The Svetasvatara Upanishad Chapter 4

Shiva, the Supreme Self

Text and translation by Jayaram V

Synopsis: description of Iswara as Supreme Brahman and creator, the two different selves, bondage and reasons for bondage, way to salvation, the highest God of Rigveda, maya, invocation to Rudra to be peaceful, notes on mystery behind Rudra's anger.


1. Which is one without any color, who united with His energy creates many colors for His mysterious purpose, into whom the world gathers itself in the beginning and at the end. May He endow us with pure understanding.

2. That is Agni, that is Aditya (the sun), that is Vayu (the wind), and that is the moon. That is pure. That is Brahman. That is waters and that is Prajapati.

3. You are woman. You are man. You are the son and also the daughter. As an old man you walk with a stick. Being born you assume many faces in all directions.

4. You are the dark blue bird, you are the green parrot with red colored eyes. You are the cloud with lightning in your womb. You are the seasons and the oceans, without a beginning. Because of your powers you move every where. All the worlds are born from you.

5. Unborn, one, red, white and black, you create many offspring similar in form to you. One unborn lies there enjoying and the other unborn having enjoyed, gives her up.

The offspring are the individual souls, who are similar in nature to Brahman. Some of these souls are caught in the activity of prakriti and remain bound while some having gone through it all seek liberation.

6. Two birds ever united in the company of each other, cling to the same tree. Of them one eats the sweet fruit, while the other just looks on without eating.

7. On the same tree, the one who is involved with sorrows of the world remains deluded and depressed feeling helpless. But when he sees the Lord, who is worshipped and His greatness, he becomes freed from sorrow.

8. He who does not know that highest and imperishable God of Rigveda, in whom the rest of the gods thrive, of what use is Rigveda to Him? Those who know it thus, all else is fulfilled.

More important than the mere study of the Rigveda or the ritualistic worship of gods is the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman. If one knows Him all is known.

9. The Vedas, the sacrifices, the rituals, the observances, the past and the future and what the Vedas declare, all this the creator of maya creates and in this the other is held by maya.

Brahman is described here as mayi, the creator of maya or illusion. The outward forms of worship and all that the Vedas declare is also considered as a part of maya or illusion, because whatever that is within the field of human awareness can only be a part of the illusion.

10. Know that prakriti is nothing but maya and Maheswara is the wielder of maya. The whole world here is pervaded by beings who are part of Him.

11. He who is the source of all sources, in whom all this dissolves finally and arises again, who is overlord, the giver of boons, the divine, by discerning him one attains supreme peace.

12. He who is the cause and source of all gods, ruler of the universe, Rudra, the red one and the great seer, who witnesses the birth of Hiranyagarbha at the time of creation, may He establish in us pure intelligence.

13. He who is the ruler of all gods, in whom worlds rest, who is the Lord of the two footed and four footed beings, to what other God can we make our offerings ?

14. Subtler than the subtlest, stable in the midst of great confusion, the creator of all, bearing many forms, holding the entire universe in His embrace, when one knows Him as the auspicious, a great peace shall descend upon him.

15. He is indeed the protector of time in this world, the lord of all, hidden in all beings, in whom are united the gods and knowers of Brahman alike. By knowing Him one cuts asunder the bonds of death.

16. By knowing Him who is auspicious, hidden in all beings like a subtle film of oil that is hidden in clarified butter, who envelops the whole universe, knowing Him thus one is released from all fetters.

17. That God, the architect of all, the great soul, always seated in the heart of beings, can be understood through the heart, the mind and thought. He knows thus becomes immortal.

The conception and comprehension of God through feeling and thought is the first step on the path of self-realization. Bhakti or devotion belongs to the realm of the heart while knowledge to the domain of the mind and the thought. Equal emphasis has been laid on both the path of bhakti or devotion and the path of gnana or knowledge in this verse.

18. When there is no ignorance, then there is neither day nor light, neither existence nor non-existence, but the auspicious one alone, that which is imperishable, that is of the color of the sun. The ancient wisdom came out of that.

The dualities of existence (day and night) come to naught when one knows Brahman, through personal experience. God is the source of all knowledge and human wisdom through the destruction of all sense of duality which is a part of maya.

19. He cannot be seen, neither above, nor across, nor in the middle. He is beyond grasp. There is no image that is true to His from. His name is glory itself.

The senses cannot perceive Him. The mind cannot comprehend Him. No symbol can truly represent him. He has no name but only fame.

20. His form is not visible. The eyes cannot see Him. But those who know Him as abiding in the heart through their hearts and minds become immortal.

21. With fear in their minds, people worship you as unborn. Rudra may your face which is full of grace protect us all the time.

22. Rudra, please do not hurt my child or grand child, nor my span of life. Please do not harm our cattle or horses. In your anger please do not slay our warriors. We always pray to you with oblations.

Rudra has always been worshipped with fear and reverence, because He is perceived as the god of destruction and is known for His destructive outbursts of anger. This has always been a great puzzle to many. How can one who is called Iswara, who is regarded as the most auspicious being and who is so well known for His great love and compassion can be so destructive in his attitude towards others at times? How can we term Him as controller of the universe, if He cannot control His own anger?

The fact is that both creation and destruction are the two sides of the same process. Creation involves destruction, and destruction involves creation. There cannot be renewal of life without death and destruction and there cannot be death unless mortal life manifests itself in the form of a being. This is a universal fact, a fact very much inherent in the creation of this universe as well in our very existence.

It is the operation of these two which makes possible the evolution life on earth. The great calamities on earth, the loss of life that follows them are part of this divine wrath, a wrath that is pure and benign in its nature, without any malice and evil, without any vehemence, but purely a divine expression born out of love and detachment and compulsions of managing the creative process.

For the mortals like us destruction and death appear to be very negative consequences of human life, but in the divine scheme of things this need not be so. What appears to us as destruction may in reality be a way of improving things, of making progress possible, some times against our wishes and expectations. Suffering is a reality in our world, but it does not exist in the world of Iswara. Suffering exists in our world because there is a purpose behind it. And the purpose is to wake us up and evolve us into higher spiritual beings.

End of Chapter 4

 

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