Great Yogic Upanishad of Sage Śvetāśvatara with Commentary by Swami Ayyappa Giri

Great Yogic Upanishad of Sage Śvetāśvatara with Commentary by Swami Ayyappa Giri

Extracts from “Upanisads” by Patrick Olivelle.

Swami Ayyappa Giri conducts annual courses on the Upanishads.  Contact Yogini Ashram for details and registration.

© E. Ayyappa, (Swami Ayyappa Giri), 2020.  All Rights Reserved.

The Śvetāśvatara  Upanishad was composed at least a century, perhaps several, before Maitre Upanishad, in the later part of the 1st millennia BCE.  Thus it preceded both Patanjali Yoga Sutras, and Bhagavad-Gita.  It contains the oldest known articulation of a number of core concepts relating to Shiva Yoga, including pranayama, a more fully articulated heart centered meditation, and a discussion of the role and action of Maya in life.  The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad has six adhyaya (chapters), and the verses of each vary from 16 to 23 in number. 

It has long been accepted as one of the 12  or 13  “major upanishads.” It is a foundational text of Yoga and Shaivism, and indeed, Hinduism as a whole.

The text describes yoga as a state of harmony between body and mind wherein the body is held in an erect posture, and the mind and senses are withdrawn into the heart.  The Upanishad advocates a state of yoga which incorporates slow breathing through the nose.  The upanishad states that “With physical motions subdued and body stilled, the mind is calm and undistracted.”

The text predates most of the early Jain and Buddhist writings.  According to Paul Muller-Ortega, it was composed between the 5th and 6th century, bce.  Phillips chronologically lists this Upanishad after Mandukya Upanishad, and before, but close to the time of the Maitri Upanishad.  This is the time when the first Buddhist Pali and Jaina canonical texts were composed.  Both Flood and Gorski estimate the range of the Śvetāśvatara  Upanishad to be from the 4th to 5th the century bce.  Flood characterizes the Upanishad as a monistic Shaiva text. Here, Rudra-Shiva is identified as one and the same, the creator of the universe who liberates souls from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

The text reinforces from the earliest Vedas, the validity of a personal God, and it refers to Rudra together with the word Shiva several times, using it as an adjective.  It describes him as the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe. We learn from the text that this auspicious Rudra was worshiped with devotion (bhakti) as the central component of the path. We also learn that the universal soul resides in everyone, and indeed finds expression in all creatures, who are a projection of itself.  The upanishad reveals a strong unity of all things and a oneness with all souls.

The Śvetāśvatara Upanishad reveals more detail about the techniques and practice of Yoga than is seen in earlier upanishads.  The Yogic practitioner is encouraged to keep the body well aligned, to withdraw the senses, and, following the heart meditations of earlier upanishads, bring the focus of the mind into the heart.

Keeping the body still, avoiding movement of all kinds, the verses advise compressing the breath.  The process of nostril breathing is introduced, with a novel method of exhaling through one nostril at a time.

The location and environment is suggested.  One should practice yoga on level ground, without rocks of stones, choosing a pleasant site away from the weather, such as a cave or perhaps a nook in a hillside.  The text recommends the yogin locate a site sheltered from the wind, with no distractive noise, suggesting a rural or wilderness location.

Maya is Prakriti

The doctrine of Maya is explained, which is subsequently found in most schools of Hinduism. The text articulates that nature or prakriti is, in fact, Maya.  The text also explains that the individual soul is caught up in the illusion of Maya, and that the cosmic soul is in fact, the illusionist.  This is the earliest comprehensive explanation of Maya.

This famous Upanishad discusses Shiva and Maheshwara as one, and in several ways lays the groundwork for the Patanjali Yoga Sutras written centuries later. Here, the beneficent Rudra, Shiva, is identified as the creator of the universe who liberates souls from the birth-rebirth cycle. Thereafter, the Upanishad discusses yoga as a means for self-knowledge.  Rudra is the supreme deity, who pervades the universe, and who resides in the heart of all beings.  The upanishad accomplishes this while clearly remaining within the purview of upanishadic thought.

Early Tangible Expressions of Shiva Yoga

The text gives several meditation practices, as well as a pranayam, and mentions yoga and yogic principles on several occasions, particularly in chapter two.   It thus contains the theological foundations of monistic Shaivism. In it, the reader can recognize the underpinnings that we see today in Shiva yoga.  These include Shiva as an adjective of Rudra or Maheswara, and the principles of Bhakti and yoga as an avenue for realization of the individual soul (atman).  Thus, to realize the cosmic soul (Brahman), and the nature of the five lower tattvas, earth, water, fire, air, and ether.  Brahma, it states, is buried in the hearts of men, and cannot be seen with the eyes, as it is ultimately formless.  Since these principles are described as a surprisingly formulated theology, one can logically assume that Shiva yoga sadhus and acharayas practicing what would today be called Pasupathi Shiva yoga, were devotees of Rudra, and were likely prevalent in the Gangetic plain by 600 or even 700 bce. 

The Śvetāśvatara  Upanishad contains some of the earliest mentions of Shiva as an adjective of Rudra by name.  It is  evidence that the name of Shiva, found connected to Rudra in the much earlier Vedas, was crystallizing as the proper,  perhaps preferred name of Maheshwara. Shiva is mentioned seven times as an adjective in verses 3.5, 4.14, 4.16, 4.18, 5.14, 6.11, 6.18.  It is usually translated as “auspicious”, but in this translation by Olivelle used in this monogram, it is translated variously.

Verse Extracts

People who make inquiries about Brahman say: What is the cause of Brahman? Why were we born? By what do we live? On what are we established? Governed by whom, O you who know Brahman, do we live in pleasure and in pain, each in our respective situation? (1.1)

The spiritual aspirant asks the realized knower of Brahman the fundamental questions of life.  Who is it that guides our life?    What is the foundation of our existence?

Should we regard it as time, as inherent nature, as necessity, as chance, as the elements, as the source of birth, or as the Person? Or is it a combination of these? But that can’t be, because there is the self (atman). Even the self is not in control, because it is itself subject to pleasure and pain. (1.2)

What is the underlying cause of these changes?  Is it time, nature, merely chance, or the elements in motion?  And who is the one which they call Purusha, the living self.

Those who follow the discipline of meditation have seen God, the self, and the power, all hidden by their own qualities. One alone is he who governs all those causes, from “time” to “self.” (1.3)

The sages and siddhas have seen the Self, hidden within their own being.  Through one−pointedness of mind, they have discovered the creative power, who is the Lord hidden within the modes of nature, the gunas. This indivisible Lord rules as the original and sole cause.

We study it—as a wheel that is one-rimmed and threefold, with sixteen tips, fifty spokes, twenty counter-spokes, and six sets of eight, whose single rope is of many forms; that divides itself into three different paths; and whose delusion regarding the one springs from two causes. (1.4)

The wheel of Brahman described above was apparently revealed by the meditative yogis who have seen God referenced in the previous verse.

It is a mysterious articulation of the cosmology of Shiva Yoga at the time of this Upanishad, and interestingly, a description of a mandala like structure as well.  Its name, the wheel of Brahman, is revealed in verse six.

Wheel symbolism is prominent in Indus Valley (ie: Dholavera inscription) and it is thought by some archeologists and scholars to be connected with cycles of the sun.  Later, the Vedas reveal that Mitra, a form of Surya, curiously traveled on a singular wheel and is associated with both light and spirituality.

By the middle of the first century, bce, the wheel was a spiritual symbol for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In later centuries it became far more associated with Buddhism, possibly due to Ashoka, but is still found in both Jain and Hindu temples today.

This upanishad discusses it as a subject for meditation and a representative symbol of Shaivite cosmology. It appears to be a subject upon which students meditated upon in those ancient times.  The interpretation of the meaning of the Wheel of Brahman is given below.

“We study it—as a wheel that is one-rimmed and threefold”  The central rim of the hub is Ishvara, Shiva, or Brahman.  It is the hub of creation; the source and support of all things.  This wheel of creation moves by the grace of God.  From the hub, which is one and indivisible, the whole creation becomes projected in all directions as the wheel.

“threefold”  The verse describes a triple envelopment of three tiers which are said to be the modes of nature namely; sattva, rajas and tamas.

“…with sixteen tips”

This is said to describe the 16 initial tattvas of Prakriti (shodashantam), consisting of eight tattvas associated with causation, and eight tattvas associated with result. 

The eight causation tattvas are called prakriti; (1) the great one (mahat), (2) the ego (aham), (3) the intellect (buddhi), and the five Mahabhutas

The eight effect tattvas (vikriti) relate to the constitutions of all living beings. They are kapha, pitta, vata, kapha-pitta, kapha-vata, pitta-vata, vata, and the extremely rare tridoshic (kapha-pitta-vata are equal).

Satadharam “Fifty spokes”  representing fifty illusions of weakness.

The fifty spokes represent the 28 Shadow weaknesses (asaktis), the nine shadow energies of joy (tushti), the 8 shadow energies of miracle power (siddhis), and the 5 thought patterns of wrong knowledge (viparyayas).  In addition, there are five other weaknesses as follows: ignorance of inertia (tamas), desire (moha), aversion (mahamoha), anger (tamisra), and fear, including of death (andhatamisra).

“twenty counter-spokes” (Pratya-rabhih)__

Represented by the twenty counter-spokes are the five sense organs (jnanaindriya), the five organs of action (karmaindria), the five subtle sense experiences (tanmatra), and the five gross elements (bhutas).  They represent the perceived objectivity, with which we imagine is our relation to the external world and with which the illusion is perpetuated, creating the constant sense of duality we experience in our lives.

Astakai sabbhi “six sets of eight”

Like the previous components of the wheel of Brahman, the six sets of eight are 48 illusionary constituents; eight aspects of self, such as ego, intellect, mind, and the gross elements, eight qualities of self (atma gunas), eight types of divine entities (deva rupa), eight types of emotional or devotional approaches (bhava), eight forms of abundance (aisvarya), eight types of tissue (dhatus).

“whose single rope is of many forms”

Pashu is the rope which binds the soul within the power of Maya.  That embodied soul imagines the self to be a specific physical body, a type of personality, class, and race, and having specific limited intellectual and energetic capacity.  Externally, this rope represents desire (kama) for worldly pursuits. It is responsible for the bondage and attachment of the individual souls.  When the yogin looks within themselves, these ropes are of many forms, and are represented in the grantha knots known to Kriya Yogins in kundalini practices.  The yoga has many means of loosening those knots.  The rope constrains the individual soul, but not just in a negative way.  The rope can also limit the soul from wrong choices and disaster, just as when a farmer, concerned with a cow, protects it from wild animals, or to become lost in woods, etc. The Atharva Veda (4.28) addresses Pashupati (Rudra) with devotion, who has the capacity to loosen these ropes, stating that  “Everything that shines is under your control, Oh Bhava…you are the Lord of all beings, Deliver us from grief and trouble.” 

“divides itself into three different paths”

These three different paths are the path of knowledge (Jnana marg), the path of devotion (bhakti marg) and the path of action (karma marg).   In this construct, most of the yogas that we know today would fall under karma marg.  Within these broad divisions, many paths of spiritual endeavor exist.  There are, in the end, as many paths as there are souls to walk them.

Attachment is the Root Cause

“delusion regarding the ONE springs from two causes.”

“The One” in the preceding sentence is the consciousness of Brahman.  There are two fundamental causes that prevent the embodied atman from realizing Brahman. These are the two causes of delusion (moha).  Delusion  arises from attachment to actions.  Those actions which are dharmic, following the laws of ethics and rita, and those which are adharmic, which break those ethical and moral laws.  It should be understood clearly, then, that the single root cause that prevents liberation is attachment.

One need not meditate on the above symbolism like an accountant, focusing on each of these nearly infinite list of components, which would lead to very limited success.  Rather one should have a broader view of these limitations of maya, and when encountering any of them during meditation, simply recognize them as not the self and move on to deeper levels of stillness.  This is a dynamic means of allowing the wheel of Brahman to be an instrument of Grace in revealing God.

We study it – as a river whose waters are the five sense organs; whose fierce crocodiles are the five sources of birth; whose waves are the five breaths; whose primal source is the five types of perception; which has five whirlpools; whose rapid current is the five types of sorrow; which divides itself in fifty ways; and which has five sections. (1.5)

It is clear that the wheel of Brahman was hugely symbolic and was used as an important meditation during the era of Sage Śvetāśvatara, for the line above suggests that yogis would meditate on its symbolism as a river with five currents as the five organs of perception, and which is made impetuous and winding by the five elements, whose waves are the five organs of actions and whose fountain−head is the mind, the source of the five forms of perception.   

This line suggests that yogis would meditate on its symbolism as a river whose five currents as the five organs of perception,

It reminded the author of Siddhartha by Hermann Hess, which I read with great enthusiasm in the 1960’s.  In the upanishad version, the river curves ominously, the rapids and waves are seen to embody the elements and organs of action.  One travels in meditation up river to the source of the illusion, the mind and its five forms of perception.  Rejecting each illusionary component in turn as not the self, and avoiding mental detours and distractions, represented by other minor streams and whirlpools, the wise soul persists toward the head waters of the great river, which is none other the Brahman. 

Within this vast wheel of Brahman, on which all subsist and which abides in all, a goose keeps moving around. When he perceives himself (atman) as distinct from the impeller, delighted by that knowledge he goes from there to immortality. (1.6)

This too, is a meditation, connected to the meditations of the previously discussed Wheel of Brahman.  The goose represents the unrealized Atman who sees his or her self as a being separate from God.  Thus, it flies around from place to place on the wheel of Brahman until it has an awakening, realizing itself as the Atman.  From there it experiences its own immortality.  Reflecting on its aimless flight around the wheel of Brahman gives the yogin a strong impetus to focus on the path.

This highest Brahman, however, has been extolled thus: There is a triad in it—oneself, the foundation, and the imperishable. When those who know Brahman have come to know the distinction between them, they become absorbed in and totally intent on Brahman and are freed from the womb. (1.7)

Those who know Brahmancome to understand the triad mentioned in the verse, identified as (1) oneself, (2) the foundation, and (3) the imperishable.  It represents (1) the individual Self, (2) the phenomenal world (virat), and (3) the cosmic soul.  Additional details are explained in the following two verses.

This whole world is the perishable (ksharam) and the imperishable (aksharam), the manifest and the unmanifest joined together—and the Lord bears it, while the atman, who is not the Lord, remains bound, because he is the enjoyer. When he comes to know God, he is freed from all fetters. (1.8)

This verse above refers to the three basic concepts of Shaivism, particularly those following the path of Saiva Siddhanta;  namely (1) pati, the Lord, (2) pasu, the deluded individual self and (3) pasa, the bonds that keep the individual soul (jiva) chained to this world.  Ishwara is Isa, the Lord, Pati, who is in control of every thing. The individual soul is an-isa, (an-Isha) the one without Lordship, the pasu who is controlled by the forces of prakriti and bound to the world by its actions. These bonds (pasas) can be cut asunder only through the knowledge of pati. (for further explanation, see (1.9)

There are two unborn males—the one knows and the other is ignorant; the one is Lord and the other is not the Lord. There is just one unborn female, who is joined to the enjoyer and the objects of enjoyment. And then there is the atman, limitless and displaying every form, not engaged in any activity. When someone finds these three, he finds this Brahman. (1.9)

The individual soul, as well as God, have no gender, as we earlier discussed and will see in subsequent verses as well.  However, since ancient times, the individual soul, prakriti or nature, , and the Cosmic soul have a tradition of being genderized, partially to explain the cosmological balance.  Shakti, for instance, is seen as the energy, and Shiva, the direction. With that in mind, let us look at this verse.

“There are two unborn males—the one knows and the other is ignorant; the one is Lord and the other is not the Lord.”

When the verse says that one is the Lord and the other is not the Lord, the Sanskrit words used are “Isha” and “an-Isha”, just as we saw in the Isha Upanishad, studied earlier in this course.

The unborn male “who knows” is the Lord, Isha, the controller. He is the Supreme Deity.  He is the omniscient God.

The unborn male who is “ignorant” and who “is not the Lord” is the soul in its condition of bondage.   Without the knowledge of Brahman, the soul is covered in a state of ignorance.  The soul is unaware of its own identity as Brahman. Even though each soul is unborn (ajaha), each is still covered in ignorance.

The unborn male who is ignorant is the embodied jiva under the influence of maya.  That jiva is called the an-Isha, the one who is not the controller, who is not the impeller, who cannot control its own deaths and rebirths.  The distinction could not be made more clearly.

The unborn female is Prakriti.  Why is it designated as female? The Śvetāśvatara is clearly a Shaivite text. It venerates Shiva as the Supreme deity.  Shaivism most typically worships not just Shiva, but also Shakti, the Goddess alongside him, and in Shaivite thought the Goddess is identified with matter. Prakriti is the Goddess.  The nature of matter is unborn or eternal, and particularly the material manifestation, which has been seen as Shakti, or energy.  This, in fact, is born out by physics.  Energy may change form, but it does not disappear, thus, it is neither created, nor can it be destroyed, hence it is  “unborn”.

In Shankaracharyas’s view, one of the unborn males, the “Isha”, or Lord, the one who knows, and is the liberated Atman, and the other unborn male, the “un-Isha”, the one who is not the Lord, and who does not know, and who is the conditioned Atman.  It has been said that the Advaitic interpretation does not fit as cleanly in the verse since they make a distinction on some level between God, Isha, or in this case Shiva, and the individual soul, Jiva.  It is this text, along with several others in this upanishad, which have established it as a foundational text for Saiva Siddhanta, although it is still used by Advaita. 

Other theistic scholars, see a clear distinction being drawn in the verse, and in other verses within this upanishad, between the one who is God, and one who is the individual soul? They’re both designated as male, they’re both Purushas, but one is controlling all things, and the other is under the control of the Lord.

In summary, Saiva Siddhanta talks about three “unborns”. (1) Pashu, (2) Pasha, and (3) Pati.  Incarnated souls unaware of their divinity are (1) Pashu, who in this example, are relative animals, for pashu means literally animal.  Because of the impurities, or malas who influence them, those who are unenlightened are animals relative to those who are aware of Brahman.  Thus these souls are bound by the rope of  Prakriti, (2) Pasha, and the karma which binds the soul to continued births.  Shiva, the Lord, on the other hand, and those liberated souls who are freed from the influence of Pasha, matter, or Prakriti, are fully realized, like Rudra, himself,(3) Pati.  It is precisely the same theology as stated at in the verse.

The primal source is perishable, while Hara is immortal and imperishable. The one God rules over both the perishable and the atman. By meditating on him, by striving towards him, and, further, in the end by becoming the same reality as him, all illusion disappears. (1.10)

Hara, Shiva, is the immortal ruler. Prakriti, the primal source of nature, changes, while Ishwara does not.   Atman is the individual soul. As long as the soul is held by Prakriti, the Atman is tied to this world. If the individual soul seeks intervention of Iswara, through the practice of yoga, one achieves freedom from Prakriti.

When one has known God, all the fetters fall off; by the eradication of the blemishes, birth and death come to an end; by meditating on him, one obtains, at the dissolution of the body, a third—sovereignty over all; and in the absolute one’s desires are fulfilled. (1.11)

The result of gaining Rudra’s Grace and the practice of Yoga, as described above, is sovereignty over all Prakriti, all nature, and any remaining desires become fulfilled.

This can be known, for it abides always within one’s body (atman). Higher than that there is nothing to be known. When the enjoyer discerns the object of enjoyment and the impeller—everything has been taught. That is the threefold Brahman. (1.12)

There is a mystical triad experienced by the knowers of Brahman, and described in previous verses.  One part of that triad is the atman, the enjoyer (jiva), the objects of enjoyment are Prakriti,  and the ruler, Isvara. These are separate to one who does not know Brahman, but when the realization of the Jiva occurs, there is nothing but Brahman.  Beyond It, truly, there is nothing more to be known.

When a fire is contained within its womb, one cannot see its visible form and yet its essential character is not extinguished; one can grasp the fire once again from its womb by means of tinder. In just the same way, one can grasp both within the body by means of the syllable OM. (1.13)

The self, resides within, like fire embers, hidden deep within a fire which appears on the surface to be exhausted.  In a similar way, the memory of the divine nature of the self remains, dormant, hidden.  Just as one can reach into the fire for a small tinder, with one end smoldering, and thus re-lite the fire, so can one awaken to the hidden self by means of the mantra, OM.

When one makes one’s own body the bottom slab and the syllable OM the upper drill, by twirling it constantly through meditation one would see God, just as one would the hidden thing. (1.14)

Fire energy also lays dormant in wood.  It can be ignited by constant friction, using the friction of a fire starter bow and drill.  God is hidden within the heart, and through the friction of tapas, meditation and repetition of the mantra OM, spiritual heat is generated and knowledge of Self dawns.

Like oil in sesame seeds and butter in curds, like water in the riverbed and fire in the fire-drills, so, when one seeks it with truth and austerity, one grasps that self (atman) in the body (atman)—that all-pervading self, which is contained [in the body], like butter in milk. That is Brahman, the highest object of the teachings on hidden connections (upanisad), an object rooted in austerity and the knowledge of the self.  (I.15 & 1.16)

Just as there is inherent within sesame seeds, its essential oil. Just as within milk is the cream to make butter, just as water is to be found below ground, even in an apparently dry riverbed, and just as the potentiality of fire is hidden within the friction of the wooden bow and drill fire-starter, so also is the self, the atman, to be found within when approached with austerity, truth, and knowledge. That is Brahman, to be found with the hidden connections of the Upanishads.

Some wise men say it is inherent nature, while others say it is time—all totally deluded. It is rather the greatness of God present in the world by means of which this wheel of Brahman goes around. (6.1)

In this final chapter, the upanishad returns to one of the opening subjects, the wheel of Brahman. The Great Wheel of Brahma (Brahma Chakra), originating in the vedas, is described in much more detail in this Upanishad, is a precursor to the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma.

The early seers referred to creation and dissolution as cyclical, occurring on its own. Some seers thought that it was simply a law of nature, not dependent on divine influence.   Others that it was like the inevitable passage of time.  All of them were deluded.  It is because of the greatness of God involved in the world that the wheel of Brahman rotates.

Who always encompasses this whole world—the knower, the architect of time, the one without qualities, and the all-knowing one—it is at his command that the work of creation, to be conceived of as earth, water, fire, air, and space, unfolds itself. (6.2)

Brahman is within every particle of this universe and the background upon which it is projected.  Brahman is the very essence of consciousness.  Brahman is master over the three times; past, present, and future.  Brahman is omniscient, and commands all elements and the three modes of Shakti.  

After completing that work and drawing it back again; after joining himself with the realities one after another—with one, with two, with three, or with eight, as well as with time and with the subtle qualities of the body (atman); (6.3)

After projecting the universe out of himself at the time of creationand then withdrawing it back into himself, and merging again with the dissolving constituents of creation, Brahman joins with the following: (1) Purusha, (2) combined Purusha and Prakriti (3) the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas, (4) the eight tattvas; earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect (buddhi), and ego-sense.  These qualities of the self are the subtle parts of the living-self, the jiva.

After undertaking the works endowed with the qualities; he who would apportion all the modes of existence—when they are no more, the work he has produced is destroyed—he carries on, when the work is dissolved, as someone other than those realities. (6.4)

“Undertaking the works endowed with the qualities” which are referred to above are the exhaustion of desires, the stilling of mental modifications, purification of the heart, and the transcending of the gunas.   “He who would apportion all the modes of existence—when they are no more, the work he has produced is destroyed” refers to the Yogin having merged prakriti and all its effects in Brahman, thus, Maya is, for his embodiment, no more, and he realizes his true Self, thereby transcending phenomena. Having transcended Maya, karma generally is destroyed.  Following the resolution of the prarabdha karma, that specific karma relating to the physical body of human birth, final liberation is obtained.

Thus, a part of this verse embraces the concept of Karma yoga, performing actions as an instrument of God while surrendering the results.  This destroys the impurities of the heart, leading the Jiva into the higher reaches of Yoga, the deeper mystical meditation, and ultimately Samadhi.  For such a soul, the universe is the same as that Brahman. The cause and the result are the same, just as a spider who produces a web, and when the usefulness of the web ceases, the spider reabsorbs the threads within its body.  The web was the same essence as the spider, for it emerged out of the spider and was again taken into the spider.

One cannot find in him either an obligation to act or an organ with which to act; neither can one see anyone equal to him, let alone someone who surpasses him. One hears about his highest and truly diverse power, which is part of his very nature and is the working of his knowledge and strength. (6.8)

The Lord stands alone, without impetus from an outside source for all urges are from that Self, who is without sense organs or organs of action. That Self is the unparalleled supreme Self, whose power and wisdom manifest through all souls.

There is no one in the world who is his master, nor anyone who rules over him. He has no distinguishing mark. He is the cause, the Overlord over the overlords of the sense organs, and he has neither parent nor overlord. (6.9)

The indwelling Self, who is without attributes, is the Supreme Lord, the originating creator, beyond which there is nothing.

The one God who covers himself with things issuing from the primal source, from his own inherent nature, as a spider, with the threads—may he procure us dissolution in Brahman. (6.10)

The divine, in orchestrating creation, is like the spider, mentioned earlier, who produces a strand out of its own being and then absorbs it back into its being. The spider is not the web because spider is one thing and web is another but at the same time the web is nothing but spider, because it comes out from the spider and it comes back into the spider. So the metaphor there is quite clear; that the creation on the one hand is nothing but God and is absorbed back into his own being. So in this sense everything that exists is nothing but God.  Everything is God, but simultaneously, the distinction is drawn between that which is the deity and that which is the manifestation from out of the deity.  This is an important point for Shaiva Siddhanta and the Vaishnavism of Ramanuja, as well as others. Saiva Siddhanta acharyas preached a simultaneous Oneness and difference between God and God’s creation.

 The one God hidden in all beings, pervading the universe, the inner self of all beings, the overseer of the work, dwelling in all beings, the witness, the avenger, alone, devoid of qualities; (6.11)

The atman residing within is the one God of all beings, the cosmic witness who observes all, yet acts not.  That Self, totally without qualities, is omnipresent, who alone is the doer of all things, who alone dwells in stillness within, as the cosmic witness.

The one controller of the many who are inactive, who makes the single seed manifold—the wise who perceive him as abiding within themselves (atman), they alone, not others, enjoy eternal happiness. (6.12)

Shiva, the one cosmic controller, who is eternally still (inactive), resides within the many individual souls (Jiva) as the witness. It is he who has made the single seed manifest within all.  Residing within these many souls, he remains actionless.  When realization of the oneness of Jiva, the individual soul, and Shiva, the cosmic soul, finally occurs, never ending bliss results.   There is a non−dual ruler of the actionless many, those who are self realized, thus the non-dual ruler (Shiva) makes the one seed manifold.  Only the realized souls can enjoy this bliss.

The changeless, among the changing, the intelligence, among intelligent beings, the one, who dispenses desires among the many—when a man knows that cause, which is to be comprehended through the application of Samkhya, as God, he is freed from all fetters. (6.13)

It is through knowledge (samkhya) and yoga that a person becomes aware of the nature of Self; his or her identity to that which never changes, who is eternally the same, and of the nature of that which is consciousness itself among conscious beings. It is that Self which fulfills the desires of all.  Through knowledge of that Self, one is freed from all limitations of mortal existence.

By the power of his austerities and by the grace of God, the wise Svetasvatara first came to know Brahman and then proclaimed it to those who had passed beyond their order of life as the highest means of purification that brings delight to the company of seers. (6.21)

This verse addresses the idea that we don’t save ourselves, but rather, rely on the Grace of God to liberate us and bring us out from the ocean of birth and death. The word used is Prasad (Mercy, Grace, Salvation). Liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, is not gained merely by our own knowledge, but by the divine blessing of God.  This principle is discussed in more depth in the later Bhagavad-gita.

This supreme secret was proclaimed during a former age in the Vedanta. One should never disclose it to a person who is not of a tranquil disposition, or who is not one’s son or pupil. (6.22)

It is an ancient principle that the great secrets of Yoga are not revealed to those who have not proven their suitability to the teacher.  It was understood that such a blessing is gained only after the great spiritual merit (punya) of previous births.  Thus a pupil of the gurukula might receive the benediction, but also, typically, the son of the guru.  After duly testing each student, those who were qualified, received Prasad and diksha.

Only in a man who has the deepest love for God, and who shows the same love toward his Guru as toward God, do these points declared by the Noble One shine forth. (6.23)

Hail to the Guru and the Guru Paramapara, which is none other than the celestial Brahman !  Here, the text reveals that the subject matter of the upanishad is illuminated by the Mahatmas, the great ones, those who have profound links both to God and the Guru Parampara, the lineage of teachers by whose grace the soul is finally awakened.

The Atman is the Captain of his ship.  When the ship is in calm waters, and the Captain is in touch with his discrimination and other finer faculties, the ship is in no danger.  The Captain navigates the ship toward the port of destination using the various tools of the vessel and with skill and judgment.  When the ship approaches port, however, the wise Captain always invites the harbor pilot to bring the ship into dock.  The harbor has hidden reefs, currents, and obstacles that only the harbor pilot understands and is aware of.  Every major ship who successfully docks welcomes and then appreciates the harbor pilot, without which the home port could not be reached. 

Om Tat Sat. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

If you have enjoyed this commentary of selected verses, feel free to contact the Swami to find out when the next course will be held.


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