kaThopaniShad Series Part – 9
What causes man to choose the pleasurable, preyas, so naturally when he is capable of walking the path of that which is truly beneficial, sreyas? With a view to let the aspirant be aware of the nature of man, the upaniShat replies:
श्रेयः च प्रेयः च मनुष्यं एतः
तौ संपरीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः ।
श्रेयः हि धीरः अभि प्रेयसः वृणीते
प्रेयः मन्दः योग-क्षेमात् वृणीते ॥
श्रेयः the preferable च and प्रेयः च the pleasurable मनुष्यं man एतः approach तौ these two संपरीत्य weighed विविनक्ति distinguishes/separates धीरः the intelligent man. श्रेयः the preferable, the beneficial हि indeed धीरः the intelligent one अभि by all means प्रेयसः comparable to the pleasurable वृणीते selects प्रेयः the pleasurable मन्दः the short-sighted one योग-क्षेमात् to satisfy his concern for security and growth वृणीते chooses.
Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to a man. The calm soul examines them well and discriminates. Yes, he prefers the good to the pleasant; but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.
The man of dull intelligence is incapable of making a discriminative choice. He is unable to weigh the pros and cons of the means and end when different opposing alternatives present themselves to him in life. It looks like a mixture of things from which he has to carefully make a separation. It is in this manner that the preferable and the pleasurable are encountered by man often in life. He is required to distinguish between the various mixed things like the legendary swan that is capable of separating the water from milk when a mixed liquid is placed before it. He will have to use his intellect to sift the preferable goal from the pleasurable one.
Not just that, he has to do the same sifting when it comes to the selecting of the means to attain the goal too. For, often one is not very sure of the correct means that will result in the chosen goal. More often than not, failures in life are encountered due to making wrong choices with regard to the means. A mismatch between the means and the end result, results in unpleasant situations. Needless to say that it is the intelligent one that makes the right choice of taking the goal of sreyas in rejection of the goal of preyas. He is able to judge, with his exposure to the company of the wise, the noble and the truly successful ones, that the endeavor for liberation is far far better than putting all efforts for pleasurable things in life. What do these pleasurable things constitute of? They are all the thing materialistic, people, relationships, positions, animals, instruments, vehicles, houses, etc. that offer security and wellbeing to man.
स त्वं प्रियान् प्रियरूपान् च कामान्
अभिध्यायन् नचिकेतः अत्यस्राक्षीः ।
न एतां सृङ्कां वित्तमयीं अवाप्तः
यस्यां मज्जन्ति बहवो मनुष्याः ॥
स that त्वं you प्रियान् desirable प्रियरूपान् delightful च too कामान् things अभिध्यायन् upon due consideration नचिकेतः O Nachiketa अत्यस्राक्षीः discarded/rejected न nor एतां these सृङ्कां means of वित्तमयीं wealth अवाप्तः accept यस्यां in which मज्जन्ति are immersed बहवो most मनुष्याः men.
O Nachiketa, after pondering well the pleasures that are or seem to be delightful, you have renounced them all. You have not taken the road abounding in wealth, where many men sink.
Yama continues to address Nachiketa, praising him for the rare discrimination he has demonstrated. Despite having been tempted repeatedly with a variety of objects and facilities that could give you pleasures of the highest kind, you, O Nachiketa, have deliberated critically on the nature of these and rejected them. Their impermanence and emptiness have indeed weighed in favor of your discarding them. Relationships that could be very dear like sons, celestial women have not found favor in your consideration. What a high acumen you possess! This despicable path of endless seeking of wealth you have not chosen even though it is placed before you. You have distinguished yourself from the lot of men who are naturally immersed in the course of accumulating wealth that they think caters to their security and wellbeing only to discover later that they reap more misery than joy.
Here is an account of a real-life instruction on vairagyam; it is included in some detail as several aspects of vairagyam are brought out: (an excerpt from the book Yoga Enlightenment and Perfection detailing the spiritual sAdhana and its culmination in the life of Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha MahaswaminaH, Sringeri Sharada Peetham.)
Finally, Paramacharyal asked, ‘Now, tell Me. Is it better to become a householder or sannyAsin?’
Bereft of any hesitation, Sri Srinivasa Sastry (as Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswaminah was known prior to sannyAsa) averred that taking up sannyAsa was, indeed, superior.
One day, He posed some queries to Sri Vaidyanatha Sastry, His teacher. These were:
(i) I have heard that the eldest son in the family must compulsorily get married. Is it so?
(ii) Our Guru embraced monasticism after becoming highly erudite. Is it obligatory that one should acquire a deep knowledge of the scriptures prior to renouncing the world?
(iii) I have heard that when one is born, immediately a set of debts accrue to one. Some of these are repaid by serving one’s parents, some by worshipping the deva-s and yet others by begetting progeny. Is this indeed the state of affairs?
(iv) Is one permitted to enter another Ashrama only after dwelling for long as a brahmachArin in the hermitage of the Guru?
(v) Can a young boy like Me take up saMnyAsa if he desires to? Parents may not grant permission. Can Sanyasa be taken up without their approval?
Sri Vaidyanatha Sastry was not in a position to reply satisfactorily to Him. Subsequently Paramacharyal went on His usual evening walk to the Kalabhairava temple with both of them. On the way, He recited the following verse (II.35) of the prabodha-sudhAkara:
(The veda says that ‘loka’ is not there for one bereft of a son. What is that loka? Is it liberation or transmigration or another world? It cannot be the first one.)
Paramacharyal then asked Sri Vaidyanatha Sastry to recite the next two sloka-s of the prabodha- sudhAkara and give the meaning. Sri Sastry gave the overall meaning on the following lines:
It cannot be said that begetting a son confers liberation. This is because not all people who have sons have attained the exalted state. Further, if mere procreation were to yield emancipation, then the cycle of transmigratory existence itself would cease since numerous people do have children. A son cannot necessarily be the cause of happiness in this world and the next. The reason is that to attain a higher world the veda prescribes the performance of special rites, such as the jyotiSToma. It does not explicitly declare begetting of progeny as constituting the means. The veda clearly proclaims that wealth, progeny and the like cannot serve to confer liberation. Only the realisation of the Atman, by hearing the Truth, cogitating upon It and focusing one’s mind on It, yields immortality.
Utterances of the shruti to the effect that a son is essential should be understood as merely eulogising the performance of sacrifices such as the putreSTi. The putreSTi-yAga serves to obtain a son. To induce people who have a desire for children to perform it, its importance is stressed. The veda, which is like a mother, certainly does not intend to compel one without desires to perform such sacrifices.
After this, Paramacharyal proceeded to give a detailed exposition. He said that marriage is compulsory only for a person who wants to enjoy sensual pleasures. It is not obligatory on one who has strong dispassion to lead a house-holder’s life. Further, there is no vedic injunction that a dispassionate one should get married. The veda-s indicate remedies for the removal of desires and never exhort the gratification of longings or procreation. Just as fond parents would only try to save their child from falling into fire and would not induce it to tumble into it, so too do the veda-s indicate the means for people to abstain from bad ways and to proceed in the holy path. In fact the moment one becomes extremely dispassionate, one can renounce and become an ascetic. Thus a man can become an ascetic regardless of whether he is a celibate or a house-holder or a forest-dweller.
Paramacharyal went on to explain the futility of begetting a child. He strengthened His explanations by various citations and firmly drove home His points. For instance, He said that only rarely one happens to get a son who is endowed with all good qualities. Even on such a son being born, if the lad were to be short-lived or diseased or were to later have no children, the parents would have to put up with mental suffering. If a young child were to suffer on account of diseases or planetary influences, the grief of the parents would know no end. If the child were to grow up a little but were to be stupid then too the parents would be far from happy. Further, if after upanayana, the ceremony to initiate the boy into vedic learning, the boy were not to become learned or, if learned, he were to refuse to get married, then also the parents would suffer agony.
Paramacharyal explained that shrAddha (a rite performed for the deceased parents) is an obligatory duty that purifies the performer. He emphasised that the manes do not sustain themselves exclusively on the pinDa (ball of cooked rice) that is offered during the shrAddha ceremony. He went on to add that the stories found in texts like the mahAbhArata about the necessity of offspring are not meant for advanced spiritual aspirants who have strong dispassion. (to be continued)