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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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Chapter 1 from The Upanishads for Awakening

In the beginning this (world) was only the Self [Atman], in the shape of a person. Looking around he saw nothing else than the Self. He first said, I am Soham [I am That]. (1.4.1)

Soham is the “first speaking” of the Absolute Itself: the expression of the knowledge and knowing of the Self. Soham is the Name (Embodiment) of the Primeval Being, the Self of the Universe and the Self of our Selfs. Soham is the Consciousness of Brahman and of the Self of each one of us. We, too, are Soham.

In the section of the Yoga Sutras (1:27) dealing with Ishwara, the Supreme Lord, also known as Viraj, Patanjali makes this statement: Tasya vachakah pranavah–“His vachaka is the pranava.” “Vachaka” means speech or speaking. “Pranava” means Life, Life-Giver and Breath Principle: the Breath Word. It is commonly thought of as Om, but integrating this with the verse we have been considering, we see that the Breath Word is Soham. For “he first said: ‘Soham.’” Patanjali continues regarding the Pranava: “Its constant repetition and meditation [is the way]. From it [result] the disappearance of obstacles [to enlightenment] and turning inward of consciousness” (1:28-29). Soham is the Breath and Life Word. Ishwara “speaks” Soham as the foundation of the universe, as the evolutionary life force within the cosmos and every individual being.

This is a key verse in the Upanishads, as it relates to both the philosophy of our true nature and the interior yogic process by which we realize it. We invoke our lower self when we say “I,” but in meditation we invoke our higher, divine Self when we mentally intone Soham in time with the breath: So when we inhale, and ham when we exhale. (See Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self regarding this as the means to Self-realization.) In the sixteenth verse of the Isha Upanishad it says: “I am that Purusha: I am Soham.”

At that time this [universe] was undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form. He [the Self] entered in here, as a razor is [hidden] in the razor-case, or as fire in the fire-source. The Self is to be meditated upon, for in it all these become one. (1.4.7)
At that time this [universe] was undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form.

At first only undifferentiated Unity existed, but inherent in It was all relative existence. Consequently it expanded into the cosmos–causal, astral, and physical–which is nothing but endless variations of name (nama) and form (rupa). This could only be true because the universe is fundamentally ideational (conceptual) in nature, and only an idea or dream in the consciousness of God and all sentient beings. Everything we see or experience is a thought in the minds of God and ourselves. That is why liberation is only a matter of awakening, of the transformation of consciousness. Even good deeds are really just good thoughts. Thought and act are the same thing, however differently they may seem to us who are asleep in the dream. Enlightenment is living awake in the dream. (See the recording of Paramhansa Yogananda, Awake in the Cosmic Dream.) This is why all true yoga takes place solely in the mind, even if we experience physical phenomena during its practice. And the results we are after are purely psychological. This is a major fact for yogis to know.

The only way we can manage in the world of duality is to acknowledge and deal with name and form as realities, which they are, but only temporary ones. It is when we think they are all there is to life, here or hereafter, that we get into delusion and the misery of samsara begins and lasts long, through creation cycles. To awaken from the dream and be free is an option open only to the yogi who knows, “I am Soham.”

Meditation on that which is not the Self is pointless. Leaving name and form behind we must begin with the invocation of non-dual Reality that in the beginning was Soham. (Again, see Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self.)

That Self is dearer than everything else and is innermost. (1.4.8)

Nothing that is finite and external to us can satisfy us, because the only reality is infinite and within us. And that infinite and inmost entity is our own Self.

Those who seek the Self as not just the highest but the only good, certainly see the world around them in a manner totally opposite to those who do not hold the Self as dearer than everything else and innermost.

Whoever worships another divinity (than his Self) thinking that he is one and (Brahman) another, he knows not. (1.4.10)

If we begin with ignorance we will end up with ignorance. Those who approach spiritual life with any perspective other than the truth of their identity with the Self and the Supreme Self, Brahman, will not come to the Knowing that is really Self-realization, the awakening into the consciousness of the Self and Brahman, the Self of the Self.

Even if one performs a great and holy work, but without knowing this, that work of his is exhausted in the end. One should meditate only on the Self as his (true) world. The work of him who meditates on the Self alone as his world is not exhausted for, out of that very Self he creates whatsoever he desires. (1.4.15)

All that we attain outside the knowledge of the Self will melt and vanish away. This is the simple truth. Therefore Atmajnana, knowledge of the Self, should be the central pursuit of our life.

Only a matter of days before commenting on this verse, I read in a book of the teachings of Sri Gajanana Maharaj, a great twentieth century master yogi, that the yogi who applies himself to sadhana for the realization of the Self becomes himself the granter of all his desires.

The great teacher, Ajatashatru, was asked by a man named Gargya to teach him the truth about Brahman. Ajatashatru agrees, and this is what occurred:

Taking him [Gargya] by the hand he rose. The two together came to a person who was asleep. They addressed him with these names: Great, White-robed, Radiant Soma. The man did not get up. He woke him by rubbing him with his hand. He then got up. (2.1.15)

Occasionally in the Upanishads we find humor used to make a point, and this is one of them. Coming across a sleeping man, Ajatashatru addressed him as the divine Self: “Great, White–robed, Radiant Soma.” But it did no good, for the man was unconscious. It was pointless to address him at all. In the same way, all the positive affirming and philosophizing are worthless if the speaker and the hearers are spiritually asleep! Such sleepers do not need high-sounding words about the Self: they need to awaken. So Ajatashatru shook him until he woke up. We need to be shaken up, to awaken and see with our real eyes and hear with our real ears. Otherwise nothing meaningful will go on. The truth being spoken to us means nothing if we are not awake to hear it. Yoga is the great awakener. Other factors can disturb our sleep, get us to open our eyes a bit and then go back to sleep and just mumble and turn over and sleep on. But yoga alone fully awakens us. All the religion and piety mean absolutely nothing if we are not awake and clear in the mind.

Verily, not for the sake of all is all dear, but all is dear for the sake of the Self. Verily, it is the Self that should be seen, heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. Verily, by the seeing of, by the hearing of, by the thinking of, by the understanding of the Self, all this is known. (2.4.5)

The Self (Atman) is of the nature of bliss (ananda). When something makes us happy, it is not the thing itself that is the source of happiness, but rather the touch of the joy that is the Self which we experience. Actually, our response to that thing opens the barrier between us and the Self for a while, and like the light coming through the shutter of a camera we get a flash, a glimpse, of the bliss of the Self. What we are really valuing is that touch of the Self, but in our ignorance we think those objects are the source. Therefore it really is because of (“for the sake of”) the Self that they are thought by us as dear.

The wise seek to know the Self through study, deep thought, and meditation upon the Self. And we are assured that “by the seeing of, by the hearing of, by the thinking of, by the understanding of the Self, all this is known.”

To know the Self is to know everything. To not know the Self is to know nothing.

As a lump of salt thrown in water becomes dissolved in water and there would not be any of it to seize forth as it were, but wherever one may take [taste] it is salty indeed, so, verily, this great being, infinite, limitless, consists of nothing but consciousness [samjnana]. (2.4.12-14)

Nothing exists but infinite, limitless Consciousness: Brahman. There is no place or no thing that is not essentially Consciousness. The Self-realized person perceives this directly and continuously. The enlightened individual does not go into a kind of non-dual coma in which nothing is perceived. Rather, those who know Brahman still hear and see names and forms as before, but now they know that they are seeing only the Supreme Self. They do not just believe that, they perceive that to be so. Only the One remains, however many things might be seen in the cosmic dream.

This shining, immortal person who is in this earth and with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal person who is in the body, he, indeed, is just this Self. This is immortal, this is Brahman, this is all. (2.5.1)

Within this material creation, as the Projector of the dream creation, is the self-luminous, immortal Person, the Parampurusha, the Cosmic Dreamer. And within this material body is the self-luminous, immortal Self, the jiva, the individual purusha who is dreaming along with the Dreamer its personal, finite dream of incarnation after incarnation.

This Self, verily, is the lord of all beings, the king of all beings. As all the spokes are held together in the hub and felly of a wheel, just so, in this Self, all beings, all gods, all worlds, all breathing creatures, all these selves are held together. This, verily, is the person dwelling in all bodies. There is nothing that is not covered by him, nothing that is not pervaded by him. This Brahman is without an earlier and without a later, without an inside, without an outside. This Brahman is the Self, the all-perceiving. (2.5.15, 18, 19)

It is this dynamic Unity beyond past, future, inside or outside which we must realize and recognize as the Self of our Self, the Consciousness in our consciousness.

Perhaps the greatest of the sages whose teaching are presented in the Upanishads was Yajnavalkya. He was once asked:
Since everything here [in this world] is pervaded by death, since everything is overcome by death, by what means does the sacrificer free himself from the reach of death?
[Yajnavalkya replied:] By speech [vak]. Verily, through speech. This [speech] is freedom [mukti–liberation], this is complete freedom. (3.1.3)

By the power of sound liberation is attained, as is stated by the last sutra of the Brahma Sutras. Through mantric invocation of the Immortal, the yogi becomes liberated, not partially but completely.

Yajnavalkya, said he: When such a person [a liberated sage] dies, do the vital breaths move up from him or do they not?
No, replied Yajnavalkya. They are gathered together in him. (3.2.11)

Just as a snake sheds its skin, so the liberated person leaves his material (annamaya) body behind. But his subtle astral and causal energy bodies merge into him, are literally transmuted and assumed into spirit. For after all, everything is essentially spirit in manifestation.

Yajnavalkya, said he: When such a person dies, what is it that does not leave him?
The name. The name is infinite. Thereby he [who knows this] wins an infinite world. (3.2.12)

“Name” here means the mantric designation/embodiment of the Self, of Pure Consciousness: Soham. In the very first verse I have commented on it says that the Cosmic Self in the beginning first said: Soham asmi: “I Am Soham.” And as we will see later in the sixteenth verse of the Isha Upanishad, the departing Self says exactly the same: “I Am Soham.”

He who breathes in with your breathing in is the Self of yours which is in all things. He who breathes out with your breathing out is the Self of yours which is in all things. He is your Self which is in all things. (3.4.1)

Inhalation and exhalation are direct manifestations of the Self, and therefore breath yoked to sound is the yogi’s indispensible tool. It is the Self which breathes within the breath, vibrating So during inhalation and Ham during exhalation. Therefore the yogi observes his breath and mentally intones the same in order to link with and merge into the consciousness that is his Self.

You cannot see the seer of seeing, you cannot hear the hearer of hearing, you cannot think the thinker of thinking, you cannot understand the understander of understanding. He is your Self which is in all things. Everything else is of pain [arta]. (3.4.2)

Sri Ramakrishna was once asked: “What is the Self?” He answered: “The witness of the mind,” which includes all the perceptions of the senses. It is Consciousness Itself.

Arta means pain(ed), distress(ed) and affliction (afflicted), which certainly apply to both the world and those in it. Everything but the Self is arta.

He who dwells in all beings, yet is within all beings, whom no beings know, whose body is all beings, who controls all beings from within, he is your Self, the inner controller, the immortal. Thus far with reference to the beings. Now with reference to the Self.
He who dwells in the breath, yet is within the breath, whom the breath does not know, whose body the breath is, who controls the breath from within, he is your Self, the inner controller, the immortal. (3.7.15-16)

Again we see why breath is indispensible to the yogi, and why the breath is the foundation of authentic Raja Yoga–not the contortions of the breath produced by the breathing exercises of Hatha Yoga, but the Atmic Breath, the natural, spontaneous breath of the Self which vibrates So and Ham as its essence.

Verily, that Imperishable is unseen but is the seer, is unheard but is the hearer, unthought but is the thinker, unknown but is the knower. There is no other seer but this, there is no other hearer but this, there is no other thinker but this, there is no other knower but this. (3.8.11)

Infinite Consciousness pervades everything. That is Brahman. And the Katha Upanishad says to each one of us: Tat Twam Asi: Thou Art That.

Then Vidagdha Sakalya asked him, How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
He answered: Three hundred and three, and three thousand and three.
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
Thirty three.
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
One and a half.
How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?
One. (3.9.1)

Depending on how we look at it, there are many gods and yet only One. In the following twenty-seven verses there are enumerations of the gods indicated by all the numbers before One. You will find them in the complete translation of the Upanishads. But at the very end we find this:

Which is the one God?
The Breath [Prana]. He is Brahman. They call him tyat [that]. (3.9.9)

Here again we see why the breath is an indispensable element of yoga sadhana.

The Self is not this, not this [neti, neti]. He is incomprehensible for he is never comprehended. He is undestructible for he cannot be destroyed. He is unattached for he does not attach himself. He is unfettered, he does not suffer, he is not injured. (4.2.4)

This very clear, but let us recall the glorious words of the Bhagavad Gita:

“It is known that the unreal never comes to be, and the real never ceases to be. The certainty of both of these principles is seen by those who see the truth. Know indeed that That by which all this universe is pervaded is indestructible. There is no one whatsoever capable of the destruction of the Eternal.

“Neither is the Self slain, nor yet does it die at any time; nor having been will it ever come not to be. Birthless, eternal, perpetual, primeval, it is not slain whenever the body is slain. This Self by weapons is cut not; this Self by fire is burnt not; this Self by water is wet not; and this Self is by wind dried not. This Self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted, nor dried. This primeval Self is eternal, all-pervading, and immovable. Unmanifest, unthinkable, this Self is called unchangeable” (2:16-17, 20, 23-25)

That Self is, indeed, Brahman, consisting of [or identified with] the understanding, mind, life, sight, hearing, earth, water, air, ether, light and no light, desire and absence of desire, anger and absence of anger, righteousness and absence of righteousness and all things. This is what is meant by saying, [it] consists of this [what is perceived], consists of that [what is inferred]. According as one acts, according as one behaves, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action. Others, however, say that a person consists of desires. As is his desire so is his will; as is his will, so is the deed he does, whatever deed he does, that he attains. (4.4.5)

This is a description of both Brahman and the Self in their relation with relative existence. It is especially an outline of the dream-life of the individual spirit. For in all these identifications and changes, the Self is unchanging, in all these births and deaths the Self remains birthless and deathless. The fact that we so easily forget this truth is evidence of how good we are at fooling ourselves. We are always masters of the situation.

I especially want to point out that the Upanishad is not saying that by doing good one becomes good. Rather it is saying that good dream actions produce good dreams, that the quality of the role the individual person is playing in the dream changes according to the person’s actions. But it is only a drama, the reality being that the Self is never really a part of relativity, nor can the dreams of relativity affect the true, transcendent nature of the Self, any more than Brahman is affected by the changes of the dream creation.

On this there is the following verse: “The object to which the mind is attached, the subtle Self goes together with the deed, being attached to it alone. Exhausting the results of whatever works he did in this world he comes again from that world, to this world for [fresh] work.” This [is for] the man who desires. But the man who does not desire, he who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose desire is the Self, his breaths do not depart. Being Brahman he goes to Brahman.
On this there is the following verse: “When all the desires that dwell in the heart are cast away, then does the mortal become immortal, then he attains Brahman here [in this very body].” Just as the slough of a snake lies on an anthill, dead, cast off, even so lies this body. But this disembodied, immortal life is Brahman only, is light indeed.
On this there are the following verses: “The narrow ancient path which stretches far away, has been touched [found] by me, has been realized by me. By it, the wise, the knowers of Brahman go up to the heavenly world after the fall of this body, being freed [even while living].
“That path was found by a Brahmana and by it goes the knower of Brahman, the doer of right and the shining one.” (4.4.6-9)

The way to realization is subtle. Without refinement of mind and the interior faculties of perception, yoga is not going on. Yoga is itself the purification of the mind and heart in order to allow the highest powers of the individual to come into play and transform his life and consciousness. This is a total overhaul of external and internal life, and yet it is only a part of yoga.

The yogic path is long and “stretches far away.” It takes lifetimes–many if we dawdle, and not so many if we knuckle down and put our whole heart into it. So we need to get busy. There can be no periods of coasting along, deluding ourselves that our liberation is assured and just around the next corner. Buddha meditated and engaged in intense discipline right up to the moment of his leaving the body, even though he had attained enlightenment decades before. And so did Swami Sivananda. All real yogis do the same.

The successful yogi is “freed even while living.” Liberation takes place right here in this world which is no longer an obstacle to enlightenment. By changing himself the yogi changes the effect the world has on him. What hindered him before now helps him. The once-closed door is now open to him. Death is the final going through that door. For him there will be no return unless he wills it.

It is interesting that “The narrow ancient path which stretches far away has been found by me” is paraphrased in the esoteric Creed of the Wedgwood-Leadbeater Mass, which says: “We believe in the Law of Good which rules the world and by which one day all His sons shall reach the feet of the Father, however far they stray: We strive towards the ancient narrow path that leads to life eternal. So shall His blessing rest on us and peace forevermore. Amen.”

Into blind darkness enter they who worship ignorance; into greater darkness than that, as it were, they that delight in knowledge [enter].
Those worlds covered with blind darkness are called joyless. To them after death go those people who have not knowledge, who are not awakened. (4.4.10-11)

Those who worship the darkness of ignorance enter the realms of darkness after death. And those devoted to knowledge that is no true knowledge at all, but also ignorance, enter into even darker worlds after death. That is why Jesus said: “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). For if we are deluded and our “light” which we think is knowledge is really false and is darkness, we will never seek the true light.

Any relative world is fundamentally joyless and enveloped in darkness, so the truly wise understand. No world is fit to live in, for they are all realms of death and constant change. There is no peace possible for those who live therein. But those who know the Self have ended that compulsion, for:

If a person knows the Self as “I am this [purusha],” then wishing what, and for desire of what should he suffer in the body? (4.4.12)

Needing nothing more than the Self, to what pain or trouble will he impel himself, for whom or to what purpose? He abides in complete realization: I am the purusha, the Self. Desire being the root of rebirth, when it is eliminated rebirth vanishes along with it.

Whoever has found and has awakened to the Self that has entered into this perilous, inaccessible place [the body], he is the maker of the universe, for he is the maker of all. His is the world, indeed he is the world itself. (4.4.13)

Since the Self wills the entry into relative existence and the lives therein, it “makes” the universe. For the universe is but a dream within a dream, the dream of the individual Self within the dream of the Supreme Self.

Verily, while we are here we may know this; if [we know it] not we would be ignorant, great is the destruction. Those who know this become immortal while others go only to sorrow. (4.4.14)

This is a truth which our earthly experiences prove over and over, yet human beings run after everything but Brahman, thinking that outside Brahman peace and fulfillment is possible. The suffering may be very subtle, but it will be there, nonetheless.

If one clearly beholds him as the Self, as God, as the lord of what has been and what will be, he does not shrink away from him. (4.4.15)

Since darkness is dispelled by light, those who dwell in darkness while thinking it is light run away from the light lest it take away their false “light.” Insane as it is, humans run after that which pains and destroys them and run away from that which can end all suffering and death for them. This is what it means to be truly negative: darkness is seen as light and light is seen as darkness. It is like a photographic negative in which the light portions are dark and the dark portions are light. As long as we cling to the unreal, to darkness and to death, we cannot be led to the Real, to the Light and to Immortality. What a terrible condition!

That in front of which the year revolves with its days, that the gods worship as the light of lights, as life immortal.
That in which the five groups of five and space are established, that alone I regard as the Self. Knowing that immortal Brahman I am immortal. (4.4.16-17)

In this creation, things are grouped in fives, such as the five senses, the five bodies, etc.. All rest in the immortal Self. When one knows that Self as Brahman, he realizes: “I am immortal.”

I am simply going to give much of the rest of this section without comment, because by now I am sure you get the idea which has been repeated in so many various and wise ways. And yet I hope you feel like Arjuna when he told Krishna: “Explain to me further in detail your powers and manifestations. I am never satiated with hearing your amrita-like words” (Bhagavad Gita 10:18).
They who know the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear and the mind of the mind, they have realized the ancient primordial Brahman.
Only by the mind is it to be perceived. In it there is no diversity. He goes from death to death, who sees in it, as it were, diversity.
This indemonstrable and constant being can be realized as one only. The Self is taintless, beyond space, unborn, great and constant.
Let a wise Brahmana after knowing him alone, practice [the means to] wisdom. Let him not reflect on many words, for that is mere weariness of speech.
Verily, he is the great unborn Self who is this [person] consisting of knowledge among the senses. In the space within the heart lies the controller of all, the lord of all, the ruler of all. He does not become greater by good works nor smaller by evil works. He is the bridge that serves as the boundary to keep the different worlds apart. Him the Brahmanas seek to know by the study of the Veda, by sacrifices, by gifts, by penance, by fasting. On knowing Him in truth, one becomes an ascetic. Desiring Him only as their worlds, monks wander forth. Verily, because they know this, the ancient [sages] did not wish for offspring. What shall we do with offspring [they said], we who have attained this Self, this world. They, having risen above the desire for sons, the desire for wealth, the desire for worlds, led the life of a mendicant. For the desire for sons is the desire for wealth and the desire for wealth is the desire for worlds; both these are, indeed, desires only. The Self is [that which has been described as] Not This; Not This. He is incomprehensible for He is never comprehended. He is indestructible for He cannot be destroyed. He is unattached for He does not attach himself. He is unfettered, He does not suffer, He is not injured. Him [who knows this] these two [thoughts] do not overcome, for some reason he has done evil or for some reason he has done good. He overcomes both what he has done or what he has not done does not burn [affect] him.
This very [doctrine] has been expressed in the hymn. This eternal greatness of the knower of Brahman is not increased by work nor diminished. One should know the nature of that alone. Having found that, one is not tainted by evil action. Therefore he who knows it as such, having become calm, Self-controlled, withdrawn, patient and collected sees the Self in his own Self, sees all in the Self. Evil does not overcome him, he overcomes all evil. Evil does not burn [affect] him, he burns [consumes] all evil. Free from evil, free from taint, free from doubt he becomes a knower of Brahma. This is the world of Brahma.
This is that great unborn Self who is undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless, Brahman. Verily, Brahman is fearless. He who knows this becomes the fearless Brahman. (4.4.18-25)

In the space [akasha] within the heart lies…. The ultimate Self of all is Brahman that dwells in each sentient being. It can be said of each of them what Saint Paul said about Jesus: “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). He would also have said it about anyone who attained perfect realization, for Saint Paul very plainly stated: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit [with him]” (I Corinthians 6:17). (Apparently the State Church editors missed that in their revision of the Bible.) The difference between Jesus (and any master) and other sentient beings is that he knew the Indweller and they did not. The Self is surrounded by the senses like someone in a theater that has a 360-degree screen. All of us really are “in the picture,” and that is most of our problem.

He is the intellect of the intellect. Every faculty, every quality we possess, is derived from the Self and has its primal archetype in Brahman. This is because everything exists within Brahman as an eternal potential.
The controller of all, the lord of all, the ruler of all. This is extremely important. The Upanishads continually remind us that Brahman is transcendent and beyond all qualities or conception. Yet here we see that Brahman has an intimate relation with all creation, is in contact with all things, and controls all things. Brahman is also Ishwara, the Lord. So it is an error to try to push Brahman completely out of the picture and exile It to a void that is antithetical to all we presently know or are. Brahman is indeed both This and That. In a short while we will be examining a verse that sums this up quite well.

He does not become greater by good works nor smaller by evil works.

Brahman never acts, as both the Upanishads and the Gita insist. So what does this mean? It means that the actions of sentient beings in no way change the Self, nor do they increase or decrease the presence of the Self. However, good actions do help us to perceive the Self as present, and evil actions dim our mental vision and cause us to lose awareness of the Self. Because of that we may think that the Self is affected and drawn closer or pushed away, but we will be wrong. Reality is untouched and unaffected by our delusions and illusions.

Our gratitude for this wisdom should be wholehearted. Who can calculate the lives we have passed struggling to comprehend the truth of things before at last these great truths have come into the sphere of our life and become known to us? May we hasten to the realization of these eternal truths.

The simultaneous immanent and transcendent nature of Brahman and the Self is not easy to grasp. But the first half of the following verse from the next section of the Upanishad is very helpful.

That is full [purna], this is full. From fullness fullness proceeds. If we take away the fullness of fullness, even [only] fullness then remains. (5.1.1)

The word translated “full” is purna, which means both full and complete, the totality of something. In this verse it means the totality of being: Brahman. So it tells us that the Transcendent (Nirguna Brahman) is the total Reality; but so is the Immanent (Saguna Brahman). The Unmanifest is all that is–and so is the Manifest. The Immanent is an emanation from the Transcendent. If we confine our awareness to the Immanent we will find it to be the Totality of Being. If we turn to the Transcendent and intellectually negate the Immanent, we will perceive that the Transcendent is All. How is this? Because they are one and the same. Further, Brahman cannot be labeled or described, so even the words immanent and transcendent cannot be absolutely applied to It.

The threefold offspring of Prajapati, gods, men and demons [asuras], lived with their father Prajapati as students of sacred knowledge. Having completed their studentship the gods said, Please tell [instruct] us, sir. To them then, he uttered the syllable Da [and asked] Have you understood? They [said], We have understood, you said to us damyata, control yourselves. He said, Yes, you have understood.
Then the men said to him, Please tell [instruct] us, sir. To them he uttered the same syllable Da [and asked] Have you understood? They said, We have understood. You said to us: give. He said, Yes, you have understood.
Then the demons said to him, Please tell [instruct] us, sir. To them he uttered the same syllable Da and asked, Have you understood? They said, We have understood, you said to us, dayadhvam, be compassionate. He said, Yes, you have understood.
This very thing the heavenly voice of thunder repeats: Da, Da, Da, that is, control yourselves, give, be compassionate. One should practice this same triad: self-control, giving and compassion (5.2.1-3)

Gods, men, and asuras make up our present human nature. The gods are the parts of us that are superior to the normal human condition. They have arisen as we have begun to evolve to the point where we can take the next step up on the evolutionary ladder. Men are our human traits, and the asuras are their negative distortions as well as the animal traits that we have brought along with us in our evolutionary journey through prehuman forms. Consequently the advice to be self-controlled, charitable and compassionate applies to us. And its following will ensure our continued evolution.

And so ends the wisdom part of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The rest of the Upanishad is a collection of cosmological, philosophical and ritualistic snippets. So I need not comment on them.

Read the next chapter in The Upanishads for AwakeningThe Chandogya Upanishad

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Introduction to The Upanishads for Awakening

Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:

The Story of the Upanishads

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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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