The Upanishad pantheist
The most famous pantheist proposition1 of the Upanishads was ‘tattvamasi’, meaning: ‘Thou art that.’ Nobody knows precisely what ‘tattvamasi’ means since the proposition is incomplete2 and, moreover, none of the three words used are defined.3
However, when read together with the other pantheist propositions found in the Upanishads, such as ‘I am Brahman4’, ‘You too are Brahman’, ‘All is Brahman’ and ‘This whole world is Brahman’, whereby the notion of Brahman is not cleanly defined,5 ‘tattvamasi’ could be interpreted to mean that the real-time-form (as) fact is identical with the unreal-timeless-formless (as) principle, i.e. that ‘All is One’.6
But no sooner had the Upanishad pantheist spoken his ‘You are IT7’, that is to say, ‘You and IT are identical’, intuition he began to realise its wholly unacceptable implications, at least for ordinary folk.8 For he understood not only that the ‘That’ is fundamentally incomplete9 but that the ‘thou’ actually means ‘warts and all’10,11 and that ‘art’ means ‘merciless survival (and selection) struggle.’12
What ‘tattvamasi’ actually means in simple everyday terms is: ‘Everything has grown’, i.e. ‘You too are Brahman!’13 And which proposes in wonder inspiring words14 what everyone already knows via painful experience.
Common to the pantheist and the henotheist, and indeed, to all living systems is the need to achieve salvation.15 And every ‘growth’ effort is directed towards that end. Alas, salvation happens via 2 modes15 and sequentially. So the Upanishad pantheist merely attempts to describe the basic, thus universal route to both salvations and the most efficient travelling practice.17
© 2018 by Victor Langheld
1. The proposition is a fantasy, a fiction, a speculation, and off-the-cuff guess.
2. It is incomplete because there is no indication as to whether or not is should be read as: ‘Thou art that in principle’ (or even ideally) or ‘Thou art that in fact’ (i.e. in everyday practice, reality). This is crucial since elsewhere in the Upanishads the notion of the nominalized atman, taken to mean: ‘animating breath’, elsewhere translated and popularised as (universal) self, even soul, is brought into play in order to separate the (universal, wrongly proposed as ultimate reality) THAT from the everyday (wrongly proposed as false reality or Maya) ‘thou-as-that’ to allow for both a salvation (rescue from Samsara) haven and the politics that decide compliant (hence good) behaviour leading to that salvation haven to emerge.
3. No details, i.e. specifications are given, hence they stand as nirguna.
4. Brahman is a nominalization of the Sanskrit verb ‘brh’, meaning: to grow, expand and so on, in a word, create.
5. From notional propositions offered in later Upanishads the Brahman is best understood as two-fold, namely as either the (formless, not yet characterised) principle (or template) of creation, hence as ‘Creating-device-as-such;’ or as the saguna (i.e. formal) Brahman applying itself as the nirguna (i.e. formless) Brahman in practice, therefore as everyday fact.
6. In other words, the (the fully recursive) principle (of creation) and its application (the created) are fundamentally identical. Or, since the created emerges as a mere (transient) niche (i.e. differential) application (or a wholly recursive fractal) of the creating principle, they are basically identical, though the one appears and the other doesn’t.
7. That is to say, ‘You’ happen as recursive differential application, hence fractal elaboration, of ‘IT,’ i.e. of the principle (as template or algorithm) of application.
8. Meaning the not negative (thought often experienced as negative) but highly complicated implications for attaining salvation.
9. See Brihadaranyakaupanishad 1.4.11: ‘Verily, in the beginning this (?) was Brahman, one only. That, being one, did not flourish.’ That chapter offers several versions of the creation story. See also Genesis 1 & 2 and 3.
10. He realised that the Brahman, i.e. the IT that creates, grounds (and so includes) all its local elaborations (i.e. its niche appearances) and the good (i.e. profitable, i.e. beneficial for survival), bad (i.e. unprofitable) and indifferent qualities that emerge from them. In other words, in the nirguna Brahman (i.e. the creation principle or template) no qualities exist save the potential to create (i.e. grow) the conditions from which all qualities emerge, the type of quality created depending on prevailing circumstances or conditions (to wit, the already existing niches).
11. ‘Warts and all’ means that all things-of-the-world are Brahman, even the most unpleasant. That does indeed force a very unpleasant rethink about Brahman (indeed of all gods).
12. Meaning: samsara
13. For ‘Brahman’ read: the principle of growth (i.e. of creation), i.e. ‘THAT’ and ‘the grown (i.e. the created’), i.e. ‘this.’
14. By so doing the Upanishad pantheist sets up the salvation (from the horrendous interplay of Brahmans self-applications, namely samsara) outcome and the route (as means or practice, i.e. Yoga) to it.
15. . After all, ‘One can’t tango.’
16. That is to say, gloss over with fine priestly words.
17. The multiple creation stories (i.e. fantasies) of the Upanishads describe the basic (mostly) negative human condition (i.e. samsara) and the means of changing it to a more positive outcome, namely (self-defeating = Brahman defeating) moksha (or mukti) as release18 from samsara. The descriptions are then universalised (as in a fairy tale or fable) to serve as templates (i.e. as personal and social behaviour engineering strategies) for more efficient human behaviour (as in goal achievement) and survival, the latter being signalled with the various intensities of happiness.
18. True release, i.e. moksha = freedom happens off the front edge of the curve (as wave). True slavery happens towards the back of the curve (as wave). False release, i.e. false moksha, so widely propagated as the ideal of human achievement by the hereditary, hence closed system perpetuating, meaning philosophically inbred Brahmins and self-serving Gurus in India, means ‘merging’ with the fundamentally incomplete One (prior to all). The goal (or ideal) of ‘merging with the One’, to wit kaivalya, plus the curse of the hereditary caste system that actually impeded the emergence of creative talent (particularly from the caste of the sudras, the majority population), and so of change, contributed significantly to the ‘dark ages’ of India and from which it has only recently emerged, despite fierce cultural torpor, by intervention from without, that is to say, with the unsolicited help of non-Indian avatars such as the Moghuls and the English.