Commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Section 2

Tad etat satyam: mantreṣu karmāṇi kavayo yāny apaśyaṁs tāni tretāyāṁ bahudhā santatāni, tāny ācaratha niyatam, satyakāmā, eṣa vaḥ panthāḥ sukṛtasya loke (1.2.1.). This is a different subject altogether. A mantra in the earlier verses told us that there are two types of knowledge, the lower and the higher. Rg-vedo yajur-vedaḥ sāma-vedo’tharva-vedaḥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṁ (1.1.5): The Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda are all lower knowledge. Higher knowledge is that great spiritual insight by which we come into direct contact with the Imperishable. This was told to us in earlier verses. Now some details are given as to what lower knowledge is.

The mantras of the Veda are utilised in the performance of sacrifices, or yajnas. This is the secondary character of the Veda mantras. Veda mantras can be used as prayers to the Almighty God or as prayers to the divinities inhabiting heaven. That is one form of the utilisation of the mantras. But the major aspect of the mantras is their utility in the performance of yajnas.

This is true: tad etat satyam. Whatever suggestion for the performance of action as sacrifice, or yajna, was visualised by the great sages in the mantras of the Veda, that vision has to be considered as true. That is to say, the Vedic sacrifices are not just concoctions of the mind or someone’s whim and fancy. There is a truth in it. The rituals that we perform in our religious worships are not unnecessary things, as some modern intellectuals may sometimes tell us. The entire body and mind gesticulates. It is not merely the body; even the mind puts on a gesture, an attitude, when a ritual is performed. This point is missed by critics. When the mind and the body are in a state of unison in the performance of a ritual, the prayer assumes a physical shape. The mantras are prayers. The Vedic mantras are hymns offered to God, and the implementation, or actual practice of this prayer, is the ritual thereof. The ritual can be worship as we do in temples, for instance, or it can be an actual homa or yajna, sacrifice. These suggestions of actual action proceeding from the mantras in the form of ritual are true. It is not untrue, says the mantra: tad etat satyam.

Mantreṣu karmāṇi kavayo yāny apaśyams tāni tretāyāṁ bahudhā santatāni. Treta means the three Vedas. In the three Vedas—Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda—we will find every mantra is a potential for action. The Mimamsa Shastra is very vigorous in the affirmation of mantras being just instruments in the performance of external sacrifice. Knowledge is the medium for action. After we know something, we do something. We do not merely know something and keep quiet. So shodhana, or incentive for action, is the potential of every mantra. This is the Mimamsa Shastra, and we are mentioning it in this particular verse. Therefore, the three Vedas are incentives for the performance of further action in the form of ritual and yajna. Treta means three Vedas, and it also means the Treta Yuga. There are four yugas: Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. We are in Kali Yuga, the last of the yugas.

Eka eva purā vedaḥ praṇavaḥ sarva-vāṅgmāyaḥ (S.B. 9.14.48). In the Krita Yuga there was no Veda, no yajna or sacrifice, no worship, no governmental system, no ruler, no necessity for law and order, etc. It is called the hamsa condition—pure Eternity living on Earth, the Golden Age, the millennium come, as some religions tell us. The Treta Yuga was a descent in the moral order of creation; and then yajnas started, and also the Vedas. Otherwise Om, or Pranava, alone was the Veda. The three Vedas were not there. Hence, we can take this word ‘treta’ to mean both things: either the commencement of yajnas in the Treta Yuga, or it may mean the three Vedas being the incentive for the performance of yajnas.

Tāny ācaratha: Please do it. The Mimamsa tells us: Please do this. Niyatam: Regularly perform these yajnas. Satyakāmāḥ: If you want the fruit of your good deeds in the form of heavenly experiences, if you want Indra’s glory and to rejoice in heaven, here it is. Come, perform yajnas by the recitation of mantras of the three Vedas.

Eṣa vaḥ panthāḥ sukṛtasya loke: This is the blessedness for you. Here the Mimamsa speaks to you: It is the path of blessedness open to you. All people come. If you recite the Veda mantras properly, perform yajna and offer oblations to the gods, the flames of the sacrifice uniting themselves with the rays of the Sun will take you, by your subtle body, to the glorious realm of Indra’s heaven. So here is an invitation to the heaven of Indra.

Yathā lelāyate hy arcis samiddhe havya-vāhane, tad ājya- bhāvāv antareṇāhutiḥ pratipādayec chraddhayā-hutam (1.2.2). When we perform a havanam, a yajnam, the flames should shoot forth. The fire should not be smouldering, and it should not be smoking. If that is the case, then the yajna is not done properly. Savita is the flaming forth of the heated fire. When the flames move like tongues of fire, lapping hither and thither with a roaring sound, into those tongues of fire coming up from the vigorous burning of the yajna agni we must offer the holy ghee, the clarified butter, between the flames. The offerings are to be poured between the lapping flames. Pratipādayec: This is an instruction as to how we have to conduct yajna.

Yasyāgnihotram adarśam apaurṇamāsam acāturmāsyam anāgrayaṇam atithivarjitam ca, ahutam avaiśvadevam avidhinā hutam ā-saptamāṁs tasya lokān hinasti (1.2.3). Here we have a tremendous instruction from the Mimamsa Shastra—Karmakanda gone to its extreme, we may say. It is not enough if we just perform one havan and keep quiet, as an agnihotra, for instance. The mantra here says that if a person does not, at the same time, together with the performance of agnihotra, also perform the special sacrifices called darsha and paurnamasa during the new moon and the full moon, and does not also perform the special offerings required to be done during the four months of the rainy season, and does not also perform the special havan intended to be done during the spring season, and if the havan is performed without guests being fed at the same time during the yajna, and if the flames do not come forth properly and are only smouldering and smoking, and if the feeding of animals, etc., is also not taken care of at the same time, and if the mantras in the yajna are not chanted with the proper intonation and recitation, what will happen? Seven generations of theirs will be destroyed: ā-saptamāṁs tasya lokān hinasti. It is a very terrible curse. It also means that for them, the seven worlds will be destroyed. Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Mahaloka, Janaloka, Tapaloka and Satyaloka will expel them and not allow them to enter. Therefore, imagine how difficult it is to perform a sacrifice, a yajna. If we make a little mistake—a little wrong intonation, a little fumbling, it will break the yajna. Karmakanda is very difficult. If we do it, wonderful; but if we do not do it properly, to hell we go.

Kālī karalī ca mano-javā ca sulhoitā yā ca sudhūmravarṇā, sphuliṅginī viśva-rūpī ca devī lelāyamānā iti sapta-jiḥvāḥ (1.2.4). In a properly performed sacrifice, seven flames of the fire are supposed to shoot up, not just one or two. The hungry fire will lap up in seven tongues. The seven tongues have their own names—kālī: the black one; karalī: the blacker one; mano-javā: rapid like the movement of the mind; sulhoitā: reddish in colour; sudhūmravarṇā: brownish in colour; sphuliṅginī: sparking forth; viśva-rūpī: radiant. Devī: divine are the flames. The god Agni himself rises up to receive our offering and take us to the gods so that, in their satisfaction, they lift us up to the abode of the gods. Lelāyamānā iti sapta-jiḥvāḥ: Oscillating flames of the agni, to which we offer the oblations, are designated in this manner. These names are to be remembered.

Eteṣu yaś carate bhrājamāneṣu yathā-kālaṁ cā hutayo hy ādadāyan, taṁ nayanty etās sūryasya raśmayo yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ (1.2.5). If we are in a position to perform these sacrifices meticulously without committing mistakes, as we calculate a mathematical problem right from the beginning to the end without making any error, if we can perform the yajnas as mentioned in these verses in the holy fire which is radiating with its power, if offerings are made in this way, then what happens? The fire assumes a very subtle form as soundless ethereal shapes, into which it enters when it becomes inaudible; and its colour also becomes invisible and merges into the subtle rays of the Sun. The flames of the fire transmute themselves into fine forces of light converging into the intensity of the rays of the Sun.

Taṁ nayanty etās sūryasya raśmayo yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ. The soul, the subtle body of the performer of the yajna, is drawn out when the body is shed, and by the gravitational pull of the rays of the Sun and the propulsion given by the flames of fire into which the performer has offered the yajna, the soul that departs from the body of the jiva rises up. Where do we go? We go to the Sun, the solar orb. From there we are transported. Yatra devānām patir eko’dhivāsaḥ: We are very graciously, lovingly escorted to the great heaven of Indra, who rules the whole heaven. So be prepared for the great blessedness of going to heaven, and do yajnas every day.

In order to tell us that mere ritualistic performance in the form of sacrifices, etc., will not suffice for the salvation of the soul, the Upanishad first of all tells us some aspects of the manner in which the ritualists lay emphasis on the need for the performance of sacrifices. It is something like investigating the strength of the opposition in order that one may have to face it one day. The Upanishad tries to counter the stand taken by the ritualists. For that purpose, it describes what is the strength and attraction of the ritualists themselves. We notice that there are great restrictions and limitations laid down in regard to the performance of homa, yajna, or sacrifice: the manner of raising an altar, its length and breadth, its shape, and the various initial ceremonies before starting the fire. The mantras are not here in this book; they can be found in the Karmakanda. The mantras to be recited for invoking Agni, or the god of fire, or at the outset the Ganesha puja, and the many other appurtenances, are so complicated a process that only a great expert will be able to undertake such kind of sacrifice. Actually, large performances like Rajasuya, Vajapeya, Ashvamedha, etc., are carried on for days and days together, even for months, inasmuch as they are very elaborate and only great masters in the art of memory and the technique of performance would be able to actually undertake such a task. Only great rishis used to be invited for such a purpose, by kings especially.

The Mimamsa doctrine of the efficacy of the performance of yajna, or sacrifice, tells us that attainment of heaven, ruled by Indra, is the great glory that is to be expected as the consequence of the performance of these yajnas. The soul of the performer, after shedding the physical body, is led along the rays of the Sun to the glorious regions of heaven.

Ehy ehīti tam āhutayas suvarcasaḥ sūryasya raśmibhir yajamānaṁ vahanti, priyāṁ vācam abhivadantyo’rcayantya, eṣa vaḥ puṇyas sukṛto brahma-lokaḥ (1.2.6). The Sun’s rays, as the flames of fire, are not dead things; they are consciousness. They speak to you: “Come. Glorious man, here are the flames. Come, come.” The oblations, when offered properly with the recitation of the mantras correctly pronounced, create a situation wherein the oblations start assuming life. We have heard that, in ancient days, divinities used to rise up from the fire, bringing some offering. The nectarine pudding which was brought by a divinity in the sacrifice performed by Dasharatha is one of many instances. The living voice of the flames of fire in the sacrifice, and the glorious rays of the Sun, join together and speak very delightful words. Priyāṁ vācam abhivadantyo’rcayantya: “How blessed you are. How good it is of you to have done the sacrifice. Glory is awaiting you. Indra is wanting to see you. Blessedness shall be your future. We are here at your service. Come on, sit in this chariot of the rays of the Sun. Rise up and be eternally blessed.” These flames and the rays speak gloriously in a melodious, loving voice to the yajamana, the performer of the sacrifice, who has succeeded in conducting it systematically, perfectly.

Eṣa vaḥ puṇyas sukṛto brahma-lokaḥ: “We shall take you to Brahmaloka.” The glory of spiritual experience is supposed to reach its upper limits in a realm that is described in the scriptures as Brahmaloka. This is a word we have heard many a time. Literally it means the loka, or the world of Brahman. It is not the Absolute Brahman that is referred to here, but the Creative Principle. Brahma in Sanskrit is in the masculine form. It is a state of affairs where the world melts into a state of intermingling activity of waves of consciousness.

There are some mystics who have gone into ecstasy over the description of what this so-called penultimate state of the liberation of the soul actually is, where the sea of radiance billows, as it were, with its ripples and waves dashing one over the other, where every wave is like every other wave, where each reflects the other, each is mirrored in the other, and everything is found everywhere. Each one is everything else also, and everything else is also each one. The general is the particular, the particular is the general.

Some of the touching and most eloquently described passages on subjects of this kind can be found in the writings of Plotinus, a great mystic of Alexandria, who wrote a masterly treatise called the Enneads, which means ‘the book of nine sections’, just as the name of the book Panchadasi is the number of the chapters of the book. Panchadasa means fifteen. A book that has fifteen chapters is called Panchadasi. A book that has nine chapters is called Enneads. Similarly, there are some German mystics like Eckhart, and Indian mystics such as the Alvaras, who wrote the Nalayira Divya Prabandham. They are all astounding proclamations of the rapture of the soul in an experience which should be considered as entry into Brahmaloka itself. They were all masters of language who used words in order to break through the words and find the very soul in the essence of language itself. Mystical literature is actually the voice of the soul expressed in human tongue. Such is called Brahmaloka. It will simply shake your soul even to imagine what that experience could be. Anyway, the solar rays tell the yajamana, the performer of the sacrifice, “Come. We shall take you to the glorious realm of Indra, and to Brahmaloka itself.”

But the Upanishad now turns the table around, like a clever advocate. They argue on behalf of somebody, and suddenly change the whole argument against that person on whose behalf he was appearing to be arguing. It appeared as if up to this time the Upanishad was arguing on behalf of the Mimamsa ritualists, or the performers of the sacrifice, glorifying the end and the result of the sacrifices as Brahmaloka, Indraloka, etc. Now, suddenly, a bolt from the blue comes.

Plavā hy ete adṛḍhā yajña-rūpā aṣṭādaśoktam avaram yeṣu karmā etac chreyo ye’bhinandanti mūḍhāḥ jarā-mṛtyuṁ te punar evāpiyanti (1.2.7). Unreliable boats are these on which you try to cross the ocean of samsara in the form of yajna, or sacrifice. These boats in the form of yajnas, or sacrifices, are like bubbles. They will burst one day, and you cannot entirely rely on them forever because these forces, called apurva in the language of the Mimamsa Shastra, which are responsible for lifting you up to the region of Indra, or to even higher regions, lose their potency one day. It is like sitting in a rocket going up by using fuel, and the fuel will be exhausted in the middle, and you know what will happen. Such is the case with these performers of yajna who rely on the force generated by the performance of yajnas. They are reliable up to the extent of the momentum they carry, and are reliable indeed for some distance; but in the middle they will leave you in the lurch, and you will fall. All those who go to Indraloka rejoice, but then they will fall headlong, as many fell.

You see, when a person has some substance and stuff, and he is considered as a worthwhile individual, he is received with an affection and an impunity which one can mistake for an eternal attitude of the person who so manifests this affection. But once the worthwhileness of the person is not to be seen any more—he becomes a pauper, suppose—the way in which he will be repelled will be more forceful than the force which was at the back of the affection that was shown earlier. Hatred is more forceful than love. A person will simply crush you in one second when hatred manifests itself, because you are not wanted, and the way in which this unwantedness will be shown and thrown on your face will be such that you will not like to live in the world one day more. So do not rely on these friends such as yajnas, etc. They will throw you down.

Aṣṭādaśoktam avaram yeṣu karma: Poor indeed are these so-called yajnas which are performed by eighteen ingredients of persons. Sixteen priests, and the yajnamana and his wife, constitute eighteen in number in large sacrifices like the Ashvamedha, Rajasuya, etc.

Etac chreyo ye’bhinandanti mūḍhāḥ: Fools who cannot exercise their understanding properly, mūḍhāḥ, as they are called, who imagine that this is real blessedness, who think they will go to Indraloka and be happy there, what happens to them? Jarā-mṛtyuṁ te punar evāpiyanti: They come back to this Earth. Once again they are born, and they will die as creatures that are plenty in this world. That is, you will be reduced to the same condition in which you were before commencing the yajna. Therefore, relying on them will be the height of unintelligence of a person. Ignorance is at the back of the imagination that blessedness will be in Indraloka, or any kind of loka whatsoever. You do not want to go to any loka at all. What you experienced in this world is only magnified in these lokas, which are conditioned by space and time in the same manner as this world of physical experience is conditioned by space and time, etc.

Avidyāyām antare vartamānāḥ svayaṁ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitam manyamānāḥ, janghanyamānāḥ pariyanti mūḍhāḥ, andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ (1.2.8). Sunk in ignorance of the true values of life, imagining that they are very intelligent, wise, they are really wiseacres. Dhīrāḥ paṇḍitam manyamānāḥ: These ritualists imagine that they know everything in the world, that they are omniscient, that they know what is good and that others do not know anything. Such is the astounding profundity of human ignorance. Janghanyamānāḥ: They suffer afterwards as a consequence of this ignorance. Pariyanti mūḍhāḥ: They go on circling round and round in metempsychosis. Andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ: As a blind man can be led by a blind man, leading to no destination whatsoever, so these arguments of ritual and the promise of heaven in a world which is not going to be permanent, are based on ignorance. Beware! This is the word of caution exercised to Upanishadic students of true spirit.

Avidyāyām bahudhā vartamānā vayaṁ kṛtārthā ity abhi-manyanti bālāh, yat karmiṇo na pravedayanti rāgāt tenāturāḥ kṣīṇalokāś cyavante (1.2.9): Children with no understanding imagine that they have achieved everything that they can achieve. “I am a king. I have performed so many Rajasuyas and Ashvamedhas. There is no opposition before me. I have conquered the whole world. I have annexed my kingdom.” So are the vainglorious words and imaginations of a potentate. Tomorrow he shall not be there. “Sceptre and Crown must tumble down, and in the dust be equal made.” There is a poem called Death the Leveller by James Shirley. Sceptre and crown will tumble down, and the beggar and the king will be on the same bed. Such state of affairs will be ready to receive those people who imagine that they are greater than the law because they have got a lot of land and money and they are well received by the public. Public acclamation is no criterion of the greatness of a person.

Yat karmiṇo na pravedayanti rāgāt tenāturāḥ kṣīṇalokāś cyavante: Engrossed in the ways of the ignorant, these people childishly think that they have gained the aims of life. Being subject to desires and attachments, they never attain to true knowledge. They sink down immeasurably when the fruits of their good deeds get exhausted. Anything that has a beginning must also have an end. Inasmuch as your virtues did have a beginning, they should end one day. You cannot have endlessness of a thing that once began. So do not be under the impression that you can be permanently in the heaven of Indra, inasmuch as that which is permanent was not the origin of the actions that you performed. Impermanence was the beginning, and impermanence shall also be the end. Therefore, impermanent shall be the joys that are apparently there, hung before your nose as a carrot before a donkey. You will not get it.

Iṣṭapūrtam manyamānā variṣṭhaṁ nānyac chreyo vedayante pramūḍhāḥ, nāksaya pṛṣṭhe te sukṛte’nubhūtvemaṁ lokaṁ hīnataraṁ vā viśanti (1.2.10). Many of these verses sound like the verses of the Bhagavadgita, in the Ninth Chapter, where it is said that after enjoying the glories of heaven you come back due to the exhaustion of the merits accumulated by good deeds. Ishta and purta are two types of good deeds that people do in this world. Sacrifices along the lines of the Vedic injunctions are called ishta. Other philanthropic deeds such as distributing wealth, planting trees, giving charity, constructing rest houses, all these are called purta. These are the two types of charity that one can think of. One is heavenly; the other is earthly. But people may imagine that this is the be-all and end-all of all things. Just because you please the divinities in heaven, such as Indra, etc., and the people in this world, it does not mean you have pleased the realities of life. They are quite different things.

Nānyac chreyo vedayante pramūḍhāḥ: Very ignorant people imagine not that this is futile in the end. Having reached the peak of the blissful experience of heavenly worlds on account of the consequences of their good deeds, they come back to this world, or they may go to even worse worlds—lokaṁ hīnataraṁ vā viśanti. The karmas of an individual work in inscrutable ways. When a person like a king has the facility to perform yajnas like the Ashvamedha, it only means that some aspect of his prarabdha karma which is conducive to his progress in the world has manifested itself, subjugating certain other aspects of his karmas which are there in store as sanchita karma, which also have to germinate one day or the other. So when, due to the pressure exerted by the onrush of the good karmas which have led him to this body of a king and permit him to perform sacrifices of this kind, enabling him to go to the heavenly world, are exhausted when they get used up, what happens? The force exerted by these good karmas constituting this present prarabdha will vanish completely like mist before the sun. Then suddenly he falls. He will fall into a condition which would be the area of action of another set of prarabdha which is waiting to be experienced and to come forward in due course of time. That remnant of prarabdha which would be the cause of his future birth may not be equivalent to that earlier one which made him king. It may be another thing altogether. He may be born as a poor man. He may be born on this very Earth, or he may have such prarabdha which may have been suppressed earlier on account of the overwhelming power of the other prarabdhas, which may bring him down to a lower level, lower than even the human species.

So it is very, very unsafe to rely on certain temporary experiences through which you are passing in this world. You may be a king, of course, but you shall not be a king always, because kings can be beggars the next day. It does not take much time for them to fall, and all the kings have fallen. Empires are broken. Therefore, nothing can be relied upon in this world finally, so beware. Not only will you be born into this world as a human being, but the caution is that you may be born as something even worse on account of some other karmas that may be embedded in your sanchita storehouse, of which you have no knowledge just now.

Therefore, no action can break the chain of birth and death caused by action itself. Action cannot destroy actions. There must be some super-active force that has to be employed for the purpose of breaking down the chain of metempsychosis, the series of births and deaths. A prisoner cannot release another prisoner. The prisoner has to become free first. People who are bound by karmas, and are involved in the experience of the fruits of karmas, cannot destroy further fruits of karma of a similar nature. That karma cannot destroy karma is repeatedly hammered on our ears by Acharya Sankara, the meaning of which very few people can understand. Only those can be regarded as really blessed who restrain themselves and do not go for the imagined joys of the temporal, heavenly world, and who internally restrain themselves by tapas and intense concentration of the mind.

Tapaḥ śraddhe ye hy upavasanty araṇye śāntā vidvāṁso bhaikṣācaryaṁ carantaḥ, sūrya-dvāreṇa te virajāḥ prayānti yatrāmṛtaḥ sa puruṣo hy avyayātmā (1.2.11). Those blessed souls, seekers of Truth, who lead a life of simplicity, austerity, tapas and internal devotion, live in seclusion, and do not want to live in large cities. They feel happier to be alone to themselves than to be in the midst of families and large crowds of people. The progress in the spiritual path can be gauged by the extent of satisfaction and joy that you feel in your own self when you are alone. The more are you alone, the more are you happy. But if you feel miserable when you are alone, and want to open your doors and run out of the house to find some friends on the street, or go to a shop or a club so that you may have a distraction and a diversion—you are miserable when you are alone, and you are happy in the midst of people—if that is the case, far, far are you from the true goal of life.

But it is difficult to appreciate how it is possible for a person to be happy when he is alone. Is he not a social outcast? He is a person with nothing to call his own. He has nothing of his own. He has no friends. He is sitting alone somewhere in a corner, under a tree in a forest or in his own house, wanting to speak to none, doing his study and meditation. What kind of person is he?

It will be difficult for a socially oriented mind to understand how aloneness can be a spiritual condition, and how social relations are the contrary of it, because a spiritual outlook is actually a manifestation of the intentions of the soul of man. The indivisibility of the soul is contrary to the relationship one psychologically establishes with the outer world. The soul is not related to anything. It is totally unrelated. Therefore, the desire to be related, the desire to be in the midst of people—that is, to be externally conditioned in one’s own life—is to limit the longings of the soul and to manifest an unspiritual outlook rather than a purely religious one, whereas the desire to be alone is a manifestation of the inner longings of the soul, which is alone by itself. The soul has no friends, it has no family, it has no father and mother, it has nothing whatsoever. It is poor in spirit. As the great statement of Christ says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The poorest in spirit is the soul of man. It wants to be alone because it cannot be anything more than what it is in itself. The soul cannot be other than what it is. But we want to be other than what we are by running about here and there in search of things and people, by contacting them artificially in relations that will break one day. These are the unsafe boats which the Upanishad referred to earlier.

Those people who, by an austere life and devotional worship, live in seclusion, wanting nothing from the world, are calm and quiet in their minds, very learned, intelligent, discriminating and wise in themselves, live on meagre sustenance, even on alms. As we say, simple living and high thinking. The thinking is very lofty and high, but the living is very simple. Such people, when they depart from this body, are received by the solar orb. The role that the Sun plays in the movement of the soul after death has been variously described in spiritual scriptures, especially in mystical texts, implying perhaps that the Sun, astronomically considered as the centre of the solar system, is somehow or other connected with the soul of the individual. Astrologers tell us that the Moon conditions the mind, and the Sun conditions the soul. Surya, the Sun, is considered as Atmakaraka. The first verse of the great astrological work known as Brihat Jataka by Varahamihira is a touching invocation of the Sun as the passage of the soul to immortality.

The externality of the Sun is a misnomer. We are not outside the Sun, and the solar system is not standing outside us so that we may gaze at it with our physical eyes. It is a big circle, inside which we also are. If the nose had consciousness, or if it had eyes to see, it would look at this body as an outside object. But actually the nose, notwithstanding the fact that it can behold the body as an outside object, is not outside the body. It is a part and parcel, integrally related to the entire organism of which it is a limb. We are wrongly imagining that the Sun above us is outside. Soul-like, the Sun controls the destiny of all things in the world, not only of human beings but everything that is living and even non-living and, therefore, cosmically the Sun is supposed to represent the Atman, or the soul of man. Surya atma jagat stathasthuscha is a mantra in the Rigveda: Of all things moving and non-moving, living and non-living, the very soul and substance is Surya. Through him we pass through the gates of immortality. Sūrya-dvāreṇa te virajāḥ prayānti: Free from passion, greed and anger, and all the dross of the mind, these great souls, who are devoted to the highest call of spiritual experience, pierce through the Sun, as it were, and the Sun opens the gates. Yatrāmṛtaḥ sa puruṣo hy avyayātmā: Through the passage of the Sun, the blessed soul reaches the realm which is the abode of the Immortal Being.

Parīkṣya lokān karmancitān brāhmaṇo nirvedam āyān nāsty akṛtah kṛtena, tad vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham (1.2.12). Having given us an idea of the prospects of the performer of yajnas, or sacrifices, and having told us that karmas, actions, sacrifices are unreliable boats in one’s effort to cross the ocean of life, and hinting that only those who are austere and who live in seclusion, living a simple life and having a lofty goal before them as their final destination, reach Brahmaloka, the abode of blessedness, through the rays of the Sun, now the Upanishad tells us that the way to Brahman, the path of spirituality, the sadhana marga, is through a Guru or a spiritual preceptor.

Having seen this world properly, having investigated the futility of expressing permanent happiness through works which are perishable in nature because every work has a beginning and an end—that which has an origin will also have a cessation one day or the other—therefore, it us understood that works which are essentially of an impermanent nature will not be an adequate means to carry the soul to that which is absolutely permanent. Parīkṣya lokān: Properly investigating into the transient character of all things in the world which are attained by the performance of yajnas, sacrifices, etc., a Brahmana, a learned one, should become fed up with this world. Having enjoyed everything in the world, he will finally not like to have anything from this world. The end of this world enjoyment is retirement from any kind of contact with it. Satiety of desires is unknown. The more we pamper our longings, the more do they become vigorous and the more will they go on asking for things endlessly, which the world cannot grant.

One should finally feel satiated with all things that the world can give. As when we have had a full meal and cannot eat anything further, so should be the satiety we feel in this world. Renunciation of the world is possible only by such a person who has seen the world thoroughly, through and through, who has not left any part of the world uninvestigated, and who has everything that this world can give. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say that only those who were kings in the previous birth can become Sannyasins. If you are really dispassionate, a true Sannyasin wanting nothing in this world, you must have been an emperor in the previous birth, because one who has not tasted the world cannot reject the world. Hence, everything has to be seen properly, and going deep into the structure of the possibilities of pleasures that the world can give—or whatever the world can give, pleasures or otherwise—one should finally detach oneself from all things that the world appears to promise. Why?

Nāsty akṛtah kṛtena: That which is not the product of any kind of action cannot be reached by actions, which are products. Actions are emanations of personality, and are not self-existent. Actions cannot hang in the air. They have to emanate, or rise, from some personality. Therefore, they are in the form of an effect. An effect is that which is produced by a cause; it is a product. That which is a product cannot become the cause of the attainment of that which is not a product. The Purusha Supreme is not created by anybody. It is a non-created eternal. Temporal things cannot take us to the eternal. Time has no connection with eternity. The three-dimensional world is a shadow, as it were, cast by an eternity which is supposed to be multi-dimensional, or infinite-dimensional. Let a person get disgusted with this world and want nothing from it, realising that this world cannot actually fulfil its promises. Its promises are empty.

Knowing the futility of life in this world, one should humbly approach a great Master for the sake of the knowledge of that which shall make the soul immortal one day or the other. What kind of teacher, what kind of Master? One who has two qualities. Śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham: He must be immensely learned, and also spiritually established. If a person is spiritually established but does not feel competent to expound the scriptures, he will not be able to speak to you. But if a person is learned but not established in Brahman, then his speeches will be empty. So the two qualifications are mentioned here: internally established in God, Brahman-consciousness, and outwardly capable of expounding the meaning of the scriptures in a highly learned manner which carries conviction in the mind of a student.

Humbly you should approach. Samit-pāṇiḥ is the word used here. In ancient days, disciples used to live with the Gurus in forests, in retreats, etc., far from cities and available means of transport and the minimum needs of life, so that even firewood was a difficult thing for them to obtain. So firewood was carried by disciples, especially for the yajnas, or sacrifices. Every householder has to perform an agnihotra sacrifice. Most of the great Masters those days were householders, and so they had to carry on the agnihotra sacrifices every day, for which firewood is necessary. Hence, the first thing that the disciple would offer to the Guru was firewood, and every day he would go to the forest to collect it, which, in those days, was a very important duty of disciples. It is in this context that it is mentioned to approach the Guru humbly, with holy firewood in one’s hand, or it may simply be an offering that is the need of the Guru. In those days firewood was a necessity, but in other cases it may be something else. So, whatever is a requirement of the Guru is that which has to be offered by a disciple. With such offering, humbly let a seeker of Brahman approach that Master who is learned in sacred lore and established in Brahman—śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham.

Tasmai sa vidvān upasannāya samyak praśānta-cittāya śamānvitāya, yenākṣaram puruṣaṁ veda satyam provāca tāṁ tattvato brahma-vidyam (1.2.13). To such a sincere disciple who humbly approaches the Master with restrained mind, with no desires whatsoever, endowed with sama, dama and such qualities—sama is internal restraint, the restraint of the inner organs, and dama is external restraint, the restraint of the outer organs—and who is calm and quiet, composed in mind, when such a person approaches the Guru for the sake of that imperishable Purusha who is to be known, the Truth of all truths, the Guru speaks. What does he speak? He speaks the essentials of Brahma-Vidya: tattvato brahma-vidyam.

Now we are given some indication as to what this Brahma-Vidya is. Up to this point, it is some kind of introduction. We have been introduced into the essence of the Upanishad in all these passages that we have gone through up to this time. Now comes the real import of the Upanishad, which is supposed to be the teaching of the Guru to the sincere disciple.