Namaskaar. We move on to Part 23 of our ongoing series of Commentary on the Kathopanishat by Shri V. Subrahmanian. Till now we studied the subtle aspects of Self, Brahman. The teaching now moves on to explaining the bondage of a person, how and why we get enslaved and lose sight of that all powerful, all pervading Atman, Brahman. Extremely interesting portion, great depth of teaching. Read on …………


The upaniShad in its Chapter 2, Section 1, opens the subject with a very important observation about the nature of bondage and the way out of bondage:

Mantra 2.1.1:

पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत् स्वयंभू-.
स्तस्मात् पराङ् पश्यति नान्तरात्मन् ।
कश्चिद्धीरः प्रत्यगात्मानमैक्ष-
दावृत्तचक्षुरमृतत्वमिच्छन् ॥ १ ॥

पराञ्चि outward turned खानि sense organs व्यतृणत् damned  स्वयंभूः self-born तस्मात् therefore पराङ् outward  पश्यति knowing न not  अन्तरात्मन् the inner Self कश्चित् a rare धीरः courageous  प्रत्यगात्मानम् inner Self ऐक्षत् beheld आवृत्तचक्षुः  controlled senses अमृतत्वम् immortality इच्छन्  desiring.

Yama said: The self-born Lord forced the senses outward; hence one sees outward and not the inner self.  But a self-controlled person, desiring Immortality, beholds the inner Self with all sense organs controlled.

It is the nature of the sense organs to be outward turned.  They are indeed made for knowing the outside world and bring inputs to their master for him to interact with the world.  The very purpose of being a jIva  is to be interacting with the observable world.  In this process of getting inputs, rather seeking inputs and reacting there arises either joy or sorrow.  This is what is termed ‘saMsAra’.  Thus the grand scheme of mAyA is so very efficiently programmed that the mechanics of sensory input seeking and thereby interacting goes on unperturbed from day to day, from life to life, thereby keeping the individual in perpetual saMsAra.

The message of the upaniShad, the entire vedAnta, is that the individual has to put an end to this activity by self-effort so as to be free from saMsAra for ever.  That is what is known as liberation from saMsAra.

The upaniShad is using a poetical language to convey the above by saying that the Lord has damned the senses to be outward turned and be continuously engaged in sense-perception and the resultant activity.   Naturally, when the individual is engrossed in enjoying, experiencing, the outward manifestation, his attention is fully given to the world and most sadly, never to the inner Self that is what is truly central to one’s being.

The essence of vedAntic sAdhana is encapsulated in this mantra.  In order to arrest the outward activity and focus the mind on the Self, a variety of practices is prescribed by the upaniShad-s.  A comprehensive program of enabling the individual to engage wilfully in such sensory activity as will be conducive to focusing the mind on the Self while reducing the tendency to cling to those types of activity that are inimical to Atma sAdhana is presented by the Scripture.  This will involve, in different doses, karma, bhakti, and upAsana.

The karma aspect concerns itself with eschewing from binding actions and consciously engaging in actions that will not bind one to saMsAra but help in freeing oneself.

The bhakti aspect supplies the necessary emotional enthusiasm to engage in action that is directed at pleasing the Lord who in fact has given these methods in the form of the words of the veda and the smRtis and purANa-s.  This entire process can be termed either karma yoga or even upAsana yoga if the emphasis is on a higher content of meditation.  Meditation is the exercise directed at letting the mind delve on an exalted ‘object’ to the eschewing of the harmful worldly objects.

Above all, the mantra says, the aspirant is totally committed to the goal of immortality, amRtatvam. This is the underlying principle called mumukShutvam, a burning desire for liberation, that drives the other aspects of sAdhana.  When this desire is strongest then the other factors like dispassion, vairAgyam, and the six-fold discipline called shamAdi-ShaTkam  remain in place.  It is only such a committed aspirant that comes to be called a rare one and a truly courageous one.  It demands a great amount of courage to plunge head on into the sAdhana program.  It is out of a fear, misguided though, that people shy away from serious sAdhana.  For, the fear of losing one’s pet affections in life, the fear of losing one’s individual identity, etc. that make one remain unenthused when it comes to serious sAdhana.

In the next mantra the upaniShad draws a contrast between the wise and the unwise that have a diametrically opposed view of saMsAra and therefore their capabilities to traverse the path of liberation too is so opposed from each other:

Mantra 2.1.2:

पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बालास्-
ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम्।
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा
ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह न प्रार्थयन्ते ।। २ ॥

पराचः external कामान् objects of desire अनुयन्ति seek/covet बालाः ignorant ते they मृत्योः of Death यन्ति attain to विततस्य wide-spread पाशम् snare अथ but धीरा  the wise अमृतत्वं immortality विदित्वा realizing ध्रुवं the stable अध्रुवेषु in the unstable इह here न do not प्रार्थयन्ते covet/seek.

The ignorant run after external objects of desire and fall into the snares of wide-spread death; but wise men, knowing the nature of immortality, do not covet the fleeting or unstable things here.

The fate of those who constantly run after, long for, the external objects of desire in order to gratify their own cravings is none other than continuing in the cycle of births and deaths.  Their tryst with the destiny of death is never-ending, as it were.  Ignorance, desire and the action to fulfil desire is the triad that keeps these deluded ones for ever in saMsAra.  The word ‘vitatasya’ विततस्य which means ‘wide-spread’ indicates that Death is the most widely prevalent phenomenon.  Since living beings are born owing to their karma, their death too is inevitable.  One is born only to die and therefore the upaniShad portrays death as something that is the most commonly available event.  And none can escape it, once born.

On the other hand those who wake up to the truth of their real nature do all that is required to free themselves from the snares of death.  They apply discrimination in their lives and take what is conducive to liberation and reject that which will enslave them to the pulls of the world.  They realize that which is absolutely stable and that is the Self, Atman, Brahman.  All else is perishable, being the product of ignorance, desire and action.  Eschewing this perishable lot they steer clear of the mess that is the worldly existence and emerge successful in this struggle.  The upaniShad showers its compliments on them by terming them ‘dhIrAH’ which means ‘those with true discrimination.’

Now the upaniShad proceeds to give the indicatory marks to identify, understand and seek to realize as one’s very self, that Fundamental Principle called brahman or Atman:

Mantra 2.1.3:

येन रूपं रसं गन्धं शब्दान् स्पर्शांश्च मैथुनान्।
एतेनैव विजानाति किमत्र परिशिष्यते एतद्वै तत् ॥ ३ ॥

येन by which रूपं form रसं taste गन्धं smell शब्दान् sounds स्पर्शान् touch च and मैथुनान् conjugal contacts एतेन by This  एव alone विजानाति one experiences/knows किम् what  else अत्र here  परिशिष्यते remains ॥ एतत् This  वै alone तत् is That.

That by which one perceives colours, taste, odour, sounds and conjugal contacts – What else remains here? This verily It is.

The whole world is available to us only as an experience. The entire world is classified into sound, touch, form/shape, taste and smell which are contactable by us through our sense organs. And the world of objects giving rise to pleasurable and other experiences is possible not without the Fundamental Principle that is Pure Consciousness.  Without the blessing of Consciousness there can be no interaction of the knower-knowing-known triad.  In other words it is this Consciousness that pervades the triad in and out.

In fact it is this Consciousness that appears as the world of objects, experiencers and experiences.  The world is created only for some or the other sentient being to experience it.  The goal of vedAntic sAdhana is to realize this Principle, the Consciousness, as one’s true Self.  And it is this knowledge that results in the cessation of the beginningless saMsAra.  This is what is termed ‘liberation.’   Since man’s attention is always captured by the external world, the endeavour of the upaniShad is to enable man to turn away from the external world of objects and rest in the realization of one’s true Self.  There is really no turning towards oneself for one is always verily this Self, the Pure Consciousness.

Who indeed is the Knower of these experiences?  This is the tricky question that the upaniShad answers, through Shankaracharya’s brilliant commentary.  Shankara observes: All of us experience that we, the body-mind apparatus that we think we are, are the ones that know the external world.  None thinks that an entity other than this body-mind combine is the knower.

Shankara, in the commentary, raises an important topic here. Next part will be very engrossing!


To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari