The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter Three: Sanatkumara's Instructions on Bhuma-Vidya

Section 6: Contemplation

  1. Dhyanam vava cittad-bhuyah, dhyayativa prthivi, dhya-yativan-tariksam, dhyayativa dyauh, dhyayantivapah, dhyayantiva parvatah, dhyayantiva deva-manusyah, tasmad-ya iha manusyanam mahattvam prapnuvanti dhyanapadamsa ivaiva te bhvanti, atha ye'lpah kalahinah pisuna upavadinas-te atha ye prabhavah dhyanapadamsa ivaiva te bhavanti, dhyanam upassveti.

Dhyana, concentration, is beyond even ordinary memory. It is a superior faculty. The more you are able to concentrate your attention, rather to meditate in the proper sense of the term, to that extent you become superior to others. Concentration is fixity of mind. Wherever we find stability of any kind, fixity of any kind, we will discover the presence of concentration. Here, the passage of the Upanishad goes on to say that the earth contemplates, as it were, on account of its stability and fixity of character. We do not see any kind of chaotic activity in nature. There is a stability maintained by the various things of nature. The heaven and the earth themselves are contemplating or meditating, as it were, in a fixed form without creating any kind of confusion between themselves. We see the earth and the heaven and the waters, even the oceans, the sun and the moon, the stars, all maintain their position due to a concentratedness of their purpose inherent in their very nature brought into action by forces, of course, which are superior, to be mentioned further on. Whoever has attained any kind of greatness in life has achieved it only through the power of concentration. Whether he is a god or a human being, success is due to the power of concentration of the mind, inherent applicability of the mind. The application of thought in a particular direction is the cause of success. The tenacity of the mind in a given direction and a persistent effort in that direction alone, without deviating the mind from the given thought, is concentration. The whole-souled absorption of thought on a particular object, to the exclusion of any other thought, is concentration. This is dhyana.

It is by this action of the mind that people have attained greatness in this world, not by distracted thinking. If we start thinking of a hundred things, we will achieve nothing. We should apply ourselves to one thing only at a time, apply our soul and heart to it and then we see that we succeed. This is the importance of the power of concentration. Those who lack the power of concentration and application of thought are the quarrelsome people of this world. They are the disturbers of society. They are the people who carry tales. They are the dregs of human society. Not so are those who have power of concentration of the mind. They apply wholly to their purpose to such an extent that they have no time at all to engage themselves in useless activity. Those who have the capacity to concentrate, they are the great ones. Therefore, one should always apply oneself to concentration and meditation.

  1. Sa yo dhyanam brahmety-upaste, yavad-dhyanasya gatam, tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati yo dhyanam brahmcty-upaste, asti, bhagavah, dhyanad-bhuya iti, dhyanad-vava bhuyo'stiti tan-me, bhagavan, bravitv-iti.

It is difficult to explain the grand nature of the result that will follow by the practice of concentration. As a matter of fact, Yoga practice is nothing but concentration in various degrees of its manifestation. And as the Upanishad has beautifully put it, nothing in life has any sense or meaning when concentration is absent. One becomes free, liberated from bondage, and succeeds in life to the extent of success one has in the practice of concentration of mind. So, one should apply oneself to concentration which is superior to everything that has been mentioned earlier, viz., memory, will, mind, speech and name.

This is the stage Narada has reached now. Narada again asks: "O, great master, is there something greater than dhyana, concentration?" "Yes," says Sanatkumara, "there is something, because you cannot apply yourself to concentration unless you understand what concentration is." "Then, please instruct me on that which is superior to dhyana," says Narada.

Section 7: Understanding

  1. Vijnanam vava dhyanad-bhuyah, vijnanena va rg-vedam vijanati yajur-vedam sama-vedam atharvanam caturtham, itihasapuranam pancamam, vedanam vedam, pitryam, rasim, daivam, nidhim vakovakyam, ekayanam, deva-vidyam, brahma-vidyam, bhuta-vidyam, ksatra-vidyam, naksatra-vidyam, sarpa-devajana vidyam, divam ca prthivim ca vayum cakasam capasa-ca tejas-ca, devams-ca manusyams-ca pasums-ca vayamsi ca trna-vanaspatin svapadanyakita-patanga-pipilakam dharmam cadharmam ca satyam canrtam ca sadhu casadhu ca hrdayajnam cahrdayajnam cannam ca rasam cemam ca lokam amum ca vijnanenaiva vijanati, vijnanam upassveti.

Vijnana, understanding, is superior even to the action of concentration. All the pros and cons of concentration should be clear to the mind first, before it is applied to the activity called concentration. On what should one concentrate? If one does not understand that and simply tries to concentrate meaninglessly, it will not lead to success. The processes of concentration, the methodology of meditation, the purpose for which the mind is directed in concentration, the problems that one may have to face in the practice of concentration, all these have to be understood beforehand. This understanding is naturally superior, because it precedes the very activity called concentration.

Sanatkumara gives the entire list of Vedas, sciences, arts, etc., mastered by Narada and enumerated in Sections 1 and 2 of this chapter, and says that all this is a kind of understanding. Narada has applied his thought to the analysis of these objects and has grasped the implications in a clarified manner. So he has understood very well all that he has learnt. The capacity of the analytic intelligence always precedes the activity of the mind in the form of concentration or application of thought. All things, the five elements, every branch of learning, gods and human beings, animals and birds, virtue and non-virtue, truth and untruth, good and bad, the pleasurable and the non-pleasurable and whatnot, everything conceivable in life assumes a meaning on account of one's understanding that is attached to it. The meaning that we discover in life is nothing but the understanding of that particular aspect of life. If understanding is absent, meaning also is absent. When meaning is absent, nothing is present. The long list given in this mantra contains every blessed thing in the world. All these things have meaning only because of the understanding that is behind it. The determining factor of the value of any object whatsoever is the understanding behind it, the knowledge that is behind it. The capacity of the knowing subject is superior to the character of the object. Therefore, understanding should be the object of one's meditation.

  1. Sa yo vijnanam brahmety-upaste, vijnanavato vai sa lokan jnanavato'bhisidhyati, yavad-vijnanasya gatam tatrasya yatha kamcaro bhavati, yo vijnanam brahmety-upaste, asti bhagavah, vijnanad-bhuya iti, vijnanad vava bhuyao'stiti, tan-me, bhagavan, bravitv-iti.

To the extent of the reach of our understanding, to that extent we enjoy life. The power that we exert in life, personally or socially or any other way, is due to the extent of our knowledge. A person with knowledge or understanding is powerful. All know this very well. One's power depends proportionately on the depth or extent of one's understanding—vijnana. So, this is far superior to all other principles mentioned earlier. This is beautiful, but there is something more than understanding? Narada is inquisitive to know what is above all that he has understood up to this time.

Section 8: Strength

  1. Balam vava vijnanad-bhuyah api ha satam vijnanavatam eko balavan akampayate, sa yada bali bhavati, athotthata bhavati uttisthan paricarita bhavati, paricaran upasatta bhavati, upasidan drasta bhavati, srota bhavati, manta bhavati, boddha bhavati, karta bhavati, vijnata bhavati, balena vai prthivi tisthati, balenantariksam, balena dyauh, balena parvatah, balena devamanysyah, balena pasavas-ca vayamsi ca trnavanaspatayah svapadan-akita-patanga-pipilakam, balena lokastisthati, balam upassveti.

Now, Sanatkumara tells us something very interesting. Mere understanding in a theoretical form is of no use. It is like mere application of theory in one's own brain, inside one's own mind, without any corresponding object behind it. There is a need to connect one's understanding with the realities of life. There should not be a mere abstract contemplation without any corresponding object behind it, without any solid content inside it. The connection between one's body and one's intellectual capacity is well known. There is a need to bring about a blend of understanding with the bodily conditions. We know very well that understanding should have a proper content. It should not be mere theory. Sage Sanatkumara says that strength is superior to understanding.

By strength he means a very general form of a blend of the functions of the mind with the functions of the body. When the body and mind come together, there is an energy of a superior character. Suppose a person has only a strong mind, but no healthy body. He will not be able to exercise his thoughts effectively. A weak body which is emaciated, sickly, about to die, may not be able to put into action its thoughts in the manner required. Also, a mere healthy and hefty body alone will not do. It requires a strong and firm mind to animate it and to give it a value. Bala, strength, is the union of the power of the psyche with the power of the body, the union of consciousness with its object. Strength or power is superior to everything mentioned earlier. A person who is strong can defeat a hundred people who have mere understanding without strength, says the Upanishad.

The commentators of this passage tell us that this has a specific reference to the condition of a disciple in relation to the Guru whom he serves. Well, that is only one aspect of the interpretation. A student is supposed to serve his master or Guru. This capacity to serve the Guru would not be there if the student's body is emaciated and rickety, being starved without food, even though he has got great power of thought and understanding. The service of the Guru would only be practicable if the strength of the body is coupled with understanding. Then he can stand up—utthata bhavati. Then he can serve—paricarita bhavati. Then he can approach—upasatta bhavati. Then he can see what is the ideal before him in his student life, in the vicinity of the Guru—drashta bhavati. Then he can listen to what the Guru says—srota bhavati. Then he can understand what the Guru says—manta bhavati. Then he can understand and apply it in his own meditation—boddha bhavati. Then he can do exactly as the Guru says—karta bhavati. Then, of course, his understanding becomes complete—vijnata bhavati.

Now again the master says that strength seems to be the reason behind the stability of the elements, as also the earth, the atmosphere and the heavens. Everything that is in this world maintains its position on account of strength that is present in it. So strength, a general term indicating power, is not merely physical strength but a power which is the outcome of a combination of knowledge with its content. Gods and men become successful on account of the strength that they possess. This is also the cause of the success of the animals, birds, etc. The whole world rests on the basis of strength of some sort or the other—balena lokas-tisthati. 'Whatever you think, that you become', is an adage. If one contemplates that one is a very weak person, a finite fellow, capable of nothing, unwanted by people, thrown out of society, very poor, then naturally, due to this self-hypnotism that one imposes upon oneself, one may turn out to be all that. But, if one contemplates on the capacity that is within, hidden within, the potentiality that is in one, then that strength, which need not be imported from outside but which has only to be generated from within by a proper coordination of the principles of one's own personality, will certainly materialise. Strength is an automatic outcome of a proper functioning by way of coordination of all the limbs of the personality, psychic as well as physical. Such strength is the heritage of all. Therefore one should meditate on strength.

  1. Sa yo balam brahmety-uaste, yavad-balasya gatam, tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati, yo balam brahmety-upaste, asti, bhagavan balad-bhuya iti, balad-vava bhuyostiti, tan-me, bhagavan bratitv-iti.

To the extent of our power or strength, we are perfect. This is a simple truth. "Is there something greater than strength?" asks Narada. Sanatkumara replies, "Yes." "Then kindly instruct me on that which is greater than strength." This is the further request of Narada.

Section 9: Food

  1. Annam vava balad-bhuyah, tasmed-yady-api dasa ratrirna'sniyat yadi u ha jivet, atha va adrasta'srota'manta 'boddha'karta'vijnata bhavati, atha'nnasyayai drasta bhavati, srota bhavati, manta bhavati, boddha bhavati, karta bhavati, vijnata bhavati, annam upassveti.

That which gives strength is superior to strength, and it is metaphorically called here anna, food. It is a peculiar term occurring many times in the Upanishad. Etymologically, anna is of course, food. Anything that feeds the other is called food. It may be rice, barley, wheat, or anything else. It can be even some psychological substance. Something that is contributory to the sustenance of something else is called food. Sometimes matter in its generality also is called food in the language of the Upanishads. In that sense also, we can interpret the word anna mentioned here. There is a combination of the objective and the subjective in the generation of any kind of power. It is not one aspect alone that works when there is success in life. Success is due to the application of some strength of action. But this strength does not come up to the surface of one's consciousness or experience unless the two aspects, the objective and the subjective combine together. It is not true that the object alone works independently. It is also not true that the subject alone works independently. There is a mutual blend of these two aspects. Without air we cannot breathe, but without lungs also we cannot breathe. This is a gross example of how the subjective and the objective both have to combine to ensure success. This is the case with everything that happens in social life. We live by coordination, cooperation and mutual understanding. This, the coming together of the forces of nature in their co-relativity with the powers that are in the individual, applies to every realm of being and every type of action. This is the source of strength. When we are harmonious with nature and the forces of nature are in harmony with us, we become strong persons. This feeding principle, the element that is responsible for the generation of strength, is food, and that is what is called anna here, which is superior to understanding.

Now, Sanatkumara gives a well-known example to show how food is the source of strength. If one does not eat for ten days, what happens? Of course he will live. He will continue to be a human being, but he cannot see, hear, think or understand. This is because he has not eaten food for ten days. The objective principle has been taken away and only subjective principle is alive in him. Prana is there, but food has gone. One immediately feels elated the moment food comes near one.

As we go further and further in this chapter, we will find it is more and more difficult to understand the intention of the Upanishad. The instructions are very cryptic in their language. Even the Sanskrit language that is used is very archaic, giving way to various types of interpretations. But, the general background of the thought of the teacher here seems to be that there is necessity to rise gradually from the lower level to the higher level of comprehension. Here, by comprehension we mean the capacity of consciousness to include within its being, not merely within its thought or understanding, the reality that is outside. The more the extent of the reality outside that gets absorbed into our own being, the more is the power we can exercise over that realm of reality. This is a point, of course, that will be clear to anyone. Power is not merely imposed on us by any kind of ordinance or mandate. It is an outcome that arises automatically on account of the identity of our Being with that extent of reality with which we have become one.

  1. Sa yo'nnam brahmety-upaste, annavato vai sa lokan panavato'bhisidhyati. Yavad-annasya gatam, tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati yo'nnam brahmety-upaste, asti, bhagavah, annad-bhuya iti, annad vava bhuyo'stiti, tanme, bhagavan, bravitv-iti.

So, the point that is driven into the mind of Narada by the teacher is that to become strong and powerful is to have this aspect of strength as the object of his meditation because, to the extent of the application of this kind of power, one will be successful and one will be free in that particular realm of one's contemplation. "Still," says Sanatkumara, "there is something more than that." And that is water which is superior to food, as mentioned here. The intention of the teacher here is to show to us that food is not merely the food that we eat, but it is the entire material content of the universe. The whole of the earth element is represented by the word 'food'. That is why he says that water principle is superior to the food principle. Everything that is solid has ultimately come out of liquid. The whole earth in its solid form has come out of a liquid condition. Not only this particular earth, but also everything that is material in content, everything that is solid in nature, anywhere in the whole astronomical universe, was originally in a liquid condition. The liquid was, once upon a time, in a hot gaseous condition, and so on and so forth. There are subtler and subtler causes and precedents behind the grosser expressions thereof.

"O, Narada, this thing called food, which I say is superior to everything that I have mentioned up to this time, is the element of matter, the entire objective universe in its solid form, and superior to it is the water principle," says Sanatkumara. The identification of the water principle with the ultimate reality of things is a common way of explaining the nature of the origin of things in the sacred scriptures. Sanatkumara says that originally it was all water, though it need not necessarily mean that the original waters were the liquid that we see in this world. And perhaps there was some sort of undifferentiated state of things and it is towards that concept that the mind of Narada is being taken now, by being told that superior to solid is liquid, superior to the earth is water.

Section 10: Water

  1. Apo vava annad-bhuyasyah, tasmad-yada suvrstir-na bhavati, vyadhiyante pranah, annam kaniyo bhavisyatiti, atha yada suvrstir-bhavati, anandinah prana bhavati, annum bahu bhavisyatiti, apa evema murtah yeyam prthivi, yad-antarikasam, yad-dyauh, yat parvatah, yad-deva-manusyah, yat pasavas-ca vayamsi ca trna-vanaspatayah svapadany-akita-patanga-pipilikam, apah evema murtah apah upassveti.
  2. Sa yo'po brahmetyupaste apnoti sarvan-kaman triptiman bhavati yavadapam gatam tatrasya yathakamacaro bhavati yo'po brahmetyupaste asti bhagavo'dbhyo bhuya iti, adbhyo vava bhuyo'asti iti, tanme bhagavan bravetviti.

Life would become impossible if the liquid principle were not present. If there is no rain, there will be no food. The earth will be parched and it will no longer be fertile. The capacity of the earth to produce foodstuff would be nil, if there is not to be any rain. The coordination of the liquid element with the solid element is, therefore, necessary to produce that element called food. People will start weeping and crying if there is no rain and it is all drought. Living beings feel distressed on account of the absence of foodstuff caused by the absence of rain. They say, "There is no food, it is all dry." When there is rainfall, people and animals, the plant and vegetable kingdom, the whole of nature becomes luxurious and joyful. Whatever has been mentioned earlier under 'food' is once again repeated here by saying that everything is dependent on the element of water like food, for sustenance, inasmuch as the former is the cause of the latter. All beings live with food and water.

Now, this is evidently a subtler form of meditation that the master is prescribing. It is not necessarily a meditation on the ocean or the rivers or the water that we see in the world, but on a subtler element that is prior to the manifestation of the solid matter which is physically not visible. We must be able to conceive of the subtler principle behind the earth principle. We must be able to contemplate on the subtle principle existing prior to everything that is solid and material in its contents. It means to say that we are now gradually rising from the physical level to the conceptual and psychological level of meditation. Next comes meditation on a still subtler concept, the concept of fire, which is dealt with in the next section.

Continued