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The Chandogya Upanishad

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Chapter 2 from The Upanishads for Awakening

The Chandogya Upanishad is appended to the Sama Veda which is composed of Rig Veda hymns pointed so they may be sung. Therefore a great deal of it concerns Vedic chanting and its technicalities. Consequently I will not be commenting on those passages.

There are three branches of duty: sacrifice, study and almsgiving. Austerity [tapasya], indeed, is the first. The second is the pursuit of sacred wisdom [brahmajnana]. Absolute brahmacharya is the third. All these attain to the worlds of the virtuous. He who stands firm in Brahman attains life eternal. (2.23.1)

The things listed here are the very pillars of the life in pursuit of God realization, and must be major factors in the life of a yogi. Here are their definitions.

Tapasya: Austerity; practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; spiritual force. Literally it means the generation of heat or energy, but is always used in a symbolic manner, referring to spiritual practice and its effect, especially the roasting of karmic seeds, the burning up of karma.

Brahmajnana: Direct, transcendental knowledge of Brahman; Self-realization.

Brahmacharya: Continence; self-restraint on all levels; discipline; dwelling in Brahman. Brahmacharya includes both continence and control of all the senses, including the most unruly: the mind. (See The Foundations of Yoga.)

He who is established unshakably in all three “attains life eternal.”

Verily, this whole world is Brahman, from which he [the individual] comes forth, without which he will be dissolved and in which he breathes. Tranquil, one should meditate on it. (3.14.1a)

We have already been told that Brahman is all, but this half of the verse adds a practical instruction. “Tranquil, one should meditate on it” is an interpretative translation of two words: shanta upasita. Literally, they mean: “Draw near peacefully” or: “Go near peacefully.” Upasana means to sit or draw near, and is usually understood to mean either worship or meditation. (In the Greek original of the New Testament the word translated “prayer” is prosevki, which also means to draw near. The Greek word translated “worship” is proskuneo, which has the same meaning.)

The important thing to realize is that true worship and meditation are both an inner process, for God is the Light that shines within each one of us. So to draw near to that light we must turn within. As Jesus said: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21).

The inner search must be done shanta–peacefully. This is a major key in yoga. All meditation must be done calmly and carefully in a relaxed manner, otherwise it will be impossible to perceive and assimilate the subtle states of awareness which meditation is intended to produce. The mind must be as still as a mirror to really meditate, and meditation alone produces that stillness. Meditation is being described by Saint Paul when he says: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). That is why in the book of Revelation, which Paramhansa Yogananda said is a book about yoga, it says that a “sea of glass” like a great mirror is before the throne of God, and that the saints “stand” upon it (Revelation 4:6, 15:2). This symbolizes the perfectly still mind of the yogi by which he experiences higher realities.

Now verily, a person consists of purpose [kratu]. According to the purpose a person has in this world, so does he become on departing hence. So let him frame for himself a purpose. (3.14.1b)

Kratu means purpose, plan, intention and applied will, as well as a firm belief. Certainly it is the focus of a person’s life. It is not just intellectual, it is an active carrying out of purpose. It is the sum of the individual’s life, its very core. Therefore it is demonstrated in the thought, word and deed of the aspirant. This is a serious matter, indeed, and surely one of the most important statements in all the Upanishads.

The will is the highest faculty we possess. It is higher even than the intellect, for we often say: “I won’t think about that right now…,” and we do not, because the will controls the thinking faculty. The only thing higher than the will is the Self. The will approaches closer to the Self than any other aspect of our being. This is so important to realize, because the quality of our religion and our yoga is determined by which aspect is the basis of our belief and practice.

We have five levels or bodies. They are: 1) the physical, material body (annamaya kosha), 2) the magnetic or bio-energetic body (pranamaya kosha), 3) the sensory mind (manomaya kosha), 4) the intelligent mind, the intellect (jnanamaya kosha), and 5) the will (anandamaya kosha). These also correspond to the five elements: earth (prithvi), water (apah), fire (agni), air (vayu), and ether (akasha), which are also the seats of the five senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing.

The will is the anandamaya kosha, which corresponds to the element of ether, whose special faculty is sound (shabda), both the passive faculty of hearing and the active faculty of speech. This is why the primary focus in yoga meditation is breath and sound. Yoga meditation is the way to correct and develop the will. Since we are our will according to the Upanishad, it must be made alive through joining breath and sound in meditation. (Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self, considers this in depth, and also has an appendix entitled Breath and Sound in Meditation.) Only through yoga can we gain mastery of the will, and thereby of ourselves. If in this life we become united to Brahman, when we leave this world we will go to Brahman. “So let him frame for himself a purpose,” concludes this verse. For as Krishna said: “He who thinks of me constantly, whose mind never goes elsewhere, for him, the constantly-united yogi, I am easy to attain” (Bhagavad Gita 8:14).

He who consists of mind, whose body is life, whose form is light, whose conception is truth, whose soul is space, containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odors, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, being without speech and without concern:
This is my Self within the heart, smaller than a grain of rice, than a barley grain, than a mustard seed, than a grain of millet or than the kernel of a grain of a millet. This is myself within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the atmosphere, greater than the sky, greater than these worlds.
Containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odors, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, without speech, without concern, this is the Self of mine within the heart, this is Brahman. Into him I shall enter on departing hence. Verily, he who believes this, will have no more doubts. (3.14.2-4)

It can reasonably be considered that the Bhagavad Gita is of the highest importance because it embodies the teachings of the Upanishads and provides practical advice for their personal application. But the Upanishads are certainly indispensable for us who seek the Goal. One of their most wonderful aspects–and one that I have never heard mentioned in over half a century of study–is their marvelous ecstatic exulting in the wonder and glory of the Self. Just reading such joyful declarations produces a powerful stirring of the will towards perseverance in the divine search. This verse is one such rapturous affirmation and well worth our savoring wholeheartedly.

Now we come to a very interesting part of the Chandogya Upanishad which consists of stories of seekers who came to know Brahman.

A feature that will seem odd to Western readers is the instruction of some of the seekers by animals and even by the forces of nature. Any explanation I might give is purely speculative, but here they are: 1) The accounts are simply symbolic parables, the animals and nature forces symbolizing powers within the yogis. 2) These are not actual events, but dreams which the yogis had. This, too, is a matter of symbolism. 3) They are intuitions occurring to the yogis as they pondered the animals and the natural forces, wanting to understand the ideas behind them, for the universe is entirely ideational in nature.

I do not think that any of these are fully satisfactory, so I prefer to just focus on the spiritual teaching and let the rest go by, the way we crack the shell and throw it away, keeping the nut inside to eat. One thing is, evident, though: the pure-hearted will be instructed by other means if human teachers fail to do so or are not available.

Truthfulness (satya), a foundation of yoga, is taught now in the story of Satyakama.
Once upon a time Satyakama Jabala addressed his mother Jabala, Mother, I desire to live the life of a student of sacred knowledge. Of what family [gotra] am I? Then she said to him, I do not know, my child, of what family you are. In my youth, when I went about a great deal, as a maid-servant, I got you. So I do not know of what family you are. However, I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama by name. So you may speak of yourself as Satyakama Jabala [the son of Jabala]. (4.4.1-2)

Caste was the basis of Indian society at this time. Within the castes were gotras, gigantic clans consisting of innumerable individual families. Even today, if someone in India tells you his family name you know both what state (country, really) he comes from and what his caste is. Also, at the beginning of very important formal worship the gotra of those for or by whom it is being conducted publicly state their gotra.

An individual’s gotra was no small thing. At the time of Satyakama it was essential for the teacher (acharya) to know the gotra/caste of the student, for the instruction given was according to the student’s caste so as to prepare him for his distinctive life within the society of that era. It is true that in very ancient times a student’s caste was finally determined during his education, according to his aptitudes and inclinations, but he started out being considered of the caste of his parents. Later, caste became solely a matter of heredity. Whichever era this story took place in, the father’s gotra/caste had to be known.

Complicating the whole thing was the fact that different gotras had their own dharma shastras–scriptures which set forth the social and religious rules for members of that gotra. Sometimes these texts governed such minutiae as the student’s style of hair, mode and color of clothing, and even the type of wood their staff should be made of and how long it should be. Those born completely outside such a system may consider this all meaningless complication, but it was not meaningless at the time the Upanishad was written, and we should realize the seriousness of all this, at least at that time.

Anyhow, Satyakama needed to know his caste and his gotra. Since his mother was a servant, a shudra, it was not likely he would be accepted anyway, and on top of it he was illegitimate–a total bar to assimilation by society on any level, including education. But Satyakama thirsted for knowledge, and with the single-minded intent of a child dared to approach the great sage Gautama, something even those of highest caste might hesitate to do.

Then he went to Gautama, the son of Haridrumat and said, I wish to become a student of sacred knowledge. May I become your pupil, Venerable Sir.
He said to him Of what family are you? He replied, I do not know this, sir, of what family I am. I asked my mother. She answered me, In my youth, when I went about a great deal as a maid-servant, I got you. So I do not know of what family you are. I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama by name. So I am Satyakama Jabala, Sir.
He then said to him, None but a Brahmana could thus explain. Bring the fuel. I will receive you as a pupil. You have not departed from the truth. Having initiated him, he separated out four hundred lean, weak cows and said, Go with these. While taking them away, he said, I may not return without a thousand. He lived away a number of years. When they came to be a thousand… (4.4.3-5)

Here we see that character, composed of karma and samskara, was the basis for caste in the Upanishadic age. Truthfulness is a prime trait of a Brahmin, as is indicated here. “None but a Brahmana could thus explain.” This is extremely powerful, for it not only indicates that a true Brahmin is in such a purified state that it is impossible for him to not speak the truth, and speak it fully, it also indicates that a Brahmin will not have the egoity that would prevent him speaking truthfully and plainly regarding himself in all aspects of his life. For him there is no ego-based shyness or embarrassment of any sort. A Brahmin will never seek to hide anything about himself by speech or silence. As yogis we must seek to be perfect Brahmins.

Now I will summarize what is a rather wordy and sometimes obscure text. Satyakama, at the instruction of his guru, Gautama, lived some years in the forest. During that time, from various natural sources he learned in stages that the entire cosmos is a manifestation of Brahman. Even though I say he learned this, it was not learning in the ordinary, intellectual sense. Rather it was direct experience gained in the depths of meditation. Thus Satyakama knew Brahman, and knew Brahman was manifesting as all the worlds and at the same time transcending them.

Then he reached the teacher’s house. The teacher said, Satyakama. He replied, Yes, Revered Sir. Verily you shine like one knowing Brahman. Who has taught you? He replied, Others, than men. But I wish, Revered Sir, that you teach me. For I have heard from persons like you, Revered sir, that the knowledge which has been learned from a teacher best helps one to attain his end. To him, he then declared it. In it nothing whatsoever was left out, yea, nothing was left out (4.9.1-3)

This reminds us of the radiant Buddha walking down the road after his enlightenment. Like Gautama, a Brahmin met him and also saw the divine radiance and asked him: “Who are you?” Continuing to walk on, Buddha simply said: “I am awake.”

Although he possessed the perfect knowledge of Brahman (Brahmajnana), Satyakama wisely asked that Gautama should teach him. For he knew that his perceptions might be either incorrect or incomplete, and he wanted to check them by hearing the truths from the lips of an enlightened master. (It should also be noted that the word “guru” appears nowhere here; only “acharya”–teacher.) This is the way of the wise; they are always aware that they may not have perfect knowledge or experience. It is only the ignorant that insist they know the truth and have no need of testing or instruction.

As Dion Fortune remarked in one of her books, those who are deluded will hysterically insist on the veracity of their “revelations,” even being violent verbally and physically in defense of those delusions. On the other hand, a person who has had valid experiences and garnered true wisdom from them will speak of such things very apologetically, even hesitantly, frequently commenting that they realize their experiences may be delusions or they may be mistaken in their understanding of them even if they are real.

Because of his sobriety and humility Satyakama was worthy (and capable) of being instructed fully in the wisdom of the sages (rishis). And so he was.

Now we come to the story of another student:
Now, verily, Upakosala, the son of Kamala, dwelt with Satyakama Jabala, as a student of sacred wisdom. He tended his fires for twelve years. But the teacher, though he allowed other pupils (after they learnt the sacred wisdom) to return to their homes, did not allow him [Upakosala] to depart.
His wife said to him, This student of sacred wisdom has performed his penance and tended the fires well. Let not the fires blame you. Give him the teaching. But he went away without teaching him.
Then, on account of sickness [grief], he resolved not to eat. The teacher’s wife said to him, O student of sacred wisdom, please eat. Why, pray, do you not eat? Then he said, Many are the desires in this person which proceed in different directions. I am filled with sicknesses [griefs]. I will not eat. (4.10.1-3)

Satyakama did not let Upakosala return home because he had not learned all that was necessary for leading a fully dharmic life according to the scriptural precepts. It is interesting that Upakosala does not consider that his failing is an academic one, but rather one of interior disposition. “Many are the desires in this person which proceed in different directions.”

This reminds us of the following from the life of Jesus: “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Upakosala understood this (and Jesus must have studied this Upanishad in India), realizing that although desires may not be negative or foolish, yet they pull us in many directions, whirling us around and confusing our minds and depleting our life energies. Only when the mind is fixed on the One can the many be safely attended to.

Why did the sage leave this boy to his sorrow? Those who see with earthly eyes and think only earthly thoughts often accuse saints of being heartless or even cruel. But they know what they are doing, and are aware that their actions are needed. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be leaving them, they were unhappy. So he said: “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:6-7). Vivekananda once commented: “A man harms his disciples by staying too long with them,” for they do not develop the independence needed to pursue spiritual life. Swami Sivananda often sent his disciples away to engage in spiritual practice or spiritual work. Even at the time of his leaving this world, only a few long-time disciples were present.

There was a man who very much wanted spiritual instruction from one of Sri Ramakrishna’s disciples, but that man sent him to another disciple, who sent him to still another, and that one refused him, too. Becoming very upset, even angry and bitter, the man left Calcutta and returned home. That very night he awoke, feeling that someone was in his room. Indeed there was: Sri Ramakrishna himself in living, physical form! He touched the man, blessing him, and gave him spiritual instruction. The next time that man saw one of his refusers, he was told: “We knew you were destined to receive personal instruction from Sri Ramakrishna himself; that is why we did not teach you ourselves.”

Then the fires said among themselves: This student of sacred wisdom has performed his penance and tended us well. Let us teach him then. (4.10.4)

And so it was. Voices came out of the sacrificial fires which he had attended so many years. Perhaps these were the voices of disembodied sages who knew of his aspiration and frustration and felt merciful toward him. They may even have been teachers from previous lives.

Then they [the fires] said, Upakosala, you have this knowledge of our selves and knowledge of the Self. But the teacher will tell you the way. Then the teacher returned. The teacher spoke to him, Upakosala.
Revered Sir, he answered. Your face shines like that of one who knows Brahman. Who has instructed you? Who should instruct me, sir? said he. Here he conceals it as it were. And he said [pointing to the fires], They are of this form now, but they were of a different form. The teacher said, what did they indeed tell you?
This, he replied. [And told him.] They, have indeed spoken to you about the worlds, but I will tell you this, and as water does not cling to the lotus leaf, so an evil deed does not cling to one who knows it. Tell me, revered sir. (4.14.1-3)

This is thoroughly clear, and needs no comment, except to say that here we see the nature of enlightenment as a total transformation of perception. And that is one of the greatest teachings of this Upanishad.

To him, he then said: Now the [five] senses disputed among themselves as to who was superior saying [in turn], I am superior. I am superior.
Those senses went to Prajapati, [their] father and said, Venerable sir, who is the best of us? He said to them, He on whose departing the body looks the worst, he is the best among you.
Speech departed and having stayed away for a year returned and said, How have you been able to live without me? [They replied] Like the dumb not speaking, but breathing with the breath, seeing with the eye, hearing with the ear, thinking with the mind. Thus [we lived]. Speech entered in.
The eye departed and having stayed away for a year returned and said, How have you been able to live without me? [They replied] like the blind not seeing but breathing with the breath, speaking with speech [the tongue], hearing with the ear, thinking with the mind. Thus [we lived]. The eye entered in.
The ear departed and having stayed away for a year returned and said, How have you been able to live without me? [They replied] Like the deaf not hearing, but breathing with the breath, speaking with speech [the tongue], seeing with the eye and thinking with the mind. Thus [we lived]. The ear entered in.
The mind departed and having stayed away for a year returned and said, How have you been able to live without me? [They replied] Like the children mindless but breathing with the breath, speaking with speech [the tongue], seeing with the eye, hearing with the ear. Thus [we lived]. The mind entered in.
Now when breath [prana] was about to depart, tearing up the other senses, even as a spirited horse about to start might tear up the pegs to which he is tethered, they gathered round him and said, Revered Sir, remain, you are the best of us, do not depart.
Then speech said to him, If I am the most prosperous, so are you the most prosperous. Then the eye said to him, If I am the firm basis, so are you the firm basis.
Then the ear said to him, If I am success, so are you the success. Then the mind said to him, If I am the abode, so are you the abode.
Verily, they do not call them speeches or eyes or ears or minds. They call them breaths [pranas], for all these are breath [prana]. (5.1.6-15)

Once again, I need only point out that the Upanishads tell us over and over that breath and sound are the two elements of life, individual and cosmic.

Now we come to the best known and most valued section of the Upanishads: the story of Shvetaketu and his learning about Brahman and also his own Self.
There was Shvetaketu Aruneya. His father said to him, Live the life of a religious student. Verily there is no one in our family who is unlearned, who is a Brahmana only by birth. (6.1.1)

What a blessed time it must have been when education was aimed at the attainment of Brahmajnana!

He then, having become a pupil at the age of twelve, returned when he was twenty-four years of age, having studied all the Vedas, greatly conceited, thinking himself well read, and arrogant. His father then said to him, Shvetaketu, since you are now so greatly conceited, think yourself well read and arrogant, did you ask for that instruction by which the unhearable becomes heard, the unperceivable becomes perceived, the unknowable becomes known? [He asked:] How, Venerable Sir, can there be such teaching? (6.1.2-3)

Here we have three words: Ashrutam, amatam, and avijnatam that are most important. Ashrutam means “the unhearable,” amatam means “the unperceivable, ” and avijnatam means “the unknowable.” These are epithets of Brahman, the Absolute Being. Not only do we not at this moment hear, think of or know Brahman, we cannot do so through the mind. But we can know Brahman directly at the core of our Self where It ever abides as the Self of our Self. When we go beyond the inner and outer instruments of perception, the jnanendriyas, into the Self that is the ultimate Knower, then we will hear without hearing, think without thought, and know without knowing. To do this, we must be yogis.

Uddalaka now tells Shvetaketu:
Just as by one clod of clay all that is made of clay becomes known, the modification being only a name arising from speech while the truth is that it is just clay.
Just as by one nugget of gold, all that is made of gold becomes known, the modification being only a name arising from speech, while the truth is that it is just gold.
Just as by one pair of nail scissors all that is made of iron becomes known, the modification being only a name arising from speech while the truth is that it is just iron: thus is that teaching. (6.1.4-6)

This is pretty straightforward, but it has an interesting implication. Uddalaka says that if we know one lump of clay or one nugget of gold we will know all clay and gold. The Self (Atman) and Brahman are absolutely one, yet the Self is limited in its scope, whereas Brahman is limitless–and willing to share that limitlessness with us. Therefore the way to know the Paramatman, Brahman, is to first know the jivatman, the individual Self. Once we know the part we know the whole. There is even more to it, because in that knowing we participate in the infinite Being of Brahman. This is a matter of yoga and beyond the scope of language to express or explain. That is why the Kena Upanishad says: “To whomsoever It [Brahman] is not known, to him It is known: to whomsoever It is known, he does not know. It is not understood by those who understand It; it is understood by those who do not understand it” (2.3). The interpretive translation by Prabhavananda make this clear: “He truly knows Brahman who knows him as beyond knowledge; he who thinks that he knows, knows not. The ignorant think that Brahman is known, but the wise know him to be beyond knowledge.”

In response Shvetaketu says:
Verily, those venerable men did not know this; for if they had known it, why would they not have told it to me? Venerable Sir, please tell me that. So be it, said he.
In the beginning this was Being alone, one only without a second. Some people say, In the beginning this was non-being alone, one only, without a second. From that non-being, being was produced. (6.2.1)
But how, indeed could it be thus? said he, how could being be produced from non-being? On the contrary, in the beginning this was being alone, one only, without a second (6.1.7; 6.2.1-2)

In the beginning–and evermore–there was SAT: Existence; Reality; Being: Brahman, the Absolute, Pure Being. And this Sat was ekam, evam, adwityam: one only, without a second. This Absolute Unity is all that ever has been or ever can be. This is a major principle of the Upanishads, one that is not easy to always keep in mind since we find ourselves immersed in the experience of duality. But when through self-purification and the practice of yoga we sweep aside this delusive curtain we will see the One and know It within our own Self (Atman) as its inmost essence. The Sat is always One, not one among many, and is absolutely indivisible. Duality cannot arise in It to any degree.

This being so, Uddalaka warns Shvetaketu away from the mistaken idea that there was an original Nothing from which came Something. Certainly, Brahman is No Thing, but that is a far cry from Nothing. Rather, it is Everything. This is important to us for two reasons. First, if originally there was nothing, then when we return to our primal state we will be annihilated and dissolve back into nothing. And, indeed, there are those who believe and even yearn for this. But it is not so. Second, for us raised in Western religion, it points out the absurdity of the theological principle that God created the world ex nihil–from nothing.

Since this second proposition is merely an intellectual perception, it is not particularly negative, but the first one is, for it deludes us as to what our ultimate state is meant to be. And it is perfectly possible to enter into an empty, jada state of unconscious inertia that can be mistaken for nirvana which is often wrongly translated “annihilation” or “extinguishment.”

It thought, May I be many, may I grow forth. (6.2.3a)

This is extremely important. Brahman did not create anything: It projected everything out of Its own being–and not as a separate entity, for It is within every thing as its sole Reality, as its Self, as its subtle Essence.

You might be interested to know that this was the original teaching of Christianity. In the New Testament the word translated “made” in speaking of the origin of the universe is ginomai, which means to be generated, or manifested, not made from nothing. It also means to arise or be assembled from something already existing. In The Apostolic Constitutions, one of the earliest texts of Christianity, God is said to have “brought forth all things as from a treasure house,” not from nothing.

Sometimes the longer Upanishads branch off from the central subject and explore a byway or two. This happened in the preceding dialogue between Uddalaka and Shvetaketu. Uddalaka began expounding the origin of various components of the human being, including the mind, the manas, which is the sensory mind, the field of energy which conveys the impressions of the sensory impulses of the brain. It is part of our astral bodies, but since it consists of the grossest of astral substance, it is integrated, even interwoven, with the material body and brain. According to Uddalaka the energy of the mind is derived from the physical body:

Food when eaten becomes threefold, its coarsest portion becomes the faeces; its middle [portion] flesh, and its subtlest [portion] mind. (6.5.1)

From this we see how important diet is, for the very substance of the mind is the essential energy of the food we eat. For that reason we must be careful both as to what we eat and what its vibration might be. For example, we should avoid meat, fish, eggs, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-influencing drugs–that should be obvious to the yogi. But we must also be careful about the vibration of acceptable food, for if it is a vehicle of negative vibrations it will be poisonous to the mind. When food is cooked or handled, the vibrations of the cook and the handler enter into it, for cooked food is very receptive to vibrations. Usually a prayer or blessing will neutralize any negative energies attached to food, but not always, especially if the cook or handler were mentally disturbed. Food in a restaurant that serves meat can be a problem for that reason, and also because the food may be prepared on the same surface or in the same utensils in which meat has been cooked, or the ingredients of the food may have been touched by meat in some way in the restaurant kitchen.

Prana, the subtle life force in the yogi’s body, must also be kept pure, as it affects everything in the physical and astral bodies, and has a major influence on meditation, during which the pranas must be as pure and subtle as possible, since the mental energies and the prana interact with one another intimately.

About the prana, Uddalaka says:
Water when drunk becomes threefold, its coarsest portion becomes the urine; its middle [portion] the blood, its subtlest [portion] the breath [prana]. (6.5.2)

What is said about water stands for any liquid, and we must be as careful about that as about our solid food.

Thus mind consists of food and breath [prana] consists of water. Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still more. So be it, said he. Of the curd [yogurt], when churned, that which is subtle moves upwards, it becomes butter. In the same manner of the food that is eaten, that which is subtle moves upwards, it becomes mind. Of the water that is drunk, that which is subtle moves upwards, it becomes breath. Thus mind consists of food, breath [prana] consists of water. Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still more. So be it, said he (6.6.1-3, 5)

This is extremely valuable knowledge for everyone, but especially for the yogi, as we see that food and drink have a direct effect on the mind and the vital force within–and become the mind and prana of the yogi.

To prove the truth of his assertions, Uddalaka directs him to make an experiment:
A person consists of sixteen parts. For fifteen days do not eat [any food], drink water at [your] will. Breath which consists of water will not be cut off from one who drinks water.
Then for fifteen days he did not eat [any food], and then he approached him saying, What, sir, shall I say? The Rig verses, the Yajus formulas, and the Saman chants. He replied, They do not occur to me, Sir. He said to him, Just as of a great lighted fire, a single coal of the size of a firefly may be left which would not thereafter burn much, even so of your sixteen parts only one part is left and so with it you do not apprehend [remember] the Vedas. Eat. Then you will understand me.
Then he ate and approached him [his father]. Then whatsoever he asked him, he answered it all. To him he then said, Just as of a great lighted fire if a single coal of the size of a firefly is left, and made to blaze up by covering it with straw and with it the fire would thereafter burn much. So of your sixteen parts only one part was left and that, when covered with food, blazed up. With it you now apprehend the Vedas. For the mind consists of food, the breath [prana] consists of water. Then he understood what he said; he understood it. (6.7.1-6)

In some texts the following verse is found. “When the (mind of the) person consisting of the five senses is not supported by food, then his intelligence goes away, even as the water flows away from the mouth of a leathern bag.” So not only the quantity but the quality of the mental and pranic energies is determined by the food we eat.

Then Uddalaka Aruni said to his son, Shvetaketu, learn from me the true nature of sleep. When a person here sleeps [without dreaming], as it is called, then he has reached pure being. He has gone to his own. Therefore they say he sleeps for he has gone to his own. Just as a bird tied by a string, after flying in various directions without finding a resting-place elsewhere settles down (at last) at the place where it is bound, so also the mind after flying in various directions without finding a resting-place elsewhere settles down in breath, for the mind is bound to breath. (6.8.1-2)

Again we see why the breath is so important to the yogi; for his mind “settles down in breath,… is bound to breath.”

Now we come to the supreme teaching of the Upanishads.
All these creatures have their root in Being. They have Being as their abode, Being as their support.
That which is the subtle essence (the root of all) this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Just as the bees prepare honey by collecting the essences (juices) of different trees and reducing them into one essence, and as these juices possess no discrimination [so that of that they might say] I am the essence of this tree, I am the essence of that tree, even so, indeed, [are] all these creatures. Whatever they are in this world, tiger or lion or wolf or boar or worm or fly or gnat or mosquito, that they become.
That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

These rivers flow the eastern toward the east, the western toward the west. They go just from sea to sea. They become the sea itself. Just as these rivers while there do not know I am this one, I am that one. In the same manner all these creatures even though they have come forth from Being do not know that We have come forth from Being. Whatever they are in this world, tiger or lion or wolf or boar or worm or fly or gnat or mosquito, that they become.
That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Of this mighty tree if someone should strike at the root it would bleed but still live, if someone should strike at the middle, it would bleed, but still live. If someone should strike at the top, it would bleed but still live. Being pervaded by its living Self, it stands firm, drinking in its moisture [which nourishes it] and rejoicing. If the life leaves one branch of it, then it dries up; if it leaves a second, then that dries up; if it leaves a third, then that dries up. If it leaves the whole, the whole dries up. Even so, indeed understand, said he. Verily, indeed, this body dies, when deprived of the living Self, [but] the living Self does not die.
That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Bring hither a fruit of that nyagrodha tree. Here it is, Venerable Sir. Break it. It is broken, Venerable Sir. What do you see there? These extremely fine seeds, Venerable Sir. Of these, please break one. It is broken, Venerable Sir. What do you see there? Nothing at all, Venerable Sir. Then he said to him, That subtle essence which you do not perceive, verily from that very essence this great nyagrodha tree exists. Believe me.
That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Place this salt in the water and come to me in the morning. Then he did so. Then he said to him, That salt you placed in the water last evening, please bring it hither. Having looked for it he found it not, as it was completely dissolved. Please take a sip of it from this end. He said, How is it? Salt. Take a sip from the middle. How is it? Salt. Take a sip from the other end. How is it? Salt. Throw it away and come to me. He did so. It is always the same. Then he said to him, Verily, indeed you do not perceive Pure Being here. Verily, indeed, it is here.
That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

When we merge with Brahman in mahasamadhi, the yogi’s great exit of death, then all that we knew and believed in is nothing to us: only Brahman remains for us to know and identify with. The long journey is over, Reality gained at last. All that was enslaving and misery-producing, all the trivia and folly of relativity, is over forever. No return engagement. No return trip ticket. Home at last; home forever. Home in Infinity, in Life to a degree undreamed of by us for ages beyond calculation. For the final time we close our external eyes to open the inner eye of spirit.

My miracle-working grandmother asked me to have sung at her funeral the song “We’ll Say Goodnight Here, But Good Morning Up There.” It certainly is night here, and there is eternal dawn in God. But attaining it is not so simple as the song implies. Nevertheless, one day beyond all time it will happen to us all. Then we will really know: “That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. THAT ART THOU.”

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Just as one might lead a person away from the Gandharas with his eyes bandaged and abandon him in a place where there are no human beings, and just as that person would shout towards the east or the north or the south or the west, I have been led here with my eyes bandaged, I have been left here with my eyes bandaged. And as, if one released his bandage and told him, In that direction are the Gandharas, go in that direction, thereupon, being informed and capable of judgment, he would by asking [his way] from village to village arrive at Gandhara, in exactly the same manner does one here who has a teacher [acharya] know, I shall remain here only so long as I shall not be released [from ignorance]. Then I shall reach perfection.
That which is the subtle essence this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are Shvetaketu.

Please, Venerable Sir, instruct me still further. So be it, said he.

Also around a sick (dying) person his relatives gather and ask, Do you know me? Do you know me? So long as his voice is not merged in mind, mind in breath, breath in heat and heat in the highest deity, so long he knows (them). Then when his voice is merged in mind, his mind in heat, and heat in the highest deity, then he does not know (them).
That which is the subtle essence this whole world has for its Self. That is the true. That is the Self. That you are, Shvetaketu.

Now we come to the account of the great sage Narada and his inquiries made to the great master Bhagavan Sanatkumara. This contains a lot of rhetoric and repetition, so I will omit some things.
Narada approached Sanatkumara and said, Teach me, Venerable Sir. He said, Come to me with [tell me] what you know. Then I will teach you what is beyond that.
[Narada said:] Venerable Sir, I know the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, Atharvana as the fourth (Veda), the epic and the ancient lore as the fifth, the Veda of the Vedas (i.e. grammar), propitiation of the Father, the science of numbers (mathematics), the science of portents, the science of time (chronology), logic, ethics and politics, the science of the gods, the science of sacred knowledge, the science of elemental spirits, the science of weapons, astronomy, the science of serpents and the fine arts. This, Venerable Sir, I know.
But, Venerable Sir, I am only like one knowing the words and not a knower of [the] Self. It has been heard by me from those like you that he who knows the Self crosses over sorrow. Such a sorrowing one am I. Venerable Sir. Do you, Venerable Sir, help me to cross over to the other side of sorrow. (7.1.1-3)

This contains a cardinal truth: there is no peace or real happiness outside the knowledge of the Self (Atmajnana). Those who wish to end all sorrow must seek that knowledge. Such is the assertion of the great teachers of humanity.

[Sanatkumara said to him:] The infinite is happiness. There is no happiness in anything small (finite). Only the infinite is happiness. But one must desire to understand the infinite. [Narada said:] Venerable Sir, I desire to understand the infinite. (7.23.1)

This is not an easy lesson to learn: that there is no joy outside of the Infinite Brahman, and there is no joy outside of our own Self. The meditator knows how difficult this is, for the mind keeps running after utter trivia in meditation, turning from the way to ananda and thinking of those things that only bring suffering even though the mind delights in the idea of them. Fool’s gold is preferred by the mind to real gold. This is an addiction incredibly hard to be cured. The first step is asking about the Infinite, as this verse shows.

What now follows is not a deinition of the Infinite, because that is impossible since It is beyond conceptualization, and therefore beyond words. But it is possible to give a hint about the experience of the Infinite, even though it will be more of a neti-neti (not this-not that) approach.

[Sanatkumara said:] Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the infinite. But where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the small (the finite). Verily, the infinite is the same as the immortal, the finite is the same as the mortal. [Narada said:] Venerable Sir, on what is the infinite established? On its own greatness or not even on greatness. (7.24.1)

“Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the small [the finite],” can be understood in two ways, both of which are correct. First, if someone sees anything besides the Infinite, then he is not perceiving the Infinite, for when the Infinite is perceived, all else either disappears or is seen as the Infinite Itself. Second, if anyone sees anything other than his Self, which is one with the Infinite, he is not seeing the Infinite.

The last sentence means that we dare not say that Brahman is “established” on anything. But we need very often to use expressions that are not exactly accurate, because we are attempting to speak of Something that cannot be spoken of in words or thought of in concepts.

[Sanatkumara said:] That [infinite] indeed is below. It is above. It is behind. It is in front. It is to the south, it is to the north. It is indeed all this [world]. Now next, the instruction in regard to the Self-sense: “I, indeed, am below. I am above, I am behind, I am in front. I am to the south, I am to the north, I, indeed, am all this (world).” (7.25.1)

Now, the ego would like to make these claims, but only the Self can truly say such things. By this verse we should see that the miniscule experiences which so many people claim are evidences of their enlightenment are nothing at all but ego claiming to be the Self. Only when the yogi experiences what is described by this verse can he begin to think of having attained enlightenment. (Please see Dwelling in the Mirror for an explanation of false non-dual “realization.”)

Now next the instruction in regard to the Self. The Self indeed is below. The Self is above. The Self is behind. The Self is in front. The Self is to the south. The Self is to the north. The Self, indeed, is all this [world]. Verily, he who sees this, who thinks this, who understands this, he has pleasure in the Self, he has delight in the Self, he has union in the Self, he has joy in the Self, he is independent [Self-ruler], he has unlimited freedom in all worlds. But they who think differently from this are dependent on others [have others for their rulers]. They have [live in] perishable worlds. In all worlds they cannot move at all [have no freedom]. (7.25.2)

What is true of Brahman is true of the Self of each one of us.

For him who sees this, who thinks this and who understands this, life-breath springs from the Self, hope from the Self, memory from the Self, ether from the Self, heat from the Self, water from the Self, appearance and disappearance from the Self, food from the Self, strength from the Self, understanding from the Self, meditation from the Self, thought from the Self, determination from the Self, mind from the Self, speech from the Self, name from the Self, sacred hymns from the Self, (sacred) works from the Self, indeed all this (world) from the Self.
He who sees this does not see death nor illness nor any sorrow. He who sees this sees everything and obtains everything everywhere. He is one, becomes threefold, fivefold, sevenfold and also ninefold. Then again he is called the elevenfold, also a hundred and elevenfold and also twenty-thousand fold.

In the Self we find everything, for outside the Self–outside Brahman–there is nothing.

When nourishment is pure, nature is pure. When nature is pure, memory becomes firm. When memory remains firm, there is release from all knots of the heart. To such a one who has his stains wiped away, the venerable Sanatkumara shows the further shore beyond darkness. (7.26.1-2)

Here again we see why purity (shaucha) is an essential element in yoga according to Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (2:30, 32). If there is purity of diet, then the prakriti-energy of the mind and body will be pure. When the mental energies are pure, the memory of who we really can become established in us. When this is fostered and brought to fruition by mediation, freedom from all bonds result. Such a one is then shown (brought to) the further shore beyond darkness: the infinite Self.

Who is this Sanatkumara that the Upanishad calls “Bhagavan Sanatkumara”? A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines Bhagavan: “The Lord; the One endowed with the six attributes, viz. infinite treasures, strength, glory, splendor knowledge, and renunciation; the Personal God.” At the beginning of this creation cycle the four most advanced human souls (Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata) from the previous cycle refused to engage in the creation of the world and to enter into worldly life, despite the command of Brahma that they do so. Instead they engaged in intense yoga and attained liberation. The chief of these was Sanatkumara, who thereby became the Lord of Liberation for all humanity. Ever present in subtle form, Sanatkumara assists those who truly seek liberation–usually invisibly and unknown to them. But at their attainment of perfect realization he reveals himself to them and leads them to the worlds beyond compulsory rebirth.

Now, here in this city of Brahman is an abode, a small lotus flower; within it is a small space. What is within that should be sought, for that, assuredly, is what one should desire to understand. If they should say to him, with regard to this city of Brahma and the abode and the small lotus flower and the small space within that, what is there that should be sought for, or that, assuredly, one should desire to understand? (8.1.1-2)

The body is the abode of Brahman and the Self. The core-center of each relative, sentient being is its heart. And within the heart is a dahara, a dwelling; and within that dwelling is pure akasha, ether or space. But it is not the akasha that is one of the five primal elements (panchabhuta), but rather the Chidakasha, the Space [Ether] of Consciousness in the center of the Sahasrara chakra in the head. In other words, the inmost dweller of the heart is Brahman Itself. Such is the import of these verses according to Shankara. So it is Brahman “that should be sought for, or that, assuredly, one should desire to understand.”

He should say, as far, verily, as this [world] space extends, so far extends the space within the heart. Within it, indeed, are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and air, both sun and moon, lightning and the stars. Whatever there is of him in this world and whatever is not, all that is contained within it (8.1.3)

How is this possible? Because space, like time, is only a idea, only an experience, not a reality. Infinity is within each one of us. I have had various experiences of this fact that could be mistaken for cosmic consciousness, as I have written about before. I experienced the mirror-image of the cosmos that exists within the Chidakasha in the heart. No one had ever told me about this, so at first I was at a loss to figure it out. But then in a moment the truth flashed into my mind. When much later I read these words of the Chandogya Upanishad I realized how amazing and invaluable is yoga. The yogi can realize for himself the things written in the wisdom texts of India. He can both experience and understand the meaning of the experience–and all from within.

If they should say to him, if, within this city of Brahma, is contained all [that exists], all beings and all desires, then what is left of it when old age overtakes it or when it perishes?
He should say, it [the Self within] does not age with old age, it is not killed by the killing [of the body]. That [and not the body] is the real city of Brahma. In it desires are contained. It is the Self free from sin, free from old age, free from death, free from sorrow, free from hunger, free from thirst, whose desire is the real, whose thought is the real, For, just as here on earth people follow in obedience to command [as they are commanded], of whatever object they are desirous, be it a country or a part of a field, on that they live dependent. (8.1.4-5)

The mystic Angelus Silesius wrote that if he could die, then God would die; that if he could cease to exist, God could cease to exist. Such was his perfect understanding of the identity of the Self and God. Since this is so, the Upanishad tells us that the Immortal is within us, whatever the condition of the body. Moreover, the desires of that Self are satyakama, true desires, and Its will is satyasankalpa, true will. So if we will center our consciousness in the Self, we will not have to worry about desire or will: they will be Sat: revealers of the Real.

Having spoken of true desire and true will as properties of the Self, the Upanishad now outlines the practical aspect of such.

As here on earth the world which is earned by work perishes, even so there the world which is earned by merit [derived from the performance of sacrifices] perishes. Those who depart hence without having found here the Self and those real desires, for them there is no freedom in all the worlds. But those who depart hence, having found here the Self and those real desires–for them in all worlds there is freedom. (8.1.6)

The desires and intentions of those who have not realized the Self, even if seemingly fulfilled, eventually evaporate and come to nothing. But it is vastly different for those who know the Self and act and will accordingly.

If he becomes desirous of the world of the fathers, by his mere thought, fathers arise. Possessed of the world of fathers he is happy.
And so if he becomes desirous of the world of mothers, by his mere thought, mothers arise. Possessed of that world of mothers he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of brothers, out of his mere thought brothers arise. Possessed of that world of brothers he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of sisters, out of his mere thought, sisters arise. Possessed of that world of sisters he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of friends, out of his mere thought, friends arise. Possessed of that world of friends he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of perfumes and garlands, out of his mere thought, perfumes and garlands arise. Possessed of that world of perfumes and garlands he is happy. (8.2.6)
And if he becomes desirous of the world of food and drink, out of his mere thought, food and drink arise. Possessed of that world of food and drink he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of song and music, out of his mere thought, song and music arise. Possessed of that world of song and music he is happy.
And if he becomes desirous of the world of women, out of his mere thought, women arise. Possessed of that world of women he is happy.
Of whatever object he becomes desirous, whatever desire he desires, out of his mere thought it arises. Possessed of it he is happy. (8.2.1-10)

This is also a description of some worlds that are beyond the reach of rebirth as well as the higher realms where the liberated dwell. It is lengthy and perhaps not too obvious of meaning. The idea is that the realized person has access to and embodies all that is positive from his past lives, both persons and karmic conditions. This being so, he can obtain anything he desires and wills in the present and the future. Yet his happiness is far beyond this description: he is happy in the Self, in Brahman, in Absolute Being.

These same are true desires, with a covering of what is false. Although the desires are true there is a covering that is false. For whosoever of one’s [fellows] departs hence, one does not get him [back] to see here.
But those of one’s [fellows] whether they are alive or whether they have departed and whatever else one desires but does not get, all this one finds by going in there [into one’s own Self], for here, indeed, are those true desires of his with a covering of what is false. Just as those who do not know the field walk again and again over the hidden treasure of gold and do not find it, even so all creatures here go day after day into the Brahma-world and yet do not find it, for they are carried away by untruth (8.3.1-2)

Meditation on the Self is the key to the treasure house. So the Upanishad next says:

Verily; that Self is [abides] in the heart. Of it the etymological explanation is this. This one is in the heart, thereof it is the heart. He who knows this goes day by day into the heavenly world. (8.3.3)
Now that serene being, rising out of this body, and reaching the highest light appears in his own form. He is the Self, said he [when asked by the pupils]. That is the immortal, the fearless. He who knows this goes day by day into the heavenly world. (8.3.3-5)

Meditation is the way to go day by day into the heavenly world. Those who practice right meditation in the right manner will experience this in a short time. (Again: see Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self.)

Now the Self is the bridge, the [separating] boundary for keeping these worlds apart. Over that bridge day and night do not cross, nor old age nor death, nor sorrow, nor well-doing nor ill-doing. All evils turn back from it for the Brahma-world is freed from evil. (8.4.1)

Setuh literally means a dam. In the experience of conditioned beings within the realm of relativity, the individual Self or jivatman acts as a boundary between its Supreme Self, Brahman, the Paramatman, and the world of samsara. This is a very interesting fact, made even more interesting by the fact that I have never encountered it except here in this section of the Chandogya Upanishad.

We may think of the Self as a sea wall. On one side is the vast ocean of Brahman, and on the other side is the earth of material form and change. On one side the wall is experiencing the wetness of the sea, and on the other the dryness of earth. That in which the individual finds himself immersed only applies to the earth side of his being. However much we may experience birth, death, change and all that attends them, they never touch the realm of Brahman. Conversely, although we are living in and as Brahman, samsara never touches That. Samsara and Brahman are mutually exclusive of one another. But we participate in both, linking them with one another. Presently we are centered in samsara, experiencing our own Self as a barrier to Reality. But that barrier can be crossed, so the Upanishad continues:

Therefore, verily, on crossing that bridge, if one is blind he becomes no longer blind, if wounded, he becomes no longer wounded, if afflicted he becomes no longer afflicted. Therefore, verily, on crossing that bridge, night appears even as day, for that Brahma-world is ever-illumined.(8.4.2)

That is so powerful and obvious that there is no place for comment, other than to point out that the conditions listed from which the knowers of the Self are freed are really only illusions, just mirages. The Self being Real, such illusions vanish when it is known.

But only they find that Brahma-world who practice brahmacharya; only they possess that Brahma-world. For them there is unlimited freedom in all worlds. (8.4.3)

You cannot get more clear than this. Brahmacharya is the indispensible way to the realm of Brahman (Brahmaloka). Certainly, sexual continence is the core of brahmacharya, but it includes self-restraint on all levels. There is no other way to qualify for union with Brahman than through brahmacharya. Yoga is an essential for that union, but frankly the practice of yoga is worthless without brahmacharya. The proof of that is the American and European yoga “scenes.” Nothing is coming of them spiritually, only profiteering and self-delusion.

Now, what people call sacrifice is really brahmacharya. Only by brahmacharya does he who knows obtain that [world]. Now what people call: What has been sacrificed, is really brahmacharya, for only by sacrificing with brahmacharya does one obtain the Self. (8.5.1)

Brahmacharya is the necessary worship-sacrifice to know God. As the Beloved Disciple wrote: “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:3). Why claim to believe the teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita if they are ignored or despised and even denied?

But there is more.

Now what people call the protracted sacrifice [sattrayanam] is really brahmacharya. Only by brahmacharya does one obtain the protection of the real Self. Now what people call the vow of silence is really brahmacharya, for only by finding out the Self through brahmacharya does one [really] meditate. (8.5.2)

Perhaps I should explain a bit about this fulsome assurance that brahmacharya will accomplish everything.

We, like God, are incarnate in a field of energy which we are intended to evolve just as God evolves the cosmos. When the evolution is completed, that is enlightenment and liberation. The human complex is like a machine that requires a certain amount of voltage, or an engine that cannot run without the right amount of fuel. This process requires the total application of the inner and outer powers (energies) of the individual, powers that are devastatingly dissipated through sensory experience, emotion, and desire: especially lust. This is a purely pragmatic proposition, having nothing to do with concepts of right, wrong, good, bad or any kind of moral evaluation. For example, sex is destructive. Anything that diverts or dissipates the powers needed for evolution and enlightenment is to be avoided. It is a hindrance and distraction in spiritual life. For this reason the intelligent (buddhic) yogi is at all times vigilantly disciplined–a brahmachari or brahmacharini. Those who do not wish to pay the price of enlightenment are free to pass it by. No one is under coercion. To seek freedom the yogi must be free in that decision (sankalpa) and in the requisite disciplines for success in seeking.

The necessity for brahmacharya is an absolute.

Now what people call a course of fasting is really brahmacharya, for the Self which one finds by brahmacharya does not perish. Now what people call the life of a hermit [aranyayanam–dwelling in the forest] is really brahmacharya. (8.5.3a)

Fasting (anasakayana) is abstinence from food. Brahmacharya is abstinence from the food of the senses: sensory experience.

Most yogis have an inward pull to the forest life, to live in the midst of real nature away from the noise and poisons of city life as well as the noise and pollutions of human society. The Gita describes the yogi as “remaining in solitude, alone” (6:10), and “having distaste for association with many people” (13:10). Whether this is a samskara or an intuition, it will be found in nearly all serious yogis.

One of my best friends was constantly going out into the wilds and risking life and limb so he could meditate far from any other human being. I am not exaggerating about the risks he took. One time he was literally starving, and even wrote a note to anyone that might find his body, saying that it was his unwise ways that caused his death, and yoga should not be blamed. He had been taken into the wilderness by a friend who was to come back in a few weeks to check on him, but he had left his original camp and gone farther into the forest. So when the man came back after some weeks he could not be found. As my friend was lying on the ground, preparing to die, suddenly that man came hurrying up and asked: “Where is that woman?” Hardly able to speak, my friend asked his own question: “What woman?” “That woman with the long black hair in the orange dress! If I hadn’t followed her, I couldn’t have found you.” At first my friend was flummoxed, but then he reached in his pack for his photograph of Paramhansa Yogananda. “Is that the ‘woman’?” he asked, holding it out to the man. “Yes, that’s her!” the man replied. “She came walking by me really fast, and I asked her if she knew where you were. But she just kept walking and I came running after her. Then she disappeared and I saw you.” Such was the miraculous loving care of the great Master Yogananda, who certainly honored my friend’s forest-yearning, however impractical.

Solitude is a matter of interior condition. The remarkable Russian Orthodox saint, Saint John of Kronstadt, not only never slept, he was never alone more than two hours in twenty-four. Yet a man who knew him very well said: “Father John was always alone.” In contrast are those that go miles away from any human being and take the whole world and its population right with them. The teaching of the Upanishad is that brahmacharya is the way to accomplish true inner solitude and quiet.

Verily, ara and nya [aranya: forest] are the two seas in the Brahma-world. Only they who find the two seas Ara and Nya in the Brahma-world through brahmacharya, only they possess the Brahma-world. In all the worlds they possess unlimited freedom. (8.5.3b-4)

Here “forest” means the interior state of solitude even though physically surrounded by the world. Since Brahman is beyond materiality and even any kind of subtle name and form, these verses are speaking symbolically of the immortality-bestowing effects of union with Brahman which can only be effected by those that practice brahmacharya. (Shankara agrees with me in his commentary.) The meaning is pretty obvious: those who enter the ocean of Brahman and drink will be filled with bliss, made immortal with the immortality of Brahman, and will have access to all the worlds of relative existence and mastery in those worlds. Those who find the Absolute do not lose the relative, for the relative is a manifestation of the Absolute.

Blessed are they who believe this and act upon it.

Now as for these arteries [nadis] of the heart, they consist of a fine [subtle] substance. On this there is this verse: A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal. (8.6.1, 6)

Regular deep meditation prepares us for the Great Departure by purifying and activating the subtle energies (prana) and the channels (nadis) in the subtle body through which they move. Furthermore, meditation polarizes the energies to habitually flow upward. Therefore at his departure from the body the adept yogi goes upward through the brahmarandhra at the crown of the head and merges into Spirit.

One time when I was with an Indian yogi someone asked him if it would be good to teach meditation to a mentally ill person. “No,” he replied instantly. “If you teach a crazy person to meditate they will just meditate crazily and harm themselves.” It is the same with dishonest, negative and self-deluding people. They will misunderstand what they are taught and come of up with a dishonest, negative and self-deluding interpretation or misunderstanding. Through the years I have found that the yogi spoke the truth. And the following section bears it out.

The Self which is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose desire is the real, whose thought is the real, he should be sought, him one should desire to understand. He who has found out and who understands that Self, he obtains all worlds and all desires. Thus spoke Prajapati. (8.7.1)

This is the very heart of truth: the Self must be known, otherwise all is lost. Sri Ramakrishna said it quite directly: the purpose of human life is knowing God, so those who do not strive to know God are wasting their life.

The gods and the demons both heard it and said, Well, let us seek that Self, the Self by seeking whom one obtains all worlds and all desires. Then Indra from among the gods went forth unto him and Virochana from among the demons. Then without communicating with each other, the two came into the presence of Prajapati, fuel in hand. (8.7.2)

The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to the idea that human beings are divided into two types: divine (daivic) and demonic (asuric). It should be carefully studied by those who seek higher consciousness, for it is bedrock truth. Here in the Upanishad we are given an exposition of the two natures by means of a story.

It may seem that the gods and demons had a common goal: to “obtain all worlds and all desires,” but that is not so. It was certainly the aim of the demons, but the gods desired the realization of the Self, although they certainly knew that “all worlds and all desires” come to a knower of the Self as a side effect.

For thirty-two years the two lived there the disciplined life of a student of sacred knowledge. Then Prajapati asked them, Desiring what have you been living? The two said, The Self which is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose desire is the real, whose thought is the real. He should be sought, him one should desire to understand. He who has found out, he who understands that Self, he obtains all worlds and all desires. These people declare to be your word, Venerable Sir, desiring him we have been living. (8.7.3)

Here we see that Indra and Virochana after thirty-two years had not even brought up the subject of instruction. We need not take so long, but we should be very careful and not rush into accepting the teachings of anyone. That is one of the value of books. We can read them and discard them if we find them worthless without any conflict with the teacher. And we can apply them without becoming the teacher’s slave or dependent on him.

In this story we see the first step in the discovery of the nature of the Self. It is not uncommon in the ancient texts for the truth to be presented as a kind of ladder, starting with either a dim perception of the truth or even a complete misunderstanding and leading upward bit by bit until the complete truth is comprehended. Just why this was done has not been said. Perhaps it was to show that even mistaken or partial ideas were to be seen as steps on the way to perfect understanding. Or it may have been as a kind of yardstick by which the level of development of a person might be known. On the other hand it may have been a showing of the logical progression of thought on a subject. However it may be, this account is part of that tradition.

Prajapati said to the two, The person that is seen in the eye, that is the Self, said he. That is the immortal, the fearless. That is Brahman. But, Venerable Sir, he who is perceived in water and in a mirror, who is he?. He replied, The same one, indeed, is perceived in all these.(8.7.4)
Look at yourself in a pan of water and whatever you do not understand of the Self, tell me. Then the two looked in a pan of water. Then Prajapati said to the two, What do you see? Then the two said, We both see the Self thus altogether, Venerable Sir, a picture even to the very hairs and nails. (8.8.1)
Then Prajapati said to the two, after you have well adorned yourselves, put on your best clothes, make yourselves tidy, look into the pan of water. Then the two adorned themselves well, put on their best clothes and made themselves tidy and looked into the pan of water. Then Prajapati said to the two, What do you see? (8.8.2)
The two said, Just as we are, Venerable Sir, well adorned, with our best clothes and tidy, thus we see both these, Venerable Sir, well adorned. with our best clothes and tidy. That is the Self, said he. That is the immortal, the fearless, that is Brahman. They both went away with a tranquil heart. (8.8.3)

Brahma asked the two inquirers to have experience for themselves, which they did. Notice, that they were the first to put forth the idea that the body “who is perceived in water and in a mirror” was the Self. The teacher agreed. Puzzling as it seems there is a great lesson here. It is better to be mistaken on our own than to have the truth imposed on us. I have known of teachers in India agreeing to very silly ideas or proposals put forth by disciples because they wanted them to learn for themselves the error of their thoughts. This is virtually unique to India. It is better for an idea to be ours, even if wrong, than to bow to the belief of another, even if it is more correct. The Gita (3:35) says: “Better is one’s swadharma, though deficient, than the swadharma of another well performed. The swadharma of another brings danger,” and this applies to personal philosophy, as well. Only when we have the freedom to make wrong conclusions will we develop the capacity for right conclusions. Intellectual integrity is of the utmost necessity, however most religionists and “gurus” are opposed to it.

Indra and Virochana “went away with a tranquil heart.” And this is normal. The whole world is at peace with delusions and illusions. So a religion or philosophy that “satisfies” us, “answers all our questions,” and in which we are “happy” may be completely worthless. But we need to discover that for ourselves. Though their conclusions were wrong, twice in this passage Brahma has told them that Brahman is immortal and fearless. In this way he planted the seed of truth in their minds.

Then Prajapati looked at them and said, They go away without having perceived, without having known the Self. Whosoever will follow such a doctrine, be they gods or demons they shall perish. Then Virochana with a tranquil heart went to the demons and declared that doctrine: one’s (bodily) Self is to be made happy here, one’s (bodily) Self is to be served. He who makes his own Self happy here and he who serves his own Self, he obtains both worlds, this world and the yonder.
Therefore even here they say of one who is not a giver, who has no faith, who does not offer sacrifices, that he is a demon, for this is the doctrine of the demons. They adorn the body of the deceased with what they have begged, with clothes and with ornaments, and think that thereby they will win the yonder world. (8.8.4-5)

The assertion that “whosoever will follow such a doctrine, be they gods or demons they shall perish” is crucial. It tells us that thoughts really are things and they lead us to a revelation of their nature: if false, to confusion and delusion, and if true, to the True. As Jesus said: “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). Literally we are creating the world of our personal life sphere. As we think it to be, so it will tend to be, though much depends on the strength of our mind and the intensity put forth in exercising its creative power. Brahma let them hold a wrong concept of the Self because they had to discover the right concept for themselves. This is hard for those brought up in coercive religion to accept, but it is true. The nursery rhyme is right: “Leave them alone and they will come home.” But only in the East will this faith in the individual be found.

Body-worship, which is really only body-enslavement, is the “faith” of those possessing a demonic nature, and they literally do die for it. When demons think about yoga it is always Hatha Yoga–Virochana Yoga. Most (not all) of the myriads of yoga studios in the West are the haunts of the spiritual offspring of Virochana.

But Indra, even before reaching the gods saw this danger: Even as this Self [the body-self] is well adorned when this body is well adorned, well dressed when the body is well dressed, tidy when the body is tidy, that Self will also be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, crippled when the body is crippled. It perishes immediately when the body perishes. I see no good in this.
He came back again with fuel in hand. To him Prajapati said, Desiring what, O Maghavan, have you come back, since you along with Virochana went away with a tranquil heart? Then he said, Even as this Self [the body-self] is well adorned when this body is well adorned, well dressed when the body is well dressed, tidy when the body is tidy, that Self will also be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, crippled when the body is crippled. It perishes immediately, when the body perishes. I see no good in this. (8.9.2)
So is he indeed, O Maghavan. Said he [Prajapati], However, I will explain this further to you. Live with me another thirty-two years. Then he lived with him another thirty-two years. (8.9.1-3)

In Eastern Christianity they say that it is the nature of demons to fall and never rise, and of human beings to fall and rise and fall and rise over and over again until they no longer fall. In the same way it is the nature of human demons to adopt an error and hold to it throughout their life. But it is the nature of devic human beings to keep sifting through their ideas, discarding the ones they discover to be mistaken and using the ones that are true as steps to even more and higher truth. Since Indra was not a demon, even before he got back to Indraloka he understood the fallacy of identifying the body with the Self. His reasoning is quite clear. So he returned to Prajapati for another period of time, after which he was again instructed.

To him he then said: He who moves about happy in a dream, he is the Self, said he, he is the immortal, the fearless. He is Brahman. Then he went forth with a tranquil heart. But even before reaching the gods he saw this danger: Even though this Self is not blind [when the body] is blind, is not lame ]when the body] is lame, though he does not suffer defects from the defects [of the body], he is not slain [when the body] is slain. He is not one-eyed [when the body] is one-eyed, yet it is as if they kill him, as if they unclothe him. He comes to experience as it were what is unpleasant, he even weeps as it were. I see no good in this. (8.10.1-2)

In the conscious, waking state it is the physical body, including the physical brain, that dominates our consciousness, but in the dream state it is the astral body and brain that come into function and dominate our awareness. This astral body leaves the physical body at death, so it is usually mistaken for the Spirit-Self by the various religions. But, as Indra realized, this cannot be if the definition of the Self formulated by the ancient rishis of India is believed to be accurate. We must go a step higher.

There is another aspect to this. The astral body is the seat of emotions and many religious people base their religion on emotions and feelings. This is a grave error and one that causes much trouble, for not only does it not lead to spiritual perception, it often leads downward to base emotions and desires. Wherever emotion holds sway in religion, there moral corruption is bound to lurk. And this includes the “bhakti movement” in India. As Swami Sivananda used to say: “Emotion is not devotion.” But in the religions of the world emotion and sentimentality are continually thought to be real love of God. We must remember that bhakti means devotion in the sense of dedication. Those who are truly devoted to God dedicate their life to the search for God, for Self-realization.

And now I really think I need to say this. In the Yoga West wherever there is exploitation, deception, outright charlatanry or utter foolishness, “bhakti” is the dust thrown into the eyes of the innocent. “Devotion” and “love” are the covers for shameful deception and exploitation, especially “guru bhakti.” Through the guru cult any and every kind of nonsense is foisted on their members by using this strategy, along with shameless bullying and intimidation in the same vein.

He came back again with fuel in hand to him. Prajapati said, Desiring what, O Maghavan, have you come back since you went away with a tranquil heart? Then he said, Venerable Sir, even though this Self is not blind [when the body] is blind, lame [when the body] is lame, even though he does not suffer defects from the defects of the body. He is not slain [when the body] is slain. He is not lame [when the body] is lame, yet it is as if they kill him, as if they unclothe him. He comes to experience as it were what is unpleasant, he even weeps as it were. I see no good in this.
So is he indeed, O Maghavan, said he (Prajapati). However, I will explain this farther to you. Live with me another thirty-two years. Then he lived with him another thirty-two years.
To him he then said: When a man is asleep, composed, serene, and knows no dream, that is the Self, said he, that is the immortal, the fearless. That is Brahman. Then he went forth with tranquil heart. Even before reaching the gods he saw this danger. In truth this one does not know himself that I am he, nor indeed the things here. He has become one who has gone to annihilation. I see no good in this. (8.10.3-4; 8.11.1)

In dreamless sleep the causal body is dominant, and even in India there are people who try to identify it with the Self, and equate the dreamless sleep state with the eternal state of the Self. This is because of the extreme subtlety of that condition. Here, too, Indra’s reasoning is as clear as it is inevitable.

This, too, has another aspect to it. Many people base their religion on ideas, on theology or what they call “higher reason.” This, too, leads away from the perception of spirit and imprisons it in the buddhi, which is meant to be a tool for our seeing beyond external perceptions. This is a kind of golden prison, based on the error that the Self can be known by the intellect. These people inevitably become coercive, attempting to enlighten everyone they meet, and in time become dry-as-dust intellectuals, bored and boring bullies.

He came back again with fuel in hand. To him Prajapati said, Desiring what, O Maghavan, have you come back, since you went away with a tranquil heart? Then he said, Venerable Sir, in truth this one does not know himself that I am he, nor indeed the things here. He has become one who has gone to annihilation. I see no good in this.
So is he, indeed, O Maghavan, said he. However, I will explain this further to you and there is nothing else besides this. Live with me for another five years. Then he lived with him for another five years. That makes one hundred and one years and so people say that, verily, for one hundred and one years Maghavan lived with Prajapati the disciplined life of a student of sacred knowledge.x (8.11.2-3)

It is significant that Brahma only required a residence of five years this last time. Obviously Indra is so near the truth that a longer time of purification is not required.

To him he then said: O Maghavan, mortal, verily, is this body. It is held by death. But it is the support of that deathless, bodiless Self. Verily, the incarnate Self is held by pleasure and pain. Verily, there is no freedom from pleasure and pain for one who is incarnate. Verily, pleasure and pain do not touch one who is bodiless. Bodiless is air, clouds, lightning, thunder, these are bodiless. Now as these, when they arise from yonder space and reach the highest light appear each with its own form, even so that serene one when he rises up from this body and reaches the highest light appears in his own form. Such a person is the Supreme Person. There such a one moves about, laughing, playing, rejoicing with women, chariots or relations, not remembering the appendage of this body. As an animal is attached to a cart so is life attached to this body.
Now when the eye is thus turned to space, that is the seeing person, the eye is for seeing. Now he knows let me smell this, that is the Self, the nose is for smelling. Now he who knows let me utter this, that is the Self, the voice is for uttering. Now he who knows let me hear this that is the Self, the ear is for hearing. Now he who knows let me think this he is the Self, the mind is his divine eye. He, verily, seeing these pleasures through his divine eye, the mind rejoices. (8.12.1-5)

This is as inspiring as it is simple: freedom and bliss (not mere pleasure) are the attributes of the Self and of those who know the Self. Therefore Prajapati (Brahma) concluded his teaching of Indra with these words:

Verily, these gods who are in the Brahma-world meditate on that Self. Therefore all worlds and all desires are held by them. He obtains all worlds and all desires who finds the Self and understands it. Thus spoke Prajapati, yea, thus spoke Prajapati. (8.12.6)

And so the creator himself has told us the truth of the nature of the Self.

Read the next chapter in The Upanishads for AwakeningThe Aitareya Upanishad

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Introduction to The Upanishads for Awakening

Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:

The Story of the Upanishads

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