THE TALAVAKARA UPANISHAD
THE TEACHING OF BRAHMAN
CHAPTER FIRST (1)
The Master was asked by the pupil to tell at whose wish the
mind of man, when sent forth for any act, proceeds on its errand,
by whose command the first breath goeth forth, and at whose wish
the mind of man, when sent forth for any act, proceeds on its
errand, by whose command the first breath goeth forth, and at
whose wish do men utter speech. He was also asked to tell what
intelligent power directs the eye or the ear in the performance
of natural functions.
The reply given by the Master, thus approached by the pupil,
was that in respect to the ear, the brain, the speech of man,
the breathing, and the eye, the other organs are of themselves
wholly unable to act, but are the means whereby the real, but
unseen, inner organs of sight, speech, hearing, seeing, and breathing
obtain touch with nature, make themselves manifested, and become
able to cognize outside objects.
The perfectly trained man, one fully grounded in philosophy,
who has gained control of these organs both within and without,
and who can locate his consciousness in the inner being, becomes
really immortal when death releases him from the connection with
the body. but the ordinary man, by reason of his being fully
entrapped and deluded by the outer senses which are always intimately
connected with the inner ones, is compelled after death to go
into the Devachanic state and to return again to earthly life
where he takes up a fresh set of material organs and sense connections.
But there is another sort of consciousness which cannot be
expounded to one who has not himself gained an experience of
it. It is beyond description in words used on this plane. For
it is different from the known, above what we suppose to be the
unknown, and not that which people here adore as their highest
conception of being.
Know, therefore, that the basis for the operations of the
mind, of the senses, of the organs is Brahman alone. Without
that we could neither taste, smell, hear, see, nor think.
Then to the pupil the Master said, so as to impress it on
his mind, "If thou thickest I know the form of Brahman well,
thou are not wise; but perhaps thou newest it thyself, if so
then tell me."
To this the pupil replied that we cannot know or describe
Brahman, the substratum of all, in the ordinary manner by connecting
him with some things already known to us, but at the same time
we are not able to say that we do not know him. We feel the actuality
of Brahman, but cannot enter into a description of it as we would
of an object, by giving its known characteristics, or of a piece
of land by its metes and bounds, its quality and its vegetation.
The knowing of it at last, its full realization, is a species
of awakening out of the present state, and then the knowledge
bursts upon us. By the real Self we gain and keep strength in
the interior nature, and by knowledge we become able to destroy
the bonds of material reincarnation, thus attaining conscious
immortality. And by knowing this, one has discovered the true
aim of life. If this is not understood while a man is existing
here on earth in a body, then he will be compelled to reincarnate
until he does comprehend it. But the wise, who have directed
their thoughts to all things, and have at last come to recognize
the real Self within themselves, are possessors of conscious
immortality and pass unfettered out of this life never to return.
The elemental spirits of all grades that work in nature on
every plane, in air, water, earth, and fire in all their correlations
and combinations, were evolved from lower and less conscious
states through aeons of effort by the highest mind. This was
a constant struggle between the informing power of the mind and
the heavy non-conscious material base which alone existed before
what we now call matter had been differentiated from primordial
cosmic substance. It was in ages long passed away, while the
elemental model of all material things was under construction.
Without the informing power, which was itself brought over from
previous and incalculably distant periods of evolution, the elemental
spirits would not have come into existence, as they had no power
of their own to stir the depths of cosmic matter. Hence their
evolution is called the "Victory of Brahman."
They were evolved on many planes, each in a different degree
(2), and among them were the higher order related to fire, air,
and nascent mind. These being the highest were in possession
of a consciousness peculiar to their own plane of existence and
were destined to become the conscious human beings of the future.
But it seemed to them that they had themselves obtained the victory
over cosmic substance and brought about their own evolution.
And in order to raise these cosmic spirits by gentle steps
to a higher state of development, the highly progressed entities
from other Manvantaras appeared to then on their own plane
and in their own spheres of consciousness, but were not comprehended.
Then the ruling spirits of fire were unable to burn, and those
of air unable to move, a straw that was created before them.
Next, Indra, representing the nascent power of mind and imagination,
advanced toward those who came to teach, but instead of them
perceived only the primordial root and basis of matter(3). For
spirit as distinguished from matter cannot be perceived. It is
from spirit-the eternal purusha-that matter is emanated,
and together they form the two phases of the one Absolute and
The elemental spirits had to fall down into material existence,
suffer in its toils, and at last by experience gain further development
But the principles of fire and air, and the thinking man,
are nearest to Brahman in the eternal scheme of nature's evolution.
And as Brahman flashed forth only to at once disappear from
the sight of the gods, so in like manner a knowledge of the elemental
spirits in this manvantara is evanescent and fitful. And in respect
to the psychological being called Man, he perceives the truth
either directly or by reflection. When he has perceived it by
reflection, his imagination keeps the images together through
the means of the eternal base which is Brahman itself. After
repeated experiences of these reflections of truth he is at last
able to look directly on it, and then he many become consciously
A name of Brahman is expressed by the words "The desire
of it," and by that name it may be pondered upon. He who
has discovered what the true aim of life is should meditate upon
it and make all his desires bend to it. And as he progresses
toward a knowledge of it, so all beings are insensibly impelled
to aid him in the search, because there exists in all the desire
to know the root of all things.
Thus you have been told the teaching of Brahman. It stands
upon penance, restraint of self, and sacrifice; the Holy books
are its limbs and the True is it abode. He who comprehends in
their entirety and subtle connection these teachings, and has
shaken off all evil, has become conscious of the endless, unconquerable
world of spiritual knowledge.
Path, September, 1892
(1) In the original this is called Khanda instead of
(2) They are called devas or gods in the original.
(3) In the Sanskrit this is called Mulaprakriti.
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