The Chhandogya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter Three: Sanatkumara's Instructions on Bhuma-Vidya

Section 11: Heat

Subtler principles are always superior to the grosser ones, because they are more pervasive in character. Hence, if water is superior to the earth principle, fire is superior to the water principle.

  1. Tejo vava adbhyo bhuyah, tasmad-va etad-vayum agra-hyakasam abhitapati, tad-ahuh, nisocati, nitapati, varsisyati va iti, taja eva tat purvam darsayitva'tha'pah srjate. tat-etad urdhvabhis-ca tirascibhis-ca vidyudhih ahradas-caranti; tasmadahuh vidyotate, stanayati, varsisyati va iti, teja eva tat purvam darsayitvatha'pah srjate, teja upassveti.
  2. Sa yastejo brahhmetyupaste tajasvi vai sa tajasvato lokanbhasvato'pahata tamaskan abhisidhyati yavat tejaso gatam tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati yastejo brahmetyupaste'sti bhagavah tejaso bhuya iti, tajaso vava bhuyo'iti tanme bhagavan bravitviti.

"O Narada," says the great master Sanatkumara, "the fire element is superior to the water element which again is superior to all that has been said before, viz., name, speech, mind, will, memory, contemplation, understanding, strength and food." Therefore it is that heat, which is the function of fire, can dry up air and create such an atmosphere of warmth in the whole space or sky that you will feel that air itself is not present. In the atmosphere fire can intensify its function, so much so that the working of air can appear to cease altogether. Then people say, "Oh, it is very hot, extremely hot, intolerably hot." They say, "It is going to rain." When it becomes very hot, we infer that perhaps it is going to rain. So, water comes after heat. First there is an intense burning in the air, and then water comes. So is the case with every other circumstance of intense heat. Whether it is outward or inward, there is the production of the water principle on account of the intensity of the heat principle. Then we will have, in the atmosphere, as a result of this heating up of the space and the air, lightning and thunderbolts from every direction. We begin to hear rumbling sounds from various quarters of the heavens, indicating that it is about to rain, all of which is the work of the heating function of fire. Then it falls in the form of rain. So prior to the principle of water in all its functions, is fire. In other words, fire, having manifested itself first, it expresses itself as water thereafter. Having recognised the superiority of fire as the cause of water and therefore subtler than water, one must regard the fire principle as the Absolute, for the purpose of meditation.

"So is the case with air and space. Superior to the fire principle is the air principle and higher than that also is space which contains everything within itself. All the elements can finally be reduced to space. During the pralaya, the dissolution of the universe at the end, the whole world is supposed to get absorbed into space. Only akasa exists. Earth gets dissolved in water, water gets dried up by fire, fire gets extinguished by air, and air is absorbed into space. So, finally, space is the ultimate visible reality, most comprehensive, very expansive, inclusive of everything, almost resembling omnipresence, which one should now take as the object of one's meditation."

Section 12: Ether

  1. Akaso vava tejaso bhuyan akase vai surya-candrama-sav-ubhau vidyun-naksatrany-agnih, akasenahvayati, akasena srnoti, akasena pratisrnoti, akase ramate, akase na ramate, akase jayate, akasam abhijayate, akasam upassveti.

The importance of space cannot be appreciated unless space exists. It is the primary element that is necessary for the existence of anyone. Everything comes from space as an effect. Sun and moon, stars and lightning and whatnot, everything is in the atmosphere on account of the presence of space. We hear things on account of space. Echoes are produced on account of space. Our pleasures and pains also are due to the presence of space. There would be no objects at all, if there were no space. And if there are no objects, there would be no reaction from our side in respect of the objects. Then, there would be no experience at all, either of pleasure or of pain. So, enjoyment of every kind, and pleasure and satisfaction of every kind, are due to the spatial distinction among things. When there is sorrow, or even if there is absence of pleasure, it is due to the presence of space only. The peculiar location of the objects of sense in respect of the experiencing subject is the cause of the pleasure or the pain of the subject which is due to the intervening element, namely space. From space it is that everything comes. Things are born on account of the existence of space. There would be no production of any kind without space being present. An effect cannot be produced from a cause unless there is spatial distinction between the two. Even the trees and plants rise up from the earth and grow on account of the presence of space-akase jayate, akasam abhijayate. So we know what akasa or space is. The more we speak about it, the less should it be a type of definition of it. It is so important. It is perhaps the last conceivable object available to us in this world. Beyond that nothing is possible for the mind to think. That is the highest physical object available.

"So, O Narada, now you take this akasa as the object of meditation, which is to be meditated upon as the Absolute, beyond which nothing is. The unbounded space, the unlimited expanse of sky, the akasa is now the object of your meditation," says Sanatkumara.

  1. Sa ya akasam brahmety-upaste, akasavato vai sa lokan prakasavato'sambadhan urugayavato'bhisidhyati, yavad akasasya gatam tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati, ya akasam brahmety-upaste, asti, bhagavah, akasad-bhuya iti, akasad-vava bhuyo'stiti, tanme, bhagavan bravitv-iti.

If we can expand our mind to the extent of space in meditation, to that extent will be our freedom, success and power in this world. Glorious would be the capacity of that person who can meditate in this manner. Luminosity would be the object of his meditation, as space is luminous due to the presence of the sun. This person who meditates on space will be illumined by the consciousness present therein. Unlimited would be the possession of this person, as space itself is unlimited, which is the object of his meditation. And unlimited would be his achievement who so meditates. As long as there is space, so long is his success. To the extent of the presence of space, to that extent is his freedom. As far is space, so far is his freedom also. So, he will have unlimited freedom on account of this meditation on the unlimited space.

Narada says: "Well, this is a grand thing, of course. I cannot think anything more than space. I wish to know whether space is the ultimate reality. Or, is there anything beyond space and greater than space?" "There is something beyond space. There is something without which even space cannot be conceived. Why, for that matter, it cannot even exist without that. Space would be meaningless if that something which is superior to it does not exist," replies Sanatkumara. "So there is something higher than space! What is that? Please instruct me, O great master," says Narada.

Section 13: Memory

  1. Smaro vava akasad-bhuyah, tasmad-yady-api bahava asiran-nasmarantah, naiva te kamcana srnuyuh, na manviran, na vijaniran, yada vava te smareyuh atha srnuyuh atha manviran, atha vijaniran, smarena vai putran vijanati, smarena pasun, smaram upasisveti.

Here, smara is a peculiar term which has been interpreted as the power of consciousness which is recognised as self-existence. Our consciousness of our own existence is prior to the operation of our consciousness of the recognition of space outside us. We must exist first, if space is to be there. So our consciousness of self-existence is prior to the determining factor of the consciousness of this vast expanse that we call space. So, smara does not merely mean a kind of memory which is the common meaning of the term. It is something superior to it. This self-existence which we feel as identical with our own consciousness, which is what is meant by the word smara, is no doubt superior to space. If we ourselves are not there, there is no question of space being there. Smara is therefore surely greater than akasa-smaro vava akasad-bhuyah. If any person is there who has lost consciousness of his or her own existence, there is no question of space, no question of hearing or thinking, and no question of understanding. No function of any kind worthwhile will be possible, if there is no self-consciousness. If we are not aware of our own existence, what is the good of thinking about space or fire or anything? So, our self-consciousness, the self-consciousness of everyone, is superior to space, and it is that which determines the character of space. Wherever there is the manifestation of this self-consciousness, the presence of I-hood, there arises every kind of knowledge. There is thinking, there is understanding, there is hearing, and there desire operates in ever so many ways. All our activity in life, whatever be the nature of that activity, is an offshoot of consciousness of our own existence. Minus that, the whole world is naught.

  1. Sa yah smaram brahmety-upaste, yavat smarasya gatam, tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati, yah smaram brahmety-upaste, asti, bhagavah, smarad-bhuya iti, smarad vava bhuyo'stiti; tan-me, bhagavan, bravitv-iti.

This itself is a very superior type of meditation where you regard self-consciousness as the object of meditation. Now, we are slowly turning from the objective to the subjective side. We have to rise further up yet, to still higher levels which are dealt with in the sections that follow in this chapter. A person who meditates in this manner on the supreme self-consciousness prior to the perception of every kind of object, of even space itself, such a person is superior to that extent, and he has freedom to the extent of the realm of self-consciousness.

This is a startling turning point in the process of meditation. Generally, we take all objects of meditation as being outside us and located in space. We never for a moment imagine that objects have something to do with our own self-existence. The relationship between the consciousness of objects and the objects of consciousness escapes the notice of consciousness, so that we always take it for granted that objects are independent, existing outside, as though hanging in space, unconnected with other things, including one's own self. This is not true. That objects are suspended in space independently, independent of even the consciousness of their existence, is not true. They have some connection. A correlativity of being is manifested by all objects, and their nature, their character, their reaction is entirely in relation to the nature, the location and the character of the subject perceiving or experiencing them.

This is a higher knowledge which is not available to the ordinary layman who always mistakes the objects for independent things outside, and depends on them, hangs on them, as if they are his support entirely, not knowing that he himself is the contributory factor to their very existence and operation. So, to come to the inside from the outside, to the subjective from the objective, is a great achievement indeed, which is not easily possible for ordinary people.

Now at this stage, there is sudden shift of emphasis from the external to the internal when Sanatkumara says that self-consciousness is superior to everything that he has told Narada up to this time, including space itself, which means to say the whole world of externality.

"But is there something superior to this smara, self-existence, and if so, may I know about it?" asks Narada. "Yes, there is something more than this also. This self-existence of yours of which you are conscious is not the ultimate reality. It is also an effect of something superior to it," is the reply of the great master Sanatkumara. "What is that? Kindly condescend to instruct me about it," prays Narada.

Section 14: Hope

  1. Asa vava smarad-bhuyasi, aseddho vai smaro mantran adhite karmani kurute, putrams-ca pasums-cecchate, imam ca lokam amum cecchate, asam upassveti.

That peculiar thing called smara, the self-awareness or self-existence mentioned in the preceding section, is not complete in itself. Its very existence is dependent upon an urge that is present prior to it. We live on account of a kind of hope in our life. We do not live on account of our present experiences, merely. There is something within us which keeps us tied to this self-consciousness. And that is the desire for betterment of our life in the future, here mentioned in this section of the Upanishad as asa, hope or aspiration. It is aspiration for self-transcendence.

Our very existence is valuable only on account of the tendency present in self-consciousness to transcend itself into higher modes of being. We are happy in this world merely because of the hope that we will be happy tomorrow, not because we are happy today. This desire is not visible outside. It is not a direct experience, but it is invisibly working within us. Our desire to exist is a peculiar character in us. We cannot logically argue out the reason behind our desire to exist. It is a supra-logical mystery.

The desire or hope to exist, which is actually what Sanatkumara meant by saying asa, is not a mere desire to exist as a body. People do not want to die. They want to continue their existence as long as possible. They pray for long life, but they do not understand what is actually meant by long life. It is not a desire to persist in this physical body. We are unconsciously asking for something whose nature is not clear to our own minds. We are asking for a self-transcendent existence. It is not an existence in this limited personality of ours. Who would like to be in this particular body only for a long time? Which part of our life would we like to perpetuate? Is it old age, young age, or childhood? We cannot say that any particular part of our life is to be perpetuated. There is a confusion in the mind when we ask for long life. But, the hidden intention in our mind behind this asking or desiring for long life is that we want to perpetuate the essentiality of our existence. Now this existence is not what we call bodily existence. Though we mistakenly identify our existence with the body, there is a subtle urge within us to exceed or go beyond the limitations of our bodily existence, which is the reason why we ask for more and more things, accumulate more and more objects, and externally expand the magnitude of our being. And that is also why we ask for longevity. We want to be perpetuated in time and expanded in space. This is our desire. We have only two desires—to expand ourselves in space, and to perpetuate ourselves in time. So this is what we are asking for in all our activities. We want to possess more and more things, as much as possible-nay the entire space! We want to expand our personality into spatial domination, and also for as long a time as possible-not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but endlessly. So, there is a desire for infinity and eternity that is present in us, of which we are not conscious. We foolishly interpret it as desire to exist in this body. This aspiration is asa. Thus, for a betterment in our life, aspiration towards self-transcendence comes even prior to self-existence.

Therefore, Sanatkumara here says to Narada: "Asa must be your object of meditation, not merely your limited self-existence. There is something which is implied in your consciousness of self-existence. That implication should become the content of your consciousness, and therefore, the object of your meditation."

  1. Sa ya brahmetyupaste asayasya sarve kamah samrdhyantyamogha hasyasiso bhavanti yavad-asaya gatam tatrasya yatha kamacaro bhavati ya asam brahmetyupaste'sti bhagavah asaya bhuya iti asaya vava bhuyo'sti iti tanme bhagavan bravitviti.

Our aspirations shall be fulfilled. No desire can go unfulfilled. If our aspiration is for a high thing, that also shall come. So we should leave off our lower aspirations and rise beyond the limits of bodily existence, and reach up to the higher implications of this self-existence which we are. To that extent will be our success and our freedom.

"This is very great and grand. Is there something more than this?" asks Narada. Endlessly Narada goes on asking questions, and limitlessly answers are being given. "There is something greater than this aspiration for self-transcendence, and that is the principle of life," replies Sanatkumara. "Then kindly instruct me on that principle of life," says Narada.