kaThopaniShad Series Part – 27
The upaniShad takes forward the task of determining the nature of brahman even though this has been done in the foregoing sections. Such a continued or repeated endeavour is warranted in view of the extremely subtle nature of the subject matter, brahman/Atman, and the consequent difficulty in apprehending it. Now we enter the second section of the second chapter.
अनुष्ठाय न शोचति विमुक्तश्च विमुच्यते । एतद्वै तत् ॥ १ ॥
पुरम् a city एकादशद्वारम् of eleven gates अजस्य belonging to the unborn अवक्रचेतसः and of undistorted Consciousness. अनुष्ठाय having meditated upon Him न no more शोचति one grieves विमुक्तश्च freed from ignorance विमुच्यते he becomes free एतत् this वै indeed तत् is that.
There is a city with eleven gates belonging to the unborn Atman of undistorted Consciousness. He who meditates on Him grieves no more; liberated from the bonds of ignorance, he becomes free. This, verily, is That.
The word ‘city’ is only figuratively used since the body has some similarities with a city. The presence of gatekeepers, governing officials, etc. which constitute the various features of a city are to be seen in the body as well and hence the comparison. A city endowed with these components is seen to be functioning for the sake of some ones that are not part of those constituents but are independent of these. So too, owing to the similarities with a city the body endowed with several aspects can exist for the sake of a Master who is not really a part of these features but is like the king in the capital city.
This body-city has eleven gates: seven in the head namely two eyes, two nostrils, two ears and the mouth and three in the lower part of the body: the navel, the excretory and the reproductive organs and one at the top of the head. Whose is this eleven-gated body? It is of the unborn Self that is free of all the six modifications that any created object can experience. The six modifications are: birth, existence upon birth, growth, transformation, degeneration and death. None of these transformations is there for the Self. Therefore the Self is distinct from and independent of the eleven constituents that have been listed above. That means the eleven components are subject to the transformations. The Atman is the King of the body-city. The Consciousness that the Atman is, is free of all crookedness just like the brightness of the Sun. This unfailing Consciousness is eternal. In other words, there will be absolutely no transformations, changes in states, in/for this Pure Consciousness that is the Atman.
The upaniShad presented the above analogy to inform us that he who meditates upon the Atman, the Supreme Lord, for the maintaining of an unbroken consciousness is the feature of the Self. The realization of this Self through Knowledge as one’s true Self, Atman, is none other than being It. How does one accomplish such an unbroken application to the Self? One has to be free of all desires pertaining to all that could be attained in this or other worlds. Being the same in all and established in all beings is what Realization of the Supreme Atman means. This results in the knower no more grieving for anything that happens in the world. Since the Knowledge is of the Atman that is without anything that is Second to Itself, where indeed is any occasion for fear from any source? Such a Knower becomes liberated here, even while living in this body. He is said to become absolutely free since he will not be assuming another body/birth.
The mantra gives the goal and the means to attain complete and absolute freedom from the afflictions of saMsAra.
This Atman shown as the one occupying the body is not to be thought of as limited to a single body but is to be known as the indwelling spirit of all bodies, even that of the divine beings:
हंसः शुचिषद्वसुरन्तरिक्षसद्धोता वेदिषदतिथिर्दुरोणसत् ।
नृषद्वरसदृतसद्व्योमसदब्जा गोजा ऋतजा अद्रिजा ऋतं बृहत् ॥ २ ॥
हंसः the moving one शुचिषत् residing in the heavens as the sun वसुः the one that pervades all अन्तरिक्षसत् residing in the interspace as air होता fire वेदिषत् dwelling in the earth अतिथिः guest दुरोणसत् dwelling in the house नृषत् dweller in humans वरसत् dwells in the gods ऋतसत् dwells in truth व्योमसत् dwells in sky अब्जा water-born गोजा earth-born ऋतजा sacrifice-born अद्रिजा mountain-born ऋतं truth बृहत् great.
He is the sun dwelling in the bright heavens. He is the air in the interspace. He is the fire dwelling on earth. He is the guest dwelling in the house. He dwells in men, in the gods, in truth, in the sky. He is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice, on the mountains. He is the True and the Great.
The Universal Atman is present in everything in the creation. There is no entity in creation that is not blessed by the presence of the paramAtman. The mantra teaches this by specifying an array of entities to show, as a representative sample, the all-pervasiveness of the Atman.
The word ‘hamsaH’ is derived by the root indicating movement. The Sun moves in the heavenly space and the Self is the one that resides there as the entity Sun. ‘vasuH’ means the one that covers, drapes, everything and that is the air that is present in the interspace. ‘hotA’ is agni, Fire, as per the shruti passage ‘अग्निर्वै होता’ ‘agnirvai hotA’ (chityupaniShad (3.1) and (7.1)) which means ‘Fire is the hotA’. ‘vedi’ means the earth and as the Fire the Atman resides in the earth. This is as per the shruti ‘इयं वेदिः परोऽन्तः पृथिव्याः’ ’iyam vedhiH paro’ntaH pRRthivyAH’ (Rg (2.3.20)). ‘atithiH’ means ‘soma’ juice. The Atman resides in the duroNa, jar, as the soma juice. Or we can even say that as a brAhmaNa guest the Atman dwells in the houses.
The Atman resides in all humans. And in the superiors, that is, the deva-s, gods. RRtam is satyam, truth or yaj~na, sacrifice. It is the Atman that resides as truth or sacrifice. It dwells in the space, vyoma.
Now, the mantra takes a slightly different mode of specifying the omnipresence of the Atman. The Atman is in the form of all that is born in water namely conches, shells, and sea-creatures like makara. All that is earth-born like paddy, barley, are also the Self alone. All appendages, that is, subsidiary things that are effected in the process of a yajna, sacrifice, are also the Atman alone. Rivers, etc. that are originating from the mountains too are the Self.
The mantra concludes, after offering a list, though not exhaustive, that even though the Atman is ‘all’, ‘everything’, yet It remains ever the unchanging Truth, Reality. This is a very significant observation for all the created objects listed above (where the Atman is taught to be the indwelling principle) are ever changing, as they are created ones. In vedAnta that which is endowed with change is only unreal, never the Real. And the Atman that is described above as the omnipresent is the Great since It is the Cause of everything. This is because in the world one entity can be the cause of another. But such a cause is itself known to be an effect of yet another entity and therefore finite. Therefore such a relative cause cannot be the absolute one and the mantra specifies the Atman to be the Absolutely Great as It alone is the Ultimate Cause of the entire creation. In vedAnta such a cause is called ‘vivartopAdAnam’, the cause that appears as all the effects. There is no transformation involved in the Atman ‘becoming’ or ‘causing’ all the effects. For, anything that undergoes transformation is within the relative realm, subject to origination and destruction.
Shankaracharya adds a note: Even though it is only the Aditya, Sun, that is spoken of in this mantra as the one dwelling in everything (and not the Atman), yet, since the Veda regards the Sun to be the Self of the entire creation, there is no contradiction with the brAhmaNa portion of the veda even if the above mantra is taken as teaching the omnipresence of the Atman.
It is noted that there is a mantra that says ‘The Sun is the Self of all that moves and does not move.’ (Rg veda (i49), Aitareya (2.3.3)).
The gist of the mantra is that there is only one Atman for the entire creation and there is no distinction / multiplicity in Atman.
Since the Atman is not available for perception, it has to be taught and known only through indicatory marks by knowing which we can know the nature of the Atman. That is being presented in the next mantra:
ऊर्ध्वं प्राणमुन्नयत्यपानं प्रत्यगस्यति ।
मध्ये वामनमासीनं विश्वे देवा उपासते ॥ ३ ॥
ऊर्ध्वं upwards प्राणं prANa उन्नयति He sends अपानं apAna प्रत्यगस्यति leads मध्ये in middle वामनं adorable One आसीनं seated विश्वे all देवाः gods उपासते worship.
He it is who sends prANa upward and who leads apAna downward. All the deva-s worship that adorable One seated in the middle