V Subrahmanian, Thursday, March 6, 2014 1:24 pm

The kenopaniShat – Part 3

Part 3

A question arises: When the sense organs such as the ear are being discussed, it is but appropriate to consider the sense of smelling alone by the word ‘prANa’ occurring in this mantra 1.1.2 (that is currently being discussed) and not the vital force (which is popularly called ‘prANa’).  The reply is: This is true. The upaniShad considers the organ of smell to be accounted for by mentioning the vital force.  This is because the entire group of sense/motor organs function only empowered by the vital force.  And that is brahman, is the contextual meaning that is intended to be conveyed by this mantra.

is the Eye of the eye.  The eye is the organ that grasps forms/colours and this is enabled by the availability in the organ the sentient power, brahman, which, therefore, is the Eye of the eye.

It is to be noted that since the questioner intends to know ‘that’ which is behind the functioning of all these organs, we have to supply the word ‘ज्ञात्वा’  ‘having known’.  This is required since the fruit of this enquiry is stated in this very mantra as ‘अमृता भवन्ति’ (they become immortal).  The attainment of immortality is possible only by knowing, realizing, (brahman) and not otherwise. Bondage, in the form of repeated birth and death, is characterized by identifying with the organs as oneself.  Immortality, however, is possible only by giving up the identification with the sense organs by knowing That which is the very driving power of these, as oneself.  Hence it is said: the Ear, etc. (Self)  of the ear, etc. (not-self)  is to be realized as oneself.  The mantra uses the word ‘धीराः’ ‘wise’ to qualify those who acquire this Knowledge and get liberated.  This is because, unless the specific/specialized knowledge whose content is brahman-as-the-Self is realized, it is impossible to gain liberation that is immortality.  This is possible only when one leaves this body having given up all desires pertaining to the material accomplishments characterized by the identification with sons, friends, wife, relatives, etc. as ‘I and mine’. 

The above is substantiated by the various vedic passages such as:

‘Not by work, not by progeny, not by wealth, but by renunciation some (rare ones) attained immortality’ (kaivalyopaniShat 1.2), ‘,  ‘The self-existent Supreme Lord damned the sense-organs by creating them with outgoing tendencies; therefore a man perceives only outer objects with them and not the inner Self. But a discriminating person, longing for Immortality, beholds the inner Self with his eyes turned away from sense objects.’ (kaThopaniShat 2.1.1) and ‘When all desires that cling to one’s heart fall off….then one attains brahman here.’ (kaThopaniShat 2.3.14). 

Or, one can even take the meaning of the mantra’s concluding part to mean: ‘having separated from this body the wise attain immortality.’

Since the brahman that is being taught here is the Self of even the ear, etc. it is itself not accessible/perceptible to the senses, etc and therefore has to be made known by a special method:

Mantra 1.1.3

न तत्र चक्षुर्गच्छति न वाग्गच्छति नो मनो न विद्मो न विजानीमो यथैदनुशिष्यादन्यदेव तद्विदितादथोऽविदितादधि । इति शुश्रुम पूर्वेषां ये नस्तद्व्याचचक्षिरे ॥ ३ ॥  

न तत्र चक्षुः गच्छति the eye does not reach there न वाक् गच्छति speech does not reach there  नो मनः not the mind  न विद्मः we do not know न विजानीमः we are not aware  यथा the method एतत् this अनुशिष्यात् could be instructed अन्यत्  एव indeed different तत् is That  विदितात् from the known अथो again अविदितात् अधि above the unknown  इति thus शुश्रुम we heard पूर्वेषां from the ancient teachers ये who नः to us तत् व्याचचक्षिरे explained (That).

The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor the mind. We do not know It; we do not understand how anyone can teach It. It is different from the known; It is above the unknown. Thus we have heard from the preceptors of old who taught It to us. 

Now the upaniShadic teaching is getting into really terse mode.  The subject matter is none other than the Knowledge/knowing related to the Supreme Consciousness and the method of getting it across to the aspirant.  In the earlier mantra it was said that this Consciousness is the one that enables the ear, etc. organs. While the eye is able to grasp its object, form, enabled by brahman, the eye itself cannot grasp brahman.    

The organ eye cannot contact brahman as it is impossible to reach one’s Self, Atman.  For, the Self of the eye is brahman.  So too the organ speech cannot reach brahman.  By uttering a word/name through the speech organ, the object that is named is revealed.  Then it is said that the speech proceeds towards the object.  brahman is the self of the object as well as the organ that accomplishes the revelation of the object.   Therefore the organ speech does not reach brahman.  This is akin to fire, though burns and illumines, does not burn or illumine itself.  Nor does the mind reach the Self.  The mind thinks and determines other things, it does not think or determine itself; the mind does not become its own object.  This is because brahman is the Self of the mind as well. Indeed the mind and the senses are the means to know things.  Since the mind and the organs cannot grasp brahman we do not know that brahman is of such and such a nature.

Therefore we do not know how, in what manner, the teaching about brahman is to be given out to the aspirants.  That which is perceptible to the senses can be taught to others by specifying the species, attributes, action, etc. Since brahman is devoid of species, attributes and action, it is extremely difficult to enlighten the disciple/aspirant, and therefore there has to be specialized effort in both the teaching and the grasping of brahman

Even though it is true that brahman is not instructed by employing the instruments such as the eyes, it is certainly possible to transmit the knowledge of brahman by using the vedic method. 

is different from what all is known and is higher than what is unknown. It is the Ear, etc., of the ear, etc. and therefore is no object to the ear, etc.  It, therefore, is different from the known.  That is ‘known’ which is very much within the grasp of knowing, that which is the object of the verb ‘to know’. Since everything is known somewhere by somebody, everything that is manifest comes under ‘known’ alone.   brahman is certainly different from the manifested world.  

Then, whatever is not known, aviditam, is unknown.  To ward off such a situation where brahman remains unknown, the mantra specifies that It is beyond, more, higher, than the ‘not known’ which is the opposite of the ‘known’.  The ‘not known’ is the unmanifest, of the nature of ignorance, avidyA, and is the seed of the manifest/’known’.  That which is higher than something is certainly different from it. 

That which is ‘known’ (manifest) is finite and miserable wherefore it is to be rejected.  When it is said that brahman is different from the known, it is implied that brahman is not finite, miserable and therefore not to be rejected.  Also, since it is said that brahman is different from, higher than, the ‘unknown’ (unmanifest/avidyA), it is implied that It is not something that is to be acquired.  It is only to accomplish an effect that the cause, seed, is acquired by one.  For this reason, too, nothing different (from the Self) need be acquired to serve any purpose distinct from the knower (Self).  Thus, by saying ‘brahman is different from the known and also from the unknown’, the upaniShad, by denying both the rejectable (known) and the not acquireable (unknown), is accomplishing the aspirant’s fulfilment of the quest for knowing brahman.  Indeed, since there is no possibility of anything apart from one’s Self, Atman, that can exist which is different from the known and also the unknown, it becomes self-established that Atman is none other than brahman.  That is the purport of this part of the mantra.  Passages such as ‘ayamatmA brahma’ [‘This Self is brahman’] (mANDUkya (2), Br.up. (2.5.19),( 4.4.5)), ‘ya AtmA apahatapApmA..’ [‘That Self which is untouched by sin’] (chhAndogya up. (8.7.1)), ‘yat sAkShAdaparokShAd brahma’ ….’sarvAntaraH’ [‘The brahman that is immediate and direct – the self that is within all’] (Br.up.(3.4.1)) too teach this identity of the Self and brahman alone.

Thus the supreme teaching of brahman which is the Self of all, free from all distinguishing features, pure Light that is Consciousness is obtainable only through the unbroken lineage of AchArya-s.  This is being stated in the mantra: We have heard from the teaching of our Acharya-lineage and not by argumentation, not by study (or exposition), intelligence, great learning, austerity, sacrifices, etc.  Thus have we heard from our ancient preceptors, the great Ones who expounded the Knowledge of brahman clearly to us. 

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

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