Knowledge Within and Without: The Upanishadic Tradition (1)

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All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never-ending cycles all things and phenomena – Nikola Tesla

Teilhard de Chardin:

In the eyes of the physicist, nothing exists legitimately, at least up to now, except the without of things. The same intellectual attitude is still permissible in the bacteriologist, whose cultures (apart from substantial difficulties) are treated as laboratory reagents. But it is still more difficult in the realm of plants. It tends to become a gamble in the case of a biologist studying the behavior of insects or coelenterates. It seems merely futile with regard to the vertebrates. Finally, it breaks down completely with man, in whom the existence of a within can no longer be evaded, because it is a subject of a direct intuition and the substance of all knowledge. It is impossible to deny that, deep within ourselves, “an interior” appears at the heart of beings, as it were seen through a rent. This is enough to ensure that, in one degree or another, this “interior” should obtrude itself as existing everywhere in nature from all time. Since the stuff of the universe has an inner aspect at one point of itself, there is necessarily a double to its structure, that is to say in every region of space and time-in the same way for instance, as it is granular: co-extensive with their Without, there is a Within to things.

Both Indian thought and modern scientific thought accept a fundamental unity behind the world of variety. That basic unitary reality evolves into all that we see around us in the world. This view is a few thousand years old in India; We find it in the Samkhyan and Vedantic schools of Indian thought; and they expound it very much on the lines followed by modern thought. In his address to the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893, Vivekananda said:

All science is bound to come to this conclusion in the long run, Manifestation and not creation, is the word of science today, and the Hindu is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language, and with further light from the latest conclusions of science.

The Samkhyan school uses two terms to represent Nature or Pradhana: Prakrti denoting Nature in its unmodified state, and Vikrti denoting nature in its modified state. The Vedanta similarly speaks of Brahman as the inactive state, and Maya or Shakti as the active state of one and the same primordial non-dual reality. But the Brahman of the Vedanta is the unity of both the spiritual and the non-spiritual, the non-physical and the physical aspects of the universe.

So as the first answer to the question, ‘What is the world?’ we get this child’s answer in his growing knowledge of the discrete entities and events of the outer world and their inter-connections. The second answer is the product of scientific thought, which gives us the knowledge of the one behind the many. All the entities and events of the world are but the modifications or evolutions of one primordial basis reality, be it nature, space- time or cosmic dust.

Although modern scientific thought does not yet have a place for any spiritual reality or principle, scientists like Chardin and Julian Huxley are trying to find a proper place for the experience of the spiritual in the scientific picture of the universe. When this is achieved, the scientific picture, which is close to Vedanta already, will become closer still, and the synthesis of the knowledge of the ‘without’ and the ‘within’ of things will give us the total view of the universe. This is wisdom according to Vedanta, whereas all partial views are just pieces of knowledge or information only.

The Upanishads deal with this ‘within’ of things. Theirs in fact, is the most outstanding contribution on this subject in the human cultural legacy. They term this aspect of reality of things pratyak chaitanya or pratyak atman or pratyak tattva; and they contain the fascinating account of the stages by which the human mind rose from crude beginnings to clear, wholly spiritual heights in the realization of this reality.

How does the world look when we view it from the outside? We seek an answer from the physical sciences. How does it look when we view from the inside? We seek an answer from the non-physical sciences, including the science of religion. And philosophy, as understood in the Upanishadic tradition, is the synthesis of these two answers: Brahmavidyā is Sarvavidyāpratishthā, as the Mundaka Upanishad puts it.

क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञयोर्ज्ञानं यत्तज्ज्ञानम् मतं मम

kṣetrakṣetrajñayorjñānaṃ yattajjñānam mataṃ mama

“The unified knowledge of the ‘without’ and the ‘within’ of things is true knowledge according to Me, as Krishna says in the Gita” (Bhagavad-Gita chapter 13, 2nd Shloka).

From this total viewpoint there is neither inside nor outside; they are relative concepts depending upon some sort of a reference point, e.g.the body; as such, they move within the framework of relativity. Reality knows neither ‘inside’ nor ‘outside’; it is ever full. But these relative concepts are helpful in our approach to the understanding of the total reality.

Thus we find that our knowledge of the manifold of experience the idam, also involves something else, namely, the unity behind the manifold. This unity behind the manifold, which is not perceptible to the senses, is indicated by the term adah meaning ‘that’, indicating something far away, unlike the ‘this’ of the sense experience. ‘This’ is the correlative of ‘that’; ‘this’ is the changeable aspect of reality; ‘that’ is its unchangeable aspect. If ‘this’ refers to something given in sense experience, ‘that’ refers to something transcendental, beyond the experience of the senses. To say ‘this’ therefore also implies at the same time something that is beyond ‘this’. This is an effect as such, it is visible and palpable; and behind it lies the cause, the invisible and the impalpable. Adah, ‘that’, represents the invisible behind the visible, the transcendental behind the empirical, a something that is beyond time and space. In religion this something is called ‘God’. In philosophy it is called tat or adah, That, Brahman, the ultimate Reality, the cause, the ground, and the goal of the universe.

So this verse first tells us that beyond and behind the manifested universe is the reality of Brahman, which is the fullness of pure Being; it then tells us about this world of becoming which, being nothing but Brahman, is also the ‘Full’. From the view of total Reality, it is all ‘fullness’ everywhere, in space-time as well as beyond space-time. Then the verse adds:

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवाशिष्यते

pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāśiṣyate

‘From the Fullness of Brahman has come the fullness of the universe, leaving alone Fullness as the remainder.’

What, then, is the point of view or level from which the sentiments of this verse proceed? It is that of the total Reality, the Absolute and the Infinite, in which as we have read earlier, the ‘within’ and the ‘without’ of things merge. The Upanishads call it as ocean of Sachchidānanda, the unity of absolute existence, absolute awareness, and absolute bliss. Itself beyond all distinctions of time and space, it yet manifests itself through all such distinctions. To the purified vision of the Upanishadic sages, this whole universe appeared as the fullness of Being, which was, which is, which shall ever be. In the Bhagavad-Gita (VII. 26) Krshna says:

वेदाहं समतीतानि वर्तमानानि चार्जुन ।
भविष्याणि च भूतानि मां तु वेद न कश्चन ॥

vedāhaṃ samatītāni vartamānāni cārjuna |
bhaviṣyāṇi ca bhūtāni māṃ tu veda na kaścana ||

‘I, O Arjuna, know the beings that are of the past, that are of the present, and that are to come in future; but Me no one knows.’

That fullness of the true Me, says Krshna, is beyond all these limited categories, such as space and time, cause and effect, and substance and attribute.

Indian Classical Music

किन्तु वयमिदानीं ते न शक्नुमः परिचर्यां कर्तुम् : भूयिष्ठां बहुतरां ते नमउक्तिं नमस्कारवचनं विधेम नमस्कारेण परिचरेम ।

kintu vayamidānīṃ te na śaknumaḥ paricaryāṃ kartum : bhūyiṣṭhāṃ bahutarāṃ te namauktiṃ namaskāravacanaṃ vidhema namaskāreṇa paricarema |

But now I am not in a position to serve you; I offer you many verbal salutations; I serve you through salutations.

Hindustani Classical Music (2)

Music has been a cultivated art in India for at least three thousand years. It flows from the essential element of chant in ancient Vedic religious expression. More than any other musical form, the Indian raga tradition structurally and acoustically corresponds to and embodies the spiritual/religious experience. It offers a direct experience of the consciousness of the ancient world, with a range of expression rarely accessible today. All Indian instruments are played as extensions of the ultimate, because most natural, instrument — the human voice — that chants the sacred poems, mantras, and invocations of the gods.

In India music is practiced by members of hereditary guilds, often families, whose traditions remain unbroken for hundreds of years. It is the chamber music of an aristocratic society where the livelihood of the artist does not depend upon his ability and will to amuse the crowd. The musician’s education begins in infancy and he must absorb, thoroughly understand, and reproduce all that preceded him before adding his unique perspective to the living tradition. The listener is expected to respond with an art of his own: he must be technically critical, schooled in appreciation of the spirit of musical experience, contribute an attitude of reverence for the tradition, have a desire to “commune with the gods,” a preference for conviction over prettiness, authenticity over legitimacy, and an appreciation of the song apart from the singer/player.

The European musical scale has been reduced to twelve fixed notes by merging close intervals such as D sharp and E flat — a compromise of necessity in the development of the mathematical harmony that made possible the triumphs of Western orchestration, causing the Western keyboard, unlike instruments from other musical cultures, to be inherently “out of tune.” The Indian scale, on the other hand, covers the same tonal range using a twenty-two note scale to develop a purely melodic art which retains the advantages of pure intonation and modal coloring. What is fixed in Indian music is a group of intervals. The precise vibration value of a note depends on its position in a progression, not on its relation to a tonic. Following the Eastern idea that the emptiness enclosed by the form of a vessel is the actual purpose, essence, or soul of that vessel, the interval more than the note is heard as producing the continuity of sound that is the essence of music. In the Indian tradition the interval is what is sung or played as distinct from the vertical harmonic division of European song and the nature of the sound of keyed and fixed-key instruments. The quarter-tone or sruti is the microtonal interval between two successive scale notes, but as raga themes rarely employ two and never three of the seven primary scale notes in succession, microtones are heard only in ornamentation of the theme. They reveal that which lies unmanifest in the emptiness that is the heart of the vessel of melody composed of the primary scale notes. Sruti also designates the word of the guru, impossible to write but revealed by teacher to student in hushed tones or, more often, as an expression of the essence of understanding from one heart or consciousness to another.

The Indian song form, or raga (literally, coloring or passion), may be best defined as a melody-mold or ground plan of a song. Origins of the ragas are varied but all flow directly from human experience of the spiritual or religious and the responsive feeling (rasa) of love, joy, longing, or devotion. The ragas evoke feelings both human and spiritual. A myth tells of the bird Musikar or Dipaka-Lotus whose beak has seven apertures. Through each of these openings it blows a different note, and at different seasons of the year it combines them to produce ragas specific to the hour of the day and season. An egg was created from the ashes of a fire ignited by the magic sound of a raga; from this egg another Musikar was born, followed by many others. Like all myths, this conveys a truth, that of the ideal of raga — a form growing naturally, like ripples on water, a flower toward the sun, or ice crystals on a leaf of grass, whose beauty and meaning are enhanced by a sympathetic human response to the movement of spirit in the world of matter. The myth suggests the numinous, sacred qualities embodied in the raga form.

We can hear in Indian music the richest correlation of sound with the origins and manifestations of spiritual consciousness. The idea of nonmanifest sound — the essence in the interval between notes — is akin to the New Testament conception of the Word, and underlies and pervades the music. It lies beneath all that is manifest in nature, cosmic and microcosmic, and realizes itself as the multiplicities and differentiations of existence.

Philosophically, this cosmic nonmanifest sound continually creates, destroys, and recreates manifold universes. Its capacities are infinite, therefore measureless. For those who can “hear” it, it brings news of vast starry firmaments and interstellar spaces, of all universes past and all possible worlds of the future, whether those firmaments are galactic, atomic, physical, or spiritual. It is a potency, presence, possibility, and performance all at the same time. In India, music is heard not as a thing that humans make but as an aspect of the divine revealing itself (revelation/sruti) to which the musician and listeners contribute by their skill, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation.

The Dipaka-Lotus bird with its seven natural tones which make up the octave is an analogy of the seven principles or souls of sound, the seven veils of Isis or Prakriti, the seven spheres of resonance which constitute a grama (village or brotherhood), and the seven aspects not only of human but of universal nature.

The ancient Indians and their modern musical descendants believe that to one who understands fully the complex nature of a tone, the innermost secrets of our universe are revealed. Each tone in the raga is considered to have a specific spiritual and emotional charge in relation to the whole. The word svara (tone) is often defined as that which shines by itself. Tones are said by Indian musicians, as well as their ancient Chinese and Sufi brethren, to originate in the heart that responds with a spontaneous sensitivity to the movement of purusha (spirit) through prakriti (matter). The purpose of Indian song is not to dwell on and confirm the confusions of life, but to express and arouse ideal feelings and passions of body and soul in man and nature in response to the impulse of divine spirit. There is a magical aspect to sound, growing from the Vedic chants invoking the divine, though music is heard as essentially impersonal:

it reflects emotions and experiences which are deeper, wider and older than the emotion or wisdom of any single individual. Its sorrow is without tears, its joy without exultation and it is passionate without any loss of serenity. It is in the deepest sense of the words all-human. (Ananda K Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva

In appreciating Indian music we experience and appreciate the consciousness of the ancient world embodied in it. It focuses and expresses the individual’s organic oneness with cosmic and natural forces that are the world we know. The materialistic focus of modern consciousness sees itself as separate from and threatened by nature. Indian music reflects a social order based in the awareness of unity and cooperation rather than on division and competition which leads to economic, social, and cultural insecurity and alienation. Goods produced and services rendered were not based on a perceived economic need for constant expansion leading to exploitation but were generated to serve needs of the organic whole. Ancient Indian consciousness focused, as does its music, on serving the needs of spirit rather than the demands of matter. Though Indian music is ancient it is not primitive: sophistication, subtlety, and assumption of the experience of spirit as the root and goal of all existence can best be described as primal. To appreciate it modern listeners must expand their ability to perceive and express human and cosmic spiritual nature, in much the same way that a child matures the primitive sing-song approach and simplistic rhythmic insistence of nursery school to include the subtlety of expression of which adults are capable.

The objective of the raga is the rasa — the aesthetic emotion — the motif embodied in the melody. As souls inhabit bodies, so every rasa is embodied in the rupa (form) of a particular raga or ragini (feminine form of raga). To invoke rasa, one meditates on the rupa that is appropriate to that raga’s essence, the distillation of mood, mode, time, and season. This meditation is shared by musician and listeners. The experience invoked by a master musician’s meditation on a fine instrument with a knowledgeable, appreciative audience is the disappearance of player, instrument, and listener — pure song, spirit singing itself into being.

Rather than confining melody to the necessities of an intellectualized harmonic concept, Indian musicians and listeners do not attempt to “chain with the mind the feet of the mysterious bird that goes to and away from the cage” (Indian folk song). The bird is pure melody, song of spirit supported by and interacting with the essential, complex rhythms of life. It is the spontaneous response of the heart, that which shines by itself, the spiritual fire of a soul lit by the radiance of nonmanifest sound, the Word, Brahman, Atman, God — divinity containing all worlds within it and evolving all worlds forth into being. The song of Brahman is AUM. Indian musical art is an imitation of the perfect spontaneity with which gods and enlightened beings understand and acknowledge that which is beyond inner and outer, rises above good and evil, is beyond conflict, is the perfection of compassion love and wisdom — the very heart of All.

The omnipresent keynote (Aum) of the universe coming into being swells from the tambura (drone) making a pedal point rich in overtones. Like all that is profound it rewards those who with patient humility seek the divine hidden in the heart of the musical experience. The drone corresponds to Brahman, the Unmanifest Logos, source and ultimate goal of Being. From and against this infinite potentiality the musician draws forth the raga whose rhythm is initially free, with the direction of what is to come subtly implied until the essential elements and graceful implications of this universe/song have been as fully explored as the musician’s inspiration and training allow. At a nod the power of the drums begins slowly to unfold, as Daivi-prakriti (Divine nature; divine will; the vital force of the universe; the “electricity” of cosmic consciousness; the Greek Eros; the Tibetan Fohat. Fohat carries the divine thought to become that which it truly is: a song of wonder at the manifold surprises hidden within and evolving from its Self, a reverential awe at the unmovable serenity from the heart of which dance and flow in waves the myriad, ever-changing aspects of THAT which is one and unchangeable. It is spirit discovering itself. The drone is Brahman, the raga is the world, as artistic microcosmic realization of the macrocosmic experience of spirit.

European rhythms are based on repeated stress, as in marching. Rather than using the bar as the fixed unit and marking its beginning with a stress or accent the Indian musician’s fixed unit is a section, or group of bars which are not necessarily alike. The rhythmic cycle of Ata Tala, for example, is counted as 5 plus 5 plus 2 plus 2. Indian rhythmic complexes count into the fifties, and cycles involving half beats (i.e., 5½, 9½) are now developing in this living musical tradition. But even during the most ecstatic moments of the second stage (gat) of the raga, during which the explicate rhythmic pattern unfolds, the drone remains as the omniscient, omnipotent cause from which proceed the origin, subsistence, and dissolution (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva) of the raga — of the world. The activity and ecstasy of the musical universe build to a glorious climax then fade away into the drone from which they sprang like myriad bubbles of sunflecked foam that danced briefly on the swells of eternity.

As “one can never step into the same river twice” one can never play a raga exactly the same way twice. The musician seeks to express the uniqueness of the moment: time, season, audience, instrument, planets, musician, and stars will never again occur in the same relationship. Though the river is never the same it is always a river, an aspect of the ocean of divinity made manifest. With the assumption that each dewdrop and river flows from and seeks return to its divine source the musician improvises a spontaneous expression of that journey. The raga form conveys all the joy and grief of being human, yet the final absorption of that experience in Brahman transports all to a state in which the universe is perceived as neither good nor bad but simply as TAT (THAT). The raga manifests this understanding and acceptance in a personal, spontaneous, improvisatory, and fully realized expression of artistic beauty and power. It is the inner reality of things rather than any transient or partial experience that the singer/musician voices.