V. Madhusudan Reddy


The poets of the Rig-veda, the Rishis, expressed spiritual knowledge in divinely inspired words and rhythms; the Rishis of the Upanishads had direct vision of the true form of that knowledge and expressed it in a few profound words.”1 The Upanishads2 are the treasure-house of the highest knowledge which is the foundation of the sanātanadharma. The Vedas contain the same knowledge but covered over with metaphors. The Upanishadic Rishis Vision-Madhusudan.jpgobtained this infallible knowledge not ‘by force of argument, extensive learning or from the flow of inspiration’ but through Yoga. ‘The Integral Yoga, the divine life founded on the Self, in a human body, and the integral Lila conducted by the Divine Power’, these they preach to be the supreme goal of life. Their primary mantra was the high aspiration of enshrining the immortal universal Being in the soul of man. “The true aim, true realisation is the unfolding of the Brahman, its self-manifestation, the visible diffusion of the power of the Divine, the Lila of His Knowledge and Ānanda, not in a few great souls, but in everybody in the nation and the entire humanity.”3 The first stages of this knowledge and sādhana are found in the Vedas; rather, this secret knowledge finds its earliest expression in an age long preceding the Āryan race -- the path of truth and immortality first discovered by the pitrus ‘the primeval forefathers of the human race’. What we find in the Rig-veda is only the echo of the words of the ancient Rishis, the  ‘fathers’, “of the Divine speech they uttered; consequently, the form of the dharma that we see in the Rig-veda can be said to be its earliest from. The knowledge of the Upanishads, the sādhana of the Vedānta are only a very noble and generous transformation of this dharma. The knowledge of the supreme Divine and the sādhana for attaining the Divine life of the Vedas, the Self-knowledge and the sādhana for realising the Brahman of the Upanishads, both of them are based on a synthetic dharma; various aspects of the cosmic Purusha and the cosmic Shakti, the supreme Divine unifying all the truths of the Brahman, the experience and the pursuit of the All-Brahman are its intimate subject-matter.”4

The Upanishads are ‘vehicles of illumination and not of instruction’ and therefore  ‘proceed from light to light’ confirming the intuitive experiences of their rishi-writers and in any case do not submit their findings to the limited judgment of logical reason. They are composed for those already having sufficient familiarity with Vedāntic thought and ‘even some personal experience of the truths on which they were founded’, and thus baffle the ratiocinating intellect.

All the great Upanishads are concerned with the same grand theme—the nature and attainment of Brahma-Vidyā, the relation of the human soul with the Divine, and the winning of Immortality and the release of the limited self into the unity, truth and freedom of Brahman. Whereas the Īśa is concerned with the supreme Lord, His workings and becomings and the whole problem of the world and life and human destiny, the Kena Upanishad deals only with the nature and relation of mind-consciousness to Brahman-consciousness. It takes for granted the existence of the material world and the physical life, but these exist for us only by virtue of our internal life and self:

‘That which remains unexpressed by the word,
that by which the word is expressed...
That which thinks not by the mind, that
by which the mind is thought...
That which sees not with the eye, that
by which one sees the eye’s seeings...
That which hears not with the ear,
that by which hearing is heard
That which breathes not with the breath,
that by which the life-breath is led forward in its paths,
Know that indeed to be the Brahman, not
this which men follow after here.’5

The world of objects appears to us what our mind and senses declare and determine them to be. But mind is only a veil of something greater than itself. “There is such a greater existence behind, which is to the mind and its instruments, to the life-force and its workings what they are to the material world”.6 Again, this Brahman-consciousness is not alien to the mental and physical world; on the contrary, “it is the Lord and ruler of all the world; the energies of the gods in the mortal consciousness are its energies: when they conquer and grow great, it is because Brahman has fought and won. This world therefore is an inferior action, a superficial representation of something infinitely greater, more perfect, more real than itself”.7 This is the All-Bliss, the Delight of Brahman which is infinite being and immortal force. To seek it, attain to it and follow after it is the supreme aim of human existence:

‘The name of That is “That Delight”;
as That Delight one should follow
after It. He who so knows That, towards
him verily all existences yearn.’8

“Brahman   is   Truth,  Brahman  is Knowledge,  Brahman   is the Infinite,  he  finds  Him hidden in the cavern heart  of being; in the highest heaven of His creatures, lo, he enjoys all desire and he abides with the Eternal, ever with that cognisant and understanding Spirit”,9 says the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is from Brahman, the self, the Spirit that ether was born and from ether air, fire, the waters, earth and food were born. And man is made of the essential substance of food,anna-maya
‘Lo, it is eaten and it eats;
Yea, it devours the creatures that feed upon it,
therefore it is called food from the eating’.10

Food is therefore the supporting as well as consuming substance of all life. But there is  an  second inner Self, the prāna-maya, which fills the Self of food. This, the breath, is the life of all living beings. Yet another inner Self  is Mind, mano-maya, which is in the image of man. It is ‘the self of Mind which “is the soul in the body to the former one which was of Prāna’.11 All speech recoils along with the mind -- baffled, unable to reach the delight of the Eternal.

yato vāco nivartante, aprāpya manasā sah;
ānandam brahmano vidvān12

And there is still another Self which is other than that of Mind which is constituted by pure knowledge — Vijnāna. The Self of this knowledge fills the Self of Mind, and is made verily in the image of man. Lastly there is the inmost Self which is fashioned out of Delight and that which fills the Self of Vijnāna.

The Spirit having desired of old, says the Taittiriya Upanishad,  to become many, to be born, performed austerity—concentrated all Himself in thought, and by the force of His self-concentration created all this that exists. Having brought forth the whole universe into existence He entered into it and having entered it He became both this and the beyond, the defined and the undefined, the manifest and the unmanifest, the Knowledge and the Ignorance, the Truth and the Falsehood and everything else:

asad vā ida agra āsit, tato vai sad ajāyate,
tad ātmānam svayam akuruta, tasmāt tat sukrtam ucyate.13

‘In the beginning all this Universe was Non-Existent and Unmanifest, from which this manifest Existence was born. Itself created itself; none other created it. Therefore, they say of it the well and beautifuldly made’.14

The Īśa Upanishad lays down the basis of a divine life for man upon earth by the idea of  ‘the one and stable Spirit inhabiting and governing a universe of movement and of the forms of movement’.15 The Brahman who is at once the one supreme Lord and the multiple movement contains the unity and stability. The Lord and the world are really one Brahman:

‘That moves and that moves not; That is far and the same is near;
That is within all this and That also is outside all this’.16

He is the One since all existence and non-existence are He. He is stable, unmoving and immutable. Since He is beyond space and time, beyond causality and relativity and  ‘possesses eternally in Himself all that is, has been or ever can be’. “The world is a cyclic movement (samsāra) of the Divine Consciousness in Space and Time. Its law and, in a sense, its object is progression; it exists by movement and would be dissolved by cessation of movement.”17 And the basis of this movement “is the energy of activeCreative Word consciousness which, by its motion and multiplication in different principles (different in appearance, the same in essence), creates oppositions of unity and multiplicity, divisions of Time and Space, relations and groupings of circumstance and Causality. All these things are real in consciousness, but only symbolic of the Being, somewhat as the imaginations of a creative Mind are true representations of itself, yet not quite real in comparison with itself, or real with a different kind of reality”.18 It is the power of ‘the pure omnipotent self-awareness of the Absolute unbound by any law of the relativity’ that creates the universe. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
‘Unity is the eternal truth of things, diversity a play of the unity ... reality’19

Brahman is thus perceived by the Upanishads as both the Stable and the Moving. It is realised in the eternal and immutable Spirit as also in all the changing manifestations and relativity. It is  ‘that which exceeds, contains and supports all individual things as well as all universe, transceadentally of Time and Space and Causality’; It is also ‘that which lives in and possesses the universe and all it contains’. “This is the transcendental, universal and individual Brahman, Lord, Continent and Indwelling Spirit, which is the object of all knowledge”.20

Brahman is, subjectively, the Self of all that is in the universe. The world of multiplicity constitutes the becomings of this Self in the movemenl. The Self, Ātman, reveals itself in three states, as Kshara Purusha, Akshara Purusha and Para Purusha. As Kshara it reflects the changes and movements of Nature, actively participates in them and enjoys division and duality; “controls secretly its own changes but seems to be controlled by them; enjoys the oppositions of pleasure and pain, good and bad, but appears to be their victim; possesses and upholds the action of Nature, by which it seems to be created. For, always and inalienably, the Self is Ishwara, the Lord”.21 As Akshara it stands back ‘from the changes and movements of Nature, calm, pure, impartial, indifferent, watching them and not participating’. It is the hidden freedom of the former. As Purushottama it contains and enjoys both the stillness and the movement and is conditioned and limited by neither of them. It is this that has to be realised in both the unmoving and the mutable. “It is the Lord, Brahman, the All, the Indefinable and unknowable”.22

Sachchidānanda is the first and supreme manifestation of the Purushothama. Para Prakriti is its higher nature—its nature of infinite being, consciousness, power and bliss; whereas mind, life and body constitute its lower nature, Apara Prakriti. The nature of the higher half of universal existence, parārdha, which constitutes Sachchidānanda is one of Immortality, Amrtam and that of the lower half which constitutes the mortal existence in Matter, aparārdha, is Death, Mrtyu. Through the perfect realisation of Sachchidânanda mind, life and body can convert themselves into the nature of Vijnāna, Chaitanya and Sat respectively. Such a realisation of the body is the aim of human evolution. Sachchidānanda is the highest and pure state of Ātman; it either can remain self-contained, apart and aloof from the universe or witness, embrace and possess it as the Lord. In fact, “it does both simultaneously’.
andham tamah praviœ anti
 ye ‘vidyamupāsate
tato bhuya iva te tamo                
ya u vidyāyam ratāh.

‘It is He that has gone abroad—That which is bright, bodiless,  without  scar   of  imperfection,    without sinews,   pure,   unpierced   by   evil.   The seer, the Thinker, the One who becomes everywhere,  the Self-existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal’.23

The Lord in His own self-existence conceives and realises the entire process of the many worlds. He is the Unknowable, Tat, which manifests itself to us both as Personality and Impersonality; for Tat includes the aspect of universal and transcendent Personality. He is sole reality manifesting itself in numberless aspects and forms; subjectively He is the Self,atman,the one Being of whom all existences are Becomings’, and has to be realised in all selves and in all things and beyond all things. Objectively He is the supreme Lord, the Purushottama who contains and inhabits the whole universe. “It is He who has become all things and beings, — a conscious Being the sole Existent and Self-existent, who is Master and enjoyer of all He becomes.”24 He manifests Himself as infinite existence, consciousness and self-delight, Sachchidānanda. In the manifestation of Sachchidānanda, Delight becomes Love, Consciousness becomes conceptive Knowledge and executive Force, and Existence becomes Person and Substance. But, as Sri Aurobindo says, “Love is incomplete without Lover and an object of Love, Knowledge without a Knower and an object of Knowledge, Force without a Worker and a Work, Substance without a Person cognising and constituting it ... In delight of Brahman there is an Enjoyer of delight, in consciousness of Brahman a Conscient, in existence of Brahman an Existent; but the object of Brahman’s delight and consciousness and the term and stuff of its existence are Itself. In the divine Being Knowledge, the Knower and the Known and, therefore, necessarily also Delight, the Enjoyer and the Enjoyed are one. This Self-Awareness and Self-Delight of Brahman has two modes of its Force of consciousness, its Prakriti or Māyā, — intensive in self-absorption, diffusive in self-extension. The intensive mode is proper to the pure and silent Brahman; the diffusive to the active Brahman. It is the diffusion of the Self-existent in the term and stuff of His own existence that we call the world, the becoming or the perpetual movement (bhuvanam, jagat). It is Brahman that becomes; what He becomes is also the Brahman. The object of Love is the self of the Lover; the work is the self-figuration of the Worker; Universe is body and action of the Lord.”25

But Brahman itself is the Unknowable beyond the Personal and the Impersonal. The impersonal aspect of its infinite existence is referred to as Tat, and the Personal or self-aware and self-blissful aspect as Sat. It is Brahman who extends Himself in the relative consciousness ‘whose totality of finite and changeable circumstances dependent on an equal, immutable and eternal Infinity’ is what is called the universe, sa prayagat. There are, thus, two different but mutually dependent and complementary expressions of the Unknowable Brahman, namely, the pure infinite relationless immutability and the totality of objects in Space and Time working out their relations through Causality. This infinite and relationless Immutability is referred to as ‘the bright; bodiless, without scar, without sinews, pure, unpierced by evil’ by the Īśa Upanishad. It is the ‘still and secret foundation of the play and the movement’ extending itself equally in all things, becomes all that is there in Its self-existence which the Seer and Thinker in It visualises or conceives. The same Absolute, as  the cause, continent and governing Inhabitant of the totality of objects and of each object in the totality jagatyām jagat, is referred to in the Īśaas ‘the Seer, the Thinker, the One who becomes everywhere, the Self-existent.’

‘In  the   universe there is  a  constant relation of Oneness and Multiplicity.   This expresses itself as the universal Personality and the many Persons, and both between the One and the Many and among the Many themselves there is the possibility of an infinite variety of relations. These relations are determined by the play of the divine existence, the Lord, entering into His manifested habitations. They exist at first as conscious relations between individual souls; they are then taken up by them and used as a means of entering into conscious relation with the One. It is this entering into various relations with the One which is the object and function of Religion. All religions are justified by this essential necessity; all express one Truth in various ways and move by various paths to one goal.
The   Divine   Personality    reveals   Himself   in various forms and names to the individual soul. These forms and names are in a sense created in the human consciousness; in another they are eternal symbols revealed by the Divine who thus concretises Himself in mind-form to the multiple Consciousness and aids it in its return to its own Unity.’26

Brahman  is  therefore  both the Active and  the pure: Inactive, as well as the individual human soul.   Activity does not affect the Self; it is always pure, perfect, inalienably free transcending all activity. It is Ignorance which creates the awareness of limitation, makes the part appear as the whole and separates the individual from its source, Sachchidānanda.  But the Active Brahman ‘is always Sachchidānanda using for its self-becoming the forms of mind, body and life.’   It sees and enjoys all their experiences in terms of Sachchidânanda and uses Ignorance ‘as a minor term of its conception.’
‘The human soul is one with the Lord ; it also is in its completeness Sachchidananda using...to a man. To this end it must recover the silent Brahman... universe.’27

The universe of objects is the self-becoming of Brahman in the extension of Its own being. It is governed by the double principle of Consciousness and Being. Consciousness dwelling upon its self-being produces the idea, Vijnāna. Being using its self-awareness creates the infinite forms of itself already contained in Vijnāna. This is the ancient Indian conception of evolution, parināma, vikāra, vivarta.

‘Brahman is His own subject and His own object, whether in His...objectivity.
All objective existence is the Self-existent, the Self-becoming,Svayambhu...Consciousness.
It follows that every object holds in itself the law of its...Fact. Therefore   all   things   are   arranged   by Him perfectly...Lord.’28

The World of Vijnāna, says Sri Aurobindo, is one of “predetermination, of concentration, of compelling seed-state. But it is a determination not in previous Time, but in perpetual Time; a Fate compelled by the Soul, not compelling it, compelling rather the action and result, present in the expansion of the movement as well as in the concentration of the Idea. Therefore the truth of the Soul is freedom and mastery, not subjection and bondage. Purusha commands Prakriti, Prakriti does not compel Purusha, Na karma lipyate nare...

This is the truth of things as seen from above and from the Unity. It is the divine standpoint; but we have to take account of the human standpoint which starts from below, proceeds from the Ignorance, and perceives these principles successively, not comprehensively, as separate states of consciousness. Humanity is that which returns in experience to Sachchidānanda, and it must begin from below, in Avidyā, with the mind embodied in matter, the Thinker imprisoned and emerging from the objective Fact. This imprisoned Thinker is Man, the Manu.

He has to start from death and division and arrive at unity and immortality. He has to realise the universal in the individual and the Absolute in the relative. He is Brahman growing self-conscious in the objective multiplicity. He is the ego in the cosmos vindicating himself as the All and the Transcendent”.29

Being and Becoming are, therefore, one; for the many Becomings ‘exist and are included in Brahman’s view of Himself’. They are merely the many variations of the phonomenal movement of the consciousness of Being. All is the play of the Will, Knowledge and Delight of the Supreme in His World-existence who is Himself free from all modifications in the aspect of His inactive existence. The Pure Passive and the Active Brahman are the positive and negative aspects of the one indivisible consciousness which is the Lord who is beyond both. By becoming one with the Lord, the individual soul would share all this biune conscious existence of Brahman.

The Īśa Upanishad, thus, has for its central theme, the complete reconciliation and harmony of fundamental opposites which is most luminously worked out in four successive movements of experience. The first reveals the perception of essential oneness of the apparently incompatible opposites, “God and the World, Renunciation and Enjoyment, Action and internal Freedom, the One and the Many, Being and its Becomings, the passive divine Impersonality and the active divine Personality, the  Knowledge and the Ignorance, the Becoming and the Not-Becoming, Life on earth and beyond and the supreme Immortality”.30 It discovers the Spirit as the one and only basis of cosmic existence ‘inhabiting and governing a universe of movement and of the forms of movement’.31 Upon this is founded the rule of a divine life for man which, invariably promotes the manifestation of the One through the multiplicity of existence. The second speaks of the identity of ‘the one stable Lord and the multiple movement’ realised as Brahman, an  experience which founds and fulfils the law of life on earth. For the individual identifies himself with the cosmic and transcendental Self and with all its becomings, and being entirely free from grief and illusion, enjoys all by the renunciation of all. The third takes up the justification of life and works and clearly indicates the lines of their divine fulfilment as well as sets forth ‘the degrees of the Lord’s self-manifestation in the universe of motion and in the becomings of the one Being’. And it is His ‘conception and determination’ that constitutes the inner law of all existences. The fourth one deals with the idea of the worlds — the different states of consciousness, and symbolically indicates “under the figures of Sûrya (the pure self-luminous truth of things)32and Agni (the divine force which taking different forms leads man by a progressive manifestation upwards to the Truth and the Bliss),33the relations of the Supreme Truth and Immortality, the activities of this life, and the state after death”.34

The Īśa speaks of Brahman as the basis of cosmic existence. The universe is only a movement of the Spirit in itself; it “is mutable and transient in all its formations and appearances; its only eternity is an eternity of recurrence, its only stability a semblance caused by certain apparent fixities of relation and grouping. Every separate object in the universe is, in truth, itself the whole universe presenting a certain front or outward appearance of its movement. The microcosm is one with the macrocosm. Yet in their relation of principle of movement and result of movement they are continent and contained, world in world, movement in movement. The individual therefore partakes of the nature of the universal, refers back to it for its source of activitv is, as we say, subject to its laws and part of cosmic Nature”.35 Whereas the Spirit being One, immutable, free, stable and eternal, is the lord of its movement. The movement itself with all its formed objects provides a habitation for the Spirit who dwells multitudinously in the multiplicity of creation for multiplicity is only a play of His cosmic consciousness.36 The object of this habitation is the possession and enjoyment of the universe. Man, though in his essence one with the Spirit, does not enjoy because of his ignorance of this oneness. While the Spirit is not bound by Ignorance for it simultaneously dwells both in the consciousness of multiplicity and relativity on the one hand and unity and identity on the other, the individual  conceives  of   the   object   and the    Inhabitant not in the context of their oneness but as standing out separately from the cosmos. Because of the separative ego-sense of man, the object is not seen as ‘the universe in one of its frontal appearances’, but as having an existence separate from the rest of the world. Such is the nature of the illusion of ignorance which falsifies reality and renders the individual unable to enter into a relation of harmony and oneness with the universe in which he lives and enjoys. Nonetheless, the desire to possess and enjoy continue to be the chief impulse of the Ego for it mistakenly thinks of itself as the Lord. The results of such obscurity are necessarily discord, conflict, suffering, disintegration and death. “Enjoyment of the universe and all it contains is the object of world-existence, but renunciation of all in desire37is tConsciousness One with the Divine ConsciousnessThe condition of the free enjoyment of all. Therefore by transcending Ego and realising the one Self, we possess the whole universe in the one cosmic consciousness and do not need to possess physically ... “Being one with all beings, we possess, in their enjoyment, in ours and in the cosmic Being’s, delight of universal self-expression. It is only by this Ānanda at once transcendent and universal that man can be free in his soul and yet live in the world with the full active Life of the Lord in His universe of movement”.38

The soul is neither a separate entity outside Brahman nor in the Brahman; it is part and portion of both the witness Soul and the active Brahman. By getting behind Prakriti to the Lord of Prakriti and merging itself in the Cosmic Will, the individual soul can act with perfect freedom. Therefore, through conscious identity with the Divine, action not inaction leads the soul into ‘ the worlds of light and of liberated and blissful being’ and founds the basis of divine life on earth.



  1. Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual, No. 26, p. 44.
  2. “Not only Monism,but all the philosophical thoughts and doctrines that  have come into being in Europe and Asia—Rationalism, Realism, Nihilism, the Drawinian theory of  evolution, the positivism of Comte, the philosophy of Hegel, Kant, Spinoza and Schopenhauer, Utilitarianism Hedonism, all were seen  and expressed by the Rishis  endowed with the direct vision. But what has  been elsewere partially glimpsed,  proclaimed as the integral truth— in spite of its being only a fragment of the Truth—and  given a distorted des­cription with a mixture of truth and falsehood, has been recorded in its full­ness and  right perspective, in a pure and unmistakable manner” in the Upanishads.— Ibid., p. 44.
  3. Ibid., p. 45.
  4. Ibid., p. 46.
  5. SABCL 12, p. 145-46.
  6. Ibid., p. 156.
  7. Ibid., pp. 156-57.                    
  8. Ibid., p. 151.
  9. SABCL 12, p. 327.
  10. Ibid., p. 328.
  11. Ibid., p. 330.
  12. Ibid., p. 330.
  13. Ibid., p. 333.
  14. Ibid., p. 333.
  15. SABCL 12, p. 71.
  16. Ibid., p. 64.
  17. Ibid., p. 78.
  18. Ibid., pp. 78-79.
  19. Ibid., p. 79.
  20. Ibid., p. 86.
  21. Ibid. p. 88.
  22. Ibid p. 88.
  23. Ibid., p. 65.
  24. Ibid., p. 96.
  25. Ibid., p. 97.
  26. Ibid., pp. 97-98.
  27. Ibid., pp. 100-01.
  28. Ibid., p. 102.
  29. Ibid., pp. 103-04.
  30. Ibid., p.65, fn. 1.
  31. Ibid., p. 71.
  32. Ibid., p. 72.
  33. Ibid., p. 72.
  34. Ibid., p. 72.
  35. Ibid., p. 73.
  36. Ibid., p. 74.
  37. Ibid., p. 75.
  38. Ibid., p. 76.












  November 2008
Volume IX, Issue 4


  From the editor's desk  
  Mental Education  
    Upanishads: The Basis of Divine Life  
  Growth of the Psychic and its influence on the Outer Personality  
  Invoking Oneness  
  The Problem of Evil: As Seen in the light of Sri Aurobindo  
  Role and Significane of Symbols: An Overview