad then continues:  “By the apana He would have seized it, and it was seized.  Lo, this is the seizer of food which is also Breath of the Life, and therefore all that is Breath hath its life in food.”

We tend to take the question of eating food for granted, as also the operation of the force of desire.  The Rishis of the Upanishads, however, explored these issues as part of the larger question of the nature and significance of the manifestation and the operation of the universal forces that first involved the Infinite and Unmoving into the material worlds, and then began the process of evolving successively through various sheaths or layers of consciousness.

In a static and unchanging environment, neither food nor desire would be at all necessary.  If however, change is to occur, then there must be some kind of mechanism or process involved in bringing about change.  If it is meant to be organic change, not simply “miraculous creation”, then this process must involve the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the forms and forces that carry out that change.

Matter in the form of food undergoes changes through the process of being devoured and incorporated into new forms.  The life-force in the form of apana, one of the 5 Pranas, acts as the immediate cause of these changes in the material world.  Desire is the energetic motivating force that moves the pranas in the world, with the entire play of attraction and repulsion, gravitational force, and in living beings the subtler energies of emotional attraction or repulsion, liking and disliking, being the actual expressions of this force in various forms.  Hunger is considered to be the most outward form of the working of desire, but in fact, it is operative at each successive level of matter, life, and mind.  That is why the Upanishad apportions Hunger and Thirst to have their place in the actions of all the universal forces that operate in the world.

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