The two forms of reality: Meditation on the Gross and Subtle Manifestations of Reality


Another set of meditations is being taken up in this section. The five elements, namely, Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, are classified into the invisible and the visible aspects of Brahman, known as the Amurta and the Murta features. Amurta means formless, without any particular shape, but Murta is with form, and therefore visible to the eyes, or sensible in some way.


1) Verily, there are two forms of Brahman: gross and subtle, mortal and immortal, limited and unlimited, definite and indefinite.

The Brahman is of two forms, or two manifestations, as it were. These two manifestations are murtam ca, amurtam ca, the formed and the formless, the visible and the invisible, that with shape and that without any particular shape. These are the two ways in which Brahman manifests itself in the five elements, murtam caivamurtam ca: And, likewise, that which is with form is Martya, or perishable. That which is without form is not perishable - it is Amrta. That which is with form is limited - Sthita. That which is without form is Yac, or unlimited. That which is with form is Sat, or perceptible. That which is without form is Tyat, or imperceptible.

That which is Murta is also Martya; it is also Sthita; it is also Sat. That which is Amurta is Amrta; it is Yac and Tyat. These are peculiar terms used in the Upanishad, representing the immediate and the remote forms of Reality. That which is with form is limited naturally, and, therefore, it is perishable.

Every form has a tendency to outgrow itself and transcend itself into some other form. Forms are limitations imposed upon aspects of Reality, and the limitations naturally tend to outstrip their limits in the process of growth, or evolution, because of the fact that no form can stand alone forever. Every form has a particular purpose to fulfill; it has a single mission to execute through the particular medium of that form. Hence when that particular purpose is fulfilled, the form is shed automatically.

On account of the fact that the form is for a particular purpose only, it is regarded as perishable; because it has a beginning, and so it has an end. But that which is without a form is not so limited, and, hence, it is not subject to the conditions of limitation, perishability etc., that characterize the things with forms.

So, the five elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space- are classified in these two categories. The point made out in these passages is that Space and Air are comparatively imperishable, whereas the other three elements, Fire, Water and Earth, are perishable, because they are more concrete, more tangible, more formed in their structure.

There is no destructibility in the case of Space and Air while the sense of destructibility is visible in the objects constituted of Fire, Water and Earth. The formed objects clash or can come into clash with one another and then break to pieces. They can obstruct or impede the movement of one another, whereas Space and Air do not impede the movement of each other. They work harmoniously with each other. Space cannot be broken to pieces or affected by the presence of things. So is Air.

The presence of objects does not in any way affect the movement of Air. But, the other objects which are more concrete in their nature are limitations, one upon the other. Hence it is said that the lower three elements are formed and everything that is constituted of them also is formed, while Space and Air are non-formed.

2) The gross form is that which is other than air and akasa. It is mortal, limited and definite. The essence of that which is gross, which is mortal, which is limited and which is definite is the sun that shines, for it (the sun) is the essence of the three elements.

Everything other than Space and Air is formed; it is Murta. Etah martyam: It is, therefore, perishable. Etat sthitam: Therefore, this is limited. Etat sat: Therefore, it is perceptible. Of this entire world, entire creation, which is formed, which is constituted of these three elements, Earth, Water and Fire, which are perishable in their nature, which are subject to transmutation of various kinds, of everything that is constituted of earth, fire or water, the essence is the sun, the solar orb. That which shines in front of us in the firmament above as the solar radiance, this can be regarded as the quintessence of these elements.

Everything that is formed, everything that is physical is ultimately reducible to the elements in the sun from the point of view of energy. The sun here is looked upon in two aspects - the physical orb and the inner divinity. Just as the physical body of ours cannot be identified with the soul in us, yet the one is not separable from the other, so is the solar orb that shines as the physical quintessence of all visible objects, the glory internally presided over by a divinity that is regarded in this Upanishad as the essence of the immortal elements. While the mortal features are all condensed in the physical form of the sun as the shining light before us, the non-formed, or the more ethereal aspects of creation, namely, space and air, are transcendent to the physical feature of the sun, and the Upanishad identifies the essence of these two ethereal principles with the Purusa in the sun.

3) Now the subtle: It is air and akasa. It is immortal, it is unlimited and it is indefinite. The essence of that which is subtle, which is immortal, which is unlimited and which is indefinite is the Person (Purusha) in the solar orbit, for that Person is the essence of the two elements. This is with reference to the gods.

What is the formless? Air and Space - these are Amurta, or formless. They are not limited. They are imperceptible. Of these immortal aspects of manifestation in the form of these two elements, the quintessence is that which is inside the sun. There is something inside the sun apart from what we see with our eyes, on account of which there is a living force present in the sun apart from its being merely a hot or boiling mass of circling energy. It is a divinity; therefore, the Vedas regard Surya, the sun, as the eye, as it were, of the world. It is the soul, as it were, of all created things - surya atma jagatas tasthusasca. Of all that is visible, of all that is moving or non-moving, Surya Bhagawan, the sun, is the essence.

The divinity aspect of the sun is called the Purusa. He is considered as the deity of even these immortal aspects of the five elements, namely, Space and Air. So much about the macrocosmic aspects of these five elements called the Adhibhuta (physical) and the Adhidaiva (divine). The physical macrocosmic aspect is called Adhibhuta and the spiritual macrocosmic aspect is the Adhidaiva.

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