kaThopaniShad Series Part – 32
The Teacher, Lord Yama, is delineating the nature of brahman. In the mantra 2.3.2 brahman is shown to be the Cause of creation which wields the controlling power over the entire cosmic administration. This is depicted in a figurative way: It is as though brahman is holding a weapon, the thunderbolt, raised, so that the erring managers are always under fear of its blow and therefore are ever vigilant in carrying out their allotted cosmic duties. The sun, the air, the fire, etc. function through the respective deities and it is these deities that are under the control of the Supreme Lord, brahman. It is akin to the employer in the world who wields his controlling and supervisory powers over the employees. While in the world the employees have a periodical respite from their functions, the cosmic deities have to engage themselves in their functions without any rest.
The purpose of saying this is that those who realize brahman indicated through such a lordship become liberated. In other words, the Primary Consciousness behind the cosmic activity is the Supreme Self and he who realizes himself to be none other than this Supreme Consciousness ceases to be in the saMsAric bondage.
How does the cosmos function due to the fear of the Creator Lord?
भयादस्याग्निस्तपति भयात्तपति सूर्यः ।
भयादिन्द्रश्च वायुश्च मृत्युर्धावति पञ्चमः ॥ ३ ॥
भयात् due to fear अस्य of Him अग्निः Fire तपति burns भयात् due to fear तपति burns सूर्यः sun भयात् from fear इन्द्रः indra च and वायुः vAyu च and मृत्युः Death धावति run पञ्चमः the fifth
From terror of brahman, fire burns; from terror of It, the sun shines; from terror of It, indra and vayu and Death, the fifth, run.
It is owing to the fear of the Creator brahman, Ishwara, do all the cosmic authorities engage in their respective functions. Fire burns, Sun burns/heats/shines, indra, the Lord of all gods, vAyu, the god of Air and the Lord of Death, the fifth one, all incessantly engage in their duties. Even these authorities who hold key portfolios in the cosmos continuously go about their duties. This will not be accountable unless there is an authority above them as well who appears as though holding a thunderbolt to wield His authority. The mantra emphasizes that there exists the Supreme brahman which cannot be grasped by the senses. The veda is the only source from which we get to know the presence of brahman. The veda too, uses the logic of the above kind to teach us the existence of brahman as we cannot by ourselves, using our sense organs, know Its existence.
What happens when this Truth is realized? And what is the consequence of not realizing It?
इह चेदशकद्बोद्धुं प्राक्शरीरस्य विस्रसः ।
ततः सर्गेषु लोकेषु शरीरत्वाय कल्पते ॥ ४
इह चेत् If here अशकत् able to बोद्धुं realize प्राक् before शरीरस्य the body’s विस्रसः fall ततः then सर्गेषु in created लोकेषु worlds शरीरत्वाय to take birth कल्पते he becomes
If a man is able to realise brahman here, before the falling asunder of his body, then he is liberated; if not, he is embodied again in the created worlds.
The message of the vedAnta is given out without mincing words. The idea of being in a transmigratory life is due to ignorance of one’s true nature. The panacea for this is knowledge of one’s nature. If one secures this knowledge then there is no more birth-death cycle for that individual. This knowledge has to be gained before death, in other words, before the current life ends. For, in case one dies without realizing the Truth, he is certain to return to the world of misery. The vedAnta is the sole authority in matters of life and death. The bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad says that an ignorant person dying gets the intimation of his next life. There is also the teaching that the subtle body of the person who has secured this knowledge does not depart from this body; it dissolves in this body itself.
One is reminded of the kenopaniShad-s wake-up call:
इह चेदवेदीथ सत्यमस्ति न चेदिहावेदीन् महती विनष्टिः।
भूतेषु भूतेषु विचित्य धीराः प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति ।।2.5।
If a man knows the Atman here, he then attains the true goal of life. If he does not know It here, a great destruction awaits him. Having realised the Self in every being, the wise relinquish the world and become immortal.
Therefore one has to put in the required efforts with total commitment and secure the knowledge of the Self.
From the above it is clear that it is possible to get a clear knowledge of the Self in this life, in this world itself. And that clarity is of the type of apprehending one’s reflection in a mirror. In the other worlds it is very difficult to obtain this clarity. Even though in the brahmaloka there will be great clarity it is extremely difficult to go to that loka.
यथादर्शे तथात्मनि यथा स्वप्ने तथा पितृलोके । यथाप्सु परीव ददृशे तथा गन्धर्वलोके छायातपयोरिव ब्रह्मलोके ॥ ५ ॥
यथा just as आदर्शे in a mirror तथा so आत्मनि in the intellect यथा just as स्वप्ने in dream तथा so पितृलोके in the world of manes यथा as अप्सु in water परि इव ददृशे very clearly तथा so गन्धर्वलोके in the world of gandharvas छायातपयोः इव just as shade and light ब्रह्मलोके in the world of brahmA.
As in a mirror, so in the buddhi; as in a dream, so in the World of the manes; as in water, so brahman is seen in the World of the gandharvas; as in light and shade, so in the World of brahmA.
Just as in a mirror one sees oneself reflected very clearly so too in this world of humans one can realize the Self as reflected in the mirror of intellect. It is the teaching of the vedAnta that brahman that is Atman is available for every being as reflected in the intellect. The intellect, though a product of the sattva aspect of the subtle elements, is capable of holding the reflection of the Atman owing to its purity, that is, absence of grossness naturally. It is the impurity of grossness that gets accumulated in the intellect owing to the non-discriminating living of the individual. The endeavour of the shAstram, the scripture, is to enable the individual to remove the gross and render the intellect very pure and subtle so as to gain the realization of the Self in it.
The mantra goes on to inform us about the varying degrees of clarity of the reflection of the Self in the other worlds. In the dream, owing to the colouring of the mind due to the experiences of the waking state, there is not good clarity. In the world of manes too there is not enough clarity since the individuals there will be exposed to sense enjoyments pertaining to that sphere as a result of their past actions. And in the water one sees a distorted reflection of oneself. Such is the way one can obtain the reflection of the Self in the gandharva loka. While the mantra lists only some spheres, from the various other sources one comes to know that there is not enough clarity in other worlds too that are not mentioned in this mantra.
In the brahma loka alone one can get the realization as clearly as the distinction between shade and light. However, it is extremely difficult to attain to that sphere as it involves very tough practices of scripture-ordained actions and meditations. Therefore it goes without saying that one has to strive to gain Self-realization in this, human, life/world itself.
Having said this, the question arises as to how indeed the Self is to be realized and what is the fruit of such knowledge:
इन्द्रियाणां हि पृथग्भावमुदयास्तमयौ च यत् ।
पृथगुत्पद्यमानानां मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ॥ ६ ॥
इन्द्रियाणां हि of the senses पृथग्भावम् separateness उदयास्तमयौ च rising and setting यत् that पृथक् separately उत्पद्यमानानां originate मत्वा knowing धीरः wise one न शोचति does not grieve
Having understood that the senses have their separate origin and that they are distinct from Atman and also that their rising and setting belong to them alone, a wise man grieves no more.
The nature of the not-Self is spoken of with a view to clearly distinguish it from the Self and realize the Self as It is. The sense organs such as the eyes and ears accomplish the knowing the objects such as form and sound. These organs have originated from the subtle elements that are five in number: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These organs that have originated are certainly distinct, different, from the Atman that has no origin or cause whatsoever. Not only that, these organs undergo a rising and setting cycle too in relation to the waking and sleeping states. Atman, however, has no such cyclic events. Also, Atman is pure Consciousness while the sense organs are inert by themselves. It is important that this discrimination is taught here since it is easy for anyone to identify with the sense organs and get deluded that they are oneself inasmuch as when the sense organs know objects, one thinks that it is he that knows.
Having gained this discriminative knowledge a wise man does not come to grieve. This is because the Atman is eternal, of unchanging nature and of ever-continuing nature (the sense organs function at times and do not at certain other periods as shown above) and therefore can never become subject to grief. So says another upaniShadic passage: ‘the knower of the Self goes beyond sorrow’ (chhAndogya upaniShad 7.1.3)