The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

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

Section 12: The Indwelling Spirit (Continued)—Illustration of the Banyan Tree and Its Seed

  1. Nyagrodha-phalam ata aharet; idam, bhagavah, iti; bhinddhiti; bhinnam, bhagavah, iti; kim atra pasyasiti; anvya ivema dhanah, bhagavah, iti; asam angaikam bhinddhiti; bhinna, bhagavah, iti; kim atra pasyasiti; na kim-chana, bhagavah, iti.

There was a banyan tree in front of the kutir. All know that the banyan tree is very large but the fruit is so small and the seed is atomic. "Bring one fruit," says the father to the son. The boy runs and brings a small fruit of that huge expanse of the tree called banyan, and says, "Idam bhagavah-here is the fruit, my father." "Bhinddhiti-split it, break the fruit into pieces," says the father. "Bhinnam bhagavah-I have broken it," replies Svetaketu. "Kim atra pasyasiti-now what do you see inside it?" asks the father. The boy says, "Anvya-I see small granules."

All must have seen the fruit of a banyan tree. How many fruits are there in the tree? How many seeds are there in each fruit? Innumerable, countless, very tiny, atomic seeds are there. How small they are! And you can contrast the smallness of the seeds with the largeness of the tree which is the banyan.

"Anvya ivema dhanah-very small seeds I see inside the fruit, very tiny, atomic seeds are there," says the son. "Asam angaikam bhinddhiti-now you split one small seed," says the father.

It is very difficult to split it. You cannot take it by the hand. It will escape your grip. Somehow the boy split that little atomic seed.

"Bhinna bhagavah iti-yes, I have split it," he says. "Kim atra pasyasiti-now inside that very little atomic seed, what do you see?" the father asks. "Na kim-chana-I do not see anything," says the boy.

Our naked eyes cannot see what is inside that little seed. There is a small jelly-like, very tiny, invisible essence inside that seed. It is very small, a semi-liquid-like substance. We may be able to see it with our powerful microscope. There is no solid hard substance there inside that little seed.

"What do you see in it?" asks the father, and the son replies, "I cannot see anything."

  1. Tam hovacha yam vai, saumya, etam animanam na nibhalayase, etasya vai, saumya, esho'nimna evam mahan nyagrodhas-tishthati srddhatsva, saumya iti.

The father now explains: "Do you know, my dear boy, what is inside the seed? It is a great wonder. You say that you cannot see anything there. It is practically invisible and non-existent, as it were, from your point of view. Thin, apparently non-existent something, the very little, subtle essence there inside that little seed, has become this vast tree in front of you. Do you know this? How is this possible? Is it not a miracle that a terribly large tree grows from this little speck of jelly which cannot even be seen with the eyes? Now look at this miracle. Please have faith in what I say and go into the deeper profundity of this analogy of mine."

  1. Sa ya esho'nima, aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti; bhuya eva ma, bhagavan, vijnapayatv-iti; tatha, saumya, iti hovacha.

This little so-called subtle essence is pervading the entire tree. How is it possible? How can an atomic little speck pervade the large expanse of the tree? Yet, there is nothing in this tree which is not in this little speck of jelly. The so-called large tree that you see there is nothing but whatever was contained in the invisible speck inside the seed. So is this vast universe. We say this universe is so large, so big or so unmanageable, so gross, so weighty. This is exactly like saying this tree is so big. But from where has it come? It has come from a very small, atomic, subtle Seed. That is the Being, the essence of the vast tree of this universe. So this Being, the essence of this whole universe, is the Self of the whole universe. This little jelly-like substance inside the little seed is the Self of this whole tree. It is the Atman of this banyan, because that has become all this, and outside it the tree does not exist. So it is the being of this tree. Even so is the Being of the whole universe including one's own self. "Tat-tvam-asi-you are that," says the father. We can tell every branch of the tree, "You are that essence," we can tell every leaf in the tree, "You are that essence," every fruit and flower in the tree, "You are that." And you will not be committing a mistake in saying that, because it is true. Even so we can say to every individual, "You are That," because all individuals have come from that indistinguishable, homogeneous Reality. "Bhuya eva ma bhagavan vijnapayatv-iti-please explain further," says the son. Another example is given by the father.

Section 13: The Indwelling Spirit (Continued)—Illustration of Salt and Water

  1. Lavanam etad udake'vadhaya, atha ma pratar-upasidatha iti; sa ha tatha chakara; tam hovacha; yad-dosha lavanam udake'vadhah, anga tad-ahareti, taddhavamrsya na viveda; yatha vilinam evam.

"Bring a little salt and put it in a cup of water," said Uddalaka. The boy brought a cup of water and put some salt into it. "See me tomorrow morning," says the father. Sa ha tatha chakara-the boy does like that. Next morning the boy comes and greets the father and the father says, "Yesterday you put salt into the water; bring that salt." He goes there and sees that the salt is not there in the cup. What has happened to the salt? It has become one with the water. So he could not bring the salt.

  1. Angasyantad-achameti, katham iti, lavanam iti, madhyad-achameti, katham iti, lavanam iti, antad-achameti, katham iti, lavanam iti, abhiprasyaitad-atha mopasidatha iti, taddha tatha chakara tac-chasvat samvartate; tam hovacha: atra vava kila sat, saumya, na nibhalayase, atraiva kila iti.
  2. Sa ya esho'nimaitad-atmyam-idam sarvam tat-satyam sa atma tat-tvam-asi svetaketo iti, bhuya eva ma bhagavan vijnapayitu iti tatha saumya iti hovacha.

The boy says, "There is no salt in the water." Uddalaka says, "Now I shall prove that there is salt. You sip a little of the water from the top and tell me what the taste is." "It is saltish," says the boy. "You sip a little from the middle and tell me its taste." "It is salty." "You sip a little from any part of the water and see how it tastes." "All is salty." "So, now tell me, does the salt exist there or not?" "Yes, it does exist." "But you cannot see it, is it not?" "Yes, I cannot see it."

Now, this is a proof to show that though we cannot see a thing, it can exist. Because the salt is dissolved in water, the former cannot be seen through the eyes, but through some other means, the organ of taste, we can discover that it is there. The generality of the salt, which has become indistinguishable from the body of the water, cannot be visibly seen with the eyes, no doubt, but we can find out that the salt is there by tasting the water. By one means we cannot see it, but by another means we can. Similar is the case with the Being that has entered into the substance of all this creation. In the same way as we cannot see the salt in water but we can verify its existence by some other means, that is, by tasting, we cannot see this Being in the particulars of this world through our organs including the internal organ, as it is dissolved in the particulars, as it were. But, by employing another means, other than the organs and the mind, we can find out that this Being is in every particular. And then we will find that It is everywhere in the universe, just as salt is everywhere in the saline water. Wherever we touch, we touch That only, just as wherever we touch the water which is saline, we are touching salt only in that water.

"What is this other way? Please instruct me about this," asks the boy. How is it possible for us to get an insight into this Reality present in all particular forms? Neither one's own intellect nor the senses will be of any use here. The senses are used to a kind of contact with externals, and whatever is not an external cannot become an object of their perception. Whatever is outside, that alone the senses can perceive, and this Being we are speaking of is not outside and, therefore, It cannot be an object of the senses. Nor can the mind conceive the Being, because the function of the mind is principally a synthesis of the perceptions of the senses, an organisation of these sensations and perceptions. It introduces a kind of coordination and method into the chaotic mass of perceptions of the senses. The mind does not see something which is not seen by the senses. It is only introducing a logical sequence and coherence into the mass of sensations. We are not in any way better off by employing the mind or the intellect as a means of cognition or perception. What the mind does, what the intellect does, is merely a corroboration and confirmation of what senses tell us. And if the senses are of no use, the mind and intellect also are of no use. The only importance that you can attach to the function of the mind or intellect is that it has a peculiar capacity to reflect an inferential presence of a higher reality, due to the fact that it is less distracted than the senses and that it has an integrating power which is absent in the senses on account of their isolated activities. Now, the mind which is endowed with this special power which is ordinarily not visible, has to be employed for the purpose of gaining an insight into Reality by means of guidance received from a master.

To this subject Uddalaka, the sage, reverts by means of an illustration. Take for instance, there is a person who has been waylaid by robbers, blindfolded, handcuffed, legs tied together, dragged into a wilderness and thrown into a pit somewhere in an unknown place. He has been taken a long distance away from his house. He does not know where he has been taken, because his eyes have been covered by a patch of cloth. He only knows that he has been removed to a distant place. He is in a state of despair. The only thing that he can do under that condition is to cry for help. His intellect will not help him there, his mind will not help him, his sense of sight has failed. Under such conditions, the only help can be from another who has sight. A person with eyes who can see the way can come, help, and guide him. There is no other way out. Even so, every one of us has lost sight of Reality. Every one of us has been spiritually blindfolded. Everyone is in complete spiritual darkness. And there is sorrow, as a consequence thereof. What is the way out?

Section 14: The Indwelling Spirit (Continued)—The Need for a Guru

  1. Yatha, saumya, purusham gandharebhyo'bhinaddhak-sham aniya tam tato'tijane visrjet, sa yatha tatra prangva udangva atharangva pratyangva pradhmayita'bhinaddhaksha anito'bhinaddhaksho virsrshtah.
  2. Tasya yathabhinahanam pramuchya prabruyat, etam disam gandharah, etam disam vrajeti, sa gramad-gramam prcchan pandito medhavi gandharan evopasampadyeta evam evehacharyavan purusho veda, tasya tavadeva chiram yavan na vimokshye, atha sampatsya iti.

Someone was living in a country called Gandhara, and was attacked by robbers on the way. He was tied up. His eyes were covered and he was taken to a long distance and left in a thick forest infested with tigers, wild beasts, etc. The person was crying, "I have lost my way. I do not know where I am. Will anybody come and help me? Does anybody hear my voice? Is there anyone near me?" That was all he could do. Then, there was one good Samaritan passing by that way and he untied all the knots with which the person was bound. He removed the bandages from the eyes and said to him, "Oh, you have come to this place. Where are you coming from?" The poor man replied, "I come from Gandhara. Now I do not know where it is. Which is the way to that place?" Then the kind one said, "You proceed from this place in that direction and you will see a big tree there. Then you turn to the right and walk for about two miles. Then you will see a village. From there you move towards the east and there you will see a signpost. Now proceed slowly and you can safely reach your place."

This is an analogy to describe the condition of people in this world. We have been exiled from our 'home' and cast into the wilderness by the robbers of the senses and we cannot see things properly as they really are. We do not know from where we have come. We have lost our way. And the apparatus of our senses are not going to help us. The mind has been confounded. The only way is to ask for help, and just as a person with sight can help a person without sight and can point out the way to the destination which he has to reach, so is the blindfolded soul in this wilderness of life to take the guidance of a person with spiritual eyesight, who can visualise the presence of the great Reality which is the destination of everyone. Such a person with eyes which can see the truth of things as they are is called an acharya, a spiritual master. He is the preceptor, he is the Guru. There is no way of escape from this muddle of life except through the guidance of a preceptor, because a preceptor, a Guru, is one who has undergone these experiences of life. He has seen the tortures of existence, the sufferings, the winding path and the dismal ways through which one has to go. He knows from where one has come and how one can revert to that place again. Through the indications given by the master, the disciple has to proceed gradually.

In the analogy, the good Samaritan told the blindfolded man how he could go back to his house step by step by the winding path with the help of various objects which served as signposts. Even so, are the scriptures signposts on the way. The instructions of the Guru are the indications on the path. We are told that from this predicament in which we are now, the next step would be like this. Naturally, we cannot reach our destination at one stroke. It is perhaps several miles away, hundreds of miles far. This means that we have to put forth much effort. So we go three miles from here and we find a road that diverts itself to the right. We go along that. Then we find a huge banyan tree there. From there, we again turn to our left. Then we go another ten miles along the same path, and find a village there. Then we take rest and from there we move towards the western direction, and so on and so forth. These represent the higher and higher levels of consciousness to which we have to rise up, overcoming the various obstructions on the spiritual path. Thus are we instructed by the master.

We have fallen from the ancient, pristine existence by a tortuous process of descent. It is not a sudden drop, as drops of water from the sky fall on the earth. It is a winding process through various kinds of curves and turns through which Consciousness has got itself entangled and has come to this present pitiable condition of earth-consciousness, body- consciousness, object-consciousness, and a total absence of universal consciousness. To go back to that orginal state, it is not possible to take a jet plane and fly straight. It is not a straight movement. It is also a very winding process. We cannot see beyond a certain distance. This is the difficulty of the path. We cannot have a set of binoculars and see everything direct till the last point is reached. There appears to be a blind alley, as they say, and we cannot see anything further. We will see what is beyond a particular spot only after reaching that spot. Several such spots have to be passed. So it is pointless on the part of any enthusiastic seeker to know the nature of the Absolute at one stroke. In the case of a traveller whose destination is far away, he has to move a certain distance first. He has to move by various methods. He may go in a car. Sometimes he may fly. Yet at other times he may have to walk. For, everywhere, every kind of vehicle will not be available. Likewise is the method that has to be adopted in the practice of sadhana. The same method will not work always. It is not a same, single, stereotyped routine that we practise right from the beginning till the end. After a certain point or a certain limit is reached, the method of sadhana may have to be changed, the speed may have to be accelerated and a different type of guidance may have to be required. As is the case with an ordinary journey, as is the case with medical treatment, so is the case with education, whether it be secular or spiritual. There are stages of approach, and you will not be told everything at one stroke. There is also no use explaining that, because the mind cannot grasp all the intricacies at once.

So the point is, that just as the blindfolded man received instructions from the good Samaritan, so the blindfolded soul has to receive guidance from a spiritual master. And as the person in the illustration was intent only on reaching home and was not interested in mere sightseeing, (otherwise he would go hither and thither and miss the way again), so is the soul to be intent upon its destination, and should not waste its time in sightseeing in this world. The master will tell the seeker, "This is the way." On the way he may see many things. He should not be interested in those things. They are experiences through which every one has to pass. When one goes to Delhi, one will see many towns on the way, but one is not interested in those towns. One is interested in Delhi, the destination only. Notwithstanding the fact that one passes through various towns, cities, villages and halting places, they give no respite because one's mind is not there. So is the case with the ascent of the soul to the Supreme Being. Many experiences have to be passed through by the seeker and he will have many visions, many things which will be more wonderful than the things that he sees in this world. But he has no interest in them, because they are only halting places, passing phenomena. And as was the case with the blindfolded man who was intent only on rushing back home and not seeing places on the way, so should be the interest of a spiritual seeker to return to the 'source', passing through tentative experiences in which he should not get engrossed. He should not get lodged in the halting places on the way. Thus the soul can reach back to its grand goal, its destination.

What is the way? The way is the acharya, the Guru, the teacher, the master, the preceptor. There is no other way. "So only a person who has a proper preceptor can realise the Truth," says this Upanishad. No one else can reach this Truth by any effort of the mind, the intellect or the senses. No amount of scientific analysis, no amount of study of the scriptures alone will be of any use. It requires direct guidance from one who has personal experience. Such a person is the acharya, the preceptor who knows what Truth is. He is a blessed person who has such a guide with him. Then he will have to live in this world only as long as this body lasts. Afterwards, he will have no bondage. As long as he is tied up to this bodily individuality, as long as the prarabdha-karma which he has to experience remains, so long he will have to remain. The sanchita-karmas are destroyed by knowledge. The agami-karmas do not exist for that person, but the prarabdha-karma continues. The prarabdha is a name that we give to those cumulative effects of action which have given rise to this physical body, this individuality of ours, in which we have to pass our life here and undergo experiences of various types. When we are in a position to complete this course of change through this body, then we are about to enter that borderland of freedom. We have to be bound to this world, to this life, only as long as this body is there. The moment this body is cast off we are free, because there is nothing else to bind us. All our karmas have been destroyed by meditation and by the actions performed in this life. They are not going to bind us because they are not selfish actions. They are not motivated by bodily individuality. They are propelled by knowledge of a higher truth, and therefore, the actions of the present life after the rise of knowledge, the agami-karmas, will not bind us. Nor are we going to be influenced by the sanchita-karmas, results of past actions. They too have been burnt up by knowledge. The only thing that remains is prarabdha. When that is gone, every type of bondage is gone-Tavad eva chiram vavanna vimokshye, atha sampatsya iti. Then we attain to the great Being. This Being is the truth of all things.

  1. Sa ya esho'nima aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti; bhuya eva ma, bhagavan vijnapayatv-iti; tatha, saumya, iti hovacha.

After the above instructions, Uddalaka says: "O Svetaketu, do you understand what I am telling you? This great but most subtle essence of all the worlds is the Truth, the Atman, the Supreme Reality within you, and you are That." "Explain to me further, O master," says the boy.

Now, what is the difference between a person who has consciously attained realisation and another who is unconsciously thrown into it as in sleep or death? Why does not one attain realisation after death, if casting off the body is the only criterion of liberation? The Upanishad here tells us that when one casts off the body, one attains liberation. Then why should not everyone attain liberation when they go to deep sleep or die, if the body alone is the bondage? There is a difference between one with knowledge and one in deep sleep without knowledge. Notwithstanding the fact that both these persons cast off their body one day or the other and both have been thrown into Reality, what is the difference? This again is explained by another example. This chapter is full of analogies.