The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter One: Vaishvanara-Vidya

The Self as the Universal Whole (Continued)

"There is no need to pour water and put manure on every leaf of the tree if you want to tend a tree. You have to water the root, that is sufficient. If you want to take care of a huge tree, what do you do? Do you go to the top of the tree and count every leaf and sprinkle manure over it, one by one, water every leaf, every flower, every fruit? No. You concern yourself with the root of the tree, and then you see there is an efflorescence of every part of the tree, automatically. Whatever you have obtained through these discrete forms of meditation, you can obtain at one stroke by a total meditation, which is the meditation on the Vaishvanara-Atman. The root of the Reality is missed by your consciousness. Whoever can conceive in his mind the true Vaishvanara as that which extends from the earth to the heavens, from the heavens to the earth, from the topmost level of manifestation down to the lowest level, missing no link whatsoever, visualises the Whole. If you can see through your mind this extensiveness of manifestation from the highest to the lowest, at once, without missing any part, which means to say, if you can be comprehensive in a universal way in your envisagement of the form of Reality, and if it can be the Atman, the Self at the same time, then what is it that you lack? This is the Vaishvanara-Atman, the All-Self. Whoever can meditate in this manner becomes the Self of every being all at once. One becomes the Self of all the worlds; he becomes the Self of anything that can be anywhere, and he becomes the possessor of the glory of anything that exists anywhere, in any realm, in any form, under any circumstance. This is the secret I let out to you, if you can contemplate in this manner. This is a herculean feat, because the mind cannot think like this. If you slip from the grasp of your mind when you think like this, you will find that the mind falls back upon its old groove of thinking in terms of particulars and externalisation of objects. Who can contemplate the object as non-externalised? Not any human being. But this is what you are supposed to do. All these parts which you have mentioned are various limbs of the Cosmic Body. You have to bring them together and conceive the Whole, at once, in your consciousness. Do not say, 'This is the sun, this is space, this is water,' and all that. Do not think like this. Let all these be thought together, immediately, in their comprehensiveness, without missing any one whatsoever, by feeling oneness with Earth, Water, Sun, Air, Space, Heaven, and everything."

Now, having described the cosmic aspect of the Vaishvanara-Atman as the Supreme Object of meditation, the Upanishad introduces us to an immediate consequence that follows from such meditation. The meditator cannot stand outside this Great Object of meditation. This is very clear. Because of the comprehensiveness of the Object, the Universality of the Vaishvanara-Atman, the meditator has already undergone a transmutation of personality, entered into the bosom of Reality. And whatever one does, then, becomes an action of the Vaishvanara-Atman. This is a very serious consequence that follows from an intense meditation in this manner. Whatever I think becomes the Thought of the Vaishvanara-Atman. Whatever I speak becomes an expression of the Vaishvanara-Atman, and whatever I do becomes Its action. And, then, my actions become a Cosmic Sacrifice, just as the gods thought creation a Universal Sacrifice, as we have it in the Purusha-Sukta. One cannot make a distinction between God's thought and a human being's thought when one meditates in this way. What God thinks and man thinks will then be identical. Thus, the daily activity proceeding from the personality of an individual, in the case of a meditator in the manner mentioned, would be a Cosmic Sacrifice. This is called Prana-agnihotra, the sacred oblation at the Universal Altar of the Fire of the Absolute.

The fact of the organic connection of the individual with the Vaishvanara implies that there are cosmical aspects operating even in the individual, just as everything that is in the ocean is also in the wave, notwithstanding the difference between the crest called the wave and the body which is the ocean. The essential harmony between the individual and the Universal becomes patent when a spiritual investigation is conducted into the essence of the structure of both the individual and the cosmic. So, the meditation by the individual on the cosmic, or the Vaishvanara, means the establishment of an inner coordination and the effectuation of the qualitative non-difference between the meditating principle and the object that is meditated upon. If every function that is going on in the individual is ultimately inseparable from the nature and operation of the Universal, meditation is just the awareness of this fact. There is nothing more to be done in meditation than to raise the consciousness to the fact of this inseparability between cosmic functions and individual functions. Such simple acts as eating, drinking, breathing and working become universally significant. They are not private deeds or individual affairs as they are taken to be. The Upanishad, here, takes us above the ordinary concept of human action and the nature of the individual and abolishes the absurd notion that we entertain usually, namely, that there are such things as individuals, ultimately. The meditation that is prescribed here is of various kinds. One of the specific methods mentioned is that there should be an invocation of universal significance, even during the performance of individual actions.

The specific action that is taken up for discussion here is, what is called in the language of the sacred lore, Prana-agnihotra, or the sacrificial offering to the Universal Fire. The food that we take every day is a holy oblation to the All-pervading Vital Fire. This meditation is Prana-agnihotra. Agnihotra is the consecrated offering into the sacred Fire. Ritualistically or exoterically conceived, this means the daily performance of the yajna, or sacrifice, by a householder. The Upanishad makes out that this agnihotra is perpetually taking place in our own bodies, of which we have to be conscious in our meditation. The external sacrifice ceases to be external any more. Viewing everything from the point of view of the All-inclusive Vaishvanara, the externality of an action ceases forever. There is no such thing as external action, because everything that we regard as external is internal to the Vaishvanara. Hence, even the outward sacrifice, the speech that we utter and the work that we do, etc., outwardly, in the world, cease to be a personal or social affair. They become a spiritual worship, a divine contemplation. The three fires which the householders exoterically worship in their houses are called garhapatya, anvaharyapachana and ahavaniya. These three sacrifices are internally constituted in the individual, in the act of this meditation. The Upanishad tells us that we have to perform a contemplative sacrifice construing the external ritual as an activity that is going on within ourselves. These fires are within the body of the Virat, the Vaishvanara Himself. And, inasmuch as we are inseparable from Vaishvanara, these fires are inside our own Self. So, when we offer food into the mouth, it is not an animal act that we are performing for the satisfaction of the bodily organism, but an ultimate impulse that is arising from the Universal Reality. Hunger is not merely a function of the stomach. It is not the alimentary canal functioning in the body merely. It is something wider than what we are, indicating that we are related to something vaster than what we seem to be from our points of view. In religious language, in scriptural parlance, Vaishvanara is the word used to describe the Ultimate Reality, and also for the fire that digests food. The internal fire that is responsible for the conversion of food into chyle etc., that which is responsible for the absorption of the elements of diet into our system, this inward heat is Vaishvanara. It is not the physical body alone that is working in digestion, because the physical body is visible even in a corpse but there is no such heat there. What has happened to the heat? That heat is not the heat of the physical fire; it is not the heat of any conglomeration of chemical elements in the body. The Upanishad identifies this heat, which is the living force in us, with the Ultimate Reality, called here Vaishvanara, or the Universal Fire, which consumes everything. The five pranas are the external agents of the performance of any action. They are the ambassadors, as it were, of the Ultimate Being. The food that we eat is digested by the action of the pranas. We have five pranas, and so, when taking food, religious people utter mantras saying, "This is to the prana, this is to the apana," etc. This is not merely a ritual unconsciously performed as a routine, but a religious worship. It is a meditation, and we are supposed to be conscious of what we are doing when we consume food. The process of Prana-agnihotra mentioned here is the act of introducing a universal significance into what are apparently individual functions.

The three fires are inside the Universal Being, Vaishvanara. And, again, to repeat, this threefold fire is in us as inseparable from the Vaishvanara. So, when we take a morsel of food what are we to contemplate?

The Five Pranas


The five pranas are like the five tongues of a flaming fire. It is one single force that is working as five different vital energies. So, each tongue of the fire, each flame, is satisfied by the offering of a particular oblation, as it is done in the external sacrifice. Pranaya svaha, is the invocation, which means to say, "May the prana be satisfied." This is to be inwardly recited while eating the first morsel. Here, it is not merely an utterance that is emphasised, but an inward feeling in the real meditation. As every river is connected to the ocean, every prana is connected to the Cosmic Force. Thus, through the prana, we touch the cosmic border and invoke the Universal Being. In this meditation there is an attempt at universal satisfaction, and not merely some individual's pleasure, in the acts of eating, drinking, etc. When the prana is satisfied, the Upanishad says, due to an inward connection, the eyes are satisfied. We feel happy. When we eat food and have a square meal, we feel a satisfaction opening up from the eyes. When the prana is satisfied, the eyes are satisfied. When the eyes are satisfied, the Sun is satisfied, because he is the deity of the eyes. When the Sun is satisfied, the whole atmosphere is satisfied, because he is the presiding deity of the entire atmosphere. If the atmosphere is satisfied, whatever is the support of both the atmosphere and the Sun, is also satisfied, i.e., heaven itself is satisfied, even with the little act of taking food that we perform in a meditative fashion. Then what happens? Then, immediately, there is a reaction produced from the sources which we touch by this act of meditation. The reaction comes in the form of a vibration of happiness, the glow, as it were, from the different quarters of heaven. And, if the quarters of heaven are happy, the winds are happy, the Sun is happy, the whole atmosphere is happy, we are happy, with wealth, lustre, glory, plenty and power, because Vaishvanara is satisfied.


So is the case with every other morsel that we eat. The second morsel that we take in should be for the satisfaction of vyana, the other aspect of energy: Vyanaya svaha, "May vyana, the all-pervading force within me be satisfied," vyana which is responsible for the movement of the blood-stream in the canals, etc. Thus, should one meditate with the next morsel of food. There are internal connections mentioned here, again, mystically. The ears are satisfied when the vyana is satisfied. If the ears are satisfied, everything that is around us in the form of the directions from which sounds come and impinge upon the ears is also satisfied, right up to the moon. Then, as a result, the whole atmosphere and all the directions are satisfied, and then all the causes thereof are also satisfied at once. When the causes are satisfied, the meditator is filled with plenty, prosperity, power and glory, because Vaishvanara is satisfied.


Then the third morsel should be taken for the satisfaction of the apana: Apanaya svaha. When the apana is satisfied, speech is satisfied. When speech is satisfied, fire is satisfied, which is the superintending principle over speech. When fire is satisfied, that which is the source of fire, from which fire arises, the very earth is satisfied. If the earth is satisfied, we are also automatically satisfied. The meditator is filled with plenty and glory, because Vaishvanara is satisfied.


The fourth offering, or the morsel, that we take, should be for the satisfaction of samana: Samanaya svaha. When the samana is satisfied, the mind is satisfied. The samana is the central operating force, and that immediately acts upon the mind. When the mind is satisfied, everything that is connected with the mind, the rain-god and the heavens, are satisfied. When the rain-god is satisfied, the lightnings are also satisfied, higher than the realm of the fall of rain. When the lightnings are satisfied, all things that are the support of all these phenomena are satisfied. Then the meditator is also satisfied and filled with power, plenty and glory, because Vaishvanara is satisfied.


Then, the fifth offering is for the satisfaction of udana: Udanaya svaha. When udana is satisfied, the tactile sense is satisfied. Thereby, its deity, Air, is satisfied. When Air is satisfied, its abode, Sky (Space) is satisfied. When this satisfaction is effected, everything in Air and Space also is satisfied. Then the meditator, with plenty of everything, is satisfied, because Vaishvanara is satisfied. Then nothing remains unsatisfied, because everything is comprehended here.

Thus, the Upanishad point of view is that a rightly conducted human activity, such as the one in the form of the intake of food, with a meditation on the universal implication of one's existence, will touch the corners of creation. And, the satisfaction of the individual, the performer of meditation of this kind, the performer of the Vaishvanara-Agnihotra-Vidya, shall be for the blessedness of all mankind, nay, the whole creation. That is why there is the tradition that the satisfaction that we bring to a person endowed with such knowledge is inclusive of the other lower satisfactions. This is the tradition behind the feeding of learned people, spiritual adepts, etc.; because they are not regarded as human beings in the ordinary sense. They are not consuming food merely for the satisfaction of their bodies. There is a satisfaction implied of other aspects, also, with which they are internally connected due to their knowledge, due to their life, due to their meditation. The man of meditation in this way thinks all things at one stroke of the effort of consciousness. Hence, everything is satisfied by his actions. Thus, there is this technique of Prana-agnihotra prescribed in this Upanishad in the case of a person who is a meditator on the Vaishvanara. The Prana-agnihotra is a religious performance of the one who practices the Vaishvanara-Vidya, one who meditates on the Cosmic Being.