The kenopaniShat – Part 5
Here starts the second section of the Kenopaniṣat.
In the previous section it was shown that the Self is different from the known and higher than the unknown. The ‘known’ was taught as the effect, the manifest world, to be rejected in the final understanding of the Truth. Also, the ‘unknown’ was taught as the cause, the Ignorance, that is the unmanifest state prior to the manifestation of the universe. This cause, however, is not something to be acquired either. So, the Truth was shown as that which is different from the one that is to be rejected and higher than the one that is to not to be acquired. When the aspirant is instructed ‘You are that Brahman (as described above)’, the understanding the aspirant might get could be: ‘I have clearly known that I am Brahman indeed’. That such a situation must not arise is the intention of the Teacher who engages in the following exercise to shake the intellect of the aspirant so as the right understanding alone remains and the wrong comprehension does not stay.
But then, is it not desirable that a firm conviction such as ‘I have known Brahman well’ arises in the aspirant? True, it is indeed desirable that one arrives at the unshakable conviction, but not in the manner ‘well have I understood.’ For, if the entity to be known is an object (for the knower), then it would be possible for one to know it ‘well’. It is like the ability of fire, the one that burns, to burn a cumbustible object, that gets burnt. But the fire cannot consign to ashes its own power to burn. It is the undisputed conclusion of all the Upaniṣads that the self of every knower is Brahman. Here, in this Upaniṣad too, it has already been stated that ‘It is the Ear of the ear, etc.’ It has also been distinctly emphasized that the Supreme Self, which is non-different from the individual self, is ‘not grasped by speech, etc. but that which enables these faculties accomplish their functions.’ The tradition of the Knowers of Brahman which has handed down the teaching in the method of the Teacher instructing the aspirant-disciple also has been stated already as ‘that which is different from the known and greater than the unknown.’ And the teaching that has been so commenced will be concluded by declaring: ‘It is unknown to those who ‘know’ It, and known to those who ‘do not know It’ (2.3). Hence it is indeed correct to dispel the aspirant’s idea that ‘I have known it well’.
Certainly the knower cannot know the knower (himself) just as fire cannot be consumed by the fire which burns (a combustible object). Nor is there a knower other than Brahman whose object of knowledge could be another Brahman. In other words, the Consciousness is one alone, indivisible, and therefore cannot afford the duality of knower-known. The subject who is embarking on the knowing is itself non-different from the object intended to be known. Says the Bṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣad 3.8.11 ‘There is no knower other than this (Brahman)’ thereby negating a different knower. Therefore it is indeed correct that the thinking ‘I have known Brahman very well’ is erroneous. Hence it is quite reasonable that the Teacher says:
यदि मन्यसे सुवेदेति दहरमेवापि नूनम् । त्वं वेत्थ ब्रह्मणो रूपं तदस्य त्वं यदस्य देवेष्वथ नु मीमांस्यमेव ते मन्ये विदितम् ॥ १ ॥
यदि if मन्यसे you think सुवेद इति ’I know Brahman well’ दहरम् but little एव alone अपि also नूनम् surely त्वं you वेत्थ know ब्रह्मणः brahman’s रूपं form तत् that अस्य Its त्वं you यत् which अस्य Its देवेषु among gods अथ also नु surely मीमांस्यम् enquire एव alone ते your मन्ये I think विदितम् known.
The teacher said: If you think: “I know Brahman well,” then surely you know but little of Its form; you know only Its form as conditioned by man or by the gods. Therefore Brahman, even now, is worthy of your inquiry.
The use of ‘if’ indicating doubt in the statement ‘If you think that ‘I know Brahman very well’ is with a view to demonstrate that an aspirant even though pure in mind and with a sharp intellect might come to recognize the subject matter taught (by the teacher). It is also possible that an aspirant fails to so comprehend. For such a situation we do have an instance, in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad 8.7.4 where Prajāpati said ‘The person that is perceived in the eye – is the Self. This is immortal, fearless – this is Brahman.’ Upon hearing this instruction, Virocana, son of Prajāpati, and the king of the asura-s, though learned, owing to his natural proclivity, understood, contrary to what was taught, that the not-self, the body, was indeed the Self. On the other hand, Indra, the monarch of the deva-s, did not comprehend the teaching when he was instructed the first, the second and the third time by Prajāpati, but on the fourth occasion, overcoming his natural tendencies, he succeeded in getting the right knowledge, which was indeed taught by Prajāpati on the very first occasion. In the world too it is seen that the instruction given out by the same teacher is received rightly, wrongly or not at all, by different pupils. What need be said about the complexity, difficulty, etc. with regard to comprehending the esoteric knowledge that is beyond the grasp of the senses? About the knowledge of the Supreme, there is a lot of misconception among the various schools such as the ones who base their enquiry upon ratiocination, tarka, rather than the Veda as the primary means. These schools are divided as to the ones who hold the reality to be existent, non-existent, etc. Therefore, owing to the complexity involved in understanding the Truth as taught by the Upaniṣads, it is quite in order that the Teacher here is keen on seeing that the disciple gets the right knowledge, even at the cost of putting it to test.
Hence the teacher says: what you have known is very little of Brahman’s form.
A question arises, from the above wordings of the Teacher, and that is: Are there many forms of Brahman, big and small, as to warrant the above remark of the Teacher that ‘you have known only a little of Brahman’s form’? The reply to this question is that it is true that there are indeed many forms of Brahman, but they are only manifestations of adjuncts of name-form, and not by themselves. On Its own, Brahman is devoid of any form as taught in various Upanishads:
‘aśabdamasparśamarūpamavyayam. tathārasam nityamagandhavacca yat.’ (kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.15) […Ātman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless;…] By this mantra, the Upaniṣad is negating all forms such as sound, in Brahman.
But then in the world we see that an object is admitted to be endowed with that attribute with which it is identified. In the same way why not accept the various forms seen in the world to be those of Brahman? To this the reply is: Consciousness cannot be the property/characteristic of any object such as earth that is endowed with transformation. Also, Consciousness cannot be the attribute of the sense/motor organs and the mind either. Therefore, the only ‘form’ of Brahman can be Consciousness, as stated by the passage ‘vijñānamānandam brahma’ (Br.up.3.9.28)’ (‘Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman’), ‘vijñānaghana eva’ (Br.up.2.4.12) (‘Pure intelligence only’) and so on. These passages determine the ‘form’ of Brahman.
Even though this is true, yet, Brahman is indicated through the limiting adjuncts that are the mind, the body, sense/motor organs through the words such as ‘Knowledge’ since the Pure Consciousness appears to follow the activities of the mind, etc. in their increase/expansion, decrease/contraction, maiming, destruction, and not by Itself. By Itself, Brahman will be stated as ‘avijñātam vijānatām, vijñātam avijānatām’ (Kenopaniṣat 2.3)’ (‘Unknown to those who know well and known to those who do not know.’) in the sequel.
Now, the Teacher is articulating his estimate of the disciple’s understanding thus: ‘You have known the limited form of Brahman not only in the plane of the (human) body but also the limited manifestation of Brahman in the gods. This is what I understand of your knowledge. Since both these understandings are limited alone they cannot be free from the total limited understanding. However, that ‘form’ of Brahman which is divested of all such limiting adjuncts (as the body, the gods, etc.) and is Peace, Infinite, One, Secondless, Great, Eternal, is not knowable well as an object. This is the purport of the Teacher;s assessment.
Since this is the case, I think even now the Brahman of your understanding requires to be enquired into further. Having thus been instructed by the Ācārya, the disciple sat in solitude, having controlled the mind and body/senses, deeply enquired into the nature of the Self as taught by the Ācārya, applying logic to overcome doubts, and upon getting direct experience, returned to the presence of the Ācārya, said: Now I think Brahman is known.’