The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter One: Vaishvanara-Vidya

Vaishvanara, The Universal Self (Continued)

When Brahmanas go to a king, naturally they go for some wealth. That is the usual tradition. The king thought that these people had come expecting some gift. He received them with great respect and honour, made them seated, and, lest they should not accept the gift that he offered to them, he said in his own humble way: "I follow the path of virtue. There is no defect in the administration of my country. I follow the path of simplicity and goodness. And here I am ready to offer you anything that you need by way of gift, if you have come for that." He received each person separately with due honour. He garlanded them, gave them water to drink and enquired how they were, etc. He was good enough to give them a proper lodging in the palace.

The next morning, when he got up and went to his audience, these great men came there, and the first thing that the king spoke was: "There is no thief in my kingdom. There is no miser in my country, no one who is greedy, no one who drinks, no one who does not perform the daily oblations and libations prescribed as duty or sacrifice, no one uneducated or unlearned, and also no one unrestrained in behaviour. And, I am going to perform a sacrifice. I shall offer you as much gift by way of wealth as I shall be offering to the ritviks, or the performers of the sacrifice. I hope you will be satisfied." All this the king was saying even before these people said anything, under the impression that they had come for wealth, gold, silver, etc. "So, you stay here in my palace for some time until I prepare myself for the performance of this sacrifice, where I shall engage you also."

These great men said: "Well, you are so kind, but there is a different purpose with which we have come to you. We have not come for money; we have not come for wealth. Whatever be the purpose for which a person has come, that he must express. That is his duty. He should not speak something else, nor should he be eager to receive things quite different from that for which he has come. So, our purpose is something else, quite different from what you are speaking of or thinking in your mind." "What is that?" The king was surprised. "What is it that these people are asking," pondered the king.

"We have heard that you are in possession of a great knowledge, the knowledge of the Supreme Being, about which we have great doubts and concerning which we have not come to any conclusion among ourselves. We have come as students begging for this knowledge that you possess, the wisdom-meditation on the Vaishvanara-Atman, which we do not know. This is the purpose for which we have come—not for wealth, not for money, nor for gifts."

Naturally, the king was taken aback that this should be the purpose for which they had come. Anyhow, he seems to have been a very generous-hearted person. He said: "You may come tomorrow morning and see me."

The seekers were very great people, perhaps elder in age to the king himself, not ordinary persons, but they humbled themselves before this mighty knowledge which the king possessed; and approached the king with offerings of samit (sacred firewood) according to ancient tradition, the offering with which students used to approach the preceptor. They did not regard themselves as Brahmanas or panditas superior to the Kshatriyas. They went as students of higher knowledge to the great master that the king was.

Now, the king made a special exception to the rule in the case of these great people. Generally, knowledge is not imparted like that, so suddenly. It is not that someone comes today and receives initiation tomorrow. There is a great tradition of discipline. Sometimes it is imposed upon the students for years together. But, here, an exception to the rule was made by the king in the light of the fact that these students were not ordinary men. They were well-prepared already; they were Brahmanas, great meditators, religious people, and entirely devoted to spiritual life. They were not ordinary, raw brahmacharins approaching a Guru for knowledge. So, the king did not impose this discipline of staying with the Guru for a long time, serving him, etc. He simply accepted them as students at once, merely on their declaring themselves as students: "We have come as students." "Well, I accept you as students." Without any kind of formality of discipline and the like, he spoke to them directly.

Heaven as the Head of the Universal Self

The king questioned them one by one, "What is it that you are meditating upon already? Why is it that you are in difficulty?" Now, each one was asked this question. The first question to be put was to the first among them. "Aupamanyava, which Atman are you meditating upon? You are certainly meditating on the Atman. It is a great surprise. How is it that everyone is meditating on the Atman and, yet, one differs from the other in the technique? What is the sort of Atman, or the kind of Atman that you are thinking of in your mind?" "I meditate on Heaven as the Supreme Being, Your Highness. That is the symbol I take for fixing my attention of consciousness. I consider the highest region of Heaven as the final symbol for my meditation. I regard it as the Absolute. I do not think anything else in my mind. I exclusively devote my attention to it, because I regard it as the All. Therefore, I consider it as the Atman. So, this is how I meditate. But I have no peace of mind. There is something wrong with this technique, and for that purpose I have come to you."

The king replied: "You are a very honest student of meditation, no doubt, and you have been reverentially pursuing this technique of meditation. Heaven is, of course, a part of the great Vaishvanara, the Universal Being, which you are meditating upon. Inasmuch as what you are meditating upon is part of the Supreme Reality, great benefits are being showered upon you as a result of this meditation. You have abundance of wealth in your house. You perform large sacrifices without end, and you have no difficulty in receiving guests and feeding them, etc. You press the soma juice in your house daily, which means to say, you perform yajna, sacrifice every day. This is the result of your meditation. You have plenty of food in your house; there is no lack of it. You see everything delightful everywhere. You are a happy person. Whoever else also meditates like this, as you are doing, will receive the same benefits. He will be well-renowned, he will have plenty of every kind, he will be a very happy and amiable person, and he will be friendly with all people. There will be nothing lacking in his house. He will be spiritually resplendent. This is what will happen to any person who meditates like this, as you are doing, on the Vaishvanara-Atman. And this is your case also. But, there is a great mistake in your meditation. This is only a part of the whole Reality. This is the head, as it were, of Reality, the topmost region of the Vaishvanara, the crown, the head of the Universal Being, as it were, and it is this on which you are meditating. Inasmuch as you have mistaken a part for the whole, you have considered the head for the whole body, because you have made this mistake in your meditation, your head would have fallen, one day or the other; some great calamity would have befallen you if you had not come to me now, at the proper time, for rectification." It is like a good doctor saying, "It is a good thing that you have come to me. This is a very advanced case." Likewise, the king said, "It is a good thing you came to me at the proper time; otherwise some catastrophe would have come upon you due to this error in your meditation. You have mistaken the head for the whole body. Well, let it be. Now, be quiet."

The Sun as the Eye of the Universal Self

Now, the king puts another question to the other sage: "Satyayajna Paulushi, what is the Atman that you are meditating upon?" "I meditate on the Sun, Your Highness, the most brilliant object conceivable. It is the Supreme Being for me. I regard the Sun, surya, as the symbol of the Absolute. That is the Atman on which I am meditating." The king said: "Satyayajna, you meditate on the Sun as the Supreme Atman. Well, this is a part of the Vaishvanara's Body. Because it is a part of this Great Being, and you meditate upon it as if it is the all, you have in your own life certain characteristics of the Sun. There is brilliance in your outlook; there is plenty in your family; and there is a sort of completeness in your life, as the Sun himself is a complete being in himself. There is material glory in your house, and your mind is satisfied. You have a very happy mind; and you have many other things in your family—gold, silver, servants, rich food, and such other things. All this is the result of your meditation on the repository of the immensity of wealth which is the Sun himself. And, whoever meditates as you are meditating, also will enjoy the same fruits of immensity and magnificence in his life. He will have plenty of food to eat, and plenty of everything. He will be resplendent with the knowledge accruing from this meditation which is brahmavarchas; yes, whoever meditates thus. But the mistake that you are making in your meditation is that the Sun is the eye, as it were, of the cosmic body of Vaishvanara. It is not the whole of Reality. If you had not come to me, you would have become blind due to this error in your meditation, mistaking the eye of the Virat for the whole of Virat."

Air as the Breath of the Universal Self

Now, the king asks the third person the same question: "Indradyumna Bhallaveya, What is it that you are meditating upon? What is your Atman, regarding which you have difficulties?" "I meditate upon the Cosmic Air that blows, as the all-pervading Reality, Your Highness." The king said: "Well, so far, so good. As this, the Supreme Being, Vaishvanara, is all-pervading, so is this Air also all-pervading. You have taken this all-pervading Air which moves everywhere as the symbol of Reality. Very good. Due to this meditation on the widespread Air, vayu, which is moving everywhere, in every direction, coming from every side, as the Ultimate Being, tributes and offerings come to you from every side. Respect and honour come to you unasked. Your glory is moving everywhere, as the Air is moving everywhere. Plenty of vehicles you have, lines of chariots follow you. And you are also plentiful in every respect, in food, wealth, etc. So is the glory of everyone who meditates like this." He repeats the glories of such meditation in the same way as he mentioned to the other persons. "This is a wonderful meditation, but there is a defect in this meditation. Air is only the vital breath, as it were, of the Vaishvanara-Atman. You have mistaken it for the whole. You would have had great trouble if you had not come to me. Your vital air would have left you if you had not come to me as you have rightly done."

Space as the Body of the Universal Self

Jana Sarkarakshya, the other great man was questioned: "What is the Atman you are meditating upon?" "I meditate on the all-pervading Space, Your Highness." This is also a symbol for meditation. Space is all-pervading. When one cannot think of anything that is all-pervading, what else can one think except Space? Space is a good symbol for meditation, indeed. The king said: "Space is extensive in every respect. You meditate upon it as the ultimate Reality, and so you have extensiveness of everything as a consequence of this meditation. You have plenty of everything in your house—wealth and dear ones. You are glory-incarnate at home and in your community. Everything blessed is with you due to this meditation on extensiveness. So is the glory of anyone who thus meditates. But, this is not the correct meditation; there is an error in this meditation also, because the Space that you are thinking of as the Cosmic Reality, is really the body, as it were, and not the whole, of Vaishvanara. If you had not come to me, what would have happened to you? Some catastrophe, like paralysis of the trunk, or something of that kind, would have befallen you. Your meditation would have failed you completely." All these meditations are wonderful things, but they are also dangerous things. This follows from what the king is telling to these great men.

Water as the Lower Belly of the Universal Self

Budila Asvatarasvi, the other hero, was questioned: "What is it that you are meditating upon?" "I meditate on Water, Your Highness." There are people who meditate on the ocean as a symbol of Brahman, just as there are people who contemplate Space as such a symbol. "I contemplate Water as symbolic of Reality (the ocean perhaps), as an endless expanse. This is my Atman." The king said: "This meditation is good so far as it goes, on account of which you are endowed with plenty of every kind. Water is the source of foodstuff and wealth and strength. It is the cause of the abundance of foodstuff especially in your house. And so is the case with anyone who thus meditates. But, this is also a defective form of meditation because it is the lower belly, as it were, of the cosmic Vaishvanara. It is just the watery element of the whole cosmic embodiment. It is one of the constituents of the Universal body; it is not the entire structure in its totality. If you had not come to me, you would have had a physical illness of this part of the body which is abundant with water. Your body would have failed or some such thing would have taken place, and you would have perished as a consequence of this defective meditation."

The Earth as the Feet of the Universal Self

Then the king puts the question to Uddalaka Aruni himself: "What is it that you are meditating upon?" Uddalaka said: "I meditate upon the Earth in its comprehensiveness as Reality, Your Highness." The king said: "This is all right, and so you have great virtue following from this meditation. You enjoy and see what is dear. As the Earth is the foundation of all things, you are well-founded in life. And so shall be anyone who meditates as you do. But, the Earth is only the footstool of the Vaishvanara-Atman, as it were. The Earth is like the feet of the Universal Self. It is the feet of the Atman because it is the lowest degree among the manifestations of Reality. If you had not come to me, something untoward would have happened to your feet. They would have withered away. Then you would have gone on crutches."

The Self as the Universal Whole

This is what the king said in answer to the representations made by all the six great men. "My dear friends," spoke the king: "All of you are very sincere in your meditations, and honest, indeed. Because of your honesty and sincerity and tenacity in meditation, you enjoy plenty of everything in your houses and in your families and within yourselves. But you do not know that you have committed errors in your meditations. Ultimately, some trouble would have come to you as a consequence. It is good that you all came to me. In the beginning, everything looks all right even in an erroneous meditation, but afterwards some difficulty arises which cannot be rectified even by the best of medicines. So, what is it that we have to now? We have understood where we stand. Well, you have all made two mistakes, to put the whole thing precisely. You have considered some parts of the whole as the whole. You have mistaken the finite for the Infinite. Nothing that you are thinking in your minds can be the whole, because the mind is accustomed to think only finite objects. Whatever be our concept of expanse in regard to the particular object on which you are meditating, it is still finite. This is one error. The other mistake that you are making that you think of the Atman as an object, as if it is outside. You say, it is Space, it is Water, it is the Sun, it is the Earth, and so on. Well, it is all very beautiful. But, it is 'outside you'! How can non-Atman be the Atman?

"And what do you mean by the Atman? How can the Atman be outside you? Your own Self is external to you? What a concept! You have really committed a blunder in conceiving your own Self as a non-Self. The Self cannot be outside itself; it cannot be an object of itself; it cannot think itself; meditate upon itself as another; it cannot be other than itself. The first point, then, is that a finite thing cannot be regarded as the Infinite. The other thing is that an external thing cannot be regarded as the Self. You have committed both these mistakes. You are having the knowledge of this Great Being, little by little, part by part, as in the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man was touching a part of the elephant's body and regarding it as something specific. The man never knew for a moment that he was touching a part of the elephant. Likewise, you are not aware of the fact that what you think as the Absolute is, in fact, relative. What you think as the All, is only a part. Therefore, you are well-to-do people, indeed, on account of the meditations, but there is also the defect that I have pointed out. One can have glory in this world, have renown, have plenty, and look all right in the eyes of people, even if there is a fundamental defect spiritually. And that cannot be known by mere observation from outside.