What is heaven, the intermediate world and the earth? Intermediate world is known as antarikṣa or antarikṣaloka. The question is who pervades these three worlds? Obviously, it can only be Brahman, as He alone is omnipresent. This has already been explained in the introduction to this section, with the help of Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad. Is there any remote possibility, that each of these worlds is presided over by someone else? No, because it is not said so in Upaniṣad-s. But, why should we rely on Upaniṣad-s alone? Brahman is subtle and cannot be seen and can only be realized. Upaniṣad-s are nothing but personal experiences of various sages and saints. They cannot be wrong and hence we go with what Upaniṣad-s say. What are these three worlds? These worlds are the places where individual souls sojourn. In earth, these souls are active, in the mid region these souls are rested in not-so-comfortable situations and in the heaven these souls rest comfortably. These three worlds correspond to three states of human consciousness, active state, dream state and deep sleep state. These souls are only rested in these places, only to continue with the process of births and deaths.
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (III.14.2) also confirms this. “All this is Brahman (sarvaṁ khalavidaṁ brahma; sarvaṁ idam- all this (everything); khalu - undoubtedly; brahma – Brahman). Everything comes from Him and goes back to Him. Therefore, one should quietly meditate on Him. Each person has a mind of his own. What a person wills in his present life, he becomes that when he leaves this world (this is because such thoughts get deeply embedded in his subconscious mind, which is the store house of karmic imprints). One should bear this in mind and meditate accordingly.” The verse speaks about human mind. Depending upon the nature of thought processes, one’s character is determined. One’s thoughts, character and conduct are reticulated. When we think good, our nature also becomes good. What is meant by thinking good? It means, not hurting others feelings, shedding non-essential ego, pride, prejudice, etc. The verse also says meditate accordingly and what exactly this means? Meditation is a process by which individual consciousness is united with the Self. Is there any specific posture for meditation? Any posture that is comfortable to the meditator is a good posture. Posture and meditation are interrelated, because meditation is a cognitive process related only to the mind. When the mind needs to be stabilized during high intensity meditation, body should not be moved. Sage Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtra (II.46) says that one’s sitting posture should be steady and comfortable while meditating (sthirasukham āsanam).
Kṛṣṇa also explains this in Bhagavad Gītā (VIII.6), “Thinking whatever entity while leaving his body at the time of death, that alone one attains in the next birth, as he is always absorbed in that thought.” Here, thoughts do not mean temporary thoughts. What Kṛṣṇa refers to is not day to day thoughts. Such thoughts are transitory in nature. What Kṛṣṇa speaks about is excogitation (thinking deeply about a subject over a period of time). That is why Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (II.ii.6) says, “Meditate on that Self to go beyond darkness”. Darkness is māyā, which can be removed through knowledge and contemplating on the Self within and always the former comes first and later comes at the end of knowledge. This is the correct way to go beyond darkness.
Who can attain liberation? First criterion to attain liberation is freeing one’s mind from dualities. What is freeing the mind? First, the concept of ahaṁ (I) should go. When Brahman is omnipresent where does this I come from? It is due to ego. As already discussed many times in this site, ego is of two types. One is essential ego, which is a necessity to identify ourselves. Another is non-essential or inflated ego, which is not necessary for existence. This ego leads to pride, prejudice, etc. When Brahman is omnipresent, where is the question of I, you, etc? Through, this may appear to be impracticable for implementation, when put into practice one will surely realize the difference. A little bit of effort is necessary on our part to implement this and this is part of proper meditative techniques. Meditation is not merely a practice to contemplate about something. It is a practice to explore ourselves within. This is the first stage. In the second stage, what we are trying to identify within ourselves, is identified (Self is realized). Third stage is yoking what is identified within us, with the Cosmic Self. Meditation should have a purpose and a goal. A few minutes of daily practice will cause huge aesthetical transformation in our thought process. The results of generating this kind of thought process is mentioned in Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (II.ii.7). “If Brahman is realized both as cause and effect as his own Self, all peculiarities of his character and all his doubts disappear.”
Therefore, liberation cannot be attained only by remaining devotional. For liberation, the Self within should be realized. Self within is the individual consciousness and when this individual consciousness is yoked with Supreme Consciousness, that is liberation.
Heaven, etc are not the abodes of Brahman. He cannot be restricted, limited or defined. He is omnipresent. How can an omnipresent be described? In order to enable us to understand His Grandeur, Puruṣasūkta says, “He has thousands of heads, thousands of eyes, thousands of feet, etc” We will not be able to understand, when it is said that He is infinite and eternal. We need objective narrations to describe Him, so that we can understand His Supremacy. But, we fail to understand the subtle conveyances and stay attuned only with gross descriptions, which are used purely for the purpose of understanding and not for liberation.
Having this in mind, Swami Vivekananda said, “Awake and arise”. It is a call from him to make us understand this reality.
Can an individual soul be referred as Brahman? No, an individual soul cannot be Brahman. Why? Because it has limitations. What are the limitations? It is not omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. For this single reason, individual soul cannot be the Self. If this is the case, then why do we say that we have to look within? Within the individual soul, the Self always remains. An individual soul is where the Self remains veiled by the ignorance of māyā. Further, no where it is said that individual soul veiled by māyā is the Self.
It is implied that the Self within the individual soul can be realized only if māyā is transcended. How māyā can be transcended? It is only through knowledge? Who will teach us this knowledge? Only a realized Guru alone can teach this knowledge. Here is the difference between a Guru and a guru. A Guru is the one who teaches only about Brahman. He shows us the path of liberation. His main aim is to liberate us. A guru is the one who lays foundation to pursue the spiritual path. Is there any difference between spiritual path and the ritual path? A whole lot of difference is there. When perfection is attained in ritualistic path, one should move forward to the spiritual path. In spiritual path, we have to shed all kinds of external worship. Though it is a tough choice, it is the reality. External worship belongs to dualism and by remaining in dualism, we cannot attain liberation. Only at the end of perfectly understanding Advaita philosophy, liberation can be thought of. This supreme knowledge is imparted through Brahma Sūtra.
There are two types of knowledge. One is the knowledge about Brahman, which is the spiritual knowledge. When one attains mastery in this knowledge, he is liberated. Spiritual path does not give anything except liberation, which should be sole aim of everyone, as transmigration is always painful. This knowledge is Absolute knowledge says Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad and the other knowledge is the knowledge about the material world, which has nothing to do with spiritual knowledge. Both these types of knowledge can be attained concurrently. The purpose of this aphorism is to explain that spiritual knowledge need not be pursued independently. Material knowledge is required for our existence. In other words, one has to practice both karma yoga and jñāna simultaneously. It is like to and fro journey between home and work.
What is the purpose of knowing Brahman? As being discussed, it leads to liberation, which is the final stage. What is the difference between knowing the self and the Self? Typically speaking, there is nothing called knowing the self. It is always about knowing the Self. By knowing the Self, we are able to see the material world through His eyes. This is known as universal brotherhood. In fact, it is not merely universal brotherhood, it is much beyond that. Universal brotherhood is restricted to sentient beings. When Brahman looks at the material world, for Him everything is the same, be it sentient or insentient.
This is explained in Nārāyaṇa sūktam, which says, “antarbahiśca tatsarvaṁ vyāpya nārāyaṇaḥ sthitaḥ”. This means that Brahman prevails both inside and outside (our physical body). Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Śiva, etc are the corporeal names given to Brahman to satiate our ego. Upaniṣad-s never give any particular name or form to Brahman. Names and forms are given to Brahman out of ignorance and by remaining only with those names and forms, we forget the Ultimate Brahman, who is both the cause and the effect. Forgetting the Ultimate (the Self or Brahman) is not only due to spiritual ignorance, but also due to delusion cast by māyā (which is part of spiritual ignorance), which is nothing but Brahman’s own power. Māyā is the tool available with Brahman for evaluating us for the purpose of liberation. Those who fail in this evaluation, continue to transmigrate. As long as we do not pass His test, the knower (the practitioner) and the Known (the Self) remain as two separate entities. This is dualistic worship, which does not give liberation. We have to cross this stage and how to cross this ocean of saṁsāra (saṁsāra means undergoing transmigration) is explained in Brahma Sūtra and hence understanding Brahma Sūtra is extremely important.