Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
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
in the following stanza for the names to be easily remembered.
Aitareyan ca Chandogyam Brhadranyakam dasa
Sankara has followed the same order in his Bhasya (commentary).
"Isa" is Isavasya Upanisad (Isavasyopanishad). It occurs towards the end
of the Samhita of Sukla-Yajurveda. The name of this Upanisad is derived
from its very first word, "Isavasya". The next, "Kena", is Kenopanisad.
Isavasyopanisad proclaims that the entire world is pervaded by Isvara
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
the wood is concealed, revealing the elephant; to the grown-up the
animal is hidden revealing the wood. Similarly, all this world and the
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 parmudal bhutam
Tirumalar 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
who came first, Tirumular or Sankara. Great men think alike.
The Kenopanisad is also called the Talavakara Upanisad since it occurs
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 Acarya 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 he 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 Lalitasahasranama (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 who see it are the subject: the seen is
object, the seer is the subject. We can see our body as an object, we
know about it, know whether it is well or ill. It follows that there is
entity other than it that sees it, the subject called "we". That which
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 which knows it("we") is different from that which is known (the
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
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
of profound philosophical truths. The Gita contains quotations from this
What I said just now about the subject-object relationship is explained
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
the body, says the Kathopanishad. "Desire, anger, hatred, fear, all
appertain to the mind, not to the Self. Hunger, thirst and so on
to the body - they are not 'mine'. " By constant practice we must learn
reject all such things as do not belong to the Self by "objectifying
If we do so with concentration, in due course we will be able to
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
than this spadix of the plantain. This spadix is not the subject that is
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.
our life in this world itself - during the time we seem to exist in our
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
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 Gita. He who, while yet
in this world ("ihaiva"), controls his desire and anger before he is
from his body ("prak sariravimoksanat") - he will remain integrated (in
yoga) and achieve everlasting bliss. "Ihaiva" = "iha eva", while yet in
world. If you realise the Self, as an inner experience, while yet in
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
for what is called death to destroy it? There is no death for the man
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
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
"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
one is not conscious of the existence of one's body. This is liberation,
the Acaya. To remain bodyless, disincarnate, does not mean committing
suicide. When we reduce our desires little by little a stage will be
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 is not necessary to
to another world. It is this idea that the Vedas and Vedanta refer to
they say "Ihaiva, ihaiva" (Here itself, here itself) - the ideal of
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 a part of
Sruti - the passage in which "priya apriya" occurs: the words mean "what
one likes and what one hates". The first is denoted
by desire, of 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)
not affected either by desire or by anger. That is (it says): "If you
be free from the evils of desire and anger you ought to make ourself
without your body (free yourself of our body) right now when you are yet
in this world".
A jivatman (individual self) is divided into three parts in association
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 bhavaet
-Sutrabhasya, 1. 1. 4
It is part of human nature to believe that one's children and friends
the same as oneself and that their joys and sorrows are one's own. That
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
identified inwardly with the Brahman: it is called "mukhyatman".
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
mantra from the Kathopanisad ("Arise, awake", etc) for the Ramakrsna
Mission. This Upanisad is the source of many a popular quote. For
instance, there is the mantra which states that the Self cannot be known
either by learning or by the strength of one's intellect. "Know that the
is the Lord of the chariot, that the body is the chariot and that the
intellect is the charioteer", is another.
"In the cavern of the heart the Supreme Being is radiant like a thumb of
light. . . . . .”
Then there is the mantra we recite at the time of the "diparadhana rite"
("Na tatra suryo bhati. . . "): "The sun does not shine there, nor the
nor the stars. There is no flash of lightning. Agni too does not shine
When he (the Paramatman) shines everything shines; all his 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 Sir Krsna Paramatman says in the
Gita about the cosmic pipal tree, the symbol of samsara or worldly
existence. 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" and also
"sound". We speak of "Pancaksara", "Astaksara"and so on. The source of
all sound in "Pranava", or "Omkara". Pranava is a particularly
means to attain the Aksarabrahman.
One mantra 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 tree. The jivatman
(individual self) alone eats the fruit (of karma) and the Paramtman bird
merely a witness. This is the basis of the biblical story of Adam
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
There is also a mantra 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
The Mundakopanisad speaks of the jnanin thus: "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
Next is the Mandukyopanisad. "Manduka" means "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) 2one 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 Mandukya Upanisad belonged to a group
of people who had the frog as their totem! (It is also said that the
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). Sankara
Bhagavatpada's guru's guru, Gaudapadacarya, has commented on this
Upanisad (Mandukyopanisad-Karika) and Sankara has written a further
commentary on this work.
Now the Taittriya 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
he has taught him. Yajnavalkya did as bidden. Later the sun god taught
him the Sukla-Yajurveda which had until then not been revealed to the
It was with the power acquired throught mantras that Yajnavalkya
beceame a gander to throw up the Veda he had first learned from
Vaisampayana. Now that master's other disciples, bidden by him
assumed the form of tittri 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
Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka of this sakha. The Taittiriya Upanisad is
part of the Taittiriya Aranyaka and it is perhaps studied more widely
any other Upanisad. Many mantras employed in rituals are taken from it.
There are three part to it - "Siksavalli", "Anandavalli" and
Sikshavalli 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" is
Siksavalli. It is performed by the acarya to ensure that disciples come
learn from him without any let or hindrance. We know from our own
experience that, even today, as a result of performing this sacrifice,
schools which were in decay have received a new lease of life with the
admission of many new students.
Siksavalli mentions "Atma-svrajya" that is eternal, a state which
treanscends 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
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
kept up from generation to generation. "Matr-devo bhava, pirt-devo
bhava, acarya-devo bhava, athithi-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 stresed here.
Earlier I spoke to you about a "multiplication table" of bliss in which
successive type of bliss is a hundredfold greater that the previous one.
Anandavalli is the part of the Taittriya Upanisad in which you see this.
highest form of bliss of ananda in this "table" is Brahmananda (the blis
realising the Brahman).
Different sheaths (kosas) of man are mentioned in this Upanisad. The
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
breath). Then comes the "manomaya-kosa" (the sheath of mind) that
gives rise to thoughts and felings. The fourth is "vijnanamaya-kosa"
sheath of understanding). And, finally, the fifth, the "anandamaya-kosa"
(the sheath of bliss). It is here that the Self dwells in blessedness.
sheath is personified as a bird with head, wings, body, belly - there is
philosophical significance in this. This Upanisad contains the
mantra ("Yato vaco. . . "). 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
through his own experiments and experience. Bhrugu performs
austerities and thinks that the sheath of food is the truth. From this
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
This does not mean that the Taittriya Upanisad rejects the factual world
represented by the sheath of food. Whiule being yet in this world,
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 admonished. : "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 Taittriya Upanisad concludes with the
mantra which says: "I am food, I am food, the one who eats it. . . ".
The Aitareya Upanisad forms part of the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rgveda.
the name is dereived from the fact that it was the sage Aitareya who
made is widely known. A jiva (individual self) originating in the
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
is born again and again in diferent 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
prajnana, direct perception of the Atman, is spoken of in high terms. It
not merely that one attains the Brahman through such jnana (prajnana) -
the fact is such prajnana itself is the Brahman. And this is the
of the Rgveda: "Prajnanam Brahma".
The Chandyoga and Brhadaranyaka Upanisads are the last two of the ten
major Upanisads and is also the biggest. They are bigger than all the
eight of the ten put together. The first is part of the Chandogya
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 treaced
back to "Chandoga-Avesta. "
Just as there are passages in the Gita form 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", "NMadhu", "Sandilya", "Prana", and
"Pancagni". These help in different ways in knowing the Ultimate
"Dahara vidya" is the culmination of all these: it means perceiving the
Supreme Being manifested as the transcadent 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 Samaveda.
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 Taittriya 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
That is the time when all ties will snap and bliss reached.
Another story illustrates how different students benefit differently
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 him:
who sees with his eyes, he is the Self". He subtly hints at the object
behind the eye, knowledge, etc, and that is the basis of all these.
understanding this, the two se themselves in a mirror and take the
reflection to be the Self. You see only the body in the mirror and
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
to the story in the Taittriya Upanisad of Bhrgu advancing from the
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 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
Brhar\daranyaka 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 "Khilakanda".
NMadhu 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
would be sweet like nectar to all cretures - and the creatures would be
like honey to the world. The Atman then would be nectar for all. This
is expressed in the Madhu-kanda.
It is in this Upanisad that the celebrated statement occurs that the
is "neither this, nor this" ("Neti, neti"). The Self cannot be described
any way. "Na-iti" - that is "Neti". It is through this process of "Neti,
that you give up everything - the cosmos, the body, the mind, everything
- to realise the Self. After knowing the Atman in this manner you will
develop the attitude that the phenomenal world and all its creatures are
made up 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 knowers 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 also
tells us about Yajnavalkya's two wives: of the two Katyayani was like
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
Here we have a beautiful combination of storytelling
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
about her share. she tells her husband: "You are leaving your home,
aren't you, because you wil find greater happiness in sannyasa that from
all this wealth? What is that happiness? Won't you speak about it? "
Yajnavalkya replies: "You have always ben 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
wife but for the sake of his Self. So is a husband dear to his wife for
sake foor the sake of her Self. The children too are dear to us not for
sake but for the sake of the Self. So is the case with our love of
We have affection of a person or an entity because it pleases our Self.
means that this Self itself is of the nature of affection, of love, of
joy. It 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 thatn 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 Muni-kanda. The concept of Antaryamin (Inner
Controller) belongs to Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism). The basis
this is to be found in Yajnavalkya's answer to a question put to him by
According to non-dualism all this phenomenal world in 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
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 little
dualistic in your outlook, it means that you look at something other
yourself, smell, taste, touch and hear something other than yourself.
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), "Like water
mingled with water all become one in the Paramatman. " "He who is
freed from all desire existes as the Brahman even when he is in the
(with his body) and when he dies is united with the Brahmin.
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
"khila". That which is whole and unbroken is "akhila". )
A story in the Khila-kanda illustrates how the same teaching is
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
"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 Brhadranyaka 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
be tapas, he passes on to a very high world" (5. 11. 1). [Etadvai
tapo yadvyahitastapyate paramam haiva lokam jayati ya evam veda. . . ]
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
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
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
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
moving account of this. How bitterly cold it will be during the winter
the Himalaya. But in that season Parvati (that is Ambika) performs
austerities seated on icy rocks or standing on frozen lakes. In the
when the sun is beating down harshly, she does tapas with fires burning
all round her. Performing austerities with the fires on four sides and
the sun burning above is called "pancagni-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
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
liberated. " Though the message is not given in such plain terms, such
the meaning of the mantra.
We often speak of "jvara-tapa" or "tapa-jvara" (literally "hot fever").
"Tapa" 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
mentioned in the sastras, we must take it that the fever contracted by
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
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 your are
suffering from typhoid or pneumonia and a running temperature of 105°
or 106°F? You must comfort yourself, believing that God has given you
the fever as a substitute for the pancagni-tapas you are unable to
You will in due course learn to take such an attitude and develop the
strength to suffere any illness. Instead of sending for the doctor or
rushing to the medicine chest you may take it easy, telling yourself,
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
doctor's fees, medicine, etc. The gain bigger that all the rest in that
learning to take the high attitude of treating suffering as not
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 Brhadranyaka Upanisad we have strong proof of
the fact that Vedanta is not opposed to the karmakanda. Here are
mentioned the pancagnividya
and the rites to be performed to beget
virtuous children (supraja).