Namaskaar. In this part 12 of Kathopanishat Commentary by Shri V. Subrahmanian, we now get to learn the logic behind Lord Yama’s statements and get into the teaching of Atman, the Self.
After glorifying the vidyA, the AchArya and the shiShya, Yama takes up the special glorification of the Atman:
न नरावरेण प्रोक्त एष
सुविज्ञेयो बहुधा चिन्त्यमानः ।
अनन्यप्रोक्ते गतिः अत्र नास्ति
अणीयान् हि अतर्क्यम् अणुप्रमाणात् ॥ ८
न never नरावरेण by an unaccomplished person प्रोक्त when taught एष this Self सुविज्ञेयो becomes precisely known बहुधा (for It is) variously चिन्त्यमानः (mis) understood. अनन्यप्रोक्ते when taught by someone who has become one with It गतिः cogitation अत्र with regard to It नास्ति ceases. अणीयान् For It becomes very subtle हि indeed अतर्क्यम् cannot be argued about अणुप्रमाणात् (subtler) than an atom.
Atman, when taught by an inferior person, is not easily comprehended, because It is diversely regarded by disputants. But when It is taught by him who has become one with Atman, there can remain no more doubt about It. Atman is subtler than the subtlest and not to be known through argument.
By ‘inferior person’ the upaniShad wants to say that this knowledge about the Self is to be imparted only by someone who is perfectly qualified to do so. One who is endowed with mere worldly knowledge is therefore unfit to deliver this knowledge. Without realizing the Self as It is taught in the scripture and instructed by a truly qualified AchArya the Self remains unknown. There is also the danger of the Self being wrongly comprehended thereby resulting in the aspirant remaining in samsara for ever. The reason behind the scripture being so particular about this is that the Self that is to be taught and understood is extremely difficult to properly comprehend being variously thought of as ‘it exists’, ‘it does not exist’, ‘it is the doer’, ‘it is not the doer’, ‘it is pure’, ‘it is impure’ etc. Disputants take up one or the other of these alternatives and try to fit it into the nature of the Self. When this is the case with the wrong understanding, what indeed constitutes right apprehension? The upaniShad proceeds to explain: When It is taught/expounded by a Self-realized AchArya, that is he who has realized his identity with the Self thereby dispelling the erroneous vision of duality, there will be no room for the various kinds of misapprehension spoken of above such as ‘it is, it is not’. With these wrong understandings ceasing to be there, there arises a clear perception of the Self.
Shankaracharya, after stating the above, sees two more ways in which the line अनन्यप्रोक्ते गतिः अत्र नास्ति of the mantra can be interpreted.
- When the Atman which is none other than one’s very Self is taught, there will be no apprehension of anything else for there is nothing other than the Atman. This realization of the Unitary Atman indeed constitutes the supreme establishment in Knowledge, j~nAna-niShThA. Therefore, there remaining nothing else to be apprehended no other understanding remains. Or it means that there is no more transmigratory existence, samsAra-gatiH, when this secondless-Atman is taught (and understood). This is because there is no time gap between the arising of this firm knowledge and emancipation, mokShaH.
- When the Self that is none other than brahman is taught by an AchArya who has realized his identity with It there is no way the aspirant will not get to realize It. Undoubtedly will he gain the realization in the form ‘I am that Self’ just the way the AchArya himself has realized It.
Thus the Self is well realizable when taught as non-different from oneself by an AchArya who is well grounded in the method of the Scripture. If such is not the case the Self will become more subtle even than an atomic thing. The idea is this: If someone who is not versed with the Self attempts to teach It, it becomes a herculean task rendering it an extremely subtle object. If someone were to establish the Self by mere intellectual deliberation as of atomic nature then there is always the possibility of another propounding a logic to say that the Self is of even smaller atomic size. This way there is no end to making intellectual strides in speculating the nature of the Self. The essence of this statement by Shankara is that one ought to turn to the Veda, the UpaniShad alone for gaining a correct knowledge of the Self and not depend on mere intellectual exercises. The next mantra puts this in even greater perspective:
न एषा तर्केण मतिः आपनेया
प्रोक्ता अन्येन एव सुज्ञानाय प्रेष्ठ ।
यां त्वम् आपः सत्यधृतिः बत असि
तादृक् नो भूयात् नचिकेतः प्रष्टा ॥ ९
न never एषा this तर्केण by argumentation मतिः knowledge (of the Self) आपनेया attained प्रोक्ता teacher अन्येन एव other than सुज्ञानाय sound understanding प्रेष्ठ O dear one. यां that त्वम् you आपः have सत्यधृतिः true resolution बत असि compassionable one तादृक् like you नो me भूयात् let there be नचिकेतः O Nachiketa प्रष्टा an aspirant (seeker/questioner).
This Knowledge cannot be attained by reasoning. Atman becomes easy of comprehension, O dearest, when taught by another (other than the logician). You have attained this Knowledge now. You are, indeed, a man of true resolve. May we always have an inquirer like you!
The upaniShad stresses repeatedly the importance of this Self-knowledge being taught by a competent AchArya, one who has Self-realized. For, the teaching becomes most effective, successful, when communicated by such a teacher. There is a lot that requires to be conveyed than that appears in the text of the Scripture. The teacher has to be a realized one and coupled with that, be conversant with the Scriptural lore, be competent to interpret the abstruse statements, narratives, contained in them and deliver the most essential teaching to the aspirant in the most intelligible way. A teacher who has no such ability cannot give this AtmavidyA by merely relying on argumentation brought up by his intellect. The exalted Self-knowledge is not to be sidelined by the maze of intellectual exercises. For the logician, tArkika, being unaware of the vedAnta, utters whatever his intellect prompts him to. That is the reason why the upaniShad stresses that this vedAnta-based AtmavidyA ought to be taught by an AchArya who is well trained in the Scriptural method and not by a mere logician. It is only then that the vidyA finds consummation in the aspirant attaining the promised liberation.
Yama says that Nachiketa has received this vidyA from him in return to a boon. ‘Your resolve is firm’, continues Yama, ‘being grounded in the highest values of life.’ Even before the teaching is given out in its detail, Yama proclaims Nachiketa to be an exalted one. This is indeed an expression of Yama’s great value and appreciation for that vidyA and, of course, the eminently qualified, promising, aspirant that Nachiketa is. Yama goes on to say: ‘Let me be endowed with a son or a disciple who is dedicated as you are.’ For, when a fit disciple engages in gaining knowledge, he puts the most pertinent questions. A teacher endowed with such a student finds the very process of imparting knowledge a lovingly challenging one. Prompted by a pupil’s quest for knowledge, the teacher goes to great lengths in delivering the teaching in the most interesting, intelligible and invigorating way. In fact this very dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama will unfold a number of such instances.
Extremely pleased by Nachiketa’s demeanour Yama the teacher wants to compare his own level of dispassion with that of this incredible boy’s edifying attitude to everything that is the not-Self:
जानामि अहं शेवधिः इति अनित्यं
न हि अध्रुवैः प्राप्यते हि ध्रुवं तत् ।
ततः मया नाचिकेतश्चितः अग्निः
अनित्यैः द्रव्यैः प्राप्तवानस्मि नित्यम् ॥
जानामि अहं I know शेवधिः treasure इति अनित्यं is impermanent. न never हि indeed अध्रुवैः by impermanent things/means प्राप्यते is attained हि certainly ध्रुवं तत् That which is permanent. ततः therefore मया by me नाचिकेतश्चितः अग्निः the Nachiketa fire-ritual was performed अनित्यैः with impermanent द्रव्यैः things प्राप्तवानस्मि and have thereby attained नित्यम् that which is (only relatively) permanent.
Yama said: I know that the treasure resulting from action is not eternal; for what is eternal cannot be obtained by the non-eternal. Yet I have performed the Nachiketa sacrifice with the help of non-eternal things and attained this position which is only relatively eternal.
Yama says: I am quite aware of the fact that the treasure comprising of fruits of action that are actually prayed for, longed for, like someone who would ardently desire to possess a treasure, is indeed ephemeral. It is a question of time for these possessions to cease to exist or give pleasure. Why is this of such a nature? It is because the means dictate the end. Employing means that themselves are impermanent one cannot hope to obtain that which is permanent. Conversely only impermanent fruit comes to one who has put in only impermanent means to accomplish such an end. This is an inviolable law of the things of the world, the not-Self. I knew very well this law and yet indulged in the act of the Nachiketa fire ritual that earned me the necessary puNyam, merit, to attain this present position of the Lord of Death, Yama. This position is no doubt very long-tenured and borders on the nature of eternity. Yet it is not to be believed to be of absolutely eternal nature for it is only a relative expression of permanence.
For instance, when a person who has completed his period of probation that is mandatory in certain establishments, his services are said to be made ‘permanent’. This expression only means that he will be retained in the services of the establishment as long as he serves in the employment and does not quit by himself.
With this kind of a meaning attached to the ‘permanence’, Yama says that he has achieved the exalted status of the abode of Death, the portfolio of managing the ending of the tenures of all living beings.
To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari