Now we come to the account of the great sage Narada and his inquiries made to the great master Sanatkumara. This contains a lot of rhetoric and repetition, so I will omit some of the first fifteen sections of the seventh chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad as translated by Swami Prabhavananda.
The ladder to reality
“Narada once came to Sanatkumara and asked to be taught. To Sanatkumara’s question, ‘What have you already studied?’ Narada replied that he had studied all the branches of learning–art, science, music, and philosophy, as well as the sacred scriptures. ‘But,’ said he, ‘I have gained no peace. I have studied all this, but the Self I do not know. I have heard from great teachers like you that he who knows the Self overcomes grief. Grief is ever my lot. Help me, I pray you, to overcome it” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:1:1-4).
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.
First Sanatkumara taught Narada the ascending steps of reality which we must perfect before we can know the ultimate Reality: that which we hear from others, the faculty of speech, the mind, will, intelligence, meditation, and the wisdom gained from direct spiritual experience.
The Eternal Truth
“Then said Sanatkumara: ‘But, verily, he is the true knower–who knows eternal Truth.’ ‘Revered sir, I wish to be a true knower.’ ‘Then ask to know of that infinite Reality.’ ‘Sir, I ask to know of it.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:16:1).
There are two simple points here. The first is that only the knower of Brahman really knows anything. Only those that know Eternal Being are jnanis–knowers. This is a necessary perspective for those that set out to seek the Absolute, for unless they hold to this outlook they may become distracted along the way and settle for less, or even begin actively seeking the less.
The second point is that the seeker must ask a qualified teacher for teaching, that it will not just be dropped in his hands. Asking is the heart of seeking. An equally important point is implied here: a qualified teacher will not teach unless asked. Somewhere I have mentioned that this was one of my first lessons learned during my first trip to India. I found that fools and fakes went into teaching mode the moment they saw me and began grinding out the philosophical cliches–along with the hints that I should arrange a world tour for them to end in America the Land of Opportunity. Since nineteenth-century translations of the upanishads had the teacher addressing the disciple as “my dear,” these ignoramuses and charlatans always called me “my dear” upon meeting me. In contrast, the real teachers and masters were kind and most polite, asking me about my purpose in coming to India and where I had been, and suchlike. But they never said a word about either philosophy or yoga. If I asked them for wisdom upon our first meeting, they spoke sparingly in an almost diffident way, in no way pushing their words at me or trying to impose their views on me. (Some would not even answer the first time they were questioned. One teacher only told me anything after I had inquired three times in a row.) After more contact, they would become very free with me and answer my questions gladly. But still they never volunteered anything. I always had to ask. This is the mark of a genuine teacher. So Narada had to declare his desire to know Infinite Reality.
Steps on the path
Next Swami Prabhavananda gives a kind of digest of several verses.
“‘It is only when a man has realized eternal Truth that he declares it. He who reflects upon it realizes it. Without reflection it is not realized. And only he who has faith and reverence reflects on eternal Truth. And only he who attends on a teacher gains faith and reverence. And only he attends on a teacher who struggles to achieve self-control. And only he struggles to achieve self-control who finds joy in it. Ask to know of this joy.’ ‘Sir, I ask to know of it.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:16:1-22:1).
This list starts at the top and goes to the bottom, and are the steps to realization according to Sri Sanatkumara.
It is only when a man has realized eternal Truth that he declares it. Only one who has realized the Eternal Truth of the Brahman-Self can truly declare It. All others just speak rumor and speculation. So if we want spiritual authority we will have to seek out those that have found Truth and embody it. For their very words will convey awakening and empowerment to the worthy hearer. That is why Jesus made the remarkable statement: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). This is not true of the words of ordinary teachers.
He who reflects upon it realizes it. Without reflection it is not realized. This does not mean mere intellectual thought, just pondering on ideas about Brahman. The word matih means thinking of something, reflecting upon it because of love, of great affinity, for it. (Shankara says this in his commentary.) The meaning is that the worthy seeker is purified enough in intellect to intuit both Brahman and his eternal relation with Brahman. As a result a spontaneous inner recognition of Brahman arises, along with a reaching out for the experience of Brahman as Reality. Just as a magnet draws metal to itself, so the yogi begins to experience the pull of the Infinite, and loves the drawing and the possibility of the final union. Brahman becomes the most cherished object of his heart, and Its reality is never absent from his consciousness. This is a sign of his nearness to realizing Brahman.
And only he who has faith and reverence reflects on eternal Truth. The worthy yogi is not a casual weekender, paddling his feet in the ocean of Infinity. Rather, he is one in whom intuitive conviction of the reality of God and the necessity of finding God has arisen. This insight motivates him from the depths of his own being.
And only he who attends on a teacher gains faith and reverence. Actually, the text says nothing about a teacher, just the word nishtha, which means steadiness. But Shankara in his commentary says that it indicates the steadfast seeking of a teacher’s wisdom “for acquiring knowledge of Brahman.” So Prabhavananda has translated accordingly. We have already considered that we may have recourse either to a living teacher or the teachings of a realized master. It is contact with the vibrations of a teacher that enable faith to arise in us. Sometimes only the sight of a master is needed for awakening to begin–even seeing a picture or photograph. Something is stirred deep within, often impressions from a previous life. Wonderful as that may be, it is steadfastness in inwardly and outwardly approaching the teacher that is needed for success in our search.
And only he attends on a teacher who struggles to achieve self-control. For disciple means one who is engaging in discipline. Things do not come automatically or easily to the seeker. That must be faced. And paths that pretend to automatically and easily produce realization are fake. Discipline–willing discipline–is an absolute requisite for spiritual attainment. Otherwise any effort expended is most likely to be useless. A lot of cultish seekers labor and slave and deprive and torment themselves and end up getting nowhere. But they are not truly disciplined in the sense of intelligent understanding and effort put forth in the context of a viable tradition.
And only he struggles to achieve self-control who finds joy in it. This is a signal trait of the worthy seeker: he find joy in the seeking, and rejoices in having at last found the way to real finding. The way is one of discipline and purification, and he loves every bit of it, however it may pain the ego, for he knows it leads to the end of uncertainty and suffering. Such a seeker does not sigh and grudgingly do what is necessary, feeling put upon all the way. That kind will not persevere–and good riddance. No, he is like the men Jesus told about: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). They gladly gave all they had. Such are those who find joy in the struggle for self-mastery and Self-realization. Saint Paul says that Jesus himself: “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
“Ask to know of this joy.” “Sir, I ask to know of it.” Certainly many people seek higher reality as a result of disillusionment and suffering. Some merely seek the cessation of suffering, but the wiser actively seek the joy that is the nature of Brahman.
The source of joy
“‘The Infinite is the source of joy. There is no joy in the finite. Only in the Infinite is there joy. Ask to know of the Infinite.’ ‘Sir, I ask to know of it.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:23:1). This is not an easy lesson to learn: that there is no joy outside of the Infinite Brahman; 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.
Experiencing the Infinite
What now follows is not a definition 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.
“‘Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal.’ ‘In what does the Infinite rest?’ ‘In its own glory–nay, not even in that. In the world it is said that cows and horses, elephants and gold, slaves, wives, fields, and houses are man’s glory–but these are poor and finite things. How shall the Infinite rest anywhere but in itself?’” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:24:1,2).
I know I have said it elsewhere, but I must say it here: nowhere in the entire world can there be found teachings equal to those of the upanishads. And these two verses are proof of that.
“Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is 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.
“How shall the Infinite rest anywhere but in itself?” This is also true of those who have realized the Infinite.
Where is the Infinite?
“The Infinite is below, above, behind, before, to the right, to the left. I am all this. This Infinite is the Self. The Self is below, above, behind, before, to the right, to the left. I am all this. One who knows, meditates upon, and realizes the truth of the Self–such an one delights in the Self, revels in the Self, rejoices in the Self. He becomes master of himself, and master of all the worlds. Slaves are they who know not this truth” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:25:1,2).
The knower of the Infinite
“He who knows, meditates upon, and realizes this truth of the Self, finds that everything–primal energy, ether, fire, water, and all other elements–mind, will, speech, sacred hymns and scriptures–indeed the whole universe–issues forth from it. It is written: ‘He who has realized eternal Truth does not see death, nor illness, nor pain; he sees everything as the Self, and obtains all.’ The Self is one, and it has become all things.
“When the senses are purified, the heart is purified; when the heart is purified, there is constant and unceasing remembrance of the Self; when there is constant and unceasing remembrance of the Self, all bonds are loosed and freedom is attained. Thus the venerable Sanatkumara taught Narada, who was pure in heart, how to pass from darkness into light” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:26:1,2).
Nothing really needs to be said in commentary. What is needed is the resolve to follow the example of Narada and attain the same realization.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Within the Lotus of the Heart