Unity in Diversity
the view from the Upanishads – part 4
The Jivatma, the personal self
Should the Self indeed be this threefold expression of the deepest reality, from which all nature springs, where exactly should we as individuals fit into such a cosmic scale of hierarchical relationships? How may we relate this teaching to ourselves and to our mundane experiences of the world?
The world in which we live—perhaps any world-system—maintains a riotous proliferation of living creatures: a seemingly limitless variety of species, let alone of individual identities. Moreover, we can perceive multitudes of beings in our environment which are not regarded as living by large numbers of people. From the blazing effulgence of the Sun to the apparent inertness of a piece of rock , the external experience of each conceals an evolving being advancing at its own pace down a locus of development: the essential, evolutionary path to realisation of Self.
In the Chhandogya, Uddalaka teaches that in the beginning there was only One without a second. "Let me be many, let me grow forth" thought the One. Ishvara willed the universe into being; in its earliest stages, it was produced in the form of three Devatas: fire, water and earth.
"Having entered these Devatas as Jivatma, I shall become manifest in name and form."
Chhandogya: VI, iii, 2
Having entered these, each of them became a trinity in turn: each three became nine—and so on and on. This process, pictured as the AUM streaking through the formless, generating form by power of tapas, through the shabda of sound in all its splendour, filled the Universes with triadic levels of being, each of which is a reflection of the level from which it came forth. Shabda is generative, inherent vibratory power (sound in ancient thought is believed to be a vibratory characteristic of the Akasha, or ether, rather than the air, as is thought by modern physics).
Name and Form
Having become manifest as Jivatma in name and form, it is implicit that the Jivatma, the personal monad or spark of being, is essentially Ishvara with name and form. The Jivatma is nothing more nor less than the individualisation and particularisation of Ishvara, who is in himself the Saguna Brahman. Form (rupa) implies substance; name (nama) is the frequency that reverberates throughout the auditorium of Spirit, that note which expresses the essential, vibratory structure of the individual. This is not to say that nama means the common name by which a person or a thing may be known to us in the language of the everyday milieu. To the contrary, the Jivatma, the inner person, is "not man, not woman, nor hermaphrodite". Svetasvatara: 10
Everyday names are but approximations to the real name of Jivatma, which is the tonal aggregation of vibrations emitted by the atomic composition of its form, the material object. The sound and the light of Jivatma blend into one perfect note, which is the true nature of the individual—and which is his true name. A clear apprehension of this celestial sound may only be attained through the deep meditation and concentration recommended by the Upanishadic sages that knowledge of Self may be achieved.
Knowledge of Self is hidden behind a veil of misperception. If we knew how to look, we would see the Self, clearly in its splendour; if we knew how to listen, we would hear it, ringing out the crystal note that signals its essential harmony. Together, the sounds of innumerable crystal beings ring out in the euphonic ecstasy of the whole, the collective union of Shiva and Shakti, of Ishvara and Maya, of Brahma and Aditi.
This magnificent symphony is but imperfectly heard by the sons and daughters of men. The grandest sound of sounds, the creative resonance of infinite compassion, the surge of a sonorous and mighty wave of light that sweeps across all sense is lost to us insofar as we have lost the will to hear.
[This article goes on to outline the role of Moksha, Liberation of the Spirit, as seen in the Upanishads.]
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