The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: An Analysis of the Nature of the Self

Section 4: Life Beyond

  1. Atha ya atma sa setur-vidhrtir-esam lokanam asambhedaya naitam setum ahoratre taratah, na jara na mrtyurna soko na sukrtam, na duskrtam, sarve papmano'to nivartante, apahatapapma hy-esa brahma-lokah.

It is this Atman which holds together in a state of harmony the various worlds in the cosmos, so that they may not create chaos. The various elements, earth, water, fire, air and ether, the different worlds, the realms of being, as we call them-all these are held in position on account of the law of the Atman. The law ordains that what passes for a particular form should maintain that form until the duration of time prescribed for it is exhausted by it in experience. If this Atman were not to exert its law by its very presence, there would have been no system or order or method of any kind. What we call system or method, symmetry or systematic action, internally or externally, is due to the presence of this all-comprehending Being, the Atman. The integration that we feel in our own body, in our minds and the orderliness that we see in nature outside, all these are due to the presence of the Atman. Else there would be confusion everywhere. Anything could be anything. Anything could happen at any time in any manner, without any kind of relevance whatsoever. But this does not happen. There is a cause and effect relationship between one experience and another. There is a relationship vitally established between various things in this world, on account of the symmetrical balancing character of the consciousness of the Atman.

This bridge, as it were, which is the Atman that connects one world with another world, is also like an embankment over which days and nights cannot pass, which means to say that time cannot touch this realm. Days and nights represent the time factor. There is no time here. When you cross this bridge which connects the world of ordinary experience with the realm of pure Being, there is a transcendence of time. This Upanishad says that in the Atman there is no contact with anything that is phenomenal. Anything that you call temporal cannot touch this Being. Neither old age, nor death, nor sorrow can touch it. Actions of any kind cannot touch it, whether they be virtues or vices. Neither good nor bad, nothing that we regard as valuable here, no kind of regulation of this world can have any validity in that realm of Supreme Integrality. Every evil turns back after having touched this embankment. This supreme world we call Brahman is untouched by evil of every kind. Evil is nothing but the consciousness of body and consciousness of objects. This type of consciousness cannot be there. So it is free from every kind of contamination.

  1. Tasmad-va etam setum tirtvandhah san anandho bhavati, viddhah san aviddho bhavati, upatapi san anupatapi bhavati, tasmadva etam setum tirtvapi naktam ahar-evabhinispadyate, sakrdvibhato hy-evaisa brahma-lokah.

Even a blind one becomes free from the evil of blindness the moment he crosses this bridge which is called the Atman. Wounded ones are no more wounded there. People who are distressed are no more distressed there. And grieved ones have no grief there. Even night looks like day there. Night does not exist there. Because time does not exist, night and day cannot exist. Eternal light is this Brahman. It is eternal, perpetual, unending Self-luminosity. This is Brahma-loka. Here, Brahma-loka does not mean some world or realm comparable with the one in which we are living. Brahmaiva loko brahma-lokah-Brahman, the Absolute Itself, is called the world of Brahman. It is a symbolic way of representing its own Being as the totality of experience. The field of experience is called loka.

  1. Tad-ya evaitam brahma-lokam brahmacaryena-nuvindanti tesam evaisa brahma-lokah, tesam sarvesu lokesu kamacaro bhavati.

Freedom untrammelled is the blessing of those who have reached this realm of Brahman through practice of continence, and no limit can be there either to their powers or to their capacities to visualise things, or to their knowledge, or even to their own existence. It is limitlessness from every side, as the concluding portions of the third chapter have already told us.

Section 5: Importance of Brahmacharya

Now, the means to the realisation of this great Truth is emphasised in the present section. The word used for this means is brahmacharya. The character of Brahman is brahmacharya. The conduct of Brahman is what we call brahmacharya. Charya is conduct. The meaning of the word Brahman, of course, we know very well. The conduct of Brahman is brahmacharya. To live as Brahman would be brahmacharya. How Brahman is, in that way one should be. It is very difficult to conceive this. It is a total abstraction of the senses in a sublimation of consciousness which recognises itself alone, to the exclusion of everything else. This is the only practice which one has to endeavour for. By the practice of this, one would have performed every other duty in this world, because every other duty is a tendency towards the fulfilment of this duty. This is what the Upanishad tells us in the following passages.

  1. Atha yad-yajna ity-acaksate brahmcaryam eva tat, brahmacaryena hy-eva yo jnata tam vindate atha yad istam ity-acaksate brahmacaryam eva tat, brahmacaryena hy-evestvatmanam anuvindate.

What we call sacrifice, a holy performance, worship, all this is equivalent to the practice of continence, because continence brings all those results which any kind of sacrifice would bring to the performer of the sacrifice. The knower of Truth, through the practice of self-control, attains those benefits which accrue by the performance of a sacrifice. What we call the sacrificial performance from the point of view of Vedic injunctions is also equivalent to the practice of self-control, brahmacharya, continence by which one attains to every benefit which would otherwise come as a result of the performance of Vedic rituals.

  1. Atha yat sattrayanam ity-acaksate brahmacaryam eva tat, brahmacaryena hy-eva sata atmanas-tranam vindate. atha yan-maunam ity-acaksate brahmacaryam eva tat, brahmacaryena hy-evatmanam anuvidya manute.

Sattrayana is again a session for sacrifices. Sattra is a yajna, a sacrifice, and a session for the performance of these sacrifices is sattrayana. It is a great ritual enjoined in the Vedas. But, this ritual called sattrayana is equivalent to the practice of continence, self-control. Sattrayana is the word used to designate this particular sacrifice, and here the Upanishad gives a peculiar etymological resemblance of the result that follows by the practice of continence to the meaning of the word sattrayana. Sath atmanastranam vindate sattrayana is the way in which we split the word sattrayana. Sat is Being, trayana is the way of freedom or attainment of the benefits of protection in every way. One protects one's self, frees oneself by contact with true Being. This protection or freedom which one gains through contact with Being is also achieved by the practice of self-restraint, brahmacharya. So it is equivalent to sattrayana, the performance of the Vedic sacrifice. What we call observance of silence, not speaking, maunam, is the same as brahmacharya, because that again is the silence of all the senses, on account of the contact of the Atman which is the Supreme Silence. One understands things correctly and enters into a natural state of psychic silence by the acquisition of the knowledge that automatically follows the practice of self-control.

  1. Atha yad-anasakyanam ity-acaksate brahmacaryam eva tat, esa hy-atma na nasyati ym brahmacaryena-nuvindate, atha yad-aranyayanam ity-acaksate brahmacaryam eva tat. tad-arasca ha vai nyascar-navau brahmaloke tritiyasyam ito divi, tad-airammadiyam sarah, tad-asvatthah soma-savanah, tad-aparajita pur-brahmanah, prabhuvimitam hiranmayam.

Anasakyana is a vow of fasting. This vow of fasting which people engage themselves in is also equivalent to brahmacharya. Here again, an etymological semblance is introduced into the interpretation. Atman does not perish at any time. Therefore, this imperishable character of the Atman is comparable with the imperishable results that accrue to one by the practice of the religious vow of fasting. Whatever benefits accrue to a person by this vow come to him spontaneously by self-control. Forest dwelling which is the vanaprastha life, living in seclusion, etc., are all great vows and austerities, no doubt. But whatever one gains by these austerities, vows and practices, one gains merely by self-control, because it is the highest austerity and nothing can be comparable to it.

A person who transcends mortal experience and is blessed with an access into the realm of Brahma has to pass through various mystical experiences. Some of the words contained in the passage that we are discussing refer to certain subtle experiences in the higher realms of Being which a seeker would encounter on his ascent to Brahman, the Absolute. It is said here that there are two oceans in the realm of Brahman filled with nectar where the world this and world that both come together in a fraternal embrace. It is as if two oceans join together to form a single ocean. Ara and Nya are the two names given to these two different oceans. They exist beyond this world. They are in the third world altogether, not in the physical world, not in the atmospheric world or even the astral world, but in the spiritual world they are. There is another miraculous thing there which one can see after going there. There is a tank filled with exhilarating nectar which is the food of the gods and the food of those who have shed their physical bodies. It is immortal bliss that one would experience there. It does not mean that it is actually a physical food which one would taste through the tongue. As I mentioned, they are subtle references to mystical experiences of the soul, which are referred to here as contact with tons of nectar of exquisite sweetness. There is a tree there which yields all one asks for, which exudes nectar from its body. It is a huge peepul tree, very vast in its expanse from every pore of which nectar exudes. It is the kalpavriksha, as the Puranas call it, a tree that gives anything you ask. If you think something while sitting under it, it immediately materialises itself. That is called kalpavriksha. Such a kind of peepul is present there in this higher realm where nectarine immortality flows, as it were, from every side. This is the city of Brahman which cannot be entered by those whose minds are extrovert, whose senses seek sense objects outside. It is an invincible fortress of Brahman. No one can conquer it, no one can pierce through it, no one can break through it, no one can touch it or contact it, because it is not a physical fort. It has very, very rarely been conquered by anyone. Those who have been wedded to world experience through the mind and the senses are unfit to contact or enter into this city. There is inside this city a hall which is called prabhuvmitam, built by Brahma himself, shining like gold, resplendent in every way, into which the soul is introduced. These experiences are also described in other Upanishads in different ways, all very mystical indeed, referring to different exhilarating experiences of consciousness through which we pass when we get separated from the body and come nearer and nearer to that which is more and more universal. Language fails here and words cannot express what all this really means. It is only an indication symbolically of miraculous experiences and wonders which we cannot dream of, through which we have to pass as a result of self-control and practice of meditation on Brahman.

  1. Tad-ya evaitavaram ca nyam carnavau brahma-loke brahma-caryenanuvindanti, tesam evaisa brahma-lokah tesam sarvesu lokesu kamacaro bhavati.

Freedom untrammelled is our reward if we could practise this technique of meditation. We would be the possessors of all these treasures, the nectars and the trees exuding ambrosia, and the oceans of nectar, etc., referred to here. All these would be our possessions and we would be rejoicing in these experiences and be one with them provided that—a great condition is here—we are able to withdraw our senses and mind and centre our consciousness in that which we call Brahman. Then we are free and this freedom is what we call moksha, Liberation.

Section 6: Course After Death

In connection with a description of the passage of the soul after the death of the body, we are introduced into a new subject, that of the existence of certain psychic nerve currents inside us, known as the nadis. There are certain nadis in our bodies which exist very subtly in the astral layer of our personality and control not only the entire physiological system but also our minds and breathing process—the entire personality. Those who are versed in the science of hatha-yoga will know very well the importance of these nadis.

  1. Atha ya eta hrdayasya nadyastah pingalasyanimnas-tisthanti, suklasya nilasya pitasya lohitasyeti. asau va adityah pingalah esa suklah, esa nilah, esa pitah, esa lohitah.

These nerve currents are supposed to be filled with certain subtle juices which are referred to here as animna, very subtle exudation which controls the humours of the body. The point that the Upanishad makes out particularly here is that there is a tremendous connection between the sun and these nerves.

It is not that the sun is spatially very far from us. We have a false notion that the stars in the heaven and the sun in the sky are very far and that they have no connection at all with us here on earth. This intervening space which is the apparent cause for this seeming disconnection is not empty. It is a vital fluid. The ordinary physical notion of the commonplace astronomers that space is not organically connected with the individual has to be given up. In fact, higher aspects of astronomy going into the realm of astrology will tell us that space is not a disconnecting element. If it is, there would be no influence of the planets upon us. They exert a tremendous influence, not merely in a mechanical manner as the law of gravitation does, but in a very, very living and organic manner.

This subtle substance in the nerve currents is of different colours. It may be brownish-yellow, or white, or blue, or yellow proper, or red. These are the types specially mentioned here, though there can be many other permutations and combinations of these colours because we cannot actually count the number of these nerve currents in the system. There are several thousands of nadis, but the principal among them are hundred and one in number. It is believed from the standpoint of this section of the Upanishad that the colours of these nerve currents inside us are due to the influence of the sun upon us. Variegated influences are exerted upon us in respect of the constitution of our personality by the rays of the sun. Even after the sun sets at night, it continues to influence us. The influence of the sun does not cease merely because it is midnight. It is a tremendous influence exerted upon the whole earth. Night and day make no difference for this. When the effect of the sun through its rays has an impact upon the bile in our system, these juices become brownish yellow in colour. When there is phlegmatic element mixed with this bile, it is supposed to be whitish in colour. When the wind element also is included within it, that means to say when the wind humour is a little more predominant, it assumes a blue colour. When there is an equal distribution of the phlegmatic matter and the bile element it becomes yellow, while the reddish element is due to the preponderance of the red corpusles in the blood influencing these juices in the system.

Now, the idea is that the colours of these juices in the nerves are imported, as it were, from the colours in the sun. They are the reflections, as it were, of the sun's rays experienced by us through our own nervous system. So the Upanishad says that these colours are in the sun and they are in the nadis. But what about the causes thereof? These colours—brownish yellow, or white, or blue, or actual yellow, or red-are the colours of the sun's internal structure. We know the sun's rays have colours, and these are responsible for the colours of the juices which flow in the nerve currents.

  1. Tad-yatha mahapatha atata ubhau gramau gacchatimam camum ca, evam evaita adityasya rasmaya ubhau lokau gacchantimam camum ca, amusmad-adityat pratayante ta asu uadisu srptah, abhyo nadibhyah pratayante te'musmin aditye srptah.

Just as a national highway passing through villages connects one section of villages on one side to another section on the other side, even so the sun's rays seem to be travelling throughout space like highways, as it were, emanating from the sun, touching the heavens on one side and influencing the individuals and the whole earth on the other side. These rays of the sun are like passages or highways in the entire space. They touch this world and also the other world. They enter even the minutest thing in this world, like X-rays penetrating through objects, and we are not excluded from the influence of these subtle rays of the sun. They penetrate through the nerves inside us, they get refracted back into space and return to the sun, so that they convey a message to the sun, as it were, as to what our predicament is here.

Thus we see there is a real living connection between the sun and ourselves here. The rays are like messengers coming from the sun, conveying to us the message from the sun and taking our message from here and conveying it back to the sun, like postmen. This kind of work the rays of the sun perform much more effectively and vitally than the postal department does! The sun there and ourselves here belong to one family, an undivided family. So, we are like brothers. Most undivided families have division among the members and the undividedness is only an imagination. Really the members of the family are divided. But here the connection is not mere imagination. It is a real interconnection of vital forces in us with the sun and with everything between the sun and ourselves. So we can imagine what integral connection we have really with the atmosphere and the heavens and the stellar system, in spite of our apparently being here as if separated and disconnected. This disconnection is a misconception in our minds.

  1. Tad-yatraitat suptah samastah samprasannah svapnam na vijnati asu tada nadisu srpto bhavati tam na kascana papma sprsati, tejasa hi tada sampanno bhavati.

It is these nerve currents that are responsible for the withdrawal of the mind into itself in deep sleep. What we call deep sleep, the composure of the mind, the withdrawal of the mind from all sense activity and the retiring from all dream experience also, where one knows nothing—that experience is brought about by the travel of the various rays of the mind through these nerve currents to the centre of the heart. There the mind then lies sleeping and inactive, doing nothing and knowing nothing. So these nadis have some part to play even in the activity called psychic sleep. In the state of deep sleep we are overpowered by a supernal light.

There are various opinions as to what happens in deep sleep. They differ one from the other. One of the theories is that we fall asleep on account of the fatigue of the senses which results in the exhaustion of the mind searching for happiness in the world. The other doctrine is that the bilious element in our system gets roused up due to the activity of the sun's rays during the day and they make us fatigued in a different way altogether, compelling us to fall asleep. The third theory is that when the mind goes back to its source, it is overwhelmed by the light of the Atman. This getting blinded by that light is in a way equal to seeing nothing. It is seeing darkness, as it were, as perhaps when we gaze at the sun for a long time we see not the brilliance of the sun any more but only pitch darkness. This is a very mystical doctrine of sleep which tells us that we are confronted by the brilliance of the Atman when we go to sleep. And, therefore, on account of there being nothing to see, objectiveness being withdrawn completely, we fall into a mood of so-called unconsciousness, merely because there is nothing for the senses to do and there is nothing for the mind to think. So when there is nothing to sense and nothing to think, what is our condition? It is a falling back into an oblivion of all kinds of experiences.

  1. Atha yatraitad-abalimanam nito bhavati, tam abhita asina ahuh janasi mam, janarsi mam, iti, sa yavad asmaccharirad-anutkranto bhavati, tavaj-janati.

Now we are introduced to the principal subject of this section. The other points mentioned in connection with these nerves are introductory to the main point which is the theme of the section, namely the departure of the soul after death.

When a person becomes weak due to old age and is awaiting impending death, people get anxious about his condition. They sit round him thinking that he is about to leave this world. And then they query, "Do you recognise us?", "Do you know I am your father?", "I am so-and-so related to you, do you recognise me?", "Do you know I am your son?", and so on. He is able to reply to these people in a sensible manner as long as the pranas do not depart from the body and as long as the mind is capable of working in a normal fashion in respect of the body. But when the mind is compelled by the pranas to withdraw itself into its source, no sensation, no thought, no recognition remains whatsoever. Then what happens to that person?

  1. Atha yatraitad-asmaccharirad-utkramati, athaitair-eva rasmibhir-urdhvam akramate, sa om iti va ha ut va miyate sa yavat ksipyen manah, tavad-adityam gacchati, etad-vai khalu loka-dvaram vidusam prapadanam, nirodho'vidusam.

The very same rays of the sun, about which we have discussed in the earlier mantras in this section, with which we have such an intimate connection, become the passage of the soul for its ascent into the higher regions. These rays of the sun are the roads or the paths, as it were, for the soul when it rises upwards after the departure from this body. This description is in connection with the death of a purified person who is expected to attain liberation by progressive stages, called by the name kramamukti, gradual liberation. Such a person chants Om at the time of death. Everyone will not chant Om at this crucial moment. Those who are accustomed to such a practice throughout life, who have led a very disciplined life of spiritual contemplation throughout their career on earth, will be able to recollect this practice at the time of passing, when usually the mind gets confounded due to the action of natural forces.

How much time does the soul take to jump into the sun? It takes as much time as the mind will take to go to any place. That means it does not take much time. The so-called distance of 93 million miles between the sun up there and the individual here on this earth makes no difference to the soul. It does not take any time at all to reach the sun. Such is the quickness of its action. The soul is taken to the sun at such speed through the passage of the rays. The moment it thinks, it is there. So quickly it is taken there.

This sun is the glorious passage to Brahma-loka, the realm of the Creator. This is the entrance to the glorious immortal abode of Brahma. And also it is the halting and checking place, as it were, for the unknowing persons. Those who do not carry an 'accepted passport' are turned back from the sun. Everyone cannot go there. The knowers go there and the unknowers return. The latter will not even be allowed to touch that spot. So the sun is the check-post where there is a filtering of souls, as it were. The purified ones are allowed to go beyond and the unpurified ones are kicked back to the earth. He is an entrance to the region of Brahma to the purified ones and also a closed door to those who are unprepared for this ascent.

In this connection there is a verse, says the Upanishad.

  1. Tad esa slokah:
    satam caika ca hrdayasya nadyah
    tasam murdhanam abhinihsrtaika,
    tayordhvam ayan amrtatvam eti
    visvannya utkramane bhavanti,
    utkramane bhavanti.

One hundred and one are the principal nerve currents in this body. One among these hundred and one moves vertically, as it were, towards the crown of the head. This is usually called the sushumna-nadi in Yogic language. If our prana and minds can travel through this central nerve current called the sushumna and up through the crown of the head, we attain immortality. And this is kramamukti, gradual liberation.

But if the pranas depart not by this central nerve through the crown of the head but through other orifices in the body, then there is rebirth. It may be in this world or it may be in some other lower world, according to the particular passage which the pranas seek at the time of exit. No liberation is possible unless the movement is through sushumna-nadi. So here one part of the discussion of this important subject of the Atman in the heart is concluded.