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This belongs to Atharvaveda. The central theme of this Upanishad is to give an exposition of Akshara. Before this is given, it also gives an idea of Paravidya and Aparavidya.
parAvidyA And aparAvidyA
The sacred literature consisting of Vedas, Vedaanga, Itihaasa, PuraaNa, etc., known as 14 vidyasthaana-s constitute both parAvidyA and aparAvidyA. The classification of Paravidya or otherwise is not a division of texts, but a classification based on view points. When Akshara or God is understood with the help of the same literature, it is called parAvidyA, while when one uses these texts to understand rituals, other deities etc., it is aparAvidyA. Therefore, the contention of some schools that only Upanishads constitute parAvidyA, while Samhita-s, etc., aparAvidyA is incorrect.
Nature of Akshara
The Akshara has no beginning, no end. It is all-pervasive, subtle. It has no sense organs of Prakrta type and is beyond the senses and the mind. It can never be fully comprehended. It is not subject to any modification, but is the cause of all.
Process And Purpose Of Creation
The process of creation by Akshara is explained with three beautiful illustrations. An UrNanAbhi (spider) creating its web threads and taking them back, plants growing from earth, and hairs growing on the body are the three examples of creation of all things by Akshara. The illustrations make the the nature of creation very clear. An UrNanAbhi does not convert itself into thread, but functions as an efficient cause for the material taken in by it to be so converted. Similarly, God takes Prakrti into His womb during laya (universal dissolution) and creates mahat.h and other constituents of the world during srshhTi. This illustration clearly rules out both the pariNAma (transformation of God Himself into the world) or vivarta (projection of an unreal world) theories of creation. It is clear that God is described as the Efficient and Prakrti, the material cause of creation. The second example of plants being born out of different seeds on the earth shows that things and beings are born with a variety of natures and different capacities, based on their intrinsic natures and past karmas. The differences cannot be attributed to God, who is thus free of the blemishes of vaishamya (discrimination) and nairgh.rNya (cruelty). The third example of hairs growing out of a body, indicates that for Akshara, creation is spontaneous and without exertion.
The three illustrations thus show that:
1. God is the efficient cause of creation and not its material cause.
2. No discrimination or cruelty can be attributed to God, based on the endless variety in creation.
3. His creation is spontaneous and effortless.
It is noteworthy that not only do none of the examples support pariNAma or vivarta theory. It is also impossible to explain why there are three different examples conveying three different aspects, if the purpose was to convey the single theory of pariNAma or vivarta.
Purpose Of karmaanushhThaana
An important question raised in the Upanishad is as to what is the purpose of performance of prescribed rituals and sacrifices. The answer given is that these have to be performed with dedication to God, for purification of mind for acquiring knowledge of God. The final objective of bhagavadj~nAna or God-knowledge is of utmost importance and the other steps as well as knowledge of other deities and rituals find their fulfilment with it. Performance of rituals with this awareness and in total dedication to God will not function as an obstacle to higher knowledge. Performance without such awareness is like trying to cross the sea with a leaking boat. The essential point to note here is that Karmas are to be performed as prescribed with the right perspective and are not to be rejected.
The Upanishad also explains tatvas.rishhTi, yaj~nas.rshhTi, etc. In this context, an important point stated here is that there is no difference between God and His s.rshhTikaarya (act of creation), j~naana (universal all encompassing knowledge), bala (strength, capacity), etc. This is especially brought out in the passage purushha eva idaM vishvaM karma, tapo, brahma, etc. The Upanishad thus rejects any difference between God and His attributes. The same doctrine is also stated in the passages ekameva advitiyaM and neha nAnAsti kiJNchana, etc. All these texts state the abheda (non-difference) between God and His Attributes, and not the abheda of Advaita (Identity of God with the souls).
Methodology Of Meditation
A beautiful simile of the bow and arrow is given to explain the methodology of meditation. Pranava or Omkara is the bow, mind is the arrow and Akshara or Brahman is the aim. The devotee should carefully aim at hitting the target. Akshara controls not only p.rthivii (earth), dyau (heavens), antariksha (space), prANa (life), etc., but also all the nADi-s (control centres) within our body. When He is realized, the bondage due to avidyA etc is loosened, and the past deeds (karma) are destroyed. The Supreme being to be realized is at the heart itself, in sUryamaNDala (solar orb), in front and behind, above and below, and everywhere. The parable of the two birds sitting on the same tree is given here. One of them, jiiva or the soul enjoys the fruits of his deeds, while the other only watches without eating any fruits. The jiiva is released from bondage only when he realizes the glory of God. The Upanishad also states emphatically that God cannot be realized by merely studying the scriptures, or by stretching the efforts of one9s intelligence to the utmost. He will be realised only by those who are chosen by Him.
The Liberated Discovers Similarity But Not Identity With God
Two important statements describing the liberated state in the Upanishad merit special attention. These are:
1. niraJNjanaH paramaM sAmyaM upaiti, and
2. pare avyave sarve ekibhavanti.
The first statement brings out the fact that the liberated soul being free from aj~nAna or avidyAdoshha attains similarity with God in respect of being free from sorrow, enjoying bliss etc. God and the soul are similar to each other as they are Bimba and Pratibimba. This similarity has been eclipsed by avidyA, etc., earlier and is made manifest in the liberated state. This fact brought out in this text leaves no room for jiiva-brahmaikya or identity. The second text states that the liberated souls stand together with God and in tune with His will. In the context of this passage, there is a reference to the deities of 15 Kalas, the deity controlling the Karma and the liberated soul. All these stand in tune with His will. It is therefore incorrect to take this text in isolation and read identity between the liberated soul and Brahman. The illustration of rivers joining the sea, in the next passage indicates attainment of God and not Identity with Him. It is also stated that the liberated soul casts away his prAk.rta form, name, etc., and attains his svarUpabhUta form and name. The reference to parAtpara purushha is a reference to Sarvottama (greater than all) God. Therefore, there is no scope for interpreting any texts in this context as favoring Identity.
The main teachings of the Atharvanopanishad may be summed up as follows:
1. Nature of Akshara.
2. Para and Apara Vidya.
3. Purpose of karmAnushhThaana.
4. Purpose and process of creation (with three illustrations).
5. Status of the liberated soul.