The Ten Upanisads
Sankara Bhagavatpada selected ten out of the numerous Upanisads to comment upon from the non-dualistic point of view. Ramanuja, Madhva and others who came after him wrote commentaries on the same based on their own philosophical points of view. These ten Upanisads are listed in the following stanza for the names to be easily remembered.
Aitareyam ca Chandogyam Brhadaranyakam dasa
Sankara has followed the same order in his Bhasya (commentary).
"Isa" is Isavasya Upanisad (Isavasyopanisad)1. It occurs towards the end of the Samhita of the Sukla-Yajurveda. The name of this Upanisad is derived from its very first word, "Isávasya". The next, "Kena", is Kenopanisad. The Isavasyopanisad proclaims that the entire world is pervaded by Isvara and that we must dedicate all our works to him and attain the Paramatman.
An elephant made of wood looks real to a child. Grown-ups realise that, though it resembles an elephant in shape, it is really wood. To the child the wood is concealed, revealing the elephant; to the grown-up the animal is hidden revealing the wood. Similarly, all this world and the five elements are made of the timber called the Paramatman. We must learn to look upon all this as the Supreme Godhead.
Marattai maraittadu mamada yanai
Marattil maraindadu mamada yanai
Parattai maraittadu parmudal bhutam
Parattil maraindadu parmuda1 bhutam
Tirumular says in this stanza that, because of our being accustomed to Seeing the five elements all the time, we must not forget that the Paramatman is hidden in them. We must recognise that it is indeed he who pervades them and learn to see 'that everything is instinct with Isvara. Sankara expresses exactly the same idea in his bhasya when he speaks of "dantini daru vikare". I don't wish to enter into a debate as to who came first, Tirumular or Sankara. Great men think alike.
The Kenopanisad is also called the Talavakara Upanisad since it occurs in the Talavakara Brahmana of the Jaimini Sakha of the Samaveda. This Upanisad contains a story about the devas. The celestials in their arrogance failed to recognise the Supreme Being whose crown and feet are unknown. Ambika then appeared to give instruction in jnana to Indra, the king of the devas. She explained to him that all our power emanated from the one Great Power, from the one Mahasakti.
The Acharya has written two types of commentaries for this Upanisad, the first word by word as in the case of the other Upanisads and the second sentence by sentence. In his Saundaryalahari has the Kenopanisad in mind when he prays to Amba: "Place your feet on my head, the feet that are held by Mother Veda." The Upanisads (Vedanta) are also called "Veda-siras", "sruti-siras", the "head" or "crown" of the Vedas - the Upanisads which are the "end" of the Vedas (Vedanta) are also their crown. To say that Amba's feet are placed on the head of Mother Veda means that they are held by the Upanisads. It is in the Kenopanisad that we see Amba appearing as Jnanambika (the goddess of jnana). "Samaganapriya" is one of her names in the La1ita sahasranama (The One Thousand Names of Lalita): this is in keeping with the fact that Amba's glory is specially revealed in an Upanisad belonging to the Samaveda.
What we see is the object and we who see it are the subject: the seen is the object, the seer is the subject. We can see our body as an object, we can know about it, know whether it is well or ill. It follows that there is an entity other than it that sees it, the subject called "we". That which sees is the Atman. The subject called the Atman cannot be known by anything else. If it can be known, it also becomes an object and it would further mean that there is another entity that sees: and that will be the true "we". The Atman that is the true "we" can only be the subject and never the object. We may keep aside objects like the body and experience ourselves, the subject called "we", but we cannot know the "we". "To know" means that there is something other than ourselves to be known. It would be absurd to regard the Atman as something other than ourselves. The true "we" is the Atman, the Self. "Knowing" it implies that that which knows it ("we") is different from that which is known (the Self). What can be there that is different in us from our true Self? What is it that is other than the Self that can know the Self? Nothing. We say Atmajnana which literally means "knowing the Atman". But is the phrase, "knowing the Atman", used in the sense of a subject knowing an object? No. "Atmajnana" means the Self experiencing itself, and that is how "jnana" or "knowing" is to be understood. This is the reason why the Kenopanisad says that "he who says that he knows the Atman does not know it". It goes on: "He who says that he does not know knows. He who thinks that he knows does not know and he who thinks he does not know knows2."
The Kathopanisad comes next. It occurs in the Katha Sakha of the Krsna Yajurveda. This Upanisad contains the teachings imparted by Yama to the brahmacarin Naciketas. It begins as a story and leads up to the exposition of profound philosophical truths. The Gita contains quotations from this Upanisad.
What I said just now about the subject-object relationship is explained in depth in the concluding part of the Kathopanisad. How do we remove the ear of grain from the stalk? And how do we draw the pith from the reed? Similarly, we must draw the subject that is the Self from the object that is the body, says the Kathopanisad3. "Desire, anger, hatred, fear, all these appertain to the mind, not to the Self. Hunger, thirst and so on appertain to the body - they are not 'mine'." By constant practice we must learn to reject all such things as do not belong to the Self by "objectifying them". If we do so with concentration, in due course we will be able to overcome the idea that has taken root in us that the body and the mind constitute the "we". We can then exist as the immaculate Self without the impurities tainting the body and the mind.
The Kathopanisad compares the spiritual exercise of separating the Self from the body and the mind to that of drawing off the pith, bright, pure and soft, from the reed. Before you is the spadix of a plantain. When it wilts do you also droop? Think of the body as a lump of flesh closer to you than this spadix of the plantain. This spadix is not the subject that is "we", but the object. On the same lines you must become accustomed to think of the body as an object in relation to the subject that is the Self. During our life in this world itself - during the time we seem to exist in our body - we must learn to treat the body as not "me", not "mine". Moksa or liberation does not necessarily mean ascending to another world like Kailasa or Vaikuntha. It can be attained here and now. What is Moksa? It is everlasting bliss that comes of being freed from all burden. He who lives delighting in his Self in this world itself without any awareness of his body is called a "jivanmukta". The supreme goal of the Vedas and Vedanta is making a man a jivanmukta.
Krsna Paramatman speaks of the same idea in the GIta4. He who, while yet in this world ("ihaiva"), controls his desire and anger before he is released from his body ("prak sariravimoksanat") - he will remain integrated (in yoga) and achieve everlasting bliss. "Ihaiva" = "iha eva", while yet in this world. If you realise the Self, as an inner experience, while yet in this world, at the time of your death you will not be aware that your body is severed from you. The reason is that even before your death, when you are yet in this world, the body does not exist for you. So is there any need for what is called death to destroy it? There is no death for the man who has absolute realisation of his body being not "he" (when you mention the body the mind is also included in it). Where is the question of his dying if he knows that the body is not "me" (that is "he")? The death is only for his body.
The man who has no death thus becomes "amrta" ("immortal"). Hymns like the Purusasukta which appear in the karmakanda of the Vedas also speak of such deathlessness. This idea recurs throughout the Upanisads.
The body, and the mind that functions through it, are the cause of sorrow. All religions are agreed that liberation is a state in which sorrow gives place to everlasting happiness. However, according to religious traditions other than Advaita (non-dualism), a man has to go to some other world for such bliss after his death. Sankara Bhagavatpada establishes that true liberation can be won in this world itself if one ceases to identify oneself totally with the body and remains rooted in the Self.
"Tadetat asariratvam moksakhyam," so he proclaims in his Sutrabhasya (1.1.4). The word "asariri" is popularly understood as a voice we hear without knowing its origin (disembodied voice). It means to be without a body. "Asariratvam", bodylessness (being incorporeal), is a state in which one is not conscious of the existence of one's body. This is liberation, says the Acharya. To remain bodyless, disincarnate, does not mean committing suicide. When we reduce our desires little by little a stage will be reached when they will be totally rooted out. When they are thus eradicated, consciousness of the body will naturally cease too. The Self alone will remain then, shining. To arrive at such a state it is not necessary to voyage to another world. It is this idea that the Vedas and Vedanta refer to when they say, "Ihaiva, ihaiva" (Here itself, here itself) - the ideal of liberation here and now.
We have two enemies who prevent us from reaching the state of amrta (deathlessness): according to the Gita they are desire and anger. The basis for this is the Chandogya Upanisad (8.12.1)- which is part of the Sruti - the passage in which "priya apriya" occurs: the words mean "what one likes and what one hates". The first is denoted by desire, or Kama, the second by anger. The Chandogya Upanisad says that one who has no body (that is one who is not conscious of his body) is not affected either by desire or by anger. That is (it says): "If you wish to be free from the evils of desire and anger you ought to make yourself without your body (free yourself of your body) right now when you are yet in this world."
A jivatman (individual Self) is divided into three parts in association with the ego: "gaunatman", "mithyatman" and "mukhyatman". These are mentioned in' Sankara's commentary on the Brahmasutra.
Gauna-mithyatmano'sattve putradehadi badhanat
Sadbrahmatmahamityevam bodhe karyam katham bha vet
- Sutrabhasya, 1.1.4 222
It is part of human nature to believe that one's children and friends are the same as oneself and that their joys and sorrows are one's own. That is what is, meant by "gaunatman". "Gauna" denotes what is ceremonial or what is regarded as a formality. We know that our children and friends are different from us and yet we want to believe that they are our own.
The "I-feeling" in relation to the body which is closer to us. than our children and friends is "mithyatman".
There is a state in which the pure Self is seen separate from the body and identified inwardly with the Brahman: it is called "mukyatman".
When the first two - gaunatman and mithyatman - are separated from us we will be freed from attachments to our children, friends and the body as well' as its senses. The realisation will dawn then that "I am the Brahman". Now there will be nothing for us to "do". This is the meaning of the Sutrabhasya passage.
Svami Vivekananda who wanted to rouse the people of India chose, a mantra6 from the Kathopanisad ("Arise, awake", etc) for the Rarnakrsna Mission. This Upanisad is the source of many a popular quote. For instance, there is the mantra7 which states that the Self cannot be known either by learning or by the strength of one's intellect. "Know that the Self is the Lord of the chariot, that the body is the chariot and that the intellect is the charioteer," is another8.
"In the cavern of the heart the Supreme Being is radiant like a thumb of light....9.
Then there is the mantra10 we recite at the time of the "diparadhana rite" ("Na tatra suryo bhati..."): "The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor the stars. There is no flash of lightning. Agni too does not shine there. When he (the Paramatman) shines everything shines; all this shines by his light." All our knowledge is derived from that Great Light. With our limited knowledge we cannot shed light on that Reality.
Later, the Kathopanisad mentions what Sri Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita about the cosmic pipal tree, the symbol of samsara or worldly existence11. If all the desires of the heart are banished a man can become immortal and realise the Brahman here itself.
After the Kathopanisad comes the Prasnopanisad, the Mundakopanisad and the Mandukyopanisad, all three being from the Atharvaveda. "Prasna" means "question". What is the origin of the various creatures? Who are the
deities that sustain them? How does life imbue the body? What is the truth about wakefulness, sleep and the state of dream? What purpose is served by being devoted to Om? What is the relationship between the Supreme Godhead and the individual Self? These questions are answered in the Prasnopanisad.
"Mundana" means "tonsure". Only sannyasins, ascetics with a high degree of maturity, are qualified to study the Mundakopanisad - that is how it came to be so called. This Upanisad speaks of the Aksarabrahman, aksara meaning "imperishable"12 and also "sound". We speak of "Pancaksara", "Astaksara"13 and so on. The source of all sound is "Pranava", or "Omkara". Pranava is a particularly efficacious means to attain the Aksarabrahman.
One mantra14 in the Mundakopanisad asks us to string the bow of Omkara with the arrow of the Atman and hit unperturbed the target called the Brahman. Like the arrow you must be one with the Brahman. It is also in this Upanisad that the individual Self and the Paramatman are compared to two birds perched on the body that is the pippala tree15. The jivatman (individual Self) alone eats the fruit (of karma) and the Paramatman bird is merely a Witness. This is the basis of the biblical story of Adam (Atman) and Eve (jiva). Adam does not eat the apple (pippala) but Eve does.
The motto of the 'Union of India - "Satyameva Jayate" - is taken from this Upanisad'6.
There is also a mantra'7 which speaks of sannyasins who, after being jivanmuktas in this world, become "videhamuktas" (liberated without their body). It is chanted when ascetics are received with honour with a purna kumbha"18.
The Mandukyopanisad speaks of the jnanin thus19: "Different rivers with different names lose their names and forms in the ocean. Similarly the knower (jnanin) freed from name and form unites inseparably with the Brahman."
Next is the Mandukyopanisad. "Manduka" means a "frog". Why the name "Frog Upanisad"? One reason occurs to me: the frog does not have to go step by step. It can leap from the first to the fourth step. In the Mandukyopanisad the way is shown to reach the turiya or fourth state from the state of wakefulness through the states of sleep and dream. By devoting oneself to (by intense meditation of) Om (that is by aksara upasana) one can in one bound go up to the fourth state. That perhaps is the reason why this Upanisad is called "Mandukya ". According to modern research scholars, the Mandukyopanisad belonged to a group of people who had the frog as their totem! (It is also said that the sage associated with the Upanisad is Varuna who took the form of a frog.)
The text of the Mandukyopanisad is very brief and contains only twelve mantras. But it has acquired a special place among seekers because it is packed with meaning. It demonstrates the oneness of the individual Self and the Brahman through the four feet (padas) of Pranava. There is a famous passage occurring towards the end of this Upanisad which describes the experience of the turiya or fourth state in which all the cosmos is dissolved in "Siva-Advaita" (Sivo'dvaita)20. Sankara Bhagavatpada's guru's guru, Gauaapadacarya, has commented on this Upanisad - Mandukyopanisad - Karika) and Sankara has written a further commentary on this work.
Now the Taittiriya Upanisad. I had referred earlier to the misunderstanding that developed between Vaisampayana and his disciple Yajnavalkya. In his anger the teacher asked his student to eject the Veda he had taught him. Yajnavalkya did as bidden. Later the sun god taught him the Sukla-Yajurveda which had until then not been revealed to the world.
It was with the power acquired through mantras that Yajnavalkya became a hamsa to throw up the Veda he had first learned from Vaisampayana. Now that master's other disciples, bidden by him, assumed the form of tittiri birds (partridges) and consumed what had been ejected by Yajnavalkya. Thus this recension of the Yajurveda came to be called "Taittiriya Sakha". The name "Taittiriya" is also applied to the Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka of this Sakha . The Taittiriya Upanisad is part of the Taittiriya Aranyaka and it is perhaps studied more widely than any other Upanisad. Many mantras employed in rituals are taken from it. There are three parts to it - "Siksavalli", "Anandavalli" and "Bhrguvalli".
Siksavalli contains matters relating to education, rules of the brahmacaryasrama (the celibate student's stage of life), its importance, order of Vedic chanting, meditation of Pranava. The "Avahanti homa"21 is in Siksavalli. It is performed by the acharya to ensure that disciples come to learn from him without any let or hindrance. We know from our own experience that, even today, as a result of performing this sacrifice, Vedic schools which were in decay have received a new lease of life with the admission of many new students.
Siksavalli mentions "Atma-svarajya"22 that is eternal, a state which transcends in meaning the "svarajya" we are familiar with in politics.
"Satyam vada, dharmam cara" (Speak the truth, do your duty according to dharma): such exhortations to students are contained in this Upanisad23. Students are urged not to neglect the study of the Vedas at any time. They are asked to marry and beget children so that Vedic learning will be kept up from generation to generation. "Matr-devo bhava, pitr-devo bhava, acharya-devo bhava, atithi-devo bhava" (Be one to whom your mother is a god; be one to whom your father is a god; be one to whom your teacher is a god; be one to whom your guest is a god) - all such mantras are in this Upanisad. The importance of charity and dharma is specially stressed here.
Earlier I spoke to you about a "multiplication table" of bliss in which each successive type of bliss is a hundred-fold greater than the previous one24. Anandavalli is the part of the Taittiriya Upanisad in which you see this. The highest form of bliss or ananda in this "table" is Brahmananda (the bliss of realising the Brahman).
Different sheaths (kosas) of man are mentioned in this Upanisad. The first is the "annamaya-kosa" (the sheath of food), the flesh that grows with the intake of food. Inside it is the "pranamaya-kosa (the sheath of vital breath). Then comes the "manomaya-kosa" (the sheath of mind) that gives rise to thoughts and feelings. The fourth is "vijnanamaya-kosa" (the sheath of understanding). And, finally, the fifth, the "anandamaya-kosa" (the sheath of bliss). It is here that the Self dwells in blessedness. Each sheath is personified as a bird with head, wings, body, belly - there is a philosophical significance in this. This Upanisad contains the oft-quoted mantra ("Yato vaco. .")25. It says: "He who knows the bliss of the Brahman, from which speech and mind turn away unable to grasp it, such a man does not have to fear anything from anywhere."
"Bhrguvalli" is the teaching (upadesa) imparted by Varuna to his son Bhrgu. "Upadesa" here is not to be understood as something dictated by the guru to his student. Varuna encourages his son to ascend step by step through his own experiments and experience. Bhrgu performs austerities and thinks that the sheath of food is the truth. From this stage he advances gradually through the sheaths of breath, mind and understanding and arrives at the truth that is the sheath of bliss. He realises as an experience that the Atman (the nature of bliss) is the ultimate truth.
This does not mean that the Taittiriya Upanisad rejects the factual world represented by the sheath of food. While being yet in this world, taking part in its activities, we must become aware of the supreme truth. For this we must strive to make life more dharmic, as a means of Atmic advancement. That is why even those who have attained the sheath of bliss are admonished26: "Do not speak ill of food. Do not throw it away. Grow plenty of food." Even the government has used this mantra for its grow more food campaign. The Taittiriya Upan4ad concludes with the mantra which says: "I am food, I am food, the one who eats it 27.
The Aitareya Upanisad forms part of the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rgveda. The name is derived from the fact that it was the sage Aitareya who made it widely known. A jiva (individual Self) originating in the father, says the Upanisad, enters the womb of the mother. He is born in this world and goes through his life of meritorious and sinful actions. Then he is born again and again in different worlds. Only by knowing the Atman does he find release from the bondage of phenomenal existence.
The sage called Vamadeva knew about all his previous births when he was in his mother's womb. He passed through all fortresses and, like an eagle soaring high in the skies, voyaged seeking liberation. In this context prajnana, direct perception of the Atman, is spoken of in high terms. It is not merely that one attains the Brahman through such jnana (prajnana) - the fact is such prajnana itself is the Brahman. And this is the mahavakya of the Rgveda28: "Prajnanam Brahma".
The Chandogya and Brhadaranyaka Upanisads are the last two of the ten major Upanisads and also the biggest. They are bigger than all the other eight of the ten put together. The first is part of the Chandogya Brahmana of the Samaveda. "Chandogya" means relating to "chandoga", one who sings the Saman. The Tamil Tevaram refers to Paramesvara as "Candogan kan". The Zoroastrian scripture called the Zend-Avesta could be traced back to "Chandoga Avesta."
Just as there are passages in the Gita from the Kathopanisad, so has the Brahmasutra passages from the Chandogya Upanisad. In these two Upanisads the teachings of a number of sages are put together.
The introductory mantras of the Chandogya Upanisad refer to Omkara as "udgita" and explains how one is to meditate on it. A number of vidyas are mentioned like "Aksi"," Akasa", "Madhu", "Sandlilya", "Prana", and "Panchagni". These help in different ways in knowing the Ultimate Reality. "Dahara vidya" is the culmination of all these : it means perceiving the Supreme Being manifested as the transcendent outward sky in the tiny space in our heart. A number of truths are expounded in this Upanisad in the form of stories.
From the story of Raikva we learn about the strange outward behaviour of one who has realised the Brahman. There is then the famous story of Satyakama who does not know his gotra, but is accepted as a pupil by Gautama. The guru thinks that Satyakama must be a true Brahmin since he does not hide the truth about him. Before the pupil is taught he is made to undergo many tests. The guru's wife, out of concern for the pupil, speaks to her husband for him. When we read such stories we have before us a true picture of gurukulavasa in ancient times.
In character Svetaketu was the opposite of Satyakama and was proud of his learning. His father Uddalaka Aruni teaches him to be humble and in the end imparts to him the mantra, "Tat tvam asi" (That thou art), the mantra which proclaims the non-difference between the individual Self and the Brahman. "Tat tvam asi" is the mahavakya of the Samaveda29.
Unlike Svetaketu, the sage Narada, who had mastered all branches of learning, was humble and full of regret that he had remained ignorant of the Atman. He finds enlightenment in the teachings of Sanatkumara which are included in the Chandogya Upanisad. In the Taittiriya Upanisad Upanisad Bhrgu is taught to go step by step to obtain higher knowledge [from the sheath of food to the sheath of bliss]. Here Sanatkumara teaches Narada to go from purity of form to purity of the inner organs ("antah-karanas). That is the time when all ties will snap and bliss realised.
Another story illustrates how different students benefit differently from the same teaching according to the degree of maturity of each. Prajapati gives the same instruction to Indra, the king of the celestials, and to Virocana, the king of the asuras. This is what Prajapati teaches them: "He who sees with his eyes, he is the Self." He subtly hints at the object that is behind the eye, knowledge, etc, and that is the basis of all these. Without understanding this, the two see themselves in a mirror and take the reflection to be the Self. You see only the body in the mirror and Virocana comes to the conclusion that that is the Self. It is from this idea that atheism, materialism and the Lokayata system developed. Although Indra also took this kind of wrong view from his reflection, eventually [similar to the story in the Taittiriya Upanisad Upanisad of Bhrgu advancing from the sheath of food to the sheath of bliss] he goes in gradual stages from the gross body to the subtle body of sleep and later to the turiya or fourth state mentioned in the Mandukyopanisad - the turiya is the Self.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad Upanisad comes last. "Brhad" means "great". It is indeed a great Upanisad , Brhadaranyaka. Generally, an Upanisad comes towards the close of the Aranyaka of the Sakha concerned. While the Isavasyopanisad occurs in the Samhita of the Sukla-Yajurveda, the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad Upanisad is in the Aranyaka of the same Veda: as a matter of fact the entire Aranyaka constitutes this Upanisad . There are two recensions of it: the Madhyandina Sakha and the Kanva Sakha. Sankara has chosen the latter for his commentary.
This Upanisad consists of six chapters. The first two are the "Madhukanda", the next two are the "Muni-kanda" in the name of Yajnavalkya, and the last two are the "Khila-kanda". Madhu may be understood as that which is full of the flavour of bliss. If we have the realisation that all this world is a personification of the Parabrahman it would be sweet like nectar to all creatures - and the creatures would be like honey to the world30. The Atman then would be nectar for all. This idea is expressed in the Madhu-kanda.
It is in this Upanisad that the celebrated statement occurs that the Atman is "neither this, nor this" ("Neti, neti")31. The Self cannot be described in any way. "Na-iti" - that is "Neti". It is through this process of "Neti, neti" that you give up everything - the cosmos, the body, the mind, everything - to realise the Se]f. After knowing the Atman in this manner you will develop the attitude that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are made up of the same essence of bliss.
The first kanda contains the teachings received by the Brahmin Gargya from the Ksatriya Ajatasatru. This shows that kings like Ajatasatru and Janaka were knower of the Brahman. We also learn that women too took part on an equal footing with the sages in the debates in royal assemblies on the nature of the Brahman. There was, for instance, Gargi in Janaka's assembly of the learned. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad Upanisad also tells us about Yajnavalkya's two wives: of the two Katyayani was like any housewife and the second, Maitreyi, was a Brahmavadini (one who inquires into the Brahman and speaks about it). The instruction given by Yajnavalkya to Maitreyi occurs both in the Madhukanda and the Muni-kanda. Here we have a beautiful combination of storytelling and philosophical disquisition.
When Yajnavalkya is on the point of renouncing the world, he divides his wealth between his two wives. Katyayani is contented and does not ask for anything more. Maitreyi, on the other hand, is not worried about her share. She tells her husband: "You are leaving your home, aren't you, because you will find greater happiness in sannyasa than from all this wealth? What is that happiness? Won't you speak about it?"
Yajnavalkya replies: "You have always been dear to me, Maitreyi. Now, by asking this question, you have endeared yourself to me more." He then proceeds to find out what is meant by the idea of someone being dear to someone else. His is indeed an inquiry into the concept of love and affection. He says: "A wife is dear to her husband not for the sake of his wife but for the sake of his Self. So is a husband dear to his wife for the sake of her Self. The children too are dear to us not for their sake but for the sake of the Self. So is the case with our love of wealth. We have affection for a person or an entity because it pleases our Self. It means that this Self itself is of the nature of affection, of love, of joy. jnana is to know this Self independently of everything else that we forsake all those who are dear to us and take to sannyasa. When we know It, the Self or the Atman, we will realise that there is nothing other than It. Everything will become dear to us. To begin with, when we had affection for certain people or certain things, we had dislike for certain other people and certain other things. If we cease to be attached to those people or to those things that we loved and realise the Atman, then we will become aware that there is nothing other than the Atman. Then, again, we will dislike none and will love all without any distinction."
Before renouncing the world, Yajnavalkya held disputations on the Ultimate Reality with Kahola, Uddalaka Aruni and Gargi in Janaka's royal assembly. These debates, together with the teachings he imparted to Janaka, are included in the Muni-kanda. The concept of Antaryamin (Inner Controller) belongs to Vishistadvaita (qualified non- dualism). The basis for this is to be found in Yajnavalkya's answer to a question put to him by Uddalaka Aruni.
According to non-dualism all this phenomenal world is Maya. The idea behind the concept of Antaryamin is that if the world is the body, the Paramatman dwells in it as its very life. Though Yajnavalkya accepts this concept on a certain level, at all other times his views are entirely in consonance with non-dualism. In his concluding words to Maitreyi, the supreme Advaitin that he is, Yajnavalkya remarks: "Even if you be a little dualistic in your outlook, it means that you look at something other than yourself, smell, taste, touch and hear something other than yourself. But when you have realised the Self experientially, all these 'other things' cease to exist. That which is the source of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and so on - how can you see, hear, taste, smell That?" Expounding non-dualism Yajnavalkya tells Janaka (4.3.32)32, "Like water mingled with water all become one in the Paramatman." "He who is freed from all desire exists as the Brahman even when he is in this world (with his body) and when he dies he is united with the Brahman"33.
The two concluding chapters that form the Khila-kanda of the Upanisad bring together scattered ideas. (If a thing is broken or divided it is called "khila". That which is whole and unbroken is "akhila".)
A story in the Khila- kanda illustrates how the same teaching is interpreted differently according to the degree of maturity of the aspirants. The devas (the celestial race), humans and the demons (asuras) seek instruction from Prajapati (the Creator). Prajapati utters just one syllable, "Da", as his teaching. The devas who do not possess enough control over their senses take it to mean "damyata" ("control your senses"). Humans who are possessive understand the syllable as "datta" ("give", "be charitable"). The asuras who are cruel by nature take the same as "dayadhvam" (be compassionate).
A mantra occurring in the concluding part of the Brahadaranyaka Upanisad Upanisad seems to me not only extremely interesting but also comforting. What does it say? "If a man suffers from fever it must be taken that he is practising austerities (tapas). If he recognises illnesses and afflictions to be tapas, he passes on to a very high world" (5.11.1).
What is the meaning of this statement and what is interesting about it? And how is it comforting?
By observing vows, by fasting, by living an austere life and by suffering physically, we will become less attached to the body, and the sins accumulated in our past lives will diminish. Tapas is a way of expiating the sins of past lives. The offences committed with our body are wiped away by the very body when it undergoes suffering (that is by bodily tapas).
That is why the Puranas speak of great men having performed austerities. Ambika herself - she is the mother of the universe - performs tapas. Not heeding the word of her husband Paramesvara, she [as Sati attends the sacrifice conducted by her father Daksa. Because of the humiliation she suffers there she immolates herself in the sacrificial fire and is reborn as the daughter of Himavan. As atonement for disobeying her husband's command during her past life and for the purpose of being united with him again, she performs severe austerities. Kalidasa gives a beautiful and moving account of this. How bitterly cold it will be during the winter in the Himalayas. But in that season Parvati (that is Ambika) performs austerities seated on icy rocks or standing on frozen lakes. In the summer, when the sun is beating down harshly, she does tapas with fires burning all round her34. Performing austerities with the fires on four sides and with the sun burning above is called "panchagni-tapas".
Many great men have performed such severe austerities.
How about ourselves? If they, the great men, were guilty of one or two lapses, we cannot even keep count of our sins. But we have neither the will nor the strength to perform a fraction of the austerities that they went through. How then are we going to wipe away our sins?
It is when we are troubled by such thoughts that we find the foregoing Upanisadic mantra comforting. Since ours is not a disciplined life we keep suffering from one ailment or another. The Upanisadic mantra seems to be directed to us: "You must learn to think that the affliction you are suffering from is tapas. If you do so you will be freed from your sins and liberated." Though the message is not given in such plain terms, such is the meaning of the mantra.
We often speak of "jvara-tapa" or "tapa-jvara" (literally "hot fever"). means "boiling" or "cooking". The root is "tap" to burn. "Tapana" is one of the names of the sun. Even if we do not perform the austerities mentioned in the Sastras, we must take it that the fever contracted by us is the tapas Isvara has awarded us to become free from our sins.
When we are down with malaria we keep shivering in spite of covering ourselves with blankets. Our attitude now must be to suffer the affliction in lieu of the tapas we ought to perform in the winter months remaining on snow. Do you feel that your body is being roasted when you are suffering from typhoid or pneumonia and running a temperature of 105 or 106 F? You must comfort yourself, believing that God has given you the fever as a substitute for the panchagni -tapas you are unable to perform.
You will in due course learn to take such an attitude and develop the strength to suffer any illness. Instead of sending for the doctor or rushing to the medicine chest you may take it easy, telling yourself, "Let the illness take its course." When we happen to fall ill as a means of reducing our burden of sin, is it right to seek a cure for it? Also we save on doctor's fees, medicine, etc. The gain bigger than all the rest is that of learning to take the high attitude of treating suffering as not suffering. This is called "titiksa".
All this is briefly indicated in the Upanisadic mantra. When we keep lamenting that we are unable to expiate our sins - when we are unable to perform tapas - we may take comfort from the fact that when we suffer from a disease it is God's way of making us perform austerities.
In the last chapter of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad we Upanisad we have strong proof of the fact that Vedanta is not opposed to the karmakanda. Here are mentioned the panchagni -vidya and the rites to be performed to beget virtuous children (supraja).
Notes & References
Or,simply, Isa Upariisad
Kenopanisad, 2.1, 2 & 3
Chandogya Upanisad, 8.12.1
Ibid, 4.12 & 13
Ibid, 6.1 12 'Aksara" also means a letter or syllable.
"Aksara" means a letter or syllable
"Pancaksara" and 'Astaksara" are mantras with five and eight syllables respectively ("Namah Sivaya"; "Om Narno Narayanaaya").
It is customary to receive acaryas and other distinguished men with a purna-kumbha, a pot or jar filled with water and decorated with mango leaves, darbha grass, etc.
Taittiriya Upanisad , 1.4.2
Ibid. 1.11. 1,2 & 3
See notes appended to " Veda and Vedanta : Are they opposed to each other ? "
Taittiriya Upanisad , 2.9.1
Ibid. concluding mantra.
Aitareya Upanisad, 3.1.3
Chandogya Upanisad, 6.8.7
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 2.5.1.
Ibid 4.4.6 & 7
Kumarasambhavam, 5.20 & 21
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