Oriental Department, July, 1894
Sixth Chapter 1-7.
There lived once Shvetaketu, Aruni’s grandson; his father addressed him, saying:
—Shvetaketu, go, learn the service of the Eternal; for no one, dear, of our family is an unlearned nominal worshipper.
So going when he was twelve years old, he returned when he was twenty-four; he had learned all the Vedas, but was conceited, vain of his learning and proud.
His father addressed him, saying:
—Shvetaketu, you are conceited, vain of your learning, and proud, dear; but have you asked for that teaching through which the unheard is heard, the unthought is thought, the unknown is known?
—What sort of teaching is that, Master? said he.
—Just as, dear, by a single piece of clay anything made of clay may be known, for the difference is only one of words and names, and the truth is that it is of clay; or just as, dear, by one jewel of gold, anything made of gold may be known, for the difference is only one of words and names, and the truth is that it is gold; or just as, dear, by a single knife-blade, anything made of iron may be known, for the difference is only one of words and names, and the truth is that it is iron; just like this is the teaching that makes the unknown known.
—But I am sure that those teachers did not know this themselves; for if they had known it, how would they not have taught it to me? said he; but now let my Master tell it to me.
—Let it be so, dear; said he.
—In the beginning, dear, there was Being, alone and second-less. But there are some who say that there was non-Being in the beginning, alone and second-less; so that Being would be born from non-Being; but how could this be so, dear? said he; how could Being be born from non-Being? Lo there was Being, dear, in the beginning, alone and second-less.
—Then Being said: Let me become great; let me give birth.
—Then it put forth Radiance.
—Then Radiance said: Let me become great; let me give birth.
—Then It put forth the Waters. Just as a man is hot and sweats, so from radiant Heat the waters were born.
—Then the Waters said: Let us become great; let us give birth.
—They put forth the world, food, earth. Just as when it rains much food is produced, so from the Waters the world-food, Earth was born.
—Of all these, of beings, there are three germs: what is born of the Egg, what is born of Life, what is born of Division.
—That Power, Being, said: Let me enter these three powers,—Radiance, the Waters, Earth,—by this life, by my Self, let me give them manifold forms and names. Let me make each one of them threefold, threefold.
—So that Power,—Being,—entered those three powers,—Radiance, Waters, Earth,—by this Life, by the Self, and gave them manifold forms and names; and so made each one of them threefold, threefold. And now learn, dear, how these three powers are, how each one of them becomes threefold and threefold.
—In fire, the radiant form is from Radiance; the clear form, from the Waters; the dark form, from Earth. But the separate nature of fire is a thing of names and words only, while the real thing is the three forms.
—So of the sun, the radiant form is from Radiance; the clear form, from the Waters, the dark form, from Earth; but the separate nature of the sun is a thing of names and words only, while the real thing is the three forms.
—So of the moon, the radiant form is from Radiance; the clear form, from the Waters; the dark form, from Earth; but the separate nature of the moon is a thing of names and words only, while the real thing is the three forms.
—So of lightning, the radiant form is from Radiance; the clear form from the Waters: the dark form from Earth. But the separate nature of lightning is a thing of names and words only, the real thing is the three forms.
—Therefore of old time those who knew this, the great sages and teachers of old, spoke thus: None of us may now speak of anything as unheard, unthought, unknown.
—For by these three forms they knew everything. For whatever was like radiant, its form was from Radiance, they said, and thus knew it. And whatever was like clear, its form was from the Waters, they said, and so knew it. And whatever was like dark, its form was from Earth, they said, and so knew it. Thus whatever was known they took to be a union of these three powers, and thus they knew it.
—But how these three powers are, when they come to man, how each of them becomes threefold, this learn from me now.
—Food which is eaten is divided threefold. Its grossest part becomes waste; its middle part becomes flesh; its lightest part becomes mind.
—Waters that are drunk are divided threefold. The grossest part becomes waste; the middle part becomes blood; the lightest part becomes vital breath.
—Things that produce radiant heat, when absorbed, are divided threefold. The grossest part becomes bone; the middle part becomes marrow; the lightest part becomes formative voice.
—For mind, dear, is formed of the world-food Earth; vital breath is formed of the Waters; formative voice is formed of Radiance.
—Let my master teach me further; said he.
—Be it so, dear; said he.
Of churned milk, dear, the lightest part rises to the top and becomes butter. Just so of eaten food the lightest part rises to the top and becomes mind. And so of waters that are drunk, the lightest part rises to the top, and becomes vital breath.
And so when heat-giving things are eaten, the lightest part rises to the top, and becomes formative Voice.
For mind, dear, is formed of Earth; vital breath is formed of the Waters; formative voice is formed of Radiance.
— Let my Master teach me further, said he.
— Be it so, dear, said he.
Man, dear, is made of sixteen parts. Eat nothing for fifteen days, but drink as much as you wish; for vital breath, being formed of Water, is cut off if you do not drink.
He ate nothing for fifteen days, and then approached the Master, saying: What shall I repeat, Master?
— Repeat the Rig and Yajur and Sama Veda verses, dear, said he.
— None of them come into my mind, Master, said he.
The teacher said to him: As, dear, after a big fire, if a single spark remains, as big as a fire-fly, it will not burn much just so, dear, of your sixteen parts one remains, and by this one part you cannot remember the Vedas.
Go, eat; and then I will teach you.
He ate, and then returned to the Master; and whatever the Master asked, all came back to his mind.
The Master said to him: As, dear, after a big fire, if even a single spark remains, as big as a fire fly, and if it be fed with straw, it will blaze up and will then burn much; just so, dear, of your sixteen parts one part was left; and this, being fed with food, blazed up, and through it you remembered the Vedas.
For mind is formed of Food; vital breath is formed of the Waters; formative voice is formed of Radiance.
Thus he learned; thus, verily, he learned.
“I understand the main tenet of Materialism to be that there is nothing in the universe but matter and force this I heartily disbelieve [for] in the first place, as I have already hinted, it seems to me pretty plain that there is a third thing in the universe, to wit, consciousness, which, in the hardness of my heart or head, I cannot see to be matter or force, or any conceivable modification of either, however intimately the manifestations of the phenomena of consciousness may be connected with the phenomena known as matter and force.”—Essays on Some Controverted Questions. “Science and Morals”, p. 220, by Thomas H. Huxley, 1892.
What is that teaching through which the unheard is heard, the unthought is thought, the unknown is known?
We shall best understand the answer of Shvetaketu‘s father, by turning both question and answer into our own words; by recasting the thought that underlies them in our own thought and language.
A hundred or a thousand oak trees are all different; even among the separate leaves of each tree, seek as long as we may, we shall never find two exactly the same. Yet, in spite of this endless variety, this literally infinite diversity, our reason, after comparing many leaves together, is able to form the general concept of an oak-leaf; not this leaf or that leaf, but an oak-leaf in general.
Then we do the same thing with the bark, the branches and the wood; and at last we form the general concept of an oak-tree; not identical with any particular tree that we have ever seen, and yet containing all individual oak-trees within it.
And we may also form a general concept of beech trees, fir-trees, chestnut-trees, and at last form the concept of a tree, which will not be identical with any of them, and yet will include them all.
And our general concept or idea of a tree will be applicable not only to the trees we have seen and known and thought of, but also to all other trees in the world; so that once our general idea is formed, no tree will be unthought of, but all trees will become known; not in their individual peculiarities which are endless, but in their essential nature, as trees, which is always one and the same.
Just in the same way, if we can form a general concept of life, of the universe, the essential nature of the whole of life will be known to us; nothing more will remain unknown, unheard, unthought for we shall he in possession of a general formula applicable to every particular case.
This arriving at a general formula for life, for the universe, is the science which Shvetaketu had not learned; and which his father elucidates for him with a world of quaint illustrations and parables, as delicious as they are profound.
To begin our philosophy of the universe, is there any single principle which we can all agree upon, whether we be materialists or spiritualists, idealists, pantheists, or anything else.
There is one fundamental proposition which cannot possibly be disputed. This is, that there is a universe, whether it be built of dreams or molecules. The universe is; life is And as the universe includes everything, there can be nothing but the universe.
Therefore, to begin with, the universe is, and there is nothing but the universe. Or, as Shvetaketu’s father puts it, Being was in the beginning, dear, alone and secondless.
Now we can further express this universe, the totality of all that is, the totality of life, in another way. We can find a single fundamental process, a single abstract idea, underlying it everywhere and always; and by doing this we shall have taken another step in the science which makes known the unknown, heard the unheard, thought the unthought.
Take a single fact of the universe; take a single incident of life,—the reading of this page. There is, first of all, the reader; then there is the page that is read; then there is the reading, which runs errands between the reader and what is read, and binds them together. There are these three: the reader, the reading, and what is read; the knower, the knowing, and the known.
And take any other fact of the universe, any other fact of life, and you will find this same threefold process present; you will find everywhere the triad, the perceiver, the perceiving, the perceived; the knower, the knowing, the known.
There are, therefore, these two facts: firstly, that the universe is, that life is; and, secondly, that, wherever we take the universe, wherever we take life, we find this triad, this threefold process, of the knower, the knowing, the known.
The universe is; and is manifest in this three-fold way, always and everywhere. Thus, in the words of Shvetaketu’s father, Uddalaka Aruni’s son, Being becomes threefold, threefold.
There is the reader, the reading, and what is read. And we may add to this another indisputable proposition. The reader cannot conceivably be the reading; the reader cannot conceivably be what is read,—the reader cannot be the printed page. And so universally, the knower cannot be the knowing or the known. Or, to put the same thing in other words,—this time taken from Mr. Huxley, consciousness cannot be force or matter, or any conceivable modification of either of them.
And this is equivalent to saying that consciousness cannot be involved in the accidents which force and matter are subject to; in other words, consciousness is self-existent, and therefore everlasting. Now there is a twofoldness about consciousness. There is the first fact: I perceive, I know that I read. And there is the second fact: I know that I am.
Now if it be inconceivable that consciousness should be any possible modification of matter or force or by any possibility derived from them, still more is it inconceivable that the consciousness, I know that I am,—the conscious ‘I am I’,—should be derived from matter or force or anything else in the universe, if there be anything else; the conscious ‘I am I’ is self-existent ‘ which is another way of saying that it is beginningless, endless, eternal.
To realise that ‘I am I’ is the first step of that awakening to the Self which is recorded by Shankaracharya.
But we cannot say there is this twofoldness about the other elements of our triad: the knowing and the known. We cannot say that the knowing and the known have the consciousness that ‘I am I’. They are, therefore, secondary realities; dependent realities; while the primary, self-existent reality is the Knower, who contains not only the idea ‘I perceive’ but also the idea ‘I am I’.
Here, then, beginning from a single incident in life, the reading of a page, we have arrived at a generalization which applies to every fast of the universe, every mode of life: we have arrived at the dividing threefold, threefold; the triad of knower, knowing, known; of which the first, the knower, is the primary, self-existent reality; is, in other words, eternal. This is the method of Uddalaka Aruni’s son, and the wise men of old, which makes known the unknown, heard the unheard, thought the unthought.
From this first triad, which is in reality only a mode of the eternal unity, Being,—we derive a second triad which this time concerns the knowing and the known rather than the knower. Things known are not fixed but fluid, fugitive, perpetually changing. And these changes take place in a certain regular way, which is also threefold, three-fold! There is the thing that changes, the changing, and the thing it changes into; or, in other words, the cause, the causing, and the effect, which is in its turn a new cause, giving birth to a new causing and a new effect. There is beginning, middle, end; which end is a new beginning. There is birth, ripeness, death; which death is a new birth. Or, in other words, there is the radiant point, the fluid change, the concrete result; or Radiance, the Waters, Earth, as Shvetaketu’s father says.
Now if we find this triad everywhere in the universe, we may reasonably say that its omnipresence is only to be accounted for by the fact that this threefoldness lies at the root of the universe that there are a primordial Radiance, Waters, Earth at the heart of things.
And this primordial triad we may call the Heavens, the Expanse, and the Earth, dwelling as Manu says, in the Golden Egg totality.
We cannot at present follow the triad through all its threefoldness, applying it as the teacher does, to the sun, the moon, lightning, and, lastly, to man. We need only note the higher triad in man, the triad of ‘formative voice, life, mind’. This ‘life’ in the higher triad of man is, says Shankara, the Golden Egg of totality of the ‘little world of man’. The ‘formative voice’ is the radiant power which lights up the life; very likely what other Upanishads called ‘Buddhi’. Then mind, ‘Manas’ is the child of these two, their manifest form, the most outward of the first triad of the ‘little world of man’.
But we can only suggest the development of this threefoldness in man at present, this division into body, soul, and spirit, leaving the fuller treatment of it to another time; when we shall have occasion to speak of Shankara’s teaching of the three vestures, the physical vesture, the emotional vesture, the causal vesture.
These three vestures agree accurately with the three modes of Being, taught to Shvetaketu. Being puts forth Radiance, Radiance puts forth the Waters, the Waters put forth Earth; just as the Self puts forth the causal vesture, the causal vesture puts forth the emotional vesture, which puts forth the physical vesture. Then Being manifests itself or embodies itself, in each of its three emanations; just as the Self embodies itself in each of the three vestures.
There is therefore the Self, its three modes,—the causal, emotional, and physical selves,—and its three vestures,—the causal, emotional and physical vestures;—so that we may call this a one-fold, three-fold, four-fold, or seven-fold classification, according to our way of counting. The Knower, we said, is twofold. It contains, first, the idea ‘I know that I perceive’; and, secondly, the idea, ‘I know that I am’. It is more than this It is threefold. It contains not only the possibility of perceiving, and the possibility of being; but also the possibility of enjoying bliss. Therefore when the limitations and stumbling blocks are all removed, and the Self realises its eternal perfection it will contain not only the ideas ‘I am perfect and ‘I know perfectly’ but also the idea ‘I enjoy perfect bliss’; for, as Shankara tells us again and again, ‘the own nature of the Self is perfect Being, perfect Consciousness, perfect Bliss’.