Kena Upanishad

Kena Upaniṣad

by Swami Nirvikarananda | 28,281 words

The very title of this Upanishad is philosophically significant. Kena in Sanskrit implies a question, and means by ‘by whom?’ Philosophy matures only when it becomes a critical estimate of experience and all its assumptions; otherwise it remains dogmatic and immature, or skeptical and over-mature. This Upanishad registers the appearance of critical...

In the Kena Upanishad we live in this atmosphere, the going beyond the senses, the determined seeking for the Ātman, the eternal truth of all experience. Somewhere to experience it is hidden, and the search is on. The body and the sense-organs which common sense and some schools of philosophy take to be self-sufficient and final, are not so. They point to a reality beyond themselves. With a view to knowing this, the student puts a question to the teacher which forms the opening verse of this Upanishad:

केनेषितं प्रेषितं मनः
केन प्राणः प्रथमः प्रैति युक्तः ।
केनेषितां वाचमिमां वदन्ति
चक्षुः श्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति ॥ १ ॥

keneṣitaṃ preṣitaṃ manaḥ
kena prāṇaḥ prathamaḥ praiti yuktaḥ |
keneṣitāṃ vācamimāṃ vadanti
cakṣuḥ śrotraṃ ka u devo yunakti || 1 ||

‘At whose desire and by whom impelled does the mind alight on its objects. By whom impelled does the chief prana (vital force) prceed to its functions? By whom impelled do men utter this speech? What deva (luminous being) directs the eyes and the ears? ’

The new-born baby gets information about his environing world through his sense organs. At birth, he is surrounded by a world of things and persons which seem to him, in the words of William James, ‘a buzzing booming confusion’. Out of this buzzing confusion the child gradually develops knowledge by discriminating individual items, and the first thing he discriminates is the sound, the presence of his mother. The mother stands apart from the general confusion around. He gradually attains more and more knowledge and the confusion acquires some clarity and order. Thus the child learns to understand the world, to grasp it, to control it, to understand also himself, although only in a hazy way, and is ultimately able to find his own way and independent of his mother. Then the child undergoes still further training. He is educated. His knowledge of the world grows clearer, though his knowledge of himself does not keep pace with it. It remains a mixture of the self and the non-self, the later predominating. Perhaps he becomes a scientist and discovers great scientific truths.

But his education can be carried still further; he can strive to understand his true self, bereft of all non-self elements. This step makes him a spiritual seeker, a true student of the science of the Self. Realizing his Self as birthless and deathless, pure and perfect, he sees the same Self as the Self of the universe and thus of all existence. This, according to the Upanishads, is, in brief, the picture of the growth and development of human knowledge and realization in its various stages, from the child to the perfect man.

The Kena Upanishad, as we have seen above, opens with a question from the student to the teacher; and this question is asked by the higher reaches of modern neurology and psychology today. Is there a principle of pure intelligence, uncompounded and free, which directs the psychophysical organism of man?

Our daily experience tells us that all our knowledge comes through the gateways of senses; and our minds organize it into coherent forms. Is the self of man only a passing synthesis of all these non-self elements, or is it a pure principle of intelligence, without whose presence behind, the mind and the sense-organs and the body become reduced to dull dead entities unable to function?

The second verse gives us the teacher’s reply:

श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्
वाचो ह वाचं स उ प्राणस्य प्राणः ।
चक्षुषश्चक्षुरतिमुच्य धीराः
प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति ॥ २ ॥

śrotrasya śrotraṃ manaso mano yad
vāco ha vācaṃ sa u prāṇasya prāṇaḥ |
cakṣuṣaścakṣuratimucya dhīrāḥ
pretyāsmāllokādamṛtā bhavanti || 2 ||

‘It (the Ātman) is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the speech of the speech, the prāna of the prāna, and the eye of the eye. Wise men, separating the Ātman from these (sense functions), rise out of sense-life and attain immortality.’

The teacher assures the student that his intimation is correct. That little intimation of the immortal which had led the student to raise his question is true. Now he should make this awareness clear and complete.

Explaining the enigmatic words of the teacher, Shankara comments in a luminous passage (1.2)

अस्ति किमपि विद्वद्बुद्धिगम्यं सर्वान्तरतमं कूटस्थं अजं अजरं अमृतं अभयं श्रोत्रादेरपि, श्रोत्रादि, तत्सामर्थ्यनिमित्तं —

asti kimapi vidvadbuddhigamyaṃ sarvāntaratamaṃ kūṭasthaṃ ajaṃ ajaraṃ amṛtaṃ abhayaṃ śrotrāderapi, śrotrādi, tatsāmarthyanimittaṃ —

‘There is a changeless reality at the innermost core of man, unborn , ageless, deathless, and fearless, which is revealed to the intelligence of the wise, and which expresses itself through the functions of the ear and other sense-organs, being the one source of all their diverse energies.’

The teacher explains to the student that the power behind the various sense-organs is the Ātman. As the intelligent and ageless subject behind the activities of the changeful mind, senses and the ego it is the true self of man. It is not a mere concept or a statement, but the very principle of the awareness which imparts meaning to all concepts and statements. As the self, it is something that can be realized, and the way to realize it is by carefully separating it from the conglomeration of senses and mind. The senses deal with the mortal perishable things of the objective or not-self world; but the Ātman is the eternal subject, immortal and changeless. To go beyond the mortal, from the not-Self to the Self, requires extraordinary intelligence and courage, it requires high heroism. There are virtues with which we are familiar in the world; for they alone ensure success in achieving greatness in any sphere of life. But at their ordinary level they are not adequate for the purposes of achieving Self-knowledge. Comments Shankara (1.2)

नहि विषिष्टधीमत्वमन्तरेण श्रोत्राद्यात्मभावः शक्यः परित्यक्तुं —

nahi viṣiṣṭadhīmatvamantareṇa śrotrādyātmabhāvaḥ śakyaḥ parityaktuṃ —

‘Without extraordinary intelligence, it is not possible, verily, to overcome the identification of the Self with organs of hearing and so on.’

It is then that man realizes that he is not this body, not a mere bundle of sensations, thoughts and emotions, but that he is divine. This knowledge does not come to us easily. It requires penetrating discrimination, for which one needs penetrating intelligence along with great moral courage and heroism.

The Upanishads set out clearly and precisely the exact steps which the human mind must take in order to attain this knowledge. And they also clearly describe the dangers that lie in the way of this quest, and ask the student to be armed with extreme alertness and sincerity.

So here in the second verse, we have the teacher’s explanation: the wise man separates the Ātman from the whole apparatus of the mind and body; he rises out of sense-life and attains immortality through Self-realization.

The raw individual, as he is now, wrongly identifies the Ātman, the Self, with the body and the senses; the more intelligent may identify the Ātman with mind or the ego. The wise one alone knows that these are not all selves, including the ego, subject to change and destruction, but that his Ātman is the immortal and fearless one. Says Shankara in his Vivekachudamani (Verse 160):

देहोऽहमित्येव जडस्य बुद्धिर्देहे च जीवे विदुषस्त्वहंधीः ।
विवेकविज्ञानवतो महात्मनो ब्रह्माहमित्वेव मतिः सदात्मनि ॥

deho'hamityeva jaḍasya buddhirdehe ca jīve viduṣastvahaṃdhīḥ |
vivekavijñānavato mahātmano brahmāhamitveva matiḥ sadātmani ||

‘The dull-witted man thinks he is only the body; the book-learned man identifies himself with the mixture of body and soul. But the sage, possessed of realization through discrimination, looks upon the eternal Ātman as the Self and thinks, ‘I am Brahman (The Self of All).’

We find echo of this teaching in the second discourse which Buddha gave to his five disciples in Sārnāth immediately after his own enlightenment. Stripping the Self of all its unreal non-Self elements, Buddha said (Vinaya Pitaka, Mahāvagga, Khandaka 1, VI, 42-46):

‘Again what think you Bhikkhus? Is the material form permanent (niccam) or impermanent (a-niccam)?
‘Impermanent revered Sir.’
But that which is impermanent, is that suffering
(dukkham) or happiness (sukham)?
‘Suffering revered Sir’
‘That then, which is impermanent, suffering, and by nature changeable (vi-parināma dhammam), is it proper to regard it thus: This is mine, I am this, this is my Self
(etam mama, eso’ham asmi, eso me attā)?
‘No indeed, revered Sir.’
‘Is sensation permanent? …..Is perception permanent? Is predisposition permanent?..... That, then, which is impermanent, suffering, and by nature changeable, is it proper to regard it thus: This is mine, I am this, this is my Self?’
‘No indeed, revered Sir.’
‘And so,
Bhikkhus, all material form, whether past, future or present, whether within us or external, whether gross or subtle, low or high, far or near, is to be regarded with right insight, as it really is (yathā bhūtam) , thus: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my Self….All sensation…. Gross or subtle, all perception….gross or subtle…..all predisposition…low or high,…. all consciousness…far or near, is to be regarded with right insight, as it really is, thus:
This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my Self.
‘Regarding thus, O
Bhikkhus an instructed Āryan (noble) disciple becomes indifferent to (nibbindati) material form, becomes indifferent to sensation, becomes indifferent to perception, becomes indifferent to consciousness. Becoming indifferent, he becomes free from desire (vi rajjati); through non-desire he is liberated.’

Regarding thus, man becomes immortal, amrtā bhavanti, says Kena Upanishad. In his first discourse in Sārnāth Buddha spoke of his realization in identical language (Sutta Pitaka, Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta 26)

‘Hear me Bhikkhus, the immortal has been gained by me. I teach, I show, the Dharma, if you walk as I teach, you will ere long and in the present life learn fully for yourselves, realize, and having attained, abide in the supreme fulfillment of the holy life.’

Here, then, we have the foundation of the most practical philosophy, the message of the universal and practical spirituality. The knowledge of the Ātman, the knowledge that ‘I am the pure and deathless Self’ is the on which we can raise a strong, steady and broad character. This teaching has been given to mankind again and again by spiritual teachers. Jesus gave his parable of the wise and foolish men who built their houses on the rock and earth respectively. (Luke, vi. 48, 49).

The Gitā also develops its scheme of practical spirituality on the basis of this divine in the heart of man and speaks of the man of steady wisdom—the stithaprajña—as the fruit of that spirituality.

In the next two verses of the Upanishad, the third and fourth of the chapter one, the teacher leads the student to a fuller understanding of the nature of the Ātman:

न तत्र चक्षुर्गच्छति न वाग्गच्छति नो मनः ।
न विद्मो न विजानीमो यथैतदनुशिष्यात् ॥ ३ ॥

na tatra cakṣurgacchati na vāggacchati no manaḥ |
na vidmo na vijānīmo yathaitadanuśiṣyāt || 3 ||

‘The eye cannot approach It, neither speech, nor mind. We do not therefore know It, nor do we know how to teach It.’

अन्यदेव तद्वितादथो अविदितादधि ।
इतिशुश्रुम पूर्वेषां ये नस्तद्व्याचचक्षिरे ॥ ४ ॥

anyadeva tadvitādatho aviditādadhi |
itiśuśruma pūrveṣāṃ ye nastadvyācacakṣire || 4 ||

‘It is different from what is known, and It is beyond what is unknown. Thus have we heard from our predecessors who instructed us about It.’

How guarded is the language used by the teacher here! The experience of which this is a report is difficult to communicate. Hence language has to be used with the greatest care. Language in the market place is of one type and language in the laboratory is of quite a different type. In the latter we need greater precision and brevity. And it is still more exiting in the plane of spiritual experience.

Here the sage is trying o communicate to the student his profound experience. But he finds it difficult to express this in words. So he simply says that ‘the eyes do not go there’, and so on. The eyes, ears, speech, and mind are among the instruments by which we gain experience and communicate it. They however, fail with respect to the Ātman.

The more rarefied the ideas, the more refined must be the language employed to express them. But even the most purified, the most refined language fails to describe the Ātman. So the sage adds, very simply, na vidmo, we do not know, na vijānīmo yathaitat anushishyāt, nor do we know how to communicate It to you. The experience is so transcendental that it leaves no tracks behind. Says Gaudapāda in his Māndukya Kārikā (IV. 95):

अजे साम्ये तु ये केचित् भविष्यन्ति सुनिश्चिताः ।
ते हि लोके महाज्ञाना तच्च लोको न गाहते ॥

aje sāmye tu ye kecit bhaviṣyanti suniścitāḥ |
te hi loke mahājñānā tacca loko na gāhate ||

‘They alone are said to be of great intellect (wisdom) who are farm in their conviction of the Self, beyond causality and ever the same. This ordinary men cannot grasp.’

In his comment on the above verse, Shankara quotes the following verse from one of the Smrtis:

सर्वभूतात्मभूतस्य सर्वभूतहितस्य च ।
देवा अपि मार्गे मुह्यन्ति अपदस्य पदैषिणः ॥

sarvabhūtātmabhūtasya sarvabhūtahitasya ca |
devā api mārge muhyanti apadasya padaiṣiṇaḥ ||

‘Even the gods puzzled while trying to follow in the footsteps of those who leave no track behind, of those who realize themselves in all beings and who are always devoted to the welfare of all.’

Again and again the Upanishads speak of Brahman as the end of a trackless path, but they do not leave us helpless. They assure us that difficult though It is to attain, It is not unattainable. It is not easy to teach It in the way one teaches other subjects, but the student can be helped and guided towards It. The first requirement is that the student of this subject must be in a frame of mind somewhat different from that of the student of all other subjects. Here is needed extreme alertness and the capacity to learn from suggestive hints. In the earlier stages of education there is much talking and instruction by the teacher; and this becomes less and less in the higher stages where student’s mind, trained in alertness and thinking becomes capable of learning from hints and suggestion from the teacher. This process reaches its highest consummation in communication of spiritual knowledge. This finds vivid illustration in the episodes of teacher-student communication of several Upanishads.

Here in this third verse of the chapter one of the Kena Upanishad, we find the sage impressing upon the student that the knowledge he seeks cannot be given to him for the asking. He has to get it for himself. ‘I am helpless to communicate to you in the customary way’, says the teacher. ‘But I shall help you with a few hints.’ The Ātman says the teacher in the next verse, (verse 4), anyadeva tat viditāt — ‘is other than everything that is known.’ That is the difficulty. Viditā means ‘known’. Whatever is known through the senses and the mind, this Ātman is entirely different from all such things. So all our present knowledge will have to be turned aside. It has no value here. In this sphere, all positive science becomes nescience. It merely brings us knowledge of the world of change, of drshyam, of the objective world. It gives us knowledge about things that are subject to the modification of birth, growth, decay and death. But the Ātman is none of these. It is other than everything that is known.

On hearing this, our minds tend to conclude that the Ātman then, must be something unknown and unknowable, if not entirely non-existent. So why search for It? The mind naturally recoils from searching for something that is both unknown and unknowable. This idea entered several modern western philosophies, especially that of Herbert Spencer, after Kant had proved through his Critique of Pure Reason that the human mind had no capacity to know the noumenon.

The Upanishads, however deal with this question rather differently. The Ātman, the absolute and the infinite Reality, beyond the categories of speech and thought, is beyond the categories of both known and the unknown. The Ātman is not unknown in this sense. For it is known of all, because It is the Drk, the eternal Seer, the Self of all. It is not known as a item of objective experience, but It is the Self of the knower himself, and, as such, more known than any known object. For what is more known to me than my own Self? And so the teacher gives the next hint that It is Aviditāt adhi, ‘more than (or beyond) the unknown’, and adds:

Iti shushruma pūrveshām ye nah tat vyāchachakshire

‘Thus have we heard from our previous teachers who explained It to us.’

With what humility the sage speaks! He claims nothing for himself. Swami Vivekananda often referred to this humility of the sages of India who wrote great books but never claimed any originality for themselves. A modern writer, on the other hand, he said, perhaps steals from others most of the things he writes, and then claims them all to be his own.

But there is a further significance in this statement by the sage of the Kena Upanishad. Since the Ātman cannot be perceived by the senses and the mind, the student must hear about It from illumined souls. The sage has himself experienced It as his teacher had done before him. By this assurance the student will be encouraged to enter upon the path himself, grasping it by the few hints that he has been given. If Ātman is beyond speech and thought, if It is anyadeva tat viditāt, other than everything that is known, and also aviditāt adhi, more than the unknown, if It is beyond both known and unknown, then what is It? And how are we to realize It? This is the question that the rest of the first chapter attempts to answer.

The first four verses the Kena Upanishad told us about the nature of the Ātman and the difficulty of Its comprehension. We have also referred the significance of this approach to man’s search for ultimate reality. The mind first seeks for the meaning of existence in the various objects in events of the external world. Unable to get conclusive answer from this field, man later turns his attention to that profound mystery which lies within, his own Self. The search for this mystery takes him beyond the world of relativity, the world revealed by speech and thought, to the world of pure Being and pure Awareness, the world of his true nature, the eternal non-dual Self.

This realization is the supreme achievement of the human genius; and it is the legacy which the Upanishads have left for all humanity. The Kena Upanishad itself will tell us about the glory of this realization a few verses later (II. 4)

Ātmanā vindate vīryam vidyayā vindate amrtam

‘Man achieves great energy through the Ātman, and immortality through Its realization.’

 

The Nature of Reality

We discussed the difficulty experienced by the teacher of the Upanishad in communicating his realization of the Ātman. The language and the thought become extremely rarefied. The teacher and the student hardly speak; they just indicate their meaning in suggestive hints. In the transcendental realm of the Self, words assume their true status as suggestive symbols, the fainter, the more suggestive. As in Vedānta, as in the great scientific thought today, words are valued as symbols only. As one great scientist has put it:

‘Words are but the counters of wise men; they do but reckon with them; but they are money of fools.’

The third verse of the Kena Upanishad told us this Ātman is beyond speech, beyond the sense of hearing, beyond the mind; and the Upanishad added in the fourth verse:

Anyadeva tat viditāt atho aviditāt adhi

‘It is other than all that is known, and It is also beyond the unknown.’

The statement conveys the philosophic seriousness of the Upanishadic mind. Commenting on this, Shankara says:

न हि अन्यस्य स्वात्मनो विदिताविदिताभ्याम् अन्यत्वम् वस्तुनः सम्भवति इति आत्मा ब्रह्म

na hi anyasya svātmano viditāviditābhyām anyatvam vastunaḥ sambhavati iti ātmā brahma

‘Apart from the Ātman (one’s own Self), there cannot, verily be any other entity which, can be other than both the known and unknown; and therefore Ātman is Brahman.’

 

The Spiritual Character of the Absolute

The realizationof the infinite dimension of the Self follows from the fact that it is other than the known and the unknown. If the infinite Self is our true nature, then we are essentially birthless and deathless and immortal. Death pertains to the body, to the sense organs, to the mind, and to the ego. These essentially change and finally die; they are not our Self, either singly or in combination. Our true form is infinite and immortal; this is elucidated in many an Upanishadic dialogues between disciple and teacher. These dialogues bear the impress of intimate communion between minds. They are not like the discourses given by a learned lecturer to a class of listless students of philosophy in some of our modern colleges. They bear the stamp of philosophical quest and spiritual earnestness. The teaching they convey proceeds from spiritual realization and leads to spiritual comprehension.

The Upanishad now proceeds to elucidate in refrain, in the fifth and subsequent five verses of its first chapter, the infinite nature of the Self of man:

यद्वाचाऽनभ्युदितं येन वागभ्युद्यते ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ ५ ॥

yadvācā'nabhyuditaṃ yena vāgabhyudyate |
tadeva brahma tvaṃ viddhi nedaṃ yadidamupāsate || 5 ||

‘What speech cannot reveal, but what reveals speech—know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this (anything objective)that people worship here.’

यन्मनसा न मनुते येनाहुर्मनो मतम् ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ ६ ॥

yanmanasā na manute yenāhurmano matam |
tadeva brahma tvaṃ viddhi nedaṃ yadidamupāsate || 6 ||

‘What mind does not comprehend, but what comprehends the mind— know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this that people worship here.’

यच्चक्षुषा न पश्यति येन चक्षूँषि पश्यति ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ ७ ॥

yaccakṣuṣā na paśyati yena cakṣūṃṣi paśyati |
tadeva brahma tvaṃ viddhi nedaṃ yadidamupāsate || 7 ||

‘What sight fails to see, but what sees sight— know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this that people worship here.’

यच्छ्रोत्रेण न शृणोति येन श्रोत्रमिदं श्रुतम् ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ ८ ॥

yacchrotreṇa na śṛṇoti yena śrotramidaṃ śrutam |
tadeva brahma tvaṃ viddhi nedaṃ yadidamupāsate || 8 ||

‘What hearing fails to hear, but what hears hearing— know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this that people worship here.’

यत्प्राणेन न प्राणिति येन प्राणः प्रणीयते ।
तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ॥ ९ ॥

yatprāṇena na prāṇiti yena prāṇaḥ praṇīyate |
tadeva brahma tvaṃ viddhi nedaṃ yadidamupāsate || 9 ||

‘What smell does not reveal, but what reveals smell— know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this that people worship here.’

 

Conceptual God versus True God

These five verses proclaim the spiritual character of the Absolute or the Brahman: It is the Self of man, which his sense-organs and mind cannot reveal but which reveals the sense-organs and the mind. These verses also stress the need to go beyond all idolatry in order to be able to worship God in spirit and in truth. Vedānta treats as idolatry not only the worship of stocks and stones, which Semitic monotheism condemns as heathen superstition, but also the worship of the Semitic monotheistic personal God as well. For that God is a concept and, as much an item of the objective universe as the heathen idols are. Man creates his gods, including the monotheistic God. The only uncreated God is the eternal Self in man; and that is the God that Vedānta proclaims. Says Swami Vivekananda in his lecture on ‘The Real and Apparent Man’ (Complete Works, Vol. II.p. 279):

‘In worshipping God we have been always worshipping our hidden Self.’

The God proclaimed by man’s speech and thought is as much an idol as that fashioned by his hands. Dissatisfied with these creations of human imagination, the Upanishads sought for the immortal and eternal God in the soul of man and found Him in the ‘Ātman which is immediate and direct and immortal Self of all’, as the Brhadāranyaka Upanishad majestically expresses it (III. iv. 1). The Upanishads also discovered that, illumined by the knowledge of this living God, all worship of idols becomes transformed into worship of ideals, idols becoming mere symbols.

It is the philosophic comprehension that helped Vedānta to assume a sympathetic and understanding view of all forms of idol worship. As Rg Veda put it (x. 164. 46): Ekam sat; viprā vahudhā vadanti — ‘Truth is one; sages call it various names.’ It is equally the lack of this philosophic comprehension that made the Semitic religions dogmatic, narrow, and exclusive-minded, and made them condemn as superstition what they termed heathen idolatry of every kind, that is all idolatry other than their own special brands. In the words of the historian Toynbee (An Historian’s Approach to Religion, pp. 282-83):

‘It seems to be a matter of historical fact that, hitherto, the Judaic religions have been considerably more exclusive-minded than the Indian religions have. In a chapter of the world’s history in which adherents of living higher religions seem likely to enter into much more intimate relations with one another than ever before, the spirit of the Indian religions, blowing where it listeth, may perhaps help to winnow a traditional Pharisaism out of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish hearts.’

The realization of the unity of Brahman and Ātman lies at the back of India’s charity and comprehension in the world of religion; her long history has been marked by a pervasive mood of acceptance of other forms of belief. This realization did not remain merely as a spiritual idea but became the inspiration of saints and simple devotees as much as of administrators and statesmen. It found brilliant expression in Sri Ramakrishna who realized the universality of truth and the harmony of all religions. Man takes to a particular symbol of God and worships it. He is devoted to it. He ignores everything else; and he develops the feeling that that alone is true, that that alone is the way of salvation. He thinks that he alone has the light and all others are in varying degrees of darkness and he then prays to his God: ‘O Lord , give to all others the light that I possess.’

This is how bigotry, narrowness, and in its train, persecution come into the world. Opposed to it the Indian idea that the divine Light is in the heart of all; that men approach It through the help of various symbols, and that the paths are many but the goal is one. The Indian approach makes for tolerance, understanding, and peace.

India discovered long ago the truth of the limitation of the senses. The senses reveal so little, though to an average man the senses and the mind are gateways of all available knowledge. But this understanding grows, man begins to realize more and more the utter incapacity of the senses to pierce appearances and give knowledge of truth. This understanding has come to modern science in the twentieth century; it was not there in the nineteenth century.

The teacher of the Kena Upanishad denies the power of the senses and the mind to reveal the reality of the Self; for that reality is the power behind even them. Can a torchlight help to reveal the sun? They perform their own limited functions with the nourishment drawn from that infinite source. The last chapter of this Upanishad, as we shall see later, expounds this truth through an interesting parable.

Tadeva brahma tvam viddhi nedam yadidam upāsate — ‘Know thou That alone as Brahman, and not this that people worship here,’ says the Upanishad. This breaths the deep concern of the Upanishad to remove all traces of materiality and objectivity from conception of God, and to give him a living God in place of his anthropomorphic conceptions. This is the eternal Self of man. In the light of the living God, the anthropomorphic gods also become transformed into living gods and the different faiths into tolerant co-operating units. Vedānta does not condemn or destroy any faith or form of worship. Its aim is to illumine every faith and every worship with light of the one living God of all religions. Says Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, Vol. II, pp. 81-82)

‘What are these ideas of religion and God and searching for the hereafter? Why does man look for a God? Why does man in every nation, in every state of society, want a perfect ideal somewhere, either in man, in God, or elsewhere? Because that idea is within you. It was your own heart beating and you did not know, you were mistaking it for something external. It is the God within your Self that is propelling you to seek for Him. After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He, for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it. Not to become pure, you are pure already. You are not to be perfect, you are that already. Nature is like that screen which is hiding the reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon, is simply tearing the veil, as it were, and the purity, the infinity, the God behind, manifests itself more and more. This is the whole history of man. Finer and finer becomes the veil, more and more light behind shines forth, for it is its nature to shine. It cannot be known; in vain we try to know it. Were it knowable, it would not be what it is, for it is the eternal subject. Knowledge is a limitation, knowledge is objectifying. He is the eternal subject of everything, the eternal witness in this universe, your own Self. Knowledge is as it were, a lower step, a degeneration. We are that eternal subject already; how can we know it? It is the real nature of every man and he is struggling to express it in various ways.’

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: