The kenopaniShat – Part 1
Here starts an exposition of the kenopaniShat, one of the ten principal upaniShad-s for which Sri Shankaracharya is admitted to have written commentaries.
The kenopaniShat is the ninth chapter of the ‘talavakAra’ branch of the sAmaveda. The teaching about the Supreme Self starts with the words ‘keneShitam’ [‘impelled by whom..?’]. Just prior to this there has been an elaborate delineation of the entire range of actions, karma. Even the various meditations on the prANa which supports all actions have been stated. Those meditations that form part of specific scripture-based rites too have been stated in the chapters preceding the ninth one. Subsequent to this is stated the gAyatra sAman which concludes with a mention of the succession of teachers and disciples relating to effects of action. These scripture-based actions/rites and meditations when performed well, that is, without craving for their worldly results, will generate purification of the mind of the aspirant. If a person is intent upon their results, the vedic and non-vedic rites unaccompanied by the vedic meditations, when performed, will result in the doer taking the ‘dark path’ to various worlds and return to this world. On the other hand, when impelled by one’s basic nature one engages in unscriptural actions, birth in animal or plant life is certain.
Only for a person who is free from craving and is of a pure mind, being dispassionate towards the results obtained from actions involving means and ends, which are outside oneself and which are ephemeral, there arises a longing, thirst, for the realization of the Innermost Self. This Self is presented in this upaniShad through the method of a dialogue involving questions and answers.
Who is fit to receive this teaching?
The upaniShad-s specify a high standard of requirements that have to be present in the aspirant yearning for the Supreme Knowledge, brahmavidyA, which liberates one from the trammels of transmigratory life. Of all the qualifications the most significant one is dispassion, vairAgyam. The vivekachUDAmaNi says this very poignantly:
वैराग्यं च मुमुक्षुत्वं तीव्रं यस्य तु विद्यते ।
तस्मिन्नेवार्थवन्तः स्युः फलवन्तः शमादयः ॥30 ॥
The sAdhaka (aspirant) for whom dispassion and desire for freedom are intense, in him only the shama-Adi (mind control, etc.) qualifications are going to be meaningful and fruitful.
एतयोर्मन्दता यत्र विरक्तत्वमुमुक्षयोः ।
मरौ सलिलवत्तत्र शमादेर्भानमात्रता ॥ 31 ॥
In whom there is less intensity in dispassion and desire for freedom, there is only a semblance of shama-Adi (mind control, etc.) qualities.
Therefore say the upaniShad-s:
पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत् स्वयंभू-.
स्तस्मात् पराङ् पश्यति नान्तरात्मन् ।
दावृत्तचक्षुरमृतत्वमिच्छन् ॥ kaThopaniShad 2.2.1 ॥
Yama said: The self-born Lord forced the senses outward; hence one sees outward and not the inner self. But a self-controlled person, desiring Immortality, beholds the inner Self with all sense organs controlled.
In a nutshell, the four-fold qualifications can be summed up as four ‘D’s:
Discrimination [between the eternal and ephemeral, between the True and the false],
Dispassion [with respect to this and other worldly attainments and pleasures],
Discipline [regulation and control of the mind and sense and motor organs, firm faith in the teaching of the Guru and the Scripture, focussed disposition] and
Desire [for liberation].
Equipped with these when an inquiry into the nature of the Self which also involves knowing correctly the nature of the not-Self, is made, one makes steady progress in sAdhana and reaches the goal of self-realization which is only the other name for liberation, mokSha, from transmigratory existence, samsAra.
Self-realization is characterized by the cessation of ignorance, pertaining to the self, which manifests itself as the desire to attain fulfilment in an uninformed way, working for the attainment of perishable goals and experiencing the results of these works. Not just this, but there is also the positive experiencing of freedom from delusion and misery, in the form of undiminishing joy and a serene mind. Says the IshAvAsyopaniShad 7:
तत्र को मोहः कः शोकः एकत्वमनुपश्यतः
There is neither delusion nor the resultant misery for the one who has the vision of unity, advaitam, where there is no real entity other than the One Self.
तरति शोकम् आत्मवित् [the knower of the Self crosses beyond sorrow] chhAndogya upaniShad 7.1.3
भिद्यते हृदयग्रन्थिश्छिद्यन्ते सर्वसंशया: ।
क्षीयन्ते चास्य कर्माणि तस्मिन् दृष्टे परावरे: ।। mUNDakopaniShad 2.2.8
Loosened is the knot around the heart
Slashed are all the doubts
Perished are these chains of karma
In that perception of the Supreme
These passages too confirm the fruit of gaining this knowledge.
What constitutes this knowledge, knowing, of the Self? This is a crucial question in vedAnta. Shankara answers this question thus:
The Self, called variously as Atman, brahman, sat, etc. is not something that requires to be produced afresh through any action involving the body, instruments, mind, etc. On the other hand Atman is ever-existing, never brought about. The knowing of the Self therefore is none other than the removal of all ignorance-created superimpositions to its true nature. The ever-existing Atman is never an object but the very subject who embarks on the exercise to know It. The need for ‘knowing’ It arises since there are misconceptions as to Its real nature. Thus the realization of the Self is none other than removing, freeing oneself from, these misconceptions. When this is accomplished the ever-shining Self is spoken of as having been ‘realized’, by courtesy. It is not like attaining a position or reaching a distant place by undertaking a journey. One remains where one is, where one has been forever, where one will be for all times to come. Yet there is a shift in the vision involving recognizing the Truth as free of all wrong thinking.
Shankara points out that this kenopaniShad starts with the enquiry into the Truth, technically termed ‘brahmajij~nasA’ through the opening words ‘keneShitam…’ [‘impelled by whom…’]. By doing that the upaniShad implies that such an enquiry can happen only to the one duly qualified as stated in the foregoing. The method of dialogue between the Teacher and the disciple is adopted here so as to make the extremely subtle subject matter easily comprehensible. However, the method takes care to point out that the knowledge is impossible with mere ratiocination without the support of the scripture. ‘This Self cannot be comprehended by mere logical argumentation.’ says the kaThopaniShad 1.2.9. Not just that, there has to be a true approaching a really qualified and accomplished Teacher to gain this knowledge: ‘He who is endowed with a Teacher realizes.’ [chandogya up. 6.14.2]. ‘Only when received from/taught by a Teacher does this knowledge become fruitful.’ [chhAndogya up. 4.9.3]. The bhagavadgItA too says: ‘Seek to know the Self by submitting yourself respectfully to the Teacher’ [4.34].
With this background we embark upon the study of this upaniShad which is crisp and profound in meaning and methods. The entire subject matter is distributed in four parts which contain stanzas called mantras/shlokas.
ॐ आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुः श्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि ।
सर्वं ब्रह्मौपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा ब्रह्म निराकरोदनिराकरणमस्त्वनिराकरणं मेऽस्तु । तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
[May my limbs, speech, vital force, eyes, ears, as also strength and all the organs, become well developed. Everything is the brahman revealed in the upaniShad-s. May I not deny brahman; may not brahman deny me. Let there be no spurning (of me by brahman), let there be no rejection (of brahman) by me. May all virtues that are (spoken of) in the upaniShad-s repose in me who am engaged in the pursuit of the Self; may they repose in me.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!]
Mantra 1.1 [here the first numeral indicates the Part and the second specifies the mantra]
केनेषितं पतति प्रेषितं मनः । केन प्राणः प्रथमः प्रैति युक्तः । केनेषितां वाचमिमां वदन्ति चक्षुः श्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति ॥ १ ॥
केन ईषितं by whose will directed पतति proceeds प्रेषितं sent मनः the mind केन by whom प्राणः the prANa प्रथमः the foremost प्रैति engages in its duty युक्तः being commanded केन ईषितां by whom willed वाचं इमां this speech वदन्ति people utter चक्षुः eye श्रोत्रं ear क उ देवः which god indeed युनक्ति enjoins?
The disciple asked: Om. By whose will directed does the mind proceed to its object? At whose command does the prANa, the foremost, do its duty? At whose will do men utter speech? Who is the god that directs the eyes and ears?
The very opening question comes with a profound meaning that indicates the level of the aspirant. He has known that the mind and the sense-motor organ composite is itself inert. Yet they are experienced to function in their own fields. It is impossible for the inert organs to function on their own. There needs to be a force beyond them which is sentient that provides them with the sentiency to act. It is with a view to know the nature of that superior entity that this question is put. And such an entity must have the will to put these organs, instruments, to activity. The mind has the property of thinking, willing, etc. Yet the sentient entity beyond the mind has to enable the mind to perform its stated functions. It is like a servant who carries out the bidding of the master. The enquiry here is to ascertain, determine, the true nature of the master.