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22 January, 2012

The Austerity of Bhrigu (A Story from Taittiriya Upanisad)

Swamy Jyotirmayananda

    An ancient illustration of the practice of mana (reflection) is found in Taittiriya UpanisadBhrigu approached his father, Varuna, as a spiritual preceptor and asked to be taught about Brahman.  In response, his father declared, "Brahman is That from which the world has proceeded, That by which the world is sustained, and That into which the world dissolves.  So practice austerity and reflect, my son, and discover what Brahman is."

       Following his father's instruction, Bhrigu practiced reflection for a year on what he had studied in the scriptures as well as his own experience.  Then he returned to his father and eagerly stated his conclusions:  Matter is Brahman.  The entire world emanates from matter; matter sustains it; into the matter the world dissolves."  Hearing this, Varuna quietly replied, "Continue practicing austerity and reflect, my son.  Austerity is Brahman."

       Bhrigu continued the practice of Manana, and after another year of practice he returned to his father with the conclusion that prana is Brahman.  Matter in itself is blind and inert, but a subtle energy, or vital force (prana), moves and sustains every atom and electron in the vast universe of matter.  Again Varuna, with a twinkle in his eye, told his son to continue practicing austerity.

       Upon further reflection, Bhrigu realized that there must be mind behind prana.  The world is not in a state of disarray or chaos.  There is a tremendous intelligence behind everything.  Bhrigu therefore announced to his father that mind is Brahman.  Still unsatisfied with his son's level of realization.  Varuna sent Bhirgu back to continue the practice of manana.

       Upon deeper reflection, Brighu realized that intellect or vijnana was higher than the mind, which ever fluctuates due to sensory input, thoughts and desires.  It is intellect, vijnana that has the ability to organize and direct the thoughts in a particular way.

       The teachings of the scriptures describe the whole universe resting upon the hoods of Sheesha, the cosmic serpent, which is symbolic of the cosmic mind.  And the thought waves of the mind are the hoods of the serpent, or cosmic mentation that  sustains the universe.  Not a single atom, a single particle of matter moves without the operation of Divine intelligence, "Intellect is Brahman."  But again, Varuna instructed his son to continue reflecting.

       As his practice deepened, Brigu was led to inquire what exists beyond the intellect.  He realized that a deeper part of his being, the unconscious, continues to exist during deep sleep.  Further, the bliss of Brahman diffuses through the veil of the unconscious since the ego is temporarily absent in deep sleep and one is closer to God.

       Going beyond the unconscious plane of ignorance through the experience of samadhi or super consciousness, Bhrigu had a direct experience of the bliss of Brahman--the true nature of Brahman. When he relayed to his father that ananda, or bliss, is Brahman, his father became extremely happy, and told Bhrigu that it was no longer necessary to practice austerity.  By negating each  previous level of understanding, his reflection had finally led him to the highest experience of Brahman.

       In Vedanta, these levels are theoretically referred to as annamaya kosa (food sheath), pranamaya kosa (the vital sheath), manomaya kosa (sheath of the mind and senses), vijnanamaya kosa (sheath of the intellect and ego and finally, the bliss sheath (anandamaya kosa).  In each stage of austerity, Bhrigu had to step beyond his current level of realization, and when he had fully transcended or negated the physical, vital, mental and intellectual sheaths, he achieved pure bliss.  He simply and spontaneously experienced the pure bliss that is the very nature of Brahman.

       This story from the Upanishads highlights the need for sustained and patient reflection in the life of an aspirant.  Through manana, you are propelled into a deep process of vicara or inquiry into "Who am I?"  Your mind begins to enjoy probing into the nature of the individual soul (jiva) or the reality within you, as well as into the nature of the world around you.  Gradually you come to know that the reality underlying your personality as well as the vast universe is the non dual Self, Brahman.  That Brahman is the only reality, internally and externally.  As this understanding grows, your link with the go is increasingly weakened until, eventually, it dissolves completely in the Bliss of Self-realization.

Soure:  Excerpts from the article written by Swami Jyotirmayananda.  International Yoga Guide January-March 2003, Vol.40:5-7.

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