All This Is the Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verse 12:  “All this is Brahman immortal, naught else; Brahman is in front of us, Brahman behind us, and to the south of us and to the north of us and below us and above us; it stretches everywhere.  All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent universe.”

There can be no clearer statement about Brahman as the sole Existent who manifests the entire universe and everything we experience.  There is this one Brahman; there is no other.  Dualistic views of the universe, which indicate there is a Creator who fashions the universe and observes it from outside are specifically rebuffed.  At the same time, those who speak of the universe being something of an illusion and who must renounce the world in order to find the Divine are also cautioned here.  Earlier in the Mundaka Upanishad it may have appeared that renunciation was the goal.  With this verse, it is now clear that renunciation is a tactic, not a goal, and that its purpose is to orient the understanding and focus of the seeker.  Once the standpoint of the seeker has been altered, the reality of the universe as Brahman can now be affirmed.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo resolves the tension between the materialist view that the world is real and the Divine is unreal versus the renunciate’s view that the Divine is real and the world unreal, with the concept of “reality omnipresent”.  In this view, the world is Brahman, and thus, not to be denied its significance, while at the same time, Brahman is not defined or limited by the framework of the manifested universe; rather the specific forms and forces are expressions of Brahman, without being limiting factors.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210


The Light of the Supreme

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verses 10-11:  “In a supreme golden sheath the Brahman lies, stainless, without parts.  A Splendour is That, It is the Light of Lights, It is That which the self-knowers know.  There the sun shines not and the moon has no splendour and the stars are blind; there these lightnings flash not, how then shall burn this earthly fire?  All that shines is but the shadow of His shining; all this universe is effulgent with His light.”

These verses delineate an inner spiritual experience that comes to the seeker when there is an opening to the inner sight.  The light that is experienced is far more intense and brilliant than the outer lights of the sun, moon, stars, lightning or fire, which are the outer forms of light that we can use for comparison purposes.  Even the slightest opening of the spiritual vision can be an overwhelming experience and we see in the words of the Upanishadic sage here, the attempt to provide some form of understanding to the disciple who is following in the path of the Spirit.

We see a similar reference in various religious traditions.  We generally try to take these statements metaphorically, but in reality, they represent a real and present experience when the spiritual vision takes over from the outer sight.  Sages and religious founders have spoken of a state of “illumination”.  They are referring to this flooding of inner light which accompanies the spiritual realisation and which provides them the stamp of its authenticity and its veracity.  In the glow of this experience, the world itself is transformed and everything radiates and vibrates with an intensity of light and color that far exceeds the normal perceptions of the mental-nervous mechanisms that feed us our perceptions of the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

Dissolution of Attachment and the Bonds of Karma Results from Unity of the Individual Self with the Supreme

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, Verse 9:  “The knot of the heart-strings is rent, cut away are all doubts, and a man’s works are spent and perish, when is seen That which is at once the being below and the Supreme.”

The shift from the ego-standpoint to the divine standpoint impacts the individual’s entire response to life.  The Upanishad outlines the changes that take place.  “The knot of the heart-strings is rent”.  The ego-attachment to the things of the world, to specific actions, results, people is dissolved as the universal standpoint takes over the consciousness.  “cut away are all doubts” resolves the limitations of the mental consciousness which always feels a lack of complete knowledge.  The knowledge by identity provides a certainty about the significance of life and the role of the individual which cannot be obtained through any processes of the mind.  “a man’s works are spent and perish” implies that the bondage of karma does not cling to the individual who has identified himself with the Divine and its purpose in the manifestation of the universe.   The condition for this change is the realisation of the unity and oneness of the individual Self and the Supreme.  As long as there is a consciousness of division, this realisation is not complete, the mind is still active and still creating a sense of separateness and division.

The Upanishads are filled with inspired outbursts when the seer experiences this conversion:  “I am He” and “Thou art That” and “All this is the Brahman” and “One Without a Second” are all expressions that try to explain to the mind the vision of Oneness of the Self and the Supreme.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

A Mental Being Takes Its Foundation in Matter

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, verse 8:  “A mental being, leader of the life and the body, has set a heart in matter, in matter he has taken his firm foundation.  By its knowing the wise see everywhere around them That which shines in its effulgence, a shape of Bliss and Immortal.”

The Western approach, enshrined in both the scientific and philosophical disciplines, to the existence of the human being, the “mental being”, has mainly been based on the idea that Matter came first, and somehow, through random chance or some kind of chemical reactions, life, and mind eventually resulted.  The approach of the Bible was a miraculous creation by an external God of a fully formed human being made out of clay and a subsequent eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to develop the analytical mental capacities.  Mythological stories tell of a forerunner, a Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods for the sake of humanity.  All of these approaches treat the mental capacity as somehow arising from material existence without any realistic “cause”.

The Upanishad takes a different approach, as it indicates that the mental being essentially preexists the material and vital foundation and shapes these to its requirements.  This implies that nothing can “evolve” out of Matter that is not already “involved” in Matter.  The analogy of the seed, having the tree encoded in its material form, is a reasonable image to describe what has taken place.  The tree does not magically appear out of a dead, material form; rather there is a complex genetic map that is built into the seed, and when planted and given proper conditions, this genetic coding begins to act and gathers Matter and infuses life-energy to create the eventual tree.

Man is recognized as “the mental being” because of the obvious capacities of the mind that are evident in humanity, and the results that eventuate with human beings systematically reshaping the material and vital existence of the world.  The involution of mind into the material world, and its subsequent evolution and expression, shows both the preexistence of mind and what we may call a “mental world” in the formation of existence as we know it.  This is consistent with the idea that the Brahman creates the entire universe out of His own substance, according to His own plan of development, with the progression from Sat-Chit-Ananda through the supramental level that maintains its awareness and oneness with Sat-Chit-Ananda while creating the multifarious forms and forces that make up the play of life in the world, encompassing the actions of mind, life and matter.

Those who follow a spiritual aspiration, who practice a form of Yoga, or who are dedicated to a religious life of self-examination find that there is a secret heart wherein resides the Self, the Immanent Divine.  Through connection with that Self, they identify with and unify the being with the Divine Presence.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Unity of the Immanent Divine and the Self of the Individual

Sri Aurobindo translates Chapter 2, Section 2, Verses 5-7 of the Mundaka Upanishad:  “He in whom are inwoven heaven and earth and the mid-region, and mind with all the life-currents, Him know to be the one Self; other words put away from you: this is the bridge to immortality.  Where the nerves are brought close together like the spokes in the nave of a chariot-wheel, this is He that moves within,– there is He manifoldly born.  Meditate on the Self as OM and happy be your passage to the other shore beyond the darkness.  The Omniscient, the All-wise, whose is this might and majesty upon the earth, is this Self enthroned in the Divine city of the Brahman, in his ethereal heaven.”

While still couched in language that could conceivably be interpreted in some external sense, these verses clearly represent the inner psychological reality and the process of realisation of the unity of the Brahman as the universal creation with the internal experience of the individual seeker.  Heaven, earth and the mid-region refer not just to some external world-reality, but to the mental, physical and vital planes within the human individual.  Other Upanishads, such as the Taittiriya, provide a key to understanding such terms as psychological states, not just physical realities.    The connection to the meditation on OM is further evidence that these verses are intended as an instruction to a disciple or student on how to attain the realisation of the unity of Brahman as the entire creation, and beyond, that was stated in verse 4.

The Taittiriya Upanishad summarizes the unity of the Self in the individual and the Self in the universe as follows:  “The Spirit who is here in man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun, lo, it is One Spirt and there is no other.”  (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Ch. 10, pg. 281)

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

The Goal of Absorption of the Individual Ego Into the Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Mundaka Upanishad, Chapter 2, Section 2, verse 4:  “OM is the bow and the soul is the arrow, and That, even the Brahman, is spoken of as the target.  That must be pierced with an unfaltering aim; one must be absorbed into That as an arrow is lost in its target.”

The Mundaka Upanishad provides a methodology for achieving the higher knowledge, the knowledge of Brahman, through a process of “knowledge by identity”.  This process is now explained.  The Upanishad calls for a “one-pointed” concentration on the Eternal, the Absolute, the Immutable so that the ego-individuality is absorbed into the Brahman.  This is what Sri Aurobindo calls the “refusal of the ascetic” in The Life Divine.   The seeker of Brahman is asked to put aside all focus on the outer world, the lower knowledge or any fulfillment related to the individual in the outer world and fix all the attention and focus on the Brahman.

The Upanishad also introduces the mystic syllable OM as the force that can propel the awareness towards what is elsewhere called a state of Samadhi.  OM has been described elsewhere as having enormous significance relating to the 4 states of awareness, waking, dream, sleep and transcendent consciousness.  But it is not simply the significance to the mind that makes it important.  It is also called the primordial sound that vibrates with the sound of the universal creation.  Repetition of this syllable can bring a profound quiet to the “mind stuff” (chitta) described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and can help guide the seeker to a state of transcendent awareness.

Kirlian photography that captures projection of the human aura has shown tremendous increase of auric energy and coherence of that energy when the subject repeats the word OM.  It is clear that this is not intended to be an intellectual understanding of a concept contained in a word or syllable, but is itself a powerful force for realisation when used, as the Upanishad colorfully puts it as “the bow” with the soul as “the arrow” to achieve the realisation of Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210

A Method for Knowing the Unknowable

Sri Aurobindo translates Verse 3, Chapter 2, Section 2 of Mundaka Upanishad:  “Take up the bow of the Upanishad, that mighty weapon, set to it an arrow sharpened by adoration, draw the bow with a heart wholly devoted to the contemplation of That, and O fair son, penetrate into That as thy target, even into the Immutable.”

The Upanishads make it clear that knowledge acquired through the action of the mind and the reasoning powers cannot grasp or encompass a knowledge of the Eternal, the Immutable, the Absolute, the Ananda of the Brahman.  The Taittiriya Upanishad says it clearly “The delight of the Eternal from which words turn away without attaining and the mind also returneth baffled, who knoweth the delight of the Eternal?”  If the higher knowledge cannot be attained through the action of the mental faculties, the question arises as to whether there is any method of attainment possible, and if so, what that method is.  The current verse answers that such knowledge is possible and a method is set forth.

The mind must be brought to a place of basic understanding of its limits, and of the existence of a higher form of knowledge, which is the role of the Upanishad.  Adoration and total contemplation are the stance that the soul takes in its aspiration to move beyond the mind’s activity to achieve a knowledge by identity with the Brahman.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo discusses the different types of knowledge and their action in the chapter titled Knowledge by Identity and Separative Knowledge (pp. 524-552).  He states “The original and fundamental way of knowing, native to the occult self in things, is a knowledge by identity…. The first way of knowing in its purest form is illustrated in the surface mind only by our direct awareness of our own essential existence: it is a knowledge empty of any other content than the pure fact of self and being; of nothing else in the world has our surface mind the same kind of awareness.”

In his lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes the methods of attaining the state of Samadhi, which is a state of direct knowledge by identity with the Eternal.  He describes the “mind stuff” (“chitta”) as always being in motion and the goal of the practice is to bring the mind stuff to a state of stillness and thereby allow it to reflect the Eternal.  The Upanishad references a state of total contemplation on the Absolute achieved with a heart of adoration.  We see here then an outline of how the higher knowledge can be achieved.

The question naturally arises as to how anyone can undertake action in the world, using the other methods of knowing, and relating to what the Upanishad calls the lower knowledge.  This is obviously a separate subject which only has real relevance when once the knowledge by identity has actually been achieved.  The short answer is that a knowledge by identity completely and immediately incorporates the knowledge of the world and its significance and actions, and thus, the goal of the Upanishads, to know “that by knowing which all is known” is clearly before us.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, pp. 193-210