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Thread: Exploring Shvetashvatara Upanishad

  1. #1

    Exploring Shvetashvatara Upanishad

    || om namo bhagavate vAsudevAya ||

    vasudeva sutam devam |
    kauMsa chANura mardanam |
    devakI paramAnandaM |
    KRshNam vande jagadguruM ||


    Namaste

    In this thread I hope to explore and discuss the core shlokas of this Upanishad. If you have some interesting insight, please join. Questions welcome too.

    Shvetashvatara Upanishad by Shvetashvatara Rshi / Muni (One who is driven by white horses i.e. pure senses/mind) is a beautiful Upanishad, counted among the 10 major Upanishads, is actively theistic and philosophical at the same time, and clear in its message.

    This is the Upanishad that introduces the seeker (sAdhak) to the popular concept of two birds sitting on the same branch of a tree. One is the individual, initially in ignorance due to false identification with the body-mind-ego, consuming reactions (fruits) of its own actions. The other is ParamAtmA who just “looks on” , as a witness (sAkshI), does not participate in “the movie” of emotional upheavals, or the individual’s life, and does not “eat the fruit”, hence is always blissful and peaceful.
    Shvetashvatara Upanishad says, by “looking at”, “turning to” or “observing” the ParamAtmA Bird (SAkshi - witness), the individual bird becomes wise, loses the ignorance, and gets liberated.
    What I appreciate is the shloka is direct and simple. It does not say the individual bird “becomes or turns into something else” or “stops existing” but simply realizes its non-difference from the Self-Brahman’ which is extremely subtle in nature (sUkshmAtisUkshma) like a film on clarified butter.. I find that more realistic and ontologically acceptable.

    The focus of this text is on

    1. Acquiring knowledge of Brahman’
    2. Becoming “yoga-yukta”, yoga with the Divine = joining one’s existence to Brahman’, using the understanding and knowledge of Brahman’ that is provided, and if fortunate, experiencing [sayujja with] Brahman'
    3. Factors in devotion or meditative focus on Brahman’


    It uses theistic words such as devAtma-shakti and Deva while referring to Brahman’.
    It calls Brahman' the Deity. The Highest Deity to meditate on.
    It has some very interesting shlokas on this Deity i.e. on Brahman’ and on nature of what is initially perceived as (api) the individual.
    Last edited by ameyAtmA; 19 October 2019 at 04:39 PM.
    || Shri KRshNArpaNamastu ||

  2. #2

    Re: Exploring Shvetashvatara Upanishad

    || Harih: Om ||

    Shv. Up. 1.2
    kAlah: svabhAvo niyatiryadRuchhA |
    bhUtAni yonih: purusha iti chintyA |
    saMyoga eshA natvAtma bhAvAd- |
    -AtmApyaneeshah: sukha-du:kha-hetoh: ||


    Time, inherent nature (svabhAv), fate (niyati), chance (quantum probability?) , the elements (pancha mahAbhUta - space-ether, earth, fire, water, air), the embodied purusha (individual), are to be taken into consideration [along with The Source]. However, their combination is not The Source [of existence]. That is so because [ these factors ] exist for and act w.r.t. the individual purush OR the combination gives rise to the individual. [So it must have dependencies].
    The AtmA (embodied) also (api) is not independent (aneesha) [of The Source] on account of experiencing joy and sorrow.

    Shv. Up. 1.3
    te dhyAnayogAnugatA apashyan |
    devAtma-shaktim svaguNair-nigUDham |
    yah: kArNAni nikhilAni tAni |
    kAlAtmayuktAnyadhitishThatyekah: ||


    By practicing the yoga of meditation (dhyAna-yogAnugatA), they (the Brahma-vAdi sages ref. 1.1) realized (apashyan) the divine power of THE DEVA Himself (devAtma shakti), hidden by His own properties or divine qualities (sva-guNa), of being hidden or secretive (niguDham). [This is hinting at the Lord's MAyA].
    THAT DEVA who is the cause of (yah: kAraNAni), and the One who controls / presides over / rules (adhishTAti) time, AtmA, and all the sources or factors [mentioned earlier.]

    *Here, DevAtma-shakti is referring to the Godliness of the DEVA - which is evident only once He plays the roles of VishNu-BrahmA-Rudra to sustain the universe. Do not imagine a separate Devi just because of the word 'shakti' in this context. For instance, this DevAtma-shakti -- can be described outside of dhyAna of the yogi -- in words such as VishNu SahasranAma. Only then we can comprehend His Divinity.
    Yet, this is only hearing what someone else told us He is. To experience the DEVA for oneself, the yogi has to meditate internally -- and will find Him (or meet Him?) right there, internally via the quietened intellect. As for what to expect is mentioned further as the text progresses.

    *The shloka also indicates this DEVA is otherwise hidden by His own guNas. That is, the commonly known act of His mAyA covering Him up with expression of nature (prakRuti).

    *MAyA can be also understood as that Motherly Love (of the same DEVA) that wants to shield , protect or comfort the individual beings from , say, austerity, or the double-edged sword of mukti. At a certain level, aspirants of moksha (called mumukshU) has to give up the comfort zone after all. Besides, unless an individual shows sincerity and perseverance, most want to stay in the world since it is easier that way, and He lets them be.

    *For Cross-Reference , Bhagvad Geeta shloka such as
    BG 7.14 "daivi hyeshA guNamayi mama mAyA duratyayA| mAmeva ye prapadyante mAyAmetAm taranti te||" My Divine MAyA is hard to cross, but those who take shelter of Me can cross it. OR
    BG 9.10 mayyAdhyaksheNa prakRuti: sUyate sacharAcharam | hetunAnena kaunteya jagadviparivartate || (Nature creates/manifests world under My rule, control, direction, authority...)

    We have yet to see how/what this DEVA is. DEVA is analogous to God in other religions. The Supreme Reality.
    Last edited by ameyAtmA; 22 October 2019 at 12:31 AM. Reason: mAmeva
    || Shri KRshNArpaNamastu ||

  3. #3

    Re: Exploring Shvetashvatara Upanishad

    Shv. Up. 1.6
    sarvAjeeve sarvasaMsthite bruhante asmin hauMso bhrAmyate bramhachakre |
    pRuthagAtmanam preritAram cha matvA jushTastatastenAmrutatvameti ||

    hauMsa = swan = the individual in this context, considering or being of the opinion of (matvA) themselves (AtmAnAm) and the Controller, the One who initiates, instigates life (preritAra) as different (pRuthak), revolves (bhrAmyate) in this great Wheel of Brahman' (bramhachakre), [that Brahman' who] is the great sustainer, sustenance of all (sarvAjeeve) and in Whom dissolution of everything takes place (sarvasaMsthite).
    Only when one understands or realizes or discovers (jusTah:) themselves (tena) to be one with Him (tat) (on realizing like this, iti), do they attain to immortality (amrutatva)

    Here the Rshi is giving away the secret directly -- the final realization, before going into details of Brahman'.
    It is said that reading the Bhagvad Geeta again and again washes away the dust on one's heart little by little each time. Similarly with the upanishads. At first it may sound incredible or ridiculous.
    Remember the people who had come together to discuss Brahman' (1.1) were brahma-vAdis.
    It means there are pre-requisites to reaching this state. You do not go to college directly. First comes the primary and secondary school.
    Some reach this route via bhakti (devotion), yoga with the IshTa (intense Love for and communion with the ParamAtmA), tIvra (extreme and one-pointed) vairAgya (renunciation, detachment and dispassion), mumukshatva (intense desire for knowing the Absolute), a pure still quiet but inquisitive mind and of course Divine Grace, Grace of the Guru.
    Some meet the Lord in the heart. Are You THAT? Only when the time is right, will the One in the heart reveal the secret "I am that ParaBrahman' you are seeking"
    So... there is the seeker and the ParamAtmA (internal) or IshTaDev (internal-external) ... they are clearly 2. How do they become one?
    It only happens by walking the path patiently, with conditions and milestones above. Karma, bhakti, dhyAna, rAja, jnAna , whatever yogas you can combine, do it.
    After living with or serving one's IshTaDev or Guru for prolonged time, one imbibes their innermost Pure Being, their divine qualities.
    It is only possible when there are no desires left - including spiritual desires, and a very tranquil mind.
    The journey has to be graceful, not forced. Not because of what some Rshi said or wrote, but because the individual is being molded that way, and is growing spiritually. Who knows, they may change course. The one holding on to an opinion (mata) has now discovered and realized some truth for themselves. Now there is no room for opinion.
    The Rshis wrote these pearls of wisdom as a guiding map for us. The upanishads and Geeta serve as verification or validation posts.


    Shv. Up. 1.7
    udgeetametat paramam tu bramha
    tasminstrayam supratishThAksharam cha |
    atrAntaram bramhavido viditvA
    leenA bramhaNi tatparAh: yonimuktAh: ||


    1. Brahman, which is undoubtedly the Highest (paramam), has been proclaimed (udgeetam) to be distinct from the manifest world arising from cause and effect (ref. BG 13 - na sadAsat ).

    2. On Brahman' exist (supratishTham) the three (trayam) . Which 3?
    (i) Modes of nature -- sattva (goodness) rAjas (passion) tAmas (ignorance) ?
    (ii) Acc. to Swami GambhirAnanda : enjoyer[-consumer], enjoyable[-consumable], and Ordainer[-Sanctioner - in this case antaryAmi ?].
    (iii) Jeev - jagat - Ishwar OR jeevAtmA-paramAtmA , jagat
    (iv) nAma (names) , rUpa (forms) , kriyA (actions)
    (v) jAgrut (waking) , swapna (dream), sushupti (deep sleep) -- MAnDukya Up. life-states that appear on the substratum of Brahman'
    (vi) VirAt-rUpa (MahAVishNu - vishwarUpa) , HiraNyagarbha (BramhA), avyakta (unmanifest - mooL prakruti?)

    3. It is the excellent substratum (pratishThA, Ashray, sthAna - BG), and immutable (akshara, avyaya).

    4. The knowers of Brahman' (bramhavid), having realized (viditva) this, remaining absorbed / blended in that Highest called Brahman (leenA bramhANi tatparA), become free from the cycle of birth and death.



    * In 1.7, the first lines explain what Brahman is not, what it is distinct from. And that it is the purest substrAtum of being (supratishThA).

    *Note the words leenA bramhANi -- this can only happen with the extremely tranquil intellect and mind. It is the mind that is leen (absorbed into, engrossed in, one with) the Source. So yes, the mind is there, but it is transformed significantly.
    Without splitting hairs or getting into arguments, the sAdhu may simply apply this and see it for themselves.

    The proof is in the pudding.
    Last edited by ameyAtmA; 27 October 2019 at 12:58 AM. Reason: udgeetam was mispelt in translation
    || Shri KRshNArpaNamastu ||

  4. #4

    Re: Exploring Shvetashvatara Upanishad

    A few thoughts at this point.

    1. When there is the Lord and the devotee, as jeev-I and ParamAtmA, why not just leave things that way?
    Then the rest of the world comes in, but we are not talking about external bhakti where BhagavAn is outside, on the altar or far away in VaikunTha.
    This is the adhyAtmic realm, it is all internal.
    There are clearly 2 for those who are devotees.

    Shvetashatara Upanishad, Maha-NArAyaN upanishad, IshavAsya Upanishad, do speak of Deva, Ishvara.

    Deva or DevAtma-shakti of this upanishad clearly gives away the fact that there are 2 to begin with.



    2. Shv. Up. 4.6 mentions dva suparNa sAyujja - 2 golden birds, one is the wise and ever-free ParamAtmA that looks on without eating the fruit.
    What is the second bird to do? Become like the first bird. Quiet, and try not eating the fruit. i.e. try not letting worries, consequence of events result in happiness or sorrow.
    Suppose the 2nd bird does so successfully.
    After this also there are 2. In samAdhi also there remain 2. So why not live this way forever? Why is oneness the only ticket to liberation?
    Conversely, if the mind will no longer exist after death of body, then what is it that transmigrates acc. to the very same upanishad?

    We know that whatever could potentially transmigrate can stop transmigrating by being "like" the ParmAtmA-bird. So just continue safely at the Lotus feet of the paramAtmA. We are not speaking of any loka here which has numerous souls surrounding the Supreme. We are speaking of the jeev-ParamAtmA pair.

    Is this not better than gambling the oneness when the next stop may not be liberation, and the individual is tossed somewhere ?

    3. The upanishad argues that unless the individual stops being individual or says to themselves "that One is me", they will continue to transmigrate birth-death.
    But doesn't the understanding "that One is me" involve (i) that One and (ii) me ?
    The only way I can be that One is by ceasing to exist or going into coma and emerging out of the ksheersagar with the supposedly lost individuality and comprehension / awareness of universal oneness or Being.
    If 3 or 5 people get enlightened this way, we have 5 individuals saying they are the universal being.
    It is again a gamble - there is the risk of emerging with individuality in a random realm, having forgotten the IshTaDev in the process..

    OR

    That fraction-of-a-second moment when I realize it was me all along that eventually expressed myself as this universe.... is just that moment. It gets lost, what then? The little me has not disappeared.
    Further, if I was the one who is appearing as universe, and I get this realization thru dreams, meditation , why can't I do something as simple as lifting the Govardhan on a finger?

    Clearly, the shastra that propounds oneness is interested in peace.

    Yogis who are devotees of MAdhav Mukunda Keshav do not see why peace requires advaita, and have no motivation to be one.
    The intermediate yogis who prefer the reclusive solitude w,r,t, world , but do not feel the need to be the One and only ParamAtmA, can co-exist with ParamAtmA, stay meditative or in samAdhi, letting all go at His Lotus Feet, and be free of the requirement of mandatory oneness. The argument of falling from VaikunTha does not apply because the jeev-ParamAtmA pair IS their autonomous VaikunTha.

    So making either of the 2 suparNa (birds) vanish is not of any particular advantage to them. Quietening the mind and dhyAn is all fine. But this can (and in fact IS) hapenning in presence of ParamAtmA - so why not acknowledge it?

    4. If vAsanA (desires) and dvanda are the cause of transmigration, whether One or two-in-One , if they have to stick around, telling oneself they are the universe, or the only one around or not acknowledging the ParamAtmA by your side is not going to make a difference,


    5. On the one hand this upanishad says the individual (mind) has to understand Brahman , get to know Brahman, the quiet still nature of Brahman, be "like" Brahman.... note that all these activities require 2 - seer and seen.
    On the other hand it says 2 makes you transmigrate.

    The golden mean of co-existence as 2-in-1 , not as 1, I and others, need not mean the jeeva is not free. The jeeva is not worshiping, singing or doing puja, maybe just closing their eyes, and are perfectly fine doing nothing, without the burden of mandatorily turning into God, and thereby get the extra peace that ParamAtmA is there! Why wouldn't you want Him to be there ?

    5. The text says siddhis (8) will arise on the "way" but one should not get caught up in them, they become an ego-obstacle to Self-Realization. This proves that obstacle or not, the 8 siddhis are actually a pre-requisite to full advaitic universal Self-Realization !
    Is meditation for a few decades going to do that? It proves that God-like powers precede full advaitic universal Self-Realization.
    Which proves that intellectual understanding or even a good-feeling meditative sattvic state of mind is not full advaitic universal Self-Realization.
    It is also hard to believe that eradication of vAsanA (attachments desires ego botheration likes dislikes) will automatically result in Godlike powers.

    6. The homework of eradicating vAsanA (attachments desires ego botheration likes dislikes), fulfilling BG 11.55, BG 12.x - yo me bhakta sah me priyah (such a devotee is very dear to Me) ---- na dveshTi na sochati na kAnkshati (who does not hate, desire, aspire, lament...) is by defN a sannyAsi (BG 5) ---
    --- is common to and has to be successfully completed by all yogis, jnanis and bhaktas, whether they think 1, 2 , 2-in-1 or many.
    Last edited by ameyAtmA; 28 October 2019 at 11:19 PM.
    || Shri KRshNArpaNamastu ||

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