Three Upanishadic Riddles – Part 2


This is the one on Bhrighu. These three riddles that I’ve put together are related in the sense that they’re pointing to the same thing, but the method of presenting it is slightly different. As we said before, the thing is to read or hear the holy texts, and then one passage or one illustration, one example will strike, then that is the one to go into, to calculate. Normally, one would try to learn by heart a brief section on it, and then to meditate and go into this.

People think meditation is sort of dreaming. When people are imprisoned, sometimes when they’ve got an hour, they think, ‘Oh, I’m back home. Oh, yes, sunshine… going out, sailing the little model yachts with my kid on the lake. Oh, then when we get back, scones for tea’. It all becomes vivid and clear. Some prisoners say this is a good thing to do, you get away from it all. Others say, “No, you do get away from it all, but coming back, it’s worse than anything” – the illusion that you’ve created, and then you realize ‘I’m still caught here.’

Meditation is not dreaming of the unreal, it’s looking carefully and steadily. One example is this, which may give a little hint as to the idea of meditation. In India, if you want to see snakes or vultures, the way to do it is to go to some place where there are known to be a lot of snakes.  You’re told there’s a little rock on top of the hill, you tramp your way up with your blanket, then you sit down. There’s dead silence. You’ve made quite a racket getting up there. Nothing moves.

If you sit still, after about 10 minutes or less, things will start to move again. The great trampling monster has stopped. You’ve gone there perhaps to see the peacocks in the wild, but you don’t see any peacocks, you don’t see any snakes, you don’t see any vultures, but you sit still. Then you’ll be able to see a movement, you’ll see a snake. If you sit still for a couple of hours and you look around, you’ll see a vulture up there eyeing you speculatively. ‘You haven’t moved for quite a time, have you? I wonder if you’re a dying animal, and if you are, I’ll come down.’

If you go there and fall asleep, you won’t see anything. If you go there and sit there and keep on moving about – ‘What comes here? Where are they?’ You won’t see anything either. You’ve got to sit still, calmly, but alert. ‘Where are the peacocks?’ You can’t see them. You’ve got the trees with the creepers hanging down. If you keep still, one of those hanging creepers hanging from the tree will begin to move. It’s the close tail of the peacock, it looks just like it’s perched on the branch, it looks just like a hanging creeper.

Then he’ll start to move and you’ll see. A little in the same way in meditation; to sit calmly, but alertly. In relaxation, but alert. Not thinking, ‘What’s happening? Is something going to happen?’ and not falling asleep. Those two things. Now, would you read?

Reader: Bhrigu Varuni went to his father Varuna saying, “Sir, teach me Brahman.” He told him this: “Food, breath, the eye, the ear, mind, speech.” Then he said again to him, “That from whence these beings are born, that by which, when born, they live, that into which they enter at their death. Try to know that, this is Brahman.” He performed meditation. Having performed meditation, he perceived that food is Brahman for from food these beings are produced, by food when born, they live, and into food, they enter at their death.”

Having perceived this, he went again to his father Varuna saying, “Sir, teach me Brahman.” He said to him, “Try to know Brahman by meditation for meditation is the means of knowing Him.” He performed meditation. Having performed meditation, he perceived that breath is Brahman, for from breath these beings are born, by breath, when born, they live, into breath they enter at their death. Having perceived this, he went again to his father Varuna saying, “Sir, teach me Brahman.” He said to him, “Try to know Brahman by meditation for meditation is the means of knowing Brahman.”

TPL: Now, this, again. This is a translation by Max Müller, but he did translate it sympathetically, but even so, there are things which he didn’t understand because he was not an experimenter. The son goes to the father, “Sir, teach me Brahman.” Then the father gives him certain hints: food, speech, the eye, mind, and so on, and then he says, “Try to find it out from which all the beings come, by which they’re sustained, into which they finally return.”

He doesn’t tell him to practise meditation, but the boy practises meditation, which is known to be the means of seeking for Brahman. In this set, there’s a set of five: food, which we can say means matter. Their perception was that everything consumes everything else, matter is consuming matter. For instance, in burning, the things get consumed by the fire but they are transmuted, they change into other forms. The word ‘food’ is used to mean a chemical and other change.

It’s as though one thing is consuming another and changing it and that itself is consumed and it’s changed. This was their view of the physical. We can say that it corresponds, perhaps, to the solid phase of matter. Then the next realization he has is what’s called breath, but it means prana which means vital energy and our teacher sometimes compared it to electricity. We can say it’s energy. Just as today, we recognize that matter and energy are convertible so in their realization, first, there was solid matter, as you might say, and then the deeper level of that was that it was energy. Perhaps our physics today would confirm, or partially confirm, that but it’s important to realize that the yoga does not depend on experiments performed in an entirely different discipline. It depends on its own experiment, but our teacher did recommend keeping up with science to some extent as well as laypeople could do. He said, “It says it’s a training in thinking.”

He meditates first and he comes to see everything arises from matter, from material things. This is a materialist view of the universe. Our bodies consist of atoms. Everything consists of atoms; constantly changing, joining together, separating, consuming, changing their form. From the point of view of meditation, what does that mean? The first meditation then, and we can just try for two or three minutes to sit reasonably upright. Now to feel the body consisting of matter as part of the great cosmos consisting of that.

The spiritual realization is that there’s a unity, that there are direct connections between every phase of matter. Now to feel the body consciousness intensely, feel this, ‘I am here and I am part of this great cosmos of matter’. To feel that, if you’d like to just try.


He has this experience of being one with the universe of matter, but he goes back to his father, and he doesn’t explain, “I’ve had this experience.” He says, “Sir, teach me Brahman.”

Why doesn’t he explain? One superficial reason is this, that if we begin explaining things in terms of words, we begin to think those words are real, and then we begin to think that it’s all nothing but words. His father simply says, “Practise meditation.” He goes deeper into meditation and this time he perceives energy upholding the matter of the body and the universe. There’s energy. Again, perhaps our physics would not contradict this, but we have to find it in ourselves.

The body is not just matter, it’s held together in a living form by energy in a particular shape, and with a dynamism which still can’t be fully explained. It can’t be explained in material terms, although we make strenuous efforts to do so. Energy. Now we can begin to feel the energy in our body. We think of this point here. This time feel the body, but feel this point in the body as if there were a little flame burning here. That there was a light and there was an energy here which holds the body together. Now, again, if you’d like to try.


After this realization, he goes back again to his father. He doesn’t explain. He says, “Teach me Brahman,” and the father says, “Practise meditation for meditation is the means for knowing Brahman.” Then he practises further. He begins to go deeper. The world is a mental construct. In a sense, we know this. We know that what we see consists of the light rays. We make inferences from the light rays as to objects which are there, but in a sense, we know those objects consist of energy. Again, perhaps our physics can confirm that for us. That it is a mental construct which makes these objects appear so solid and so fixed, so determined. To see now the world as a mental projection, not simply of the individual mind, although the individual mind makes its individual projections in the forms of likes and dislikes, but by the cosmic mind. It’s a cosmic mental projection. We think, ‘Oh, well, how can that be so?’ It has to be verified by experiment. We experiment on the piece of the cosmos which is immediately available to us. Namely, our own selves.

Now going into ourselves and to seek to find what is the basis, for there is a mental basis to our physical feeling of existence. This is based on something mental. We think, ‘Oh, no, the mental thing, once you get a pin stuck into you, all the mental things will just go.’ That sticking of the pin, too, is part of the mental projection just as it is in a dream. We can see in a dream, the projections are mental creations.

When Berkeley reduced this view, which is of course well known in the West, Dr. Johnson was told this by Boswell who said, “You can’t refute Berkeley’s contention that everything we know is simply known in the mind. That is the only thing we know. It can’t be refuted.” Dr. Johnson said, “Sir, I refute him like this.” There was one of these little stone pillars and he gave it a tremendous kick, so he almost fell over. He said, “That shows that the reality is not just mental, doesn’t it?” It seems very conclusive, yes, that it’s not just something mental.

It’s been said that Dr. Johnson was very proud of that reply. That night he dreamt that he was arguing again with Boswell, and Boswell was saying, “You know all this world is a mental creation. It can’t be refuted.” In the dream, Dr. Johnson said, “Sir, I refute him thus,” and he gave this stone pillar a tremendous kick and he fell over, then he woke up. The same argument would apply. It would mean that the things in the dream were as real as the things in the waking state. There’d been the same succession. He didn’t tell his dream to Boswell, he thought it might confuse him.

It takes concentration to understand the possibility even that the world is a mental construct, but we have the analogy of the dream. We know that in dreams we can’t just walk through walls. The dreams have their own laws which are absolutely strict. If you like, we’ll try to feel in ourselves that this is a mental construct, that the world is a mental construct. Not of the individual mind, but that the whole thing is mental. Your physics again will tell you something like this, that reality is non-local. That is from the point of view of actual experience, it is only a theory, but we have to try to experience something like this. Then to feel in ourselves the mental currents which hold together and control the energy currents which hold together and control the apparent physical masses. Then again, if you’d like to try.


On this point, just going outside the Upanishad for a moment; that the world is a mental construct, if we read our New Testament carefully, which is very rarely done, we’ll notice how often Jesus says, when he performs His miracles, “Your faith has healed you.” He’s saying the world is a mental construct. When your mind, your mental idea is so strong and steady, that will be the world. You notice He says to one father who asked for his son to be healed, “Do you believe I can do this?” The man says, “Lord, I believe hell where belief falls short.” He’s not quite sure, and yet he believes because he’s come to ask for the help. If we read the gospel with attention with this point, we can see that Jesus is teaching that if a thought is single-minded, He says to His disciples, “If you say this is to happen and you have no doubt in your mind that it is happening, then it is done for you.”

This is the same thing as in Patanjali, this concentrated thought, and then when the concentration has been practised on the same thing, generally for a long time, all the associations and memories disappear. All the memories – ‘Oh, this can’t happen, this couldn’t happen.’ On the one hand, this is happening, “Oh, no, no, but it couldn’t really’ and on the other, ‘But it is’. ‘I’m not so sure’. When you have no doubt in your mind, that means memory would disappear in the concentration, then it is done for you.

I just offer that as maybe a means for Christian people to catch the mind on this point. If we read the gospel carefully with this in mind: “Why, woman, what faith you have. Let it be done for you.” Faith there means the conviction without any other thought in the mind that the world is a mental construct. We can examine these things and experiment on ourselves. We’re aware the effects that thoughts have on ourselves. My teacher didn’t like to pass on reminiscences, however this may be instructive.

When I was 15, I had never done any sport. As an experiment, a certain kind of experiment, I decided to practise some sport and see if I could become expert after never having done any. I did practise pretty hard and I did get very senior teachers, a diploma from the world headquarters of that rather demanding and technical sport. It took a tremendous lot of work. I now know that I have an artery missing in both legs. It’s unusual, but it’s not unheard of. About one person in 20 apparently.

If I had known that before I started, I should have thought, ‘Oh, well, for God’s sake. I haven’t done any sport before, then I’m 15, and I’ve got an artery missing for goodness sake. What possibility is there of getting any good at anything?’ I didn’t know that, fortunately, and so I was able to get to a fairly high degree of expertise in that very demanding sport. I only give this as an example of how our ideas of possibility and impossibility depend very much on our mental setup, on our convictions; what can be and what can’t be.

There is a short skit by Edgar Allan Poe called The Thousand and First Night. That’s after Scheherazade has entertained the king with the Arabian nights entertainment with all those genies in bottles and all the wonders of that. On the next night, the king says, “Tell us another one. I’ve pardoned you now, you’re not going to be executed. Tell us another one, they were awfully good,” so she begins to tell him about an iron ship that floats in water.

The king says, “What?” She says, “Yes, and then there’s a box and they twiddle some things on it and a voice comes out of it.” The king says, “Oh, well, that’s ridiculous.” Then she says, “Yes. Then there’s a glass globe, and then there are two wires leading to it. Suddenly the glass globe begins to blaze with light.” The king says, “Really, this is so idiotic. Cut off her head at once.” He’d swallowed all the genies and all that, but when it came to the actual developments, they were totally impossible. This is an example of what he thought was possible and what he thought was impossible.

The doctrine here is that the world is a mental construct, and if we go deeply into this, in the case of Christians, we can use one of the texts. I might just add here, a yogic thing which can be of help to people who are in great depression or in great worry, or fear, or anxiety. Supposing you have a beloved son or a beloved mother, or someone to whom you’re very closely attached and they go in an aeroplane, and then you hear over the radio, because these things are reported all over the world, because they are so rare that there’s been a crash on a particular line and you don’t know whether it refers to the plane that they were on. You make all the enquiries, you ring up, and they say, “No, we won’t have any news until tomorrow morning.” You have done all you can so there’s nothing to do, but just go to bed now, sleep through, and then in eight o’clock in the morning, then you can find out, but that’s not what actually happens. What actually happens is we spend the night awake, hoping and fearing, and fearing and hoping in a circle. What yoga will tell us to do in such a case is to make a resolution: ‘I’m not going to sleep tonight. No use lying in bed twisting and turning. I’m not going to sleep tonight.’

Get out the tracksuit or something like that and make arrangements to be able to make coffee every two or three hours and take up something you like, for instance, the New Testament and look for these examples of what Jesus says in the New Testament about faith and what he meant by faith and spend the night in that way. You can, if you feel very tired, lie down. You might even sleep, but that’s not the objective.

Sit up and study and go deeply into some spiritual truth. This is the way to meet depression, anxiety, and fear. Going to some spiritual truths like this, if necessary, the whole night long. To this, we give as an example: then after you have studied for two or three hours, then meditate on what he [Jesus] said. “If you have faith, even as much as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Be moved’.”  “Oh”, they say, “Oh, but that’s a Greek proverb. It means mountains are trouble, that’s all. It’s not literal.”

If we were to read carefully, as sometimes the scholars fail to do, we will see that in one of the gospels, it’s not a mountain at all, it’s a tree. “This tree will be moved.” They haven’t yet found a Greek proverb saying a tree meets difficulties. It’s perfectly obvious that he meant it literally, but these are the ways to meet psychological crises of great temptation, for instance. Not to spend hours trying to fight it off. ‘I can get away with it. Oh, but it would be wrong. Well, I can get away with it and I’ll never do it again. Now, I’ll just make my killing now, and then it’ll be all right. Oh, but you might get caught. No, I can’t possibly get caught because of this and this and this.’ You can spend a night or two nights or a week like that, but instead to meet it in this way. These things have such power in them when we go into them. The temptations, the anxieties, the fears will drop away, they become secondary. He performed tapas meditation. He saw the things consist of the mind in the universe.

When things are going against us, then to see that there is a purpose. “Oh, that’s not very easy to see.” How can you possibly say that? For instance, you’ve been very kind to somebody, you’ve helped them a lot, and they owe everything to you, and then they turn on you. This can happen to us. You do everything for people, make sacrifices for them, you help them, and then when they’re in a position, they either simply ignore all what you’ve done, or they are even actively hostile.

There’s a terrifying Persian verse, “I never taught anyone archery who did not end up shooting at me.” The world is not necessarily as bad as that, but we can find something. Very often these very kindly benefactors are possessive. They want to dominate. It’s for the sake of the other person, of course, but they want to dominate. Then that terrible shock of disappointment which seems to break your faith in human nature.

What is the answer? Just throw yourself into some spiritual endeavour, and if instead of regretting and the anger and the remorse and the bitterness, if instead of that we could throw ourselves into a spiritual endeavour of some kind, then that becomes endowed with all that energy and things can be achieved which otherwise couldn’t be achieved. I have had this experience of, well, as I thought anyway, doing a lot for someone, and then the promise which had been made was completely ignored, and then having the hint from my teacher to throw myself into a piece of translation which was extremely difficult. I used to try it every six months or so and think ‘Oh, God!’ after a few days’ and I just, ‘No, this is too much, it’s too difficult,’ but after that, I thought, ‘No!’ and I carried it through. A few months and it was published and it made a great opening for me.

When I look back, I think, ‘Yes, if I hadn’t had that disappointment, probably I would never have done that. I would never have had the energy to do it, so I approve of it. That was necessary, but at the time, it was very bitter.’ Now I think of myself, looking back over those 20 or 30 years to that time, I’m seeing my younger self – furious – and I’m saying to him, ‘Look, this is good for you. Make something of it.’ Him saying, ‘You… this is shocking what’s happened. It’s shaken my whole faith in human nature, I’ll never believe in anybody again.’

I’m saying to him, ‘This is good for you.’ He says to me, ‘You old b…d” and I say to him, “You young idiot.” There is a purpose which can be used. Sometimes we can rise to it, sometimes not, but when the adverse circumstances come to us, when we’re going to be executed tomorrow, now’s the time. Now, if you’d like to meditate on this, that there’s a cosmic purpose – not just that the world is a mental construct, but that it is purposeful. We ourselves are in that purpose and we can make something out of this purpose. We have a role which we can play now in our circumstances, whatever they are, and we should seek for that role and try to enter into the purpose.




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