Svetasvatara Upanishad - Chap 4 The One God of the Manifold World


Prayers to The Lord started in the previous chapter are continued here. The entire Svetasvatara Upanishad is a hymn of adoration in praise of The Supreme, the Mahesvara. It is because of this it is known as the Upanishad surcharged with a feeling of devotion. It is a garland of songs worshipping the Great Being, the Infinite Purusha who is both existent and non-existent.



Mantra 1

ya eko 'varṇo bahudhā śaktiyogād varṇān anekān nihitārtho dadhāti /
vi caiti cānte viśvam ādau sa devaḥ sa no buddhyā śubhayā saṃyunaktu // 4.1 //

He, the One and Undifferentiated, who by the manifold application of His powers produces, in the beginning, different objects for a hidden purpose and, in the end, withdraws the universe into Himself, is indeed the self-luminous. May He endow us with clear intellect! 

The world was inactive and unmanifest before creation. The Paramatman in His formless aspect is devoid of form and color, yet, in the beginning of creation for some unknown reasons assumes various forms and colors through His various powers (of maya) which are non-different from Him. In the end, this universe of all forms and colors merge in Him. He initiates this cycle of creation, maintenance and dissolution without any selfish purpose but for the ultimate good of the Jivas (agrhita prayojanah, svaartha nirapekshah). That Supreme Lord is really one without the second. Apart from Him, there is nothing. May that Lord of self-luminosity, bestow auspicious intellect upon us? The purpose of creation is stated to be hidden meaning that we, the finite, cannot understand the reasons behind the creation by The Lord, The Infinite. It is His Lila.

In the above Mantra, Brahman is described as One in whom both the beginning and the end find their abode. Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
avyaktaadeeni bhootani vyaktamadhyaani bhaarata
avyakta nidhanaanyeva tatra kaa paridevanaa // 2.28 //

Beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their middle state and unmanifest again in their end O, Arjuna. What is there to grieve about?

The gist of this Mantra is that the beginning and the end is unmanifest and only the middle state represents the manifest. The basic nature of things is the Unmanifest and the manifest is only a condition which appears for the time being in between the two states of the unmanifest. The grace and modesty of the manifest lies in not clinging to its existence and where it makes no effort to prolong its continuity. The manifest is only a passage from the unmanifest to the unmanifest. In the passage one must move on and not settle down. Life is a bridge, pass over it, but do not build upon it. The inspiring teaching of this Upanishad is “The beginning and the end reside in Brahman; the world is only a passing phase of the Manifest”.


Mantra 2

tad evāgnis tad ādityas tad vāyus tad u candramāḥ /
tad eva śukraṃ tad brahma tad āpas tat prajāpatiḥ // 4.2 //

That Supreme Self is Agni (Fire); It is Aditya (Sun); It is Vayu (Air); It is Chandrama (Moon). That Self is the luminous stars; It is Prajapati; It is water; It is Brahman.

The One Supreme is described in various terms. The Brahman is all - fire, water, sun, air, moon, and other luminous bodies, the Lord of creation and Brahma. All these are the manifested glories of the same Brahman, the One Supreme; they are not independent and different. This way He should be meditated upon in the form of physical world.

Mantra 3

tvaṃ strī tvaṃ pumān asi tvaṃ kumāra uta vā kumārī /
tvaṃ jīrṇo daṇḍena vañcasi tvaṃ jāto bhavasi viśvatomukhaḥ // 4.3 //

You are feminine, you are masculine; you are a bachelor and a spinster too. You as an old man totters along with the help of a stick; it is you alone appear in the cosmic form and have faces in all directions.

The entire universe is the Lord’s manifestation alone. There is no limit to His expression; there is no limitation to the form in which the Formless incarnates. The Formless appearing in a multitude of forms from moment to moment is His great play, Lila as in the case of His appearances before Gopis or His visvarupa darshana before Arjuna and Yashoda.

Atharva Veda (10.8.27) says: “Lord!  You are within men; you are within women; you are within the young; you are within the old; you live within all of us, and you exist everywhere”.

Mantra 4

nīlaḥ pataṅgo harito lohitākṣas taḍidgarbha ṛtavaḥ samudrāḥ /
anādimāṃs tvaṃ vibhutvena vartase yato jātāni bhuvanāni viśvā // 4.4 //

strong>You are the dark-blue bee; You are the green parrot with red eyes; You are the thunder-clouds, the seasons and the oceans. You are beginningless and omnipresent. From you alone all the worlds are born.

The seeker perceives only the Supreme in all objects, sentient and insentient; having all colors and forms because all these worlds and dwellers therein emanated from Him. In His all-pervading aspect he is in everything, omnipresent, and takes up every form. He is the master of Prakriti which is discussed in the next Mantra.


Mantra 5

ajām ekāṃ lohitaśuklakṛṣṇāṃ bahvīḥ prajāḥ sṛjamānāṃ sarūpāḥ /
ajo hy eko juṣamāṇo 'nuśete jahāty enāṃ bhuktabhogām ajo 'nyaḥ // 4.5 //

There is one unborn prakriti - red, white and black - which gives birth to many creatures like itself. An unborn individual soul becomes attached to it and enjoys it, while another unborn individual soul leaves it after his enjoyment is completed. 

The gist of this Mantra is explained clearly in the Bhagavad Gita as follows. The Lord says that He is of two kinds of nature or prakriti.
bhoomiraaponalo vaayuh kham mano buddhireva cha
ahamkaara iteeyam me bhinnaa prakritirashtadhaa // 7.4 //
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason and ego - such is the eightfold division of My nature.
apareyamitastwanyaam prakritim viddhi me paraam
jeevabhootaam mahaabaaho yayedam dhaaryate jagat // 7.5 //
O Mighty Armed, this is my lower nature. But different from it, you know My higher nature, the indwelling spirit by which the universe is sustained.
etadyoneeni bhootaani sarvaaneetyupadhaaraya
aham kritsnasya jagatah prabhavah pralayastathaa // 7.6 //
Know these two - My higher and lower natures - form the womb of all beings. Therefore, I am the origin and dissolution of the whole Universe.
mattah parataram naanyat kinchidasti dhananjaya
mayi sarvamidam protam sootre maniganaa iva // 7.7 //

There exists nothing whatsoever higher than Me, O Dhananjaya.  All this is strung on Me, as a row of gems on a thread.

Prakriti (nature) creates many creatures like itself which are governed by three Gunas - sattva, rajas and tamas - called red, white and black in this Mantra. The Mantra says that an ignorant person feels drawn towards this sense world and he enjoys it. Another individual, however, is clever and discriminative. He knows the ephemeral nature of this sense world on the basis of his previous experience and therefore rejects it.

The Mantra says Nature is ajam i.e., unborn, without beginning. It is the combination of three Gunas which gives rise to the diversities in the world. But in the final analysis if one goes beyond all these diversities he will find that behind the diverse names and forms there is only One i.e., Brahman. This knowledge destroys ignorance.

The difference between knowledge and ignorance is further explained in the next two Mantras which we find in the Mundaka Upanishad also. [M.U. 3:1:1] [M.U. 3:1:2] (Note: For a detailed exposition on the Mundaka Upanishad written by the author click here

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