Commentary on the Katha Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda


Section 1: The Intricacies of the Inner way of the Spirit

The nature of the path and the way of treading it have been described up to the conclusion of the first chapter. This section one of chapter two describes in more detail the intricacies of the inner way of the Spirit and proclaims that until the Supreme Reality is reached, man is not going to have any peace. All efforts in whatever direction are a failure, and all wealth and fame in all the worlds will pale away if this Supreme Being is not realised. Everything shall flee and perish without giving the least comfort if you try to acquire, possess or enjoy it without a knowledge of this Reality. The worth of all things lies in It alone.

The Self is Not to be Sought Through the Senses

parā├▒ci khāni vyatṛṇat svayambhῡs tasmāt parāṅ paśyati nāntarātman:
kaś cid dhīraḥ pratyag-ātmānam aikṣad āvṛtta-cakṣur amṛtat-vam icchan. (1)

A philosophical and psychological truth is stated in this verse, summing up human potential as well as the nature of divine Truth. “The original Creator inflicted the senses to go outwardly, so everyone looks externally. Desiring immortality, not satisfied in this world, some wise man turns within, self-controlled and heroic.” We do not behold the Atman because of the original difficulty that seems to be sympathetically working everywhere; a tendency being set at work at the beginning of creation: to gaze outward. All creation is doing so. God looks at Himself in space. The will of ishvara is this original gazing or sankalpa: the creative affirmation, a fundamental urge, though consciously initiated in the beginning; a deliberate and wilful tendency to look at Himself, to be conscious of Himself, to enjoy Himself and to do this in the form of the vast panorama of creation. This brahma-sankalpa to create is so powerful that it is felt in every part of the universe which is His body, just as the effect of our thinking is felt in every pore of us.

That supreme idea takes a concrete form through every part, every being. Everything is made to think in accordance with that original Ideation, though distorted. The child may imitate its father in a wrong manner.

He gazed at nothing but Himself, a sankalpa raving Itself for an object. While this is His original act, and while we try to imitate it, our error seems to be the ‘other-ideation’ in us, as against self-ideation in God. The senses of the human being, of all beings, seem to be inflicted with the punishment of looking and projecting outward. The original sankalpa of ishvara is a conscious movement of thought, while we think without having any control over it. We drift with creation, while in ishvara, creation drifts with His will. The jivas are isolated centres of thought, thinking of not only themselves, but of others in the form of objects.

In God-thought, others are not objects but subjects. We cannot understand what His thought is because we have never seen Him. In us, thoughts work in a mysterious way, independently catching hold of the impulse to create and thus making us totally unaware that there is a consciousness at all; so much so that there is only world-consciousness and no Self-consciousness, to the extent that even the Atman is denied. The Atman denies Himself: ‘I do not exist.’ You as a centre of consciousness have identified yourself with the object, including your own body, so much that you see only them and are not aware of Self-consciousness. This is the deterioration of the Original Will, the mystery of God’s descent into jiva-consciousness. This is maya. So we are world-conscious, body-conscious, worried because we have lost our ‘be-ness’ in objects; we exist as them. There is only a heap of them; the world.

But there are rare souls who have got a glimpse of what is behind it. How they have come upon this Atman in the midst of the darkness of objects, and seen light which is not otherwise seen, is a miracle. How God became this world is a mystery, and how knowledge arises in the jiva is a mystery too. Dhiras, strong desireless minds who have self-control, are the ones who have turned their gaze inward and seen their Atman, and the Upanishads are their revelations.

Consciousness drifts away in space and time; this is creation. The scriptures tell us that there have been stages of descent of consciousness. Just as a stone thrown into the middle of the still waters of a lake creates waves deep in the centre, and becomes weak in the periphery, the Original Will of ishvara becomes weaker and weaker as it goes through the human beings, the animal and vegetable kingdoms and becomes finally arrested of all its outgoing tendencies when it reaches inanimate matter. We, as waves produced by the momentum of ishvara-sankalpa, are in one of the conditions of descent. Because of this, we are compelled to go outward, not inward. If this drifting is allowed to go uncontrolled, we go to realms lower than human. But if it is checked and allowed to know its consciousness, it may try to recede rather than proceed, and become the ripple beholding its bottom, which is the substance of all waves.

parācaḥ kāmān anuyanti bālās te mṛtyor yanti vitatasya pāśam,
atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṁ viditvā dhruvam adhruveṣv iha na prārthayante. (2)

“Children, therefore, who have no knowledge of what is happening, go after objects, and thus to destruction. This mrityu that is spread everywhere, into it they fall by falling into the net of objects, because when you get lost in any sense-object, you are sure to perish.” The consciousness that gets attached to objects is death. When the object dies, consciousness, too, seems to die because of its identification with the former, though it never dies. All affections are of this nature. If the object with which we are identified fails, as everything has to fail, consciousness also fails and gets extinguished, and that is called death.

The struggling of consciousness to recognise itself in that object which has gone away from its clutches is the state of preta-loka. Literally, preta is ‘that which is dead’. When consciousness, due to attachment, tries to catch hold of what is lost, what is in a different condition, it is in preta. The body is ourself, and when we have to go, when the body is destroyed, consciousness seems to go with it. It feels it is the body—and then it is the body. Pain of death is experienced by consciousness when its immediate object, the body, perishes, and also when other objects go. When you regard yourself as ‘I’, you refer to the body, and as time sweeps all away, it cannot exist forever. This is the law of individuality: no part which is separated from the whole can remain so isolated always. It goes back to the whole. Thus, Yama is operating everywhere as time.

Death is a blessing, an eye-opener. Otherwise, we would remain ever bound to this body because we are so much attached to it. As long as this attachment is powerful, we take another body, though Yama snatches the present one. And so we are born and die, and we undergo samsara because we regard objects as ourselves, and our body as the most immediate one. Immature ones who have such attachment to tantalising objects naturally fall into the net of death. Yama is the form of the objects, and he is everywhere, as God is everywhere. From one point of view, it is ishvara, and from another point of view it is kala or Yama.

God destroys you if you don’t want Him; He saves you if you want Him. When you turn away from Him, He destroys you as Rudra, and when you turn to Him, He receives you as Vishnu, calm and peaceful. When you go beyond the limitation of freedom given to you, you are punished—whether by the government, health, or God. If you overeat one day, or a few days, the stomach will tolerate it. But if you persist in this practice, you will fall sick. So is the case with God’s laws. Duryodhana was given a long rope, but finally punished when the limit was reached. Life is such an integrated completeness that you cannot bifurcate it as spiritual and material. It is one. What is called material life is the turning away of consciousness and losing itself in objects. When there is Self-consciousness and you feel a dissatisfaction with the things on earth, then you are getting awakened to super-physical consciousness. When you feel something higher, you become spiritual. Therefore, babies they are with no understanding whatsoever, who go to objects of the world, who think there is pleasure there.

The objects are nooses of Yama, and whoever goes to them is caught, like fishes get caught in a net cast out in the ocean. Die we shall, if we go near objects!—“Dhiras, heroes, spiritual giants, self-controlled beings who have mastered their mind and senses, feel something immortal in the objects of the world. They do not want objects, but That which is hidden behind them.”

This consciousness that has been lost in objects—how are we to extricate it? To wean the mind from things, how is this difficult task performed? The next mantra gives a clue to it.

Directions in the Process of Self-Investigation

yena rῡpaṁ gandhaṁ śabdān sparśāṁś ca maithunān,
etenaiva vijānāti, kim atra pariśiṣyate: etad vai tat. (3)

What is the Atman? This is the Atman: “That which is not the object that is seen, but That which sees the object.” Try to differentiate between the object that is seen and That which sees. Take the example of the body: it is seen and so it is an object. Who is seeing it? I taste a dish; but who is tasting? Not the tongue, because it is also an object.

“Who perceives form, taste, smell, sounds and touches of love—that Knower is different from the known.” We must be very subtle to do this great analysis. The distinction between consciousness and objects is atmanatma-viveka. This body is seen. Who sees? “The senses,” you may say. “The mind is thinking the body.” Analyse the condition of the mind and senses again. You exist as the seer of the body. Do you exist as the bundle of senses?

No, because in the condition of dream you exist even without them. So mind can sense things even if the senses do not operate. But then, are you the mind? No, because in deep sleep it does not function, and you exist as a centre of consciousness. In what condition do you then exist? Not as the body, not as the senses, not as the mind, not as the intellect. You cannot say that you did not exist in deep sleep. Mysteriously enough, we have a memory of it. Memory is a conscious state. You cannot remember unless you were conscious, and memory is a remembrance of a past condition. How could you have a conscious memory of an unconscious experience? How can you say consciousness proceeds from matter? Consciousness cannot emerge out of dead matter.

The conclusion is that experience can exist as mere consciousness, even without the senses, the mind and so on, and that it is different from them. “What remains after cutting off all that is not consciousness? The body is not consciousness; the senses are not consciousness. Isolate all these. What remains then? “This, verily, is That.” This is another method of neti neti: “I see something; I am not that something, because the seer cannot be seen.” Similarly, “I think something and I cannot be that which is thought, because the thinker cannot be thought.” Again, “I understand something, and I cannot be that which I understand, because the understander cannot be the same as the understood.”

This whole world is regarded as a jugglery of maya by the scriptures, due to this important truth found out by this analysis. We have somehow identified consciousness with objects, and whatever value or meaning we see in things is the Atman. When you isolate the Atman from this world, the world does not exist. When the Atman is extended, He is seen as this world by the senses. When He is withdrawn, the world does not exist. Therefore, it is maya.

Mantras three, four and five of this section are directions in the process of self-investigation, atmanatma-viveka, the way in which we dive deep into our own self. Apart from the consciousness that sees objects, there is a consciousness that illumines the mind, and beyond this is Pure Consciousness. There is an essence and a form of the world. Its substantiality is due to consciousness. Objects are the combination of form and essence—the essence is the Atman, and the form is the world. If the essence is withdrawn, the form loses its substance. If you withdraw all the clay from a pot, there is no pot. The Atman is present in the world just as the clay is present in the pot. The forms which we are interested in, which we perceive, are shapes taken by consciousness in space and time due to externalisation. We do not say that the pot is the same as clay, nor can we say it is different from it. This mysterious existence of the pot is maya. It is difficult to say what the pot is; similarly, it is difficult to say what the world is, because it has no substantiality apart from the Atman, just as there is no pot without the clay. Yet, the world appears. This analysis is for meditation on the Atman: He can be—and is to be meditated upon as—anything and everything: the Atman in the Ganges, in the sun, in every sense-object; because it is His presence that makes the appearance of the object and without Him, the object cannot exist.

The Atman can be meditated upon both inwardly and outwardly. The drik-drisya-viveka is a beautiful composition, attributed to Shankara: you can enter into samadhi by withdrawing into yourself and by projecting yourself externally. Looking at an object is, therefore, not objectionable. Only when we see it as an object of sense is it our enemy. So the Atman is your friend as well as your enemy. Minus name and form what remains in an object? Minus the name ‘pot’ and the shape ‘pot’, what is there in a pot? Even matter is the expansion of space and time, say the scientists, and their theory is not new to Indian thinkers. It was also held by the Yoga Vasishtha, which says that the whole world is nil. If you withdraw the essence, it is like a soap-bubble. It seems terrifying, but it is nothing, it has no substantiality. “This internal content of you and everything is That,” says Yama to Nachiketas.

svapnāntaṁ jāgaritāntaṁ cobhau yenānupaśyati,
mahāntaṁ vibhumātmānam matvā dhīro na śocati. (4)

“That which is the perceiver of the dream and waking-life objects and that which is between both these states, that is the Atman, knowing which no one grieves.” The Atman is the witness of the waking and dream life, and also that which links both in a mysterious manner. It is the same person who wakes, dreams and sleeps, and the continuity between these three states is maintained by one who is different from them. Otherwise, it would not be possible to experience continuity, or know what happened yesterday. All three experiences are the contents of one single consciousness.

The Atman is the perceiver in an unusual sense. In the same way as the clay in the pot is the perceiver of the pot—because it is its cause—so is the Atman the perceiver. If the clay in the pot were to be endowed with consciousness, what would it feel? For the clay in the pot there is no pot. It is only for the onlooker that there is a pot. The pot-consciousness is an externalised consciousness due to intervention of space and time. If this is withdrawn, there is not pot, only clay. But the difficulty is that we do not know what this withdrawal from space and time is. We can only know if we withdraw ourselves from space and time, which is not easily possible. And when we do this, we enter into a different state of consciousness.

So the Atman is non-spatial and non-temporal existence; the substratum, independent of space and time on account of which we experience the three states. The Atman as such is beyond them. He is turiya. There is a beautiful description of the Atman in the Mandukya Upanishad: The Atman-consciousness is not projected internally, not externally, not both ways. It is consciousness without a content, not attached to a content. What is That? It is a non-dual Substance which It alone knows. Here, It is referred to as ‘mahantam’. Once this Atman is known in realisation, there is no sorrow. All sorrow is due to entanglement of the mind in space and time. By knowing Him, one transcends.

The Individual Soul, One with the Universal

ya imam madhvadaṁ veda ātmānaṁ jīvam antikāt,
īśāṅam bhῡta-bhavyasya, na tato vijugupsate: etad vai tat. (5)

This Atman it is that makes you feel that you are the enjoyer of the fruits of action. We are under the impression that we are individual doers. Madhu means honey. For us, experience in this world is sweet like honey, and so we cling to it. Existence is itself joy, even with all the suffering it involves; even with all the miseries, because the Atman reflects Himself in our lives. The taster of the honey is the Atman, and the taste comes from Him, too. This joy of life does not come from a distant place. The consciousness of our being alive comes not from outside. Our life is identical with our existence.

Once you enter into the state of the Atman which is the nearest and so the dearest, you become the knower of the past and future. The very same eyes that saw the Kurukshetra Battle peep through us even today.

The Purusha Sukta gives us the highest example of this fact. It says that all these eyes, all these heads, are His. Omniscience is the mark of this universal being and seeing. We shall all become like this, provided we are able to break through the wall of personality. If, instead of limiting our consciousness to a single body, we are able to go beyond it, there is immediately a flood of omniscience, if only we are able to sink into the subconscious level of our being. This going beneath can be experienced internally or externally. You can sink into the ocean near New York or Bombay; you sink into the same ocean. The Atman-ocean is everywhere, and when you once enter into Him, you will not shrink away from Him. This is so strange!

Though we try to want God, there is only a try and not the want. When God begins to look at us we are terrified, because He will not make any concession to the senses and their actions. We do not want Him to be critical about us, and so we shrink away. God’s face burns like a blazing fire, and he who enters Him, does not return. But we want to return after God-realisation. See Him, and then become powerful to enjoy the objects of the world, or transform it. You do not go somewhere to see God and come back afterwards. You do not move even a single inch to see Him. You are not travelling to any place in God-consciousness; don’t forget that He is everywhere.

He is omnipresent Indivisibility. Indivisibility relieves you from space and time, and because He is omnipresent, He is not somewhere, nor is He someone. You enter the same God wherever you are, and in whatever time. “He is spaceless and timeless existence. When this stage is reached, you do not turn away from anything, nor do you crave for anything. The senses are withdrawn automatically, the mind ceases to be and you do not exist as a thinker or senser, but as being—a being of omnipresent indivisibility. This is what you experience, and this is God-consciousness. It does not take time. It is not future, or past, but an Eternal Presence. This mysterious something is That, O Nachiketas!”

yaḥ pῡrvaṁ tapaso jātam adbhyaḥ pῡrvam ajāyata,
guhām praviśya tiṣṭhantam yo bhῡtebhir vyapaśyata: etad vai tat. (6)

This ishvara, Brahman, God, Atman, is externally visible and internally experienced. He is far and near. Externally, to the senses, He is the most distant, and yet, being your own Self, He is nearest. Cosmically speaking, He was even prior to the idea of creation. It was by tapas that ishvara created. But His tapas is different from ours. For us, tapas is self-control and mental effort to subdue the senses. But for Him, it is concentration of consciousness—universal being taking the shape of space and time. The substance of the world is the will of ishvara, just as the substance of a dream-object of yours is your own thought. Your dream-fire, your dream-water and so on are your own creations. For God, there is no hard or liquid substance, but only His will of which all elements are constituted. Prior to the manifestation of the five elements, say the Puranas, there was only universal water and the Spirit of God brooding over it. This water is the cosmic condition, and the Spirit is Narayana. He is so called because He gives life, spirit, to the original condition of things. This potentiality becomes will; Brahman becomes ishvara. Prior to the will of hiranyagarbha’s concentrated thought is the Absolute. Also, It is the deepest Reality in your own heart. That Narayana is in you even now, and He broods over creation both microcosmically and macrocosmically. He becomes the elements and the jivas.

In dream, you are the objects and also the subject. You yourself are the experiences of the dream-content. Likewise, ishvara is present objectively in the cosmos, and subjectively in you. So there need not be any worry as to how to approach this Universal Being who is far. “He who was born of old from austerity, from the waters—He is in your own heart, as the bottom of your being. By diving deep within, you can operate the whole universe. This inaccessible Reality is the most secret Being in your own being. Nachiketas, this verily is That.”

What is that which is beyond the destruction of everything, was the question. This is That. That which is far, far from the ken of our senses, yet is our being. It is the most distant, unreachable, and the most inward. This is the difficulty in God-realisation: you have to become everything or nothing. This is your sadhana. There are three kinds of ego: ‘I am something’; ‘I am everything’; ‘I am nothing’. The latter two are capable of bringing liberation. But the ego ‘I am something’ binds.

The process of creation is being described in a graduated series: Brahman is the supreme Existence. It becomes ishvara, and then the will to project, hiranyagarbha, and as such, cosmic prana. Universal life vibrating everywhere—a gross form of which is electric energy, a part of which is our breath. Universal prana is hiranyagarbha. He is also the abode of all gods. Every God of every religion is one phase of this God. All gods hang in the universal Tree of hiranyagarbha like leaves, fruits, flowers hang in the same tree. This universal tree is what is described in the fifteenth chapter of the Gita. All Gods are appearances or shapes of this One God. This God, in which all gods exist, exists in your own heart. So you can see all gods of all times, anywhere, sitting in one place: Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Christ, Buddha. That which is without is also within: Tat tvam asi. That cosmic reality is the subjective reality also.

God is above as well as below. Cosmically, He is ishvara and hiranyagarbha. Individually, He is our own Self. We usually are under the impression that the sky is very far, that space is above and that stars are in space. But we forget that we are in space, in the sky; hanging in mid-air. If the moon and stars are far off in the skies to us, similarly the earth is in distant space to them. Just as they seem to be hanging in space thousands of miles away, we too seem hanging in space to them. We feel we are on the earth, and space is far, far away; but the fact is that it is everywhere. It is in this indivisible, conscious space that we feel God. The ideas of below and above, of distance and nearness, and finally, the conditions we impose on space have affected us so much that even in universally existing Reality we make the distinction of below and above, and philosophically we distinguish between Brahman and ishvara, ishvara and jiva, macrocosm and microcosm, this and that, tat and idam—which are all notional differences.

The omnipotent Reality has centres everywhere. You can think through any point in space, for each is as good as any other. One circle has only one centre because it has only one circumference. But this is not a circle with a boundary. It may be a circle from the point of view of boundless existence, but it is filled with Selfhood and as such cannot be differentiated into good and bad, just as oneself cannot become an object. The Self is ever a subject, and inasmuch as It is the centre, It has centres everywhere. This God, Reality, which we seek, is the universal Creator, prior even to the manifestation of the five elements, tanmatras, and the cosmic causal condition, and yet, mysteriously enough, at the same time this most distant Being is the bottommost Existence in our heart.

yā prāṇena sambhavaty aditir devatāmayī,
guhām praviśya tiṣṭhantī, yā bhῡtebhir vyajāyata: etad vai tat. (7)

“This Supreme Being is not merely the transcendent presence called Brahman, He is not merely the Supreme called ishvara, He is also the cosmic prana, the life of all beings.” The life we breathe, the energy that we breathe, is all the expression of this hiranyagarbha-prana. It is the cosmic prana that is breathed, by all—by people, plants, animals etc., all move because of the prana that enlivens them. Life does not mean living in a world. It is not activity of any kind. To live is itself life, not merely to do something, or to speak or execute a deed. Life is the capacity to exist as different from manifested matter. It is not protoplasm; it is not thought. Prana and life are only different words meaning the same. And it is difficult to explain how a human being or animal differs from inanimate matter, just as it is difficult to prove that we exist. All that is connected with God is mysterious.

When you cross the logical limits of the intellect, everything becomes inexplicable. If externally there is no limit to the horizon, internally there is no limit to wisdom. Wisdom is endless as space is endless. God is limitless externally and internally. One of His expressions is this mysterious something which we call prana, through which living bodies move from place to place and recognise themselves. To recognise oneself as living is life. Even plants have a self-direction: they grow and move towards the light of the sun. It may not be a thinking principle, but a tendency of self-recognition which is called life or prana. “This cosmic life is hiranyagarbha-prana, in which all gods are clustered together. This mysterious hiranyagarbha is in your heart also. And this Being was prior to manifestation, and It entered the beings. This verily is That.”

In the earlier mantra we were told that He was prior to the manifestation of the physical elements, the tanmatras, to all that is conceivable. Now He is said to have entered all. The body is made up of elements, and the life in it is due to prana entering them. This way, hiranyagarbha is That reality behind all forms of life.

araṇyor nihito jāta-vedā garbha iva subhṛto garbhiṇībhiḥ:
dive diva īḍyo jāgṛvadbhir haviṣmadbhir manuṣyebhir agniḥ: etad vai tat. (8)

“This hiranyagarbha, called vaishvanara-agni in the aranyakas and nachiketas agni here, hidden in fire-sticks like the embryo in pregnant women, should be daily adored; this verily is That.” It is the jatharagni that digests the food in our stomach. It is the fivefold fire that functions through the five sense organs. The nabhi is supposed to be the centre of it; a living force. This mystical fire is hidden in the two aranis. In a sense you may say fire is hidden in a matchstick. In olden days it was created by the ignition of two sticks—the upper and lower aranis are the two sections of the mathava which ignites fire and keeps it hidden in them. One stick is not enough; two are necessary. Jatavedas is agni. Just as rubbing or friction is necessary to ignite fire, some sort of igniting force is necessary to manifest hiranyagarbha. We have Him in us; we carry Him with us always; just as pregnant women carry the foetus in their wombs wherever they go, we move about with Him, and we cannot live without Him.

This Supreme That Is within us, we worship It, though unknowingly. We cry for It, every day. We long and die for It—but unconsciously. Our searches in the world indicate that we cannot live without this Being. Our suffering, our complaints indicate that we cannot live without Him. Our wealth and possessions indicate that we cannot live without Him. Hiranyagarbha is the Infinite in us, and the many finitudes we collect from this world cannot make us happy. Likewise, all the visible material things collected by us cannot be equated with the Universal we are carrying. With this treasure within, we seek for It outside.

What we need is an awakening! Awakened ones recogise this Being within, and unawakened ones search for It outside. What is needed is not a possession of the treasure, but a realisation of the fact that we possess it. If an emperor dreams that he is a beggar, what are we to do to make him rich? Are we to give him riches in the dream? No—he is only to be awakened and told that he is an emperor. And the very same instruction is for us: We possess the universal treasure in us; we have enough. To become rich in the universal sense we need not acquire many things. The universal wealth must be made part of our consciousness. This is how awakened ones worship It, while unawakened ones worship It as sense objects.

The distorted worship performed by the ignorant by searching for happiness in these is not going to help them in any way; just as a beggars’ wandering in the dream world is not going to help him to become rich. Awakening, and not contact with things is the way to possess universal wealth. To wake up into another consciousness is the solution. This fire of awakening has to be ignited. ishvara-sakshatkara or the awareness that one is the Universal—that conflagration which is in every matchstick—is what is necessary. This awakened Reality is verily That.

This agni is symbolically worshipped by the householders as the fivefold agni, even today, but it has become only a ritual. People mistake this earthly fire as the real, instead of recognising it as the universal fire. But the agni that we worship is a symbol of the vaishvanara-agni. Life is prana manifesting itself as energies of various kinds, just as electricity can be manifest as heating or freezing force, and so on.This mysterious living Being within individual bodies is That answer to Nachiketas’ question about hiranyagarbha.

yataś codeti śuryo astam yatra ca gacchati,
taṁ devās sarve’rpitās tadu nātyeti kaś cana: etad vai tat. (9)

Yama continues: “The sun sets there, the sun rises from there; the propelling force behind the sun which makes it rise and set is that force which all the gods worship daily. No one goes beyond That. This verily is That.” All gods are fixed in this one God, like spokes connected to the hub of a wheel; it can also be compared to, radii connected to the centre of a circle. This Energy is the cause of all movement, not only in this world, but even in the stellar system. This mantra is the description of the controlling Power of the physical cosmos. Gravitation is the force that acts between bodies. We are stunned by its mysterious laws working in the heavenly bodies, causing their motion through aeons and aeons. If ‘A’ is attracted by ‘B’, and ‘B’ is conversely attracted by ‘A’, we say they are mutually attracting each other. If there are three bodies involved, we cannot say which attracts what. If there are ten such bodies, the problem is more complicated. If there are innumerable bodies, how can we explain the gravitational law? This mutual attraction among bodies, which yet keep their courses, indicates the existence of a central governing Power. Otherwise, there would be no mutual attraction and planets would run helter-skelter. There would be no centripetal force which pulls everything to the centre, keeping all in their track. The planets are seen, but not the force that keeps them moving. By the term, ‘sun’, we have to understand all heavenly bodies.

What is the law that keeps all cells in the body intact? Why do they not run away? We have never seen cells in the body fighting with each other. Why do they react chemically and otherwise? Why should there be a relation between effect and cause? All this is due to this central Force or Energy on which everything is hung and on which everything depends. This is the God of all gods. Everything valuable in this world and the celestial one is determined by This. No one can break Its Law. No one can exceed It. There is no such thing as violation of It. This Reality is that Supreme Being.

Failure to Comprehend the Essential Unity of Being is the Cause of Rebirth

yad eveha tad amutra yad amutra tad anviha,
mṛtyos sa mṛtyum āpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati. (10)

“To this Universal Being there is no near and far. What is there is here, and what is here is there. Who perceives manyfoldness, goes from death to death.” If you go to the Pacific Ocean, you find water everywhere—above, below, after a hundred miles. In the Universal, everything is everywhere.

What you can see after travelling millions and millions of miles, you can see right here, and what you can see after many births, you can see now. If anyone makes any distinction in this infinite Reality, he will enter into death because of the false notion he created. Birth and death cannot be obviated as long as there is attraction and repulsion, and they cannot be avoided as long as many things are perceived. So do not be under the misconception that there are many things here. All these forms are the forms of the One thing only.

This mantra describes another aspect of the Glory of the Supreme Being. In the Supreme Absolute, there are no distinctions of any kind, as you observe among the things of the world. It is a mysterious sameness. Whatever reference we make in this world, all is defined in terms of objects that are extended in space and attributed to one another. We have differences as well as uniformities in the world, but neither of these obtains in God. The differences are of three kinds: between two dissimilar objects, vijatiya-bheda, as between man and animal; between one man and another man, between one tree and another tree, sajatiya-bheda; internal distinction, such as between one eye and another, one limb and another in the same man, svagata-bheda. All these are differences of some kind or another. Yet there is a uniformity in the whole body of ours on account of which we are one person and have an equal attitude towards all the limbs of our body. But the presence of God is of a different type altogether, and ishvaratva is defined as sarvatmatva, sarvadesikatva—Omnipresence attended with Universal Selfhood is God’s Universality of Presence. What is relevant to God cannot be said because no one has seen Him.

In the Gita, God’s uniformity is mentioned: ‘sarvatah panipadam tat sarvato kshishiromukham...’ In the Rig Veda, it is said: ‘sahasrasirsha purushah, sahasrakshah sahasrapat...’ descriptions of God’s uniformity in terms of human language. He has eyes everywhere, and also ears, legs, etc., everywhere. It is a quantitative contradiction which is not acceptable in logic. But God’s eyes are everywhere, and there He has ears, too, meaning to say that in one spot in space He has eyes, ears and so on. A most strange thing! If eyes are everywhere, ears cannot be there! How can they all be present in one place? An impossibility for us! But such is His existence, at the same time pointing out that He has no eyes, etc., because He does not need them. He has no physical eyes. All our arms spread everywhere will not equal God’s spreading His arms. He is not a quantitative collection of all our arms. And His perception is different from ours. If all persons look at an object, it will not be an intuition, but God’s perception is intuition.

This is the difference between God’s omniscience and the sensations of an individual. Human sensation is debarred from an entry into the object of perception: our ears cannot enter the sound they hear, nor can our eyes enter the objects seen. Human perception is therefore not anubhava in the spiritual sense. We cannot see without the help of lightrays, but God can see. Similarly, He can move without legs. While the Gita says He has eyes everywhere, the Upanishad says He has no eyes and yet He sees everything. A single point in space, as subtle as an atom, becomes resplendent with the intelligence which is God’s Substance. That resplendence of God’s presence is simultaneous knowledge of all matter.

We have to open our eyes to see, and need ears to hear and a nose to smell to get the diverse knowledge of the sense objects. Our knowledge is a joint action of the five senses, and if we had more than five, it would be possible to know more facets of the same object. But ishvara-jnana is anubhava. It is satta of the objects. Therefore, He is called satchidananda: the very existence of the object is His existence. He is everywhere in the same intensity—not that God is here and not there, is now and not then. He is the same in all relations. Our relationships are different from person to person, but His is equal and the same to all. But this uniformity is not the same as that of water in the ocean which we get tired of seeing because it is a dead and monotonous sameness. This uniformity is a gorgeous variety, a tremendous richness which anyone can conceive of in any way. Such is the majestic uniformity and abundance which make the supreme existence of God.

But in this omnipresence, in this equality, in this indivisibility, our senses create a difference which leads to death. To them, something is here and something not, and due to this there is sensory activity for possession and enjoyment. Inasmuch as difference is created where it is not, because it is a false creation, the soul is bound and suffers because Truth alone triumphs, and not falsehood. So, in the Supreme Reality which is everywhere, if one is to make a false distinction, he cannot avoid death.

manasaivedam āptavyaṁ neha nānāsti kiñ cana:
mṛtyos sa mṛtyuṁ gacchati ya iha nāneva paśyati. (11)

In the Gita we are told: ‘sukhamatyantikam yattad budhhirgrahyam atindriyam ....’ A similar thing is said here: “This majesty of God cannot be seen by the senses, but can be grasped by the higher, purified mind.”

Reflection brought about by the sattva guna alone can reveal knowledge. While tamas prevents knowledge completely, rajas distracts. Tamas may be compared to a glass painted with coal tar, thus not allowing light to pass, as it happens to us in deep sleep. But rajas is like a broken or corrugated glass. It allows light, but the light is not straight. The light becomes bent or distorted; it gets projected in a diverted way. Both are not conducive to knowledge. But in sattva, light passes through a clarified medium which is transparent enough to give a clear picture of reality. Though reality is transcendent to the senses, sattva is capable of giving an idea of it. It is rajas that creates a distinction. “He whose senses do not see the truth, goes from death to death perpetually, due to the necessity of fulfilling unfulfilled desires, brought about by a false perception of variety.” 

The Eternal Lord Abides in Oneself

aṅguṣṭha-mātraḥ puruṣo madhya ātmani tiṣṭhati:
īśāno bhῡta-bhavyasya na tato vijigupsate: etad vai tat. (12)

“This Supreme Absolute, Brahman, is also the Atman of all beings. Of the size of a thumb, He resides in the middle of the body.” This mysterious Existence, God, cosmically present and extra-cosmically pervading, is also in one’s heart. When He enters the heart, He is the Atman, present there in a special manner: ever a Seer and never a seen. He is satta-samanya; the same in all. He is the light in everything, on account of which the Atman is seen. God never becomes an object, and so no one can see Him; He sees. When He reveals Himself as the Atman, He appears to be located in that part of the body, but He is not so located. When the sun is reflected in various pots filled with water, many suns will be seen reflected in them and one may wrongly feel that there are many suns. Similarly one may be under the impression that the Atman is many. Our bodies are like a vessel containing the thought process or mind in which the Supreme reflects in a mysterious manner.

From this point of apparent localisation in the body, and on account of the secondary process of thought, the Atman is described as angusthamatra, or the size of a thumb. When the sun is reflected in an ounce-glass, she appears to be of that size. It is said in psychophysical science that our body is constituted of centres of nerve current, and that some are narrow and some broad, some more transparent than others. If water passes through an iron tube it will not be visible, but it will be visible in a plastic tube. Certain nerve currents in the heart, brain etc., which are known only to the mystics or yogins and not to the scientists, are very transparent, and when the intelligence within us passes through them as it does through every part of the body, there appears to be a larger intensity of light manifestation. So we are told in a figurative or special sense that intelligence is present there, because it is made visible only in these places. Intelligence is stronger felt between the eyebrows, in the throat and heart. These are the centres of the waking, dream and sleep states. It enters the heart when we are asleep, or in death or the super-conscious state. From this point of view it is said that the size of the Atman is as a thumb.

There is a lot of controversy on this subject. Some say the Atman is only in one part of the body, and some others say that it is all over it, just like even though the candle stands in one place its light will fill the whole room. All these ideas are wrong because the Universal cannot be only somewhere; it is everywhere. It manifests as the Atman or the knowing Self and passes as a separate being on account of the limitations of the mind and senses.

When this Supreme Master of the past, present and future is known, we will not only turn away from everything, we will also not want anything of this world. “Once having beheld the majesty of God, you will want nothing of this world.” Just as once you get up from dream you do not want to enter it again, likewise once having seen It you will not want to see anything of this world—like Dhritarashtra, who requested Krishna to take away his eyesight after having beheld His divine form, lest he should see anything else.

aṅguṣṭha-mātraḥ puruṣo jyotir ivādhῡmakaḥ,
īśāno bhῡta-bhavyasya sa evādya sa u śvaḥ: etad vai tat. (13)

“This so-called angushthamatra purusha, Supreme God lodged in bodies, minds, intellects, is a flame without smoke, resplendence alone, devoid of shadow.” People who have beheld this Light, have given testimony in various ways. Some say it is like a flash of lightening blinding one’s eyes. Some describe it as a steady golden light like that of the rising sun. Some say it is cool like that of the moon. Some say it is like a star twinkling in the space of one’s heart. Some say it is a flame without smoke. Not only the visions, but also the sounds we hear as we approach the Atman, are described in different scriptures. “This marvel is the Master of past, present and future. He is always the same, today and tomorrow.” A grand immediacy of Presence and Wealth which can be described only as Omnipresence.

The descriptions of the Atman in this Upanishad are not exhaustive because not everything can be said in a textbook. All descriptions of all the scriptures put together cannot describe fully the Glory of God, such is His Infinite Might. But the word ‘infinite’ has been so much used that it has lost its meaning. Larger than the widest of spaces, more intensively rich than anything you have seen—all this is ishvara. People go mad on account of the indescribability of His Glory. Some mystics say that when He enters this body, it is like an elephant entering a thatched rut, breaking it into pieces. The body cannot bear it. It is said that Ramakrishna Paramhamsa suffered from his final illness on account of repeated God-experience. Everything in regard to God is a marvel: How to meditate on Him, how He comes, how He is, how we behold Him.

Inasmuch as we know the great Reality as It has been described, to pursue a path that is contrary to Its nature would be adharma or unrighteous. Unrighteousness is all activity that is directed against the nature of the Atman, primarily a forgetfulness of His supremacy within. This forgetfulness hardens into a self-affirmation of individuality, or jiva. This, again, materialises into love and hatred, and actions determined by these instead of by Him. When He determines our actions, we are said to perform dharma, and when love and hate determine them, we are said to perform adharma. This is the secret of righteousness and unrighteousness.

The Result of Seeing Variety and Unity is Sickness

yathodakam durge vṛṣṭam parvateṣu vidhāvati,
evaṁ dharmān pṛthak paśyaṁs tān evānuvidhāvati. (14)

“Just as rain that falls on the crest of the mountain may be scattered into many streams of water rushing forth in different directions, all getting dissipated and not collected; so the energies or the intelligence of a person gets distributed and channelised in many says, exhausting him thoroughly.”

Like a rivulet moving in the forest, the senses of the jiva direct his energies without any aim. The objects of the world are constructions of these diversified runnings of the intellect, endowed with a practical utilitarian value, vyavaharika-satta, but having no reality in themselves (paramartika-satta). Things in the world have value and meaning so long as they are related to us. Hence, they have a relative value. When the constituents change, the values change, because there is no fundamental reference to consciousness. We are living in a state of motion, just as the rushing torrents which have no being of their own, except their motion. When they do not move, they will have no existence. Man has no knowledge of what is happening to him. There is a fundamental ignorance which covers our substantiality. When the parts which make our personality return to their sources, we cease to be an individual. Because motion is mistaken for being, the world is called an illusion.

The dharmas mentioned in this verse are the qualities and relations that determine the world. Objects are not substances, but relations. As we found out before, they appear as solid because their velocity cannot be grasped by the mind, and so it is stupefied when it is presented with them who are the gunas of prakriti. And so, the world is indeterminable. This doctrine of anatma-vada is extended even to the ego; not even it is substance. A cosmic illusion of the world’s substantiality is presented to all of us. The same sickness seems to afflict the whole of humanity, and therefore a common remedy is prescribed. While mantra fourteen tells of the sickness, mantra fifteen describes the remedy.

Our mistake is to take objects for solid, letting our consciousness getting lost in the world, just as water falling from mountain tops gets dissipated. Consciousness rushes forth in various stages and passes through various mediums—the universal consciousness getting tethered to a personal centre which is called ego, just as the sun’s light gets projected through an aperture in a ceiling, looking weak and small. Not only this: it concretizes and materializes concretises and materialises further and becomes the thinking mind, the energizing prana, the senses of cognition and action, and finally the physical body, landing itself into the world of objects, descending from the realm of the heavens. We have forgotten our grand Father, God, and are aware of this material world. This is the state of all beings when they run to objects, mistaking them for substances.

yathodakaṁ śuddhe śuddham āsiktaṁ tādṛg eva bhavati,
evaṁ muner vijānata ātmā bhavati gautama. (15)

“Just as water poured into water becomes water alone, so the self of one who has understanding becomes the Supreme.” If the water falling from a mountain top were to collect and move towards the ocean, it would be one with the ocean. Likewise does the consciousness that collects itself, rather than dissipates itself, bring itself to a focus of power and joins the ocean of consciousness. When our thoughts are determined by the ocean of consciousness, we are dhira purushas, our actions become self-determined. When we are rooted in ego-consciousness, we become divided into bodies and objects. One who has love for a hundred people and things is like someone cut into a hundred persons. Though physically he may appear as one, psychologically he is split up, because we are what our mind is. Our personality gets dispersed, and when this goes too far, we become sick.

Everyone is sick in one way or another, because no one thinks of one thing always. If the mind and intellect did not draw their sustenance from objects but from their own source, they would be self-determined and not object-determined. At present we are determined by the objects of the world. This is not independence. Independence would be self-determined. Likewise is this process of self-collection: while samsara is the movement of mind in the direction of objects, moksha would be the opposite, the reverse of it; the collection of consciousness and merging it into Consciousness. A knowing person becomes the Atman of all. Just as many drops become water in the ocean, many thoughts collect themselves in the Atman. This is the condition of a knower, called jivanmukti, O Nachiketas. Thus have I explained to you what you have asked.