The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: An Analysis of the Nature of the Self

Section 13: Exclamation of the Perfected Soul

  1. Syamac-chabalam prapadye, sabalac-chyamam prapadye asva iva romani vidhuya papam, candra iva rahor-mukhat pramucya dhutva sariram, akrtam krtatma brahma-lokam abhisambhavami iti.

We are now about to enter into the realm of Brahma. The aspiration has gone to its zenith. So the soul speaks to itself, as it were. "I shall reach that Supreme." Literally translated the first portion of this mantra means, "From the dark blue one I go to the more defined one, and from the more defined one I go to the dark blue." Nobody can understand what these words mean if they are interpreted grammatically. The commentators say that these words refer to the state of Supreme Experience. Various commentators have different meanings to say. "From the cause I go to the subtle and from the subtle I go to the cause"-this is one meaning. Another meaning given is, "From Isvara I go to Hiranyagarbha and from Hiranyagarbha I go to Isvara." A third meaning given is, "From Brahman I go to Isvara and from Isvara I go to Brahman." "From the Universal I go to the Cause thereof, and from the Cause I go to the Universal," is still another interpretation. All these are exclamations of joy of the soul that is about to enter into the ocean of Being. And how does it go to this tremendous experience? It shakes its body and cleans it up as a horse does by shaking its body and throwing off all the dust from its hairs. This is not the literal shaking off of our physical body, but a shaking off of the entire vestures of the personality. Annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya-the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the causal-all these sheaths or bodies are shed automatically.

The soul now exclaims: "I shall free myself, as the moon frees itself from the darkness of the eclipse, from the mouth of Rahu. I shall be freed from the clutches of ignorance, this darkness that has been overshadowing me up to this time. I shall shake off this body which is actually not there. I have been misled into the feeling that all along it has been there. I shall free myself from this obsession. I shall become a kritatma, one who has fulfilled one's purposes. The aim of life has been attained and all my purposes have been fulfilled. There is nothing left to be done now, because that which is the ultimate purpose of all my efforts and endeavours in life has been reached. I shall attain Brahma-loka, the Supreme Abode of the Creator. I shall reach this Abode and become one with this Abode."

Comparatively later mystics also have spoken about experiences of this kind. The great saints of India like Sant Ramdas, Tukaram, Jnanesvar Maharaj, and in the West, mystics like Plotinus have explained this experience without using the word Brahma-loka. In this supernal experience, there is the consciousness of the interpenetration of things. In the words of Plotinus, everything is mirrored in everything else. It is as if everywhere we have got only mirrors to which individuals are compared. These are not physical mirrors, of course, kept in space, but non-located super-physical mirrors, if at all you can call them such, where every individual is reflected in every other individual. Everything is everywhere. This is the experience of interpenetration in Brahma-loka.

Section 14: The Prayer of a Seeker for Eternal Life

  1. Akaso vai nama nama-rupayor-nirvahita, te yad-antara, tad-brahma, tad-amrtam, sa atma, prajapateh sabham vesma prapadye, yaso'ham bhavami brahmananam yaso rajnam yaso visam yaso'ham anuprapatsi sa haham yasasam yasah syetam adatkam adatkam syetam lindu mabhigam, lindu mabhigam.

The space that we see here is the cause of the differentiation of name and form. What we call the objects of sense are nothing but names and forms. They manifest on account of the presence of space and time. But what is inside space and subtler than it? And is that the Absolute? We can see space but we cannot see what is beyond space, inside space. That which is internal to even the subtlest object of perception which is space is the Atman. That is Brahman, the Absolute. This is the Immortal.

Now, there is the exclamation of the liberated soul. "This is the Atman, this is Brahman. For the sake of this realisation I enter the hall, the abode of Prajapati, the Creator."

In some Upanishads, like the Kaushitaki, we have very beautiful descriptions wherein are given realistic explanations of what things are met on the way by the soul in its ascent to Brahma-loka. The soul enters the hall of Brahma, goes to the abode of Prajapati, the Creator, and becomes the glory of every one. Your glory and my glory, all glories are one, because the 'I' enters into everyone. Whatever is the greatness of anything, that becomes 'my' greatness. Great men, geniuses, masters, scientists, artists, whoever they be, whatever greatness they have, that is 'my' greatness, because 'I' enters into their Being, 'I' gets united with their Being. And whatever they are, that 'I' myself am. That is 'my' glory. The 'I' attains everything. 'I' am the Glory of all glories. What is the Glory of the glorious people in the world? That glory has come not from them, but from something else, and that am 'I'.

"May I not enter into this womb of the mother once again," is the last prayer of the liberated soul. He shall not enter into the womb of the mother. These peculiar words mean, "May I not enter into the womb of the mother which swallows all souls into their embodiment and limits them into personalities."

This is the great wisdom of the Chhandogya Upanishad in its quintessence.

Section 15: Parting Advice to the Pupil

  1. Taddhaitad brahma prajapataya uvaca, prajapatirmanave, manuh prajabhyah acarya-kulad-vedam adhitya yatha-vidhanam, guroh karma (krtva) atisesena abhisamavrtya, kutumbe sthitva, sucau dese svadhyayam adhiyanah, dharmikan vidadhat, atmani sarvendriyani sampratisthapya, ahimsan sarva-bhutany-anyatra tirthebhyah, sa khalveam vartayanyavad-ayusam brahma-lokam abhisampadyate, na ca punar-avartate na ca punar-avartate.

This is what the great Creator Brahma spoke to his children who are called the Prajapatis—Marichi, Asvini, Kasyapa, Angirasa, and others. This Knowledge has come down through Guru-parampara and not through books. Books cannot give this knowledge. By word of mouth has this knowledge been communicated. "Brahma spoke to Prajapatis." Here too, there is difference of opinion in regard to the interpretation of the meaning of the Upanishadic words. What is meant by saying that Brahma spoke to Prajapati? It may be that the supreme Brahman spoke to the creator Hiranyagarbha also known as Brahma. Or it may be that Narayana spoke to Brahma as we hear it in the Srimadbhagavata, for instance. Or, according to Sankaracharya who has commented on the Upanishad, Brahma, the Creator, spoke to Kasyapa and other progenitors of the family of the universe who are known as Prajapatis. And these Prajapatis spoke to Manu, the first man, the Adam of our Creation. Then Manu gave this knowledge to others. So it has gradually come, stage by stage, from Guru to disciple, and finally to us.

Now, in this concluding passage of the Upanishad, we are given the advice that for the sake of this Knowledge one has to dedicate the whole of one's life in a highly disciplined manner. This vocation, if you would like to call it, is not going to be one among the many other activities in life. It is a whole-souled aspiration, and so it calls for an application of every faculty of ours in a completely dedicated manner. What we usually call the four stages of life, the asramas—brahmacharya, (celibate student's life), garhasthya (married householder's life), vanaprastha (life of an anchorite), and sannyasa (monkhood)-are hinted at in this passage as the requisite process through which one passes for the maturity of one's mind. And at the same time, a caution also is administered that the whole of one's life has to be lived in such a way that it is a preparation for the spiritual goal. There is often a misconception that the spiritual part of one's life is sannyasa alone and the earlier three stages are not. This is what is refuted by all the Upanishads. All the stages of life right from brahmacharya onwards are preparations for spiritual life. Rather, all of them are necessary stages in one's ascent to the spiritual goal. It is not that the spiritual life commences only from sannyasa abruptly, as it were, and the earlier three stages are disconnected entirely from the spiritual goal. The whole of one's life from birth to death is a spiritual preparation. There is nothing but the Atman, the Spirit in life, and, therefore, no activity can be entirely secular, in the sense of its being bereft of the awareness of God's presence, as one's goal of life. In India particularly we have what are called samskaras, the various ceremonies symbolic of the affiliation of every stage of one's life to the spiritual goal. There is no such thing as an unspiritual aspect of life, whether it be brahmacharya, grahasthya, or vanaprastha. This is a very important advice by which we are told that the whole life of a person, whoever be that person, is an entirely dedicated schooling, as it were, a period of training for the purpose of the final achievement of Liberation. There is no part of life which can be squandered or wasted, or completely cut off from this consciousness of the ideal of one's life.

Even childhood has to be associated by proper means. The moment consciousness becomes self-conscious even in a youngster, the traditional method is to be followed. He gets admitted into the gurukula of the acharya, the Guru. The sacred training ground is called the gurukula, the abode of the Guru, the atmosphere of a spiritual teacher. There one studies the Vedas. The Vedas are not studied as we are accustomed to study them these days. It is not merely a parrot-like chant of the words of the Vedas without knowing what they mean. Study of the Vedas is imbibing of knowledge, not merely a committing to memory of the words contained therein. And the Veda does not mean merely a book or a particular scripture. Ananta Vedah—"Vedas are endless" says an old adage. The Veda is a name given to the repository of all comprehensive knowledge which in turn has various stages and aspects of approach. Very few people have time enough to comprehend everything that is in the Veda. Most often they are introduced into certain sakhas, sections only, and even all those sections cannot be studied. Even if all those sections are taught, everything that is contained in them cannot be absorbed into one's mind. However, this study of the Veda is a very necessary stage of training.

There is another important advice here which is likely to miss the attention of ordinary people. The study under a preceptor should be done during the period of time which one has, apart from the time one spends for the service of the Guru. The student will not be studying from morning till evening sitting with a book, completely ignoring his duty of serving the Guru. Study is secondary and is to be undergone only at other times, the time of recess, as it were, which is at his disposal after he has completed his daily duties to his Guru.

Having undergone this training for the required period under a Guru, one usually enters the household life. The life of a householder should not be one of distracted secular activity. It is not the opposite of sannyasa, as people generally think. It is like brahmacharya, one of the steps leading to sannyasa, and at the same time, is the most mature part of one's life. There is a manifoldness of duty enjoined upon the householder. His difficulties are many and, therefore, the training that he undergoes in that period is more effective, and is a greater preparation, as it were, than in any other stages. Having settled in a proper household after his period of training under a Guru is over, one should find time to be seated in a holy or sacred place and continue the study in order not to forget study, because it is the art of keeping the mind impressed with the consciousness of the goal of life. Else one will forget everything. Though one may have studied something in the earlier days, one may forget everything and the mind may get rusted. Svadhyaya is a necessary perpetual training for everyone, which is not actually the process of acquiring new knowledge, but a way of keeping the mind aware always of what it has studied, and the way of applying this knowledge in practice to attain the great goal. So svadhyaya is a permanent requisite. Always you have to be studying these great texts lest you may forget your goal. A householder has of, course, virtuous children or virtuous disciples who will receive this knowledge from him. Under him they undergo this kind of training. Thus he fulfils his obligation as a householder for the required period.

Then comes the stage of vanaprastha. Here he withdraws his senses. All the activities get centered in the Self when the senses are withdrawn. Instead of external activity, there is now internal activity. A psychological function replaces all the physical duties such as sacrifices, the panchamahayajnas. The various services that he was rendering outwardly in the world previously now become the responsibilities of his life in an internal world of self-control and withdrawal of the senses.

The great vow of the sannyasin is ahimsa, that he would never harm anyone. He is the embodiment of the great fearlessness that he extends to all living beings. No one will be afraid of seeing a sannyasin, for he will not do any harm or anything bad, as his heart has expanded beyond the limits of his own body and his family. The term anyatra tirthebhyah here used with reference to ahimsa means that it would be difficult to extend this obligation of non-injury in an unconditional manner on account of the fact that we live in a world. Various interpretations have been offered for this particular phrase. The usual meaning would be the sacrificial injunctions of the Brahmanas of the Vedas that the committing of himsa is forbidden everywhere except in prescribed places or prescribed occasions. The more generous interpretation of it, as is offered by many commentators, is that the prescribed occasions are those times or periods of activity when you are likely to commit some kind of harm to creatures inadvertently, as it were. It is not possible to live a life of such an extreme type of ahimsa on account of our not being aware many a time as to what we are doing. Of course the intention is not that you should consciously do any harm. Unconsciously harm is done. This is done particularly by the householders because of their living in a house having a kitchen with a fire place, a water place, a grinding place, a broom, etc., where insects, flies and the like are likely to be crushed and killed inadvertently. Various other occasions also are there in life which cannot be recounted here when you are likely to cause unconsciously harm to living beings. These of course are excluded, if they are unconsciously done. But they can be expiated by the intense sadhana which the sannyasin is expected to perform in the purely internal spiritual life that he lives full of proper meditation.

The whole of one's life should be lived like this. The moment one becomes conscious of the goal of one's life, then it is up to one to see that one's every activity is somehow or other reconciled with this goal. One should not do any incompatible thing against one's own conscience and against the purpose that one has on hand. Thus it is that it is necessary to have one's entire life transformed into a spiritual art and complete dedication.

Often it is said that the last thought is the determining factor of one's future fate. The last thought that may come to the mind at the time of death is the fruit of this tree of the long life that one has lived in this world. We know very well that the fruit cannot be different from the nature of the tree. So, the last thought cannot be something quite contrary to or different from the various impressions produced in the mind by the continuous thoughts that it was entertaining throughout life. And if one has to have this spiritual ideal maintained in one's consciousness at the time of departing, then it has to be maintained as a discipline throughout one's life.

Thus one reaches the great abode of the Creator, Brahma-loka, from whence there is no return. Once we go there, we will not come back. This is very frightening to many people. They interject: "We don't come back! Is it like entering into a lion's den!" We need not enter into this subject, because it looks very funny that after studying the whole Upanishad we have an uncanny fear that God will swallow us and we will have no occasion to come back. The question of coming back does not arise because we become one with the universal Reality. This going and coming are only ways of speaking in this phenomenal world. What happens is actually a union of consciousness with the All-Being, the Absolute.

Here concludes the Chhandogya Upanishad. Before concluding the study of this Upanishad, I shall take up two sections from the earlier portions, which we shall study under Appendices I and II. They are called the Sandilya-Vidya and the Samvarga-Vidya.