Each upanishad seems to talk about some aspect of the same basic truth with same concepts expounded from various angles. The Kena Upanishad gave an entry into the world of enquiring about the “I” by eliminating the external as the truth, the Isha Upanishad talks about the manifestations of the same truth in different forms internal and external to us, the Chandogya Upanishad talks about the same truth as various steps as we progress from the external to the truth, the Aitreya Upanishad also talks about the same truth in the form of various steps in creation till sentient life.
Why this upanishad? This is one upanishad which I find brings out our ignorance to the fore. Yet, instead of accepting our ignorance and trying to find a way to understand it, we seem to blame our flaw conveniently on those who wrote these upanishads. Sad!!!
In this part I will only look at the initial verses that talk about creation. Subsequently this Upanishad also talks about the different ways in which to approach this truth and how it is prevented. That for another blog.
The first verse of this upanishad seems pretty straight-forward and following on similar lines of nasadya suktam.
ātmā vā idameka evāgra āsīnnānyatkiṃcana miṣat sa īkṣata lokānnu sṛjā iti atma = self va = as idam = this eka = one eva+ agra = thus + beginning asi + anyat + kim cana = were + other + what else misat = active sa = that self iksata = observe, have a thought, see in ones mind loka + anu = world + atom srja = creates iti = this
This translates to: There was only the self and nothing else, that self began to have an active thought and thus created this world atoms
To be noted here, while, I have translated “anu” as atoms, I don’t this this is actually the atoms of our physics. I am sure this is definitely not atoms, but surely it should the basis of the whole creation. If we compare it with what is said in Chandogya Upanishdad. this could be the “asa” that is referenced there, i.e., the vibration. So, this could very well translate to:
There was only the field and nothing else, “something happened” in that field that vibrations got created. What is that something, again I cannot decipher, because according to all translations “iksata” means to have a thought. So, the closest translation I can get is “having a thought” which has to be in the root of all existence.
sa imāṃllokānasṛjata ambho marīcīrmaramāpo’do’mbhaḥ pareṇa divaṃ dyauḥ pratiṣṭhāntarikṣaṃ marīcayaḥ pṛthivī maro yā adhastātta āpaḥ sa = this self ima + lokan + srjata = these + worlds + create ambo = sound marica + amrtha + apo + ambhah = light + electrons + hydrogen parena = after divam = day / heaven / space dyauh = sky prathisthan + antarisksa = installed /established + atmosphere maricayah = from light prthivi = earth maro = death and hence finite or limits ashastata = from below apah = water
When I read this verse, I find the lack of our knowledge emphasized. While the previous verse only got out our ignorance at one place that is in the word “anu”, this has a whole lot of words such as ambo, amrtha, apo, ambhah and so on. I find all translations of these words to be wrong and does not fit the context at all. I can only hazard a guess as to what they could have meant which seems to have been lost in the sands of time. It is quite possible that if “anu” meant vibration, then ambo could mean “waves” which got converted to “sound” as it kept getting transferred. Then, “amrtha” could mean a particular band of frequency of waves which fall maybe within light frequency range, again only a guess, apo turned to be electrons and ambhah to hydrogen atom. Yet as I have said, what these really are can only be guessed.
So, we are looking at a verse which roughly translates to: This self created these worlds waves, light, electrons, hydrogen then space, sky, atmosphere from light, earth, finiteness from water. (Again, this seems the closest we can get to, what each of these terms translate to can only be guessed anymore given that they are lost.)
The only thing that I find can be said with confirmation is that due to that “thought”, vibrations got created, from vibrations got created waves, from waves bands of frequencies, this together formed forces which then must have cohered together to form light and water which got finiteness and from which got created atmosphere, earth and so on.
sa īkṣateme nu lokā lokapālānnu sṛjā iti so’dbhya eva puruṣaṃ samuddhṛtyāmūrchayat sa = this self iksate + ime = looked + these nu = at once loka = world loka+palan+anu = world + guards + atoms srja = create iti = this sa + adbhaya = this self + thoughtful eva = also purusam = soul/spirit/sentience samuddrtya + amUra + chayat = welfare + intelligent + notice that ???
If the previous verse had a series of words we could not translate, this has another set and the only thing we can say here is feel very sad to have lost this knowledge. For eg., “loka + palan + anu” is another as intriguing as “anu”, what can we even translate this as? What guards the vibrations from dissipating? Truly that is what this must be!!! Maybe this can be the different forms of energies such as heat energy, nuclear energy, kinetic energy and so on. It is possible that this is just the nuclear energy or maybe it is force. But something that has persisted these waves. Yes, we lack a lot of knowledge.
The “Purusam” is another word here which is highly misinterpreted as “man”. If we follow this translation, I do not at all believe it is anything to do with humans? It can be sentience, possible, yet only a guess. Again the only thing that can be said in this verse is: This self looked at these and at once created protections for these world atoms.
tā etā devatāḥ sṛṣṭā asminmahatyarṇave prāpatantamaśanāyāpipāsābhyāmanvavārjat tā enamabruvannāyatanaṃ naḥ prajānīhi yasminpratiṣṭhitā annamadāmeti ta = that etah = these devatah = god srsta = created asmin + mahat + arnava = in this + huge + agitated prapatan + astamaya + pipasa + bhyah + manava + varjati = precipice + perishing + thirsty + for + mankind + remove ta = that enam + abhruvat + anyatan = then + not speaking + any / either nah = no prajana + ihi = progenitor / one who begets + here yasmin + prathista = in this + installed / founded / established annam + adameti = matter + not taking?
In this verse we see that those “loka palan anu” is called devatah. So, my take is that devas is a shortened form for that “loka palan anu” which mostly is energies. Taking a clue from what these devas have become in the current world, we can try to trace it back and realize they could have been various energy forms. For eg., we have agni which could have been heat energy instead of really fire, vayu could have been kinetic energy which got translated to wind and so on. Now, this verse seems to translate to:
“in this huge agitated creation without perishing, without thirst, not speaking, not begetting that self established matter for these energy forms”
And now some semblance of what we think of creation has emerged, because only here does matter come into picture. So, prior to this anything could not have been anything related to matter at all an area which we can say is being studied in quantum physics, but I seriously wonder. Even in quantum physics we seem to only be studying matter. The Upanishads definitely seem to indicate that it is definitely not matter, possible waves, possible fields. But not physical at all.
tābhyo gāmānayattā abruvanna vai no’yamalamiti tābhyo’śvamānayattā abruvanna vai no’yamalamiti ta = them bhya = for = for them gamana = moving / motion + anayata = continuous abruvan = silent na = not + aya = in this manner + alam = equal to + iti = this ashrava = influx??? preliminary??? listening to (???) + anayata = continuous
While ashrava is translated to “listening” or “to listen”, I wonder if it is really that or “impulse”. Again the translation seems to have lost the meaning. But, my best translation for this is: He added continuous movement and impulse and found it was not equal to this self.
tābhyaḥ puruṣamānayattā abruvan sukṛtaṃ bateti puruṣo vāva sukṛtam tā abravītyathāyatanaṃ praviśateti ta = them bhaya = for them purusa = sentience + anayata = continuous abruvan = silent sukrtam = wise bata + iti = alas (???) + this purusa = sentience vava = indeed sukrtam = wise ta = them abravat + vidyate + ayata = preliminary + exists + unrestrained pravisate + iti = enter + into
Again, the best translation for this turns to be: To this he added continuous sentience and found this indeed allowed for unrestrained existence
sa īkṣateme nu lokāśca lokapālāścānnamebhyaḥ sṛjā iti so’po’bhyatapattābhyo’bhitaptābhyo mūrtirajāyata yā vai sā mūrtirajāyatānnaṃ vai tat sa = that self iksate + ime = looked at + these nu = at once loka + palan + ashravana + bhyah = world + guards + influx??? preliminaries??? + for srja = created iti = this sa + apo + abhyatapati + bhayo + abhitaap + bhayo = that self + water(hydrogen) + to get towards + for them + extreme heat (agitation) + for them murtir + ajAyate = form + is born ya = that vai = ?? muthir + ajayate+annam = form + is born + matter vai = ??? tat = that
The best translation I can come up for this is: that self looked at these protectors of world atoms and at once created form for them agitating water atoms
So, putting it all together, in summary, it looks like according to this upanishad the creation went through these steps:
There was only the field and nothing else, “something happened” in that field that vibrations got created.
from waves bands of frequencies, this together formed forces which then must have cohered together to form light and water which got finiteness and from which got created atmosphere, earth and so on
This self looked at these and at once created various forms of energies
In this huge agitated creation without perishing, without thirst, not speaking, not begetting that self established matter for these energy forms
He added continuous movement and impulse and found it was not sufficient — (not sure sufficient for what??? unrestrained existence and evolution???) – or quite possible that this just refers to “no equilibrium was established” and hence while there is a reference of a “He” we are still talking about the same truth continuously changing from one to the other till an equilibrium is reached.
To this he added continuous sentience and found this indeed allowed for unrestrained existence
that self looked at these preservers of the world particles and at once created form for them agitating water atoms
All these seems just a very contemporary interpretation given the very limited knowledge we have of the the various steps of creation. It definitely begs to find an answer. But, I wonder can we still trace it back and see the origins, to be able to piece together what has been written here.
If we go by the upanishads, we should be able to trace back into ourselves and find the knowledge instead of trying to understanding it from the external. Yet, do any of us have the focus and steadiness of our being to be able to delve deeper I wonder.