The earliest Upanishads (knowledge of the self) arose in the explanations (Brahmanas) of ritualistic sacrifices and the hymns or Mantras attending them addressed to the Vedic gods of thunder, fire, sun and moon etc.The question arose as to where the chants emanated from and where they went in serving to fulfill man’s desires.

In this manner, the earliest somewhat naive speculations sought to explain the origins of the world and its substance, quite incidentally so to speak in the course of performing rituals of worship. The famous Creation Hymn of the Rig-Veda ( see previous post ) had already blazed a path by encouraging speculation in that direction. The earliest speculation was ( as also with the Greeks and Semetics) that the original substance was indeed Water. Thus the Chandokya Upanishad states:

” Atmosphere, sky, gods and man, animals and birds, grass and trees, beasts and worms, insects – all are just water solidified”

The concept of the soul (Atman) had also appeared equivocally, earlier conceived as emerging from water but later as having created the water itself and from its substance created the Cosmic Man and from its limbs created the different parts of the world.

Another postulate which gained currency was that the world arose from Space. Yet another supposition was that it arose from a Cosmic egg. In the beggining it was Non-Being and later turned into an egg. On splitting one part became the earth, the other the sky, its veins became rivers, its fluid the ocean.

Beyond the cosmogenic space and egg theories arose a more abstract and philosophical interpretation. Space arose from the Imperishable – From Non-Being arose Being.

Yagnyavalka the great sage replies his curious and persistant spouse thus:

”Verily O Gargi at the command of the Imperishable the sun and the moon arose…at (his) command the earth and the sky…the moments, the hours, the days, the nights, the fortnites, the months, the seasons and the years…at the command…some rivers flow…to the east, others to the west.”  – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Thus speculative theories moving from Water to Space and Golden Egg (Hiranyagarbh) finally arrived at the Imperishable and the speculations began to establish a single origin and connectivity which were the first stirrings of ‘Intelligent Monism’.

Towards the close of the Vedic period (Vedant) these diverse conjectuers were superceded by the emergence of the concept of Brahma or Brahman, a hint of which concept not yet named is already available in the Rig-Veda hymn of Creation:

”There was then neither being nor non-being…without breath breathed by its own power ‘That One’.

Thus we find that the evolving speculation arising from ritualism moved to philosophical and mystical interpretations which appeared to be heading towards  Monistic conclusion. While the ritualism and its theology was concerned with the extrovert physical world, propitiating the gods through sacrifice for earthly empowerment and mastery over the forces of nature, the transcendental philosophers had turned inwards, seeking and discovering the real source of that power rather than its superficial external evidence. Rather than channelizing this force externally for human use through magical rituals and incantations, they preferred to seek to discover its secret nature and in the process began a process of devaluing the ritualism and the gods which focussed on the external physical world, its goals and ambitions in favour of their quest for the innermost and fundamental truths.

The cosmological theories of Water, Space and Egg when compared with the emerging idea of Brahman as the source had a fundamental difference. Brahman unlike them had consciousness. Yet the concept of Brahman largely remained inconprehensible and unexplained. ( Brahman in Sanskrit loosely translated means Holy Power). While the old cosmologiies of Water, Space, Egg and even an Imperishiable entity were merely a source or origin from which  creation emerged, the new concept of Brahman became much more. The earlier theory of Brahman as the holy power had merely supplanted Water, Space and Egg. Then Brahman too while procreating the world ( procreating because Brahman felt lonely and willed that he had a consort and thus his female aspect appeared with whom he procreated the world) remained quite distict and apart from it.

But now suddenly according to the Taittriya upanishad ” having created it, into it he entered” and again we see in the Chandogya Upanishad ” That divinity thought to itself – ‘come let me enter these divinities( heat, water and food)” – thus from being the ‘One’ he progressed to being the ‘All’ No longer was Brhaman merely the creator but now he entered his own creation and became inseperable from it. We see this immanence of Brahman in the Chandogya Upanishad: ”Verily the whole world is Brahman.” This finally established the pantheism of the Upanishads which earlier had been only a latent concept. Later this was made more explicit in the Mundaka Upanishad:

” Brahma, indeed is this immortal, Brahma before,

Brahma behind, to the right and to the left,

Streched forth below and above,

Brahma, indeed, is this whole world, this widest extent.”

Again in the Manddukya upanishad:

”For truely, everything here is Brahma.”

Now, from the goals of extrovert ritualism to gain physical advatages and empowerment, the Upanishads moved to the Monist and Pantheistic conceptions of merging all objective phenomena into one unity.

The concept of Brahman had yet to take another leap in its transformation into a comprehensive concept, that of a Soul, on the one hand embracing all physical and spiritual realms as one immanent, ubiquitous supersoul and on the other as the individual soul within man. Of that, more in the next post.