COMMENTARY ON THE ISHOPANISHAD PART 2 - MANTRAS 9 TO 14.. BY SRI ANIRVAN, TRANSLATED BY SRI GAUTAM DHARMAPAL. COPYRIGHT.
Mantras 9 to 14
andhas tamas pravisanti ye Avidyam upasate
tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u Vidyayam ratah
Into a blind darkness they enter who worship (the Ignorance) the unknowable As if into a greater darkness (enter) they who devote themselves to knowledge (The knowable) alone. (9)
anyad eva ahuh Vidyaya anyad ahuh Avidyaya
iti S’usnuma dhiranam ye nas tad vichchakshire 10
One deed it is said, is attained by Knowledge.
It is said the other is obtained by the Notknowing (Ignorance).
Thus we have heard from the wise who have revealed
In detail this lore to us .
Vidyam Cha aridyam Ch yastad Veda whhayam saha
Avidyaya mrityum tirtva Vidyaya amritam asnute (11)
Knowledge and Ignorance (the unknowable) are both in That One. (He) who knows that, crosses Death by Ignorance (Notknowing) and by Knowledge, and enjoys immortality.
Mantra 12, 13, 14
andhab tama pravis’anti ye asambhutim upasa te
tato bhiya iva te tam ya u Sambhutyam ratah 12
Into a blind darkness they enter who worship the
(Non Becoming) Nonbirth ; they as if into a greater darkness who devote
Themselves to the Birth (Becoming) alone – 12 –
anyad eva ahuh Sambhavat anyad ahuh asambhavat
iti S’usruma dhiranam ye nastad vichachakshire 13
Other, verify, it is said, is attained by the Birth (Becoming)
Something other is attained by the Nonbirth (NonBecoming)
Thus we have heard from the wise who have revealed That
(spoken in details about That) to us – 13 –
Sambhutim cha Vinas’am cha yastad Veda Ulhayam Saha,
vinashen mrityum tirtba sambhutya amritam asnute 14
He who knows That, taking both the Birth and the
Dissolution together as one (in That), crosses death
by the dissolution and enjoys immortality by
the Birth (Becoming) –14–
This is the meaning in short of the first group of mantras. The fruits or the result of the devotion to Avidya and Vidya are different. But to tell the truth, if we take them separately, the result of both is blind darkness. What is required is their togetherness. If we follow both together, Avidya becomes a means to cross over death and Vidya becomes a means to enjoy immortality.
The words seem to be puzzling, especially regarding Avidya. How by following or devoting to Avidya or Ignorance can one cross over Death? It is not possible to understand.
All the commentators have taken the common meaning of the ward Avidya, Ignorance. Generally by Avidya we understand absence of Knowledge, Knowledge of the Truth, because of which grief and delusion arise in man’s consciousness. Such Ignorance can never be a means to cross over death. Therefore it is not possible to accept the common meaning of Avidya here.
In fact, the word Avidya has a mystic meaning, which we find in the Samhitas, in the Upanishads and in the sayings of the Maskers. Let us first discuss the famous words in Kena Upanishad, “That is indeed different from what is known; again it is above the unknown. We have thus heard from the wisdom of the ancients, who have defined to us the true form of That ..... Those among us who think they know That, they do not know, Those who know not, they know indeed.”2 THAT is ‘beyond the unknown,’ avidyat adhi’. This is one kind of Avidya, which is general or common ignorance. Beyond this Avidya is the great Purusha who is of the Purusha in the Sun, adityavarnah tamasah parastat,”3 whose Vidya, or knowledge is the stepping stone to immortality. But the white light of Sun the words Avidya and Vidya are used in the technical sense which represent two separate philosophies. Avidya is not Ignorance in its ordinary sense. It has a deeper mystic meaning akin to ‘asat,’ NonExistence, which is beyond ‘Sat! Existence is the Highest goal, because THAT is “other than that is known.” Anyad eva Viditat, whatever may be the kind of knowledge, it is something other than all knowable knowledge. Therefore he who says, he knows, does not know,” but he who says, he does not know, he alone knows.”4 Notknowing Him is Knowing.This is another kind of Avidya, Ignorance which is mystic in nature.
From natural and common ignorance a devotee, a Sadhaka, begins his pilgrimage with aspiration for knowledge. In the language of the Vedas, he is a ‘nachiketa,’ one who does not know. But as he progresses on the path of knowledge, he feels that in spite of knowing so much, in fact he knows nothing. And so at the end of the pilgrimage he experiences an indescribable ‘Avidya,’ Ignorance where he comes in contact with the Supreme, black-blue Sky, ‘parah,krishna nilima) beyond the white light of the Sun. In the language of the Samhita, he is now “naVedah”–one who knows not– even though he is standing on the highest peak of the Supreme Heavens, he cannot pierce or solve the mystery of “apraketam (salilam) gahanam gabhiram”–the inscrutable, unperceivable, dense and deep (waters), and therefore it can be said “so anga veda yadi wa na Veda”–whether even He knows (It) or does not know6 -even beyond the knowledge of the learned, the wise. This is the ‘Avidya’ or Ignorance of the ‘navedah”– who knows not. In the Samhita, ‘navedah’ is the term used for a Vignani,” the knowing of Vignana or Supermind who is beyond Jnani, the knowing, the learned man.
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Yagyavalkya has called ‘Avidya’ non cognition or ‘asanjna.” While instructing Maitreya about Supreme Knowledge he said, ‘Na pritya sanyha asti iti are bravimi – what I want to say is (that), no cognition remains after passing over’ – that means no cognition remains after crossing over or ascending all the states of Existence or Being ‘Satta’.7 Maitreya, in order to clarify, asks him, “What kind of delusion are you talking about?” Yagyavalkya replied to her, “No, no, (I am not talking about delusion, but Sat, (that) is the highest Supramental knowledge (vignana).”
In Kathopanishad too this is repeated. Standing before the fearsome God of Death, Nachiketa said, ”There is a debate over the man who has passed away.Some say, he is, and some say, he is not .8 Yama’s (God of Death) reply is similar to Yagyvalkya’s. He has talked about That Lightless state, where the Fire, the Lightning, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars shine not, but That shines of whom all these LIghts are reflections.9 For one who is not wise, this ‘Preti’ which has passed away is the sheath of noncognition removed by the God of Death who holds the binding noose. But for the “navedali,” the Vignani, this very noncognition is the flashlight or guiding light of the Dazzling Death God; made Blue by the Supreme Blackness of the Void of Varuna. We therefore see in Samhita, “preti, or the passing over, ends in “That Supreme Loka (Heaven) where the Soul meets the two intoxicated kings, one Yama the God of Death, and Varuna, the other, the God of Void.
This way of thinking has come down to us in Buddhist philosophy too. Buddha deva was asked whether Tathagata (an epithet used for Buddha, literally meaning one who has attained Nirvana and has come back) after Nirvana (dissolution of the body) remains or does not remain? Buddhadeva did not categorically say, ‘Yes’ or “No.’ He wanted to say in fact. that He, the Tathagata, after dissolution remains and yet does not remain at the same time. That is, His state then is indescribable, beyond the perception of the dualistic intellect. A drop or a wave when it merges in the sea, from one side it can be said that it does not exist, that is, as a separate form it is not there. But because it does not exist separately, that does not mean that nothing remains, because the Sea remains even then; and it can be said the drop or the wave remains in the form of the Sea.
Viewing from this side, this is not a state of total noncognition. There is no cognition of a drop or wave but the cognition of Sea is there. Therefore, considering all, this is the state of “naiva sanjna na asangna,” neither cognition nor noncognition, the eighth state of meditation which is at the end of the ‘arupavaohar’ formless meditations, according to the Buddhist way. The mutual relation between “Samprajnata”– (with idea awareness or knowledge) and ‘asmprajnab’ (without any idea awareness or knowledge) – Yogas of Patanjali are similarly indescribable. Nonawareness or nonknowledge is also Avidya (Ignorance) just as noncognition (asanjna) is Avidya (Ignorance). But this not the common natural Avidya (Ignorance) of a Nachiketa but the higher Avidya (Ignorance) of a NaVeda which is beond all worlds (Loka). This indescribability of experience or apprehension is transferred to the philosophy as well. We find it depicted in different ways in the Samhitas and Upanishads. The experience of Pure Existence (Sat) alone is the highest apprehension of Isness (asti). Sat is then the highest goal. It is said in one Upanishad, “Sad eva idam agre asit, ekam eva adwitiyam”– In the beginning Sat alone was there, one only and none other. ’ However, the pull of experience does not want to stop here.
Concentration, whether it is pervading or pointed like a nail, its natural end is in quietude or Silence (Suspension), Behind the light in which all shines, is seen a mysterious silent unmoving Darkness. This is the ‘Blue–Supreme Darkness” (neelam parah krishnam) of Varuna behind the white light “Suklam bhah” of Mika; ‘asat’ (Non existence) behind ‘Sat’ (Existence). This ‘asat’ is not powerless. The self restraint that is behind the quietude is called ‘Swadha’ (To remain steady in one’s self) and that again is exuberance that is the precursor of creation. And therefore where “there is the precursor of creation, where “there was no death, nor immortality ; neither night nor day, was there perceivable “na mrityur asid amritam tarhi, na ratrya ahna asit praketah”; therein ‘anidavatam Swadhaya tad. ekaw”12 - there was no wind and yet That one by His own swadha (selfhood) breathed. Then “asatah sad ajayata,” from Non Existence Existence was born.13 This is a position which is undebatable and indescribable, the Highest Goal, both Sat and ASat, and again It is neither Sat nor ASat.14 Its cognition as Sat is Vidya, or Knowledge and Its cognition as ‘ASat’ is Avidya (Ignorance)
Worship of ‘Sat’ is the worship of “Vidya’ and (worship of ‘ASat’ is the worship of ‘Avidya’ Exclusive worship of ‘Sat’ or ‘ASat’ will naturally have different results. Because of it there is this difference in ways. Its opposition takes a big form in the ordinary intellect. then both the belives in Sat and sat begin to accuse one another.
Those who are called ‘asadbrahmovadi believing in ‘asad Brahma’ are those whose goal is ‘BrahmaNIrvana”–Dissolution in Brahman according to the Gita; ‘Vinasha” Total Dissolution according to the Isha Upanisad and “S’unam a peh.”16 the void of A pi i.e. Varuna who is the God of Void, according to the Samhita. Those who are ‘sad Brahma Vadi, believing in Sad Brahman, their goal according to the Buddhists is “abhaswar Brahmaloka, the shining worlds of Brahma– “the Blessed form of the Purusha’ according to this Upanishad and “Swar Brihat,”17 the Vast Heavens – according to Samhita. According to the wellknown language of Chandogya Upanishad, they are respectively “The Blue Supreme Blackness of the Sun” “Neelam Parahkrishnan of Aditya” and His ‘S’uklam bhah’ the White Light of the Sun. Those who are believers in Sad Brahma and worship “Vidya” naturally believe that the believers in ‘asadbrahma’ and worship Avidya, Avidyam upasate– they will enter the Behind darkness,’andhah tamah pravishanti’ where they drown in the Blue Supreme Darkness of Varuna which beyond the Light of Mithra. While the other side will say, these who are merged only in Vidya ‘Vidyayam satah” only know the White Light of the Sun. Those who remain satisfied in this knowledge are blind to the Truth of the NonLIght (analoka), and this blindness of theirs is deeper because the ignorance (Avidya) that comes wearing the mask of knowledge is more dangerous that the common ignorance because its dellusion is different to overcome.
In this way the believers of Sat and the believers of ASat stand face to face. Both of them are wise (dhira) and welleshabhijhed in Meditation. But the result, the fruits of their worship angad eva Vidyaya anyad Avidyaya , that of knowledge is different and that of Ignorance is also different – where is the Solution ?
The solution lies in the experience of the person who has known Vidya and Avidya “tad Veda ubhayam sati”–both together as That. Knowledge or Vidya is the discipline for realising Sat, and knowing it to attain That as vast (Brihat). The discipline for realising “ASat” is “Avidya”–when all knowing ends, to attain That in the void of the unperceivable. Both together gives us an integral and total knowledge of His whole Being This is the Simultaneous superknowledge of ‘S’uklam bhah”–the white light and “the Blue supreme Blackness,” neelam parah Krishnam as is seen in the always,seen orb of the Sun, in its all pervading light and along with it the colourless Sky which is inseparable from it. In the Samhita the God of one is Mithra and Varuna is the God of the other. The togetherness – the unity of the two is wellknown. And their togetherness or unity in experience is indispensable.
One who has achieved this togetherness union, his intelligence has attained reflective knowledge (Perception) (Pratibodh), or is dipped in the experience of undivided oneness. “Avidyaya mivityum tirtva, Vidyaya amritam asnute” Crossing over Death by Death by Avidya, he enjoys immortality by Vidya. This crossing over death is another name for the will to live. In the dawn of Life, Prana is flowing upward, and the will to live is strong. But after the noon of life begins the decay of Prana, this is the general way of natural life. In order to stop decay, Thirst for immortality arises in the mortal man who is enlightened; effort by sadhana to crossover Death begins.
Taitireya Brahmana states clearly on which level or state this effort succeeds. The Brahmana says, “The worlds below the Sun are generally ‘vast worlds’ (wruloka), but the worlds that lie beyond the Sun are “vaster worlds (variyansah lokah). The worlds that are below have all end and decay, but the worlds that are beyond are Infinite, endless and undecaying. One who performs the Nachiketa Sacrifice or Fireworship is established in this undecaying world. Just as a charioteer sitting on the chariot can see the two wheels revolving on the two sides of the chariot, similarly from the world beyond the Sun the yogi sees the revolutions of Day and NIght under him, but the Day and Night does not touch (affect) him.18 This is called the conquering of Time or Crossing over Death or attaining Immortality.
Thus the neutral relation between death and immortality becomes clear. We can see that there is a lower level of consciousness where life is bound by death. The Revolution of Birth and Death goes on at this lower level like the Revolution of Day and Night; the will to live is always defeated there. Immortality is above this revolution. But if we have to reach there, we have to cut our way through death. Common natural death ends in blind darkness. Standing at the end of life, blowing out all the lamps of consciousness, we have to jump into that lightless world. It is like coming to darkness from light and there to discover an indescribable light by the help of Self’s Light. The independent Energy of Sight, light and darkness, are the Shadow of its Brightness.
This is another form of death. This death is not the common natural death, It is the Shining Death of an introspective wise man. We see the young boy Yamayana in the Samhita and Nachiketa in the Brahmana and Upanishad standing face to face before Yama God of Death at the highest state of ‘Preti’, the passing over In this very Upanishad He is mentioned as Yama before and beyond the Prajapatya Surya , the creator sun, whose (Eye) sight is shining with the seeking Light of God Purusha.20 In it there is “na diva na ratrih na sat na cha ASat 21– neither day nor night, neither Existence nor Nonesistence: ‘na sanjna na asangna’ neither cognition nor non cognition, no reckoning of anything and therefore an indescribable divine ‘Avidya’ (Ignorance) is the only means to attain It.
Here, ‘asambhiti – Non Becoming- is called ‘vinasha” Dissolution. The word comes from the root ‘nash.’ It has two meanings in the Samhita; one is to be lost, and the other is ‘to reach the goal, to attain.’ In Tandya Brahamana is mentioned a sacred place called “Vinashana,”31 where the flow of the river Saraswati is lost in the desert; and hence this name of the sacred place. After some distance a stream of water comes out of the earth and flows into the sea.32 The Saraswati river is symbolic for the streams of lifeforce (prana) and wisdom (prajna); going upwards by that stream we can reach heaven or the Sun.33 the Saraswati is lost in the desert and again emerging she reaches the Sea. Both are her “vinashava” or ‘Vinasha,’ (being lost or dissolved). Here we get a picture of ‘asambhuti’ and ‘Sambhuti’. To be lost in the desert is ‘asambhuti’– higher anatural ‘Avidya’–Ignorance–is its means. Reaching the Sea and consequent expansion, widening or progressing towards vastness (prachetana),34 is Sambhuti, the Becoming. Vidya (knowledge) is its means. This is the description of the progressing way of the river Saraswati in Samhita, “amongst the rivers Saraswati alone is pure and enlightened. It moves on from the mountain, moves on from the Sea.”35
To move on from the Sea is to flow upwards, to the sacred ‘Vinashana’ according to Brahmana,from where if one marches forward riding a horse for forty days and nights, he will reach ‘plaksha prassavana” i.e. an eternal cascading Bungau Tree. This tree is the Brahma tree from which a spring of nectar always flows. It is said in the Brahmana that the Heaven is also equally far from the earth.36 From there one has to descend and plunge into the Sea of everprogressing prana of this earth, into the ‘Sambhuti’–the Becoming. In a way, this too is “Vinashana”–losing one’s self in all and living in all all embracing Oneness, to enjoy the immortality of one’s being in this sport of death.
The Second part of the Upanishad (consisting of Mantras 9 to 14) ends here. The third part consists of four mantras. There is some difference regarding number, regarding and placement of the mantras in the Kanva and Madhyandin branches of the Yajurveda. It will be discussed at the end of Part Three.