Thursday, October 19, 2006

Purusha Sukta Meaning

The Purusha-Sukta of the Vedas is not only a powerful hymn of the insight of the great Seer, Rishi Narayana, on the Cosmic Divine Being as envisaged through the multitudinous variety of creation, but also a short-cut provided to the seeker of Reality for entering into the state of Superconsciousness. The Sukta is charged with a fivefold force potent enough to rouse God-experience in the seeker. Firstly, the Seer (Rishi) of the Sukta is Narayana, the greatest of sages ever known, who is rightly proclaimed in the Bhagavata as the only person whose mind desire has not been able to shake and, as the Mahabharata says, whose power not even all the gods can ever imagine. Such is the Rishi to whom the Sukta was revealed and who gave expression to it as the hymn on the Supreme Purusha. Secondly, the Mantras of the Sukta are composed in a particular metre (Chandas) which has its own contribution to make in the generation of a special spiritual force during the recitation of the hymn. Thirdly, the intonation (Svara) with which the Mantras are recited adds a part to the production of the correct meaning intended to be conveyed through the Mantras and any error in the intonation may produce a different effect altogether. Fourthly, the Deity (Devata) addressed in the hymn is not any externalised or projected form as a content in space and time but the Universal Being which transcends space and time and is the Indivisible Supraessential essence of experience. Fifthly, the Sukta suggests, apart from the universalised concept of the Purusha, an inwardness of this experience, thus distinguishing it from perception of any object.

The Sukta begins with the affirmation that all the heads, all the eyes, and all the feet in creation are of the Purusha. Herein is implied the astonishing truth that we do not see many things, bodies, objects, persons, forms, colours or hear sounds, but only the limbs of the One Purusha. And, just as, when we behold the hand, leg, ear, or nose of a person differently, we do not think that we are seeing many things, but only a single person in front of us, and we develop no separate attitude whatsoever in regard to these parts of the body of the person, because here our attitude is one of a single whole of consciousness beholding one complete person irrespective of the limbs or the part of which the person may be the composite, we are to behold creation not as a conglomeration of discrete persons and things, with each one of whom we have to develop a different attitude or conduct, but as a single Universal Person who gloriously shines before us and gazes at us through all the eyes, nods before us through all the heads, smiles through all lips and speaks through all tongues. This is the Purusha of the Purusha-Sukta. This is the God sung in the hymn by Rishi Narayana. This is not the god of any religion and this is not one among many gods. This is the only God who can possibly be anywhere, at any time.

Our thought, when it is extended and trained in the manner required to see the Universe before us, receives a stirring shock, because this very thought lays the axe at the root of all desires, for no desire is possible when all creation is but one Purusha. This illusion and this ignorance in which the human mind is moving when it desires anything in the world - whether it is a physical object or a mental condition, or a social situation - is immediately dispelled by the simple but the most revolutionary idea which the Sukta deals at the mind with one stroke. We behold the One Being (Ekam Sat) before us, not a manifoldness or a variety to be desired or avoided.

But a greater shock is yet to be. For, the Sukta implies to any intelligent thinker that he himself is one of the heads or limbs of the Purusha. This condition, where even to think would be to think as the Purusha thinks - for no other way of thinking is possible, and it would be to think through all persons and things in creation simultaneously - would indeed not be human thinking or living. Just as we do not think merely through one cell in our brain but think through the entire brain, any single thinker forming but a part of the Purusha's Universal Thinking Centre, 'a Centre which is everywhere with circumference nowhere', cannot afford to think as it is usually being attempted by what are called Jivas or individual fictitious centres of thinking. There is no other way (Na anyah pantha vidyate). This is Supramental thinking. This is Divine Meditation. This is the Yajna which, as the Sukta says, the Devas, performed in the beginning of time.

The Purusha-Sukta is not merely this much. It is something more to the seeker. The above description should not lead us to the erroneous notion that God can be seen with the eyes, as we see a cow, for instance, though it is true that all things are the Purusha. It is to be remembered that the Purusha is not the 'seen' but the 'seer'. The point is simple to understand. When everything is the Purusha, where can there be an object to be seen? The apparently 'seen' objects are also the heads of the 'seeing' Purusha. There is thus, only the seer seeing himself without a seen.

Here, again, the seer's seeing of himself is not to be taken in the sense of a perception in space and time, for that would again be creating an object where it is not. It is the seer seeing himself not through eyes but in Consciousness. It is the absorption of all objectification in a Universal Be-ness. In this Meditation on the Purusha, which is the most normal thing that can ever be conceived, man realises God in the twinkling of a second.


Thousand-headed is the Purusha, thousand-eyed and thousand-legged. Enveloping the earth from all sides, He transcends it by ten fingers' length.
Note:- This is the first Mantra of the famous Purusha Sukta of the Veda. Here the transcendent totality of all creation is conceived as the Cosmic Person, the Universal Consciousness animating all manifestation. The word 'earth' is to be understood in the sense of all creation. 'Dasangulam' is interpreted as ten fingers' length, in which case it is said to refer to the distance of the heart from the navel, the former having been accepted as the seat of the Atma and the latter symbolic of the root of manifestation. The word ten is also said to mean 'infinity', as numbers are only up to nine and what is above is regarded as numberless.
All this (manifestation) is the Purusha alone - whatever was and whatever will be. He is the Lord of Immortality, for He transcends all in His Form as food (the universe). Such is His Glory; but greater still is the Purusha. One-fourth of Him all beings are, (while) three-fourth of Him rises above as the Immortal Being.
That, Three-footed (Immortal) Purusha stood above transcending (all things), and His one foot was this (world of becoming). Then He pervaded (everything) universally, the conscious as well as the unconscious. From That (Supreme Being) did the Cosmic Body (Virat) originate, and in this Cosmic Body did the Omnipresent Intelligence manifest itself. Having manifested Himself, He, appeared as, all diversity, and then as this earth and this body.

When (there being no external material other than the Purusha) the Devas performed a universal sacrifice (in contemplation by mind), with the Purusha Himself as the sacred offering, the spring season was the clarified butter, summer the fuel, autumn the oblation. They set up for sacrifice the Purusha as the object in their meditation, Him who was, prior to all creation, and they, the Devas, Sadhyas and Rishis, performed (this first sacrifice).

From that (Purusha), who was of the form of a Universal Sacrifice, the sacred mixture of curds and ghee (for oblation) was produced. (Then) He brought forth the aerial beings, the forest-dwelling animals, and also the domestic ones. From that (Purusha), who was the Universal Sacrifice, the Riks and the Samans were produced; from Him the metres (of the Mantras) were born; from Him the Yajus was born.

From Him were born horses and whatsoever animals have two rows of teeth. Verily, cows were born of Him; from Him were born goats and sheep. And when they contemplated the Purusha (as the Universal Sacrifice), into how many parts did they divide Him (in their meditations)? What was His mouth called, what His arms, what His thighs, what were His feet called?

The Brahmana (spiritual wisdom and splendour) was His Mouth; the Kshatriya (administrative and military prowess) His Arms became. His Thighs the Vaisya (commercial and business enterprise) was; of His Feet the Sudra (productive and sustaining force) was born. The Moon (symbol of the mind) was born from His (Cosmic) Mind; the Sun (symbol of self and consciousness) was born from His Eyes. Indra (power of grasping and activity) and Agni (will-force) came from His Mouth; from His Vital Energy air was born.

(In that Universal Meditation as Sacrifice) the firmament came from His Navel; the heavens were produced from His head; the earth from His feet; from His ears the quarters of space; - so they constituted the worlds. The enclosures of the sacrificial altar were seven (the seven metres like the Gayatri), and twenty-one (the twelve months, the five seasons, the three worlds and the sun) were the logs of sacrificial fuel, when the gods (the Pranas, senses and the mind) celebrated the universal sacrifice with the Supreme Purusha as the object of contemplation therein.

By sacrifice (universal meditation) did the gods adore and perform (visualise) the sacrifice (Universal Being). These were the original creations and the original laws (that sustain creation). Those great ones (the worshippers of the Cosmic Being by this type of meditation) attain that Supreme Abode in which abide the, primeval contemplators (the gods mentioned above) who thus worshipped that Being.

I know this Great Purusha who shines like the sun beyond darkness. By knowing Him alone does one cross beyond death; there is no other way of going over there.


Mugunthan said...

I like the way this is translated and explained. Thanks for such wonderful service to chanters / seekers

Kalanidhi said...

Very nicely written. Hope to read more from you, especially on the famous gaayatri.

Thanks once again.

Jitendra said...

Very nice. This makes much more sense compared to other translations. I searched around and found this to be much more meaning-ful. Thank You! Aum Sai Ram.

Karan Makhija said...

really nice. But I had a couple of questions.
1. Why did you only focus on the interpretation of the first verse in detail? The rest seems to be only translation but no interpretation. Please offer an interpretation of the rest as well.
2. How did you translate three-footed to mean immortal? Is there some references in the Vedas or later commentaries for this?
3. What is meant by offering the Purusha as sacrifice? And what are the meanings of the bed of grass etc? Are these mystical and metaphorical meanings that have been codified?

Thanks for your good work!