Essays on the Gita

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We were talking of synthesis last time.

So, we had spoken of the present crisis in which a synthesis is inevitable and therefore we turn to the Gita in order to see whether in the Gita there is  any secret of the synthesis. And knowing that secret, whether we can apply it to the present needs. It is in that context that Sri Aurobindo speaks of the synthesis that Indian culture has already had at least at four important stages. And the first was the Vedic synthesis of which we spoke last time. The second was the synthesis of the Upanishads, the third is the synthesis of the Bhagavad Gita and the fourth is the synthesis of the Tantra. And now, we are going to build a new synthesis.

Now, what is the synthesis of the Upanishads?

The synthesis of the Upanishads was built upon the crowning experience of the Veda. It is as if it takes over what the Veda had to give at its crowning point and on that the Bhagavad Gita builds up another synthesis, not necessarily as vast as the Vedic, but in a somewhat specialised manner. It specialises in the methods of the knowledge of the Brahman, the disciplines by which the Brahman can be realised, and there are many methods by which you can do so, and various Rishis who had worked on this, both in the Vedic times as also in the times of the Upanishads. All these were synthesised in the Upanishads.

Let us repeat. First there was a crowning experience of the Veda, now what was the crowning experience of the Veda?  The crowning experience of the Veda was that of a 'Reality' which was the `Supreme Being', most transcendental, universal and individual, an experience of the Supreme, which could be said to be transcendental of any possible description. There are many descriptions in the Veda. The Supreme is described as `He', described as 'She', described also as tat, `that', simply – tat satyam. It was also described as priyam, `full of sweetness', madhu, `full of honey'.

Many concepts which we have in the Veda such as hiranyagarbha……. etc, this great concept of hiranyagarbha, the concept of virat, the concept of the `Reality' as prajapati, as a brother, as a friend, as something luminous, powerful. Now these are the various descriptions that we get of the highest experience of the reality.

Now, all these concepts were put together in the Upanishads and we get the following formula in the Upanishads more clear terms: ekam eva advitiyam, (chand.6.2.1.) this is one of the concepts in the Upanishads: "The One without the second". The One which was even described as asat: one that is `sat', that ‘which is', is also `asat' in the sense that even to call it sat is to limit it. Therefore how to deny that that limitation is not to be applied to it? So you call it asat.

But when somebody is confused about asat, thinking that it means 'non–being', it corrects and says: how can 'being' come out of 'non–­being'? Therefore it contradicts its own statement saying that asat is not at the beginning, sat is the beginning. But having said this, it says, it is neti neti, it is something that cannot be described as either `this' or `that', na iti na iti. You describe anyway but it is to be rejected – any description that you will give will be rejected. This is the concept of the Brahman. It is in this concept of the Brahman that you have the synthesis of the concept of virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna, the three great concepts of the Upanishads.

We have also the three concepts of atman, purusha, isvara. The same reality is described and synthesised so that you have a clear perception of that Reality. We have also in the Upanishads a synthesis of the concepts of maya, prakriti and sakti. Corresponding to the concept of 'He' and `She' in the Veda, we have now here in the Upanishads a clear synthesis of the concepts of Brahman, Purusha, Ishvara, Brahman or Atman, Purusha and Ishvara; concept of virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna; and the concept of Maya, Prakriti and Shakti. This is the most comprehensive and synthetic concept that we find in the Upanishads.

You just said neti neti to the sat and the asat. But is not neti neti talked of in the relevance to virat, hiranyagarbha and prajna . So, which is the correct thing? Everything is correct and yet it is to be minused out. You describe him as virat and you say neti neti, describe him as hiranyagarbha and it is neti neti. Any statement you make about the Reality in the highest terms of philosophy is called "the Reality is indeterminable". It's a philosophical concept which answers to the question of neti neti; na iti na iti which means you cannot describe it, it is indescribable; you cannot determine it, it is indeterminable.

Question: My question was when you said sat and asat, is not the three states in the preview of the sat, when you say the non–being and... No... I can't... but there is a difference here which is not very clear to me. As you said that in the Vedanta it is not that complete... that way it is not a complete sentence. When they say neti neti, negating all this you come to the Reality. It is not clearly formed.

When it formulates itself, you ask me.


But at the moment my only point is that the Reality described in the Upanishads is ultimately cancelled by saying that whatever description you give of it, it is not valid of that Reality. The supreme Reality is therefore indefinable, indescribable, ineffable, indeterminable; therefore whatever you say of it, falls short of it. It can even be said algebraically, it is "x". Simply, by whatever you mean, it is "x".

When you say it is not describable, does it mean it is nothing? That also, you have to take care of; but it is something that is so powerfully `real' that any statement about it will really diminish its reality. It is something that cannot be limited by any description. Anyway this is the kind of a synthesis that the Upanishads give first of the crowning experience of the Veda: it gives this formulation. It also formulates this Reality, having said it is indeterminable, it says also, it is iti iti, again to point out that merely saying it has no limitations, it does not mean that it is incapable of limitation because that also will be a limitation. Therefore, it is also to be described as iti iti also, but at every iti iti, you say: no it is not; it is neti neti. You have the series of neti neti, and the series of iti iti. Then by combination of these two you really describe that `that' is the reality.

There are three great words used for describing that reality in iti iti is Satchidananda: sat, chit, ananda. In the Veda, you are only told it is a triple Reality but there is no use of the word Satchidananda in the whole of the Veda. It is in the Upanishads that we get the description of the Reality as Satchidananda. But in the Veda it speaks of a triple reality; it is a reality which is triple in character. So that is drawn out as it were from the Veda and now given a formulation in the Upanishads. It is Satchidananda: it is the highest possible description. If you want to give any positive description of the reality, it is Satchidananda, beyond which you have to say: "it is not", "it is not", "it is not". And then, whatever you can conceive is that Reality.

Apart from this fact there are twelve principal Upanishads which open out a door to the knowledge of the Reality, the emphasis in the Upanishads is on the 'knowledge' of the Reality. It does not mean that it does not speak of Karma and Bhakti; there is a synthesis of karma, bhakti and jnana in the Upanishads. But instead of emphasising that synthesis, it emphasises the disciplines of Knowledge of the Eternal and the synthesis of these disciplines.

Let us elucidate this point:

If you read the Isha Upanishad – which is one of the earliest Upanishads because it is also the last part, the 40th chapter of Yajur Veda, the whole of the Isha Upanishad is the 40th chapter of the Yajur Veda, so you might say that it is the last portion of the Veda and the earliest portion of the Upanishads. Now, this Upanishad speaks of Karma: kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣet sataṃ samāḥ, "It is by doing actions that you should aspire to live for hundreds years..."; evaṃ tvayi nānyatheto'sti na karma lipyate nare"...and you arrive at an action which does not bind you". So, the theory of Karma which is liberating in character, that is: `Even in the state of liberation you can still be in the state of action.' That proposition is to be found in the Isha Upanishad. Karma na lipeyete nare, it also speaks of Bhakti, the very last note of the Ishopanishad is agnenaya supatha raye……….nam uktim vidhema. namah uktim vidhema that is to say there is the message of surrender.

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