The Secret of the Katha Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse No. 3

The great impediments to spiritual progress are known as avidya, kama and karma—ignorance, desire and action. These three aspects of the obstacle are really a single obstacle presenting itself in three different ways. An ignorance of the true and ultimate nature of things is called avidya. We call it ignorance, or nescience, or the absence of knowledge, or darkness, etc. This ignorance, avidya, breeds a desire for the external objects of sense—kama. An ignorance of the character of reality, which is avidya, at once presupposes an affirmation of personality, ahamkara—and a desire to contact other personalities. Avidya causes ahamkara simultaneously. They are almost inseparable, like the heat and the light of fire. The moment there is this self-affirmation born of ignorance, there is a necessary consequence of it following, viz. a longing to make good what has been lost, by way of contact with things. That is called kama. To fulfil kama or desire there is karma or action. So the whole of one’s life is a threefold effort of avidya, kama and karma—ignorance, desire and action. This is the tripura or the threefold fortress of the demoniacal powers, which Lord Siva is supposed to have broken through with a single arrow. These are the three citadels made of gold, silver and iron, as they say in the Puranas. These are the three knots or granthis—Brahma-granthi, Vishnu-granthi and Rudra-granthi—which the hatha-yogins and the kundalini-yogins and the tantrikas speak of—avidya, kama, karma. It is a single power appearing as three independent impediments to the expression of knowledge.

triṇāciketas tribhiretya sandhiṁ
trikarmakṛt tarati janma-mṛtyῡ.

The three fasts of Nachiketas may be compared to the soul’s endeavour to break through these three fortresses, a withdrawal gradually effected from the outer to the inner, overcoming the force of karma, overcoming the power of kama and finally overcoming avidya. Three forms of tapas or austerity have to be undergone with three aids and with the help of three sadhanas or spiritual practices. This is what is meant by trinachiketa, in the Upanishad. You overcome birth and death with these three processes. You gain mastery over those conditions which limit you to the body in all its three layers of expression and to the three planes—the physical, the astral and the celestial. These are the essential bondage of the soul inwardly as well as outwardly limiting its expression and confining it to samsara or earthly existence and suffering. The overcoming of this threefold bondage is the implication of the term ‘trinachiketa’ mentioned in the Upanishad. The instruments that have to be made use of in this effort are the mind, the intellect and the spirit (manas-buddhi-atma), all combined in a single-pointed effort—tribhiretya sandhim. You have also to perform three actions, to which a reference has been made in the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita: trikarma—yajna, dana, tapas. Yajna is the sacrifice which one performs for attaining union with Reality. It includes all forms of self-abnegation and dedication. Yajna is a very comprehensive term whose meaning is deep. You may, in a sense, say that the entire culture of Bharatavarsha is summed up in this single word, ‘yajna’. The Lord himself is compared to yajnaYajno vai vishnuh, and in the masterly Purusha-Sukta of the Vedas the whole creation is compared to a yajna of the Supreme Being. Yajna is, therefore, the supreme effort of the soul to unite itself with God. Dana is the charitable disposition of the soul towards others. Charity does not mean only parting with a few cents or a few rupees or dollars or pounds. Charity is an attitude of the mind. It may be expressed in the form of physical action, or it may not be so expressed. It includes charitable feelings, a charitable attitude, conduct and behaviour towards others. The capacity to appreciate the situation of others is charity. When you are in a position to enter into the feelings and the actual conditions and circumstances of other souls and other persons and feel as they feel and think as they think and act as they act, not with a sweating effort but with a spontaneous expression of your nature, that would be the essence of a charitable nature—dana. Tapas is personal discipline, bodily, verbal as well as mental. One who puts forth this threefold spiritual endeavour overcomes birth and death—Tarati janma-mrityu.

All this is an introductory exposition given by the Upanishad to the essential secret about which Nachiketas put his third question. Nachiketas does not expect anything else from this mighty lord of knowledge, will not be satisfied with any other offering from him than the answer to this central question which pertains to the Great Beyond, mahati samparayae. “This third boon that you are going to bestow upon me pertains to the innermost secret of things, the secret which is hidden in the cave of the heart of all beings. Other than this, nothing can satisfy this Nachiketas.” Nanyam varam nachiketa vrinite.

Now, Yama comes to the main argument of the whole Upanishad, and the heart and soul of the aspiration of Nachiketas. How can one know it? There must be something extremely difficult about it; else, Yama would not have been so reluctant to speak of it. However much you may scratch your head, rack your brain or think about it, or argue, or read, or speak, you cannot understand it.

nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā, na bahunā śrutena.

Even if you ponder over it in all possible ways, you will not gain an access into this knowledge. So difficult is its deep significance to grasp. That is why Yama thought it better if he kept quiet about it. But Nachiketas would not leave him.

na nareṇāvareṇa proktā eṣa
suvijñeyo bahudhā cintyamānaḥ.

An ordinary person cannot expound this mystery. An inferior type of understanding cannot appreciate it or expound it, however acute it may be from the worldly point of view. This is not the usual scientific knowledge. This is not like the studying of physics, chemistry or mathematics. This is not concerned with anything that you can see or hear or touch or taste or see. This is unconditioned knowledge and therefore conditional speech cannot express it. Thought itself being conditioned, cannot become the means to the expression or conveyance of this knowledge. How can the unconditioned be conveyed through the conditioned? This wisdom imperishable, eternal, cannot be carried through any perishable means or a vehicle of a temporal character.

The rational faculty fails here because the highest form of rationality is merely what is available in that we call scientific knowledge. We are rightly told that religion begins where science ends. The limit of science is the beginning of the higher wisdom. On account of its subtlety of nature, this wisdom becomes superlogical. This Atman, this truth of all things, cannot be known through argument or speech or discourse, not by immense scholarship in the scriptures, not by acuteness of intellect, because the subtlety of the intellect is, after all, based on what we call the logical law or principle. Today man hangs upon the logical system of thinking as the ultimate means of knowledge. But logic is the outcome of an assumption which itself is an hypothesis taken for granted and finally indefensible. All logic is an attempt to bring about a union between what we call the subject and the predicate of an argument. Those who have studied logic, induction or deduction will know what it means. Every logical proposition is made up of a subject and a predicate, and for any sense to be conveyed, you must express it in a sentence, and the conjunction in a sentence is that which links the meaning of the predicate with the subject or the meaning of the subject with the predicate. The distinction that we make in this way between the subject and the object—you may call it the predicate—is based on a presupposed notion of the mind that things are divided among themselves. Why should you try to connect the subject with the predicate? The necessity of connecting them arises only if they are different. But why should you take it for granted that they are already different? That you exist as a bodily individual—that this individuality observes a world outside—is a hypothesis which cannot be scientifically proved, because all scientific argument is based upon this assumption that the world exists, and that you exist as a part of it; but this assumption itself is untenable as it is merely taken for granted and is not proved. How do you know that the world exists? Because you see it! How do you know that your vision is correct? You cannot prove this logically. You have only to say it is: “I am seeing it, and therefore it must be there.” This is called dogma. Science is against all dogma, but it is itself based on a dogma that the world is, and the scientist also is in it. Human understanding, ordinary intelligence is of no use here, and a lot of learning founded on this understanding, also, is of not much help. Unless you seek for another means of knowledge, altogether, there is no way of gaining entry into the mystery. Ananya-prokte gatir atra nasti, says the Upanishad.

The nature of reality becomes a difficulty for the human understanding because of there being no defining characteristics of reality. You cannot say it has a colour. You cannot say it has a shape. You cannot say it has any kind of quality which can be interpreted in human language. All definition is in terms of visible or sensible characters. The sensible character of an object is not the ultimate definition of it, because we are here trying to understand the essential constituent of an object and not its character as it is presented to the senses. The test of reality, the nature of Truth or Satya, is non-contradiction. Truth is that which can never be contradicted by any other definition, experience or realisation, which means to say that eternity is the character of Truth. Nothing in this world can be said to be ultimately real, because everything passes into something else. The whole world is transitory. It is made up of bits of process— parts, as it were, of a whole—and so it is not a completeness by itself. A juxtaposition of parts cannot be regarded as a reality, for the real is that which endures forever. We have never seen any object in this world, any person here, enduring for all times. We are told by master astronomers that even the solar system will not be ever enduring. There was a beginning for even the sun and there will be an end even for the sun. The cosmos will perish in the process of time. How can you call it real? The satisfactory definition of reality cannot be applied to any visible object. How will you define it, then? The mind of man, which is the central faculty of knowledge, depends entirely on the information gathered through the senses. The function of the mind is mostly a confirmation and association of ideas acquired, through the sensory passages. The mind does not give us any independent knowledge apart from what we obtain through the senses. What is not visible and what is not audible, what cannot be seen or heard or tasted or touched or felt, cannot also be known by the mind. So the mind also is a kind of sense—we call it the sixth sense. It has a capacity to synthesise the different reports of the senses, no doubt; but synthesis is not knowledge. In this organisation of the sensory knowledge brought about by the mind, we are not given a new, qualitative knowledge. We are only given a new type of organisation of what is already there, come through the senses. And the intellect is only a form of judgement that is passed on to this organised knowledge of the mind. So, the intellect, the mind and the senses seem to be of a common group. They belong to the same category. What other faculty have we except the intellect, the mind and the senses? With these untrustworthy servants of knowledge, which we have employed for our knowledge, we cannot really know Truth. This is why the Katha Upanishad warns us that by sheer argument, study, intellectuality and rationality, Truth cannot be known.

Truth has to be known by one with the blessing of a special type of instrument. No commentator has been able to properly explain what this term ‘ananya-prokte’, in the Upanishad, actually means. Many of the words used in the Upanishad are cryptic. They are like difficult nuts which you cannot easily crack. Ananya, grammatically, means‘other than what is already there’, or ‘different from what is there’, or ‘non-difference’. This word occurs also in the Bhagavadgita, and even there the commentators vary in the interpretation of what it really signifies. The teacher should not be an ‘anya’, or an ‘other’, but must be an ‘ananya’, a ‘non-other’. An ‘ananya’, is one who is ‘not different from that which he teaches’. Nowadays we have learned men, professors, who are supposed to be repositories of knowledge, but their lives are different from what they preach. They are ‘anya’ or ‘other’ from knowledge. The practical life of a professor is different from what he teaches in his college. When knowledge is different from life, such knowledge becomes a husk without substance. It is a burden that you carry, like an ass carrying bricks. Knowledge becomes valuable when it becomes ‘ananya’ with one’s own life. Knowledge becomes meaningful when it is lived, and not merely taught, or heard, or read about. Knowledge is identical with beingsat and chit are regarded as identical. Your sat or existence, or life, is to be in conformity with your chit, or what you know, teach and study. So, this knowledge can be imparted only by one who is established in a practical knowledge of Truth, one who is a brahmanishtha. A Guru is supposed to be a shrotriya and a brahmanishtha. A shrotriya is one who has a thorough insight into the meaning of the scriptures and has the capacity to express it in the best form of language. A brahmanishtha is one who is established in the knowledge of Truth. It is said that the Guru should be both a brahmanishtha and a shrotriya for a practical reason. A brahmanishtha is one who is in union with God, but one who is in such union may not always be in a position to teach, because of his transcendence of all means of communicating knowledge. He is above normal body-consciousness, above the empirical means of expression. And a mere shrotriya is like a pundit or scholar. Unless he is a brahmanishtha, he will not carry conviction when he teaches. Your teaching should carry weight and force. It should go into the hearts of the hearers. That is possible only if you live that knowledge yourself, and also you are in a position to expound it through language and diction.

Now, the Guru should have a double qualification. He must be living what he teaches, and also he should have the power to express what he knows. That is a brahmanishtha and a shrotriya, beautifully blended. Such a person is an ananya. You have no other alternative than this. You approach a Guru who is established in the knowledge which he has acquired, in whom knowledge has become a part of his being and life and practice, and who has also the blessing of the power of expression; otherwise, this truth cannot be known. This knowledge cannot be obtained through mere study for oneself, by private enterprise, merely. It requires the grace of a Master. Knowledge acquired through a Guru is living knowledge. It has a vitality about it, whereas the knowledge that you acquire merely by study of books is inert knowledge. It is like tinned food which has no life in it. There is a difference between a mango that is plucked from a tree and the mango that has been saturated in syrup in a tin for three years. Academic knowledge is also knowledge, but it cannot carry conviction and cannot transform your heart. What you gain through the Guru is full of living force and energy and vitality and power which the Guru conveys to the disciple through initiation, which is called the process shaktipata, by which the will of the Guru enters the mind of the disciple. The role that the Guru plays in the imparting of knowledge is not mean. No one should underestimate this process of initiation. It is a super-logical mystery, a super-scientific fact. The Upanishad confirms it. Wherever you see in the Upanishad a description of the imparting of knowledge, you find it has always been done through a Guru to a disciple. Indra went to Prajapati for knowledge. Narada went to Sanatkumara for knowledge. Brahmanas who were well-versed in the scriptures, and great men in their own way, went humbly even to a Kshatriya king, with sacred firewood in their hands, with offerings, and without any superiority-feeling of their being in a higher order of society. The Kshatriya kings sometimes used to feel awkward and were placed in an embarrassing situation. The king would say, “I am a Kshatriya and I am not supposed to impart knowledge to you, Brahmanas.” But these seekers used to say, “We have not come here as Brahmanas. We have come as humble students and aspirants of knowledge.” The Vaishvanara-Vidya described in the Chhandogya Upanishad was given by a Kshatriya to learned Brahmanas. Where the question of knowledge and aspiration for God are concerned, class and social distinction do not count. Anyone can be a disciple of any superior. It is only knowledge that is expected and not social category. The Guru is most important and initiation very essential. This is what seems to be conveyed by this term ‘ananya’ in the Upanishad. Subtle is this knowledge.

Now, what is knowledge? Why is it regarded as so subtle? The subtlety of it really lies in the fact that it is not an object of knowledge. Anything that is an object of our understanding or mind can be regarded as a gross presentation definable in character—spatial and temporal in its location, and causal in its connection. The whole world is a network of space, time and cause. Everything is somewhere in space. Everything is sometime in the passage of the temporal process of events, and everything is connected with something else in a causal chain. Everything is a cause, and everything is an effect. This is the way we try to understand things. But this supreme mystery about which Nachiketas put the third question is not the cause of an effect. It does not produce anything. It is not also the effect of a cause. It has not been produced by anything. It is not located in a particular place. It is not spatial. It is not also temporal, because it is not there sometimes only in the passage of events. It is not anywhere, because it is everywhere, and that which is everywhere is something which cannot be defined by the mind. That which is indefinable is also unknowable to the mind, because knowledge given to the mind and the intellect is always in terms of definition. The definition need not necessarily be verbal or linguistic. There is a psychological definition of an object inwardly conducted when we begin to cognise it. A definition is an activity of the mind by which it apprehends the location of an object in a particular manner, and so indefinable things are also unknowable things. Inasmuch as reality is not spatial or temporal, and is not causally connected, it is not definable by logical characters, and therefore not capable of being known by the mind; not also capable of being judged by the intellectual categories. Well, we can understand why Yama refused to give an answer to this question of Nachiketas. How can you say anything about it to a poor boy from the mortal world, come in a state of sheer enthusiasm? Indra had to observe brahmacharya for more than a hundred years to receive this knowledge from Prajapati. Four times had he to go to Prajapati, and Prajapati would not impart this knowledge at once. He gave a tentative explanation, and gradually instructed Indra after the latter underwent this penance of brahmacharya. Together with the insistence on the necessity of a Guru in the imparting of knowledge, the Upanishads are also never tired of hammering upon another qualification of the student of this knowledge—brahmacharya. In many places it appears that brahmacharya and Brahman are almost identified. Wherever there is brahmacharya, there is also Brahman-knowledge. Very significant is this word—brahmacharya. It is the conduct of Brahman that is actually called brahmacharya. Charya is conduct, behaviour, attitude, disposition, demeanour, and brahma is the Truth. The conduct of reality is brahmacharya. So, when you conduct yourself in a manner not in contradiction to the nature of Truth, you are supposed to be observing brahmacharya. And what is the nature of Truth which you should not contradict in your day-to-day conduct and which is supposed to be brahmacharya? The nature of Truth is non-sensory existence. Truth is not a sensible object. It is not seen, it is not heard, it is not tasted, it is not touched, it is not contacted by any of the senses of our individual personality. Therefore, to desire for the objects of sense would be a contradiction of the nature of Truth. Brahmacharya is sensory non-indulgence. The opposite of sensory indulgence is the attitude of brahmacharya. Our present-day activities are mostly a refutation of the principles of brahmacharya, and so we are weak in every respect. We are unable to see, unable to hear, unable to touch, unable to walk, unable to speak, unable to digest our daily meal. Everything has been weakened, because our senses refute the existence of God. When you see an object you deny God, because the denial of God and the perception of an object are one and the same thing. When you hear a sound, you deny God. When you taste, when you touch, when you have any kind of sensory activity, there is an unconscious refutation of the indivisibility of the existence of God. Brahmacharya has thus been, by an extension of its meaning, regarded as sense-control. But sense-control is not the whole meaning of brahmacharya. It is a spiritual attitude to things that is called brahmacharya, which implies, of course, automatically, sense-control. When it is daylight, when the sun is up above our heads, it is understood that darkness has gone. But day is not merely the absence of darkness. It is a positive kind of enlivening and energising phenomenon, a power that we receive from the sun, including light. So, brahmacharya is not merely a withdrawal of the senses from contacts with objects, though it implies that, also. It is an inward positivity of attitude. In brahmacharya, you become a positive person, with a content of your own, independent of any kind of external aid. You have a stuff of your own, as they call it. That is brahmacharya. Many people become ‘nobodies’ when they retire from their offices. No one wants them afterwards, because they have no stuff of their own. Their only stuff was their office. Their importance was not intrinsic. The collector’s importance, the minister’s importance, the king’s importance, the officer’s importance, or the rich man’s importance is not intrinsic, because when this value or the richness goes, he also loses his status and worth. Intrinsic worth is a positivity that you acquire by a novel sadhana or practice, by which you feel filled with something even if nobody is to look at your face. Your joy, then, knows no bounds, even if the world does not want you anymore. You are not dependent upon it. And this positivity expresses itself outwardly as sense-control, self-restraint—atma-vinigraha. Thus, brahmacharya is an inward positivity of acquisition, and, also at the same time, a negative freedom from longing for objects of sense. It is with this qualification that one precisely approaches a Guru for knowledge. You do not suddenly get down from the back seat of your car and go to the Guru for knowledge. Very difficult! Now you understand why Yama was reluctant to speak.

Having guarded ourselves adequately with a knowledge of the difficulty of acquiring this mystery of mysteries in our experience, we try to understand what the Lord Yama, the great teacher of the Katha Upanishad, must have spoken as the final word to Nachiketas. Even when Yama comes to the main point in question, he does not hit it directly. He tries to approach it gradually. This is the technique of the teaching of any science or art. When you speak on any subject or teach a particular branch of learning, you should not forthwith go to the subject at the very beginning itself. That would be difficult for the student to comprehend. You must follow what they call the Socratic method of teaching. You speak as if you are on the level of the student, and assume a form of humility which immediately attracts the attention of the student. You take the standpoint of the student and not your own standpoint, when you speak or teach. Immediately you attract the students. If you assume an importance and superiority of your own and speak as if you know a lot, then you are not a good psychologist, and you are not going to be a successful teacher in the school. A successful teacher is one who understands the student or the disciple, who takes the standpoint of the student and not his own, though he is driving the mind of the student to his own standpoint, finally. Yama follows this wonderful educational psychology of gradually moving towards the ultimate meaning of things, taking the mind of Nachiketas systematically from the lower to the higher, a process which is expressed in a few verses of the Katha Upanishad.

indriyebhyaḥ parā hyarthā arthebhyaśca param manaḥ;
manasaś ca parā buddhir buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ;
mahataḥ param avyaktam avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ;
puruṣān na paraṁ kiñcit sā kāṣṭhā, sā parā gatiḥ.

We have, in Indian logic, what is known as arundhati-darshana-nyaya. Arundhati is a star in the sky. It is a small star somewhere. Suppose I want to tell you or point out to you where that star is, I tell you, “There, you see a star,” you will not be able to decipher that star on account of there being many stars in the sky. You will say, “Which one are you pointing out?” So, what I do is to explain thus, “You look at that tree there, in front. Do you see that tree?” “Yes.” “Do you see a branch of that tree shooting to the Northern direction?” “Yes.” “Do you see a star directly at the top of that branch?” “Yes, I see. That is very correct.” “Do you see a star that is immediately to the right of that star?” “Yes.” “Do you see a small twinkle just near it? That is Arundhati!” So, now, you understand where Arundhati is. If I had directly told you, “Here is Arundhati,” you would not have understood me. This arundhati-darshana-nyaya is applied here by Yama. What do you see first of all? Yama tells Nachiketas, “What do you see?” “A world.” “All right!” “Let us take the world as a stand for the sake of convenience of teaching for the present.” But who knows this world? Who is the knower of this world? The senses are the knowers of the world. What do you mean by the knowledge of the world through the senses? The senses are in a position to gather information about the qualities of things outside, known as the world. How do the senses gather this information? By direct contact. They do not necessarily come in physical contact with the objects. For example, when I look at a tree, my senses do not come in physical contact, they are so many yards away from the physical object called the tree. So, by some other means do the senses come to have a knowledge of the object outside. They have a power, a capacity of their own, an endowment by which they can grasp the knowledge of an existent object outside even without physically coming in contact with that object. If the senses are feeble, the knowledge would be defective. If the senses are powerful, acute, if you have an eagle’s sight, you will have a clear perception of things. And the senses, therefore, should be regarded as more important aspects in the process of the knowledge of an object than the object itself. But the senses are not the physical organs. The eyeballs are not the eyes. The eardrums are not the ears. The tongue is not the taste-principle. The nose is not what smells. The principle behind the sensory action, the sensory cognition or perception, is different from the organ as such. You can open your eyes and yet see nothing if your mind is withdrawn. You may be concentrating your mind on something and hear not even a gunshot, because you have been fixing your mind on something else. The senses are not really the physical organs of action or perception. There are other things, beyond. These are called the arthas or rudimentary principles, known also as tanmatras, in Sanskrit, superior to the sensory powers, of which the sensory powers are constituted. From the world we have come to the senses, from the senses we have come to the powers that constitute the sensory powers. Beyond these is the mind, because, when the mind does not work, the senses also will not give us any kind of information. Suppose, the mind is out of order—what will happen? One will be seeing things but will not understand them. Yama says the mind is superior to the senses. Its importance is much more than that of the other instruments which are the senses, and even the location or the definitive character of an object outside. But, even if the mind is present and the intellect is not working, you will not have a correct judgement of things. You may look at an object like a cow or a sheep, which also see objects that you see. They have no proper judgement of the pros and cons of the perceptions of objects as a human being has. Therefore, the intellect should be regarded as superior to the mind.

Here we come to a halt, as it were, because of exhaustion of all our available resources. Beyond the intellect you know nothing. The intellect is known as vijnanadhara in Buddhist psychology. Buddhism has a tremendous analysis of the nature of understanding. We regard understanding or intellectual comprehension not as a static act of consciousness from within but a process of momentary links which come one after another, like the pictures in a cinematographic projection. In a cinema, you do not see only a single picture. You see many pictures coming one after another. Yet it looks as if there is a stream flowing continuously, without a break. There is a jump or a break between every picture. You can see a film and see the distinction between one picture and the other, but the velocity of the film is such that it gives us the illusive perception of a continuity or flow, like the flow of the Ganga, we have before us. The psychology of Buddhism tells us that vijnana is a dhara, a successive flow of momentary discrete links which are really not connected with one another but which have the appearance of a continuity. Thus, the world is not made up of any continuity of objects. It is made up of a momentary linkage of forces. The world is momentary, kshanika, says Buddha. We say that the tree, for instance, is a solid or static object, a stone is static, a building is static. Not so, says the psychology. They appear to be static on account of a temporary conjunction or union of the condition of our knowing with the condition of the momentariness of objects. The temporary or momentary character of things is not known by the mind, and the mind mistakes momentariness for solidity and perpetuality due to a peculiar activity that takes place within us in correspondence with the momentary objects outside us. We do not really know what is happening within us. The velocity or the speed of the movement of the mind sometimes comes in conjunction with, coincides with, is co-extensive with the condition of the momentariness of objects. And, because of this uniformity temporarily established, for the time being, between a type of momentariness of mental functions and a corresponding type of momentariness of the movement of objects outside, there appears before us a solid object, as it were, while the solid object does not really exist. Thus, intellectual knowledge cannot be regarded as real knowledge. It is an illusive information conveyed to us by the trick played by a joint action or connivance between the object and the senses. Yama says, this is not sufficient. There is something beyond the intellect.

There is a higher knowledge than the human understanding. That higher intelligence superior to human understanding is called Mahat-tattva, also called Mahat. Sometimes, in Vedantic parlance, you call it Hiranyagarbha. This Cosmic Intelligence is regarded as the totality of individual intelligences. This is the usual description of Cosmic Intelligence; but it is not a correct statement of fact. The Universal is not merely a totality of particulars. Many fools do not make one wise man. You know that even a thousand fools put together do not make one person of wisdom. Even all the individualities put together cannot make the Cosmic Mind. The Mahat-tattva or the Cosmic Intelligence is qualitatively different from the totality or the mathematical union of individual understandings. God’s knowledge is not merely a total of human knowledge. It does not mean that if everybody sneezes, God will have a big sneeze! He does not sneeze, though we all may. Quality marks the difference between cosmic existence and individual process. You cannot call individuality as existence at all. You can only call it a process, a becoming, and not being. Being is only the supreme state. The Mahat or Cosmic Intelligence is as much different from individual understanding in quality as waking knowledge is from the dreamer’s perception. You cannot say that your knowledge in the waking life is only a totality of what is there in dream. It is qualitatively different and therefore you are happy even to be a beggar in the waking condition than a king in dream. The cosmic knowledge is qualitatively different from, that is, superior to, the human understanding. Yama says, Mahat-atman or Hiranyagarbha is a higher reality than human understanding, to which human nature points. Evolution is not over with human experience. Mankind is only a link in the process of a longer evolution. You have to move further, still, to the Mahat. But Mahat itself is not complete. The Avyakta is, yet, higher.

Avyakta is that inscrutable, indescribable precondition of the manifestation of all things, we call prakriti, maya, avyakrita, and so on, though all these terms do not convey a true meaning of what it is. The presupposition, the pre-condition, the necessity, the cause behind the expression of this Universe in its visible form is avyakta. Every effect must have a cause. If the Universe is to be regarded as an effect, logically speaking, there must be a cause thereof. This is the Seed of all things. And beyond this final Cause, is the Causeless Cause, the unmoved Mover, the Purusha.

Beyond the Avyakta is the Purusha. The Purusha is Supreme. What is this Purusha? Purusha is a term we apply to what truly Is, the Ultimate Existence. We cannot also call it existence; it is neither existence nor non-existence as we know it. It is not sat or being and asat or non-being, but beyond both. The Purusha is Consciousness, if at all we can define it in this manner. It is the Supreme Being, the Being of all beings, the Real of real, Satyasya satyam. It is not the cause of the universe; else, it would become temporal: therefore, it is supposed to be superior to the Avyakta which is the cause of all things. It is neither a cause nor an effect. We do not call it either way. We do not call it sat; we do not call it asat. We can know it only by being it. Therefore Yama said, it is difficult to teach it. How can you teach that which can be known only by being it? There is no teaching of it. There is no hearing about it. There is no knowing about it other than by actually experiencing it or realising it.

The Purusha is not reached by any kind of conceivable effort. We are coming to the nature of the difficulty in knowing it. We generally acquire things by effort of some kind. We exert towards the acquisition of objects, but an ordinary exertion or effort will not be of much avail in the acquisition of the knowledge of the Purusha. The Purusha is not someone or something, somewhere. The great commentator on the Vedanta texts, Acharya Shankara, says that you can reach a village or a city by moving along a road, but the Purusha is not a place, not a thing, not a person. How can you reach it by moving? You cannot sit on a vehicle or a chariot and drive towards it. There is no such thing as going to it. There is no movement towards God, because existence and God are identical. How can you move towards existence, when you are included within it? Inasmuch as knowledge of the Purusha does not mean movement physically or spatially towards it, it has to be regarded as an illumination rather than an acquisition, as of a property. Knowledge of God is not a future event but an eternal fact of being. There is no past, present and future for it. It is eternity itself. It is here and now. How is it? I shall give you an example or an illustration to make you understand what it could be like. Suppose you dream that you are a butterfly. You are flying with two wings. You have lost consciousness of your being a man. You are no more a man. You have become a butterfly and you are flying from flower to flower, from place to place. Now, if you want to become a man, what should you do? Have you to jump from place to place or fly from one leaf to another leaf or go from one butterfly to another butterfly? What should you do to assume once again the nature of the humanity you have lost consciousness of? To become a man, the butterfly need not move from place to place. It need not even think of anyone. It need not do anything at all. It has to cease from being everything that it is, and simply reshuffle its consciousness. The butterfly-consciousness has to be re-organised, ordered in a given manner, and it is placed in man’s consciousness. That is called waking. The moment this reshuffling of consciousness of the butterfly takes place, you are said to awake from the dream, and you say, “I am a man”. Have you gone from one place to another place? You have not moved even an inch from where you were, and yet you have become completely different from what you were. Likewise, man becoming God is not like moving in a jet plane or going to a seventh heaven, even as the butterfly becoming a man is not a movement from place to place. It is only a state of consciousness, changing its condition immediately, then and there, where it is, here itself. When you are shaken up, you become that just here, where you are seated. So, the Purusha who is beyond the Mahat and Avyakta is the eternal and the infinite which is hidden within the cave of your heart— existence itself—not to be reached by spatial or temporal movements or activities but by a methodology which is incapable of description. Nachiketas! Difficult it is to obtain this knowledge.