kaThopaniShad Series Part – 31
The mantra 2.2.15 that is being studied now is about the self-luminous nature of brahman which illumines the entire creation while not requiring anything else to illumine It. By listing the luminous bodies in the world namely the sun, the moon, the stars, the lightning and the fire as not being in a position to illumine brahman, the upaniShad is conveying to us the idea that these bodies, being created, are themselves dependent on the Ultimate Luminous Body, brahman, for their very luminosity. Not just that, by saying this, the upaniShad is informing us that the entire creation is illumined by brahman. This shows that the universe has to depend on something other than itself for being known.
If the universe, the objective world, were to be self-luminous, there would not be a need for an illumining source to know the world; it would announce its presence by itself. That such a thing is not seen to happen confirms that the created universe is dependent on brahman for its very existence. Such a phenomenon is seen only in the case of the rope-snake. The superimposed snake has no reality/existence of its own; it has to ‘exist’ on the borrowed reality of the underlying rope.
This logic underlies the unreality of the world as well. In the case of water, a fire-brand, etc. the heat/light etc. occur due to contact with fire and hence we say ‘the water is hot’, ‘the fire-brand is aglow’, etc. and not in the absence of such contact with fire. In the same way the luminous bodies like the Sun shine and also the other objects in creation become known only by the contact of the One all-pervading Consciousness.
brahman shines and also especially shines owing to the above method. By observing the effect of brahman’s shine in the world we understand the self-luminous nature of brahman. In other words, by the fact of ‘knowing’ everything in the world, we conclude, on the authority of the upaniShad, that brahman is luminous. If brahman were not luminous by Itself, it would be impossible for it to illumine any other thing. In any case, the luminosity of brahman is not to be understood as physical light.
We can understand this phenomenon better by considering this example: The objects like a pot are not known to illumine any other object. On the other hand, the Sun, etc. are known to illumine other objects. It is only because the Sun, etc. are luminous is it possible to have the other objects illumined by the sunlight. In the same way, it is only because brahman is luminous by Itself that the other objects are illumined and hence known/knowable.
With the above mantra the second section of the second chapter of the KaThopaniShad is concluded.
Second Chapter – Third section
In this section the endeavour is to bring into prime focus the nature of brahman. In the world by observing the shoot-system consisting of trunk, branches, foliage, etc. the root is inferred to exist. When the effect is examined, one gets to know the cause. The world is examined for its cause and the cause determined in its true nature.
ऊर्ध्वमूलोऽवाक्शाख एषोऽश्वत्थः सनातनः ।
तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते ।
तस्मिल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्चन । एतद्वै तत् ॥ १ ॥
ऊर्ध्वमूलः root above अवाक्शाखः branches below एषः this is अश्वत्थः ashwattha tree सनातनः eternal तत् एव that alone शुक्रं bright तत् that is ब्रह्म brahman तत् that एव alone is अमृतम् immortal उच्यते called तस्मिन् in that लोकाः the worlds श्रिताः reside सर्वे all तदु that न अत्येति कश्चन none can pass beyond एतत् this वै verily is तत् That.
This is that eternal ashvattha Tree with its root above and branches below. That root, indeed, is called the Bright; That is brahman and That alone is the Immortal. In That all worlds are contained and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is That.
This samsAra-tree consisting of the subtlest avyakta (unmanifest) onwards up to the unmoving (static) beings is rooted in the highest Principle, brahman, denoted by the term viShNu. The tree of samsAra springs from the Supreme brahman. Why does the upaniShad compare the samsAra to a tree? The reason is that just as a tree is subject to being felled, the samsAra too is subject to annihilation. What are the features of the samsAra-tree? Sri Shankaracharya gives a graphic description of the various features:
It consists of several evils such as birth, old age, death, sorrow, etc. It is never static; changing itself every moment, inasmuch as no sooner is it seen than its nature is destroyed like magic, water in a mirage, a city in the sky, etc. It ceases to exist ultimately like a tree; it is without any heart-wood like the stem of a plantain tree; it is subject to hundreds of doubts in the minds of the sceptics; its reality is determined in its true colour by the seekers of truth (or, its nature cannot be fixed as such and such by the seekers of truth). The essence of the samsAra-tree lies in its root, the supreme brahman which is known through the vedAnta. The tree grows from out of the seed of ignorance characterized by superimposition, desire, action and the Unmanifested; it has for its sprout hiraNyagarbha, the inferior brahman, comprising the two powers of knowledge and action (j~nAnashakti and kriyA shakti). The trunk of this samsAra-tree is the diverse subtle bodies of all creatures. Its vigour of growth results from the sprinkling of the water of desire; it has for its tender sprouts the objects of the senses of knowledge; its leaves are the veda-s, the smRRti-s, logic, learning, and instruction. Its lovely flowers are the many deeds such as sacrifice, charity, austerity, etc. Its various tastes are the experience of happiness and sorrow; its innumerable fruits are the means of subsistence of beings.
The samsAra-tree has its secondary roots well developed, entwined, and firmly fixed through the sprinkling of the water of desire (for those fruits). The seven worlds beginning from the one called satyaloka, constitute the nests on the tree built by the birds which are the living beings from brahmA downwards. The tree has its uproar rendered tumultuous through the various sounds arising from dancing, singing, instrumental music, disport (play, jest, etc.), clapping on the arms, laughing, pulling, crying, exclaiming ‘Alas, alas!’, ‘Leave me, leave me!’, induced by mirth and grief arising from the enjoyment and pain of living beings. The tree is felled by the weapon of detachment consisting of the realization of the identity of brahman and the Self as inculcated by Vedanta. This tree of the world is an ‘ashvattha’ which word means ‘something that is unsteady’, like the peepul tree, shaken as it is by the wind of desire and deeds.
The samsAra-tree has its branches pointing downwards, consisting of heaven, hell, and states of beasts and ghosts. It is sanAtanaH – existing from time immemorial, having no beginning.
What about the root of this tree? It is shukram – white, pure, resplendent . It is the Reality, the light that is the Self which is Consciousness. That indeed is brahman, being the greatest of all. That is known by the name amRRitam, indestructible by nature, being Real. The Real can never go out of existence (The bhagavad gItA (2.16)). All else is unreal, false, being not really existent. The unreal has no existence (ibid). In that brahman, the Absolute Reality, are existing all the various worlds that are equated to a city in the sky, water in a mirage, which are believed to exist owing to the lack of knowledge of the Absolute Truth. These ‘worlds’ ‘exist’ in brahman, which is the source for their origin and dissolution. In any state of transformation, the creation will not transgress its Cause, brahman, just as the effects of clay, pots, etc. do not give up their clay-nature at any state of transformation. At the point of origin, existence and dissolution the clay-products are fundamentally clay alone.
The teacher Yama concludes by saying ‘That is brahman’.
One might object: You say that emancipation ensues upon realizing the source of the world and you specify that such a source is brahman. But such a brahman is non-existent. Therefore the world has arisen from non-existence alone.
In rejection of such a proposition, the following mantra says:
यदिदं किञ्च प्राण एजति निःसृतम् ।
महद्भयं वज्रमुद्यतं य एतद्विदुरमृतास्ते भवन्ति ॥ २ ॥
यत् इदं किञ्च whatever there is प्राणे due to brahman एजति vibrates निःसृतम् having emerged महद्भयं Great Terror वज्रम् thunderbolt उद्यतं poised ये those एतत् This विदुः know अमृताः immortal ते they भवन्ति become.
Whatever there is — the whole universe — vibrates because it has issued forth from brahman, which exists as its Ground. That brahman is a great terror, like a poised thunderbolt. Those who know It become immortal.
The mantra gives the inferential proof for the existence of brahman. All that is there, this world of beings, consisting of sentient and otherwise, gains all its activity only because of the Force, brahman, underlying it. Having emerged forth from brahman alone the world functions in an orderly fashion.