V Subrahmanian, Tuesday, August 7, 2012 11:01 pm

kaThopaniShad Series Part – 18

Part 18

In this mantra 1.3.1 the upaniShad is teaching about the ‘two’ selves that reside in the body. Though there are no two selves in truth yet owing to the difficulty in discerning the Real Self from the pseudo self the upaniShad is presenting the idea of two selves: one the jIva and the other the paramAtman.

The jIva is busy experiencing the fruit of his action and engaged in creating fresh fruit through his present action. The upaniShad calls the fruit of karma as ‘real’ since the fruit is certain to accrue once the action is performed. There is no uncertainty about this. And this fruit will either be pleasant or painful, depending upon what input has been there while performing the act in the past. Of the ‘two’ selves specified, one alone experiences the fruit and not the other. Yet, since the other self is ‘connected’, ‘related’, to the jIva, the other is also said to be an experiencer, merely on the grounds of proximity/relatedness.

This is explained in Sanskrit by using a maxim: ‘chatri-nyAyaH.’ Supposing a group of four men is walking and one of them is carrying an umbrella. In order to identify that group from a distance, one would say: ‘Look, the ‘umbrella people’ are walking.’ Even though only one in this group is actually carrying the umbrella, one would refer to the whole group as ‘umbrella people’.

Where does this experiencing of the fruit of one’s own past karma take place? The upaniShad specifies: it happens in the body. This is the gross body. But the knowledge of the experience of pain or pleasure takes place in the intellect. The upaniShad says that this intellect is a ‘cave’ in the sense that it is not visible to the outside and also that it is intimately experienced. And it is almost inmost. It is here the jIva and paramAtman are ‘located.’ By ‘located’ it should not be concluded that there is a physical location there. It is said to be located in the sense that the experience thereof happens there. It is indeed the seat of the parabrahman which is the Supreme when compared with all else.

The upaniShad talks about ‘two’ entities here and their nature. They are of opposite natures just as shade (darkness) and light. That signifies that the jIva is a transmigrating being, a saMsArin, and the paramAtman is ever free from saMsAra. Such is the understanding of the Knowers of brahman. ‘Knowers of brahman’ are Vedantins who are free from the shackles of karma. The upaniShad says that not only do the Vedantins hold the jIva and the paramAtman to be of opposite natures, but even the protagonists of karma, the householders, who maintain the scripturally ordained five fires, have this awareness. Also those who have performed the ‘nAchiketa’ ritual thrice too know this. The upaniShad wants to say that the ‘two’ enshrined in the body is a well-known phenomenon.

In the next mantra the Teacher Yama says that the two, karma and brahman are to be known, in the sense that these are the two that the Scripture talks about elaborately. The idea is that by knowing karma one can engage in its performance and attain the dharma (righteous action), artha (wealth) and kAma (pleasure) puruShArthas (goals sought after by humans), otherwise known as worldly goals. And by knowing brahman one can attain the ultimate goal of liberation itself. There is one special advantage in knowing karma: one will understand its nature and how it is only perishable and thereby get to know brahman for the imperishable result of liberation.

Mantra 2:

यः सेतुरीजानानामक्षरं ब्रह्म यत्परम् ।

अभयं तितीर्षतां पारं नाचिकेतं शकेमहि ॥ २ ॥

यः सेतुः that which is the bridge ईजानानाम् for sacrificers अक्षरं imperishable ब्रह्म brahman यत् परम् that which is Supreme अभयं Fearless तितीर्षतां those willing to cross over पारं the other shore नाचिकेतं nAchiketa fire शकेमहि we have known.

We know how to perform the nAchiketa sacrifice, which is the bridge for sacrificers; and we know also that supreme, imperishable brahman, which is sought by those who wish to cross over to the shore where there is no fear.

Yama says: We have known the method of performing the nAchiketa fire ritual which is calculated to free one from misery. Here, misery means the ones faced by those in the throes of this-worldly life. This misery takes the form of poverty, disease, old age, death, troubles from relatives and other beings and the like. All these are not there in the other world which goes by the name of ‘swarga’, heaven. Not only one has to have a knowledge of the ritual that confers heaven but one must be an adept in performing them too. Yama says this ability is also present in us. Also we have the knowledge of brahman which is sought by those aiming at attaining liberation from all transmigratory life.

Thus, the goal of liberation, mokSha, is superior to the goal of swarga too for the latter is time bound and ends when the power of the karma is exhausted. Those who know their true nature, the Self, which is none other than brahman, the Imperishable, have nothing to fear from. Fear comes from anything that is different from oneself. brahman also called Atman is that which encompasses everything and nothing is there apart from brahman. When one knows brahman as one’s own Atman, Self, there is absolute freedom from every kind of fear.


The teaching, therefore, is that the para brahman, the absolute freedom, and the apara brahman, the relatively improved conditions, are both worthy of knowing for one’s welfare. In the first mantra of this section there was a reference to these two fruits alone. The jivAtman is the experiencer of the fruit of his actions, either in this or in the other world. And the one who has realized brahman remains for ever without experiencing any fruit of karma. Even the short while one lives in the world after such realization, before the fall of the present body, one remains unattached to the fruit of the past karma which has begun to fructify. Once the body falls, signifying the exhaustion of the past karma, there is no more experiencing any karma fruit, in absolute terms. This final liberation is called ‘videha mukti’ or disembodied state.

Now starts a very important phase in the teaching discourse. The individual self, the jIva, was hitherto shown as someone who can take the path of action or the one of complete dedication to the quest of the EternalTruth and eventually attain liberation. In either case there is a definite requirement of the body-mind apparatus with which alone he can take up any sAdhana, practice.

Mantra 3

आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथमेव तु ।

बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च ॥ ३ ॥

आत्मानं self रथिनं the master of the chariot विद्धि know शरीरं body रथमेव तु to be the chariot. बुद्धिं तु the intellect सारथिं the charioteer विद्धि know मनः the mind to be प्रग्रहम् एव च indeed the bridle.


Know the atman to be the master of the chariot; the body, the chariot; the intellect, the charioteer; and the mind, the reins.

The simile of the chariot is taken up here to describe the aspirant with a variety of equipment. This is in the form of the mind-body complex. As to what this ‘complex’ is, is described in the mantra. In an earlier mantra the jIva was stated to be engaged in experiencing the fruit of karma.

This jIva, really a samsArin, is to be known as the owner of the chariot. What indeed is meant by ‘chariot’ here? It is the body that is talked about as a chariot. Since there are some similarities between a chariot and the body, the upaniShad continues the teaching explaining further in the light of these similarities. In the real chariot there are horses to draw it to various places. The body-chariot has, in the place of the horses, the sense and motor organs that pull, as it were, the body to a variety of destinations. Who is the charioteer? The intellect which is endowed with the faculty of determining/discriminating indeed is the charioteer. Just as the charioteer leads/conducts the master of the chariot to the desired places, the intellect is said to guide and lead a person to his various goals.


We can observe that by and large all the functions performed by the body is intellect-driven alone. The mind, endowed with the faculty of volition, doubt, etc. is to be known as the bridle. This is a rope, with which the charioteer controls the horses. It is well known that the organs such as the hearing (ear) engage in their respective function only when led by the mind. The bridle is used to regulate the horses. The mind is supposed to regulate the senses comparable to the horses of a chariot.

Part 1, Part 17, Part 19

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