by Swami Nirvikarananda | 119,635 words
The first chapter contains the story of Naciketas and Yama; the second chapter teaches the path to liberation; the third chapter relates to Jivatma and the Paramatma; the fourth to sixth chapters contain the conclusion and verses on rebirth. The Katha Upanishad is one of the mukhya (primary) Upanishads and is also notable for first introducing th...
We heard the momentous utterance of Yama in verse twelve of the last chapter, chapter three, that man is essentially divine, that this truth is profound mystery hidden in the depths of experience, and that, though thus present in experience as a given datum, it is not manifest to all —
Yama had also added reassuringly that it could be realized and made manifest: drśyate. By whom and how ?
न प्रकाशते ।
na prakāśate |
— by those who are accustomed to inquire into subtle truths by means of their subtle intellect or reason. The Upanishads presents Brahman, the ultimate reality of the universe, as Ātman, the most intimate reality in man, his very Self.
अग्र्यया बुद्ध्या सूक्ष्मया सूक्ष्मदर्शिभिः
agryayā buddhyā sūkṣmayā sūkṣmadarśibhiḥ
The Divergent Path of Death and Deathlessness
Yama now proceeds to tell us, in verses one and two of the fourth chapter which we shall study now why the Ātman is not manifest to all, as also the technique for its realization:
पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत् स्वयम्भू-
स्तस्मात्पराङ्पश्यति नान्तरात्मन् ।
parāñci khāni vyatṛṇat svayambhū-
stasmātparāṅpaśyati nāntarātman |
(Katha Upanishad, 1st Mantra Canto 4)
The Self-existent Lord created the sense-organs (including the mind) with the defect of an out-going disposition; therefore (man) perceives (things) outwardly, but not the inward Self. A certain dhīra (wise man), desirous of immortality, turns his senses (including the mind) inward and realizes the inner Self.
पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बाला-
स्ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम् ।
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा
ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह न प्रार्थयन्ते ॥
parācaḥ kāmānanuyanti bālā-
ste mṛtyoryanti vitatasya pāśam |
atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṃ viditvā
dhruvamadhruveṣviha na prārthayante ||
(Katha Upanishad, 2nd Mantra Canto 4)
Children (men of immature understanding) pursue the external pleasures and they (thus) fall into the outstretched snare of death. The dhīras (wise-ones), on the contrary, having realized the eternally immortal, do not crave for the non-eternal things here (in the world of relativity).
Here is presented, in a few bold strokes, an arresting picture of human knowledge and human destiny—man’s sense-bound limitations leading him to finitude and death, on the one side, and his growth into an unfettered state yielding the fruits of infinitude and immortality, on the other.
The Phenomenon of Awareness
In the evolution of sense-organs, from the simple unicellular organism to the complex multicellular human body, science traces a gradual increase of awareness, but this awareness is awareness of the external environment only. Progress in defining and co-ordinating of this awareness is registered as advance in knowledge; as the Devīmāhatmyam cryptically puts it (I. 47):
— the knowledge of all creatures is confined to the knowledge of sense-objects.
ज्ञानमस्ति समस्तस्य जन्तोर्विषयगोचरे
jñānamasti samastasya jantorviṣayagocare
Knowledge of the level of the sense-organs is always knowledge of the external world, of a world which is in the clutches of time and subject to change, which is in the grip of ‘the outstretched snare of death’, as Yama more forcefully expresses it in verse two of this chapter.
With the appearance of higher brain, however, evolution registers an advance by way increased knowledge of, and control over, the external environment on the part of the organisms gifted with this new device of the cerebral system, which is endowed with the power not only to co-ordinate efficiently the activities of the different sense-organs, but also to consciously direct them to deliberately chosen purposes and goals. The primary urge behind all these activities is sensate satisfaction and survival. All physical life is a race against death, foredoomed to failure from the commencement. The organism experiences, however, a vicarious satisfaction and survival through its offspring, achieving thereby a sort of biological immortality. This is all what is possible at the sensate level.
Human Immaturity versus Maturity
The cerebral system in man, though capable of experiencing higher visions and pursuing nobler aims, still largely functions at the sensate level in the case of most people. These higher visions and nobler aims, which raise man to the moral and spiritual level of existence, proceed from a dimension of the human personality deeper than the sensate level. While the latter relates him to the temporal order, the former relates him to the eternal order. Progress at the human stage of evolution is measured partly in terms of the growth and development of the sensate individual through control and manipulation by him of the sensible external universe, but largely in terms of the emergence of the spiritual man through inner discipline. The first, without the second accompanying it, reduces human life to a state of animal existence with spiritual death as its destiny. This is sheer childishness, says Yama in verse two:
Those who pursue only external pleasures are just children, are but unformed men; they are not men yet, but only candidates to humanity. And if they refuse to move forward, if they fail to continue the evolutionary march in the specifically human life of advance—the psycho-social, moral, and spiritual line—they face annihilation; ‘they enter the widespread net of death’, says Yama:
पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बालाः ।
parācaḥ kāmānanuyanti bālāḥ |
ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम् ।
te mṛtyoryanti vitatasya pāśam |
If this is immaturity, what then constitutes maturity? The spiritually mature person is significantly called dhīra in the Upanishads; in him is achieved the rare union of knowledge and courage, the penetrating intelligence, powerful will, and disciplined emotion. About mental maturity so shaped, Yama says:
— The dhīras, on the contrary, having realized the eternally immortal, do not crave for the non-eternal things here (in the world of relativity).
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह न प्रार्थयन्ते
atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṃ viditvā dhruvamadhruveṣviha na prārthayante
The dhīra does not equate human destiny with either organic satisfaction or organic survival, or with biological immortality; much less does he crave for a dubious immortality in a heaven. Having experienced the stirrings of the immortal within himself and becoming rationally convinced that change and more change is the characteristic of the external world, he has directed his search for the immortal and the eternal from the world of the ‘without’ to the world of the ‘within’.
Equipping Reason for the Higher Life
This is man in search of values, in search of quality, in search of the moral, aesthetic, and spiritual depths of his own Self. In him, the newly acquired cerebral system has risen to a higher field of functioning than the sensate, and become capable of experiencing higher visions and nobler aims. He feels himself spiritually related to the eternal order of the ‘within’ of the universe, as he had all along felt physically related to the temporal order of its ‘without.’ This marks the development of his knowledge or reason not as the tail-end of his sense-organs, but as the unfettered agent of life’s advance to spiritual truth, with character excellence as its corollary.
This advance to spiritual truth, is a unique journey. It is first of all, an inward journey; secondly, it is faced with more stupendous obstacles than any journey in the outer world; thirdly, it is a journey which takes man from the bondage of finitude, delusion, and death to the freedom of universality, illumination, and immortality; and fourthly, every advance in this journey of man’s outer life, steadying his steps and enriching his heart.
We had already learnt from Yama about this inner journey when we studied the first nine verses of the third chapter of this Upanishad. In its indirect and slow forms, in and through life’s other struggles and achievements, it is this inner journey that is revealed in human culture, in the ethical, moral, and religious life of humanity. It is the source of the integrating forces, What Indian thought terms dharma, that hold human society together, binding man to man with the non-physical force of love.
The Direct Technique of the ‘Study of the Book Within’
But what is inner journey in its pure form, in and by itself? What is its technique in its straight and direct expression? It is this question that Yama answers in the first verse of this chapter. If your quest is for the immortal, seek within; if it is for perishable objects and passing pleasures, seek without; this is the clear guidance given by the Upanishads to all humanity. In the words of Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, Vol. VI, Sixth Edition, p. 81),
Religion deals with the truths of the metaphysical world just as chemistry and other natural sciences deal with the truths of the physical world. The book one must read to learn chemistry is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and heart. The sage is often ignorant of physical science, because he reads the wrong book—the book within; and the scientist is too often ignorant of religion, because he reads the wrong book—the book without.
The technique of the this ‘study of the book within’, concentrated and direct, is what Yama gives in this first verse. The sense-organs of man, including his mind, have one constitutional defect, says Yama; it is that they are, all of them, out-going in their propensity; therefore, they give man experience of the external world, but not of the inner world, nor of the inner Self. As explained by Shankara in his comment on this verse:
तस्मात्पराङ्पराग्रूपाननात्मभूताञ्शब्दादीन्पश्यत्युपलभत उपलब्धा नान्तरात्मन्नान्तरात्मान् ।
tasmātparāṅparāgrūpānanātmabhūtāñśabdādīnpaśyatyupalabhata upalabdhā nāntarātmannāntarātmān |
Therefore (they, the sense-organs) see, i.e. experience, the external, i.e. the outer world of sound etc. which are the not-self, but do not see the inner Self, i.e. the experiencer.
This is the state of man in nature; nature within him, namely, his propensities and cravings, takes him through his nervous system out of himself, often in spite of himself, through the hundreds of stimuli that pour in on him every minute from nature outside. This is man the automaton, a bundle of conditioned reflexes, man upheld in modern behaviouristic psychology. His mind or reason is hardly distinguishable from his sense-organs.
India and the Science of Human Possibilities
It is one thing to say that this is man as we see him around us in the world; but it is a quite a different thing to assert further that this is all of man, that this is his final destiny. Twentieth century psychology and even neurology are redeeming man from this false and dismal view of himself. Without disputing the fact that in every normal man the sway of conditioned reflexes, centered in the ‘old brain’, is vast and effective, twentieth century scientific thought protests vigorously against the ‘nothing but’ view of the behaviouristic and other schools, which equate man to ‘nothing but’ an animal and both to nothing but a machine, and is reaching out in the words of Julian Huxley, to ‘a science of human possibilities’, through a study of the implications of the ‘new brain’ for human and life and destiny.
The Upanishads, in ancient India, had taken up this study of human possibilities, not just theoretically, but experimentally, and developed a comprehensive science of human possibilities with its theoretical and practical aspects. The fruits of these study were threefold: the independence of mind or reason of man of his sensory apparatus was the first fruit of this science; the control and manipulation of the psycho-physical energies in man, resulting in an emotionally stable inner milieu within him, was its second fruit. And man’s advance to spiritual awareness resulting in the realization of his true Self, the infinite and immortal Ātman, and in the manifestation in life and action of his inalienable divine nature, was its third fruit. The first and second fruits are known as sama and dama in all Indian spiritual literature. As a technique, they are also known as tapas in the Upanishads, which proclaim it as the one great and sure means of attainments, moral intellectual, or spiritual. As defined by the Yājnavalkya Smrti, which Shankara quotes in his commentary on the Taittirīya Upanishad (III. 1) which has been quoted earlier.
It is well known in the world that, among all the means which are sure of leading to ends, tapas is the most capable one…. Such tapas again, consists in the tranquilization of the external and internal sense-organs, which is the means for the realization of Brahman (the ultimate Reality). “The concentration of (the energies of) the mind and the sense-organs is the supreme tapas; it is superior to all other dharmas (ethical and spiritual disciplines); it is said to be the supreme dharma” so says the Smrti.
The Self: Lower versus Higher
The natural man, as we have seen, is an outgoing individual in search of organic satisfactions and organic survival; he functions in the context of keen competition and struggle, where satisfactions and survival belong to the organically fittest. When this man rises to the ethical level, he learns to check his outgoing impulses, soften the competition and struggle, and ensure the fitting, not only of himself, but also as many of his fellow-beings as possible, for satisfaction and survival. It is this check or limitation of the natural man and the consequent expression of a higher dimension of the human personality that illumines the phenomenon of law, both civil and moral, and makes civilization and culture. Every check on outgoing impulse turns the energy of the impulse back on the self in a reflexive action. All ethics and morality imply the distinction between a lower self and a higher self in man, corresponding more or less with the psychological distinction between his lower brain and higher brain.
This checking and disciplining of the lower self is the sine qua non for the manifestation of the higher self. If that check is moral check, the impulse, in its reflexive movement, reaches the region of the higher self, thence to move out, purified as moral impulse and action. In every moral action therefore, the energy and direction of the impulse behind the action proceeds from the higher self of man. The word ‘self’ in English and its Sanskrit equivalent, ātman, connote this reflexive energy movement in the human personality.
The importance, for evolutionary advance, of this inner tranquilization, such is achieved by sama and dama, is stressed in modern biology in its physiological concept of homeostasis. All evolutionary advance is preceded by a stabilization at the already achieved level. The first of such significant evolutionary achievements was physical thermostasis in mammals.
Homeostasis and Evolution
Though quoted in part earlier, in the course of our studies of verses fourteen to seventeen of chapter two and one to nine of chapter three of this Upanishad, the observations of the neurologist Grey Walter will bear reproduction in this context (The Living Brain, p. 16):
The acquisition of internal temperature control, thermostasis, was a supreme event in neural, indeed in all natural history. It made possible the survival of mammals on a cooling globe. That was its general importance in evolution. Its particular importance in evolution. Its particular importance was that it completed, in one section of the brain, an automatic condition known as homeostasis. With this arrangement, other parts of the brain are left free for functions not immediately related to the vital engine or the senses, for functions surpassing the wonders of the homeostasis itself. (emphasis not author’s).
After explaining that, through homeostasis, the upper brain is freed from the menial tasks of the body, the regulating functions being delegated to the lower brain (ibid., p. 17), Grey Walter significantly concludes (pp.18-19):
For the mammals all, homeostasis was survival; for man emancipation….
The experience of homeostasis, the perfect mechanical calm which it allows the brain, has been known for two or three thousand years under various appellations. It is the psychological aspect of all the perfectionist faiths— nirvana, the abstraction of the yogī, the peace that passeth understanding, the derided “happiness that lies within”; it is a state of grace in which disorder and disease are mechanical slips and errors. (emphasis not author's).
Emergence of the Higher Mind
This tranquilization of the inner milieu of human life consisting of the energies of the sense-organs and the lower brain, is the one pre-condition for the advance of man to emancipation, to the heights of spiritual freedom. It is only under this condition that the higher brain of man becomes truly higher, and becomes released ‘for functions not immediately related to the vital engine of the senses, for functions surpassing the wonders of homeostasis itself’, as expressed by Grey Walter. It becomes converted into a fit instrument to strive for and to achieve his life-fulfilment in spiritual emancipation.
This whole process is culture, as distinct from mere civilization, in the true sense of the term, in which man achieves, according to Indian thought, a spiritual depth to his personality through a steady advance to the immortal divine centre of his being. Only not stuck up in worldliness does the higher brain become truly higher; it then acquires a lucidity and a mobility arising from purity, which enables it fortunate possessor to employ it effectively in any field of investigation, external or internal. This is what finds expression as the pure mind emphasized in the higher religions of the world. This is the mind of which Jesus spoke, when he uttered what for man is one of the most hope-inspiring messages: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ It is the buddhi or the vijnāna which Yama had referred to, in verses three and nine of the chapter three of this Upanishad, as the most efficient charioteer for life’s journey to truth and fulfillment. With such a mind for companion, the highest spiritual realization becomes, in the words of Shankara, as palpable ‘as the fruit in the palm of one’s hand.’
The way of the Dhīra
This is the third and finest fruit of India’s investigation into the ‘science of human possibilities’, as referred to earlier. The inner discipline fit for such an investigation is of an extraordinary character. It was a team of such extraordinary spiritual investigators known as rŝis, sages, that gave to humanity the scientific spiritual tradition bequeathed by the immortal Upanishads, a tradition which has been re-tested and re-verified by an unbroken line of such rŝis down to our own times.
Referring to the advance attained by ancient India in the science of ‘human possibilities,’ Max Müller observes (Three Lectures on Vedānta Philosophy, London, 1894, p. 7):
But if it seems strange to you that the old Indian philosophers should have known more about the soul than Greek or medieval or modern philosophers, let us remember that however much the telescopes for observing the stars of heaven have been improved, the observatories of the soul have remained much the same.
The Upanishads gives the title of dhīra to the fortunate possessor of such an inner milieu mentioned earlier. In common parlance the word dhīra means a hero. Heroes in any field of achievement posses minds of more than ordinary toughness and manoeuvrability. And they can be graded according to the quality of their mental constitution. Among all such heroes, however, says Vedānta, the one who scales the Mount Everest of Experience who realizes the infinite and immortal Ātman behind the finite and mortal constituents of the personality, is unique and peerless. For he chooses an entirely new line of advance which is veritable terra incognita to most people, including scholars; he is in search of his own Self, the centre of his consciousness; his reason is in not the objects of knowledge of perception. And the discipline he gives himself and the technique he adopts are also unique and revolutionary.
The Dhīra of the Upanishads
Who was the first team of extraordinary spiritual investigators and discoverers? The Upanishads furnish us with no historical information on this point. In them we move in a world of thought, intense, rarefied, and pure, in which atmosphere even the personalities of the thinkers get melted into the impersonal; moving on air, so thin and rare, the rŝis have hardly left any visible footprints; their personalities have become fused with the truths which they discovered; and what we get out of them is only a body of truths, apauraŝeya or impersonal, and therefore universal. The Mundaka Upanishad, however, in its opening verse, makes a mythical reference to Brahmā, the first born, the personal aspect of the impersonal Absolute, as the first teacher of this wisdom to man. This means, in effect, that the Ātman dwelling in the heart of all is alone the teacher of this science of the Ātman to man. It is difficult to name the pioneers in many significant fields of human achievement ranging from the discovery of the use of fire or of the wheel to the discovery of the immortal divine Self of man. Yama, therefore, in the opening verse of the fourth chapter of this Upanishad, refers to him as
— a certain dhīra (wise man). What was extraordinary about him? He turned the energy of his senses and mind inward:
What was his intention? What was he seeking there? Immortality: amrtatvam icchan. What did he find there? The inner Self of man:
This dhīra must have been a pulsating individual; but soon, he became the first of a type drawn up from the earth’s bravest, purest, and best, irrespective of caste, creed, or gender, or historical circumstance, since the same Ātman is in all. Accordingly, he may be any wise man who, as defined by the Chāndogya Upanishad (VII. 1. 3), seeks to go beyond mere scholarship, and social refinement through civilization, to the realization of the Ātman through unwearying inner culture, convinced that in that realization alone lies the ending of all sorrow and tension arising from unfulfilment; or as indicated by Bertrand Russell (Impact of Science on Society p.121), seeks to go beyond sorrow by going beyond knowledge to wisdom; or as characterized by Socrates, is in search of wisdom, being dissatisfied with much knowledge and information. The term fits surprisingly well the modern seekers of truth, the spiritually earnest among them, who, dissatisfied with all the knowledge and power of the contemporary scientific civilization, and not wedded any scientific dogma such as materialism, are in earnest search after the spiritual meaning of the universe and the true destiny of man.
The Dhīra: The Modern Courageous Type
Let us picture to ourselves one such modern seeker who has behind him a long record of earnest truth-seeking. He has been in search of knowledge all his life, verified, conclusive, uniting knowledge. The first field of his investigation was obviously the world of external nature, the world revealed by his sense-organs, the world first impinges on the senses of the each new-born babe. Through this trained mind, disciplined in scientific detachment, objectivity, and precision, he has penetrated, along with his team of fellow scientists, far into the heart of this external world through the physical and biological sciences, and gained a large measure of knowledge of, and control over, its processes; the resulting technical attachment has conferred many blessings on man, raising, however, some grave problems also in their training.
But at the end of his intellectual tether, he finds himself no nearer than before to the solution of the fundamental quest of his heart for the truth of the universe and the meaning of existence. The mystery of the universe has only become deepened with the tremendous advance of his knowledge. The meaning of existence continues to be an enigma to him, and ultimate truth an interrogation.
But he has begun to experience the pressure of a new mystery impinging on his mind from the farthest reach of his knowledge of the external world, namely, the mystery of man himself; the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of man, being only extensions into him of the external universe, constitute no baffling mystery to one who is nourished by the modern sciences of matter and life.
But the deeper levels of his personality, constituted of his mind, awareness, and the ego, his stature as the subject or knower of all knowledge and perceiver of all perception, his self as the unchanging basis of an ever-changing ego, his being, as scientist Niels Bohr, as quoted by Lincoln Barnett (The Universe and Dr. Einstein, p.127), has put it, both spectator and actor in the great drama of existence, these and other facts and intimations of the inner world begin to confront him as the key mystery of the universe, and pose an unforeseen challenge to his enquiring mind. All his erstwhile knowledge, stupendous and fruitful in the limited sensate sphere of existence, now become turned into shadows, into what Eddington calls ‘knowledge of structural form and not knowledge of content’. He begins to discover like Eddington (The Philosophy of Physical Science, p.5) that ‘it is actually an aid in the search for knowledge to understand the nature of knowledge which we seek’. He feels the need, like paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man, p. 56), to investigate the ‘within’ of nature and not only its ‘without’.
The Upanishads discovered ages ago that all our conclusions about the ‘without’ of the universe will remain uncertain until we have penetrated to it’s ‘within’ and realized what lies hidden there; all our knowledge of the ‘known’ will remain shadowy until we have investigated the ‘knower’; all our theories regarding the nature of the not-self will remain inconclusive and tentative until we have investigated the nature of the self.
The scientific, philosophic, and religious attitudes, says Vedanta, such as sceptic, agnostic, atheistic, and dogmatic, and their corollaries of rigidity, intolerance, intellectual pride, cynicism, moral stagnation, or artistic sterility are the products of the limitations arising from the exclusive concern with the ‘without’, the ‘known’, the ‘not-self’ aspect, and neglect of the ‘within’, the ‘knower’, the ‘self’ aspect of experience.
The Dhīra: The Modern Hesitant Type
Some brush aside this inconvenient questionings of their reason and become pragmatists, utilitarian, or humanists, even scientific humanists. They fully accept that the world, including man, is conditioned by change and determined by the cause and effect process. Their philosophy does not disclose any valid metaphysical basis for the deep-felt urge for freedom of the human spirit; they merely take this urge as a datum disclosed by nature at the human stage of evolution and as value dearly cherished by the human heart, and without which human life becomes bereft of all meaning and significance.
If all experience is valid field for scientific inquiry, that inquiry can pronounce no final conclusions as to the nature of reality or the truth of experience until it has investigated the inner world as well as the outer world, the subject pole as well as the object pole of experience.
The Philosophy of Total Experience
Indian thought recognizes the later as the field of the positive sciences and the former as that of the science of religion, and ‘philosophy’ as the synthesis of both. Final conclusions as to the nature of the universe, the truth of experience, and the destiny of man legitimately belong therefore to the province of philosophy alone, to the province of what Socrates and Bertrand Russell call wisdom, which takes the account the totality of all knowledge and experience. This is the stature of Vedānta among the thought system of the world; being a synthesis of the science of the ‘without’ and the science of the ‘within’ a grand science of the totality of reality, (Rāja-vidyā). Vedānta invites the modern truth-seeker not to silence his reason and become a defeatist, compromising with what his reason shows up as mere shadows, but to forge ahead in search of the light behind all substances and shadows—the light of Awareness, the infinite Self of man.
Referring to the nature and scope of this search into the depth of experience, Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, Vol. III, Eighth Edition, p. 253),
Beyond (waking) consciousness is where the bold search, Consciousness bound by the senses. Beyond that, beyond the senses, men must go in order to arrive at truths of the spiritual world, and there are now persons who succeed in going beyond the bounds of the senses. These are called rŝis (sages) because they come face to face with the spiritual truths.
Those who dare to do this belong to the category of the dhīra and join the team, may be even as camp followers, of that first pioneer to whom Yama refers as
in this Upanishad. In the words of Romain Rolland (The Life of Ramakrishna, Fourth Impression, p.6):
It is the quality of thought and not its object which determines its source and allows us to decide whether or not it emanates from religion. If it turns fearlessly towards the search for truth at all costs with single-minded sincerity prepared for any sacrifice, I should call it religious; for it presupposes faith in an end to human effort higher than the life of the individual, at times higher than the life of existing society, and even higher than the life of humanity as a whole. Scepticism itself when it proceeds from vigorous natures true to the core, when it is an expression of strength and not of weakness, joins in the march of Grand Army of the religious soul.
The technique that this pioneer dhīra adopted was revolutionary, unique. Anyone who has tried it will know how difficult is the control and manipulation of the psychophysical-energies of man. The mental and moral life of an average person demands of him only a fraction of this discipline. The higher reaches of mental and moral life demand a greater measure of this discipline. But all this discipline involved in morality and the good life even up to its highest reach is just ordinary compared to what is demanded of one who wants to pierce to the depth of the mystery of man.
He is required to do nothing less than giving a right-about turn to his inner energies. This is the meaning of the term āvrttachakŝu used by in the verse; and this is precisely what this pioneer attempted, and achieved.
Referring to the inherent out-going tendency of the sense-organs and the mind, and the complete overcoming of this tendency by this spiritual pioneer, Shankara says in thought-provoking comment on this verse:
एवं स्वभावे अपि सति लोकस्य, कश्चित् नद्याः प्रतिस्रोतः प्रवर्तनमिव, धीरो, धीमान्, विवेकी, प्रत्यगात्मानम् ... आवृत्तचक्षुः—आवृत्तम् व्यावृत्तम् चक्षुः श्रोत्रादिकम् इन्द्रियजातम् अशेषविषयात् यस्य स आवृत्तचक्षुः—स एवं संस्कृतः प्रत्यगात्मानम् पश्यति । न हि बाह्यविषयालोचनपरत्वं प्रत्यगात्मेक्षणं च एकस्य सम्भवति ।
किमर्थं पुनः इत्थं महता प्रयासेन स्वभावप्रवृत्तिनिरोधं कृत्वा धीरः प्रत्यगात्मानं पश्यति इति उच्यते; अमृतत्वं अमरणधर्मत्वं नित्यस्वभावत्वं इच्छनात्मनः ॥
evaṃ svabhāve api sati lokasya, kaścit nadyāḥ pratisrotaḥ pravartanamiva, dhīro, dhīmān, vivekī, pratyagātmānam ... āvṛttacakṣuḥ—āvṛttam vyāvṛttam cakṣuḥ śrotrādikam indriyajātam aśeṣaviṣayāt yasya sa āvṛttacakṣuḥ—sa evaṃ saṃskṛtaḥ pratyagātmānam paśyati | na hi bāhyaviṣayālocanaparatvaṃ pratyagātmekṣaṇaṃ ca ekasya sambhavati |
kimarthaṃ punaḥ itthaṃ mahatā prayāsena svabhāvapravṛttinirodhaṃ kṛtvā dhīraḥ pratyagātmānaṃ paśyati iti ucyate; amṛtatvaṃ amaraṇadharmatvaṃ nityasvabhāvatvaṃ icchanātmanaḥ ||
Even though people are of this nature, yet, like (the technique of) making some rivers flow in the opposite direction, the dhīra, the one endowed with intelligence, with discrimination, realizes the inner Self by becoming āvrttachakŝu; one who completely turns away all his sense-organs like eyes, ears, etc. from all sense-objects is āvrttachakŝu. Thus becoming purified, he realizes the inner Self. It is, verily not possible for one and the same person to be absorbed in the thought of external sense-objects and realize the same inner Self.
For what purpose, then, does the dhīra, restraining thus with enormous effort his natural propensities, realize the inner Self? The answer is: desirous of immortality, deathlessness, which is one’s own eternal nature.
The question posed by Shankara in the above passage is very significant: ‘For what purpose, then, does the dhīra, restraining thus with enormous effort his natural propensities, realize the inner Self?’ Man are always prepared to undertake hazardous jobs, undergo extreme hardships, face disappointments, defeats and losses, if they consider the prize to be had high enough; that prize may be material wealth; or fame, or intellectual knowledge, or spiritual realization. They are all in the grip of a madness of love which can soften all hardships. When a gold mine is discovered in an inaccessible place, no prospect of hardship deters the gold-lovers from the adventure.
When Shri Ramakrishna was passing through a God-intoxicated state in the temple of Dakshineswar, several people around him called him insane. When he reported this to Bhairavi Brahmani, one of his gurus, her reply, as given by Swami Vivekananda in his lecture on ‘My Master’, was significant (Complete Works, Vol. IV, Eighth Edition, pp. 171-72):
My son, blessed is the man on whom such madness comes. The whole of this universe is mad—some for wealth, some for pleasure, some for fame, some for a hundred other things. They are mad for gold, or husbands or wives, for little trifles, mad to tyrannize over somebody, mad to become rich, mad for every foolish thing except God. And they can understand only their own madness. When another man is mad after gold, they have fellow feelings and sympathy for him, and they say he is the right man, as lunatics think that lunatics alone are sane….That is why they call you mad; but yours is the right kind of madness. Blessed is the man who is mad after God. Such men are very few.
The history of the world has shown that this type of madness is the supreme source of whatever sanity there is in the world.
This turning away of sense-organs from the sense-objects in the direction of the inner Self is the standard technique of the science of religion.
We are now in a better position to appreciate Yama’s earlier characterization of this spiritual journey, in verse fourteen of chapter three, as ‘walking on the edge of a razor’.
Yama had also indicated to us the milestones on the road of the inner penetration in verses thirteen and fifteen of that chapter. Every religious system which advocates closing the eyes and shutting out all the senses in meditation as a spiritual discipline, bears knowingly or unknowingly, the impress of this technique and vision of this first pioneer, the
We listen to the powerful echoes of this vision in the orientation given by Jesus to the Semitic concept of the kingdom of God (St. Luke, 17, 20-21):
And he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
The spiritual significance of ‘Man, know thyself’ of ancient Greek thought also becomes revealed in the light of this technique and vision. We keep our eyes open in the waking state and experience the world of phenomena; we close them in the state of sleep which, temporarily shutting us away from all phenomena, refreshes us to face the demands of the next waking state. When we close our eyes in meditation, we go beyond waking and sleeping states and learn to see in a more fundamental sense and get refreshed in a more permanent way. We then become asleep to the phenomenal and awake to the eternal. In the classical utterance on the subject by the Gita (II. 69):
या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी । यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुनेः ॥
That which is night to all beings, there the self-controlled one is awake; where all beings are awake, that is night to the enlightened seer.
This turning away from the sense-organs is based on the conviction that they, even with the aid of best instruments, reveal only very little of reality. In going out through the sense-organs in search of reality, even the most disciplined mind is doing only its first lessons of the book of knowledge. When one commences one’s study of the book of knowledge, one is excited by the wonderful vista opened up by the senses; at this stage, his senses reveal reality to him. As he advances in his lessons and moves closer to the heart of reality, he begins, however, to experience more and more their cramping effects; at the end of these first lessons, he finds himself armed with the conviction that they conceal more than they reveal.
In revealing some of the surface waves the ocean, his senses had concealed from him the vast ocean itself. The next lessons must relate to a study of the ocean itself after withdrawing the attention from the waves, fascinating though they be. But they will not be forsaken for ever; after understanding the nature of the ocean, there can be a second look at them. What a revelation it will then be! No more mysterious, they waves now reveal themselves as what they are and what they have always been essentially, namely the ocean.
Concentration of Mind
With this discovery of the changeable character of all phenomena revealed by the senses, the truth-seeker takes leave of the positive sciences and enters the domain of the science of the inner world, namely religion, to continue his quest for the unconditioned and the changeless, for the One behind the many. Change is the characteristic of the much of the world of the ‘within’ as well; for much of that within, according to Vedānta, is also matter, not self, matter in its finer forms; but he will penetrate to the truly ‘within’ by going beyond all that is not-self. If at the end nothing changeless comes into view, he will boldly conclude and proclaim that causality and determinism are the ultimate categories and immortality and freedom are a sham. As he takes leave of the external phenomena, he takes leave also of the sense-organs; for they are of no use to him in this new field; and unless kept under strict discipline by the technique of śama and dama referred to earlier, they may be positively harmful as well; for at this stage, they distract the concentration of the mind; and concentration is the supreme technique of the science of religion. Yama will refer to it as yoga in the sixth and last chapter of this Upanishad.
The purer the mind the more easily it is concentrated; this purity is the measure of the mind’s release from thralldom to the sense-organs. The mind thus released is the most wonderful instrument that man can have. Referring to this technique of yoga, Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, Vol. I, Eleventh Edition, p. 135):
The mind is constantly changing and vacillating, and can, when perfected, either attach itself to several organs, to one, or to none…..The perfected mind…. has the reflexive power is what the yogi wants to attain; by concentrating the powers of the mind, and turning them inward, he seeks to know what is happening inside. There is in this no question of belief.
The whole technique and its fruit expounded by Yama in the opening verse of this chapter is found re-authenticated in a later age by Buddha. This was what this great spiritual teacher of the seventh-sixth century B.C. attempted and attained in one night under the bodhi tree at Bodh-Gaya. The scientific thoroughness and practicality of the method and the loftiness of the results attained come out in some of his later discourses to his disciples. He controlled the sense-organs, quietened his mind, and turned their energies inward in search of the Immortal behind the mortal. By the end of the night, he had achieved bodhi, enlightenment, which has reference to the true nature of all conditioned phenomena, including the ego of man, to the true nature of man as the unconditioned, immortal, and the non-dual Self behind them. As he got up from his meditation, he expressed in a few words the content of his inexpressible experience (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta 26):
And the realization (jnānam) now as a thing seen arose in me: “My liberation is unshakable; this is my last birth; there will now be no rebirth for me”.
Again, a few days later at Sarnath, accosting, in a tone of authority his first five disciples, who were hesitating to accord him a welcome due to a perfect teacher, Buddha said (ibid):
Hearken, monks, the Immortal (amatam) has been realized by me. I teach, I make plain the dhamma (the Truth and the Path to It). If you follow as I teach, you will ere long, and in this very life, learn fully for yourselves, verify for yourselves, and having attained, abide in the supreme fulfillment of the holy life.
The Advaita sādhanā of Shri Ramakrishna under his guru Totāpuri, which I had occasion to narrate earlier provides another glowing illustration, and that from the modern age, of the unbroken spiritual tradition initiated by the
referred to by Yama.
Blessedness: the Fruit of the Science of Religion
Observes Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, Vol. I, Eleventh Edition, p. 130):
The path is hard and long, but the goal is sure; it is immortality, blessedness, fulfillment. Every step thereto tends to enhance the quality of human life.
When analyzing his own mind, man comes face to face, as it were, with something which is never destroyed, something which is, by its own nature, eternally pure and perfect, he will no more be miserable, no more unhappy. All misery comes from fear, from unsatisfied desire. Man will find he never dies, and then he will have no more fear of death. When he knows that he is perfect, he will have no more vain desires, and both these causes being absent, there will be no more misery—there will be perfect bliss, even while in this body.
The fruits of such a life are peace, universal love, and compassion. These are the fruits that will sweeten all other fruits of life. In the light of the knowledge of the true nature of man as the
— ever-pure, ever-illumined, ever-free, and infinite Self, in the terminology of Vedānta, life and its processes appear in a new light. This forms the theme of Yama’s teaching in the remaining thirteen verses of this chapter.
The diverse aspects of this great theme find, however, more elaborate treatment in some other Upanishads, notably the Brhadāranyaka. Through a penetrating study of the nature of knowledge and awareness, that Upanishad reveals to us not only that the Self of man is of the nature of consciousness and immutable, but also that it is infinite ad non-dual. The fundamental unity of the universe derives from the unity of the spiritual reality behind the universe. The tireless search for this reality through the phenomenon of man lays bare not only the relativity and finitude of all external sense-objects, but also of internal ego-sense, as also of the knowing process conditioned by the subject-object relation. What remains is the self-luminous, unconditioned consciousness, beyond speech and thought, infinite and therefore non-dual. This is the Ātman of the Upanishads, the true Self of man, which, in virtue of its infinitude, is known as also as Brahman, the Self of the Universe, the ultimate unity of its ‘within, and ‘without’. In the light of this vision, man, who appears in normal experience as finite and trivial in knowledge and awareness, is but the like the tip of an immense rock projecting above the surface waves of the ocean.
The Many in the Light of the One
What is man and is life processes, what is nature and her myriad manifestations, in the light of this spiritual vision of all-comprehending unity? This is the main theme of Yama’s teachings in the remaining thirteen verses of this chapter, verses three to fifteen. It is also the main theme of the rest of this Upanishad, in its fifth and sixth chapters. From a search for the vision of one behind the many, of the changeless behind the changing, Yama now leads us on to a vision of the one in the many, of the changing; the world of the relativity transformed and transfigured when we take this second look at it.
Verses three to five refer to Ātman as the immutable principle of intelligence, beyond time, but controlling the processes of time, and the ever present witness of the ever-changing phenomena without and within man:
येन रूपं रसं गन्धं शब्दान् स्पर्शांश्च मैथुनान् ।
एतेनैव विजानाति किमत्र परिशिष्यते ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
yena rūpaṃ rasaṃ gandhaṃ śabdān sparśāṃśca maithunān |
etenaiva vijānāti kimatra pariśiṣyate |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 3rd Mantra Canto 4)
That by which man cognizes form, taste, smell, sounds, and the sex-contacts is This alone. What remains here (unknown to That)? This is verily That.
स्वप्नान्तं जागरितान्तं चोभौ येनानुपश्यति ।
महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ॥
svapnāntaṃ jāgaritāntaṃ cobhau yenānupaśyati |
mahāntaṃ vibhumātmānaṃ matvā dhīro na śocati ||
(Katha Upanishad, 4th Mantra Canto 4)
Having realized that great, all-pervading Ātman by which one witnesses all objects in the dream and waking states, the dhīra does not grieve.
य इमं मध्वदं वेद आत्मानं जीवमन्तिकात् ।
ईशानं भूतभव्यस्य न ततो विजुगुप्सते ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
ya imaṃ madhvadaṃ veda ātmānaṃ jīvamantikāt |
īśānaṃ bhūtabhavyasya na tato vijugupsate |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 5th Mantra Canto 4)
He who knows this Atman, the enjoyer of honey (fruits of actions), the sustainer of life, ever near, and lord of past and the future, accordingly hates no one. This is verily That.
The Upanishadic search for the true subject of all experience revealed the immutable Self of man as the knower behind all acts of knowing, as the perceiver behind all acts of perception. This is the subject and never the object, all other subjects are sometimes the subject and sometimes the object; relative to the particular contexts against which they are viewed. This enquiry into the nature of the Self as the immutable subject forms the theme of the Kena Upanishad which we shall study afterwards.
Introducing verse three of this chapter, Shankara says in his comment:
यद्विज्ञानान्न किञ्चिदन्यत् प्रार्थयन्ते ब्रह्मणाः, कथं तदधिगम इत्युच्यते ।
yadvijñānānna kiñcidanyat prārthayante brahmaṇāḥ, kathaṃ tadadhigama ityucyate |
How is that to be known by realizing which, knowers of Brahman do not crave for anything (in the world of relativity)? This is explained.
To grasp the significance of this verse, we can do no better than listen to Shankara. Explaining its meaning, Shankara continues:
येन विज्ञानस्वभावेन आत्मना रूपं रसं गन्धं शब्दान्स्पर्शांश्च मैथुनान्मैथुननिमित्तान्सुखप्रत्ययान्विजानाति विस्पष्टं जानाति, सर्वो लोकः ।
yena vijñānasvabhāvena ātmanā rūpaṃ rasaṃ gandhaṃ śabdānsparśāṃśca maithunānmaithunanimittānsukhapratyayānvijānāti vispaṣṭaṃ jānāti, sarvo lokaḥ |
ननु नैवं प्रसिद्धिलोकस्य आत्मना देहादिविलक्षणेनाहं विजानामीति । देहादि सङ्घातोऽहं विजानामीति तु सर्वो लोकोऽवगच्छति ।
nanu naivaṃ prasiddhilokasya ātmanā dehādivilakṣaṇenāhaṃ vijānāmīti | dehādi saṅghāto'haṃ vijānāmīti tu sarvo loko'vagacchati |
न त्वेवं; देहादि सङ्घातस्यापि शब्दादिस्वरूपत्वाविशेषाद्विज्ञेयत्वाविशेषाच्च, न युक्तं विज्ञातृत्वम् । यदि हि देहादिसङ्घातो, रूपाद्यात्मकः सन्, रूपादीन् विजानीयात्, तर्हि बाह्यापि रूपादयान्योनां स्वं स्वं रूपं च विजानीयुः । न चैतदस्ति ।
na tvevaṃ; dehādi saṅghātasyāpi śabdādisvarūpatvāviśeṣādvijñeyatvāviśeṣācca, na yuktaṃ vijñātṛtvam | yadi hi dehādisaṅghāto, rūpādyātmakaḥ san, rūpādīn vijānīyāt, tarhi bāhyāpi rūpādayānyonāṃ svaṃ svaṃ rūpaṃ ca vijānīyuḥ | na caitadasti |
तस्मात् देहादिलक्षणांश्च रूपादीनेतेनैव, देहादिव्यतिरिक्तेनैव, विज्ञास्वभावेनात्मना, विजानाति लोकः । यथा येन लोहो दहति, सोऽग्निरिति, तद्वत् ।
tasmāt dehādilakṣaṇāṃśca rūpādīnetenaiva, dehādivyatiriktenaiva, vijñāsvabhāvenātmanā, vijānāti lokaḥ | yathā yena loho dahati, so'gniriti, tadvat |
By which, i.e. the Ātman, who is of the nature of consciousness, all the world clearly knows form, taste, sounds, touches, and the sex contacts, i.e. the pleasurable feelings caused by sex contacts.
It may be objected that, what is commonly experienced by he world is not in the form “I know (these) through an Ātman which is separate from the body etc.” On the contrary, the whole world thinks in the form “I who am a compound of body etc. know (these)”.
It is however , not so. It is not reasonable to attribute knowership even to the aggregate of body etc. which is indistinguishable in its nature from sound and the rest, and which is (like them) a knowable. If, in spite of being of the nature of form and the rest, the aggregate of body etc. could know form and the rest, then it will follow that even form and the rest, which are external, can know their mutual forms as well as other forms. But this , however is not a fact.
Therefore, the world knows the attributes of the body etc. and forms and the rest, only through this, i.e. only through the Ātman which is distinct from the body etc. and which is the nature of the consciousness. It is just like “that by which the metal (iron) burns is fire”.
There is nothing in all experience which is not known or perceived by the Ātman, the one immutable consciousness.
— What remains here (unknown to That)? asks Yama, with a negative answer implied in the question itself. Such a knower must be non-dual and omniscient. So affirms:
— This is verily That. These three phrases will appear often in refrain in the verses to follow.
Experience discloses many pretenders to selfhood; philosophical inquiry, however reveals the objective, mutable, and not-self character of all of them; they are subjects in one context and objects in another. The Ātman is the true subject, being immutable, eternal, and a singular. It is ever the subject and never an object in any context. In the words of the opening verse of the Drgdrsyaviveka:
रूपं दृश्यं लोचनं दृक् तद्दृश्यं दृक्तु मानसम् । दृश्या धीवृत्तयः साक्षी दृगेव न तु दृश्यते ॥
Form is the seen (object), eye is the seer (subject); that (the eye) is the seen, the seer then is the mind; the modifications of the mind are seen; the sākŝi (the witness, namely, the Ātman) is the seer only, and never the seen.
The same truth is expressed by the Brhadāranyka Upanishad (III. 7. 23) in the majestic utterance:
अदृष्टो द्रष्टाश्रुतः श्रोतामतो मन्ताऽविज्ञतो विज्ञाता । नान्योऽतोऽस्ति द्रष्टा, नान्योऽतोऽस्ति श्रोता, नान्योऽतोऽस्ति मन्ता,नान्योऽतोऽस्ति विज्ञातैष ते आत्मान्तर्याम्यमृतो । अतोऽन्यदार्तं ।
adṛṣṭo draṣṭāśrutaḥ śrotāmato mantā'vijñato vijñātā | nānyo'to'sti draṣṭā, nānyo'to'sti śrotā, nānyo'to'sti mantā,nānyo'to'sti vijñātaiṣa te ātmāntaryāmyamṛto | ato'nyadārtaṃ |
He is never seen, but he is the Seer; He is never heard, but is the Hearer; He is never thought, but is the Thinker; He is never known, but is the Knower. There is no other seer but Him, no other hearer but Him, no other thinker but Him, no other knower but Him. He is the antaryāmī (inner Ruler), your immortal Self. Everything else but Him is mortal.
The Ātman as the immutable and the eternal consciousness is the witness of the changing states of waking and sleep. Yama emphasizes this aspect of Ātma in the verse four.
The Upanishads arrive at the purity, immutability, and non duality of the Ātman and its character as the light of all lights, the light of pure awareness, through a penetrating inquiry into the universal phenomena of the three states of the waking, dream and dreamless sleep. Apart from the two large Upanishads, the Brhadāranyka and the Chhandogya, in which this subject finds prominent treatment, there is one Upanishad in which it forms the exclusive theme. This is Māndūkya, the shortest of all the Upanishads with only twelve verses, whose brief but pregnant utterances have been clarified and amplified by the later sage and philosopher of about the seventh century A.D., namely, Gaudapāda, in his famous Māndūkyakārikā. The nature of the Ātman revealed by an investigation into the three states has been expounded to us in a luminous verse of this Māndūkya Upanishad verse seven:
नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञं ।
प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥
nāntaḥprajñaṃ na bahiṣprajñaṃ nobhayataḥprajñaṃ na prajñānaghanaṃ na prajñaṃ nāprajñaṃ |
prapañcopaśamaṃ śāntaṃ śivamadvaitaṃ caturthaṃ manyante sa ātmā sa vijñeyaḥ ||
Not conscious of the internal (i.e. Ātman is not the self in the dream state), nor conscious of the external (the self in the waking state), nor conscious of both (the self of reverie), not a mass of consciousness (deep sleep), not consciousness, nor unconsciousness, unseen (by the sense organs), beyond the texture of all relations, incomprehensible (by the sense bound mind), without any distinguishing mark (uninferable), unthinkable indescribable, of the essence of the consciousness of the unity of the Self, the very cessation of the world of relativity, peaceful, blissful, and non-dual— this is what is known as the Fourth (with respect to the three states). This is Atman, and it has to be realized.
Introducing the above verse, Shankara writes in his commentary:
सर्वशब्दप्रवृत्तिनिमित्तशून्यत्वात्तस्यशब्दानभिधेयत्वमिति विशेषप्रतिषेधनैव तूरीयं निर्दिक्षति ।
sarvaśabdapravṛttinimittaśūnyatvāttasyaśabdānabhidheyatvamiti viśeṣapratiṣedhanaiva tūrīyaṃ nirdikṣati |
Since the Turīya or the Ātman, being beyond all operations of speech, cannot be brought under the purview of any utterance, the Upanishad desires to describe It by negation of all attributes.
This is the reality that reveals itself to the discerning eye as the unchanging witness of all the changing subjects and objects of the various states. Since it is not limited by any one state as the ego is, it is described by Yama in verse four of chapter four of the Katha Upanishad as
— great or infinite and all pervading. It is to be realized by everyone in Its true form as one’s own self. How can sorrow or delusion affect one who realizes himself as the Ātman? This is stressed by the verse: matvā dhīro na sochati. While studying the Īśā Upanishad earlier, we had come across the classic expression of this truth in its seventh verse:
यस्मिन्सर्वानि भूतानन्यात्मैवभुद्विजानतः । तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः ॥
What delusion, what sorrow, can there be for that wise man who realizes the unity of all existence by perceiving all beings as his own Self?
Absence of fear and consequently, of hatred is another fruit of this realization, as stated in verse five of chapter four:
न ततो विजुगुप्सते ।
na tato vijugupsate |
The Ātman is described as madhvadam, ‘eater of honey’, the word ‘honey’ here standing for the fruits of actions. This refers to the lower self of man, which is conscious of the agency and enjoyership, being subject to blindness and attachment. The Ātman is referred to as the Jīvam, life principle, as the energies of life ultimately derive from the Ātman only, which the Kena Upanishad therefore describes as
, the prāna of the prāna, the word prāna standing for life force. The verse also describes the Ātman as
, very near; in fact it is the nearest. What can be nearer to man than his own Self? This is the higher Self of man in relation to his own lower self. This relation ship is expressed in three beautiful verses of the Mundaka Upanishad (III. i. 1-3), which I had referred to in detail while expounding verses twelve and thirteen of the second chapter of the Katha Upanishad. Comparing them to two birds on a tree, the Upanishad had referred to them as
, ‘knit in bonds of lasting freindship’, the lower bird eating the sweet and the bitter fruits of the tree, while the higher bird sitting calmly, immersed in its own glory. Being of the nature of immutable consciousness, the Ātman is the lord of time:
Experience of time obtains at the level of mind and below. Fear is inescapable for beings caught in the flow of time. To know that one is not so caught is the only way to fearlessness.
ईशानो भूतभव्यस्य ।
īśāno bhūtabhavyasya |
may mean ‘does not hate’ or ‘does not seek to protect, defend, or hide oneself’. Referring to this Shankara says in his comment:
तद्विजानादूर्ध्वमात्मानं न विजुगुप्सते, न गोपायितुमिच्छत्यभयप्राप्तत्वात् । यावद्धि भयमध्यस्तोऽनित्यमात्मानं मन्यते, तावद्गोपायितुमिच्छत्यात्मानम् । यदा तु नित्यमद्वैतमात्मानं विजानाति, तदा किं कः कुतो वा गोपायितुमिच्छेत्
tadvijānādūrdhvamātmānaṃ na vijugupsate, na gopāyitumicchatyabhayaprāptatvāt | yāvaddhi bhayamadhyasto'nityamātmānaṃ manyate, tāvadgopāyitumicchatyātmānam | yadā tu nityamadvaitamātmānaṃ vijānāti, tadā kiṃ kaḥ kuto vā gopāyitumicchet
After this realization, one does not seek to protect oneself, because of the attainment of the state of fearlessness. Verily it is only so long as one lives in the midst of fear, thinking oneself to be impermanent, that one desires to protect oneself. When, however, one realizes oneself to be eternal and non-dual, then who will desire to protect what, and from whom?
All ideas of hatred, self-protection, self-defense, or hiding proceed from fear, from a feeling of inadequacy with respect to the environment. Realization of the Ātman realization of one’s infinite dimension and of one’s spiritual unity with all; its fruit is infinite love and infinite strength. There is then no scope for hatred or fear or self-defense; this is the force in Shankara’s interrogative phrase:
तदा किं कः कुतो वा गोपायितुमिच्छेत्
tadā kiṃ kaḥ kuto vā gopāyitumicchet
The Footprints of the Atman in Experience
The Upanishad proceeds, in the next four verses, verses six to nine, to present the truth of the Ātman through different approaches, sometimes using the earlier Vedic myths and their terminologies:
यः पूर्वं तपसो जातमद्भ्यः पूर्वमजायत ।
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तं यो भूतेभिर्व्यपश्यत ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
yaḥ pūrvaṃ tapaso jātamadbhyaḥ pūrvamajāyata |
guhāṃ praviśya tiṣṭhantaṃ yo bhūtebhirvyapaśyata |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 6th Mantra Canto 4)
He, who was born of tapas (the austerity of knowledge) in the beginning (of creation), born (even) prior to the waters (the primordial elements), and who dwells having entered the heart, is found existing amidst the primordial (material) elements. This is verily That.
या प्राणेन सम्भवत्यदितिर्देवतामयी ।
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तीं या भूतेभिर्व्यजायत ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
yā prāṇena sambhavatyaditirdevatāmayī |
guhāṃ praviśya tiṣṭhantīṃ yā bhūtebhirvyajāyata |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 7th Mantra Canto 4)
Aditi, the self of cosmic powers, who manifested herself in the form of prāna (cosmic energy), who dwells having entered the heart, is found existing amidst primordial (material) elements. This is verily That.
अरण्योर्निहितो जातवेदा गर्भ इव सुभृतो गर्भिणीभिः ।
दिवे दिवे ईड्यो जागृवद्भिर्हविष्मद्भिर्मनुष्येभिरग्निः ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
araṇyornihito jātavedā garbha iva subhṛto garbhiṇībhiḥ |
dive dive īḍyo jāgṛvadbhirhaviṣmadbhirmanuṣyebhiragniḥ |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 8th Mantra Canto 4)
Like the foetus well preserved by the pregnant mother, agni (cosmic energy), lodged in the two aranis (fire sticks), is worshipped every day by the awakened men and the sacrificial offerers. This is verily That.
यतश्चोदेति सूर्योऽस्तं यत्र च गच्छति ।
तं देवाः सर्वेऽर्पितास्तदु नात्येति कश्चन ।
एतद्वै तत् ॥
yataścodeti sūryo'staṃ yatra ca gacchati |
taṃ devāḥ sarve'rpitāstadu nātyeti kaścana |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 9th Mantra Canto 4)
That from which the sun rises and into which it merges again, That in which are established all the cosmic powers, That, verily, none can transcend. This is verily That.
Introducing verse six, Shankara says in his commentary:
यः प्रत्यगात्मेश्वरभावेन निर्दिष्टः स सर्वात्मेत्येतत् दर्शयति ।
yaḥ pratyagātmeśvarabhāvena nirdiṣṭaḥ sa sarvātmetyetat darśayati |
He who is described as prtyagātman (the inner Self), and Īśwara (the Lord or Ruler of the world), is the Self of all; this is being shown now.
Yama refers in verse six to what the Mundaka Upanishad (1.1.9) describes as the projection of the personal God, the Śakti aspect of Brahman, the Impersonal Absolute, through tapas, austerity; this tapas is
, consisting of knowledge. This Śakti or the personal God is the ‘I AM’ of the Old Testament (Exodus, 3.14):
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel. I AM hath sent me unto you.
This ‘I AM’ was prior to the universe. This is accepted by every religion; but the Upanishads say some thing more; that there is an impersonal behind the personal and that the impersonal and the personal are one; that this ‘I AM’, this personal God, is the universe and its living beings, and that It has entered into the heart of every being, has become the inner Self, the
, of every being:
and as such, He is not only beyond nature, but also in nature;
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तीं
guhāṃ praviśya tiṣṭhantīṃ
यो भूतेभिर्व्यपश्यत ।
yo bhūtebhirvyapaśyata |
This truth of the presence of Brahman in man and nature forms the theme of a whole section of the Brhadāranyaka Upanishad (III. 7. 15). Verse fifteen of this section thus sums up the gist of the whole section:
यः सर्वेषु भूतेषु तिष्ठन्सर्वेभ्यो भूतेभ्योऽन्तरो यं सर्वाणि भूतानि न विदुर्यस्य सर्वाणि भूतानि शरीरं यः सर्वाणि भूतान्यन्तरो यमयत्येष ते आत्माऽन्तर्याम्यमृतः ।
yaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu tiṣṭhansarvebhyo bhūtebhyo'ntaro yaṃ sarvāṇi bhūtāni na viduryasya sarvāṇi bhūtāni śarīraṃ yaḥ sarvāṇi bhūtānyantaro yamayatyeṣa te ātmā'ntaryāmyamṛtaḥ |
He who inhabits all beings, who is within all beings, whom all (these) beings do not know, whose body is all beings, and who controls all beings from within—this is thy immortal Self, the internal Ruler (of all).
The Non-difference of Cause and Effect
Brahman is in all beings; He is also outside all beings. He is therefore is all beings. As proclaimed in a famous hymn of the Bhāgavatam (VIII. 3. 3):
यस्मिन्निदं यतश्चेदं येनेदं य इदं स्वयम् । योऽस्मात्परस्माच्च परस्तं प्रपद्ये स्वयम्भुवम् ॥
I take refuge in that self-existent Being in whom is this universe, from whom is this universe, by whom is this universe, who himself is this universe, and who is beyond this (differentiated universe) as also beyond that (undifferentiated Nature).
If the whole universe is the product of a self-evolving cause as Vedānta and modern science uphold, then that cause must be present in all its evolutionary products, which then can have no reality apart from it. This corollary follows whether that cause is viewed as an intelligent principle as in Vedānta or as a non-intelligent principle as in modern science. That one cause must account not only for all objects of experience, for all the subjects of experience. The solar system being a product of the sun, the food that we eat, as the human metabolic energy which digests it are but solar energy in two different manifestations. Identifying himself as the non-dual Ātman, the sage in the Tatttirīya Upanishad could accordingly proclaim (Bhrguvallī, 10. 6): I am food; I am the eater of food. Yama therefore says in verse six that Brahman is present in the objects of the world:
; and also within the innermost core of man:
Guhā, meaning a cave, refers to a place hidden and inaccessible. Brahman is in man; but if we are to realize Him, we have to seek Him not in man’s obvious sensate experiences, but depth of his buddhi, intelligence, which is the highest product of evolution, being the most luminous. Therein is He to be sought through meditation, says Vedānta, which also helps the seeker with fascinating symbols like the lotus, to stand for buddhi or intelligence, and as verse thirteen of this chapter will tell us later, a smokeless flame, to stand for the Ātman.
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तीं ।
guhāṃ praviśya tiṣṭhantīṃ |
Evolution Presupposes Involution
What is the most evolved notion that man has of this universe?, asks Swami Vivekananda (Lecture on the “Cosmos’, Complete Works, Vol. II. Ninth Edition, pp. 209-10), and proceeds:
It is intelligence, the adjustment of part to part…… At the beginning, that intelligence gets evolved. The sum total of the intelligence displayed in the universe must, therefore, be the involved universal intelligence unfolding itself. This universal intelligence is what we call God. Call it by any other name, it is absolutely certain that in the beginning there is that infinite cosmic intelligence. This cosmic intelligence gets involved, and it manifests, evolves itself, until it becomes the perfect man, the “Christ-man”, the “Buddha-man”. Then it goes back to its own source. That is why all the scriptures say, “In Him we live and move and have our being”. That is why all the scriptures preach that we come from God and go back to God. Do not be frightened by theological terms; if terms frighten you, you are not fit to be philosophers. This cosmic intelligence is what the theologians call God.
Clarifying his use of the word ‘God’, he continues (ibid. p.210):
I have been asked many times, “Why do you use that old word ‘God’?” Because it is the best word for our purpose; you cannot find a better word than that, because all the hopes, aspirations, and happiness of humanity have been centered in that word. It is impossible now to change that word. Words like these were first coined by great saints who realized their import and understood their meaning. But as they become current in society, ignorant people take these words, and the result is that they loose their spirit and glory….
Use the old word, only use it in the true spirit, cleanse it of superstition, and realize fully what this great ancient word means. If you understand the power of the laws of association, you will know that these words are associated with innumerable majestic and powerful ideas; they have been used and worshipped by the millions of human souls and associated by them with all that is highest and best, all that is rational, all that is lovable, and all that is great and grand in human nature. And they come as suggestions of these associations and cannot be given up. If I tried to express all these by only telling you that God created the universe, it would have conveyed no meaning to you. Yet after all this struggle, we have come back to Him, the ancient and supreme One.
Unity of Matter and Energy
Aditi of verse seven is the soul of the entire range of cosmic powers which bifurcate in the course of evolution into prāna or cosmic energy, on the one side, and ākaśā or cosmic primordial matter, the primal state of what the verse refers to as the bhūtas, on the other. The whole creation is the product of the vibration of prāna in ākaśā, as verse two of chapter six will tell us later.
Verse eight further reveals the Vedāntic vision of the unity of all the energies in the universe. Agni in ordinary parlance means fire. Its most obvious manifestation is what obtains in every household. Invisible in its essential state, it became visible, tangible, and serviceable to the ancient Indo-Aryans through friction between two aranis or firesticks, as it has become visible, tangible, and serviceable to modern man through a variety of chemical, electrical and nuclear means. The Upanishadic sages, even in so early an age of human thought development, discovered the unity of this domestic fire with all the energy systems of the cosmos and even with the spiritual energy within man himself. Every inductive jump discloses the fusion of intellect and vision. Among such inductive jumps this one belongs to a higher order. The domestic fire worshipped by the performers of sacrifices and the spiritual fire generated within themselves by the awakened ones through meditation are but different forms of Brahman or Ātman.
— This is verily That.
The Ātman is the universe of effects and causes; the Ātman also transcends the universe. No effect, however, can transcend its cause; says Yama, therefore, in verse nine:
तदु नात्येति कश्चन ।
tadu nātyeti kaścana |
Vision of the Unity in Diversity
Giving the gist of the seven verses, verses three to nine, Shankara remarks in his commentary:
तदेतत् सर्वात्मकं ब्रह्म, तदु नात्येति, नातीत्य, तदात्मकताम्, तदनत्यम्, गच्छति कश्चन, कश्चिदपि ।
tadetat sarvātmakaṃ brahma, tadu nātyeti, nātītya, tadātmakatām, tadanatyam, gacchati kaścana, kaścidapi |
This is Brahman, the Self of all. Nothing verily transcends That, does not ever become cut off, or apart from, That.
Yama proceeds to sum up in the next two verses, verses ten and eleven, the central theme of the preceding seven verses, the theme of unity:
यदेवेह तदमुत्र यदमुत्र तदन्विह ।
मृत्योः स मृत्युमाप्नोति य इह नानेव पश्यति ॥
yadeveha tadamutra yadamutra tadanviha |
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyumāpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati ||
(Katha Upanishad, 10th Mantra Canto 4)
Whatever is here, that is there; what is there, that again is here. He who sees here as different goes from death to death.
मनसैवेदमातव्यं नेह नानाऽस्ति किंचन ।
मृत्योः स मृत्युं गच्छति य इह नानेव पश्यति ॥
manasaivedamātavyaṃ neha nānā'sti kiṃcana |
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyuṃ gacchati ya iha nāneva paśyati ||
(Katha Upanishad, 11th Mantra Canto 4)
By mind alone is this to be comprehended that there is no difference here. He who sees here as different, goes from death to death.
Brahman is the unity of all experience. Differences between the objects, between the objects and the subjects, and between the subjects themselves which common sense reveals and which provide the starting point, and act as the challenge, to knowledge, are overcome in the unity of Brahman, say the Upanishads. ‘Knowledge leads to unity and ignorance to diversity’, says Shri Ramakrishna. All progress of knowledge in science and religion confirms that diversity is on the surface, but deep down is unity. And unity, unlike uniformity, does not eliminate diversity. Knowledge only reveals, but does not add to, or take away from, reality. Vedanta therefore proclaims message of unity in diversity, and upholds that as wisdom which expresses this vision.
The word iha in the verse means ‘here’, in this world of change, in this sphere of relativity, and amutra means ‘there’, in the world of the changeless, in the sphere beyond relativity. The distinction between ‘here’ and ‘there’ commenced when early man recognized the limitations of the world of sensate experience and reached out to something beyond. This is at the back of the dualistic awareness involved in the concepts such as this world and the other world, earth and heaven, death and immortality, and the secular and the sacred, as upheld by the world’s religions and the relative and the absolute, the time bound and the eternal, and the deterministic and the indeterministic, as upheld in the world’s philosophies. These distinctions are valid in limited universes of discourse and for specific purposes, says Vedānta. But they are not ultimately true. It is harmful to press them too far. Reality itself does not know such distinctions.
This knowledge of reality in its fullness is termed vijnāna by Shri Ramakrishna; it is, as he puts it, seeing God as much with eyes open as with eyes closed. It reveals human life and the environing world in a fascinating new light. This is brought out by Sister Nivedita in a passage in her ‘Introduction’ to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Vol. I. p. xv). Though quoted before, it bears reproduction in this context:
If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realization. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life itself is religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid.
And refering to the impact of Vivekananda’s philosophy of Advaita (Non-duality) on human knowledge, she continues (ibid., p. xvi):
All his words, from one point of view, read as commentary upon this central conviction. “Art, science, and religion.” he said once, “are but three different ways of expressing a single truth. But in order to understand this, we must have the theory of Advaita”.
Human knowledge and human life must be grounded in this vision of total reality, says Vedānta, if they are to be true and wholesome. Names such as Atlantic the Pacific, the Indian and the Arctic, or the Antarctic oceans are valid from the utilitarian point of view, but they cannot violate the truth of the unity of the one ocean surrounding the earth. If such distinctions do violate that ever-present truth, they are notions not only untrue, but what is more serious, harmful as well. This is what Yama points out in the second half of the two verses:
— he who sees this as different goes from death to death.
मृत्योः स मृत्युमाप्नोति य इह नानेव पश्यति
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyumāpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati
Through the positive sciences we seek for unity in the diversity of the world of outer nature. This search may be conducted at the purely intellectual level. But when we carry that search in to the world of inner nature, of the self, such an intellectual approach becomes inadequate and missleading. For here, we are in the most intimate field of experience, where all true knowing ever seeks to find its consummation in being, and where mere intellectual knowledge leaves us far away from our true self. Such self-realization, as it penetrates deeper spiritually, steadily breaks down the barrier between man and man outwardly. Here self-knowledge can only be self-realization.
This basic truth of non-separateness is to be realized by the mind, says verse eleven:
; not by the sense-bound mind, which is impure, but by the sense-free mind, which is pure. There are two categories of mind, says Vedānta—one which is under the thraldom of the sense-organs and hence unfree, and the other which controls the sense-organs and hence free. The first is termed impure, and the second pure. The latter alone is a fit instrument for the pursuit of self-knowledge. And Vedānta holds that, at highest reach of this self-knowledge, it becomes the knowledge of Brahman, the unity of all experience, the perfect unity of the outer and the inner. This is the advaita of non-dual experience, the glory of which the Upanishads proclaim in language at once rational and poetic. It finds a lucid elucidation in the following verse of the great seventh century philosopher and spiritual teacher, Gaudapāda (Māndūkyakārikā, II.38):
तत्त्वमाध्यात्मिकं दृष्ट्वा तत्त्वं दृष्ट्वा तु बाह्यतः । तत्वीभूतस्तदारामस्तत्वादप्रच्युतो भवेत् ॥
Realizing the Truth within the self and realizing the Truth externally (in the not self), and becoming one with the Truth and delighting in It, one never deviates from the Truth.
In human life, individual and collective, the stress on separateness has been the one source of hatred, violence, and war. Through it, God has been subjected to crucifixion more than once, and man has experienced death again and again.
It is through a purification of human knowledge and awareness that man transcends and overcomes its evil effects. By saying
, the Upanishad emphasizes the need for the right training of the mind. It emphasizes that this truth must come to us through the educational process right from childhood. It is thus that the mind is conditioned in the direction of the ultimate truth of non-duality; and as the child grows into the man, this awareness grows with him. Wrong conditioning of children, which instills into them false ideas of inferiority or superiority based on caste, race, gender, nationality or religious differences, has done immense harm in the past. The following nursery rhyme, taught to white children in the southern states of U.S.A. to rouse pity or contempt for the neighbouring Negro child for her black colour, is not an isolated wickedness of one country:
God made Helen, Made her in the night; Made her in a hurry, And forgot to paint her white.
Three types of knowledge
Classifying jnānā, knowledge, under the three categories of sattva (luminous), rajas (passionate), and tamas (dark), the Gitā says (xviii, 20-22):
सर्वभूतेषु येनैकं भावमव्ययमीक्षते l अविभक्तं विभक्तेषु तज्ज्ञानं विद्धि सात्त्विकम् ॥२०॥
That by which the one inexhaustible reality is seen in all things, undivided things (apparently) divided, know that knowledge to be sattvika.
पृथक्त्वेन तु यज्ज्ञानं नानाभावान्पृथग्विधान् । वेत्ति सर्वेषु भूतेषु तज्ज्ञानं विद्धि राजसम् ॥२१॥
But that knowledge which sees in all things different entities separate from each other, know that knowledge as rājasika.
यत्तु कृत्स्नवदेकस्मिन् कार्ये सक्तमहैतुकम् । अतत्त्वार्थवदल्पं च तत्तामसमुदाहृतम् ॥२२॥
That knowledge, on the other hand, which is confined to one single effect, as it were the whole, unsupported by reason, unfounded in truth, and trivial—that is declared as tāmasika.
The Evils of Separateness in Religion
No field of human life more fittingly illustrates the evil of separateness, and the truth of the remark of Jesus that the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth everlasting life, than that of religion. History demonstrates that the knowledge expressed in such convictions as ‘the one true God’, ‘the only true religion’, and ‘the chosen people’ has been mostly of the tāmasika and occasionally of the rājasika types. Such convictions have not tasted of the sweetness of sāttvika knowledge. Attachment to the letter of dogma has been the breeding ground of exclusiveness, which has brought bigotry and violence in its train. This violence is there always in thought even today, though its expression in action is much inhibited by modern world conditions.
Emergence of the Unifying Vision in Religion in the Modern Age
It is the science of comparative religion which has helped to raise religious knowledge in the modern world to the sāttvika level by a dispassionate study of the religions of the world, primitive and advanced, and discovering the underlying spiritual unity behind them; such a study reveals the universality of the religious consciousness and the multiple ways of its expression. This knowledge helps to generate a sense of mutual respect and fellow-feeling among religions. The ethical exhortation, ‘love thy neighbour as thyself,’ which had become watered down to love of one’s sect, denomination, or creed under the influence of the rājasika and tāmasika elements in religious knowledge, bids fare to experience breaking of all barriers to neighbourliness through the modern application of scientific outlook and methods to religion, leading to the emergence of the religious knowledge of the sāttvika type.
The Indian Heritage of This Unifying Vision
And this has been the contribution of Vedānta to religion, as also to other fields of life, In India; the impact of this touch of sāttvika knowledge generated a pervasive mood of active tolerance and harmony, and saved India from religious persecutions and wars to an extent unknown in any other part of the world. Indian religions, specially the Yoga system and Buddhism, enjoin on their followers to send waves of love and friendly feelings to all quarters of the globe during meditation. Religious persecution entered India in a big way only through religions which had their origins outside her philosophical and geographical milieu. Her own view of religion cannot accept or nourish the idea that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Says Dr. Radhakrishnan (Eastern Religions and Western Thought, p.314):
The attitude of the cultivated Hindu and the Buddhist to other forms of worship is one of sympathy and respect, and not criticism and contempt for their own sake. This friendly understanding is not inconsistent with deep feeling and thought. Faith for the Hindu does not mean dogmatism.
He does not smell heresy in those who are not entirely of his mind. It is not devotion that leads to the assertive temper, but limitation of outlook, hardness, and uncharity. While full of unquestioning belief, the Hindu is at the same time devoid of harsh judgment. It is not historically true that, in the knowledge of truth, there is necessity of great intolerance
Again (ibid., p. 302):
The emphasis on the goal of spiritual life bound together worshippers of many different types and saved the Hindus from spiritual snobbery.
Contrasting the rigid dogmatism nourished by the western religion, with the free and rational pursuit of truth nourished by Western science, Toynbee says (An Historian’s approach to Religion, p. 184):
Recent Western experience had shown that the specifications for a kingdom of heaven on Earth were a subject of acrimonious and interminable dispute between rival schools of theologians. On the other hand, the differences of opinion between practical technicians or between experimental scientists would be likely to remain at a low emotional temperature and would be certain to be cleared up, before long, by the findings of observation, on which be no disagreement.
Emergence of this Unifying Vision in Human Relations in the Modern Age
The sāttvika touch is brightening the horizon not only of modern religion, but of modern socio-political and cultural life as well. Exclusive nation-states and self-sufficient cultural groups which have, under the influence of separatist philosophies, indulged in mutual hostility and destruction, are yielding to the benign influences of a unifying philosophy and outlook engendered by modern science and humanism. Race is a concept which had erected unbreakable walls of separation between man and man and driven millions of human beings to spiritual and physical death throughout history. Even in India, it did not fail to find millions of passionate adherents in the Nazi movement. Though that movement officially perished in the Second World War, it has left its powerful outposts in countries like South Africa and the southern states of the U.S.A. In the latter, however, it is very heartening to find its back broken by recent federal legislation and energetic implementation measures.
One of the greatest contributions of twentieth-century biology is the destruction of the myth of racial superiority. It has proved the utterly false as dangerous character of the racial theories upheld in the nineteenth century by scientists and laymen alike. Twentieth century anthropology has risen to the sāttvika level in the conclusions on the subject of race reached by an international team of scientists conferring under auspices of the UNESCO. This conference of ethnologists and anthropologists from seventeen countries, held in Moscow in 1964, studied the biological aspects of race and issued a unanimous 13-point declaration, which is meant to provide the biological elements for a further study and declaration in 1966 on the social and ethical elements of the problem. Points 1, 2 and 13 of the declaration will help to illumine the Vedāntic conviction of the unity and solidarity of man (The UNESCO Courier, April 1965):
1. All men living today belong to a single species, Homo-sapiens, and are derived from a common stock. There are differences of opinion regarding how and when different human groups diverged from this common stock.
2. There is a great genetic diversity within all human populations. Pure races— in the sense of genetically homogeneous populations—do not exist.
13. …..The peoples of the world today appear to posses equal biological potentialities for attaining any civilization level. Differences in the achievements of different peoples must be attributed solely to their cultural history.
Certain psychological traits are at times attributed to particular peoples. Whether or not such assertions are valid, we do not find any basis for ascribing such traits to hereditary factors, until proof to the contrary is given.
Neither in the field of hereditary potentialities concerning the overall intelligence and the capacity for cultural development, nor in that of physical traits, is there any justification for the concept of “inferior” or “superior” races.
Introducing the 13-point declaration, Georghi F. Debetz, in his article ‘Biology Looks at Race’ in the same issue, writes:
Racism is the expression of a system of thought which is fundamentally antirational. Hate and racial strife feed on scientifically false ideas, and live on ignorance. They can also derive from scientifically sound ideas which have been distorted or taken out of context, leading to false implication.
The ethical value of neighbourliness is the product of the spiritual vision of advaita, non-separateness, unity. This is brought about by Dr. Paul Deussen, the great German orientalist, in a speech which he gave in Bombay at the end of his Indian visit in 1892:
The gospel quite correctly establish as the highest law of morality, “Love your neighbor as yourselves”. But why should I do so since by the order of nature I feel pain and pleasure only in myself, not in my neighbor? The answer is not in the Bible…but it is in the Vedas, in the great formula “That art Thou”, which gives in three words the combined sum of metaphysics and morals. You shall love your neighbor as yourselves because you are your neighbor.
Increasing liberation of this value of non-separateness is the most important criterion of cultural progress, as contrasted with mere educational progress. That the modern world is moving in this direction was voiced in powerful accents by Swami Vivekananda even so early as the last decade of the nineteenth century. In a lecture on ‘Vedanta and Its Application on Indian Life’, delivered in Madras in 1897, he says (Complete Works, Vol. III., Eighth Edition, pp. 240-41):
The second great idea which the world is waiting to receive from our Upanishads is the solidarity of our Universe. The old lines of demarcation and differentiation are vanishing rapidly. Electricity and steam power are placing the different parts of the world in intercommunication with each other, and, as a result, we Hindus no longer say that every country beyond our own land is peopled with demons and hobgoblins, nor do the people of Christian countries say that India is only peopled by cannibals and savages. Our Upanishads say that the cause of all misery is ignorance; and that is perfectly true when applied to every state of life, either social or spiritual. It is ignorance that makes us hate each other, it is through ignorance that we do not know each other. As soon as we come to know each other, love comes, must come, for are we not one? Thus we find solidarity coming in spite of itself. Even in politics and sociology, problems that were only national twenty years ago can no more be solved on national grounds only. They are assuming huge proportions, gigantic shapes. They can only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International organizations, international combinations, international laws are the cry of the day. That shows the solidarity.
If stress on separateness is the way to death and more death, to suffering and more suffering, as Yama expresses it in the verses ten and eleven:
, stress on unity and solidarity is the way to life and more life, as the Isha Upanishad (verse eleven), which we studied earlier, says:
मृत्योः स मृत्युमाप्नोति य इह नानेव पश्यति
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyumāpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati
— Overcoming death through the sciences of external nature, man achieves immortality through the science of the (unity of the) Self.
विद्यां चाविद्यां च यस्तद्वेदोभ्य सह , अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वाऽमृतमश्नुते
vidyāṃ cāvidyāṃ ca yastadvedobhya saha , avidyayā mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā'mṛtamaśnute
Training the Mind in This Unifying Vision
Yama had said in verse eleven:
—This truth is to be comprehended by the mind only. The human mind gets the necessary training for this comprehension, so far as the outer field of his life is concerened, from the discipline of science, with its mood of detachment and passion for truth, and the discipline of sosciety, with its opportunities for love and service. This discipline is both an ethical and an iintellectual one. It is through such discipline, as we have seen earlier, that man has progressively raised his knowledge from the tāmasika and rājasika levels to the sāttvika level, and is increasingly overcoming barriers to neghbourliness in the religious, social,and plotical fields, and expressing for the first time, in a tangible way, a glimlse of a mankind awareness. This is ‘Practical Advaita’, in the words of Swami Vivekananda; it is the advaita vision in its application to the collective human life and destiny.
The aims and programmes of international organizational organizations like the U.N., and more especially its specialized agencies like the UNESCO, as also of all progressive trends of thought and aspiration everywhere, bear the inspiring touch of this advaita vision. The widest diffusion of this vision in human society is the one condition of human progress, and even of human survival, in the modern world.
Towards the same end, but designed more directly to penetrate to the root of that vision, the Upanishad now offers, in two verses, verses twelve and thirteen, another discipline relevant to the inner field of human life, namely the discipline of meditation:
अगुंष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो मध्य आत्मनि तिष्ठति ।
ईशानं भूतभव्यस्य न ततो विजुगुप्सते ।
एतद्वै तत् ।।
aguṃṣṭhamātraḥ puruṣo madhya ātmani tiṣṭhati |
īśānaṃ bhūtabhavyasya na tato vijugupsate |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 12th Mantra Canto 4)
Purusha (the Self),of the size of the thumb, dwells within the body; (He is)the lord of the past and the future; (Realizing Him), thenceforth, one fears (does not want) no more. That is verily That.
अगुंष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो ज्योतिरिवाधूमकः ।
ईशानो भूतभव्यस्य स एवाद्य स उ श्वः ।
एतद्वै तत् ।।
aguṃṣṭhamātraḥ puruṣo jyotirivādhūmakaḥ |
īśāno bhūtabhavyasya sa evādya sa u śvaḥ |
etadvai tat ||
(Katha Upanishad, 13th Mantra Canto 4)
Purusha (the Self), of the size of the thumb, is like a light without smoke. (He is) the lord of the past and future. He (is) verily the same today and he (is the same) tomorrow. This is verily That.
Vedānta advocates the need to fortify the inner and the outer defences of life together. Political and social manipulations of human life cannot by themselves improve human nature. They nourished only the outer life, and leave the inner life, if not starved, at least ill-nourished. This conviction is shared by progressive post-war organizations like the UNESCO, which proclaims in its very preamble that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
This inner discipline and inner nourishment constitututes the science of religion, according to Vedānta, and forms a continuation and deepening of that ethical education which man has earlier given himself in the field of his outer life. And meditation forms the central technique of this inner spiritual education. The theme of meditation in Vedānta is Brahman, the Self of all, the divine thread of unity behind the world of diversity. This is the God in his universal dimension, bereft of all tribal and other limitations imposed by the human mind. It is not just an intellectual concept, but a living reality given in experience, as proclaimed by all the Upanishads. It is the
— ‘Brahman, immediate and direct, who is the innermost Self of all’, as the Brhadāranyaka Upanishad majestically proclaims.
साक्षात् अपरोक्षात् ब्रह्म य आत्मा सर्वान्तरः
sākṣāt aparokṣāt brahma ya ātmā sarvāntaraḥ
God so understood, is only fit theme for meditation, says Vedānta; for he is the only free entity, if he can be so called, in the whole range of experience, being beyond all causality and determinism. As explained by Ramanuja, one of the outstanding Vedāntic philosophers and saints of the eleventh century, in his Shri Bhasya (I.1.1), quoting a verse of an ancient teacher from ‘Vishnu Dharma’, a section of the Bhavishyat Purana:
आब्रह्मस्तम्बपर्यन्ता जगदन्तरभ्यस्थिताः । प्राणिनः कर्मजनितसंसारवशवर्तिनः । यतस्ततो न ते ध्याने ध्यायिनाम् उपकारकाः । अविद्यान्तर्गताः सर्वे ते हि संसारगोचराः ।।
From Brahmā (the creator God) down to a clump of grass, all beings that live in the world are within the sway of samsāra (the wheel of birth and death) caused by karma (effect of actions); therefore they cannot be helpful as objects of meditation to a student of meditation, because they are all in avidyā (spiritual blindness) and within the sphere of relativity.
The Use of Symbols in Meditation
But meditation on Ātman or Brahman, the Light of the infinite Consciousness, the Self of our self, is extremely difficult for the finite human mind. Vedānta therefore aids the seeker with various symbols, personal and non-personal. Unlike some religions, it does not offer to man a stereotyped view of symbol of God. Infinite is God and infinite are the ways to reach Him, says Shri Ramkrishna. After suggesting symbols for meditation, Patanjali says in the end (Yoga-Sūtra, I.39):
or by the meditation (on anything) according to one’s choice.
The Ātman is to be meditated upon within the body itself in the form of a ‘smokeless light’ and ‘of the size of the thumb’, say the two verses. Clarifying this mention of size, Shankara says in his comment:
अङ्गुष्ठपरिमाणं हृदयपुंडरीकं, तच्छिद्रवर्त्यन्तःकरणोपाधिः अङ्गुष्ठमात्रोऽङ्गुष्ठमात्रवंशपर्वमध्यवर्त्यम्बरवत् ।
aṅguṣṭhaparimāṇaṃ hṛdayapuṃḍarīkaṃ, tacchidravartyantaḥkaraṇopādhiḥ aṅguṣṭhamātro'ṅguṣṭhamātravaṃśaparvamadhyavartyambaravat |
The lotus of the heart is of the size of the thumb: ‘of the size of the thumb’ (in the text) refers to the Ātman as conditioned by the mind manifesting through the space within the heart, like the space wthin a bamboo of the size of the thumb.
Truly speaking, the Ātman is not of that size even within the body, but it is so conceived for the puposes of meditation only; the word purusha in the text, as explained by Shankara, indicates this:
— it is that by which the whole universe is filled.
पूर्णम् अनेन सर्वम् इति
pūrṇam anena sarvam iti
This light within the heart is not any physical radiation, but the light of pure Consciousness. It is
, ‘smokeless’, free from ignorance, delusion, and sorrow. In the words of Patanjali (Yoga-Sūtra, I.36):
— Or (by meditation on) the effulgent Light which is beyond all sorrow. The most persistent search of the human heart is for light. In the Gāyatri, the greatest prayer of the Indo-Aryans, man prays for the light of understanding:
विशोका वा ज्योतिष्मती
viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī
; in another, he prays to be redeemed from darkness to light:
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt
The perfect man is known as Buddha, the illumined one. The apparently limited light in man and the infinite light of God which kindles the universe are one and the same, says Vedānta. By penetrating to the light in one’s heart, man can reach the light that lights the hearts of all, ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh in to the world’, in the beautiful words of St. John’s Gospel (I.9). In the last verse of the next chapter of this Upanishad, chapter five, Yama will describe the Ātman to us, in the most sublime language, as the light of all lights, the light ‘by which this whole universe is lighted’:
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
tamaso mā jyotirgamaya |
The meditation on the Ātman as the light in one’s heart is not meant to imprison us in our little selves, but to release us into the light of all lights, the light by which ‘the whole universe is lighted.’
तस्य भासा सर्वमिदम् विभाति ।
tasya bhāsā sarvamidam vibhāti |
The Glory of this Unifying Vision
In the next two verses fourteen and fifteen, which close this chapter, Yama contrasts the evil effects of self-centeredness with the glorious fruits of the advaita vision of non-separateness:
यथोदकं दुर्गे वृष्टं पर्वेतेषु विधावति ।
एवं धर्मान् पृथक् पश्यस्तानेवानुविधावति ॥
yathodakaṃ durge vṛṣṭaṃ parveteṣu vidhāvati |
evaṃ dharmān pṛthak paśyastānevānuvidhāvati ||
(Katha Upanishad, 14th Mantra Canto 4)
As the rain water, falling on a high peak, runs down the hills variously, even so, one who sees beings as different, runs after them (in separate forms).
यथोदकं शुद्धे शुद्धमासिक्तं तादृगेव भवति ।
एवं मुनेर्विजानतः आत्मा भवति गौतम ॥
yathodakaṃ śuddhe śuddhamāsiktaṃ tādṛgeva bhavati |
evaṃ munervijānataḥ ātmā bhavati gautama ||
(Katha Upanishad, 15th Mantra Canto 4)
As pure water poured into pure water becomes the same, in the same way becomes the Ātman (self) of the muni (sage), O Gautama, who knows (the unity of the Ātman).
The rain water falling on the peak does not get accumulated in its pure state; it does not join drop to drop to go into the immensity of an ocean of pure water, but gets scattered, to run down the hills, mixed up with impure materials in the process; similarly, men who take themselves and others as separate entities, unnegotiated by a central thread of being, run after each other in attachment or hatred, collide against each other like billiard balls, in the words of Bertrand Russell, and get destroyed. This is the state of man in the raw state, ‘short, nasty, and brutish, in the language of Hobbes, when he is unispired by spirittual vision and therby sundered from the central thread of spiritual unity which blinds man to man with the cord of love.
The spiritually enlightened man, on the other hand, knows his self not as the ego conditioned and limited by the pyscho-physical organism, but as the infinite universal Ātman, which is the Self of all. In the virtue of this realization, he has learnt the art of digging his affections deep into the heart of others, and achieved the true greatness and glory of universality. He is pure; Brahman is pure; and in him the pure has mereged in the pure, to become an ocean of purity, blessedness, and strength. The Gita sings this supreme glory of man in one of its memorable verses (V. 19):
इहैव तैर्जितः सर्गो येषां साम्ये स्थितं मनः । निर्दोषं हि समं ब्रह्म तस्मात् ब्रह्मणि ते स्थितः ॥
Even in this very life, they have conquered sarga (relativity) whose minds are firmly fixed in sāmya (equality); for Brahman, verily, is equal (in all) and free from imperfection. Therefore they are established in Brahman.
This advaita vision forms the main theme of the next chapter of the Upanishad, Canto V.