Teach me Brahman
In the Upanishad, a boy goes to his father, who is a sage, and he says, “Revered sir, father, teach me Brahman.” He has also done considerable study. He knows about Brahman, and the desire for liberation, for freedom, has arisen in him.
Well, the father gives him five doors. The body made of food, vital energy, ear, eye, mind. “These are doors,” he said. “We have to go through a door. Not stand in front of it but go through it.”
Then he says to him, “That from which the whole universe has come forth, by which it is sustained, into whom it is finally dissolved. This is the definition of brahman.” But he does not say, “Now you know.” He says, “Seek to know that. Try to know that.”
Then the boy, the young disciple, sits down and practices tapas. Which literally means austerity, but in the Gita there are three kinds of tapas.
The austerity of the body, which is simplicity of life. A certain pleasantness. A certain uprightness and honesty. Not being pleasant to people’s face and stabbing them in the back but control of the senses.
Then there is the austerity of speech, which consists in saying what is true, useful, pleasantly uttered, and not provoking people.
But the highest austerity is the austerity of the mind, which is inner calmness and finally silence.
And Shankara, in his commentary to the Upanishad, says, “This tapas means the highest form of tapas. Meditation.” And he defines it. “One-pointedness and Samadhi.” And he says, “And these are the methods. This is the method by which Brahman is known.” And twice he says, “And this is the only method.”
Well, the disciple practices meditation, and he has an experience, and he sees the whole world consisting of physical things. But he is not satisfied. He goes back to his father. He says, “Teach me Brahman.” The father does not give him any instruction. He says, “Meditate. For meditation is the way of knowing Brahman.”
He meditates again, and he has an experience of the world as energy. Again he goes to his father. Father does not confirm it or deny. He says, “Teach me.” The father says, “Meditate. For meditation is the means of knowing Brahman. Then it comes to intelligence and finally it comes to bliss.”
The father does not confirm it, but when he has reached this realisation the atman of the disciple and the atman of the teacher are one. There is no need to speak. As one Christian mystic said, “First you will speak to God. Then God will speak to you. Finally, neither of you will need to utter a word.”
Again, there is a lost Upanishad which Shankara quotes from. Vajasaneyin went to the teacher and questioned him, asked about the Brahman. Again he must have done a lot of discipline to have heard of Brahman and to have the desire for liberation. And the teacher said, “Learn the Brahman, ”
So then he said, “Well, teach me.” But the teacher sat silent. He said again, “Teach me.” The teacher sat silent. He asked again, “Teach me.” The teacher said, “I do teach you, but you do not understand. Silent is the self.”
It was a demonstration of the absolute, beyond words, beyond attributes. Where the teacher was there was clear blue sky with no word clouds. Silent is the self.
In another Upanishad Satyakama comes for initiation. He demonstrates his love of truth, and the teacher gives him a single initiation and sends him away with a herd of cows, to look after them. And he thinks, “I will come back when there are 1,000 of them.” And he is there for several years.
So he has this one initiation in which the truth has been spoken to him. He lives with that and constantly in the service of his teacherhe achieved the whole path on a single initiation because there was so much intensity behind it.
Well, when the cows had become 1,000 nature begins to speak to the disciple. The bull of the herd declares to him Brahman, the glory of Brahman. Then a swan declares to him the infinity of Brahman. Then a bird declares to him the light. There is another declaration.
Then he takes the herd back. When he comes back the teacher looks at him. He says, “Satyakama, you shine like one who knows Brahman. Who has been teaching you?” He says, “Not men. But I desire to hear this all from you as my teacher.”
Then the teacher taught him these same things. The Upanishad said it was exactly the same. But he followed the tradition that it should be handed on through teacher to disciple.
These are examples given. It is the intensity of the enquiry. But the teacher is always there, and it is in the presence of the teacher, even though it may be at a distance, which enables the transformation to take place.
It is not unknown in other traditions. In Buddhism there is a tradition that a learned Brahmin, who was dissatisfied he only knew ritualism but he was very learned in sacrificial skills.
He came to the Buddha, and he said, “What do you teach?” The Buddha said nothing. He sat there in silence. The Brahmin stood. A great Brahmin. Then he bowed, and he went away satisfied.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Universal Law
Part 2: Theories cannot actually be lived through
Part 3: Teach me Brahman
Part 4: Ananda spoke to the Buddha