ANOTHER interesting story of the Chhandogya Upanishad tells us of the dialogue between Svetaketu and his father Arum. According to this story. Arum had sent his son Svetaketu to a teacher where he studied from his twelfth year to the twenty-fourth a number of books of knowledge. When he came back home, he had grown haughty in mind, and conceited and thought of himself to be very wise. His father understood his son's state of mind. So he said to him:
"0 dear one, have you inquired into that instruction where by what is even unheard of, becomes heard, what is not comprehended becomes comprehended and what is not known becomes known?"
Svetaketu was stunned by this question; he did not know the answer. So he asked his father:
"Venerable Sir, how is that instruction?"
The father replied:
"Just as, O dear one, through one lump of clay everything that consists of clay is known, modification being a phenomenon of words, only a name, it is only clay which is real."
"Just as, 0 dear one, through a nail-parer, everything that consists of iron is known, modification being merely a phenomenon of words, only a name, it is only iron which is real— thus, my dear, is this instruction."
Svetaketu, on hearing this, became modest and said:
"Certainly my venerable teachers must not have known this teaching; because if they had known it, why should they not have communicated it to me? But venerable Sir, you will now please explain it to me!"
The father was kind, and said:
"So be it, my dear!"
(Chhandogya Upanishad, VI. 1)
The dialogue that followed is rather long; but its main burden is to point out the meaning of "essence" and to show the identity of the universe with the essence. And its striking declaration is: That art thou (tattvamasi), which gives the introspective key to the knowledge of the essence through the realisation that our individual self is identical with the essence, which is the ultimate Reality.
The knowledge of the immortal self is the subject matter of another important Upanishad, namely Katha.
According to the story of this Upanishad, Nachiketas was the son of Vajashravasa. In a sacrifice, the father gave away all he had. As the gifts were led past, faith took possession
of Nachiketas and he pondered:
"Cattle that have drunk their water, eaten their grass, yielded their milk, worn out their organs, of undelight are the worlds which he reaches who gives such as these."
So he thought he should offer himself as a sacrificial gift. He then said to his father:
"Me, 0 my father, to whom wilt thou give?"
He asked this question again and again for three times. This irritated his father, and the father replied:
"To Death I give thee."
Nachiketas, therefore, reached the abode of Death, and waited for three nights for Yama, the Lord of Death. When Nachiketas was brought to Yama by his attendants, Yama said to him:
"Because for three nights thou hast dwelt in my house, 0 Brahmin, a guest worthy of reverence,—salutation to thee, 0 Brahmin, on me let there be the weal,—therefore three boons do thou choose, for each night a boon."
"Tranquillised in his thought and serene of mind be Gautama, my father; let his passion over me pass away from him;
assured in heart let him greet me from thy grasp delivered;
this boon I choose, the first of the three."
"Even as before assured in heart and by me released shall he be, Auddalaki Arum, thy father, sweetly shall he sleep through the nights and his passion shall pass away from him, having seen thee when thou wilt return home after being delivered from the jaws of death."
Nachiketas spoke again:
"In heaven fear is not at all, in heaven, 0 Death, thou art not, nor old age and its terrors; crossing over hunger and thirst as over two rivers, leaving sorrow behind the soul in heaven rejoices.
"Therefore that heavenly Flame which thou, 0 Death, studiest, expound unto me, for I believe. They, who win their world of heaven, have immortality for their porti him what are the bricks to him and how many and the way of their setting; and Nachiketas too repeated it even as it was told; ton. This is for the second boon I have chosen."
Then Yama replied:
"Hearken to me and understand, 0 Nachiketas; I declare to thee that heavenly Flame, for I know it. Know this to be the possession of infinite existence and the foundation and the thing hidden in the secret cave of our being."
Yama told him of the Flame that is the world's beginning. He also told him what are the bricks to him and how many and the way of their setting; and Nachketas too repeated it even as it was told; then Death was pleased and said to him yet farther:
"Yet a farther boon today I give thee; for even by thy name shall this Fire be called; this necklace also take unto thee, a necklace of many figures. Whoso lights the three fires of Nachiketas and comes to union with the Three and does the triple works, beyond birth and death he crosses; for he finds the God of our adoration, the Knower who is born from the Brahman, whom having beheld he attains to surpassing peace. When a man has the three flames of Nachiketas and knows that this is Triple, when so knowing he beholds the Flame of Nachiketas, then he thrusts from in front of him the meshes of the snare of Death; leaving sorrow behind him he in heaven rejoices. This is the heavenly Flame, 0 Nachiketas, which thou hast chosen for the second boon; of this Flame the peoples
shall speak that it is thine indeed. A third boon choos, 0 Nachiketas."
"This debate that there is over the man who has passed and some say 'This he is not', and some that 'he is', that I would like to know from thee. This is the third boon of the boons of my choosing."
"Even by the gods was this debated of old; for it is not easy of knowledge, since very subtle is the law of it. Another boon choose, 0 Nachiketas; importune me not, nor urge me; this, this abandon."
But Nachiketas insisted on that very boon. So Yama replied: "Choose sons and grandsons who shall live each a hundred years, choose much cattle and elephants and gold and horses; choose a mighty reach of earth and thyself live as many years as thou likest. This boon if thou deemest equal to that of thy asking, choose wealth and long living; possess thou, 0 Nachiketas, a mighty country; I give thee thy desire of all desirable things for thy portion. All desires that are hard to win in the world of mortals, all demands at thy pleasure; lo, these delectable women with their chariots and their bugles, whose like are not to be won by men, these I will give thee, live with them for thy hand maidens. But of death question not, 0 Nachiketas."
But Nachiketas insisted in the following words:
"Until the morrow the mortal man has these things, 0 Ender, and they wear away all this keenness and glory of the senses; nay, all life is even for a little. Thine remain these chariots and thine the dancing of these women and their singing. Man is not satisfied by riches, and riches we shall have if we have beheld thee and shall live as long as thou shalt be lord of us.
This boon and no other is for my choosing. Who that is a mortal man and grows old and dwells down upon the unhappy earth, when he has come into the presence of the ageless Immortals and knows, yea, who when he looks very close at beauty and enjoyment and pleasure, can take delight in over-long living? This of which they thus debate, 0 Death, declare to me even that which is in the great passage; than this boon which enters into the secret that is hidden from us, no other chooses Nachiketas."
When Nachiketas thus insisted on knowing the secret of death and of the passage from death to the next life, Yama felt greatly pleased and said:
"Thou, 0 Nachiketas, hast looked close at the objects of desire, at pleasant things and beautiful, and thou has cast them from thee; thou hast not entered into the net of riches in which many men sink to perdition. But I deem Nachiketas truly desirous of the knowledge whom so many desirable things could not make to lust after them."
Yama then explained the subtlety of the knowledge of the Self and added:
"Truly thou art steadfast in the Truth! Even such a questioner as thou art may I meet with always."
Thus praising Nachiketas, Yama proceeded to reveal the secret of the Self.
But to know this secret, we need to go to the original text of the Kathopanishad.
WE may still relate two or three instructive stories from the Upanishads. The following is taken from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Once Yajnavalkya came to King Janaka, who asked him a question:
"Yajnavalkya! What is that which serves the man as light?"
"The sun serves as the light for him," he replied, "because by the light of the sun a man carries on and goes about, carries out his work and returns home."
Janaka, however, continued to ask: "When the sun sets, 0 Yajnavalkya, what is it which serves the man as light?"
"Then the moon serves him as light," answered Yajnavalkya. To a similar question, he said, "When the moon has set, it is fire that serves as the light."
But Janaka continued:
"But when the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire is extinguished, what serves the man as the light?"
"Then speech serves him as the light because by the light of speech, he carries on, goes about, carries out his work and returns home. Therefore, 0 great King, when a man cannot see distinctly his own hand, if (in that condition) a voice rises forth from somewhere, the man goes thither."
But Janaka continued:
"But when the sun has set, and the moon has set, the fire is extinguished and the voice has become silent, what is it then which serves the man as light?"
"Then he himself (his inner self) serves as light;, because by the light of the self, he carries on and goes about, carries out his work and returns home."
"What is that self?"
"It is, among the vital organs, that one consisting of knowledge, the illuminating spirit inside the heart. Remaining the same, this (spirit) roams through both the worlds; it is, as if, it meditates, it is, as if, it roams about; then when it is asleep, it transcends this world, the forms of death."
"Particularly, when this spirit is born, when it enters into the body, it is blended with the evils; when it departs, it leaves the evils behind."
"There are two states of this spirit: The present one and that in the other world; a middle state, as the third, is that of sleep. When he stays in this middle state, he views both the states the present one and that in the other world."
The conversation continued for long, until Yajnavalkya brought to Janaka the secret knowledge of the soul and of the Brahman, of the bondage of the soul and of the liberation of the soul.
The King then said:
"0 holy one, I make over to you my whole country of Videhas at your service and lay even my own self at your service."
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.3-4)
In the same Upanishad, there is a very famous and instructive dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife, Maitreyi. Let us refer to it briefly:
Yajnavalkya had two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani; of them, Maitreyi was learned in the knowledge concerning Brahman; Katyayani, on the other hand, was adept in the knowledge appropriate to women.
Now Yajnavalkya wished to go over to the other stage of life (from that of the householder to that of a hermit or recluse).
"Maitreyi", said Yajnavalkya, "I will now go out of this stage of life; well! I will make a division or partition of my property between you and Katyayani."
Then Maitreyi said: "If, 0 my lord, this whole world with all its riches belonged to me, would I be immortal on that account or not?"
Yajnavalkya replied: "Not at all; but therewith your life
would be like the life of the well-to-do, but there is no hope of immortality through riches."
Then Maitreyi said:
"What will I do with that by which I shall not become immortal? Explain to me, 0 Lord, rather that knowledge which you possess!"
Yajnavalkya replied: "Beloved to me you already have been, my lady! And now you have increased my love towards you. Well, then, my lady, I will explain it to you;but then you should attend to what I tell you."
And he said: "Indeed not for the sake of the husband himself is the husband dear, but for the sake of self is the husband dear; indeed, not for the sake of the wife herself is the wife dear, but for the sake of the self is the wife dear; indeed not for the sake of the sons themselves are the sons dear, but for the sake of the self are the sons dear; indeed, not for the sake of wealth itself is the wealth dear, but for the sake of the self is the wealth dear; indeed, not for the sake of the animals themselves are the animals dear, but for the sake of the self are the animals dear; .... not for the sake of the universe itself is the universe dear, but for the sake of the self is the universe dear.
"The self itself, indeed, should be seen, should be heard about, and should be thought upon, should be reflected upon; 0 Matireyi; he by whom this self is seen, heard, thought about, and known,—by him is this whole world known."
Yajnavalkya elucidated this teaching, and at the end he declared:
"... It, the self, is not this, not this; it is ungraspable, because it is not grasped, indestructible because it is not destroyed; it cannot be affected because nothing clings to or affects it; it
is not bound or fettered; it does not totter; it suffers no harm. ,—How should one then know the knower? "Now you know the doctrine, 0 Maitreyi, this indeed suffices for immortality."
Thus spoke Yajnavalkya and went away from that place.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV. 5)
We may now give one more story from the Kenopanishad. This story, briefly, is as follows:
The Eternal conquered for the gods and in the victory of the Eternal the gods grew to greatness. This was what they saw:
"Ours the victory, ours the greatness."
The Eternal knew their thought and appeared before them; and they knew not what was this mighty Daemon.
They said to Agni: "0 thou that knowest all things born, learn of this thing, what may be this mighty Daemon." And he said, "So be it."
He rushed towards the Eternal. It said to him, "Who art thou?"
"I am Agni," he said, "I am he that knows all things born."
"Since such thou art, what is the force in thee?"
"Even all this I could burn, all that is upon earth."
The Eternal set before him a blade of grass: "This born"; and he made towards it with all his speed, but he could not born it.
There he ceased, and turned back; "I could not know of It, what might be this mighty Daemon."
Then they said to Vayu, "0 Vayu, this discern, what is this mighty Daemon?"
He said, "So be it." He rushed upon That; It said to him: "Who art thou?"
"I am Vayu," he said, and I am he that expands in the Mother of things."
"Since such thou art, what is the force in thee?"
"Even all this I can take for myself, all this that is upon the earth."
That set before him a blade of grass, "This take."
He went towards it with all his speed, and he could not take it.
Even there he ceased, even thence he returned: "I could not discern of That, what is this mighty Daemon."
Then they said to Indra:
"Master of plenitudes, get then the knowledge, what is this mighty Daemon."
He said, "So be it." He rushed upon That. That vanished from before him.
He in the same ether came upon the Woman, even upon Her who shines out in many forms, Uma, daughter of the snowy summits. To her he said, "What was this mighty Daemon?"
She said to him:
"It is the Eternal. Of the Eternal is this victory in which you shall grow to greatness." Then alone he came to know that this was the Brahman. Therefore are these gods as it were beyond all the other
god, even Agni and Vayu and Indra, because they came nearest to the touch of That. Therefore is Indra as it were beyond all the other gods because he came nearest to the touch of That, because he first knew that it was the Brahman.
Now this indication of That,—as is this flash of the lightning upon us or as is this falling of the eyelid, so in that which is of the gods.
Then in that which is of the Self,—as the notion of this mind seems to attain to That and by it afterwards the Will in the thought continually remembers It.
The name of That is "That Delight"; as That Delight one should follow after It. He who so knows That, towards him verily all existences yearn.
THE substance of the Upanishads consists of the deliverances of those faculties which lie beyond intellect and intelligent Will, buddhi. These faculties were developed by the Rishis of the Veda, the faculties of truth-sight and truth-hearing, drishti and shruti. To develop these faculties was one of the aims of the Vedic discipline, and although this practice became overlaid by ritualism, the Rishis of the Upanishads regained that discipline and reaffirmed by fresh practice and verifiable experience the truths contained in the Veda. In this way, the accumulated knowledge of the Vedic science of Yoga came once again to be further enriched and, in some respects, it reached even new summits. Hence, Upanishads are known as "Vedanta," which etymologically means culmination of Vedic knowledge.
We need to underline this point because it is by an error that scholars speak of great debates and discussions of philosophy in the Upanishads. In fact, Upanishads are an account, not of philosophical reasoning, but of intuition and
spiritual experience. The question asked in the Upanishads is not "What dost thou think?" but "What dost thou know or see?"
The most important discovery of the Upanishads was that of Sachchidananda, the pure conscious and blissful Existent, one without the second, (ekam eva advitiyam), which in His utter reality cannot be described by any affirmative statement, such as this is such and such, iti iti, or by any negative statement such as this is not such and such, neti neti. And yet, though in this way unknowable to us. He is not altogether and in every way unknowable; He is self-evident to Himself and, although inexpressible, yet self-evident to a knowledge by identity of which our spiritual being is capable. The highest formulation of the knowledge of that inexpressible Reality is absolute self-existence, self-awareness, self-delight of being, Sachchidananda.
The message of intuition seized by the Upanishads has been formulated in there great declarations:
"I am He."
"Thou art That."
"All this is Brahman; this self is Brahman."
Considering the overarching importance of the Upanishads for understanding the fundamentals of Indian culture, we may dwell upon three or four statements or texts.
Brahmavidya, the knowledge of the Brahman, the Supreme Reality, is the great kingdom of the twelve great Upanishads, but each of them enters into that kingdom by its own gates, follows its own path or detour, aims at its own point of arrival. Both Isha Upanishad and Kena Upanishad are concerned with the problem of winning of state of immortality, the relations of the divine, all-ruling, all-possessing
Brahman to the world and to the human consciousness, the means of passing out of our present state of divided self, ignorance and suffering into the unity, the truth, the divine beatitude. But the precise subject of the two Upanishads is not identical.
The Isha is concerned with the whole problem of the world and life and works of the human destiny in their relation to the supreme truth of the Brahman. The Kena Upanishad has a more precise and narrow inquiry. It concerns itself only with the relation of mind-consciousness to Brahman-consciousness. The questions that this Upanishad asks are: What is the nature of the mental instruments? Are they supreme and final powers? Is mind all or is it only a veil of something greater and mightier than itself?
Let us concentrate first on the Isha Upanishad. This Upanishad consists of eighteen verses, packed with a volume of ideas based upon intuitive experiences, most of which are suggested rather than explicitly stated. Its central idea is a reconciliation and harmony of fundamental opposites; and this idea is worked out in four successive movements.
In the first movement, we have the statement that there is one stable spirit which inhabits and governs the universe of movement and forms of movement. Based upon this statement, the rule of a divine life for man is founded. This is expressed in a paradoxical statement: "By that renounced, thou shouldst enjoy; but do not lust after any man's possession." In this statement is contained the key to the discipline which is present in all systems of Indian culture which attempt to transcend the world and yet enable us to act in the world. It prescribes exclusion of desire and through it the enjoyment of all as the manifestation of the Spirit.
The Isha Upanishad does not prescribe escape from the world and its activities. It declares the justification of works and of physical life on the basis of an inalienable freedom of the soul, one with the Lord, amidst all the activity of the multiple movement.
Finally, it declares that if one interferes with the right manifestation of the One in the multiplicity on account of ignorance, one gets after death involved in states of blind obscurity.
In the second movement, we have description of the Brahman who reconciles the opposites of stability and movement. There is, additionally, the description of the experience of unity by which the individual identifies himself/herself with the cosmic and transcendental Self and is identified in the Self with all its becomings, but with absolute freedom from grief and illusion.
This experience is described in the following words:
"But he who sees everywhere the Self in all existences and all existences in the Self, shrinks not thereafter from anything. He in whom it is the Self-Being that has become all existences that are Becomings, for he has the perfect knowledge, how shall he be deluded, whence shall he have grief who sees everywhere oneness?"
यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मन्येवानुपश्यति ।
सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते । ।
यस्मिन सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद्विजानतः।
तत्रः को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपंश्यतः । ।
In the third movement, the Upanishad declares that the objects of the world have been ordered perfectly according to their nature by the Supreme Reality, who is bright, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews, pure and unpierced by evil.
This is followed by enigmatic statements regarding Knowledge and Ignorance, Becoming and Non-Becoming, The Upanishad declares their reconciliation by their mutual utility to the progressive self-realisation, which proceeds from the state of mortality to the state of immortality.
In the fourth movement, the Upanishad explains the relations of the Supreme Truth and Immortality, the activities of this life and the state after death. The enigmatic prayer of the Upanishad occurs here:
"The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, 0 Fosterer, for the law of the Truth, for sight."
We shall next turn to the main idea of the Kena Upanishad.
WE turn here to the Kena Upanishad.
This Upanishad begins with a query: "What is the final source or control of the activities of the Mind, Life-Force, speech, senses?" "By whom or what," asks the teacher, "is the mind missioned and sent on its errand so that it falls on its object like an arrow shot by a skilful archer at the predetermined mark, like a messenger, an envoy sent by his master to a fixed place for a fixed object? What is it within us or without us that sends forth mind on its errand? What does guide it to its object?"
Similarly, in regard to life-breath, the question is: "By whom yoked moves the first life-breath forward on its paths?"
And then, in regard to the speech and seeing and hearing, the questions are: "By whom is impelled this word that men speak? What has got set eye and ear to their Workings?"
These questions are addressed to the soul still attracted by the external life not yet wholly awakened, nor wholly a seeker. The Upanishad answers by stating that there is the existence of a profounder/ vaster, more puissant consciousness behind our mental being. That, it affirms, is Brahman. Mind, Life, Sense, Speech are not Brahman; they are only inferior modes and external instruments. Brahman-consciousness is our real self and our true existence. That Brahman consciousness is described as follows:
"That which is hearing of our hearing, mind of our mind, speech of our speech, that too is life of our life-breath and sight of our sight. The wise are released beyond and they pass from this world and become immortal. There sight travels not, nor speech, nor the mind. We know it not nor can distinguish how one should teach of It; for It is other than the known; It is there above the unknown. It is so we have heard from men of old who declared That to our understanding."
But is the Brahman entirely unknown? In one statement, the Upanishad answers:
"That of It which is thou, that of It which is in the gods, this thou has to think out. I think It known."
There are two gates to the knowledge of the Brahman. There is in us a deeper self which we can call our true soul, and that is an expression of the Brahman. This is one gate. There are, again, gods who also are expressions of the Brahman. These gods are essentials behind all the cosmic workings. They stand behind the Mind, Life-Force, Speech, Senses, hearing and sight. If we can approach the gods, we can enter into the Brahman. The gods are the second gate. The teacher who has entered into the Brahman through these gates declares:
"I think not that I know It well and yet I know that It is not unknown to me. He of us who knows It, knows That; he knows that It is not unknown to him."
Commenting on these enigmatic statements, Sri i Aurobindo writes:
"The Self and the Lord are one Brahman, whom we can realise through our self and realise through that which is essential in the cosmic movement... As we have gone behind the forms of the cosmos to that which is essential in their being and movement and found our self and the gods, so we have to go behind our self and the gods and find the one supreme self and the one supreme Godhead. Then we can say, I think that I know.
But at once we have to qualify our assertion. I think not that I know perfectly, for that is impossible in the terms of our instruments of knowledge. I do not think for a moment that I can know the Unknowable, that That can be put into the forms through which I must arrive at the self and the Lord;
but at the same time I am no longer in ignorance; I know the Brahman in the only way in which I can know Him in His self-revelation to me in terms not beyond the grasp of my psychology, manifest as the self and the Lord. The mystery of existence is revealed in a way that utterly satisfies my being because it enables me first to comprehend it through these figures as far as it can be comprehended by me, and secondly, to enter into to live in, to be one in law and being with and even to merge myself in the Brahman."1
There is a belief prevalent among many that the knowledge of the Brahman can. come only after one comes out of one's body and the world after death. In contradiction to this belief, the Upanishad declares that the realisation of the Brahman must be accomplished here in this mortal world, in this our limited body. Not only that, but it goes farther and says that if this realisation is not achieved here
in this bodily life, then there will be a great loss. Here are the unmistakable words of the Upanishad:
इह चेदवेदीदथ सत्यमस्ति न चेदिहावेदीन्मही विनष्टिः।
भूतेषु भूतेषु विचित्य धीराः प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति।।
"If here one comes to that knowledge, then one truly is; if here one comes not to the knowledge, then great is the perdition. The wise distinguish That in all kinds of becomings and they pass forward from this world and become immortal."
As Sri Aurobindo comments on this:
"This victory, this supreme immortality it must achieve here as an embodied soul in the mortal framework of things. Afterwards, like the Brahman, it transcends and embraces the cosmic existence without being subject to it."2
In the remaining portion of the Upanishad, we have the famous allegory of the gods and the Supreme, and a statement of the goal of the realisation. We have already referred in some detail to the allegory. As for the goal of the realisation, the Upanishad tells us that it comes by flashes, revelations, sudden touches and glimpses. By repetitions of these, a stage will be realised when the mind will know nothing but the Brahman, think of nothing but the Brahman. And the Upanishad adds:
"The name of That (Brahman) is 'That Delight;' as that 'Delight' one sizould follow after It. He who knows That, towards him verily all existences yearn."
The knower of the Brahman does not run away from the world; nor does he remain inactive in the world. He becomes a centre of a divine Delight shedding it on all the world and attracting all to it as to a fountain of joy and love and self-fulfilment in the universe.
The goal that the Upanishad places before the high reaching
soul is twofold: to attain the Supreme and to be forever for the good of all the world,—even as the Brahman Himself. And the nature of the highest good that can be done is to be a human centre of the Light, the Glory, the Bliss, the strength, the Knowledge of the Divine Existence through whom it shall communicate itself lavishly to other men and attract by its magnet of delight their souls to that which is the Highest.
1. Sri Aurobindo, Centenary Edition, Vol. 12, pp. 212-3.
2. Ibid., p. 208.