The Avyakta Upanishad is an ancient Hindu scripture that explores the mysteries of creation, existence, and liberation. It belongs to the Vaishnava tradition and is associated with the Samaveda, one of the four Vedas. The word Avyakta means “the unmanifest”, “the invisible” or “the primordial nature” of reality. It refers to both the source and the substance of everything that exists, including the supreme reality (Brahman) and the individual self (Atman). ¹²
The Avyakta Upanishad presents a cosmological vision that is both scientific and spiritual. It describes how the universe emerged from a state of nothingness, where only a faint light of consciousness existed. This light gradually manifested into various forms of matter and energy, following a process of evolution and involution. The Upanishad also explains how the individual self is related to the supreme reality, and how one can attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death by realizing their true nature. ³
In this blog post, we will explore some of the themes and insights of the Avyakta Upanishad, and how they resonate with modern thought and science. We will focus on three main aspects:
- The origin and nature of the universe
- The concept of Avyakta as the unmanifest reality
- The path to liberation and enlightenment
The Origin and Nature of the Universe
The Avyakta Upanishad begins with a bold statement:
Formerly there was nothing here, neither the sky, nor the atmosphere, nor the earth. There was only an appearance of light, having no beginning and no end. Neither small nor large, formless yet having a form. Indistinguishable yet imbued with knowledge, consisting of bliss.
This statement echoes the famous Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which questions the origin of the universe and whether even the Supreme Being knows how it came to be. It also anticipates some of the modern cosmological theories, such as the Big Bang, which suggest that the universe originated from a singularity, a point of infinite density and temperature, where space and time did not exist.
The Upanishad then describes how this light of consciousness gradually manifested into various forms of matter and energy, following a process of evolution and involution. The first manifestation was Mahat (the great principle), which is identified with Vishnu, the supreme lord and preserver.
From Mahat came Ahamkara (the ego principle), which is identified with Brahma, the creator god. From Ahamkara came Manas (the mind principle), which is identified with Shiva, the destroyer god. From Manas came tanmatras (the subtle elements), from which came Mahabhutas (the gross elements), and from which came Bhutas (the living beings).
The Upanishad also explains how this process works in reverse, as a way of dissolution or involution. When a living being dies, its gross elements return to their subtle forms, then to their causal forms, then to their unmanifest forms, until they reach Avyakta, the source of all creation. This cycle of creation and dissolution is called Samsara, and it is governed by Karma, the law of cause and effect.
The Upanishad’s cosmological vision is remarkable for its scientific spirit and its spiritual depth. It shows how everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent, arising from a common source and returning to it. It also shows how everything in the universe is dynamic and cyclical, undergoing constant change and transformation. It also shows how everything in the universe is conscious and blissful, reflecting the nature of its source.
The concept of Avyakta as the unmanifest reality
The Avyakta Upanishad introduces a unique concept that is not found in other Upanishads: Avyakta as the unmanifest reality. Avyakta is both the source and the substance of everything that exists, including Brahman (the supreme reality) and Atman (the individual self). Avyakta is also synonymous with Prakriti (the primordial nature) in Samkhya philosophy, Maya (the illusory power) in Vedanta philosophy and Shakti (the creative energy) in Tantra philosophy.
Avyakta is described as “the unevolved, not manifest, undeveloped, imperceptible, invisible, universal Spirit”. It is also described as “the primordial nature, the womb of all beings, the mother of all gods, the cause of all causes, the support of all supports”. It is also described as “the eternal, the infinite, the blissful, the pure, the peaceful, the auspicious, the supreme”.
Avyakta is not a personal or anthropomorphic deity, but a metaphysical principle that transcends all categories and distinctions. It is not a creator or a controller of the universe, but a witness and a participant of it. It is not separate or different from the universe, but identical and identical with it. It is not affected or limited by the universe but pervades and transcends it.
The concept of Avyakta as the unmanifest reality is a profound and radical one, that challenges some of the conventional notions of God and reality. It suggests that reality is not something that can be fully grasped or defined by human concepts and language, but something that can only be experienced and realized by direct intuition and insight.
It also suggests that reality is not something that is fixed or static, but something that is fluid and dynamic, constantly evolving and manifesting in various forms and modes. It also suggests that reality is not something that is dualistic or pluralistic, but something that is non-dualistic and monistic, expressing itself in diversity and unity.
The Path to Liberation and Enlightenment
The Avyakta Upanishad also offers practical and ethical guidance for those who seek liberation and enlightenment from the cycle of Samsara. It teaches that the ultimate goal of human life is to realize one’s true nature as Avyakta, which is identical to Brahman and Atman. This realization is called Moksha (liberation) or Kaivalya (isolation), and it leads to eternal peace and bliss.
The Upanishad prescribes three main means to attain this realization: Shravana (listening), Manana (reflection), and Nididhyasana (meditation). Shravana means listening to the teachings of the Upanishads from a qualified teacher or guru. Manana means reflecting on the teachings with reason and logic. Nididhyasana means meditating on the teachings with concentration and devotion.
The Upanishad also emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous and disciplined life, in accordance with Dharma (righteousness) and Karma (action). It advises to avoid evil deeds and thoughts, such as violence, greed, lust, anger, envy, pride, etc. It advises practicing good deeds and thoughts, such as non-violence, generosity, purity, compassion, humility, etc.
It advises to perform one’s duties and obligations without attachment or expectation of results. It advises cultivating detachment and renunciation from worldly pleasures and possessions. It advises to worship Vishnu as the supreme lord and teacher, who can grant grace and guidance to the seekers.
The Upanishad’s path to liberation and enlightenment is a holistic and comprehensive one, that integrates knowledge and action, reason and faith, ethics and spirituality. It shows how one can transform one’s life from ignorance and suffering to wisdom and happiness. It shows how one can transcend one’s ego and individuality to realize one’s essence and universality.
The Avyakta Upanishad is a remarkable text that offers a rich and profound vision of reality, self, and liberation. It presents a cosmological vision that is both scientific and spiritual, describing how the universe emerged from a state of nothingness into a state of diversity and complexity. It introduces a unique concept of Avyakta as the unmanifest reality, which is both the source and the substance of everything that exists. It offers practical and ethical guidance for those who seek liberation and enlightenment from the cycle of Samsara.
The Avyakta Upanishad is relevant to modern thought and science, as it resonates with some of their insights and challenges some of their assumptions. It invites us to explore the mysteries of creation and existence with an open mind and heart. It invites us to experience reality beyond our concepts and language with direct intuition and insight. It invites us to realize our true nature beyond our ego and individuality with detachment and renunciation.
The Avyakta Upanishad is a treasure of wisdom that can inspire us to live a meaningful and joyful life.
(1) Avyakta Upanishad – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avyakta_Upanishad
(2) Avyakta – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avyakta
(3) Avyakta Upanishad – Vyasa Mahabharata. https://www.vyasaonline.com/avyakta-upanishad/