Sunday, September 30, 2007

6. Lights on Vedic Symbolism Shed by the Upanisads

Discussion on Yāskas cognisance of Vedic symbolism ultimately converged on the relationship between adhibhuta, adhidaiva and adhyatma. We also saw how the idea of unity among these three levels of the reality was envisioned by Vedic seers themselves particularly Dirghatamas. This tradition was carried on by the Brāhmaņas so much so, as to have led Yāska to formulate so decisively his theory of Vedic interpretation concurrently on these three levels. Since the Upanişads occupy a place intermediate to the Brāhmaņas and Yāska historically, it would be worth looking into them and see if they provide us with any further clue in this regard.

The problem with which we are going to look into the Upanişads is the relationship between ādhibhautika, ādhidaivika and ādhyātmika. From this viewpoint, the beginning of the second chapter of the Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad is interesting. It is in the form of a dialogue between Gārgya, a Brahmin scholar, and Ajātaśatru, the famous King.

Once upon a time, the Upanişad narrates, Gārgya approached the King with the promise that he would like to instruct the latter into the secret of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Gārgya told him that he worshipped as Brahman the Puruşa indwelling the sun. The King retorted to him that he should not talk any more on the point as he himself worshipped the person indwelling the sun as the head and ruler of all things in the world and that one who worshipped that Puruşa with so much regard for him, became the head and ruler of all beings. (Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad, II.1.2.)

Gārgya further said that he worshipped as Brahman the Puruşa indwelling the moon. To this also the King retorted that he should not prolong his discourse on it any longer since he himself worshipped the Puruşa indwelling the moon as King Soma and that one who worshipped him as such got fulfilled in food. (Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad, II.1.3).

Gārgya now shifted to lightning and observed that he worshipped as Brahman the Puruşa in the lightning. Here also the King informed him that he himself worshipped that Puruşa as illumination and that one who worshipped him as such was blessed with lustrous progeny. (Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad II.1.3)

After listening to all this, the King took him to a person who was fast asleep and tried to awaken him by calling him as King Soma, etc., but all in vain. Then he pressed his hands tightly and got him awakened. Turning to Gārgya after this, he explained to him how in the state of sleep one becomes completely unaware of the external world since the self functioning through some seventy two thousand nerves spread over the body in the waking state withdraws itself to the heart in the state of sleep and remains there self-contented. It is the self which working through those nerves in the waking state becomes aware of the entire universe around it including senses, heavenly bodies, earthly beings, and gods. (Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad II.1.4-19)

It is not difficult to visualise that in this significant dialogue all the three orders of entities are involved -- the physical, the divine and the spiritual. Physical are the sun, the moon, lightning, space, air, fire, water, etc. while divine are the Puruşas indwelling these physical entities. The latter may be treated as divinities representing these physical entities. Gārgya tries to convince the King that the divine Puruşa or the god concerned is Brahman but fails. He, of course, attained to a level of understanding in this regard higher than that of the common man who is most likely to regard the sun, the moon and lightning etc. in themselves as respective divinities. Even then he is rebuffed by the King and consequently submits before him despite of all his learning. The reason being that the King offered him something else which is still higher than what he knew and that is spiritual knowledge. Gārgya also happens to touch upon it while identifying Brahman in the form of the Puruşa lying within but what he mistakes for Brahman is probably the same as was called the divine mind, devam manah. While the King Ajātaśatru leads him to the inmost principle of immortality lying within each and every individual. Thus, starting with the premise of Brahman, he ultimately reaches the Atman itself, suggesting thereby at the same time that Brahman, if knowable at all, can be known at its best only as the principle of immortality, eternity and infinity lying within and controlling everything.

We find in this scheme a process of introversion from outward to inward. When the common man worships the sun, the moon, the lightning and the fire, etc., he takes them to be lying over there at respective distant places and tries to please them so that they may prove beneficial to him from where they are. This is the Ādhibhautika mode of belief and worship. When Gārgya seeks to convince the King that it is the Puruşa indwelling the respective physical entities which is worth worshipping as Brahman, he tries indirectly to withdraw the object of his faith back to himself from the most distant, as the sun, to closer and closer, as the moon, lightning, fire, one’s reflection are, until he reaches his own self which being individualistic, proves to be just an agent of the real self or Atman. Through the process of gradual withdrawal, he raises the status of the object of worship from the physical, Ādhibhautika to the Ādhidaivika. To state this achievement summarily, when the physical entity is discovered to be indwelt by a principle cognate to our devam manah inside our physical body, we take a jump from the Ādhibhautika to the Ādhidaivika. This obviously is attainable through perseverance and digging within.

While the excellence of the King’s approach lies in digging still deeper until he reaches the inmost Self coinciding with Brahman, the source, sustainer and dissolvent of everything. It is that common source from which, as the Upanişad puts it, all the senses including mind, all the worlds, all the gods and everything else emerge like flimsy sparks emerging out of the fire. It indeed is the reality of realities. If the senses and the mind, along with what they perceive and conceive, form the reality, the Self is the reality of the reality. (Brhadāraņyaka Upanişad, II.1.20.).

In this spectrum of the reality ranging from the physical to the spiritual, the exterior serves as the sign or symbol of the interior as it is the means of understanding of the latter. The physical world, as philosophers have been telling us since long and which is being corroborated by science quite for sometime, is not exactly the same as we perceive it; rather it must be very much different from what we see it as. Even then we take things as really what they look to be and this conviction of ours is working precisely well. As a matter of fact, entities lying over there in the outside world are just signs of what they really are serving the purpose of our understanding about them. If these signs were not formed, we could not have understood anything about the world at all, just as the blind man cannot see the form and the deaf cannot hear the word. Finally, to formulate the point, when mind without taking help of senses comes to form representative ideas about things outside, they get reformed and tend to become symbolic.

When Gārgya comes to conceive of Puruşas in the respective entities, such as the sun, etc., those physical entities become just dwelling places, indicators, outer appearances, signs and symbols of that higher entity supposed to be indwelling them and lying in transcendence of them. In this way, the entire Adhibhuta in the Vedas may be treated as symbolic of the Adhidaiva depending on the fact as to what degree the latter is independent of the former in its essence. If the Uşas of the seer is the dawn itself for instance, there is nothing symbolic about it. But, if it is used to present something akin to dawn in appearance but is really independent of it and higher than it cognisable not through senses but through mind, it would certainly be symbolic of that higher entity or subtler principle, no matter whatever.

To extend this formula to the position of the King, what looks as the ideal reality worth inculcating to Gārgya, becomes something decidedly lesser in the eye of the King. This is evident from his rejection of it outright as Brahman. These very entities, however, at last have been used by him to identify tentatively the position of Atman and through the latter that of Brahman. To elucidate the point, all gods along with their respective abodes are regarded by him as having their origin and sustenance in that highest principle. Thus, the gods, as well as other entities, have been used by him as indicators of that principle lying in their transcendence. From this, we may draw the obvious conclusion that in the Veda if the Adhibhuta be supposed to have been used as the sign or symbol of the Adhidaiva, the latter would have to be taken as the same vis-à-vis the Adhyatma.

Aitareya Upanişad explains the relationship among these three planes of being in a formulastic way. It recounts how Atman, when wishing to create the world, produced first of all a set of four principles known as Ambha, Marici, Māra and Āpas. Out of these, it gave form to Puruşa. It made the Puruşa undergo a course of tapas. Due to the tapas opened out the organs of sense and action in the body of the Puruşa. From his mouth came out Vāk and from Vāk was born Agni. From his eyes was born the sun. From his ears were born the Diks while from his heart was born Manas. Agni, Sun, Diks, etc. were gods. After their birth, the Upanişad tells us further, they felt hungry and thirsty and wished to have separate abodes for them where they could pacify their hunger and thirst.

For this, a prototypal Puruşa was brought to them. Assuming the form of Vāk, Agni entered into his mouth, Vāyu, as prāņa, entered into his nose, Aditya as eyesight entered into his eyes, Diks, as the power of hearing entered into his ears, Candramas as manas entered into his heart, so on and so forth.

Those who entered into different organs of the primeval Puruşa were gods while the organs, into which they entered, created through their respective functions the respective elements in the outside world such as space, air, fire, water and earth. The gods, the organs and the products of the functionings of those organs on the imperative of gods combined together to form the universe in which the individual as its epitomised product tended to behave as automation complete in itself. This tendency of the individual and, of course, of the universe as a whole, made Ātman, the Supreme, think how all this can work without itself, no matter howsoever automatic it be by virtue of the organs of sense and action functioning efficiently.

As the way out, it made a hole at the top of the head in addition to those already provided for in the body and entered into it through that hole and began to look around and found Vāyu alone there outside as well as inside. It is by virtue of this all-comprehending understanding that this epiphany of the Supreme came to be called Indra whic h, as the Upanişad explains it, is a combination of idam and dr, to see (Aitareya Up.I.1-3.).

In this Upanişadic account, we find the most profound integration of all the aspects of the reality made out in the Vedic tradition as the Ādhibhautika, Ādhidaivika and Ādhyātmika. Due to its operation from the inmost being of the individual, the Ādhyātmika is regarded here as the root cause of all. It is on the imperative of the Vāyu lying in the inmost being of the individual that mind becomes charged and operative resulting in mobilisation and co-ordination of the functions of organs of sense and action. The organs, on the other hand, are able to operate on their respective elements in the outside world on account of those elements having themselves been born of the organs of the primeval Puruşa, as the Upanişad states.

Thus by virtue of its admittance of Puruşa as the primeval integral reality giving birth to gods, organs of sense and action and their respective objects in the external world, the Upanişad establishes organic relationship among all the three sorts of entities, that is, the Ādhibhautika, the Ādhidaivika and the Ādhyātmika and provides us with the best clue for understanding their usage in the Veda.

This cognisance of the relationship existing among the Transcendent, the gods, the organs of sense and action and the world as a whole is an established fact in the Upanişads, as is evident from its recurrence in them allegorically as well as axiomatically. The story of Umā Haimavatī narrated in the Kena Upanişad, amounts to an expression of the same formulation. According to this story, gods at one time became proud of having defeated the Asuras by themselves. On this, a Yakşa appeared before them and stood at some distance. Gods asked Agni to go ahead and inquire who the person over there was. Being thus delegated, before Agni could ask him who he was, the Yakşa himself put the same question to Agni. On Agni’s claiming that he was the god of fire and could burn anything, the Yakşa put a blade of grass before him and asked him to burn it. Agni tried his best but could not burn it and returned crestfallen. Next was sent Vāyu by the gods. The same happened with him also. The Yakşa put the same blade of grass before him and asked him to blow it off. Vāyu tried his best, failed and therefore returned ashamed. Finally, was sent Indra. But, as soon as he reached the spot, the Yakşa disappeared and in his place emerged a beautiful lady named Umā Haimavatī. Indra inquired of her about the Yakşa. She told him that the Yakşa was Brahman and that it was with the support of Brahman that they were victorious over the Asuras and by no means on their own strength. Thus, the Upanişad tells us that this is how Indra was the first amongst gods to know Brahman and consequently became prominent among them. Next in this respect came Agni and Vāyu. (Kena Upanisad. III – IV).

Instances of actualisation of this possibility are to be found in the Kaţhopanişad where it has been observed that just as fire, though one and the same, assumes diverse forms as per the substance it gets embodied in, or air, though one and the same everywhere assumes diverse forms as per the body it is embodied in, even so Vāyu, the inmost Self of all, though one and the same, assumes all possible forms in the world and yet remains transcendent to it (Kathopanisad.V.9-10.). In this continuation, the Upanişad refers to the sun also as the eye of the world and as yet not getting contaminated by whatever it makes visible. On the analogy of the same, it observes that the inmost common Self of all, though pervading everything, does not get affected by the sufferings of the world, since it is also transcendent (Kathopanisad, V.11.).

The Upanişad even goes to the extent of quoting exactly an Rgvedic mantra to the effect that just as Agni remains hidden within the pair of fire-sticks, like the embryo in the womb of the mother, and is worshipped by people keeping awake and offering oblations, even so does the Atman lying in our inmost being. (Kathopanisad, IV.8 ). Agni as produced by rubbing the fire-sticks is obviously physical while the same as worshipped through the offering of oblations is supra-physical. Agni in both these forms is then used by the Upanişad as well as is recognised by it to have been used as such in the Veda as a simile for bringing out the idea of the presence of the Ultimate Reality in each and everything in the world. So is the case with the air and the sun. Their serving as similes in this respect vindicates the possibility of their use in the Veda as symbols of the same Reality also, for, as has already been stated, a large number of symbols are simply similes having reached the acme of maturity.

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