Yudhiṣṭhira asked, “How did this universe, with animate and inanimate, get created? When it dissolves, where does it go?”
Bhīṣma (Relating the discussion between Manu and Bṛhaspati) – From akṣara (the indesctructible) comes ākāśa (sky); from that comes wind; from that, fire; from that water; from that comes the world – this is the order of sṛṣṭi, creation. During pralaya, dissolution, the world returns to water, which returns to fire; fire returns to wind, which returns to the sky. And from the sky, the ‘potentials’ go ahead to become one with the ‘para’ or ‘akṣara.’ And from there, they don’t return through the medium of the sky. That para is neither hot nor cold; neither soft nor sharp, neither tangy nor astringent, neither sweet nor bitter; it is soundless, odourless, formless. The sense organs – skin, tongue, nose, ears, and eyes can grasp touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. What lies at an even more fundamental level to these can’t be grasped by one who is unaware of adhyātma. It is only when the objects of the senses are drawn away from the sense organs (and one goes within oneself) that the para-vastu can be experienced by a person. Just as a lamp that burns bright throws light on everything that lies in front of it, these five sense organs in the form of light-pillars shed light on other objects through the bright glow of the lamp of wisdom. For the paramātmā, these sense organs enlightened by the wisdom-lamp are just like ministers to a king – they share their individual learnings to him. It is not visible if one tears apart the stomach or the hands or the legs and looks for it. If one chops a log of firewood into pieces, can either the smoke or the fire be seen? No, but if one wooden piece is rubbed against another, it gives rise to fire and to smoke. Similarly, a person with viveka through the means of yoga can transcend the senses of his body and grasp the reality of the para. One cannot see the ātma. One cannot touch it. But it can see. Anything thrown into a flaming fire burns and becomes ash. At that point, just as it appears that the fire has taken the form of the object thrown into it, the ātma that resides in a body appears to take the form of the body. When it takes on another body, it appears to be in the form of that body. All the good and bad deeds done during the present birth, engulfs the mind and flows into the body of the next birth just as fish flowing in a gush of water. Just as something that is shaking can be seen, just as the subtle becomes clear, that reality becomes apparent to the mind of a scholar who doggedly tries to understand it.
Yudhiṣṭhira: That akṣara, which once attained one can never return – which is that akṣara? Which is that akṣara from where one returns?
Bhīṣma (relating the conversation between Karālajanaka and Vasiṣṭha) – This world, which will eventually face dissolution, is kṣara, destructible. What hasn’t faced dissolution in the past nor will face dissolution in the future is akṣara; it is formless. It first creates mahat-tattva, a great essence that has a form. From that mahat, ahaṅkāra or ego is born. From ahaṅkāra, the sūkṣma-bhūtas are born, as are the five jñānendriyas (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin), the five karmendriyas (mouth, hands, legs, genitals, anus), the manas (mind). From the sūkṣma-bhūtas, the sthūla-bhūtas are born. The world is created from these twenty-four tattvas or essences. Higher than these twenty-four is the twenty-fifth unmanifest tattva, which is ‘akṣara.’
Yudhiṣṭhira: What is the difference between Sāṅkhya and Yoga?
Bhīṣma: The basis for Sāṅkhya is śāstra (loosely, ‘theory’). The basis for Yoga is experience (i.e. ‘practice’). I find both these philosophies agreeable. If one adheres to the śāstras, and works in a manner ordained by them, from both these systems of philosophy one can attain the highest – this is what I have learnt. Purity, compassion towards all beings, observance of vows (adherence to dharma) are all common to both; it is only the darśana—point of view—that varies. If one understands the nature of the material world and attains detachment, after death one attains mokṣa – this is the siddhānta of Sāṅkhya. Large fish, owing to their immense strength, tear apart the nets that have been thrown on them, and join the water body again; similarly through the strength of yoga, one can tear apart passion, attachment, friendship, lust, anger, etc. and ultimately attain mokṣa – this is the siddhānta of Yoga. Those without the strength of yoga are like the small fish that are trapped in the net, live in bondage, and ultimately meet their end in a ghastly manner. When the fire is small, if one throws a piece of firewood, it gets extinguished. When the fire is large and powerful and if one throws a piece of firewood, with the help of the wind it may burn the entire earth! Just as a weakling, if caught in the currents of an impetuous river gets washed away in the flood, a person weak of heart gets washed away in the flood of sense objects. But one endowed with the strength of yoga stands still in the wake of a flood of sense-objects, like an elephant in the flow of water, unmoved, unfazed. Adhering to strict vows, he becomes one with his navel, throat, forehead, heart, chest, sides, eyes, ears, nose; and becomes one with the subtle ātma present in all these; burning to ashes the mountain-like good and bad deeds, he stands still in yoga, and attains mokṣa when he desires it.
To be continued…
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.