Stories- Episodes -2

Stories- Episodes

Life after death
From Chandogya Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged
By R.R.Diwakar

[As a general rule, man has never reconciled himself to the idea of death as the cessation of the individual ego. In some form or other, different races of mankind have believed in some kind of continuity of life after death. Four questions on this subject have been answered by a prince in this story. There is also an attempt to explain the origin of life. That is the subject of the fifth question.]
Once upon a time a young Brahmin named Svetaketu went to the assembly of the Panchalas. His father had educated him at home and he was under the impression that he had completed his studies and that he knew everything that a Brahmin should know.
When he entered the assembly, discussions were going on, questions and answers were bandied about. It was usual to hold such an assembly at the time of a sacrifice or a similar ceremony.
Prince Pravahana, a Kshatriya, accosted the young newcomer, “Have you had full education young man?”
Svetaketu said with pride, “Yes, indeed!”
“Do you know where all these people go to from here after death?”
“No sir, I do not know.”
“Do you know how they return to this world again?”
“No sir, I do not know.”
“Do you know the two paths along which the dead travel and which are known as the Path of Light (Devayana) and the Path of Darkness (Pitryana)?”
“No sir, I do not know.”
“Do you know why the other world does not become overfull though so many continue to depart from this world and enter it?”
“No sir, I do not know.”
“Do you know how in the fifth stage elemental matter becomes the Purusha or the living person?”
“No sir, I do not know.”
“Then how dare you say that your education is complete? You do not seem to know anything of this important subject which concerns every one of us,” said the prince with some disparagement.
Svetaketu felt humiliated and thought he had been deceived into thinking that he was adequately educated. So he went straight to his father and said: “Father, you said my education was complete. But when Prince Pravahana asked me some five questions, believe me, I could not reply even one of them. How then did you say that I was sufficiently educated?” He then told his father the whole story about five questions and his discomfiture in the assembly of the Panchalas.
“Dear child,” replied the father, “I myself do not know the replies to the questions you have just mentioned. I do not know the reply to even one of them. If I had that knowledge, do you think that I would have ever withheld it from you?”
The father then went himself to the Prince to learn at his feet. He bowed to him respectfully and waited at his court.
Next morning when the Prince saw Svetaketu and his father, he said to the father respectfully, “Sir, I offer you wealth which is dear to all. You may demand as much as you please.”
The Brahmin said, “Great Prince, let the wealth remain with you. I do not want it at all. I want knowledge from you, I want you to talk with me as you talked with my child. I am thirsting for the knowledge of the other world.”
The Prince was pleased with the attitude of the Brahmin and requested him to stay at his court. He said, “Respected Brahmin, till now this knowledge has been traditionally known only to the Kshatriyas. It is only now and for the first time that I am imparting that knowledge to you, a Brahmin.
“I shall take up the last question first. There are, as it were, five yajnas or sacrifices, and as a result of those sacrifices it is that elemental matter is ultimately converted into life or into a person. There is the fire and the sun and elemental matter is the oblation offered to it. The result of this yajna is the production of Soma, the life giving juice. Then Soma is poured into Parjanya, the power that brings on rain. The result is rain itself. The rain is poured as an offering on the earth and food is the result. When food is offered to man and when he digests it the vital fluid called Reta (semen) is produced. When Reta enters the body of a woman the embryo is born and then a child. Thus is elemental matter converted into life after going through five stages.”
Then he gave answers to the other four questions. He said, “Since a man’s body is made up of the four elements, it is dissolved into those constituents after death. But the destiny of his soul depends upon his actions and his knowledge. If he has attained real spiritual knowledge he goes by Devayana, the Path of Light, and does not return to this earthly existence. His soul becomes immortal.
“But if he has led a life of desires and spent it in doing good deeds out of a desire for heaven, his soul goes by Pitryana, the Path of Darkness, to heaven, remains there till his merits are exhausted and then hurries back to this world and takes birth according to the general nature of his former actions.
“But if his is a life of sin and evil deeds and of wickedness, if he was all along engaged in stealing, drinking, killing and debauch or in associating with people occupied with these sinful acts (these are the five great sins) he forfeits his claim to both immortality and heaven. He is born and reborn here on earth and he goes through the cycle of lives of insects and worms and of vile vermin and suffers interminably.
“Thus of those who are born on earth, some pass on and away to the world of Brahman (Supreme Reality), from which there is no return. Some others go to heaven, stay there for a time and then return to the worldly existence. Numerous others are caught up in the ever-recurring cycle of birth and death, that is why the other world never becomes overfull. There is no such danger either!”
This is the knowledge of life, its origin, and of the destiny of the soul after death, This knowledge was given by Pravahana Jaivali, a Kshatriya Prince, to a Brahmin for the first time.

The Bold Beggar  
Chnadogya Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged
By R.R.Diwakar

[In the Upanishads we often come across Rishis who are in search of truth, worshipping different gods, thinking them to be the highest ones. Some of them often by mistake sought the form rather than the spirit. But they were brought to reason by some incident or by someone’s advice. Here is a lesson taught by a brahmachari (celibate student) to two Rishis. He says, “You are worshipping the wind-god but you are ignoring the same god who pervades me also.”]
Once there lived two Rishis known as Shaunaka and Abhipratari. They were the worshippers of Vayu or the wind god. On a certain day at noon they were about to begin their lunch when there was a knock at the door. A young brahmachari (celibate student) who was hungry was at the door begging for alms.
“No boy, not at this hour” was the reply. The boy was not a stranger to such treatment. But he was not a little surprised when he faced such disappointment at the Ashrama of a Rishi. So he decided to cross swords and stuck on.
He addressed the owner once more. “Respected sir, may I know which god you worship?”
One of the Rishis said, “You seem to be very impertinent. Well, my deity is Vayu, the wind god. He is also called Prana.”
“Then you must be knowing that the world takes shape in Prana and merges in it at the end. You must also be knowing that Prana pervades all that is visible and invisible,” said the brahmachari.”
The Rishi said, “Why not? We do know it. You are telling us nothing new.”
“For whom, sirs, have you cooked this food? May I know?” was the next question.
“Of course, for the deity that we worship. For whom else can it be?” came the ready reply.
“If Prana pervades the universe, he pervades me also who am but a part of the universe. It is he who pulsates in this hungry body that is standing before you begging for a few morsels!”
“Yes, what you speak is the truth.”
“Then, dear Rishi, in denying food to me you deny food to the Prana in me. Thus you are denying food to the deity for whom you have prepared it!” said the boy pointedly.
The Rishis felt ashamed, and then respectfully invited the brahmachari for meals. Then they served him with food along with themselves. They realized that they were obsessed with the form while it was the spirit that really mattered.

Prashnaa Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged

[Six questions about the essential truth, in which one is more advanced than the other, have been asked and answered in one of the Upanishads. The Upanishad itself therefore goes by the name of “The Upanishad of Questions.” The questions begin with the gross and the known and then dive deeper into the subtle and the unknown. The seer of the Upanishad ultimately explains the nature of the Spirit and then of consciousness in man. He describes the Purusha or the person who co-ordinates all consciousness.
Here is a typical picture of the enquiries of those times and the way they went about seeking after truth.]

A band of six youthful seekers after truth bent upon knowing Brahman started on a journey in search of a guru. Sukesha, Satyakama, Gargya, Ashwalyana, Bhargava and Kabandhi went along and reached the famous hermitage of the sage Pippalada.
“He would certainly answer satisfactorily all our questions,” they thought.
As the guru sat there calm and collected on his simple seat of straw, all the six approached him with the symbolic bits of fuel in their hands for lighting the sacrificial fire signifying that they went to him as disciples to light the torch of knowledge.
The sage welcomed them with a gentle and loving smile. He asked them to stay in the Ashrama for a year with faith, doing tapas or austerities and penance and conducting themselves as brahmacharis (celibate students or those who follow a certain discipline while seeking Brahman or the Supreme Spirit.) He added, “While staying here you may question me without any reserve. Whatever I know about the problems that agitate you, I shall gladly lay before you.”
As they stayed along and became the inmates of the Ashrama one day at question hour after the daily prayers, Kabandhi put the first question: “Whence is all this that is visible?”
Pippalada said, “The Lord of Creation willed to create. He concentrated and contemplated- performed tapas. Out of such tapas or concentration of power was born a duet or couple, matter and energy. He was confident that primary creation would further create for him the varied universe he wanted to create. All that has visible or invisible form is matter. All that informs and inspires matter is energy. The sun and the moon, the day and the night, the bright fortnight and the dark one, are all twins. Between them they create the whole universe- the sun energizes the universe as he rises in the east, resplendent and bright as burnished gold with millions of rays shooting across infinite space. They who create anything follow the discipline of the Lord of Creation. Those who do penance, conduct themselves as brahmacharis, and have truth in them attain the world of Brahman. There, in that world, is no evil, nor untruth, nor deception of any kind.
After some days, one evening, when all the disciples were sitting round the Master, Bhargava asked the next question. It had been realised that creation came from Prajapati and that the living being was the crown of creation. But then which are the gods or forces that support creation and the living beings? Which power gives the animal its superiority over other things? Which is the power that is predominant? That was the next question.
Pippalada said, “Well, various are the replies that men give to this question. There is, they say, space, air, fire, water, earth, and the mind. All these powers support the body and make it possible for it to carry on its functions. But Prana, the principle that makes breathing possible, the vital force, claims pre-eminence, and says that it supports the body by carrying on all activity. The other powers, however, did not verily believe in this claim of Prana. But Prana proved its claim. Once it went out of the body and lo! Every other power had to follow, and the body lay motionless. Prana is like the queen bee and when it leaves the hive it is notice to the others to quit instantly. In fact, the vital force is the source of all energy and movement. Everything is controlled by Prana.”
This explanation led to the next question as to whence comes this Prana, how it enters the body, in what ways and places it disposes itself in the body and how it departs, how it supports the inner and outer structure of the body. This question was asked by Ashwalayana.
In answer to this, Pippalada said, “You are now going deeper and asking subtler questions. But since you are a votary of truth I shall try to satisfy you to the utmost possible extent. Who else but the Spirit can be the source of Prana? Prana pervades the whole body, and like a king orders about the other vital forces, namely, Apana, Udana, Vyana and Samana, to take their positions in the different parts of the body. Prana itself resides in the mouth and the nostrils. In the heart resides the Atman or the soul. Prana departs through the Udana way and goes to deserving worlds. The sun is the embodiment of external Prana, which supports the whole physical world. The Prana in the body supports the body from inside.
The universe was created by Prajapati by the concentration of sheer will-force. The universe is supported by Prana, and the living being who is the crown of creation, is also supported by Prana or the vital air. Prana itself in its turn is born of Atman or the principle of consciousness. We have come so far. This naturally takes us to the next question asked by Gargya about the functions of consciousness.
“In this living person, who sleeps and who keeps awake? Which god or power witnesses dreams? Who is it that enjoys and who is it that suffers? And in whom do all these powers of consciousness stand firm in co-ordination?”
Pipplalada, ever ready to satisfy the curiosity of his favourite disciples, said, “Like the rays of the rising and setting sun, these powers of consciousness are centred in the mind. While asleep, the person sees not, hears not, speaks not. In fact, he is innocent of all consciousness. It is only the vital fires that are awake and keep the person living. They bring him back to consciousness after daily taking him to Brahman (supreme Reality) as it were, during deep sleep.
“When not fully asleep, the person enjoys his wishes or desires in a dream state. He goes through the same experiences that he has already undergone during waking hours. Sometimes, he sees things unseen, hears things unheard and experiences things never before experienced. When completely devoid of waking consciousness, he enjoys sound sleep and is happy. Then like the birds roosting in their nests in some tree, all his powers are merged in the great Atman (soul). The subject as well as the object, the ear as well as sound, the eye as well as all that is seen, all are one with the Atman. That Atman, that Spirit, is the seer, the hearer, the thinker, and does all possible things. He is like pure consciousness. He is the Person and is the eternal Spirit beyond everything. He is body-less and shadow-less. He is white and brilliant. One who knows this Atman enjoys the eternal blissful state.”
After the description of the eternal Atman or the Supreme Spirit, the next question that arises is about the realisation and attainment of this Atman. What are the means, what is the sadhana or the spiritual discipline for attaining that end?
Satyakama therefore asked the fifth question about sadhana or the means.
“What world does a man attain if he contemplates on the great mystic symbol AUM?” The Muni (sage) analysed the symbol and explained to his disciples the various states attainable by Upasana or devotional worship of AUM. He says, “AUM is made up of three syllables. The first syllable represents the worship and praise of various powers according to the Rig Veda. The result is prosperity on earth. The second represents the performance of rituals according to the Yajur Veda. The result is the attainment of heaven and a return to this earth after one’s accumulated merits are exhausted. The third represents the meditation on the Supreme Spirit according to the Sama Veda. That, the integral meditation, is the path of eternity. One who follows that purely spiritual path without any desire for fruit becomes as free and light as a serpent that has just thrown off its slough. He is borne on the wings of Sama music to the world of the Supreme Spirit. The wise always choose that path, however long and weary it might be. For it is the best.”
The last question was put in a rather peculiar manner. Sukesha said, “Gurudeva, the prince Hiranyagarbha came to me and asked me if I knew the Purusha or the person with sixteen parts or kalas. I said, ‘I know not and if I knew how could I keep it away from you? He who tells a lie runs the risk of being scorched root and branch. I dare not tell a lie.’ The prince went away disappointed. I now therefore ask you the question as to who is that ‘person’?”
The sage was practically at the end of his labours. This was the last question coming from his clever disciple.
He said, “It is in this body that the ‘person’ resides. The sixteen kalas or parts exist in this person alone. Prana or vital air, faith, space, air, light, water, earth, sense, mind, food, physical force, penance, mantra or the potent word, action, worlds and name are the sixteen kalas or parts of an individual. When rivers merge in the ocean they lose their separate name and identity. So too do these parts lose all name and form when merged in the person. Then what exists is the one person and not the many parts as such. The essence of that person is the spirit itself. There is no knowledge greater than this.”
Thus rounded off Pippalad Muni. The expectations of the disciples were fulfilled and they took leave of the guru to pursue their own careers in the light of the knowledge that they had received from him.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged

[Wealth can buy convenience and comfort but not inner peace which alone is really worthy of possession. There is a poise of consciousness where one realises that ‘One’ alone exists without any second or any ‘other’. That is a poise beyond all dualities. The attainment of that stage alone gives real final peace and the go-by to all doubts. That is the lesson taught by the Rishi (sage) here to his wife Maitreyi. The classic conversation between this extremely loving pair is admittedly very sweet and eloquent. Passages from it are often quoted. The beautiful story occurs in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.]
The great seer Yajnavalkya had two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani. Of them Maitreyi was a real seeker after truth. She was a brahmavadini, one who discusses the Brahman (the Supreme Spirit), and meditates upon it. Katyayani was, like all other ordinary women, attached to worldly things and busy with household affairs.
After leading a householder’s life for years, the Rishi Yajnavalkya thought of changing the mode of his life and of taking to Sannyasa or the fourth stage in life which is one of complete and final renunciation of the world.
He therefore called Maitreyi to his side one day and said to her, “I am thinking of renouncing the world. I want to be a sannyasi, I wish to detach myself completely from all affairs. I shall leave this home and go to some forest resort. I think it desirable to partition this property between you two before I depart.
Spiritual minded Maitreyi said, “Dear one, you are talking of property and its partition. But what would it avail me even if the whole world full of wealth were mine own? Would it make me immortal and take me beyond all sorrow and suffering?”
The sage replied. “No dear, not at all. Your life would be as comfortable as material means and wealth can make it. There is no hope of immortality through wealth.”
Maitreyi then said, “What then have I to do with things that do not give me what I really want? I want to be immortal. I want that which would give me ‘life eternal’. Therefore I would urge you to teach me that spiritual knowledge which I believe you possess, rather than talk to me about things material. I hanker after that knowledge and I spurn everything else as dirt.”
The Rishi felt elated at this spiritual hunger of his dear wife. He took her by his side and endearingly said to her, “You are so dear to me, Maitreyi. You have asked me something that is nearest to my heart. I shall teach you as much as I know of it. Listen to me attentively and meditate constantly upon it.”
He continues, “Dear one, we find in this world that the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife is pleased with her husband. They please each other and love each other not merely because they are in the relation of husband and wife. The husband is not loved for his own sake nor is the wife for her own sake. They both love each other because they find their own ‘selves’ in each other. They are satisfied with each other because each of them identifies the other with his or her own self. So it is the self (one’s own soul) that is loved and not any other thing. The children are dear to us not for their own sake, not because they are merely children, nor because they are our children, but because we find our own selves in them. Wealth and cattle and all beings around us are dear to us not because they are themselves, but because we find our own selves extended in them or because we can find our own selves in them or through them. The gods and the worlds are dear to us not for their own sake. We do not love them by themselves nor because they are what they are but because we hope to find and realize our own self, the Atman, through them or by their help. Above all, we love the Vedas, we study them, but it is not for their sake. We love them because we believe that they would lead us to the knowledge of the spirit in us. It is thus for the sake of one’s inner soul, the inner self of things, or the Atman that man loves all other things. That is the uppermost motive of our love for things.
“That spirit, that inner soul of things, is the one thing that really deserves to be seen, to be heard of, to be thought about and meditated upon. O dear Maitreyi, when that spirit, that great self, is seen, heard, thought about, meditated upon and known. The knowledge of the Atman includes the knowledge of all other things. It supersedes all other knowledge. This Atman is the first and the last of things. All this that is visible and invisible is the Atman. When that Atman is known, all else is known.
“When a big drum is being beaten, we cannot catch hold of the waves of sound that vibrate from it. But certainly when we hold and possess the drum itself, we control the sound as well. So too, when the Veena or the stringed musical instrument is being played upon, the numerous tunes that emerge from it are intangible and cannot be caught hold of. But certainly when we get hold of the instrument itself we can control the tunes and play upon it at will. So too can we know the essence of the multifarious world in all its wild variety only when we know the Atman, the inner soul of things that pervades all things.
“When fire is being lighted with wet fuel, clouds of thick smoke emerge and spread in all directions. So too from this Being of beings, like unto its very breath, do issue out the Vedas, the Puranas or old traditions, the histories, the arts and sutras or axioms and numerous expositions.
“Just as the sea is the one repository of all waters on earth and all waters run to the sea, just as all touch is known by the skin, all smell by the nose, all forms are seen by the eye, all sound is heard by the ear, all ideas are conceived by the mind, so too is the spirit the only one repository of all things, towards which all things rush as to a final resting place. All things are known by the spirit and the spirit alone has the power to know all things.
“The spirit is complete and perfect in itself. It has neither an inside nor an outside. It is full of itself and is in the nature of self-luminous consciousness.
“Some say that the spirit in man is no more after his death and the conscious self vanishes once for all.”
At this stage Maitreyi very eagerly put in, “Dear one, I am very anxious to know about this mystery. You must enlighten me and lead me beyond all ignorance and false knowledge.”
The sage continued, “I am not feeding you on false notions, my dear. The soul is imperishable. It is unborn and deathless. It exists by itself and its life is continuous without a break. The spirit being one and indivisible, when it ceases to be in an individualized body, it becomes free from individual limitations. Then it is One and Alone. Where there are two, there is a possibility of one seeing the other, hearing the other, speaking to the other, thinking of the other and so on. This possibility occurs only when there are two things or more, but not when there is only One thing. Dear Maitreyi, when the spirit alone, one and indivisible, one without a second, exists, who is to see whom and by what means, who is to hear what and by what sense, who is to touch whom and by what hand- where all is one homogeneous existence, who is to cognize whom? In such a condition, the ‘ONE’ exists without the other. That is the Atman, the unknowable, the deathless one. He is the knower of all; how then can we know Him and by what means?”
This is the knowledge of the one Atman, taught by the sage Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi, his wife, on the eve of his departure to the forest for leading a life of perfect renunciation.

Thus Spake Uddalaka Aruni   
Chandogya Upanishad
Paraphrased- simplified- abridged

[Though Yajnavalkya seems by far to be the most dominant personality in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Aruni’s power of exposition in the Chandogya Upanishad is very refreshing. He is easily the most brilliant Rishi (sage) in the Chandogya Upanishad. By a number of homely illustrations he conveys to his son the subtle knowledge of the Atman (soul) and impresses upon him the fact that, in essence, he too is the Atman. “That thou art” is the burden of his talk. The affectionate father repeats it at the end of each of his illustrations the through his pregnant phrase he preaches the gospel of the one God, transcendant and immanent in all things.]
“No idiot has yet been born in our line nor has any in our family neglected the study of the Vedas. So, young soul, go to a gurukula, be a brahmachari and learn the Vedas.” The sage Uddalaka Aruni thus addressed his young son Svetaketu when he attained the proper age to go to a preceptor for study.
The dutiful son obeyed his father. After studying all the Vedas for twelve long years at the feet of his guru, he came home. When the father saw him, he could at once perceive that his son had become a man of learning but that he had missed spiritual training and teaching. Instead of humility he had developed conceit and instead of peace, there was turmoil in his mind.
One day the father said to him, “Dear child, did you not ask your guru to teach you that mystic wisdom which is the key to all other knowledge, to all other thought, and that wisdom which unfolds the Unknown to man?”
Svetaketu was not a little surprised when he was thus accosted by his father. He instinctively felt that something was lacking in his own education. So he said to his father, “Dear father, what is that wondrous knowledge that you speak of? Do teach me that yourself. Obviously my guru did not know the knowledge you refer to, otherwise he would not have failed to impart it to me.”
“Dear child, it is something like this. You know that these earthen pots and toys are made of clay. Once you understand the essential nature of the clay of which these are all made, you know and understand all these things also. Then all these are mere forms and names of forms that the clay has assumed. The essence of them all, the thing that matters is the clay. So too, if you understand the nature of a particular metal, everything that is made of that metal is known to you. The various things that are made of that metal are then mere names and forms. What matters is the metal and its nature. Take the various things made of steel such as a sword, a razor, a knife, a needle. When you know the nature of steel, all these are but names and forms which that steel assumes. What matters is the steel and your knowledge of it. That is the essential truth. All else is mere verbiage. So you should get to know the essence of things, the one thing that underlies this vast and multitudinous mass of name and form.
“In the beginning of things there was pure Being, one without a second. It willed that it should become many. Then it manifested itself in many forms, such as light, liquid, solid and so on. This rich variety of things came into existence by permutation and
combination of these forms. Then life appeared, and among the living beings, man with his varied powers and functions.”
After listening to all this the son said, “Father, all this is very interesting. Excuse me for a question. Where does a man go when he sleeps?”
Uddalaka replied, “When a man sleeps he becomes for the time being one with the Spirit or one with the one eternal Being. He is merged in himself as it were. A man’s mind is like a beast tied to a peg by a long rope. It turns round and round the peg but cannot get away. So too does the mind turn round the prana or the vital power in the body but cannot leave the body. When a man is about to die, his power of speech is merged in his mind, his mind is absorbed in the prana, the prana is again in its turn merged in light and this light merges in the power beyond. That power is subtle. It pervades the universe. That is the truth. That is the Spirit. That thou art, O Svetakatu!”
The son again said, “I am not fully satisfied. Tell me more of this great wisdom, so that I can understand.”
“Dear child, bees bring tiny particles or droplets of honey from various flowers and store it in the hive. Once in the hive, do the droplets know from which flower they came? Need they know it? So too all these beings when they merge in the ocean of Being, they know not whence they came. They lose all individuality. Whether it is a lion, a tiger, a mouse or a worm before merging, all become one when they have once merged in the ocean of consciousness. That in which all these merge is the One Being. That is subtle. It pervades everything. It is the Spirit or Atman or Pure Consciousness. That thou art, O Svetaketu!
“Dear child, various rivers from the four quarters flow into the vast seas. They all become one with the seas. Can you then make out the waters of the various rivers? No. So is the case with these various beings when they merge in the One Being. That thou art, O Svetaketu!
“If you strike a tree at the root, or in the middle or at the top, some sap oozes out but the tree still lives. If you cut off a branch here and there from the tree, that branch fades and dies away but the tree still lives on. Thus that which is deprived of its life dies but life does not die. The power by which life lives eternally is the Spirit. That thou art, O Svetaketu!”
Svetaketu listened to all this very attentively but he was still at a loss to know as to how to comprehend the intangible Atman. So he asked his father, “how to know this subtle thing, dear father? Tell me that.”
Then Uddalaka thought of a simple device. He pointed out to a big Banyan tree and asked his son to bring a ripe fruit from that tree. When he brought the small red berry-like fruit, he told his son, “Split it into two, dear child.”
“Here you are. I have split it into two.”
“What do you find there?”
“Innumerable tiny seeds of course, and what else can these be?”
“Well, take one of those tiny seeds and split it again.”
“Yes, here it is. I have split a seed.”
“What do you find there?”
“Why, nothing at all.”
“O dear child! This big tree cannot come out of nothing. Only you cannot see that subtle something in the seed from which springs forth this mighty tree. That is the power, that is the spirit unseen which pervades everywhere and everything. Have faith. It is that spirit which is at the root of all existence. That thou art, O Svetaketu!”
“This is something very baffling, father. But how on earth can I realize it, even if I merely know it?”
Uddalaka said, “Just do one thing. Take a few crystals of salt and put them into a bowl of water while you go to sleep and bring to me in the morning.”
The obedient son did as he was told and next the morning took the bowl to his father.
The father said, “Dear son, take out the salt please.”
Svetaketu felt exasperated and said, “Father, what do you mean? How is it possible to take out that salt?”
“All right. Then just taste the water on the surface. How does it taste?”
“It is saltish and is bound to be so.”
“Take the water in the middle and at the bottom and tell me how it tastes.”
“Well, that too is saltish and is bound to be so.”
“My dear child, do understand now that the Spirit I spoke of pervades all existence like the salt in this water in the bowl. That is the Subtle Spirit. That thou art, dear Svetaketu!”
“Dear father, how to go about all this? It looks so simple and yet is so very difficult!”
Uddalaka said, “Now I shall tell you how to go about trying to realize the Spirit. Suppose we blindfold a man and lead him into an unknown forest away from his usual residence. What would he do? How would he try to find his home? As soon as he is left to himself, he would just remove the cover from his eyes. Then he would wander about inquiring for the region from which he was taken away. He would go from village to village and ultimately he would come across someone who would lead him in the right direction. Thus would he reach his home. That is the way to find out the spiritual home from which we have all strayed into the wilderness. The Spirit is
the one reality towards which we have all to direct our steps. That thou art, O Svetaketu!”
Thus spake Uddalaka Aruni in the Chandogya Upanishad.

Gargi, the Fair Questioner
Brahadaranyaka  Upanishad

[It is significant that ladies also took part some times in the debates and discussions that took place at the time of Vedic sacrifices. In one such debate Gargi Vachaknavi ranged herself against the great patriarch Yajnavalkya. She had to acknowledge defeat. Ultimately Yajnavalkya proved equal to all who discussed with him and carried away the prize of a thousand cows from King Janaka.]
King Janaka of Videha performed a great sacrifice. He gave gifts to all very generously on that occasion. He loved to see important questions discussed in his presence. So he caused one thousand good cows to be collected in the yard with gold pieces tied to their horns. This was within sight of the great assembly that had met there for the sacrifice. Then he announced, “He who can defeat all others in debate can take away this coveted prize of a thousand cows.” This was a tempting prize no doubt. Hundreds of learned men who had assembled there began to look at one another. But when none had the daring to go forward and even touch the cows, Yajnavalkya, the famous sage who was there in the assembly, had the audacity to step forth and ask one of his disciples to march off with the cows! Each one of the learned that were present there saw the prize slipping out of his grasp. But who could challenge the famous Yajnavalkya?
Aswala, king Janak’s high priest, got up in a rage and asked, “Answer me, O Yajnavalkya, how dare you assume that you are the foremost among all the seekers after knowledge and appropriate the prize to yourself! Do you know Brahman (the Supreme Spirit)?”
The sage was, however, unmoved. He calmly replied, “No, good sir, I bow to him who is the knower of Brahman. But I am a poor Brahmin and need the cows badly.”
Aswala was not silenced by the rebuff. He asked, “Then tell me, how does a householder conquer death?”
“By worshipping the god Agni (fire) and through the support of Yani,” replied Yajnavalkya.
Aswala persisted. He asked Yajnavalkya the details of sacrifices to various gods who bestow different boons. He questioned the sage about ceremonies and rituals, the proper verses to be recited and the rites to be performed. The sage answered all the queries, calmly and correctly. All of Aswala’s learning could not defeat the sage.
By now, however, a few more had gathered courage. Several learned Brahmins came forward to ask various questions on the Vedas and the sacrifices. One asked where king Parikshit was. Yajnavalkya told him that he was in the heaven allotted to those who performed the Ashwamedha sacrifice. Another asked the sage what the Atman (soul) was? The sage replied, “Atman is not known by my telling you, nor by your learning from me. He is all-pervading, without beginning and without end. He is known only by the true seeker, through meditation and self-realization.”

Thus was the debate waxing and waning and the sage was calmly answering all questions, when out stepped a fair Brahmin girl to contest the prize. She was Gargi Vachaknavi. She asked, “All known things are made of and pervaded by elementary matter. Can you tell me, O sage, by what that elementary matter is made and pervaded?”
“By space,” replied Yajnavalkya.
She asked, “By what is space pervaded?”
“By Brahmaloka,” replied the sage.
“Then by what is Brahmaloka pervaded?” she continued.
At this Yajnavalkya lost his temper. “Do not ask silly questions for the sake of asking. Shut up or your head will fall from your shoulders.” Gargi retired abashed.
As the debate progressed she again gathered courage. The Brahmins marvelled at the young woman who could thus challenge in contest the well-known sage. But Gargi had now questions worthy of the sage’s learning: “Here are two questions,” she said and stood like the brave bowmen of Kashi and Videha with arrows strung to their bows. “Tell me, if you can, O sage! What is it that is beyond the heavens and below the earth, yet between the heavens and earth too- that which is past, present and future?”
The learned Brahmins held their breaths. They were wondering what the reply could be.
“By akasha, by space, the all pervading, that is past, present and future,” replied the sage.
“And what is it that is finer than Akasha, that pervades the space itself?” asked Gargi.
The men gathered were surprised at the persistence of the fair questioner. But Yajnavalkya calmly replied, “By the all-Supreme Spirit, the creator and supporter of all things, the all-pervading, and the immanent without beginning and without end. This Spirit is the innermost reality in the heart of man beyond pain and old age.”
At this Gargi admitted her defeat and addressing the assembly said, “None of us can win the debate against this great sage. He is the master of spiritual knowledge.”
The debate should have rightly ended here. While the assembly acknowledged the mastery of the sage, they also admired the courage and learning of fair Gargi. But a few young men did come forward with petty questions, which Yajnavalkya answered and twitted the ambitious novices. Lastly the sage said, “I shall be glad to answer more questions. I am here to reply to your satisfaction.” But he had already answered questions big and small and all were silent. He was the undisputed victor in the great debate

Balaki, the Vain
Brahadaranyaka  Upanishad

[It is the principle of the Intelligence that is the source of all things. This fact has been emphasized in this short story of Balaki and Ajatashatru. Balaki was a vain and empty-headed young man and he was taught a lesson by the learned prince Ajatashatru.]
A young man called Balaki belonging to the family of Garga was full of vanity. He thought he knew everything. He was desirous of getting some money. So he went to Prince Ajatashatru. The prince was quite courteous to him.
Balaki offered to teach the prince the knowledge of Brahman (the Supreme Spirit). For this offer the prince gave him a thousand cows and said, “This is but a poor gift. I am not rich enough to give you as generously as king Janak does.”
Balaki was still more puffed up when he was in sight of such a rich gift. He said, “I shall tell you about Brahman, the highest Reality.”
But when he opened his lips Ajatashatru could see how shallow he was. Balaki began to tell him that the person in the sun was Brahman or the highest Reality. Ajatashatru refused to accept this statement saying, “He is at the most the king of all beings but certainly not the highest Reality.”
Balaki felt browbeaten but again said, “The person in the moon is the Brahman.” The prince again told him that that was not so.
In this manner Balaki went on proposing that the person in the lightning, in the sky, in the wind, etc. was Brahman. Each time the prince put Balaki right by correcting his statement. Thus he rendered Balaki speechless.
Finally Balaki in desperation said, “The person that is in ourselves is the Brahman. One should worship Him as such.”
The prince rejected this teaching also and said, “One who looks upon the person in himself as Brahman becomes self-regarding and nothing more. Therefore that is not Brahman at all.”
At this Balaki collapsed and said in humility, “I know things only so far. Now please teach me yourself the right knowledge. I am anxious to know the truth from you.”
The prince was a Kshatriya and Balaki a Brahmin by birth. The prince therefore said, “It is rather unusual that a Brahmin should approach a Kshatriya for spiritual knowledge. It is a reverse process. But that does not matter. I shall tell you what I know of it.”
He then took Balaki by the hand and led him to a man who was in deep sleep. He called upon the sleeping man by his name, “O Somaraja, get up please.” But there was no response. Then he patted the sleeping Somaraja by the hand and he awoke.
The prince then asked Balaki,  "Do you know where this sleeping man had gone during sleep? Who was it that had slept and who was active?” Balaki was innocent of all this knowledge. He had no reply to give.
The prince then told him, “It was the principle of intelligence in Somarara that was sleeping or absent for the time being. His body was living and active and the vital powers were acting all the while. The Intelligence (Vijnana) in him had withdrawn all his powers of consciousness from the various parts of the body and was taking rest in the empty space or vacuum (akasha) in the heart. At such a time all the powers are, as it were, withdrawn from active service and stand suspended. When that intelligence roams about in the dreamland, all these powers of hearing, seeing, etc. are with that intelligence. During dreams the intelligence assumes different roles- it may be of a king, or a Brahmin or a hunter. But all these powers follow him just as the servants of a king follow him when he is out on tour.
“When the man is in deep sleep his intelligence is not cognizant of any outside thing nor of any dream. It withdraws at that time all its powers from the seventy-two thousand nerve centres in the body and takes rest in a vacuum in the heart. He sleeps then like a great king or a noted Brahmin or like a young boy free of all care and worry. He is then full of pure joy. When the man awakes, his intelligence returns and begins its activities as before.
“This principle of intelligence is really the Brahman. Verily like the gossamer web that spins out of a spider’s body or like the sparks that spring and fly from fire, the innumerable things in the world, the vital powers, worlds, gods, all beings come out of this first principle of Intelligence which is Brahman or Atman.”
Humbled Balaki listened with rapt attention to this discourse by Ajatashatru and shed all his vanity and conceit.

Nachiketa, the Seeker  
Katha Upanishad

[Yama is the lord of the underworld. It is his duty to see that people are rightly judged. He sits in judgment on the actions of all living beings. A young seeker after truth dares go to this god of death for knowing the truth about the nature of the human soul and its destiny. By persistent questioning and by a simple naivete all his own, he persuades Yama to part with the mystic knowledge about the soul and the Supreme Spirit. What is more, he elicits from Yama the full course of the pathway to the realization of the great truth. It is this pathway that later developed into the more scientific Yoga school of Patanjali. This story describes the adventure of young Nachiketa.]
“To the god of death do I give you away,” said the angry father Vajasravas to young Nachiketa when he insisted upon his being gifted away during a sacrifice.
Vajasravas was a very ambitious householder and he thought of performing some sacrifice that would bring him name and fame. Of the many sacrifices that were current in those days, Vishwajit (that which conquers the world) was one such sacrifice. The price that the performer of this sacrifice had to pay was very heavy. He was expected to give away all his property.
Vajasravas decided upon performing this sacrifice rather than any other and gave away all his property to the Brahmins. But poor man, he had not much of it and many a lean and barren and limbless cows also formed part of his scanty offerings.
His young son, who was but a stripling, observed all this and was convinced that his father’s ambition had overshot the mark. But he had great faith in himself and he believed that by offering himself up he would be rescuing his father from a calumny and from the joyless world that would otherwise be his lot. So he went to his father and placed himself at his disposal as if he too was part of his property.
“Dear father, to whom, to what god would you give me in this great sacrifice that you are performing?” said the son in simple faith.
His father did not heed the request. He was not in a mood to treat his son as chattel. He was preoccupied with other details of the sacrifice. But his son Nachiketa was persistent. He repeated his question. Still the father cared not. Then he repeated the question for the third time. The father was angry at the impertinence of his child and said in a huff, “Go thou, to the god of death do I give thee away. Pester me not any further.”
Young Nachiketa wondered at this strange reply from his father. He knew that his father had blurted out in this manner in a fit of temper. He felt that he himself was not in the wrong, and yet his father had chosen to be angry. He was conscious that he was not below the mark compared to other boys, but he wondered as to how he would be useful to Yama, if he went to him. He consoled himself saying that like the grain does a man ripen and like the grain does he fall to the ground and then again is he reborn. So may it happen with himself if he went to Yama, thought he.
True to his word and true to the angry command of his father, Nachiketa went to the lord of death. Yama was absent from his home that was at the gate of the worlds. He waited at Yama’s door for three long days without food. When Yama returned he was surprised to see a young Brahmin fasting on his doorsteps. He knew that a fasting Brahmin at his door boded no good to himself, the owner of the house. So he immediately ordered for water and other usual offerings for his guest. He invited Nachiketa to a seat near him and requested him to ask for three boons, one for each of the three days of the fast.
His own father’s pacification was Nachiketa’s first consideration. So he said to the lord of death, “Grateful beyond measure am I, great god, for the boons that you have offered. Let my father feel like one whose will is done. Let him be of good cheer and let your anger be pacified. Let him welcome me as before when I return from you. Let this be the first of the boons.”
Lord Yama immediately said, “This will happen. Your father will be pleased to see you returning from the very jaws of death. He will sleep in peace having overcome all anger.”
While asking for the second boon Nachiketa said, “I learn that there is no fear in heaven. Nor are you, who destroy life, to be found there. Nor does old age afflict people in that happy place. Free from the pangs of hunger and thirst and free from sorrow, people enjoy life there without any let or hindrance. I am full of faith and I deserve to know that world. Therefore, O Yama, give that knowledge. This I ask of you as the second boon.”
Yama was very much pleased with Nachiketa’s question. He gave him the full knowledge of a certain sacrifice. He taught him how to perform that sacrifice correctly and told him that one who performs that sacrifice would go to heaven and enjoy life there. He further told him that that particular yajna or sacrifice would from then onwards be known in the world by Nachiketa’s name. The fire used in that sacrifice would also be named after him. After imparting that knowledge to him, Yama called upon him to ask for the third and last boon.
“When man dies, some say he lives after death, while others say he does not. This is yet a matter which is in dispute and which is much discussed. I would like to learn definitely from you the truth about the matter. This is the third boon I ask,”said Nachiketa naively.
Yama was not a little disconcerted at this great question from the young questioner. He tried to dissuade Nachiketa from asking that difficult question. But he failed to do so. On the other hand, he whetted Nachiketa’s curiosity the more by withholding a ready reply.
“Young seeker, why not choose some other boon? Even the gods have not come to know about it. Nor is it easy to understand this subject. It is too subtle a matter. Please relieve me of the burden of answering this difficult question. Why press me hard?” pleaded Yama.
Nachiketa insisted, “Rightly said, lord Yama. If what you say is true, who else is there so competent as you to solve this problem? You deal in life and death and none can know the destiny of the human soul so well as you. Nor do I see any other boon as good as this.”
Yama tried again to tempt him out of the question by offering other gifts, but the young man persisted.
“Ask for sons and grandsons that would live the full span of hundred years. Ask for numerous cattle, elephants, horses and gold. Ask for ample land and you may even ask for life that may last as long as you desire. You may ask for any other boon that you deem equal to this. You may rule this wide world as long as you desire and I shall give you the power to enjoy all possible pleasures on earth. You are free to ask me frankly for the fulfilment of all desires that are usually difficult of fulfilment in the world of mortals. These beautiful damsels with chariots and musical instruments going about here are hardly ever seen by men. But at my behest, they will all attend on you and serve you. But do not, for god’s sake ask me anything about life after death,” said Yama.
This offer was a fresh temptation in the way of Nachiketa. But he was firm in mind. He therefore brushed aside this temptation and said, “All these that you mention are but temporary and ephemeral things, living but for a short time. Do they not corrupt and enfeeble the senses? This life after all is but a brief one and therefore I shall have none of these things that you generously offer. These chariots and these dancing girls, I leave to you. Not by wealth or pleasure alone is the human soul satisfied. And after all, we would get this wealth when we have once seen you and we would live on as long as you choose and as long as you rule. I do not wish to concern myself with all these things.
It is that knowledge alone which is worth asking for from you. What fool of a man would indulge in mere dance and song and wish to live long merely like an animal when once he has known the true nature of life and when once he has come in touch with you who never become old and who are immortal! Therefore, O Yamaraj, tell me about that life after death which even the gods are still in doubt. I shall not choose any boon other than this- the solution of this mystery of mysteries.”
When Yama found that his disciple was staking everything on this question, he became helpless. Yet he was pleased. He saw that young Nachiketa deserved to know the highest truth. He had faith, sincerity, purity, simplicity of mind, tenacity of purpose, freedom from temptations and above all an intense desire to know the truth and realize it in his own life.
Yama said, "Dear and wise child, two paths always lie open before a man, the path of Sreya or of good deeds, and the path of Preya or of pleasure. He who follows the former achieves the goal while he who follows the path of pleasure perishes. The wise always choose the right path. You have spurned the path of sensual pleasures and have chosen the path of the spirit that brings permanent good to you. Pleasures did not, could not tempt you. Ignorant fools who know not that there is the other world of immortal bliss, are caught again and again in my net. The wise, however, are few and they follow the other path. It is no doubt a subtle and difficult path. The knowledge of t is so rare. Rare also are those who inquire after it and it is only those who have realized it that can impart it to others. By intellect and logic alone this truth cannot be known. You have risen above every temptation and now you deserve to know the highest truth.
“The wise man attains this ancient knowledge of the immanence of the spirit that pervades all things by meditation on the inner self and he goes beyond joy and sorrow. The truth lies beyond the dualities of life like pleasures and pain, success and failure, beyond all relativity. The Vedas or the sacred books and the various penances aim at it. Great sadhakas try to attain it by the discipline of brahmacharya (celibate disciplines). The mystic symbol of that truth of truths is AUM.
“That Supreme Spirit is eternal; is not born and does not die. It is the pure and the immaculate Being. It is unborn and immortal and dies not at the passing away of the body. One who is desireless and one who has gone beyond sorrow can have a vision of this truth through his purified senses and mind.
“This Spirit cannot be known by teaching nor can it be grasped by the intellect, nor can it be acquired by vast learning. It is by the grace of the Spirit alone that one can be blessed with its knowledge though all these do help the process.
“One who has not abstained from bad deeds and one whose mind is not calm and composed cannot hope to know the truth.
“The human body is like a chariot and the soul is the charioteer. The senses are the horses and the sense-objects are the roads along which they travel. The wise people who know the truth say that the soul is the enjoyer through the senses and the mind. An unrestrained mind without understanding cannot control the senses which would then be like uncontrolled horses. A restrained mind with good understanding can control the senses like a good charioteer who keeps his horses well in hand. And unrestrained mind cannot concentrate and cannot keep itself pure; cannot attain the goal. One with an unrestrained mind is caught up in the cycle of birth and death. One with a controlled mind can attain a place whence there is not return.
“Few are they who look into themselves and try to find and realise the Atman or the Great Spirit. Since at the time of creation, the spirit went forth outward, the senses and the mind have a tendency to be engaged with the external world. He who looks into himself sees that the soul is the witness of both the dream state and the waking state. It is only through the power of the spirit that the senses can function. One who realises this goes beyond all sorrows.
“ It is the great Atman from whom the sun and the moon and all things take their birth. In that Atman do all find their final rest and fulfilment. This Atman is everywhere, here as well as in the other worlds. He is one and indivisible. He who sees more than the One here goes from death to death. One who realises unitary life integrally is saved and he becomes immortal.
“That alone is the real Atman who is awake in those who are sleeping, shaping things as he likes in dreams. That power resides in the pure consciousness which is Brahman (Supreme Spirit) and in that Brahman are all the worlds centred. Like fire that assumes innumerable shapes and forms according to the objects that it burns, the one Atman that is at the centre in the heart of all things appears differently in different objects. The sun who is like the eye of the universe is not affected by the impurities of the universe. So too the inner Atman stands unaffected by the sins and the sorrows of the world.
“He, the great Atman, the arch-controller, is the inner essence of all beings. It is he who shapes the One into many. Those wise and brave men who see him and realize him in their souls – it is their joy that is eternal and not that of others.
“He is the One eternal among the fleeting many, He is the life in the living. He is the one who fulfils the desires of many and all. Those wise men who see Him and realise Him in their inner selves- it is their joy that is eternal and not that of others.
“As we observe things, we see first the objects of our senses. But our senses are subtler than the objects as it is our senses that see those objects. But the primary elements are subtler than our senses since our senses are made of those primary elements. The mind is superior and subtler than the elements as it is the mind that perceives the elements. The power of understanding is superior to the mind as it has the power of discrimination. The soul is greater and subtler than the power of understanding as the soul is but a part and a fraction of that Great Soul. But the Unmanifest is greater and vaster than even the Great Soul that manifests. But Purusha, the Supreme Person, is far greater than the manifest and the unmanifest, as it is the synthesis of both and contains both integrally. There is nothing subtler, greater and superior to that Purusha, which is the final word in existence and being. That is the final goal of all.
“He pervades all beings secretly and is not manifestly seen. He can be perceived or felt only by subtler seers through their one-pointed power of understanding.
“There is a way by which we can approach that Purusha. The wise who want to have a vision of that great Reality should merge the powers of speech, etc. in the mind, that mind in the power of understanding, that power again into the great Soul, and that again into the infinitely peaceful Spirit.
“When the five senses and their power of perception along with the mind are stilled and when the power of understanding is held in suspense- that is the supreme condition of human consciousness. That is called the Yoga condition or perfect concentration and communion. That is the steady stilling of the senses and holding them there. Then the man is free from objective and fleeting ideas. Such a pure condition of consciousness cannot be realized by the powers of speech or by the power of sight or by the mind. It can be realized only through faith and by intuition, purified by long practice and strict discipline. When all desires have vanished from the mind and all doubts have been cleared, a man becomes immortal.
“That great immanence is speechless and touchless and formless and deathless. It can neither be tasted nor smelt. It has neither beginning nor end. It is smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest. It is the great truth, the greatest Reality and one who knows this goes beyond death.
“Arise, awake, approach the worthy ones and learn to realise the truth. Narrow is the path and difficult to tread, sharp like the edge of a razor. But success is sure to those who dare and do.”
This is the highest knowledge and the Yogic pathway to it, as taught by Yama to Nachiketa, the ideal seeker after truth.


[At whose desire does the mind function, who puts first the vital force into motion? This has been an eternal question. “The Brahman or the transcendent and immanent Spirit,” answers the Rishi (sage) the seer of the Kenopanishad. It is neither seen by the eye nor heard by the ear. Nor does the mind know it. The Spirit, on the other hand, is the seer of the eye, the hearer of the ear, and the knower of the mind. It is through the power of all this all-pervasive Spirit that everything else functions. It is beyond the reach of the senses and can only be felt like a mighty presence through intuition. It is that Spirit which is real God and not the many gods that people worship.
This is the teaching of the Kenopanishad and has been embodied in the allegory of Uma, the goddess of spiritual wisdom.]
It was the question hour. One evening while the sun hung in the west and shadow chased shadow in a race to envelope the world with darkness, a Rishi was sitting under a tree in his ashrama with a group of young disciples around him. Everything there was simple and chaste as behoved the dwelling of the saint, known for his life of contemplation and good work. The evening prayers were just over and the youths came out with their questions.
Man is by nature inquisitive. He is never satisfied by that which is apparent to him. He wants to probe into the unknown and the beyond. Is this all? Is there nothing behind the visible body and the invisible mind? Thus the questioning mind goes on and on digging deeper into the realm of consciousness till curtain after curtain lifts and he has a vision of the ultimate reality or Brahman.
“At whose behest does the mind run towards its objects? Who bids first the vital powers to act? And at whose desire does the eye, the ear, and the power of speech function?”
This was a pretty formidable array of questions. The Rishi of the Kenopanishad said calmly, “The power that inspires all these is One and indivisible. It is behind and beyond all that functions visibly. It hears the ear, sees the eye, and knows the mind. Neither our senses nor the mind fully grasp the Reality. They all move and act through the power that pervades all existence. That fountainhead of all energy is the real God and what people worship as so many gods are but mere reflections. He who knows and realises this truth enjoys immortality. Here and now in this life is the opportunity to know this great truth, otherwise a great chance is lost for ever.”
“Who then is so fortunate as to realise this truth that you speak of and extol? And how to know that one is in possession of this truth of truths?” was the next question.
“Well spoken,” said the Rishi. “Not he who says ‘I know’ knows it. He knows little. But the humble seeker who begins by saying ‘I know not’ knows the truth in the course of time. It gradually illumines his mind like the rising sun. When once realised, the Spirit is ever present to him through all the four states of his consciousness. His soul grows from strength to strength and his realisation of the immaculate presence blesses him with immortal life.”
The sage then looked at the faces of some of his disciples and could see that they had not grasped the full significance of what he said. So he narrated an allegory to illustrate his teaching that evening.
“My young friends,” he began, “you have heard of the conflict between the gods and the demons. Once upon a time the gods won in a certain battle against the demons. It was through the good offices of Brahma (the Creator). But due to ignorance they appropriated the credit to themselves, and became proud and elated. They thought, ‘Verily this victory is ours and this glory too.’
“Brahma came to know of this. He thought of teaching them a lesson and of making them realise their limitations. When they were in the midst of their rejoicings, he suddenly appeared in their presence. But how could they know him, blinded as they were by egoism and by empty vanity? They saw that some wonderful being was before them but they could not recognize it. They then thought seriously of knowing it by some means. They deputed Agni, the lord of Fire, also known as the omniscient one, to investigate into the matter.
“Agni approached the strange being. Brahma queried, ‘Who are thou?’
‘Why I am the famous Agni, otherwise known as the all-knowing one.’
‘If such is your name and fame, may I know what power you possess?’
‘Well I can burn all that is on the face of this earth and in the sky and everything that is in the seven worlds.’
“Brahma put before him a dry blade of grass and said, ‘Bravo, mighty one, burn this blade of grass and oblige.’
“Agni tried with all his might to burn it up. But he could not even singe it! He felt ashamed and went back to the gods and confessed his inability to know as to who the strange being was.
“Vayu the wind-god was next requested to go and find out who it was that had defied the attempts of Agni. Vayu went with great confidence and thought that he would succeed.
“When he approached Brahma, he was asked, ‘Who are thou?’
‘I am well known as the god of winds. I am also known as the god that sweeps through the vast skies!’
‘What power characterizes you?’ was the next question by Brahma.
‘I can take away all that fills the earth by a mighty sweep,’ said Vayu.
‘Here you are.’ So saying Brahma laid before him a piece of straw and asked him to blow it off.
“Vayu tried his best but could not move it by even a hair’s breadth. He too retired and informed his colleagues that it was beyond him to know the strange person.
“The gods then appealed to Indra, their king. ‘Oh wealthy one, see if you can comprehend this unique person that has defied two of us.’
“Indra, the powerful lord of the gods, agreed. He approached the Being but before he could contact him, Brahma had disappeared and in the self-same place stood a charming woman. It was Uma, the goddess of spiritual knowledge, lavishly laden with gold.
“Indra made bold to ask of her, ‘Who was that awe-inspiring person who stood there long in the same place as you stand now?’
“Uma said, ‘Know ye, little minds, that it was Brahma. It was he who won the victory for you, the victory over the demons. Take pride in him who won you victory.’
“When Indra realized that it was Brahma that had appeared to them, he went to his friends and told them the truth. They all realized their folly and gloried in the knowledge of the Supreme Spirit.
“Like a flash of lightning across the clouded skies, in the twinkling of an eye, the vision of Brahma illumines our consciousness. Just as the mind rushes to its favourite objects and remembers them again and again, we must run after and catch the fleeting glimpses of Reality and contemplate upon them. That Reality alone is really adorable in the world. For, the Supreme God, Brahma and the ultimate Reality are the same.”
Rounding off, the sage said, “This is the knowledge of Brahman, the transcendental and immanent reality. Truth is the very body and abode of Brahman. All knowledge is its limb; penance, self-control and good work its support.”
Pleased with their guru’s way of teaching, and beaming with joy, the disciples dispersed to their respective resting places to reflect on what they had learnt

The Four Varnas
Brahadaranyaka  Upanishad

[The fourfold division of Hindu society into Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra seems to be quite ancient. The Rg Veda mentions the division and says that these emerged from the different parts of the body of the Virata Purusha or the primeval mighty being. It is clear that originally the division was functional and not hereditary. Here is an explanation of that system given in an allegorical manner. It is said here that society is complete and perfect on account of the existence of all these four divisions but much more so on account of the law which binds all and which all ought to obey.]
The Creator Prajapati first created the god Brahma. He represented Intelligence. But the Creator was not satisfied with that only. He felt that he should create other gods also if creation were to be a complete manifestation of the various powers in him. He created the Kshatriya gods, Indra, Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parjanya, Yama and others. They were the embodiments of power, valour, brilliance, fearlessness, the tendency to govern, and such other qualities.
But the Creator was not satisfied even with these new gods. He saw that there was still something wanting in creation. So he created the Vaisya gods, the eight Vasus, Aditya, the Maruts and so on.
But then he saw that the society of gods he wanted to evolve was not yet complete. So he added Pusan to the creation. He represents the Sudra principle, namely, manual labour and service.
Even this did not satisfy the Creator. He therefore created Dharma or the Law that binds all, that keeps all in their own places and strengthens all who act according to it. Those who do not follow the Law fall away, however strong they might be. Those who follow the law are stronger than the strongest because they adhere to the law. He who speaks the law speaks the truth. He, who speaks the truth, speaks the law. Truth and the Law are one.
Corresponding to this creation of his in the heavens, Prajapati created human society also on the same pattern and laid down the law for all the four Varnas. The law lays down the functions of the four pillars of the social system. Those who follow the law and perform their functions accordingly have nothing to fear. They are stronger than the strongest and they are bound to be happier than the happiest.
Intelligence, sacrifice, disinterested service are the characteristics of the Brahmins. Valour, chivalry, forgiveness, ability to rule are the characteristics of the Kshatriyas. Trade, co-operation, agriculture and distribution of material wealth are the characteristics of the Vaisyas. Ungrudging manual labour and service are the characteristics of the Sudras.
To choose our functions according to our powers and to attune our powers to the functions that we take up, is the only way to follow the Law and maintain social harmony.

Para and Apara vidya
(pronounced paraa and aparaa vidyaa)
Chandogya Upanishad

[There are two categories of knowledge, declares the Rishi of Mundaka Upanishad- knowledge of the world and knowledge of the inner world, material knowledge (apara vidya) and spiritual knowledge (para vidya). The same thing has again been taken up in the Chandogya Upanishad by sage Narada Muni and Sanatkumara. In fact both ought to be acquired and both are equally important. Nor are they mutually exclusive. One is incomplete without the other. This has been very strongly emphasized by the Isa Upanishad.]
“The higher (para) and the lower knowledge (apara), or the knowledge of the spirit and the knowledge of matter, both ought to be acquired, so say those who know Brahman (Supreme Spirit),” declared the sage Angirasa to Saunaka when the latter approached him as a disciple.
All the Vedas, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, astrology and all such knowledge falls in the category of apara or lower learning. That knowledge by which Brahman (Supreme Soul) is known, that by which, the unseen and the unknown, the one eternal all-pervasive Being is known, is the para or higher learning.
Narada once approached the sage Sanatkumara and requested him to show the path of knowledge. Sanatkumara said, “Let me first know what you have already learnt. I shall then teach you something further than that.”
Narada then said, “Sir, I have learnt the Rg-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, history and traditional stories which are together called the fifth Veda, the method of remembering and repeating the Vedas, the technique of Shraddha ceremony, grammar, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, science of augury, jugglery, logic, ethics, information about different gods who represent different forces or powers, science of animals, science of war, and so on. But, Sir, I feel that I merely know the Mantras or potent words but I do not know the Atman or the soul or the spirit of things. I have heard from men like you that he who knows the Atman goes beyond all sorrow. Sir, I am full of sorrow and grief and remorse. I hope and believe that you will be able to lead me out of all these by favouring me with real knowledge.”
“Dear Narada, all that you have known is but mere name and verbiage, mere words. You can by your present knowledge achieve only what words can achieve and nothing more.”
“What is it that is greater than name and words? Please teach me that,” said Narada.
“Yes, the power of speech is greater than words. If there had been no power of speech there would have been no words, no Vedas, no truth or untruth, no religion or irreligion, no good or bad.”
“Is there anything still greater than the power of speech?” queried Narada
“Certainly. Mind is greater. It is the mind that is conscious of both the word and the power of speech. When a man decided that he should learn the Mantras, he learns them. Otherwise not. When he thinks he ought to do a thing, he does it, not otherwise.
“Is there anything greater than the mind?”
“Why not? The will is greater than the mind. If there is no will, nothing happens. It is the will that holds all things together.”
“What is greater than the will?”
“Consciousness is greater than the will. It is consciousness that begets mental activity. Then there is the will that impels the mind to think. Speech follows and words take shape. If a man’s consciousness is not concentrated, he is not alert and he cannot do things.”
“Dear Sir, is there anything that is greater than consciousness?”
“Of course, there is. Meditation is greater than mere consciousness. Even the earth and the sky and the mountains are, as it were, meditating and therefore standing firm and steady. If there were no meditation, nothing would stand firm and steady.”
“Please tell me if there is something which is greater than meditation.”
“Yes, the power of understanding is greater than meditation. Good and bad, truth and untruth, the Vedas and Puranas, this world and the next, all these can be known only if there is the power of understanding.”
“Is there anything still greater than understanding?”
“Yes, dear friend. Power is greater than mere understanding. A single powerful man inspires fear into a hundred men with brains and understanding. When a man with physical power gets up and goes about, when he becomes learned, when he becomes a seer, a thinker, a doer of things, becomes a man of understanding, he is greater than all. It is power that supports the earth, the sky, the mountains, the beasts and men and gods and everything that exists on earth or in heaven.”
“Is there anything that is greater than physical power?”
“Yes, food is greater. If a man does not eat ten days he may die, or even if he lives, he may lose his powers of speech, of action, of hearing, and of thinking. When he begins to take food his powers return to him.”
“Is there anything greater than food?”
“Yes, water is greater. If there are no rains then no food grows. For want of water all living beings would fade away. When there are rains all animals are quite happy.”
“What is greater than water?”
“Heat or light is greater. If there were no heat, the water from the earth would not evaporate and there would be no rain without evaporation.”
“What is greater than heat?”
“Akasha or space is greater. It is in akasha or space that all things happen. The sun and the moon and the worlds float about in space. Space is the cause of sound waves that makes hearing possible.”
“What is greater than space?”
“Well, there is the Atman, the spirit. That is the substratum of everything else.”
“Man is always impelled to do things on account of the joy or the pleasure that he gets out of the things that he does. No one acts or does anything unless by some kind of pleasure or joy. And joy consists in abundance, not in want. It is infinity and not limitation that can give joy. That infinity can be realized only by living a unitary life and not by living a life impeded by a sense of separation or isolation or limitation.
When a man sees not anything but One, hears not and knows not anything but the one Atman, he is experiencing infinity. When a man only sees and knows merely things other than the Atman, it is misery and sorrow that follow. The abundant and the infinite are immortal while things limited are mortal. The spirit lives by its own power and exists by its own support and greatness. Those who have realized the spirit are great on account of self-possession and not on account of the possession of houses and cows, servants and lands.
“The spirit pervades the four quarters. It is up above as well as down below. It is called the Atman. He who knows this Atman is absorbed in it. He sports with it, he enjoys its company as that of a mate. He is full of joy. He is his own monarch and fully self-possessed and self-controlled.
“This realization of the spirit can dawn upon us when our mind is clean and pure. Our minds would be clean and pure when we feed upon pure food. A clean and pure mind alone can concentrate upon truth. Truth then will shine in the heart of hearts like the rising sun.”
That is para vidya or spiritual realization that bestows immortality and eternal bliss.

The Message of the Guru  
Taittiriya Upanishad

[The span of ashrama life for students was usually twelve years. The students lived with their preceptors and served them and the ashrama during that period. They learnt the Vedas, maintained the sacrificial fire and studied whatever the guru taught them. Below is given a model message from a guru to a departing disciple at the end of the period. This might be said to be a ‘Convocation Address’ if we liken the ashramas of old to the ‘residential universities’ of today. This occurs in the Taittiriya Upanishad.]
Young boys eight or more entered the ashramas and were entrusted to the care of the guru or the preceptor. They spent twelve long years in study and sport, in service and sadhana or spiritual discipline. They were called brahmacharis, that is, those who adopt a particular discipline in order to know Brahman. Brahmacharya is not mere continence, but a whole code of disciplined conduct which aims at the conservation, development and concentration of physical, mental and moral energy, in order to attain the highest spiritual goal.
The twelve strenuous years thus spent by the youngsters in the very home of the guru in close association with him, built up very affectionate relations between them. The gurus were expected to take almost parental interest in their charges, while the disciples were to render filial obedience to the gurus.
Let us imagine in one such ashrama, a day dawns when a disciple or a group of them is about to depart and plunge into the wide world. He is leaving the charmed circle of the ashrama to battle with the currents and cross-currents of life. He is to transfer himself from the cloister to the market place. He is now to test in the world of experience what he has learnt within the precincts of the academy. He is to cut off his moorings in the sheltered bay and launch the boat of his life into the open sea. Fears and thrills of anticipated adventures fill the young man as he contemplates the prospect before him. The guru too feels the wrench and his heart is full of emotion. He has some anxiety about the future of his young disciple. But the separation is inevitable- it has to come one day. In fact, by that separation alone can the future development of his student be ensured.
Such are the mixed feelings that surge in the heart when the Vedic guru gives the parting message to the brahmachari after his study of the Vedas is over.
“My dear child, your study of the Vedas is over. Now go forth into the wide world.
“Speak the truth and practise the Dharma or the Law. Never fail nor falter in the study of that part of the Veda that has been assigned to you. Study more but never less than thy portion.
“Give to your preceptor such wealth and such things as are dear to him. Never allow your line of life to lapse. Behind you, you must leave children.
“Never falter from the truth nor from the Law (Dharma). Never stint nor make mistakes in doing good. Never neglect to do that which would lead to prosperity.
“Do not give up your studies and do not stop teaching.
“You ought not to omit to do your duties towards your gods and ancestors; commit no mistakes in performing them.
“Revere your mother and your father as much as you revere god. Let your guru (preceptor) be looked upon as god. Let your guest get the same respect as is due to god.
“Be thou faultless and pure in thought and action. Only such of your qualities and actions as are clearly good should be cherished by you, and not others. Such knowers of Brahman as are greater than ourselves ought to be highly respected by you.
“Whilst giving, give with faith; never without it. Give richly. Give with humility. Give with fear, lest you give too little. Give with feeling and with full knowledge.
“At times you may be in doubt about the wisdom of a certain course of action. At such a time you should act in a manner in which thoughtful and virtuous knowers of Brahman who are desirous of following the Law, do act.
“So also, as regards your conduct towards men of ill fame; it should be like that of a thoughtful, virtuous knowers of Brahman who follow the Law.
“This is the message. This is the advice. This is the knowledge. This is the command. Thus should you live and act in life.”

The Five Sheaths  
Taittiriya Upanishad

[The spirit is, as it were, encased in five sheaths (koshas), one within the other. We first come across the gross material sheath, and then go deeper to more subtle sheaths, the last being the sheath of joy or bliss. This teaching occurs in the Taittiriya Upanishad and forms the subject of a conversation between Varuna and his son.]
Bhrgu was the son of Varuna. He once approached his father and said: “Father, impart to me the spiritual knowledge you possess.”
The father said,  "Matter, vital airs, eyes, ears, mind, and speech are the things that you daily come across. You must now know that Reality from which all these things issue and live, towards which all these move and in which they finally merge. That is the Brahman. You can know him by tapas or concentration and meditation.”
The son obeyed the father and after some meditation came to the conclusion that gross matter itself is the Brahman. He went and told his father so. But the father was not at all satisfied with his son’s findings and he exhorted him to go again and perform more tapas. “Meditation alone will give you real insight,” said the father.
Then the son went away and began to meditate further.
Next he realized that Prana or the vital power was Brahman and that it was out of Prana that things took their birth and into Prana they finally merged. Prana indeed is the life giving principle.
But that too was not a satisfactory conclusion. His father asked him to go into meditation again. He then found that the mind or the psychic plane was the thing from which all manifestation emerged and merged again into it at the end. It was subtler than gross matter and prana and could pervade both of them.
He reported this experience to his father. But the father sent him back again with the old advice to perform more tapas.
Bhrgu again meditated and found that the power of understanding (vijnana) was the thing from which all things issued and towards which all things moved. But the father was not satisfied and repeated his advice to his son.
The son again meditated and finally came to the conclusion that bliss or pure joy was Brahman (Supreme Spirit)- the source and the goal of all creation. All the beings are verily born in bliss, they exist by the power of bliss, and they all move towards bliss and into bliss they all merge in the end.
When Bhrgu told his father about this conclusion of his, he was overjoyed and said, “Dear child, this indeed is the highest term of existence. All these five sheaths are there, one more subtle than the other, but the finest and the subtlest is bliss eternal. These are not mutually exclusive. They are inter-penetrating. But the basis of all is bliss, the bliss of Brahman, pure spiritual happiness. He who knows this and realizes it goes beyond all sorrow and death.”
This is known as the Bhargavi Varuni Vidya.

The Five Sheaths summarised

The structure of man can be divided into five material layers enveloping Atman (indwelling soul). Atman is the core of your personality. It is represented by the mystic symbol of AUM (pronounced OM). The five layers of matter are like five concentric circles around the symbol. They are called sheaths or KOSAS in Sanskrit. The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are:
  1. Food sheath (Anna-maya kosa)
  2. Vital-Air sheath (Prana-maya kosa)
  3. Mental sheath (Mana-maya kosa)/li>
  4. Intellectual sheath (Vignana-maya kosa)
  5. Bliss sheath (Ananda-maya kosa)

The Bliss of Brahman
Taittiriya Upanishad

[In the Taittiriya Upanishad there is a small chapter named ‘Brahmananda Valli’ that speaks about highest spiritual bliss. There is a discussion about it and various kinds of joy or bliss are graded. It is interesting to note the grading.]
“Who could have been able to breathe and who could have been able to live if this infinite void or space had not been full of joy or bliss?” Thus does a sage ask us. This is a fine poser.
When a man realizes the one indivisible Atman (soul), he attains a fearless state of mind. He enjoys bliss. So long as he sees and perceives two separate forces in this world, so long as he perceives duality, he harbours fear in his mind. The perception of duality is the root of fear. It is that fear which haunts the steps of the ignorant and the unthinking.
The Atman is all-powerful. It is the power of the Atman that keeps the sun, the moon and the stars in their proper track. The winds and the rains too obey Him. But when once a man realizes that the Atman pervades everywhere and is also at the centre of his own existence, he sheds all fear and enjoys bliss. That unmixed bliss falls to the lot of only those who are learned in the Vedas, in the books of wisdom, and are not cursed and fettered by personal desires.
Let us suppose that there is a strong, well-built, virtuous young man. If he is a man, firm of mind and full of ambition and if he becomes the owner of this world, he enjoys full happiness. That may be counted as one unit of full human happiness. But hundredfold is the happiness of Gandharvas in heaven. A thousand-fold of that happiness again is the happiness of the gods. A thousand-fold of the happiness of the gods is the happiness of Indra who is lord of the gods. Then again hundredfold of that happiness is the happiness of Brhaspati. Hundredfold of that happiness is the happiness of Prajapati and again hundredfold of that is the happiness of Brahman, the Highest Being.
And that man learned in the Vedas and in the books of wisdom, and unsullied and unfettered by personal desires enjoys the happiness that Brahman enjoys! But, in comparison,  what is the measure of that infinite spiritual bliss?
He who knows this and he who knows the bliss of Brahman lives a life which is beyond all fear and he enjoys immortal life.

panishadic Teaching  
Isha Upanishad

[In a sense the Isha Upanishad is the essence of all Upanishadic teachings so far as practical life is concerned. It is an integral gospel. The Isha is comparatively a very short Upanishad, but every word of it is pregnant with meaning. It gives us the knowledge of Brahman (Highest Being) and advises us to cultivate a healthy and vigorous attitude towards life and its problems. It synthesizes the material as well as the spiritual aspect of life. It does not want us to neglect either since matter is spirit in manifestation. It emphasizes that true knowledge consists in the right understanding of both as also their correct relation.]
“Whatever is and moves and has its being in this vast and infinite universe is the abode of the Lord; it is the body of the Highest Spirit.” Thus opens the Isha Upanishad.
“Therefore enjoy only those things and only as much of them as is given to you by the Lord. Enjoy, but in a spirit of detachment and not of attachment. Covet not what belongs to others.” Says the sage.
“All idleness and inactivity, all tendency to escape from realities are once for all condemned. A man ought to be ambitious of living full one hundred years and of filling those years with incessant and proper activity. In this material world of ours, there is no other way out for us. If we live and act properly and disinterestedly (in a spirit of detachment, dedicating all actions to the Lord. See Bhagavad Gita Ch. 3, Shloka 9), no action can bind us down. If we adopt this attitude and act, we shall be free from the bondage of Karma or action.
“But Karma or action is not all. We must have knowledge also. We must know the truth, the Atman, the Brahman which is at the root of all that is visible and invisible. If we fail to know and realise the Atman in this life, we practically waste away a fine and splendid opportunity and the dark worlds await us after our death.
“That Atman, that Spirit is unmoving; but since it is immanent, it can be said to be faster than even the mind. Even the gods could not reach or catch it. It is all-pervasive and it is here and there already, before anybody else. It is in the inside and outside of all things.
“He who realizes that all things are in the Atman and that Atman is in all things, sheds all fear and loves all things as he loves himself. There is a step even beyond this stage. When a wise man sees nothing but the Atman in every thing and everywhere, when he realizes the unitary life, neither illusion nor misery can mislead or mar his life.
“That Atman which is body-less and without any blemish whatsoever, that Atman which is pure and spotless and sinless, that which pervades everything, manifests itself in the form of this mighty universe and lays down the Law once and forever.
“Here are two worlds before us, the material and the spiritual. The material rests on the spiritual and takes its birth from it. The knowledge of both is essential for success in life and for immortality after death. Synthetic and integral knowledge of this as well as of the other world, of matter as well of spirit, and of their correct and real relation is essential if we are to live a complete and perfect life and depart hence for the eternal home of the Spirit.
“Spiritual truth is often obscured by the glamorous material world of the senses. We are often overwhelmed by the latter and led astray. But we must pray to God to discover for us the truth behind the world of senses and lead us to the life of the spirit. The sun god is the symbol of spiritual light and illumination. The truth that shines in him and in us is the same. That is the One Spirit.
“This body falls away at death and the spirit is led to its eternal home when freed from the bondage of desire.”
This in brief is the teaching of the Isha Upanishad.

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to  Brahmasri Sreeman  R R Diwakar ji  for the collection)


Post a Comment