Svetasvatara Upanishad - Chap 6 The One God and the Cosmic Process


Bhagavad Gita (2.29) says
aashcharyavat pashyati kashchid enam aashcharyavad vadati tathaiva chaanyah
aashcharyavacchainam anyah shrinoti shrutwaapyenam veda na chaiva kaschit //
Some look on the Self as a wonder; some speak of It as a wonder; some hear of It as a wonder; still others, though  hearing, do not understand It at all.

The Self is incomprehensible because it is not known by the ordinary means of knowledge. Though the knowledge of the Self is freely accessible to all mankind, it is attained only by a very few who are willing to pay the price in the form of self-discipline, steadfastness and non-attachment. Though the truth is open to all, many do not feel any urge to seek. Of those who have the urge, many suffer from doubt and vacillation. Even if they do not have doubts, many are scared away by difficulties. Only a few rare souls succeed in braving the perils and reaching the goal.

Although it is difficult to comprehend the idea of the Self, if one starts the practice of listening (sravanam), continuous reflection (mananam) and long contemplation (nidhidhyasan) it is possible to realize the Self in him.


Mantra 1

svabhāvam eke kavayo vadanti kāla tathānye parimuhyamānā /
devasyaia mahimā tu loke yeneda bhrāmyate brahmacakram // 6.1 //

Some learned men speak of the inherent nature of things and some speak of time, as the cause of the universe. They all, indeed, are deluded. It is the greatness of the self-luminous Lord that causes the Wheel of Brahman to revolve. 

Svetasvatara Upanishad discusses the same idea of the Gita as stated above in this Mantra. At the beginning in Chapter 1.2 this same question was raised and many answers like the nature of things, time etc., were proposed and rejected.  After meditation it was concluded that it was Brahman by His own power, daivatma sakti, by His own maya, created this universe.

Here again the Upanishad goes back to the same question and states that some scholars say the root cause of the world is its inherent  nature of things or the natural potency of its objects and some others opine it is the element of time that is the cause of this world. But all of them are wrong. The universe is not a self-creating, self-evolving, self-destroying entity. It is lifeless and inert. Brahman is the ultimate cause of the world process which has been described as Brahmachakra, the Wheel of Brahman in Chapter 1.4.


Mantra 2

yenāvta nityam ida hi sarva jña kālakālo guī sarvavidya /
teneśita karma vivartate ha pthivyāptejo'nilakhāni cintyam // 6.2 // 

He by whom the whole universe is constantly pervaded, who is the knowledge itself,  the Author of time who is sinless and omniscient, at whose command the work which is called earth, water, fire, air and akasa appears as the universe, on Him the wise  should reflect upon.

The Lord is described as He who
•Pervades the entire universe
•Is the very stuff of consciousness
•Is the controller of time, the destroyer of all material entities
•Is endowed with three gunas because of His association with maya power
•Is all-knowing and
•Appears as the five elements (in the sense the five elements are super-imposed on Him) because of which He seems to be the universe which remains under His control.

The idea is that we should remember that Brahman is behind this universe and accordingly fix our mind on that reality and meditate.

Mantra 3

tat karma ktvā vinivartya bhūyas tattvasya tattvena sametya yogam /
ekena dvābhyā tribhir aṣṭabhir vā kālena caivātmaguaiś ca sūkmai // 6.3 //

The yogi who first performs actions and then turns away from them and who practises one, two, three, or eight disciplines, unites one principle with another principle and with the help of virtues cultivated by the self and of subtle tendencies attains Liberation in course of time.

The nature of Perfect Knowledge and the disciplines required to be practiced for achieving it are now discussed.

The seeker, referred to here as the Yogi, performs all his actions as offerings to the Lord thus making his heart pure. When a man performs his duties, regarding himself as an instrument of the Lord and surrendering all the fruits to Him, he is said to renounce all his duties or the sense of duty drops away from him. Thus he becomes entitled to the life of a sanyasi fully understanding that the idea of duty is the result of attachment.

The one, two, three or eight duties referred to in the Mantra mean service to the Guru, love of God, sravana, manana, nidhidhyasana of scriptures and ashtanga yoga stipulated in Patanjali Yoga sutras. Uniting one principle with another principle means understanding and experiencing the essence of the mahavakya “Tatvam Asi’. The aspirant who practices these disciplines and who cultivates virtues like charity, purity, desirelessness, freedom from malice etc., attains liberation or kaivalya.

Mantra 4

ārabhya karmāi guānvitāni bhāvāś ca sarvān viniyojayed ya /
teām abhāve ktakarmanāśa karmakaye yāti sa tattvato 'nya // 6.4 // 

He who attains purity of heart by performing actions as an offering to the Lord and merges prakriti and all its effects in Brahman, realizes his true Self and thereby transcends phenomena. In the absence of maya, both collective and individual, all his past actions are destroyed. After the destruction of the prarabdha karma he attains final Liberation. 

This Mantra can be divided into two sections for a better understanding. The first section reads as “He who attains purity of heart by performing actions as an offering to the Lord and merges prakriti and all its effects in Brahman, realizes his true Self and thereby transcends phenomena”.

This is the concept of Karmayoga as taught in the Bhagavad Gita 9.27 and 28 and 5.10 and 11. A man should perform his duties regarding himself as the God’s instrument and surrendering the results to Him. Thus the impurities of his heart are destroyed and he is qualified for the higher disciplines of meditation and Samadhi. Such a man of meditation sees the universe in Brahman. How? In Vedanta, the effect is merely a name and it has no existence independent of the cause, which alone is real. For instance, a pot is made out of clay. The pot is therefore the effect and the clay is the cause. What makes the pot different is its shape and name; yet it is not something other than clay. It is just clay in a different form and hence the real thing is clay only. What the Mantra says is that a wise man sees the effect in the cause which is referred to as merging of prakriti and its effects in Brahman that is to say for him the universe is non-different from Brahman, the causeless cause.

The second section reads “In the absence of maya, both collective and individual, all his past actions are destroyed. After the destruction of the prarabdha karma he attains final Liberation”.

The notion of non-duality i.e., action, actor and results belongs to the realm of maya. When maya is destroyed the vasanas created by past actions or karma and the resultant bondages are also destroyed (Bhagavad Gita 4.37). In Vedanta everybody has to reap the consequences of his past actions. The results of those actions which have already begun to bear their fruit (i.e. the cause for the present birth itself) must anyway have to be undergone. This is called prarabdha karma. When this karma which is bearing fruit gets completely exhausted the wise man, who has gone beyond maya or prakriti, attains liberation or mukti or freedom from the cycle of births and deaths.

Mantra 5

ādi sa sayoganimittahetu paras trikālād akalo 'pi dṛṣṭa /
ta viśvarūpa bhavabhūtam īya deva svacittastham upāsya pūrvam // 6.5 // 

The Great Lord is the beginning, the cause which unites the soul with the body; He is above the three kinds of time and is seen to be without parts. After having worshipped that adorable God dwelling in the heart, who is of many forms and is the true source of all things, man attains final Liberation.

An attempt to describe Brahman, the Lord continues in these Mantras, however much such efforts are futile. He is the primal cause of all beings and things. The soul through avidya, becomes united with the body and the Lord is the cause of such avidya, which manifests as both good and evil. Attachment to good and evil is the cause of the embodiment. Thus the Lord, Brahman, is responsible for the good as well as the evil activities.

He is beyond the three times - past, present and future. We cannot specify when he existed or when he will exist because he always exists, above time. He is without parts means that he is not made up of something. He is not a composite object just like bones, tissues, blood etc which make up our bodies. Brahman is without such parts and he is undifferentiated.

He is of many forms because he is everything. He is the cause of existence. All things exist because he exists and without him nothing can exist. All forms are his forms.

The mantra advises that that the seeker should meditate on Paramatman who is within his own heart when he will realize that there is no more “He’ and ‘I’. His own identity merges with that of object of meditation and he becomes completely dissolved, as it were, in Brahman. He no longer exists. There is only Brahman.

Mantra 6

sa vkakālāktibhi paro 'nyo yasmāt prapañca parivartate 'ya /
dharmāvaha pāpanuda bhageśa jñātvātmastham amta viśvadhāma // 6.6 //

He from whom this universe proceeds is higher and other than all forms of the Tree of the World and of time. When one knows Him who is the indweller, the bringer of good, the destroyer of evil, the Lord of powers, the immortal support of all, one attains final Liberation. 

The Lord is described as the One other than the tree of the world and of time. As in the Bhagavad Gita (15.1), here also the world is compared to a tree which means that which does not exist permanently. Within the Lord the world keeps going in and coming out. He supports virtue and destroys vice, the source of all and the supporter of the world. He is immortal and the inmost Self of all. If one knows Him as his own Self he attains liberation.

Mantra 7

tam īśvarāā parama maheśvara ta devatānā parama ca daivata /
pati patīnā parama parastād vidāma deva bhuvaneśam īyam // 6.7 // 

We know Him who is the Supreme Lord of lords, the Supreme Deity of deities, the Ruler of rulers; who is higher than the imperishable prakriti and is the self-luminous, adorable Lord of the world. 

All these adjectives are used to emphasize the uniqueness of Brahman. He is the supreme among all gods. He is self-luminous and the God of all gods, the Ruler of all the rulers. He is higher than Brahma. He rules the world and is the sole object of worship in the world. He is to be known as our own self.

Mantra 8

na tasya kārya karaa ca vidyate na tatsamaś cābhyadhikaś ca dśyate /
parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate svābhāvikī jñānabalakriyā ca // 6.8 //

He is without a body or organs; none like unto Him is seen, or better than He. The Vedas speak of His exalted power, which is innate and capable of producing diverse effects and also of His omniscience and might. 

The Lord has no body or organs. None is His equal and none is His superior either. He possesses all powers of knowledge and action which are natural to Him. This has been confirmed by the scriptures.

Mantra 9

na tasya kaścit patir asti loke na ceśitā naiva ca tasya liga /
sa kāraa karaādhipādhipo na cāsya kaścij janitā na cādhipa // 6.9 //

He has no master in the world, no ruler, nor is there even a sign of Him by which He can be inferred. He is the cause, the Lord of the lord of the organs; and He is without progenitor or controller. 

There is none in this world who is His master or who governs Him and there is nothing by which He can be identified. He is the cause of all. He is also the Lord of the jiva who is the lord of all the sense-organs. None is His creator and none is His controller.

Mantra 10

yas tantunābha iva tantubhi pradhānajai svabhāvata /
deva eka svam āvṛṇoti sa no dadhād brahmāpyayam // 6.10 //

May the non-dual Lord, who, by the power of His maya, covered Himself, like a spider, with threads drawn from primal matter, merge us in Brahman! 

As a spider hides itself by its own web, the Lord hides Himself effortlessly within the projections of his maya such as names, forms and actions. May He kindly unite us with Brahman?

Mantra 11

eko deva sarvabhūteu gūha sarvavyāpī sarvabhūtāntarātmā /
karmādhyaka sarvabhūtādhivāsa sākī cetā kevalo nirguaś ca // 6.11 //

The non-dual and resplendent Lord is hidden in all beings. All-pervading, the inmost Self of all creatures, the impeller to actions, abiding in all things, He is the Witness, the Animator and the Absolute, free from gunas. 

He is the one without a second, yet he is hidden in every being. He is all pervasive, the Self of all. He gives to all beings the fruits of their actions, and he is the support of all. He is the witness, bestower of consciousness, without attributes and unconditioned.

Bhagvad Gita says
upadrashtaanumantaa cha bhartaa bhoktaa maheshwarah
paramaatmeti chaapyukto dehe'smin purushah parah // 13.23 //
The Supreme Purusha in this body is also called the Witness, the Approver, the Supporter, the Experiencer, the Sovereign Lord and the Supreme Self.

Mantra 12

eko vaśī nikriyāā bahūām eka bīja bahudhā ya karoti /
tam ātmastha ye 'nupaśyanti dhīrās teā sukha śāśvata netareā // 6.12 //

There is a non-dual Ruler of the actionless many; He makes the one seed manifold. Eternal happiness belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves-and not to others.

He is non-dual; he controls everything and makes one seed to breed many seeds. Wise people see such a Lord in themselves and attain liberation but not others.

Mantra 13

nityo nityānā cetanaś cetanānām eko bahūnā yo vidadhāti kāmān /
tat kāraakhyayogādhigamya jñātvā deva mucyate sarvapāśai // 6.13 //

He is the Eternal among the eternal, the Conscious among the conscious and though non-dual, fulfils the desires of many. He who has known Him, the luminous Lord, the Great Cause, to be realized by Knowledge (Samkhya) and yoga, is freed from all fetters. 

The Lord gives eternity to all the eternals, consciousness to those who are conscious. He is alone, yet he is able to fulfill the wishes of all. You realize him only through knowledge and when you have this realization, you become free from ignorance.

Mantra 14

na tatra sūryo bhāti na candratāraka nemā vidyuto bhānti kuto 'yam agni /
tam eva bhāntam anubhāti sarva tasya bhāsā sarvam ida vibhāti // 6.14 //

The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings-much less this fire. He shining, everything shines after Him. By his light all this is lighted. 

The sun, moon and the other luminous things derive their light from Brahman and without Brahman they cannot give any light. Brahman is the source and goal of everything.

This Mantra occurs in Kathopanishad (2.2.15), Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.10) and Bhagavad Gita (15.6).

Mantra 15

eko haso bhuvanasyāsya madhye sa evāgni salile saniviṣṭa /
tam eva viditvāti mtyum eti nānya panthā vidyate 'yanāya // 6.15 //

In this universe the Swan, the Supreme Self alone exists. It is He who, as fire, abides in the water. Only by knowing Him does one pass over death, there is no other way to reach the Supreme Goal. 

The supreme Self, Brahman, is referred to as the swan which means the destroyer of ignorance. Brahman is fire because the supreme Self consumes ignorance as fire burns wood. If one knows his own Self he knows Brahman and he knows everything.

Water refers to the body because the element of water predominates in it. It also refers to pure heart in which the ego is subdued. The Supreme Self reflected in the pure heart destroys ignorance and its effects.

The Mantra says that the only way to transcend death and realize immortality is to know that Brahman is one’s own self that is to say knowing that one’s own self and the supreme Self are identical.

The body is made of flesh and it will be destroyed one day. But you are the Supreme spirit and nothing can destroy you. When you have this conviction you conquer death. But this conviction can come only with through knowledge. There is no other path; there is no other way to escape the unceasing round of births and deaths.

Mantra 16

sa viśvakd viśvavid ātmayonir jña kālakālo guī sarvavidya /
pradhānaketrajñapatir gueśa sasāramokasthitibandhahetu // 6.16 //

He who is the support of both the unmanifested prakriti and the jiva, who is the Lord of the three gunas and who is the cause of bondage, existence and Liberation from samsara, is verily the Creator of the universe, the Knower, the inmost Self of all things and their Source-the omniscient Lord, the Author of time, the Possessor of virtues, the Knower of everything. 

The rope is the support of the illusory snake erroneously super imposed upon it. Further, it is the reality of the rope that makes the snake appear to be real. It is the same with the unmanifested prakriti (avyakta) and the jiva, both of which are erroneously superimposed upon Brahman. Without the substratum of Brahman neither would appear as real.

Ignorance about the Lord brings about the illusion of creation, and the non-discriminating person becomes entangled in the world. Knowledge of the Lord liberates one from it.

Mantra 17

sa tanmayo hy amta īśasastho jña sarvago bhuvanasyāsya goptā /
sa īśe asya jagato nityam eva nānyo hetur vidyata īśanāya // 6.17 //

He who constantly rules the world is verily the cause of bondage and Liberation. Established in His own glory, He is the Immortal, the Embodiment of Consciousness, and the omnipresent Protector of the universe. There is no one else able to rule it. 

Sankara says that Brahman is samsara-moksha-stithi-bandha-hetuh karanam- that is Brahman is responsible for our existence, bondage and liberation.

Many epithets and adjectives have been used in this Mantra, as elsewhere, to describe Brahman; yet they are all completely inadequate. Brahman is beyond thought, beyond speech. Unless some words are used we just cannot even conceive Brahman.

Mantra 18

yo brahmāa vidadhāti pūrva yo vai vedāś ca prahioti tasmai /
ta ha devam ātmabuddhiprakāśa mumukur vai śaraam aha prapadye // 6.18 // 

Seeking Liberation, I take refuge in the Lord, the revealer of Self-Knowledge, who in the beginning created Brahma and delivered the Vedas to Him. 

Because the Lord alone is the cause of a man’s bondage and liberation, the aspirant should take refuge in Him with heart and soul.  At the beginning of the cycle, the first tangible manifestation of the attributeless Brahman in the relative universe is Brahma. Brahma is therefore the personified totality of the entire created objects.

The teachings of the Vedas come through a succession of illumined teachers. At the end of the cycle when the whole universe goes back to the undifferentiated state, there remains no teacher to preserve and transmit the Vedas. The Vedic knowledge remains then merged in Brahman. At the beginning of the new cycle, the Lord creates Brahma and reveals the Vedas to him. Brahma in turn transmits the Vedic knowledge to a qualified teacher. Thus, a new line of teachers comes into existence for the preservation and propagation of the Vedic lore.

The seeker of liberation takes refuge in that luminous Lord who reveals Self-knowledge to the mind.

Mantra 19 - 20

nikala nikriya śānta niravadya nirañjanam /
amtasya para setu dagdhendhanam ivānalam // 6.19 //

yadā carmavad ākāśa veṣṭayiyanti mānavā /
tadā devam avijñāya dukhasyānto bhaviyati // 6.20 //

When men shall roll up space as if it were a piece of hide, then there will be an end of misery without one’s cultivating the Knowledge of the Lord, who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, blameless, unattached, the supreme bridge to Immortality, and like a fire that has consumed all its fuel. 

This is a beautiful way of explaining a difficult topic. The Mantra says that just as it is never possible to roll up the akasa (sky) as a piece of leather (like a piece of suit-length cloth) so it is utterly impossible to put an end to miseries of the world without the knowledge of the Lord. Only when something impossible happens will misery cease without one’s realizing God in one’s heart.

That God has been described in various terms. Brahman is free from the slightest trace of phenomenality. It is like blazing charcoal which burns radiantly after the wood is consumed.

Bhagavad Gita says

naadatte kasyachit paapam na chaiva sukritam vibhuh
ajnaanenaavritam jnaanam tena muhyanti jantavah  // 5.15 //
Nor does the all-pervading Spirit take on the merit or demerit of any. Knowledge is enveloped in ignorance and hence beings get deluded.

jnaanena tu tadajnaanam yeshaam naashitamaatmanah
teshaam aadityavajjnaanam prakaashayati tatparam  // 5.16 //
But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by the Knowledge of the Self, that knowledge, like the Sun, reveals the Supreme (Brahman).

tadbuddhayas tadaatmaanas tannishthaas tatparaayanaah
gacchantyapunaraavrittim jnaana nirdhoota kalmashaah  // 5.17 //
Fixing their minds on Him, at one with Him, abiding in Him, realizing Him alone as the Supreme Goal, they reach a state, from which there is no return, their sins having been destroyed by their Knowledge.

Mantra 21

tapaprabhāvād devaprasādāt brahma ha śvetāśvataro 'tha vidvān /
atyāśramibhya parama pavitra provāca samyag ṛṣisaghajuṣṭam // 6.21 //

Through the power of austerity and through the grace of the Lord, the sage Svetasvatara realised Brahman and proclaimed the highly sacred Knowledge, supremely cherished by the company of seers, to sannyasins of the most advanced stage. 

The Vedic teachings have been transmitted through a succession of teachers. When aspirants devoting themselves to the pursuit of knowledge of Brahman and who have practiced the proper spiritual disciplines such as control of the senses and the concentration of mind, follow these teachings, through the grace of God, they attain liberation.

The Mantra says that sage Svetasvatara attained Self-Knowledge, by the power of his austerities and by the grace of the Lord and then he passed on this knowledge to monks who have renounced the world.

Mantra 22

vedānte parama guhya purākalpe pracoditam /
nāpraśāntāya dātavya nāputrāyāśiyāya vā puna // 6.22 //

The profound mystery in the Vedanta was taught in the previous cycle. It should not be given to one whose passions have not been subdued, or to one who is not a son or a disciple. 

The Upanishads teach the profound secret that is Knowledge of Brahman which shows the way to final liberation. This sacred knowledge was to be imparted only to them whose minds are under control or to the son or a disciple, but even to them it is not taught if they are not endowed with inner calmness.

The idea is if this knowledge is imparted to people whose minds are not under control it will lead to all misinterpretations with disastrous consequences.

Mantra 23

yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau /
tasyaite kathitā hy arthā prakāśante mahātmana prakāśante mahātmana // 6.23 //

If these truths have been told to a high-minded person who feels the highest devotion for God and for his guru as for God, and then they will surely shine forth as inner experiences - then, indeed, they will shine forth. 

The Upanishad teachings taught by a Guru bear fruit only for those aspirants who cherish devotion to the Lord and the teacher. It is God who teaches the disciple through an illumined human teacher.

As a man whose clothes are under fire wants nothing but soaking himself in water or a hungry man wants nothing but a morsel of food, so a noble-minded aspirant, afflicted with the miseries of phenomenal existence, seeks nothing but the grace of the Guru, without which the Knowledge of Brahman is indeed hard to attain.

Iti Svetasvataropanishadi sastho’dhyayah ||

The Peace Chant 
Om. That is full; this is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is fullness. 
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!


6th October, 2011
Vijaya Dasami

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