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The Self Within

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Section 74 of the Upanishads for Awakening

“The Self, who is to be realized by the purified mind and the illumined consciousness, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true; who, like the ether, remains pure and unattached; from whom proceed all works, all desires, all odors, all tastes; who pervades all, who is beyond the senses, and in whom there is fullness of joy forever–he is my very Self, dwelling within the lotus of my heart” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:2).

Rejoicing in the Self

It can reasonably be felt that the Bhagavad Gita is more important than the upanishads because it not only embodies their teachings, it provides practical advice for their personal realization. This is also my opinion, 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 my nearly 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 carefully.

The Self, who. The Self is a Who, not a What. That is, the Self is a conscious Person–or more accurately a person who is consciousness itself. Of course, the Self–individual or Universal–is not the ego, a conditioned personality, but a changeless consciousness. It is certainly true that the Self is not personal or even a person in the way we know those terms. It is a transcendent reality, of one essence with the Absolute Reality. But it is Conscious and It is Real. This is the bedrock truth. Countless ages of realization are behind this principle. We may not understand it fully or flawlessly, but that is only our human limitation. It is Eternal Truth. That is the truth being presented in this verse, a truth that brings profound joy to those who realize it. It is said that Shiva sits immersed in the Self, but that sometimes he arises and dances, singing: “O! Who I am! Who I am!”

Is to be realized. We realize the Self, we do not find It because it is ever present–It is us. That is, we enter into and experience our eternal nature. We have always had it, but have lost touch with it. There is nothing to reach out for; rather we need to regain perception of it. It is more here-and-now than anything else, because It is the Here and Now. It is only a matter of seeing, of experiencing It–not as an object but as the Subject. Ultimately, it is beyond description, but what can be said is glorious.
By the purified mind. “Mind” does not mean the sensory mind (manas), or even the intellect (buddhi), but the principle of consciousness itself (prajna). The simile of a mirror is very apt here. Covered with thick dust and dirt, the mirror is no more than a lump of earth or a slab of wood. But the more the debris is removed, the more things are seen on its surface, until it shines forth in its reflective nature. In the same way our consciousness–or rather the “glass” that covers it–must be cleansed so there is no obstruction to our perception of the Self. That is why Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure (katharos: clean, clear, pure) in heart (kardia: heart, core, center), for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And Saint John said: “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:3). The path of this necessary purification is fully outlined in the Yoga Sutras (Yoga Darshan) of Patanjali. (See The Foundations of Yoga).
And the illumined consciousness. The Self is consciousness that is swayamprakash–self illumined. That is, Its very nature is Light (Jyoti). By Its presence it illuminates all its upadhis–Its various bodies. Being Life as well as Light, it also makes them function through Its nearness to them, just as the presence of Brahman makes the worlds “alive.” But it, too, is illumined and enlivened by its essential unity with the Supreme Light, the Supreme Life: Brahman. So it both illumines and is illumined.
Whose form is light. The word form should really be in quotes, for neither Brahman nor the Atman have a form in the way that is understood in relative existence. Their nature is Light, and although they are inaccessible to the senses, in a mysterious way they can be perceived or intuited as Light. I once heard a great yogi of India speaking of how it was possible to see the Self as a blinding light that soothed rather than burned the eyes.Suppose a thousand suns should rise together into the sky: such is the glory of the Shape of Infinite God” (Bhagavad Gita 11:12).
Whose thoughts are true. Actually, the word is satyasankalpa, which means a lot more than true thoughts. God does not have thoughts, because He has no mind–and the same is true of the Self. A being that knows does not need to think–actually cannot think. Sankalpa means an act of will, resolution, or intention. This is the nearest we can get to some idea of the movement of consciousness that takes place when God wills or determines something. So we will have to leave it there. Whatever it may be in the consciousness of Brahman, the upanishad assures us that it is always Sat–absolutely true or real. True, in the sense that it is in total keeping with the nature of Brahman; real, in the sense that is always results in something. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Who, like the ether, remains pure and unattached. This divine Self is said to be akashatma, which Shankara defines as: “one whose nature is like that of space…all pervasive, subtle, and free from form.” Just as the sky contains suns, planets, atmosphere, clouds, smoke, and suchlike, yet is utterly untouched and unaffected by them, so the Self is free from any effects from its continuous rebirths and their experiences. The Self has no karma or conditionings, and so is like the ether at all times.
From whom proceed all works. It is a fundamental tenet of the upanishads and the Gita that the Self never acts. So when the upanishad uses the term sarvakarma–all karma–it is to be taken in the context of Sankhya, the philosophy behind them. Sankhya declares that all action takes place only through the proximity of the Self. That the energy bodies (prakriti) in which the Self is encased are like the iron that is heated and expands through the nearness of fire, or like the globes so popular at state fairs in which the little flags rotate because of light shining on them. So all actions occur through the presence of the Self, but are not done by the Self.
All desires. All movements of will or intention (the higher nature of desire) are made possible by the Self, by Its transforming influence. But, as with action, the Self does not produce them.
All odors, all tastes. The same is true of the senses and the impressions they convey to the mind. The Self causes them to function and be perceived–again, not through actually making them happen, but through simply being there. The prime idea in these three phrases is that all life takes place through the Self being present. The Self does not live in a relative sense, but is the Life-giver in the ultimate sense. This is but part of Its wonder.
Who pervades all. This underscores what has just been said. It is the all-pervasive presence of the Self that causes all phenomena to occur.
Who is beyond the senses. This is said over and over in the scriptures, but it is put here within the context of the realization of the Self. We must turn inward to find the Self, and in that turning we must get beyond the senses. Those who are finding God do not abound in visions, chills, levitations, revelations, surging of energies, cataclysmic experiences, sweepings of emotions, and all such that are nothing but distractions that can never lead to Reality. All phenomena must be left far behind, and we must “walk in the sky” that is free of all clouds–we must expand into consciousness that is free from all types of “experience” and even “existence” in the relative sense. For centuries people have amused themselves with supposedly mystical experiences and phenomena, remaining ignorant and earthbound despite their psychic powers and aura of seeming holiness. We must seek for the One. And to do that we must abandon the many.
In whom there is fullness of joy forever. If we could only get this truth through our heads and into our hearts! In God alone is the perfection of happiness, love, peace, and all goodness–and in nothing or nowhere else. It is, however, not enough to momentarily touch or enter the joy of the Self. We must be established in It. By that I mean we must totally enter into It, encompass that Consciousness and be encompassed by It. When this is done, our realization is permanent. It will never be lost or diminished in any way. In the Bible this is spoken of as entering or possessing our inheritance. It is forever.
He is my very Self. Although we identify with so much from life to life, this which the upanishads have so carefully described is our true Self, and that alone should be our identity. This is made possible through the realization of the Self–not intellectually, but as a state of eternal Being.
Dwelling within the lotus of my heart. Since the Self is there, in the depths of our being: “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24).

The all-encompassing Self

“Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self; smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed, yea, smaller even than the kernel of a canary seed. Yet again is that Self, within the lotus of my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the heavens, yea, greater than all the worlds” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:3). (“The kernel of a canary seed” is a reference to the Shyamaka seed that is extremely small and its kernel is infinitesimal).

The Atman transcends time and space, is always beyond them. Consequently the Self cannot really be described as large or small. It is beyond such dualities, and beyond any attempt at measurement. Why, then does the upanishad say what has just been cited? It is indicating to us that there is nothing which is not pervaded by the Self–there is nothing so small or so large that it is outside of the Self. Rather, the Self encompasses all relative being as well as the absolute. However large or small something may be, the Self is present within it to the fullest degree.

The Self encompasses all worlds–all levels of creation. In modern times we know that the physical universe is beyond all conception, it is so vast. Even so, the Self is much greater. But this is true only because It is part of the Supreme Self Who spoke through Krishna to Arjuna, saying: “But what need have you, Arjuna, to know this huge variety? Know only that I exist, and that one atom of myself sustains the universe” (Bhagavad Gita 10:42).

The Self is within our heart, and within that Self is contained all the worlds. So we carry Infinity within ourselves. No wonder the pinnacle of the spiritual quest is called Self-realization.

The great summing-up

Now the upanishad wraps and sums it all up, saying: “He from whom proceed all works, all desires, all odors, all tastes; who pervades all, who is beyond the senses, and in whom there is fullness of joy forever–he, the heart-enshrined Self, is verily Brahman. I, who worship the Self within the lotus of my heart, will attain him at death. He who worships him, and puts his trust in him, shall surely attain him” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:4a). It is those who worship the Self by constantly being intent on the Self through the inward focusing of their awareness, that will shed all false identities and enter into the truth of the Self–if not in this life, then at the time of leaving the body and ascending into higher consciousness.

Even the upanishads recognize the value of citing spiritual authorities, for the second half of this verse says: “Said the seer Sandilya: At the moment of death a knower of Brahman should meditate on the following truths: Thou art imperishable. Thou art the changeless Reality. Thou art the source of life” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:4b). This is possible for those who have made Self-knowledge the central and paramount factor of their life’s work. Those who have come to know the Self through profound meditation, will then know that they are imperishable, changeless, and Life itself.


Then a most interesting statement is made: “This highest knowledge, the knowledge of Brahman, having drunk of which one never thirsts, did Ghora Angirasa teach to Krishna, the son of Devaki” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:17:6). By this we know that Krishna himself is the embodiment of the upanishadic wisdom, and was therefore qualified to give the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which has been called the cream and the essence of the upanishads.

Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Satyakama

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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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