THE TALAVAKARA UPANISHAD
THE TEACHING OF BRAHMAN
CHAPTER FIRST (1)
The Master was asked by the pupil to tell at whose wish the mind of man, when sent forth for any act, proceeds on its errand, by whose command the first breath goeth forth, and at whose wish do men utter speech. He was also asked to tell what intelligent power directs the eye or the ear in the performance of natural functions.
The reply given by the Master, thus approached by the pupil, was that in respect to the ear, the brain, the speech of man, the breathing, and the eye, the other organs are of themselves wholly unable to act, but are the means whereby the real, but unseen, inner organs of sight, speech, hearing, seeing, and breathing obtain touch with nature, make themselves manifest, and become able to cognize outside objects.
The perfectly trained man, one fully grounded in philosophy, who has gained control of these organs both within and without, and who can locate his consciousness in the inner being, becomes really immortal when death releases him from the connection with the body. But the ordinary man, by reason of his being fully entrapped and deluded by the outer senses which are always intimately connected with the inner ones, is compelled after death to go into the Devachanic state and to return again to earthly life where he takes up a fresh set of material organs and sense connections.
But there is another sort of consciousness which cannot be expounded to one who has not himself gained an experience of it. It is beyond description in words used on this plane. For it is different from the known, above what we suppose to be the unknown, and not that which people here adore as their highest conception of being.
Know, therefore, that the basis for the operations of the mind, of the senses, of the organs is Brahman alone. Without that we could neither taste, smell, hear, see, nor think.
Then to the pupil the Master said, so as to impress it on his mind, "If thou thinkest I know the form of Brahman well, thou art not wise; but perhaps thou knowest it thyself; if so, then tell me."
To this the pupil replied that we cannot know or describe Brahman, the substratum of all, in the ordinary manner by connecting him with some things already known to us, but at the same time we are not able to say that we do not know him. We feel the actuality of Brahman, but cannot enter into a description of it as we would of an object, by giving its known characteristics, or of a piece of land by its metes and bounds, its quality and its vegetation. The knowing of it at last, its full realization, is a species of awakening out of the present state, and then the knowledge bursts upon us. By the real Self we gain and keep strength in the interior nature, and by knowledge we become able to destroy the bonds of material reincarnation, thus attaining conscious immortality. And by knowing this, one has discovered the true aim of life. If this is not understood while a man is existing here on earth in a body, then he will be compelled to reincarnate until he does comprehend it. But the wise, who have directed their thoughts to all things, and have at last come to recognize the real Self within themselves, are possessors of conscious immortality and pass unfettered out of this life never to return.
The elemental spirits of all grades that work in nature on every plane, in air, water, earth, and fire in all their correlations and combinations, were evolved from lower and less conscious states through aeons of effort by the highest mind. This was a constant struggle between the informing power of mind and the heavy non-conscious material base which alone existed before what we now call matter had been differentiated from primordial cosmic substance. It was in ages long passed away, while the elemental model of all material things was under construction. Without the informing power, which was itself brought over from previous and incalculably distant periods of evolution, the elemental spirits would not have come into existence, as they had no power of their own to stir the depths of cosmic matter. Hence their evolution is called the "Victory of Brahman".
They were evolved on many planes, each in a different degree, (2) and among them were the higher order related to fire, air, and nascent mind. These being the highest were in possession of a consciousness peculiar to their own plane of existence, and were destined to become the conscious human beings of the future. But it seemed to them that they had themselves obtained the victory over cosmic substance and brought about their own evolution.
And in order to raise these cosmic spirits by gentle steps to a higher state of development, the highly progressed entities from other Manvantaras appeared to them on their own plane and in their own sphere of consciousness, but were not comprehended. Then the ruling spirits of fire were unable to burn, and those of air unable to move, a straw that was created before them. Next, Indra, representing the nascent power of mind and imagination, advanced toward those who came to teach, but instead of them perceived only the primordial root and basis of matter. (3) For spirit as distinguished from matter cannot be perceived. It is from spirit — the eternal purusha — that matter is emanated, and together they form the two phases of the one Absolute and Unknowable.
The elemental spirits had to fall down into material existence, suffer in its toils, and at last by experience gain further development through evolution.
But the principles of fire and air, and the thinking man, are nearest to Brahman in the eternal scheme of nature's evolution.
And as Brahman flashed forth only to at once disappear from the sight of the gods, so in like manner a knowledge of the elemental spirits in this manvantara is evanescent and fitful. And in respect to the psychological being called Man, he perceives the truth either directly or by reflection. When he has perceived it by reflection, his imagination keeps the images together through the means of the eternal base which is Brahman itself. After repeated experiences of these reflections of truth he is at last able to look directly on it, and then he may become consciously immortal.
A name of Brahman is expressed by the words "The desire of it", and by that name it may be pondered upon. He who has discovered what the true aim of life is should meditate upon it and make all his desires bend to it. And as he progresses toward a knowledge of it, so all beings are insensibly impelled to aid him in the search, because there exists in all the desire to know the root of all things.
Thus you have been told the teaching of Brahman. It stands upon penance, restraint of self, and sacrifice; the Holy books are its limbs and the True is its abode. He who comprehends in their entirety and subtle connection these teachings, and has shaken off all evil, has become conscious of the endless, unconquerable world of spiritual knowledge.
1. In the original this is called Khanda instead of Chapter. (return to text)
2. They are called devas or gods in the original. (return to text)
3. In the Sanskrit this is called Mulaprakriti. (return to text)
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