The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 4: An Analysis of the Nature of the Self

Section 9: Indra Feels the Inadequacy of the Physical Theory

  1. Atha hendro'prapyaiva devan etad-bhayam dadarsa, yathaiva khalvayam asmin sarire sadhvalankrte sadhvalankrto bhavati, suvasane suvasanah, pariskrte pariskrtah, evam evayam asmin andhe'ndho bhavati, srame sramah, parivrkne parivrknah, asyaiva sarirasya nasam anu esa nasyati, naham atra bhogyam pasyamiti.

Indra had great sorrow and fear in his heart. He thought within himself, "If I am well-dressed, the Atman is also well-dressed. If the body is blind, the Atman is blind. If the body is crippled, the Atman also is crippled. Finally when the body dies, the Atman also will die. Well, this follows as a consequence of taking this body as the Atman. So it is a destructible Atman into which I have been initiated? This is no good. I shall go back to the great master once again and clarify this position."

  1. Sa samit panih punar-eyaya tam ha prajapatir-uvaca, maghavan yacchanta-hrdayah pravrajih sardham virocanena, kim icchan punar-agama iti. sa hovaca yathaiva khalv-ayam, bhagavah asmin sarire sadhv-alankrte sadhv-alankrto bhavati, suvasane sruvasanah pariskrte pariskrtah evam evayam asmin andhe'ndho bhavati, srame sramah, parivrkno parivrknah, asyaiva sarirasya nasam anv-esa nasyati, naham atra bhogyam pasyamiti.

  2. Evam evaisa maghavan iti hovaca etam tveva te bhuyo anuvyakhyasyami vasaparani dva-trimsatam varsani iti sa haparani dva-trimsatam varsani upasa tasmai hovaca.

Again with humble offering, Indra went to Brahma with discomfiture and doubts. His doubts were that the Atman cannot be the visible body or anything visible whatsoever, because everything that is visible is physical in nature and is characterised by the defects of everything that is physical. Prajapati questioned Indra regarding his doubts. "You went satisfied, and now what makes you come back?" "Great master," replied Indra, "how can we regard this body as the Atman when it is subject to these defects? If this body is blind, the Atman will become blind. If the body is diseased, the Atman would have disease. If the body dies, the Atman will die! So what kind of Atman is this? For these reasons, the reflection cannot be the Atman. I have great doubts. I have come to you for clarification. Perhaps I have misconstrued your teaching. I am having knowledge of a perishable Atman. What is the truth about this matter? Please initiate me further."

"Well, I shall speak to you again, but live here a life of austerity for another thirty-two years. Afterwards I shall speak to you," said Brahma.

Thirty-two years had already passed and again another thirty-two years had to be lived with Prajapati under severe discipline, self-control and aspiration. After the second thirty-two years of disciplined life at the abode of Prajapati, Indra was given fresh instructions.

"What is reflected in the eye or reflected in the water may not be the Atman for the reason you have already mentioned," said Prajapati. "Now I introduce you into a greater reality which is unaffected by the conditions of the physical body. That has to be regarded as the Atman because if the doubt is that the Atman about which instruction has been received is affected by physical character, then naturally that which is not so affected should be regarded as the Atman." In the next section, Indra is introduced into an experience which is not conditioned by the characters of the physical body.

Section 10: The Dream Self

  1. Ya esa svapne mahiyamanas-carati esa atma, iti hovaca, etad-amrtam abhayam, etad-brahmeti. sa ha santa-hrdayah pravavraja; sa haprapyaiva devan etadbhaynm dadarsa; tad-yadyapidam sariram andham bhavati, anandhah sa bhavati, yadi sramam asramah, naivaiso'sya dosena dusyati.

Prajapati now said, "That which you see in the state of dream is the Atman. That is Brahman about which I am going to speak to you. That Being which rejoices and is happy in the state of dream is the Atman, which is fearless and which is immortal. This is the Reality about which I have spoken earlier and into which you seek initiation."

Well, to some extent there was satisfaction of lndra's doubts. The physical body does not affect the conditions in dream. "Yes, this must be so," he thought, and went back, cool, calm and composed in heart. But he was blessed with the capacity to ratiocinate and investigate into what he was told. On the way, before he reached his palace in heaven, he again had a doubt.

"How, could this be?" he thought within himself. "That which is in dream is the Atman? Can it be like that? Yes, if the body is blind, the dream person need not be blind. And if the bodily individual has any other defect such as crippleness, etc., this defect does not affect the dreaming individual. Perhaps even if the physical body is amputated, a limb cut off or affected very seriously, the dreaming individual is not so affected."

  1. Navadhenasya hanyate, nasya sramyena sramah, ghnanti tvevainam, vicchadayantivapriyavetteva bhavati, api roditiva, naham atra bhogyam pasyamiti.

Now Indra had another doubt. Even if it be that the dreamer is not affected by the defects of the physical body, there is some other defect in dream. One is not always perfect in dream. The point whether the physical body affected the dream body or not is irrelevant. What is pertinent here is that the dreaming individual has the same problems as the waking individual. There is the same pleasure and pain dependent on unreliable factors both in the waking and dreaming body. One feels as if one is chased or driven away or being killed even in dream. One feels sorrow and grief and passes through unpleasant experiences in dream also. Can this then be the Atman? Naturally, it cannot be, because it is not perfect. It is affected by the same changes which the waking body is subjected to. One cries, weeps and sobs when one has painful experiences in dream also. This dreaming Atman is no good. This was the trend of thought which Indra had in his mind when he was halfway to his city in the heavens.

  1. Sa samit-panih punar-eyaya. tam ha prajapatir-uvaca, maghavan yuc-chanta-hrdayah pravrajih, kim icchan punar-agama iti. sa hovaca, tad-yady-apidam, bhagavah, sariram andham bhavati, anandhah sa bhavati, yadi sramam asramah, naivaiso'sya dosena dusyati.

  2. Na vadhenasya hanyate nasya sramyena sramo ghnanti tvevainam vicchadayanti ivapriyavetteva bhavati api redativa nahamatra pasyamiityevam evaisa maghavan iti hovacha etam tveva te bhuyo'anuvyakhyasyami vasaparani dva-trimsatam varsani iti sa haparani dva-trimsatam varsanyuvasa tasmai hovaca.

Again with sacred firewood, Indra approached Prajapati as a humble disciple. Prajapati queried, "This is the third time. You went away satisfied, O Indra. Now again you have come. What is wrong?"

Indra mentioned once again all his doubts. "This dreaming individual is no good at all," said he. "The dreaming person can be sorry, can be affected in a serious manner like the waking one and he has even the experience of destruction, death, etc. What is the good of this Atman? This is my doubt. Please teach me the real Atman."

"Another thirty-two years you stay here, leading a life of discipline. Let me see then if I can tell you something more about the Atman," said Prajapati. This is the third time that he was asked to live a life of self-control. Indra must have been a tenacious person, no doubt, to stay like this for the sake of the great knowledge which he sought, by the acquisition of which he aspired for mastery over all the worlds and fulfilment of every kind of desire. So he, according to the injunction of Prajapati, stayed there, the latter's abode, for another thirty-two years, leading a life of intense discipline, austerity and tapascharya. After these thirty-two years, Prajapati instructed Indra again.

Section 11: The Self in Deep Sleep

  1. Tad-yatraitat suptah samastah samprasannah svapnam na vijanati esa atmeti hovaca, etad-amrtam abhayam etad-brahmeti. sa ha santa-hrdayah pravavraja, sa haprapyaiva devan eta-bhayam dadarsa, naha khalvayam evam sampraty-atmanam janati, ayam aham asmi iti no evemani bhutani vinasam evapito bhavati naham atra bhogyam pasyamiti.

"Now, I will tell you something different. I will point out the Atman which is not affected by the physical body, nor conditioned by the sorrows of dream, and which is blessed in its own state. What is that? He who is in the deep sleep state, that is the Atman. This is the immortal, this is the fearless, this is the Atman. Which one? That which is in the state of deep sleep," said Prajapati.

Now, that which is in the state of deep sleep has no experience of sorrow of any kind. It does not feel that it is affected by anything. It has no grief. It does not feel that it dies. So in a sense it is all right. The sleeping state is a state of freedom from all the turmoils of both the physical and psychic life in the waking and the dreaming states.

Listening to these instructions of Prajapati, Indra was satisfied for the time being. So, he left Prajapati's abode and went back home thinking that he had known the Atman. But, on the way he again had doubts. He did not reach home. He had great fear.

"What sort of Atman is this that is in sleep? It is as if it is not there at all! It is a zero, an annihilation, a negation of all things! This Atman is a darkness which knows neither its own self nor others. What kind of thing is this sleep? Neither it knows that it is, nor does it know that anything else is. It is like complete annihilation, as it were. How could self-annihilation be the Atman? This kind of Atman is no good. That which does not know its own Self! What sort of Atman is this?" With these doubts, Indra again went back to Prajapati.

  1. Sa samit-panih punar-eyaya. tam ha prajapatir-uvaca, maghavan, yacchanta-hrdayah pravrajih, kim icchan punar-agama iti. sa hovaca, naha khalv-ayam, bhagavah, evam sampraty-atmanam janati, ayam ahamasmiti, no evemani bhutani, vinasam evapito bhavati, naham atra bhogyam pasyamiti.

With sacred fuel in hand, Indra came to Prajapati as a disciple once again to learn the truth about the Atman. Prajapati asked, "O Indra, why have you come back again? You went away satisfied after receiving my instruction." Indra replied, "This Atman in deep sleep that you spoke to me about does not know anything at all. It is an ignorant Atman. This is a state of apparent self-annihilation. I cannot believe that this is the immortal Atman, by knowing which one becomes the lord of all the worlds and fulfils all desires, and about which you made a proclamation in your court. Kindly teach me about that Atman."

  1. Evam evaisa, maghavan, iti hovaca, etam tveva te bhuyo'nuvyakhyasyami, no evanyatraitasmat, vasaparani panca varsaniti, sa haparani panca varsany-uvasa, tanyeva-satam sampeduh, etat tad-yad-ahuh eka-satam ha vai varsani maghavan prajapatau brahmacaryam uvasa. tasmai hovaca.

"Another five years of discipline is necessary. So stay here for another five years," said Prajapati. According to the advice of the great master, he lived there again for five years with intense discipline, and sought initiation again. So, one hundred and one years of tapas did Indra perform in the abode of Prajapati for the sake of this Supreme Knowledge. Even now people say: "Indra, such a powerful person with such a brilliant intellect, had to live a life of tremendous austerity for one hundred and one years for the sake of this Atman knowledge!"

What to speak of other ordinary people! How much discipline is necessary! How much preparation is called for! And what intense austerity has to precede this seeking of knowledge from a teacher! This shows the need for the requisite preparation for the reception of this knowledge. It cannot come easily. After these preparations on the part of Indra and his having completed one hundred and one years of tremendous tapas, Prajapati instructed about the final truth about the Atman.

Continued