The muNDakopaniShat – Part 16
Since the realization of the Ātman is the highest accomplishment, it would be thought that one must engage in much study, etc. towards that end. The Upaniṣad does not approve of such an idea. On the contrary it teaches that study, etc. are only secondary to the primary requirement of the aspirant’s uncompromising commitment to attain the realization of the Self. The study of the veda-s, much learning, mastering various disciplines like grammar, etc. are not the ones that ensure the securing of Self-knowledge. Nor does the intellectual capacity to retain what has been learnt constitute the direct means to realization. Not even giving to much hearing of the scriptural teaching, etc. is the primary means. Then, what indeed is the most necessary requirement? It is the aspirant’s unswerving zeal to attain the Ātman that surpasses all the other means. This is because the Ātman is ever attained, the very nature of the aspirant and never an attainable entity. How exactly does the ‘attainment’ take place? It is of the nature of the Ātman that is covered as it were by avidyā, when uncovered by vidyā, stands revealed in all its pristine form. It is like a pot being revealed in the presence of light. Therefore the real means to attain the Ātman is the total commitment to seek the Ātman alone to the exclusion of every other goal in life.
नायमात्मा बलहीनेन लभ्यो न च प्रमादात्तपसो वाप्यलिङ्गात् ।
एतैरुपायैर्यतते यस्तु विद्वांस्तस्यैष आत्मा विशते ब्रह्म धाम ॥ ४ ॥
न not अयम् this आत्मा Ātman बलहीनेन by the weak लभ्यः attained न nor च too प्रमादात् mistake तपसः austerity वा either अपि also अलिङ्गात् non-renunciation एतैः by these उपायैः means यतते strives यः he who तु but विद्वान् knower तस्य his एष this आत्मा Ātman विशते enters ब्रह्म Brahman धाम abode
This Atman cannot be attained by one who is without strength or earnestness or who is without knowledge accompanied by renunciation. But if a wise man strives by means of these aids, his soul enters the Abode that is Brahman.
What are the qualifications one has to acquire in order to successfully aspire and strive to attain the realization of the Ātman? In reply the Upaniṣad says that one has to be strong, alert, austere and be a renunciate as well. These are to be present without exception since without these the Self is not realized. Strength is characterized by the spiritual power that arises owing to constant delving in the Ātman, ātma-niṣṭhā. Association with worldly connections and objects such as wife, son, cattle, etc. generate, give room for, inadvertence in the form of not being attentive to the Ātman. One is carried away, as it were, by such association. So, the teaching is that one has to be free of these. How is that accomplished? The reply given is: one has to have renounced these; be a sannyāsin. ‘Tapas’ in the present context is the knowledge of the Self. Even this knowledge will be steady only when accompanied by renunciation. When the aspirant, vidvān, endowed with discrimination, viveka, who is a knower of the self, strives constantly with the essential qualifications such as strength, alertness, renunciation and self-knowledge, by the dint of such practice, his Ātman ‘enters’ the ‘abode’ of Brahman; he is united with Brahman. In other words, he attains the firm realization that he is non-different from Brahman. The knower of Brahman is verily Brahman, as taught by this very Upaniṣad.
सम्प्राप्यैनमृषयो ज्ञानतृप्ताः कृतात्मानो वीतरागाः प्रशान्ताः ।
ते सर्वगं सर्वतः प्राप्य धीरा युक्तात्मानः सर्वमेवाविशन्ति ॥ ५ ॥
सम्प्राय having attained एनम् this Self/Brahman ऋषयः seers ज्ञानतृप्ताः content with knowledge कृतात्मानः accomplished all वीतरागाः free of longings प्रशान्ताः tranquil ते they सर्वगं omnipresent सर्वतः everywhere प्राप्य beholding धीराः wise युक्तात्मानः self-controlled सर्वम् All एव verily आविशन्ति enter
Having realized the Ātman, the seers become satisfied with that Knowledge. Their souls are established in the Supreme Self, they are free from passions and they are tranquil in mind. Such calm souls, ever devoted to the Self, behold everywhere the omnipresent Brahman and in the end enter into It, which is all this.
It was said in the previous mantra that the aspirant, fulfilling all the conditions, becomes one with Brahman. What does this mean and how does this happen? Having secured the direct realization of the Ātman, they, having nothing else to achieve or attain, experience great contentment. What is the source of such satisfaction? It is the Ātman that is the very substratum of everything in creation. Their fulfillment is not by contacting any external worldly objects of enjoyment that cause some or the other transformation to the body. This mantra calls them ‘Ṛṣi-s’. That etymologically means ‘one who sees’. They are the real seers for they see, actually experience, what is truly to be seen, known. They have that ‘ātma darśanam’ that is the most worthy of seeking and attaining. They have accomplished everything, kṛtātmānaḥ, for they have become, evolved into, the very Paramātman, the source of everything in creation. They are free of all defects such as longing, lust. The presence of just one defect implies the presence of the rest too. Greed, for example, is accompanied by anger when thwarted. When a strongly desired object is attained there is the egoistic feeling of ‘I alone have this and none else’. When someone else too has this, then envy raises its head.
Thus the aspirant has to constantly endeavor to keep all these defects at bay. When the sole abode of Bliss, the Ātman, is directly realized, the stated defects do not stay in him; they depart finding no occasion for their machinations. And they become tranquil minded. Longings no longer tormenting them, their mind and sense organs attain a natural state of rest, free from all needless activity. Having become thus, they attain Brahman that is all-pervading like ether, everywhere, with no confines caused by upādhis such as body and mind which would limit a person to one place or time or object. They having realized their self to be verily Brahman, extremely discriminating, by nature ever self-controlled, they attain the All, Brahman, even while leaving the body on death. Just as the ‘finite’ ether in a pot, when broken, without any specific action, becomes one with the all-pervading ether, so too this man of knowledge is freed from the avidyā-created body-mind limitation. The idea is that till such time the body continues to live, there is a semblance of finitude owing to the body-mind apparatus ‘in’ which the Jñānin ‘lives’. Upon physical death, there no longer being anything to so ‘restrict’ or ‘constrict’ him, he is literally one with the all-pervading infinite Brahman. That is the goal of the human birth. And to enable one to attain it the compassionate Veda through the compassionate Ācārya gives the instruction. Study of the Upaniṣads is to accomplish this avowed purpose. Thus do the knowers of Brahman ‘enter’ the ‘abode’ that is Brahman.
वेदान्तविज्ञानसुनिश्चितार्थाः संन्यासयोगाद्यतयः शुद्धसत्त्वाः ।
ते ब्रह्मलोकेषु परान्तकाले परामृताः परिमुच्यन्ति सर्वे ॥ ६ ॥
वेदान्तविज्ञानसुनिश्चितार्थाः with the firm conviction of the Vedāntic knowledge संन्यासयोगात् by the practice of sannyāsa यतयः these constantly striving शुद्धसत्त्वाः with extremely purified mind ते they ब्रह्मलोकेषु in Brahman परान्तकाले at the end परामृताः with supreme immortality परिमुच्यन्ति total freedom सर्वे all of them
Having well ascertained the Self, the goal of the Vedāntic knowledge, and having purified their minds through the practice of sannyāsa, the seers, never relaxing their efforts, enjoy here supreme Immortality and at the time of the great end attain complete freedom in Brahman.
What do these ‘knowers’ know? The nature of the Ātman is taught in the Vedānta, the Upaniṣads. Resorting to this source of knowledge, they have known their Supreme Self, with the firm conviction that they are that alone and not the body-mind apparatus. The qualification ‘Supreme’ is to show that the anātman, not-self, consisting of body, mind, senses, etc. too claim the status of ‘ātman’. Associating or identifying with them is ignorance and hence the qualification ‘supreme’ to denote the Ātman the real Self. They have renounced all work pertaining to the worldly attachments and are ever devoted to the contemplation of the Ātman. As a result they are of extremely purified mind. The mantra uses a plural ‘In the brahma loka-s’ to denote their destination. While Brahman is one alone, without a second of any kind, how do we explain the plural here? Śaṅkarācārya says that every knower, at the end of the bodily life, is admitted to attain Brahman, as stated in the earlier mantra. Since there are many knowers, as specified in the mantra itself, there are many such terminations and consequently attainments too. Hence the plural is used. In any case what is meant is they all enter Brahman. They attain to supreme immortality, not the kind of relative immortality as the gods, but the absolute immortality of Brahman. They have realized themselves to be that and hence are absolutely immortal even while living.