Monday, September 5, 2016


THE KATHA UPANISHAD Today, I’d like to take up the Katha Upanishad for study. As you know, the Upanishads are independently written treatises or parables, which were penned by various unnamed sages, widely scattered in time. The Katha Upanishad, like all the others, is undated; however, scholars guess its date of origin to be somewhere around the first few centuries before the Christian Era, though we don’t have any idea who might have written it. Nonetheless, it has stood the test of time due to the fact that its author was clearly a knower of the Self, a seer of extraordinary depth and clarity. The Upanishad begins as a tale about a young boy named Nachiketas. It seems that Nachiketas’ father, in his desire to attain heaven, performed a large scale ritual sacrifice (yajna) in which he ostensibly offered the most highly valued of his possessions, including a few head of cattle. Nachiketas, observing that the cattle offered were actually quite old and thin, wondered if his father might attain to a nether world of sorrow, rather than heaven, with such a poor sacrifice; and so he said to his father, “Why don’t you offer me as well!” His father ignored this suggestion, and so Nachiketas repeated it three times during the course of the ritual offering. His father, finally angered by what he took to be his son’s sarcasm, retorted, “Alright, I’ll offer you to Yama, the king of death!” And so, as the story goes, the guileless Nachiketas, in obedience to his father’s word, willingly descended into the realm of Yama, the god of death. However, when Nachiketas arrived, Yama was not at home, but was out performing some duty. And so Nachiketas had to remain there, awaiting Yama’s return, for three nights, without food or water. When, at last, Yama did return to receive Nachiketas, he said to the boy, apologetically, “You came as my guest, and you were given no hospitality for three nights; and so, in order to make amends, I will grant you three boons.” Nachiketas accepted this offer, and said, “O Yama, for my first boon, let my father’s anger be appeased; and may he happily welcome me back when I return to him.” This was, of course, a very clever first request, as it contained within it the assurance that he would return home from this place. And when Yama granted him this boon, Nachiketas said, “For my second boon, please explain to me the meaning of the yajna, the ritual of offering to the flames of the sacrificial fire, by which one is said to attain heaven.” And so, Yama explained to him how to prepare the fire, what mantras to recite over it, and so forth. And then he said, “Now choose your third boon.” Nachiketas said, “When a man dies, some say he continues to exist; others say he ceases to exist. Please teach me the truth of this matter.” And Yama immediately protested, saying, “Even the gods of old had questions about this. Ask me for another boon.” But Nachiketas stood his ground; “There is no other boon I wish but to understand this,” he said. And again Yama shook his head, saying, “I’ll give you sons and grandsons who shall live for a hundred years! I can give you huge expanses of land, and you may live for as long as you like! Choose whatever you wish. I’ll provide you with beautiful dancing girls with musical instruments to entertain you; but please don’t ask me for the secrets of death!” But Nachiketas was persistent; “All those pleasures,,” he said, “will only pass away; and while they exist, they only weaken a man’s character and strength. Indeed, life is a very fleeting thing! Keep your horses and dancing girls. Can a man enjoy wealth when he has you in sight? How can we enjoy life while you stand in the background, waiting for the end to come? I repeat my request for the knowledge of life and death. This is the only boon I wish of you.” So, Yama had no choice but to honor his word. He sat down with Nachiketas, and began explaining to him: “There is the path of joy, and there is the path of pleasure,” he said. “Both attract the soul. One who follows the path of joy comes to good; the follower of pleasure does not reach the ultimate destination. These two paths lie before everyone. The wise choose the path of joy; the fools choose the path of pleasure. “You, O Nachiketas,” Yama continued, “have pondered on pleasures, and you have rejected them. You have not accepted that chain of possessions wherewith men bind themselves and beneath which they sink and fall. There is the path of wisdom, and the path of ignorance. They are far apart, and lead to different ends. You, O Nachiketas, are a follower of the path of wisdom; many pleasures tempt you not.” Comment: This is the truth; the great majority of humans on this planet are as yet unevolved, and still addicted to pleasures of the senses. They strive, from the time of their adolescence, to acquire material goods, and throughout their lives they give no thought to penetrating beneath the appearances to discern the reality of this life. The “good life,” they feel, has been acquired only if it is filled with wealth and power. And then they grow old, fall into senility, and die, miserable and confused. “Abiding in the midst of ignorance,” Yama continued, “and thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like the blind led by the blind. What lies beyond life shines not to those who are childish, or careless, or deluded by wealth. “This is the only world; there is no other,” they say. Thus they go from death to death.” Comment: “From death to death” is Yama’s way of saying that they transmigrate as souls, taking on new bodies to enjoy the pleasures of life; then, again, they die, and continue thusly, learning slowly through experience that pleasure only alternates with pain on this wheel of birth and death. Eventually, they learn to seek, through learning and introspection, the knowledge of the eternal Self, which is the salvation from birth and death. “Not many hear of Him (who is beyond life and death); and, of those who do hear, not many reach Him. He cannot be reached by much thinking. The way to Him is through a teacher who has seen Him.” Comment: There are many teachers of the spiritual life; but, unless they have, themselves, become enlightened; that is, seen the Truth in themselves, they are more apt to mislead their students than lead them to experience the eternal Self. Those who teach, without having attained that “vision” for themselves, are often preferred by superficial students; for they are apt to reduce the spiritual life to a more accessible level, offering, not the realization of God, but merely a healthy lifestyle, and membership in a “spiritual community.” This is not enlightenment, but ignorance. It is the blind led by the blind. “This sacred knowledge,” said Yama, “is not attained by reasoning; but it can be given by a true teacher. As your purpose is steady, you have found your teacher. May I find another pupil like you! “Before your eyes has been spread, Nachiketas, the fulfillment of all desire, the dominion of the world, the reward of all ritual, the shore where there is no fear, the greatness of fame and boundless lands. With strength and wisdom you have renounced them all. “When the wise [person] rests his mind in contemplation on our God beyond time, who invisibly dwells in the mystery of things and in the heart of man, then he rises above pleasures and sorrows. “When a man has heard and has understood, and, finding the Essence, reaches the Inmost, then he finds joy in the Source of joy. Nachiketas, you are a vessel open to the experience of your Self, of God.” Then Nachiketas questioned Yama, his teacher: “Tell me, please, O Yama, what is seen beyond the opposites of good and evil, action and inaction, beyond past and future.” And Yama, instructing his new pupil, said, “The Self is never born and never dies. Nothing existed before Him, and He remains One forever. He was never born; He is eternal. He is beyond all times gone by, and all times to come; He does not die when the body dies. If the slayer thinks that he kills, and if the slain thinks that he dies, neither knows the truth. The Eternal in man cannot kill; the Eternal in man cannot die.” Comment: The author of the Bhagavad Gita was apparently an admirer of the Katha Upanishad, for he used several of the passages from this Upanishad, almost verbatim, to place in the mouth of Krishna, such as this one, above. Or, it may be that the author of this Upanishad was quoting the Bhagavad Gita. In either case, however, it is important to note that there is no intention of implying, as some foolish people suggest, that the taking of life is justified or condoned by these sacred passages. Yama continues: “Concealed in the heart of all beings is the Self—smaller than the smallest atom, greater than all the vast spaces. The man who surrenders his human will leaves sorrows behind, and beholds the glory of the Self, by the grace of God.” Comment: The Self exists everywhere: in the sub- microscopic world of the atom and beyond the far-flung galaxies. He is realized as the sole reality of one’s being. When the puny individual ego is surrendered to that higher Self, it is the merciful grace of God, which leads one to know the Truth. “At peace, He moves everywhere; unseeing, He sees everything. Who else but my Self can know that God of joy and sorrow? When the wise realize the omnipresent Spirit, who rests invisible in the visible, and is permanent within the impermanent, then they go beyond sorrow.” Comment: The paradox of an unmoving God who is manifest in all that moves is one which can never really be unraveled until the Truth is revealed within. He, in His transcendence, experiences nothing of the world; yet, He is the enjoyer and experiencer of all the senses of all creatures. Only the Self can experience the Self; and when It is revealed, the illusion of an individual ego is dispelled. Then, only the One is. “Not through much learning is the Self reached, and not through the intellect and the study of the sacred literature. It is reached by the chosen of Him—because they choose Him. To His chosen, the Self reveals His glory.” Comment: “Many are called,” said Jesus, “but few are chosen.” Here again it is emphasized that no amount of learning or intellectual acumen can open to man the “vision” of God. It is He who grants this vision. It is a paradox: God inspires the longing; God fulfills the longing; God is the giver of the vision, the receiver of the vision, and the vision as well. “Not even through deep knowledge can the Self be reached, unless evil ways are abandoned, and there is rest in the senses, concentration in the mind, and peace in one’s heart.” Comment: These, while they seem to be conditions required for the attaining of grace, are, in fact, the results of grace. All is His doing. “Who knows, truly, where He is? The majesty of His power carries everyone away at the time of death: priests and warriors, the holy and the unholy. Death, itself, is carried away ultimately.” Comment: Death, itself, is carried away when the soul realizes its oneness with God; then it is neither born nor does it die. Death is no more. Yama continues to instruct Nachiketas, saying: “In the secret place of the heart, there are two beings who drink the wine of life: those who know Brahman ... call them ‘light’ and ‘darkness.’” Comment: This is similar to the parable of the two birds in the Mundaka and Svetasvatara Upanishads, one of whom represents the individualized soul who eats the fruits of life, while the other, the Self, looks on in silence, as the eternal Witness. These two aspects of Reality, the transcendent Mind and Its power of creative manifestation, are named in nearly every mystical treatise. They have been called “Shiva and Shakti,” “Brahman and Maya,” “Theos and Logos,” “Purusha and Prakrti,” and so on. In the New Testament book of John, they are referred to as the “Light” and the “darkness”; this is a universal appellation for these two, found in nearly every mystical tradition. The Light, of course, is the eternal Godhead (the Self); the darkness is the universal appearance of phenomena, the world of form, which, though transient and changing, is so often mistakenly thought to be permanent and steadfast. “Know the Self,” says Yama, “to be the Lord of the chariot; and the body to be the chariot itself. Understand the faculty of reason to be the charioteer; and the mind to be the reins. “The horses, they say, are the senses; and the path ahead of them contains many objects of the senses. When the soul identifies with the mind and the senses, he is called, ‘one who has joys and sorrows.’” Comment: The transmigrating soul identifies with the body, mind, and senses, and is thus carried away by the impulse toward enjoyment of the sense-objects. At the heart of every soul is the Self, the one eternal Existence- Consciousness-Bliss. But, through ignorance of its real nature, it races about, identifying with the active mind and senses. “He who has no correct understanding, and whose mind is never steady, is not the ruler of his life; he is like a bad driver with wild horses. But he who has right understanding, and whose mind is ever steady, is the ruler of his life, like a good driver with well-trained horses. “He who has no correct understanding, who is careless and never pure, does not reach the end of the journey [of life]; but wanders on from death to death. But he who has right understanding, is careful and ever-pure, reaches the end of the journey [of life], from which he never returns. “The man whose chariot is driven by reason, who watches and holds the reins of his mind firmly, reaches the ultimate end of the journey, the supreme and everlasting Spirit.” Meditation What, Lord, is the most I can hope for in this life? Is it not Thee, Lord, who art my greatest hope? To find Thy love and Thy serenity within me when trouble comes to me—is this not my greatest hope and treasure? To feel Thy presence when all others abandon me, to receive Thy consolation when nothing on earth consoles me, to breathe freely in eternal Joy when this earthly breath fails me—is this not my greatest hope, my highest good? To be so firmly wed to Thee that I am never without the happy thought of Thee; to be so established in awareness of Thee that I see nothing before me that is not resplendent with Thy glory; to be so surrendered to Thy Will that I do not speak or act, but rather Thou dost speak and act through me—is this not the most I can wish for in this life, O Lord? Bring me, Lord, to this, my desire: that I may remember Thee with my every thought, see Thee in every form, and serve Thee with every word and deed that comes from me. For Thou art my Truth, my Joy, my very Self; and I have no other goal, and no other hope, but Thee and Thee alone. ∞ ∞ ∞ When we left off with the Katha Upanishad, Yama, the god of death, was explaining to Nachiketas, his pupil, that like the master of a chariot, the Self is the Master of the body. The mind he likened to the reins, held in the hands of the intellect, who is the charioteer. The horses, which are steered by means of the reins, are the senses; and their objects are the pathways before them. As we left off, Yama was saying to Nachiketas that, “The man whose chariot is driven by reason, who watches and holds the reins of his mind firmly, reaches the ultimate end of the journey, the supreme and everlasting Spirit.” Once again, Yama attempts to explain to Nachiketas the relationship of the Self to Nature, to the soul and to the intellect and the wayward mind: “Beyond the objects [of sense] are the senses which perceive them; and beyond the senses is the mind. Beyond the mind is the faculty of intellect, and beyond the intellect is the soul (jiva) of man. Beyond the soul is the manifestory power of God (Nature, or Prakrti); and beyond Nature is the supreme Being (Purusha). Nothing is beyond Purusha. He is the final end.” Comment: It may be possible to understand this better by reversing the order and seeing how each manifests from the other: The Self, or Purusha, is synonymous with Brahman, the absolute Godhead. Emanating from It, like the power of thought, is the manifestory power of God. This “power” is the creative Energy, which manifests as the phenomenal universe of form—on both the subtle and the gross levels. From God’s manifestory power, souls are formed, each one being God in essence, but unaware of it, due to the veiling power inherent in manifestation, which gives to each one a unique perspective. The pure Consciousness, which is the Self, is reflected in the soul as intellect, the reasoning power, and subservient to this reasoning power is the active effusion of thought and image, which is the mind. The mind, in turn, is the “ruler,” so to speak, of the senses; their input is filtered through the mind and there analyzed. And, of course, the senses could not function if there were no objects of perception in the phenomenal world to reflect. Yama goes on to say: “The light of the Self is invisible, concealed in all beings. It is seen by the seers of the subtle, when their vision is keen and clear.” Comment: The Self is the original Light by which all subtle and gross forms, which emanate from It, are illumined. As the senses and their objects are subsequent to the Self, that original Light cannot be perceived by the senses. However, when the separative identity, the false ego, is made subservient to the Self, the Light of Consciousness rises to the surface, as it were, and shines through as Divine Love, or Joy. In a moment of absolute clarity, the Self becomes aware of Itself, and all ignorance regarding Its true Identity is dispelled. “Awake, arise!” says Yama; “Strive for the Highest and be in the light! Sages say the path is narrow and difficult to tread; narrow as a razor’s edge.” Comment: This was the admonition of Jesus also: “Strait is the way and narrow the path that leads unto the Light.” What both of these Self-realized sages meant to impart with this caveat was the understanding that what is required to attain “the Highest,” “the kingdom of God,” is a single-minded dedication to the goal, comparable to that of a tight-rope walker whose concentration is fixed on the rope before him. Those who follow the soft-pedaled approach of those teachers who have never made their way to the Highest will not find such methodology to their taste; however, those who have reached that goal are unanimous in the prescription of diligent one-pointedness of mind. “The Self,” says Yama, “is beyond sound and form, beyond touch, taste, or smell. It is eternal, unchangeable, and without beginning or end; indeed, It is beyond reasoning. When consciousness of the Self manifests within, a man becomes free from the jaws of death.” Comment: The realization of the Self, which Yama is teaching to Nachiketas, is the means to be free of the power of Yama himself. Little wonder that Yama was reluctant to teach this secret to Nachiketas. Again, Yama speaks to his charge of the difference between the outer focus of attention, which is intent on the objects of sense, and the inner focus of attention, which is intent on God within: “The Creator made the senses outward-going; they go to the world of matter outside, not to the Spirit within. But, it happened that a sage who sought the eternal Truth looked within himself and found his own eternal Soul. “The foolish people of the world run after outward pleasures, and fall into the snares of all-embracing death. But the wise, who seek the Eternal, do not search for It in things that pass away. “This, by which we perceive colors and sounds, perfumes and kisses of love, by which alone we attain knowledge, by which we can be conscious of anything: this, truly, is that Self.” Comment: Yama wishes to make clear that the substratum of consciousness which is our very Self, that same consciousness by which we think and know and experience the pleasures of the senses, is the one Consciousness of the universe. There is no other. Though that consciousness is limited at present by our false identification with such modifications as the intellect, the mind, the body, etc., still, the Self is always the Self; and that is our true Identity. “When the wise man knows that it is through the great and omnipresent Spirit in us that we are conscious, both in waking and in dreaming, then he goes beyond sorrow. “When he knows the Self, the inner Life, who enjoys like a bee the sweetness of the flowers of the senses, the Lord of what was and of what will be, then he goes beyond fear. This, truly, is that Self.” Comment: “This” means this very self, which is seated behind the eyes that are reading these words; this Self, which is the witness of the activity of the mind and the senses, is the one and only Self. It does not come and go; It is always the Self of you and of everyone. “There is a Spirit who is awake in our sleep, and creates the wonder of dreams. He is Brahman, the Spirit of Light, who is rightly called “The Immortal.” All the worlds rest on that Spirit, and beyond Him no one can go. This, truly, is that Self. “As fire, though one, takes new forms in all things that burn, the Spirit, though one, takes new forms in all things that live. He is within all and is also outside.” Comment: If just for a moment one could become aware, while looking at other people, that here, before one’s eyes, is the Divine Spirit, manifesting in all these various forms—then, in that moment, one’s view of life and the world would be changed forever. And because, ultimately, the Divine Spirit is one’s own Self, all this world of diversity and multiplicity is nothing else but one’s Self. “As the wind, through one, takes new forms in whatever it enters, the Spirit, though one, takes new forms in all things that live. He is within all and is also outside. “As the Sun, that beholds all the world, is untouched by earthly impurities, so the Spirit, that is in all things, is untouched by external sufferings.” Comment: The assertion that God does not suffer seems an obvious and unnecessary statement. But it is not obvious to everyone that their real Self never suffers. If we can realize that there is no Self but God, the eternal Self, then we can see also that it is only Nature, it is only the constituted appearances, which suffer disintegration and death. The Self is ever-free of Nature, while projecting it on Its own screen. “There is one Ruler, the Spirit that is in all things, who transforms His Unity into [the appearance of] multiplicity. Only the wise who see Him in their souls attain the Joy eternal. “He is the Eternal among things that pass away, the pure Consciousness of all conscious beings, the One who fulfills the prayers of many. Only the wise who see Him in their souls attain the Peace eternal.” Now, Yama draws all his thoughts together and reiterates, by way of summary, all that he had said before, in order to inspire Nachiketas to aspire toward the realization of the Self: “The whole universe,” says Yama, “comes from the Lord, and His Life burns [like a conflagration of Energy] throughout the whole universe. In the power of thunder one senses His majesty; but those who have known Him have found immortality. “If one sees Him in this life before the body passes away, one is free from bondage; but if not, one is born and dies again in new worlds and new creations. “When the wise man knows that the senses do not belong to the Spirit, but that their waking and sleeping belongs to Nature, then he grieves no more.” Comment: In other words, it is not the Self who acts, or enjoys, or senses; but, rather, it is the manifestory power of God, or Nature, who is acting, enjoying and sensing within this phenomenal world. The Self is always detached. It is the eternal Witness, the conscious Screen upon which all is projected. And when this is realized, one knows the Self to be ever-free, ever-blissful, without grief. “Beyond the senses is the mind and beyond the mind is the intellect; beyond the intellect is the soul of man, and beyond this is the creative Energy of the universe, the Evolver of all. Beyond even this, is the Purusha (the Self), all-pervading, beyond definitions. When a mortal knows Him, he attains liberation and reaches immortality.” Comment: This is the course of the evolution of awareness: first, we identify with the senses as children; then we discover the mind, then the intellect; and, if we study and analyze Nature, we come to realize that all forms are nothing but manifestations of the one creative Energy. We sense our oneness with this creative Energy, this one effusive Life, and we feel that we are an integral part of one vast Nature. Only the contemplative soul passes beyond even Nature and knows the eternal Mind from which that creative Energy is projected, as a vast dream-image might be projected from the mind of man. This eternal Mind, the Absolute, the Godhead, is realized within the mind of man as the substratum of Consciousness that manifests as all conscious beings. It is known, not as “He,” but as “I.” “His form is not in the field of vision; no one sees Him with mortal eyes. He is seen by a pure heart, and by a mind and thoughts that are pure. Those who know Him attain life immortal. “When the five senses and the mind are still, and the intellect itself rests in silence, then begins the path supreme. This calm steadiness of the senses is called ‘Yoga.’ Then, one should become watchful, because Yoga comes and goes. “...When all desires that cling to the heart are surrendered, then a mortal becomes immortal, and even in this world he is one with Brahman.” Comment: Even while living in this world of manifold appearance, one who has seen the Truth of existence will be free, will know that he is the Immortal. And, even should he forget, he remains ever-free, ever one with Brahman. “When all the ties that bind the heart are untied, then a mortal becomes immortal. This is the sacred teaching.” Comment: When all personal, separative desires are dispelled in the satisfaction of the Self, then the heart is surrendered to God’s will, and that heart becomes an instrument of God’s Love, of God’s Joy. The separative soul no longer has any substance or reality; and only the immortal Self lives and acts on earth so long as the body lives. Thus comes to an end Yama’s sacred teachings; and with this, the Katha Upanishad also ends: “Nachiketas assimilated this supreme wisdom taught by Yama, the god of the afterlife, and he learned the art of inner union, or Yoga. Then he reached Brahman, the supreme Self, and became immortal and pure. And so, truly, will anyone else who knows the Atman, the true, supreme Self.” Meditation What may I give Thee, O my Lord, who hast given to me so greatly of Thyself? What, indeed, do I have to give that is not already Thine? And who is this upstart “I” who speaks of serving “Thee,” whom everyone knows art both the server and the served? It is this very sense of “I,” this false ego, that I offer, Father, as my gift to Thee. For there is nothing that is not Thine own: this body, mind, and intellect, all belong to Thee and serve Thy purposes in reflecting Thy wisdom and Thy truth. It is only this mistaken sense of “I,” this “me and mine,” that stands before the clarity of Thy inherent Light and the sweetness of Thy perfect Peace. Then let this “I” be always prostrate at Thy feet in adoration, silenced in surrender, awed and voiceless in anticipation of Thy touch. And let these eyes turn ever upward unto Thee, though blinded by Thy brilliant Light, until, transparent as a polished pane of glass, this soul becomes the pure conduit of Thy Truth, Thy Will, Thy Love, who art the only “I” that truly lives. ∞ ∞ ∞

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