U. Mahesh Prabhu

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Vedic Concept of Adhyatma (Spirituality)

Vedic seers have declared that by receiving the knowledge of Adhyatma (roughly translated as Spirituality) an individual can identify and, thereafter, resolve all troubles, roadblocks and crisis in path to one’s prosperity. The following is the concept of Adhyatma professed by Bhishma in Mahabharata’s Shanti Parva (Chapter of Peace).  The following is my (U. Mahesh Prabhu’s) translation from original Sanskrit.



Prithvi, Vayu, Akash, Toyam & Agni

Adhyatma suggests that Prithvi (Earth), Vayu (Wind), Akash (Space), Toyam (Water) and Agni (Fire) are the fundamental elements causing origin as well as destruction of all creatures. The bodies of living creatures are the result of combination of the virtues of those five elements. Those virtues, whose combination produce the bodies of creatures, repeatedly start into existence and repeatedly merge into the original cause of all things. From those five primal essences all creatures are created, and into those five great elements all the creatures resolve themselves, repeatedly, like the infinite waves of the Ocean rising from the Ocean and subsiding into the very water from which it arose. Just like tortoise which stretches forth its legs and withdraws them again into itself, even so the infinite number of creature spring from and enter these five great fixed elements.



Sound springs from Space. All dense matter is the attribute of Earth. Life is from Wind. Taste is from Water. Form is said to be the property of Light (Fire). The entire mobile and immobile universe is made from these five great elements in various proportions. When Pralay (Destruction) comes, the infinite diversity of creatures resolve themselves into those five, and once more, when Shristi (Creation) begins, they spring from the same five.

In man the sense of Knowledge are five. Sound, the ears, and all cavities are caused due to Space. Taste, all watery or juicy substances, and the tongue are caused by Water. Form, the eye, and the digestive fire in the stomach, are said to partake of the nature of Fire (Light). Scent, the organ of smelling, and the body, are properties of Earth. Life, touch, and action are said to be the properties of Wind. That which is called the Understanding dwells in the interior of what you seek above the soles of the feet and below the crown of the head.

The sixth (sense) is the Mind. The seventh is called the Understanding. The Kshetrajna or Soul is the eight. The senses and that which is the actor should be ascertained by apprehension of their respective functions.

The senses exist for simply seizing the impressions of their respective objects. The mind has doubt for its function. The understanding is for ascertainment. The Kshetrajna is said to be only an inactive witness (of the functions of the others). Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, Time and Acts direct the Understanding.

That by which the Understanding sees is called the eye. When the Understanding hears, it is called the ear. When she smells, she becomes the scent; and when she tastes the various objects of taste, she becomes to be called by the name of tongue. When again she feels the touch of the various objects of touch, she becomes the sense of touch. It is the Understanding that becomes modified diversely and frequently. When the Understanding desires anything, she becomes Mind. The five senses with the Mind, which separately constitute foundations of Understandings are the creations of Understanding. They are called Indriyas. When they become stained, the Understanding also becomes stained.



Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas

The Understanding, dwelling in Jiva (life), exists in three states. Sometimes she obtains joy; sometimes she indulges in grief; and sometimes she exists in a state that is neither pleasure nor pain. Having for her essence these conditions or states (viz., Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas), the understanding resolves through these three states. Understanding which exists in connection with the three states, exists in the Mind (including the senses).

Transport of delight, joy, gladness, happiness and contentedness of heart, these, when somehow excited, are the properties of Sattwa. Heart-burning, grief, sorrow, discontentedness and unforgiving-ness arising from a particular causes are result of Rajas. Ignorance, attachment and error, heedlessness, stupefaction and terror, meanness, cheerlessness, sleep and procrastination – these, when brought about by particular causes are the properties of Tamas. Whatever state of either body or mind, connected with joy or happiness, arises, should be regarded as due to the state of Sattwa. Whatever, again, is fraught with sorrow and is disagreeable to oneself should be regarded as arising from Rajas. Without commencing any such act, one should turn one’s attention to it (for avoiding it). Whatever is fraught with error or stupefaction in either body or mind, and is inconceivable and mysterious, should be known as connected with Tamas.

By knowing this one becomes wise. What else can be indication of Wisdom?



Know the difference between these two subtle things, viz., Understanding and Soul. One of these, viz., the Understanding creates attributes. The other, viz., the Soul, does not create them. Although they are, by nature, distinct from each other, yet they always exist in a state of union. A fish is different from water in which it dwells, but the fish and the water must exist together. The attributes cannot know the soul. The Soul, however, knows them. They who are ignorant regard the Soul as existing in a state of union with the attributes like qualities existing with their possessors. This, however, is not the case, for the Soul is truly only an inactive witness of everything.

The Understanding has no refuge. That which is called life (involving the existence of the Understanding) arises from the effects of the attributes coming together. Others (than these attributes which are created by the Understanding), acting as causes, create the Understanding that dwells in the body. No one can apprehend the attributes in their real nature or form of existence. The Soul simply beholds them (as an inactive Witness). This union that exists between the Understanding and the Soul is eternal. The indwelling Understanding apprehends all things through the Senses which are themselves inanimate and unapprehending. Really the senses are only like lamps (that throw their light for discovering objects to others without themselves being able to see them.) Even this is the nature (of the Senses, the Understanding, and the Soul).

Knowing this one should live cheerfully, without yielding to either grief or joy. Such a man is said to be beyond the influence of pride. That the Understanding creates all these attributes is due to her own nature – even as spider weaves threads in consequence of her own nature. These attributes should be known as the threads the spider weaves. When destroyed, the attributes do not cease to exist; their existence cease to be visible. When however, a thing transcends the knowledge of the senses, its existence (or otherwise) is affirmed by inference. This is the opinion of one set of persons. Untying this knotty problem addressed to the understanding and reflection and dispelling doubt, one should cast off sorrow and live in happiness.




Adhyatmis, however, conversant with Adhyatma and armed with fortitude are never afflicted, because they are capable of crossing to the other shore of those waters. Indeed, knowledge is an efficient raft in that river. Men of knowledge will not have to encounter those frightful terrors which alarm them that are destitute of knowledge.

As regards the righteous, none of them attains to an end that is superior to that of any other person amongst them. Indeed, the righteous show, in this respect, an equality. Man of Knowledge, whatever acts have been done by them in the past (while steeped in ignorance) and whatever acts fraught with great iniquity he does (after attainment of Knowledge), he destroys both Knowledge as his sole means. Then again, upon the attainment of Knowledge he ceases to perpetrate these two evils, viz. censuring the wicked acts of others and doing any wicked acts himself under the influence of attachment.

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