by Swami Krishnananda
There was a great sage called Uddalaka, the son of Aruni. He had only one boy, his son by name Svetaketu. For some reason or the other the father was not in a position to school him, teach him personally or give him instruction. The boy was loitering, running about here and there with children of the neighbourhood, and never knew what study was; what learning was; what education was. The father, one day, called the boy and said: "My dear son, in our family nobody is a Brahmin merely by name. He has to be worth his name, which means to say that he has to be filled with the real knowledge of the Brahmin, and we should not call ourselves so, merely by name in the social sense. You are here a relative of a great man; you need to be a great person. You should not just be in a position to say, "I am the friend of so-and-so, I am the son of such-and-such a father." You should also be equal inside. So, you must go to a gurukula and study, and then come back." Aum svetaketur ha'runeya asa, tam ha pitovaca: svetaketo, vasa brahmacaryam: "Be a student." Here, brahmacharya means the role of a student in a gurukula. Na vai, saumya, asmat-kulino' nanucya brahma-bandhur iva bhavatiti.
The boy was sent. The boy went to a gurukula for study and he underwent the whole course of education. He was twelve years old when he went from the house of the father. When he returned after education he was twenty-four years old. So, he studied for twelve years. He studied all the Vedas, all the Shastras, all the scriptures, and there was practically nothing religious which he had not learnt. Now, this learning had some other effect also, that of swelling up the head of this boy with an immense pride. He began to feel that nobody was equal to him in learning; that he knew all things, was almost omniscient. So, when he came, at the age of twenty-four, to the father at home, he would not speak because of the learning that was in his head. He was very dignified looking and sat without uttering a word even to the father. He started behaving very conceitedly. He did not utter one word because of the so-called depth of his knowledge. The father observed what had happened to his son. He does not speak; he sits arrogantly; he is very proud; he is puffed up with learning and he thinks he knows everything. It is very strange indeed. So, having observed this, the father calls the boy one day and says: "You don't speak, you seem to be very learned and you put up a very arrogant appearance; I can't understand what it means. Have you learnt everything from your Guru, which makes you feel that you know everything and are now so full of pride? Do you know everything, have you studied everything?"
"Do you know That, by knowing which, everything is known? Do you know That, by which the unheard becomes heard, the unthought becomes thought?" Yenasrutam srutam bhavati, amatam matam, avijnatam vijnatam iti: "Has your Guru, or the preceptor from whom you have studied the four Vedas, taught you these secrets by which things which are not heard of, are heard, things which cannot be thought of, are thought of, that which cannot be understood, is understood? There is something by knowing which everything can be known. Have you heard of this? Have your teachers imparted this knowledge to you?" Very strange indeed! The boy had never heard of such things-how can an unheard thing, be heard; an unthought thing, be thought; an ununderstood thing, be understood? This is not in the Vedas or the Shastras; nowhere is anything mentioned of it. Katham nu, bhagavah, sa adeso bhavatiti: The boy says: "What is this? I do not know. I have never been taught this thing." He is humbled a little bit. So, there is something he does not know. "If you have never heard of a thing, how can you hear of it? If you can never think of a thing, how can you think of it? And if it cannot be understood at all, how can it be understood?" "But there is a way," says the father. "There is a way by which you can execute this feat of knowing everything, even if it cannot be known normally. Supersensory things can be known and everything can be known by the knowledge of a single thing." The father puts this question to the boy, but the boy knows nothing about this. "How is it possible?" the boy queries the father. "What is the meaning of this question? How is it possible for one to know, in this manner?" "Well; I give you an example of how it is possible." Without going into the details of the subject, the father gives only an example, an analogy of how such a thing is possible.
"If you know what earth is made of, you also know at the same time what anything that is made of earth also is made of, because all the articles that are manufactured out of earth are constituted of earth essentially. So, I give you an example of how many things can be known by the knowledge of one thing. Pot, tumbler, plate, etc., and various articles of this kind manufactured out of clay are clay only, in reality. So, if you know what clay is, you know what a clay tumbler is, a clay plate is, a clay glass is, etc. Do you understand what I say? Yes! Because they are only shapes taken by that substance called clay. And, what you mean by an earthen pot is only a name that you have given to a shape taken by the earth."
"So is the case with certain other things. You take a nugget of gold, and you know a nugget of gold can be cast into various shapes of ornaments. It can be a necklace; it can be a ring; it can be anything. Now, if you know what gold is really, what gold is made of essentially, you will also know what a gold necklace is made of, what a gold ring is made of, etc., because the gold ring, gold necklace and the like are gold only in their essence. These are only shapes, forms taken by the essence which is the substance, gold.
"If you take a pair of scissors, for instance, made of iron, you know what it is made of. It is made of iron. Then you would also know what anything else made of iron is. It may be a hammer; it may be a nail; it may be an axe; it does not matter what it is, all these things are the shapes taken by the same iron which is in the pair of scissors.
"Now, this earthen pot is a very strange thing, altogether. The earthen pot is a name that you have given to a shape taken by the earth. There is no such thing as a pot, really speaking. You touch a pot and tell me whether you are touching a pot or are touching clay. What are you touching? You cannot say what you are touching. You will say, 'Well; it is difficult for me to say if I am touching the pot or have touched the clay.' You are touching the clay and you say you are touching the pot. The pot is in your head; it is not outside. What is there is really the clay. Your conception, your thought is that the substance is clay only. The interference of space and time in the substance called earth is responsible for this peculiar shape that it has taken. So, the pot made of earth is only a name, a sound merely. You are only uttering some words indicating a shape taken by the earth which is its substance. So, what do you mean by the shape taken by the earth? What is shape? You cannot understand what shape also is. The shape also is earth itself. You are interfering with the substance called the earth by your notional interpretation of its connection with space and time. So, the earthen pot is nothing but a conceptual interpretation that you are introducing into the substance that is called clay. There is no such thing as pot; it does not exist. Yet, you have coined two words. On one side there is the word called clay, on the other side there is the word called pot. Now, you have got two names indicating one and the same thing. Now, why should you have two names if the substance is only one? Yatha, saumya, ekena mrt-pindena sarvam mrnmayam vijnatam syat vacarambhanam vikaro namadheyam, mrttikety eva satyam: You are under an illusion of perception. You are confounded in your notion of the substance. There is a mistake that you commit in your interpretation of reality when you say, 'There is a pot.' The pot does not exist; what exists there is only the clay. And what you call the pot is only a concept in your mind. So is the case with everything else in this world," says Uddalaka Aruneya to his son Svetaketu.
The illustrations provided by the sage Uddalaka make out that object forms are inseparable from concepts in the mind. If they had not been organically involved in the mind of the perceiver, they would be objectively existent and could be physically sensed by the organs of perception.
Now, in this analogy of the pot, an effect of a substance, namely, clay-the pot-when properly analysed is known to contain no element apart from the clay in spite of the fact that people go around saying that there is a pot. It is very strange indeed that there is no pot there and yet we say that there is a pot. Are we under an illusion? Is it true that every human being is equally misconceived in the perception of things? Or do we give names to things for the sake of convenience in social life? Now, mere practical utilitarian convenience cannot be regarded as an objective reality. If we give names to things only to distinguish their form, one from the other, for the purpose of practical life in the world, that would not sanction a philosophical or even a scientific existence to the counterparts of these names. We must accept that we are only giving names for the purpose of our notional convenience in work-a-day life, and that there are no corresponding objects. If this is a fact, diversities cease to be at one stroke. It will imply that all the varieties that you see in this world are mere nomenclature. They are a jumble of ideas expressed in language, the ideas having got concretised into apparent realities, as if they are really there and are trying to pounce upon us like hobgoblins.
The variety of things, the diversity of objects and the multitudinousness that this world is apparently, is not really there. If it is true that a substance, when converted into a shape or a form called the effect, does not introduce into the effect anything new other than what was contained in itself alone; if clay is there in the pot and nothing else is there in the pot, it would be pointless to call that shape as a pot. We have unnecessarily created trouble by calling a particular form of clay by another name. We can call the same mass of clay by a third or a fourth name like tumbler, plate and so on. So we have created a variety in our minds while variety is not really there.
This is the philosophical conclusion that automatically follows on a careful investigation into the nature of the creation of variety in respect of the effects that are manufactured out of causes while the causes are uniform in their nature, ultimately. This is the outcome of the analysis of what Uddalaka mentioned in very plain, simple language to the boy Svetaketu.
As is the case with clay in its relation to the effects produced out of it, so is the case with everything else in this world out of which effects are produced, whatever the causes may be—iron, gold, wood or anything for the matter of that. The boy could not understand the significance of this teaching. Well, it is very clear. We do understand what they say, but it is terrifying. It seems to shake the very foundation of our belief in the world, and it appears that we cannot exist at all, if this is the truth. "My Gurus did not appear to have understood all these things. They never taught me these things," says the boy to the father.
"If they had known this, why should they have not told this to me? I have never heard these things up to this time. I have studied the four Vedas, I have studied the Shastras, but nothing of this kind was heard from any quarter. What is this? Will you kindly explain, holy father?" He is now also the Guru of Svetaketu. The father says, "Well, listen. I shall explain to you what all this mystery is about."