This chapter is devoted to the discussion of the nature of That (Para Brahman) in the Mahavakya “That Thou Art” which was started in the previous chapter which specially dealt with the nature of “Thou”.
dve akṣare brahmapare tv anante vidyāvidye nihite yatra gūḍhe /
kṣaraṃ tv avidyā hy amṛtaṃ tu vidyā vidyāvidye īśate yas tu so 'nyaḥ // 5.1 //
In the Immutable, infinite Supreme Brahman remain hidden the two: knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance leads to worldliness and knowledge, to Immortality. Brahman, who controls both knowledge and ignorance, is different from both.
Knowledge and ignorance both remain concealed in Para Brahman. Ignorance is the cause of birth and death while knowledge leads to immortality. These opposites are controlled by Brahman, who therefore, is different and apart from them. He is without any attributes. The Mantra says Brahman is ananta, without end, without beginning or concluding. He is unlimited by time, space or other factors.
Brahman is the source of knowledge and ignorance. Brahman is akshaya, never perishable or subject to modification. He is unchanging and unchangeable. Brahman is higher than the first manifest which is called Hiranyagarbha (also as Brahma, Prajapati), the Saguna Brahman. As Saguna Brahman manifests from Nirguna Brahman the latter is higher than the former, the first manifest.
As Brahman is the Lord of everything, He is said to control knowledge and ignorance, both belonging to Maya, the power of Brahman himself. Maya of ignorance entangles a person in the phenomenal world, while Maya of knowledge brings him Liberation. Knowledge means spiritual pursuits by means of which the seeker attains Liberation. The one and the many are both contained in the Supreme. The knowledge of the One is vidya; the knowledge of the Many detached from the One is avidya. - Dr.S.Radhakrishnan. As Sri Ramakrishna puts it “the thorn of ignorance which has entered the flesh is to be removed through the use of the thorn of knowledge and thereafter both the thorns have to be thrown out”.
yo yoniṃ yonim adhitiṣṭhaty eko viśvāni rūpāṇi yonīś ca sarvāḥ /
ṛṣiṃ prasūtaṃ kapilaṃ yas tam agre jñānair bibharti jāyamānaṃ ca paśyet // 5.2 //
He, the non-dual Brahman, who rules over every position; who controls all forms and all sources; who, in the beginning, filled with knowledge the omniscient Hiranyagarbha, His own creation, whom He beheld when He (Hiranyagarbha) was produced-He is other than both knowledge and ignorance.
The non-dual Brahman is within all forms i.e. physical, elemental and intangible objects such as earth, water, air, sun, sense-organs, and mind. They form His body. He (Brahman) controls them as their inmost Ruler and immortal Self. He is filled with all knowledge of the past, present and future, Dharma, detachment and the various other virtues. He produces the first manifestation which is called Hiranyagarbha in the relative universe. Hiranyagarbha or Brahma is the intermediary between the Supreme Self and the created world. He is the world-soul.
ekaikaṃ jālaṃ bahudhā vikurvann asmin kṣetre saṃharaty eṣa devaḥ /
bhūyaḥ sṛṣṭvā patayas tatheśaḥ sarvādhipatyaṃ kurute mahātmā // 5.3 //
At the time of the creation the Lord spreads out individual nets in various ways and then at the time of the cosmic dissolution withdraws them into the great prakriti. Again the all-pervading Deity creates the aggregates of body and senses, both individual and collective and their controllers also and thus exercises His overlordship.
This Mantra describes the process of the cycle of creation and dissolution. At the beginning of the cycle the Lord (Saguna Brahman) projects from His Maya or prakriti, various aggregates of body, mind, senses and prana. These aggregates which are the bodies of human, sub-human, and super-human creatures are fashioned according to their actions and thoughts in the previous cycle. These bodies are called net because they entrap the Purusha or the soul (Brahman associated with the body) and entangle him in the world. This Purusha is the diversified aspects of Brahman, identified with and limited by diverse material bodies. This identification is the result of Maya. But Brahman itself, unaffected by Maya, is the super-controller.
At the time of the cosmic dissolution the bodies merge in the great prakriti. They are projected again at the beginning of the next cycle. The first form that is projected at the beginning of the cycle is the undifferentiated aggregate which is called Hiranyagarbha. Then other individual forms come into existence - super-humans, humans and sub-humans and they go back to Brahman at the end of the cycle to re-appear again. . Thus this wheel goes on and on.
sarvā diśa ūrdhvam adhaś ca tiryak prakāśayan bhrājate yad vānaḍvān /
evaṃ sa devo bhagavān vareṇyo yonisvabhāvān adhitiṣṭhaty ekaḥ // 5.4 //
As the sun, illuminating all the regions, above, below, and across shines, so too, That One God, glorious, adorable, rules over whatever creatures are born from a womb, who by themselves possess the nature of a cause.
The phrase whatever creatures are born from a womb means the sources of world-existence like the five elements (fire, water, air, earth and space) over which that one god, the Supreme Self, Brahman rules. These elements are said to be the cause for further evolution of creatures in the world. What the Mantra implies is that these so called causes of the world are not in themselves causes; they operate as causes only because the Bhagavan works through them.
yac ca svabhāvaṃ pacati viśvayoniḥ pācyāṃś ca sarvān pariṇāmayed yaḥ /
sarvam etad viśvam adhitiṣṭhaty eko guṇāṃś ca sarvān viniyojayed yaḥ // 5.5 //
He who is the cause of all and who enables all things to function according to their nature; who brings to maturity all that can be ripened; who, being non-dual, rules over the whole universe and engages the gunas in their respective functions.
Brahman is the uncaused cause. He is the primal cause of the universe. He brings out his own nature in the form of all great elements and their powers to cause the world. That is to say, at the end of the cycle whatever powers the phenomenal elements were having disappear and such powers are brought back by him at the commencement of the next cycle from which the manifest world evolves further. Through the interaction of the three gunas, the manifest world of different forms, names and functions carries on its schedule in a systematic way. In this way Brahman alone organizes the whole universe and rules over it.
tad vedaguhyopaniṣatsu gūḍhaṃ tad brahmā vedate brahmayoniṃ /
ye pūrvaṃ devā ṛṣayaś ca tad vidus te tanmayā amṛtā vai babhūvuḥ // 5.6 //
That which is hidden in the Upanishads, the secret part of the Vedas, Brahma knows that as the source of the Vedas. The gods and seers of olden times who knew that became Brahman and attained Immortality.
The subject of Cosmic Self, Brahman, taught in the Upanishads is very esoteric and constitutes the very essence of the Vedas. Hence it is called hidden. The source of the Vedas is Brahman. Brahma i.e. Hiranyagarbha knows that Brahman.The gods and other ancient sages know Him (Brahman) as their own Self and by this knowledge they became immortal.
Brahma is the Hiranyagarbha, the first manifestation of Brahman. He first acquired this knowledge of the Ultimate Reality and then he passed it on to the ancient gods and then to the sages. From that knowledge they became one with Brahman which is termed as attaining immortality.