Thou art indeed…
“Thou art indeed the manifested Brahman. Of thee will I speak. Thee will I proclaim in my thoughts as true. Thee will I proclaim on my lips as true” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1:1:1).
This fervent profession of faith and fidelity seems quite simple, but when we consider what it entails, it is a high aspiration indeed. It is also strikingly in contrast to most of the upanishads, which continually insist on the transcendence of Brahman and the impossibility of comprehending or speaking of It.
While typing in the forgoing sentence my memory reached back to a time of blessed tranquility in the sacred city of Sukhtal in north India. Tradition says that the supreme master Sukhadeva, the illumined son of Vyasa, came to Sukhtal and taught the dying King Parikshit the principles of Self-knowledge and liberation. Many centuries later I was in Sukhtal at a spiritual gathering. One of the great souls (mahatmas) also gathered there was Sri Yogeshwar Brahmachari, a venerable saint of Bengal whom I had met and visited with before. Every day he would be on the platform, sitting in profound meditation, not moving for hours or even seeming to breathe. The exception would be when he would give a daily talk on spiritual life. In the evening there would be a question-and-answer session with people putting questions to the various renowned spiritual leaders on the platform. One evening, right after a famous Vedantin had given a rather lengthy answer to a question, Yogeshwar Brahmachari began to speak forcefully. In a matter of moments the tranquil atmosphere was replaced by one of anger and suppressed violence emanating from the others on the platform and directed toward him. It really felt like they were about to physically attack and maul him, the only restraint being the presence of those sitting in the auditorium.
Naturally, the next morning found me seeking out Yogeshwar Brahmachari to find what had taken place, since everything had been said in Hindi. I found him happily ensconced in a cowshed (!) where he was sleeping on some straw placed on a stone ledge. I was very aware that not one of the other savants sitting on the platform day after day would have tolerated such humble and primitive surroundings. But Brahmachariji was very happy, as he could cuddle and talk to the little calf that was tethered nearby.
After some time of giving our latest news to each other, I questioned him about the previous nights’ volcanic near-explosion. He laughed merrily and told me that he had challenged and rebuked all the “big Advaitins (Non-dualists)” sitting there, demanding to know why they harped all the time on the transcendence of God and ignored the divine immanence. “Why do you keep telling these people who have so many worldly involvements and problems that the world is unreal, that they should care nothing about it, and that to do otherwise is ignorance? In all these days I have not heard even one of you say just one piece of practical advice that would help them live their lives and remember God. They have come here at great inconvenience and expense, leaving their homes and work behind, seeking ways to keep from drowning in the world. And you just tell them the world is no more than a dream and to forget it! How could they forget it? How many children must they have to care for and how many debts and obligations? What is wrong with you? Why can’t you tell them how to better their lives and rise above their worries and fears? You expect them to honor and support you, but what use are you to anybody? You should be ashamed!” He laughed and concluded: “So their Non-dual ‘realization’ and philosophy went out the window and they got very interested in a dualistic battle with me. If it had not been for others being there I would have gotten some blows!” The thought of the frail saint being assailed by the “big Babas” who were as robust as their egos and tempers, was not a happy one. But my dear friend was quite content with the situation, being firmly committed to the good sense embodied in this opening verse of the upanishad.
What the Taittiriya Upanishad now will do is balance out the very true, though sometimes one-sided, teachings of some of the other upanishads regarding the nature of Brahman and the world.
Thou art indeed the manifested Brahman. First we must understand that the cosmos is NOT Maya. Maya is the illusion in our mind as to the nature of the cosmos and our relation to it. Maya is a product of our ignorance, it is our wrong seeing and acting. The world “out there” is not Maya. Maya is the world “in here”–in our mind. Maya is the product of ego. Once this inner veil has been destroyed, then we see the world as God in manifestation. In reaction we then exult with the upanishadic sage, also saying: “Thou art indeed the manifested Brahman!”
Of thee will I speak. This will consist of two ways of speaking: denying what the world is not and affirming what the world is. We will speak of the reality of the world as Brahman. We will also speak of the unreality in the minds of ignorant human beings and explain its nature as delusion. Further, we will speak of the nature of the world as an evolutionary ladder, and explain how it is used by the yogi as the means of freedom and ascent.
Thee will I proclaim in my thoughts as true. We will see and know in our minds that which is real in the world, always aware that it is not “the world” at all, but Divinity Itself. This is a matter of knowing, not mere speaking or speculating.
Thee will I proclaim on my lips as true. And this truth will we both live and speak to others. The important point here is that we must know before we speak. Otherwise our words are just empty noise.
The true Knower revels in the affirmation expressed in this first verse.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Necessary Lessons