"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATAThe Appeal of the Upanishads Today | Swami Atmapriyananda  





                The Appeal of the Upanishads Today




                         Swami Atmapriyananda




     ‘May my limbs wax strong. May my speech, vital force, eyes, ears, strength and all the senses also increase in power. The Brahman expounded in the Upanishads is the all in all. May I never deny Brahman nor Brahman ever deny me. Let there be non-denial [of Brahman]; let there be non-denial on my part [of Brahman]. May the virtues proclaimed in the Upanishads reside in me, who am devoted to the Atman; may these virtues reside in me. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.’(1)


     Our subject this evening is ‘The Appeal of the Upanishads Today’ - today meaning the present time in which we live; this, significantly, is the turn of the century. I would therefore try to present the eternal message enshrined in the ancient wisdom, which is the Upanishads, vis-a-vis the revolutionary thought currents that have been sweeping over today’s world during the century gone by and at the turn of the new century. This would help us understand the eternal appeal the Upanishads exercise on the human mind today, and how the modern world thought is re-echoing the Upanishadic wisdom in modern and scientific language.




     Revolutionary Changes in World Thought During the Last Century




     Since the beginning of the last century, during last the one hundred years, that is, world thought has undergone certain sweeping changes. We may broadly classify them into four categories:


     - in the field of physics, that is, the science of matter,

     - in the realm of bio-science/biotechnology, that is, the science of life,

     - in the domain of psychology, that is, the science of mind,

     - in the sphere of communication—computer science/engineering, leading to the search for Artificial Intelligence (AI).




     Revolutions in the Field of Physics, the Science of Matter




     Revolutionary thoughts that completely altered man’s conception of the physical world were first conceived at the very beginning of the twentieth century by Albert Einstein. In 1905, he propounded his famous theory of Special Relativity, which revolutionized our conception of space and time. This threw open a hitherto-unknown, and therefore unconventional, world view - Weltanschauung - whose scientific and philosophical implications are profound. That Nature does not have any preferential frame of reference, which means that all physical laws remain the same irrespective of the frame of reference used, is Einstein’s famous discovery - the relativity principle - which has given us a new physics and a new understanding of Nature. One implication of this principle, philosophically speaking, is that Nature is impartial, for it chooses to treat all the frames of reference on the same footing. The my-frame­versus-your-frame quarrel, the root of all fanaticism and bigotry, was set at rest, once and for all, by this scientific discovery, applied to philosophy and religion. Swami Vivekananda spoke about this in his famous address at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, a decade before Einstein’s enunciation of the relativity theory. Vivekananda called for the eradication of fanaticism and bigotry from the human heart. This call was echoed in scientific terms by Einstein, who proved that preferential attachment to one particular frame of reference - a framework of thought, in philosophical terms - is against Nature’s scheme of things, for Nature treats all frames alike, on the same footing. This sameness - samya or samatva in Vedantic parlance - is a fundamental principle of Nature, whose violation leads to the undesirable feelings of fanaticism, bigotry, hatred and attraction/repulsion. The theory of Special Relativity was followed up by Einstein by the theory of General Relativity in 1925, in which he gave a very different interpretation of gravitation. Our concept of space, time and matter thus underwent a revolution. We were taught that the space that we see has a very special characteristic: it is ‘curved’ and, what is more interesting, its ‘curvature’ is influence by the presence of matter. Thus space, time and matter are not to be considered as three distinct entities, but deeply intertwined with one another. It is not that matter is in space-time, but matter itself, in a sense, is space-time. Einstein was once asked to define the relativity theory in a few words. He said: ‘Earlier, physicists thought that if all matter vanishes from the universe, space and time alone would remain; but the relativity theory has proved that space and time would also vanish with matter!’ It is this continuum that brought about sweeping changes in our world view, Weltanschauung.


     In parallel with Einstein’s relativity theory came Max Planck’s famous Quantum Theory, enunciated in 1900, whose centenary is now being celebrated all the world over. The tiny quantum - ubiquitous and powerful - began to dominate all science, not to speak of physics! Planck said that the emission and absorption of radiation takes place not in a continuous fashion, but in discrete bundles of energy, called quanta. Each quantum is a ‘bundle of energy’, and the energy content of a quantum is proportional to the frequency of radiation. Here we see how the particle concept, namely the discrete energy-bundle - the quantum concept - gets happily wedded to the wave concept, frequency being a typically wave concept. This was the beginning of the intermingling of the wave and particle concepts - that radiation takes place in terms of quanta. The quanta of electromagnetic radiation came to be known as photons, which soon came to be recognized as fundamental particles in particle physics, with specific characteristics.


     When the correctness of Planck’s quantum theory soon became a proven fact, thanks to its successful application in several phenomena, particularly in the atomic realm, a very strange idea was thrown up by de Broglie. Once again, the motivation for de Broglie’s idea came from the philosophical world view of Nature already spoken about, namely, that Nature is impartial because it is symmetric. That Nature is symmetric and impartial is what makes it beautiful. The Sanskrit words corresponding to these concepts are, respectively, shivam and sundaram. It is well known in Indian spiritual thought that Truth (satyam) ought to be auspicious, just, impartial, fair, impersonal (shivam), and beautiful (sundaram). It is a simple fact that beauty is directly related to symmetry, for it is symmetry that engenders beauty. Further, there is a well-known theorem in physics, called Noether’s Theorem, which states that it is symmetry that gives rise to conservation. Conservation laws are fundamental to physics, and in fact to all science, including perhaps social sciences like economics, political science and sociology. And the statement is that these conservation laws are a direct consequence of symmetry principles.


     We thus see how the philosophical ideas of Vedanta in particular, and Indian spiritual thought in general, have found an echo in physics and have exerted an unknown influence in shaping the world view emerging from the New Physics in the twentieth century. It would be too naive to claim that Indian thought has influenced these revolutionary discoveries in physics; what actually happens is that, as Swami Vivekananda pointed out, when certain fundamental ideas are conceived by great minds, these remain as a part of the Cosmic Mind - called Hiranyagarbha in Vedanta - and every mind being an integral part of the Cosmic Mind, becomes vulnerable and sensitive to these cosmic vibrations of thought. Thus the sensitive minds of these great physicists - an Einstein or a Planck or a de Broglie - ‘catch’ these vibrations in the Cosmic Mind and with their training and education in physics, formulate the laws, principles and theories which now bear their name. This discovery of the Hiranyagarbha is one outstanding feat of the Upanishadic rishis - one of the ‘very bold generalizations’, in the words of Swami Vivekananda. It may be of interest to mention in this connection the joint research venture by Pauli, that genius of a physicist of the last century, and Jung, the famous psychologist and a contemporary of Pauli, in which they were trying to formulate a very generalized concept like the Cosmic Mind or the Hiranyagarbha. Unfortunately, their research in this direction is little known and has been left unpursued by later researchers. The Upanishadic echo is too loud in this attempt to be ignored.


     De Broglie, then, came up with his startling discovery of the matter-waves in 1924-25. With belief - shraddha is the Upanishadic word - in the symmetry and impartiality of Nature, de Broglie argued as follows: If, according to Planck’s quantum hypothesis, radiation can have particle (quantum or photon) characteristics, then, by symmetry, a particle should also be endowed with wave characteristics. The two fundamental manifestations of Nature, namely, radiation and matter, should be treated on an equal footing, there being no partial treatment in Nature’s symmetric scheme, and therefore wave characteristics of matter (particle) should follow as a natural consequence of particle characteristics of radiation (waves). He thus came up with his startling discovery - this should have been considered a ‘mad’ proposition when de Broglie first propounded it! - of the matter-wave. What these waves are, what their nature is, how they are to be interpreted in physical terms and a host of other questions immediately came up and the answers to these questions form part of what is now known as the Wave Mechanics of Schrodinger, with its more abstract and general­formalistic counterpart, Quantum Mechanics of Heisenberg.


     Heisenberg’s general formalism of Quantum Mechanics, and more particularly, his famous Uncertainty (or Indeterminacy) Principle has very profound philosophical implications: Is Nature probabilistic or is it deterministic? One finds here an echo of the free will-versus-predetermination debate in philosophy. Conditioned as he was by his own religio-philosophical conceptions, Einstein could not till the end of his life accept the probabilistic interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. He argued that it is the inability of the limited human mind to be able to comprehend certain ‘hidden variables’ in Nature that leads him to say that Nature is probabilistic at the micro (atomic/sub-atomic) level. There was a famous debate between Einstein and Bohr: Einstein said, ‘I can’t believe that God plays dice; he certainly knows what he is doing and going to do.’ In reply, Bohr quipped, ‘But you can’t dictate to God what he should do.’ Recall Sri Ramakrishna’s simple statement: ‘The Divine Mother is icchamayi (self-willed); how can you say what She should do at what time?’ When the probabilistic interpretation came to stay, however, Einstein still found it unacceptable and spent the last part of his life like a recluse, cut off from the advances in contemporary physics, searching for something he could not find!


     The story of Einstein’s search for a Unified Field Theory, which never ended during his lifetime, is a fascinating chapter in the history of physics. Having propounded his Special Theory and General Theory of Relativity and having become frustrated with the probabilistic interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, to which he could not find an alternative, Einstein spent his life in quest of the Unified Field Theory, the Holy Grail that eluded him till the end. The motivation for the search is itself illuminating and remarkable. Swami Vivekananda said in his lectures on jnana yoga that the human mind always looks for generalization; it goes from the particular to the general, from the general to the more general and so on, till it reaches the most general - Oneness. When that is reached, all search comes to an end, for in that consummation of the quest, ‘peace that passeth understanding’ is reached, culminating in the attainment of supreme Oneness - shantam, shivam, advaitam in the language of the Mandukya Upanishad. Swami Vivekananda pointed out how the Upanishadic rishis made some bold generalizations, and saw the particulars as manifestations of those generalizations. By the turn of the last century, physicists were investigating into and researching with Super­symmetry, Grand Unification Theories (GUTs) and so on. Salam and Weinberg got the Nobel Prize for the unification of three of the four fundamental interactions - forces of Nature: the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces; the gravitational force is still eluding our grasp. Physicists are trying hard to bring that too under their unification scheme, as also to integrate quantum theory with gravitation - the micro­cosmic manifestation with the macrocosmic one through their quantum gravity theories. The hope, ultimately, is to discover a Theory of Everything (ToE). Do we not get here a clear and loud echo, in unambiguous language, of the Upanishadic enquiry: Kasminnu bhagavo vijnate sarvamidam vijnatam bhavati?, Sir, what is it, by knowing which everything can be known?(2) There have been speculations of late by some physicists that the ToE cannot be found at all, for no such theory really exists. But our ancient wisdom, enshrined in the Upanishads, clearly stated that it is possible to know That by knowing which everything else becomes known. But then, for this discovery to be possible, one should go beyond the level of matter and enter into the realm of pure Consciousness, absolute Awareness, or chaitanya.




     Revolutions in the Realm of Bio-science, the Science of Life




     The last century saw some sweeping changes in the Science of Life. Interestingly, the pioneers, the founding fathers, of Quantum Mechanics were deeply interested in the question of Life: Schrodinger, the father of Wave Mechanics, wrote a book What is Life? Physics and bio-science were getting closer to each other and newer branches were getting developed: biophysics, biochemistry, biotechnology, biomedical engineering and so on. The revolutionary discoveries in the realm of life sciences during the last century, which began with the structure of the DNA, reached at the turn this new century a point where the decoding of the genetic code has become possible and a reality. Around the middle of the last century, hectic research activity was going on in the study of the DNA structure, and the final breakthrough came in 1953 through the researches of a British biophysicist, Francis Crick, and an American geneticist, James Watson. They suggested that DNA structure was a double helix - a conclusion they reached after studying X-ray photographs taken by the British X-ray crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin (1920-58). She used X-rays to look at DNA crystals. Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins (born 1916) got the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Franklin died before her contribution was properly credited. The basic rules of genetics were, however, worked out long ago, during the nineteenth century, by one Gregor Mendel (1822-84), an Austrian priest and botanist who discovered how characteristics were inherited. He found out that inheritance does not work by blending characteristics together, as people then thought. Instead, they are inherited in pairs. In each pair, only one characteristic is usually expressed (shown). Although Mendel had worked out the basic rules of genetics much earlier, it was not until the twentieth century that scientists rediscovered and re-substantiated his work.


     It is now common knowledge that every form of life, from an elephant to an alga, is put together and controlled by a chemical ‘recipe’. Instead of being written down, this recipe is in the form of a chemical code. The code is contained in helical (spiral-shaped) molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which are packed away inside the cells of all living things. The chemical code is very complex. The code inside one human cell contains fifty thousand to a hundred thousand separate instructions, called genes, and each gene controls a different characteristic. Genetics is the study of the way inherited characteristics are passed on. Genetic engineering is the technology by which one could manipulate the genes, thereby altering the inherited characteristics at the microcosmic level. In a cell’s nucleus, there are several lengths of DNA. Each one is called a chromosome. A gene is one area of a chromosome that has the instructions to make one protein. DNA works by telling a cell how to make the many different proteins that our cells need to work. To do this, a part of the DNA helix is temporarily ‘unzipped’, so that its code can be copied. The copy moves out of the nucleus. Once outside, it instructs the cell to assemble a particular protein, which could be an enzyme or a collagen (a skin protein), for example.


     Just by the turn of this century, as we were entering the new millennium, there were reports from British as well as American groups of biophysicists and biotechnologists that they had successfully decoded the genetic code. They were thus claiming that human beings have, for the first time, access to the ‘mind of God’, a challenge the now famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has asked the physical scientists to take up in a different context. The bio-scientists hence lay claim to the discovery of the language of God - the brahma­lipi in the language of our ancient scriptures.




     Revolutionary Discoveries in the Realm of Psychology, the Science of the Mind




     The principles of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, discovered and enunciated by him at the turn of the last century, around 1900, and developed by him in later years, set in motion revolutionary changes in our conception of the human mind and its functioning at deeper layers. These developments made psychology an independent and fascinating branch of study. Freud’s theories of the unconscious, of the libido, funnelled through a personality structure of id, ego and super-ego, his concepts of eros and thanatos, of free association, of transference as methods of psychiatric treatment and so on are now well known. Later modifications of Freud’s theories and concepts by Alfred Adler and Carl G. Jung, who rejected some of the Freudian concepts like excessive emphasis on the libido, identification of the libido with the sex-instinct and so on, opened up newer dimensions in psycho­analytical research. Adler developed his own school of psychology called ‘Individual Psychology’ or ‘Ego Psychology’, while Jung developed his school of ‘Analytical Psychology’. Jung expanded and modified the Freudian concept of libido to mean and represent the whole of psychic energy and the unconscious as the storehouse of all our psychic energy and power. Jung’s concept of Collective Unconscious which includes ‘archetypes’ that provide the religious symbols and myths of different cultures, his concept of polarities in the unconscious, namely, the persona and the shadow, the anima and the animus and so on made our understanding of the human mind, the science of psychology, wider and deeper. As the development of the various concepts of psychoanalysis progressed over the years, newer ideas emerged, essentially by the galvanization and interaction of these concepts constituting what is now known as the ‘Third Force’ in psychology. It is sometimes called ‘Humanistic Psychology’, some of the prominent members of this school being Karen Horney, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Eric Fromm.


     Almost parallel to the psychoanalytical tradition, two other schools of psychology also developed, mostly in academic circles. These are behaviourism in America and gestalt in Germany. Some of the prominent names associated with behaviourist school are John B. Watson, B. F. Skinner and Walter S. Hunter, who reduced consciousness to a purely nervous phenomenon of ‘stimulus and response’, denying an independent existence of the mind apart from the brain. Many of the microbiologists also appear to hold this view about the mind. Gestalt Psychology developed in Germany with the researches of Wertheimer, Kofka and Kohler, who held that perception and other mental activities take place not as the coordination of a series of analytical processes but as integral wholes.


     A third school of psychology parallel to the analytical tradition, known as Hormic Psychology, was founded in Great Britain by William McDougall around the beginning of the last century. This school differs from the psychoanalytical school in the introduction of will, which was conceived more or less as an instinct.


     Yet another school of psychology was founded by some psychologists under the influence of the philosophy of existentialism. One of its leading exponents is Rollo May, who develops the essential ideas of this school in his book Psychology and the Human Dilemma.


     Viktor Frankl emphasized that a human being’s primary concern is the ‘search for meaning’, rather than the satisfaction of biological needs. Though not constituting a separate school of psychology, Frankl’s ideas have considerably influenced several thinkers in the science of psychology.


     The brief survey presented above gives a bird’s-eye view of the vast amount of research and thinking that have gone into the understanding of the human mind in depth.




     Revolutionary Ideas in the Field of Computer Science and Engineering / Information Technology, Leading to Speculations about Artificial Intelligence




     Over the past few decades, thanks to the enormous strides made by electronic computer technology, attempts at computer simulation of human intelligence are being made in a big way. This area of lively controversy that has been arousing tremendous interest in recent years is referred to as Artificial Intelligence (AI). There is a point of view, referred to as strong AI, which asserts that mental qualities of some sort could be attributed to the logical functioning of any computational device, even the simplest ones, what to speak of sophisticated ones like the computers. Computer science and engineering and information technology are still very young disciplines. Supercomputers are being developed; as years pass by, these devices will get faster and faster, will have larger and larger rapid-access memory stores, more and more logical units and will be able to perform larger and larger operations in parallel. All this is actually happening now, and that at a staggering speed. The idea behind strong AI is that mental activity is simply the carrying out of some well-defined sequence of operations via a specified calculational procedure, frequently referred to as an algorithm. AI protagonists believe that by developing powerful devices to execute these algorithms, computer simulation of human intelligence is possible.


     Exciting and highly controversial research is going on in this field of intelligence, a revolutionary development at this turn of the present century. Scientists (physicists, biotechnologists, computer engineers, artificial intelligence people) are now asking certain fundamental questions about consciousness, like ‘What does consciousness mean? What is intelligence? What is awareness? Is the universe we see, perceive and live in, self-aware? What is the relation between consciousness and the brain?’ In a word, consciousness research seems to be engaging the minds of scientists and thinking men and women all over the world.


     Self-awareness appears to be a wonderful phenomenon in this consciousness research study. There is a funny story with which Roger Penrose’s famous book Emperor’s New Mind begins. The title of this book, as one can easily see, is a parody of the well-known story of the emperor’s new clothes: how the nudity of the mighty and all-powerful emperor was exposed by the unsophisticated simplicity of an innocent little child! This parody of the story of the emperor’s new clothes is about the emperor’s new mind: how the mighty power and near-omniscience of a super-super computer was exposed as hollow snobbishness by a little boy, watching the inaugural ceremony where the mighty computer’s great powers were being displayed.

The story is as follows: A super-super computer is created by a scientist, an AI protagonist. This near-omniscient machine is to display its might and genius at an inaugural ceremony where important dignitaries are present: scientists and technologists of all disciplines, political leaders, men of importance from all walks of life. The claim is that this super-super computer can, within micro-micro- or nanoseconds, answer any question that might be put to it.


     At the inaugural ceremony, the President, the head of the whole country, gently requests anybody present in the audience to put the first question by way of inauguration. Everybody is keeping quiet - all the great stalwarts among the scientists and engineers remaining silent and holding their breath, lest they appeared silly and stupid before such an amazing omniscience, by asking a question. A little boy gets up, puts up his hand, and says, ‘Sir, may I have the privilege of asking the first question?’ ‘Yes, come on,’ says the President. ‘Go ahead, boy, it is your privilege to ask the first question.’ The boy mutters in utter innocence: ‘How does it feel to be a computer?’ The computer activates, the various lights start glowing; seconds pass, minutes pass and almost an hour passes. There is no answer. The entire audience looks on flabbergasted, dumb­founded, confounded and nonplussed. There is a stunning silence all around. After a couple of hours of computation, the computer blinks and gives the message: ‘I don’t know.’ There is uproar, hilarious laughter everywhere, and a curious joy at the performance of this ‘God that failed’, derision at this ignoramus parading its wanton ‘omniscience’!


     The computer fails to answer a simple question, namely, how it feels to be a computer itself, because it is an ‘unintelligent omniscience’, capable of making very ‘intelligent’ computations at fantastic speed, much faster than an intelligent human being. Notice here the meaning of the word intelligent in regard to a human person and a computer. A human being is intelligent in the sense that he is self-aware. A computer is ‘intelligent’, in the sense of being capable of highly ‘intelligent’ computations, being itself absolutely ‘unintelligent’, that is, not self-aware. This ‘unintelligent omniscience’ is made to do all the bull-work by the ‘little’ intelligence of a human being, and it is doing things that he could never hope to do in a lifetime! But the ‘little intelligence’ of the human being has given birth to this fantastic ‘unintelligent genius’! That is the paradox and the glory of Consciousness, the conscious Principle, chaitanya as the Upanishads would call it.




     Upanishadic Analysis of the Layers of a Human Personality vis-a-vis the Revolutions in the Thought Currents as Mentioned




     The four main trends of thought mentioned above - the revolutionary changes in the thought current of the world during the last century and beginning of the present century - apparently look unconnected, or at the most running parallel, with hardly any meeting point. The physical, the biological, the psychic and the intellectual - how are they related to one another? Or, are they related at all? The human mind, as we have said, always looks for interrelationship, interconnectedness, unification and integration. There are attempts today to pursue what is known as ‘inter­disciplinary’ research. Most interestingly, in attempting this so-called inter-disciplinary approach, we have never asked whether these disciplines were separate at all at any time that an interrelationship is attempted to be discovered through inter-disciplinary approach? In India, the various disciplines, the branches of knowledge, were never separate from one another, all of them being classified under apara vidya.(3) In seeking the interrelation between these four, the physical, the biological, the psychic and the intellectual, we should seek how they are related to the individual, the person, the ‘I’, for whom they are intended in the first place. Without the ‘I’, the person, the conscious Principle, these disciplines have no meaning whatsoever.


     The Upanishads have analysed the human personality into five layers or levels. Each layer is to be considered an autonomous self, governed and regulated by its own laws. Popularly, this scheme is known as panca-kosha-vishleshana, analysis of the five sheaths; but then the word kosha, or sheath, does not occur in the original text, the second chapter of the Taittiriya Upanishad. Commenting on this text, Shankaracharya introduced the concept of kosha, or sheath, to suit his Advaitic philosophy. So, going by the original text of the Upanishad, we may seek the correspondence of the four disciplines mentioned above with the hierarchy of the following four layers of human personality: (1) the physical (annamaya-atman), (2) the biological (pranamaya-atman), (3) the psychical (manomaya-atman), and (4) the intellectual (vijnanamaya atman).


     The Taittiriya Upanishad speaks of Bhrigu, the son of Varuna, approaching his father with the following prayer: ‘Adhihi bhagavo brahmeti. Sir, teach me Brahman.’(4) Varuna says, ‘Yato va imani bhutani jayante; yena jatani jivanti; yatprayantyabhisamvishantiti; tadvijijnasasva; tadbrahmeti. Know That from which all beings originate, emerge; That in which all beings rest; and That into which all beings finally merge - That is Brahman.’ (3.1.1)


     He also instructs his son about the sadhana, the method or process by which this realization of Brahman could be achieved: ‘Tapasa brahma vijijnasasva; tapo brahmeti. Know Brahman by means of tapas; that is, by means of penance, austerity, meditation and control of the senses. Tapas is Brahman.’ (3.2.1) A wonderful definition of tapas is given in the Mahabharata, which Shankaracharya quotes often in his commentaries on the Upanishads: ‘Manasashca indriyanam ca aikagryam paramam tapah. Tapas is the concentrated focusing of the mind and all the senses (on the object of tapas, which is the Reality, or Truth).’ (5) Only by an absolute control over the senses and the mind, and a concentrated, intense and passionate enquiry into the Reality, can one hope to realize the Truth: ‘Avrittacakshuramritatvam­icchan’, as the Katha Upanishad would say; (6) that is, anyone who desires to attain Immortality (amritatva), must be avrittacakshu (senses and mind turned inward and focused on the Reality within). Note that the Upanishad says that ‘Tapas is Brahman, Tapo brahmeti’. By saying that the goal is Brahman and the means (tapas) is also Brahman, the Upanishad indicates that in the ultimate Realization, the goal and the means coalesce into one. Having been instructed thus, Bhrigu performs tapas, meditates. He then realizes the Truth, or Brahman, as physical, annamaya, for it is matter that pervades everything and is present everywhere; it is the physical universe that we perceive through our senses.


     He then approaches his father again and tells him of his realization of Brahman as annamaya. The teacher does not say yes or no, does not give him the final answer, but encourages him to struggle further and to discover for himself the deeper layers of his self. The teacher says: ‘Good, go on.’ ‘Tapasa brahma vijijnasasva; tapo brahmeti. Know Brahman through tapas (meditation, austerity, penance); tapas is Brahman.’ Bhrigu again goes back to do further tapas. Having performed tapas, having meditated, having investigated into himself, Bhrigu realizes Brahman as pranamaya, as life-force. He feels that the Reality cannot be just matter; for the whole universe is vibrating, animated, as it were, with life, prana. This principle of universal animation, this life-force vibrating through and through, is the pranamaya.


     With this realization, he approaches the teacher once again and prays to be taught. With his characteristic style of propelling the student to further investigation, Varuna once again tells him: ‘Good, go on. Meditate, do tapas and know Brahman.’ This is the Upanishadic technique: the answer is not directly given to the student, for, then, he would never learn. The disciple should be taught the joy of struggle, the perseverance to investigate, to probe deeper and deeper into himself, until he comes face to face with Truth. The teacher just plays the catalyst and gently, but effectively, persuades the disciple to investigate into himself, to go deeper and deeper till he realizes the Truth for himself. Thus, on and on Bhrigu proceeds into the investigation of the nature of Brahman. He realizes Brahman next as manomaya - the mental. He feels that the entire universe is only thought, bhavamaya. The objects that we see and feel are also nothing but thoughts.


     Again the teacher sends him back for further investigation, more vigorous tapas. Having meditated, having performed more profound tapas, Bhrigu realizes the Truth as vijnanamaya - the intellectual. Bhrigu comes closer and closer to the Truth, to the ultimate Consciousness. Life and Consciousness are not the same in Upanishadic parlance. The discovery of Consciousness as different from Life, enunciated by our Upanishadic rishis, is fundamental to Vedantic wisdom. Consciousness is at a much more profound layer than Life. And lastly Bhrigu realizes the Truth as ananadamaya - the blissful. He then feels that there is absolute, infinite Joy, and nothing but Joy pervading the universe.


     This section of the Taittiriya Upanishad concludes by declaring that this Brahman-realization is ‘established in the supreme Space (of one’s own heart), parame vyoman-pratishthita’.(7) This, once again, is one of the most important of Upanishadic doctrines: That Reality which is all-pervading, supreme and immense (Brahman) - the macrocosmic consciousness Principle - is non-different from, that is, absolutely identical with, the Truth, or Reality shining in one’s own cidakasha, the innermost Consciousness-Space of one’s heart - the microcosmic consciousness Principle.


     The Upanishads therefore analyse the human personality, the fundamental Atman principle, into five layers or levels: annamaya-atman, pranamaya-atman, manomaya-atman, vijnanamaya-atman and anandamaya-atman. Each of these layers is an autonomous entity by itself, governed by its own laws; it is not that one is superior or inferior to another; it is not that one is superseded by another; it is not that one is sublated or eliminated by another; it is not that one is more true and another less, or one is true and another untrue; but that the Atman manifests itself in the human personality as five different layers.


     An example from atomic physics would perhaps make the meaning of these layers or levels more clear. When we say that the electron revolving round the nucleus in (elliptical) orbits is in the K-shell, L-shell, M-shell and so on, it is not that the K-shell is superior to the L-shell or one of them is sublated or eliminated in favour of another, but that the electron happens to be in a particular shell when it has a certain amount of energy, and when it acquires greater energy or loses some energy it would shift to the succeeding or preceding shell. Similarly, by dint of sadhana, or spiritual practice, when a sadhaka, spiritual aspirant, acquires greater and greater energy, he would move over to higher and higher layers, the strength to move to a higher layer requiring a quantum of energy supplied either by the guru, the spiritual teacher, or coming from one’s own inner reservoir of strength and energy.



     (to be concluded)






     (1). Apyayantu mamanggani … —Shanti mantra for the Kena Upanishad.

     (2). Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.3.

     (3). Ibid., 1.1.5.

     (4). Taittiriya Upanishad, 3.1.1.

     (5). Mahabharata, ‘Shanti Parva’, 250.4.

     (6). Katha Upanishad, 2.1.1.

     (7). Taittiriya, 3.6.1.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015







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