Right away in his study the beginning yogi encounters many technical terms, a major one being tapasya. Tapasya is often translated as austerity, which it is since it involves both self-discipline and self-denial. But it is best understood as practical, result-producing spiritual discipline which produces spiritual force in the individual. Literally it means the generation of heat or energy, but is always used in a symbolic manner, referring to spiritual practice and its effect, especially the roasting of karmic seeds, the burning up of karma.
We naturally think of yogic disciplines as tapasya, but the Upanishad wants us to understand that every aspect of dharmic life is tapasya, resulting in purification, strengthening and development of consciousness–in other words: spiritual evolution.
The right [ritam] and also study and teaching, the true and also study and teaching, austerity and also study and teaching, self-control and also study and teaching, tranquility and also study and teaching, [tending] the [sacrificial] fires and also study and teaching, [performing] the agni-hotra [sacrifice] and also study and teaching, [entertaining of] guests and also study and teaching, [seeking the welfare of ] humanity and also study and teaching. That, verily, is austerity, aye, that is austerity. (1.9.1)
If a person is going to follow dharma in the world, this verse tells how to do it. It names the necessary factors of the completely dharmic life, but after every one adds “and also study and teaching.” This means that a shallow and superficial approach to dharma is not for those who are going to attain the Self. All these elements must be incorporated into the yogi’s life. And beside that he must always be studying, increasing his knowledge of dharma (not expanding trivial worldly knowledge). Dharma must be his life. And he must be teaching that dharma in some manner. He must both receive and give, accumulate and distribute. He must be a light in the world, the embodiment of the next verse:
I am the mover of the tree [of the universe]; my fame is like a mountain’s peak. The exalted one making [me] pure, as the sun, I am the immortal one. I am a shining treasure, wise, immortal, indestructible. (1.10.1)
In the Benares Hindu University the following six verses are read by the Vice-Chancellor every year to those who are graduating and leaving the university:
Having taught the Veda, the teacher instructs the pupil: Speak the truth. Practice virtue. Let there be no neglect of your [daily] reading. Let there be no neglect of truth. Let there be no neglect of virtue. Let there be no neglect of welfare. Let there be no neglect of prosperity. Let there be no neglect of study and teaching. Let there be no neglect of the duties to the gods and the fathers.
Be one to whom the mother is a god. Be one to whom the father is a god. Be one to whom the teacher is a god. Be one to whom the guest is a god.
Whatever deeds are blameless, they are to be practiced, not others. Whatever good practices there are among us, they are to be adopted by you, not others. (1.11.1-2)
Be one to whom the mother is a god. Be one to whom the father is a god. Be one to whom the teacher is a god. Be one to whom the guest is a god. This is the famous passage shamelessly twisted to make people believe they are to look upon their guru as God. But the word here is deva, a shining one like an angel, not God. Furthermore, father, mother and teacher (acharya, not guru) are equated.
Respect for parents is an element often very much lacking in the West, and it is not easy to respect parents who do not merit it. But we should remember that when the boy Vivekananda came to his father and asked: “What have you ever done for me?” his father calmly replied: “Go look in the mirror.” So we can certainly feel appreciation toward our parents for being the means by which we live here on the earth where we can engage in sadhana and attain realization, even though that was not their intention at all. And it is our duty to personally look after our parents in their old age.
Whatever deeds are blameless, they are to be practiced, not others. Here is meant deeds that are perfectly pure and right with not a shadow of wrong. “Shady” actions are not worthy of the aspiring yogi. There should be no taint whatsoever in our actions. And that includes the way we make a living. Before we do anything we should consider whether it can be done as an offering to God. For our entire life is to be Ishwarapranidhana, the gift of our life to God.
Whatever good practices there are among us, they are to be adopted by you, not others. Only those things we have seen or heard that the Self-realized do should be done by us. The examples of holy ones should ever be before us for our following. That is why reading the lives of saints and master yogis is so beneficial. From them we learn how real human beings live so they may become gods.
[What is to be given] is to be given with faith, should not be given without faith, should be given in plenty, should be given with modesty, should be given with profound respect, should be given with sympathy.
Then if there is in you any doubt regarding any deeds, any doubt regarding conduct, you should behave yourself in such matters, as the Brahmanas there [who are] competent to judge, devoted ]to good deeds], not led by others, not harsh, [but as] lovers of virtue would behave in such cases.
Then, as to the persons who are spoken against, you should behave yourself in such a way, as the Brahmanas there, [who are] competent to judge, devoted [to good deeds] not led by others, not harsh, lovers of virtue, would behave in regard to such persons.
This is the command. This is the teaching. This is the secret doctrine of the Veda. This is the instruction. Thus should one worship. Thus indeed should one worship. (1.11.3-6)
Those who follow these precepts are worshipping God in the hearts of others.
The knower of Brahman reaches the Supreme. As to this the following has been said: He who knows Brahman as the real, as knowledge and as the infinite, placed in the secret place of the heart and in the highest heaven realizes all desires along with Brahman, the intelligent. (2.1.1)
Non-existent, verily does one become, if he knows Brahman as non-being. If one knows that Brahman is [exists], such a one people know as existent. This is, indeed, the embodied soul of the former.
Now then the following questions Does anyone who knows not, when departing from this life, go to the yonder world? Or is it that any one who knows, on departing from this life, attains that world?
He [the supreme soul] desired: Let me become many, let me be born. He performed austerity. Having performed austerity he created all this, whatever is here. Having created it, into it, indeed, he entered. Having entered it, he became both the actual and the beyond, the defined and the undefined, both the founded and the non-founded, the intelligent and the non-intelligent, the true and the untrue. As the Real, he became whatever there is here. That is what they call the Real. (2.6.1)
Non-existent, verily does one become, if he knows Brahman as non-being. If one knows that Brahman is, such a one people know as existent. If he considers Brahman as existent, then know him as existent. In The Rosicrucian Cosmo-conception, Max Heindel mentions more than once that the most negative state of which a human being is capable is that of unbelief and denial in relation to God and higher principles. Both passive and active unbelief are equally destructive. To not believe because thoughts of God simply do not arise in his mind or perhaps were completely missing from the person’s environment and upbringing, or because his mind simply is incapable of reaching that high, is passive unbelief. To not believe because he resists such ideas from aversion to their reality and actively, willfully and intentionally does not want God or higher life to exist, and blots them from his mind, is active unbelief. Both indicate the worst possible condition of the total person, a complete opposition to life itself in the truest sense. Only those of tremendous personal evil in this or previous lives are in this condition. Such people do not exist spiritually, but are zombies in their soul and will sink lower and lower in their births until they are human in name only, not in functional reality. “Entering the demonic wombs, and deluded birth after birth, not attaining to me they fall into a progressively lower condition” (Bhagavad Gita 16:20). It is possible for their subtle bodies to disintegrate until they are right back where they started from in the evolutionary chain.
The Upanishad is not speaking of those who claim to not believe simply because of personal whim or some mental kink. They are just liars and fools. I have met quite a number of them. They do not even have the force of mind or personality be be real unbelievers.
This is, indeed, the embodied soul of the former. Brahman is the embodied soul of the five bodies listed previously. Brahman is the Ultimate Self of all beings, existing at the core of our being, distinct from us but not separate or different. Only the yoga adepts understand this. Those who deny Brahman deny their very existence, and the negativity corrodes them from inside out. On the other hand, mere belief in Brahman counts for little unless it is followed up with conduct in keeping with that belief and most especially the practice of yoga to realize Brahman.
Now then the following questions Does anyone who knows not, when departing from this life, go to the yonder world? Or is it that any one who knows, on departing from this life, attains that world? Nikhilananda considers that “world” means the world of Brahman, but Radhakrishnan thinks it simply means the world beyond this one, the astral world closest to the earth plane. It is obvious that one who does not know Brahman cannot rise to the transcendent realm of Brahman beyond all relative existence, and equally obvious that there is no other world but the astral region for the non-knower of Brahman to enter after death.
He (the supreme soul) desired: Let me become many, let me be born. In the depths of Brahman every individual spirit, or jiva, has existed from eternity, resting in a state of oneness with Brahman. Yet those jivas experience that oneness in a finite manner. So they may come to experience the oneness in an infinite manner by developing the capacity to participate in the infinity of Brahman: creation is projected and they begin a long series of incarnations by means of which they evolve the capacity to participate in the Divine Life. (For more on this, see Robe of Light.)
He performed austerity. Having performed austerity he created all this, whatever is here. The tapas of Brahman was not the austerities of the yogis, but the rousing of the primal energy into the manifestation of the manifold universe, just as a sculptor makes a statue from clay or other malleable material. The truth is that all “creation” is really only a thought produced in the Divine Mind. That is why Mary Baker Eddy could confidently say Mind Is All, as had Sri Ramakrishna before her.
At all times we are living in Brahman. Yogananda said that creation is the dream of God, a dream in which we are each one dreaming our own private dream of evolution and liberation. And both God and ourselves, in our own respective spheres, are the dreamer and the dreamed.
Having created it, into it, indeed, he entered. Having entered it, he became both the actual and the beyond, the defined and the undefined, both the founded and the non-founded, the intelligent and the non-intelligent, the true and the untrue. While remaining absolutely unchanged, Brahman projected the creation, entered into it and “became” it along with the dualities inherent in it. And yet Brahman is always and only What It Is without modification or change in any way. And that is because “creation” is an idea, a dream that both takes place and does not take place. When we look with the two eyes of earth we see all as real, but when we look with the one eye of spirit we shall see The Real.
As the Real, he became whatever there is here. That is what they call the Real. Brahman is the Reality behind the real, the Dreamer behind the dream. Thus this world is both real and unreal simultaneously. The Real is pretending to be the unreal. And so are we.
Non-existent, verily, was this (world) in the beginning. Therefrom, verily, was existence produced. That made itself a soul. Therefore is it called the well-made.
Verily, what that well-made is–that, verily, is the essence of existence. For, truly, on getting the essence, one becomes blissful. For who, indeed, could live, who breathe, if there were not this bliss in space [akasha]? This, verily, is it that bestows bliss. For truly, when one finds fearlessness as support in Him who is invisible, bodiless, undefined, without support, then has he reached fearlessness. When, however, this (soul) makes in this One the smallest interval [difference], then, for him, there is fear. That, verily, is the fear of the knower, who does not reflect. (2.7.1)
Non-existent, verily, was this (world) in the beginning. We must not forget that the Upanishads and the Gita say that Brahman is both existent and non-existent. When Brahman manifests as creation, It is existent; and when It withdraws creation and alone remains It is non-existent. Therefore in the beginning only Brahman “was.”
Therefrom, verily, was existence produced. From Brahman, the Great Void, the No Thing, was emanated or created (in the realm of Thought alone) all that exists. This section of the Upanishad and the one before it are expressed in a hymn of the Rig Veda, and demonstrates the unity and continuity of the Veda and the Vedanta (“end of the Veda”–the Upanishads that are appended to the Vedic collections of hymns, the Samhitas). Here is hymn one hundred and twenty-nine of the tenth book:
Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered it, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.
That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth [Tapas] was born that Unit.
Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.
Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder
Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.
Obviously he does know, otherwise the Vedic Rishis would not have known it. But course it is all a matter of what we mean by “knowing.”
That made itself a soul. Therefore is it called the well-made. The “Itself” that was created is the projection of Brahman as the creation.
Verily, what that well-made is–that, verily, is the essence of existence. For, truly, on getting the essence, one becomes blissful. The word translated “essence” is rasa, which in this case means both the experience and the essence of Brahman: ananda–bliss. So “essence” also means experience, the experience of the bliss that is Brahman.
For who, indeed, could live, who breathe, if there were not this bliss in space [akasha]? Brahmananda, the Bliss of Brahman, is the true Self of all conscious beings (jivas) and as it is their inmost nature they naturally strive for it. Most seek it in the wrong place and suffer as a consequence, yet they never stop the search. Therefore the Upanishad is saying that the very reason we breathe is this bliss which exists in the Chidakasha, the Ether of Consciousness. It is not “love, and love alone, the world is seeking,” but Atmanandam, the Bliss of the Self. The truly wise know this and seek it.
This, verily, is it that bestows bliss. Not only is Brahman bliss, It is a communicable, realizable and obtainable bliss. That is the essence of its existence, just as it is the essence of our existence.
For truly, when one finds fearlessness as support in Him who is invisible, bodiless, undefined, without support, then has he reached fearlessness. We are never truly fearless (abhaya) until we are beyond the possibility of that which is to be feared. This state is only possible when the consciousness of the yogi is made one with and absorbed into Brahman, “who is invisible, bodiless, undefined, without support.”
When, however, this (soul) makes in this One the smallest interval [difference], then, for him, there is fear. Brahman, being beyond all difference and duality, those who “see double” in relation to it will remain in the realm of fear.
That, verily, is the fear of the knower, who does not reflect. Brahman Itself becomes a cause of fear to such a one who will eventually become so entangled in illusion that he will fear that union with Brahman will be absorption into nothingness and therefore his utter annihilation. Some form of this fear, even if not conceptualized, can occur in meditation to the double-sighted.
He who is here in the person and he who is yonder in the sun–he is one. He who knows thus, on departing from this world reaches to the Self which consists of food, reaches the Self which consists of life, reaches the Self which consists of mind, reaches the Self which consists of understanding, reaches the Self which consists of bliss. (2.8.1)
Whence words return along with the mind, not attaining It, he who knows that bliss of Brahman fears not from anything at all. Such a one, verily, the thought does not torment, Why have I not done the right? Why have I done the sinful? He who knows this, saves himself from these [thoughts]. For, truly, from both of these he saves himself–he who knows this. Such is the secret doctrine. (2.9.1)
Fear and doubts, including self-doubts, of any kind is impossible to the knower of Brahman.
Bhrigu, the son of Varuna, approached his father Varuna and said, Venerable Sir, teach me Brahman.
He explained to him thus: Matter, life, sight, hearing, mind, speech. [All these are manifestations of Brahman.] (3.1.1.)
Brahman is the origin, sustainer and ultimate absorber into Itself of all things, which never have been anything but Brahman. As Yogananda often said when speaking of a spiritual principle: “But you have to realize that” by direct yogic experience. There is no other way. As we have already seen, Brahman caused an internal movement or stirring of potential energy which then became actualized and manifested as both the state of relative existence and everything in that state. (This is a tremendous oversimplification.)
He knew that matter is Brahman.… He knew that life [prana] is Brahman.… He knew that mind is Brahman.… He knew that intelligence is Brahman.… He knew that Brahman is bliss.…. This wisdom of Bhrigu and Varuna, [is] established in the highest heaven; he who knows this, becomes established. He becomes great in the splendor of sacred wisdom. (3.2.1; 3.3.1; 3.4.1; 3.5.1; 3.6.1.)
Those who meditate on Brahman will eventually merge into Brahman, and all the attributes of Brahman will be his. It has been said: “What you worship, that you become.” Meditation is the supreme worship of Brahman.
He who knows this, on departing from this world,… He sits singing this chant: Oh Wonderful, Oh Wonderful, Oh Wonderful. (3.10.5.)
Read the next chapter in The Upanishads for Awakening: The Isha Upanishad