kaThopaniShad Series Part – 35
By realizing the all-pervading brahman that is free of all differences and as one’s very Self, one becomes freed of the ‘knots’ of ignorance etc. Such a one is verily brahman even while living (the rest of his destined bodily life). He does not transmigrate upon the death of the body. The upaniShadic passages such as ‘अत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुते’ (‘He attains to brahman here itself’) kaThopaniShat (2.3.14) and ‘न तस्य प्राणा उत्क्रामन्ति ब्रह्मैव सन् ब्रह्माप्येति’ (‘His subtle body does not leave the gross body upon death; He being brahman Itself attains to brahman’) bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShat (4.4.6) teach this beyond doubt.
Those who are not endowed with the knowledge of the Absolute brahman stated above and those who wish to attain to the brahmaloka (owing to specific meditations on the conditioned brahman) and also those who will be returning to the transmigratory life in a different body, however, will take one or the other path upon the death of the body. Such specific path(s) get delineated with a view to praise the knowledge of the Absolute brahman. Moreover, in the beginning of the upaniShadic dialogue Nachiketa had asked for the knowledge of the meditation on agni, the Fire God, as his second boon. The method of obtaining the fruit of this meditation too has to be stated. Keeping all this in view the next mantra states:
शतं चैका हृदयस्य नाड्य-
स्तासां मूर्धानमभिनिःसृतैका ।
विष्वङ्ङन्या उत्क्रमणे भवन्ति ॥ १६ ॥
शतं च एका hundred and one हृदयस्य of the heart नाड्यः nerves (channels) तासां of which मूर्धानम् crown अभिनिःसृता pierces एका one तया through it ऊर्ध्वम् upwards आयन् move अमृतत्वं immortality एति attains विष्वङ् in all directions अन्या others उत्क्रमणे in rebirth भवन्ति happen
There are one hundred and one nerves (channels) of the heart, one of which pierces the crown of the head. Going upward by it, a man at death attains immortality. But when his prANa passes out by other arteries, going in different directions, then he is reborn in the world.
There are a hundred arteries and one more that is called ‘suShumnA’ which all issue forth from the heart of the individual. This suShumnA pierces through the crown and travels upwards. At the time of death one ought to bring one’s mind under control through this channel and get it concentrated in the heart. Through that the ‘person’ goes out of the body and via the solar path attains immortality, which however, is only relative. The viShNu purANam (2.8.97) says, ‘The place (brahma loka) that lasts till the absorption of all the elements (cosmic dissolution) is termed ‘immortality’. Or it could be that this meditator who has thus arrived at the brahma loka, the abode of the Creator BrahmA, at the end of a long tenure of stay there and enjoying the incomparable pleasures obtaining there, attains immortality, never to be embodied again. This is the primary sense of the word ‘immortality.’
Supposing a person, jIva, leaves the body upon death, through any other channel (as distinguished from the suShumnA spoken of above) then he will return to the transmigratory life.
Having said that the upaniShad gives out the conclusion of all the chapters delineated in the foregoing:
सदा जनानां ह्दये सन्निविष्टः ।
तं स्वाच्छरीरात्प्रवृहेन्मुञ्जादिषीकां धैर्येण ।
तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतं तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतमिति ॥ १७ ॥
अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः not larger than the thumb पुरुषः The PuruSha अन्तरात्मा inner Self सदा always जनानां ह्दये in the heart of beings सन्निविष्टः dwells तं Him स्वात् शरीरात् from one’s physical body प्रवृहेत् one must separate मुञ्जात् from the blade of grass इषीकां the stalk धैर्येण with steadiness तं Him विद्यात् let one realize शुक्रम् as the Pure अमृतं Immortal One तं Him विद्यात् let one realize शुक्रम् as the Pure अमृतम् Immortal One इति Indeed
The purusha, not larger than a thumb, the inner Self, always dwells in the hearts of men. Let a man separate Him from his body with steadiness, as one separates the tender stalk from a blade of grass. Let him know that Self as the Bright, as the Immortal – yea, as the Bright, as the Immortal.
In the foregoing (2.1.12 and 13) it was explained that the Innermost Self, the Atman, of the ‘size’ of one’s thumb, always dwells in the heart of all beings. This ‘dwelling’ is to be understood as the availability of the Universal Consciousness in the individual body for conducting all transactions such as breathing, thinking, perceiving, moving, etc. and also to end the transmigratory life by realizing It in the heart. One should discern It by separating It from the body-mind complex. Surely, it is not a separation by which one has the Self and the inert body-mind complex as two distinct things on hand. For, when such a separation, though impossible, were to be conceived of, one would not live since the Self would not be available in conjunction with the body apparatus to enable it to function. Therefore the separation is intellectual, keeping the intellect alive and yet realizing the separateness of the Self from the inert body apparatus. The mantra gives an analogy, though physical, to help one understand and appreciate the subtlety involved in the concept/process: It is akin to the carefully separating, drawing out the pithy part of the stalk of a blade of grass. No room for inadvertence ought to be afforded in the process since even a little of carelessness would render the pith broken. In other words, the aim of taking out the pith completely, as a whole, would not be accomplished.
Upon thus discerning, separating, the Self from the body-mind apparatus one should realize, recognize, It as the Supreme brahman that is Pure Immortal Consciousness. The statement is repeated in the mantra to indicate the end of the upaniShadic discourse.
With a view to praise the knowledge, the upaniShad concludes the story of the dialogue between the Teacher Yama and the disciple/aspirant Nachiketa:
मृत्युप्रोक्तां नचिकेतोऽथ लब्ध्वा
विद्यामेतां योगविधिं च कृत्स्नम् ।
रन्योऽप्येवं यो विदध्यात्ममेव ॥ १८ ॥
मृत्युप्रोक्तां taught by Death नचिकेतोऽथ Nachiketa thereafter लब्ध्वा having attained विद्याम् एतां this the teaching/knowledge योगविधिं च and the method of practicing it कृत्स्नं completely ब्रह्मप्राप्तः having attained brahman विरजः अभूत् became free of impurities विमृत्युः and free of death अन्यः अपि anyone else too एवं thus यः whoever वित् knows अध्यात्मं एव certainly this Self alone.
Having received this wisdom taught by the Lord of Death and the entire process of yoga, Nachiketa became free from impurities and death and attained brahman. Thus it will be also with any other who knows, in this manner, the inmost Self.
Nachiketa the abundantly qualified aspirant received this esoteric teaching of the Atman from the pre-eminent Teacher Yama. The teaching given is complete in all respects including the method of making it an immediate realization, aparokSha j~nAnam. This teaching was obtained as a boon by Nachiketa from Yama. Having got this teaching and realizing himself as brahman, Nachiketa became liberated. This liberation is the result of his becoming pure, freed of merit and demerit. Also he was already free from desire and ignorance; this being his true nature. In other words, the fruit of liberation is had only when one becomes pure, free from passions and ignorance. For, ignorance is the fundamental entity that causes bondage and the eradication of ignorance results in liberation.
Not only Nachiketa got this exalted state but anyone just like him endowed with the zeal and qualifications will also succeed in receiving the vidyA. This vidyA is of the innermost Self free of all limiting adjuncts. One will gain the conviction that this Self is not something that is different from his true self. He who realizes this, like Nachiketa, will become free of impurities consisting of merits and demerits and released from death consisting of desire and ignorance.
The upaniShad concludes the discourse with a peace chant aimed at dispelling/quelling all faults owing to lapses due to inadvertence in the course of giving out the teaching by the Teacher and receiving it by the aspirant:
ओम् सह नाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु । सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ॥ १९ ॥
ऒम् शान्तिः ! शान्तिः !! शान्तिः !!!
Om. May brahman protect us both! May brahman bestow upon us both the fruit of Knowledge! May we both obtain the energy to acquire Knowledge! May what we both study reveal the Truth! May we cherish no ill feeling toward each other!
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!
The kaThopaniShat is one of the Ten Principal upaniShad-s for which Sri Shankaracharya has penned commentaries. The upaniShad is very popular among aspirants and teachers in that the teaching of dispassion and other qualifications required for receiving this Knowledge is given out very impressively. The nature of the Self is brought out in lucid terms with apt examples too. The nature of the not-Self consisting of the world and the objects too is dramatically taught, through the chariot imagery. An involved study of this upaniShad with the help of a qualified Teacher will confer upon the aspirant the exalted reward of liberation.
The series expounding the teaching with the Commentary of Sri Shankaracharya as the basis ends here with this 35th part.
I dedicate this study-series to the Great Teachers of the Advaita Vedanta tradition.
Part 1, Part 34