Vedanta - Isavasya Upanishad - Slokas 12-14 - Introduction - Part 3 - Mind, Hiranyagarbha and sambhuti upasana
The mind and the brain
What will you say when you see after a very long period (say after 50 years), a old school mate of yours in a crowd ?
Will you say ?
“I could see and recognise my fifth-grade school mate in the crowd because he has that characteristic physical feature with respect to his ears which was so unusual and I still remembered it after all these years.”
“A barrage of photons landed on my retina, exciting the optic nerve so that it carried an electrical signal to my lateral geniculate body and thence to my primary visual cortex, from which signals raced to my striate cortex to determine the image’s color and orientation, and to my prefrontal cortex and inferotemporal cortex for object recognition and memory retrieval—causing me to recognize my fifth grade school mate.”
In other words, essentially we are talking about subtle and gross, our mind and brain.
The mind, after all, is generally regarded as synonymous with our thoughts, feelings, memories, and beliefs, and as the source of our behaviors. It’s not made of material, but we think of it as quite powerful.
The brain, the three-pound slab of tofu-textured tissue inside our skull, is recognized (by scientists, at least) as the physical source of all that we call mind. If you are having a thought or experiencing an emotion, it’s because your brain has done something—specifically, electrical signals crackled along a whole bunch of neurons and those neurons handed off droplets of neurochemicals, like runners handing off a baton in a relay race.
Most of the Neuroscientists insist that we should not invoke the mind as if it is real, or distinct from the brain. They reject the notion that the mind has an existence independent of the brain.
Limitations of study of individual mind/brain
Cognitive neuroscience seeks to discover the biological foundations of the human mind. One goal is to explain how mental operations are generated by the information processing architecture of the human brain.
In our everyday world we draw on our own experience, observe the physical world around us, take part in the social world, find guidance from our ethical context, delight in our aesthetic experiences and feel in sympathy with close friends and also reflect on the meaning we construct from all of those things.
Under these circumstances is it the correct approach to look at human brain/mind in isolation? Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and two others, address the limitations of studying brains in isolation, out of the context in which they operate and stripped of the resources they rely on for optimal function. “In cognitive neuroscience, the standard approach is essentially to assume that knowledge is represented in the individual brain and transferred between individuals,” Barbey said. “But there are, we think, important cases where those assumptions begin to break down. The challenge for cognitive neuroscience becomes how to capture knowledge that does not reside in the individual brain but is outsourced to the community,” Barbey said. “Cognition extends into the physical world and the brains of others.”
The concept of Collective Mind
This leads us to an important area for study - the collective mind/collective consciousness/collective intelligence
Aron Barbey further states that neuroscientific methods such as functional MRI were designed to track activity in one brain at a time and have limited capacity for capturing the dynamics that occur when individuals interact in large communities. Some neuroscientists are trying to overcome this limitation. In a recent study, researchers placed two people face-to-face in a scanner and tracked their brain activity and eye movements while they interacted. Other teams use a technique called “hyperscanning,” which allows the simultaneous recording of brain activity in people who are physically distant from each another but interacting online. Such efforts have found evidence suggesting that the same brain regions are activated in people who are effectively communicating with one another or cooperating on a task, Barbey said. These studies are also showing how brains operate differently from one another, depending on the type of interaction and the context.
Carl Jung believed that human beings are connected to each other and their ancestors through a shared set of experiences. We use this collective consciousness to give meaning to the world. The human subconscious is not only the repository of personal experiences and memories but also those of the whole of humanity. All human beings share a subconscious mind that stores the memories of all human beings, alive and dead. According to Jung, we carry the memories of our ancestors in our subconscious. We use this collective unconscious to assign structure and meaning to the world.
A mind is the action dimension of the physical brain, and is the origin of collective thinking. A collective mind considers relationships between parts and wholes, stability and change, individuals and society and rationality and creativity rather than boundaries that divide them. A collective mind appreciates each of those ways of understanding for itself as well as contributing to understanding the whole.
Extensive research is going on around the world to study the collective mind/collective consciousness.
The Concept of Hiranyagarbha
Let us now stretch these scientific studies of collective mind/collective consciousness/collective intelligence to the Macro/Cosmic level.
Look out into the universe at night and ask yourselves these questions.
Do we make comparisons between right and wrong stars, between well and badly arranged constellations ?
Do we live on an unimportant (!) rock ball that revolves around an insignificant (!) star on the outer edges of one of the galaxies?
Do we find a clearly laid out processes of creation, maintenance and destruction?
Do we find a common thread of “consciousness”around living beings?
We see order in everything, don’t we ? (Except perhaps when it comes to our own actions in dealing with this universe).
From where does this order come from ? Surely, there must be some collective mind/collective intelligence/collective consciousness working somewhere out there. Please mark my word. I haven’t used the word “collective brain”.
To my limited knowledge and understanding, that total mind and intellect (called as samaṣṭi manaḥ) is otherwise called as Hiranyagarbha and is the first creation as per our Vedic wisdom evolved thousands of years back.
Here is an interesting commentary on Hiranyagarbha.
Hiraṇyam literally means gold, but in this context, it represents knowledge. Both gold and knowledge shine and therefore, they are synonymously used here. Hiraṇyam refers to gold-like shining knowledge that removes ignorance (darkness). Garbhaḥ in this context means within (garbhaḥ literally means the womb). Therefore, Hiraṇyagarbha means: within whom there is infinite knowledge.
Since Hiraṇyagarbha represents total mind and intellect (samaṣṭi manaḥ), it is not possible for the individual mind to conceive of the totality. The human intellect is too small to conceive of omniscience. Hiraṇyagarbha, being the total subtle body, is not perceptible by the sense organs.
In sambhuti upasana, Hiraṇyagarbha is to be meditated here.
This subject has been discussed in detail in Taitreya Upanishad Anuvakam 6. I must confess that I have not studied this and can only reproduce what Swami Paramarthananda’s commentary on this:
“If Hiranyagarbha is inconceivable by the individual mind, then how can one meditate on Hiraṇyagarbha? How can one conceive of the inconceivable? The technique is to use a symbol (ālambanam). The best symbol for the total mind is the individual mind (vyaṣṭi manaḥ). Essentially we are talking about focussing our attention on to our own mind which means “meditation is Hiranyagrabha Upasana”. This is the broad understanding.
Where is this individual mind is located? The śāstras say that the mind is distinctly different from the brain. The mind is a subtle instrument while the brain is a physical and tangible organ. At the time of death, brain will be burnt into ashes. As per the śāstras, the mind will not only survive after the body dies, but will travel in search of another body. Science has not accepted this.
The scriptures say that every subtle instrument (indriyam) has a physical location (golakam) in the body. For example, cakṣuḥ(eyesight) is the indriyam behind seeing and the eyeballs are the golakam.In a blind person, golakam is present, but indriyam is not. As per Śaṅkarācārya, the golakam for the mind is hr̥dayam, the physical heart. During the jāgrata avasthā (waking state), the mind functions all over the body. In the suṣupti avasthā, the mind withdraws from the body and returns to its residence, the physical heart (hr̥ dayam). Hiraṇyagarbha as the total mind is sarvajñaḥ and sarva-jñāna-śakitmān (omniscient). As the total prāṇa, he is sarva-kriyā-śaktimān(omnipotent).
This upāsanā is defined as nikr̥ ṣṭa vastunī utkr̥ ṣṭa darśanam upāsanā because the inferior (limited) individual mind (nikr̥ṣṭa)is used to visualize the superior (limitless) total mind (utkr̥ ṣṭa). Since Hiraṇyagarbha is visualized upon myself (my mind), it is called aham graha upāsanā. With niṣkāma Hiraṇyagarbha upāsanā, one gets the eligibility to pursue jñāna (jñāna yogyatā prāpti)? With sakāma upāsanā, the benefit is Brahmaloka prāpti or Hiraṇyagarbha prāpti. This attainment of Brahmalokais a posthumous reward.”
Sambhuti Upasana - The process & the fruit
Essentially meditation is the main technique used in this Upasana. Now those who meditate on sambhūti are those who meditate on the cosmos, that all creation is a single unit and that prakrti is not separate from consciousness.
The process of meditation on sambhūti even though it is cosmic in character, it is only an upāsana; and the object for upāsana in which avyaktam is taken as an object, i.e., you consider that you are different and the avyaktam is different and you are meditating on the other. Therefore Sambhūti upasana by itself is not the door to mukti
Through the worship of the Manifest or Hiranyagarbha one attains relative immortality and thence krama-mukti. It is mentioned in the scriptures that the Hiraṇyagarbha upāsaka will attain brahmaloka after death.The bundle of the subtle and causal bodies (sūkṣma-kāraṇa-śarira) travels to Brahmaloka in the path called śukla-gatiḥ which means bright or well-lit path.
Scriptures say that śuklagatiḥ starts at the hr̥ dayam. At the time of death, the sūkṣma śarīram of the upāsaka is withdrawn into his hr̥dayam. Kaṭhopaniṣad says that 101 main nāḍis(subtle part) emerge from hr̥ dayam. The main nāḍi is called the suṣumṇānāḍi, which travels upward through the middle of the body, through the middle of the neck, then through the inner part of (fleshy hanging part - uvula), and then to the top of the head (ucci) where it opens. This opening is called brahma randhram. Then it goes upwards and passes through the middle of the sun and reaches Brahmaloka. Since the śukla gati takes one to Brahmaloka, it gets a special title to this path: indrayoniḥ. Indra in this context is Brahmāji or Hiraṇyagarbha. Yoniḥ means path (mārgaḥ).
The eight siddhis and all possible greatness come to one who attains this Hiranyagarbha; but there is the danger of being satisfied with this state, and hence it is worse than getting dissolved in the Unmanifest which at least gives rise to the pain of birth and death and makes one realise the unsatisfactory condition one is in. Knowledge that is not perfect and is within the ken of prakriti is productive of egoism. Vikshepa or distraction is worse than Avarana. The state of Hiranyagarbha is one of vikshepa, because there is universal objective consciousness and cosmic enjoyment in it. But even Hiranyagarbha gets dissolved in the Absolute and hence his state is less than the Absolute.
With these introductions we will now study the Slokas in the forthcoming blogs.
Note: These concepts are complex and have been dealt extensively by Seers, Saints, Philosophers and learned people. A novice like me can at best consolidate what is available and present it in a way that he/she has digested. I have done exactly that. Kindly pardon me for errors if any in my understanding and expression thereof. Thanks 🙏