OM: the Highest and Most Essential Essence of Things

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 1-3:  “Worship ye OM, the eternal syllable, OM is Udgitha, the chant of Sama-veda; for with OM they begin the chant of Sama.  And this is the exposition of OM.  Earth is the substantial essence of all these creatures and the waters are the essence of earth; herbs of the field are the essence of the waters; man is the essence of the herbs.  Speech is the essence of man, Rig-veda the essence of Speech, Sama the essence of Rik.  Of Sama OM is the essence.  This is the eighth essence of the essences and the really essential, the highest and it belongeth to the upper hemisphere of things.”

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Chhandogya, we see from its first and introductory sentence, is to be a work on the right and perfect way of devoting oneself to the Brahman; the spirit, the methods, the formulae are to be given to us.  Its subject is the Brahman, but the Brahman as symbolised in the OM, the sacred syllable of the Veda; not, therefore , the pure state of the Universal Existence only, but that Existence in all its parts, the waking world and the dream self and the sleeping, the manifest, half-manifest and hidden, Bhurloka, Bhuvar and Swar, –the right means to win all of them, enjoy all of them, transcend all of them, is the subject of the Chhandogya.  OM is the symbol and the thing symbolised.  It is the symbol, aksaram; the syllable in which all sound of speech is brought back to its wide, pure indeterminate state; it is the symbolised, aksaram, the changeless, undiminishing, unincreasing, unappearing, undying Reality which shows itself to experience in all this change, increase, diminution, appearance, departure which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the world, just as OM, the pure eternal sound-basis of speech shows itself tot he ear in the variations and combinations of impure sound which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the Veda.”

In the Vedic view of things, there is an upper hemisphere of pure Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that is the true source, continent and basis of all that manifests.  The image of the tree with its roots above and its branches and leaves below characterises this upper hemisphere as the most essential, the source of the world and all its forms.  OM is the sound-body of this highest essential truth.  By worshiping OM the worshiper becomes one with this highest truth of existence, which transcends all, contains all and embodies all that exists.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

Introduction to the Chhandogya Upanishad

The Chhandogya Upanishad (Chandogya Upanishad) is considered to be one of the most ancient, if not actually the oldest, of the major Upanishads.  In its sprawling scope it includes a number of different teachings, vidya, as it seeks to illuminate the ‘secret of the veda’ for a developing humanity.

Sri Aurobindo provides an historical context:  “After the destruction of the conservative Kurus and Panchalas at Kurukshetra, the development of the Vedanta commenced and went on progressing till in its turn it reached its extreme and excessive development in the teachings of Buddha and Shankaracharya.  But at the period of the Chhandogya it is in its early stage of development.  The first sections of the Upanishad are taken up with an esoteric development of the inner meaning of certain parts of the sacrificial formulae, which in itself is sufficient to show that the work belongs to the first stratum of Vedantic formation..”

As with all the Upanishads, the Chhandogya is concerned with the ultimate knowledge of “that which, being known, all is known”.  The knowledge of Brahman.  It approaches this knowledge from a number of different directions.  Sri Aurobindo has focused on brief sections of this extensive Upanishad, as he has translated specific segments of Chapter 1, and provided brief commentary on this opening section, as well as on one of the latter segments of the text.  The first section is focused on OM, the udgitha, in a very similar manner to that seen in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.  The importance of OM and its esoteric significance can be seen from the multiple treatments provided in various Upanishads.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Gods and the Titans Strive for Control of the Human Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Three, Verses 1-2:  “Two were the races of the Sons of God, the gods and the Titans.  Thereafter the gods were weaker, mightier the Titans.  They in these worlds strove together, and the gods said, ‘Let us by this udgitha overpass the Titans in the Yajna.’  They said to Speech, ‘Do thou go upward (by the udgitha) for us.’  ‘So be it’, said Speech and he went upward for them; the enjoyment that is in speech, he reached for the gods, the good that it speaks, he reached for the self.  They thought it was by this singer they would overpass them, but they ran at him and penetrated him with evil.  The evil that one speaketh, this that hath no correspondence (to the thing in fact to be expressed), — this is that evil.”

The battle of the gods and the Titans is an allegory of the inner struggle between the impulses driven by ego, and the aspiration of the higher self seeking to attain knowledge and realisation. The actions of each individual are governed by the predominance and balance of the three gunas, or qualities of Nature.  Those with a predominant sattwic nature, focused on peace, harmony, compassion, seeking for knowledge and devoted to truth, are carrying out the action of the gods, focusing on the growth of the higher principles of action, and reducing the impact of the ego-nature’s seeking for satisfaction of its desires.  Those with a predominant rajasic nature tend to try to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others, want to satisfy the urgings of their lower desires and do not care about truth in their attempt to gain a victory for their egoistic pursuits.

In his Essays on the GitaSri Aurobindo comments: “These are the human representatives of the Devas and Danavas or Asuras, the Gods and the Titans. This distinction is a very ancient one in Indian religious symbolism. The fundamental idea of the Rig Veda is a struggle between the Gods and their dark opponents, between the Masters of Light, sons of infinity, and the children of Division and Night, a battle in which man takes part and which is reflected in all his inner life and action.”

The egoistic nature and the rajasic and tamasic elements are naturally stronger in man in his animal nature.  Seeking physical satisfaction, vital achievement and the seeking for power are thereby predominant for a long while in human nature, and the vital force, oriented towards the process of “eating” in order to survive and thrive, naturally favors the ascendancy of these forces.  Those who seek truth, who seek oneness, who seek a wider and higher action of harmony try to overcome the force of desire through the chanting of the udgitha, the OM.  This action is beneficial, but for a long time the force of desire continues to arise and it can hijack the thoughts, and deeds of the individual even as they begin to carry out their higher seeking.  The force of speech, when it is not chanting OM, engages still with the human nature, and brings about the expression of falsehood as part of the egoistic approach to success in life.  This is that evil that is spoken of here.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Esoteric Sense of the Ashwamedha, the Horse Sacrifice

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 7 (partial): “He desired, ‘Let this have sacrificial capacity for me, by this let me be provided with a body.  That which has expressed power and being, that is fit for the sacrifice.  This verily is the secret of the Ashwamedha and he knoweth indeed the Ashwamedha who thus knoweth it.  He gave him free course and thought, then after a year ( a fixed period of time) he dedicated him to the self. … ”

We have seen that the Ashwamedha, the traditional Horse Sacrifice, has a deep esoteric significance.  The horse in this sacrifice is equated with the universal manifestation.  There is a power of creation put forth by the Eternal to manifest through Time and Space.  It should be noted that the Sanskrit term Ashwa, generally translated as “horse” has underlying meaning, as described by Sri Aurobindo “to the Rishis meant the unknown power made up of force, strength, solidity, speed and enjoyment that pervades and constitutes the material world.”  The term medha, putting aside for the moment its external translation of “sacrifice”, has underlying sense of intelligence, wisdom, sharpness of penetration.  The combination of intelligence and force is the characteristic of the Vijnana, the Supramental consciousness, which is the power that carries out the manifestation through the creation of differentiated forms that represent through Time and Space the Eternal in its embodied presence.

The portion of this verse not translated here by Sri Aurobindo includes references to the sun being the horse sacrifice, with his body being the time span of the year, the cycle of the earth’s rotation around the sun.  The embodied fire is the manifested world.  Death is a form of the action set forth in the sacrifice, and thus, he who knows this becomes one with Death and cannot be vanquished by death, and thus, achieves oneness with the manifested Eternal.

Sri M. P. Pandit concludes:  “Thus are fire, the Sacrifice (of the embodied World-Force), the Horse and Death one Divinity.  He who knows, he who realises this truth in himself becomes that very God with death for his limb, a process of his living.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Process of Differentiation of Forms and Beings in the Creation

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 6:  “He desired, ‘Let me sacrifice more richly with richer sacrifice.’  He laboured and put forth heat of force, and of him thus laboured and heated splendour and strength came forth.  The life-forces are that splendour and strength, therefore when the life-forces go forth, the body sets about to rot, yet in his body even so mind was.”

Once the process of differentiation of forms begins, it multiplies and creates the manifold creation that we experience around us.  This is the “richer sacrifice”.  Sacrifice is the process of aspiration, of a concentration of conscious force.  Sri Aurobindo translates the word tapas here as ‘heat of force’.  The Taittiriya Upanishad equates tapas as the Eternal and the concentration brings about everything that exists.  The forms take on this energy in the form of the Life-Force.  When it is time for a particular form to disintegrate and return to the original state of matter, the life-force departs and the body “rots”.  Existence is a constant process of offering, of sacrifice, as each form takes shape, plays its role, and then is given up to another form in the process of birth, life, and death.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “He desired to sacrifice, to lend Himself for further becoming.  To the exclusion of His other self-formulations, He concentrated and brooded upon his developing body to render it fit for the great Sacrifice.  And with the maturity of Time He sacrificed His own Body to Himself the Godhead presiding over this creation.  And lesser creatures He offered to the emanations of the Godhead, the gods participating in the Manifestation.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Eater, Eating, is Eaten: the Process of Development of the Manifested Universal Creation

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 5:  “He saw, ‘If I devour this, I shall diminish food’; therefore by that speech and by that self he created all this that we see, the Riks and the Yajus and the Samas and the rhythms and sacrifices and animals and these nations.  Whatsoever he created, that he set about devouring, verily he devoureth all; this is the substantiality of being in substance (that it can be destroyed [Destroyed, i.e. enjoyed by absorption].  He becometh the Eater of all the world and everything becometh his food who thus knoweth the substantiality of being in substance.”

With the expression of the creative Word OM, the manifestation of the universe comes into being.  There is however not yet the infinite differentiation of forms that characterizes the worlds.  The process of fragmentation occurs with the development of additional vibratory patterns as embodied in the various Vedas.  This process occurs at the level of the Vijnana, the Supramental plane of existence.  Each form, each being has its own “sound-body” and characteristic vibration.

Transformations and development of forms take place through the process of assimilation, through “eating”.  We learn today that modern science has posited that even galaxies devour one another over Time.  Every created form or being assimilates the vibrational pattern and undergo internal changes as they attune their own original vibration with the ones being eaten.  Thus the universe becomes a place of constant change and development.  Eventually it is the turn of the eater to be eaten and the development continues.  “The eater, eating, is eaten.”

The famous physicist Albert Einstein famously expressed the truth of the conversion of matter and energy from one to the other.  Yet this truth is obvious to every person who considers the act of eating, where matter, in the form of food, is converted into energy.  Calorie content measures the energy potential of the food.  Similarly as we observe the burning of a piece of wood, we see the conversion of matter into energy before our eyes.  In the other direction, the sun radiates its energy onto the earth, and plants convert this energy, through the process we call photosynthesis, into their respective material forms.

Sri M. P. Pandit comments:  “Still there was not yet a multiplicity for the enjoyment of a varied manifestation and relation.  So from the depths of this revealed Word He brought out the whole world: the creative rhythms of the Veda, the mode of Sacrifice to sustain the world with its myriad creatures — men and animals.  And after this Creation of His self-projection was complete, He commenced to eat it i.e. to enjoy it.  For indeed, all this is created, manifested, for His Delight, for His Lila.  Infinite, He eats infinitely….”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193

The Creation of Time

Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section 2, Verse 4:  “He desired, ‘Let a second self be born to me.’  He by mind had intercourse with speech, even Hunger that is Death; the seed that was of that union became Time.  For before this Time was not (period of Time) but so long He had borne him in Himself.  So long as is Time’s period, after so long He gave it birth.  He yearned upon him as soon as it was born; it cried out and that became speech.”

Manifesting the created universe occurs through the initiation of a vibration.  This vibration is OM, the sound-body of the universe.  Before there is any vibration, in an absolute stillness, there is no Time, although it remains potential within Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.  With the initiation of the process of manifestation, vibrations ensued to develop the entire creation in extension through Time and Space.

Scriptures in India speak of the process of creation and withdrawal of the manifestation as a recurrent phenomenon.  The “in breath” and the “out breath” of the Divine.  The creation proceeds through vibration, the withdrawal through stilling the vibration.

The Christian Bible starts with “In the beginning was the Word”, which defines creation as the initiation of vibration as well.  Western scientists refer to the “big bang” as the beginning of creation when vibration was loosed forth and then created all that exists through Time.  The Rishis obviously were ahead of their time in understanding this.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “He then decided to multiply.  For this purpose He activated His Word-Potential by the conscious force of His Intelligence, and Time was conceived.  Ere this there was no duration of Time.  He held the Time-seed in incubation for a full period and then was Time born.  And out of Time erupted the Speech, vak.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pp.327-347 and M P Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 185-193