kaThopaniShad Series Part – 22
It has been pointed out that the Self is of an extremely subtle nature, defying all informal attempts to get a grasp of it. The upaniShad makes all efforts to give us an understanding of the Self, despite its subtle nature. In a beautiful presentation the mantra in the sequel logically establishes how the Self is of such an extremely subtle nature. From the grossest in the manifestation one is led to the subtlest that remains unmanifest. This world of perception is the grossest since it has in it all the attributes known as sound, touch, form, taste and smell. These are known through the operation of the sense organs. So also is the physical (gross) body.
When each of these attributes is negated progressively, we get to know the subtler entities in comparison with the gross members. Along with subtleness we can appreciate the greatness, purity, eternality, etc. in the entities. When all these entities are negated as not the most subtle Self, what we have remaining is the Self that is the ultimate in subtleness. This Self is shown as the subtlest, biggest, the purest, the most eternal, etc.
तथारसं नित्यमगन्धवच्च यत् ।
अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं
निचाय्य तं मृत्युमुखात्प्रमुच्यते ॥ १५ ॥
अशब्दम् without sound अस्पर्शम् without touch अरूपम् devoid of form अव्ययम् undecaying तथा and अरसम् devoid of taste नित्यम् eternal अगन्धवत् free of smell च यत् too that which, अनाद्यनन्तं free of beginning and end महतः परं beyond even the intellect ध्रुवं firm निचाय्य having realized तं It मृत्युमुखात् from the jaws of Death प्रमुच्यते one saves himself.
Having realised the Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging, one is freed from the jaws of death.
brahman that is bereft of sound, touch, form/colour, taste and odour is also never depleting. The logic is: whatever is endowed with all these attributes (of sound, etc.) is subject to depletion owing to time and other forces of nature. That is the very nature of any object in creation. Since brahman is not endowed with all these attributes, there is no way any form of depletion can accrue to brahman. For this very reason brahman is eternal. This forms the fundamental vedAntic position: brahman is eternal and the world is not so. The one who aims at something that never faces destruction has to invariably come to realize brahman as his very self. There is no choice. brahman is eternal for this additional reason too: There is no beginning or origin for brahman.
In other words there is nothing that has caused brahman. Every object in creation has a cause that has brought into existence its effect. And the rule is: that which has a beginning has an end. The end of any effect is marked by its lapsing into its cause, just as earth, water, fire, etc. lapse in their respective immediate causes during praLaya or dissolution. Since brahman is the primal Cause of everything else It is eternal. There is no source for It to lapse into.
Also, brahman is infinite as there is no effect that really comes out of brahman. In the world we see every object that brings about an effect coming to an end after such an effect has come out of it. For example the plants such as banana, after giving forth the fruit, themselves come to perish. Thus, by way of causing the effect too we see some objects perish. brahman has no way of even such a mode of perishing. Nothing, in truth, is caused/created by brahman. Thus, for this reason too brahman is eternal.
The mantra goes on to give another qualification for brahman: brahman is beyond/greater than and different from the principle called ‘mahat’ which means the intellect, buddhi. While the intellect is characterized by fleeting, momentary, awareness (of objects of senses), brahman is marked by its very nature of ever unchanging eternal Consciousness.
Thus, being the witness of even the intellect brahman is beyond / different from it. This very upaniShad has taught in the foregoing that this Self is hidden in every being and therefore not easily recognizable (mantra 1.3.12). Yet another word that qualifies brahman is: ‘dhruvam’. This means that brahman is changelessly constant. Its eternality is unlike that of earth, etc. which though last very long, up to their dissolution. The constancy of these elements is only relative. brahman, however, is absolutely constant.
Upon realizing brahman thus taught with all the above qualifications as verily oneself, the aspirant goes beyond death. By ‘death’ what is meant is the freedom from the binding force of avidyA (ignorance), kAma (desire/longing) and karma (action). The wheel of saMsAra is kept in constant rotation only by this triad of forces. Freedom from this triad, by realizing one’s Self as brahman, alone marks the attainment of liberation.
In other words, one realizes that as brahman one has never been in ignorance, never longed to make oneself complete and never engaged in any action towards that end. One knows that he is pUrNa, ever Complete, ever fulfilled.
Having spoken about the nature of brahman that is to be realized, now the upaniShad makes a eulogy of the very knowledge:
नाचिकेतमुपाख्यानं मृत्युप्रोक्तं सनातनम्।
उक्त्वा श्रुत्वा च मेधावी ब्रह्मलोके महीयते ॥ १६ ॥
नाचिकेतम् उपाख्यानं the narrative involving Nachiketas मृत्युप्रोक्तं rendered by the Lord of Death सनातनम् that is ancient उक्त्वा having read out श्रुत्वा च and heard मेधावी the intelligent one ब्रह्मलोके in the abode of brahman महीयते will revel.
The wise man that has heard and related the eternal story of Nachiketa, told by Death, is adored in the world of brahman.
The vidyA, the exalted teaching, received so reverentially by Nachiketas upon his asking for it of Yama the Teacher, has been taught by the upaniShad in these three sections of this First Chapter. Since this vidyA is from the upaniShad, the Veda, it is of an ancient nature, existing for all times in the past without a beginning. It is worthy of being read out in its textual form in the assembly of the brAhmaNa-s. Also this text is to be heard from the Acharyas versed in the vedic lore. What accrues to a person who dutifully recites it as stated above and hears it from the elders?
The upaniShad says: Such an intelligent one will revel in the abode of brahman. What is meant by ‘abode’ since brahman is Infinite and cannot really be confined to a locale? brahman is Itself the Abode. Is It not the support for all creation? He who realizes brahman will become verily brahman and will be ever adored by all as the Self. For, is it not that one loves oneself most? That way, whether one knows oneself to be the Self (and not the body-mind complex) or not, each person loves his Self above everything else in creation. His love for anything in creation is only secondary, subsidiary, to his love for his own Self.
य इमं परमं गुह्यं श्रावयेद् ब्रह्मसंसदि ।
प्रयतः श्राद्धकाले वा तदानन्त्याय कल्पते ।
तदानन्त्याय कल्पत इति ॥ १७ ॥
यः whoever इमं परमं गुह्यं this most secret श्रावयेत् recites ब्रह्मसंसदि in the assembly of brahmaNa-s प्रयतः pure in body and mind श्राद्धकाले वा or during the shrAddha ceremony तदानन्त्याय कल्पते he becomes fit to attain great rewards. तदानन्त्याय कल्पत इति Indeed he becomes fit to attain great rewards.
And he who, practising self-control, recites the supreme secret in an assembly of brahmaNa-s or at an after-death ceremony obtains thereby infinite rewards. Yea, he obtains infinite rewards.
Whoever with a pure mind engages in the holy act of rendering this upaniShadic teaching in both its textual form as well as by expounding its meaning in the assembly of learned brahmaNa-s or recites the textual form during the shrAddha ritual (addressed to the departed souls of the family) when the brAhmaNa-s officiating there are partaking of the sanctified meal offerings will be rewarded richly by the very shrAddha ritual that is honoured by this recital. What are the rewards meant here? The greatest reward is the generation of samskAra-s, divine tendencies, favourable for the unveiling of Knowledge of the Self. Other worldly benefits like improved social and economic status will also accrue to him.
The mantra repeats the last line to signify that the (first) chapter has come to an end.
In the foregoing it was stated that the Self is hidden as it were inside everyone and therefore is not known/recognized. The method of having a perception of the Self was also said: the deployment of a trained, sharp intellect.
Now in the sequel, the agenda of the upaniShad is to specify what is it that prevents one from perceiving the Self despite it being the closest, nay, oneself. Only when the obstacle is clearly identified can one initiate steps to steer clear of the same. In fact all sAdhana is to do all that that will make our realizing the Self a relatively easy and successful endeavour.