Spiritual Realisation and Life in the World

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter Nine:  “Righteousness with the study and teaching of Veda; Truth with the study and teaching of Veda; askesis with the study and teaching of Veda; self-mastery with the study and teaching of Veda.  Peace of soul with the study and teaching of Veda.  The household fires with the study and teaching of Veda.  The burnt offering with the study and teaching of Veda.  Progeny with the study and teaching of Veda.  Act of procreation (Or, Joy of the child’s mother) with the study and teaching of Veda.  Children of thy children with the study and teaching of Veda — these duties. ‘Truth is first,’ said the truth-speaker, the Rishi, son of Rathitara.  ‘Askesis is first,’ said the constant in austerity, the Rishi, son of Purushishta.  ‘Study and teaching of Veda is first,’ said Naka, son of Mudgala.  For this too is austerity and this too is askesis.”

The Upanishad does not counsel abandonment of the life in the world; rather it seeks to achieve a balance that includes self-discipline, the development of peace and harmony within oneself, and a constant focus on attaining and communicating knowledge in the form of the study of the Veda, while at the same time, expressing support for works, not just religious sacrifices, but the perpetuation of the ongoing life through children and grandchildren, with all that implies.  Clearly this is not a scripture of utter renunciation of the world.  The consistent point here is that just undertaking either the inner disciplines, or the outer activities is insufficient in and of itself, without the acquisition of knowledge.  We see here a harmonising of knowledge and works.

Various Rishis prioritize these activities somewhat differently depending on their specific viewpoints and capacities.  The Upanishad does not declare one better than the other.  Any way that guides the seeker to spiritual fulfillment is acceptable.  Nor is the affirmation of one aspect intended to deny the validity of any of the others, nor the role of the others in the ultimate perfection.  It is a matter of focus, balance and adjustment of that balance rather than an extreme “either/or” type of reasoning that we see here.  What becomes clear is that a focus on Truth, a focus on Tapasya, concentration of conscious force, and a focus on knowledge in the form of study and teaching of Veda appear to be preeminently important activities for the spiritual seeker.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

OM: the Sound of the Universe

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter Eight:  “OM is the Eternal.  OM is all this universe.  OM is the syllable of assent: saying OM! let us hear, they begin the citation.  With OM they sing the hymns of the Sama; with OM SHOM they pronounce the Shastra.  With OM the priest officiating at the sacrifice sayeth the response.  With OM Brahma beginneth creation (or, With Om the chief priest giveth sanction).  With OM one sanctioneth the burnt offering.  With OM the Brahmin ere he expound the Knowledge, crieth ‘May I attain the Eternal.’  The Eternal verily he attaineth.”

A number of Upanishads focus on the syllable OM.  It is considered to be the “sound-body” of the universe.  When properly intoned, it attunes the being to the Eternal.  It can bring a deep experience of peace and a feeling of Oneness.  A reported event occurred which may help to illustrate.  Back in the early 1970’s when American youth were protesting the war in Vietnam, they marched in Washington D.C. and were in the process of being surrounded and arrested by heavily armed and armored police.  The natural fear and uncertainty arose in the crowd when confronted with these (later determined to be illegal) arrests that prevented their lawful exercise of freedom of assembly and redress of grievances to their government.  Sensing the incipient panic, someone in the crowd started chanting OM.  Quickly the rest of the crowd took up the chant, and the fear departed and everyone responded with peace in their hearts.  The entire atmosphere changed and was permeated by the sound of OM chanted by a sizable crowd under these circumstances.

Sri M.P. Pandit adds:  “As to the concentration of the mind, for centering the consciousness progressively upon the Ideal of Brahman, there are many aids, a variety of supports recommended to the seeker in the Upanishads.  But the most important and celebrated is the repetition of the sacred syllable OM which is held to be the nearest sound-approximation to Brahman and whose vibrations go to open up the heights of the Supreme Self for the aspiring consciousness in man.”

“In the words of Sri Aurobindo:  OM is ‘the mantra, the expressive sound-symbol of the Brahman Consciousness in its four domains from the Turiya to the external or material plane.  The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realisation of what the mantra symbolises and is supposed indeed to carry within itself.  The mantra OM should therefore lead towards the opening of the consciousness to the sight and feeling of the One Consciousness in all material things, in the inner being and in the supraphysical worlds, in the causal plane above now superconscient to us and, finally, the supreme liberated transcendence above all cosmic existence.’ (from Letters)”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Outer Creation and the Self

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter 7:  “Earth, sky, heaven, the quarters and the lesser quarters; Fire, Air, Sun, Moon and the Constellations; Waters, herbs of healing, trees of the forest, ether and the Self in all; these three concerning this outer creation.  Then concerning the Self.  The main breath, the middle breath, the nether breath, the upper breath and the breath pervasor; eye, ear, mind, speech and the skin; hide, flesh, muscle, bone and marrow.  Thus the Rishi divided them and said, ‘In sets of five is this universe; five and five with five and five He relateth.”

The Rishi of the Upanishad does not abandon the outer world, but looks upon it in a spirit of examination and discovery.  The powers of the human mind are to be applied, not denied.  These powers include observation, categorisation and analysis.  The students are being asked to use these powers to understand the nature of the world around them.  This helps them train the mind and prepares them for the deeper examinations that must follow to discover the spiritual truths of our existence.  The Self referred to here is the outer being that moves in and relates to the outer world.

The classifications that assemble various items together also helps the seeker to understand the inter-connectedness of the forms and forces in the world.  For example, the 5 breaths, or Pranas, mentioned do not exist independently of one another but are clearly related and dependent of the action of one upon another.  We breathe in, and out.  The energy of the breathing permeates and pervades the entire body.  Specific motions of the life energy carry out various bodily functions.  These are forms of Prana and all are needed to form a functioning organism.

The method of categorisation also helps the seeker to appreciate the layers that work together, as the example of the skin is used to take the seeker successively inwards from hide, to flesh, to muscle, to bone to marrow.  Not only does this show an understanding of anatomy, but trains the seeker to find the deeper levels that are not apparent on the surface of things.  Exercising this capacity becomes important as the Upanishad moves to the more direct teachings in the Brahmanandavalli and Bhriguvalli which follow.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Yogic Anatomy, Physiology and Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, chapter six:  “Lo, this heaven of ether which is in the heart within, there dwelleth the Being who is all Mind, the radiant and golden Immortal.  Between the two palates, this that hangeth down like the breast of a woman, is the womb of Indra; yea, where the hair at its end whirleth round like an eddy, there it divideth the skull and pusheth through it.”

“As Bhur He is established in Agni, as Bhuvar in Vayu, as Suvar in the Sun, as Mahas in the Eternal.  He attaineth to the kingdom of Himself; He attaineth to be the Lord of Mind; He becometh Lord of Speech, Lord of Sight, Lord of Hearing, Lord of the Knowledge.  Thereafter this too He becometh, — the Eternal whose body is all ethereal space, whose soul is Truth, whose bliss is in Mind, who taketh His ease in Prana, the Rich in Peace, the Immortal.  As such, O son of the ancient Yoga, do thou adore Him.”

The first section of this chapter addresses yogic anatomy and psychology.  The references to locations in the physical body are for orientation of the awareness, not representations of functions of the physical body; rather, they refer to the subtle body of the chakras and the nadis, or “channels” of energy of the subtle body.  The yogic texts and the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita all refer to the seat of the Atman as being in the heart.  The primary channel of the flow of consciousness through the chakras is the Sushumna which begins at the base of the spine and moves upwards through the major chakras, and exits out the top of the head, as described here. It is said that at the time of death, if the consciousness exits through the locus at the top of the skull, the soul achieves liberation.  In the interim, if the consciousness has been awakened, the energy flows through the Sushumna, activates the chakras and brings about union, yoga, between the individual Atman and the universal and transcendent consciousness.

The experience that follows the process of identifying with the Atman, opening of the subtle energy centers and flow of that energy through the Sushumna is one of a reversal of the normal human consciousness which is focused and originates in the physical body and life.  The seeker identifies with the Atman and becomes master of mind, life and body, which become instruments of his interface and interaction with the world.  Stationed in the Atman, one with the Brahman, the seeker becomes a soul of peace and oneness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Worlds of Matter, Life, Mind and Supermind

Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter 5:  “Bhur, Bhuvar and Suvar, these are the three Words of His naming.  Verily the Rishi Mahachamasya made known a fourth to these, which is Mahas.  It is Brahman, it is the Self, and the other gods are his members.  Bhur, it is this world; Bhuvar, it is the sky; Suvar, it is the other world: but Mahas is the Sun.  By the Sun all these worlds increase and prosper. … These are the four and they are fourfold; — four Words of His naming and each is four again.  He who knoweth these knoweth the Eternal, and to him all the Gods carry the offering.”

Additional descriptions are related in this chapter, relating to the Shining Fires, the Vedas and the breaths.  The treatment is similar.  Sri Aurobindo describes these three worlds as relating to planes of consciousness.  Bhur is the world of the plane of Matter.  Bhuvar is the world of the life-plane.  Suvar is the world of the mental plane.  In this configuration Mahas represents the Supramental plane.  The etymology of the name Mahachamasya provides a further clue.  “Maha” means vast or great.  “chamasya” is the vessel that holds the Soma, the nectar of the gods, the bliss or Ananda of the Immortals.

Sri M. P. Pandit notes regarding Mahas:  “This is the vyahrti which is termed the Supermind by Sri Aurobindo, the Gnosis standing at the summit of this lower creation of the worlds of matter, life and mind.  The Upanishad declares that this is Brahman itself, the very Self of the Manifesting Reality, of which the other worlds, the Gods presiding over them, are limbs.  They live, increase and prosper by the Power of this Mahas which is compared to the Sun — Mahas is the source of Light (and fire) of the worlds.  … Mahas ‘is called the fourth world, because it is above the triple world of ours, bhuh, bhuvah, svah.’  It stands between the two — between the higher triple world of the plenary Sat-Chit-Ananda above on the one hand and the lower triple on the other.It carries within it, above it, and one with it in a sense the higher triple, and it also releases the lower triple world through various agencies for the formation and perfection of the higher half — what is called Parardha — in terms of the lower, the created lower triple.  Radically, it is this world of the Mahas that is responsible for the lower triple creation and it is from this world that forces of manifestation of the Many are released and set to play to work out certain possibilities of the Immense Intelligence and power of the Spirit in the finite formations of the world-being and Force-movement.  Because its centre is charged with the infinitude of Sat-Chit-Ananda, it is one with it Above; because its face is turned towards Manifestation, it is one with the Many that represent the self-limiting and self-conditioning attitude and capacity of the Supreme Spirit.’ (cited by M P Pandit from T.V. Kapaly Sastry, Lights on the Fundamentals, pg. 42)”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

The Teacher Invokes the Powers of the Divine Mind to Transfigure His Life and Action

Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter Four begins with a prayer to Indra for illumination.  Sri Aurobindo has provided two translations of this prayer of which this one is directly referenced by him in his introduction to the Upanishads::  “‘He who is the Bull of the Vedas of the universal form, he who was born in the sacred rhythms from the Immortal, — may Indra satisfy me through the intelligence.  O God, may I become a vessel of the Immortal.  May my body be full of vision and my tongue of sweetness, may I hear the much and vast with my ears.  For thou art the sheath of Brahman covered over and hidden by the intelligence.”  He mentions that this passage clearly breaks through the veil of outer coverings of the esoteric teachings and identifies Indra as the power of the divine mind.

Having invoked the powers of the divine mind, the teacher now requests the bodily capability and the material support required to sustain himself and the disciples, whom he also now calls forth to share in the illumination he has been vouchsafed.

The teacher recognises that the results are not something achieved through his own effort alone.  “Thou art a river with a hundred branching streams, O Lord of Grace, in thee may I wash me clean.”

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “It is the Divine Lord who is to bend and take up into Himself him who is striving to reach out to Him, who by dint of tapasya has arrived near his proximity but cannot go further without His Grace.”    As Sri Aurobindo translates:  “O Lord, thou art my neighbor, thou dwellest very near me.  Come to me, be my light and sun.”

Some traditional commentators consider the verse to be construed somewhat differently, by indicating that the reference to the “bull of the hymns of Veda whose visible form is all this Universe” (as translated by Sri Aurobindo in his second translation of this section) refers to OM, which is the preeminent symbol of the creation and the epitome of the Vedas.   The grammatical structure would tend to support the first approach as it appears to be an epithet of Indra, not a segue from one thought to the next.

In the end, the focus of this verse is clearly on the invocation of the higher powers of the mentality to illuminate the teacher and prepare him to receive and support sincere students who are ready to receive this illumination.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182

Contemplation on Oneness and Inter-Connectedness

Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, Chapter 3, translated by Sri Aurobindo, concerns itself with “the secret meaning of Sanhita whereof there are five capitals; Concerning the Worlds; Concerning the Shining Fires: Concerning the Knowledge: Concerning Progeny: Concerning Self.  These are called the great Sanhitas.”

The Upanishad develops a similar format for explaining each of these, as illustrated:  “Now concerning the Worlds.  Earth is the first form; the heavens are the second form; ether is the linking; air is the joint of the linking.  Thus far concerning the Worlds.”

We see here that earth and heaven are inter-connected and linked.  Everywhere we look around us, everything we experience, can be understood through this process of discovering the Oneness and through seeing the symbiotic relationship between all beings.  A similar meditation is set forth for the other capitals noted here.

“Fire is the first form; the Sun is the latter form; the waters are the linking; electricity is the joint of the linking.”   “The Master is the first form; the disciple is the latter form; Knowledge is the linking; exposition is the joint of the linking.”  “The mother is the first form; the father is the latter form; Progeny is the linking; act of procreation is the joint of the linking.”  “The upper jaw is the first form; the lower jaw is the latter form; speech is the linking; the tongue is the joint of the linking.”

Gaining a true understanding of the unified field of existence brings with it results and success in the physical, vital and mental worlds:  “He who knoweth thus the great Sanhitas as we have expounded them, to him are linked progeny and wealth of cattle and the radiance of holiness and food and all that is of food and the world of his high estate in heaven.”

Sri M. P. Pandit notes:  “The mind is to be trained to perceive and conceive newly.  Behind the multitudinous variety of forms which people this universe, one must begin to see that there is one underlying Reality which manifests as the many and governs them in an indissoluble unity.  Whatever the categories or the terms of the manifestation, they are all interlinked and interdependent. … There is one Principle, one Term of the Sole Being which manifests in several forms — all mutually forming one connected Whole.  One must meditate upon this truth in the creation around and let it naturally govern the inlook and outlook.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads,  Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli, pp.255-264, M. P. Pandit, Upanishads: Gateways of Knowledge, pp. 109-182