The World and the One ‘brahman’

mANDUkya Upanishad’ mantra 7 tells us that anything that is sensed, perceived, experienced or even thought about or conceptualized is not brahman. Consequently, Sages admit that “Advaita philosophy is incommunicable” (7, mANDUkya); “We do not know how to teach Advaita,” (1.3, kena). But at the same time, the Upanishadkars exhort us that “You should know It.”

Shankara too urges us in the Gita bhAShya (Ch 6, 9, 15.3, BGB;) and also at kaTha bhAShya that we should make every effort to attain the Knowledge of the Self in this life itself because “here alone it is possible to have a vision of the Self as clearly as (seeing) the face in a mirror, whereas this is not possible in other worlds apart from that of brahmA, which, however, is difficult to attain” (2.6.4, kaTha UB).

Hence, the teaching of Advaita philosophy is done adopting an apophatic approach, via negativa. It is the famous “na ( = not) (stated) iti ( = thus); not (stated) thus; na ( = not) (stated) iti ( = thus),” or netineti (2.3.6, BU); thus denying anything said about the Self is NOT It!

But, Shankara also advises that “the end-point of the attainment of Self-knowledge should be kept in view; for, it is only then one will be able to endeavor to cultivate the attributes which are the means of attaining that Knowledge” (13.11, BGB).

This situation leaves us puzzled!

The Upanishads on one hand say that nothing can be expressed in words about the Advaita Doctrine; but on the other hand, we are urged to make all effort to attain It in this life and endeavor for It while keeping in mind the end-goal.

The taittirIya Upanishad comes to aid us at this point. The Upanishad says that brahman may be expressed by a description of three aspects of Its intrinsic nature, each descriptor word qualifying the other two. The three intrinsic aspects are:

satyam (Beingness); jnAnam (Knowingness); and Anantam (Infinitude or better put as Undimensional) – 2.2.1, taittirIya Upanishad.

[The Caps letters used in the English words for the three aspects indicate, by convention, their impersonal and Universal nature; that is to say that they are not the personal attributes of any individual).]

Next, the chAndogya Upanishad clarifies that brahman with those characteristics is only ONE (advaita) and there is “no second thing” like that – hence, Alone and Non-dual (6.2.1, chAnU). It further, very helpfully, tells us that “You are That One (single) brahman” (6.8.7, chAnU).

But that leaves us in wonderment. “If I am brahman and if I Alone Am, who and what are all those things that are perceived by me? What is this world and the actions and interactions that go on within it?”

Well, the brihadAraNyaka Upanishad comes with a “model” to explain to us the variegated multiplicity. It says:

“As from fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, so from the (One) Self emanate all organs, all worlds, all gods and all beings.” — 2.1.20, BU.

The ever-benevolent Shankara expounds further on that model in these words: “As in the world a spider, which is well known to be one entity, moves along the thread which is not different from itself; and from one homogeneous fire tiny sparks, little specks of fire, fly in different directions, or in (innumerable) numbers, just so, from the One Self, i.e. from the real nature of the individual Self, emanate all.” — 2.1.20, BUB.

And what does that “All” comprise?

[Your] organs and the worlds, and all beings, right from Hiranyagarbha down to a clump of grass! Nothing left out.

Maybe listening to this 12 min Audio (in simple English; no Sanskrit or Quotations) may help: “I am the creator of my world” 

Moral of the story: There is no one out there to apportion praise or blame for the world you find yourself in!

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