Unity in Diversity
the view from the Upanishads – part 2
Ishvara, the embodiment of the Universe
The Brahman that maintains the deepest condition of being-ness (tat), which may not be defined in terms of qualities, is known as Nirguna Brahman: unqualified nature. This unqualified nature is pure consciousness: Parabrahman, the Ultimate Essence, equivalent to Paramatman, the Oversoul, enjoyer of all experiences: the source of will and consciousness.
Brahman is said to consist in "being-ness" rather than existence because it contains and underlies existence and non-existence, two apparent opposites which both imply a continuity or discontinuity in time. The gunas are the modifications, or interactive qualities of which all material existence is composed. Nirguna Brahman consists in an eternal reality, which may not be comprehended in terms of human categories. Understanding of Brahman is attained in a purely ecstatic state: one which transcends our normal mental processes.
The Brahman that exhibits characteristics: a compassionate purposiveness or intentionality, the manifestation of a loving, divine nature, is called Saguna Brahman: nature with qualities. This Aparabrahman (not-ultimate-essence) is worshipped by yogis as the supreme Lord, Ishvara.
The universe and all of its component parts, according to the Upanishads, consist in the Self: the Saguna Brahman. Pure consciousness manifests through Saguna Brahman, which is said in the Mandukyopanisad to be identical with the OM, the creative fiat, reflected in three forms or states of consciousness, themselves summated in a fourth. Time itself consists in this reflection, its threefold division being transcended and consummated in a higher dimension of eternal truth.
The dynamic of universal reality is symbolised in the three divisions of OM, which also may be written A-U-M. There are many meanings for these three letters, for, as Annie Besant points out on page 10 of The Wisdom of the Upanishads: "wherever a trinity is found, these letters may symbolise its parts", but insofar as Brahman is reflected in the world, the Mandukya describes three states of being:
- Vaisvanara: the universal person; the collective symbol of created beings in physical nature, wherein the hidden Self enjoys the sensual experience of the material world. This is the all-pervading consciousness embodied in physical matter: the letter "A".
- Taijasa: the universal person in his mental nature; perception turned inwards, wherein the Self enjoys the subtle experiences of the desire world; the creative dream, the karma that generates the universes; the Svapna: the letter "U".
- Prajna: the universal person in his utmost splendour; the Gnosis wherein Ishvara unfolds his powers; the perfect knowledge beyond physical and mental desire or experience; the blissful region of perfect understanding and union with Self: the letter "M".
The Threefold Essence
These three conditions of manifestation are summated in the one syllable: AUM. This three-in-one, the holy trinity, lies at the heart of all knowledge. Saguna Brahman, the three sacred letters: mind, matter and Maya; the enjoyer, the objects of enjoyment and the director; the threefold division of material nature; the Sat-chit-ananda—being, consciousness and bliss—all resolve upon final realisation into the ultimate, beyond knowledge, the underlying source and maintenance of all, the Nirguna Brahman:
"When all these three are seen as one
The Self reveals his universal form
And serves as an instrument of the divine will."
Brahman with attributes then is Ishvara, the Lord; Brahman without attributes is the ground of being. Ishvara is described in the Taittiriyopanisad (II: vi) as the First Being: "the embodied Self of THAT". Yet embodiment demands polarity: form requires substance. Will is the prime characteristic of Ishvara: the will to be many; the will to be born; the will to gain perfect understanding of that which would otherwise remain pure potentiality—the will to create.
Brahman as OM is believed to be Sabda, the creative, or generative power of Sound. The vibration of Sound resonates throughout the universal ground of being, enabling the manifestation and concretion of universes. This identity is also stressed in Taittiriya, Prasna, Mundaka, Brhadaranyaka etc. OM is the threefold key to Brahman, according to the Upanishads. It should be noted that the Sanskrit alphabet is believed to consist in a divine series of Power-Sounds, each letter of which maintains a creative reality of its own. Each letter is a deity, which may be worshipped for particular ends. The study of such matters in Tantra is known as the science of Mantra-Vidya.
[This article goes on in part three to outline the roles of Maya, the Veil of Nature, Jivatma, the Personal Self, and Moksha, Liberation of the Spirit, as seen in the Upanishads.]
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