Chapter 1: Oneness of Matter and Spirit
Prayer means “I invoke the help of existence,” and effort means “I am ready to go with existence and to cooperate with it.” Prayer means “You pick me up,” while effort means “Whatever energy I have for getting up, I will use all of it.” But prayer also means “I won’t be able to get up on my own strength, you are needed.” Effort means “Unless I myself want to get up, how can even your grace pick me up? Hence, I will get up, I will stand on my own feet and I will try to break these chains - yet I know I am weak and nothing is possible without your help.”
This Upanishad begins with a prayer. This prayer is very unique - novel, perplexing, puzzling, even worrisome. You may have read this kind of prayer many times but you may not have thought about it. You don’t think at all, otherwise this prayer would puzzle you very much.
The sage has prayed:
May all the limbs of my body grow strong.
May my speech be nourished and strengthened.
May my nose, my eyes, my ears and my other sense organs be nourished and strengthened.
It will puzzle you to think that someone who is in search of the divine is wanting to strengthen his sense organs, is praying for them to be nourished and strengthened. What you have heard is that someone who wants to move in the direction of the ultimate has to destroy his senses. What you have heard is that anyone who wants to move in the direction of spirituality has to weaken his senses. What you have heard is that suppression of the senses is the way to the divine. But this Upanishad is saying a topsy-turvy thing to us.
Many people read this Upanishad, but it never occurs to them to wonder what this sage is saying. He is saying, “Lord, give strength to my sense organs. May my eyes be strengthened, may my ears be strengthened, may my tongue be strengthened, may my sense organs grow and be nourished.” Either this sage is mad, or what we have been understanding is just nonsense.
But this idea that there is an opposition between the divine and the world has settled so deep within your hearts. No, there is no opposition at all, because if there were any opposition between them, then either only the world could exist or only the divine could exist. Both could not be. If there were any opposition between the two, one would have been destroyed long ago.
So the one who believes only in the divine says that the world is an illusion, maya. He feels a difficulty: “If I believe in the divine, how can I also believe in the world? Only one of the two is possible.” The one who believes in the world says that the divine is a fallacy, that it cannot be there. It is all imagination, an idea, a dream - in fact there is no such thing as the divine. He feels that because the world is there, the divine cannot be there. They both believe deeply that there is a contradiction between the two. Hence only one of the two can be, otherwise life will become impossible.