The Bashkala Upanishad

This is a verse from an old upanishad: “I am the Light, the One. I appear, manifesting Myself as many by My maya. I fear nothing. I am in all as the Inner Controller, as the Witness of all.” This Upanishad is called the Bashkala Upanishad. In the Mughal dynasty, Dara Shikoh, an emperor, had a vision of the unity of Hinduism and Islam, and he succeeded in getting some learned and holy pandits to come from Benares to Delhi and to translate some of the upanishads into Persian.  These were finally brought to Europe in a Latin translation, at the time of the French Revolution. Schopenhauer helped to make them very well-known. Of those upanishads in the Persian and Latin, some of the Sanskrit originals perished or disappeared. They were only known, as Deusson said, “through a glass darkly.”  But some time ago, in this century, the Sanskrit originals of a few of them were discovered. One of them is the Bashkala Upanishad.

The scholars who’ve analyzed it, believe it belongs to the oldest layer of the Upanishads. It’s based on a verse in the Rig Veda. It’s very short, 25 verses. One of the points of interest is that the supreme being is referred to by the name, Indra, which is again a characteristic of the very oldest layer of the upanishads. It’s an encounter between Indra, in disguise, and a great sacrificer named Medhatithi.

The omniscient Indra in the form of a ram rushed at Medhatithi, son of Kanva, and carried him up into the sky.  Terrified, the man asked, “What are you in your real form? Surely not as I see you, for you roam about as you please. Though you appear like this, how could you be a ram? How would a ram fly in the sky? You know it all. Now tell me. Do not provoke the anger of a brahmin.” Then, he prays to Indra. “Indra is the mighty, Who sees all, Who grants prayers, Who conquers the host of enemies, Who seizes all, on Whom I have meditated with tapas, or austerity; Who sees me wherever it may be, Who bears the thunderbolt in his hand to strike the one who falls away from the Truth and follows the crooked path. Where have I been taken? Away from my home. Where is this? Is my father, Indra, sleeping, that he does not know that you have carried me off, and that I have been carried off? The gods and the bright heaven in the west, south, east and north, and those who dwell above, do they not know that you have snatched me away?”

The supreme One smiled and to drive away the doubt, said, “You do not know who holds you now in custody. Who is it you are praying to for help? You do not know who I am and that you cannot be free, unless I bring you to your true state. I am that which rewards the sacrifice. I am the mantra which sanctifies the sacrifice.  The fire which consumes the offering of the sacrifice, am I. I am the witness of all. I nourish even the gods. All worlds created I as my abode.

“I am apart from all in the world and yet united to all in the world. I am the great word which divided, spreads out as the utterances of many. I’m the one who slew the demon, the serpent in the mountains. With my thunderbolt, I keep in fear, all. I make the food grow. I am the wing of him that flies. The victories which Indra with his host achieved, I am their victor. Who could know me? Who declare me? I slew all enemies. None has slain me. I distribute food.

“Who in all the worlds could know my power? I am the Light, the One. I appear as manifesting Myself as many by My maya. I fear nothing. I am in all as the Inner Controller, as the Witness of all. None ever surpasses me in greatness. I spread out earth and heaven. I make nourishment for the Devas. To those who gladly sacrifice, I give their reward. I know the earth’s centre. I am the primal father, the father and mother of this world. I cause the rain from heaven.  The dew which falls from the heavenly spaces, I create it. I know the Vedas, sacrifices, hymns, and treasures. I am the fire which in the ocean ever burns. I am the Nachiketa fire, the fuel which they lay on the altar. I am the priest at the rite of sacrifice in the early morning before birds fly. I make them pour the offerings into the fire and chant aloud the praise of fire.

“He who in the world of living beings, travels between them, above them, who roams the whole world with purifying touch, I am that being, the wind. One wheel has the carriage with 12 spokes, which revolves in heaven throughout the course of the year. The sun it is, which in 12 months circles the world, I am its driver.  And the moon who day-by-day increases his light, swelling himself, and again makes the waters rain, which are the spring of life, I am his being too.

“That which in its womb hold secure the plant world and sends it upward for the delight of him who offers sacrifice, I am that, the earth. I am that which became the breath of life, which enters into forms great and small, and circulates in all beings high and low. He who knows Me in the space within the heart becomes like this. Five-fold and ten-fold am I, single and a thousand-fold; pervading this world in ways many beyond reckoning. Who knows this, he attains this universe spread out by Me. Those who know otherwise, know unreality. Not by works am I to be attained, not by knowledge of scripture, not by many tasks, nor by good works many times practised. The knowers attain Me as universal.

“Who is it who slays? Who takes captive? Who is the ram who bears everything alone? It is I who appear in this form. It is I who appear in all forms. If one is afraid of whatever it may be, I, it is, who am afraid, and I who make him afraid. I consume all, and none consumes me.

“You have performed tapas in many ways in worship of Me, and therefore have I come down to you in the form of a ram to give you real existence. You have attained the path of Truth. I am Light, I am Immortality. I was born, I am being born, I shall be born. I am you. I am I. See that you are I. Doubt no more; before you were ignorant, but now you are aware. Doubt no further. It is I who nourish and give the reward of all works. I, it is, who hold the universe firm in my care.  I have taken form as this whole universe.

“As Rudra, I am the destroyer of this world, shaking it all. I am also death. I am bringer of all distress and suffering. I am Lord of the world and the swan hunter. From sorrow am I free and free from age. I am the ancient one. Free am I from all. Truly, I am the universe, and the universe. I am also the one who offers all sacrifices. On every side, am I the countenance. Embracing all, the Lord, Witness am I. All-pervading, good to all, the One am I. Whatever there is, that am I.”

This is the Upanishad and it’s proposed to take a few of the verses from it. This begins with a man who is a famous sacrificer, he’s referred to in one of the Brahmas as a great sacrificer. Indra rushes at him in the form of a ram and snatches him away, up into the heavens. Saint Paul refers to an experience like this, the man who was caught up into the third heaven; and in the letter to Philemon, he refers also to this. He was a worshipper and yet when what he worshipped appeared, he was terrified.

Our teacher often referred to the scene at the beginning of Faust, where Faust calls on the majestic Spirit, who appears and says, “Long have you drawn nourishment from my realm. Now, because you staked your very life on seeing me, I appear,” and Faust is terrified. We can say, this is an upanishad on a man who worships, but he’s not sure what he’s worshipping for.

He has his abode; he says, “Why have you snatched me from my abode?”  The word can mean one’s standing, or one’s stance, or one’s status. He was a man of great consequence. He said, “Tell me who you are, or I will strike you with the anger of a brahmin.”  He was somebody in his status but then, when he found this had no effect, he began then to pray to Indra to rescue him, because he was a worshipper.

Our teacher said in a lecture in 1942, “Friends, if we do not make our mind pure, if we do not direct our minds towards God, who has given us this wonderful frame, He who has brought us into being; if we do not give our mind to Him, there is no good in our life. Verily, none whatsoever.  If anyone does not believe in this, we can have nothing in common with them.” We can say, “Well does this mean then, that unless somebody already believes in the Yoga, they cannot come together?”   In the Gita, the Lord says, “The people are worshipping Me; but they worship Me in other ways, and they worship Me unknowing.” The Gita says, “Men of tamas worship ghosts and bhutas. A bhuta can be a disembodied spirit, but also it can just be a thing. He said, “Who would worship a ghost now?” If Freud is right, many of us are worshipping ghosts.

There is a short story by Mansfield, where a Colonel Pinner held his two daughters in a reign of terror.  He refused to let them get married, because he would have lost their service. Then he died, and one of them said to the other, “We’re free. We’re free at last.” A little later she said, “Father has been dead three days.”  “Father has been dead a week.” Then one day, one of them said, “Oh, don’t do that, father wouldn’t like that.” “Oh, no, of course not.”  Then gradually, the ghost of the father, so to say, completely dominates their conduct; and then they are living exactly as they lived under his tyranny, under the tyranny of, “Father wouldn’t have liked that.”

It’s a great tragedy. It’s very well-written. The clergyman who loves one of the daughters comes around, but the other sister says, “Oh, no, father didn’t want us to marry.” They’re worshipping a ghost. We can worship a thing. When the means becomes a value in itself, an end in itself, and we begin to worship the thing.  Then we forget that it is a means, and it becomes something of itself. This is a biro to write with, but it can stretch – it’s not really a very useful thing. We don’t use it very much, but it can do it. It’s rather heavy, and rather uncomfortable to write with, but it can stretch up.  Here’s another pen, this is made of pure silver. A knight is engraved on it with the Chinese characters of a sutra. This is also rather heavy to write with – a beautiful thing, but it’s heavy to write with, but then when this cheap plastic pen comes up, I begin to feel, “You can’t stretch.”  It says, “I can write.”  “But you can’t stretch out.” “Anyway, you’re cheap plastic. You’re not made of silver. You haven’t got anything engraved on you.” “Look at that pathetic little bit of guilt ornament.”  We’re forgetting the purpose – this is much more comfortable to write with.

If we begin to worship something, we begin to worship the means, and forget that it is only a means.  The Flat-Earth society is still going. That was a group founded a very long time ago – people who were really disturbed at the thought that the Earth was round.  Now it’s getting very difficult to maintain the view; but the group has become an end in itself. It continues. People meet their friends and they’re saying, “Now, we never said the Earth was flat like a piece of paper.  We always knew there were hills, and so, on it.  And, if you look in one of your books, you’ll see that the Earth is described as a flattened sphere, it’s flattened at the poles. Really, there’s little difference between us; there’s been exaggeration on both sides, you see. We say it’s flattish, and you’re saying, it’s flatter.”

In that way, the group, which has entirely lost its purpose, is still able to continue – because it’s become a purpose in itself. When a spiritual group was very poor, the altar cloth was piece of undyed cloth. Then one day, the teacher remarked that, when the mind is very disturbed, to meditate on the colour blue was a great help in pacifying the mind.  This is something which is well-known as an oral tradition in many mystical lines. He says the best colour for an altar cloth is blue. This remark was taken down like others, but at the time they couldn’t afford this, and therefore undyed cloth went on and the remark was forgotten. They had the plain cheap piece of cloth, and the early disciple whose job it was to put it on, used to put on his cheap cloth and sing, “With this wonderful embroidered cloth…”

But then, a new member looked through the old records and came across this remark by the teacher. He had a beautiful silk blue cloth made, embroidered with the mantra of the god whose little image used to stand on the cloth. He came up to them and said, “Look, you’ve got it all wrong.  If you people read your old records that you’re supposed to, you’d know the altar cloth should be blue.  Now I have made this beautiful view blue cloth. I had it embroidered with the mantra and I’m going to present it.

But the man in charge of the class said he couldn’t present it.  “But, look, let me show you what it is.” “I don’t want to see it.” he replied, “You said, rightly or wrongly, that someone has written, rightly or wrongly, that someone thought they heard our teacher say that. But I was there. I know that our teacher just had that plain cloth and that’s what we’ll keep.”

So there it stopped, and finally the new member had to go to the head disciple, and he said what had happened.  He said, “It’s no good.  I can’t now concentrate at all in the devotional meeting. I can’t think of the mantra. I can’t think of the prayers. I can’t do the meditation. All I’m thinking of is, ‘That cloth is wrong; it’s wrong, it’s wrong’.” Finally, the head disciple went to the man who kept the cloth and said, “Now, this is what’s happened.” The man said, “We were both there.  We know what the teacher did. Once we start changing the tradition, even in one tiny aspect, it will all come down. This is an attack on our whole tradition.”

The chief disciple said, ”Now we were both there, weren’t we? We’ve both been here a long time. It’s not really an attack on our whole tradition, is it?” The man said, “No.” He said, “Now, you’ve got to accept this – put the blue cloth on.”  So the blue cloth was put on.  But after some weeks, the new member, again, went to the head disciple, who said to him, “What’s the matter now?  You have what you want.” He said, ”It’s no good. I can’t concentrate. I can’t think of the mantras. I can’t do the meditations. I can’t enter into the prayer. All I’m thinking of is, ‘It’s right, it’s right, it’s right’.” The head disciple said, “Yes. Now then, we will put the blue cloth away until the other one wears out. Then we’ll have the blue cloth. We’ve both learned something. We’ve learned that blue is the right colour. You were quite right.  But perhaps you’ve learned something too. It’s easy to worship a cloth.”

Men of tamas worship ghosts or things.  The men of rajas worship powers, things they can’t specify very often. Our teacher studied the life of Napoleon and he said, “He’s pursuing something, and he’s not sure what it is, but he’s pursuing it.” The men of sattwa worship the devas.  The Gita says, “All these forms of worship are worship of God.”  People do worship; even the people who say they worship nothing. They are worshipping, even if it’s only a glass tube in which one lives.  As it’s been said, one can construct a little glass tube around oneself and worship  that. That must be protected and preserved. This is the sthana – one’s stance or status or standing. Medhatithi had this great status in the world; and then Indra, disguised as a ram, tore him away from it. He says, in the verse later, “You have served me for many years with tapas, and this is why I have come down as a ram to you.”

Then Indra declares universality and one of the verses is, (It comes in similar words, not the same, in the Rig Veda – it’s the first reference to Maya in the holy literature. The Rig Veda is the oldest Veda)  “I am the Light, the One. I appear as manifesting Myself as many by My maya.” It’s a plural: “… by my mayic powers. I fear nothing. I am in all, as the Inner Controller, as the Witness of all.” This is an early reference to manifestation creation by maya. In the New Testament it’s referred to as, ‘the Word’. Shri Shankara also refers to a doctrine,  “The whole world arises from Word alone.”

We can say, “What is creation from word.  Words create nothing.”  We can see some examples.  There is creation by word at the beginning of Shakespeare’s plays. The world is created by words. Most actors, and especially opera singers, have a mania for reminiscence. They’re always telling their past lives to people who know it already. From the point of view within the play, it’s irrelevant; but the purpose is to create the world in the audience.

The beginning of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, there is a young man, Orlando, and Adam, who’s been a faithful retainer in the family for a long time. He says, ”As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion.” Now, by that word, ‘Adam’ addressed to the old man, he’s created, “Ah, this is Adam.” Then he begins to tell the story of how the father, Sir Rowland de Boys, an aristocratic name, died and left him in the care of his elder brother and gave him only a tiny legacy, and so on.  The world is being created in front of us by words, creation by word.

Sometimes as in Romeo and Juliet, there’s a formal creation. There’s a prologue in which the chorus speaks, “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona; from ancient grudge, break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” A world has been created. Verona is the city with an ancient history. The world is created with its history behind it, which is why it’s technically called beginningless.  ‘Two households’, two great families. These are created by the words. It’s established. It’s first accepted and then established. It’s accepted by the audience, by a conscious and voluntary suspension of disbelief. Then finally it becomes established as the audience begin to feel intensely into the events that are going on in front of them.

Creation by word has no independent reality, but it is not meaningless, because it is beautiful. ‘Indra by his mayic powers appears as many’.  This is not a real creation because he’s saying, “I am one appearing as many.” There are many contradictions in this account. He says, ”I’m afraid of nothing. I fear nothing”, but later on, he says, ”If one is afraid, it is I who am afraid. It is I who make him afraid.” This is an account of maya, the accounts or even the very early accounts show us that it was an illusory projection – because they contain these contradictions, which are acceptable and not unreasonable in an illusion, but which in reality couldn’t be so.  This is creation by the word.

Then he says, ”I cannot be attained by works. Not by knowledge of scripture, not by many fasts, nor by good works many times practised. He who knows Me in the space within the heart becomes like this.” ‘Not by works’. A medieval commentator commented on Saint Paul’s sentence, “… snatched up to the third heaven. Whether in the body, or out of the body, I know none.” He says, ”If Paul had seen a poor man who needed help nearby, he would’ve done well to turn his back on the invitation by the Lord and help that poor man.”

But if this is so, then there would’ve been no great letter by Paul.  If this is so, Beethoven would never have written any of his music, because there were many poor people when Beethoven lived. If this is so, Newton would not have done his scientific researches, because there were many poor people where Newton lived. Furthermore, it assumes somehow that God will not be able to do anything for that poor man unless Paul turns back.” Our teacher said, ”The mystic who has these experiences, and then writes the letters that Paul wrote afterwards, is doing as great a service as any service in the world.”

The commentator on this Upanishad says, “These good works lead to a particular result, and only that result, but the Lord is universal.”  The good works produce their reward, but they don’t produce spiritual peace of themselves. Christ’s injunction to feed the hungry, to look after the sick and the orphans has been fulfilled here on a national scale by the welfare state. It’s been done on a huge scale. This has happened before in Ashoka’s India, which lasted some time, and again in Constantinople under Justinian. It became a cult to found orphanages and places for the homeless. There was a centre, where prostitutes who wish to leave the profession could be rehabilitated and they could be trained and found jobs. It happened then under Buddhism under Ashoka and Christianity with Justinian. It’s happened today on a secular background.

Somehow, although we have the reward – at least other nations think we have the reward, sitting on a goldmine of North Sea oil and another goldmine of coal – and yet, somehow, we are more peevish. Some Yugoslav journalists said, “I knew they were British, because they’d somehow wangle themselves into the best seats in the place and they’d seem to be very dissatisfied with them.”  It’s not brought peace and it’s not brought spiritual advance, the good works many times repeated.”

Indra says, “You will attain these particular results, but until you know Me by meditation in the space within the heart, you will not attain Me as universal. Who is it who slays; who takes captive? Who is the ram who bears everything?  It is I who appears in this form.  It is I who appears in all the forms.” He says, “I am you.” Then the commentator says, “You may think that Indra is a mere illusion, a projection of the individual.” To remove that possibility – the man who says there is no God, except the self of man – Shankara denies this strongly. “I am I, not the self of man.” Shankara says, “The attributes of man, body, prana, mind, and buddhi, are all denied in the [Self], which is universal, which is the Lord.”  “Do you see that you are I? I am you. I am I. See that you are I. Doubt no more. Before you were ignorant, but now you are aware, doubt no further.”  This is what’s technically called in Yoga, faith. Faith doesn’t mean believing in something for which we have no grounds; but it means that, having grounds and believing, we then prevent that belief from becoming shadowed, obscured, or shaken.

Now, to give an example, an American physicist became interested in fire walking.  In the Guinness Book of Records, it records walking on a bank of fire, 25 foot long.  So he studied the phenomenon and he examined the drops of water, which sometimes fall on a very hot plate.  This happens in a steel works sometimes, the steel suddenly cool when the water is dropped on. Normally, when drop of water lands on a hot plate, it’s vaporized; it turns into steam in just three or four seconds.  But when the plate is very hot, about 300 degrees centigrade, the drops of water skid about on the surface. They often remain for something like a minute. He studied this, and he found that what happens is that, the bottom of the drops of water turns into steam.  That makes a little cushion, like a hovercraft. The rest of the water is not in contact with the hot plate, and it skids about, and then very slowly, the water part turns into steam; but it enables it to survive for something like a minute. He calculated the moisture on the foot. A normal amount of sweat on the foot would be sufficient; so the feet would come down alternately to make this cushion of steam.  And this would prevent the skin of the foot from actually coming into contact with these burning coals or the very hot metal.

He made the calculations, and he made the observations. Then he writes, “Having always been amazed by stories about people walking on hot coals, and having now become a firm believer in this effect, I set up a five-foot bed of hot coals for such a walk. I suddenly found it’s remarkably easy to believe in physics when it is on paper, but remarkably hard to believe in when the safety of one’s own feet is at stake.  As a matter of fact, walking on hot coals would be such a supreme test of one’s true belief in what one had learned that I had suggested graduate schools might substitute it for the doctorate examination in physics. On one side of the pit of red-hot coals would be a line of fresh PhD candidates. On the other side would be the department chairman with a handful of certificates. If a graduate student really believed in physics, he would stride across the coals without hesitation.  I had to try it myself.  Clutching my faded copy of Resnick’s physics in one hand, I strode over the five feet of hot coal. Apparently, I am a true believer in physics. I have to report, however, that my feet did get a bit hot.”

This is an example of calculations made with absolute precision; yet when the time came, he found he wasn’t sure whether he believed in it or not.  Our teacher said, “It must change the whole life, and every detail of the life – to know Indra in the space within the heart; the meditation on the space within the heart, the chakra in the heart, where the ribs meet. There is a space. If the attention is turned down here, and kept there and he recalls a space, he becomes aware of the space.” If you would like to try just for a minute: “He who knows Me in the space within the heart, becomes what I am.” OM.