Progressive Meditation: The Five Sheaths
Trevor: Well, this talk is on an Upanishad called Taittiriya. The point of the Upanishad is to confirm the teachings in one’s own experience, not to revere them from a distance. Generally, with sacred texts and so on, there’s this feeling that these are beautiful dreams. And you can read an Upanishad with mounting exaltation, and the heart is leaping towards the words. At the end, it says, “Friend, your face shines like one who knows Brahman.” He said, “Yes.” And then it finishes. And then it’s all gone; there’s a sort of memory of something beautiful. It’s like having been to a beautiful concert or something like that. The glory of the music in a way is still in the air, still in one’s mind, but it’s gone.
One can be very expert in the theory of the metaphysics. Now, Russell has pointed out that a blind man can know the whole of the physics of light, and can solve problems. He can learn the mathematics. But he’ll never actually know – he’s been blind from birth – what the light is. But he’ll be able to discuss it with no mistakes, and he’ll be able to solve problems in it. Well, in the same way, one can master the theory of different schools, and speak and write on them with no mistakes, without actually knowing what it is that they’re speaking of.
In this Upanishad, there are three sections. I’m not taking them in order, for a particular reason, which Shankara in his commentary explains. There’s an external search. Then there’s a riddle. And lastly, there’s the practice, which is given very often traditionally and orally. But it’s hinted at in the text.
Now, the external search: a man comes to his teacher, a great teacher, and says, “Teach me Brahman; teach me the reality, the intelligence, the reality of the whole universe.” Traditionally in the Sanskrit, called ‘Brahma’; a word which originally meant ‘majestic’. “Teach me Brahman”. So this comes from the enquirer himself. Not a question of going round, catching people and shouting into their ear, to convert them by force. Of course, you may indeed shout into someone’s ear and convert them to your view, but next week, somebody will be shouting into their other ear, and converting them to something else. “Teach me.”
Now, he doesn’t give an explanation. He gives him places to search. Food, which is the word for matter. Vital energy, food, energy, eye, ear, speech, mind. “Search.” Then he says to him, “Search to find out that from which all this has come forth, by which it’s sustained and lived, into which it finally dissolves.” Now, we can think, “Oh yes, yes, that’s right. Yes, yes, we know that, we know that formula, yes.” But it’s not a question of simply nodding. It’s a question of an actual experience of the universe. If we experience the universe as food, as matter, and this is a position that’s now not held by physicists, but is held by a great many psychologists today – the materialist position. Your thoughts, so called, are simply interactions in the brain. They’re your behaviour. Not that you think and then you behave; ideas don’t drive muscles. Muscles move. All this introspective stuff is all [nonsense].
Now, this is a view of the universe as matter. Fundamentally without any purpose, without any intelligence. There’s just a brief flicker of awareness – little bit of a riddle, but it’s conveniently ignored. It consists of matter. “Man is what he eats”, used to be the German blessing, I think, the summary of this: “Mann ist was er isst.” Man is what he eats. We can think, “Oh, ridiculous, ridiculous.” But this does come over us. Especially in sickness, or disaster. We feel ourselves to be just a little speck, overwhelmed by matter. And we can live like this, provided things hold up reasonably well. We can manage to get by with this. But the moment there’s a difficulty or disaster, we fall into depression. And finally our lives become sterile. This used to be justified by physics. Physics about 1890 held this view. And it takes about 40 or 50 years before an informed viewpoint gets through to the general untrained public. So that the people who speculate – the theologians, for instance, who speculate on miracles and so on – still have the view of 1890, of a deterministic universe, no longer held by physicists. But this was the first view.
Now, this man is told to perform meditation; perform tapas. ‘Tapa’ is a root meaning to heat or burn. Not by just looking round, but by going deeply into meditation. Then he will have a vision and an experience of the universe. That first experience is of something senseless, mindless, that doesn’t care. Russell had this view. “Man takes his stand on the firm rock of absolute despair.” These are Russell’s own words. Later he refers to it as a sort of satanic mysticism. He had an official sort of optimism, but actually views the universe as dark, and which was simply going to destroy life which had momentarily been allowed to flourish.
In this view of the universe as mechanical, without intelligence – without even human intelligence, some of the behaviourists would say – there is no consciousness. There seems to be consciousness, but there isn’t; this is the first view. Many of us don’t succeed in transcending this view. We feel exalted, and suddenly something brings us down, and we think, “No, it’s absolute domination by the environment. A little bit of a chemical change in the brain, and your whole thinking is changed.”
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 3 : Yogic meditation is to go deeper
Part 5 : The universe is bliss and light