“Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, this Self forever dwells within the hearts of all. When a man is free from desire, his mind and senses purified, he beholds the glory of the Self and is without sorrow” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:20). So Yama now tells Nachiketa.
Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest
We tend to think of infinity as boundlessly large, when in actuality that which is infinite transcends space and can therefore not be measured in any manner. It cannot be small or large. Which is why there is no thing too small or too great for God to be involved with. The Self, being a part of God, is likewise beyond measurement. It is neither small nor large, gross nor subtle. In fact, the Self is simply beyond description. We can only talk around it, not really express its mystery.
This Self forever dwells within the hearts of all
However, there are some things that can be said about the presence of the Self, therefore Yama does tell Nachiketa that “this Self forever dwells within the hearts of all.”
The Self is eternal. It has no beginning and it can never have an end. Whatever it is, it has been forever. What it is not, it shall never be. We say this glibly, but usually do not believe, and rarely manifest it. Nevertheless, it is bedrock truth.
The Self, being beyond time and space, cannot possibly be anywhere. Yet we readily say that it is within. This is as close to the truth about the Self as we can get. At the core of all things, having itself neither periphery or core, is the unchanging Self. It “dwells” in the sense that it abides, yet the Self does not at all exist in the way we understand existence, which is completely relative. The Self is absolute, and relativity can never affect or touch it.
The Self abides in the hearts of all. But what is the heart? Guha meansboth cave and heart, but it also means to be “in a secret place.” Within the inmost heart of all things is that which transcends even “inmost.” That is the Self. And there is no thing whatsoever that does not have the Self as its eternal, unchanging indweller. The Self can be within all as their essential being only if the Self is all. This is the Great Revelation. All that we see around us is resting upon the Self as the substratum. All that we perceive objectively is Maya, illusion. That which we cannot see, but which we can “be” is the Self, the all-pervading subject.
This all sounds wonderful, but what possible meaning can it have if we do not experience this glorious truth for ourselves? Nothing, obviously. So Yama proceeds to tell Nachiketa how the Self can be realized.
When a man is free from desire
To be truly free from desire is to be incapable of desire. To not be desiring anything at the moment is not what is spoken of here. We mistakenly think that if we can become indifferent to all things and want nothing we will be free from desire. But we will still be in the condition where desire is possible–even if it be in the future of this or even a future life.
To desire something we have to feel inadequate, but even more fundamentally, we have to have objective consciousness, a belief in the reality of the objects perceived, and a belief that in some way we can enter into relation with those objects, that we can affect them and they can affect us. Quite a heap of delusions! Desire is only a symptom of profound ignorance and delusion. In itself it is no more the problem than red blotches on the skin are the disease we call measles. (See? We even name a disease as the symptoms.) However, true desirelessness–and that is what Yama is speaking about–is the state of the liberated, those who know the Self.
His mind and senses purified
A few years ago a valuable book was published by the Sri Ramakrishna Math in Madras: a translation of the Sankhya Karika by Swami Virupakshananda. In the Publisher’s Note we find this: “Vedanta takes off to ethereal heights only from the granite platform provided by Sankhya.…Not only Vedanta, but also modern science, cannot be understood in all their nuances without a firm grasp of the Sankhyan tenets.” And the translator writes: “Of all the philosophical systems, the Sankhya philosophy is considered to be the most ancient school of thought. Sankhya philosophy maintains a prominent place in all the shastras…. In the Mahabharata it is said that there is no knowledge such as Sankhya and no power like that of Yoga. [On which Sankhya is based.] We should have no doubt as to Sankhya being the highest knowledge. (Shantiparva 316-2).” Later he outlines how the Sankhya philosophy is presented in the Chandogya, Katha, and Svetasvatara upanishads particularly. And: “In the Mahabharata and Puranas we find the Sankhya Philosophy fully explained.” The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita (part of the Mahabharata) is entitled Sankhya Yoga, and in five verses (2:39; 3:3; 5:5; 18:13, 19) Krishna mentions Sankhya by name as the truth he is expounding.
I mention this because it is so common for students to approach the upanishads as exponents of the simplistic monism that is erroneously thought to be Advaita. With this distorted frame of reference the upanishadic teachings that are very obviously opposed to their opinion are ignored. But we cannot afford the luxury of willful ignorance. Simply insisting that “It is all one” and “We are already there” accomplishes absolutely nothing. And besides, it is not true–in the simplistic sense they mean.
God, the Primal Purusha, is eternally associated with Prakriti (Pradhana) on the macrocosmic level, and continually projects and withdraws it as the ever-evolving creation. In the same way each individual purusha is eternally associated with prakriti on the microcosmic level and engages in a series of incarnations, evolving the personal prakriti to the point where it becomes a perfect mirror of the individual purusha and there is a practical separation between the two, just as on the cosmic level. Let us not forget: Patanjali defines yoga (liberation) as a condition of the chitta–of our personal prakriti–not a simple intellectual insight or realization.
The essence is this: Each one of us is evolving our own prakriti, just as God is evolving the universe. The difference is that God is not caught in the drama, and we are. Sankhya states that we must learn to separate our consciousness from its enmeshment in prakriti, but that is only the preparation. Then we must engage in the process of bringing our prakriti to a state of perfection in which it no longer produces waves, but becomes a permanently quiescent reflection of purusha–of our true Self, which Buddhism calls our Original Face.
That process is Yoga, and Yama has this in mind when he speaks of the seeker having “his mind and senses purified.” Merely reading a few books and hearing a few lectures on the nature of the Self will not do it. We must focus our attention on/in the energy fields that are the mind and senses and completely repolarize and reconstruct them. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.…Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23), wrote Saint Paul. Patanjali speaks of the process of kriya yoga, the yoga of purification, consisting of austerity (tapasya), self-study, and devoting the life to God (Yoga Sutras 2:1). Yama, Saint Paul, Patanjali, and Krishna all tell us the same thing: “Become a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita, 6:46).
He beholds the glory of the Self
The Self cannot be intellectually conceived or spoken about, but it can be seen–and thereby fully known–by the purified consciousness. And it is seen within the core of our being, within the cave of the heart. Caves are important symbols. Though they are to be found everywhere, we naturally think of yogis as dwelling in caves. Which they do, metaphorically. In the Gospels we see that Christ (Consciousness) is born in a cave and resurrects in a cave. It all takes place in the heart. Wherefore the wise Solomon said: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The practice of yoga (mediation) is the keeping of the heart which transforms the yogi’s life.
It is said that Shiva sits immersed in samadhi, but occasionally awakens, arises, and dances in ecstasy, exclaiming over and over: “O! Who I am! Who I am!” The same wonder at the glory of the Self will be experienced by the persevering yogi.
And is without sorrow
How could there be sorrow or any slightest form of suffering or discontent for those who behold that glory and realize that they are themselves that glory? It can be said of such a one, as Arjuna said of Krishna: “You know yourself through yourself alone” (Bhagavad Gita 10:15). And as Krishna said of the perfected yogi: “To obey the Atman is his peaceful joy; sorrow melts into that clear peace: his quiet mind is soon established in peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:65). “Now that he holds it [the knowledge of the Self], he knows this treasure above all others: faith so certain shall never be shaken by heaviest sorrow” (Bhagavad Gita 6:22). “Who knows the Atman knows that happiness born of pure knowledge: the joy of sattwa. Deep his delight after strict self-schooling: sour toil at first but at last what sweetness, the end of sorrow” (Bhagavad Gita 18:37).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Omnipresent Self
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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