Thursday, August 7, 2014


  Geetaa unmistakably bears  the influence of  Upanishads, especially Katha

(Compilation for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN, USA, August 2014)

Hindu scriptures hail Bhagavadgeetaa thus: “All Upanishads are (like) cows. Gopalanandana (Shrikrishna) is their cowherd. Intelligent Partha (Arjun) is the calf who enjoys the milk and splendid nectarine Geetaa is the milk of these   Upanishadic cows. (Geeta is the precise summary of all Upanishads):
 Sarvopanishado gaavah dogdhaa  Gopaalanandanah |
Paartho vatsah sudheeh bhoktaa dugdham geetaamritam mahat ||
Hindu Religious enthusiasts resort to Geetaa chanting (Paarayana) and consider it as Veda-adhyayana (study of Vedas) after Upaakarma and prior to Krishna Janmaashthami, ending    along with Vishnusahasranaama Homa on Krishna Jayanti Day motivated by Ramayana Paraayana recommended by Valmiki   for salvation.  
Geeta, incorporated into the great epic Mahabharata, claims to be the quintessence of the Upanishads' teachings. It is more often than not described as an updated Upanishad. It is also written in the style of the Upanishads as a dialogue between the guru and the disciple, Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Geeta mainly contains the Upanishad's tradition but assimilates the Sankhya, Yoga and Buddhist teachings which in their turn are indebted to the Upanishads. It is a curious but effective link between the Vedic traditionalism and the later thought systems. Based on the Tantric foundation, Saankhya emerged as strong protagonist of the materialistic, naturalistic and pluralistic view-points, not excessively preoccupied with religious practices. Both Sankhya and Yoga had atheistic leniency to start with but both got accepted and sanctified by the Vedic tradition, because of their invaluable contributions to early Vedic thoughts on life. It is this synthetic character of the Geeta that has made it the most popular text and scriptural authority for Hindus. What makes it more appealing to the masses is its title, cleverly coined by its editor, (may be its author) Vedavyasa, as "The Song of the Celestial" or "The Song of the Lord" (Bhagavad Geeta), supposed to have been delivered by Lord Krishna (eighth incarnation of Vishnu) to Arjuna, his ardent disciple at the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Bhagavadgeeta is found in Mahabharata in Bhishmaparva chapters 22 to 40.  It is believed to have been originally composed by Vedavyaasa who is also credited with having authored the Mahabharata around the fourth or fifth century B.C.E. We do not know the authors of many of the Upanishads who out of modesty have kept their names anonymous; so also Vedavyaasa muni. “Within the context of the Mahabharata, and especially the battle of Kurukshetra, the emergence of the Bhagavade Geetaa calls for a willing suspension of disbelief.  There is no other way one can accept the fact that the two sides waited to begin the war while its eighteen chapters were recited and discussed”, say the authors Vrinda Nabar and Shanta Tumkur of the Bhagavadgeetaa. No doubt Geetaa although ancient contains profound truths of great relevance to contemporary society both in India and the West which makes it most popular among Hindu scriptures.   Though Bhagavadgeeta is a Hindu Scripture, it shares its basic concerns with other religious and cultural traditions, which makes it popular with humanity in general in all parts of the world.
Dr. R. D. Ranade  of Nagpur University in his book Bhagavdgeetaa as a Philosophy of God–realization, 1959 writes: “The doctrine of activism and non-attachment which we find in the Geetaa is borrowed from  Isaavasya Upanishad, the Asvattha simile from Kathopanishad, the idea of Viswaroopa (cosmic form) as well as antinomy between   ritualism and non-ritualism from Mundakopanishad,  the concept of five virtues in the sixteenth chapter from Chandodgya Upanishad and the Yogic teachings from Svetasvataara Upanishad”. The Geetaa unmistakably bears the influence of Upanishads, especially from Kathaa Upanishad detailed below and  also Svetaasvataara Upanishad. There is even a suggestion that the song of the celestial was originally a Yoga Upanishad which was later Vaishnavized and titled as Bhagavadgeetaa.
There is a reference in Chandogya Upanishad to Krishna, Devakiputra, who was the disciple of the sage Ghora Angeeras. Lord Krishna had not yet descended then as an avatar. The Jain Harivamsa mentions Krishna as the cousin and contemporary of the celebrated ford-maker Neminaatha who is also described as an incarnation of Vishnu in Bhagavata. The Bhagavadgeetaa is doubtless a text, perhaps the earliest, belonging to the devotional school of Hindu Religion, the Bhaagavata. This monotheistic school was founded by Krishna Vaasudeva, belonging to the Saatvata sect of the Yadu class and he was reverently   referred to as Bhagawan. The Bhagavadgeeta embodies   the Deism also present in the Vedas and the Upanishads. Yet in context, the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, personalizes the presence of the Supreme while in no way minimizing the Vedic dictum (law) “Vedokhilam dharma moolam” (Vedas are the ultimate authority for everything), that is at the  heart of all His actions.
Kathopanishad which has lent maximum support to Geetaa is one Upanishad that can be called favorite of all in all ages.  Though its theme is the same as all major Upanishads its rendering makes it unique. Who am I?  What dies? What is left? Are we here merely to be dragged away from everyone and every one from us? What if anything, we can do about death—now, while we are still alive?—these questions interest any religion and any culture at any time. These subject matters of this Upanishad dealt in a dramatic way makes it most interesting.

Thanks to Swami Vivekananda the following Mantra from Kathopanishad is familiar with all spiritual seekers of the world and more so with Hindus:
Uttishthata Jagrata, praapya varaan nibodhata, kshurasya dhaaraa nisitaa duratyayaa durgam pathastat  kavayo vadanti (Ka Up 3-14)
Arise, awake; having reached the great teachers, learn to realize the Aaatman. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path difficult to cross and hard to tread—thus say the wise in ancient days.
This Mantra is inscribed in the main stage of the auditorium of Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Kolkota, a branch of Ramakrishna Mission.  Narendra Modi while he was chief minister of Gujarat wrote a blog spot commemorating Swami Vivekananda: “Arise, awake, stop not till the goal is reached”.  Dr. Sanjeev Kumar wrote a book named “Stop not Till the Goal is Reached”. Sarojini Naidu wrote a poem by that name. This inspirational mantra from Kathopanishad was Swami Vivekananda’s message to the Hindus to awaken their sleeping soul. Jesus Christ also expressed almost a similar idea when he said: ”Strive to enter in at the straight gate, for narrow is the gate and straight is the way that leads to life, and few be they who find it’
No wonder Bhagavadgeetaa unmistakably bears the influence of this Upanishad  maximum as detailed in this discourse. The philosophical and the practical modes of saadhana described in Kathopanishad are echoed in the equally or more popular Bhagavadgeetaa. “Every Hindu knows the great Kurukshetra Scene, which forms the prologue of the Bhagavadgeetaa—the warrior, stricken by remorse and doubt, throwing himself at the mercy of his divine charioteer for guidance.  Katha Upanishad has an equally sublime introductory scene, forming a noble background for the great teaching imparted in the Upanishad itself” says C. Rajagopalachari, the wise and elderly Statesman of India. It may not be too wrong if I conclude the battle scene in Bhagavadgeetaa was motivated and dramatized by the background scene of Katha Upanishad.
A spiritual seeker has the following questions to pose to his Guru as evinced by every Upanishad:
1.    What is the highest object of man?
2.    What is the last cause of the world?
3.    In what connection is this cause with the world?
4.    How do we know of it?
“The standing point of Kathopanishad is on the whole that of the Vedanta. It is the Absolute Spirit which is the foundation of the world and it is this Absolute Spirit which is the object of true science to know it as the same with all creatures, especially with one’s own soul, which by the knowledge attains its final aim –absorption into Brahman” says P. Krishnamoorty in his book Upanishad Vaallari.

What Krishna answered Arjuna is not different from what The King of Cosmic laws  (Dharmaraja) told Nachiketas. Here are certain philosophic thoughts of Geethha inspired by the  mantras of Katha Upanishad.

 1) Asochyaan anyasochastvam prajnaavaadaamscha bhashase
     Gataasoonagatasoomscha naanusochanti panditaah || G 2-11 ||

You grieve for those who are not to be grieved, and yet talk words of wisdom. The wise folk who know the true nature of soul do not grieve for those who are dead or for those who are living.

Asareeram sareereshu anavastheshv-avasthitam |
Mahaantam vibhumaatmaanam matvaa dheero na sochati ||Ka.U 2-22) ||

The wise knows that body is mortal and the Aaatmaa or Spirit is immortal possessing great powers. Knowing this wise man does not grieve. (The spirit is not bound by Karma while the humans with body are.)

2) Ya  enam vetti hantaaram yaschainam manyate hatam |
    Ubhau tau na vijaaneetoe naayam hanti na hanyate || G 2-19||

The one who thinks that the Aaatmaa is a killer and the one who thinks Aatmaa is killed, both are ignorant. Because Aaatmaa is neither kills nor killed. [If the killer thinks he is killing and if the killed thinks he is being killed, both of them do not know the essential nature of the soul. [The essential nature of the Aatman cannot be killed.]

Hantaa chen-manyate hantum hatas-chen-manyate hatam |
Ubhau tau  na vijaaneetoe naayam hanti na hanyate || (ka.u—2-18)

If the slayer thinks he is slaying and if the slain thinks he is slain then both of these do not know what they are saying. The intelligent Aaatman is not born, nor does it die; it did not hail from anywhere, nor did it become anything. Unborn constant, eternal, everlasting and ancient, it is not slain although the physical body is slain. {Geeta has just quoted the second line of this mantra in G-2-19

3) Aascharyaan pasyati kaschid enam Aascharyavad vadati tathaiva chaanyah |
    Aascharyavac-chainam anyah srinoti srutvaapy-enam veda na chaiva kaschit || G 2-29 ||

Some look upon this Aatman   as a wonder, yet another describes it as wonderful and others hear of it as wonder. Even after hearing about it people who know it are few and far between. 

Sravanaayaapi bahubhiryo-na labhyah srinvantopi bahavoe yam na vidyuh |
aascharyo vaktaa kusalo-asya  labdhaa aascharyo jnaataa  kusalaanu sishtah || Ka.u-2-7 

The soul which is not obtainable by many even for hearing   and although they hear of it, many do not comprehend.   Wonderful is the one, who speaks of it, wonderful is the one who comprehends the Aatman when instructed by an able Guru.   All those who hear of the Supreme Being cannot gain the knowledge without the help of a clever exponent and adept attained of him whom is rare to find.

4) Kaamaatmaanah svargaparaa janmakarmaphalpradaam |
    Kriyaaviseshabahulaam bhogaisvaryagatim prati || G 2-43||

The misguided ones who delight in the melodious chanting of Vedas are dominated by material desires, consider attainment of Svarga (Heaven). They engage in specific rituals seeking prosperity and enjoyment in life. Rebirth is the highest goal in life.      

Avidyaayaamantare vartamaanaah svayam dheerah panditam manyamaanaah |
Dandramyamaanaah pariyanti moodhaa andhenaiva neeyamaanaa yathaandhaah ||ka.u. 2-5 ||

Those who live in the midst of ignorance, but fancy themselves as wise and learned go round and round staggering to and fro like one blind leading the other. Fools wander suffering pain caused by old age, disease etc.

5) Indriyaani paraanyaahur indryebhyah param manah |
    Manasas tu paraa buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah || (G 3-42)

The senses are said to be superior to the body. The mind is superior to the senses, the intellect is superior to mind (manas) and the Aatman is superior to the intellect. [Mahabharata also says in 12.204.10; “The mind is superior to the senses, the intellect is superior to the mind, Jnaana or Self-knowledge is superior to the intellect and the Aatman or Spirit is superior to Jnaana.]

Indriyebhyah paraa hyarthaa arthebhyascha param manah|
Manasastu paraa buddhir budhyer aatma mahaanparah || (ka.u. 3.10)

Higher indeed than the senses are their objects;   higher is the mind than their objects; higher is the intellect than the mind; and Higher than the intellect is the great Aatman. [When the five senses, mind and intellect are progressively stilled, that leads to highest state of Self-realization say the wise.]

6) Tasmaat tvam indriyaanyaadau niyamya bharatarshabha |
    Paapmaanam prajahi hyenam jnaanavijnaana nasanam || G 3-41 ||

Therefore, Arjuna! By controlling   the senses first, kill this evil of material desire that destroys   Self-knowledge and Self-realization. [The moral is that mortal freed from the captivity of desires, becomes immortal and attains liberation even in this very life].

Yada sarve pramuchyante kaamaa ye-asya  hridi sritaah |
Atha martyo amrito bhavatyatra brahma samasnute || Ka.u. 6-14 ||

When all the desires, which were cherished in a mortal’s heart are destroyed then that mortal becomes immortal and then he attains realization of Brahman while being still in this world here.                                                                                                                           
7) Sarvakarmaani manasaa sannyaasyaaste sukhaam vasee |
    Navadwaare pure dehee naiva kurvan  na kaarayan ||  G 5-13 ||

A person, who has completely the fruits of all works, dwells happily in the City of Nine Gates neither acting nor causing others to act. [The nine gates of the body are: the two eyes; two nostrils; two ears; the mouth; and the two excretory organs. This reference to human body of nine openings is made by many Upanishads. The Jeevanmukta or self-realized man who remains settled in the perennial presence of the master of the body (Brahman) becomes detached and enjoys perfect peace under all circumstances].

Puram ekaadasadwaaram ajasyaavakrachetasah |
Anushthaaya na sochati vimuktascha vimuchyate etad vai tat ||Ka.u. 5.1 ||

The city of the unborn Brahman of eternal existent knowledge has eleven gates.  Having meditated upon him, the seeker does not grieve and is liberated from all the bonds of ignorance and liberated. This is verily that.  The city of 11 gates here means the physical body with eleven opening gates.    [We have altogether seven openings in the neck portion (two eyes + two nostrils + two ears + 1mouth), three openings in the trunk (the navel and the two excretory openings) and the eleventh one is the subtle aperture called Brahma-randra at the crown of the head, celebrated in yoga-saastra.] A true seeker meditating on the Supreme Self goes beyond sorrow and is liberated from the cycle of repeated births and deaths.

8) Uddhared aatmanaatmaanam  naatmaanam avasaadayet |
    Aatmaiva hyaat-manobandhur aatmaiva ripur aatmanah || G-6-5 ||
    Bandhur aatmaat-manas tasya yenaatmaivaatmanaa jitah |
    Anaatmanas tu satrutve vartetaatmaiva satruvat || G-6-6 ||

Let one lift himself up and not degrade oneself. The mind alone is one’s friend as well one’s enemy too. The mind is a friend of those who have control over it. The mind acts like an enemy for those who do not have control over it. Bringing scattered passions and desires   under control and lifting oneself to Supreme the individual lifts himself to the glorious status of Self-realization and eternal Bliss. This calls for firm control of mind.

Yadaa pancha-avatishthante jnaanaani manasaa saha |
Buddhischa na nicheshteta  taamaahuh paramaam gatim ||(Ka.u—6—10)
Taam yogamiti manyante sthiraamindriya dhaaranaam |
Apramattastadaa bhavati yogo hi prabhavaapyayau ||(Ka.u—6--11)

When the five sources of knowledge standstill together with the mind and the intellect does not work, that state is called the highest. This, the firm control of senses, is called Yoga. Then one becomes undistracted; for otherwise, Yoga is acquired and lost as well (if one is not attentive and careful). To a Spiritual seeker the extreme development of his powers of concentration through a successful achievement in the control of sense-organs is the greatest penance. Success can be achieved in self-control only when our minds are taken away from sense objects and then fixed firmly in steady concentration and meditation upon the Aatman. It is the negative approach as well as positive.

9) Sukham aatyantikam yat tad buddhigraahyam ateendriyam |
     Vetti yatra na chaivaayam sthitas-chalati tattvatah || G-6-21 ||
One feels infinite bliss that is perceivable only through the subtle intellect which is beyond the grasp of the senses. After realizing the Brahman and established in that state one is never separated from Absolute Reality.
Esha sarvesshu bhooteshu goodho-aatmaa na prakaasate |
Drisyate tvagryayaa buddhyaa sookshmayaa sooksha darsibhih || (Ka.u. 3—12 ||
The Aatman, concealed in all beings in the cavity of the heart, does not shine forth and reveal to all.  But it is believed it is beheld only by the sharp intellect of seers of subtle  intellect.                                                                                                                                                                  

10) Sarvabhootastham aatmmaanam sarvabhootaani chaatmani |
      Eekshate  yogayuktaatmaa sarvatra samdarsanah ||(G 6-29)
A Yogi sees every being with an equal eye because of perceiving Eternal Being (Brahman) abiding in all beings and all beings abiding in the Eternal Being.

Nityo nityaanaam chetanaschetanaanaam eko bahoonaam yo vidadhaati kaamaan
Tamaatmastham ye anupasyanti dheeraah teshaam saantih saasvatee netareshaam  ||Ka.u—5-13 ||
Eternal peace is for those intelligent beings and to others, who see Paramaatman, the one eternal sentient principle that accomplishes the desires of eternal sentient in Jeevaatman that dwells in the inner cavity of the heart everyone. [Eternal peace belongs to those who perceive God existing within everybody as Aatman.]

11) Kavim puranam anusaasitaaram  anor aneeyaamsam anusmared yah  |
      Sarvasya dhaataaram achintyaroopam aadityavarnam  tamasah parastat  || ….
      Sa tam  param purusham upaiti divyam ||G-8--9 &10 ||
He who meditates on the Omniscient, the Primordial, the Ruler, subtler than an atom, the sustainer of all, the inconceivable effulgent like the Sun and beyond darkness, will surely reach the resplendent Saguna Brahman (Purusha).

Anoraneeyaan mahato maheeyaan  aatmasya jantornihito guhaayaam | Tamakratuh pasyati veetasoko dhaatuh prasaadaat mahimaaanam-aatmanah  || Ka.u-2-20 ||
The Self subtler than the subtlest atom and greater than the greatest is residing in the cavity of the heart of every individual. Those who extinguish their selfish desires and behold the glory of the Self go beyond all sorrow through the grace of the Paraamaatman, the Lord of Love.
[This Mantra also appears in Sveteswatara and Mahanarayana Upanishads.]

12) Agnir jyotir ahah suklah shanmaasa uttaraayanam |
      Tatra prayaataa gachchanti   brahma brahmavido janaah || G 8-24 ||

Fire, light, daytime,  the bright lunar fort night and the six months of the  northern solstice of the Sun—departing by these Devas, celestial controllers,  one who has known  the Supreme Principle (Brahman)  by mastering  Yoga  attains Brahman.

 Dhoomo ratristathaa krishnah shanmaasaa dakshinaayanam
Tattra  chaandramasam jyotiryogeepraapya nivartate  || G 8-25  ||

Smoke, the night, the dark half of the month, and the six months of the sun’s southern passage—departing by this path Yogi attains the lunar sphere and returns (thence).

Yajante saattvikaa devaan-yaksharaksaamsi raajasaah |
Pretaan-bhootaan-ganaamscha-anye yajante taamasaa janaah || 17-4 ||

People endowed with Sattvaguna   worship gods,   those with Rajas worship Yakshas and  demons while those with Tamoguna worship spirits and goblins.

 Yaanti devavrataa devaan pitrun yaanti pitruvrataah |
Bhootaani yaanti bhootejyaa yaanti madyaajino api maam || G 9-25 ||

The worshipers of the gods go to the gods, the worshipers of the manes go to the manes, the worshipers of the spirits go to the spirits, and my worshipers (those who meditate on Brahman)   come to me.

 Yonimanye prapadyante sareeratvaaya dehinah |
sthaanumanye anusamyanti yathaakarma yathasrutam || Ka.up. 5-7 ||
Uktvaa srutvaa cha medhaavee brahmaloke maheeyate  ||Ka. up. 3-16 ||

Some souls enter wombs for getting bodies; and others take up the form of immovable in accordance with Karma and in conformity with their knowledge. The intelligent one (those who acquire the knowledge of Brahman) is glorified in the world of Brahman.

Verses in Bhagavadgeetaa above elaborate the idea contained in Kathopanishad which focuses thought on Vedanta approach for liberation.

The path of light and fire (the path treaded by men of   knowledge) is called Aarchiraa maarga or Aarchira path passing through which Yogis and Jeevanmuktas attain salvation. Others return back to this world. Out of the hundred and one arteries of the heart, there is one which goes to the crown of the head. This special spot is spiritually called Brahmarandra.  The life force going upwards through this soft spot in the center of the skull goes to Brahman. A Yogi knows how to withdraw the senses from the sense object into the mind, and how to fuse the mind into the breath and breath into the light, and the light into the Sun and to the Absolute. This is called the Path of Light or Aarchira Maarga. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also said spiritual consciousness is not possible without the awakening of the Kundalini.  When the mind rises upward by the power of Kundalini and reaches the Seventh Chakra (Brahmarandra) it merges with the Eternal Being in the eighth plane.  As long as the Kundalini power remains dormant in the lower center, one cannot get salvation through, Japa, meditation and worship says Chandogya Upanishad and protagonists of Kriya Yoga.

 Satam chaikaa cha hridayasya naadyah taasaam moordhnaabhinihsritai kaa |
Tay-ordhvamaayann-amritatvameti  vishvang-ganyaa utkramane bhavanti ||
There are a hundred and one of the nerves of the heart. Of them, one Sushumna proceeds to the head. One who goes up through it attains immortality. But other nerves at the time of death, lead him to diverse ways of material world or Samsaara. [One of the hundred one nerves is the “Brahmanadi” known as Sushumna and it goes through the cerebral region. Going to the world of Brahman through that nerve one attains liberation or merges with Brahman. Only a yogi can achieve that task of going through the cerebral region]

13) Na tu maam sakyate drashtum anenaiva svachakshushaa |
      Divyam dadaami te chakshuh pasya may yogam aisvaryam  || G 11.8 ||

But you are not able to see me with your physical eyes; therefore I give you the divine eyes to see my majestic power and glory.  [Brahman’s transcendental form is beyond the range of vision]

 Na sandrise tishthati roopamasya na chakshushaa pasyati kaschanainam |
Hridaa maneeshaa manasaa-abhiklipto ya etadvidu r-amritaaste bhavanti ||ka.u. 6.9 ||

His form is not within the fold of vision. No one sees him with the physical eye. He is revealed by controlling the mind and by constant meditation. Those who know this approach become immortal. [Hridaa maneeshaa means steadfast devotion. The idea of the second half of this Mantra is also repeated in Mahabharata--Bhaktyaa cha dhrityaa cha samaahitaatmaa jnaanasvaroopam paripasyateeha]

14) Naaham vedair na tapasa na daanena na cha ijyayaa |
 sakya evam vidho drashtum  drishtavaanasi maam yathaa || G 11. 53 ||

This form of Mine that you have just seen cannot be seen even by the study of Vedas, or by austerity, or by acts of charity or by the performance of rituals.

Naayamaatmaa pravchanena labhyo na medhayaa bahunaa srutena |
Yamevaisha vrinute tena labhyah  tasyaishaa vivrinute tanoom  svaam || ka.u.-2.23 ||

This Supreme Principle is not attainable either through thinking (study of Vedas) or by meditation or hearing to discourse of scriptures. But it can be obtained only by him, whom He (Supreme Principle) chooses. To him who is most dear to Him the Supreme Lord reveals his form.

15) Oordhwamoolamaddhah saakham-aswattham praahur-avyaayam  |
      Cchandaamsi yasya parnaani yastam veda sa vedavit || G 15-1 ||

This imperishable and sacred fig-tree has its roots above and branches below; and the sacred chants of the Vedas (Vedic meters or Chandas) are its leaves, so they say. And who understand this tree like that, understands the Vedas.  

This imagery of the sacred tree Aswathha, tree of Banyan family is to be found in Rigveda(1.24.7), Katha Upanishad and Aaranyaka (1.11.5). The word Aswattha means transient. Bhagavad also says in 10-16 Asvatthah sarvavrikshaanaam” I  (Bhagawaan) am the  Peepal (Aswattha) among all the trees.
[The Asvatha (peepal tree) is also known as the Brahmavriksha, the Samsaaravriksha, Brahmavana and Brahmaaranya—terms which link it to the Brahman and to the material world. The idea is to illustrate that just as the sky-reaching tree springs from a small seed, so has the colossal, visible universe sprung from the imperishable Paramaataman. (anoraneeyaan mahato maheeyaan).    The tree of samsara is deeply rooted in the Supreme Consciousness. So its roots point upwards.  It is also deeply rooted in the soil.  It is having its branches below is on account of the fact that it ends with all human beings, cattle, beasts, worms etc.  At the time when the child is conceived, it is in the Brahmarandra, where the consciousness gets seated.

Oordhwamoolo-avaak  saakha esho-asvatthah sanaatanaah  | tadeva sukram  tad brahma tadevaamrutamuchyate || Tasmin lokaah   sritaah sarve tadu naatyeti kaschana  etad vai tat || Ka 6-1 ||
This is Asvattha (peepal) the Tree of eternity whose roots are above and branches spread below. That is verily the Pure, that is Brahman and that is also hailed as immortal.  In that rest all the worlds and none can transcend It.  For this Self is Paramaatman. 

16) Na tad bhaasayate sooryo na sasaanko na paavakah |
      Yad gatvaa na nivartante tad dhaama paramam mama || G15.6 ||

Neither the Sun nor the moon, nor the fire Illuminate the Supreme abode of the Lord. Having reached there people do not come back to the temporal world. The Supreme Being is self-luminous.  [The Supreme Being existed before the Sun, the Moon and the Fire that came into existence during creation and it will exist even after everything gets dissolved t  Un-manifest Nature (Aadi Prakriti) during the great cataclysm or Pralayaa].    
Na tatra sooryo bhaati  na  chyandra-taarakam |
nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoayamagnih ||
tameva bhaantamanubhaati sarvam |
tasya bhaasaa sarvamidam vibhaati || Ka.up. 5-15 ||

The Sun does not shine there, nor does the Moon and the star, nor flash of lightning shine and much less this fire on earth. When He shines, everything shines after Him.   [This light of Supreme Being eclipses all other lights. It is the cause for all lights.  His light helps all others to shine. Effulgence of the Sun that is seen is not natural to it but it is the light that is given to it by Parmaatman and belongs to Parmaatman alone.] {This famous mantra appears also in Sveteswatara and Mundaka Upanishads.}

17) Yayaa tu dharmakaamaarthaan dhrityaa dhaarayate-arjuna  |
       Prasangena phalaakaankshee dhritih saa paartha raajasee || G18.34 ||

Oh Arjuna! The resolve by which a person clings to Dharma (duty), Artha (wealth) and Kaama (pleasure) craving for the fruits of work, with great attachment, that resolve is the result of Rajoguna (mode of passion).  Dharma here means the faithful performance of obligatory duties,   artha is the accumulation of wealth and Kaama is the enjoyment of pleasures.  Mahabharata says:  “The one who uses Dharma, Artha and Kaama in a balanced manner without harming anyone of the three by the other two attains Moksha (salvation)”. one should first follow Dharma by doing one’s duty righteously. Then one should earn money and make economic progress, fulfill all noble material and spiritual desires with the money earned, and progress towards Moksha, which is the goal of human birth.

Na vittena tarpaneeyo manushyo  lapsyaamahe vittamadraakshma  chetvaa |
Jeevishyaamo yaavadeesishyasi tvam varastu may varaneeyah sa eva || Ka. up. 1.27 ||

Man does not rest satisfied with any amount of wealth. If we do really need wealth, we can obtain if we can only see thee.  We would only live as long as thou hold thy sway.  Hence that alone is the boon worthy of being desired for, by me.

People are never satisfied with wealth and material possessions.    Having gained the wealth a   man can enjoy but they are available only till such time as he has not met the Lord of death. A dead man shall need no more money not even a penny out of his rich coffer. As Nachiketas had no need for any wealth having met God of Death all his desire then was to know how to attain Eternal Bliss from Lord Yama.

Brilliant authors of Kathopanishad and Bhagavadgeeta both have made Lord Krishna and  Dharmaraja (King of Cosmic Laws)  as  Gurus answering the questions posed by a brilliant mind of budding intelligence, Nachiketas and matured  master-mind,   Arjuna. Both these texts have not drawn them to myths and horror stories of Puranas and also   not resorted to negative approach and pessimism.  Bhagavadgeetaa is a production of Puraanic times but yet its approach is guided by the wisdom of Upanishads.  Strangely enough, though Swarga is mentioned in the Upanishads several times, its opposite Naraka (hell) of the type met with in the Puranas like Kumbheepaka seems to be unknown to both these texts. Both are univocal in proclaiming that everyone is entitled to liberation if they have the right will and approach for it.  The time lag depends on one’s own Karma. Those who have performed Sakaama Karma (desire-motivated actions) or practiced lower kinds of Upaasanas (meditation) get their desires fulfilled. Some of them go to Swargaloka (heaven) from where they will return to this world after exhausting the results of their good deeds.   This journey is through Pitrumaarga wherein the soul is led to Chandraloka (The world of the Moon) after passing through smoke, night, the dark fortnight and the six months of the Southern solstice. After exhausting the result of good deeds the soul returns again to this earth, through the sky, rain, vegetation and living beings.  The rare few liberated souls (Jeevanmuktas) rest for a while in Chandraloka even though they die during Dakshinaayana and then proceed through Uttaraayana (Northern solstice) to merge with Brahman (you all know Bhishma’s story). Those who know neither of these two paths return again and again and may even be reborn at the sub-human levels, as animals and worms.

The question and answers discussed in these two texts are true for all times and to all religions of the world. Western society   thinks today that the spiritual message contained in Bhagavaadgeeta and Upanishad offers an alternative direction of social growth which is reflected in contemporary Hindu society based on brilliant interpretations from eminent   scholars starting from Sankara.  Sankara’s authorship of Geetaabhashya has been disputed but not of Chandogya Upanishad.  Contrary to the Western thinking it is unfortunate present day Indian social aspirations are, most of them, shaped by the latest twentieth century market driven world-view of the West and particularly American, more so  in the case of  Hindu Americans. This is no doubt unavoidable consequences of global migration, which has become necessary for one’s own survival.    But yet the continued acceptance of wisdom of  Upanishads   skilfully marketed by Vedavyasa as “Bhagawanuvacha” in Bhagavadgeetaa on the  Hindu mind indicates that there are indeed more things under our heaven and earth than could be dreamed of in a contemporary Western perspective with which Hindu Americans  are in close touch every day.

One should be guided by the words of wisdom from Vedas, Upanishads and   Bhagavadgeetaa in their Spiritual and temporal pursuits. To me what appeals most is to follow the catch words or mottos set by these scriptures; These are: “Uttishthata Jagrata varaannibhodata” meaning “Arise,  awake and Learn from the  superiors (Gurus)” from Kathopanishad; “Ma suchah, maamekam saranam vraja” stop grieving and abide in the Supreme (the parting advice  to Arjuna by Lord  Krishna in Geeta); and “Charaiveti Charaiveti” --the Vedic instruction to keep moving and move on in life to achieve our goals.

“Charanbai madhu vindati charantsvadu mudambaram. | Sooryasya pasya sreemanam yo na tandrayate charan | Charaiveti, charaiveti.”

[The literal translation of the verse according to sources is "The honey bee, by its motion, collects honey, and birds enjoy tasty fruits by constant movement. The sun is revered, by virtue of its constant shining movement; therefore, one should be constantly in motion. Keep moving, keep moving on and on!"]

1.      Ramanada Prasad, Bhagavad Geetaa, American Gita Society, Freemont, CA, USA.
2.      Ananta Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India.
3.      Swami Vireswarananda, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna math, Chennai, India.
4.      Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Geetaa-Kosha (Trisati), Kalpataru Research Academy, Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Bengaluru, India.
5.      Rajagopalchari C.R., Upanishads, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
6.      Krishnamoorty P., Upanishad Vallari, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Tirupati, India.

[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above    as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other  discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further.  These  lectures are  posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]

The Science of Katha Upanishad

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Kaṭha (कठ) Upaniad is the fourth in the series of eleven Principal Upaniads that we have taken up for rational review. This Upaniad is unique in content, since it deals with, in detail, the question of what happens after death. Apparently to add authenticity to the assertions made, the Upaniṣad supposes that the issue is explained by the Lord of Death himself.
The subject-matter is presented as a dialogue between Lord of Death called Mṛtyu and a young boy by name Nachiketas. (The word mṛtyu – मृत्यु in Sanskrit means death; in the study of this Upaniad we use this word with the initial letter M in capital to refer to the Lord of Death). Before going to this dialogue, let us recall the position we have assumed in the study of the previous three Upaniṣads. It is this: ours is an independent effort, far removed from the conventional theological interpretation of the Upaniṣadic literature and is made with the aim of bringing out the rational thoughts underlying the mystically presented texts in Upaniṣads. This may be borne in mind when we move forward.
This Upaniṣad is part of Kaṭha Brāhmaṇa of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. It contains six parts, each known as a Vallī (वल्ली) and these six parts are presented in two chapters of three Vallīs each. Vallīs are numbered from one to three in each chapter. To refer to a verse, both Vallī number and chapter number are often given; for example, 1.2.3 indicates the third verse of the second Vallī in the first chapter. Another method is to omit the chapter number and give the Vallī numbers continuously from 1 to 6; then, the first verse of the fifth Vallī is indicated as 5.1. Here, we follow the latter method.
Nachiketas was the son of one Vājaśravasaḥ (वाजश्रवसः) presumably belonging to the clan of Gautama. Vājaśravasa was performing a sacrifice in which all his wealth had to be given away in charity. Seeing that very old and weak cows of no use were being distributed, Nachiketas thought that no good would accrue to his father from this sacrifice. As if suggesting himself as a better gift, he asked his father, “To whom will you give me?” The father didn’t say anything. Nachiketas repeated the question again and again. Getting annoyed at this, the father, in a fit of anger, told him that he would give him to Mṛtyu. The innocent boy on hearing the angry words of his father began to think how he could be useful to Mṛtyu. Without any clue therefor, he reached the abode of Mṛtyu, but had to wait there for three nights to have a meeting with Mṛtyu. As a recompense for this 3-night delay, Mṛtyu allowed Nachiketas to ask three boons from him…. This much is the background story narrated in the Upaniṣad, regarding how Nachiketas happened to meet Mṛtyu and had a discussion with him.
The first boon Nachiketas asked was that his father be pacified and no longer be angry with him; the second was for obtaining a ‘fire’ of the gods, which is capable of leading one to heaven and immortality; Mṛtyu readily gave him these boons. Then Nachiketas asked the third boon:
येयं प्रेते विचिकित्सा मनुष्येഽस्तीत्येके नायमस्तीति चैके
एतद्विद्यामनुशिष्टस्त्वयाहं वराणामेष वरस्तृतीयः || 1.20 ||
yeyaṃ prete vicikitsā manuṣyestītyeke nāyamastīti caike
etadvidyāmanuśiṣṭastvayāhaṃ varāṇāmeṣa varastṛtīyaḥ (1.20)
Meaning: ‘This is my third boon: On the question of a dead person, some say that he continues to exist, whereas others say that he ceases to exist (at death); I wish to be taught by you on this issue.’
The issue raised here is undoubtedly very important. Though being the most authoritative person to discourse on this topic, Mṛtyu did not respond positively in the beginning. We see in the next nine verses (from 21 to 29), the attempts of Mṛtyu, on one side, to dissuade Nachiketas from seeking the answer and the determination of Nachiketas, on the other, for getting it.
Mṛtyu says, “This is a very subtle issue; even the gods (deva) had this doubt in the past. It is not easy to know; ask for any other boon. Do not compel me”.
Nachiketas replies, “If even the gods had doubts, I see none other than you to tell me about this secret knowledge. So, I am not going for an alternative boon” (verses 1.21 and 1.22).
Following this, Mṛtyu tried to entice Nachiketas with offers of all kinds of worldly pleasures and possessions like wealth, horses, elephants, cattle, gold, longevity, sons, grandsons, etc. He also promised to fulfil all the desires of Nachiketas and asked him to desist from pressing the question. But Nachiketas spurned all these offers, saying that they were all ephemeral and therefore had no attraction for him; he remained firm in his resolve to know the secret of death. Seeing the unflagging determination of Nachiketas in pursuing the path of knowledge against the lures of worldly pleasures, Mṛtyu finally became pleased to impart the knowledge asked for. But, he did not go directly for answering the question. Instead, he discoursed at length on death and immortality and at the end came out with a brief answer in a single verse. He was actually following a well-designed scheme that culminates in delivering the intended answer. Let us see what his scheme and his answer were.
At first, Mṛtyu appreciates Nachiketas for his choosing the path of knowledge against the path of ignorance. In his opinion two mutually opposing options are open for man; one is śreyas (श्रेयस्) and the other is preyas (प्रेयस्). Out of these, śreyas is that which brings about inner enrichment and preyas is that which ruins the person by entangling him in worldly entailments. Only the wise men choose śreyas; Nachiketas did the same, rejecting all the trappings of preyas. This is what earned him the commendation of Mṛtyu and an opportunity to receive the desired instruction. Only men like Nachiketas can prefer śreyas to preyas. What about others? Mṛtyu says about them thus:
अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितं मन्यमानाः
दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियन्ति मूढा अन्धेनैव नीयमाना यथान्धाः || 2.5 ||
avidyāyāmantare vartamānāḥ svayaṃ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitaṃ manyamānāḥ
dandramyamāṇāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ (2.5)
Meaning: ‘The foolish ones, thinking themselves to be intelligent and learned, despite being totally immersed in ignorance, wander around, going from one thing to another, like the blind being led by the blind’.
This verse implies that if one opts for the path of preyas, he is actually foolish, though he may think himself to be wise and learned. Being already ignorant, he is led by ignorance too; the phrase ‘blind led by the blind’ emphasises this fact, blindness being a reference to ignorance. (This verse appears in Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad also – verse 1.2.8 – with a single-word replacement).
In the next verse, 2.6, this idea about the ignorant is further developed and the idea of death is introduced ingeniously. Mṛtyu says,
सांपरायः प्रतिभाति बालं प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम्
अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी पुनः पुनर्वशमापद्यते मे || 2.6 ||
na sāṃparāyaḥ pratibhāti bālaṃ pramādyantaṃ vittamohena mūḍham
ayaṃ loko nāsti para iti mānī punaḥ punarvaśamāpadyate me (2.6)
Meaning: ‘Such inferior minds are intrinsically negligent and are stupefied by attachment to wealth; pursuit of that which is transcendent will never occur to them. To them there is nothing beyond the world of physical experience; such people come into my clutch again and again’.
Actually, in this verse Mṛtyu begins preparation of the ground for answering the question. His scheme of answering is a very indirect one; he first imparts what death is and then, what immortality is. In this verse Mṛtyu says about those who meet with death again and again; they are the ignorant ones who crave for worldly pleasures. This declaration about death is very important. It defines death as the state of being subjugated by desires for worldly pleasures (preyas). We have already come across this idea of death in our study of Bṛhadāraṇyaka (1.2.1) and Chāndogya (8.6.6) Upaniṣads. The same idea can be seen in Gīta 2.62 & 2.63. We saw it in more detail when we studied verse 8 of Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad.
The consistency of Upaniṣadic thoughts regarding the concept of death is evident from the above references; it cannot be otherwise for a philosophy which upholds the central idea that the whole universe is an appearance of the non-material, eternal, ultimate principle called Ātmā. Any other understanding of death as a total destruction of the physical form, retaining the individual identity of the person for further births is therefore invalid.
Having thus taught about the true import of death, Mṛtyu now moves on to the second part of his scheme; he introduces the concept of immortality. According to Upaniṣadic philosophy, immortality is not freedom from loss of physical body; it is dispossession of Kāma from inside, attained by realising the Ātmā. In order to introduce this concept of immortality Mṛtyu begins by drawing attention of Nachiketas to the entity of Ātmā which is very difficult to attain to; he says that many have not even heard of it and many of those who heard of it, do not know it. Those who know it and attain to it become happy; but, very rare are those who discourse on it and understand it (2.7). Since this subtle entity is variously thought by men with inferior intellect, it cannot be understood properly, if taught by them (2.8). So, the teacher must be properly qualified to impart the knowledge about this entity; so also the disciple should be duly qualified to receive it. Mṛtyu considers himself to be well conversant with the knowledge of Ātmā and further, he sees Nachiketas to be well qualified to receive the instruction. So he is happy to have a disciple like Nachiketas.
In the following verse Mṛtyu further eulogises the knowledge about that entity:
तं दुर्दर्शं गूढमनुप्रविष्ठं गुहाहितं गह्वरेष्ठं पुराणम्
अध्यात्मयोगाधिगमेन देवं मत्वा धीरो हर्षशोकौ जहाति || 2.12 ||
taṃ durdarśaṃ gūḍhamanupraviṣṭhaṃ guhāhitaṃ gahvareṣṭhaṃ purāṇam
adhyātmayogādhigamena devaṃ matvā dhīro harṣaśokau jahāti (2.12)
Meaning: ‘By inner meditation upon that unseen, secret, immanent, primal divinity which is seated in the innermost part of the heart, the enlightened man gets rid of the duality of pleasure-pain’.
Mṛtyu further adds in the next verse (2.13) that by attaining to that divinity, one enjoys bliss. Hearing the inducing words of these two verses, Nachiketas desires to know that divinity which is beyond dualities like virtue and vice, good and bad, and past and future (2.14). Mṛtyu replies:
सर्वे वेदा यत्पदमामनन्ति तपांसि सर्वाणि यद्वदन्ति
यदिच्छन्तो ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति तत्ते पदं सङ्ग्रहेण ब्रवीम्योमित्येतत् || 2.15 ||
sarve vedā yatpadamāmananti tapāṃsi sarvāṇi ca yadvadanti
yadicchanto brahmacaryaṃ caranti tatte padaṃ saṅgraheṇa bravīmyomityetat (2.15)
Meaning: I shall tell you about that, it is ‘Om’, the sound which all the Vedas extol, all deep meditations declare and the study of Vedas seeks to attain to.
Thus, the ultimate immortal entity is declared as ‘Om’, which sound symbolises Ātmā (vide verse 12 of Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad). Further, we have seen in verses 2.23.2 and 2.23.3 of Chāndogya that ‘Om’ was revealed on successive deep meditations on the worlds and the Vyāhṛti, which implies that ‘Om’ is the essence of phenomenal existence.
In the next ten verses Mṛtyu discourses on the nature of this ultimate principle. In 2.16, it is stated that this is the imperishable, supreme Brahma; if a person knows this, whatever he wishes for, would be his. This, however, does not mean that such a knowing person can command to his possession anything that he wishes for; it only implies that such a person will have nothing to wish for, since a feeling of oneness with everything will be generated in him by that knowledge, resulting in a state wherein nothing external will be there for him to wish for. This is the lesson we have learnt from verses 6 and 7 of Īśāvāsya and 4.4.12 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka. These verses underline the fact that a person who has attained to Ātmā, there would be nothing to wish for or aspire to.
Mṛtyu says in verse 2.17 that Ātmā is the support of all; he declares in verse 2.18 that Ātmā is immortal and eternal:
जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चित् नायं कुतश्चित् बभूव कश्चित् |
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोयं पुराणो हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे || 2.18 ||
na jāyate mriyate vā vipaścit nāyaṃ kutaścit na babhūva kaścit
ajo nityaḥ śāśvatoyaṃ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (2.18)
Meaning: ‘This omniscient Ātmā is neither born, nor does he die; he has not originated from anywhere or anything. He is unborn, eternal, everlasting and ancient; he is not destroyed even when the body is destroyed.
We find the same verse in Gīta 2.20, with a one-word change. Again, Gīta verse 2.19 and Kaṭha verse 2.19 are identical, both saying that those, who consider Ātmā as killing or being killed, do not know the truth. In this connection, please also recall verse 8.1.5 of Chāndogya.
Mṛtyu says in verse 2.20 that Ātmā is subtler than the subtle and grosser than the gross and is seated in the heart of all beings. A desire-free person, with composed senses and mind, perceives his glory and gets freed from grief. We have learned about the subtlety and the seat of Ātmā in Chāndogya 3.14.3. Regarding the seat of Ātmā we had a detailed discussion while appreciating verse 8.1.5 of Chāndogya; please refer to that for further clarification. There are a number of verses in other Upaniṣads also highlighting the seating of Ātmā; we will see them all, in due course. Gīta verses 13.17, 15.15 and 18.61 also say about the seat of Ātmā.
Mṛtyu continues his discourse on Ātmā in verses 2.21 and 2.22. Wise men get rid of grief by knowing the great, bodiless, all-pervading Ātmā seated in perishable bodies (2.22). However, Ātmā cannot be known by oral instructions or by mere intelligence or by much hearing about it; it is known by him who is fully dedicated to it. To such a person Ātmā reveals its true nature (2.23).
Thus, in this Vallī we have been introduced to the concepts of death and immortality; we are also told about the entity, on knowing which one may attain immortality. In the next Vallī (3rd) the same line of thinking is pursued further. In verses 3.3 and 3.4, Ātmā is depicted as the lord of a chariot driven by Buddhi (the reasoning faculty), wherein the chariot is the body and the rein is Manas (mind). (Buddhi and Manas are two of the four antaḥkaraṇas – अन्तःकरण organs of internal organs. The other two Antaḥkaraṇa are Chitta and Ahaṃkāra; the English equivalent of Antaḥkaraṇa is Psyche). The sense organs are the horses of the chariot. Where do they proceed to? They chase their respective objects (object of ears is the sound, that of eyes is the sight and so on). Ātmā, the senses and the Manas together are known as the enjoyer (3.3 and 3.4). These two verses are very famous and are therefore quoted below:
आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथमेव तु
बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव || 3.3 ||
ātmānaṃ rathinaṃ viddhi śarīraṃ rathameva tu
buddhiṃ tu sārathiṃ viddhi manaḥ pragrahameva ca (3.3)
इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुः विषयांस्तेषु गोचरान्
आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः || 3.4 ||
indriyāṇi hayānāhuḥ viṣayāṃsteṣu gocarān
ātmendriyamanoyuktaṃ bhoktetyāhurmanīṣiṇaḥ (3.4)
The idea sought to be presented here is the Ātmā-body relationship. It is same as we have already found in the first verse of Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad, “īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ ….” It also furthers the concept that Ātmā is seated in the heart. It is the duty of Buddhi to guide the chariot by harnessing the horses of the sense organs, using the rein of Manas. The goal obviously is what the master directs. Since the master, the Ātmā, is the origin of everything, he attracts everything to himself; everything is attached to him just as the beads of a rosary (Gīta 7.7). So the final destination of the chariot is Ātmā himself (vide verse 3.11 mentioned below). It goes without saying, that if the rein or the horse is bad, or if the driver is negligent, the goal will not be attained (Verses 5 to 9).
The Ātmā-body relationship is further explored in verses 3.10 and 3.11. Verse 3.10 declares that sense-objects (such as sound, touch, etc.) are superior to (subtler than) senses; Manas is superior to the sense-objects; Buddhi is superior to Manas; that which is superior to Buddhi is ‘Mahān Ātmā’.
What is this Mahān Ātmā? It is the expanding state of Ātmā; mahat indicates that which expands. How is this expanding state like? As a prelude to manifestation of the physical world, Ātmā invokes Prakṛti which is its inalienable power to appear in different forms. With the Prakṛti invoked, Ātmā is known as Puruṣa. This Puruṣa- Prakṛti combine is called Brahma and it is the Brahma that expands and differentiates into various names and forms constituting the universe. Before this expansion starts, the state of Brahma is known as Avyakta (undifferentiated). When the differentiation is in process, it is called ‘Mahān Ātmā’.
From the above explanation, it is evident that Avyakta is superior to Mahān Ātmā (or Mahat) and Puruṣa is superior to Avyakta. Since Puruṣa is Ātmā himself, nothing is superior to Puruṣa. This is the position declared in verse 3.11. This comparison appears again in verses 6.7 and 6.8. Verse 3.11 also declares that this Puruṣa is the ultimate goal. What should one do to achieve that goal? Mṛtyu gives the answer in verse 3.14:
उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान् निबोधत
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत् कवयो वदन्ति || 3.14 ||
uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya varān nibodhata
kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā durgaṃ pathastat kavayo vadanti (3.14)
Meaning: Be awake and be active; approach the learned and get enlightened.
The wise say that the path is very difficult to tread, like the sharp edge of a razor.
‘Be awake and be active’ means that one should first discipline his inner faculties and then strive for getting the necessary instructions. The rest is self-explanatory.
The goal to be achieved is once more highlighted in the next verse. It is a very important verse, as it asserts that, by attaining to Ātmā, one is freed from the mouth of death. See the verse below:
अशब्दमस्पर्शमरूपमव्ययं तथारसं नित्यमगन्धवच्च यत्
अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तंमृत्युमुखात् प्रमुच्यते || 3.15 ||
aśabdamasparśamarūpamavyayaṃ tathārasaṃ nityamagandhavacca yat
anādyanantaṃ mahataḥ paraṃ dhruvaṃ nicāyya taṃmṛtyumukhāt pramucyate (3.15)
Meaning: By attaining to that which is without sound, touch, form, taste and smell, that which is imperishable, eternal, without beginning and end, and that which is superior to Mahat, one escapes from the prowl of death.
The implication is that one who has attained to Ātmā remains untouched by death; he never dies. Attaining to Ātmā means shedding all dualities which are essential features of physical existence; for, Ātmā is without any attributes as clarified in this verse. Even for a person who has attained to Ātmā in this way, the physical body is subject to decay and disintegration, which in common parlance is death. So, what is the justification for the declaration that he escapes death? The inference is therefore that what we consider as death is not the death which Mṛtyu intends here. The verse says that freedom from physical dualities is freedom from death. Conversely, capitulation to dualities is death. This capitulation takes place through the wandering senses to satisfy the Kāma within; Kāma is defined as reinforced attachment (vide Gīta 2.62). Thus, capitulation to dualities becomes capitulation to Kāma. This is the philosophical definition of death and Mṛtyu follows this definition in clarifying the doubt of Nachiketas. These new concepts of death and immortality are continued further in Vallī 4.
In verse 4.1 Mṛtyu declares that senses are intrinsically oriented outwardly and therefore they cognise the physical appearance only, not the inner principle; but, in order to attain to immortality, inward cognition is essential. We find a further clarification in the next verse; please see it here:
पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बालाः ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम्
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह प्रार्थयन्ते || 4.2 ||
parācaḥ kāmānanuyanti bālāḥ te mṛtyoryanti vitatasya pāśam
atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṃ viditvā dhruvamadhruveṣviha na prārthayante (4.2)
Meaning: ‘Inferior minds pursue desires for external objects and get caught up in the wide-spread snare of death; but, the wise recognizing the eternal immortality underlying such ephemeral objects, do not harbour any desires’.
With this declaration, the position that death is capitulation to Kāma has become a settled one; it is also settled that immortality is the opposite of such death and that it is gained by renouncing Kāma. Evidently, Mṛtyu is going forward slowly with his scheme designed for clearing Nachiketas’ doubt.
How can we attain to the said eternal immortality? Is there any special tool for that? No, there is no special tool other than what we already possess. The tool with which the senses cognise the sense objects is verily the tool for cognising immortality also. Obviously, the tool is pure consciousness; this consciousness is capable of taking us beyond the sense objects to the ultimate and immortal entity. (4.3).
Here comes the final, concluding assertion on what constitutes death. See how Mṛtyu does it, in verse 4.10:
यदेवेह तदमुत्र यदमुत्र तदन्विह
मृत्योः मृत्युमाप्नोति इह नानेव पश्यति || 4.10 ||
yadeveha tadamutra yadamutra tadanviha
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyumāpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati (4.10)
Meaning: ‘What is here is the same as what is there and vice versa. (That means, everywhere the same thing exists). He who sees differently meets with death again and again’.
The implied meaning is a re-assertion of what we are by now very familiar with. We know that Kāma overtakes us, if only we see something different from us and desire for it; if we perceive everything as a part of us, everything as belonging to us, then there will not be anything to aspire for; then there will not be any space for Kāma. In other words, when we see things other than us, we covet them, enabling Kāma to strike root in us. This will culminate in our death (death in the philosophical sense mentioned above). So long as we fail to see the unity of existence and continue to see things as separate from us, death occurs to us repeatedly; we go from death to death.
It has been declared above that only the same thing exists everywhere. What is that thing? Mṛtyu answers this question in verses 4.12 and 4.13; that thing is the Puruṣa who rules over both past and future; he is seated in the central part of the body and is only thumb-sized (4.12 and 4.13). The same idea is repeated in verse 6.17 also. The ‘central part’ is a reference to the heart, which we have seen previously as ‘Thalamus’ in modern parlance; ‘thumb-size’ indicates the size of Thalamus. The implications of this seating have been discussed in detail already in 8.1.1 of ‘The Science of Chāndogya Upaniṣad’.
The last verse (15) of this Vallī describes the transformation that happens to the person who gets enlightened; he becomes the Ātmā himself, just as when pure water is poured into pure water, both become identified with each other. That means, he attains immortality; for, Ātmā is immortal. See the verse below:
यथोदकं शुधे शुधमासिक्तं तादृगेव भवति
एवं मुनेर्विजानत आत्मा भवति गौतम || 4.15 ||
yathodakaṃ śudhe śudhamāsiktaṃ tādṛgeva bhavati
evaṃ munervijānata ātmā bhavati gautama (4.15)
Now we enter into the most important Vallī of the Upaniṣad, the Vallī in which the crucial question is finally answered. However, prior to answering the question, the Upaniṣad explores the essential constitution of living beings, in view of the fact that death occurs to such beings only. It is stated that living beings consist of the physical body that is inherently prone to degeneration and Ātmā which supports the body and the life therein; they owe their existence to Ātmā. We see these declarations in verses 5.4 and 5.5, extracted below.
अस्य विस्रंसमानस्य शरीरस्थस्य देहिनः
देहाद्विमुच्यमानस्य किमत्र परिशिष्यत एतद्वै तत् || 5.4 ||
asya visraṃsamānasya śarīrasthasya dehinaḥ
dehādvimucyamānasya kimatra pariśiṣyata etadvai tat (5.4)
प्राणेन नापानेन मर्त्यो जीवति कश्चन
इतरेण तु जीवन्ति यस्मिन्नेतावुपाश्रितौ || 5.5 ||
na prāṇena nāpānena martyo jīvati kaścana
itareṇa tu jīvanti yasminnetāvupāśritau (5.5)
Meaning: 5.4 : Dehin (देहिन्) means that which possesses a deha or body; it is obviously Purua. The verse says thus: that which remains to a Dehin when the body is separated, is that (Ātmā). The implication is that living beings consist of a physical body and the Ātmā supporting life from within, pervading the entire body. We have seen this idea already, in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.7.3 to 3.7.23.
5.5: This verse says that man lives, not because of Prāṇa or Apāna (two functional divisions of the vital energy – breath – which we will study in detail in Praśna Upaniṣad), but because of something else on which these two are dependent. The implication is this: man is ultimately dependent on the power of Ātmā.
Mṛtyu now takes up the question, offering to tell Nachiketas about the eternal Brahma as well as how Ātmā exists when death occurs. He says:
हन्त ते इदं प्रवक्ष्यामि गुह्यं ब्रह्म सनातनम्
यथा मरणं प्राप्य आत्मा भवति गौतम || 5.6 ||
hanta te idaṃ pravakṣyāmi guhyaṃ brahma sanātanam
yathā ca maraṇaṃ prāpya ātmā bhavati gautama (5.6)
In the next verse, his long overdue answer comes. It may be noted that 72 verses have passed since the question was put to him; the Upaniṣad has only a total of 119 verses. In all the verses so far passed, the subject matter was how and why one meets with death and also how and when he can make an escape from death and attain immortality. In all these instructions we have seen that death is perceived as not what we conventionally understand; disintegration of body is not total annihilation, since disintegration is only a change of form and name; that which exists can never cease to exist. That which exists will always be there, only the appearance may change, just as different ornaments successively made of the same ingot of gold. We have also seen that immortality is not the absence of disintegration of physical body. So, it is very important that we should receive the instruction, which Mṛtyu is now going to give, with all this background awareness. Actually, Mṛtyu was enriching the awareness level of Nachiketas through all these 72 verses of instruction so as to make him eligible for receiving the final reply in a higher plane of enlightenment. It is therefore incumbent upon us that we should also receive the ensuing instruction with the same enlightenment which Mṛtyu expected of Nachiketas while instructing him so far. And, what was the reply? Here it is:
योनिमन्ये प्रपद्यन्ते शरीरत्वाय देहिनः
स्थाणुमन्ये ഽनुसंयन्ति यथा कर्म यथा श्रुतम् || 5.7 ||
yonimanye prapadyante śarīratvāya dehinaḥ
nusayanti yathā karma yathā śrutam (5.7)
Meaning: yoni = origin (beginning); anye = another; prapadyante = assume, attain; śarīratva = the state of having a body; śarīratvāya = for the sake of body; dehinaḥ = dehins; sthāṇu = immovable, unchangeable; anusaṃyanti = go towards; yathā karma = according to karma (deed); yathā śrutam = according to what is heard (learnt).
So, the meaning of the verse is this: ‘(After death), some Dehins assume another beginning for the sake of body, while others go towards the unchangeable, in accordance with each one’s karma and knowledge’. We have seen that death is capitulation to Kāma; inferior minds follow the senses under the influence of Kāma and meet with death (verse 4.2). So, in this death, the body is not lost and the Dehin continues to be as such. If, in the light of his acquired knowledge, Dehin learns, from his fall, any lesson regarding the danger of Kāma, he tries to keep away from Kāma and, as a result, gains stability of mind; this would finally take him to the changeless entity, which is Ātmā. This is what is said here as going ‘towards the unchangeable’. Contrarily, if he does not learn any lesson and is not able to defy the calls of bodily pleasures, he opts for another beginning in the same line, finally landing in death’s trap again and again as stated in 4.2. This situation is depicted here as ‘assuming another beginning for the sake of body’.
This is the true meaning which is in conformity with the rational thinking consistently seen in all the Principal Upaniṣads; we have by now had first-hand knowledge on it. As against this rational position, the conventional interpretation of the verse is quite calamitous to the universally acknowledged concept of Ātmā; that interpretation is rather mythological, not in level with the superior wisdom of Upaniṣads. The advocates of this interpretation give the meaning of this verse thus: ‘some Dehins go to wombs for new bodies; others become immovables like trees, according to their karma and knowledge’. It is unfortunate that they ignore even the meaning of the word ‘Dehin’. When the Deha is gone, what is left is Ātmā only; then, we cannot call it Dehin (see 5.4). Since Ātmā is all-pervasive there is no question of it going from some place to another in search of womb; moreover, by the same reason, there cannot be a womb without Ātmā and waiting for it to come. Further, they commit a grave mistake in assuming that ‘sthāṇu’ in the verse is ‘immovable beings like trees’. The word ‘sthāṇu’ means that which is without change; it is Ātmā. In Gīta verse 2.24 Ātmā is described as sthāṇu; does it mean that Ātmā is only something like a tree? Above all, if it is to give this simple, trite, silly answer, Mṛtyu could have given it at the outset itself. Instead, he gave all these instructions on snares of death and on attaining to immortality in long 72 verses. He dissuaded Nachiketas by saying that even the gods do not know the answer and also by offering many enticing gifts. Moreover, it is a well-established principle that Ātmā never gets attached or smeared by anything. We will see this in verse 5.11 below; we see this fact in Gīta verse 13.32. The import of Gīta verses 2.23 and 2.24 is also the same. If Ātmā cannot be smeared by anything, it cannot be affected by the Karma and knowledge of the Dehin. All these make the conventional interpretation unrealistic and untenable.
The doubt raised by Nachiketas is now cleared. But Mṛtyu has in verse 5.6 offered to reveal what the eternal Brahma is. In the next verse he does it.
एष सुप्तेषु जागर्ति कामं कामं पुरुषो निर्मिमाणः
तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते
तस्मिंल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्चन एतद्वै तत् || 5.8 ||
ya eṣa supteṣu jāgarti kāmaṃ kāmaṃ puruṣo nirmimāṇaḥ
tadeva śukraṃ tadbrahma tadevāmṛtamucyate
tasmiṃllokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tadu nātyeti kaścana etadvai tat (5.8)
Meaning: supta= sleeping, inactive; jāgarti= be awake; kāma= desire, wish; nirmimāṇaḥ= making, projecting; śukraṃ= resplendent; śritāḥ= dependent; atyeti= surpass, pass beyond. The verse says: “In the sleeping, inactive thing (Prakṛti), the Puruṣa remains awake and active; he projects thereupon all the objects of desire. This, the Puruṣa and the Prakṛti together, is the resplendent, immortal Brahma. The worlds are dependent on it and nothing surpasses it”. In this connection, please recall the discussion in the previous articles, regarding Brahma and see the convergence of thoughts.
In the next two verses (5.9 and 5.10), Mṛtyu explains how the one and only one Ātmā reflects different forms in different objects. It is just like fire or air acquiring shapes with reference to the objects within which they exist; when air is trapped in a container, its shape is that of the container and, likewise, when fire burns on a small object, it is small in size. In the same manner, the reflection of Ātmā in bodies is limited by their physical periphery. If Ātmā pervades all, what is the meaning in claiming that its reflection in bodies is limited by their physical periphery? The limitation of reflection consists in the peculiar attributes of the respective bodies. For example, in a piece of gold, the reflection pertains to the expression of the various features and qualities of gold; similarly in other things. Verse 5.11 says, as mentioned above, that Ātmā is not smeared by worldly experiences.
Mṛtyu asserts thus in verses 5.12 and 5.13: ‘those who realise that the same Ātmā shines in them and in all others, attain to eternal bliss and peace’. In the next two verses, he declares that Ātmā cannot be pointed out in the manner, “That is this”. It is the one that shines (exists) by itself and others shine (exist) because of it. See how verse 15, the last one of the fifth Vallī elaborates this idea:
तत्र सूर्यो भाति चन्द्रतारकं नेमा विद्युतो भान्ति कुतोഽयमग्निः
तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति || 5.15 ||
na tatra sūryo bhāti na candratārakaṃ nemā vidyuto bhānti kutoyamagni
tameva bh
āntamanubhāti sarva tasya bhāsā sarvamida vibhāti (5.15)
Meaning: ‘No sun, no moon, no stars, no lightning and no fire shine there; it shines on its own and all others shine because of it’. (We see the same verse in 2.2.10 of Muṇḍaka and 6.14 of Śvetāśvatara also).
The next Vallī is the last one of this Upaniṣad. It opens with a depiction of Brahma in a slightly different way compared to what we have seen above in verse 5.8. See the verse below:
ऊर्ध्वमूलोഽवाक्शाख एषोഽश्वत्थः सनातनः
तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते
तस्मिंल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्चन एतद्वै तत् || 6.1 ||
ūrdhvamūlovākśākha eośvattha sanātana
śukra tadbrahma tadevāmtamucyate
llokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tadu nātyeti kaścana etadvai tat (6.1)
Meaning: aśvatthaḥ= holy fig tree. In this verse, Brahma is equated to an Aśvatthaḥ tree whose roots are above and branches are below; this tree is eternal. The rest is same as we have seen in verse 5.8 above. Gīta also says about this tree in verse 15.1 to 15.4 in greater detail. Look at this tree. The mention that its roots are above, gives an indication of the location of its source of strength and support; ‘above’ indicates transcendence. The all-transcendent entity is verily Ātmā; therefore, the tree has its source and support in Ātmā. Branches of a tree subsist due to the roots. Here the root is Ātmā and branches represent Prakṛti. The root and the branches together represent the Brahma as stated in verse 5.8. Gīta 15.2 explains further that the branches of this tree spread upwards also and the roots extend to bottom.
In the remaining verses, Mṛtyu repeats the concept of immortality and discusses aspects of attaining it. Those who realise this all-pervading Ātmā attain immortality (verse 6.2). Everything in this universe is under the control of Ātmā and follows its rules (6.3). Ātmā is the ultimate of all and is beyond the grasp of the senses; those who know it become immortal (6.7 to 6.9, 6.12, 6.13 and 6.18). Since Ātmā is not within the reach of senses, seekers have to rely on other means. They must refrain from going after the senses; instead, they have to control their activities; this control of senses is called yoga. This will take them to realisation of the ever-existing Ātmā (6.11). When one gets rid of all the Kāma within (through this control of the wandering senses) he will become immortal (6.14 and 6.15). Mentioning about the different types of nerves in the ‘Heart,’ verse 6.16 points out the particular nerve that lays down the path to immortality; we have already seen this in detail when we studied verse 8.6.6 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad.
With this, Mṛtyu concludes his discourses. He takes the concepts of death and immortality to a higher, rational plane, befitting the Upaniṣadic tradition.
Bottom of Form