Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chandogya Upanishad

The ancient Rishis suggested that the universe is founded on two principles. One is rita, law, order or regularity. Without it, no scientific or moral discovery would be possible, and it would also not be possible to learn from our experiences.

The other is sacrifice or yajna. The Rishis thought that the universe runs on renunciation, and that the most significant human action is the sacrifice of personal gain for the sake of something higher and holier.

And if rita is the moral law, yajna is the human response to live according to that law, taking nothing from life for the self, but always seeking to give up the self for life and use things so much as if only borrowing from life. This awareness leads to great peace. Describing this self and the way to reach it forms a major part of the Chandogya (meaning "the uprising of the sacred song") Upanishad. The major stories that one should read from this Upanishad are:

1) The story of Satyakama: who is a child born out of wedlock but is not ashamed of revealing that. Satyakama is given 400 cows to take care of by Rishi Haridrumata Gautama and swears to not return until they are 1000. Once they reach a 1000, Satyakama goes back to his Rishi and on his way back is taught the four feet of the Brahman by animals, birds and fire.

2)The story of Shvetaketu: who is Uddalaka's son, and is sent out to a teacher for schooling. At the end of the schooling, while Shvetaketu was well versed in the Vedas, but was found to be lacking in the knowledge of the Self. His father finishes this part of Shvetaketu's schooling.

3) Narada's education: Narada approaches the rishi Sanatkumara and tells him that inspite of knowing the four Vedas - Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva and the epics, grammar, rituals, mathematics, astronomy, logic, economics, physics, psychology, the fine arts and snake charming, he was still not satisfied as he could not understand the Self and was thus in sorrow. Narada says that as per several spiritual teachers, to overcome sorrow, one needs to understand the Self and requests the rishi to teach him about it. The latter then proceeds to fulfill Narada's wish.

4) The City of Brahman: This story has a very vivid imagery of the city of Brahman, within which there is a lotus of the heart and inside of which there is a space, wherein there lies the fulfillment of desires. The writer directs us to long for and realize this space, which is said to contain the infinite space beyond us. This city of Brahman is impregnable, by old age and is ever fresh, since with old age it is only the body that dies and not the Self. One who finds this city and thus the Self is free of all physical and mental ailments. But only a person who is pure and self controlled can reach the city, and in it, they live a life of perfect freedom.

Other gems in the Upanishad include the Prajapati teaching Indra and Virochana, and the Wisdom of Shandilya. I will quote the first part of the Upanishad that explains the significance of the word OM.


Chapter 1: The Word.

1) Let us meditate on OM the imperishable, the beginning of prayer.

2) For as the earth comes from the waters, plants from earth, and man from plants, so man is speech, and speech is OM. Of all speech the essence is the Rig Veda; but Sama is the essence of Rig, and of Sama the essence is OM, the Udgitha.

3) This is the essence of essences, the highest, the eighth rung, the venerated above all that human beings hold holy. OM is the Self of all.

4) What is rig, what is sama, at the heart of prayer?

5) As rig is speech, so sama is song, and the imperishable OM is the Udgitha. Speech and breath, Sama and Rig, are couples,

6) and in the imperishable OM they come together to fulfill each other's desire.

7) For those who, knowing this, meditate on the imperishable OM, all desires are fulfilled.

8) With the word OM we say, "I agree," and fulfill desires.

9) With OM we recite, we give direction, we sing aloud the honor of that Word, the key to the three kinds of knowledge.

10) Side by side, those who know the Self and those who know it not do the same thing; but it is not the same: the act done with knowledge, with inner awareness and faith, grows in power. That, in a word, tells the significance of OM, the indivisible.