“Though seated, he travels far; though at rest, he moves all things. Who but the purest of the pure can realize this Effulgent Being, who is joy and who is beyond joy” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:21).
Yama continues instructing Nachiketa on the nature of the Self. Being a highly developed being, Nachiketa had doubtless intuited most of this already, but for us who were raised in the dry gulch of the West and its religion his words are profoundly stirring–astounding, actually. Who could believe that in this chaotic world there were ever–and still are–sages who by direct experience have seen and spoken these truths? We should analyze them carefully, not for mere philosophical exactitude, but for a good, joyful revel in knowing the facts at last.
Unmoving, he moves
Being rooted in Infinity and thereby beyond space, the Self can never “go” anywhere. When we speak of the atma descending into relative existence or coming into matter, we are only describing the mayic experience that is itself nothing more than a training movie. If we see a motion picture about Europe, we do not think we have actually been there–yet, we did see Europe. In the same way, under the spell of Maya we have all kinds of experiences, yet they are mere appearance only. “Appearance,” however is real, even if insubstantial. So we both are and are not here. I experience writing this, and you experience reading it. That is real. But the environment in which we live, including our bodies, is but the picture projected onto the formless screen of consciousness that is our Self.
So, going nowhere, the Self “goes” everywhere. Being no thing, the Self “becomes” all things. Doing nothing, the Self “does” everything. This is the way of it.
Unmoved, he is the mover
Nothing affects the Self, but the Self affects all situations and things. Sankhya philosophy postulates that although Prakriti never touches the Purusha, it is the proximity of the Purusha that causes Prakriti to move and manifest in manifold ways. In the West we find the expressions “uncaused Cause” and “unmoved Mover.” These apply to the individual Self as much as to God.
There is a very practical application of this fact. Being under the spell of Maya we think: “All this is happening to me. All this is being done to me.” But that is erroneous. We are making it all happen, we are “doing” it to ourselves. There are no victims. Everything proceeds from us. Consequently we can study our lives and determine what is going on in our inner mind (which is not the Self, either). Our lives and environment are mirror images, revealing our states of mind. Our life is an exercise in consciousness. There are computer games in which the images on the screen are actually manipulated by the player’s mind and will. That is but a feeble glimpse of the truth about our entire chain of births and deaths. That is also what karma is. “You dream you are the doer, you dream that action is done, you dream that action bears fruit. It is your ignorance, it is the world’s delusion that gives you these dreams” (Bhagavad Gita 5:14).
Who can know him?
We have a terrible conditioning. We believe that all knowledge must come from outside ourselves, that we are blanks that need to be written on. In contemporary America this is very marked. Everybody thinks they need to have classes or lessons on everything. Some years back a friend of our ashram pointed this out about horse-riding. She commented that everyone she knew took horse-riding lessons, in contrast to her children who just got up on a horse and rode. Then she commented: “Everyone thinks they have to be taught to do anything, rather than learning on their own by experience.”
This spills over into our philosophical life, too. We think we are dummies that have to have every nuance, every subtle point, taught to us–and even worse, that they all have to be embodied in technical terms. It is only sensible to inquire about these things from those with more experience and knowledge than ourselves, but childish dependence is no wisdom at all. Dr. Spock began one of his books by telling new mothers that they knew much more about caring for babies than they thought they did, and to trust their inner feelings on the matter. This caused quite a stir. I was only a child at the time, and yet the ripples of consternation even reached me through a magazine review of his “revolutionary” book. We have no confidence, and spiritual laziness often compounds the problem.
For some reason Swami Prabhavanandaji gives us this translation: “Who but the purest of the pure can realize this Effulgent Being.” That is so lofty, so noble, that frankly it paralyzes our aspiration completely. “I am not ‘the purest of the pure,’ so how can I know the Self? I will have to ask others to give me hints about it.” But that is very mistaken. The actual upanishadic question is: “Who else but myself can know that radiant one [devam],” the Self? This is not just an inspiring thought, it is perfect good sense. Being the Self, who else but I can know my Self? Others may see the divine in me, but I alone can know the divine in me.
In the Chandogya Upanishad we have the thrilling story of Uddalaka instructing Svetaketu on the nature of the Self, saying to him over and over: “Thou art That.” But however stirring that account may be, Uddalaka is only telling him about the Self. It is up to Svetaketu to know the Self. Someone can bring us strawberries, show them to us, and even put them in our mouths, but we alone can know their taste–no one can taste them for us. In the same way, millions may tell us about our Self, but we alone can really know It. It begins and ends with us. Self-knowledge is the most natural thing for us all. We are working very hard to produce and maintain the unnatural state of not knowing the Self. Once we get sensible and literally “wise up” things will change.
Joy and beyond
The Self is “this Effulgent Being, who is joy and who is beyond joy.” We are ourselves devas–gods. There is no happiness or joy anywhere but in our Self, for we are not happy or joyful by nature, we are happiness and joy. The idea is that joy is the permanent, eternal, condition of our true Self. The word translated “joy” in this verse is mada, which means delight, intoxication, and exhilaration. To delight in our Self is the ultimate enjoyment. In the last essay I mentioned that 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!” This is delight in the Self.
Yet, Yama says that the Self “rejoices and rejoices not.” He is trying to convey that the delight in the Self is not delight in an object, but is totally subjective and inward-turned. This is very important, for as the yogi develops through his sadhana, his prakriti-nature begins to reflect his inner joy more and more, and he can start delighting in the delight-reflection rather than in the real thing, and come to the conclusion that he has already attained the state Yama is speaking about. This is the state of shuddhasattwa, of extreme purity of the chitta, the mind-substance of the yogi. If he is not careful, he will mistake the mirror image for his true Self and believe he has attained what still lies before him. Innumerable are the yogis who have been deluded in this way and become trapped in the subtlest reaches of Maya. That is why Lord Krishna said: “How hard to break through is this, my Maya, made of the gunas!” (Bhagavad Gita 7:14). For to delight in the mere picture of the joy that is the Self is to still be trapped in objective, outward-turned consciousness. As Krishna further tells us: “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).
How do we avoid mistaking the image for the reality? By continuing to practice meditation and other spiritual disciplines until the moment the body drops off. Although Jesus could say: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), he continually withdrew into solitude throughout the three years of his ministry and taught his disciples to do the same. A sure sign of a deluded individual is the belief that he has gone beyond the need for meditation and other spiritual practices. “Baba no longer needs to meditate.” “Baba has transcended these things long ago.” “Baba is always in That, so such things are unnecessary for him” (You can put “Ma” in place of “Baba” if need be.) But what about Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi? Yes. What about it?
A very famous Indian guru of the twentieth century believed that he had attained sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi, so he announced that he no longer needed to meditate, since there was nothing more it could do for him. While his disciples meditated, he stayed in his room and fiddled around with this and that and read the newspaper and listened to the radio. After some years he was visited by two Americans who thought of themselves as big guns on the American spiritual scene. Not wanting to scandalize them by messing about while everyone else in the ashram meditated, Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi Baba started attending the meditation sessions and meditating also. After a few days he remarked in wonder to a group of disciples that he could perceive a very marked improvement in his mind and consciousness since starting to meditate daily, and expressed wonder and puzzlement over how that could be. Unfortunately, no one had either the good sense or the courage to tell him, so when the American biggies left, SNSB went back to fooling around in his room during the meditation periods.
Consider the perfect life of Gautama Buddha. To the last moment of his life he lived like a normal monk. He was eighty years of age, yet he went forth and begged for his food every day–no one brought specially-prepared goodies for him. He lived outdoors, under a tree, not in a special “retreat” designed by a renowned architect-disciple. He dressed in the simple, minimal clothing of a monk, not in some expensive rigs donated by disciples to express their “devotion.” He walked everywhere he went. He did not ride in some cart or chariot provided by a rich patron out of consideration for his age. And here is the most important point of all: He meditated for hours a day, even withdrawing for weeks and months at a time to engage in even more intense meditation. He never relaxed his disciplines for an hour, much less a day. In this way he showed us how to not fall into delusion: keep on till the end, until the Self is truly known. And then keep on until death says: The End.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Sorrowless 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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