“The Imperishable is the Real. As sparks innumerable fly upward from a blazing fire, so from the depths of the Imperishable arise all things. To the depths of the Imperishable they in turn descend” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:1).
This is a spectacular simile–mostly because it happens to be the absolute truth. But a more literal translation brings out some important points Prabhavananda decided to pass over. Here is Swami Nikhilananda’s rendering: “As from a blazing fire, sparks essentially akin to it fly forth by the thousand, so also, my good friend, do various beings come forth from the imperishable Brahman and unto Him again return.” Swami Gambhirananda, the saintly President of Ramakrishna Mission, translated it this way: “As from a fire, fully ablaze, fly off sparks, in their thousands, that are akin to the fire, similarly from the Immutable originate different kinds of creatures and into It again they merge.”
Three prime truths
There are three points being made here that are the bedrock of upanishadic philosophy. First, all beings that exist–past, present, future–are of the same nature, even the same substance, as Brahman. Second, all forms (modes of existence), though ever-changing, proceed from the Unchanging, Unchangeable. This seeming contradiction is made possible by the illusory power of Maya. That is, the changing forms are illusory while the essential being, the Self-Atman is unchanging. Third, having come from Brahman they shall all, without exception return to Brahman. When life is viewed this way we can understand its nature and purpose, and live accordingly. For the upanishads are not interested in giving us empty theory without a practical application.
Some traits of the Source
“Self-luminous is that Being, and formless. He dwells within all and without all. He is unborn, pure, greater than the greatest, without breath, without mind” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:2). Pervading all, both Brahman and the Atman are yet untouched and unconditioned by any forms in which they dwell, knowing themselves through themselves–self-illumined (swayamprakash). Both the internal and the external are permeated with the presence of Conscious Spirit. Although the forms floating on the surface of the Ocean of Being are born, conditioned, endowed with mind and senses, and compelled to to experience the consequence of the sowing and reaping of karma in previous lives, in reality none of this takes place in an absolute, objective sense. Rather, it is the power of Maya that produces these appearances. As the Gita says: “Helpless all, for Maya is their master…” (Bhagavad Gita 9:8). Yet, the sage is telling us in this upanishad that, almighty as Maya seems to be, Spirit is “greater than the greatest.” When we are sunk in delusion, then Maya seems the most powerful, but when we transfer our consciousness into spirit, then we find that the Self is always the master of Maya, on the universal and the individual levels.
Again, Brahman is the Source: “From him are born breath, mind, the organs of sense, ether, air, fire, water, and the earth, and he binds all these together” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:3). God’s creation is never separated from Him for an instant. By His indwelling presence He maintains and unifies them. All that exists is held in the Mind of God, for they are His thoughts made visible or tangible.
“Heaven is his head, the sun and moon his eyes, the four quarters his ears, the revealed scriptures his voice, the air his breath, the universe his heart. From his feet came the earth. He is the innermost Self of all” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:4). The universe is not really God’s “creation,” it is His manifestation–His “incarnation.” And he remains its Inner Controller (Antaryamin).
“From him arises the sun-illumined sky, from the sky the rain, from the rain food, and from food the seed in man which he gives to woman. Thus do all creatures descend from him” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:5). Though this differs from her style of expression, it reminds me of the great wisdom spoken by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. She said that in reality we all come from God, but we ignore the fact. We say: “Everybody in my family gets…” and then name some disease or negative condition. We think it is genetics that must manifest. But our real genes are Divine Qualities. Why do we not believe they will manifest in us? Our father and mother were adult human beings, and we became the same. The ultimate Father/Mother is God, so why do we neglect the development of Divine Consciousness? Divinity is our only true nature.
“From him are born hymns, devotional chants, scriptures, rites, sacrifices, oblations, divisions of time, the doer and the deed, and all the worlds lighted by the sun and purified by the moon” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:6). You cannot get more complete than that.
“From him are born gods of diverse descent. From him are born angels, men, beasts, birds; from him vitality, and food to sustain it; from him austerity and meditation, faith, truth, continence, and law” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:7). It is this last part that is of special meaning for us. We are told that austerity (tapasya), meditation, faith, truth, continence, and law arise from God. They are the presence of God manifesting in our life and through us to the world. Who, then, can be more beneficial to the world than a yogi? The word vidhi, translated “law,” means both instruction and method. There is an innate order in the universe which each of us should embody. It is not learned intellectually but is intuited by the yogi. The yogi will then order his life accordingly–methodically. Of course the supreme method is the method of meditation itself.
“From him spring the organs, of sense, their activities, and their objects, together with their awareness of these objects. All these things, parts of man’s nature, spring from him” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:8). This explains how human beings are said to be “made in the image of God.”
“In him the seas and the mountains have their source; from him spring the rivers, and from him the herbs and other life-sustaining elements, by the aid of which the subtle body of man subsists in the physical body.
“Thus Brahman is all in all. He is action, knowledge, goodness supreme. To know him, hidden in the lotus of the heart, is to untie the knot of ignorance” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:9, 10).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Knowing God