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Lessons on the Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: The Chhandogya Upanishad

The other day I told you the story of Sage Yajnavalkya and explained, in brief, his wonderful teachings as they are recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. His sublime instructions to his consort Maitreyi and to King Janaka were a masterstroke of genius. I hope you all remember this story well and the teaching has registered in your minds.

Today I shall tell you something about another great sage, whose name appears in the Chhandogya Upanishad. This wonderful sage—great master—is a great contrast to Yajnavalkya. Yajnavalkya was, in some sense, a royal person, a majestic, well-known public personality, very controversial, argumentative and pushy in nature. He would not hesitate to establish his point by suitable logical disquisitions. But the other sage was the kind who does not speak, whose existence is not known to people and who lives like a poor nobody, not like a royal personage. This great sage, as we have it in the Chhandogya Upanishad, is known as Raikva. There is a very interesting anecdote in connection with the teaching of this great master, Raikva.

The story is like this. There was a king, well known for his charity and goodness of heart. The king was also a great sage—so great that people compared him with King Janaka himself. When he arrived, they would say, “Oh, Janaka is coming, Janaka is coming!”—that is to say, so wise and learned as Janaka, so highly advanced in spirituality as Janaka, so charitable, good-natured and service-minded as Janaka. All these characteristics of King Janaka were foisted upon this particular king. One day during the summer season, this king was sitting on the terrace of his palace, enjoying the fresh breeze. Two birds were flying across the sky. The interpreters of the Upanishad tell us that these two birds were sages of a different type altogether, who had taken the form of birds and were flying. One bird was in front, the other was behind.

The bird that was behind told the bird that was ahead, “Oh idiot, oh blind one, don't you see that a king is under you, just below you? Don't you know that his radiance is rising up to the sky and it is burning, and you may be burnt if you cross over his head? A great king is there, just underneath, on the terrace of his palace; his spiritual power is rising from his head and it may burn you if you do not watch out. Oh blind one, don't you understand?”

When this was told by the bird to its comrade, the comrade said, “Who is this king about whom you are talking so much, as if he is Raikva with a cart?” It was a kind of derogatory remark that the first bird made about this king, whereas the other bird praised him to such an extent, as if to say anybody who crossed over could be burnt by the king's radiance. But the retort of the first bird was, “Who is this great man that you are talking of, as if he is equal to Raikva?”

The king himself heard this conversation as he was sitting there, on the terrace. He was very much distressed to hear this and thought, “They are comparing me and contrasting me with someone who seems to be greater than I. I never knew that in my kingdom there is somebody greater than I. This is a very important matter for me.”

He never slept that night. He was very much disturbed that a derogatory remark has been made about him, contrasting him with somebody about whom he knew nothing and whose name he had not even heard: Raikva. And the bird also added, “Do you know the greatness of this Raikva? If anybody does any virtuous deed in this world the credit of it goes to Raikva.” What is the matter? If any one of us does some good deed, the credit will not come to us; it will go to that man, Raikva, who seems to be sitting without doing anything. All this the king heard, much to his own distress.

In the early morning, kings are generally awakened by music and bards who sing the glories of the king. The bards were singing the glories and the greatness of the king, so that by hearing them he would wake up. But the king had not slept.

The king told them, “Shut down! Stop! Whose greatness are you singing, as if I am Raikva? Stop your music! Go and find out who Raikva is. Until that time I shall have no peace of mind.”

They did not understand what was the matter with the king. “What are you talking about?” they enquired.

The king replied, “I heard that in my country there is a great person called Raikva, with whom I have been unfavourably compared by someone whose words distressed me very much. Go and find out where this Raikva is.”

He sent his sentinels throughout his country, in all directions, to find out where Raikva was.

“What is his greatness? That also is not clear. They simply say he is great—greater than the king himself. But what is the greatness? There must be something in it. It is not clear. Go and find out,” said the king.

So the king's messengers ran here and there, to all the towns and villages—everywhere. They could not find anyone by that name. The birds had referred to the sage Raikva as having a cart with him—a cart without bulls, perhaps. Sometimes there are poor people on the streets with their luggage on a cart which they themselves pull, and Raikva was thus described. The messengers of the king came back in despair.

“Your Highness, there is no such person in your country,” they told the king.

“No, it cannot be. Did you search for him?”

“We searched in all the towns.”

“Fools! Do you think that sages live in towns? Go and find him out in proper places. Do you search for him in cities? Go!” ordered the king.

They went to all corners—here, there, to remote corners of villages, distant regions and forest areas. They found someone sitting under a cart, a very funny-looking, poor, beggarly individual, gazing up at the sky as if he cared for nothing. These messengers humbly went near him and prostrated themselves before him.

“May we know if you are Raikva with the cart?” they inquired.

“Hey, they say like that,” Raikva replied. “They say like that.”

The messengers said, “The king wants to see you.”

Raikva retorted, “I do not want to see the king. I have no connection with the king.”

The messengers immediately went back and told the king, “He is there. We have seen him.”

Having heard these words from his messengers, the king took large gifts of gold and silver, ornaments and what not. He humbly went to this unknown man, Raikva, falling prostrate before him and requested him, “I am the king of this country. I have heard about you, the great master; I have heard about your greatness. Please teach me what you know.”

 “Hey, do you want to purchase my knowledge with this gold? Get away from this place! Get away from this place!” Raikva replied.

The king was very shocked. “So everything is null and void; all my efforts are in vain!” he thought.

But the king was determined. He wanted to get initiation from this sage into the wisdom that he possessed, to which was alluded his greatness. So he went a second time—with a larger gift. This time he took the dearest and the most beloved things. Again he prostrated himself before the great master.

“I have come again. Please teach me what you know,” requested the king.

This time the sage relented. The instruction, the teaching as we have it in the Chhandogya Upanishad, is very brief. It is not a large discourse or a great commentary. This great master, this sage, was great due to some meditation which he was carrying on. He was proficient in a wisdom, known as vidya, and this particular vidya in which he was proficient is called the Samvarga Vidya. He gave instructions on this method of meditation known as the Samvarga Vidya.

This wisdom of Sage Raikva, known as Samvarga Vidya, may be called the art of meditation on the Absorber of all things. ‘Samvarga' is ‘absorbing'. He was meditating on the Absorber—a very brief word with small significance, but immense meaning is hidden in that one word. How do you become as great as Raikva? You also would like to become as great as him. You can, provided you also commune your consciousness with that principle called the Absorber. When you are in a state of communion with the Absorber, you yourself become the Absorber. If you are in a state of identity with anything, you yourself become that thing. That is the meaning of identity. Whatever be the thing on which you are contemplating deeply, if the contemplation becomes so deep that you have merged yourself in that thing, then you cannot distinguish yourself from that thing on which you are contemplating.

Now, what is this Absorber of all things—samvarga —with which one's consciousness is supposed to be identified or set in tune with? You have to go back to the earlier sessions of the subject where we concluded in our studies that the ultimate essence of all things is consciousness.

That the essence of all things is consciousness was what we understood earlier, during our studies of the mantras of the Isavasya Upanishad, etc. Inasmuch as it is the Self of all things, which is what we mean by saying that it is the essence of all things, it is the very existence of all things. All the forms, all the names, all the things, every object in this world has a Self inside it—a nucleus, we may call it—which determines and controls the formation of the body of any object in the world. Inasmuch as this central nucleus, this consciousness—we call it the Atman of all things—is the formative force, the formative energy behind the structure of everything in the world, small and big, we may say that the very fate of the formation of things, the structure or the pattern of anything in this world, is decided by the soul of these things, which is the consciousness referred to. Consciousness projects the form and it also withdraws the form. For a particular purpose in the process of the creation of the universe and the evolution of things, this centrality of things manifests a form and also withdraws that form. The manifestation is called creation and the withdrawal is called dissolution.

We can compare this circumstance with what is happening to us in our own personalities. Our consciousness, this ‘me', this ‘I', this so-called ‘person' is the determiner of everything that is happening in this body. The stability, the integrated formation, the organic activity of this body, is due to the central operation of the consciousness which is the so-called ‘I' in us. When you say “I am coming”, you do not know whom you are actually referring to. Something in an entirety is coming; that is the meaning of saying “I am coming”. It is not that some part of the body is coming, like the legs. I am coming, not just the legs. It is not merely the body that is coming; the mind also is coming; the intellect also is coming. You are coming, not merely the intellect, the mind and the body. You are coming; that is what you mean by saying “I am coming”. This ‘I', this ‘you', however you look at it, is an integrated total which decides the very existence and activity of the personality, or the organism, and stabilises it, so that when you walk, you feel that a whole structure blended into a compact wholeness is moving.

In this capacity of the soul, or the Atman, of a person or a thing, consciousness absorbs the form into itself. It holds it tightly in unison with itself. Whatever is in a state of identity, communion and inseparability with this Atman-consciousness may be said to be in a state of absorption into this consciousness. It has practically become one with that consciousness. This body of yours looks identical with the ‘I', or your consciousness. “I am coming.” You do not say “my body is coming”, though it is true that only the body is coming. But you say “I am coming” even when the body is walking. The identity of the body with the consciousness is so intense, the form and the essence have combined in such intensity that the absorbed and the absorber have become one. This is one aspect of the matter. The other side of it is that consciousness is universal in its nature. It is not only in one place. We have studied this earlier, and we need not again go into the details. So, if the analogy of the absorbing character of our consciousness in respect of our own bodily organism is extended to the whole cosmic structure then, by that analogy, it is seen that the Universal Consciousness absorbs the whole of creation into itself. It decides, determines and regulates every inch and every atom of creation. Just as your so-called personality-consciousness is determining your body and its organic work, if in just the same way this consciousness can extend its activity to the universal pervasive character of it, it will become the absorber of the cosmos.

In fact, you will become the absorber of the cosmos, not it. The idea of ‘it' goes away here, because in a state of communion of consciousness with all things, the things themselves become inseparable from it.

Now, what is the effect of this kind of meditation? What is the effect of your consciousness being identical with this body? You have perfect control over your body. You can tell the body “do it”, and it does, and if you tell the body “don't do it”, it will not do it. You tell your hand “lift” and it lifts; but if you tell another person “lift”, he may not lift because your consciousness is not identified with the limbs of the body of another person. So another person may not obey your orders, but your body fully obeys you. “Walk” means it walks; “eat” means it eats; “look” means it looks. You have such mastery, such control over all parts of your body because the central consciousness, which you are, absorbs the body into its operation. This is exactly what will happen if this consciousness which is the Atman—known also as Brahman, the Universal Being—becomes, analogically, the experience of a person. The whole world gravitates towards that person. As rivers rush into the ocean, things move in the direction of this centre, which is the meditating individual so-called. There is nothing which this person cannot achieve, in the same way as there is nothing which you cannot do with your body.

Such detailed explanation cannot be found in the Chhandogya Upanishad. I am going into a larger extensiveness of description of this central teaching of the Absorber Consciousness, which was the object of meditation of this great master Raikva. This is an interesting section of the Chhandogya Upanishad—worth remembering. If you understand it and retain it in your memory, you can take it as a system of your meditation, and no meditation can equal this method. This is the supreme art of universalising your existence and transforming yourself into a determining factor of everything anywhere. You become a master.

In the Chhandogya Upanishad there are many other descriptions of teachings of this kind, one of which is the teaching on a vidya—another kind of vidya, like the Samvarga Vidya—known as the Bhuma Vidya. Bhuma in Sanskrit means Plenum, Fullness, That which is complete, That which fills all space, outside which nothing is. Such a thing is called Bhuma. Meditation on this plenum of existence is called Bhuma Vidya.

There was a great sage called Narada, whose name appears in all the epics and Puranas. Narada was a very great angel, a Godman who could travel through all the realms of being. He went to a great master called Sanatkumara. Sanatkumara is supposed to be the son of Brahma, the Creator Himself.

Narada requested the master Sanatkumara, “Great sir, teach me.”

The master said, “First of all, let me know what you already know. Then I shall try to say something.”

Narada said, “I am a master of all the arts and the sciences—astronomy, cosmography, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, psychoanalysis, axiology, ethics, sociology, economics, military science, history, religion, philosophy and necromancy. There is nothing in which I am not proficient, but I have no peace of mind.”

After having learnt so much, mastered every science and every art of the world, the great Narada said, “I have no peace of mind. Please give me peace of mind.”

The great master retorted, “Oh, all that you have studied is mere words—namaivaitat—only words and words and words. Therefore, how can you have peace of mind?”

There is a very long discussion, which is the teaching of Sanatkumara to Narada. The essence of it is that the teacher gradually took the mind of the student from the lower level of comprehension to the next higher, and then stopped. Then the student asked, “Is there anything still further?”

“Yes,” replied the teacher. He took him to the third level.

Then the student asked, “Is there anything further?”


Sanatkumara took him to the fourth level. He would not tell him all things at the same time. Then, he took him to another level, beyond which he said there is nothing.

“Are there objects in the world?” asked Narada.

“Yes, there are objects.”

“Is there anything beyond the objects?”

“That of which the objects are constituted is above the objects.”

“What is it, of which the objects are constituted?”

“The molecules.”

“What is above the molecules?”

“The atoms.”

“What is above the atoms?”

“Energy content.”

“What is above the energy?”

“There is only space and time.”

“Is there anything above space and time?”

I am not telling you the exact words recorded in the Upanishad, as they are too tedious and cumbersome to understand. I am putting it in a more moderate way, which will be intelligible to you. From the outer to the inner, from the external to the internal, from the lower to the higher is the mind gradually taken in this way of analysing the substance of all things.

The dialogue continued. “What is above space-time? If space-time is the essence of all things because nothing can exist without space-time, is there anything above space and time?” asked Narada.

“The consciousness of space and time is above,” replied Sanatkumara.

Are you not conscious that there is space and time? Don't you feel that consciousness precedes space and time? That which precedes is, therefore, higher than that which succeeds.

“This consciousness, please instruct me about it. What is it, sir? I am eager to hear about it,” said Narada. Yatra nanyat pasyati nanyac chrinoti nanyad vijanati sa bhuma (Chhand. 7.24.1): “That Consciousness is all-filling; it is complete in Itself.” What is that completeness? Where is that state? That state of consciousness where you see nothing outside you and hear nothing outside you, think and understand nothing outside you, that is the Fullness. That state where you see something outside you, hear something outside you, think and understand something outside you, that is paltry, puerile, mortal, worth nothing. We are always conscious of something outside us. We see something, hear something, think something and understand something totally different from ourselves.

“This knowledge is puerile, worth nothing,” said the great master, “because it is sensory, conditioned, determinate and, therefore, not real.” In that condition of absorption —here again the word ‘absorption' can be used—in that condition of the absorption of consciousness wherein you are in communion with That which pervades all things and, therefore, there is nothing for you to see externally, that state is the Bhuma—the fullness of all things. Whoever meditates like this becomes the master of all things. The mother is dear to all children. As children sit round their mother, seeking food from the mother, so will all things gather round this great person who is in a state of meditation of this kind, and seek his benediction. Sanatkumara, the great teacher, spoke thus to Narada, the learned sage, who had no peace of mind.

You shall have peace of mind only when there is nothing else to interrupt your peace. But as long as you are conscious of something outside you, there is inevitable disturbance from that thing which is outside you. But are you not living in a world where everything is outside you? And, do you not expect trouble from something or other? If that is the case, who in this world can have peace of mind? No one who is thinking in terms of sense organs can have real peace of mind. There is no use searching for peace in the caves of the Himalayas. Peace of mind cannot be found anywhere in this world, because the entire world of creation is a space-time externality. Therefore, it is nothing but objectivity; therefore, it is a content of sensory experience; therefore, it is incapable of giving peace of mind to anyone. Where does peace of mind rest?

People come to the ashram saying, “I want peace of mind.” Where will you find it? Neither is it in you, nor is it outside you. It is everywhere. That is the Plenum, the Fullness, the Bhuma spoken of. Contemplate like this and be absorbed in this kind of consciousness, day in and day out, thinking of nothing other than this kind of thing, just as Raikva—the great master—concentrated on the Absorber of all things. Or, meditate on Bhuma—the great Plenum—as was told by the master, Sanatkumara, to Narada. Then you would have really studied something. Get transformed completely in your being and become a new person.