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The Chhandogya Upanishad

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

Section 14: The Indwelling Spirit (Continued)—The Need for a Guru

  1. Yatha, saumya, purusham gandharebhyo'bhinaddhak-sham aniya tam tato'tijane visrjet, sa yatha tatra prangva udangva atharangva pratyangva pradhmayita'bhinaddhaksha anito'bhinaddhaksho virsrshtah.
  2. Tasya yathabhinahanam pramuchya prabruyat, etam disam gandharah, etam disam vrajeti, sa gramad-gramam prcchan pandito medhavi gandharan evopasampadyeta evam evehacharyavan purusho veda, tasya tavadeva chiram yavan na vimokshye, atha sampatsya iti.

Someone was living in a country called Gandhara, and was attacked by robbers on the way. He was tied up. His eyes were covered and he was taken to a long distance and left in a thick forest infested with tigers, wild beasts, etc. The person was crying, "I have lost my way. I do not know where I am. Will anybody come and help me? Does anybody hear my voice? Is there anyone near me?" That was all he could do. Then, there was one good Samaritan passing by that way and he untied all the knots with which the person was bound. He removed the bandages from the eyes and said to him, "Oh, you have come to this place. Where are you coming from?" The poor man replied, "I come from Gandhara. Now I do not know where it is. Which is the way to that place?" Then the kind one said, "You proceed from this place in that direction and you will see a big tree there. Then you turn to the right and walk for about two miles. Then you will see a village. From there you move towards the east and there you will see a signpost. Now proceed slowly and you can safely reach your place."

This is an analogy to describe the condition of people in this world. We have been exiled from our 'home' and cast into the wilderness by the robbers of the senses and we cannot see things properly as they really are. We do not know from where we have come. We have lost our way. And the apparatus of our senses are not going to help us. The mind has been confounded. The only way is to ask for help, and just as a person with sight can help a person without sight and can point out the way to the destination which he has to reach, so is the blindfolded soul in this wilderness of life to take the guidance of a person with spiritual eyesight, who can visualise the presence of the great Reality which is the destination of everyone. Such a person with eyes which can see the truth of things as they are is called an acharya, a spiritual master. He is the preceptor, he is the Guru. There is no way of escape from this muddle of life except through the guidance of a preceptor, because a preceptor, a Guru, is one who has undergone these experiences of life. He has seen the tortures of existence, the sufferings, the winding path and the dismal ways through which one has to go. He knows from where one has come and how one can revert to that place again. Through the indications given by the master, the disciple has to proceed gradually.

In the analogy, the good Samaritan told the blindfolded man how he could go back to his house step by step by the winding path with the help of various objects which served as signposts. Even so, are the scriptures signposts on the way. The instructions of the Guru are the indications on the path. We are told that from this predicament in which we are now, the next step would be like this. Naturally, we cannot reach our destination at one stroke. It is perhaps several miles away, hundreds of miles far. This means that we have to put forth much effort. So we go three miles from here and we find a road that diverts itself to the right. We go along that. Then we find a huge banyan tree there. From there, we again turn to our left. Then we go another ten miles along the same path, and find a village there. Then we take rest and from there we move towards the western direction, and so on and so forth. These represent the higher and higher levels of consciousness to which we have to rise up, overcoming the various obstructions on the spiritual path. Thus are we instructed by the master.

We have fallen from the ancient, pristine existence by a tortuous process of descent. It is not a sudden drop, as drops of water from the sky fall on the earth. It is a winding process through various kinds of curves and turns through which Consciousness has got itself entangled and has come to this present pitiable condition of earth-consciousness, body- consciousness, object-consciousness, and a total absence of universal consciousness. To go back to that orginal state, it is not possible to take a jet plane and fly straight. It is not a straight movement. It is also a very winding process. We cannot see beyond a certain distance. This is the difficulty of the path. We cannot have a set of binoculars and see everything direct till the last point is reached. There appears to be a blind alley, as they say, and we cannot see anything further. We will see what is beyond a particular spot only after reaching that spot. Several such spots have to be passed. So it is pointless on the part of any enthusiastic seeker to know the nature of the Absolute at one stroke. In the case of a traveller whose destination is far away, he has to move a certain distance first. He has to move by various methods. He may go in a car. Sometimes he may fly. Yet at other times he may have to walk. For, everywhere, every kind of vehicle will not be available. Likewise is the method that has to be adopted in the practice of sadhana. The same method will not work always. It is not a same, single, stereotyped routine that we practise right from the beginning till the end. After a certain point or a certain limit is reached, the method of sadhana may have to be changed, the speed may have to be accelerated and a different type of guidance may have to be required. As is the case with an ordinary journey, as is the case with medical treatment, so is the case with education, whether it be secular or spiritual. There are stages of approach, and you will not be told everything at one stroke. There is also no use explaining that, because the mind cannot grasp all the intricacies at once.

So the point is, that just as the blindfolded man received instructions from the good Samaritan, so the blindfolded soul has to receive guidance from a spiritual master. And as the person in the illustration was intent only on reaching home and was not interested in mere sightseeing, (otherwise he would go hither and thither and miss the way again), so is the soul to be intent upon its destination, and should not waste its time in sightseeing in this world. The master will tell the seeker, "This is the way." On the way he may see many things. He should not be interested in those things. They are experiences through which every one has to pass. When one goes to Delhi, one will see many towns on the way, but one is not interested in those towns. One is interested in Delhi, the destination only. Notwithstanding the fact that one passes through various towns, cities, villages and halting places, they give no respite because one's mind is not there. So is the case with the ascent of the soul to the Supreme Being. Many experiences have to be passed through by the seeker and he will have many visions, many things which will be more wonderful than the things that he sees in this world. But he has no interest in them, because they are only halting places, passing phenomena. And as was the case with the blindfolded man who was intent only on rushing back home and not seeing places on the way, so should be the interest of a spiritual seeker to return to the 'source', passing through tentative experiences in which he should not get engrossed. He should not get lodged in the halting places on the way. Thus the soul can reach back to its grand goal, its destination.

What is the way? The way is the acharya, the Guru, the teacher, the master, the preceptor. There is no other way. "So only a person who has a proper preceptor can realise the Truth," says this Upanishad. No one else can reach this Truth by any effort of the mind, the intellect or the senses. No amount of scientific analysis, no amount of study of the scriptures alone will be of any use. It requires direct guidance from one who has personal experience. Such a person is the acharya, the preceptor who knows what Truth is. He is a blessed person who has such a guide with him. Then he will have to live in this world only as long as this body lasts. Afterwards, he will have no bondage. As long as he is tied up to this bodily individuality, as long as the prarabdha-karma which he has to experience remains, so long he will have to remain. The sanchita-karmas are destroyed by knowledge. The agami-karmas do not exist for that person, but the prarabdha-karma continues. The prarabdha is a name that we give to those cumulative effects of action which have given rise to this physical body, this individuality of ours, in which we have to pass our life here and undergo experiences of various types. When we are in a position to complete this course of change through this body, then we are about to enter that borderland of freedom. We have to be bound to this world, to this life, only as long as this body is there. The moment this body is cast off we are free, because there is nothing else to bind us. All our karmas have been destroyed by meditation and by the actions performed in this life. They are not going to bind us because they are not selfish actions. They are not motivated by bodily individuality. They are propelled by knowledge of a higher truth, and therefore, the actions of the present life after the rise of knowledge, the agami-karmas, will not bind us. Nor are we going to be influenced by the sanchita-karmas, results of past actions. They too have been burnt up by knowledge. The only thing that remains is prarabdha. When that is gone, every type of bondage is gone-Tavad eva chiram vavanna vimokshye, atha sampatsya iti. Then we attain to the great Being. This Being is the truth of all things.

  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 hovacha.

After the above instructions, Uddalaka says: "O Svetaketu, do you understand what I am telling you? This great but most subtle essence of all the worlds is the Truth, the Atman, the Supreme Reality within you, and you are That." "Explain to me further, O master," says the boy.

Now, what is the difference between a person who has consciously attained realisation and another who is unconsciously thrown into it as in sleep or death? Why does not one attain realisation after death, if casting off the body is the only criterion of liberation? The Upanishad here tells us that when one casts off the body, one attains liberation. Then why should not everyone attain liberation when they go to deep sleep or die, if the body alone is the bondage? There is a difference between one with knowledge and one in deep sleep without knowledge. Notwithstanding the fact that both these persons cast off their body one day or the other and both have been thrown into Reality, what is the difference? This again is explained by another example. This chapter is full of analogies.