The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter One: Vaishvanara-Vidya

The Course of the Soul After Death (Continued)

A mystery in this connection is mentioned here. What is our connection with these higher regions of the world? The higher regions are, in fact, not unconnected with us. The shining of the sun or the moon, the twinkling of the stars, or the blowing of the wind—all these phenomena are vitally connected with our own life here. They are not just something taking place somewhere erratically, as if they have nothing to do with anyone. Our life is related to every phenomenon outside, and vice versa. While our way of living has something to do with the activity of the world outside, our life is also dependent on that activity. There is a mutual dependence between the outer world and the inner life of the individual. Our thoughts influence the atmosphere. Many a time we must have heard people saying, "These days people are very bad; so there is no rainfall." What is the connection between rainfall and the goodness or the badness of people? Practically, it is difficult to understand the connection, but the connection becomes obvious and patent when we realise that thoughts and modes of living are vibrations that we set up around us. It is not some isolated activity taking place within our heads. When we think, we do not privately think inside our skulls; it is a vibration that we create in us. And the vibration of a person is not confined merely to the physical body; it emanates like an aura to a certain distance from the body of the person. The distance to which the aura goes depends upon the intensity of the aura, or the intensity of the thoughts, or the force of the vibration. This is the principle behind the advice that we must have the company of good people and not of bad people, etc., because vibrations interact. We can be influenced by the atmosphere around us. There is a vibration that is generated within every person whenever a thought occurs. Whenever we think something, whenever we feel something deeply, even when we speak something, there is a vibration generated because we do not speak without thinking. There is a thought behind every action or speech. Naturally, if we take into consideration the cumulative effect of the vibrations produced by all the individuals in the world, we can also contemplate the effect of the vibrations they produce. They disturb the whole atmosphere; they create a magnetic field in the atmospheric realm. And the total effect of the psychic influences set up by the individuals in the world naturally influences the conditions of the manifestation of natural forces. We can obstruct their movement; we can impede their activity; we can interfere with their natural way of working, and so on.

Based on this concept of the relationship of our life with the activity of Nature outside, the Upanishad tells us that our actions are like an oblation offered in a sacrifice. Our activities are not mere impotent movements of the physical body or the limbs; they are effective interferences in the way of Nature. When we pour ghee or charu into the flaming fire in a sacrifice, we are naturally modifying the nature of the burning of the fire. Much depends on what we pour into it. If we throw mud into it, well, something, indeed, happens to the fire. If we pour ghee into it, something else happens. So, likewise, is the activity of the human being or, for the matter of that, any other being. The interference by a human activity in the working of Nature is an important point to consider in the performance of the sacrifice. If we coordinate ourselves and cooperate with the activity of Nature, it becomes a yajna, but if we interfere with it and adversely affect its normal function, it will also set up a reaction of a similar character. Then, we would be the losers.

Every action produces an effect, called apurva, that occurs in the process of the thought that underlies it. Actions are not merely unconnected physical movements of the body; they are vibrations, as we have observed. Every vibration impinges upon its atmosphere. It has an effect produced in the environment, and this subtle effect that the action produces, invisible to the eyes though, is called the apurva. It is something newly produced; it is not already there. So, this newly produced effect, the consequence of an action that we perform, is the apurva. Now, this apurva, or the effect of our actions, has something to do with us. We are the causes. As we are the causes of this apurva, or the effect of the actions, we would be the reapers of the fruit of these actions. So the apurva, or the result of the actions, becomes the determining factor of what would happen to us even after we depart from this world. Sometimes its effect is felt in this very life. If our actions are very intense, either good or bad, the results are experienced in this life itself; if they are mild, they materialise in a later life. We offer our actions as oblations in this sacrifice of natural phenomena.

In this universal sacrifice of which the celestial region is the fire and the sun is the fuel, etc., as mentioned above, we also contribute a part; we play an important role, and that is the performance of the actions. There is a grand effect that is produced out of the performance of this sacrifice. Generally, a yajna, or a sacrifice is supposed to be an invocation of a god, or a deity. When we say, Indraya svaha, we mean that we invoke Indra. Reciting Suryaya svaha, Agnaye svaha, etc., we offer oblations calling the attention of these particular deities in some manner. In this sacrifice of our actions, in this life, which we offer into the great fire of the world itself, naturally, an invocation is made. We call out certain effects, we elicit certain reactions and we invite certain experiences when we perform actions. So, our actions in this world are exactly like the offering of oblations in a sacrifice for the purpose of invoking a god, or a deity. We are inviting something, invoking something, calling the attention of something for the purpose of experiencing it when we perform an action. If the action is properly conducted it is in harmony with the natural setup of the whole sacrifice, and then the god is seen, and then we are blessed with a new type of body which is indicated here by the word soma-raja, a body which is nectarine in character, not merely the physical body made of the elements of earth, water, fire etc., but a body which is fit enough to experience the delights of the higher world, which are invoked into action by the performance of the deeds. This is how a person performing virtuous acts, holy deeds and charities, etc. in this world rises up to the higher world after death, and experiences the consequences of the actions until the time when the momentum of these actions is exhausted, even as we thrive well in this world financially as long as our bank balance is sound, but when it is exhausted we become paupers. We come back and we have to work hard again to fill the bank balance, so that we may enjoy life afterwards.

Something like this happens in the case of our actions. Every action has a beginning and an end; it is temporal, it has a destructible body, it is not eternal. Because it has a beginning, it must have an end. So the character of the actions, the nature of the actions, the intensity of the actions determines the extent of the consequences thereof, and when we, thus, go to the higher realm and come back, there is what we call rebirth.

The whole point of this description in the context of the Panchagni-Vidya is to tell us how births take place; what are the stages of the descent of the soul into the physical embodiment which it puts on when it comes to this world. The whole of this description is symbolic; it is very difficult to understand it with a casual reading. The teaching is not to be taken literally in a purely grammatical sense, word by word, in its outer meaning. It is highly esoteric in its technique, and the point made out is that the higher realms are activated by the consequences produced by our actions here, and those consequences of actions themselves become the causes of our descent, later, in the reverse order.

"Parjanya is, indeed, the Fire, O Gautama. Of that, the Wind is the fuel, the Cloud is the smoke, the Lightning is the flame, the Thunderbolt is the embers, and the rumblings of Thunder are the sparks.

"Into this Fire, the gods offer the oblation of King Soma. Out of that oblation, arises rain."

The next stage of the descent is a realm which is symbolically represented here as the world of Parjanya, or the god of rain. The rain-god represents the region below, grosser than the higher regions or the heavens, or the "Yonder World" mentioned earlier. That gets stirred into activity, further on. That, again, is to be contemplated upon as a sacrifice. When rain falls, it is not merely some isolated event that takes place, somewhere. Rainfall is not an unconnected activity; it is also a universal phenomenon. Many factors go to play their roles in the production of rain. There is a vibration in the higher realm first, and, as mentioned, these vibrations are, to some extent, influenced by our own deeds here. So, whether there is a good rainfall or not has something to do with how we live in this world. This is also an interesting thing for us to understand. It is not merely something erratic that is taking place, unconcerned with what we are doing here. The lower realms, which are concerned with the production of rain, are also to be contemplated upon as a sacrifice. Every stage of development is a sacrifice—it is a meditation. Every process of descent, and every process of ascent is a meditation for the Upanishad.

The principle of rainfall, we may call it the rain-god, Parjanya, is the fire in the sacrifice. The fire is stirred into action by vayu, the wind that blows. We consider the wind as the fuel which ignites the fire of this sacrifice. When there is such a stimulation taking place in the atmosphere, clouds are formed. As smoke rises from the fire of a sacrifice, as an effect of the flaming force of the fire, the clouds, abhram, forming themselves into a thick layer are the effect of this internal activity of the atmosphere by the action of the wind etc. in a particular direction. The clouds are the smoke of this sacrifice. The brilliance of the flames in this sacrifice is the flashing forth of the lightning, vidyut, through the clouds. We know how bright the flames are in a sacrificial altar. We have to contemplate here, in the context of rainfall, the flashing of the lightning as the blazing of the brilliance of the flames of the fire. The clap of the thunders may be compared to the embers remaining after the subsidence of the flames in a sacrifice. The rumblings of the clouds after a heavy rain, the slowed or mellowed down sounds we hear later on in various directions, are the sparks, as it were, of this fire. We hear a little sound coming from all the quarters, or the horizons in the sky, when the rain stops and the clouds are slowly scudding. This is a contemplation that we can effect in our own minds. This is a spiritual meditation because the region of rainfall is stirred into action by the vibrations that take place earlier in a higher plane. Rain is the cause of all foodstuff. That point is being mentioned now for the intended purpose.

In this fire, the contemplative sacrifice of rainfall, gods offer the oblation of their action. The bhuta-sukshma, as they are called, or the subtle elementary potencies, are the Soma-raja, or King Soma, mentioned here. These are all difficult terms to translate and more difficult to understand. They have a highly esoteric meaning; they are not exactly as they appear on the surface. The subtle potencies which our actions produced get mixed up with the elemental potencies called tanmatrasshabda (sound), sparsa (touch), rupa (colour), rasa (taste), gandha (smell). And then it is that we get involved in the higher realms; we get vitally connected with our actions for reasons obvious, and our actions are related to the consequences they produce—apurva. The apurva gets mixed up with the elemental subtle forces called tanmatras, and so we are involved in the tanmatras in this manner. Then it is that we are taken up to the higher realm by the rocket-like force exerted by our actions which takes us up into the higher realm after we depart from this world. These actions, these effects of actions, these vibrations that these consequences of actions produce, are a great drama indeed that takes place in the heaven. There is a cycle, as it were, a wheel rotating in the form of give-and-take between the gods in the heaven and the human beings here. We give something and we are given back something. Nature gives us what we give to it in the form of our own deeds in this world. We do not get what we do not deserve, and we cannot get, also, what we have not given actually. What we have given, what we have deserved, what we have parted with in the form of a sacrifice, that is given back to us, with compound interest sometimes, according to the law of Nature. On account of this cyclic activity of Nature, in which the individuals get involved through their actions, there is rainfall. So, we can imagine how rains occur.

The event does not happen independently somewhere in the sky. We are also connected with that action of Nature which is called the fall of rain, or even the absence of rain. Unless there is a harmonious give-and-take understanding between us and Nature, Nature will not give anything to us. If we are too greedy, miserly and selfish, well, everything will be withheld from us. The earth will withdraw her forces. And in the Puranas we are told that the earth, which is compared to a sacred cow, withdraws her milk and does not allow men to drink a drop of the milk of her giving, when they are so selfish, self-centred and absolutely averse to the virtue of giving or sharing with others. It is then that we notice an adverse action in the field of Nature. And then there is drought; there is poverty; there is catastrophe; sometimes there can be cataclysm also, as the case may be. So, the rainfall, which is the cause of the production of food in this world, is not a chance action taking place in Nature, but one of the important links in the cyclic chain of give-and-take, or coordination and cooperation between the individuals and the whole of Nature.

"The Earth is, indeed, the Fire, O Gautama. Of that, the Year is the fuel, the Sky is the smoke, the Night is the flame, the Quarters are the embers, the Intermediary Quarters are the sparks.

"Into this Fire, the gods offer the oblation of rain. Out of that oblation, arises food."

Rain falls on this earth. The earth, as the fire, is itself an object of meditation. We contemplate the whole earth as the fire in another stage of the Cosmic Sacrifice. The earth is a sacrificial fire. The productive capacity of the earth depends upon another factor, viz., the cyclic changes produced by the process of time. The time factor has an important part to play here. What we call time, of course, for the purpose of our understanding, may be compared to the effect produced by the rotation of the earth on its axis and the revolution of the earth round the sun, and the effect that the sun produces, consequently, upon the earth. This is the essence of time for us, and this is what is called the samvatsara, or the year in popular style. The year is the time factor involved in the capacity of the earth to produce foodstuff. And because it is the inciting factor in the production of foodstuff in the world, it is called samit, or fuel, for it is what causes the blazing of the fire of the sacrifice. How do we contemplate, then? Just as smoke rises up from the fire, we contemplate the whole sky as if it is a dome that is rising from the earth. When we look up, it appears as if the sky is rising dome-like above the earth, and we may contemplate as if it is a smoke rising from the fire of the earth. And, as flames rise from the fire in a sacrifice, the fire is the cause of the rise of the flame, the particular phenomenon called night—we may include the day also together with it because the two are the obverse and the reverse of the same coin—is the result of a particular activity of the earth. We know why there is night and why there is day. This happens because the earth does something. Inasmuch as earth is the cause of the event called night and day, even as the fire is the cause of the rising of the flame, in this contemplation we are to regard the night and day phenomena as the flame of the fire in the sacrifice. The quarters are the embers, because they are calm and quiet, undisturbed as it were, by the movements that take place in the world. When we look at the horizon, we feel a sense of calmness, as if the earth is not touching it. So, it is the subsidence of activity, like the embers after the flame subsides. Like sparks from the fire, which move in different directions, we have the intermediary quarters of the heavens which are in different directions, which are to be contemplated as if they are sparks in the sacrifice. The intermediary quarters are of lesser importance and, therefore, they are called the sparks.

Here, on this earth, rain falls by the activity of the gods. The gods are the presiding deities of the senses. There is connection between our sense-activity and the gods in heaven. In this offering of the great sacrifice, contemplatively conceived here by this process of the fall of rain, there is a productivity created in the earth and foodstuffs are produced, for another purpose, which will be mentioned further on.

Continued