“It was said of old: ‘The Self, which is free from impurities, from old age and death, from grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what it ought to desire, and resolves nothing but what it ought to resolve, is to be sought after, is to be inquired about, is to be realized. He who learns about the Self and realizes it obtains all the worlds and all desires.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 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.
Gods and demons
“The gods [devas] and demons [asuras] both heard of this truth, and they thought to themselves, ‘Let us seek after and realize this Self, so that we may obtain all the worlds and all desires.’ Thereupon Indra from the gods, and Virochana from the demons, went to Prajapati, the renowned teacher” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.7.2).
The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad is devoted to the idea that human beings are divided into two types: divine (daivic) and demonic (asuras). 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 the 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 the worlds and all desires” come to a knower of the Self as a kind of side effect. As Jesus later said in Israel: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
The difference in the reactions of gods and demons can be seen today quite glaringly. Multitudes of demons throughout the world are spouting that “we are all God” and “everything is God,” but with a complete misunderstanding of such statements. For, being entrenched in the ego and material consciousness, they have no idea of the real nature of “we” and “everything.” In the same way they have no comprehension of what the divine unity expounded in Advaita (Non-duality) really means, interpreting it according to their own ignorance and limitations, reducing it to a string of childish cliches. Demons have a marked facility for trivializing anything, and degradation is their particular skill.
Indra the king of the gods, and Virochana, king of the demons, both went to Brahma, to Prajapati the Creator. “For thirty-two years they lived with him as pupils. Then Prajapati asked them why they had both lived with him so long. ‘We have heard,’ they replied, ‘that one who realizes the Self obtains all the worlds and all desires. We have lived here because we want to learn of this Self.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.7.3).
This verse has a lesson, not very obvious, yet nonetheless important for us. The two seekers lived with–or near–the teacher for many years, without asking for what they desired. This is because the teacher should know the disciple and the disciple the guru. When one of my friends, Dr. Mukherji, met his guru, Sri Swami Purnananda of Assam, he was astonished at his evident greatness and asked to become his disciple. “Not now,” the master answered. “You must come to know me well, and I must know you well. Visit me as often as you can and live with me for as much time as you can manage. Then after three years of observing each other we can talk about you learning yoga from me.” What a contrast with the drum-beating, self-promoting gurus of today, including those that pretend to have high standards for accepting disciples, but really try to ensnare everyone their eyes rest upon. And 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.
Now we observe 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.
The body–the Self
“Then said Prajapati: ‘That which is seen in the eye–that is the Self. That is immortal, that is fearless, and that is Brahman.’
“‘Sir,’ inquired the disciples, ‘is that the Self which is seen reflected in the water, or in a mirror?’
“‘The Self is indeed seen reflected in these,’ was the reply.
“Then Prajapati added, ‘Look at yourselves in the water, and whatever you do not understand, come and tell me about it.’
“Indra and Virochana gazed on their reflections in the water, and returning to the sage, they said: ‘Sir, we have seen the Self; we have seen even the hair and the nails.’
“Then Prajapati bade them don their finest clothes and look again in the water. This they did, and returning to the sage, they said: ‘We have seen the Self, exactly like ourselves, well adorned and in our finest clothes.’
“To which Prajapati rejoined: ‘The Self is indeed seen in these. The Self is immortal and fearless, and it is Brahman.’ And the pupils went away well pleased” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.7.4; 8.8.1-3).
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 “which is seen reflected in the water, or 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, and surely one of the reasons why so many disciples have become masters in their own right. 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 one’s own dharma though deficient than the dharma of another well performed.…the dharma of another invites 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 are opposed to it.
Indra and Virochana “went away well pleased.” And this is normal. The whole world is happy in 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.
“But Prajapati, looking after them, lamented thus: ‘Both of them departed without analyzing or discriminating, and without truly comprehending the Self. Whosoever follows a false doctrine of the Self will perish.’
“Now Virochana, satisfied for his part that he had found out the Self, returned to the demons and began to teach them that the body alone is to be worshipped, that the body alone is to be served, and that he who worships the body and serves the body gains both worlds, this and the next. Such doctrine is, in very truth, the doctrine of the demons!” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.8.4,5).
The assertion that “whosoever follows a false doctrine of the Self will 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. 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. Wherever we find it in the West it is but a ray of the Eastern Light–but none the less valuable for that.
Body-worship, which is really only body-enslavement, is the “faith” of those possessing demonic nature, and they literally do die for it. When demons think about yoga it is always Hatha Yoga–Virochana Yoga. The myriads of yoga studios in the West are the haunts of the children of Virochana.
“But Indra, on his way back to the gods, realized the uselessness of this knowledge. ‘As this Self,’ he reasoned, ‘seems to be well adorned when the body is well adorned, well dressed when the body is well dressed, so will it be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, deformed when the body is deformed. When the body dies, this same Self will also die! In such knowledge I can see no good.’ So he returned to Prajapati and asked for further instruction. Prajapati required him to live with him for another thirty-two years, after which time he taught him thus. (Chandogya Upanishad 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. 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 Brahman for another period of time, after which he was again instructed.
The astral body–the Self
Brahma told him: “‘That which moves about in dreams, enjoying sensuous delights and clothed in glory, that is the Self. That is immortal, that is fearless, and that is Brahman.’ Pleased with what he had heard, Indra again departed. But before he had reached the other gods he realized the uselessness of this knowledge also. ‘True it is,’ he thought to himself, ‘that this Self is not blind when the body is blind, nor lame or hurt when the body is lame or hurt. But even in dreams it is conscious of many sufferings. So in this doctrine also I can see no good.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 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 noble and sacred 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.
The causal body–the Self
“So he went back to Prajapati for further instruction. Prajapati now bade him live with him for another thirty-two years, and when the time had passed taught him, saying, ‘When a man is sound asleep, free from dreams, and at perfect rest–that is the Self. The Self is immortal and fearless, and it is Brahman.’
“Indra went away. But before he had reached his home, he felt the uselessness even of this knowledge. ‘In reality,’ thought he, “one does not know oneself as this or as that while asleep. One is not conscious, in fact, of any existence at all. The state of one in deep sleep is next to annihilation. I can see no good in this knowledge either.’
“So once more Indra went back to Prajapati, who bade him stay with him yet five years” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:10:3,4; 8:11:1-3).
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.
The Self as It is
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. And when the time had passed, he made known to him the highest truth of the Self, saying: “This body is mortal, always gripped by death, but within it dwells the immortal Self. This Self, when associated in our consciousness with the body, is subject to pleasure and pain; and so long as this association continues, freedom from pleasure and pain can no man find. But as this association ceases, there cease also the pleasure and the pain. Rising above physical consciousness, knowing the Self to be distinct from the senses and the mind–knowing it in its true light–one rejoices and is free” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:12:1,2).
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 Brahma concluded his teaching of Indra with these words:
“The gods, the luminous ones, meditate on the Self, and by so doing obtain all the worlds and all desires. In like manner, whosoever among mortals knows the Self, meditates upon it, and realizes it–he too obtains all the worlds and all desires” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:12:6)
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The World and the Self