Namaskaar. Moving on to Part 21 of Kathopanishat commentary. The popular verse… Arise, Awake….. is elaborated in this part.


In the previous mantra (1.3.11) the upaniShad specified the Self, brahman, to be the Goal to be ‘attained’. Now a question arises as to how can the Self be a goal since a goal is something that is not yet reached or visited before and which is different or distinct from oneself. In common parlance we see a traveller aiming to reach some place away from where he is and which is distinct from what he himself is. Surely one’s own Self cannot be different from oneself. In this context it is to be remembered that ‘to reach’ the Goal of Self is nothing but realizing, knowing, the Self to be oneself as distinct from the body, mind, etc. apparatus that was mistakenly thought to be oneself.

Thus, by courtesy is the word ‘Goal’ used to denote the Self. We have a shruti (itihAsa upaniShad (18)) passage that says: ‘Those who want to get beyond the ways (of the world), do not walk on roads.’ The following mantra clearly points to the Self as nothing other than our true being:

Mantra 1.3.12

एष सर्वेषु भूतेषु गूढोत्मा न प्रकाशते ।
दृश्यते त्वग्र्यया बुद्ध्या सूक्ष्मया सूक्ष्मदर्शिभिः ॥ १२ ॥

एष He सर्वेषु भूतेषु in all beings गूढः hidden आत्मा Self न प्रकाशते does not appear दृश्यते seen तु but अग्र्यया with a fine pointed बुद्ध्या intellect सूक्ष्मया that is subtle सूक्ष्मदर्शिभिः by those adepts in discerning the subtle things.

That Self hidden in all beings does not shine forth; but It is seen by subtle seers through their one-pointed and subtle intellects.

This Self, the Atman, though present in all beings, starting from the ‘highest being’ brahmA up to the micro-organisms, is hidden, concealed, as it were, by the various activities of the body-mind apparatus such as seeing, hearing, and ignorance/delusion. It is for this reason that the Atman does not shine in Its pure nature as the Self of everyone. Alas! What a calamity! The power of mAyA is so unfathomable, inscrutable and variegated that despite being instructed by the shruti and the AchArya that one is the Absolute Self, no one takes that teaching. On the other hand, even untaught one takes the body-senses-composite, that is clearly available as a perceivable object like a pot, alone to be oneself and identifies himself as ‘I am his son’ etc. It is certain that beguiled by the Supreme Lord’s mAyA alone everyone remains deep in delusion. The Lord says this in the bhagavadgItA:

नाहं प्रकाशः सर्वस्य योगमायासमावृतः।
मूढोऽयं नाभिजानाति लोको मामजमव्ययम्।।7.25।।

Being enveloped by yoga-mAyA, I do not become manifest to all. This deluded world does not know Me who am birthless and undecaying.

But then, is it not a contradiction to say on the one hand मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ‘Upon knowing It one no longer grieves’ (kaThopaniShat (2.1.4)) and on the other न प्रकाशते ‘It does not shine’ (kaThopaniShat (1.3.12))? Not so. What is to be noted is the Atman is not easily discernible for those without the required preparation. When duly equipped with a sharp and pure intellect the Self is indeed within such a person’s understanding. These successful ones have the rare capacity to discern the subtle things. As taught in an earlier mantra here (1.3.10) these aspirants can follow the instruction of knowing the Self through the method of sequentially recognizing the entities ‘located’ one beyond the other. They are experts in this art of Self-discovery and therefore they are the true ‘panDita-s’.

Now the method of discovering the Atman is being specified:

Mantra 1.3.13

यच्छेद्वाङ्मनसी प्राज्ञस्तद्यच्छेज्ज्ञान आत्मनि ।
ज्ञानमात्मनि महति नियच्छेत्तद्यच्छेच्छान्त आत्मनि ॥ १३ ॥

यच्छेत् वाक् merge speech मनसि in the mind प्राज्ञः the discriminating aspirant तत् that यच्छेत् merge ज्ञान आत्मनि in the intellect ज्ञानम् the intelligent self आत्मनि महति in the Great Soul नियच्छेत् merge तत् that यच्छेत् merge शान्त आत्मनि in the tranquil Self.

The wise man should merge his speech in his mind and his mind in his intellect. He should merge his intellect in the Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Mind in the Tranquil Self.

In the description of the method of ‘finding’ the Atman, there are several steps involved. First the aspirant who is intent upon Self-knowledge has to concentrate upon the merging of the organ of speech into his mind. Here the organ of speech is stated as only representative of all the organs of perception and action. Where are these to be merged? It is the faculty of the mind into which the organs are to be merged.

Next, the mind into which the organs have been merged is to be merged into the intellect which is a higher and subtler and inner entity when compared to the mind. Next, this intellect is to be merged into the First-born entity (prathamajaH). What does this mean? The First-born entity is the purest one in creation and as such the instruction here is to render the intellect as pure as the First-born who is also called the ‘Great Soul’ (mahAn AtmA). This is the penultimate stage.

Then the Great Soul is to be merged into the Tranquil Self, the innermost being of all. The innermost Self, the Atman, is free of all distinct qualities which is a feature of everything other than the Atman. It is this Atman that is the witness of all the transformations of the mind/intellect. It is this Self that is called the Ultimate Self, the Atman proper.

The above is the way an aspirant attains the purpose of life: liberation from the trammels of transmigratory existence. All non-Atman, that all that is not the Self, has to be negated as not real as it is born of ignorance of the Real. This product of ignorance takes the triad of forms: names, forms and actions. It is this triad that constitutes the entire world. This is characterized by actions, instruments and the fruit of engaging in actions through the instrumental factors. This has to be transcended by the realization of the Real, one’s true Self.

Such a realization will dispel the ignorance along with its products even as the realization of the underlying mirage, rope space, etc. will lead to the dispelling of the superimposed water, serpent, dirt, etc. respectively. Upon attaining such a firm realization the aspirant, now no longer a sAdhaka but an accomplished j~nani remains established in his true Self in all its pristine purity and serenity. Such a one has nothing more to aspire for and work for attaining anything. With a view to goad the aspirant to engage in the sAdhana that will result in this grand attainment the upaniShad gives a wake-up call:

Mantra 1.3.14

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत ।
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया
दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ १४ ॥

उत्तिष्ठत Arise जाग्रत awake प्राप्य वरान् having approached the wise निबोधत get to know the Truth क्षुरस्य razor’s धारा edge निशिता that is sharpened दुरत्यया is difficult to tread on दुर्गं impassable पथः path तत् that ववयः the wise वदन्ति describe.

Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say: hard to tread and difficult to cross.

The upaniShad makes it very clear that one has to put in the necessary effort, sooner or later. It is by such effort that the ultimate goal of liberation becomes possible. O, beings, arise, become tuned to the mode of self-knowledge. You have been deep asleep in the throes of ignorance that is without a beginning. It is no ordinary slumber; terrible is it as it keeps you firm in bondage. Your prime concern ought to be the destruction of this deluding slumber.

How is this to be accomplished? The upaniShad says: Seek and take refuge in the exalted Teachers of AtmavidyA. Instructed by them endeavour to realize your true innermost, most immediate, Self. Out of great compassion the Mother Veda exhorts us so that we would not ignore the call. Such a method is required as the nature of the Self is extremely subtle and therefore very difficult to fathom and realize. The upaniShad gives a simile to the art of Self-realization. When asked to tread on the sharpened edge of a sword one would find the task a very severe challenge. All tact, combined with sincerity and great commitment is demanded in this exercise. Even a slight inattentiveness can lead to a serious mishap, coming out of which would be arduous. Similar is the situation when one seeks to realize the Self.

Such is the declaration of the j~nAnin-s, the knowers, who have had the first-hand experience of the journey. The purport of the mantra is that since the Knowable Self is of an extremely subtle nature the simile is fitting indeed. In effect the mantra teaches:

  • There is a very urgent need to come out of ignorance
  • It has to be done by one’s uncompromising effort and commitment
  • It can be done by being instructed by a Guru
  • For this one has to approach the Guru in all humility and zeal
  • When properly approached and adequately equipped a true Guru will give the instruction on the Self
  • To take the instruction to its logical end of Self-realization one has to put in a lot of efforts
  • Great care is required so that mishaps are kept to the minimum


To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari