“This universe is a tree eternally existing, its root aloft, its branches spread below. The pure root of the tree is Brahman, the immortal, in whom the three worlds have their being, whom none can transcend, who is verily the Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:1)
Little needs to be said about this verse, its meaning is quite obvious. We can, however, infer a significant principle: all things are rooted above in the Supreme Consciousness, in Brahman. Everything has Brahman for its essential Being. From this we get the Hermetic principle: As Above, So Below. Applying this principle to our own experience we can come to understand a great deal about the higher–and truer–nature of what is arising and subsiding in our life. Original Christianity, being rooted in the upanishadic teachings of Jesus (Isha Nath), taught the same, and that is why in the oldest text of Christian hymns, The Odes of Solomon, we find this: “The likeness of that which is below is that which is above. For everything is above, and below there is nothing, but it is believed to be by those in whom there is no knowledge” (Odes of Solomon 34:4, 5). That is, the ignorant believe that things have an independent existence–an existence that can cease–rather than the truth that they are not only rooted in Brahman, they are an imperishable extension of Brahman. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being…for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28), as Saint Paul pointed out. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). David simply sang: “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalms 36:9). Brahman is the ultimate state and stage of being. There is no transcending Brahman, for Brahman is truly the Self of all.
From this we see the principle only (comparatively) recently discovered by science: that in essence all things are immortal, that there is not a single atomic particle in creation that can go out of existence, that the changes we think are death and birth are only rearrangements of the living energies of which all consist.
The fearless Source
“The whole universe came forth from Brahman and moves in Brahman. Mighty and awful is he, like to a thunderbolt crashing loud through the heavens. For those who attain him death has no terror” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:2)
“Awful” is outdated English. In older forms of English, “awful,” “horrible,” and “terrible” all meant awesome, and were positive, but at this point in time they have reversed polarity and become negative descriptions. “Awesome” is much more correct.
Brahman is Inexorable Power as well as Infinite Consciousness. His presence is like the thunderbolt whose light blinds us to all lesser lights, in which all things exist–and of which they consist. Those who unite with this Brahman experience their eternal immortality and become fearless, especially in the face of the mirage called death.
The Divine Will
“In fear of him fire burns, the sun shines, the rains fall, the winds blow, and death kills” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:3)
Here, too, a state of ecstatic awe and wonder is meant. In older English, which Prabhavananda is using, “fear” meant to be filled with awe and respect–not to be afraid. So when we read in the older Bible translations that we should fear God we are actually being told to reverence God.
In awesome reverence of Brahman the creation responds to the Supreme Will–for it is itself an extension of Brahman, as already said. All that occurs is the movement of Divine Consciousness, is response to Divine Will. Brahman moves Brahman, and creation manifests and moves onward. Brahman ceases to move Brahman, and creation resolves into its potential, causal form and seems to cease. At all times it is Brahman reacting upon–and to–Brahman. Even death is only a change of Life.
The root of rebirth
“If a man fail to attain Brahman before he casts off his body, he must again put on a body in the world of created things” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:4)
Perfect knowledge of Brahman resulting from total union of our consciousness with Brahman’s Consciousness is the only passport beyond this world–or any worlds of relative existence. Knowledge is the root determinant of our rebirth or our freedom from rebirth. This is why most religion is so useless–it deals with good and bad, truth and error, on the tiny level of individual human mentalities. The infinite scope of Brahmic Consciousness simply does not come into its purview. Human beings waste lifetimes with such mundane religions that only program them for more and more births upon this earth. Even their ideas of the afterlife and only condition them for more birth and bondage. Degenerate Christianity, especially, with its doctrine of physical resurrection and physical immortality instills material consciousness in its adherents, condemning them to the wheel of perpetual birth and death. Thinking they are “creatures,” they sink into the quagmire of “creation.” Actually, they impel themselves into the morass, calling it the will of God. As Jesus said: “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). If our “truth” be actually untruth, its blinding–and binding–power is nigh well inescapable.
The realm of realization
“In one’s own soul Brahman is realized clearly, as if seen in a mirror. In the heaven of Brahma also is Brahman realized clearly, as one distinguishes light from darkness. In the world of the fathers he is beheld as in a dream. In the world of angels he appears as if reflected in water” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:5)
First, this verse should put the lie to the absurd claim in contemporary Hinduism that enlightenment is impossible unless the individual is born on earth in a human body. What is the truth is the fact that the highest realm of relativity, the heaven of Brahma (Brahmaloka) is the only one in which the capacity for realizing Brahman is inherent in the form proper to that world. In all other worlds the incarnational form is the bar to such realization, for in the minds of the inhabitants of those worlds Brahman appears only as a dream or a reflection in water.
The most important fact, though, is the statement that Brahman can be seen and experienced in the Self of each one of us–no matter what world we may or may not inhabit. We need not aspire to ascend to any other world, thinking that incarnation there is necessary for our spiritual liberation. Not at all. Whatever world we may be in, whatever form we may find ourselves incarnate in, we can realize Brahman perfectly. Why? Because our Self is one with Brahman. This is why we sometimes read in the lore of India about animals that at their death attained moksha (liberation). It is all in the knowing, the jnana.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Hierarchy of Consciousness