The final four verses of the Isha Upanishad are recited at the cremation of bodies in India, and are a prayer for ascension to the higher realms that are beyond the compulsion of rebirth in this world. These deal mainly with the sun. Throughout history and throughout the world the sun has been worshipped or considered a symbol of divinity. The full comprehension of the spiritual nature of the sun was discovered in India untold ages ago and embodied in the upanishads.
Light beyond the light
“The face of truth is hidden by thy golden orb, O Sun. That do thou remove, in order that I who am devoted to truth may behold its glory” (Isha Upanishad 15).
The sun illumines us and shows us what we assume to be reality. But actually that seeing veils the Truth (Reality). Therefore we seek to pierce beyond it. However, the sun actually is that Reality, and we must approach it and petition for the removal of its outer light in order that we may behold its inner Light. (More on this later.)
The golden orb
The “golden orb” has more than one meaning, all of which are significant.
1) The most obvious meaning of the golden orb is the sun itself. All plant, animal, and human life on this planet depend upon the sun. It is the subtle powers of sunlight which stimulate growth and evolution. Sunlight particularly stimulates the activity of the higher centers in the brain, especially that of the pineal gland. Even in the depths of the earth a sensitive man can tell when the sun rises and sets above him. The sun appears to illuminate us, but it is a light that covers the Light in order to lead us to the Light. We must use it to go beyond it.
2) All things have an inner and outer life, and that includes the sun. We may say that there is the outer sun of the material universe, and there is also the metaphysical sun of the psychic and spiritual universe. They operate simultaneously, being the same thing. The sun truly awakens us in the deepest sense. As the germinating seed struggles upward toward the sun and out into its life-giving rays, so all higher forms of life reach out for the sun, which acts as a metaphysical magnet, drawing them upward and outward toward ever-expanding consciousness. The Chandogya Upanishad discusses it in this way: “Even as a great extending highway runs between two villages, this one and that yonder, even so the rays of the sun go to both these worlds, this one and that yonder. They start from the yonder sun and enter into the nadis. They start from the nadis and enter into the yonder sun.…When a man departs from this body, then he goes upwards by these very rays or he goes up with the thought of Om. As his mind is failing, he goes to the sun. That, verily, is the gateway of the world, an entering in for the knowers, a shutting out for the non-knowers” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.2, 5).
The solar rays do not just flow into this world, they also draw upward through the sun and beyond. In the human body the process of exhalation and inhalation is related to solar energy, and much of the solar power on which we subsist is drawn into the body through our breathing. The solar rays do not just strike the surface of our body, but actually penetrate into the physical nerves (nadis). The nadis are also the channels in the astral body that correspond to the physical nerves. Just as the electrical impulses flow through the physical nerves, the subtle life force, or prana, flows through the subtle nadis and keeps us alive and functioning. The prana, then, is a vehicle for the solar energies that produce evolution.
When the individual comes into manifestation on this earth he passes from the astral world into the material plane by means of the sun, which is a mass of exploding astral energies, not mere flaming gases. And when the individual has completed his course of evolution within this plane, upon the death of his body he rises upward in his subtle body and passes through the sun into the higher worlds, there to evolve even higher or to pass directly into the depths of the transcendent Brahman.
3) The golden orb is also the entire creation, the means by which through experience the individual spirits can evolve to perfect conscious union with God. Without it we would be unable to attain that union. Yet, just as we use a ladder or stair to ascend and then step beyond it, in the same way the creation is meant to be eventually transcended. We must therefore keep both these aspects in mind while living in this world.
4) The golden orb is also our own mind–that which perceives the world around us and the intelligence which comprehends what is going on and directs our lives accordingly. Potential is not enough; there must be actualization. It is our mind alone that can lead us beyond the mind, our intelligence alone that can lead us onward to intuition. At all stages the mind and intelligence are “golden,” but if we allow ourselves to become stagnated at any point they rapidly “tarnish” and turn from beneficial to harmful. Immersed in this creation, we are like the fish that must keep perpetually moving for they will die of suffocation if they come to a standstill. If we do not move forward we shall move backward–and often mistake it for progress. We must Get On and Get Beyond.
5) Our own Self (atman) is also the golden orb. We must come to know our Self–our true Self–and delight in the Self and wonder at its nature. But that is not enough. We must then pass onward to experience the Self of our Self, the Paramatman. In a sense we transcend the Self–but of course we do not, since the Supreme Self and our individual Self are one. This transcendence must ever be kept in mind, for out of ignorance and even laziness a lot of people like the idea that we need only enter into the experience of our Self and that is the end. The same wrong-headed view abrogates the need for our evolution and assumes that if we smash the machine we will get the picture–or even worse, that there is no picture to see or even a seer to see it. However cleverly this view may be worded or how sophisticated it appears, it is nihilism of the deadliest sort, a ruinous pitfall.
6) The golden orb is also the evolutionary impulse within all things which, though life itself to the evolving spirit, yet urges us to continual transcendence of its various stages until we transcend it as well. It is a golden stair that urges us onward to the heights where it cannot come.
The Supreme Sun
The ultimate Golden Orb is the Supreme Self. That is what we are striving toward. Being transcendent, how shall we reach it? By means of Its immanence within the world in the form of the individual and universal Self. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita: “At the hour of death, when a man leaves his body, he must depart with his consciousness absorbed in Me. Then he will be united with Me. Be certain of that. Whatever a man remembers at the last, when he is leaving the body, will be realized by him in the hereafter; because that will be what his mind has most constantly dwelt on, during this life. Therefore you must remember Me at all times, and do your duty. If your mind and heart are set upon Me constantly, you will come to Me. Never doubt this. Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, Who is the light-giver, the highest of the high” (Bhagavad Gita 8:5-10).
Simply wanting a thing does not make it happen or come to us. In the same way, spiritual daydreaming is fruitless. Therefore, he who petitions for the removal of the golden orb describes himself as “I who am devoted to truth.” He is one who wishes to pass from the unreal to the Real, to no longer live in the magic of Maya, but to move onward to the Reality behind all appearance. And he does not just seek truth or think about it–he is devoted to truth. Only those “may behold its glory.”
Stop! so I may Go
“O nourisher, only seer, controller of all–O illumining Sun, fountain of life for all creatures–withhold thy light, gather together thy rays. May I behold through thy grace thy most blessed form. The Being that dwells therein even that Being am I” (Isha Upanishad 16).
In Indian philosophy God is often thought of as Mother. This verse bears that out, speaking of the divine as the Nourisher of all beings, the Fountain of Life. God the Mother is frequently addressed in Sanskrit hymns as Jagata Janani, Jagata Palani–the Birthgiver and Nourisher of the world (jagat). In Eastern Christianity, one title given to the Virgin Mother Mary is “Life-giving Spring.” God is also the Seer of All, the Ruler of All, as this verse indicates.
The petitioner then makes an interesting request: “Withhold thy light, gather together thy rays.” How is this? Why does he not ask that the light should flood down upon him? Because the “light” he is speaking of is not the Absolute Light, but the light of relative existence which by its nature veils that Ultimate Light. He asks, then, that God withdraw the light of temporality in order that he might behold and enter into the Light of Eternity.
This has a yogic aspect, as well. We must withdraw all the scattered “rays” of our energies and awareness and unite them to our inmost consciousness. We must gather up that which is dispersed and fragmented and restore our original state of unity. Meditation is the only way this can be accomplished.
“May I behold through thy grace thy most blessed form.” Two questions arise (or should arise) at these words. What is the grace of God? What is the form of God?
The grace of God is not some kind of favor dropped into our lap by God. Nor is grace something occasionally dispensed by God as a special token to the chosen. All that exists–either relatively or absolutely–is the grace of God. There is nothing that is not the grace of God. If we like, we may say that the grace of God is the Divine Plan for our liberation. And the creation, gross and subtle, is the means for the realization of that Plan, and is itself Grace Divine. So to petition God for grace is as silly as fish in the ocean praying for water. It is inseparable from us. The grace through which we behold God is the great onward movement initiated by God at the inception of the cosmos.
The Form of God is not a form such as that experienced in relative existence, but is the Substance, the Light, from which all forms arise. It can be said to be formless, and yet all forms exist within it eternally. The Form “of” God IS God. When we see God we also see ourselves in God and can then declare: “The Being that dwells therein even that Being am I.”
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Final Aspiration
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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