Significance of Indian Yoga - An Overview - An Overview 3

An Overview 3



The Vedic Yoga and its synthesis was not lost, in spite of an increasing tendency towards ritualism and development of an emphasis on Karmakanda, reflected so prominently in the Brahmanas. The luminous seed of the Veda continued to sprout, and we find in the Upanishads a fresh stir of yogic search and reconfirmation of Vedic methods and Vedic realisations, even new formulations, deeper subtilisation and clearer elaboration. In respect of the element of jnana Yoga, there came to be even a culmination, justifying the tradition which regards Upanishads as Jnanakanda and as Vedanta, the crown of the Veda.

It is true that in the later Upanishads there is an over- emphasis on the salvation of the individual and on the rejection of the lower cosmic life. This note increases later 1" date, and it swells afterwards into the rejection of all cosmic life. This explains the dominant note of a later yoga, where cosmic life came to be the outcome of Ignorance and Desire, and escape from life and refusal of the ascetic "became an all-challenging cry. In the Vedic revelation, however, the individual salvation is regarded as a means to wards a great cosmic victory, the eventual conquest of heaven and earth by the Superconscient Truth and Bliss, and those who achieved the victory in the past, such as the Angirasa Rishis and the Ribhus, continue to be conscious

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An Overview 3

helpers of their yet battling posterity. This note seems to be missing in the later Upanishads, but the earlier Upanishads are quite explicit in their acceptance of a larger Vedic ideal and in their synthesis of the transcendental and the cosmic, even the integration of the individual and collective life on the earth with the supra-terrestrial life and the supra-cosmic existence.

The Upanishads have been rightly looked upon as the supreme work of the Indian mind. They are a record of the deepest spiritual experiences, written in a language which is profoundly poetic, manifesting an unfailing inspiration inevitable in phrase, wonderful in rhythm and expression. Like the Veda, they express the intuitive mind and intimate psychological experience, but although they start from concrete images and symbols of the Vedic seers, there is here a less covertly expressive language, and they pass over to another magnificently open and sublime imagery and diction which reveals the spiritual truth in all its splendour.

The Upanishads give us without veil or stinting, with plenitude and a noble catholicity the truth of the Brabman, of the tad ekam of the Veda. The Self, the Spirit, the Godhead in man and creatures and Nature and all this world and in other worlds and beyond all cosmos, the Immortal, the One, the Infinite is hymned without veils in the glory of his eternal transcendence and his manifold self-revelation. Upanishads have deep and sublime philosophical substance but they are no philosophical speculations of the intellectual kind, a metaphysical analysis which labours to define notions, to select ideas and discriminate those that are true and those that are false, and to logicise truth by dialectical reasoning. The Upanishadic seers saw Truth rather than merely thought it. It is true that visions have been clothed with a strong body

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if intuitive idea and disclosing image. But the clothing is transparent and we can look through it into the illimitable.

The Yoga of the Upanishads centres on the realisation of the Brahman, and on the methods and consequences of that realisation. That realisation is not a mere thinking, manana, but seeing the truth with the soul and total living in it with the power of the inner being, a spiritual seizing by a kind of identification with (he object of knowledge, Jnana. And because it is only by an integral knowing of the self that this kind of direct knowledge can be made complete, it was the self that the Upanishadic seers sought to know, to live in and to be one with it by identity. And through this endeavour they came to see that the self in us is one with the universal self of all things and that this self again is the same as God and Brahman, a transcendent Existence and Existent, and they beheld, felt, lived in the inmost truth of all things in the universe and the inmost truth of man's inner and outer existence by the light of this one and unifying vision. The Upanishads are thus the records of self-knowledge, world- knowledge and God-knowledge.

As a first step of the yoga, there has to be an inquiry, such as that of Nachiketas, which impels the distinction between the pleasant, preyas, and the good, shreyas, and the choice for the latter even when the former is guaranteed. Next, this inquiry is to be aided by a competent teacher, such as Yama in the Katha Upanishad, or as Pippalada in the Prashna Upanishad, or Brahma, the first of the Gods — devanam Prathamah, to Atharvan, he to Angir, Angir to Satyavaha the Bhardwaja, or Angiras in the Mundaka Upanishad or as Uma Haimavati, the Divine Mother who knows the Supreme, in the Kena Upanishad. "Arise, awake, find out the great ones and learn from them; for sharp as a razor's edge, hard to

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traverse, difficult of going is that path, say the sages."26 This is what Yama demands of Nachiketas and through him to all those who seek truly and sincerely. The demand of the seeker results in response of the teacher in the form of that secret teaching that enters into the ultimate truth, which is the real meaning of the Upanishad.

The teacher reveals that the ultimate truth, the Brahman or the Self "is not won by exegesis, nor by brain-power, nor by much learning of scripture. Only by him whom It chooses can It be won; to him this Self unveils its own body."27 The basic conditions of Yoga are stated briefly thus: "None who has not ceased from doing evil, or who is not calm, or not concentrated in his being, or whose mind has not been tranquilised, can by wisdom attain to Him."28 Again, "This Self cannot be won by any who is without strength, nor with error in the seeking, nor by an askesis without the true mark:

but when a man of knowledge strives by these means, his self enters into Brahman, his abiding place."29 Sacrifice in works, purification and concentration as. also adoration are considered necessary, and other basic qualities and attitudes include (i) discrimination of eternal objects from the transient; (ii) detachment from enjoyment; (iii) calm and self-conquest; and (iv) desire for salvation.


"Turn inwards" is the first message of the yoga of the Upanishad. In the following passage from the Katha Upanishad, we have a description of the method of turning inwards as also some indications of the realization that follows:

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"The Self-born has cloven his doors outward, therefore man sees outward and not in the inner Self: Only a wise man here and there turns his eyes inward, desiring immortality, and looks on the self face to face. The child-minds follow after surface desires and fall into the net of death which is spread wide for us; but the wise know of immortality and ask not from things inconstant that which is constant. One knows by this Self, form and taste and odour and touch and its pleasures and what then is here left over? The wise man comes to know the great Lord and Self by whom one sees all that is in the soul that wakes and all that dreams and has grief no longer. He who knows the Jiva, the Self, the eater of sweetness, the lord of what was and what will be, shrinks thereafter from nothing that is. He knows him who is that which was born of old from Tapas and who was born of old from the waters and has entered in and stands in the secret cavern of being with all these creatures. He knows her who is born by the life force, the infinite Mother with all the gods in her, her who has entered in and stands in the secret cavern of being with all these creatures. This is the Fire, Agni, that has the knowledge and it is hidden in the two tinders as the embryo is borne in pregnant women; this is the Fire that must be adored by men watching sleeplessly and bringing to him the offering. He is that from which the Sun rises and that in which u sets and in him all the gods are founded and none can" Pass beyond him. What is here, is in other worlds, and what is there, even according to that, is all that is here. He goes from death to death who sees here only difference. A Purusha no bigger than thumb stands in man's central self and is the lord of what was and what sha11 be' and knowing him thenceforth one shrinks from nothing that is. A Purusha no bigger than a man's thumb and he is like a light without smoke; he is the lord of what was and what shall be; it is he

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that is today and it is he that shall be tomorrow.

We notice here allusions to the experiences of Agni described in the Rig Veda, particularly those by Vishwamitra (RV., 3.1) and Vrisha Jana (RV., 5.2), the experiences of the "boy suppressed in the secret cavern", of Kumara, of the immortal in the mortals, amartyeshu amritah. Immortality of the inmost soul derived from the immortality of Aditi, the Supreme Mother, who is one with the eternal and immortal Purusha, revealed in the Veda is described here in a less veiled language and with a very vivid figure of that soul as "no bigger than a thumb", a figure which has been adopted in the later development of the Indian yoga to indicate the inmost individual soul, distinct from but constituting individual mind, life and body.

Mandukya Upanishad speaks of the four-fold Self and describes the process of rising from stage to stage in terms of psychological symbolism, which can be understood more clearly in the light of the process of meditation and experience of Samadhi. The lowest state of the Self is what is experienced by us in our ordinary wakefulness, jagrita; the next higher state of the Self is what is experienced in the dream state, swapna, the state that comes when we withdraw from the outer, bahirmukha, consciousness; it is a state of deeper awareness, but it appears dreamy to our ordinary wakeful stage; the objects of that deeper awareness are subtle. The third state is much profounder, so dense that it resembles sleep, sushupti, but it is in reality intensely aware of the in-gathered oneness constituted of delight. And the fourth state of the Self, the highest, reveals the Self as so conscious that it transcends all levels of communication of communicability; it is unthinkable and the unnameable. Here are descriptions of the Self that is four-fold, chatushpat:

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"He whose place is the wakefulness, who is wise of the outward, who has seven limbs, to whom there are nineteen doors, who feels and enjoys gross objects, Vaishwanara, the Universal Male, He is the first."

"He whose place is the dream, who is wise of the inward, who has seven limbs, to whom there are nineteen doors, who feels and enjoys subtle objects, Taijasa, the Inhabitant in Luminous Mind, He is the second."

"When one sleeps and yearns not with any desire, nor sees any dream, that is the perfect slumber. He whose place is the perfect slumber, who is become Oneness, who is made of mere delight, who enjoys delight unrelated, to whom conscious mind is the door, Prajna, the Lord of Wisdom, He is the third. This is the Almighty, this is the Omniscient, this is the Inner Soul, this is the Womb of the Universe, this is the Birth and Destruction of creatures."

"He who is neither inward-wise, nor outward-wise, nor both inward and outward-wise, nor wisdom self-gathered, nor possessed of wisdom, nor unpossessed of wisdom, He who is unseen and incommunicable, Whose essentiality is awareness of the Self in its single existence, in Whom all phenomena dissolve, Who is Calm, Who is Good, Who is One than whom there is no other. Him they deem the fourth: He is the Self, He is the Object of Knowledge."31

That Self, called Atman or Brahman, is, according to the Upanishad, indescribable or describable in the highest terms Sachchidananda, with the qualifying phrase, neti, neti — not this, not this. It is higher than the Highest,32 and the Isha Upanishad indicates Its mystery by declaring: "That moves and That moves not; That is far and the same is near; That

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is within all this and That also is outside all this"33. That is tat, It, and also sah. He. Says Isha Upanishad, "It is He that has gone abroad — That which is bright, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews, pure, unpierced by evil. The Seer, the Thinker, the One who becomes everywhere, Self-existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal".34

Of this mysterious and hardly knowable Reality, the Rishi of the Kena Upanishad speaks as follows:

"If thou thinkest that thou knowest It well, little indeed dost thou know the form of the Brahman. That of It which is thou, that of It which is in the Gods, this thou hast to think out. I think It known. 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."35

Ekam eva advitiyam, the One without the second, that Absolute, that Spaceless and Timeless Reality is also all this Universe, sarvam khalu idam brahma. Brahman is all this by his Yoga-Maya, by the power of his consciousness — Force put out in self-manifestation; he is the Conscious Being, Soul, Spirit, Purusha, and it is by his Nature, the force of his conscious self-existence that he is all things; he is the Ishwara, the Omniscient and Omnipotent All-ruler, and it is by his Shakti, his conscious Power, that he manifests himself in Time and governs the Universe.36

Our waking experience is conditioned by physical senses, indriyani, and, according to the Upanishadic psychology, behind the physical senses, the real sense is the mind, manas, or the sense-mind. Our experience at this level consists of sensations, perceptions and ideas dependent, on

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physical gross objects, which constitute the physical universe.

Higher than the sense-mind is the genius, sattwam, buddhi, enlightened by vijnana, the faculty of the superconscience; the world corresponding to sattwa or buddhi is the world of subtle objects while that corresponding to vijnana is the world of the Mighty Spirit, Prajna, the Lord of Wisdom, described as the sleep-self in the Mandukya Upanishad. Above that Mighty Spirit is the Unmanifested, avyakta, — the Self that is the Fourth of the Mandukya. But that Fourth, the incommunicable, has behind it the Purusha, that is the highest that is both the unmanifest and the Mighty manifest Spirit. In simple but decisive terms, Katha Upanishad tells us that it is when that Purusha is known that the mortal man is released into immortality; for that Purusha is the Substance, the Stable and dynamic, that which does not move and that which moves, indestructible, permanent, immortal.37

"The mind is higher than the senses, and higher than the mind is the genius, above the genius is the Mighty spirit, and higher than the Mighty One is the unmanifested. But highest above the unamnifested is the Purusha who pervades all and alone and has no sign nor feature. Mortal man knowing Him is released into immortality."38


As in the Veda, so in the Upanishad, the goal is the attainment of immortality. As in the Veda, so in the Upanishad, there is recognition of our present mortal state, which is that of falsehood and darkness. We live in avidya,

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Ignorance; we are overwhelmed by multiplicity and are oblivious of the unity and oneness behind multiplicity; we live, think and act as though multiplicity is the only reality. One who lives in avidya, lives in his senses as wild horses and in unmindful and even unclear, and wanders in the cycle of phenomena.39 Avidya is a veil of nescience that hides the real reality of the individual, universal and the transcendence and projects a false view centred on ego-consciousness. In avidya, the individual lives in his ego-consciousness, which tends always to assert its finitude and yet its independence, as though it were self-existent. Ego is a false sense, corresponding to which there is no real existent entity or reality. As a result, ego-sense continues to wander in cycles and in bondage to limitations of being, knowledge, joy, power, however much their boundaries or horizons may expand. Says the Kama Upanishad:

"They who dwell in the ignorance, within it, wise in their own wit and deeming themselves very learned, men bewildered are they who wander about stumbling round and round helplessly like blind men led by the blind. The childish wit bewildered and drunken with the illusion of riches cannot open its eyes to see the passage to heaven; for he thinks that this world is and there is no other, comes again and again into Death's thraldom."40

But the way of attaining to immortality is not by the self- dissolution of the individual formation into the flux of becoming, Prakriti, neither is it by prematurely dissolving i1 into the All-soul of the becoming. Man moves towards something which fulfils the universe by transcending it. He has to prepare his individual soul for the transcendence and for the fulfilment. If avidya is the cause of mortality, it is

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also the path out of mortality. The first necessity is therefore for man continually to enlarge himself in being, knowledge, joy, power in the limits of the ego so that he may arrive at the conception of something which progressively manifests itself in him in those terms and becomes more and more powerful to deal with the oppositions of Prakriti and to change, individually, more and more the terms of the ignorance, the suffering and weakness into the terms of knowledge, joy and power and even death into a means of wider life. Says the Isha Upanishad, "It is by the Ignorance that one crosses beyond death and by the Knowledge enjoys Immortality,... that it is by the dissolution that one crosses beyond death and by the birth enjoys immortality."41 When the life of avidya reaches a high degree of self-enlargement, one has to awaken to the perception of something exceeding itself, exceeding the personal manifestation. Man has to enlarge his conception of self as to see all in himself and himself in all.42 He has to see that the real "I" which contains all and is contained in all, is the One, is universal and not his personal ego. To That he has to subject his ego, that he has to reproduce in his nature and become, That is what has to possess and enjoy with an equal soul in all its forms and movements.

There is still something more to do. He has to see that is Universal One is something entirely transcendent, the sole Being and that this universe and all its forms, actions, egos are only becomings of that Being. "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 sha11 he have grief who sees everywhere oneness?"43

In the Kena Upanishad, we have a parable that describes

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the process of passage from Ignorance to Knowledge. Three powers in the physical, vital and mental being, symbolised as Agni, Vayu and Indra, have grown and affirmed the Good, the Light, the Joy and Beauty, the Strength and Mastery; they have found themselves victorious in their eternal battle with the adverse powers that deny, vijaye deva amahiyanta, the gods became mighty in their development, but their vision is as yet sealed to their own deeper truth; they know of themselves, they know not the Eternal; they know the godheads, they do not know God. Therefore they see the victory as their own, the greatness as their own. The victory was really due to the Brahman, the Eternal; brahma ha devebhyo vijigye, the Eternal conquered for the gods.44 Therefore, Brahman manifests Himself before the exultant gods and puts to them by His silence the heart-shaking question: "If you are all, then what am I? For see, I am and I am here." Gods did not know what this mighty Presence was, na vyajdnata kim idam yaksham iti. The three gods approach that Yaksha, one by one, Agni first, Vayu second, and Indra third. But none could move that Yaksha, none could find out what that Yaksha was. But while Agni and Vayu came back, Indra did not turn back from the quest. He pursued his way through the highest ether of the pure mentality and there he approached the Woman, the many- shining, Uma Haimavati. From her he learned that the Yaksha, this Daemon, is the Brahman by whom alone the gods of mind and life and body conquer and affirm themselves, and in whom alone they are great. She said to him: "It is the Eternal Brahman. Of the Eternal Brahman is this victory in which you shall grow to greatness."45 Then alone Indra came to know that this was the Brahman. In the next few sentences, Kena Upanishad gives the description of the process of attaining to the Brahman.

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"Therefore are these gods as it were beyond all the other gods, 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 is the 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 motion 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."46

In an earlier cryptic statement, Kena Upanishad seems to give us the same secret of the process of the realisation of the Brahman. It says:

"That of It which is thou, that of It which is in the gods, this thou hast to think out. I think It known." yadasya tvam yadasya deveshu atha nu mimansyeva te manye viditam.47

The means of the knowledge of Brahman are, we are told in effect, to get back behind the forms of the universe to which is essential in the cosmos, and that which is essential is two-fold, the gods in Nature, the cosmic functionings through which the gods act, viz., mind, life, speech, senses, body, and the self in the individual. This means, first, that the functionings of the mind, life and body must turn from their ordinary operations; they must leave the false egoistic idea that they are independent in their action and self-ordering; and they must become consciously passive to the power, light and Joy of something which is beyond themselves- What happens then is that the divine Unnameable reflects Himself openly in the gods.48 His light

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takes possession of the thinking mind. His power and joy of the life, His light and rapture of the emotional mind and the senses. Something of the Supreme image of the Brahman falls upon the world-nature and changes it into divine nature. All this is not done by a sudden miracle. It comes by flashes revelations, sudden touches and glimpses; there is as if a leap of the lightning of revelation flaming out from those heavens for a moment and then returning into its secret source. The repetition of these touches and visitings from the Beyond fixes the functionings of the mind, life and body and their gods in their upward gaze and expectation; constant repetition fixes them in a constant passivity; they will more and more be fixed in the memory, in the understanding, in the joy of the touch and vision of that transcendent glory which they have now resolved to make their sole object. The silence which has fallen on them and what is now their foundation and status will become their knowledge of the eternal silence, which is Brahman; and the response of their functioning to a superconscient light, power, joy will become their knowledge of the eternal activity, which is also Brahman.49

But this is not all. There has to be, next, or at the same time, the entry of the Self, which is within us and which supports the actions of the mind, life and body and their gods, into the one Self of all existences, the indivisible Spirit to whom all souls are centres of Its consciousness. The self in us also turns towards its own reality, tat twam asi. Through its individualised mind, it goes to That, and it transcends that mind by the will of knowledge in the mental though and by continuous remembrance, by continuous dwelling into that in which it has entered. It transcends the mind.' transcends its own mental individualisation of the being

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with which it is at present identified. It ascends and takes foundation in the Self of all and in the status of self-joyous infinity which is the supreme manifestation of the self. This is the transcendent immortality; this is the spiritual existence which the Upanishads declare to be the goal of man by which we pass out of the mortal state into the heaven of the spirit.50

Let us reiterate these two processes in different terms:

l. In the first process, there is an emphasis on the functionings of our various faculties, symbolised as gods; we develop them to their point of maturity; these functionings become aware of their source by the intervention of the divine Intelligence, symbolised as Uma Haimavati, the Mother of the gods; there arc flashes from the higher functionings; to use the Vedic imagery, there are workings and descents of the powers of revelation, inspirations, intuitions, discriminations, the powers of Ila, Saraswati, Sarama, Daksha. And by constant repetition, we come to know the Universal and the Transcendental, the Third and the Fourth of the Mandukya Upanishad. As a consequence, the mind will know nothing but the Brahman, think nothing but the Brahman, the Life will move to, embrace, enjoy nothing but the Brahman, the eye will see, the ear hear, the other senses sense nothing but the Brahman. To use the words of the Kena Upanishad:

"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."51

Or else, as in the Isha Upanishad, we turn to the Sun and effect the same realisation:

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"The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid;52 that do thou remove, O Fosterer (Pushan), for the law of the Truth, for sight. O Fosterer, O sole Seer, O Ordainer, O illumining Sun, O power of the Father of creatures, marshal thy rays, draw together thy light; the Lustre which is thy most blessed form of all, that in Thee I behold. The Purusha there and there. He am I."53

Or else, to use the terms of the Taittiriya Upanishad, we may perfect the faculties and activities of the annamaya purusha, pranamaya purusha, and manomaya purusha, the physical being, vital being and mental being, develop the operations and faculties of the vijnanamaya purusha and anandamaya purusha, and come to know the law in the universe of the Truth and of the Bliss, and realise the Anandabrahman. This is the realisation that Taittiriya Upanishad describes in the following words:

"The Bliss of the Eternal from which the words turn back without attaining and mind also turns baffled: who knows the Bliss of the Eternal, he. fears not for aught in this world or elsewhere."54

2. In the second process, the individual self behind our desire-self or egoistic self asserts itself; it arrives at or takes advantage of that state of the mind where it can attain to That; the mind attempts to lift to That, and although it falls back, still by the mind the will of knowledge in the mental thought continually and at last continuously remembers That. In that favourable condition, our inner or inmost self repeatedly dwells on That and is able at last to dwell in the self of all and the self that transcends all, even the parat para, higher than the Highest. As Kena declares: as That Delight one

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should follow after It. The two processes together would constitute a synthesis of yoga, with various elements combining works, knowledge and joy, — Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, — a synthesis that is the continuation and development of the synthesis of the Veda.

The culmination of the teaching of the Kena Upanishad, described towards its end, shows that the individual who has realised the all-blissful Ananda and is one with the infinite existence, continues to be a centre of the divine Delight shedding it on all the world and attracting all to it as too a fountain of joy and love and self-fulfilment in the universe. It says: "He who so knows That, towards him verily all existences yearn", sa ya etad evam vedabhi hainam sarvani bhutani samvachchhanti.55

Earlier also, the Kena Upanishad declares that the highest immortality is to be attained here, and that if it is not attained here, it is a great loss of destruction.

"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 from this world and become immortal."56

In the two concluding verses, the Kena Upanishad summarises the yoga of immortality in the following words:

"Of this knowledge austerity and self-conquest and work s are foundation, the Vedas are its limbs, truth is its dwelling place. He who knows this knowledge, smites evil away from him and in that vaster world and infinite heaven finds his foundation, yea, he finds his foundation"57.

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Commenting on this, Sri Aurobindo writes:

"The goal of the ascent is the world of the true and vast existence of which the Veda speaks as the Truth that is the final goal and home of man. It is described here as the greater infinite heavenly world, (Swargaloka - Swarloka of the Veda), which is not the lesser Swarga of the Puranas or the lesser Brahmaloka of the Mundaka Upanishad, its world of the sun's rays to which the soul arrives by works of virtue and piety, but falls from them by the exhaustion of their merit; it is the higher Swarga or Brahman-world of the Katha which is beyond the dual symbols of birth and death, the higher Brahman-worlds of the Mundaka which the soul enters by knowledge and renunciation. It is therefore a state not belonging to Ignorance, but to Knowledge. It is, in fact, the infinite existence and beatitude of the soul in the being of the all-blissful Existence; it is too the higher status, the light of the Mind beyond the mind, the joy and eternal mastery of the Life beyond the life, the riches of the Sense beyond the senses. And the soul finds in it not only its own largeness but finds and possesses the infinity of the One and it has firm foundation in that immortal state because there a supreme Silence and eternal Peace are the secure foundation of eternal Knowledge and absolute Joy."58

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