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

Mantra 6

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte /
tayor anyaḥ pippalaṃ svādv atty anaśnann anyo abhicākaśīti // 4.6 //

Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, are perched on a branch of the same tree. One of them tastes the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the other, tasting neither, calmly looks on.

Mantra 7

samāne vṛkṣe puruṣo nimagno anīśayā śocati muhyamānaḥ /
juṣṭaṃ yadā paśyaty anyam īśaṃ asya mahimānam iti vītaśokaḥ // 4.7 //

On the same tree, the individual self (jiva), deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the other as the Lord worshipped by all and His glory, he becomes free from grief.

These Mantras give us the spiritual discipline and the ethical virtues which enable the aspirant to attain the knowledge of the Para Brahman, Supreme Self, highlighting the end-results of this knowledge.

The three words in relation to the two birds or the two Selves viz., ‘suparna’, ‘sayuja’, and ‘sakhaya’ are significant. Suparna means intimately related, the idea being that the individual Self and the Cosmic Self exist in an eternal relation. Sayuja means to be in a state of perpetual union. Another meaning of sayuja is being in the same place–that is the two Selves are inseparable, are ever present to one another. The third expression, sakhaya, means that the two Selves have the identical name or designation, and exist in an identical manner. Sakhaya also means companionship and friendship, indicating the deep personal relationship between the Jivatman and Paramatman. The selfsame tree is the body i.e. the cosmos.

The form of every sentient being has two indwellers–the two Selves just like the two birds. However, they do not have the same experience of the tree. The individual self, the jiva, tastes the fruit of the tree in the form of the inner and outer senses, and according to the quality of that experience is made happy, unhappy, contented, discontented–and so forth. The individual thus undergoes experience sometimes laughing and some times weeping, immersed in thought and bewildered by his own helplessness.

The Supreme Self, on the other hand, tasting neither [sweet or bitter experiences], calmly observes. God also experiences because He is an indweller of all and is aware of all that the individual spirit experiences, yet, He looks on without eating–without being affected or conditioned by such experiences. But He does know exactly the effect and conditioning that accrues to the individual Self. He is experiencing right along with us, but unlike us is not pulled into a mistaken identity with the body-mind and its experiences.

We are drowned, submerged, in the deadly ocean of samsara, of continual birth, death, pain and pleasure. Sankara points out that the individual self is overwhelmed with confusion because it cannot understand what is really happening to it, and why. Just like a piece of driftwood on the heaving sea, it is lifted up and down, thrown onto the shore and then pulled out to sea again. So it grieves at its helplessness and hopelessness.

All is changed, though, when the individual sees, right in the core of his being, the very God he has been hitherto worshipping as separate from himself. Experiencing within his own being the presence and the glory of God–and thereby realizing that glory as his own–the individual becomes liberated from sorrow.

“In Mantra 6, the cause of sorrow is traced to the sense of helplessness induced in us when we are lost in the objective world. In Mantra 7, freedom from sorrow is traced to our getting beyond object-thinking and establishing contact with real being”. Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.

Mantra 8

ṛco akṣare parame vyoman yasmin devā adhi viśve niṣedhuḥ /
yas tan na veda kim ṛcā kariṣyati ya it tad vidus ta ime samāsate // 4.8 //

For the one who does not know Him, in whom all gods are rested, who is the Indestructible abode of all the Vedas, what will be the use of the Vedas? Only those who know Him attain bliss. 

This Mantra shows the Sage lamenting about and expressing anguish and pity on those who do not know the Imperishable Brahman. The Sage wonders for what use the Vedas would be to a person who does not know the characteristics of Brahman. The Vedas are all based on Brahman, which is like space and never changing. All the gods (planets, elements etc) rest in Brahman. If a person knows nothing about Brahman but only performs rituals and rites what will he gain? On the other hand, those who know Brahman, as it were, live with the conviction that they are one with Brahman and attain Bliss.

We must interpret this Mantra with utmost care. The Upanishad does not say “do not adore the Perishable or do not perform rituals and rites”. It only says of what use these adorations of the Perishable when the Imperishable which is the substratum of all the manifestation is not known? These symbols or shadows have their own place but only after knowing the substance. The symbol is the Form even as the substance is the Formless. The Form derives its meaning and significance only from the Formless. It is the Formless which gives life to the Form. But people worship the Form without knowing the Formless and so their prayers and adoration are more in the nature of ceremonial routine and drudgery. The Form is maya or illusion which has no intrinsic value or existence - it exists because of the Formless. The Formless is the mayin, the producer of maya, illusion.

 Mantra 9

chandāṃsi yajñāḥ kratavo vratāni bhūtaṃ bhavyaṃ yac ca vedā vadanti /
asmān māyī sṛjate viśvam etat tasmiṃś cānyo māyayā saṃniruddhaḥ // 4.9 // 

The sacred verses (chandas), the offerings (yajna), the sacrifices (kratu), the penances (vrata), the past, the future and all that the Vedas declare, have been produced from the imperishable Brahman. Brahman projects the universe through the power of Its maya. Again, in that universe Brahman as the jiva is entangled through maya. 

The whole world proceeds from the imperishable Brahman. The actual creator is Isvara, the Personal God, who is acting through his power of maya, daivatma-sakti (saguna Brahman). Brahman is the material and efficient cause of the universe. Whatever objects are there prescribed in the Vedas - the chandas, yajnas, kratus, various vows  etc., the past, present and future - are all derived from Paramatman, the sole controller of Prakriti by His own power of maya. In this web of the world, Brahman as all jivas is tied up through the maya power of Paramatman Himself. When the jiva realizes its real nature as Paramatman (Brahman) it is freed from this entanglement.

Mantra 10

māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ vidyān māyinaṃ tu maheśvaraṃ /
tasyāvayavabhūtais tu vyāptaṃ sarvaṃ idaṃ jagat // 4.10 //

Know, then, that prakriti or nature is maya (illusion) and that Great Lord (Mahesvara) is the mayin (the illusion-maker). The whole universe is filled with objects which are parts of His being. 

The Great Lord has been described here as Mayin and His power as Maya. Mayin is the Lord of Maya. Maya and Prakriti are the same. Explanations of the terms maya and mayin were already dealt with under the Mantra 8. The whole manifested world consists only of the parts - the whole is Unmanifest. The whole is the creator - the creation consists only in the parts. The whole is in the parts and yet the whole cannot be found by collecting the parts together. As the Supreme brings forth the whole universe by His own power of maya, He is not in any way affected by it unlike others who are subject to its sway. The mystery lies in the whole and cannot be discovered by bringing the parts together. Quantity cannot be a source of comprehension of the quality of things and beings. Then how can we find this quality of things? The answer is given in the Mantra 18 which follows.


Mantra 11

yo yoniṃ-yonim adhitiṣṭhaty eko yasminn idaṃ saṃ ca vi caiti sarvam /
tam īśānaṃ varadaṃ devam īḍyaṃ nicāyyemāṃ śāntim atyantam eti // 4.11 //

By truly realizing Him who is non-dual, who presides over the source of everything, and in whom this whole world comes together at the time of creation and dissolves at the time of dissolution - by truly realizing Him who is the Lord, the bestower of blessings, the Adorable God, one attains the supreme peace. 

The Paramatman is the single presiding deity of each and every source of origin of things and beings. He is the Supreme Lord of all causes in the world. He is the causeless cause. Under His supervision and arrangement these causes result in effects. The whole universe merges in Him and comes out of Him in various forms during the cycles of dissolution and creation respectively. When the jiva comes to know this Super Controller, the bestower of the boons, and the only one worthy of praises, he attains the ultimate emancipation, the eternal Supreme Peace. Bhagavd Gita calls this as shashwato shaanti, eternal peace (9.31)and paraa shaanti, Supreme Peace(18.62).Sankara says that this peace attained with the help of knowledge is like the peace we experience after a sound dreamless sleep.

Mantra 12

yo devānāṃ prabhavaś codbhavaś ca viśvādhiko rudro maharṣiḥ /
hiraṇyagarbhaṃ paśyata jāyamānaṃ sa no buddhyā śubhayā saṃyunaktu // 4.12 //

He, the source of the gods and the bestower of their powers, the Support of the universe, Rudra the omniscient, who at the beginning gave birth to Hiranyagarbha-may He endow us with clear intellect! 

(This is a repetition of the Mantra in Chapter 3.4)

This is a prayer to Rudra for obtaining a pure, auspicious and subtle intellect so that one can realize Brahman. Rudra is described as maharshi- the omniscient seer, the creator of lesser cosmic powers such as Agni, Vayu etc., the sustainer of the universe and the creator of hiranyagarbha - Cosmic seed at the beginning of creation (Brahman).

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