For numberless ages, in the rest of the world people have been intent on the awesome greatness of God–and nothing more. Whereas in India the sages were intent on the awesome greatness of both the individual and the Universal Selves. Perceiving their unity, they understood that whatever can be said about one can be said about the other. Thus their teachings are a unique revelation of the true nature of us all. Without this self-understanding, our life is nothing but confusion with a few random stumblings into insight. It is an absolute necessity that we comprehend the upanishadic teachings and strive to gain the upanishadic vision.
In the lotus of the heart
“That being, of the size of a thumb, dwells deep within the heart. He is the lord of time, past and future. Having attained him, one fears no more. He, verily, is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:12). This verse tells us several things about our true Self.
That being, of the size of a thumb, dwells deep within the heart. Since the Self transcends space, how can it have a measurable size? It cannot. Shankara explains in his commentary that “the lotus of the heart is of the size of a thumb. Existing in the space within the lotus of the heart, [the Self] has the size of a thumb, just like space existing in a section of a bamboo that is of the size of a thumb.” Just as water filling a vessel sunk in the ocean has volume and shape, in the same way the Self seems to have a shape and a measure. But once the vessel is broken, the shape and volume of the water cease to be, and so it is with the Self. Incarnate in a body, the Self pervades it and reflects it, but upon the dissolution of the body those seeming conditions cease instantly, for they have no objective reality. So it is not the Self that is really of the size of a thumb, but rather the lotus of the heart within which it momentarily dwells.
We should not mistake the lotus of the heart for the organ that pumps blood through the body. The real lotus of the heart is the core of our consciousness, the essence that is our Self. “Deep within the heart” indicates that the Self is the inmost level of our being, our absolute essence beyond which we simply do not exist. It also indicates that to know ourself we must meditate and penetrate deep into our consciousness. There is no other way.
He is the lord of time, past and future. It is a grave error to think that we are helpless flotsam and jetsam on the bosom of the ocean of Relativity, being moved about by forces such as karma, our thoughts, and even God. It is our own Self that determines whatever happens to us and is the sole controller of our past, present, and future. Look at the chaotic lives of those who “trust in God” and “surrender to the Divine Will.” They rationalize their disordered state by saying they have peace of mind through their attitude, but that is a poor substitute for the truth of things. Look at how many people die peacefully. Peace counts for little when it is nothing more than an opiate. We must stop living a lie. It is not our karma, our thinking, or even God that ordains our life. It is our Self. And until we unite our awareness with the Self we shall know nothing but uncertainty and confusion. But when we do, “sorrow melts into that clear peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:65) which is ours forever.
Having attained him, one fears no more. For what can produce fear in the knower of the Self? As Emily Bronte wrote:
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.
The smokeless flame
“That being, of the size of a thumb, is like a flame without smoke. He is the lord of time, past and future, the same today and tomorrow. He, verily, is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:13). Now we learn some more essential facts about our Self.
Like a flame without smoke. The Self is pure light without covering or admixture. In our present state of delusion we think that the Self can be inhibited and even corrupted, but that is not so. The various energy levels within which the Self is dwelling certainly can be inhibited, corrupted, and even destroyed. If we identify with those levels we will live in fear and uncertainty, relieved only occasionally by utterly false hopes. “It is your ignorance, it is the world’s delusion that gives you these dreams” (Bhagavad Gita 5:14) of both hope and fear. But once our consciousness is posited in the Self, all that is past, dispelled by the eternal Light of the Self.
The same today and tomorrow. The changeless nature of the Self puts us beyond all fear, concern, and anxiety, “knowing It birthless, knowing It deathless, knowing It endless, for ever unchanging” (Bhagavad Gita 2:21). The Self really has no past, present or future. It is, itself, the Eternal Now.
“As rain, fallen on a hill, streams down its side, so runs he after many births who sees manifoldness in the Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:14). The gravity of delusion pulls inexorably downward those who think that the many layers of their incarnate existence are the Self. Yet, they do not think they are enslaved by the consequences of their ignorance, but believe they have free will as they “run” into the valleys of darkness and pain. “It’s my life, and I will do what I want to,” they shout as they roll downward into the jaws of sorrow and death. Only when the unity of our Self is known–both in the fact of its unitary state of being and its eternal oneness with Brahman–will the earthward pull disappear along with the compulsion to continual rebirth. “If a man sees Brahman in every action, He will find Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 4:24). It is as simple as that.
Ever the same
“As pure water poured into pure water remains pure, so does the Self remain pure, O Nachiketa, uniting with Brahman” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:15)
We and Brahman are one Substance. There is no difference. We are not creations, we are beginningless and endless, co-eternal with God. “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12). Knowing this makes all the difference–the only difference we need. Brahman is Pure Being and we are Pure Being. Uniting with Brahman we remain what we always have been, but no longer subject to ignorance and delusion. As Jesus said: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out” (Revelation 3:12). The Self does not change, but becomes irrevocably established in the consciousness of its changelessness.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Birthless Self