Taittiriya Upanishad’s Inquiry Into Creation
The dialogue between Varuna and Bhrigu, which lies at the heart of the Taittiriya Upanishad, is perhaps the earliest cosmological deconstruction of the concept of Brahmn. This succinct opening instruction of Varuna positing food, vital force, eyes, ears, mind and speech as doors to the knowledge of Brahmn, sets the tone for Bhrigu’s initiation. This analysis of Brahmn is detailed through the story of the young Bhrigu who has set out to seek the bliss of Brahmn.
Varuna instructs him to do tapas, meditation, on doing which Bhrigu finds himself consumed by the idea of anna, food, which nourishes and sustains all beings. Bhrigu realises this physicality of food to be the first principle which pervades all matter and nourishes it, and understands this to be the physical manifestation, the gross Cosmic Virat svarup, of Brahmn itself. With this knowledge of the Annamaya kosha, the physical sheath, but with an incomplete feeling within himself, Bhrigu goes back to his father to teach him the knowledge of Brahmn. But the teacher directs him to delve deeper into the origin of food.
Bhrigu’s introspection takes his mind deeper on the life-force, the vitality throbbing behind matter, the prana, which energises all matter, runs through all physical systems, as electricity runs through the wires to generate power. Bhrigu recognises this vitality to be behind the physical sheath, and this understanding of the Pranamaya kosha – the energy-astral body as the next manifestation of Brahmn – sends him back to his father.
Finding his father noncommittal still, on the question of Brahmn, Bhrigu enters a third meditation to focus on the subtler aspects of this energy, to go into the idea behind, which has triggered this vitality. He realises that it is the mind itself, which is providing the stimuli for this vitality, the mental sheath, which is the trigger for all senses of knowledge – still instinctual only, but emanating from the mind itself. Bhrigu senses that the mind, too, is a manifestation of Brahmn, but is too scattered and incomplete.
His fourth meditation takes him into the more subtle form of the mind, the cognitive sheath which enables one to understand cause and effect, an awareness which causes the mind to distinguish and discriminate. The manifestation of Brahmn as Intellect excites Bhrigu, for it takes him close to comprehending the real nature of things. He is then told to inquire into the origin of thought itself.
His fifth and final meditation, at the behest of his father, awakens him to that inner space within, in which sat, existence, and chitta, consciousness, seem anchored in an inner expansive ananda, bliss. Brahmn manifests as every atom of existence and in each perception of consciousness, but these realisations may not necessarily make a soul happy and contented.
Bhrigu’s intense desire to know Brahmn leads him to that state of Anandamaya kosha, bliss, which lies beyond thought and desire. But importantly, it leads him to the realisation that the entire manifest world, reflects this bliss of Brahmn equally – the Atman, Self, manifests itself as five different sheaths, five different energy-levels, each as essential and central to the knowledge of Brahmn as the other. The Taittiriya’s inquiry into creation is one of the most life-affirming contemplations of Vedanta. (The writer is joint secretary, Government of India)