Svetasvatara Upanishad

The Best Quotes

(A short introduction to the Svetasvatara Upanishad by Shankara)

The Practice of Yoga

The sages, absorbed in meditation through one-pointedness of mind, discovered the [creative] power, belonging to the Lord Himself and hidden in its own gunas. That non-dual Lord rules over all those causes —time, the self, and the rest. (1.3)

The Supreme Lord appears as Isvara, omniscient and omnipotent, and as the jiva, of limited knowledge and power, both unborn. [But this does not deny the phenomenal universe;] for there exists further the unborn prakriti, which creates [the ideas of] the enjoyer, enjoyment, and the object. Atman is infinite and all-pervading, and therefore devoid of agency. When the seeker knows all these three to be Brahman, he is freed from his fetters. (1.9)

The wise man [the yogi] should hold his body steady, with the three [upper] parts erect, turn his senses, with the help of the mind, toward the heart, and by means of the raft of Brahman cross the fearful torrents of the world. (2.8)

The heart is often described by the yogis as the "abode of Brahman." One feels there most vividly the presence of the Spirit.

[The basic pranayama instruction]

The teachers of the Upanishads recommend the disciplines of Patanjali's yoga for the attainment of samadhi, in which the Knowledge of Brahman is directly realized. Mere intellectual knowledge gives only a mediate or indirect perception of Reality. But the knowledge of multiplicity created by ignorance is direct and immediate. Only the immediate Knowledge of Brahman attained in samadhi can remove the direct and immediate perception of multiplicity.

The following is from the Yajnavalkya Smriti, quoted by Sankaracharya in his commentary:

"After practising the postures as desired, according to the rules, O Gargi, a man conquers the postures. Then he takes up pranayama.

"Sitting on a soft seat covered first with kusa grass and then with a [deer or tiger] skin, worshipping Ganesa with fruits and sweetmeats, placing the right palm on the left, holding the neck and the head in the same line, firmly closing the lips, facing the east or the north, fixing the eyes on the tip of the nose, avoiding too much of eating or fasting, the yogi should practice purification of the nadis (nerves), without which the practice of pranayama will be fruitless. He should meditate on the mystic syllable Hum at the junction of the right nostril (pingala) and left nostril (ida) and inhale air through the left nostril for twelve seconds (matras); then he should meditate on fire in the same place, repeating the mystic word Rung, and while meditating thus, slowly exhale the air through the right nostril. Again, inhaling through the right nostril, the air should be slowly exhaled through the left nostril in the same way. This should be practiced for three or four years, or three or four months, according to the direction of a guru, in secret [i.e. alone in a room], in the early morning, at midday, in the evening, and at midnight, until the nerves are purified. Lightness of body, clear complexion, good appetite, and hearing of the Nada (Om) are the signs of such purification. Then should be practiced pranayama, composed of exhalation (rechaka), retention (kumbhaka), and inhalation (puraka). Joining the prana with the apana is pranayama.

"The yogi should fill the body with breath, from head to foot, in sixteen seconds, exhale for thirty-two seconds, and not breathe again for sixty-four.

"There is another pranayama, in which the breath should first be retained for sixty-four seconds, then the prana should be exhaled for sixteen seconds, and next inhaled for sixteen seconds. "By pranayama the impurities of the body are expelled; by dharana, the impurities of the mind; and by samadhi, everything that hides the lordship of the soul."
(from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda)

The yogi of well regulated endeavours should control the pranas; when they are quieted he should breathe out through the nostrils. Then let him undistractedly restrain his mind, as a charioteer restrains his vicious horses. (2.9)

Control the pranas:
There are five manifestations of prana, which function in different parts of the body. First of all, the yogi should control them by the process known as the purification of the nerves. Sankaracharya describes this in his commentary as follows: "First close your right nostril with a finger and breathe in through the left nostril as much as possible. Then breathe out by the right nostril, closing the left nostril. Next breathe in again by the right nostril and breathe out by the left. This process should be repeated three or five times." Afterwards the yogi should practice pranayama, which consists in the inhalation, exhalation, and retention of the breath, under the guidance of a qualified teacher [the Guru].

Let yoga be practiced within a cave protected from the high wind, or in a place which is level, pure, and free from pebbles, gravel, and fire, undisturbed by the noise of water or of market-booths, and which is delightful to the mind and not offensive to the eye. (2.10)

When yoga is practiced, the forms which appear first and which gradually manifest Brahman are those of snow-flakes, smoke, sun, wind, fire, fire-flies, lightning, crystal, and the moon. (2.11)

When earth, water, fire, air, and akasa arise, that is to say, when the five attributes of the elements, mentioned in the books on yoga, become manifest, then the yogi's body becomes purified by the fire of yoga and he is free from illness, old age, and death. (2.12)

The precursors of perfection in yoga, they say, are lightness and healthiness of the body, absence of desire, clear complexion, pleasantness of voice, sweet odour, and slight excretions. (2.13)

As gold covered by earth shines bright after it has been purified, so also the yogi, realizing the truth of Atman, becomes one [with the non-dual Atman], attains the goal, and is free from grief. (2.14)

Knowledge of Brahman Leads to Immortality

And when the yogi beholds the real nature of Brahman, through the Knowledge of the Self, radiant as a lamp, then, having known the unborn and immutable Lord, who is untouched by ignorance and its effects, he is freed from all fetters. (2.15)

He indeed, the Lord, who pervades all regions, was the first to be born, and it is He who dwells in the womb [of the universe]. It is He, again, who is born [as a child], and He will be born in the future. He stands behind all persons, and His face is everywhere. (2.16)

The self-luminous Lord, who is in fire, who is in water, who has entered into the whole world, who is in plants, who is in trees—to that Lord let there be adoration! Yea, let there be adoration! (2.17)

Rudra [Brahman] is truly one; for the knowers of Brahman do not admit the existence of a second, He alone rules all the worlds by His powers. He dwells as the inner Self of every living being. After having created all the worlds, He, their Protector, takes them back into Himself at the end of time. (3:2)

His eyes are everywhere, His faces everywhere, His arms everywhere, everywhere His feet. He it is who endows men with arms, birds with feet and wings and men likewise with feet. Having produced heaven and earth, He remains as their non—dual manifester. (3:3)

The Supreme Lord is higher than Virat, beyond Hiranyagarbha. He is vast and is hidden in the bodies of all living beings. By knowing Him who alone pervades the universe, men become immortal. (3:7)

Hidden - that is to say, as Pure Consciousness. As oil is hidden in oil-seed, and fire in fire-wood, so also is Brahman hidden in the physical body.

The Purusha, no bigger than a thumb, is the inner Self, ever seated in the heart of man. He is known by the mind, which controls knowledge and is perceived in the heart. They who know Him become immortal. (3:13)

The yogis meditate on Atman as the luminous space in the heart, which resembles a lotus bud and is of the size of a thumb.

The Self, smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of creatures. The wise, by the grace of the Creator, behold the Lord, majestic and desireless and become free from grief. (3:20)

Two birds, united always and known by the same name, closely cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit; the other looks on without eating. (4.6)

Two birds: The individual self and the Supreme Self.

Of what use are the Vedas to him who does not know that indestructible Substance, that akasa-like Brahman, which is greater than the unmanifest and wherein the Vedas and all the gods are sheltered? Only those who know It attain bliss. (4.8)

Know, then, that prakriti is maya and that Great God is the Lord of maya. The whole universe is filled with objects which are parts of His being. (4:10)

How the Soul (jiva) Assume Various Bodies

By means of desires, contact, attachment and delusion, the embodied soul assumes, successively, diverse forms in various places, according to its deeds, just as the body grows when food and drink are poured into it. (5:11)

The embodied soul, by means of good and evil deeds committed by itself, assumes many forms, coarse and fine. By virtue of its actions and also of such characteristics of the mind as knowledge and desire, it assumes another body for the enjoyment of suitable objects. (5:12)

He who knows the Lord, who is without beginning or end, who stands in the midst of the chaos of the world, who is the Creator of all things and is endowed with many forms—he who knows the radiant Deity, the sole Pervader of the universe, is released from all his fetters. (5:13)

Realization of Brahman is Liberation

He who attains purity of heart by performing actions as an offering to the Lord and merges prakriti and all its effects in Brahman, realises his true Self and thereby transcends phenomena. In the absence of maya, both collective and individual, all his past actions are destroyed. After the destruction of the prarabdha karma he attains final Liberation. (6:4)

May the non—dual Lord, who, by the power of His maya, covered Himself, like a spider, with threads drawn from primal matter, merge us in Brahman! (6:10)

In this universe the Swan, the Supreme Self alone exists. It is He who, as fire, abides in the water. Only by knowing Him does one pass over death, There is no other way to reach the Supreme Goal. (6:15)

* Commentary by Swami Nikhilananda

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