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THE MESSAGE OF THE UPANISHADS

Book: Swami Ranganathananda


Summary: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi

“Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.”


[Rig-Veda I-89-i]

PART 5

KATHA UPANISHAD
(Continued)

“Om! May Brahman protect us (teacher and student) both! May Brahman nourish
us both! May we acquire energy (as a result of this study)! May we both become
illumined (by this study)! May we not envy each other! Om, Peace! Peace!
Peace!”

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in
heavens, at last you come back completing the circle from where you started, to
your own soul and find that He, for whom you have been seeking all over the
world, for whom you have been weeping in praying in churches and temples, on
whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is
nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body and soul. That
is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it. Not to become pure, you are already
pure. You are not to be perfect, you are that already. Nature is like that screen
which is hiding reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon is
simply tearing the veil, as it were; and the purity, the infinity, the God behind,
manifests itself more and more.”
- Swami Vivekananda

The sages of the Upanishads realized the infinite and immortal Atman as the true
Self of man. Therein alone is true life for him.

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Shankara says in Vivekachudamani [375]:

“Know O wise one that, for man, dispassion and spiritual awareness are like the
two wings of a bird. Unless both are there none can, with the help of either one,
reach Liberation that grows like a creeper, as it were, on the crest of an edifice.”

“The sense objects are higher than the sense-organs; the manas is higher than
the sense objects; the buddhi is higher than the manas; the ‘mahat’ (mahan-
atma) is higher than the buddhi. The ‘avyakta’ (undifferentiated state) is higher
than the mahat; the ‘Purusha’ (the infinite Self) is higher than the avyakta. There
is nothing higher than the Purusha that is the finale that is the supreme goal.”
[Katha Upanishad 1.3.10; 11]

A scrutiny of experience reveals the presence of a changeless subject or knower


at the center of the knowing process, at the core of human personality:

“There is some entity, eternal by nature, the basis of the experience of egoism,
the witness of the three states (of waking, dream and sleep), and distinct from
five sheaths; who knows everything that happens in the waking, dream, and
sleep states; who is aware of the presence or the absence of mind and its
functions; and who is the basis of the notion of egoism.” [Vivekachudamani 127,
128]

Causality, according to Vedanta, is the last impurity of reason, the most obstinate
and intractable, which alone prevents reason from rising from the finite to the
infinite. When it is eliminated, reason itself becomes infinite, and reveals the non-
duality and inseparable unity of the Purusha and the ‘avyakta’, which is also the
unity of the Self and the not-self, the subject and the object. This is the
impersonal personal God of Vedanta, the inseparable unity of Brahman and
Shakti, or Shiva and Shakti, in which the avyakta becomes transformed in to the
Energy of the cosmic manifestation.

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From this Everest of spiritual vision, man and nature, Spirit and matter, and the
One and the many are seen as one.

Man, his growth, development and realization, is the perennial theme of Vedanta.
Exploring the within of the universe through the human personality, Vedantic
sages discovered the ‘Purusha’ or ‘Brahman’ – the Immortal behind the mortal.

The truths that the Upanishads proclaimed ages ago are of contemporary
interest in every age, because they are the fruits of a detached and rational,
sustained and sincere pursuit of truth, and because they are addressed to man
as such, and not to any group or section thereof; and have a profound bearing on
his growth, development and fulfillment.

“This Atman, (being) hidden in all beings, is not manifest (to all). But (It) can be
realized by all who are accustomed to inquire into subtle truths by means of their
sharp and subtle reason.” [Katha Upanishad 1.3.12]

“All knowledge is within us. All perfection is there already in the soul. But this
perfection has been covered by nature; layer after layer of nature is covering this
purity of the soul. What have we to do? Really, we do not develop our souls at
all. What can develop the perfect? We simply take the veil off, and the soul
manifests itself in its pristine purity, its natural innate freedom.”
- Swami Vivekananda

All effective mental training, says Vedanta, is training in concentration; it is the


development of a capacity for penetration, the penetration through the darkness
of ignorance into the light of knowledge.

The raising of consciousness from lower to higher levels, and finally taking it out
of the network of relativity, is the hardest task the man can set for himself. The
gravitational pull of the non-spiritual parts of his being make this path out of
bounds for any but the most heroic of men – the ‘dhira’.

“Arise, awake, enlighten yourself by resorting to the great (teachers); like the
sharp edge of a razor is that path, so say the sages, difficult to tread and hard to
cross.” [Katha Upanishad 1.3.14]

No thinking human being can help being fascinated by the tremendous vista of
human fulfillment here-in presented by Vedanta.

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The river of spiritual tradition is an ancient over-flowing stream augmented from
time to time by contributions of realized souls.

“By realizing that Atman which is soundless, touch-less, formless, imperishable;


similarly without taste, eternal, without smell, beginning-less and endless, (even)
beyond the ‘mahat’, and immutable, one is liberated from the jaws of death.”
[Katha Upanishad 1.3.16]

Time consumes everything: but the infinite Atman, beyond the reach of time,
space, and causality, consumes time itself, as also space and causality.

Speech and sense organs are good as servants, but not so good, and often
positively bad, as masters. When disciplined by manas and buddhi, they become
efficient tools in the pursuit of truth and life-excellence.

“Teach yourself, teach everyone his real nature; call upon the sleeping soul and
see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity
will come, and everything that is excellent will come, when this sleeping soul is
roused to self-conscious activity.”
- Swami Vivekananda

The realization of Brahman, the Self of man and the universe, the unity of the
‘within’ and the ‘without’, is the consummation of all knowledge into wisdom.

“The Self-existent Lord created the sense-organs (including the mind) with the
effect of an outgoing disposition; therefore (man) perceives (things) outwardly,
but not the inward Self. A certain ‘dhiras’ (wise ones) on the contrary, having
realized the eternally immortal, do not crave for the non-eternal things here (in
the world of relativity).” [Katha Upanishad 2.1.1]

“Children (men of immature understanding) pursue the external pleasures and


they (thus) fall into the outstretched shore of death. The ‘dhiras’ (wise ones), on
the contrary, having realized the eternally immortal, do not crave for non-eternal
things here (in the world of relativity).” [Katha Upanishad 2.1.2]

The ‘dhira’ does not equate human destiny with either organic satisfaction or
organic survival, or with biological immortality in a heaven. Having experienced
the stirrings of the immortal within himself and becoming rationally convinced that

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change and more change is the characteristic of the external world, he has
directed his search for the immortal and the eternal from the world of the ‘without’
to the world of the ‘within’.

All ethics and morality imply the distinction between a lower self and a higher self
in man, corresponding more or less with the physiological distinction between his
lower brain and higher brain. This checking and disciplining of the lower self is
the ‘sine qua non’ for the manifestation of the higher self.

“That by which man cognizes form, taste, smell, sounds, and the sex contacts, is
This alone. What remains here (unknown to That)? This is verily That.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.1.3]

“Having realized that great all pervading Atman by which one witnesses all
objects in the dream and waking states, the ‘dhira’ does not grieve.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.1.4]

“He who knows this Atman, the enjoyer of honey (fruits of action), the sustainer
of life, ever near, and the Lord of the past and the future, accordingly hates no
one. This is verily That.” [Katha Upanishad 2.1.5]

The same truth is expressed by the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad [3.7.23] in a


majestic utterance:

“He is never seen, but the Seer; He is never heard, but is the Hearer; He is never
thought, but is the Thinker; He is never known, but is the Knower. There is no
other seer but Him; no other hearer but Him; no other thinker but Him; no other
knower but Him. He is the ‘Antaryamin’ (inner Ruler), your own immortal Self.
Everything else, but Him is mortal.”

All ideas of hatred, self-protection, self-defense, or hiding proceed from fear, from
a feeling of inadequacy with respect to the environment. Realization of the Atman
means realization of one’s infinite dimension and one’s spiritual unity with all; its
fruit is infinite love and infinite strength.

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Brahman is in all beings; He is also outside all beings. He therefore is all beings.
As proclaimed in a famous hymn of Shrimad-Bhagavat [8.3.3]:

“I take refuge in that self-existing Being in whom is this universe, from whom is
this universe, by whom is this universe, who Himself is this universe, and who is
beyond this (differentiated universe) as also beyond that (undifferentiated
Nature).”

“Whatever is here, that is there; what is there, that again is here. He, who sees
here as different, goes from death to death. By mind alone is this to be
comprehended that there is no difference here. He who sees here as different
goes from death to death.” [Katha Upanishad 2.1.10; 11]

Brahman is the unity of all experience. Differences between the objects,


differences between the objects and the subject, and between the subjects
themselves, which common-sense reveals and which provide the starting point,
and acts as the challenge to knowledge, are overcome in the unity of the
Brahman, say the Upanishads. “Knowledge leads to unity and ignorance to
diversity”, says Shri Ramakrishna.

Vedanta holds that at the highest reach of the self-knowledge, it becomes the
knowledge of the Brahman, the unity of the outer and the inner. This is the
‘Advaita’ or non-dual experience, the glory of which the Upanishads proclaim in
language at once rational and poetic. It finds a lucid elucidation in the following
verse of the great seventh century philosopher and spiritual teacher, Gaudapada
[Mandukyakarika 2.38]:

“Realizing the Truth within the self and realizing the Truth externally (in the not-
self), and becoming one with the Truth and delighting in it, one never deviates
from the Truth.”

In human life, individual and collective, the stress on separateness has been the
one source of hatred, violence, and war. Through it, God has been subjected to
crucifixion more than once, and man has experienced death again and again. It

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is through a purification of human knowledge and awareness that man
transcends this false view of separateness and overcomes its evil effects.

The ethical value of neighborliness is the product of the spiritual vision of


‘Advaita’, non-separateness, unity. This is brought out by Dr. Paul Deusden, the
great German orientalist, in a speech which he gave in Bombay at the end of his
India visit in 1892: “The Gospels quite correctly establish as the highest law of
morality, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. But why should I do so since by the
order of nature I feel pain and pleasure only in myself, not in my neighbor? The
answer is not in the Bible, but it is in the Veda, in the great formula, ‘That art
Thou’, which gives in three words the combined sum of metaphysics and morals.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself because you are your neighbor.”

“As pure water poured into pure water becomes the same, in the same way
becomes the Atman (Self) of the ‘muni’ (sage), O Gautama, who knows (the
unity of the Atman).” [Katha Upanishad 2.1.15]

The Gita sings the supreme glory of man in this memorable verse [5.19]:

“Even in this very life, they have conquered ‘sarga’ (relativity) whose minds are
firmly fixed in ‘’samya’ (equality); for Brahman, verily, is equal (in all) and free
from imperfection. Therefore, they are established in the Brahman.”

“(He, the Atman is) the same dwelling in the heaven (in the form of the sun), the
air filling the atmosphere, the fire dwelling in the altar, the holy guest in the
house; (He is) in man, in gods, in the sacrifice, in the sky; (He is) born in water,
born on earth, born as (the fruit of ) sacrifice, born of mountains; (He is) the True;
(He is) the Great.” [Katha Upanishad 2.2.2]

This is a famous verse occurring originally in the Rig Veda with the last word
omitted [4.40.5], and repeated more than once in subsequent Vedic literature.

“Consciousness is never experienced in plural, only in the singular.


Consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one
thing and that what seems to be plurality is merely a series of different aspects of
this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian ‘Maya’).”
- Erwin Schrödinger [‘What is Life’]

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The Shrimad-Bhagavat says [11.2.41]:

“The sky, air, fire, water and earth, the luminous constellations, creatures, the
quarters, trees, etc., rivers and oceans – whatever entities and things there be,
are to be honoured as non-separate from oneself, knowing them to be the body
of Hari (the indwelling God).”

“Just as the sun, the eye of the whole world, is never sullied by the external fault
of the eyes (of creatures), so the one inner Self of all beings is never sullied by
miseries of the world, as It (in Its own form) is also transcendent.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.2.11]

“The One (supreme) controller (of all), the inner Self of all beings, who makes
His one form manifold – those ‘dhiras’ (wise men) who realize Him as existing in
their own Self, to them belongs eternal happiness and to none else.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.2.12]

“The eternal among the non- eternals, the Intelligent among the intelligent, who,
though One, fulfills the desires of the many – those ‘dhiras’ who realize Him as
existing in their own Self, to them belongs eternal peace and to none else.”
[Katha Upanishad 2.2.13]

God is not extra-cosmic and autocratic; He is very Self of all; He is not an


outsider with whom our relations may be anything from submission to
rebellion. He is our very inner Self, the one immutable and immortal
Consciousness in a world of perishing entities and objects’ all
estrangement from whom, on the part of mortal man, leads but to darkness
and sorrow and all communion to light and peace.

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“There (in the Atman) the sun does not illumine, nor the moon and the stars; nor
does the lightning illumine; and much less this fire. When That shines, everything
shines after That. By Its light, all this (manifested universe) is lighted.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.2.15]

“This eternal ‘ashvattha’ tree has its roots above and branches below; That verily
(is the) pure; That (is) Brahman; That alone is called the immortal. In That rest all
the worlds; and, none, verily, ever transcends That. This is verily That.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.3.1]

“The ancient sages penetrated deeper and deeper until they found that in the
innermost core of the human soul is the centre of the whole universe. All the
planes gravitate to that one point. That is common ground, and standing there
alone can we find a common solution.”
- Swami Vivekananda
Brahman is the unity of all existence; and no part the manifested universe can
exist apart from Brahman, as no part of the tree can exist apart from the root.

The world tree is in the sphere of time; it is subject to birth and death. By
attachment to it and engaged in the incessant pursuit of profit and pleasure, man
remains ignorant of his true dimension and in the grip of finitude and death. That
is his false life. His true life begins when he develops the spirit of non-attachment
to his sense-bound life and enters on a search for root of the world tree in
Brahman through a penetration into the spiritual core of his own being,
destroying the world tree as conjured up by the sense-bound mind. The world
tree itself cannot be destroyed, for it is Brahman, ‘Sanatana’, eternal, ‘shukram’,
pure, and ‘amritam’, immortal. Once Brahman, the ‘Urhvamulam’ of the tree is
realized, the world tree becomes transformed from a vale of tension and tears
into a mansion of peace and joy.

“If one is able to realize (Brahman) here (in this very world) before the fall of the
body, (one achieves true life fulfillment). (But if one fails in this) then one has
(perforce) to get embodied (again) in this world of manifestations.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.3.4]

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Shankara says in Vivekachudamani [39]:

“There are (some) good people, calm and great-souled, who go about doing
good to the world as does the spring; having themselves crossed this mighty
ocean of (relative) existence, they help others also to cross the same without any
(selfish) motive whatsoever.”

In the Chhandogya Upanishad [7.24.1] Sanatkumara pronounced the supreme


truth of non-duality as the critique of the infinite:

“Whenever one does not see another, does not hear another, does not know
another, that is ‘bhuma’ (infinite). On the other hand, where one sees another,
hears another, knows another, that is ‘alpam’ (finite). That which is bhuma, that
verily is ‘amritam’ (immortal); on the other hand, that which is alpam, that is
‘martyam’ (mortal).”

“When ‘ahara’ (food, that is, what is gathered into the physical and mental
system of man), becomes pure, the ‘sattva’ (mind) becomes pure; when the
‘sattva’ becomes pure, the ‘smriti’ (memory, in this case, of divine nature)
becomes steady; when (this) smriti is achieved, all the knots (of the heart)
become completely destroyed.”

Vedanta holds that in spite of his enormous and ever-growing knowledge of the
not-self and the power conferred by it, man will not shed his creature-ness
substantially and become truly free till he achieves the ‘Atma-jnana’, knowledge
of the Atman.

“His form is not within the field of sight; none can see Him with the eye. He is
revealed in (the cavity of) the heart by the manas that is fully under the control of
the buddhi. Those who realize this become immortal.” [Katha Upanishad 2.3.9]

The Gita describes the ‘Atman’ as ‘buddhigrahyam’, grasped by the buddhi. It


then ceases to be an organ among organs; beginning in the form of a limited
inner faculty or organ as the dim light of reason, it grows and develops, through
intellectual, moral and spiritual discipline, into the blazing but soothing light of

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‘bodhi’ or spiritual illumination, merging the illuminating subject, mind, and the
illumined object, the Self, into an ocean of undivided Existence, Consciousness,
and Bliss, the ‘Sacchidananda’. The pure manas is the same as pure buddhi,
which is the same as pure Atman, says Shri Ramakrishna.

Spiritual teachers warn all spiritual aspirants not to belittle the sleeping inner
forces:

“Powerful are the sense-organs; they drag down even the wise.” [Manu Smriti
2.215]

All seekers of truth, whether in the field of physical sciences or the science of
religion, prize the virtue of alertness; it is highly praised by Buddha
[Dhammapada 2.1]:

“Wakefulness is the way to immortality; heedlessness is the way to death. Those


who are wakeful die not, the heedless are already dead.”

The same conviction is expressed by the sage Sanatkumara in ‘Sanaksujatiya’


section of Mahabharata [5.42.4]:

“Heedlessness alone is death, I say; through constant wakefulness, I proclaim, is


immortality (gained).”

“When all the desires that dwell in his heart are destroyed, then mortal man
becomes immortal and attains Brahman here (in this very life).” [Katha
Upanishad 2.3.14]

“When here (in this very life) all the knots of the heart are rent asunder, then
mortal man becomes immortal – this much alone is the teaching (of all
Vedanta).” [Katha Upanishad 2.3.15]

The Upanishads emphasize the need for renunciation, the joyous rising above
the sense-life in search of the truth underlying all life and existence, in order to
enable man to experience the immortal dimension of his personality.

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Mortal man is mortal only because he considers himself to be the finite ego
conditioned by his body, the senses, and the mind. In his true nature he is the
Atman, immortal, unconditioned and infinite. This is to be realized by each
individual for himself or herself. Through his joys and his sorrows, his successes
and his defeats, through all the ups and downs of his life, if man can move
steadily forward towards this consummation, that indeed is life truly lived.

In the words of the Mahabharata [12.169.28]:

Immortality as well as mortality are both established in the body (of everyone); by
(the pursuit of) delusion, one reaches death; by (the pursuit of) truth, one attains
immortality.”

This Purusha, the inner Self, of the size of a thumb, always dwells in the heart of
beings. One should separate Him from one’s own body with steady courage as
(one separates the tender) stalk from a (blade of) grass. One should know Him
as the luminous, as the immortal; yea, as the luminous, as the immortal.” [Katha
Upanishad 2.3.17]

Summary: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi

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