Chandogya Upanishad (english Translation)

by Swami Lokeswarananda | 165,421 words | ISBN-10: 8185843910 | ISBN-13: 9788185843919

This is the English translation of the Chandogya-upanishad, including a commentary based on Swami Lokeswarananda’s weekly discourses; incorporating extracts from Shankara’s bhasya. The Chandogya Upanishad is a major Hindu philosophical text incorporated in the Sama Veda, and dealing with meditation and Brahman. This edition includes the Sanskrit t...

Verse 8.13.1

श्यामाच्छबलं प्रपद्ये शबलाच्छ्यामं प्रपद्येऽश्व इव रोमाणि विधूय पापं चन्द्र इव राहोर्मुखात्प्रमुच्य धूत्वा शरीरमकृतं कृतात्मा ब्रह्मलोकमभिसंभवामीत्यभिसंभवामीति ॥ ८.१३.१ ॥
॥ इति त्रयोदशः खण्डः ॥

śyāmācchabalaṃ prapadye śabalācchyāmaṃ prapadye'śva iva romāṇi vidhūya pāpaṃ candra iva rāhormukhātpramucya dhūtvā śarīramakṛtaṃ kṛtātmā brahmalokamabhisaṃbhavāmītyabhisaṃbhavāmīti || 8.13.1 ||
|| iti trayodaśaḥ khaṇḍaḥ ||

1. From the dark may I attain the diverse. From the diverse may I attain the dark. Like a horse shaking its fur [to remove the dirt], I will shake off whatever spot I may have on my character. Like the moon freeing itself from the mouth of Rāhu [and regaining its brightness], I will, having accomplished everything, lay down this body and attain that eternal Brahmaloka.

Word-for-word explanation:

Śyāmāt śabalam prapadye, from the dark may I attain the diverse; śabalāt śyāmam prapadye, from the diverse may I attain the dark; aśvaḥ romāṇi iva, as a horse [shakes] its fur; pāpam vidhūya, I will shake off any shortcomings [I have]; candra iva rāhoḥ mukhāt pramucya, as the moon gets free from the mouth of Rāhu; dhūtvā śarīram, laying down the body; kṛtātmā, having accomplished everything; akṛtam, eternal; brahmalokam, Brahmaloka; abhisambhavāmi iti abhisambhavāmi iti, I will attain, I will attain. Iti trayodaśaḥ khaṇḍaḥ, here ends the thirteeenth section.


This is a meditation mantra. It contains the essence of all that has been said before in this Upaniṣad.

There are two important words used here—śyāma and śabala. Śyāma means ‘dark,’ or ‘black.’ Śyāmā

is the feminine form, and it is also a name of Mother Kālī. Śaṅkara says that śyāma is gambhīraḥ varṇaḥ, a deep colour—that is to say, it is not perceptible to our sense organs. When we say something is dark, it suggests that it is difficult to know. Mother Kālī is said to be dark because we really do not know what or who she is.

Here the word śyāma refers to Brahman, because

Brahman also is difficult to know. Where do we realize Brahman? Within us, within the heart. Śabala means many-coloured, or with many forms. It stands for Brahmaloka. It is the multiplicity outside. The idea is, what is inside is also outside. The One becomes the many.

Suppose you enter a room where there are a hundred mirrors. What do you see? You see a hundred reflections of yourself. Or suppose the moon is shining above and there are many pots of water on the ground. In each pot there is a reflection of the moon, but there is in reality only one moon.

How do we realize this—that the One becomes the many? Through cittaśuddhi, purification of the mind. Your mind is like a mirror. If the mirror is clean you have a very clear reflection of yourself. But if there is dust and dirt on the mirror you cannot see your reflection very well. The Upaniṣad has again and again been emphasizing this need for purification of the mind. It is not something that is attained all of a sudden. It does not happen by a fluke. It comes only after years of hard struggle and self-discipline.

Two illustrations are given here in this verse. The first is about a horse. When a horse has dirt on his body, he wants to get rid of it. He does not like something unnatural sticking to his fur. What does he do? He shakes his body. So also, we have the dirt of ignorance, egotism, and other things clinging to our mind, but they are not part of our real nature and we must get rid of them. We must shake them off. How? Through discrimination: ‘I am not this body, nor am I identified with anything the body is identified with, such as caste or country. These are all superimpositions. My real Self is always pure, without birth, without death.’ When you practise this kind of discrimination, slowly the conviction grows on you that you are not the body, that you are the Self, separate from the body.

The second illustration is taken from the myth of the churning of the ocean. In ancient times the gods and the demons decided to churn the ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality so that they would never die. After much difficulty they managed to get the nectar, and then the gods tricked the demons and snatched it away so they could have it all for themselves.

When the nectar was being distributed among the gods, the sun and the moon noticed that Rāhu, a demon, was hiding among them and they shouted a warning. But it was too late. Rāhu was able to get a taste of the nectar just before his head was cut off. Thus the rest of his body perished but his head became immortal, and that head is forever chasing his enemies, the sun and the moon. When there is an eclipse of the moon, it is said that Rāhu has swallowed the moon. But because Rāhu has no body, the moon soon comes out from the bottom of his head and we again see the shining form of the moon.

The Upaniṣad says that it is as if we were all within the mouth of Rāhu. We have all been swallowed by ignorance, as it were. By nature we are the luminous Self, but the light of the Self has been covered by the darkness of ignorance. Somehow or other we have to free ourselves from the mouth of Rāhu and we will then regain our inherent splendour.

Vedānta says, if you are Brahman you have always been Brahman. It is not that you are attaining something new. When you realize Brahman, you realize what you have always been. It is like a prince kidnapped by some beggars when he is just a baby. As he grows up among the beggars, he behaves just like them. He never realizes he is a prince. But one day some people discover him and take him to the palace and tell him he is the prince. He was always the prince, only he did not know it.

There is a wonderful example told by Holy Mother. There was a large diamond lying on the ground near a bathing ghat. Everyone thought it was a piece of glass, and those who came to bathe there used to scrape the dirt off their feet by rubbing them on the diamond. One day a jeweller saw it and realized it was a diamond. Hadn’t it always been a diamond? Similarly, you have always been Brahman, only you did not know it.

Vedānta says we have placed our own hands over our eyes and we are saying: ‘Help! I can’t see anything. I am blind.’ We have always been telling ourselves that we are worthless and good for nothing. Now we must reverse our thinking. We must tell ourselves that we are pure, free, and divine.

Vedānta does not claim it can perform any miracles. It does not have any strange, magical formulas. What Vedānta says is very simple and straightforward—Tat tvam asi, thou art that. Vedānta tries to awaken the power that is already lying dormant within us. And in how many different ways it tries. Śaṅkara says the scriptures are ādaravati, affectionate, like a mother. Perhaps you want to eat only sweets and nothing else, but the doctor has said you should not eat sweets. What does your mother do? She will go on coaxing you in different ways to eat what is good for you. Similarly, the Upaniṣad goes on coaxing us to attain Self-knowledge.

The Upaniṣad is telling us we are now mesmerized into thinking we are good for nothing, a sinner, a slave. We have to get out of the grips of this delusion, like the moon gets out of the mouth of Rāhu. We have to shake off this delusion, like the horse shaking off the dirt on its fur.

We then attain a state which is called akṛtam, uncreated. Whatever is created will be destroyed. If we build a house, then some day or other it will be destroyed. But that which is uncreated, which is not the effect of anything, is eternal. It will never come to an end. Self-knowledge is not something created in us. It is not a product. Nor is it the result of anything.