Just as we plan our journey to reach our destination, the Svetasvatara Upanishad has designed a well laid out step by step plan for the Sadhakas to reach the destination of Self-Realization.
In the 1st chapter, the seekers who were already in the know of the Vedas started discussing among themselves questions such as who is that Brahman - the root cause of this world, from what have we been born, due to what we live, under whose command we undergo pain and pleasure and from what set rules are we being governed?
They discovered the creative power, belonging to the Lord Himself or Brahman was the root cause for the universe and concluded that this Brahman has to be known and beyond which there is nothing to be known.
The 2nd chapter, dealt with the means of knowing Brahman It started with a prayer to the Sun God and elaborated on the practice of yoga to have the vision of God. It was pointed out that the yogi, who realizes the truth of Atman, becomes one with the non-dual Atman and attains the goal and is free from grief. This chapter concluded with an appeal to adore this Self-luminous Lord who pervades the whole world.
The 3rd and subsequent chapters of this Upanishad deal with the nature and different aspects of the Lord, prayers and eulogies to Him and the state of a seeker on knowing Him.
The unique feature of the Svetasvatara Upanishad is that it is a mixture of Jnana and Bhakti, knowledge and devotion. In other Upanishads the sacred word AUM has been stated as the symbol of Brahman while here Rudra or Siva is equated with Brahman, the Ultimate. This is very significant as Siva indeed is the expression of Ananda, Bliss for whom a devotional outpouring has been made in the Svetasvatara Upanishad in His aspect as Ananda (satyam, sivam, sundaram) mixed with the intricacies of Advaita. Another feature of these chapters of the Upanishad is that many Mantras or their wordings or their meanings are to be found in other popular devotional works like Rudra Prasna, Purusha Sooktam and Vishnu Sahasranaam besides the Bhagavad Gita.
BRAHMAN AS ISVARA
ya eko jālavān īśata īśanībhiḥ sarvāṃl lokān īśata īśanībhiḥ /
ya evaika udbhave saṃbhave ca ya etad vidur amṛtās te bhavanti // 3.1 //
The one who spreads the net, who rules alone by His powers, who rules all the worlds by His powers, who is one and the same at the time of creation and dissolution of the worlds - they who know Him become immortal.
In this chapter, the Supreme Self is represented as the Isa or Rudra who rules by His own creative powers of Maya. These words describe the indefinable Brahman. Brahman always exists as one who is free from the slightest duality. Indeed, there is nothing but Brahman at any time. But Brahman appears as many.
When we understand Brahman as one without any attributes (upadhi) then it is Nirguna Brahman, the Impersonal Absolute, the Unmanifest, which is free from Maya, the creative power. When we consider the same Brahman as with attributes, then it becomes Saguna Brahman or Isvara, the Manifest, the Personal God who is connected with Maya which is under His perfect control.
This Mantra refers to Maya as jala which means a net and creation of the universe as casting of the net (Maya jaal).It is through Maya, the creative power of Brahman, the universe is projected, sustained and dissolved and hence Brahman appears as many.
As concentration on the Absolute is difficult the one Impersonal Absolute becomes the Personal God, Isvara, for the purposes of devotion and meditation of the devotees. Brahman is nirguna, without any qualities or traits, but Isvara is saguna, possessing innumerable qualities. So although we cannot conceive of Brahman or speak of it, we can say a great deal about Isvara, even though we cannot encompass His total being.
Isvara controls and guides the evolution of all creation through His divine power of Maya. All that is “done” is done by Him in conjunction with Maya, for Brahman never acts. Isvara, as an emanation of Brahman, arises as the first step in creation, and remains as the last step at the time of dissolution. Then He merges into Brahman which alone remains.
The Mantra says that those who come to know Him in essence i.e., who realize that individual Self is non-different from the Universal Self, Brahman, become one with Brahman. Therefore it is a wrong belief that meditation on Saguna Brahman has a different result than meditation on Nirguna Brahman. This is also explained in the Bhagavad Gita (12.1-8).
eko hi rudro na dvitīyāya tasthe ya imāṃl lokān īśata īśanībhiḥ /
pratyaṅ janās tiṣṭhati saṃcukocāntakāle saṃsṛjya viśvā bhuvanāni gopāḥ // 3.2 //
Rudra is truly one; for the knowers of Brahman do not admit the existence of a second, He alone rules all the worlds by His powers. He dwells as the inner Self of every living being. After having created all the worlds, He, their Protector, takes them back into Himself at the end of time.
In this Mantra, the Highest Reality, Brahman is identified with Rudra who is assigned the three functions of creation, protection or maintenance and dissolution of the universe. The epithet Rudra means the destroyer of all that is false or evil, ignorance and their effects, sorrow and suffering and who confers wisdom and bliss. In the Rig Veda Rudra is the personification of Brahman in its destructive aspect. In the later portion of the Veda, Rudra is described as Siva, the auspicious, as Mahadeva, the great God. Siva has two aspects viz., Rudra meaning fierce and Saumya meaning the Good. The Upanishad speaks about Brahman as Rudra because its teaching lays stress on the destruction of false or ego, which obstructs spiritual progress.
Rudra after creating universe with his own power, Maya, takes them back unto himself at the end of time or cosmic pralaya or dissolution. Rudra is the antaryamin, the indweller of all beings. He lives as pratyagatma -inward or individual soul, as the mirror image of the Self which pervades the entire universe (rupam rupam pratirupo babhuva). He witnesses silently all the actions and thoughts of men and dispenses the fruits of their actions.