“Formless is he, though inhabiting form. In the midst of the fleeting he abides forever. All-pervading and supreme is the Self. The wise man, knowing him in his true nature, transcends all grief. (Katha Upanishad 1:2:22).
Yama continues to instruct us regarding the nature of the Self, using the most simple words yet with the most profound meanings.
Formless is he, though inhabiting form
Ashariram sharireshu–the bodiless within bodies–such is the Self. Though always without a body or adjunct in any form (as far as its true nature is concerned), yet all bodies are inhabited by the Self. There is no form in which the Self, the Formless, does not dwell. Who can number the forms in which we have manifested from the beginning of our evolutionary peregrinations in relativity, yet we have slipped away from each embodiment as bodiless as we were from the first. Being one with Brahman, it can be said of the Self as well as of Brahman: “Everywhere are His hands, eyes, feet; His heads and His faces: this whole world is His ear; He exists, encompassing all things; doing the tasks of each sense, yet Himself devoid of the senses: standing apart, He sustains: He is free from the gunas but feels them. He is within and without: He lives in the live and the lifeless: subtle beyond mind’s grasp; so near us, so utterly distant: undivided, He seems to divide into objects and creatures; sending creation forth from Himself, He upholds and withdraws it; light of all lights, He abides beyond our ignorant darkness; knowledge, the one thing real we may study or know, the heart’s dweller” (Bhagavad Gita 13:13-17).
In the midst of the fleeting he abides forever
Anavastheshv’ avasthitam–the stable among the unstable, the unchanging among the ever-changing–so is the Self. For aeons we are entertained with the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of Maya’s web. Finally we are no longer entertained by it, but wearied. Yet we find ourselves addicted to it. Only in the beginning do addicts love their addiction. In time they come to loathe it, yet refuse to even hear of ridding themselves of it. And then at last they see themselves as slaves, hating their bondage but incapable of shedding it. Yet we are ever free.
People bound by various addictions, including alcohol and drugs, would come to Sri Ramakrishna and plead for help. Often he would just touch them, and their enslavement would be gone forever. Learning of this, we naturally glorify Sri Ramakrishna for his power of merciful deliverance, but we must not overlook the great truth it demonstrates: It was the nature of those people to be free. Otherwise he could not have freed them.
If we would seek freedom, then, we must seek it only in the Self. And the Self being within, we must seek within. For “Without meditation, where is peace? Without peace, where is happiness?” (Bhagavad Gita 2:66).
Time and space being mirages, the Self is everywhere. Infinity is not “bigness” so big it cannot be calculated, it is beyond measuring because it transcends the modes of measurable being. It is simply another mode of existence altogether. The truth is, the atman, like the Paramatman is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. (This latter is easy, since the Self never “does” anything.) So there is no place where the Self is not present. It goes everywhere without moving.
The Self is supreme, but not in the sense of earthly entities. It is all-embracing. Not only is there nothing above it, there is nothing beneath it, for such states are not native–and therefore impossible–to it. But Maya is doing a superb job at convincing us otherwise and fooling us into thinking that the purpose of both material life and sadhana is to expand in the illusory realms of conditioned existence, to become large or small, to enter in or depart–none of which are even possible for the Self.
Simply hearing about the Self can make us more ignorant than we were before if we interpret the Self in terms of samsaric delusion.
The wise are those who know the Self as it is. And that they have accomplished by shedding their association with the unreal and turning back to their own reality.
They transcend all grief by removing their center of awareness from the realm in which suffering is possible. Suffering being an illusion, they need only awaken from the dream and abide in the Real. This is not a negative state, for it is not just a removal of sorrow, but the entering into the bliss that is the nature of the Self.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Who Can Know the 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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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary