The Sūtasamhitā-Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat (Part 1)
The Sūtasamhitā forms part of the Skandapurāṇam. There, in the part known as ‘Brahmagītā’ are expositions of several Upaniṣads. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣat too is accorded a place there. Here, in this article series, the 10th Chapter of the Brahmagītā, covering a section of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣat is taken up for a study. This section is named ‘ātmano brahmatvapratipādanam’, that is, the delineation of the identity between the Ātman and Brahman.
अस्ति सर्वान्तरः साक्षी प्रत्यगात्मा स्वयंप्रभः ।
तदेव ब्रह्म सम्पूर्णमपरोक्षतमं सुराः ॥ १॥
अस्ति exists सर्वान्तरः beyond all साक्षी witness प्रत्यगात्मा innermost Self स्वयंप्रभः self-effulgent तत् that एव alone ब्रह्म Brahman सम्पूर्णम् the ever-full अपरोक्षतमं most immediate सुराः O Gods
This section, called the ‘Uṣasta-brāhmaṇam’ in the Upaniṣad occurs to demonstrate the nature, by means of epithets, of the Ātman which is to be realized for liberation. In the Upaniṣad, Uṣasta poses the question to sage Yajñvalkya: यत्साक्षादपरोक्षाद्ब्रह्म य आत्मा सर्वान्तरस्तं मे व्याचक्ष्व [’Tell me about that which is direct and immediate Brahman, which is the Ātmā, the innermost of all’] (Bṛ.up.3.4.1)
The reply to this question was provided by sage Yajñvalkya by pointing out ‘एष त अत्मा’ [’This is your Self’] as the one which is known by everyone by direct experience. The above verse condenses the purport derived from the question and answer stated above. The word सर्वान्तरः denotes that entity which is situated beyond all the body-mind-organ-prāṇa complex . It is the sākśī, the witness without any obstruction, of everything. The status of being the seer, relatively the ‘inner’ one, endowed with upādhi, is possible through the medium of the mental modes, antaḥkaraṇa-vṛttis. However, the inner-most entity, which is devoid of any limited adjuncts, nirupādhika, since it directly perceives, is the sākṣī, the absolute witness. It is also self-effulgent, not needing any other illumining agent to make it luminous. This is the innermost Ātman of all. This Ātman alone, popular in the Vedas, is the absolutely direct, aparokṣatamam, the self-luminous, infinite Brahman. There is no difference whatever between the two, Ātman and Brahman.
प्राणापानादिभेदस्य यः सत्तास्फुरणप्रदः ।
यस्य संनिधिमात्रेण चेष्टते सकलं सुराः ॥ २॥
प्राणापानादिभेदस्य of the prāṇa, etc. groups यः that सत्तास्फुरणप्रदः existence-sentience provider यस्य whose संनिधिमात्रेण by mere proximity चेष्टते moves सकलं everything सुराः O Gods
Even after sage Yajñavalkya pointed to, by gesture, the innermost Self, by saying ‘This is your very Self’, since Uṣasta did not comprehend it, the former resorted to teach the Self by the means of specifying the external, adopted, attributes of the Ātman. The words ‘यः प्राणेन प्राणिति’ – (B.r. Up. 3.4.1) of the Upaniṣad teaches that the various modes of the vital air, the prāṇa, apāna, etc. perform their respective functions by the power they derive from the Ātman. The various sense and motor organs, the mind, etc. do perform unique functions as they are designed that way. Yet, they derive their power to so function from a common source, the Ātman. How does the Ātman ‘provide’ them that power? It is not by any volitional, deliberate, act on the part of the Ātman but by its mere presence, the sense organs, etc. by being in its proximity, derive their existence, sattā, and sentience, sphuraṇa. Just as the iron filings move in the proximity of a magnet. This shows that the organs do not have an existence and sentience of their own. They are created, being effects of the five elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth. In the absence of the Ātman while these cannot even exist, the question of their functioning is farfetched.
यश्च सर्वस्य चेष्टायामसक्तो निष्क्रियः स्वयम् ।
स हि सर्वान्तरः साक्षादात्मा नान्यः सुरर्षभाः ॥ ३॥
यः च he who सर्वस्य of all चेष्टायाम् activity असक्तः indifferent निष्क्रियः non-doer स्वयम् himself स he हि indeed सर्वान्तरः innermost साक्षात् direct आत्मा self न not अन्यः other सुरर्षभाः Foremost of Gods!
The body-mind-organs-prāṇa complex does engage in acts such as thinking, seeing, grasping and breathing. Even though, as said above, the Ātman is the one that is the source of sentience to the mind, etc., yet the role of the Ātman is completely passive. The Self is niṣkriya, by nature devoid of any action. Action is possible only in that entity where there are parts, limbs, etc. The Ātman is pure Consciousness, without any parts whatsoever. Therefore, there is no question of any action arising out of the Ātman. Also, the Ātman does not really will to trigger the mind-body-sense organ complex into their respective actions. It is like the sun that merely remains luminous while those that come within the range of the luminosity become illumined. The sense organs, etc., being in the range, proximity, of the Ātman, by default derive sentience and existence from the Ātman and perform the actions they are designed to. That entity that is a mere witness, the sentience provider, being indifferent to any event, is the innermost, directly experienced, Ātman. The logic involved here is: The senses, mind, etc. are inert, being products of the inert elements. So, they are incapable of acting on their own. Even though they are designed to perform unique functions, the basic sentience that alone powers them into any action, is not bothered about whether actions take place or not. Since the Ātman is pure Consciousness, Existence, the sentience and existence are borrowed by the mind-senses complex and existence and activity is perceived in them. Nor is the Ātman affected by the meritorious (puṇya) or sinful (pāpa) acts of the mind-body complex as there is no vikāra, modification, in the Ātman when the sense-body-complex is engaged in actions. Avikāritva is the sign of the absence of any effect of the actions (of the mind-body) on the Ātman.
योऽयं सर्वान्तरः स्वात्मा सोऽहमर्थो न विग्रहः ।
दृश्यत्वादस्य देहस्य द्रष्टा योऽस्य स एव सः ॥ ४॥
यः he अयं this सर्वान्तरः innermost स्वात्मा self सः he अहमर्थः is the meaning of ‘I’ न not विग्रहः body दृश्यत्वात् being seen अस्य its देहस्य body’s द्रष्टा seer यः he अस्य its स he एव alone सः is he
In the sentence ‘aham brahma asmi’ (‘I am Brahman’), there is the word ‘I’, ‘aham’, which refers to the innermost entity. This is so with reference to all persons. This Ātman alone is the true meaning of the word ‘aham’ and not the gross body made of sheaths. This is so because, the body, akin to the objects such as a pot, is always an observed entity. The witness, the knower, of this body alone is the innermost entity, Ātmā. The verse brings to the fore the clear distinction between the observer consciousness and the observed inert entity. The entire Vedantic literature has this clear distinction and instruction alone for its central purport: the Conscious seer Ātman is distinct from the inert observed gross body. The Bhagavadgita devotes an entire chapter, the 13th one, to delineate on this topic.
योऽयं सर्वान्तरः स्वात्मा सोऽयं न प्राणपूर्वकः ।
दृश्यत्वात्प्राणपूर्वस्य द्रष्टा योऽस्य स एव सः ॥ ५॥
यः he अयं this सर्वान्तरः innermost स्वात्मा one’s own self सः he अयं this न not प्राणपूर्वकः endowed with prāṇa दृश्यत्वात् since it is observed प्राणपूर्वस्य the prāṇa entity द्रष्टा seer यः he अस्य of this स he एव alone सः is he
Having distinguished the Ātman from the gross body, now the subtle body is also shown to be only an observed. What are the constituents of the subtle body? The five prāṇa-s (prāṇa, apāna, vyāna, udāna and samāna), the ten instruments (five motor organs – hands, legs, speech, excretory and reproductive, and the five sense organs – eye, ear, tongue, nose and skin to grasp form, sound, taste, smell and touch), the buddhi (intellect) and the manas (mind), adding up to seventeen entities. This subtle body too is not the Ātman as it is only an observed being the product of the elements.
Thus, by the two verses above, the Ātman is shown as the observer of the gross and the subtle bodies (kārya-karaṇa-sañghāta). In this way, the innermost Ātman is indicated to be the one without any limiting adjuncts, nirupādhikasvarūpa.
दृष्टेर्द्रष्टा श्रुतेः श्रोता मतेर्मन्ता च यः सुराः ।
विज्ञातेरपि विज्ञाता स हि सर्वान्तरः परः ॥ ६॥
दृष्टेः of the sight द्रष्टा seer श्रुतेः of hearing श्रोता hearer मतेः of thinking मन्ता thinker च too यः he सुराः Gods ! विज्ञातेः of intellectual activity अपि also विज्ञाता the firm knower स he हि indeed सर्वान्तरः innermost परः surpreme
The Bṛ. Upaniṣad directly teaches the innermost self that is self-luminous by the passage ‘न दृष्टेर्द्रष्टारं पश्येः…’ [3.4.2] in the method of holding the horns of a cow and asserting ‘this is the cow’. The purport of this passage is what is stated in this verse. The words in the genetive case (ṣaṣṭhī vibhakti) in the above verse and in the mantra referred, show the manovṛtti, the mental mode, that is generated when the sense organ such as the eye contacts the sense object such as the form, in order to generate the knowledge such as of the form. These mental modes therefore give the knowledge of the object outside but do not illumine the innermost Self, the Ātman, that is devoid of form, sound, etc. and which, owing to its self-luminosity, illumines all else. How indeed can the worldly mental mode, a created entity, an object by itself, illumine the Ātman, the ultimate Subject? Indeed the mental modes of sight, smell, sound, etc. are themselves pervaded by the Consciousness of the Ātman. Thus, the rule involved here is: that which is an object of a distinct subject cannot illumine the latter.
[Coming soon….Part 2]