The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter One: Vaishvanara-Vidya

The Need for Knowledge is Stressed

There are people who perform sacrifices without this knowledge of the Vaishvanara. There are people who take food without knowing this spiritual implication of agnihotra. They are pouring oblations on ashes who perform the agnihotra sacrifice without the knowledge of its universal import. Where knowledge is absent, action cannot produce any beneficial result. So, there is no use merely performing havanas, yajnas, etc. without this vital knowledge. They will not produce the expected result. And so is the case with any kind of selfish action originating from one's own personality for the satisfaction of oneself alone. This will lead to bondage, because ignorance of one's inward connection with higher sources is a danger to oneself, and they will react upon the individual for this ignorance. This reaction is called karma, the reaction of action. What binds us in the form of apurvu, or karma, is the reaction produced by the universal, of which we are ignorant and which we ignore in our daily activities, as if it does not exist at all.

But if one performs any sacrifice, such as the agnihotra mentioned, with this knowledge, then, whatever one does is a universal action. It is for the good of everyone. And everyone's action becomes that person's action, just as the movement of any wave anywhere in the ocean is the ocean itself working. It is not somebody else working somewhere, hundreds of miles away. Anyone's action becomes my action; anyone's experience is my experience; and anyone's benefit is my benefit, if I am commensurate in inward being with the being of other people. This is the ultimate consequence of meditation on the Vaishvanara. That person, who thus meditates, ceases to be an individual for all practical purposes. Though he may appear to be an individual for a mere onlooker, inwardly he is not a person. And it is so because his feelings, his thoughts, his volitions, his consciousness—all these are tuned up to Reality of a transcendental nature, which are merely personal forms from the point of view for an outward look, but a universal inwardness from his own point of view. Therefore, his actions are the actions of everyone. They are universal performances. Whatever he does is offered to all the worlds, all persons, all beings, simultaneously.

All our sins are burnt and get reduced to ashes in a second, even as a tiny dry twig, or a piece of cotton, gets burnt when it is thrown into a flaming fire, if this meditation is practised. All the sins of the past, of lives and lives, get burnt, even as mountains of straw can be burnt by the striking of a single matchstick. Though it is a mountain, it is after all dry straw. It cannot stand the fire of the powers generated in this manner, because no action is an individual action now. How can there be sin when there is neither virtue nor the other side of it? No merit or demerit accrues from the action of such a person, no consequences follow, no result is evoked by these actions. The result of an action is the reaction set up by the action. And reactions are set up on account of nonconformity with the operation of supernatural laws. But, in this case, here, such nonconformity does not arise. One is always in conformity with the existence of every force in the world. No reactions are set up by any of his performance; and, so, there is no merit or demerit in his case, no sin exists for him, no virtue also exists in the case of this person who is a constant meditator on the Vaishvanara, a performer of Prana-agnihotra, in this manner. He may throw a little piece of bread to a dog, and it shall be offered to the Universal Reality at once, when he has this consciousness of the Vaishvanara in him. He may throw a little remnant of his food to an outcaste, and it shall be offered into the Universal Reality forthwith. He may offer anything, even to the lowest of beings, it shall be consumed immediately by the Universal Reality, because of his identification with the All-Pervading Self, and, consequently, with that being, that person, that dog, that animal, that creature, whatever it is. Whatever he does anywhere is known to the Vaishvanara. Whatever he offers anywhere is offered to the Vaishvanara. He may offer anything to anyone, it will reach the Vaishvanara, because of his Self-identification with That Great Being. In this connection there is this saying, declares the Upanishad: "As hungry children sit round their mother, craving for food, so do all beings eagerly await the performance of the Prana-agnihotra by this sage who is universally conscious and exists as All-Being." Everyone loves such a person; every insect, every cat and dog will show regard to such a one. The whole universe will love him, who is tuned up in this manner, in perpetual meditation with the Vaishvanara. And everyone will be happy if he eats food, because his food is the food of all. His satisfaction is the satisfaction of all. And as is the mother to children, so is this person a sustainer of everybody in the world. His very existence is a blessing, his very being is an action, even as it is the case with God Himself.

Thus does this highly mystical discourse make out that the highest meditation is communion with the Vaishvanara. And if this is to be practiced by anyone, there would be nothing impossible for that person. And if this meditation can be practised effectively, there is nothing else for one to do in this world, because here is the final thing that one would be expected to do in life. This is the last dharma, or duty, on our part; this is the highest service one can perform. It is, thus, that this vidya transcends every other law, rule, or duty in this world. This is the Vaishvanara-Vidya propounded in the Chhandogya Upanishad.


This is the secret of the knowledge of the Universal Being, designated as Vaishvanara. Its simple form of understanding is a transference of human attributes to the Divine Existence, and vice versa. In this meditation, one contemplates the Cosmos as one's body. Just as, for example, when one contemplates one's individual body, one simultaneously becomes conscious of the right eye, the left eye, the right hand, the left hand, the right leg, the left leg, the head, the heart, the stomach, and all the limbs of the body at one and the same time, and one does not regard the different limbs of the body as distinguished from one another in any manner, all limbs being only apparently different, but really connected to a single personality. So, in this meditation, the consciousness is to be transferred to the Universal Being. Instead of one contemplating oneself as the individual body, one contemplates oneself as the Universal Body. Instead of the right eye, there is the sun. Instead of the left eye, there is the moon. Instead of the feet there is the earth. Instead of the head, there is the heaven, and so on. The limbs of the Cosmic Person are identified with the cosmic elements, and vice versa, so that there is nothing in the Cosmos which does not form an organic part of the body of the Virat, or Vaishvanara. When you see the vast world before you, you behold a part of your own body. When you look at the sun, you behold your own eye. When you look above into the heavens, you are seeing your own head. When you see all people moving about, you behold the various parts of your own personality. The vast wind is your breath. All your actions are cosmic movements. Anything that moves, does so on account of your movement. Your breath is the Cosmic Vital Force. Your intelligence is the Cosmic Intelligence. Your existence is Cosmic Existence. Your happiness is Cosmic Bliss.

Creation does not consist merely of the few parts that are mentioned in the Upanishad, as limbs of the Vaishvanara, by way of illustration. There are many other things which may come to our minds when we contemplate. We can start our meditation with any set of forms that may occur to our minds. We may be sitting in our rooms, and the first things that attract our attention may be the objects spread out in the rooms. When we identify these objects with our body, we will find that there are also objects outside these rooms. And, likewise, we can slowly expand our consciousness to the whole earth, and, then, beyond the earth, to the solar and stellar regions, so that we reach as far as our minds can reach. Whatever our mind can think, becomes an object for the mind; and that object, again, should become a part of the meditator's body, cosmically. And, the moment the object that is conceived by the mind is identified with the Cosmic Body, the object ceases to agitate the mind any more, because that object is not any more outside; it becomes a part of the body of the meditator. When an object becomes a part of our own body, it no more annoys us because it is not an object at all. It is a subject. The object has become the Cosmic Subject, in the Vaishvanara meditation.

The vidya has its origin, actually, in the Rig-Veda, in a famous sukta, or hymn, called the Purusha-Sukta. The Purusha-Sukta of the Rig-Veda commences by saying that all the heads, all the eyes, and all the feet that we see in this world are the heads, eyes, and feet of the Virat-Purusha, or the Cosmic Being. With one head, the Virat nods in silence; with another face He smiles; with a third one He frowns; in one form, He sits; in another form, He moves; in one form, He is near; in another form, He is distant. So, all the forms, whatever they be, and all the movements and actions, processes and relations, become parts of the Cosmic Body, with which the Consciousness should be identified simultaneously. When you think, you think all things at the same time, in all the ten directions, nay, in every way.

The Chhandogya Upanishad concludes this vidya by saying that one who meditates in this manner on the Universal Personality of Oneself as the Vaishvanara, becomes the Source of sustenance for all beings. Just as children sit round their mother, hungry, and asking for food, all beings in creation shall sit round this Person, craving for his blessings; and just as food consumed by this body sustains all the limbs of the body at once, this meditator, if he consumes food, shall immediately communicate his blessings to the whole Cosmos, for his Being is, verily, All-Being.

We may recall to our memory the famous story of Sri Krishna taking a particle of food from the hands of Draupadi, in the Kamyaka forest, when she called to Him for help, and with this little grain that He partook of, the whole universe was filled, and all people were satisfied, because Krishna stood there tuned up with the Universal Virat. So is also the case with any person who is in a position to meditate on the Virat, and assumes the position of the Virat. The whole Universe shall become friendly with this Person; all existence shall ask for sustenance and blessing from this Universal Being. This meditator is no more a human being; he is, veritably, God Himself. The meditator on Vaishvanara is in communion with the universe, with the very Self of all beings, attuned to the Supreme Being.

A question arises here: how could all creation be satisfied if just one person takes food? This is not possible unless there is only one Self everywhere. If my self and your self and the self of different persons and things are different, one from the other, it is not possible that the satisfaction of one self can be the satisfaction of another self. If there can be a single satisfaction for the whole universe, there should be only one Self in the whole universe, not many selves, 'I', 'you', 'he', etc. Is it true, there is only one Self in the whole universe or are there many selves? How are we to understand this doctrine that there is only a single Self, and whoever is attuned to this single Self is the Self of all? So, whatever that person does is the action of everybody. But, how are we to make out this truth that there is only one Self? To elucidate this point the next chapter is taken up which goes further into the subject of the Vaishvanara Himself, and analyses in detail the constituents of the universe and the individual, expatiates the fact that there cannot be many realities, many subjects, or many selves. There is one Self. Everywhere, wherever you go, whatever you touch is an encounter of yours in respect of a single Reality. Whatever the experience, you are travelling within the body of that single Self. Anything that you do is known to that Self; it has connection with that Self, so that every Self is one's self. Towards this subject the sixth chapter of the Upanishad is carried, and the chapter commences with an anecdote, a story, an occurrence, a description of a conversation between father and son, Uddalaka Aruni and his student, his son, Svetaketu.