ON ISA, THE CHARISMATIC CHIEF
OF THE SOCIAL PERIPHERY
Commentators say that the main purpose of this Upanishad, which starts with the word, Isa (god, in common parlance) is to teach the essential unity of God and the world, being and becoming. They hold that it is not interested in the Absolute in itself, Para Brahma but is interested in the relation between God and the world, in Paramesvara, that is in a high personal God. They also hold that life in this world and life in the Divine Spirit are not incompatible.
This Upanishad begins with the famous invocation and dictum, That is full (purna); this is full. The full comes out of the full. Taking full from the full the full itself remains. Aum, Peace, Peace, Peace.
Another translation of this invocation reads, That is full; this is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is fullness. The commentators of the medieval times have followed one of these two positions or tried to reconcile the two.
Members of social universe not entitled to personal wealth
The teacher points out that all that moves (jagat) in this moving (social) universe (jagat) is enveloped by Isa (God, in common parlance) and therefore one should seek enjoyment in renunciation. The student is advised not to covet the wealth of others. (1)
Another translation reads, All this, whatever exists in this changing universe should be covered by the Lord. Protect the Self by renunciation. Lust not after any mans wealth. It is not necessary to examine the different metaphysical positions taken on this verse by the medieval commentators and their followers of the modern times.
In the social universe (jagat), that is, in the mobile populations of the Vedic and Upanishadic times there were no permanent attachments or vocations or possessions. Even marriages were not permanent and families had not come into existence. Consequently there was no need to have socio-economic codes and courts to regulate the activities of its members.
But the individuals who were the constituents of this jagat had to look up to the charismatic chief, Isa, for protection of their lives and property if any. There was no personal property but there could be collective property that was guarded by this Isa. If any individual had acquired personal wealth he had to renounce it in favour of the social universe. He is warned against coveting wealth whether that of another person or of the collective and holding to wealth as personal property.
The remarks, Self-denial is at the root of spiritual life, When we realize that God inhabits each object, when we rise to that cosmic consciousness, covetousness disappears, The control of lust for wealth is a great spiritual discipline and Engrossed in the thought of his possessions, a worldly person finds very little time to think about Atman and therefore the Upanishad asks the seeker who wants to protect his spiritual treasure to renounce the craving for material wealth do all fail to bring out the import of this verse.
The annotators have failed to note the essential difference between jagat (social universe of individuals on the move) and loka (social world of organized clans and settled communities). The teacher discouraged formation of economic communities and creation of personal property. Renunciation of personal interests and accruals was advocated.
The claim that this verse refers to the Highest Knowledge and prescribes the discipline of complete renunciation cannot be upheld.
Immunity for naras who performed duties without rewards
The teacher counsels, Always performing duties (karma) here one should wish to live a hundred years. In other words he should not seek to retire from his duties or to become a monk (sanyasi). Only if one lived so, performing his duty and not seeking wealth, the effects of his deeds (karma) would not adhere (lipyata) to him (nara). One who performs his duty without seeking rewards and wealth will not be hauled up for any errors in his actions even as he cannot hope to gain personal wealth by performing that duty (2). This advice is given to the free man, nara and not to a commoner, manushya.
Manushyas were attached to families and communities and these had property and it belonged to the commonalty. They followed the vocations that their families were assigned traditionally.
A nara was one who had walked out of such families and had chalked out a course of action and life of his own. This verse refuses to permit him to acquire wealth. The naras were required to serve the state and were assured immunity against any punishment for faults in performance of duties in return for the loyal service that they rendered to the society.
The medieval commentators and their modern adherents have failed to recognize the import of the term, nara, and its distinction from the term, manushya, even as they have not understood the distinction between jagat and loka.
The remark, The importance of work is stressed in this verse. We must do works and not refrain from them. Embodied man cannot refrain from action. He cannot escape the life imposed on him by his embodiment. The way of true freedom is not abstention from action but conversion of spirit, requires to be rejected as a futile attempt to defend spiritualism against the theme of Karmayoga.
Warning against homicide
The social worlds (lokas), which are enveloped in darkness and ignorance (tamas), are dominated by the asuras, the feudal warlords. Those native people (jana) who indulge in killing the individual (atma) who is not attached to any social body go to them after (they are pronounced as liable to be put to) death (3).
The translation, Demoniac are those worlds which enveloped in blinding darkness, and to them go after death, those people who are the slayers of the self (atma), fails to interpret the message and warning of the teacher correctly.
The Upanishad dwells on the socio-political atmosphere in Janasthana leading to the exile of Bali, its feudal lord
The teacher draws the attention of the students to the circumstances that led the different social cadres (lokas) of Janasthana coming under the influence of the feudal lords. The native people (jana) of that region (in the Narmada valley) had out of ignorance destroyed the freedom of the individual (atma), the right not to be a member of any social or economic body. This resulted in their state (in the Vindhyas) being taken over by the feudal warlord, Bali.
Does the teacher of this Upanishad imply that the natives of Janasthana had refused to permit any individual of that territory to leave the family or economic community resident there or give up his vocation or move out of that area or any other person to enter that area?
Did socio-economic isolation of the entire population and its insulation from outsiders like the mobile populations, jagats, result in the people of Janasthana accepting the authority of the feudal warlord, Bali?
Bali with the help of the great political grammarian, Usanas, also known as Kavi and Sukra, destroyed the autonomy that the cadres known as Janaloka (house of peoples representatives), Mahaloka (council of scholars, maharshis) and Tapaloka (academy of thinkers, planners and scientists, tapasvis) enjoyed till then.
The medieval commentators failed to note the import of the terms, jana and atma, even as they failed to note the significance of the sociological distinctions between, nara and manushya, and between loka and jagat.
The asuras were feudal warlords and were opposed to the devas who were liberal nobles. The remarks that asuras are those who are not the knowers of the Self and that they desire riches, does not help to understand the theme of this verse. It is also unsound to state that a person who clings to ignorance is said to be a slayer of Atman.
The non-conformist social pioneer follows his conscience
The teacher points out that the individual (Atman) whose right to function independent of the native community (jana) which that teacher had defended was not part of the mobile population (anejat) about whom the former had complaints.
This individual was only asserting his right to be alone (eka) and follow the diktats of his conscience. He was a pioneer who went ahead of the thinkers (manas). Even the members of the (intellectual and cultural) aristocracy (devas) were not able to keep pace and catch up with him. [It is not rational to translate the term, devas, as senses.]
This individual seems to be not moving along with others and to stand still while others are engaged in activities connected with social progress. He is not to be treated as a non-participant in social activities of the commoners. He has outstripped others who participate in such activities and is waiting for others to join him. (4)
Matarisva (Vayu, air in common parlance) who was a Vratya, a non-conformist pioneer had assigned him a particular work, a leadership that provided stable, even and natural progress for all members of the society (as the gentle waters of a river move ahead).
Freedom from social fetters for all individuals
The right of the nation-state to require all its citizens to conform to its views and activities and to restrict freedom of thought including creative thought will only lead to socio-economic stagnation and emergence of authoritarian regimes.
The comment that the Supreme is one essence but has two natures, an eternal immutability and an unceasing change is closer to the mark than other attempts of the medieval commentators to interpret this verse.
The teacher was dealing not with the Supreme but with the relationship with the social leader-cum-pioneer who was ahead of even the intellectual aristocracy and whose activities were pronounced by some to be circumspect.
The issue was the restraints placed on the native population by the feudal lords (asuras) who had taken over the tapaloka, the academy of scientists who were engaged in discovering new principles and inventing new means and were waiting for others to follow them.
These creative thinkers were ahead of the intellectual aristocracy of planners but were cut off from the highest social and academic cadre, the ideologues, Brahmavadis and were stranded.
The teacher asserts that the potential for pioneering leadership is present in every individual. He tends at the same time to stay put. It moves and it moves not.
The members of the native community, jana, were averse to the ways of the mobile social groups, jagat, some of whom tended to stay in the janapada but not permanently. The loyalty of such groups and individuals was suspect.
Some of them were far away from the lands of their birth and some were closer to the borders. Some were within all the groups that were part of the local population and some individuals stayed apart from all these groups.
The teacher was pointing out the futility of the attempts made to ensure universal compliance of the orders issued by the new autocrats to suppress the initiative of the individual.
Any individual member of an organized and settled, social group or native community may seek to be free from the social fetters. This epigram states that some may similarly seek to be free from the mobile groups that are outside these native groups.
The teacher was replying to the objections raised by the native population against the non-conformists some of whom were social and intellectual pioneers and were dubbed as Vratyas patronized by Matarisva. (Mahadeva was meant.) (5)
The explanation that in this verse, the concept of the non-dual Atman as Brahman is reiterated is untenable. The explanation that the apparently contradictory statements in this verse are not suggestive of the mental unbalance of the writer and that he was struggling to describe what he experienced through the limitations of human thought and language indicates only the failure of this commentator to solve the riddle.
The statement, By associating Atman with contradictory attributes, the Upanishad indicates that It is really Pure Consciousness, free from all attributes is but resort to mysticism to escape the implications of this verse that can be brought out only through a positive rational approach as provided by Samkhya dialectics.
How to close the distance between conformists and individuals of the periphery
The teacher called for a sane solution to the issue of social and cultural (including intellectual) distance between the champions of conformity which most members of native groups (jana) were and the individuals whether of the native community or of the periphery or of distant areas or of mobile groups.
[He seems to follow the line suggested by the author of the Bhagavad-Gita,] He who sees all beings or individuals (of the periphery) (sarva bhutas) in himself (atma) and himself (atma) in all beings does not feel revulsion by reason of such a view. (6)
The teacher counseled that every individual whether he was a member of an organized native group or not should try to identify himself with all the individuals of the social periphery who lacked an organized society.
Both the isolated individual (atma) of the core society and the resident of the periphery who had no identity (bhuta) were free individuals and both were kept away from by the organized society.
The non-conformist individual in the society who asserts his individual identity is not different from the members of the social periphery (bhutas) who have been accustomed to live as individuals with no right to move to any area under the control of organized communities (lokas).
These bhutas did not have the immunity that the punya-jana, blessed people, who constituted the social universe, jagat, had. The non-conformist individual and thinker, a Vratya, is able to identify himself with the individuals, bhutas, of the social periphery.
It may be noted that only a very small portion of the human society functioned as organized settled groups (lokas) or as collective but non-settled groups (jagats). Even within them there were non-conformist individuals, but they were not as preponderant as the individuals of the unorganized social periphery were.
The interpretation, This verse speaks of the transformation of the soul, its absorption in God in whom is the whole universe deserves to be rejected as an irrational attempt to pass on unreason as religious belief.
This verse does not speak of the equality, samatva, of all beings. Of course the statement that one identifies oneself with all beings suggests and lauds the concept of egalitarianism. The teacher could not have espoused the concept of submersion of all individual wills in a general will to the extent of erasing all individual wills.
The loner (ekatva) and identification with all individuals
The teacher asks: When an individual with personal identity (atma) who knows (vijanata, through application of the knowledge that he has gained from formal education) that all the individuals (sarva bhuta, of the periphery) have become one with him, that there is no distinction between their ways of thinking and living and his, what delusion (moham) and grief (soka) can be for one who has observed the way of life of a loner (ekatvam)?
The teacher advises the lone pioneer that he need not continue to be attached to his erstwhile group and the pleasures that it gave him for he has observed and understood the lives of all individuals. They have not regretted their loneliness in the loose populace of the social periphery. He too need not regret that he is alone though located in an organized happy social group and yet kept away from its joyous ways. (7)
The remark, The vision of all existences in the Self and of the Self in all existences is the foundation of freedom and joy does not bring out the intent of this verse accurately.
Isa, charismatic figure of the social periphery
The comment that the Isa, the Lord is immanent in all that moves in this world, fails to take into account the fact that Isa was a term used to indicate the charismatic figure with whom the denizens of the social periphery had developed a strong attachment and to whom they looked for succour and protection.
In the case of the agro-pastoral core society, such a personage was addressed as a liberal noble, deva, and in the case of the industrial frontier society he was known as devata. Deva, Devata, Isa, Isvara and Isana were not Gods.
The remark, Both ignorance and its effect, that is, multiplicity, are destroyer for the knower of the Atman; this Knowledge itself is Liberation is totally irrelevant to the exhortation in this verse. The translation, To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness is unacceptable.
The lone pioneer influences the social periphery
The individual who identifies himself with all the individuals of the periphery envelops (paryaga, goes around) it with his own purposes. He is not a follower of the policy advocated by Sukra who was known as Kavi. He is not protected by a social body (akaya) and is not harmed (avrana) by any steps taken against him. His sinews cannot be twisted, that is, he cannot be constrained to comply with the orders issued on behalf of the organized society. He is pure and is unstained by sins.
This Kavi is a thinker, has influence over all around him (paribhu) and has risen by himself (svayambhu). He is not an agent sent as a missionary by any agency. He honours the principle of egalitarianism.
This poet-cum-legislator, Kavi, who has usurped power over all, has duly or in an unreal way distributed the purposes to be followed by every individual.
(The teacher was drawing attention to the influence that Usanas or Sukra as Kavi had in Janasthana after it came under the suzerainty of Bali.)
That is, he has assigned the means of livelihood to different individuals in accordance with and in a balanced manner according to their personal traits. The teacher concedes that Kavi had honoured the principle of egalitarianism though he stifled freedom of thought and movement. (8)
The translation, He has duly allotted to the external World-Creators their respective duties, is unacceptable.
The concept that the distribution is an almost permanent one (distributed through endless years the objects) is not sustainable. The interpretation, The omniscient Lord allotted different functions to the various and eternal prajapatis known popularly as years, is untenable.
Of course Manu Svayambhuva had assigned different areas of jurisdiction and functions to the chiefs of the people, prajapatis, appointed by him. It is unsound to treat Vishnu, Brahma and Siva as world-creators or as prajapatis meant here. There is no reference to the prajapatis and their functions here.
Social reorganization as attempted by Sukra
Sukra (Kavi) had of his own accord defined the pursuits of the different individuals and social sectors, according to the teacher. [Sukra or Usanas was the political guide of the feudal warlord, Bali, who had taken over Janasthana. He placed severe restraints on the rights of the individuals.]
The teacher points out that while assigning the individuals according to their personal traits to different functions and means of livelihood, those persons who follow vocations that do not require formal schooling (avidya) are visualized as entering blinding darkness (tamas). In other words they are treated as ignorant and assigned to classes marked by the trait, tamas.
Vidya and Avidya, Formal vis-a-vis non-formal education
He adds that those persons who are proud of their studies, vidya, and delight in theoretical studies (and do not apply their knowledge to constructive works) would be assigned to classes marked by inertness (tamas).
He was bringing to the notice of his students the principle adopted by Kavi (Sukra) to ensure that talented and constructive thinkers and scholars were rewarded and not the uneducated or pedants. (9)
The interpretation that avidya meant ceremonial piety and vidya meant knowledge of the deities is unacceptable here. The medieval commentators failed to note that tamas involved both ignorance and inertness.
The social periphery had scholars who did not contribute anything to social welfare and progress. They formed a counter-intelligentsia. The interpretation that the Upanishad repudiates both schools of thought, those who hold that salvation is attained only by means of works and also those who hold that it is to be attained by knowledge alone is not precise enough.
This verse cannot be interpreted as but advocating a combination of knowledge and works. There is no mention of the term, deva or devata, in this verse. The remark that according to this verse, the unenlightened person, in striving for a superior result, should combine action (rituals) with meditation on a devata (deity) is unacceptable.
The teacher was not involved in the issue of which path was the best, Karmayoga or Jnanayoga or Bhaktiyoga.
The teacher does not appear to endorse the approach of Kavi (Sukra) with respect to the pedants. He pointed out that scholars held the result (benefit) accruing from formal education (vidya) to be different from the result accruing from non-formal education (avidya). He was not treating the two terms as meaning knowledge and ignorance or as spiritual knowledge and non-spiritual knowledge. He was not for assigning either group to the classes marked by ignorance and inertness (tamas). He was drawing attention to what he and others had heard as explained by the wise (dhira) who could discriminate correctly between good and bad. (10)
The remark, We cannot grasp the nature of ultimate Reality by either discursive knowledge or lack of it, is off the mark.
The teacher would stand by the traditional approach with respect to vidya and avidya and their effects. According to this approach both formal education (vidya) and non-formal education (avidya) are helpful. Non-formal education (avidya) helps one to cross the river or stage of insentience (mrtyu). Only those who are yet at that stage deserve to be treated as being characterized by ignorance and inertness (tamas).
The teacher distinguishes between the non-formal education (avidya) that was available to the commoners who were inert (tamas) and the lack of knowledge that marked the lives of those who were insentient (mrtyu). Formal education (vidya) however aids one to attain the abiding status of intellectual and cultural aristocracy (amrtam). (11)
The translation of this verse as, He who is aware that both knowledge and ignorance should be pursued together, overcomes death through ignorance and obtains immortality through knowledge deserves to be rejected. The translator confesses that he finds the text to be obscure. The medieval commentators and their modern followers have tended to treat avidya as an essential prerequisite for spiritual life.
Man cannot rise to spiritual enlightenment if he has not first through avidya become conscious of himself as a separate ego. In spiritual life we transcend this sense of separateness. Avidya must be transcended in Vidya. Avidya has its place. Without it there is no individual, no bondage, no liberation. These irrational statements only obscure the import of this verse. The teacher rejected the argument that both avidya and vidya are to be faulted.
Individualism and Collective inertia: Asambhuti and Sambhuti
He then took up the argument that pursuit of the views of the individuals who are not organized as a collectivity (asambhuti) and pursuit of the views of the collectivity (sambhuti) are both to be faulted. The latter is characterized by greater ignorance (tamas) than the former, according to this view of the school of Kavi. (12)
The translation, Into blinding darkness enter those who worship the unmanifest and into still greater darkness those who delight in the unmanifest does not bring out the stand of the scholars who were suspicious both of the rights and will of the individuals and of the will of the collectivity.
The latter could be assessed and not the former but often the masses delighting in functioning as an undifferentiated collectivity tend to be highly inert. The former, that is, those who function as individuals are ignorant of the consequences of their activities.
The school of Kavi (Sukra) entertained reservations about both rash individualism and collective inertia.
The translation of the term asambhuti as undifferentiated prakrti is unacceptable for only in collectivity individual identity is submerged. It is not likely that the teacher treated asambhuti as signifying the unmanifest (Spirit) and sambhuti as indicating the manifest (anthropomorphized God). If we identify the Supreme with the manifest, it would amount to pantheism according to some of the commentators.
Sukra (Kavi) was dealing with the issue of the individuals (atma) in the organized sectors identifying themselves with the individuals in the unorganized social periphery. He intended to ward off the impact of such identification on the state that tended to run roughshod over the interests of those persons who were not part of the organized native social polity, janapada.
The teacher again draws attention to the conventional considered stand that the outcome of collective life and action (sambhava) is distinct from the outcome of non-collective isolated life and action (asambhava) (13). The teacher was pointing out the weakness in the objection raised by the school of Kavi in the previous verse.
It is not proper to introduce theology in this discussion. The remark that the scriptures say that whatever a person worships he becomes after death is irrelevant to this disputation.
Rational solution suggested by the teacher
The teacher after drawing attention to the traditional approach that was almost contradicted by the stand taken by the school of Kavi (Sukra) proposed a rational solution to the issue (14).
One must know both what constitutes the view and need of the collectivity (sambhuti) and what will result in the widespread weakening and destruction (vinasam) of that will and their results.
As one learns both, one crosses the limits imposed by social bonds that are characteristic of the commonalty (mrtyu, mortals in common parlance) and attains the level of the cultural and intellectual aristocracy (amrtam).
THE TEACHINGS OF THE SCHOOL OF ATRI
Formation of three social worlds (lokas)
As in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1-4-1), this Upanishad begins with the statement that in the beginning there was only one individual (atma) and there was no sign of any other being awake and winking its eyes. This individual thought of creating, giving definite shapes (srja) to the (different) social worlds (lokas). (1-1)
[The commentator holds that the author of this verse was refuting the dualism posited by Samkhya dialectics that both purusha and prakrti were primordials and would remain forever.] It is unsound to introduce the concept of God the Creator.
In order to create distinct social worlds, he dismantled (asrjata) the existing social groupings based on the concepts, ambha, marici, mara and apa. In other words the social sectors represented by Varuna, Vayu, Yama and Parjanya in the traditional Vedic social polity were dissolved. They would be merged in the three new social worlds.
The sector represented by ambha (Varuna) was recognized as the upper stratum of the nobility, divam. The power of the nobility, dyau, was installed (pratishtha) on the pedestal of the authority provided by the ombudsman of the Vedic times, which Varuna was.
The open areas represented by Marici, were merged in the frontier society of forests and mountains, antariksham. The jurisdiction of the official designated as Yama or Mara (death, as commonly described) was limited to the agro-pastoral commonalty, prthvi. The social groups that ranked lower than these were merged in the fluid sub-altern, apa. (1-2)
Purusha presides over the federation of three social worlds
After creating, (that is) outlining the composition of each of the (three) social worlds (dyau, antariksham and prthvi, nobility, frontier society and agro-pastoral society), that lone sage proposed that they be provided with governors, lokapalas. He also drew out from the collectivity of the three social worlds, a dominant personality, purusha, and described what his features were to be (1-4). Then the author describes the physical features of a human being and the functions of his organs.
From the mouth, speech, vak, was brought out and from speech, the official designated as Agni emerged. From the nose, in-breath, prana, was brought out, and from in-breath, the official designated as Vayu emerged. From the eyes, sight, chakshu, emerged and from sight, the official designated as Aditya emerged. From the ears, hearing emerged and from hearing the official in charge of the different regions, disa, emerged. From skin (tvacha), hairs emerged and from the hairs, the official in charge of the forest trees and medicinal herbs emerged.
From the heart, mind (manas) emerged, and from mind, the official in charge of thinkers, designated as Chandra emerged. From the navel, the outbreath, apana, emerged and from apana, the official in charge of death, mrtyu, emerged. From the generative organ, penis, semen was brought out and from semen, the official in charge of water, apa, emerged.
The first group of eight governors, lokapalas: Agni, Vayu, Aditya, Disa, Vanaspati, Chandra, Mrtyu, Apa
In other words, the dominant social leader, purusha, who presided over the federation of the three social worlds (lokas) was assisted by officials designated as Agni, Vayu, Aditya, Disa, Vanaspati, Chandra, Mrtyu and Apa. These eight officials were known as lokapalas, guardians of the social worlds, and were under the Purusha, the head of the federal society. The Upanishad is bringing out the structure of the early Vedic socio-political set-up headed by Purusha.
[This division of the Purusha does not refer to the emergence of the four classes, Brahmans, Rajanyas, Vis and Shudras, it may be noted.] This allegory must have preceded the one that we find in the Rgvedic hymn, Purusha-Sukta.
The Purusha constitution outlined here is distinct from the one based on sixteen aspects (padas) of the Purusha that was explained to Sukesa by Pippalada.
When the posts of these officials, devatas, lokapalas, were created they became greatly restless like one caught in a huge flood (mahat arna). [It is not sound to translate the term, arna as ocean and prapata as fell.]
They had to be provided means of livelihood so that they might not suffer hunger and thirst. They asked the sage (who planned this scheme and brought into existence, prajani, these posts) to establish them on a sound footing (pratishthita) so that their food needs were taken care of (1-2-1). They were not satisfied with being endowed villages (gam) and common possessions (asva) (1-2-2).
It would appear that the above political arrangement took place soon after a major social upheaval (maha arna) and that the officials appointed to these new posts had no personal property or source of livelihood and had to be provided these.
Post of Purusha (pro-tem chairman) created at the instance of lokapalas
They were then fetched a leader (purusha). They welcomed this act as a good one (sukrta). This leader (purusha) then asked them to enter (pravisata) their respective offices (ayatana). The post of Purusha, the head of the social polity, was created at the instance of the officials who were appointed to represent as governors in charge of the different sectors of the body politic, visualized as purusha. (1-2-3)
Functions of the eight officials: Simplistic scheme
The official designated as Agni became the spokesman of the commonalty and Vayu represented all those who were at the bare existence level. Aditya was in charge of the institution of scholars known as Chakshus, observers. The official designated as Disa was engaged in listening to (srotra) reports from different directions. The official called Aushadi was in charge of plants and herbs and health, moors and forests. The official designated as Chandra was in charge of planning and wills of the people.
Mrtyu was in charge of meting out punishment to the guilty and expelling them from the society and even awarding death sentence. The official designated as Apa looked after the institutions connected with marriage and family.
This distribution of functions of the eight officials of the social polity pertained to a stage when social integration was effected without taking into account economic interests and vocations and without high cultural objectives or political motives.
As in other arrangements, there were eight officials functioning under the supervision of Purusha. It was simple. It is self-deception to visualize these functions as the cosmic powers in the human person. It is imperative to recognize that the school of Atri was eager to honour and follow the almost simplistic scheme of its predecessors. (1-2-4)
Even the basic needs of the people, warding off hunger and quenching thirst, had not been assigned to the care of any of these officials. When this was brought to the notice of the sage who outlined this scheme of distribution of duties among the eight officials, he declared that these officials, devatas, would look after the needs of those sections who were under their respective care. All of them had to share this responsibility.
The translation, I assign you (hunger and thirst) a place in these divinities (devatas) and make you sharers (bhagini) with them does not bring out the purport of the reply.
The offering of food and drink made to a particular devata indicated that the latter official had the duty to meet the needs of the people who produced the food offered to him. The allegory needs to be solved in a rational manner. The means of livelihood of the lokapala were to be taken care of by the social world (loka) under his protection (pala).
The lokapalas were required to be participant leaders and guardians in common social endeavours and not expect offerings from the people as sacrifices (yajna) or tributes (bali) or as taxes (kara) or wages (dakshina) for service rendered. (1-2-5). This feature of ancient Indian social polity has survived changing times.
Source of food
The sage who had outlined the features of the larger social polity with the three social worlds, divam, antariksham and prthvi as the pivot and the eight lokapalas or devatas as participant administrators in charge of the different activities connected with that polity, felt it necessary to define from what source each of the officials and his wards would obtain their means of livelihood, anna. The tapasvi (standing in water) after prolonged contemplation and meditation discovered a definite method (brought out from that water a figure, murti) for providing food (anna) for all (1-3-1,2).
The method discovered or formulated (srshta) (murti found) was elusive. The author of this method to provide food for all through positive collaboration between the participant guardian (lokapala) and the social sector under his care was not able to place it under any particular official, whether he was in charge of teaching (vacha) or of people who but breathed and lived (prana) or who were empirical observers (chakshu) or who belonged to different directions and could only hear the pronouncements and be heard (srotra) or who lived unclad in moors and forests (tvacha, skin) or were thinkers (manas) or who were engaged only in reproduction of the species (sisnu) or of those who were expelled (apana) from the society. (1-3-3 to 10)
Hence each official was asked to look after and be looked after by the people in his charge.
Purusha as the head of the social polity and executive undertakes to ensure food for all
The leader, purusha, according to the allegory in the next verse (1-3-11), felt that it would not be advisable to allow the duty to supervise the production and distribution of food to the different officials. He had to look after this requisite himself. How was he to undertake this onerous duty, he wondered.
If all the duties of the head of the social polity were to be distributed to the heads of the different sectors would there be any duty left for the head to perform? Was he the nominal head of the polity with no special duty or was its base holding up the different sectors and their heads?
Who was to be vested with sovereign power?
The commentators of the medieval times did not present the dilemma in these terms but were aware that the sage of this Upanishad did entertain uncertainty. [The commentator says that speech etc., are effects and serve a master. The body is a city and there must be a lord of the city, karya-karana-samghata-lakshanam puram. It is for the svamy-artham, that is, for meeting the needs of its owner. So the enjoyer must enter the body. The forepart of the foot and the crown of the head are the two ways of entrance into this body, the collection of several parts. By which of these two ways shall I enter this city, this bundle of causes and effects?]
Was sovereignty to be vested with the nominal head of the social polity with no specific duty or was it to lie in the commonalty who would sustain all the functionaries? The latter implied that the responsibility, which the commonalty the base of the polity would have to bear, was immense.
The authority that would sustain and supervise the activities of the different organs of the social polity entered the city by opening the gate (of the administration block of the city, as it were). This gate (dvaram) was known as vidrti, the suture in the apex of the skull.
In other words, it was felt necessary that this authority should be recognized as the head of the polity supervising its different wings and not their subordinate though the concept of the sovereignty of the masses on whose floor the organs of the state stand and by whom the latter are sustained is upheld.
Three positions occupied by the elected head of the society
This arrangement was pleasing to all concerned as none of the eight organs was considered to be more essential than the others and they needed a coordinator. And the masses were not to be burdened with the problem of managing the internal dissensions among the polity as indicated in the verses above. But there were three positions this head of the society who represented the masses had to occupy.
The translation, For that there are three abodes (avasataha); three kinds of dreams (svapna); this is the abode, this is the abode, this is the abode fails to bring out the implied provision.
Purusha, the head of the state occupied three different positions in the (integrated) social polity but rarely exercised the powers associated with those positions of responsibility. (1-3-12)
It needs to be borne in mind that Atri was for a head of the state who rose from the masses but would not be coerced by it and would function as a nominal head of the polity and would be replaced on his exit by another elected head who would however not disturb the functioning of the organs of the state.
Co-ordination of the eight autonomous departments
The roles of this elected head were defined. Of course he had to coordinate the functions of these eight autonomous departments or organs of the state and ensure their sustenance. Atri was against vesting more powers in the head of the state than these.
[The remark that the expression, three dreams (svapna) refers to the three conditions, waking, dream and deep sleep, is irrelevant in this context. The interpretation that the three abodes refer to ones father, ones mother and ones own body is unwarranted.]
Purusha elected by the natives (jana) to oversee the lives of the discrete individuals (bhutas) of the social periphery
This personage who was born (in the local community) oversaw the beings, individuals (bhutas). He could not speak, issue directions, here (in this organized social polity) to any one.
The transliteration He, being born, perceived the created beings, what else here would one desire to speak? does not bring out the concept behind the recommendation made by the sage.]
The head of the social polity had only limited duties to perform. The individuals (bhutas) who were not members of any social body or any of the eight organized sectors were under his personal supervision.
Purusha as Brahma, the highest juridical authority
Repository of the socio-political constitution, Brahma
The sage agrees that he had noticed this personage, purusha, as that all-pervading Brahma, the highest juridical authority in whom the final powers were vested by the socio-political constitution (Atharvaveda, Brahma).
The sage who was scrutinizing the functioning of the new (Prthu) constitution realized that the new ruler was directly elected by the masses, presided over the eight member ministry that he could not meddle with, oversaw the fulfilment of the interests of the individuals who were not members of groups under the jurisdiction of these ministers and was the repository of the socio-political constitution, Brahma. As Purusha he was the head of the executive and also of the judiciary. (1-3-13).
Head of the state: Purusha as Idandra and Indra
His presence was needed to ensure that all the organized sectors performed their prescribed roles and did not come in conflict with each other. His mere presence was enough to ensure this. He was not an ornamental head for he took care of the interests of the individuals, bhutas, who were not part of this large integrated society.
This post was earlier known as Idandra. The nobles (devas) who were fond of the indirect way (paroksha) of observing and supervising the activities beyond their neighbourhood referred to him as Indra (1-3-14).
The school of Atri resorted to the earlier post of Idandra and vested the powers of the head of the state in him. He would have no jurisdiction over the aristocracy but would look after their interests vis-a-vis the rest of the larger society on their behalf without being its head.
The Three Roles assigned to the Purusha
The Atharvan polity had Indra as the head of the house of nobles. Idandra was the spokesman of this house and the executor of its will. This was the third role assigned to the Purusha who emerged from the masses.
The other two roles were to coordinate the activities of the eight organs of the social polity as the head of the executive and the guardian of the constitution, and to be the protector of bhutas, the unprotected and isolated individuals especially of the social periphery.
Purusha who plays the roles of Brahma, Indra and Prajapati
We would bypass Chapter 2 of this Upanishad attributed to a stand taken by the sage, Vamadeva, on the process of sexual intercourse and the birth of the three generations, as it is not connected with the theme mentioned above. Chapter 3 attempts to explain what awareness (prajna) is.
This too is not concerned with the main theme except for the declaration that the personage mentioned plays the roles of Brahma, Indra and Prajapati, the chief of the judiciary, the head of the house of nobles and the chief of the people.
He represents all the nobles (devas) and all the five great bhutas or sections of the society (prthvi, vayu, akasa, apa, jyoti, agro-pastoral commonalty, people of the open areas, that is, the people known as social universes, jagats, the frontier society, also often referred to as antariksham, littoral regions and intelligentsia who are guides).
These five recognized social sectors (mahabhutas) and the unimportant individuals known as Kshudras (or shudras) and the sectors which have the traits of both the major sectors and the Kshudrakas are part of the larger society represented by the Purusha who played the three roles, those of Brahma, Indra and Prajapati. The concept of mixed social sectors preceded that of the mixed classes, samkaravarnas.
Societal approach and mega-society
The sage adopts a societal approach and includes all that are born of egg or womb or sweat or sprout in the macro-society. He includes those who do not have personal possessions (asva), the villagers (gam), the assertive social leaders (purushas) and the dominating chiefs (hastis) in this large social polity. All those who are just at the level of bare existence (prani), those who move and those who fly and those who are stationary are also included in this mega-society.
All these are made aware, prajna, of their duties (by the purusha by only looking at them). They are established in their duties (pratishthita) as persons aware (prajna) of these. The social world is guided to be aware of its duties by the look (netra) (of the purusha). This awareness gives it stability. This awareness functions as its conscience and teacher of its duties, Brahma (3-3).
A social leader, purusha, who rose from this social world (loka) of commoners, entered that of the nobles (svarga) and having enjoyed all desires (kama) became equal to a member of that cultural aristocracy (amrtam) (3-4). The social leader, Purusha, who was superior to the officials known as lokapalas could gain access to the fold of the aristocracy and could function as Idandra, a rank superior to Indra.
1. Atharvaveda Translation by W.D.Whitney
Text by Dayananda Samstha
2.Rgveda Translation by Griffith
Text by Dayananda Samstha
Translation by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan
Text and Translation by J.Goyandka for Gita Press
Text and Translation by A Kuppuswami Iyer
Text and Translation by B.G. Tilak
4. Manusmrti Text and Translation by G.N. Jha
Translation by Wiiliam Jones
Translation by Buhler
Translation by Burnell
5. Kautilyan Arhasastra
Text and Translation by Shama Sastry
Text and Translation by R.P.Kangle
6. The Upanishads
Text and Translation by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan
Translation by Swami Nikhilananda
Text and Translation by Bhakti Vedanta Trust
Tamil Translation (Sridharan Company 1914 ff)
8. Vedanta Sutra Text By Dr.K.L.Daftari 1943
9. Brahmasutras: Swami Vireswarananda (1977): Ramanujas Commentary
10. Vedanta Sutra Max Muller
Translated into English by G.Thibaut 1904
11. Mahabharata Text by Gita Press, Gorakhpur
Text by Pandit Kinjwadekar Pune (1932)
Tamil Translation by M.V. Ramanujacharya (1908ff) (14 vols)
12. Valmiki Ramayana Text by Gita Press, Gorakhpur
Tamil Translation (based on Govindacharyas commentary by
.R. Srinivasa Iyengar (1984) (3 Vols)
13. Skanda Purana Tamil Translation by A.V. Sivan (1893)
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