Sri Bimal Mohanty
ISHAVASYA UPANISHAD (Contd) – The Knowledge connection
Based on lectures by Sri Bimal Mohanty
The third sloka of Isa Upanishad implies that those souls who are not after enlightenment and disinterested in knowing Brahman, who is the source of all enlightenment, live in darkness and are indeed blind of vision.
But no one likes to remain in painful darkness. To move towards light is a natural and obvious trait of every one’s nature.
To go after Brahman knowledge is not an acquired or infused aspiration as it is erroneously believed. It is always there within every embodied soul like the tree hidden within the seed, fire hidden within the wood and butter within the milk, waiting to sprout forth under appropriate conditions.
Remaining with the agony of darkness, the soul of the jiva keeps constantly striving to escape. This is the truth behind mumuksyA- the intense desire to unite with Brahman,to come out of the oppressiveness of dark ignorance and get liberated and be free. This is a characteristic of all existence, right from the first embodiment of the soul until the final end of the existence cycle. Circumstances, individual efforts and external influences may decide the degree of this intensity, but this linkage between Brahman and the soul remains unbroken.
The purpose of every existence going through one life after another is to arrive at enlightenment of satchidAnanda.
Let us try to understand this process.
When we try to bring Brahman within our understanding, we are trying to capture this concept of Brahman within the boundaries of our mental cognizance. In trying to do so, what we are attempting is to accommodate Brahman within the limits of our intelligence.
This is a great fallacy. If we accept that we can fit Brahmanwithin defined limits, we have also to accept that beyond this limit Brahman does not exist. This is a contradiction in terms.
Firstly the boundary of mind is never a constant factor. It keeps surpassing itself like a snow ball as knowledge gathering continues. As the mind expands further, should it discover a state of void where Brahman is not existing? What an absurd thought this is. In the first sloka of this upaniahad we began by saying IsAvAsyam idam sarvam. Brahman is sarvavyAptam (all pervading), sarvagatam(reaches out to every where), sarvasthitam (posited everywhere).
This idea of an universal existence, the omni presence implying that wherever the mind takes one, one finds Brahman there, is driven home in the next five slokas of the Upanishad.
Anejat ekam manasah javiyah na enat devAh apnuvan purvam arsat. Tat dhAvatah anyAn atyeti.
We believe Him steadily entrenched as the foundation base of all things that we see. With the same logic we also discover within all things far away. When the mind moves from one thing to another it also discovers the same Brahman already there, as if it has moved faster to reach there supporting and nourishing all things with water, air and other elementary requirements.
Tat ejati tat na ejati
Being everywhere, movement or non-movement, near or far, inside and outside have no meaning for Him.
This confusion only flabbergasts those who do not see Brahman integral to all existence. So the next sloka says:
Yah tu sarvAni bhutAni Atmani eva anupasyati
Yasmin sarvAni bhutani AtmA eva abhut vijAnatah, tatra ka mohah ka sokah ekatvam anupasyatah. (sloka 7)
Sa paryagAt sukram akAyam abranam
All are the same and all are Brahman happens to be the central theme of sanAtan philosophy in its original and profoundest best and that Brahman, happens to be all encompassing (paryagAt), the essential purity (sukram) within every one, identified with everyone and hence not restricted to any particular body (akAyam) with any specific features like flesh muscles, cleavages etc (asnAviram abranam), untainted by any defects (suddham apApaviddham).
Is this awesome potentiality breeds a chaotic cosmos? It does not because there is orderliness borne out of omniscient self knowledge. All chaotic disorder results from inadequate knowledge, incomplete awareness. But for one who knows and aware of everything, how can he be disorderly? Sri Aurobindo observed this in his essay ‘The Supreme Truth consciousness’ in The Life Divine. He said ‘The truth Consciousness is everywhere present in the universe as an ordering self knowledge by which the One manifests the harmonies of its infinite potential multiplicity. Without this ordering self knowledge the manifestation would be merely a shifting chaos, precisely because the potentiality is infinite which by itself might lead only to a play of uncontrolled unbounded Chance.’ There is the truth and law that governs each potentiality. Brahman is source and keeper of Law in the world and seated within everything as the Lord in the heart of everything he turns them into action following the law. All controlling elements are controlled by Him according to their nature (yAthA tathyatah). As Sri Aurobindo explained the sloka: He variously disposed and ordained objects, each rightly according to the thing that it is, from years sempiternal.
So instead of being frustrated by this riddle, the next six slokas go to analyse this riddle.
The sloka 9 says:
As we said earlier to remain in the darkness of ignorance is not the character of the human specie. That will be an inferior beingness. As a blind person is perpetually in darkness, similarly those who do not strive for light of knowledge are always in a world of darkness. To remain satisfied with a state of non-exploration of Brahman, means, we have embraced a world of dark ignorance. That is so uncomfortable. So, one goes after vidyA or knowledge, because knowledge indeed is light.
The true vidyA by definition is adhyAtma or Brahman knowledge, as we have understood from The Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Now our objective is to acquire that knowledge.
But the Upanishad says that as you go after this knowledge you are drawn into greater and greater confusion: Tato bhuya iva te tamah ye u vidyAyAm ratAh. No amount of mere intellectual exercise will solve the riddle for us. Neither avidyA nor vidyA comes to our help.
So does it mean that we ignore both and abandon the path of Beahman exploration?
On the other hand, the seers advise us thus:
Anyat eva Ahuh vidyayAh anyat Ahuh avidyayA
Some say explore avidya in depth to understand Brahman whereas some other say go after vidya to understand Brahman.
That becomes an exasperating riddle.
Normally people understand avidya as that which characterizes with a mind untouched by knowledge and is groping in darkness. But That is only a partial truth. In that dark void is hidden the thirst and emergence of knowledge, as the dark night hides in its womb the undeniable dawn. In order to welcome knowledge one must be first in a state of ‘not knowing’. To receive awriting on the slate, the slate must be in a state of clean bareness. Until the knowledge has dawned the soul does not know the very purpose of its existence. It has no aspiration, no meaning of its being and such a state no better than that of a dead. It is death or mrtyu. Questions like ‘why’ ‘what’ ‘how’ and ‘where’ do not bother it.
But who wants to be in that state? The soul did not enter the body to die. It pines for deathlessness- amrta- continuous self preservation.
The word amrta is not merely a cessation of state of death, but is that exhilarating nectar which when imbibed knowledge stands revealed.
In the allegory of samudramanthan or the churning of the sea, the divine beings did not seek amrta to fight death but to acquire enlightenment with knowledge. Immortality is the enlightened nature of the spirit.
That is the defining difference between death and deathlessness, and not having a desire to simply live a long endless existence.
So the sloka 11 says:
VidyAm ca avidyAm ca yah tat vedah ubhayam saha
Understand vidyA and also understand avidyA. When the significance of both has been understood the soul transcends from ignorance to knowledge- towards Brahman.
But the ignorant mind further wonders: ‘But where is Brahman? If I do not see Him how do I understand Him?’ So he goes after finding Brahman whom he can comprehend through his sense organs, whom he can touch, see, hear, smell or taste. He seeks for an objectivised representative of Brahman.
But we know that Brahman is not an object. He is beyond comprehension by any of our limited faculties. He can be confined to any form, name or characteristic. The earlier slokas 6, 7 and 8 have explained that.
For solution let us move to the slokas 12, 13 and 14.
Andham tamah pravishanti ye asambhutim upAsate
Anyat eva Ahuh sambhavAt anyat Ahuh asambhavAt
Sambhutim ca inAsam ca yah tat vedah ubhayam saha
Searching Brahman through specific forms and physical characteristics without realizing their conditional reality will not reveal Brahman. At the same time if one completely ignores the presence of objects in the creation and their purpose. Trying to explore amongst the abstract numenon or in abstract consciousness of a limited mental faculty, the exercise will be an extremely frustrating one.
Thus, both reality and the unreality, phenomenon and numenon taken together when understood, Brahman is revealed. The purpose of unreality or the world conditions as the causes for them, are part of the divine plan to arrive at Brahman realization. That is Brahman’s great truth behind the entire creation of His.
In philosophical terms all negative syndromes are not isolated from positive syndromes. Their relationship with each other is to be understood. Neti is not absence of Iti, rather it is through neti the understanding of Iti is arrived and one must see through the character of both. This brilliant piece of truth is referred to in the sloka
Hiranmayena pAtrena satyasya apihitam mukham
This hidden truth is to be discovered which is not easy. It is extremely difficult to arrive at the final conclusion as long as we have to depend only on our power of perception with its inherent limitation.
These limitations have to be transcended. With that desire within, the soul prays for the grace of the almighty.
Not the knowledge of truth per se. but the soul wants to see
Pusan ekarse yama surya prajApatya vyuha rashmin samuha tejah
In a beautiful expression the soul aspires to go beyond the knowledge per-se and wants to see the source of all that knowledge. The source of knowledge lies within the knowledge. In this beautiful expression the soul wants even the knowledge to be set aside so that it can see the source- the Brahman- Himself. Brahman is the soul of truth, the dharma of satya.
And, when the ultimate revealation of Brahman happens what it sees?
That happens to be the profound conclusion of the great Isavasya Upanishad. - Soham.
A school of seers are of the opinion that the real Isavasya Upanishad ends here with this realization.
Although not widely known, This Upanishad has two editions. One edition – the madhyandina- concludes Isa with this sloka. The other kanva edition has two more slokas.
But these extra ones are mere ecstatic continuation of the utterance from the soul who has achieved what it set out for.
What more it needs after it has discovered itself within Brahman? It is the culmination of its yoga. This is the state of BrahmasAkshatkAra.
Embodiment after embodiment , ‘lifes’ after ‘lifes’, it strived for this and now that it has got it, he appeals to the elements to take way and destroy all his physical and subtle identifications. I do not need them any more. Let my mind only remember what it has achieved now.
Kratah smara krutam smara
That, I am Him Sah aham asmi
So what is the gist of Isavasya?
It first said in its opening statement:
Isavasyam sarvam idam – everything around is Isa.
And then, goes on to discover – ‘Soham’. I am verily that everything. The outer macro merges into the inner micro.