Namaskaar. Continuing Part 24 of Kathopanishat commentary by Shri V. Subrahmanian courtesy Advaita Academy


[mantra 2.1.3 continued]

But then, Shankara continues, is it not that even this body-mind complex is in no way different from the observed world of objects? Indeed the body and the mind are observable even as the outside world is. If the body-mind complex is admitted to be the knower of the external world of objects, there is nothing to prevent the external objects from knowing each other. But such is not the case as we know very well. The world of objects and the body-mind are all products of the same matter, prakRRti. The entire world of objects and the body-mind is an observable object to the observer the Self.

Thus, there is an entity that is different from the entire world of objects as well as the body-mind complex and is responsible for the entire gamut of knowledge-experience that we all get. And that entity is the Atman, the Self, brahman. This entity is Pure Consciousness. Just as in the case of a red-hot iron the cause of the redness and heat is the fire which is distinct from the iron, the Consciousness that enlivens the entire body-mind complex and illumines the world of objects, is distinct from them.

Indeed there is nothing in the world that is not ‘knowable’ by the Self. By the term ‘knowable’ what is meant is: illuminable. In other words, as we have seen earlier, unless the objects of the world come within the range of the Self there can be no knowing of those objects. It is the light of Consciousness that pervades everything in the creation and only when there is the knowing activity of the sense organ, impelled by the mind/intellect, ‘going out’ to the sense object and pervades it does the knowledge of that object arise. In the absence of this fundamental Light, the Self, there can be no knowing activity. Just as it is only when the objects are illumined by the Sun or moon or a lamp (any luminous body) that one can use his organ of eye and apprehend an object. Here it is the Atman-light that pervades the entire creation that enables this knowing activity.  The upaniShad teaches here that that Self that knows everything in the creation, rather there is nothing in the creation that is not knowable by the Self, is the One that is to be realized by us as our own Self in order to end the cycle of saMsAra. It is this Self that Nachiketa had sought to know. It is this Self that Yama had said ‘even the Gods do not get to know’ and that which is beyond dharma, etc.

Since the Atman is extremely subtle and therefore its realization is very difficult to achieve, the upaniShad never tires to teach the nature of the Self by repeating the instruction, though in varying methods:

Mantra 2.1.4:

स्वप्नान्तं जागरितान्तं चोभौ येनानुपश्यति।
महान्तं विभुमात्मानं मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ॥ ४ ॥

स्वप्नान्तं within dream जागरितान्तं within waking च and उभौ both येन by which अनुपश्यति one perceives महान्तं that Great विभुम् all-pervading आत्मानं Self मत्वा knowing which धीरः the wise one न does not शोचति grieve.

That by which one perceives both what is within dreams and what is within the waking state – having known that great, all-pervading self, the wise one does not grieve.

By this mantra the teacher Yama brings almost the entire gamut of human experience into the picture. First, all that is experienced in the dream and then the contents of the waking experience are all shown to be witnessed by the Self. In fact, it is due to the illumining by the Self that these experiences come to be had by the jIva through the mind-senses-body complex. By knowing this illumining Self to be one’s true Self the wise one goes out of the cycle of saMsAra and no longer grieves.

The key point made by the Teacher is that one discriminates between the identification with the body-mind complex and the illumining Self, the Witness, and realizes his true identity with the illumining Self and dissociates from the identification with the body-mind complex which indeed is the not-Self.

Mantra 2.1.5:

य इमं मध्वदं वेदात्मानं जीवमन्तिकात् ।
ईशानं भूतभव्यस्य न ततो विजुगुप्सते । एतद्वै तत् ॥ ५ ॥

य He who इमं this मध्वदं experiencer of karma-fruit वेद knows आत्मानं जीवम् the individual soul अन्तिकात् as closely located ईशानं the Lord भूतभव्यस्य of the past and future न never ततो therefore विजुगुप्सते seeks to protect himself एतत् this वै indeed तत् is That.

He who knows the individual soul, the experiencer of the fruits of action, as Atman, always near and the Lord of the past and the future, will not conceal himself from others. This, verily, is That.

Here the individual, the jIva, is specifically identified as the experiencer of the fruits of (past and present) actions. The mantra shows that the Cosmic Entity, Ishwara, as the one that is available intimately to the jIva. The mention of Ishwara is with a view to emphasize that the Witness, the Lord, of the past, present and future is not really different from the jIva that is the experiencer.

In fact this idea follows from the earlier mantra number 3 where it was taught that all the experiences of the jIva happen due to the one Consciousness Principle that underlies them. Naturally, the jIva cannot be someone different from that intimate power, the Consciousness Principle that is so vital to the experiences of the jIva.

In other words, if it is maintained that the Power is indeed different from the jIva, it would result in the jIva being reduced to a mere insentient entity, a body-mind complex. The very purpose of the upaniShad is to relieve the aspirant from the erroneous thinking that he is a mere body-mind apparatus. It is such a thinking that keeps the jIva in saMsAra. So, this mantra points out that the jIva is in truth not the experiencer but the One that empowers all experiences.

Upon realizing oneself to be the eternal Consciousness Principle, the jIva no longer finds himself compelled to protect himself. This is because, once he knows that he is not the body-mind apparatus he is assured that there is not going to be any fear from any quarter that could put an end to him. Now that the realization of his native Eternal being is had, there is no longer the fear of perishing. The greatest fear is that of death. And that is completely out of the question as the Eternal Pure Consciousness that is One only without a second of any kind cannot have anything other than itself that can cause death. It is such a Self that the upaniShad  teaches as the one to be realized and sought to be known by Nachiketa.

The innermost Self that was taught as the Lord is indeed the self of the entire creation. This is being specified here:

Mantra 2.1.6:

यः पूर्वं तपसो जातमद्भ्यः पूर्वमजायत ।
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तं यो भूतेभिर्व्यपश्यत । एतद्वै तत् ॥
६ ॥

यः He who पूर्वं was before तपसो of austerity जातम् born अद्भ्यः पूर्वम् prior to the creation of waters अजायत was born गुहां cave of the heart प्रविश्य having entered तिष्ठन्तं and dwelling यः he भूतेभिः along with the elements व्यपश्यत knows/realizes एतत् this वै indeed तत् is That.

He verily knows brahman who knows the First-born, the offspring of austerity, created prior to the waters and dwelling, with the elements, in the cave of the heart. This, verily, is That.

The Eternal nature of the Self is being taught here with a kind of logic: If It has to be Eternal, It has to have been there even before the origination of creation. An entity that is within creation can never be held to be eternal; it only perishes over time. The Self, Atman, in its form of the Controller of creation by being the indwelling self of all creation, is shown in this mantra as the hiraNyagarbha, the one that is the first-born of the knowledge-austerity of brahman.

This hiraNyagarbha appears even prior to the creation of the basic elements like water. And it is this hiraNyagarbha that creates all the bodies including that of the celestials and dwells in the heart of all beings, as the entity with identification (abhimAna) with the subtle bodies of the beings. And what does this hiraNyagarbha do? He is the one that experiences all that comes within the range of the sense organs of the individual beings.

The mantra indicates that the aspirant who knows this hiraNyagarbha is actually knowing the Absolute brahman that is the topic of discussion in these mantras.
This topic is continued:

Mantra 2.1.7:

या प्राणेन संभवत्यदितिर्देवतामयी |
गुहां प्रविश्य तिष्ठन्तीं या भूतेभिर्व्यजायत
|| एतद्वै तत् ॥ ७ ॥

या That प्राणेन as prANa संभवति born अदितिः aditi देवतामयी soul of all deities गुहां intellect cave प्रविश्य having entered तिष्ठन्तीं abides there या who भूतेभिः with elements व्यजायत was created. एतत् this वै indeed तत् is That.

He verily knows brahman who knows aditi, the soul of all deities, who was born in the form of prANa, who was created with the elements and who, entering into the heart, abides therein. This, verily, is That.


To be continued ….
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari