kaThopaniShad Series Part – 11
Part 11 –
Mantra 4 –
दूरं एते विपरीते विषूची
अविद्या या च विद्या इति ज्ञाता ।
विद्याभीप्सिनं नचिकेतसं मन्ये
न त्वा कामा बहवोऽलोलुपन्त ॥
दूरं far एते these two विपरीते distinctly removed विषूची leading to divergent goals अविद्या ignorance या that च and विद्या knowledge इति ज्ञाता are known. विद्याभीप्सिनं aspirant of knowledge नचिकेतसं Nachiketa मन्ये I consider न never त्वा you कामा attractions बहवो many अलोलुपन्त tempt.
Wide apart and leading to different ends are these two: ignorance and what is known as Knowledge. I regard you, O Nachiketa, to be one who desires Knowledge; for even many pleasures could not tempt you away.
It is possible to classify the goals that attract man and the means thereof widely into two distinct ones that are pronouncedly contradictory being far removed from each other. They are like light and darkness as they are characterized by discrimination and non-discrimination. They are divergent destination-wise as well as means-wise. They result in continued worldly existence or complete emancipation, mokSha. yama names these as: that which is well known by the wise as ignorance, avidyA, which has for its goal the accumulation of the pleasurable things in life. The other one is equally determined by the wise as vidyA, knowledge, which is concerned with the preferable. Of these two goals yama considers nachiketa to be completely oriented to the latter, vidyA. How does yama conclude thus? It is by seeing nachiketa remaining unmoved by the various temptations that were offered. ‘It is the nature of the worldly objects and objectives to deflect the intellect’ Sri Krishna says in the bhagavad gItA (3).
इन्द्रियाणि मनो बुद्धिरस्याधिष्ठानमुच्यते ।
तयोर्न वशमागच्छेत् तौ ह्यस्य परिपन्थिनौ ॥
indriyANi mano buddhirasya adhiShThAnam uchyate
tayoH na vasham Agacchet tau hi asya paripanthinau
The sense organs, the mind and the intellect are the areas where desire actively operates. One should, by careful discrimination, stay clear of desire. It is the characteristic of a cultivated mind to remain like a rock in the face of the sway of the sense objects.
The mettle of the man of firm discrimination is cognizable from the craving he has for that which is beyond all sensory operations. And that is Knowledge. This zest for knowing the Beyond, the Immanent, nachiketa displayed in admirable measure and Yama was delighted to recognize this.
Mantra 5 –
अविद्यायां अन्तरे वर्तमानाः
स्वयं धीराः मण्डितं मन्यमानाः ।
दंद्रम्यमाणाः परियन्ति मूढाः
अन्धेन एव नीयमानाः यथा अन्धाः ॥
अविद्यायां अन्तरे in the midst of ignorance वर्तमानाः existing स्वयं themselves धीराः intelligent पण्डितं enlightened मन्यमानाः considering दंद्रम्यमाणाः go round and round परियन्ति following crooked paths मूढाः senseless ones अन्धेन एव blind ones नीयमानाः being lead by यथा just as अन्धाः blind ones.
Fools dwelling in darkness, but thinking themselves wise and erudite, go round and round, by various tortuous paths, like the blind led by the blind.
What is the lot of those wedded to the joys of the world? It is the large arena of ignorance that forms their platform. As though in the midst of thick darkness they are entangled in countless fetters forged by the craving for offspring, cattle, etc. What is their thinking even when being so bound? They think ‘We are intelligent indeed and versed in scriptural knowledge.’ They are so senseless that they are not aware in the least about the stark ignorance that has enveloped them. They go round and round experiencing the various crooked paths marked by old age, death, disease, etc.
Shankaracharya in the bhaja govindam expresses this situation thus:
पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननीजठरे शयनम् (being born again and dead again only to be born again by having to stay in the mother’s womb).
Sri Vidyaranya captures the situation graphically in his pa~nchadashI:
कुर्वते कर्म भोगाय कर्म कर्तुं च भुञ्जते ।
नद्यां कीट इव आवर्तादावर्तान्तरं आशु ते ।
व्रजन्तो जन्मनो जन्म लभन्ते नैव निर्वृतिम् ॥ १.३०
kurvate karma bhogAya, karma kartum cha bhunjate |
nadyAam kITa iva AvarAad-AvartAntaram Ashu te |
vrajanto janmano janma labhante naiva nirvRtim || (I.30)
[The deluded engage in hard labor with a view to enjoy later. And they enjoy the fruits of their labor only to engage in further labor. Like a worm caught in an eddy of a river is thrown from one eddy to another, these deluded men go from one birth to another, never experiencing true respite.]
Now, the upaniShad gives a simile to the ways of the ignorant: There are many blind people who look upon a leader who is himself blind. The plight of such people can easily be imagined. The leader himself lacks discriminative ability and the ones being led by him also lack this ability. They see others taking to instinctive behavior and are urged to follow them by their own instincts. The higher goal of seeking the preferable is beyond their reach. As a result of such blind following, they end up experiencing painful events in life. Being bound to the petty goals of the world they deny themselves the higher goals of the other worlds.
Mantra 6 –
न साम्परायः प्रतिभाति बालं
प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम् ।
अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी
पुनः पुनः वशं आपद्यते मे ॥
न never साम्परायः the other world प्रतिभाति is revealed बालं the ignorant प्रमाद्यन्तं who blunders वित्तमोहेन lured by wealth मूढम् befooled. अयं this लोको world alone नास्ति not पर the other world इति thus मानी thinking पुनः again and पुनः again वशं sway आपद्यते attains मे Mine
The Hereafter never reveals itself to a person devoid of discrimination, heedless and perplexed by the delusion of wealth. ‘This world alone exists,’ he thinks, ‘and there is no other.’ Again and again he comes under my sway.
The word ‘samparAyaH’ in the above mantra means ‘the other world’ attainable after the fall of this body. ‘sAmparAyaH’ is the means of attaining that other world. All believers know, from the words of the scripture, that the present world is only a temporary one where they stay for a while and go to one or the other world. This possibility granted, a wise one would put effort to go to any higher world; higher in the sense of better bodily means, and better enjoyments. However, in order to aspire and work for the higher worlds one has to have a certain kind of dispassion for the joys of this world. The mantra says that those engrossed in this world itself tied down by their attachment to wealth, children, cattle, etc. will not rise to the level of aspiring for the higher worlds. Such a one is called a ‘child’, one who lacks maturity for higher things. They think ‘this world alone, that abounds with women, food, drink, etc. exists and not any other world that is beyond the ken of the sense organs.’ As a result of this infatuation for this world they come back to enjoy the attractions here. yama says that these people keep coming under his sway. Death and repeated birth become their lot. In between a birth and death grief is what is guaranteed to them.
yama says all this to show that nachiketa is markedly different from this lot. Having set the goal of self-realization nachiketa is set to go out of this circle of birth and death.
Mantra 7 –
श्रवणायाः अपि बहुभिः यः न लभ्य:
शृण्वन्तः अपि बहवः यं न विद्युः
आश्चर्यः वक्ता कुशलः अस्य लब्धा
आश्चर्यः ज्ञाता कुशलानुशिष्टः ॥
श्रवणायाः for the hearing अपि even बहुभिः for many यः that which न is not लभ्य: available. शृण्वन्तः अपि even while hearing/learning बहवः many यं which न do not विद्युः understand. आश्चर्यः wonderful वक्ता the expounder कुशलः proficient अस्य लब्धा who receives this teaching आश्चर्यः wonderful ज्ञाता is the knower कुशलानुशिष्टः being taught by an adept.
Many there are who do not even hear of Atman; though hearing of Him, many do not comprehend. Wonderful is the expounder and rare the hearer; rare indeed is the experiencer of Atman taught by an able preceptor.
Self-knowledge is hailed as the highest vidyA, Knowledge. The supreme status accorded to AtmavidyA is due to the fact that it is the most difficult to teach, learn and assimilate. This triad of challenges makes the expounding and receiving vidyA a unique one. That is the reason that the upaniShads specify very high standards for the AchArya, the preceptor and the shiShya, the aspirant. The muNDakopaniShat says about the aspirant:
परीक्ष्य लोकान् कर्मचितान् ब्राह्मणो निर्वेदमायात् नास्त्यकृतः कृतेन । तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत् समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्ठम् ॥ (1.2.12)
parIkShya lokAn karmachitAn brAhmaNo nirvedamAyAt nAstyakRRitaH kRRitena. Tadvi~jnAnArtham sa gurumevAbhigacChet samitpANiH shortriyam brahmaiShTham.
[Let a brahmin, after having examined all these worlds that are gained by works, acquire freedom from desires: nothing that is eternal can be produced by what is not eternal. In order that he may understand that Eternal, let him, fuel in hand, approach a guru who is well versed in the veda-s and established in brahman.]
तस्मै स विद्वानुपसन्नाय सम्यक्. प्रशान्तचित्ताय शमान्विताय । येनाक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम् ॥ (1.2.13)
tasmai sa vidvAn upasannAya samyak prashAntachittAya shamAnvitAya. yenAkSharam puruShaM veda satyaM provAcha tAM tattvato brahmavidyAM.
[13. To that pupil who has duly approached him, whose mind is completely serene and whose senses are controlled, the wise teacher should indeed rightly impart the Knowledge of Brahman, through which one knows the immutable and the true puruSha.]