The Vedas and the Upanishads speak of a golden lid (Hiranmaya Patra in Sanskrit) which divides the lower rational mind from the higher planes of the Mind above us. This post explains the significance of that Golden Lid in the words of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.
The Rig Veda verse on the Golden Lid
The rik (5.62.1) of the seer shrutavit atri
ŗtena ŗtam apihitam dhruvam vām
sūryasya yatra vimuchanti ashvān
dasha shatā saha tasthuĥ
tadekam devānām shreşhţham vapuşhām apashyam.
“There is a truth (ŗtam) covered by a inferior truth (ŗtena)
where your place is secure,
where they unyoke the horses of sun;
the ten hundreds stood together,
where was that One, I saw the greatest of the embodied Gods”
The Isha Upanishad verse on the Golden Lid
15. The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, O Fosterer,¹ for the law of the Truth, for sight.
[Isha Upanishad, Verse 15]
Sri Aurobindo discusses the symbolism of the Golden Lid in the Vedas and the Upanishads
In connection with the symbol of the Sun a notable and most significant. verse in a hymn of the fifth Mandala may here be mentioned; for it shows not only the profound mystic symbolism of the Vedic poets, but also how the writers of the Upanishads understood the Rig-veda and justifies their belief in the inspired knowledge of their forerunners. “There is a Truth covered by a Truth“, runs the Vedic passage, “where they unyoke the horses of the Sun; the ten hundreds stood together, there was That One;¹ I saw the greatest (best, most glorious) of the embodied gods.”² Then mark how the seer of the Upanishad translates this thought or this mystic experience into his own later style, keeping the central symbol of the Sun but without any secrecy in the sense. Thus runs the passage in the Upanishad, “The face of the Truth is covered with a golden lid. O Pushan, that remove for the vision of the law of the Truth.³ O Pushan (fosterer), sole seer, O Yama, O Sun, O Child of the Father of beings, marshal and gather together thy rays; I see the Light which is that fairest (most auspicious) form of thee; he who is this Purusha, He am I.” The golden lid is meant to be the same as the inferior covering truth, ṛtam, spoken of in the Vedic verse; the “best of the bodies of the Gods” is equivalent to the “fairest form of the Sun”, it is the supreme Light which is other and greater than all outer light; the great formula of the Upanishad, “He am I”, corresponds to That One, tad ekam of the Rig-vedic verse; the “standing together of the ten hundreds” (the rays of the Sun, says Sayana, and that is evidently the meaning) is reproduced in the prayer to the Sun “to marshal and mass his rays” so that the supreme form may be seen. The Sun in both the passages, as constantly in the Veda and frequently in the Upanishad, is the Godhead of the supreme Truth and Knowledge and his rays are the light emanating from that supreme Truth and Knowledge.
Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire: Foreword
How does the Rigveda verse match the verse in the Upanishads
We shall show how this mantra of the Upanishad fits in with that of the Rigveda.
- In the Veda it is by the inferior truth: in the Upanishad, by the golden lid. Though, by reason of its inferiority, it acts as a covering, still it is essentially the truth and hence the covering lid is Truth and hence the covering lid is described as brilliant gold; Truth (is) concealed in the Veda, the face of the truth is concealed in the Upanishad.
- In the Veda it is the greatest of the embodied, in the Upanishad, the most blessed form. It refers to the eternal supreme Light beyond.
- In the Veda, it is That One; in the Upanishad, He am I.
- In the Veda, it is ten hundreds (of rays), Sāyaņa too explains it to be so; the Upanishad plainly says, rays.
- Released, in the Veda; marshal in the Upanishad.
- In the Veda they stood together; the Upanishad says draw together.
Sri Aurobindo describes the Golden Lid in Savitri
A Seer was born, a shining Guest of Time.
For him mind’s limiting firmament ceased above,
In the griffin forefront of the Night and Day
A gap was rent in the all-concealing vault;
The conscious ends of being went rolling back:
The landmarks of the little person fell,
The island ego joined its continent.
Overpassed was this world of rigid limiting forms:
Life’s barriers opened into the Unknown.
Abolished were conception’s covenants
And, striking off subjection’s rigorous clause,
Annulled the soul’s treaty with Nature’s nescience.
All the grey inhibitions were torn off
And broken the intellect’s hard and lustrous lid;
A darkness carrying morning in its breast
Looked for the eternal wide returning gleam,
Waiting the advent of a larger ray
And rescue of the lost herds of the Sun.
Golden Lid discussed in the Life Divine
At the source of this Intuition we discover a superconscient cosmic Mind in direct contact with the supramental Truth-Consciousness, an original intensity determinant of all movements below it and all mental energies,-not Mind as we know it, but an Overmind that covers as with the wide wings of some creative Oversoul this whole lower hemisphere of Knowledge-Ignorance, links it with that greater Truth-Consciousness while yet at the same time with its brilliant golden Lid it veils the face of the greater Truth from our sight, intervening with its flood of infinite possibilities as at once an obstacle and a passage in our seeking of the spiritual law of our existence, its highest aim, its secret Reality. This then is the occult link we were looking for; this is the Power that at once connects and divides the supreme Knowledge and the cosmic Ignorance
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine – I: Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya
Discussions with various disciples on the Golden Lid
Disciple : How can one succeed in meditation?
Sri Aurobindo : By quietude of the mind. Above the Mind there is not only the Infinite in itself but infinite sea of peace, joy, light, etc. – above the head. The golden lid – Hiranmaya patra – intervenes between that which is above Mind and what is below. Once one can break that lid those elements can come down at any time one wills, and for that, quietude is necessary. There are people who get those things without quietude, but it is very difficult.
Disciple : It is said that there is also a veil in the heart, is it true?
Sri Aurobindo : Yes, a veil or a wall, if you like. The vital with its surface consciousness, the emotional with its disturbances and veils and one has to break through these and get to what is behind them. There, one finds the heart. In some people the higher force works behind the veil because it would meet with many obstacles if it worked in front; it builds or breaks whatever is necessary till one day the veil is withdrawn and one finds oneself in the Infinite.
[Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, 1st January, 1939]
“A veil behind the heart, a lid over the mind divide us from the Divine. Love and devotion rend the veil, in the quietude of the mind the lid thins and vanishes.”
Sri Aurobindo, On Himself: Birthday-Messages to a Sadhak
Disciple : What do you mean by the Divine or the Supreme?
Sri Aurobindo : I mean by it a consciousness of which the Gita speaks as Param Bhavam, Purushottama, Parabrahman, Paramatman. That is to say, the origin and the support and cause of every thing. It is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, everywhere, You can’t define it. You limit it if you define it. It can be described as Sachchidananda. It is everything, it is everywhere, it is in everything. It is impersonal, ‘Neti, Neti;’ it is also ‘Iti, Iti’. You can have the experience of Sachchidananda on any plane. These things cannot be known by the mind or by discussion. The “Golden lid has to be broken“.
[A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, 13th December, 1938]
A line is therefore drawn between the higher half of the universe of consciousness, parārdha, and the lower half, aparārdha. The higher half is constituted of Sat, Chit, Ananda, Mahas (the supramental) – the lower half of mind, life, Matter. This line is the intermediary overmind which, though luminous itself, keeps from us the full indivisible supramental Light, depends on it indeed, but in receiving it, divides, distributes, breaks it up into separated aspects, powers, multiplicities of all kinds, each of which it is possible by a further diminution of consciousness, such as we reach in Mind, to regard as the sole or the chief Truth and all the rest as subordinate or contradictory to it. To this action of the overmind may be applied the words of the Upanishad, “The face of the Truth is covered by a golden Lid“, or those of the Vedic rtena rtam apihitam. Here there is the working of a sort of vidyā-avidyāmayī māyā which makes possible the predominance of avidyā. It is by this primitive divisional principle that the Mind is enabled to regard, for example, the Impersonal as the Truth, the Personal as only a mask or the personal Divine as the greatest Truth and impersonality as only an aspect; it is so too that all the conflicting philosophies and religions arise, each exalting one aspect or potentiality of Truth presented to Mind as the whole sufficient explanation of things or exalting one of the Divine’s Godheads above all others as the true God than whom there can be no other or none so high or higher. This divisional principle pursues man’s mental knowledge everywhere and even when he thinks he has arrived at the final unity, it is only a constructed unity, based on an Aspect. It is so that the scientist seeks to found the unity of knowledge on some original physical aspect of things, Energy or Matter, Electricity or Ether, or the Mayavadin thinks he has arrived at the absolute Adwaita by cutting existence into two, calling the upper side Brahman and the lower side Maya. It is the reason why mental knowledge can never arrive at a final solution of anything, for the aspects of Existence as distributed by overmind are numberless and one can go on multiplying philosophies and religions forever.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – I: Planes and Parts of the Being – II
That [rising above the head] is very good. Such risings help to break down the lid between the higher and lower planes in the consciousness and prepare the wideness. Wideness is a sign of the extension of consciousness out of the ordinary limits – whiteness of the wideness means that it is the pure consciousness one is feeling, unless it is white light or luminous light which indicates the Mother’s consciousness there or some influence of it. The subtle barrier you felt must have been the same thing that prevents your ascent from the heart and from it your going beyond into the regions above. There is always a sort of a lid there and it is only when that is opened or disappears that one can go freely above. One can be aware of “unseen wideness” but one is not a self there until that is done.
The crown centre open removes the difficulty of the lid between the ordinary mind and the higher consciousness above. If the ājñācakra also is open, then it is possible to have a clear communication between the higher consciousness and the inner mind and the outer mind (throat centre) also. That is the condition for the realisation of knowledge and the mental illumination and transformation. The heart centre commands the psychic and vital – that opening enables the psychic influence to work in the vital and ends in the coming forward of the psychic being.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – I: Planes and Parts of the Being – XIII
That other way is the concentration in the head, in the mental centre. This, if it brings about the silence of the surface mind, opens up an inner, larger, deeper mind within which is more capable of receiving spiritual experience and spiritual knowledge. But once concentrated here one must open the silent mental consciousness upward to all that is above mind. After a time one feels the consciousness rising upward and in the end it rises beyond the lid which has so long kept it tied in the body and finds a centre above the head where it is liberated into the Infinite. There it begins to come into contact with the universal Self, the Divine Peace, Light, Power, Knowledge, Bliss, to enter into that and become that, to feel the descent of these things into the nature.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Seeking the Divine
Disciple: You speak as if the Energy or Force is just above the head, and one has only to snatch it down.
Sri Aurobindo: There is a lid in between. Remove that and the Force will come tumbling down into you.
[Nirodbaran, Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, January 12, 1935]
Mother describes the Golden Lid to Satprem
Satprem: Sometimes I seem to have vibrations going out through the top of my head.
Mother Mirra: That’s something else.
Satprem: What is it? Sometimes I feel a pulling: something vibrating intensely that seems to be pulling me out through the top of the head.
Mother Mirra: It’s the opening to the higher mind. It’s more like part of the kundalini method. It’s not an exteriorization, but the mental opening to higher realms.
Satprem: Sometimes it happens just when I’m falling asleep.
Mother Mirra: That’s how you make contact. It is indispensable. But that results from yoga. It may be developed over lifetimes, or it may be accomplished in one lifetime, if one is ready for it. To tell the truth, it is the important part: to get through that lid at the top of the skull which keeps you shut in; there’s a kind of cover there you have to get rid of. If you can do it, it’s the sure sign that the time is ripe and you are ready for yoga – “yoga,” I mean Sri Aurobindo’s yoga.
The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: September 5, 1962