Adapted from talks by Pujya Swami Paramarthananda Saraswati (Chennai)
The Upanishads seek to reveal to us the truth of one’s self. Truth of oneself is called as Brahman by the Upanishads. The Upanishads define Brahman in two ways. One is the direct defination, technically called svarupa lakshanam, and the other is an indirect definition called as tathastha lakshanam. We will look at the indirect defination which is Brahman is the cause of the creation – or jagat kaaranam Brahman.
Brahman is said to be the Cause of the universe. Which means the universe is an effect. Thus Brahman and the universe have a cause-effect relationship (kaarya-kaarana sambandha) even as gold and golden ornaments have a cause-effect relationship. Many examples can be given – like wood and wooden furniture, clay and earthenware.
There are many implications or important corollaries which can be derived from this cause-effect relationship.
1. The first one is the cause is one and the effects are many. Like gold is one and the ornaments are many.
2. The cause has a continuing existence, whereas the effect has a temporary existence. The gold was there before the ornament came into existence, the gold is present when the ornament is in existence and the gold continues to exist even when after the ornament is melted. Whereas the ornaments, being a product, have beginning and end and so they have only a temporary existence. In the language of Vedanta, the cause is nityam having trikaala avasthanam - an existence in all the periods of time. And the effect is anityam.
3. The cause has an independent existence, whereas the effect has a dependent existence. Gold was there even before the ornaments came into existence, and continue even after the ornaments are melted, whereas the ornaments cannot exist independent of gold. In the case of furniture also it is the same – the wooden furniture cannot exist independent of wood. So generalizing, we can say that an effect cannot exist independent of the cause, whereas the cause is independent of the effect. In Vedanta, that which is independently existent is called as satyam. And that which has a dependent existence is called as mithya. Satyam and mithya are technical terms which are to be well understood.
When we examine a golden bangle, we find that the weight of the bangle is the weight of the gold. The colour of the bangle is the colour of gold. In fact there is no separate substance called bangle. The bangle has no substantial existence of its own. The substance, the vastu, is gold. ‘Bangle’ is only a name for a particular form of gold. Gold alone is the substance. And you can say then that ‘bangle’ is just non-substantial name and form.
Thus we find that the effect has no existence of its own separate from the cause. There is no such thing as the bangle existing apart from its cause.
Now applying these corollaries to Brahman we see that :-
1. Brahman is eternal-nityam and universe is transient-anityam
2. Brahman is One –ekam and the universe is manifold – anekam
3. Brahman has independent existence – it is satyam and the universe has a dependent existence – it is mithya. This means that the tangibility, the substantiality of the universe belongs to Brahman, the ultimate substance, the essence of the universe.
Scientists talk of intangible energy being the ultimate substance of matter. Vedanta points out that the ultimate substance is not even energy, the ultimate substance is BRAHMAN – the consciousness.
So far it has been said that BRAHMAN, or God, or Self is the cause for the world. In our experience, we find that for any product there are two types of causes required. One is the material cause – the raw material. The other is the designer, the creator, the one who has the vision of what the product should be like and who also has the knowledge and necessary resources to create the product. Thus for furniture you need the raw material, the wood, as well as well as the carpenter. For ornament you need gold and the gold-smith.
In Vedanta, the material cause is called the upaadaana kaarana and the intelligent cause is called the nimitta kaarana. So what is Brahman – is it the material cause or the intelligent cause?
The Upanishads give a surprising answer – that Brahman is both the material cause as well as the intelligent cause – the abhinna-nimitta-upaadaana kaaranam. The upanishad gives an example to help us assimilate this. It points out that in our experience itself we find that the spider is both the intelligent as well as the material cause of its web! The web is made of material that comes from a small gland in its body! If an ordinary spider can be the abhinna-nimitta-upaadaana kaarana why not Brahman?!!!!
In Mundaka Upanishad, a popular example is given – just as sparks arise from a huge conflagaration which is one fire only – from this thousands of sparks arise, so too out of one Brahman millions of things and beings arise, are sustained and resolve back. The Mundaka Upanishad then goes on to elaborately and poetically reveal that all that here, the five elements, all mountains, all rivers, all oceans, all forms of food, all grains and vegetations, all forms of loiving beings like numerous flying, walking, slithering beings – all are born of BRAHMAN. The Vedas are also born of Brahman. Thus Brahman is karanam and the universe, the jagat is kaarya.
What is the purpose of discussing the creation – the srshthi?
The Mundaka Upanishad reveals this in its mantra :-
purusha eva idam vishvam karma tapo brahma paraamrtam.
etad yo veda nihitam guhayaam so’vidyagranthim vikirtti iha saumya.
The world (consisting of) special karma revealed by Veda, religious disciplines and upaasanaa, and Veda, is Brahman alone. The one who knows this limitless, timeless Brahman present in buddhi, resolves the knot of ignorance here itself, Oh pleasing one!
As we saw earlier the cause alone appear in the form of the varieties of effects – gold alone appears as all the ornaments. The wood alone appears as different items of furniture. The thread alone appears as cloth. One substance appears in many different forms. Forms are many, functions are many, yet there is only one substance that is gold. In fact there is no other substance. Ornament simply cannot exist apart from gold. In fact where is the ornament as a separate substance? There is no ornament – there is only gold.
Upanishad is saying this – that purusha eva idam vishvam – Brahman is the Purusha who alone is this entire universe. The world is nothing but Brahman manifesting itself with different names for different forms and functions. All that is here is the Purusha. Purusha is another name for the cause Brahman. Knowing this one Truth Brahman, everything else is as well known.
What we have in front of us is the world, which is an effect. What is our goal? To know the cause which is Brahman.
Earlier we saw that the cause is EKAM (one) and it is NITYAM – it has a continuing existence. Gold exists before the birth of the ornament. It exists when the ornament is in existence. And gold continues to exist even after the ornament is melted – thus gold has a continuing existence in the past, present and the future. We also saw that the cause (kaaranam) is independently existent, wheras the effect (kaaryam), depends on the cause for its existence – thus the kaaranam is the essence, the substance, the truth of the kaaryam. Gold is behind every ornament. Wood is the truth, the satyam of furniture.
Thus the kaaranam is in and thru the kaaryam - meaning the kaaranam pervades the kaaryam.
Thus Brahman, the cause, is characterised by being :-
· ekam - one
· nityam – eternal
· svatantram - independently existent - satyam
· sarvagatam - all-pervading – that which is the content of all the effects
Now in creation we have to look for that which will fulfill all these four conditions – we have to locate it. The Upanishad itself helps us – it asks us that whenever you look at any object how do you recognize the object? You will say for example :-
· Here is a pillar
· This is a fan
· This is a mike
· Here is a woman
· There is a man
In all these cognitions what is common?
Let us simplify further. Your cogniton is of the nature that :-
Ø Pillar is
Ø Fan is
Ø Mike is
Ø Woman is
Ø Man is
What is common?
‘Is’ is common. So the Upanishad points out that ‘isness’ , otherwise called as existence – in Sanskrit which is sat or sattaa is the only one which fulfills all these conditions. Because ‘isness’ is everywhere – even between you and any other object the space ‘is’ – even if you use the word ‘nothing’ – then ‘nothing is’.
Thus there is one all-prevading isness – eka satta is there and not only it is ekam, it is all-pervading – sarvagatam also.
Not only sarvagatam it is also eternal- indestructible. How?
Suppose there is a pot and you say ‘pot is’. Now when you destroy the pot, what happens to the ‘isness’ in the pot? Nothing happens to it – because now ‘pot pieces is’. Even if you powder the pot pieces you will still have the ‘isness’ – now in the form of the clay powder. Existence never dies. It ever is. ‘Isness’ simply cannot be destroyed. The forms get destroyed. The isness ever remains – it is indestructible – it is eternal.
Thus the four conditions of ekam, nityam, svatantram and sarvagatam are satisfied in ‘isness’ or ‘existence’. The ‘isness’ does not depend on any name or form. If one name and form resolves, existence remains. Existence or the ‘isness’ is independent. Thus according to the Upanishads Brahman or Truth is ‘sat’ – The Chandogya Upanishad says ‘sat eva Soumya idam agre aasiit. ekam eva advitiyam’.
Thus pure existence is the nature of Brahman. Pure existence is the very essence of the universe. Pure existence does not have any form. If it had a form it would be limited, whereas existence is everywhere so itself does not have any form.
Formless, intangible existence is the content of the universe.
Modern science says that energy is the essence of matter. Matter is nothing but energy condensed, which means the essence of the universe is energy according to these scientists. Energy is formless and intangible. If science can say that formless, intangible energy is the essnce of matter, they why can’t Vedanta say that formless, intangible existence is the essence of both matter and energy?
Formless intangible existence is Brahman.
Continuation in the next blog will look at how to ‘experience’ formless existence that is Brahman.