The next seven verses are extremely obscure in the Sanskrit original. Fortunately we have the commentary of Shankara whose stupendous intellect and perfect Self-realization rendered him capable of explaining them. Swami Prabhavananda translated them according to Shankara’s insight in this way:
“To realize God, first control the outgoing senses and harness the mind. Then meditate upon the light in the heart of the fire–meditate, that is, upon pure consciousness as distinct from the ordinary consciousness of the intellect. Thus the Self, the Inner Reality, may be seen behind physical appearance.
“Control your mind so that the Ultimate Reality, the self-luminous Lord, may be revealed. Strive earnestly for eternal bliss.
“With the help of the mind and the intellect, keep the senses from attaching themselves to objects of pleasure. They will then be purified by the light of the Inner Reality, and that light will be revealed.
“The wise control their minds, and unite their hearts with the infinite, the omniscient, the all-pervading Lord. Only discriminating souls practice spiritual disciplines. Great is the glory of the self-luminous being, the Inner Reality.
“Hear, all ye children of immortal bliss, also ye gods who dwell in the high heavens: Follow only in the footsteps of the illumined ones, and by continuous meditation merge both mind and intellect in the eternal Brahman. The glorious Lord will be revealed to you.
“Control the vital force. Set fire to the Self within by the practice of meditation. Be drunk with the wine of divine love. Thus shall you reach perfection.
“Be devoted to the eternal Brahman. Unite the light within you with the light of Brahman. Thus will the source of ignorance be destroyed, and you will rise above karma” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:1-7).
The only thing that needs pointing out is the fact that in the sixth verse, what Prabhavananda renders: “Set fire to the Self within by the practice of meditation” is literally: “Where fire is kindled by rubbing.” This is a reference to the earlier verse: “Let your body be the stick that is rubbed, the sacred syllable Om the stick that is rubbed against it. Thus shall you realize God, who is hidden within the body as fire is hidden within the wood” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 1:14). Now the upanishad returns to that instruction.
“Sit upright, holding the chest, throat, and head erect. Turn the senses and the mind inward to the lotus of the heart. Meditate on Brahman with the help of the syllable Om. Cross the fearful currents of the ocean of worldliness by means of the raft of Brahman–the sacred syllable Om” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:8).
The word “heart” in the scriptures can mean the chakra in the center of the chest, but usually it means the core of our being: consciousness. And it means that here.
“With earnest effort hold the senses in check. Controlling the breath, regulate the vital activities. As a charioteer holds back his restive horses, so does a persevering aspirant hold back his mind” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:9). All this is accomplished by pranayama.
Regarding the environment for meditation, the upanishad continues: “Retire to a solitary place, such as a mountain cave or a sacred spot. The place must be protected from the wind and rain, and it must have a smooth, clean floor, free from pebbles and dust. It must not be damp, and it must be free from disturbing noises. It must be pleasing to the eye and quieting to the mind. Seated there, practice meditation and other spiritual exercises” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:10). Frankly, today’s conditions are much more conducive than what is described here. A simple meditation room is much more advantageous on all levels.
Signs of progress
“As you practice meditation, you may see in vision forms resembling snow, crystals, smoke, fire, lightning, fireflies the sun, the moon. These are signs that you are on your way to the revelation of Brahman” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:11). These are but a few of the visual phenomena that can occur during meditation. If you can find a copy, Sivananda’s book Spiritual Experiences is extremely informative.
“As you become absorbed in meditation, you will realize that the Self is separate from the body and for this reason will not be affected by disease, old age, or death” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:12). This is the real purpose of meditation.
“The first signs of progress on the path of yoga are health, a sense of physical lightness, clearness of complexion, a beautiful voice, an agreeable odor of the person, and freedom from craving.
“As a soiled piece of metal, when it has been cleaned, shines brightly, so the dweller in the body, when he has realized the truth of the Self, loses his sorrow and becomes radiant with bliss.
“The yogi experiences directly the truth of Brahman by realizing the light of the Self within. He is freed from all impurities–he the pure, the birthless, the bright” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:13-15).
“He is the one God, present in the north, the east, the south, and the west. He is the creator. He enters into all wombs. He alone is now born as all beings, and he alone is to be born as all beings in the future. He is within all persons as the Inner Self, facing in all directions” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:16).
Here we have the affirmation that Brahman is the core of the consciousness of all beings, that It is incarnate in all beings and experiences all they experience. This is how intimately united Brahman is to each one of us.
Therefore: “Let us adore the Lord, the luminous one, who is in fire, who is in water, who is in plants and trees, who pervades the whole universe” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:17).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Brahman/Ishwara