Svetasvatara Upanishad - Chap 1Speculation about the First Cause

Mantra 3

te  dhyānayogānugatā apaśyan devātmaśaktiṃ  svaguṇair nigūḍhām /
    yaḥ kāraṇāni nikhilāni tāni  kālātmayuktāny adhitiṣṭhaty  ekaḥ // 1.3 //
    The sages, absorbed in meditation through  one-pointedness of mind, discovered the creative power, belonging to the Lord Himself  and hidden in its own gunas. That non-dual Lord rules over all those causes -  time, the self and the rest. 

Finally, the sages found out through yoga that is  to say through self-control and meditation, the ultimate cause of the universe.  The discovery was that the attributeless Brahman or Pure Consciousness, which  is beyond time, space and causality, is the only Reality which through its own  power of maya was the cause of the creation of the universe. Maya is the  power which belongs to Brahman and is not independent of it. Brahman and maya  are inseparable as fire and its power to burn.

Brahman when associated with maya is called Saguna Brahman or with attributes (conceived as Isvara) which are the causes of  creation, preservation and dissolution.   Maya is thus the material cause of the universe that is to say that  Brahman creates the universe along with the various objects contained in it out  of the raw material called maya. This is Brahman’s lower aspect. But as Pure  Consciousness, the higher aspect of Brahman (which is without any attribute, nirguna)  is the entity which is the efficient cause of the creation of the universe.  Thus Brahman is both the material and efficient cause of the universe i.e.,  both the raw material and the entity that creates the world. It is just like a  spider weaving a web out of its own silk. The same spider is the cause of the  silk produced out of its own body and is also the entity which weaves the web  wherein it stays.

This maya consists of three gunas viz. sattva,  rajas, and tamas. All that exists in the world consists of these three gunas.  Brahman, after projecting the universe, remains hidden in it just as a seed  after producing the tree remains concealed in the tree itself and not outside  of it. That is to say “the cause produces the effect and remains concealed in  the effect’.

The process of  creation can be illustrated as under:
  Brahman is the  Lord of Maya ►►The same Brahman is known as the Creator, Preserver and  Destroyer of the universe ►► Creative aspect associated with Sattva is known as  Brahma ►►Protective aspect associated with Rajas is known as Vishnu  ►►Destructive aspect associated with Tamas is known as Siva. (Note: These three  aspects are related to the phenomenal world and they have no bearing upon the  attributeless Brahman or the Ultimate Reality)

This non-dual  Lord rules over all the secondary causes of the universe like time, the self  etc. The gist of this mantra is that Pure Brahman is not the cause of the  universe; but associated with its power of maya it appears to be the creator,  preserver and destroyer of the universe. Thus from the standpoint of the  Absolute, there is no creation but from the standpoint of the universe Brahman  with maya appears to create, preserve and dissolve the world.


Mantra 4

tam ekanemiṃ trivṛtaṣoḍaśāntaṃ śatārdhāraṃ viṃśatipratyarābhiḥ /
    aṣṭakaiṣaḍbhir viśvarūpaikapāśaṃ trimārgabhedaṃ dvinimittaikamoham // 1.4 //

The sages saw the wheel of  Brahman, which has one felly, a triple tire, sixteen end-parts, fifty spokes  with twenty counter-spokes and six sets of eight; whose one rope is manifold;  which moves on three different roads; and whose illusion arises from two  causes. 

In this and the following mantra  the world is compared to a rotating wheel or a flowing stream. Its chief  characteristic is movement which these images bring about. Let us look into  these technical terms.
•Wheel of Brahman - Refers to the universe which is non-different from the creator who is the same as Brahman.
•Felly - The outer rim of the wheel which supports it signifying the power of maya in creation as a causal factor.
•Triple tire - These represent three gunas.
•Sixteen end-parts - Refer to five elements, five organs of perception, five organs of action and the mind.
•Fifty spokes - Support the cosmic wheel representing mental condition.
•Twenty counter spokes - Organs of perception and organs of action and their corresponding objects.
•Six sets of eight - Forty eight types of human capabilities and qualities.
•One rope - The rope of love which manifests as love for children, food and the heavenly world.
•Three different roads - Roads of righteousness, unrighteousness and knowledge.
•Illusion arising from two causes - Deception arises from two causes, virtuous action and sinful action on account of which the non-self (body) is taken as the Self.

The knowledge of Wheel of Brahman  was revealed to the illumined sages in the depths of meditation.


Mantra 5

pañcasroto'mbuṃ pañcayonyugravaktrāṃ pañcaprāṇormiṃ pañcabuddhyādimūlāṃ /
    pañcāvartāṃ pañcaduḥkhaughavegāṃ pañcāśadbhedāṃ pañcaparvām adhīmaḥ // 1.5 //
We meditate on the River whose five currents are the five organs of  perception, which is made impetuous and winding by the five elements, whose  waves are the five organs of actions and whose fountain-head is the mind, the  source of the five forms of perception. This River has five whirlpools and its  rapids are the fivefold misery; and lastly, it has fifty branches and five  pain-bearing obstructions. 

Now the  Upanishad compares the universe to a river. A river is always flowing, moving,  always in a state of flux. The word samsara means ‘that which moves’,  ‘that which is always changing’. Hence the Universe is compared with the river.

The components  of a river:
•Five currents - They are the five elements (air,  space, fire, water and earth) which make up the universe. In the body these are  represented by the five organs of perception (eyes, ears, nose, skin and  tongue). These are described as powerful and crooked because all the elements  combine together and produce experiences in us which are sometimes good and at  other times bad.
•Waves - These are five organs of action (hands,  feet etc).
•Mind, the fountainhead - Mind is the root cause  responsible for the perceptions of the five sense organs. The mind is behind  these organs but for which the organs cannot function. The whole universe  consisting of animate and inanimate objects is the state of the mind alone;  when the mind stops, the world ceases to exist i.e. the multifarious universe  is not perceived.
•Five whirlpools - These are the five objects of  the senses (sound, form, taste, smell and touch). They are called whirlpool  because they are the channels through which commotion in our minds is created.
•Fivefold misery - This consists of resting in  the womb, being born, growing old, becoming sick and dying.
•Five pain-bearing obstructions - These are  ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life.

The foregoing two  mantras described the causal Brahman by means of the examples of the wheel and  the river which manifests itself through the universe.

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