Commentary on the Katha Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Section 3: Sadhana

How can the individual exceed himself, transcend his personality; how can man become God? This section is important for the seeker.

Section one was an introduction: Nachiketas’ position. In the second, we studied the philosophy: the existence of the Supreme Being. In the third, we are going to deal with sadhana.

Two Selves

ṛtam pibantau sukṛtasya loke guhām praviṣṭau parame parārdhe,
chāyā-tapau brahma-vido vadanti, pañcāgnayo ye ca tri-ṇāciketāḥ. (1)

The language of this mantra is typically Vedic, and so is the style; it does not convey an intelligible meaning on the surface. The Upanishads borrow from the Vedas, especially from the spirit of the samhita.

We have heard of these two selves in mystical texts. In the Mundakopanishad, we also read about them: ‘Two birds are in the selfsame tree’; something like that is said there. But here, they are: “Two selves, lodged in the same cave, the secret place, the chief seat of the Supreme, enjoying the fruits of meritorious deeds—these two that are hidden, are like light and shadow to the knowers of Brahman who perform the panchagni sacrifice, and also to the tenders of the Nachiketas fire.”

You have seen the damaru of Lord Shiva. It is like two triangles, touching one another at their apexes, wide in their base and narrow in their waist or central point, one kept upside down. Philosophically and spiritually, this symbol is a great mystery. Jiva and Shiva are both mystically united, as it were, in this combination of the two sections of the damaru. You can say it is like the original and its reflection in an unruffled water surface.

The figure looks upward in the reflection. Man is the opposite of God in every way. Whatever God is, man is the opposite. In the process of creation, there is a topsy-turvy action: God thinks, and the world is. But in our case, the objects are, and we think of them. The highest evolute in creation is mahat. Then comes ahankara; then the tanmatras and then, at last, the five elements. But to us, the five elements come first. And as the world affects our thinking and perception, we are slaves of it, while God is its Master. The jiva is enslaved by avidya, but ishvara controls maya. The latter is universal, the former is particularised. While there is omniscience in maya, there is sleep in avidya. ishvara is sarvajna, All-Knowing. The jiva is alpajna, knowing little. ishvara is Sarva Shaktiman; the jiva is alpashaktiman. ishvara is sarvantaryamin while the jiva is akadesika. This is the Puranic symbology of the damaru. It is also of great significance in tantric lore. Heaven and earth, spirit and matter, are these inverted triangles, as also the difference between the supreme Subjectivity and objectivity.

Thus, the two contravening birds hidden in the cave of the heart, ishvaratva and jivatva, are possible in the same being. The former is markedly distinguished from the latter, even as the original from the reflection. What is the distinction? Though the outer form is the same, the reflection is without reality. The things of the world are not substantial, just like a motion picture, where many rapidly moving pictures make a standing man on the cinema screen. He stands there due to the inability of our senses and mind to keep pace with the velocity of the pictures’ movements. We are unable to catch up with the constituents of the objects, and hence we see the solid world. The Buddha is a great exponent of this non-substantiality of things. “Transient is the world,” he said.

Rapid motion causes the object to look static. The world is an illusion because it is different from what it appears to be. It is a reflection and has no substantiality. It is this contrast between the original and the reflection that is brought out in this verse.

The jivatma and paramatma lodged in the same place are different like light and shade, proclaim the knowers of Brahman and those who know the five fires and the Nachiketas sacrifice, thrice performed. The two are the divine and human element in us. Our animal part is not considered here. It is taken for granted that we have risen above it. Human nature often gets contaminated by sub-human instincts. Our passions, whatever they be—intellectual, mental, sensual—are not human, but animalistic, and blur the human nature. The divine element comes into play occasionally, in times of inspiration. In its lowest form, it is conscience. In its higher one, it is spiritual; and in the highest it is the Atman. But the senses speak loudly, and so the voice of conscience gets drowned. Therefore, says the Upanishad, it cannot be known except by those who perform the panchagni fire: a purification of the sun, the rain, earth, man and woman. These are the five stages of manifestation, and thus the means of expression of creation.

The Buddha also compares the world to fire, the senses are fire, the eyes are fire, and so on. By fire he means desire. The whole world is a burning pit of fire.

Mystically, all objects are only formations of the five elements and can be reduced to them. When they assume the manifold forms of objects, the senses get heated up and run towards them. Even with the panchagni sacrifice, the five senses are still kept alive by the fivefold object elements. The method of overcoming this conflagration is another fire: the Nachiketas sacrifice, the divine vaishvanara-agni. When It consumes the stages of our own being—the physical, astral and causal levels—when this sacrifice is done thrice, we become a universal lustre or radiance, the same radiance that was shown by Sri Krishna to Arjuna. Thus, the universal fire is one of the two beings (divine), and the sensory is the other (human). They are the spiritual and the sensual, the universal and the individual, the divine and the human.

Though we have worldly enjoyments, we are restless. This unrest is due to the call of the divine within, the higher Being working in us always, though the lower tries to cloud our vision, on account of which we remain individuals. The higher fire is a glorious light before which the lower one is like shade.

yas setur ījānānām akṣaram brahma yat param,
abhayam titīrṣatām pāram nāciketaṁ śakemahi. (2)

“This universal fire of Nachiketas is like a bridge between the higher and the lower. This vaishvanara yajna is verily a jnana yajna of the soul, the way of the individual’s entry into Brahman. Fearless it is and also the means for all those who wish to cross samsara.”

Here alone our restlessness ceases. It is called the junction between virat and Brahman. From multiple-consciousness, we have to go to Oneness. Whether we walk or fly, we have to pass every place on the way, though in sadyo-mukti the passing is so quick that you are not aware of it, like the hundred petals passed through by a needle in one moment, and yet each petal has been passed. It is a gradual ascent of the soul from the lower to the higher.

The Parable of the Chariot

ātmānaṁ rathinaṁ viddhi, śarīraṁ rathameva tu:
buddhiṁ tu sāradhiṁ viddhi, manaḥ pragraham eva ca. (3)

Who is capable of performing this sacrifice? It is like the soul driving a chariot towards the supreme destination of Brahman. While It is the goal, vaishvanara is the bridge, the world is the location from where we have to start, and what kind of effort we have to put forth will be said in the following mantras.

We have here the symbology of a chariot, yoked to horses that are controlled by a driver, and having wheels and a road. Plato also describes this vehicle: Two horses pull it, a good one and a bad one; one moving properly, the other one is restless and impetuous. These two are the higher and lower impulses working in us.

We meet the chariot symbol quite often in the mystical literature of this world. There is a reference to it in the Bhagavadgita, too. Sometimes, the whole creation is regarded as a chariot.

In this mantra, “The soul within the chariot is the rider; the body is the chariot. The charioteer is the intellect or reason. The mind is like reigns with which the horses are connected to the chariot.”

indriyāṇi hayān āhur viṣayāṁs teṣu gocarān,
ātmendriya-mano-yuktam bhoktety āhur manīṣiṇaḥ. (4)

“The senses are the horses, the objects are the roads along which the chariot is driven; the self, associated with the body, the senses and the mind—the wise say—is the enjoyer.”

This gives us an idea how our senses are connected to objects of the world. The purpose of the chariot’s movement is to reach the destination for its rider. But the chariot is only a help, and the driver must be intelligent and know the course. The Atman, in combination with the body, the indriyas and manas, is a karta, doer, and bhokta, enjoyer. Minus the intellect, we are karta and bhokta.

The buddhi is carefully omitted when the enjoyer is described, because in enjoyment, the intellect is not necessary. The mind and senses work together in the lower stage, the mind merely playing second fiddle to what they say and not being independent. The independence belongs to the intellect or charioteer. Where it is lacking, moha is created and we go after things. When the light of the soul, bereft of intelligence, works through the mind and senses, there is samsara. But we have also the higher intellect which should guide us throughout. The correlation of it and the chariot is described in the next mantras.

There should not be any kind of discord between the two. The reigns should not break; the chariot should not crash. The Atman is essential, the body is essential; the senses are essential as motive power; but only blended with the intellect they make a beautiful combination.

yas tv avijñānavān bhavaty ayuktena manasā sadā,
tasyendriyāṇy avaśyāni duṣṭāśvā iva sāratheḥ. (5)

“One who has no understanding, whose mind is unrestrained, cannot control the senses and will be like a person driving the chariot with wicked horses.”

Suppose the horses of a chariot are not controlled, one horse trying to take it to the ditch or retard the progress, while the other one is good, there will be no harmony. There is always a tension in us between the higher and lower. And just as a person will not reach his destination if a horse is not good, a seeker whose intellect is clouded cannot control the senses and does not move along the right path.

yas tu vijñānavān bhavati, yuktena manasā sadā,
tasyendriyāṇi vaśyāni sadaśvā iva sāratheḥ. (6)

“But the reverse is the case of that person whose horses are good and well-trained, and when the charioteer is capable of understanding.”

In this case the reigns are never let off and the movement of the chariot is proper in its course.

yas tv avijñānavān bhavaty amanaskas sadā’śuciḥ
na sa tat padam āpnoti saṁsāraṁ cādhigacchati. (7)

“If the driver of the chariot is bereft of understanding, his mind is ever impure, the goal is never reached and the chariot is hurled down. A person without self-control enters the womb of samsara.”

When the senses move among objects as their road, they do not know which course to pursue. If a charioteer without intelligence comes to a crossroad, he does not know which way to choose. Or if the horses go amuck, we can imagine the fate of the chariot and its rider. The objects are many, though the elements which constitute them are only five. There is a tremendous excitement of the senses when they behold the colourful world of objects. We begin to see through them rather than the intellect, and since they are diversified, we are presented a diversified world of which we do not know what to choose. Thus, without intelligence, there is restless activity.

yas tu vijñānavān bhavati samanaskas sadā śuciḥ,
sa tu tat padam āpnoti yasmāt bhῡyo na jāyate. (8)

“He whose senses are controlled and whose intellect is purified; he does not come back.”

Are the roads really many, or is it one, is the question. The roads are many to the senses, but to the purified intellect it is one. The one road is hiranyagarbha, or vaishvanara, in whom everything gets melted and all roads meet. The diversified activities of the senses can stop only when the Unity behind them is beheld, which is not possible without self-withdrawal through intelligence. The five roads merge into a single one. If five horses tied to the same chariot run in different directions, what will happen to the chariot? On the other hand, if they all move in one direction—what will be their power!

vijñānasārathir yastu manaḥ pragrahavān naraḥ,
so’dhvanaḥ param āpnoti tad viṣṇoḥ paramam padam. (9)

“A person who has intelligence as the charioteer, whose mind acts as reigns, he reaches the final destination of the path, which is the supreme state of God.”

The last quarter of mantra nine is borrowed from the Rig Veda. It says that the state of Vishnu is beheld by the wise ones as the state of all-pervading ether. The place of Vishnu is not a location or palace. It is spread out like ether or space, like the ocean. The river is everywhere when it reaches the ocean and does not remain localised in one place. Likewise is the soul when it reaches vishnupada. The Universal Being is Vishnu. The moment a jiva reaches his destination, he enters vishnupada. Therefore the body is to be utilised as a vehicle of action in the movement of the soul to God.

There is nothing wrong with our senses, mind, etc., but they should be directed properly. Evil is that which is misdirected. A thing is not evil in itself, but when it performs another’s function it is evil, just as anything out of place is dirt. So everything should be in its proper place and yoked properly. The world is a training-ground in which the objects and senses are occasions for mastering our energies so that they get unified through the senses, mind and intellect. We look weak because all our energies leak out through the senses. If you conserve your health and concentrate your effort in a single channel, it is called dharana. This will make you powerful; this is yoga. By the control of the senses, the mind and the intellect, the soul becomes fit for God-realisation.

After this description, another aspect is being discussed. How are you to subdue the senses? How is the charioteer to control the horses? They are mad for objects! What steps are we to take?

This difficult effort on the part of the soul is called indriya-samyama or manonigraha. It is summed up in the two following slokas.

The Order of Progression to The Supreme

indriyebhyaḥ parā hy arthā, arthebhyaś ca param manaḥ,
manasaś ca parā buddhir buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ. (10)

“Beyond the senses are the objects, beyond them is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, beyond the intellect is the Cosmic Mind which is hiranyagarbha.”

mahataḥ param avyaktam, avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ
puruṣān na paraṁ kiñcit: sā kāṣṭhā sā parā gatiḥ. (11)

“Beyond hiranyagarbha, the great Self, is mulaprakriti, the Unmanifest, beyond It is the purusha, the Spirit; and beyond the purusha, there is nothing.”

What do we see? The world of objects. The senses see objects and move towards them. They see only the forms which are called objects and do not understand that there is something behind them. So they are running towards them, thinking that there is something in the object which they themselves lack. Looked at in this way, objects are superior to the senses. But we do not want objects; we want to enjoy their colour, taste, touch etc. Thus, a distinction has to be drawn between objects and their qualities or essence, or substance. These subtle essences, hidden in the objects, are superior to them. The senses want not the objects, but the characteristics hidden in them. The objects are not really the centre of desire. They are only a vehicle which holds the counterpart to our interest. We therefore want to utilise objects as agents for our satisfaction.

The most important of all characteristics in the world is restlessness. Whatever be the state in which we are, we are going from one change to another. This indicates that there is something seriously wrong in this world. We are like a person walking on one leg, or riding a cycle with one wheel. It can stand as long as it moves, and when it does not move, it falls. There is only ‘becoming’ everywhere, and there is no ‘being’. Our whole life is activity, not existence. This intention to act, this process of movement throughout one’s life, indicates that there is an urge of our being towards something, like the flowing of a river to the ocean. The river moves, and its movement ceases when it reaches the ocean. Not only we change; everything in the world changes: the world is transient; the world is restless; the world is in motion—it is all the same thing said in different terms. An imperfection, or lack, characterises the whole world of creation. Its motion, the velocity of objects, is what gives appearance or shape or existence to it. Things do not exist, but pass. This state of affairs is the cause of our unhappiness. We cannot find peace with ourselves because we have not achieved our end. What that end is, is the purport of mantras ten and eleven.

Beyond the drop is the stream; beyond the stream is the rivulet; beyond the rivulet is the river; and beyond the river is the ocean. There is nothing beyond the ocean. This is what these mantras say. Beyond the senses is the essence of the tanmatras; beyond them is the mind; beyond it is the intellect; beyond it is the virat; beyond It is hiranyagarbha; beyond It is ishvara or avyakta; beyond which is the purusha, and beyond the purusha there is nothing. The smaller tends towards the larger which is its source. The effect moves towards its cause. That from which a thing has come attracts it, like a mother attracts her children. Planets cling to the sun because they are parts of it. All things in the world tend towards the immediately greater. There is a cause behind a cause until a causeless cause is reached, which we are in search of and which we have not yet seen.

The causeless Cause is not part of the chain of cause and effect; it is different. The ocean of the world is limited, but this Ocean is not only outside the things that flow, but also within. While the ocean is at one end of the river, this Ocean is everywhere. God calls us at all places in the world, not merely in the temples and churches. His presence is not only at one end of the world, in heaven. He is everywhere. He is the purusha. That is the final destination beyond which there is nothing. When you reach the purusha, something mystrious takes place. There is a tremendous difference between one thing reaching another thing, and the reaching of Him. No unusual occurrence can be noticed until the purusha is reached; there is only an ascent till then. But when you touch the last rung of the ladder, when the river enters the ocean of being, something strange takes place: it enters That which it was even before.

The end becomes the means. The causeless cause becomes everything. This transformation is supernormal; impossible to understand. It is not an achievement of the future, like the achievements of the world. Motion is possible until the purusha is touched. Then, the process becomes processless. This transformation is final. It is a spiritual transformation, and not a physical or mental one, a change which the preceding effects cannot know. The effect cannot know the cause until it reaches it, and when it reaches its cause, it is no longer there. Thus, there is no such thing as knowing God. You do not know God when you are away from Him and until you reach Him, and when you reach Him, you are not there.

The senses feel far away from physical objects, on account of which they feel drawn towards them. The panchagni acts as incentive for the senses to move. The five elements as well as the five essences behind them act reciprocally and produce a sense of mutual attraction. The tanmatras pervade not only the objects, but are behind the senses also. And something happens when they unite, like a friend meeting a friend after years. It is not union of two objects, but something more, like the mother’s embrace of her child. More than a mere meeting of two objects, there is a feeling which is of greater significance: a consciousness swallowing up the consciousness of particulars, and the two become one; not in the physical sense of the term; a union not even psychological merely, but more fundamental.

The essence behind sense-perception is not properly understood, and so we are caught up in moha; we are in a helpless condition. This condition of helplessness is samsara. It is a pitiable state of affairs when there is a mutual reaction between subject and object caused by a force of which no one knows. Is there no hope out of this situation? The Upanishad says that there is. It lies in a higher integration of our feeling, thinking and understanding. We should not be limited to the objects and senses, that is, we should not be reduced to the level of objects. We are friendly to them because we have reduced ourselves to their status.

The tanmatras are the deeper essence behind objects—including our body, which is also an object. They are not electric energy, but finer than the molecules, protons and electrons of the scientists. While electric energy is wholly inert, without intelligence to direct itself, the tanmatras are midway between the cosmic prana and the world, being the vital forces regulating the physical objects and thus superior to and higher than these and the senses. There are three gunas of prakriti; and the sattvic element of these constitutes the tanmatras, the rajasic element constitutes the prana, and the tamasic one the physical world. Hence, beyond the physical world, there are the tanmatras; and beyond them, there is the mind constituted of their subtle, sattvic principles like: sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha.

Still superior in function to the mind is the intellect. While the mind functions indeterminately, there is decision and clarified understanding in buddhi; it makes decisions in all matters. The senses give distorted reports, the mind collects them and the intellect passes judgment. Here, we have reached the end of the human world. The highest faculty in man is the intellect. So man is said to be a rational being. But, says the Upanishad, there is something superior to the intellect. He has to rise beyond himself by a process of self-transcendence which is described in these two mantras. What is beyond the intellect? We cannot know, because knowing ceases there. The Upanishads are intuitional declarations and go further than mere knowing. Internal and transcending, but unknown to it, are the wider cosmic powers.

When we exceed the intellect, we go beyond the physical. The jiva goes to the virat when his intelligence rises to an understanding of what is beyond it. There, human consciousness reaches a state of existence feebly felt in ecstatic moments. The Upanishad now goes to the universal Reality in its lower manifestations. Virat is superior to the jiva who is part of It, just as limbs are parts of the body. Virat, hiranyagarbha and ishvara are the threefold manifestations on the cosmic level—corresponding to the threefold manifestations of the individual: the waking, the dream and the deep sleep states. While we are aware of the body in waking, of the psychological condition in dream and the causal one in deep sleep, there is a lot of difference in regard to the character and function between these individual and universal states; the virat is not just like waking, and so on. Higher than the virat is the Cosmic Mind or Intellect or Ego which makes up the hiranyagarbha in Vedantic terminology, or Brahma, the Creator, in the Puranas.

What is beyond virat and hiranyagarbha? There is a twofold answer to this: from the point of view of the experiencing consciousness, and from the point of view of the state itself. Seen from the latter, it is avyakta, mulaprakriti or mahamaya; the precondition of everything. But seen from the former, the experiencing consciousness, which is ishvara, we may ask: ‘What is in deep sleep?’ The answer to this question is the answer to His character. From one point of view, there is nothing in deep sleep, and from another, there is pure consciousness. Since no phenomena take place, there is nothing; but yet there is awareness. Likewise, the awareness of existence of prakriti is the universal ishvara.

He is the cosmic Witness of all things, and there must be something even beyond Him because, even here, is duality. Transcending Him is the purusha. The purusha is not a male, It is Being. That which is cosmically existent always is the purusha. It is another name for the Absolute. Beyond the mahat is avyakta; beyond avyakta is the purusha. What is beyond the purusha? Beyond It, there is nothing. Once you reach It, you have reached the end. This is the limit of experience, and the goal of all life; not merely of life, but also of non-life. There is no such thing as dead matter. There is only difference in the degrees of life; and everything tends to This.

This description of the gradation of evolution is given in the context of self-control. Unless we take the help of the higher power, this is not possible. We try to control the senses by will-power, which is wedded to them. If it were wholly independent of them, it would work, but because reasoning is based on the report of the senses, self-control demands the use of the superior power. The intention behind the gradation stated in the mantras here is to show that we control the senses by the mind, the mind by the intellect, the intellect by the cosmic virat, the virat by the Cosmic Mind , the Cosmic Mind  by the Cosmic Intellect or ishvara, and finally by the purusha.

Self-control reaches its paragati, or culmination, in atmasakshatkara, or God-realisation. It is therefore not merely a closing of the senses; it is the practical side of yoga. The whole description is one of dhyana, or meditation. The best way of self-control is to think of God-realisation. A mere thought of Him is enough to exert and exercise a control on the mind. When you are overpowered by a thought of God, the senses cannot function. When you are in a holy shrine, in the presence of holy men, in an intense feeling of God, self-control automatically comes, without effort. But yoga is conscious withdrawal. A deliberate attempt is called upon by the jiva, and for this, a meditative process is prescribed. All yoga is meditation, finally, whatever be the technique adopted.

That the senses perceive the world, is the present fact, but you are not seeing what is behind the object, says the Upanishad. So let the senses begin to visualise what is behind the forms, internal to the objects and our own bodies. The tanmatras operate behind both; let the consciousness be fixed on the tanmatras. Meditate on the fact that the objects are not all. There is prana-shakti behind them and our body, without which these cannot be active; let the consciousness be fixed on this. It is not that the prana-shakti is all, there is the Cosmic Mind  behind it; let the consciousness be fixed on That. Higher than this Cosmic Mind  is the Cosmic Intellect; let the consciousness be fixed on This. Consciousness should extend itself beyond: just as I am, others also are, and just as there is consciousness within me, there is consciousness behind others. There are not many consciousnesses: there is a totality of consciousness behind everything. This Consciousness is the base; let the consciousness be fixed on it. There is, beyond all this, a potentiality for all creation, ishvara-Consciousness; let the consciousness be fixed on It. This is one kind of meditation.

What are objects? They are known by a consciousness; it envelops them. Because the objects are known by consciousness, it is also ultimately inherent in them. Finally, there is only a flood of consciousness which fills all. This is satchidananda. This ananda is sufficient to exert control over our senses.

The Taittirya Upanishad given the gradation of happiness. Human happiness in a higher degree than we experience – the happiness of an emperor of the whole world, youthful, capable of enjoying everything without disease, without any limitations – is the lowest unit.

Higher than this is that of the gandharvas. Higher than this is that of the pitris, higher than this is that of the devas; higher than this is Indra’s; higher than Indra’s is Brihaspati’s; higher than Brihaspati’s is Prajapati’s; higher than Prajapati’s is Brahma’s. You can meditate on this, too. There is such a reservoir of bliss. Why go to the tinsels of objects?

God is Supreme Existence, is one aspect of meditation described in these mantras. God is Supreme Knowledge, is another aspect of meditation. God is Supreme Bliss, is another one. So you can meditate on these three aspects: God as Supreme Existence, Knowledge and Bliss. This is the internal implication.

The Method of Yoga

eṣa sarveṣu bhῡteṣu gῡdho’tmā na prakāśate,
dṛśyate tvagryayā buddhyā sῡkṣmayā sῡkṣma-darśibhiḥ. (12)

“This Atman is not visible, though hidden in all beings.”

With all the efforts of the mind and senses, the Atman does not reveal Himself to them because He is hidden in all things and therefore does not manifest Himself. In the earlier mantras we have been given to understand that there is a gradation of density in the manifestation of the Atman from senses to mind, mind to intellect, and intellect to the universal denominator of all things. In all these the Atman is hidden, in every stage of being, in every object visible and conceivable. He is hidden in a peculiar way, not like a treasure hidden in the earth which can be dug out and taken. The secret lodgment of the Atman is incapable of perception due to a mysterious difficulty of ours, and it is such that we do not have time to think of it, we are so one with it that we cannot see it. We are involved in it so deeply that we are unable to detach ourselves from it and stand apart from it as a witness of the world-process.

The Atman is hidden in the senses; He is hidden in the mind; He is hidden in the intellect; and it is enough if we speak of these, though the Atman is hidden in the beyond, too. So we cannot open our eyes and see Him, and also we cannot close our eyes and see Him, because while we open our eyes, we see the objects and not the Atman, and when the eyes are closed, we see the mental process, and not the Atman. Thus, when we do the former, we are in the world of objects, and when we do the latter, we are in the psychological world. For the Atman, the psychological world is as tangible as the physical. If the senses regard the object as external to them—to the Atman, the mind is external. Who is then to behold the Atman? He is hidden behind even the subject who wants to behold. The solution to this problem does not lie in anything known to us. We ourselves are an object to the Atman, and so we cannot see Him. Such is the mysterious difficulty of atmasakshatkara.

The word ‘Atman’ has been merged into the word ‘gudhah’—this is in Vedic style. The secretly hidden Atman is not visible. No one can say he sees the Atman, because he who sees is still outside Him. What is the process, then? This Atman is beheld mysteriously by the saints and sages.

“He is known by the subtle, sharp intellect of those subtle seers who are capable through their purified intelligence.” The intelligence, or buddhi, is not logical intellect, or the calculative one of the ordinary individual, but verily the Atman Himself. He is intelligence, rather than the intellect; the flame hidden in the fire rather than the fire. He is Self-illumination. The Atman as the subtlest principle reveals Himself as the Supreme Subject; never as an object. He has to be revealed within, and not imported from outside. The subtlety of the perceiving faculty should reach such an extent that even the subject should cease. In this extreme subtlety of being, we become less and less subjective and are also not objective, and thus become That which Is, or ‘That-ness’. It is called ‘tathata’ in the Buddhist language. It is not subjectivity, not objectivity, but something more. It is not seeing the Atman, but you become the Atman; you are He. As said in an earlier mantra: it is the Atman beholding the Atman, not the intellect, mind or senses.

A small effort will not bring the Atman. It requires the total sacrifice of your personality, not merely of family, home, etc. This is the treading: of the subtle inner path. The following mantras can be regarded as explanatory notes of mantras ten and eleven.

yacched vāṅ manasī prājñas tad yacchej jñāna-ātmani
jñānam ātmani mahati niyacchet, tad yacchec chāntav-ātmani. (13)

Vak is speech, representing all senses. The speech has to be offered in the mind. ‘Manasi’ is Vedic style. “The intelligent seeker, the person of knowledge, should offer up the senses into the mind.” This process is called pratyahara in Patanjali’s Yoga System. It is that condition in which the senses stand together with the mind in such a way that they are indistinguishable from it. They lose their lustre in the radiance of the mind. The sun’s light falls on a vessel; the former is different from the latter. Even so, when you see an object, the sense-powers get so much attuned that they may be said to be one with it. You become one with the object. They are not conscious. They are given an internal light and act as an instrument in communicating it. The mind is the source which gives adequate power to the senses for them to behold objects. The senses get attuned to their form. They are not in physical contact. It is psychological energy that pervades the object, called vritti-vyapti.

The mind takes the form of the object, and for the time being you are psychologically identified with the object. You become the object. This is an undesirable state of affairs, because you have become what you are not. The Atman has become the anatman through a vritti. This is sensory perception and attachment. We become not merely conscious of objects, but also attached to them in an emotional manner. So the senses have to be withdrawn into the mind. These senses are not the psychological organ. It is a mental force which channelises itself through the senses and covers the object. The mind, again, is inert, which is revealed in deep sleep. Just as the mirror is not capable of reflection without another light, so is the mind merely a conglomeration of prakriti. Only the purusha is intelligent.

So neither the mind nor the senses are wholly responsible for perception.

The enjoyer is a peculiar combination of the light of the Atman the mind and the senses, as explained in verse four of this section. The sunlight passes through a doorway, and inside the room is a mirror on which the light falls. The mirror receives and reflects the light, illumining the dark corner of the room. Even so, the Atman does not directly illumine the objects. The mind receives the Atman-light and reflects It on them. The technique of pratyahara starts with recognising the difference between the objects—the light reflected and the original light. The sunlight is different from the mirror light and the wall; there is only a shine seen on the wall. The light has to be withdrawn from the wall, which is to say that the senses have to be withdrawn from the objects. This cannot be done unless the mind is moved. But the mind cannot be taken away since it is not an object like a mirror, and sense-withdrawal is different from any kind of laboratory investigation. It is an internal isolation to be done.

Truly speaking, meditation starts with pratyahara; no asana or pranayama is necessary. The Upanishad goes straight to the psychological stage, teaching that by an act of concentration attended with intelligence, the objects are being isolated from object-knowledge, just as the light shining on the wall is different from it. Not to know this is samsara. For the Atman to become anatman is samsara. The affirmation, therefore, should be: “I am not the object. I cannot be the object.” The mind which sees it is different from it. The senses are the five rays of the mental light, like a candle in a pot with five holes through which the rays jet out. This radiance coming out through the five holes is sensory perception, which is really mental perception. We are different from the objects illumined by the mental rays, but the rays are not different from the light, and neither are the senses from the mind.

Now, the mind and the senses are incapable of perceiving objects because they are inert, should be the attitude of the intellect. Thus: “The mind should be offered into the intellect like the senses into the mind.” The mind does not cognise objects, as we can see in sleep. It is the judgment of the intellect acting as an intermediary between the Atman and the mind, which is responsible for individual perception. The senses and the mind are wholly dependent on the intellect, it being the nearest to Reality. The intellect affirms itself, and everything depends upon it, finally. In this meditation in which the senses and the mind and intellect come together, one stage of the meditative process is achieved. It should not be mistaken for the whole of yoga, as is often done in the West. Peace of mind brought about by this stage is not yoga. It is only coming back to yourself, from the empirical point of view. This success is not final and is not yoga-sakshatkara. Sense-control is not over here, according to the Kathopanishad, though you may no longer have gross passions, and may be a highly cultured person.

Now, we come to a bottleneck; we cannot go beyond this stage. “He should restrain the intellect in the Great Self and That in Tranquillity.” All are held up here, because the passage becomes narrow and only one person can go through. Not even your Guru can be taken. You have to go alone. Strait is the way of the Spirit. Even your body is too big and you will have to shed it. Every student of yoga fails when he comes to this point, because he has a tendency to look upon what he has left, and his heart goes back to all of it, and this thought is enough to bring him back. This is the state of a yoga bhrashta. It seems that no one is fit for yoga. This leaving the body is not killing it, but transcendence. It is a spiritual activity that we are concerned with here. To leave the world and body is to be dissociated in consciousness with them, but we cannot do this. Things persist in the form of memories. This is especially true for householders, for whom it is hard to become real yogins. How hard it is will be told in the next mantras which are the heart of the Upanishad. If you are fortunate enough to understand them, you are blessed.

The difficulty is to turn from the particular to the Universal, which man has not seen, or understood, nor can hope to understand. While it is difficult enough to turn from the objects to the senses, from the senses to the mind and to the intellect, it is far more difficult to turn to the Universal. But this is what is needed. Here it is that we require initiation. Up to the stage of the intellect, you may practice yoga without it, but after that it gets difficult because you cannot find the next one explained in any book, nor can you find a Guru who has attained it; only a few get that far. How the individual buddhi can be attuned to the Cosmic Intellect is the higher yoga of the Spirit. An initiation from a proper Guru is essential; and no true initiation is possible unless your passions are subdued. The senses have to be controlled, and the mind merged in the intellect. Otherwise, it is like touching dynamite. You should not go with passion to the Guru for initiation.

You should have transcended even the intellect. Pratyahara is over; the individual intellect has to be reabsorbed into the Cosmic Intellect or mahat-tattva. A further description is not needed here. We will know what to do when we get to this point. However, the Upanishad gives a hint: from mahat-tattva, which is hiranyagarbha, you go to ishvara, the shant atman. While the intellect is the connection of consciousness with a particular point of view, that which is higher is the association of consciousness with all points of view. You have no point of view when you get to that stage. Instead, the points of view of all objects are yours. Instead of visualising one object, you will visualise all objects. You will say: ‘All are mine’, instead of saying ‘this is mine’. It is the shifting of the mind from one thing, one body, one object, one point of view, to all things, all bodies, all objects, all points of view. The buddhi has to be transmuted in the realm of mahat-tattva.

Hence, yoga here is sometimes called other-worldliness. It is other-worldly in the sense that it is a science which takes the mind from the particular to the universal, and if the universal can be regarded as other-worldly, so can yoga. But the Universal is not other-worldly, because it is here and everywhere.

uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya varān nibodhata:
kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā; durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti. (14)

My dear children, do not think it is easy! Do not sleep and try to get this Atman. “Stand up, be awake, be conscious; obtain wisdom properly by being initiated from a competent Guru – understand this. Sharp it is, and cutting, as the edge of a razor, and hard to cross.” ‘Sharp’ and ‘cutting’ are the two epithets of the sword. The edge of a sword is cutting, so sharp is it. Such is the sharpness of this yoga – so subtle that you cannot even see it. The path of the Spirit is invisible. You cannot open your eyes and see it. It is like the track of the birds in the air, or the fish in water: they are there but cannot be seen. This path of supreme wisdom is subtle in the sense that it is a balance of everything. The Spirit is balance. And no one in this world can maintain a balance. We either fall this way or that. We go to either extreme but never are in the middle. ‘Balance is yoga—samatvam yoga uchyate.’

This is an exposition as well as guidance on the path of inward sadhana. The great method of meditation has been explained as the gradual self-withdrawal, not only in the realm of world-perception, but also beyond. It may look magnificent, but the Upanishad warns us of its difficulty. It may oftentimes look impossible. Hence, we are cautioned to be careful in every single day of practice. But this is extremely hard to do because, as the verse describing karta and bhokta states, our consciousness gets commingled with the mind and senses in every one of their activities. We as persons do not stand as Atman, as mind or as senses only, but all these blend and act as a focus, in which not only they, but we ourselves, become conscious of the world. We do not say ‘the senses see, the eyes see, the mind sees’; we say ‘I see the world’. This is so because the light of the Atman moves through the senses to the objects, as discussed earlier. Hence, the process of self-withdrawal is not merely of the senses. They are not the only culprits, and are not wholly responsible. Meditation of consciousness demands its extrication firstly from objects, then from the senses, and finally from the mind and intellect.

Consciousness passes through the intellect, mind and then the senses. And in a secondary connection, we are not only attached to our body, but through it to many objects outside, and to those they are connected to. This is samsara-chakra, due to the original sin of consciousness getting identified with buddhi. So is the psychological creation of the universe, what is called jiva-srishti, the world of bondage, distinguished from ishvara-srishti. The yoga of the Upanishad is not any attempt at interfering with ishvara-srishti, but an honest attempt to withdraw from our own creation which has made a mess and not added a cubit to God’s doing. We have created many kinds of entanglements, consciously and unconsciously, all which add to our difficulties. Our objects may vary from day to day, but the way of perception is the same throughout our life. Yoga is a system of disentanglement of consciousness from its attachments. Hence, a seeker should be a very good analyst and psychologist.

We have a false notion that the mind is inside our body, not knowing it is elsewhere. It is not always limited to the operation within. It has relations to circumstances, events and objects exterior to its own body, and hence we do not concentrate or meditate well. It may be working in a far-off land, while a part of it is in meditation. It works subconsciously also, without coming within the purview of the conscious mind. The mystery of the mind is that it can work doubly—the subconscious in object-thought, and the conscious in God-thought. The working in the subconscious level is such that even the conscious level may not be aware of it. This makes our meditation unsuccessful.

The mind has subterranean realms. While the intellect may be connected to the conscious level, the feelings will be in the subconscious level, without connection to reason. So, yoga is a failure, and there is no joy in it. This knowledge is very essential in pratyahara. The process is not an ordinary psychological action. It is to be undergone with a simultaneous awareness of the internal psyche and the outer intellectual consciousness. Intellect alone cannot succeed in meditation. We have to attempt it with our total personality. It, therefore, is not the work of one of our faculties, but of our whole self as a unit of spiritual consciousness. The Atman will be revealing Himself in Himself only when the whole personality is withdrawn in all its aspects. We often believe that we are happy, not knowing the subconscious working of the mind. Man falsely thinks that he is all right.

The yoga psychology is far deeper than the usual perceptual psychology of the West, because the student is a psychologist of himself, and not of things and persons of the world. The turnings of the mind to observe itself, is the unique step taken in yoga. You begin to study yourself instead of others. This is the difference. Because you are both the student and the teacher here, the Upanishad advises you to approach men of wisdom who have insight into the truth, to obtain knowledge from them and be cautious and vigilant, because this invisible track of the bird of consciousness is subtle and cutting, like the edge of a razor. It is so even to the intellect—let alone the mind and senses.

The path of the spirit is balance, harmony; not a beaten path on which you can walk blindfolded. It is a subtle path which you alone can tread. And every individual has a path of his own. Though, broadly speaking, yoga may be one, subtly, there are as many paths as there are individuals, with difficulties different from person to person. Hence the need for a Guru who can solve your personal problems which you cannot probe into alone. Thus it is said: prapya varan nibodhata—know It by approaching the Great Ones.

Impregnable is this fort, inaccessible is this path; hard to tread because of the subtlety of the edge. The advancing sadhaka faces many difficulties. Insignificant questions, silly things, will appear large and important to hinder your advance. The subtle body will begin to operate more and more. Now we are on the physical level only. But when we become more subtle in thought, more self-controlled, more weaned from objects, the subtle body begins to work in an intense manner. Then we face disturbances of a peculiar nature. We do not know the troubles of the subtle body as long as consciousness is lodged in the physical one, but when we advance, the subtle body vibrates not only when we act physically, but also when we think and feel. Later, we begin to see it as we see the outer body and its activities now. We become so sensitive that we cannot bear any disorder.

As long as the mind is living in the gross body, it is mostly on that level connected to others. But when it withdraws itself more, it receives subtle vibrations of other subtle bodies, and it can feel and recognise circumstances on a level which is not only conscious, but far deeper. In this state, it receives vibrations from the denizens of other worlds and laws operating in the different realms of being, the sthani-dharmas. In the earlier stages, it may become receptive to lower spirits; in the higher, to divine ones. You may be taken aback when these hindrances come, just as when, in amritamanthana, poison came, the devas withdrew. In the sadhaka, the devas and asuras also work together within to get nectar, and in this contest between the higher forces and the lower ones for a common objective—happiness—poison alone comes first from the internal practice of churning. Because like the asuras, the senses too want nectar, and so there is often a fall in the lower levels of the practice of yoga, when the instincts get stimulated and become passions.

Many students have fallen on account of not caring for this instruction: prapya varan nibodhata. The instincts get roused when we rise to the level of the swadhisthana chakra, according to Kundalini Yoga, and they become more active, just as after the churning, when nectar came, there was war between the gods and asuras. This war is mostly unknown to the seeker who has not been properly initiated, because the instruction given by the Guru is not merely into meditation, but of the difficulties on the way. He will tell you that at such and such a place there is a lion, then an elephant, then a pit, and so on, and this is known only to the preceptor who has already trodden the path. Sometimes we know what is in front of us by God’s grace.

Cutting, sharp and also invisible to perception; this is the meaning of the words: ksurasya dhara and kavayo vadanti.

aśabdam asparśam arῡpam avyayam tathā arasaṁ nityam agandhavac ca yat
anādy anantam mahataḥ paraṁ dhruvaṁ nicāyya tam mṛtyu-mukhāt pramucyate. (15)

My dear child, you cannot see anything there, because the Self is not an object of the senses. You cannot use the light of a torch and look.

“It is soundless, touchless, undecaying; without taste. It is formless; the presupposition of all change. Without beginning, without end, It is not anything that can be equated with the processes of time.”

All these are external to the Imperishable, and while the senses can grasp objects, It is imperceptible. Objects have a limitation of their own: a body—a location, and so you can observe them. But this Reality, which is beginningless, is raised above all empirical concepts. “It is ranging beyond the intellect, not merely the individual, but also the cosmic. Only after beholding the glory of this Infinite, one can be freed from the mouth of death.” We are in mrityu-loka, the world of death, where anything may go at any time. The next moment is not known. Can there be a more unfortunate thing than this! The soul may pass away any time and you do not know where it goes. Such is the uncertainty of this world with which we get involved, and it is most curious that our minds get attached to things which are tantalising, and that we go to the very same objects which have deceived others. Knowingly we enter the jaws of death in the form of this world. This mrityu, which is widespread, is everywhere—not only in one place. A person is born with his death.

The event of death is for all common perception a future one, but the cause or potential is born with us. It is only a gradual unfoldment towards the manifestation at a particular time. As all the details of a tree are potentially present in the seed, so are the sets of circumstances born with us. In such a world of death are we. And to be free from it, we have to realise the deathless Reality which is described as the transcendence of the senses, mind and intellect, and identification with our own Self.

nāciketam upākhyānam mṛtyu-proktaṁ sanātanam
uktvā śrutvā ca medhāvī brahma-loka mahīyate. (16)

The first half of the Upanishad is over. Many think that, because it ends with a eulogy, the parts that follow now were added later. “This story of Nachiketas, this knowledge of the Universal Fire of the Atmanhas been told to you in all detail. If a person speaks or receives this wisdom in honesty, he will reign supreme in the realm of the Creator, Brahma.”

ya imam paramaṁ guhyaṁ śrāvayed brahma-saṁsadi
prayataḥ śrāddha-kāle vā tad ānantyāya kalpate, tadānantyāya kalpate. (17)

“This Upanishad, the secret of secrets, contains the most hidden knowledge, unavailable to people on this earth. Whoso shall cause its recital in an assembly of wise mentors at the ceremony called shraaddha, or any other form of worship, thus purifying all rituals and giving meaning to them, becomes fit for Immortality and becomes infinite in his knowledge.”