kaThopaniShad Series Part – 16
Part 16 –
After having given the primary definition of the Self, the Acharya, Yama, now goes on to teach the ‘properties’ of the Self by way of negating the attributes that have been superimposed on the Atman due to ignorance. The main manifestations of saMsAra, bound nature, of the Self, is in the form of doer and experiencer. One takes oneself as the body-mind apparatus and thinks one is the doer of actions. This is preceded by the thinking that one will be the experiencer/enjoyer of the actions initiated by oneself. In order to show that the Self is never the doer or the experiencer of the fruits of action, Yama employs a unique language. He chooses the act of ‘killing’ to represent doership and the consequence of being killed to represent experiencership/enjoyership. Thus Yama says:
हन्ता चेत् मन्यते हन्तुं हतः चेत् मन्यते हतम् ।
उभौ तौ न विजानीतौ न अयं हन्ति न हन्यते ।। १९ ।।
हन्ता चेत् if the killer मन्यते हन्तुं thinks he kills हतः चेत् the one killed मन्यते हतम् thinks he is killed उभौ तौ Both of them न विजानीतौ do not know aright न अयं हन्ति न हन्यते the Self neither kills nor gets killed.
If the killer thinks he kills and if the killed man thinks he is killed, neither of these apprehends aright. The Self kills nor is It killed.
The upaniShad takes up the extreme ‘doing’ and the extreme ‘experiencing’ as means to teach that the Self is neither a doer nor an experiencer of the result of action. Then does not anything take place as an action or the result of action not being experienced? vedAnta says ‘yes.’ ‘Action and the experiencing of the result thereof do take place, not in the Self but in the realm of the not-self.’ What the vedAnta aims at by giving this teaching is that the one who thinks he acts and reaps the fruits thereof at a future time is unnecessarily subjecting himself to avoidable suffering and that it is possible to give up such wrong thinking. It is the fundamental feeling of ‘guilt’ upon doing something that can give rise to a future unpleasant experience and the feeling of ‘hurt’ whenever the body-mind apparatus suffers a beating from the world. This guilt and hurt duo lies at the basis of our saMsAric experience. By self-realization that does away with the hurt-guilt combine, one gains complete serenity in life. The action and experiencing the fruit thereof that takes place at the mind-body level is erroneously transferred on to the Self and it is this error that has to be given up. The vedAntic teaching accomplishes this. The Self, like space, being immutable, does not undergo the action of killing or getting killed. The corollary to this is that the dharma–adharma spoken of in the Scripture as one to be followed and avoided pertains to the realm of the one who is yet to realize the Self as his true nature. This j~nani who has realized the Self, however, does not become the subject matter of injunctions and prohibitions. Action and fruit of action, therefore, pertain to the realm of not-Self and the Self is free from this duality.
Who succeeds in knowing the true nature of the Self?
अणोः अणीयान् महतः महीयान्
आत्मा अस्य जन्तोः निहितः गुहायाम् ।
तम् अक्रतुः पश्यति वीतशोकः
धातुः प्रसादात् महिमानम् आत्मनः ॥ २० ॥
अणोः अणीयान् subtler than the subtle महतः महीयान् greater than the great आत्मा the Self अस्य जन्तोः this being’s निहितः resides in गुहायाम् the cave of intellect. तम् Him अक्रतुः the desireless पश्यति beholds/realizes वीतशोकः transcends misery धातुः प्रसादात् by the serenity of the organs महिमानम् the glory आत्मनः of the Self.
Atman, smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living creatures. A man who is free from desires beholds the majesty of the Self through tranquility of the senses and the mind and becomes free from grief.
Can anyone determine the size of the Self? No. For the Atman is not dimensional. Just in order to show this the upaniShad employs words like ‘smaller than the small, greater than the great.’ What it means is that the Atman is the underlying principle of all worldly concepts like small, big, etc. It is only the created things in the universe that can be said to be small or big. The Uncreated Atman, however, is beyond this description. So the upaniShad says the Atman is smaller than the small object that we can conceive of in the world. And It is bigger than the big object that we can think of. Whatever small (subtle) or big (gross) that is in creation gets an existence only because of the Atman. For whenever we say ‘a mustard seed exists’, ‘the planet earth exists’, the ‘existence’ is that of the Self that is ever existent. We can talk of the coming into being of the subtle things and the gross, great, astronomical objects. But the coming into being of the Atman is ruled out. Existence can never be destroyed or brought into being. It is ever there providing the necessary existence to everything that comes into being, just as space is ever there providing accommodation to everything subtle and gross that comes into being. When existence is not there for the created things, they cease to exist. Therefore this Atman alone is the Self that ever exists that has all the other things as Its upAdhi, defining adjunct. In other words, whenever we say a thing is, such as ‘a pot is’, it is Atman that is finitized as the pot-existence. All names, forms and objects are thus within the Atman, having Atman as the basis. This Atman is available for experiencing in the heart-cave of every living being, right from BrahmA down to a small worm or insect. All these living creatures, the greatest to the micro organisms, have a heart, the mind, where the Atman shines as ‘I, the doer, the hearer, the seer, the smeller, the feeler, the experiencer, etc.’
It is with these experiences that we always identify and say ‘I am the doer, enjoyer, etc.’ The upaniShad shows that these experiences are impossible without the Self in the background, as a reflected shine in the reflecting medium the mind.
Who qualifies in realizing this Atman? The upaniShad replies: It is that aspirant who is devoid of worldly desires. Desires of the world take one’s energy and time in their pursuit. The body and the sense and motor organs along with the mind engage in the procuring and maintaining and enjoying those objects/events/relationships. There will be no energy left for the pursuit of the Self. The organs have to be quietened along with the mind in order that these do not come in the way of the mind’s pursuit of the Self. When the aspirant endeavors with this preparation and with the zeal he succeeds in realizing the Atman as his true Self. What is the greatness of the Atman? It is the freedom from increase and decrease owing to karma. All things in the world are subject to constant upheaval owing to good and bad times as they come alternating in a man’s life, being conditioned by his past actions, good and otherwise. This is called saMsAra. Atman alone is free of this. The qualified aspirant who has the Atman alone as his goal succeeds in directly realizing it. As a result he transcends misery. This is the highest reward of attaining self-realization.
In order to impress upon the aspirants that the Self is extremely difficult of realizing by those immature ones filled with desires unless there is a concerted effort in that direction, the Shruti says:
आसीनो दूरं व्रजति शयानो याति सर्वतः ।
कस्तं मदामदं देवं मदन्यो ज्ञातुमर्हति ॥ २१ ॥
आसीनः while sitting दूरं व्रजति travels far away शयानः while sleeping याति goes सर्वतः everywhere. कः Who तं that मदामदं joyful and joyless देवं deity मदन्यः other than I ज्ञातुम् अर्हति can know.
Though sitting still, It travels far; though lying down, It goes everywhere. Who but myself can know that luminous Atman who rejoices and rejoices not?
Life is a series of actions involving various organs of the metabolism. However, all this is possible only with the Self, Atman, in place. Or, with the Self as the basis, ground, all activities take place. Since the admixture of the Self and the not-Self is what we have, there is a need to separate these two. The fruit of this endeavor is that we are enabled to discern the Self to the exclusion of the not-self. To facilitate this exercise the upaniShad teaches: While seated and not mobile, the Self as though travels far. While one is lying down It as though goes everywhere. How do we understand this? Lying down or sleep is characterized by the sense organs becoming dormant. Then the finite knowledge arising out of the activity of sense organs is not there. When this happens, this one who is endowed with the general awareness alone is as though going everywhere. In other words, one is spread everywhere but no particularized knowledge is there. On the other hand, when one is endowed with particularized knowledge, one is established in one place in one’s native form. When the mind, etc. function, being endowed with the adjunct of the mind, one appears to go far. ‘Everywhere’ refers to generalized awareness and ‘far’ refers to particularized knowledge. The jIvAtman is endowed with both these. However, the Self neither travels far nor goes everywhere; It remains established here alone.
Also, the sentient being is both happy and not happy, depending on various variables. Thus, we have the ‘traveling far’ and ‘going everywhere’ pair of mutually contradictory natures. Being happy and being not happy is the other pair of such contradictory natures. Indeed it is extremely difficult to know the Self which is endowed with such contradictory natures. Who then succeeds in discerning this Self given so many contradictions? Yama replies: Those endowed with a subtle intellect effortlessly know this Self. It looks like the Self is conditioned by upAdhi-born attributes like rest, motion, permanence and impermanence, etc. and looks like a ‘vishvarUpa’, prism, or a ‘chintAmaNi’, a philosopher’s stone. Thus we are able to appreciate the difficulty in clearly discerning the Self. Yama puts it rather forcefully when he says: ‘Who else other than I can know the Atman?’