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The Nature of the Ultimate

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“The Soul is the unity that links all individual beings. It is the indivisible continuum in which beings appear as individual conscious units. Every existing thing contains a part of the universal Soul, just as every form encloses a part of space and every duration of time. But, although this individual fragment of the Soul, like the fragment of space in the pitcher, gives existence to the living being, at no moment is the individual soul really separated from the universal continuum of consciousness, the Atman.”

The Nature of the Ultimate

The Origin of Existence

“In the beginning, my dear, this world was just nondual Being (sat). To be sure, some people say that in the beginning this world was just nondual non-Being (a-sat), and that Being arose from non-Being. But how could that be? How could Being be produced from non-Being? In the beginning this world must have being pure Being, one without a second.” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1-2 [6] )

Thus did the sage Aruni state the question of the ultimate origin of gods, men, and the cosmos.

The methods of yoga, which the Aryans had probably learned from the earlier inhabitants of India, had made them conscious, through introspection, of an ultimate void within themselves, of a stage beyond thought and dream, beyond perception, beyond knowledge, motionless, indescribable, unbounded by space and time. Was this the causal principle? Was there a motionless substratum for matter, one for time, as there seemed to be one for thought? Were these different substrata the forms of a still more subtle one? The philosophers of the Upanishads pondered over these problems.

The Perceptible Continua: Space, Time, and Thought

When attempting to reach the root of any aspect of the manifest world we are led to imagine that there must exist beyond its form, beyond its appearance, some sort of causal state, some undifferentiated continuum, of which that particularized form would be an apparent development.

The first of the continua underlying all perceptible forms appears to be space. Absolute empty space is defined by Indian philosophers as a limitless, undifferentiated, indivisible continuum in which are built the imaginary divisions of relative space.

The Three Modes of Being: The substrata of Space, Time and Consciousness

If we envisage the cosmos not merely as an unconscious mechanism but as a creative process, as the manifestation of a conscious power, we are led to search for an active or conscious substratum for each of the perceptible continua.

The substratum of space is existence (sat), the substratum of time is experience or enjoyment (ananda), the substratum of thought is consciousness (cit).

Before there can be location, place, dimension, there must be something to locate, some sort of existence. There can be no location of the nonexistant. Hence existence must pre-exist space.

Time exists only in relation to perception. A nonperceived time can have no extension, cannot be the measure of anything. The principle of perception must therefore pre-exist time. That first undifferentiated potential perception, that first principle of experience, is said to correspond to pure, absolute enjoyment, the innermost nature of existence.

'Know the Principle (brahman) to be enjoyment. From enjoyment are all beings born; once born they are sustained by enjoyment and leave this world to return into enjoyment.' (Taittirtya Upanisad 3.6. [7])

“There is no experience, no enjoyment, without being, and no being without experience (enjoyment). When we speak of enjoyment (ananda) as 'self-illumined existence' (svaprakala-satta), enjoyment is shown as something other than sensation, and by saying that existence is the form of enjoyment, existence is freed from the notion of inertia.” (Karapatri, “Lingopasana-rahasya.” Siddhanta, II, 1941-42, 153.)

The lord-of-sleep (Siva), who is the principle of disintegration (tamas), the source of an ever-expanding (disintegrating) universe, is the principle of time, the destroyer, and at the same time the embodiment of experience, the phallus (linga). Thus enjoyment that is life and time that is death are shown as the two aspects of one entity. The source of life and immortality (a-mrta) is the same as that of death (mrta), a symbol that expresses itself in all traditions as the oneness of love and death (a-mor and mortis).

Enjoyment being the form of experience, the enjoyment continuum, basis of experience, is also known as 'feeling' (rasa) or 'emotion.' 'He [the Total Being] verily is but feeling.' (Taittirtya Upanisad 2.7.)

The experience of pure, unbounded enjoyment as the innermost nature of things implies the realization of absolute time, which is ever-present eternity. The being who reaches that stage is freed from the bonds of actions.

'He who knows the enjoyment of the Immensity does not know fear from any quarter. He is not tormented by any thought 'Why did not I act rightly? why did I sin?' He who knows that [right and wrong are relatively things] reaches the Soul.' (Taittirtya Upanisad 2.9. [8])

The substratum of thought is consciousness. Thought can exist only in a conscious mind. There can be no thought independent of a thinker, of someone conscious of the existence of thought. Consciousness is therefore the fundamental substratum of thought and is linked with the notion of individual existence, of an individual monad, or self, or being.

The formless Immensity that appears to be the innermost nature of things can be grasped as the void, the silence, the absolute darkness, which lies beyond mind, beyond intellect, and can be realized as the substratum of man's own nature, as his own Self, his own Soul (atman).

'Vast, resplendent, of unthinkable form, it shines forth more subtly than what is subtlest. Farther than the far, it is here at hand, hidden in the hearts of the seers.' (Mundaka Upanisad 3.1.7. [9])

"That Soul is not 'this' nor 'that'; unseizable, it cannot be grasped; indestructible, it cannot be destroyed; unattached, it has no contacts; unbound, it knows no anguish; it cannot be injured.” (Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 3.9.26 and 4.5.15. [10])

Unbounded by space and time, the individual soul is as small as an atom, as vast as the universe. 'He who realizes the sphere of space hidden in the cavern of his heart grasps all that may be desired and comes into contact with the Immensity.' (Taittirtya Upanisad. 2.1. [11])

The Soul is the unity that links all individual beings. It is the indivisible continuum in which beings appear as individual conscious units. Every existing thing contains a part of the universal Soul, just as every form encloses a part of space and every duration of time. But, although this individual fragment of the Soul, like the fragment of space in the pitcher, gives existence to the living being, at no moment is the individual soul really separated from the universal continuum of consciousness, the Atman.

The experience of the universal Soul is an experience of identity; hence absolute consciousness is spoken of as the Self, the own self of each being. 'For, where there is duality, one sees another, one smells another, one tastes another, one speaks to another, one smells another, one tastes another,one touches another, one understands another. But where everything has become one's own self, then who can be seen by what? Who can be smelt by what? who can be tasted by what? who can speak to what? who can hear what? Who can think of what? Who can touch what? Who can understand what? Who can understand that through which all things are understood?' (Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 4.5.15. [12])

As the substratum of consciousness, the Atman is the Self, the innermost nature of all divinities, of all the forms of the manifest universe, of all living beings.

The Soul is the sum of all the gods. 'All the gods are this one Soul, and all dwell in the Soul.' (Manu Smrti 12.119. [13])

'The ruler-of-heaven (Indra) and all the gods are the Supreme Soul. It is supreme because it includes all.' (Kulluka Bhatta, commentary on ibid. [14])

As the one [inner] Fire pervading the world takes the endless forms of things, the one Soul within all beings fills their forms and the space around. As the one Air pervading the world takes the endless forms of things, the one Soul within all beings fills their forms and the space around. As the one Sun, the eye of the worlds, is not affected by the defects of sight, the one Soul within all beings is not defiled by suffering. There is but one Self for all beings, [one Power] that controls all, one Form that creates all forms. The strong who witness it within their hearts alone knows everlasting joy. It is the eternity of things eternal, the consciousness of the conscious, the unity of multiplicity, the fulfillment of desire. The strong who witness it within their hearts alone knows everlasting peace. (Katha Upanisad 5.9-13. [15])

The Soul, the all-pervading continuum of consciousness, becomes the sole object of meditation of the realized sage.

'This Soul indeed is below, this Soul indeed is above, this Soul is to the west and to the east. This Soul is to the south. This soul is to the north. This Soul indeed is the whole world.' (Chandogya Upanisad 7.25.2. [16])

'It is not born, nor does it die. It has not come from anywhere, has not become anyone. Unborn, everlasting, eternal, primeval, it is not slain when the body is slain.' (Katha Upanisad 2.18. [17])

The Soul is not affected by the accumulated actions which shape the individuality of the living being. Yet, in contact with individual characteristics, it appears colored by them just as crystal placed near a China rose appears red.

'He who sees this, who knows this, who understands this, who desires the Soul, who plays with the Soul, who makes love to the Soul, who attains volupty in the Soul, becomes his own master and wanders at will through the worlds. But they who know otherwise are dependent. They dwell in perishable worlds and cannot wander at will.' (Chandogya Upanisad 7.25.2. [18])

The “I" and the Self

There is considerable difference between the notion of the Self or Soul and the entity known as the individuality. The Soul is a continuum which exists within and without all beings. The 'I' or individuality, on the other hand, is a temporary knot, a 'tying together' of different universal faculties in a particular point of consciousness. It is a center within the Self just as any object is a group of energies tied together in a particular location within indefinite space. The Soul can exist independently of the notion of particularized existence, without thought, without individuality; not so the 'I,' which is the center of the vibrations of thought.

The Realization of the Soul

Being the substratum of man's own consciousness, the Soul is the universal substratum easiest for man to reach. The realization of the universal Soul is thus the highest realization accessible to man. The Soul is man's absolute. There is for him no other transcendental reality.

'The Soul is hidden in all things; it does not shine forth, but it can be perceived by seers with the subtle eyes of the intellect.' (Katha Upanisad 3.12. [19])

The point where the identity of the individual soul and the universal Soul is realized, the point where all living beings unite, is called the 'point-limit' (bindu). It is the point where space, time, and all forms of manifestation begin and through which they are ultimately withdrawn. In the order of manifestation, the bindu is described as the limit between the universal Consciousness (cit), which is passive and extentionless, and the universal Intellect (buddhi), which is active and thus require a sphere of activity, some form of extension.

The 'experience of the Soul,' is identified with the bindu, is the point where the universal Being and the individual being unite.

'The Soul is a bridge that links together these worlds so that they may not part. Neither day nor night, nor old age, nor death, nor sorrow, nor good or evil deeds, can cross over that bridge.'

'All evil turns back therefrom, for that immense world is free from evil. Therefore, upon crossing that bridge, the blind regain sight, the bound are liberated, those who suffer are freed from pain. Upon crossing that bridge, the night appears as the day; for that immense world is ever luminous. ' (Chandogya Upanisad 8.4.1-2. [20])

The Soul is not realized through teachings, nor by intellect, nor by learning. It can be reached only by the one who woos it. To him the Soul reveals its form. He who has not renounced action, who is not at peace, who cannot concentrate, who has not silenced his mind, cannot obtain it be mere intelligence.' (Katha Upanisad 2.23-24. [21])

'It cannot be grasped by sight nor by speech, nor by any of the sense organs, nor by penance or deeds. He who meditates and whose nature is purified by knowledge can behold it in its undivided entirety.' (Mundaka Upanisad 3.1.8. [22])

'Hence he who knows this, who is at peace, calm, quiet, patient, sees the Self as himself. He sees the Soul everywhere. Evil does not overcome him; he overcomes all evil. Evil does not burn him; he burns all evils. Free from evil, free from impurity, free from doubt, he becomes a knower of the Immensity.' (Chandogya Upanisad 4.4.23. [23])

Immensity (brahman), the Common Substratum

That the three continua may be the different aspects of one further, still more subtle, causal substratum is a hypothesis which can never be verified, since all its elements are beyond the reach of perception and the methods of logical reasoning cannot apply to regions which are beyond the reach of natural laws. This potential, imaginary substratum is spoken of a 'the Immensity,' the Brahman. It is a prodigious generalization, a most inspiring idea, which becomes also a dangerous instrument in the development of Hindu thought, indeed of all later religions.

The Immensity, which can be described as the space-time-thought continuum, is the absolute and ultimate stage in which are united existence, the source of spatial form; consciousness or knowledge, the basis of thought; and limitless duration of eternity, the basis of experience or enjoyment. Thus, 'the Brahman is indivisible existence, knowledge, and eternity' (Taittirtya Upanisad 2.1. [24])

The ultimate principle is beyond the reach of form, of thought, of experience. It is beyond all categories of manifestation, beyond divisible time, beyond divisible space, beyond number, beyond name and shape, beyond the reach of mind and words. It is spoken of as the stage 'whence mind and speech, having no hold, fall back' (Taittirtya Upanisad 2.9. [25])

There sight cannot go, speech cannot go, nor the mind. We cannot know, we cannot understand. How can one explain It? It is other than all that is known. It is above the Unknown. (Kena Upanisad 1.3. [26])

This ultimate stage cannot be called either non-Being or Being. It is neither one nor many. We can only define it negatively, saying that it is nothing of what man can know or conceive, neither god, nor man, nor thing. It is thus spoken of as nondual, unknowable, formless, changeless, limitless, etc. It cannot be positive or negative, male or female, hence it is spoken of in the neuter gender.

'Invisible, inactive, beyond grasp, without qualifications, inconceivable, indescribable, it is the essence aimed at through the notion of Self, ever aloof from manifestation. Calm, peaceful, auspicious (siva), it is nondual, unmanifest Fourth stage [beyond the three stages of existence, gross, subtle, and causal, beyond the three corresponding stages of experience, waking consciousness, dream consciousness, and deep sleep].' (Mundaka Upanisad 1.17. [27])

This Immensity, this Void, this Unknown, this nonexistant Absolute, is the innermost nature of everything.

It is the hearing of the ear, the thought of the thinking faculty,
the spoken word of speech, as also the breathing of the breath
and the sight of the eye.
(Kena Upanisad 1.2. [28])

That which speech cannot express but through which speech is expressed,
that indeed know as the Immensity and not what is here worshiped.
That which thought cannot conceive but through which thought is thought,
that indeed know as the Immensity and not what is here worshiped.
That which sight cannot see but through which sight sees,
that indeed know as the Immensity and not what is here worshiped.
That which hearing cannot hear but through which hearing is heard,
that indeed know as the Immensity and not what is here worshiped.
That which breath cannot breathe but through which breathing is breathed,
that indeed know as the Immensity and not what is here worshiped.

(Kena Upanisad 1.4-8. [29])

'The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor the stars; lightning does not shine there, nor the [earthly] fire. As he shines, everything is illumined after him. The whole world shines by his light.' (Mundaka Upanisad 2.2.10; Katha Upanisad 5.15 [30])

'It has never begun; one cannot say that it exists nor that it does not exist.... All the perceptions of the senses rest upon it, yet it perceives nothing. It knows no connections, yet supports all things. It has no quality, yet it is the enjoyer of all merits.'

'External to all things, it dwells in all things, animate or inanimate. It is so subtle that it cannot be grasped. Always near, it is ever beyond reach. Indivisible, it only appears in the fragmentation of life. It feeds all that lives, yet devours it and gives it birth again.

It is the light of lights beyond darkness.
It is both knowledge and the object if knowledge,
which knowledge [alone] can reach,
and it dwells in the heart of all.
Thus the field [of knowing (i.e., the mind)], knowledge, and the thing to be known are spoken as one.
(Bhagavadgita 13.12, 14-18. [31])

Alain Daniélou, The Myths and Gods of India
Inner Traditions/Bear & Company (December 1, 1991) pp. 14-22

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