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The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter Two: Uddalaka's Teaching Concerning the Oneness of the Self

Section 8: Concerning Sleep, Hunger, Thirst and Dying

  1. Uddalako harunih svetaketum putram uvaca, svapnantam me, saumya, vijanihiti, yatraitat purushah svapiti nama, sata, saumya, tada sampanno bhavati svam apito bhavati, tasmadenam svapitity-acakshate svam he apito bhavati.

Now, there are greater secrets in a person than the food that is eaten. We are not merely food, or water, or fire. There is something very interesting in us, something which one cannot understand, ordinarily. Every day you go to sleep, you dream, you wake up. Why does this happen? This is something quite different from the subject of food. You have some other element in you more than the food you take. You have some essential root of your personality, which is the deeper side of your nature, whose various functions are waking, dreaming and sleeping. What happens to you when you sleep? Do you know that? You cannot easily say what happens to you in sleep, nor why you sleep. Listen to me now. I shall tell you something about this interesting secret. When a person is in the condition of sleep, in Sanskrit we say, svapiti, "He sleeps".

Here is a linguistic interpretation of the word svapna, describing what sleep actually means. The etymological meaning of the term svapiti—'one sleeps', is that 'one goes', or 'reaches' sva, i.e., the self. One word sva connotes one's own being or essential nature. What is made out, thus, is that one gets absorbed into oneself in sleep. You become yourself in sleep; that is why there is no consciousness of anything external, then. Sata saumya tada sampanno bhavati: One gets absorbed into the true being that one is. But, in other conditions, i.e., waking, etc., one gets drawn out of the true being that one is, into its other aspects which are external, such as physical being. In sleep, you get into yourself, you enter yourself, you become yourself, and know nothing but yourself. This is sleep. You have withdrawn yourself from all outside connections and relationships. Now, why does this happen? What makes you go to sleep? Who compels you to enter into the state of sleep?

A theory is promulgated here by means of an analogy, or comparison. Suppose that there is a bird whose legs are tied with a thread to a peg on the earth and that thread is fairly long, and the bird flies. How far can it fly? It can fly only to the extent of the length of the thread with which it is tied with its legs to the peg in the ground. So, it goes here, there, flying in different directions, but it cannot go beyond the limitation of the thread. It goes in search of freedom, but it cannot find it, because its movement is restricted. After moving from place to place in different directions throughout the day, it gets exhausted of this activity and returns to the place where its legs are tied. It is controlled by something of which it may not be even aware. Not knowing this, it searches for freedom outside. This is what your mind does daily. It is tethered to a peg which is the root of your being. But it does not know this fact. So it goes out flying like a bird in all directions in the outward world, seeking happiness and freedom. It does not find any such thing there. It does not get what it longs for. The whole day it works, from morning till evening, in search of that which it wants. But, it does not find it anywhere. Then it gets tired of all activity, and is withdrawn into that from which it arose, to which it really belongs, of which it is a real expression, and from which it is inseparable.

Then, what happens to you? In the daytime you are, verily, other than what you are. You are then artificial, alienated from your being and, therefore, restless in your mind. Like the bird that jumps from place to place, the mind flits from object to object. It has lost its moorings and it does not know where to stand. But how far can it go on like this? It gets exhausted some time or the other, and returns to the source. The mind withdraws itself every day due to the exhaustion of its activity, which is the consequence of its search vainly for the freedom that it cannot find in the outer world. This example is cited now.

  1. Sa yatha sakunih sutrena prabaddho disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva bandhanam evopasrayate, evam eva khalu, saumya tan mano disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva pranam evopasrayate prana bandhanam hi, saumya, mana iti.

You have no support anywhere in this world, except your own self, as the peg is the resting place of the bird in the illustration. But, this is a point which nobody can remember. You seek support outside, and so go on working hard every day to come in contact with things external, thinking that your support is outside, but it is not there! You can not find a final support anywhere in the world. Everybody is sick of you, in fact, wherever you go. Then what happens? Your experiment fails and you go back to your home, because nobody really wants you. There is the home which you enter after realising the truth of things. "I have searched and searched with the help of friends and so-called supports. I have found nothing anywhere; I go back to my own home." This is what you do when you retire to sleep, but you do not properly get educated by the phenomenon. You do not know why you are exhausted in life. If you had known the reason for this occurrence, you would have learnt a lesson from this futile experiment of earthly pursuits. The understanding is not there; there is only an exhaustion and a fatigue, the cause of which is never realised. So, every day you make the same mistake and every day you go back home crying in the same way. "This is the sleep that you undergo," says the father to the son. You go to the being that you are, instead of searching for support in the non-being that is 'the outside'. Pranabandhanam hi, saumya, mana iti: The mind is rooted in true being which is your essential nature, which you enter in sleep. That is sleep—that is your basic substance.

  1. Asana-pipase me, saumya, vijanihiti yatraitat puruso asishati nama, apa eva tad asitam nayante: tad yatha gonayo svanayah purushanaya iti, evam tad apa acakshate asanayeti, tatraitacchungam utpatitam, saumya, vija nihi, nedam amulam bhavishyatiti.

Why are you hungry, and why are you thirsty? This, again, is the action of the three elements in your body. We said there are three primordial features of reality manifest as fire, water and earth. They are functioning in the body in some way. Because of the action of these three elements in the body, you are hungry and thirsty. What is this hunger, and what is this thirst? "Now, my dear boy, listen to me again. I shall explain what is hunger and what is thirst." You go on pouring food, gross items, articles of diet into your stomach, but, even then, you are hungry after some time. Why? The water element liquefies the physical food, draws the essence of it inward, and exhausts the contents of the food that you have taken. So you feel hungry again, in spite of your having eaten food. The water principle draws the gross food into itself. Food dissolves in the water principle and, then, naturally, the food is exhausted and so you feel the need for it again. This is how there is hunger. In Sanskrit, asanaya is 'hunger'. Why do you call hunger as asanaya? Because, water carries (naya) food (asa) and causes hunger (asanaya). A person who leads cows is called gonaya, one who drives horses is called asvanaya, he who is a leader of men is called purusanaya. Like that, water is called asanaya, because it leads food to its proper place. From the body which is the effect, try to know its source, which is water. There is no effect without a cause.

  1. Tasya kva mulam syad anyatrannat, evam evakhalu saumya annena sungenapo mulam anviccha adbhih saumya sungena tejo mulam anvichha, tejasa saumya sungena san mulam anvichha, san mulah saumya imah sarvah prajah sad-ayatanah, satpratisthah.
  2. Atha yatraitat purushah pipasati nama teja eva tat pitam nayate, tad-yatha gonayo-asvanayah purushanaya ityevam tat-teja achashta udanyeti tatraitad-eva sungam utpatitam saumya vijanihi nedam amulam bhavishyati iti.

"This absorption of the food into the water element inside your body is an indication that some subtle force is working in you, other than the mere working of the alimentary canal in your physical body. There are subtler forces. So from the effect you go to the cause," says the teacher. "If the food is dissolved by water and drawn further inward by the action of water and due to it you feel hungry, even so you feel thirsty for another reason. The water is absorbed or dried up by the fire principle in your system. The fire draws into itself the water principle and then you begin to feel thirsty. The water principle goes into the fire principle. So, finally what remains is a heat in the system and energy that is generated on account of the food that you eat. So what is the heat? It is the heat of fire—in other words, the energy that you acquire due to the consumption of food. When food is dissolved by water, and water is absorbed by fire, it is converted into energy in the system. That is why you feel strong when you take food, and that is also the reason why you feel hungry and thirsty later on."

By way of the analysis of the constituents of the individual, it has thus been pointed out by Uddalaka, the sage, that everything in this personality is made up of the essence of the three elements—fire, water and earth. And what we call hunger is nothing but the dissolution of the physical food by the element of water and the absorption of it into the system. What you call thirst is similarly the absorption of the water element in the system by the fire principle within us. The effect is consumed by the cause and is absorbed into its own self. This process continues until all effects are absorbed into the final cause of all things, where they abide absolutely and completely.

  1. Tasya kva mulam syad anyatra adbhyah, adbhih, saumya, sungena tejo mulam anviccha, tejasa, saumya sungena sanmulam anviccha san mulah saumya imah sarvah prajah sadayatanah, satpratishtha yatha nu khalu, saumya imas-tisro devatah purusam prapya trivrt-trivrdekaika bhavati, tad-uktam purastad-eva bhavati, asya saumya purusasya prayato vang manasi sampadyate, manah prane pranas-tejasi, tejah parasyam devatayam.

What is the ultimate cause? The cause ultimate can only be that which is not absorbed into a higher cause. The absorption process ceases when the ultimate cause is reached. The grosser forms get absorbed into the subtler ones, and the subtler ones reach the causal state, the so-called ultimate cause from the empirical point of view. This ultimate cause dissolves in the Absolute. There, everything comes to a cessation. The individuality gets dissolved, as it were. It gets tuned up to the ultimate Reality. So, there is an absorption of the grosser element of the earth into the water element, the water element into the fire element and the fire element into the ultimate Reality which is called Sat, pure Being. It is the origin of all things from which the multiplicity appears to proceed through the instrumentality of this triplicated structure of the universe, the constituents of which are fire, water and earth. Everything, ultimately, is rooted in Being. This is what Uddalaka makes out.

San-mulam anviccha: If we find out and discover the cause of everything in pure Being, we will not find the ultimate cause of anything in any other thing, except in that Being, pure and simple, in which the effects are rooted in an undistinguishable manner. Imah sarvah prajah sadayatanah: All this variety of creation is rooted in Being which is incapable of further absorption into any higher cause, because nothing can be greater than Being. Everything is an effect of It. Everything is an expression of It, but It Itself is not an expression of anything else. The generality of existence that is behind the particularity of objects is what is called Sat or Satta. Sometimes, it is known as Satta samanya, general Being in all created objects which is their essence. Every particular can be resolved into this causeless cause. Just as the varieties of furniture can be resolved into the cause which is the wood, so is the case with any other manufactured object. There is a tendency of every effect to return into its cause. This is what we call the evolutionary process. It is impossible for the effect to rest in itself, because of the pull exerted by the cause. This pull is invisibly felt and inexorably exercised universally everywhere, in all creation, in respect of every object whatever it may be, organic or inorganic. And so nothing can have any peace in this world. Everything is restless, everything moves, everything is tense and everything has an objective transcending itself. That is why there is such endless activity going on in the world, in every field of life. Everything tries to overcome its own limitations and to entertain higher and higher objectives, until it reaches the pure Being. The very aspiration to become something else, to transcend one's self, to become better and to move towards something greater, is because of the limitedness, the finitude of things. This itself is a pointer to the existence of a cause beyond themselves. If there is no cause beyond an effect, there would be no motion of the effect towards something else, and there will be no feeling of finitude. There would be no aspiration, no desire whatsoever, and no activity at all.

So, this is the philosophical background to which our mind is driven through the analogical explanations of Sage Uddalaka, when he says that the earth element goes back into the water element, the water element into the fire element, and the fire element into that pure Being, the causeless cause of all things. Sarvah prajah sadayatanah: Everything is having Being as its abode and everything is rooted in Being. Everything is established in It, as the branches of a tree are supported by the trunk and are dependent on it. The trunk again is dependent on the root, and the root on the seed which contains all this variety. The magnificent expanse of the tree is hidden in that little insignificant thing which we call the seed. We have already explained how the three elements get mixed up in certain proportions called trivritkarana and come to constitute both the objective universe as well as the subjective body of an individual.

Now this subtlety of things, this essence of things, this background of all objects and this invisible Cause that is transcendent and is behind all the variety of particulars, is the Self of all beings. This is the Atman of all things and everything in this world has this as its Self. Everything is moving towards the Self of itself. Where do we move? We move towards our Self. We do not move towards something else, some other object. So, even the so-called evolution is not a movement towards something else. It is a movement towards the very Self of that which is moving.

The whole difficulty is to locate where that Self is. Is It inside or outside, is It in me or in you, or is It somewhere else? This is a point which will be discussed in the next chapter of this Upanishad. This movement of the world and the tendency of things to move, the whole process of the absorption of the effect into the cause, is ultimately an indication that everything is pulled by the Self towards Itself. The subtlest of all things is the Being, pure and simple, and this Being which we call Sat is also the Atman of all things. There is a hint given here as to where the Self is, though it is not pointedly explained as to where It is. You have already been told as to where Being is, and now the Being is identified with the Atman, the Self. So naturally where Being is, there Self also has to be. And we have already said that the Sat, the pure Being, is the Sattasamanya, and therefore, it must be everywhere. So the Self is everywhere. Now, where is it that you are going when you are pulled by the Self towards Itself? What is it that pulls you, which object? Everything pulls you from every side. So it is not an entry of one thing into another thing, not even of the individual into the cosmic. It is not anything internal in an empirical sense, internal in the sense of something being inside another thing physically. It is a metaphysical internality, a spiritual internality, inconceivable by the mind. It cannot be calculated in a mathematical way as if something is contained in something else; not at all. It is the Self of all things in a novel manner, impossible to describe in words, and it is this universal Selfhood which is the cause of all things and towards which everything is moving.

  1. Sa ya esho'nima aitad atmyam-idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma: tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti; bhuya eva ma, bhagavan, vijnapayatv-iti, tatha, saumya, iti hovaca.

"O Svetaketu, my dear boy! You cannot be separated from That; you cannot stand outside this Being. As everything has come from that, you too have come from That. By the triplicated process of the elements your body has been formed, and everything that you are individually is a shape taken by that Being through the triplication of the three elements. So what you call 'yourself' or 'myself' or anything, refers to the Self and is a shape or form taken by the Being, and these shapes in turn cannot stand outside the Being. That is the Self of all Beings, and therefore, naturally you too are that. You cannot stand outside it, or external to it, or different from it. That is your Self; you yourself are That. O Svetaketu, the great conclusion to which you come by the analysis of the three elements is the existence of pure Being as the background of all that exists." So says Uddalaka.

Bhuya eva ma, bhagavan, vijnapayatv-iti: "This is something very difficult to understand," says Svetaketu. "These are things that I have not heard of from my preceptors earlier, and I require further instruction in greater detail about this Being, regarding which you have instructed me just now. You have startled me by saying that I am one with Being. It is more difficult to understand when you say that this Being includes other beings also which you call different objects of creation. You have merged me with other objects, and taken me into this Being, as everything is put together in a menstruum, as it were, and melted into a pot where all beings have become one. I require further explanation. How is it that everything becomes one in Being, and what type of Being is this where we all go and become united? What is this process of unification? How do all beings get together and melt, as it were, into this Being when they reach It?" The following sections contain Uddalaka's further explanation.