Svetasvatara Upanishad - Chap 1Speculation about the First Cause



The Svetasvatara Upanishad belongs to the Taittiriya School of the Krishna Yajur Veda. It derives its name  from the sage who taught it. This Upanishad is regarded as one of the authoritative  works which form the Vedanta philosophy. Its mantras are quoted profusely in  all Vedantic treatises.

The peculiarity of this Upanishad  is that it contains passages that can be interpreted to support dualism,  qualified non-dualism, non-dualism and even other systems of thought. Certain  verses can also be related to the Sankhya philosophy of Kapila. Hence there are  acute differences of opinion among the protagonists of different schools of  philosophy who quote from it to support their respective views.

However it is apparent that Svetasvatara Upanishad contains a strong theistic strain unlike other  Upanishads. Names like Hara, Rudra, Bhagavan, Agni, Aditya, Vayu, Deva etc.,  which appear in the Svetasvatara Upanishad denote Personal God. It identifies  the Supreme Brahman with Rudra who is conceived as the material and efficient  cause of the world, not only as its author but also as its protector and guide.

The ingredients associated with  theism like Personal God, devotion or bhakti towards Him, are prominent  in this Upanishad. The emphasis is not on the Brahman, the Absolute whose  complete perfection does not admit of any change or evolution but on the  personal Isvara, omniscient and omnipotent who is the manifested  Brahman.

Svetasvatara Upanishad also overcomes the dualism of Purusha and Prakriti of the Sankhya  philosophy. It says that pradhana or nature is not an independent entity  but belongs to the self of the divine, devatma-sakti.  God is the mayin, the maker of the  world, which is maya or made by Him.

These features of the Svetasvatara  Upanishad make Ramanuja and other theistic Acharyas argue to establish the  Personal God as the Ultimate Reality. But Sankaracharya gives the very same  words a non-dualistic meaning and emphasizes that that the goal of this, like  the other major Upanishads, is to prove the sole reality of the non-dual  Brahman and the un-substantiality of the jiva and the phenomenal universe.  Sankara’s introduction to this Upanishad is a grand illustration of his broad  canvas of arguments quoting lavishly from the srutis, smritis, puranas and  Bhagavad Gita to establish his point of view. But many scholars doubt  whether Sankara had in fact written his commentary on this Upanishad.

Leaving these controversies to  the scholars, we will study this Upanishad as a guide which uses a simple and  lucid language that propounds inclusiveness and “teaches the unity of the souls  and the world in the one Supreme Reality treating it as an attempt to reconcile  the different philosophical and religious views which prevailed at the time of  its composition”.-Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.


Om poornamadah poonamidam  poornaat poornamudachyate
    poornasya poornamaadaaya  poornamevaa vasishyate
    Om Shantih  Shantih   Shantih ||

AUM, That is full; this is full. This fullness has been projected from  that fullness. When this fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is  fullness.
    AUM, Peace! Peace! Peace!

Om saha navavatu; saha nau bhunaktu;
    Saha veeryam karavavahai;
    Tejasvi navadheetamastu, ma vidvishaavahai
    Om Shantih  Shantih   Shantih ||

AUM, May Brahman protect us  both? May Brahman bestow upon us both the fruit of knowledge? May we both  obtain the energy to acquire knowledge? May what we both study reveal the  Truth? May we cherish no ill-will toward each other?
    Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!


Chapter  1

Mantra 1
    Harih Oṃ brahmavādino vadanti
    kiṃkāraṇaṃ brahma kutaḥ sma jātā jīvāmaḥ kena kva ca saṃpratiṣṭhāḥ / 
    adhiṣṭhitāḥ kena sukhetareṣu vartāmahe brahmavido  vyavasthām //1.1//

By uttering Harih Om the Rishi  remembers the Lord and commences the Uapanishad.  A few Brahmavadis discuss among themselves on  these lines: O Knowers of the Vedas, who is that Brahman - the root cause of  this world. From what have we been born? Due to what do we live? In what are we  abiding? Under whose orders are we passing through pain and pleasure? Under  what set rules are we being governed?

A few sages in quest of Supreme  Brahman were talking among themselves. Being well-versed in the Vedas, they  were questioning among themselves the following concepts. What is that Brahman  whom we learnt as the cause of the entire world? From whom have we been born?  What is our origin? Under whose majesty are we living? Who is the support of  our life? In whom are we situated? Where have been before we were born? Having  taken the birth (in the past, present and future) in whom do we remain? Who is  our ultimate refuge? Who is He who makes arrangements for us? Who is the  in-charge of this establishment? Who is the master director of the entire  world? Who runs it so efficiently? Under whose command are we experiencing pain  and pleasure? Who is that Lord?

The issues raised in this Mantra  relate to the creation, preservation and the ultimate dissolution of the Beings  (jivas) and the universe.


Mantra 2

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam /
    saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy  anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ // 1.2 //   

Should time, or nature, or  necessity, or chance, or the elements be regarded as the cause? Or he who is  called the purusha, the living self? The cause cannot be the combination  of these entities, since there is a living self, Atman, for whose sake the  combination has been made. Yet, neither is the Atman the cause, for it in turn,  is dependent upon good and evil.

Several answers were thought of  to the above questions but they were all ruled out. The answers suggested were  whether it could be
  1. Time - because it causes  change in all beings.
  2. Nature - the intrinsic nature  of each being such as the heat of the fire or the brightness of the sun etc.
  3. Necessity or chance - The law  of cause and effect which results in good or evil.
  4. Elements - The five elements  such as space, air, fire, water and earth.
  5. The Purusha - The individual  living self associated with body, senses, mind and ego.

The entities enumerated above  cannot be independently the cause of the universe because the actual experience  shows otherwise. Neither the combination of these factors could be the cause of  the universe because it pre-supposes another entity which brings them together  to serve its own purpose like a person constructing a house by bringing  different materials together to serve his purpose of residing therein.  In that case can it be the Atman or the  living self or jiva, the indweller in the body who is the cause of the  universe?

This last alternative also was  ruled out because the living self or jiva is dependent, in its phenomenal  state, upon the karma or action of previous births. Its happiness and suffering  are determined by past good or evil deeds. Being itself dependent, the atman  cannot be the independent cause of the universe.

It was not possible to arrive  at a conclusion about the final cause of the universe by means of sense  experience or logic. Therefore the Rishis took up the path of Yoga involving  self-control and one-pointedness of the mind and found out that the Supreme  Lord evolved the world with the help of His own maya which is discussed  in the next mantra.

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