kaThopaniShad Series Part – 15
Part 15 –
Having tested the aspirant Nachiketa, Yama, the AchArya, commences the teaching of the Self after having heard the first specific question coming from the former:
सर्वे वेदा यत्पदं आमनन्ति
तपांसि सर्वाणि च यद्वदन्ति ।
यत् इच्छन्तो ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति
तत् ते पदं संग्रहेण ब्रवीमि ओं इति एतत् ॥ १५
सर्वे वेदा all the veda-s यत्पदं आमनन्ति in one voice proclaim that goal तपांसि सर्वाणि all austerities च यद्वदन्ति speak of यत् इच्छन्तो desiring that which ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति aspirants practice brahmacharya तत् that ते to you पदं goal संग्रहेण briefly ब्रवीमि shall I state ओं इत्येतत् it is Om.
Yama said: The goal which all the veda-s declare, which all austerities aim at and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is Om.
The Goal that is the one sought after by the highest aspirants who have turned away from all the other attainable goals that are only ephemeral, all the veda-s proclaim without any contradiction. And that is one’s own state of being ever liberated. Of course, the veda-s do speak about other goals too but this ultimate goal is the final purport of all the veda-s. It is called ‘samanvayaH’ which forms the subject matter of the fourth brahma sUtra: ‘tat tu samanvayAt’ (22.214.171.124) which means [‘But that brahman (is known from the upaniShad-s), (it) being the object of their fullest import.’]. Shankara says there: ‘samanvayAt, because of being the object of their fullest import; for in all the upaniShad-s the texts become fully reconciled when they are accepted as establishing this very fact in their fullest import.’
All austerities consisting of the taming of the mind, the conditioning of the body and the instruments of knowledge and action, are aimed at attaining that Goal of Self knowledge and through it, liberation. The need for austerities arises as without the proper cultivating of the body-mind apparatus the extremely subtle Truth in the form of Self-knowledge is impossible to attain. It is like using a crowbar to stitch a soft cloth when one attempts to gain the knowledge of the Self with a gross apparatus of the body-mind complex.
There arises a need to conduct oneself with a firm commitment in the pursuit of Self knowledge. This conduct goes by the generic name ‘brahmacharyam’. This term is often translatable as ‘celibacy’. However it can also take the meaning of ‘all conduct that is conducive to gain Self knowledge.’ It can involve approaching and serving a Guru with utmost sincerity and devotion. An attentive mental set up to receive the teaching and put it into daily life constitutes another dimension of brahmacharyam. Engaging in deep enquiry, applying logic that is scripture-unfriendly is again brahmacharyam. Yama puts all these together to say that the Goal, the Self-knowledge that is about to be expounded in the sequel is intimately connected with these.
Having said that, Yama puts the concept of the Supreme in an encapsulated form: ‘Om’. This syllable is extremely pregnant with meaning and forms the subject of a detailed discourse.
Mantra 16 –
एतद् हि एव अक्षरं ब्रह्म एतद् हि एव अक्षरं परम् ।
एतद् हि एव अक्षरं ज्ञात्वा यः यत् इच्छति तस्य तत् ॥ १६ ॥
एतद् हि एव This alone indeed अक्षरं is the (inferior) ब्रह्म brahman एतद् हि एव This alone indeed अक्षरं परम् is the Supreme brahman. एतद् हि एव This alone indeed अक्षरं the letter, symbol, ज्ञात्वा having meditated upon यः he यत् इच्छति desiring which तस्य तत् his is that ॥ १६ ॥
This syllable Om is indeed brahman. This syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires.
vedAnta recognizes that the great power enshrined in man, the mind, is capable of achieving whatever one desires. What is needed is a proper resolve to attain something that is determined after an intelligent deliberation. When such a deliberation is followed by a concerted effort to engage in the attaining the thing desired, the unlimited power of the mind gets tapped and the natural result of attaining the desired goal transpires. It is said that one becomes what one desires. In this mantra Yama says that by meditating on the symbol ‘Om’ one can attain the goal of the world or the goal of the spirit, as dictated by one’s resolve. The man of the world aiming at even greater worldly attainments exercises the mind to attain that. On the other hand, the man aiming at the transcending of the world directs the great powers of the mind through the meditation on the ‘Om’ symbol and realizes the Self and through that, liberation. The mANDUkya and the mUNDAka upaniShad-s give some very useful information and teaching regarding the ‘Om’ meditations. One can see there the use of this ‘Om’ in enabling one to grow to great heights in worldly accomplishments as well as attaining the heights of spirituality, liberation.
Mantra 17 –
एतत् आलम्बनं श्रेष्ठम् एतत् आलम्बनं परम् ।
एतत् आलम्बनं ज्ञात्वा ब्रह्मलोके महीयते ॥ १७
एतत् This आलम्बनं medium श्रेष्ठम् is the best एतत् this आलम्बनं medium is the परम् supreme. एतत् This आलम्बनं medium ज्ञात्वा having meditated upon ब्रह्मलोके महीयते one becomes adorable in the world of Brahma.
This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.
Since a concentrated effort is required to attain the highest that is within creation, the Upanishad gives the method, the means, for this. This ‘Om’ is the best among the various means to attain brahman. This ‘Om’ is the means for attaining both the ‘inferior’ brahman as well as the ‘superior’ brahman. The differentiation is based on what comes within creation and what transcends creation. When ‘Om’ is meditated upon with a view to attain the Supreme, Transcendental, brahman, one does achieve that. On the other hand if one resorts to ‘Om’ with a view to attain the highest state within creation, one gets to the state of Brahma, the first-born and becomes the object of adoration by others.
Now the Guru, Yama, embarks upon the delineation of the Atman that is the central theme of the discourse. Nachiketa had asked through the 14th mantra to know the Supreme that is beyond dharma and adharma, cause and effect, etc. The ‘Om’ meditation was mentioned as a means, for the well-accomplished aspirant, to attain the Supreme brahman. However, if the aspirant is of a middling and lowly type the ‘Om’ could be meditated upon with the conditioned-brahman as the subject. In the next mantra Yama gives out the nature of the Supreme brahman so that one can know It from the words employed to state Its nature:
Mantra 18 –
न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चित्
न अयं कुतश्चित् न बभूव कश्चित् ।
अजः नित्यः शाश्वतः अयं पुराणः
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ॥ १८ ॥
न जायते neither born म्रियते वा nor dies विपश्चित् this sentient Atman न अयं nor did It कुतश्चित् न बभूव originate from any cause कश्चित् nor did anything originate from It. अजः It is birthless नित्यः eternal शाश्वतः undecaying अयं पुराणः It is ancient न हन्यते It is not killed/injured हन्यमाने शरीरे when the body is killed.
The knowing Self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless, eternal, everlasting and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.
The veda teaches about the nature of the Self by contrasting it from all that is not-Self. Everything created undergoes the six-fold modifications: birth, existence, growth, decay, disintegration and destruction; death. The Self alone, having no birth at all, is free of all the other modifications that follow birth. Thus, in this mantra the Self is taught as free from birth and death. By negating the first and the last modifications, the veda denies all other intermediary modifications too. The word ‘vipashcit’ is also significant. It means that the Self is of the nature of undiminishing Intelligence. By ‘intelligence’ what is meant is ‘pure consciousness’.
Further, this Atman is not something that has originated from a cause that is different from Itself. In other words, there is nothing that has ‘caused’ this Self. Also, this Atman is also not the cause of anything else. That is, there is no ‘effect’ that has originated from this Atman. The two denials amount to saying that this Self is birthless, eternal and undecaying. For, that which is an effect is certain to perish in time. And that which is a cause too, we have seen in the world, undergoes modification and therefore perishes. When Atman is admitted to be without a cause and not a cause in itself we get the firm conclusion that Atman is eternal and ancient. By the word ‘ancient’, ‘purANaH’, it is meant that Atman is ever-existing. Though ancient the Self is ever new. That which comes into existence owing to accumulation of parts, like, for example, a pot, is said to be ‘new’. Like a newborn baby. Atman is not of this type. Being ancient and ever new, Atman is free of growth. For that very reason the Self is not injured/killed when the body is killed on being struck by a weapon. Though residing in the body the Self remains unaffected by any modifications the body undergoes, just like space contained in any enclosure.
The great worth of the above delineation is that one gets a firm conviction that oneself, the Atman, is completely different from the body. This conviction is the foundation for true Atma sAdhana that will eventually fructify into the conviction that one is never bound but ever liberated.