The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter Two: Uddalaka's Teaching Concerning the Oneness of the Self

Section 5: Illustrations of the Threefold Nature

  1. Annam asitam tredha vidhiyate, tasya yah sthavistho dhatus tat purisam bhavati, yo madhyamas tan mamsam, yo'nisthas tan manah.

The food that you eat is converted into three forms. What happens to the food that is eaten? There is a gross form of the food, there is a middling form of the food and a subtle form of the food. The food that we eat is not entirely absorbed into the system. Some part of it is thrown out as excreta, as unwanted material which cannot be absorbed into the system. It is refuse that goes out as undesirable to the system; that is the grossest form. So one part of the food goes out; something else only is absorbed. That something else other than that which is thrown out has again two aspects, the very subtle vibratory aspect and the middling form of it. That which is middling is absorbed in the form of flesh in the system. The flesh in the body is due to the entry of the middling quality of the foodstuff that we take. But the highly subtle form, the vibration that is produced by the essential quality of the food, influences the mind itself. So you know your mind, your capacity of thinking, the way of thinking, will be very much influenced by the food that you take, continuously, of course. If you go on eating the same kind of food for years together, that quality of the food will tell upon your psychological pattern. So, the gross thing is thrown out, the middling form is absorbed into the fleshy part of the body, and the subtlest part goes to the mind. The mind feels happy on account of absorption of some part of the food that we eat. These are the three aspects, the three degrees of the intensity of the food that we see, that become parts of our system in this manner. Likewise, the water that you drink has a gross aspect, a middling aspect and a very subtle aspect. Any liquid that you take also is divided into three parts.

  1. Apah pitas tredha vidhiyante, tasam yah, sthavistho dhatus tan mutram bhavati, yo madhyamas tal lohitam, yo'nisthah sa pranah.

The gross part of the liquid that we drink, which cannot be absorbed into the system, is thrown out as urine. It cannot be regained by the system. The middling part, more subtle than the gross one that we take in, becomes blood in the body. The liquid part in the body, which is blood, is intensified by the liquid form of the food that we drink. The virility in us, the energy, the vitality, the prana in us, is enhanced by the subtlest form of the liquids that we consume. Just as the mind is influenced by the subtle food, the prana is influenced by the subtle liquid aspect of the diet. There are certain items of diet in which the fire principle predominates, e.g., ghee, oil, etc. What happens to these things when one takes them?

  1. Tejo' sitam tredha vidhiyate, tasya yah sthavistho dhatus tad asthi bhavati, yo madhyamah sa majja, yo'nisthah sa vak.

The energy also becomes threefold in the system. The grossest form becomes bone. If we take ghee, or butter, or oil, in our food, it has something to do with the strength of the bones. The middling part of it becomes marrow, the substance that is inside the bone. The subtlest form becomes the energy of speaking. Speech gets activated by the fiery element present in the food that we take. So our speech, our prana, our mind, are all constituted essentially of these three items of diet that we are consuming, and the more we take them in, the more is the influence they exert upon these three aspects of our personality. So we know where we stand. These three elements-fire, water and earth-have entered our system. They have become our mind, our prana and our speech, which process is indicative of the other senses, also. Our senses, our pranas and our mind, all these three are tremendously conditioned by the food that we eat.

  1. Annamayam hi saumya manah apomayah pranah tejomayi vag iti; bhuya eva ma bhagavan vijnapayatv iti; tatha saumya, iti hovaca.

"My dear boy, listen to the conclusion of my research. The mind is essentially formed of food, the prana is essentially formed of water and speech is essentially formed of fire." The boy says, "It is very difficult for me to understand all these things. Please clarify this a little more. These are unheard of things that you are telling me, that I am made up of the three elements, that I have nothing in me of my own. This is strange indeed. It looks as if I cannot exist at all independently. I am 'somebody else'. Unbelievable! Please explain further." "Yes, I shall tell you, in detail, dear boy. Listen attentively."

Section 6: Further Illustrations

  1. Dadhnah saumya mathyamanasa yo'nima sa urdhvah samudishati, tat sarpir-bhavati.
  2. Evam-eva khalu, saumya annasyasyamanasya yo'nima sa urdhvah samudishati tan-mano bhavati.

"You know, curd (yogurt), when churned, exudes butter. Butter rises up on churning the curd. It comes up as the essential part of the milk through the process of curdling and churning. This is what happens to the food that we take. It is churned inside by the forces of our body, and the essential part of the food rises up into the structure of the psychological organ. It becomes the essence of our thinking process. It becomes the mind. As butter comes out of milk through curdling and churning, even so, the mind starts functioning by means of the churning of the food through the action of the forces of the body. This is the case with everything else also—the water that we drink, and the other fiery elements that we consume.

  1. Apam, saumya, piyamananam yo'nima sa urdhvah samudishati sa prano bhavati.
  2. Tejasah saumya asymanasya yo'nima, sa urdhvah samudishati sa vag-bhavati.

In the same way as the mind is formed of the essential subtle parts of gross food, so is prana formed of water and speech formed of the fiery elements in the food. "So, my dear boy, have I concluded my findings."

  1. Annamayam hi saumya, manah, apomayah pranah tejomayi vagiti: bhuya eva ma, bhagavan, vijnapayatv-iti; tatha, saumya, iti hovaca.

"Now do you understand that the mind is formed of food, prana is made of water, and speech is made of fire?" "Still more do I require clarification. This much is not enough. Tell me something more about this secret." "Yes; I shall now declare the secret behind all this, how food influences the mind, and how the mind is entirely dependent upon food."

Section 7: Importance of Physical Needs

  1. Shodasa-kalah saumya purusah pancadaoahani ma-sih kamam apah piba, apomayah prano na pibato vicchetsyata iti.

"There are sixteen digits of the mind, of our whole personality. Our being is sixteenfold. I shall perform an experiment with you to prove how the mind cannot exist without food. Do not eat for fifteen days. Do not take any solid diet during these days. You may drink water, however. Why? Because, of the fact that the pranas are constituted of water. Thus, if you drink water, the pranas will not be cut off from the body. If you do not drink even water, you will not be there to undergo the experiment; the pranas would leave the body. So I tell you, drink water as much as you want, but do not eat food for fifteen days. You know very well, I told you just now, that the prana is formed of the water element. Hence, a person who drinks water cannot die so easily."

  1. Sa ha pancadacahani na'sa atha hainam upasasada, kim bravimi bho iti, roah, saumya yajumsi samaniti; sa hovaca, na vai ma pratibhanti bho iti.

The boy did not eat for fifteen days, as advised. He fasted completely, but drank water to his heart's content. Then he came to the father, after having fasted for fifteen days. "Now what shall I tell you, father? I have come to you after fifteen days of fasting. I have not eaten anything." "Oh! Chant the Veda," the father said. "Chant the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samavada." "I cannot remember anything," said the boy. "I cannot remember even one verse of the Rigveda, or the Yajurveda, or the Samaveda. Memory has gone. The mind is not functioning."

  1. Tam hovaca, yatha saumya mahato'bhyahitasyaiko' ngarah khadyota-mantrah parisishtah syat, tena tato' pi na bahu dahet, evam saumya, te sodasanam kalanam eka kala'tisista syat tayaitarhi vedan nahubhavasi, asana atha me vijnasyasiti.

"Now, do you know what has happened to you, my dear boy? Do you know why you cannot remember the Vedas, though you are a learned person? You are a master of the Vedas, and you say you cannot remember one verse. What has happened to you? You have not eaten food. That is all. This is the simple reason. How is it that your memory has gone merely because you have not eaten? Take the example of fire. Suppose there is a huge conflagration of fire which is burning strongly and it has now subsided and you have removed all the firewood, or the faggots. The fuel has been withdrawn and the fire is subsiding gradually. There is only one small spark left. What can that spark do? It cannot burn things. The conflagration can burn anything which is thrown into it, but the spark cannot so burn. Now, the fire is there, but it is so little quantitatively and so feeble in its action that it cannot do the work of fire though it is qualitatively fire alone. This is what happened to you. Fifteen parts of your mind have been withdrawn. You are sixteenfold, as I told you. For fifteen days you have not eaten. So, only one part of your mind is now active. Of the sixteen parts, one part is there. Perhaps if you had not eaten for sixteen days, something worse would have happened. For fifteen days you have not eaten, and so fifteen parts of the mind have been withdrawn, even as fuel is withdrawn from a fire. The mind is there only in name. You are able to think, but not effectively, and not to any purpose, just as the fire is there as a spark but it cannot do the work of fire. This is what happened to you by not eating food. Therefore, you cannot chant the Veda. The mind is not working; how can you remember anything? The Vedas have gone from your mind. Now, my dear boy, go and eat. Then you will understand something more about this secret." The boy then went and had a meal. He ate well, indeed, because he had not eaten for fifteen days. After eating a square meal, and having rested, he comes back to the father. The boy is happy.

  1. Sa hasa, atha hainam upasasada, tam ha yat kim ca papraccha sarvam ha pratipede.

He was very happy; having eaten food, the mind was alert at once, and he remembered all the Vedas, and everything came to his memory. Whatever question was put, he could answer immediately because of the strength which the mind had received through the food that he had taken. Otherwise, he was in a dying condition.

  1. Tam hovaca yatha saumya mahatobhyahitasyaikam angaram khadyota-matram parisishtam tam trnair upasamadhaya prajvalayet tena tato'ni bahu dahet.

"Now, my dear boy, I will give you another example. Suppose there is only a spark of fire. Now, bring a small, thin blade of grass, put it over that spark and see how it flames and burns. Bring another piece of grass, and then ten pieces of grass, and add a little more fuel. Then, slowly, the fire burns again. So that little spark of mind that could not remember anything, which was mind only in name, now, once again, has become a really strong mind with attention and memory because of the strength it has received from the food that you have absorbed into your system. The fifteen digits that had been withdrawn have now been given back."

  1. Evam, saumya, te shodasanam kalanam eka kalatisish-tabhut sa annenopasamahita prajvalit taya etarhi vedan anubhavasi, anna-mayam hi, saumya, manah apomayah pranah tejomayi vag iti taddhosya vijajnav iti.

"The mind is the essence of food, prana of water, and speech of heat. You are made up of these elements only. Your mind has been inflamed into action by the food that you have taken. Now you know very well what is the connection between food and the mind. You have demonstrated it in action. Your mind would have perished if you had not eaten at all." "My dear father, please tell me something more. This is very interesting."