kaThopaniShad Series Part – 25
The nature of the Self, verily brahman, is being explained with a view to enable a proper understanding by the aspirant:
अरण्योर्निहितो जातवेदा गर्भ इव सुभृतो गर्भिणीभिः ।
दिवे दिव ईड्यो जागृवद्भिर्हविष्मद्भिर्मनुष्येभिरग्निः ॥ एतद्वै तत् ॥ ८ ॥
अरण्योः in the two fire-producing pieces of wood निहितः hidden जातवेदाः fire गर्भे इव just as in the womb सुभृतः well protected गर्भिणीभिः by the pregnant women दिवे दिवे every day ईड्यः adorable जागृवद्भिः vigilant हविष्मद्भिः with oblations मनुष्येभिः by men अग्निः fire. एतत् this वै indeed तत् is That.
Agni, hidden in the two fire-sticks and well-guarded like a child in the womb, by its mother – is worshipped day after day by men who are awake and by those who offer oblations in the sacrifices. This, verily, is That.
Here the mantra is making a comparison between the fire that is maintained/protected by the sacrificers and the foetus in the womb that is protected carefully by the pregnant women. And the fire itself is compared to the Self that is ever sought after by the yogins. The fire that is used in a vedic yaj~na is produced by a special churning process that involves two pieces of special wood that have the potential to give out the fire. This physical fire is the one that consumes all that is offered into it as oblations. This fire has its personified form, the virAT devatA, too which is seated in the hearts of the yogins given to meditation. Just as the pregnant women protect with great care without erring on the proper intake of permitted food, the foetus that grows inside the womb, the sacrificers protect the fire with all care by worshiping it and making oblations into it, without giving in to inadvertence. This fire indeed is laudable and adorable, being divine. The sacrificers can be seen as both the ones who offer oblations of ghee (clarified butter) etc., into the physical fire outside themselves and those who meditate upon the fire as the virAt deity seated in their hearts. Such a devout worship is done every day dutifully.
The Atman that is being taught as the one to be realized is in fact none other than this Fire that is meditated upon by the yogins. In other words, the mantra is indicating that the Atman that is to be known is ultimately the one that is worshiped as the fire and meditated upon as the cosmic deity.
यतश्चोदेति सूर्योऽस्तं यत्र च गच्छति ।
तं देवाः सर्वे अर्पितास्तदु नात्येति कश्चन ॥ एतद्वै तत् ॥ ९ ॥
यतः च from where उदेति rises सूर्यः the sun अस्तं यत्र च गच्छति and where it sets तं That where देवाः सर्वे all gods अर्पिताः are contained तदु That न अत्येति कश्चन none surpasses ॥ एतत् that वै indeed तत् is That.
Whence the sun rises and whither it goes to set, in whom all the deva-s are contained and whom none can ever pass beyond — This, verily, is That.
Here the Supreme Atman is shown as the source and ground of all cosmic activity and the individual activity. Whatever happens in the cosmos, whether at the universal or the individual level is not without, outside, this Great Power. In other words, everything gets its being from this Self. The sun rises and sets on a daily basis. The gods agni, etc. perform their respective cosmic functions and are also presiding as the deities/power in their respective locations of the sense/motor organs of each individual person. By saying so the mantra indicates that the Self encompasses the entire creation. The origin, sustenance and resolution of creation take place with the Supreme Self in the background. The Self is the abode of everything. Just as the spokes are centrally fixed to the nave of the wheel the entire creation is centred in brahman. No element in the creation surpasses the Self. What this means is that since everything in creation derives its existence from the Great Existence the Self, nothing can stay, remain, without this Existence as its fundamental support. The objects and events are experienced always as ‘is’. This ‘is-ness’ is none other than that of the Self.
In other words it is this Existence alone that appears as all that is in the creation assuming names and forms. The purport of the mantra is that everything is dependent for its very existence on this Independent Self. Again, this has to be seen in the right perspective: everything is superimposed in brahman, for a superimposed snake is said to be ‘is’ as long as the superimposition continues and this ‘is-ness’ is derived from the rope that is mistaken for the snake and does not belong to the snake.
So, the next mantra comes to clarify that whatever is appearing as this or that and not as brahman is because of the upAdhi or limiting adjunct. And therefore the appearing entity should not be thought of as a saMsArin, a bound one, someone different from brahman.
यदेवेह तदमुत्र यदमुत्र तदन्विह ।
मृत्योः स मृत्युमाप्नोति य इह नानेव पश्यति ॥ १० ॥
यत् what एव indeed इह is here तत् that अमुत्र is there यत् what अमुत्र is there तत् that अनु इह alone is here. मृत्योः from death स he मृत्युम् death आप्नोति attains यः whoever इह here नाना इव as though different पश्यति sees.
What is here, the same is there and what is there, the same is here. He goes from death to death who sees any difference here.
The core advaitic teaching of the upaniShad is conveyed in very graphic terms here. What is seen and experienced by all as the entity possessed of the body-mind-organs apparatus in bondage is none other than brahman which is free of all appendages. There is no body-mind-organs apparatus for brahman and therefore no saMsAra either. And that which is the all-pervading brahman is the one that appears as the entity encased in the body-mind-organs apparatus with name and form. The stating in both ways as ‘this is that alone and that is this alone’ is to emphatically deny any difference between the individual and the all-pervading transcendental Self. In fact this is the true aim of the upaniShad which consummates in the conveying of this crucial teaching of identity.
The mantra goes on to warn that whoever gives in to delusion and considers himself to be the finite body-mind-organs apparatus and different from the Supreme brahman continues to languish in saMsAra. Birth and death and the cycle thereof are certain for such an ignorant one. While the truth is that brahman admits of no difference of whatever kind whatsoever, the erroneous thinking that there is indeed a difference between brahman and the finite self causes grave consequences. And this is nothing other than continued bondage. Therefore never entertain the idea of difference in absolute terms. Then, what is the conviction one is required to obtain? The answer is: ‘I am indeed, brahman which is everything through and through like space.’ This is the message of the mantra.
Now, the means to obtain this conviction is briefly stated:
मनसैवेदमाप्तव्यम् नेह नानास्ति किञ्चन ।
मृत्योः स मृत्युं गच्छति य इह नानेव पश्यति ॥ ११ ॥
मनसा by the mind एव alone इदम् आप्तव्यं this brahman is to be realized न इह here there is no नाना अस्ति difference किञ्चन whatsoever. मृत्योः From death स he मृत्युं to death गच्छति goes यः whoever इह here नाना difference इव as though पश्यति perceives.
By the mind alone is brahman to be realised; then one does not see in It any multiplicity whatsoever. He goes from death to death who sees multiplicity in It.
Before the attainment of the vision of identity there is a process that is preparatory to the vision. This preparation involves the application of oneself diligently to the teaching of the veda and the AchArya. It is only such a carefully acquired knowledge that results in the vision of identity. It is imperative to appreciate that since the error of difference, nAnAtvam, is due to ignorance which is of the mind, one has to prepare the mind adequately to hold the knowledge, realization, of identity. This is a completely internal, mind-related, exercise. There is nothing to be sought outside the body-mind for this esoteric knowledge. The locus that holds ignorance is to be corrected in order that it hosts knowledge. All bondage, saMsAra, is due to the wrong thinking of the individual. And it is the correct vision that results in the realization that ‘I am never bound at any point of time. And I am the ever infinite Truth never related to anything.’ When ignorance ceases to be, the realization arises of oneness and the absence of anything other than brahman as real. Even a wee bit of the idea of difference results in the admission of saMsAra and the resultant pain. It no doubt takes a lot of courage to come to such a conviction of identity. And the writing on the wall is that there is no solution other than this for ignorance is annihilated by knowledge alone and nothing else.