Those who discourse on Brahman say: What is the cause? [Is it] Brahman? Whence are we born? By what do we live? And on what are we established? O ye who know Brahman, [tell us] presided over by whom do we live our different conditions in pleasures and other than pleasures [pains]. (1.1)
“Those who discourse on Brahman” is the translation of the Sanskrit word Brahmavadin which literally means “one who walks the path to Brahman.” Of course, every sentient being is on the path to Brahman, but the Upanishad is referring to those who not only know that fact, but are consciously walking the path, taking charge of their life and therefore their evolution. In other words, they are yogis. Certainly they read spiritual texts and respect spiritual teachers, and they use their intelligent reason. But their real inquiry, their real search, arises from within themselves.
There is no need to analyze this verse, but the Upanishad is showing us what real seekers of Brahman want to know. They realize that unless they know how the whole scheme works they will not be able to work their way out of it. Simplistic people think all they need do is learn some yoga practices, but they are mistaken. We have to know the lay of the land, both inner and outer, and order our entire life accordingly. Otherwise yoga is as useless as a wet match in a rainstorm.
Time, inherent nature [swabhava], necessity, chance, the elements, the womb or the person [should they] be considered as the cause? It cannot be a combination of these because of the existence of the soul. Even the soul is powerless in respect of the cause of pleasure and pain. (1.2)
Through ignorance we blame all these things for what happens to us, considering that they are being imposed on us regardless of our will or desire. We also consider that they are the forces pushing us to act or think as we do, and that they produce in us various reactions. In sum, we ignore the sole truth that all our deeds and thoughts proceed from within, that our responses are manifestations of our inner disposition (swabhava). Both the ignorant and the wise live from inside out: all is a spontaneous flow from within. Outer circumstances are only a mirroring of that inner landscape I just mentioned.
Those who followed after [were devoted to] meditation and contemplation and saw the Self-power of the Divine hidden in its own qualities. He is the one who rules over all these causes from time to the soul. (1.3)
So what is the cause of all? Divine power–devatma shaktim, the power of the divine Self. There is no other power or force in the universe. And although that power is manifested outside us (mostly), we cannot discover it except by turning within and plumbing the depths of our inner consciousness that is untouched by all phenomena.
[We understand] Him [as a wheel] with one felly, with three tires, sixteen ends, fifty spokes, twenty counter-spokes and six sets of eights, whose one rope is manifold, which has three different paths, whose one delusion [arises] from two causes.
We meditate on him as a river of five streams, from five sources, fierce and crooked, whose waves are the five vital breaths, whose original source is the fivefold perception, with five whirlpools, an impetuous flood of five pains, divided into fifty kinds [of suffering] with five branches.
In this vast brahma-wheel, which enlivens all things, in which all rest, the soul flutters about thinking that the Self in him and the Mover [the Lord] are different. Then, when blessed by Him, he gains life eternal. (1.4-6)
The speculations by commentators about what all these lists mean are tenuous and tedious. All we need get from this verse is this: The entire evolving universe within which we ourselves are evolving is Brahman and our Self within Brahman. At first “the soul flutters about thinking that the Self in him and the Mover [the Lord] are different.” This is immersion in samsara. “Then, when blessed by him, he gains life eternal” by realizing the truth that his Self and Brahman are one.
This has been sung as the supreme Brahman and in it is the triad. It is the firm support, the imperishable. The knowers of Brahman by knowing what is therein become merged in Brahman, intent thereon and freed from birth. (1.7)
Brahman has been “sung” in the Vedas and Upanishads as threefold (trayam): transcendent (Parabrahman), immanent (Ishwara) and the entire range of relative existence (Prakriti)
Union with Brahman is the only freedom, and that is accomplished through perfection (siddhi) in yoga. In this way cause and effect are transcended.
The Lord supports all this which is a combination of the mutable and the immutable, the manifest and the unmanifest. And the soul, not being the Lord, is bound because of his being an enjoyer. By knowing God [the soul] is freed from all fetters. (1.8)
The soul, not being the Lord, is bound because of his being an enjoyer. By experiencing through the mind and senses the continual stimulation of the world, the jiva becomes bound through and to the mind and senses and all they lead it into from birth to birth.
By knowing God [the soul] is freed from all fetters. Forgetting is bondage, remembering is freedom. To say that mind, matter, and Maya are only illusion and non-existent accomplishes nothing. We must come to know that they are the dreams of God, plays of the Consciousness that IS God. And this is done only by the illumination of our own consciousness.
There are two unborn ones, the knowing and the unknowing, the one all-powerful, the other powerless. Indeed there is [another] one who is unborn, connected with the enjoyer and the objects of enjoyment. And there is the infinite Self, of universal form, non-active. When one finds out this triad, that is Brahman. (1.9)
This triad is spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita. “Om, Tat, Sat: this is known as the triple designation of Brahman” (17:23). Sat, the Real, the Absolute, is the transcendent Brahman. Tat is Ishwara, Brahman immanent in (and within) creation as its guide and controller. Om is the entire vibratory creation, Mahashakti, Mulaprakriti.
What is perishable is the pradhana [primary matter]. What is immortal and imperishable is Hara [the Lord]. Over both the perishable and the soul the one God rules. By meditating on Him, by uniting with Him, by reflecting on His being more and more, there is complete cessation from the illusion of the world.
By knowing God there is a falling off of all fetters. When the sufferings are destroyed, there is cessation of birth and death. By meditating on Him, there is the third state, on the dissolution of the body, universal lordship, being alone, his desire is fulfilled. (1.10-11)
Meditation alone is the key to all this.
That Eternal which rests in the Self should be known. Truly there is nothing beyond this to be known. By knowing the enjoyer, the object of enjoyment and the mover [of all], everything has been said. This is the threefold Brahman. (1.12)
Many people assume that since they are always the Self, are always really one with Brahman, there is nothing to be done. It is true that nothing can make us anything that we are not already. But yoga can open our eyes to see what we are, and always have been. Those asleep and dreaming need to awaken, and yoga is the process of awakening, as the next two verses indicate.
As oil in sesamum seeds, as butter in cream, as water in riverbeds, as fire in friction sticks, so is the Self seized in one’s own soul if one looks for Him with truthfulness and austerity.
The Self which pervades all things as butter is contained in milk, which is the root of Self-knowledge and austerity, that is the Brahman, the highest mystic doctrine. That is the highest mystic doctrine. (1.15-16)
No more need be said.
The next seven verses are extremely obscure in the Sanskrit original. Fortunately we have the commentary of Shankara whose stupendous intellect and perfect Self-realization rendered him capable of explaining them. Swami Prabhavananda translated them according to Shankara’s insight, so I am including them here.
To realize God, first control the outgoing senses and harness the mind. Then meditate upon the light in the heart of the fire–meditate, that is, upon pure consciousness as distinct from the ordinary consciousness of the intellect. Thus the Self, the Inner Reality, may be seen behind physical appearance.
Control your mind so that the Ultimate Reality, the self-luminous Lord, may be revealed. Strive earnestly for eternal bliss.
With the help of the mind and the intellect, keep the senses from attaching themselves to objects of pleasure. They will then be purified by the light of the Inner Reality, and that light will be revealed.
The wise control their minds, and unite their hearts with the infinite, the omniscient, the all-pervading Lord. Only discriminating souls practice spiritual disciplines. Great is the glory of the self-luminous being, the Inner Reality.
Hear, all ye children of immortal bliss, also ye gods who dwell in the high heavens: Follow only in the footsteps of the illumined ones, and by continuous meditation merge both mind and intellect in the eternal Brahman. The glorious Lord will be revealed to you.
Control the vital force. Set fire to the Self within by the practice of meditation. Be drunk with the wine of divine love. Thus shall you reach perfection.
Be devoted to the eternal Brahman. Unite the light within you with the light of Brahman. Thus will the source of ignorance be destroyed, and you will rise above karma (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:1-7).
Now I will resume Radhakrishnan’s translation.
Holding the body steady with the three [upper parts, chest, neck and head] erect, causing the senses and the mind to enter into the heart, the wise man should cross by the boat of [the realization of] Brahman all the streams which cause fear. (2.8)
The word “heart” in the scriptures can mean the chakra in the center of the chest, but usually it means the core of our being: consciousness. And it means that here.
Repressing his breathings here [in the body], let him who has controlled all movements breathe through his nostrils with diminished breath. Let the wise man restrain his mind vigilantly as [he would] a chariot yoked with vicious horses. (2.9)
Through refinement of breath, and therefore consciousness, our breathing becomes slower and subtle during meditation. This is the only way to control the mind.
Regarding the environment for meditation, the Upanishad continues:
In a level, clean place, free from pebbles, fire and gravel, favorable to thought by the sound of water and other features, not offensive to the eye, in a hidden retreat protected from the wind, let him practice Yoga. (2.10)
Frankly, today’s conditions are much more conducive than what is described here. A simple meditation room is much more advantageous on all levels.
Fog, smoke, sun, wind, fire, fireflies, lightning, crystal moon, these are the preliminary forms which produce the manifestation of Brahman in Yoga. (2.11)
These are but a few of the visual phenomena that can occur during meditation.
When the fivefold quality of Yoga is produced, as earth, water, fire, air and ether arise, then there is no longer sickness, no old age, no death to him who has obtained a body made of the fire of Yoga. (2.12)
Lightness, healthiness, steadiness, clearness of complexion, pleasantness of voice, sweetness of odor, and slight excretions, these, they say, are the first results of the progress of yoga. (2.12-13)
What we think is matter is really objectified spirit (consciousness). Therefore the practice of meditation, though spiritual, will be reflected in the yogi’s body. Observance of yama and niyama along with yoga practice will purify and refine the body.
Even as a mirror stained by dust shines brightly when it has been cleaned, so the embodied one when he has seen the [real] nature of the Self becomes integrated, of fulfilled purpose and freed from sorrow.
When by means of the [real] nature of his Self he sees as by a lamp here the [real] nature of Brahman, by knowing God who is unborn, steadfast, free from all natures, he is released from all fetters.
He, indeed, is the God who pervades all regions, he is the first-born and he is within the womb. He has been born and he will be born. He stands opposite all persons, having his face in all directions.
The God who is in fire, who is in water, who has entered into the whole world [the God], who is in plants, who is in trees, to that God be adoration, yea, be adoration. (2.14-17)
Here we have the affirmation that Brahman is the core of the consciousness of all beings, that It is incarnate in all beings and experiences all they experience. This is how intimately united Brahman is to each one of us.
Many people, however intelligent, find it difficult to understand that seeming contradictions and opposites–even seeming incompatibilities and incongruities–are part of reality. The conflicts, of course, are only in their minds. This is an inherent defect of what we now call “left-brain” thinking, but to the “right-brainers” such appearances are understood as being just that: erroneous perceptions. For them there is the possibility of developing such a degree of intuition that they can see the whole picture in which no contradictions exist. They are the kind of people to whom the Upanishadic teachings were addressed. For them it will be simplicity itself, as is the case with all truth.
The one who spreads the net [of creation, of Maya], who rules with his ruling powers, who rules all the worlds with his ruling powers, who remains one [identical], while [things or works] arise and continue to exist, they who know that become immortal. (3.1)
These words are an excellent definition of the indefinable Brahman. Brahman always exists. Indeed, there is nothing but Brahman at any time. And Brahman is always One, never two. But through Maya, the creative power of Brahman, Brahman can appear as many. Maya is as incomprehensible to the limited human mind as Brahman Itself. For Maya is Brahman, otherwise it could not exist.
When the seeming duality of Brahman and Maya arises we immediately have the appearance of Brahman as Ishwara, the Lord, the personal God. It is all Brahman, of course, but we relate to this threefold appearance of Brahman, for we are ourselves trinities. We possess a transcendent Self (Atman) which has taken on a complex of coverings (koshas) or bodies and begun to function within it as its intelligent guide. We are thus mirror-images of Brahman.
Brahman is nirguna, without any qualities or traits, but Ishwara is saguna, possessing innumerable qualities. So although we cannot conceive of Brahman or speak of It, we can say a great deal about Ishwara, even though we cannot intellectually or verbally encompass his total being. And note that we can use a personal pronoun in relation to Ishwara. For Ishwara is of positive (male) polarity and can be referred to as “he,” just as Maya is of negative (female) polarity and can be called “she.” When we say “God” we usually mean Ishwara. Ishwara controls and guides the evolution of all creation through his divine power (Mahashakti) that is Maya. All that is done is done by him in union with Maya, for Brahman the transcendent never acts.
Ishwara, as an emanation of Brahman, arises as the first step in creation, and remains as the last step, as well. Then he merges into Brahman and only Brahman remains.
“They who know that become immortal.” This is important. Because Ishwara is Brahman, those who approach him and come to know him thereby become one with Brahman, and know Brahman. Therefore it is mistaken to say that meditation on Saguna Brahman has a different result than meditation on Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is the bridge to Nirguna Brahman.
This is well explained in the first eight verses of the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. There Arjuna asks Krishna: “The constantly steadfast who worship you with devotion, and those who worship the eternal Unmanifest–which of them has the better understanding of yoga?” Krishna replies: “Those who are ever steadfast, who worship me, fixing their minds on me, endowed with supreme faith, I consider them to be the best versed in yoga. But those who worship the Imperishable, the Undefinable, the Unmanifested, the All-pervading, Inconceivable, Unchanging, Unmoving, the Constant–controlling all the senses, even-minded everywhere, happy in the welfare of all beings–they attain to me also. Greater is the effort of those whose minds are set on the Unmanifest, for the Unmanifest as a goal is truly difficult for the embodied ones to reach. But those who, renouncing all actions in me, intent on me as the highest goal worship me, meditating on me with single-minded Yoga–of those whose consciousness has entered into me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of mortal samsara. Keep your mind on me alone, causing your intellect to enter into me. Thenceforward, without doubt, you shall dwell in me.”
Truly Rudra is one, there is no place for a second, who rules all these worlds with his ruling powers. He stands opposite creatures. He, the protector, after creating all worlds, withdraws them at the end of time.
That one God, who has an eye on every side, a face on every side, an arm on every side, a foot on every side, creating heaven and earth forges them together by his arms and his wings.
He who is the source and origin of the gods, the ruler of all, the great Seer, who of old gave birth to the golden germ [Hiranyagarbha], may He endow us with clear understanding. (3.2-4)
In these verses Rudra means Ishwara. Ishwara is Consciousness Itself. And in this capacity of omniscient omnipresence he interacts with all beings. Those who wish can enter into the most intimate relationship and communication with him. He indeed is all possible relationships–father, mother, brother, sister, friend–and all functions: king, master, servant, helper, companion and guide. He it is that in this world as well as the next is the dearest of the dear and the nearest of the near. Through the laws established in his universe, which itself is a great, living evolution machine, and especially through the law of karma, he brings about the teaching and furtherance of all sentient beings. His creation reacts to all action in the manner of a mirror, a reflection which reveals to us the true character of our thoughts, words, and deeds–our whole state of mind and being (bhava). As is said in the Gita: “I am the same to all beings. There is no one who is disliked or dear to me. But they who worship me with devotion are in me, and I am also in them” (Bhagavad Gita 9:29).
Consequently, prayer to Ishwara is a very real and effective act. How do we address this infinite Being? The Upanishad gives us some examples.
Rudra, your body which is auspicious, unterrifying, showing no evil–with that most benign body, O dweller in the mountains, look upon [manifest yourself to] us.
O Dweller among the mountains, make auspicious the arrow which you hold in your hand to throw. O Protector of the mountain, injure not man or beast. (3.5-6)
Higher than this is Brahman, the supreme, the great hidden in all creatures according to their bodies, the one who envelopes the universe. Knowing Him, the Lord, [men] become immortal. (3.7)
The sage whose name this Upanishad bears, now speaks of his realization of Ishwara. In his exposition he will speak of Ishwara in the same manner and in the same terms that all the Upanishads speak of Brahman. We should keep this in mind whenever reading of Brahman or Ishwara: what can be rightly said of Brahman can be said of Ishwara, for they are the same Being.
I know the Supreme Person of sunlike color [luster] beyond the darkness. Only by knowing Him does one pass over death. There is no other path for going there.
Than whom there is naught else higher, than whom there is naught smaller, naught greater, [the] one stands like a tree established in heaven, by Him, the Person, is this whole universe filled.
That which is beyond this world is without form and without suffering. Those who know that become immortal, but others go only to sorrow. (3.8-10)
The only point that needs comment is the statement that Ishwara “is without form.” Actually, all forms are Ishwara’s, for all things are He. What is meant here is that Ishwara has no “native” form, that his nature is absolutely formless. It also means that there is no form that confines him, that can encompass his total Being, for no form is infinite.
He who is in the faces, heads and necks of all, who dwells in the cave [of the heart] of all beings, who is all-pervading, He is the Lord and therefore the omnipresent Shiva.
That person indeed is the great lord, the impeller of the highest being [He has the power of] reaching the purest attainment, the ruler, the imperishable light. (3.11-12)
The sole purpose of this universe is the evolution and ultimate liberation of all sentient beings within it. And it is Ishwara who guides and awakens those beings. The impulse to enlightenment arises from him in cooperation with the innate impulse of each individual Self to attain conscious and total union with God. From within the depths of each one of us he reveals the possibility of enlightenment and shows us the way. That is why Patanjali says: “He is Guru even of the Ancients” (Yoga Sutras 1:26). We must ever be in attunement with this guru, and that is accomplished through meditation.
A person of the measure of a thumb is the inner Self, ever dwelling in the heart of men. He is the lord of the knowledge framed by the heart and the mind. They who know that become immortal.
The person has a thousand heads, a, thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He surrounds the earth on all sides and stands ten fingers’ breadth beyond.
The person is truly this whole world, whatever has been and whatever will be. He is also the lord of immortality, and whatever grows up by food.
On every side it has a hand and a foot, on every side an eye, a head and a face. It has an ear everywhere. It stands encompassing all in the world.
Reflecting the qualities of all the senses and yet devoid of all the senses, it is the lord and ruler, it is the great refuge of all.
The embodied soul in the city of nine gates sports [moving to and fro] in the outside [world], the controller of the whole world, of the stationary and the moving.
Without foot or hand, [yet] swift and grasping, he sees without eye, he hears without ear. He knows whatever is to be known, of him there is none who knows. Thy call him the Primeval, the Supreme Person.
Subtler than the subtle, greater than the great is the Self that is set in the cave of the [heart] of the creature. One beholds Him as being actionless and becomes freed from sorrow, when through the grace of the Creator he sees the Lord and His majesty.
I know this undecaying, ancient [primeval] Self of all, present in everything on account of infinity. Of whom they declare, there is stoppage of birth. The expounders of Brahman proclaim Him to be eternal. (3.13-21)
This is a kind of summation of all the Upanishadic teaching about Brahman.
This Upanishad has a unique feature: it concludes with an ecstatic prayer-invocation addressed to Brahman. It will not need much comment, as you will see.
He who is one, without any color, by the manifold exercise of his power distributes many colors in his hidden purpose and into whom in the beginning and at the end the universe is gathered, may He endow us with a clear understanding [4.1)
This final petition is the crux of the whole matter: our consciousness must be filled with the remembrance-awareness of Brahman.
That indeed is Agni [fire], that is Aditya [the sun], that is Vayu [the wind] and that is the moon. That, indeed, is the pure. That is Brahma. That is the waters. That is Prajapati [the lord of creation].
You are woman. You are man. You are the youth and the maiden too. You, as an old man, totter along with a staff. Being born you become facing in every direction.
You are the dark-blue bird, you are the green [parrot] with red eyes. You are [the cloud] with the lightning in its womb. You are the seasons and the seas. Having no beginning you abide through omnipresence. [You] from whom all worlds are born.
The One unborn, red, white and black, who produces manifold offspring similar in form [to herself], there lies the one unborn [male] delighting. Another unborn gives her up, having had his enjoyment [4.2-5)
Maya, Mahashakti, Mulaprakriti, is the Divine Mother wedded to the Divine Father. Formed of the three gunas, all are her children. This latter sentence is a very unsatisfactory rendering of a very obscure passage whose meaning relates to the individual Self, not Brahman the Absolute Self. The meaning is that when we unite with Maya, unlike Brahman we forget ourselves. Yet that forgetfulness is only temporary, and when at last we evolve to the necessary level, we part from Maya and are released back into Infinite Spirit.
Two birds, companions [who are] always united, cling to the self-same tree. Of these two the one eats the sweet fruit, and the other looks on without eating. (4.6)
On the self-same tree, a person immersed [in the sorrows of the world] is deluded and grieves on account of his helplessness. When he sees the Other, the Lord who is worshipped and His greatness, he becomes freed from sorrow. (4.6-7)
This is another, more expository version of Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1-2.
For him who does not know that indestructible being of the Rig Veda, whereon in the highest heaven all the gods reside, of what avail is the Rig Veda to him? They, indeed, who know that rest fulfilled. (4.8)
Scriptures and philosophical words that are glibly reeled off by the shallow and the hypocritical mean absolutely nothing. Rather, the divine teachings of the the liberated sages must be written in our hearts by our own experience through yoga. Those who know about God are certainly fortunate, but only those who know God directly are fulfilled and freed.
The Vedas, the sacrifices, the rituals, the observances, the past, the future and what the Vedas declare, all this the maker sends forth out of this, in this the other is confined by maya.
Know then that prakriti is maya and the wielder of maya is the Great Lord. This whole world is pervaded by beings that are parts of Him. (4.9-10)
To realize that all things are parts of the Divine Whole, that we are one with God, part of God and yet never God in the sense of the Absolute, is true wisdom and realization. There is no difference between us and God in that essentially we are spirit and God is Spirit. Yet we are eternally distinct. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Truly there never was a time when I was not, nor you, nor these lords of men–nor in the future will there be a time when we shall cease to be” (2:12). The incarnating spirit takes on numberless bodies and names, yet that which is incarnating is the same spirit or jiva. That has always been and always will be. Union with Brahman is not absorption into Brahman, so our distinct existence will never cease to be. This is the understanding of Sankhya, the original philosophy of India on which the Yoga philosophy is based. Monism is merely a simplistic misunderstanding, mistakenly thought to be authentic Advaita or Non-dualism. The only accurate non-dualistic view is that of the foregoing verse and the Gita.
The One who rules every single source, in whom all this dissolves [at the end] and comes together [at the beginning of creation], who is the lord, the bestower of blessing, the adorable God, by discerning Him one goes forever to this peace.
He who is the source and origin of the gods, the ruler of all, the great Seer, who beheld the golden germ [Hiranyagarbha] when he was born, may He endow us with clear understanding.
He who is the overlord of the gods, in whom the worlds rest, he who is the lord of two-footed and four-footed beings, to what God shall we offer our oblations?
More minute than the minute, in the midst of confusion, the creator of all, of manifold forms, the one embracer of everything, by knowing Him as the auspicious, one attains peace for ever.
He indeed is the protector of the world in time, the lord of all, hidden in all things, in whom the seers of Brahman and the deities are united, by knowing Him thus one cuts the cords of death.
By knowing Him, the auspicious, hidden in all beings like the film exceedingly fine that rises out of clarified butter, the one embracer of the universe, by knowing God one is released from all fetters. (4.11-16)
That god, the maker of all things, the great Self, ever seated in the heart of creatures is framed by the heart, by the thought, by the mind, they who know that become immortal. (4.17)
God and the Self are always within us, in our heart, our intellect and our mind: they hedge the Self around. Therefore at all times we are as intimately with and within God as we shall ever be. The most unevolved consciousness in the universe is as much one with God in the fullest manner as is the consciousness of a totally liberated being, a siddha avatar. It is only the limitation of the scope of consciousness in all beings that keeps them from perfect freedom in the realization that they, too, are That. It is only a matter of knowing, of realization. And for that reason the only authentic yoga is that which deals with the opening of our perception to see the Self, that which begins at the very onset to open us to experience of the Self in however small a degree, and gently and easily, virtually effortlessly, unfolds our consciousness until full realization is ours.
When there is no darkness, then there is neither day nor night, neither being nor non-being, only the auspicious one alone. That is the imperishable, the adorable light of Savitri [the sun] and the ancient wisdom proceeded from that.
Not above, not across, not in the middle, nor has any one grasped Him. There is no likeness of Him whose name is great glory.
His form is not to be seen, no one sees Him with the eye. Those who through heart and mind know Him as abiding in the heart become immortal. (4.18-20)
In the imperishable, infinite highest Brahman are the two, knowledge and ignorance, placed hidden. Ignorance is perishable while knowledge is immortal. And he who controls knowledge and ignorance is another [distinct from either]. (5.1)
Knowledge (vidya) and ignorance (avidya) are within Brahman, yet Brahman is absolutely other than them. So is the Self, and so, then, is he who knows the Self. The enlightened do not possess knowledge in this sense, but rather possess the direct knowing which transcends knowledge and ignorance.
He, who being one, rules over every single source, over all forms and over all sources, He who bears in His thoughts and beholds when born the fiery [red] seer [Hiranyagarbha] who was engendered in the beginning.
That God, who, after spreading out one net after another in various ways draws it together in that field, the Lord, having again created the lords, the great Self, exercises his lordship over all. (5.2-3)
The “nets” are the various lokas, levels or planes of existence, which together are the “field” of the entire range of relative existence. And each loka has its ruler, all of whom are subordinate to the Great Self (Mahatman).
As the sun, illumining all regions, above, below and across, shines, so that one God, glorious, adorable, rules over whatever creatures are born from a womb.
The source of all, who develops his own nature, who brings to maturity whatever can be ripened, who distributes qualities, He the one, rules over this whole world. (5.4-5)
Evolution is the developing within the evolving entity of the innate consciousness, the swabhava, of the Self and the Supreme Self. The Self within each one brings to fulness the potential of each being. All is under the supervision and control of these two (that are also one).
That [Self] which is hidden in the Upanishads which is hidden in the Vedas, Brahma knows that as the source of the Vedas. The gods and seers of old who knew that [Self], they came to be of its nature and have, verily, become immortal.
But he [the Self] who has qualities [guna] and is the doer of deeds [karma] that are to bear fruit [i.e. bring recompense], he is the enjoyer, surely, of the consequence of whatever he has done. Assuming all forms, characterized by the three qualities, treading the three paths he, the ruler of the vital breaths [the individual soul], wanders about according to his deeds.
He is of the measure of a thumb, of appearance like the sun, endowed with thought and Self-sense, but with only the qualities of understanding and the Self he seems to be of the size of the point of a goad.
This living [and inconceivably subtle] Self is to be known as a part of the hundredth, part of the point of a hair divided a hundredfold, yet it is capable of infinity.
It is not female, nor is it male, nor yet is this neuter. Whatever body it takes to itself, by that it is held.
By means of thought, touch, sight and passions and by the abundance of food and drink there are the birth and development of the [embodied] Self. According to his deeds, the embodied Self assumes successively various forms in various conditions.
The embodied Self, according to his own qualities, chooses [assumes] many shapes, gross and subtle. Having himself caused his union with them, through the qualities of his acts and through the qualities of his body, he is seen as [though] another.
Him who is without beginning and without end, in the midst of chaos, the creator of all, of manifold form, who alone embraces the universe, he who knows God is freed from all fetters.
Him who is to be grasped by the mind, who is called incorporeal, who makes existence and non-existence, the kindly [the auspicious], the maker of creation and its parts, the Divine, they who know Him have left the body behind. (5.6-14)
Some wise men speak of inherent nature [swabhava], others likewise of time [kala] [as the first cause], being deluded. But it is the greatness of God [devasyaisha mahima] in the world, by which this Brahma-wheel is made to turn.
He by whom this whole world is always enveloped, the knower, the author of time, the possessor of qualities and all knowledge. Controlled by Him [this] work [of creation] unfolds [evolves] itself, that which is regarded as earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Having created this work and rested again, having entered into union with the essence of the Self, by one [the purusha], two [purusha and prakriti], three [gunas] or eight [the five cosmic elements and manas, buddhi and ahankara], or by time [kala] too and the subtle qualities of the Self.
Who, having begun with works associated with the [three] qualities, distributes all existents. In the absence of these [qualities], there is the destruction of the work that has been done and in the destruction of the work he continues, in truth, other [different from what he has produced].
He is the beginning, the source of the causes which unite [the soul with the body]. He is to be seen as beyond the three kinds of time [past, present and future], and as without parts, after having worshipped first that adorable God who has many forms, the origin of all being, who abides in one’s own thoughts.
Higher and other than the forms of the world-tree and time is he from whom this world revolves, who brings good [dharma] and removes evil, the lord of prosperity, having known him as in one’s own Self, the immortal, the support of all [he attains Brahman].
He in whom is the Supreme Lord of lords, who is the highest deity of deities, the supreme master of masters, transcendent, him let us know as God, the lord of the world, the adorable.
There is no action and no organ of his to be found. There is not seen his equal or his better. His high power is revealed to be various, indeed. The working of his intelligence and strength is inherent [in him].
Of him there is no master in the world, no ruler, nor is there any mark of Him. He is the cause, the lord of the lords of the sense organs, of him there is neither progenitor nor lord.
The one God who, according to his own nature, covers himself like a spider with threads produced from pradhana [unmanifested matter], may he grant us entrance into Brahman.
The one God hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the inner Self of all beings, the ordainer of all deeds, who dwells in all beings, the witness, the knower, the only one, devoid of qualities.
The one controller of the many, inactive, who makes the one seed manifold. The wise who perceive him as abiding in their Self, to them belongs eternal happiness, not to others.
He is the eternal among the eternals, the intelligent among the intelligences, the one among many, who grants desires. That cause which is to be apprehended by discrimination [of sankhya] and discipline [yoga]–by knowing God, one is freed from all fetters.
The sun does not shine there nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, much less this fire. After him, when he shines, everything shines, by his light all this is illumined. (6.1-14)
The one swan in the midst of this world. This indeed is the fire that has entered into the ocean. Only by knowing him does one pass over death. There is no other path for going there. (6.15)
A yogi I know once had a striking vision of a cloud of light out of and into which flying swans emerged and merged continuously. Within the cloud were countless swans flying but remaining always within the cloud. Some flew in and out of the cloud and others remained within it always. He understood that the cloud was Brahman and the swans were the individual Selfs that alternately left that unity for samsara and returned to that unity until they attained liberation. Then they remained in the cloud always.
Spirit-fire (Brahman and the Self) enters the ocean of matter which seems to be antithetical to it, and yet is not extinguished as earthly fire is by water. In the philosophical sense spirit extinguishes matter in that it frees itself from the bondage of matter. Yet the cosmic Spirit and the individual spirits dwell in that ocean, while the liberated individual spirits rise out of it and merge into the Chidakasha, the infinite Consciousness that is Brahman and themselves.
He is the maker of all, the knower of all, the Self-caused, the knower, the author of time, the possessor of qualities, the knower of everything, the ruler of nature and of the spirit, the lord of qualities, the cause of worldly existence, and of liberation, of continuance and of bondage.
Becoming that, immortal, existing as the lord, the knower, the omnipresent, the guardian of this world is he who rules this world for ever, for no other cause is found for the ruling.
To him who, of old, creates Brahma and who, verily, delivers to him the Vedas, to that God who is lighted by his own intelligence, do I, eager for liberation, resort for refuge.
To him who is without parts, without activity, tranquil, irreproachable, without blemish, the highest bridge to immortality like a fire with its fuel burnt.
When men shall roll up space as if it were a piece of leather, then will there be an end of sorrow, apart from knowing God.
By the power of austerity and the grace of God, the wise Shwetashwatara in proper manner spoke about Brahman, the Supreme, the pure, to the advanced ascetics, what is pleasing to the company of seers.
This highest mystery in the Vedanta which has been declared in a former age should not be given to one whose passions are not subdued nor again to one who is not a son or a pupil.
These subjects which have been declared shine forth to the high-souled one who has the highest devotion for God and for his spiritual teacher. Yea, they shine forth to the high-souled one. (6.16-23)
Thus is the glorious and wondrous conclusion of this Upanishad and of all the Upanishads.