kaThopaniShad Series Part – 28
Here is the explanation of the Mantra 2.2.3:
It is brahman that leads vAyu in the aspect of ‘prANa’, the upward flowing air, from the heart region. And it is brahman that pushes in the other aspect of vAyu called apAna by drawing it inside the body. It is brahman who is seated in the cave of the intellect of every being, experienceable as the consciousness that is behind every activity, mental, intellectual, motor and sensory, taking place in the body. The mantra calls this conscious entity ‘vAmanaH’, the one who is adorable, being dear to everyone. All the sensory activities that bring knowledge of form, colour, touch, smell, taste and sound, are directed to serve/please this One seated inside, for He is the master of the mind-body complex. It is as though these sense organs namely eye, skin, nose, tongue and ear, strive to offer oblations to the One Master seated inside, for whose sake these aggregates are present. The mantra gives an analogy to this feature. In the days of monarchy, the varNa system required the trading class, the vaishya, to submit a certain part of its produce/merchandise to the King, for the use in public governance.
In the case of the analogy, the trading class exists as a part of this governance and is recognized by the monarchy. The sense organs are there for the sake of the Self and they function on the impelling of the Self. In other words, the sense organs being themselves inert cannot function unless the sentience comes from the Self. This shows that the aggregate is devoid of existence and sentience of its own but derives existence and sentience by virtue of ‘being’ in the proximity of the Self. The mantra thereby teaches that there does exist the Self that is at the centre of this activity. This is one way, among many, the upaniShad adopts to teach us that the extremely subtle Atman, brahman, verily the Self, is not non-existent but a pivotal force behind the entire cosmos.
अस्य विस्रंसमानस्य शरीरस्थस्य देहिनः।
देहाद्विमुच्यमानस्य किमत्र परिशिष्यते ॥ एतद्वै तत् ॥ ४ ॥
अस्य of this विस्रंसमानस्य banished शरीरस्थस्य existing in the body देहिनः the embodied one देहात् from the body विमुच्यमानस्य exiting किम् what अत्र here परिशिष्यते remains? एतत् this वै indeed is तत् That.
When the soul, identified with the body and dwelling in it, is torn away from the body, is freed from it, what then remains? This, verily, is That.
That the Self is the central power in the individual body too is being highlighted in this mantra. When the bodily death occurs the Self no longer stays there. This Self, here, is the jIva-consciousness who has the identification with the body-mind apparatus. Nothing remains over in the body to enable it to be called a sentient entity. All that yields sentience to the body, right from the Self and through it the sense organs, mind, the ego-sense, etc. no longer occupies the body. It is with this in view it is said ‘he has gone’. The ‘he’ ‘takes away’ all that is required to make the body sentient. The analogy of the dwellers of a city migrating to another city when the city-head is no longer there is given here. The moment the Chief is gone, the entire governed group loses its strength. For, the strength was hitherto being derived from the Chief.
The mantra thereby teaches that there is indeed an entity other than the body-mind apparatus. Since the Self is extremely subtle in nature it is impossible to show it to the aspirant as an object. Its existence is shown by methods such as the one adopted here. When the aspirant is no longer in doubt about its existence, he can move further in sAdhana and realize It as his very Self. These methods where logic, yukti, is used constitute mananam, ratiocination. This exercise is of crucial importance.
It might appear that the body becomes devoid of sentience once the life force, prANa, leaves the body and not when the Self leaves and therefore the person stays alive due to the prANa alone. That such is not the case is taught in the sequel.
न प्राणेन नापानेन मर्त्यो जीवति कश्चन ।
इतरेण तु जीवन्ति यस्मिन्नेतावुपाश्रिताः ॥ ५ ॥
न प्राणेन not by prANa न अपानेन not by apAna मर्त्यः the mortal जीवति lives कश्चन any इतरेण something different तु indeed जीवन्ति they live यस्मिन् on That एतौ these two उपाश्रिताः depend/rest.
No mortal ever lives by prANa, which goes up, nor by apAna, which goes down. Men live by something different, on which these two depend.
What makes one live? The immediate answer would be: it is the life principle. The upaniShad goes a step beyond this commonplace reply and informs us that there is an entity beyond the life principle, the sense organs, etc, that is the true impeller of even the life principle. prANa, apAna or even the sense/motor organs are all no doubt instrumental in maintaining life but the fundamental Consciousness principle is there behind all these factors providing them the most essential sentience. prANa, etc. are aggregates that exist for the sake of someone other than themselves. Unless impelled by an entity other than themselves these aggregates are incapable of providing the support mechanism. A house, for instance, is there for the owner / occupant of the house to live there. But he is the one who has first brought the house into existence and keeps it in good maintenance so that he can live there free of concerns. The house cannot by itself come into being.
Thus, by virtue of an entity different from them do the aggregates continue to exist. These aggregates have their bearings rooted in the One that is providing them the required sentience/support. This shows that there does exist the Self that is different from the aggregates. This is yet another instruction by the upaniShad to prove the existence of the Self that is a standalone and itself not a part of the aggregates.
हन्त त इदं प्रवक्ष्यामि गुह्यं ब्रह्म सनातनम् ।
यथा च मरणं प्राप्य आत्मा भवति गौतम ॥ ६ ॥
हन्त well then ते to you इदं this प्रवक्ष्यामि shall I narrate गुह्यं profound ब्रह्म brahman सनातनम् eternal यथा च about मरणं प्राप्य upon death आत्मा the Self भवति attains गौतम O Gautama.
Well then, Gautama, I shall tell you about this profound and eternal brahman and also about what happens to the Atman after death occurs.
The question that has always intrigued the human mind is: ‘What happens to the ‘person’ after death?’ The veda has a reply to this question. Here, in this mantra, we have the AchArya, Yama, give this reply. As a prelude to this he says: I shall tell you now, once again, about this most secret and eternal entity, brahman. By realizing It one goes beyond the transmigratory existence called saMsAra. And, by passing away without getting to realize the Great Truth one certainly continues to be trapped by ignorance and thereby remains in saMsAra. And this transmigration is being stated here:
योनिमन्ये प्रपद्यन्ते शरीरत्वाय देहिनः ।
स्थाणुमन्येऽनुसंयन्ति यथाकर्म यथाश्रुतम् ॥ ७ ॥
योनिम् womb अन्ये others प्रपद्यन्ते attain to शरीरत्वाय to take another body देहिनः the embodied beings. स्थाणुम् the vegetative life अन्ये others अनुसंयन्ति attain to यथाकर्म as per their actions यथाश्रुतम् and as per their knowledge.
Some jIva-s enter the womb to be embodied as organic beings and some go into non-organic matter, according to their work and according to their knowledge.
Those ignorant ones who have not had the realization of their true self attain to one or the other womb with a view to take up a body. Others, who are even more endowed with ignorance take up vegetative forms like trees after leaving the present body upon death. What indeed decides the type of womb/form the jIva takes? The upaniShad specifies: it is the kind of actions and the kind of knowledge the jIva has to its account. The idea is this: the kind of action it performs and the kind of knowledge the jIva acquires form a kind of tendency, vAsanA, in the jIva. In other words, the jIva has wilfully wanted to ‘be’ in that environment that would further that vAsanA.
Hence, by ‘law of natural selection’ the jIva takes up this or that body. It is for this reason that the veda instructs one to take up consciously only those actions that are conducive to progress in the spiritual journey. And to acquire only that knowledge that would further spiritual growth. If one is not careful on this count there is true disaster. All spiritual disciplines are aimed at helping the jIva remain in the trouble-free zone and never stray from it. Devotional exercises, keeping inspiring company, study of elevating literature, etc. are such invaluable aids that make sure the jIva progresses spiritually, even though this would take several lifetimes. Such is the care the Mother veda bestows on the aspirant that it cannot be replaced even by a thousand parents.