Swami Paramananda Saraswati
You may copy
this file in its entirety,
without alteration of the text,
and make a copy on a computer printer for your own personal use,
but obtain permission from
Swami Paramananda <email@example.com>
before any other use.
Note on Typography
The bulk of the Vedas, the most ancient of the Hindu scriptures, tells of rituals whose greatest object is to attain rebirth in Heaven. Interspersed within the Vedas are the Upanisads, the portions which delve into the ultimate questions of reality and existence, and which speak of Brahman, the Supreme Being. The Upanisads are the cream of the Vedas. While the worth of the rituals may wane with passage of time and change of culture, the wisdom of the Upanisads is eternal.
In English, a single word "God" is used for most any superhuman entity worthy of worship, regardless of Its nature. In the Hindu cosmology there are a number of distinct and vastly different Entities all of Whom would be referred to in English by "God". First, is Brahman, the Absolute, Unchangeable, Eternal Being, Who underlies everything else. Brahman may be looked upon either as without attributes or as with attributes. Without attributes, Brahman is the formless, indescribable, incognizable, immutable, Absolute Entity. With attributes, Brahman is all that is, was and ever will be, plus whatever may lie beyond time itself. However, Brahman forever is Brahman; whether It's viewed as with attributes or without attributes depends entirely upon the viewer, and doesn't imply any change or differentiation within It, any more than looking at an object in a curved mirror induces a change in the object itself.
The second concept of God is Isvara, literally Ruler, the Creator, the Protector, and the Destroyer of the universe. Sometimes Isvara is taken as a single Being performing all three functions; sometimes these three functions are separately personified as Brahma, the Creator, Visnu the Protector, and Siva, the Destroyer. Incarnations of these three, like Rama and Krsna, the popular incarnations of Visnu, are also referred to as Gods. Under the rule of Isvara, the interminable succession of creations and dissolutions of the universe follows its course. Although Isvara may rule the universe, Brahman is the universe and more.
In the Hindu cosmos, there are three realms. The higher realm, or realm of Heaven, is the abode of the devas, or equivalently, the suras, literally the shining beings. The lives of the devas are lives of pleasure. Each of the three realms has many planes of existence, but life even at the lowest level of Heaven is said to be a hundred times as pleasurable as the most pleasant of human lives. Furthermore, life on the next higher level is a hundred times as pleasurable as that, and so on. The middle realm is the world of men and the lower realm, or the realm of Hell, is inhabited by the asuras, dark, demoniac beings. The individual soul takes birth after birth in one or another of these realms according to its inherent tendencies, which are conditioned by its acts in previous lifetimes. Good acts tend to bring about birth in a higher realm and evil acts, in a lower. The highest of the devas are rewarded with control of a natural function; wind, fire or even death. They hold their exalted positions for an entire cycle of creation but then, in the next cycle, must take a different birth. "Deva" also is translated as "God", even though the devas are subject to rebirth and are thus more akin to men than to Brahman.
The succession of birth after birth in one realm or another may appear to be an interminable trap for the soul. It may seem that the best that can be done is to perform the prescribed rituals to obtain the highest birth possible for the next time around. The Upanisads tell of the means to break this cycle. They declare that the individual soul and Brahman, the Supreme Being, are one and the same, that the association of the soul with a body is only apparent, brought about by desire, and that once the identity of the soul with Brahman is realized, the succession of births is ended and, as a matter of fact, never really was.
Traditionally, there were said to be 108 Upanisads, but unfortunately, long portions of the ancient Vedas have been lost, along with the Upanisads within them. To further confuse matters, numerous texts have appeared which have been claimed to be Upanisads from some missing portion of the Vedas, but are obviously of more recent origin, lack the spirit of the Upanisads and seem to have been composed to support some sectarian interest.
There are several criteria for judging the authenticity of a purported Upanisad. First, Sankaracarya, the great philosopher of the eighth century A.D. who's credited with revitalizing Hinduism in India after the decline of Buddhism, wrote commentaries on ten of the Upanisads. These are known as the Principal Upanisads and, most likely, are authentic. Together, they form a coherent body of thought; my own study of the Upanisads has been largely confined to them. Second, an Upanisad is more likely to be genuine if Sankaracarya made reference to it in his writings even though he didn't write a commentary on it. Finally, an Upanisad may be genuine if it's found in one of the remaining portions of the Vedas and is consistent in spirit with the Principal Upanisads. However, not even all of the Principal Upanisads are found in what remains of the Vedas.
The philosophy of the Upanisads is epitomized by the verse
Brahma satyam jaganmithya
Jivo Brahmaiva napara
(Brahman = the Supreme Being; satyam = true, real; jagat = the universe; mithya = false, deceptive; Jivo = the individual soul; Brahman; [Footnote 1] eva = truly; na = not; apara = lower. [Footnote 2] )
Brahman is the reality; the universe is deceptive.
The individual soul is truly none less than Brahman.
The Sanskrit terms, customarily translated as "real", have a connotation of permanence that's lost in translation. Brahman is real because of Its permanent, unchanging existence. The universe isn't unreal in the sense of a hallucination. Rather, it's a misperception of Brahman which is subject to change and thus is deceptive. Nevertheless, as long as you mistake yourself for the body, the universe has a certain reality which must be confronted. When the soul sees its true nature as Brahman Itself, the misperception is cleared.
The philosophy of the Upanisads is called Vedanta, a compound of Veda, knowledge and anta, end. Sankaracarya's non-dualistic, Advaita Vedanta interpretation reflects the overwhelming spirit of the Upanisads; Vedanta without qualification generally refers to it. Bits of the Upanisads seem at variance to the Advaita Vedanta interpretation; numerous dualistic interpretations of the Upanisads have been proposed which in some way or another qualify, or even negate the identity of the soul and the Supreme Being. However, these all seem to latch on to a passage here and a passage there, while ignoring the preponderance of the texts. In turn, Sankaracarya may be guilty of trying to force non-dualistic interpretations on seemingly dualistic passages. These may be more naturally explained in other ways. Passages may have been inserted into the texts at later dates. Although some passages seem sorely out of context, this explanation doesn't seem to adequately cover all of the variant passages. Perhaps strict logical consistency wasn't a requirement of the age of the Upanisads; the sages who composed the texts may have sometimes been willing to use analogies and other figures which, although seemingly at odds with their non-dualism, still shed some light on matters. Yet, Sankaracarya's insight into the Upanisads was so penetrating that no serious analysis of the Upanisads, whether in agreement or disagreement with him, can fail to take his commentaries into account.
* * *
The Kathopanisad is unusual among the Upanisads because it contains the teachings of a God, rather than of a human sage. It holds the words about Death spoken by the Lord of Death Himself, and thus is of special relevance to my existence at Dharmanath. Although the Kathopanisad isn't found in what remains of the Vedas, Sankaracarya wrote a commentary upon it; in any case, it deals directly with ultimate questions in the true spirit of the Upanisads.
The Kathopanisad consists of six chapters written in verse. Like many of the Upanisads, it begins with a ritual of its time, and leads from this ritual to the knowledge of Brahman. Naciketa, though still a boy, is the hero of the story. His father, in hope of divine rebirth, performed a ritual at which all of his possessions were to be given away. However, when Naciketa saw the cattle to be distributed to the priests he thought to himself,
"That have drunk their water,
that have eaten their grass,
that have given their milk,
and no longer can calve,
To joyless worlds must go
anyone who makes such gifts." (I,3)
The narrative of the Kathopanisad is sketchy. Perhaps these were the only cattle Naciketa's father had, but the implication seems to be that he was holding something back. Thus Naciketa went to his father and asked, "To whom will you give me?" At first, his father did not respond so he repeated the question a second and then a third time. Finally his father replied, "I give you to Death".
In the Hindu view, the Lord of Death isn't a sinister, diabolical figure, but another God, just doing His job, and as a God He's eligible to receive gifts at such a ritual. In a sense, a son is a possession, but certainly not one to be given away. "I give you to Death", may simply have been an ancient threat used by parents to quiet misbehaving children. However, in the Kathopanisad the expression is taken literally. Naciketa first wondered why his father was giving him to Death, but then pronounced his faith in rebirth:
"Look back at those of old.
Look at those of now.
Like grain, the mortal withers.
Like grain, he's born again." (I,6)
With this faith, Naciketa went forth to the abode of the Lord of Death, but when he arrived, Death wasn't at home. For three nights, he waited at the house of Death without having even one meal. The Kathopanisad expends a verse to tell of the ills that befall anyone who allows a Brahmana to remain at his home without being fed, "His sons, his cattle, the merit acquired through virtuous acts (for future births) and everything is destroyed". Even today in India, outside of urban areas where society has degenerated, a guest is fed and treated with honor. Another Upanisad, the Taittiriyopanisad, states that four personages, mother, father, teacher and guest, should each be taken as God. [Footnote 3] In light of all this, when Death returned, he saluted Naciketa and, for forgiveness, granted him three boons, one for each night passed without food.
For the first boon, Naciketa asked that he may return home to find his father's anger subsided. This Death promised. Next Naciketa said, "Death, you know the fire that leads to Heaven", for Death must have performed some sacred rite, of which fire is the central element, in His previous life in order to have attained His present elevated position, and asked to be taught it as the second boon. The Kathopanisad doesn't describe the rite itself, but merely states that Death told him, "what bricks, how many and how", that is, what kind of brick to use to make the fire pit for the ritual, how many are needed and how the ritual is to be performed. Then Naciketa repeated what was said back to Death. Death was so pleased at this that He threw in an extra little boon; He named this rite after Naciketa. This is a beautiful glimpse of the oral tradition of teaching of that time. Death extolled the benefits of "lighting the Naciketa fire three times", and then asked Naciketa to select his third boon.
Three wishes was a common ingredient of the European fairy tales on which I was raised; the adults about me would sometimes make me offers of three wishes. When I was still quite small, I began to devise ways of stretching my wishes. First, I tried my luck with using ands, but my elders insisted that a wish for an electric train and a glider plane were two separate wishes. Soon, I hatched a better scheme. I decided that my last wish should be for a thousand wishes; when these were about to be exhausted, I would ask for a thousand more, and so on. Shortly I discovered that adults weren't bound by the logic of their offers. Adults are dishonest with children in so many ways that I wasn't too bothered by this. However, I couldn't understand how the fairy tale heroes could be so stupid as to not try such a ploy with the fairies and other beings who offered them wishes, of whom I expected more honest behavior than of my elders. Thus, I soon lost interest in fairy tales. Young Naciketa, with his third boon, was cleverer than I. He asked for a single boon so great, that no need remained for any other.
Naciketa began by telling Death that after a man's death, there's disagreement about whether he exists or not. Then, for his third boon, he asked Death to instruct him on this matter. As may be seen from the confidence with which Naciketa went to meet Death, he himself had faith in the continued existence of the soul. Yet, he didn't have full understanding of the nature of Death and the nature of the soul. His request to Death wasn't for a yes or no answer, but for full instruction on the ultimate matters involved.
Death doesn't yield His secrets easily. At first He tried to dissuade Naciketa from choosing this boon. He stated that even the devas have the same uncertainty and that this subject isn't easy to comprehend, and then asked Naciketa to choose some other boon. This only increased Naciketa's interest. He responded that because of the uncertainty among the devas, because the matter is difficult to understand, and because no other teacher like Death is to be had, no other boon is equal to this.
Next Death tried to tempt Naciketa, who hadn't asked for anything in the material world except to be able to return to his father in peace. He asked him to request, "sons and grandsons who'll live a hundred years", "cattle, elephants, gold, horses", "a vast domain on Earth", "a life as long as you desire".... He offered to fulfill any of Naciketa's desires and suggested that he ask for "fair maidens in chariots with musical instruments, the likes of which are unobtainable by men", but not to ask about Death. Have pity on Marlowe's Faust who sold his soul for merely twenty years of Mephistopheles's service.
Not even the opportunity to ask for a worldly boon with an unlimited number of ands in it could shake Naciketa's resolve. He replied that these are ephemeral things which wear out the senses, and told Death to "keep His horses, song and dance for Himself". He further stated that man is never satisfied by wealth, that he already can obtain wealth, referring to the Heavenly rewards of the Naciketa fire which Death had taught, and that after knowing of the imperishable, no one can delight in mortal pleasures for long. Finally, he declared to Death that he would choose no other boon.
This ends the first chapter. Death began the second chapter by praising Naciketa for firmly rejecting worldly enjoyments, stating that he was fit to receive the knowledge that he had requested and longing for other enquirers like him. Most of the boons that men ask of the Gods are worldly ones; rare is the seeker of higher knowledge. To see this, you don't have to venture to the house of Death for much the same occurs in my Guru's ashram.
My Guru has a steady flow of visitors coming with various requests. Some come to ask for a blessing, for success in a business deal, for passing an examination or for some other worldly venture. A blessing is easily given and, once endowed with the confidence it instills, the recipient generally is successful. Such visitors usually leave quickly, either to begin the undertaking in question, or else to collect a few more blessings from the holy men at the other temples and ashrams in the neighborhood.
Other visitors bring my Guru their tales of woe. Mostly these involve domestic affairs, "... my mother-in-law said this and my brother did that ... my son's away and our cow went dry... what shall I do... what shall I do?" My Guru hardly seems to listen as the tale spins on but just sits back and waits for the moment to strike. Then he declares in some way or another, "Your inner soul is the Supreme Being. Do as your conscience tells you." The visitor invariably lights up and says, "Then I'll say this to my mother-in-law and that to my brother...", and soon is heading home with solutions in mind.
Next are the visitors who want to know particular techniques. Some come with a bodily ailment and wish to learn some yoga technique, usually involving asanas, to alleviate it. My Guru outlines the cure and then has a disciple instruct the visitor in the particular exercises and supervise his practice. Some wish to engage in a limited practice of yoga which won't interfere with their worldly preoccupations. My Guru does his best to suggest some techniques that will elevate them within their limitations. Others come just to talk about techniques of yoga. My Guru may entertain their questions for a while, but soon he shifts the emphasis to practice. The techniques of yoga and their variations are endless; the way to know the results of these techniques isn't to sit and quibble about them but to test them. Sooner or later the visitor will make an assertion about some technique and my Guru will ask if he has attempted it. The answer is invariably negative; my Guru tells him to go practice it and return when he can report its result. Since the nit pickers aren't the practicers, such visitors often don't return, but if my Guru didn't say something they could go on talking interminably.
Rarely comes a seeker who, without qualification, asks my Guru to teach him what he knows, and who's willing, without reservation, to practice according to his instruction. For the sake of this visitor, my Guru leaves the door open to the others; when he enters my Guru is filled with joy.
My Guru never seems bothered with inquiries about the path to Heaven. Since he doesn't perform ritual, seekers of the Heavens above go to the nearby temples which have statues of the Deities to worship and priests who perform the necessary rites. As long as I'm around, questions about the Heaven on Earth are addressed to me. For most of the world, America's streets are still paved with gold; I receive numerous requests for help with visas and immigration. Since I disapprove of travel restrictions, and of borders in themselves, I listen with a sympathetic ear. Gladly, I see that a visa application is filled with the right answers, write a letter of invitation in unmistakably American English on unmistakably American stationery, if I have any left, and give a briefing on the places in America that tourists should hope to visit and on the other matters about which the consulate is likely to ask. However, when it comes to providing illicit employment, of which I have none to offer, or to arranging an immigration bond for someone clearly intending to violate its terms, I must say no.
Most of the requests for aid aren't from those who might make it over here, but from people without a hope of functioning in America who simply would like me to pick them up and carry them to the promised land. Unlike the custom in America, where people are inhibited about asking for favors, in the Indian culture, it never hurts to ask. Similarly, it never hurts to say no, and that usually ends the matter. A few people seemed to have thought that they could get somewhere by hounding me with requests, and have pursued me to my yoga classes and everywhere else that I appear in public. I do admit to having resorted to ethically questionable means of ridding myself of them, like handing them a piece of paper with the good old dollar sign on it and telling them that through meditation on this symbol, they may take a future birth in America.
Thus Death was delighted with Naciketa, his pupil. In a mysterious and variously interpreted verse, He stated that, although He knew that the true eternal, that is Brahman, is not attainable through wealth, He still lit the Naciketa fire and attained the relative eternal, His position as the Lord of Death for a whole cycle of creation. Further, He lauded Naciketa for abstaining from lighting this fire, which leads to the greatest of Heavenly rewards.
Once Death had ascertained the fitness of His pupil, He began His instruction by declaring "aum" to be the key to the knowledge sought. Aum represents Brahman, both with attributes and without, and thus is the goal of all knowledge and all practices. He completed the second chapter by emphasizing the uncognizability of the soul, and equivalently Brahman, through ordinary means, and stating that It reveals Itself to those who turn to It.
The second chapter gives little indication of the soul's nature, other than saying that it's imperceptible and indescribable. The third chapter elucidates the position of the soul through an analogy. Death likened the body to a chariot, the senses to its horses, the mind to the reins, the intellect to the charioteer who drives the chariot, and the soul to the owner who just sits inside and rides along. Although in Western thought all mental functions are usually lumped together into one faculty, the mind, in Sanskritic thought, they're divided into several faculties. Unfortunately, the Sanskrit "mana" is customarily translated as "mind" even though its scope is more limited. It denotes only the functions of immediate cognition, such as perceiving a coiled shape to be a snake or to be a rope, and immediate reaction such as fear or want. The Sanskrit buddhi, which gets translated as "intellect", is the faculty of judgment, discrimination and reason, which for example, may decide that what the mind took to be a snake is unlikely to have been a snake, and which, through the mind, may direct the senses to take another look.
The charioteer, through control of the reins, may attain mastery of the horses; the intellect, through control of the mind, may attain mastery of the senses. Anyone whose mind is uncontrolled fails to reach the goal and is born to die again and again, but someone whose mind is under control reaches the goal and is born no more. The chapter concludes by outlining the process of absorbing the senses into the mind, and so on, until all else is drawn into the soul.
If I'm in the mountains with someone who doesn't know what a marmot is, rather than trying to describe a marmot to him, I may wait until I spot one and say, "The animal sitting on that rock's a marmot". Similarly, although Brahman defies description and moreover is everywhere and within everything, it's possible to indicate where the nature of Brahman may be more easily apparent. These incidental attributes of Brahman are no more essential to It than sitting on a particular rock is essential to being a marmot, but they do serve as guides to the realization of Brahman. The fourth chapter gives many indications of Brahman within the universe, punctuated by the repetition of "Etad vai Tat" (etat = this; vai = truly; Tat = That, Brahman), "This is truly That", this indeed is Brahman.
"To the faculty that cognizes forms, tastes,
smells, sounds, touches and sexual experiences,
What remains Which is unknowable?
This is truly That." (IV,3)
"From Which the sun rises, to Which it sets,
To Which all the devas are fixed
and Which none can transcend,
This is truly That." (IV,9)
Other verses give further indications but these two serve to indicate Brahman both in the individual as the soul and in the cosmos as the Supreme Being. In fact, an analogy between the body and the universe pervades the Upanisads. The senses and the bodily functions are likened to the devas; the word "deva" may refer to either. The eye is likened to the sun and so on. Contemplation upon these correspondences helps you to realize that the spirit of the body, the soul, and the spirit of the universe, Brahman, are one and the same. Then the next verse states the principle of non-dualism.
"Yadeveha tadamutra yadamutra tadanviha
Mrtyoh sah mrtyumapnoti ya iha naneva pasyati"
(Yat = what; eva = indeed; iha = here; tat = that; amutra = there; yat; amutra; tat; anu = also; iha; mrtyoh = from death; sah = he; mrtryum = to death; apnoti = attains; yah = who; iha; nana = difference, distinction; iva = as if there were; pasyati = sees)
"What is here is there;
what is there is likewise here.
A perceiver of distinction here
goes from death to death." (IV,10)
"Here" and "there", are often used to refer to this world and the Heavens, especially where ritual is being discussed, but such an interpretation is too limited for this verse. A broader interpretation would take "here" as the individual and "there" as the universe, thus interpreting this verse as expressing the analogy between the two, but even this fails to give the verse its full power. "There" must be taken to refer to Brahman and "here" to the universe, although taking "here" as the soul would also make sense. The perceiving of distinction in the second line becomes seeing either the universe or the soul as other than Brahman.
The chapter closes by giving a concrete form to be meditated upon as Brahman, namely a light the size of the thumb situated within the heart.
"The Being, the size of the thumb,
like a smokeless light,
Lord of whatever was and whatever will be,
shall be tomorrow as He is today.
This is truly That." (IV,13)
The fifth chapter continues with indications of Brahman. It points to Brahman as the soul that exists after the demise of the body. The soul then takes a new birth according to "what it has done and what it has heard". The Vedas are sometimes called the Sruti, literally "that which is heard", for the Vedas were originally orally transmitted. Thus "what it has heard" refers to knowledge of the Vedas.
The main theme of this chapter is that the manifestation of Brahman as the universe leaves It unchanged.
"As the one air, having entered the world,
appears to take the different shapes
of the objects it enters,
So the one soul within all beings
appears in different forms,
but also exists beyond them." (V,10)
"Just as the sun, the eye of the universe,
isn't tainted by the visual defects of others
So the one soul within all beings
isn't tainted by the miseries of the world." (V,11)
"The eternal within the transients,
the consciousness of the conscious,
The One who fulfills the desires of many,
To the wise who see Him within themselves
Belongs eternal peace and not to others." (V,13)
The sixth chapter recapitulates and concludes the work. After re-emphasizing the transcendence of Brahman, yoga is indicated as the means of Its realization.
"When the five senses together
with the mind lie still,
And the intellect ceases to act,
this is the highest state." (VI,10)
Finally, the Kathopanisad unequivocally states that the attainment of Brahman isn't something of the future, possible only after death, but is to be had even here.
"Yada sarve pramucyante kama yesya hrdi sritah
Athamartyomrto bhavatyatra Brahma samasnute
(yada = when; sarve = all; pramucyante = are freed, destroyed; kamah = desires; ye = that; hrdi = in the heart; sritah = reside; atha = then; martyah = the dying one, the mortal; amrtah = non-dying, immortal; bhavati is, becomes; atra = here; Brahman; samasnute = attains)
"When all the desires of the heart are destroyed,
Then the mortal becomes immortal
and attains Brahman here." (VI,14)
The Sanskrit amrta, customarily translated as "immortal", is more accurately rendered as "non-dying". Indeed, it's the negative prefix "a" attached to mrta, dying. The English conception of immortality is only of continued existence. However, continued existence isn't in question since the transmigrating soul is ever born again to die. The state of amrta, which is equivalent to realization of Brahman, is an end to the cycle of births and deaths, and thus is the state of dying no longer. Nevertheless, the translation of amrta as "immortal" is firmly entrenched in English works on Hindu thought, so beware of the difference between the two. The Kathopanisad ends by saying that through the knowledge imparted by Death Naciketa attained Brahman and anyone else can do the same.
* * *
The second Upanisad that I've studied extensively here during the winter and which directly confronts the nature of Death is the Brhadaranyakopanisad. It's the greatest Upanisad both in length and in thoroughness of exposition. Except for an occasional verse quoted from other sources, it's a work of prose, divided into six chapters, each of which is further broken into sections and then into paragraphs.
It starts from an elaborate ritual, the horse sacrifice, which leads to the highest level of Heaven but which only a mighty king could hope to perform. The first section of the first chapter opens with "The head of the sacrificed horse is dawn", and proceeds to identify the horse with the cosmos, part by part.
The second section gives a story of creation which explains the significance of the horse sacrifice. Before there was anything in the universe, it was pervaded by Death and Hunger. Death is depicted as the Creator, creating what is for Himself to devour. His creation began with the elements and passed through a number of stages until, an infant, the primal world, came into being. Death was about to swallow it, but realized it wouldn't be much of a meal, so He continued His creating until the universe reached its current complexity. Finally, He desired that His own body become fit for sacrifice to be offered to Himself. Thence, His body began to swell. The Sanskrit roots for "swell" and "horse" happen to be the same. Thus the horse sacrifice is identified with Death's offering of His own body to Himself. The section concludes by stating that anyone who knows this esoteric meaning of the horse sacrifice overcomes Death because he becomes Death Himself, and consequently attains the highest level of Heaven. Thus the highest level of Heaven is open not only to the king who performs the horse sacrifice, but to anyone who contemplates upon it and understands its significance.
Contemplation upon Death as the Creator, creating the universe for Himself to devour, is a dark picture of the world, yet it reveals the pervasiveness of Death which here, far from the veneer with which society covers Death, is so apparent. However, this chapter contains some other more joyful creation stories like this from the fourth section. The Creator, at first, found Himself alone and was afraid; thus people are afraid when alone. His fear vanished when He realized that there was nothing else around to be afraid of. Still, He wasn't enjoying himself; thus people don't enjoy themselves when they're alone. He desired a second. His body swelled to the size of a man and a woman embracing each other. Then He divided it in two and creation took off from there. These mutually inconsistent creation stories aren't intended to be literal representations of what actually happened, but are meant to illustrate some feature of the current condition. It would be nice if the Christian fundamentalists realized the same about the creation stories in the Bible.
The gist of the Upanisads is not to overcome Death by becoming Death Himself, that is, one of the devas whose tenure lasts for only one cycle of creation, but to go beyond Death, beyond creation itself. In the final paragraph of the third section, the Brhadaranyakopanisad comments upon the famous invocation,
"Asato ma sadgamaya.
Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya.
(Asatah = from unreality, from evil; ma = me; sat = reality, good; gamaya = lead; tamasah = from darkness; ma; jyotih = light; gamaya; mrtoh = from death, dying; ma; amrtam = immortality, non-dying; gamaya)
"From unreality, lead me to reality.
From darkness, lead me to light.
From dying, lead me to immortality."
Each of these lines is said to amount to the same thing. Sat has two meanings, reality and good, and similarly for its opposite asat. Thus, the first line can be taken either as an existential statement, as a moral statement, or as both. Existentially, the perception of the transient physical world as real and the consequent attachment to it is the cause of perpetual dying. Seeing everything as Brahman, the only true reality, ends this dying. Morally, evil thoughts, words and actions are those which tend to increase attachment and hence tighten the snares of Death, while good thoughts, words and actions are those which lead toward detachment and hence liberation from Death. In the second line, darkness is ignorance, the cause of attachment and endless dying. Light is the knowledge that dispels this ignorance and leads to immortality. Thus, the first two lines indirectly say what the third line says. Note that in the Vedas, amrtah is used in two different senses. With respect to ritual, it refers to the relative freedom from death attained by the devas, which lasts for only one cycle of creation. In the context of knowledge of Brahman it implies non-dying in its absolute sense. Anyone who invokes these lines with no more than Heaven in mind will at most attain the relative immortality of Heaven.
The essence of the knowledge of Brahman is given in the tenth paragraph of the fourth section. "Brahman was before anything else. It truly knew Itself as 'Aham Brahmasmi' (Aham = I; Brahman; asmi = am), 'I am Brahman'... Whoever knows this, 'Aham Brahmasmi', becomes everything. Even the devas cannot rule him for he becomes their very selves. Others ... are like animals to the devas." In other words, they're blind servants to the devas in both senses of the word "deva". With devas taken as Gods, men serve the Gods through ritual worship in expectation of material or Heavenly rewards, and this holds equally true for the fire ceremonies of ancient times and the ritual consumption of vitamins today. With devas taken as the senses, men of all times serve the senses through blind indulgence. Since realization of "Aham Brahmasmi" is all that's required, you might think the Brhadaranyakopanisad should end here. However it's easier said than done, for, just as men find it unpleasant if their animals are lost, "the devas find it unpleasant if men realize this". The devas, both the Gods and the senses, create obstacles to realization. No sooner than the yogi cuts his senses from their objects in the external world, the senses project the alluring inner world to distract him from his goal. The Brhadaranyakopanisad must continue.
The first chapter points to the absolute nature of Brahman as transcending all else; the second chapter attempts to tell what Brahman is. It begins with a dialogue in the court of King Ajatasatru of Kasi, the ancient name of Benares. One Balaki the Proud, came to the King and offered to teach him of Brahman. The King agreed and promised him a thousand cows for this instruction. However, Balaki only knew of the manifestations of Brahman; no matter what he pointed to as Brahman the King mentioned something more fundamental. For example, Balaki began by saying, "I contemplate upon Brahman as the Being within the sun", but the King replied that he contemplated upon Brahman as "transcendent". The Sanskrit word "upase" which I've translated as "contemplate", could also have been translated as "worship" or "adulate". I've also seen it translated as "meditate", but this could cause confusion since its meaning differs greatly from dhyana, the meditation of the Yogasutra.
The dialogue continued for thirteen paragraphs; then Balaki fell silent. The King asked if this were all and poor Balaki, having exhausted his repertoire, asked if he could approach the King as a student. The King replied that it's improper that a Brahmana, a member of the priestly, topmost caste, should approach a Ksatriya, a member of the caste of warriors and rulers, the second caste, for such instruction, but consented anyway. In many places, the Upanisads poke fun at caste distinction based only on birth and not on merit.
The King then led Balaki to a sleeping man and began a discussion of the being that experiences all of the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states. Finally, he declared the secret name of the soul or Brahman to be "satasya satyam", "the truth of the truth". Prana, the life force is the truth, that is, the underlying reality by which the body functions. Prana also has cosmic meaning as the force which vitalizes and hence sustains the universe. The soul in the body, or Brahman in the universe, is the reality which underlies and sustains the prana.
"The truth of the truth" may indicate Brahman, but it doesn't describe It. Although the dialogue ends with the first section, the chapter continues to probe the nature of Brahman. At the end of the third section it finally concludes that there's no better description of Brahman than "neti, neti" (na = not; iti = this) "not this, not this". Brahman can only be indicated as the negation of all possible descriptions and as That which transcends all that can be described.
The third and fourth chapters consist entirely of dialogue. The main character, the sage Yajnavalkya, stands out as a vivid personality; the discussions are not merely formal, but alive and real. The dialogue of the third chapter took place in the court of Emperor Janaka of Videha during a grand ritual for which many Brahmanas had assembled. The Emperor wished to see which of these Brahmanas was the most learned. He had a thousand cows penned together and a piece of gold strung between the horns of each. Then he said, "Venerable Brahmanas, let the most knowledgeable of Brahman among you drive away these cows."
At first no one spoke. Then Yajnavalkya told one of his own pupils to drive the cattle home. The other Brahmanas were incensed by this. An offer such as Janaka's isn't an offer for someone to make off with the booty, but a signal for a debate to begin; only after someone has defeated all the rest in argument, may he claim the prize. Thus Asvala, a priest of Janaka's court, challenged Yajnavalkya, "Are you the most learned among us?"
Yajnavalkya replied, "I bow to the most learned; I only want the cows." Then Asvala opened the contest by questioning Yajnavalkya about the ritual of the day and its significance. One by one, eight of the Brahmanas each posed a sequence of questions to Yajnavalkya. Most of the questioners, like Asvala, asked about matters of ritual, the Gods, cosmology, or something else pertaining to the apparent Brahman with attributes. Yajnavalkya had thorough knowledge of the Vedas and could answer all of them.
The most poignant questions came from a female, Gargi who interrogated him twice. In the sixth section, she tried to force him to directly describe Brahman through means of a long regress through the various realms. Whenever Yajnavalkya mentions a realm, she asked him what's the "warp and woof" of this realm, meaning what pervades this realm or what's subtler than this realm. The regress had eleven stages including realms such as the realm of the sun and the realm of the Gods, before it finally reached the realm of Brahman. Then Gargi asked for the "warp and woof" of that. Yajnavalkya told her not to ask this lest her head fall off for this isn't to be known through questioning. In such contests, it's an error either to try to answer the unanswerable or else to directly ask an unanswerable question.
In the eighth section, she asked for permission to pose two further questions and stated that if Yajnavalkya answered these two, none of the other Brahmanas would be able to defeat him. Then to intimidate Yajnavalkya before posing her questions she likened them to two sharp-pointed bamboo arrows. Her first question was, "That which is above the sky and beneath the earth, that which is the sky, the earth and the in between, that which was, is and will be, what's the warp and woof of that which is said to be thus?"
Notice how careful she was to put her question indirectly, using the phrase "is said to be". Yajnavalkya answered, "the ether" for the ether pervades every corner of the creation. She commended him for his answer and for the second question asked, "What's the warp and woof of the ether?"
Thus Gargi constructed a two-step regression leading to Brahman, similar to the two-step regression, "the truth of the truth". These two-step regressions first point to a concept like truth, ether, or even Death which is conceived of as fundamental or omnipresent. Then, by asking for the root of this ultimate concept, Brahman, the inconceivable source of all is revealed. Just as Gargi employed indirect language to pose her question, Yajnavalkya used indirect language in formulating his response. He began, "The Brahmanas speak of it as the Absolute." The Sanskrit "aksara", here translated as "Absolute", more literally means imperishable or undecaying. Yajnavalkya's response occupies four paragraphs. In the first of these paragraphs, he indicated It through a long string of negatives, "neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long", and so on. In the second he indicated It as the controller of the universe, "Under the rule of this Absolute, the sun and the moon are held", and so on.
In the third of these paragraphs, he asserted that anyone who performs ritual without knowing It finds the result to be transitory. In other words, the most that's attainable through ritual without knowledge is birth in the realm of Heaven from which return is inevitable. Then in the last sentence of the paragraph he stated, "Whoever leaves this world with knowledge of this Absolute is a Brahmana". Here Yajnavalkya used the word Brahmana not in the sense of a member of the priest caste by birth, versed in the ritual portions of the Vedas, but as a true knower of Brahman, the Supreme Being, knowledge of Which is liberation itself. In the last of these paragraphs, he indicated It as the basis of consciousness, the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought of thinker and the unknown knower. At the conclusion of this section, Gargi tells the other Brahmanas that none of them will ever defeat Yajnavalkya, and that they should consider themselves lucky if they could escape from this contest with only a bow.
Nevertheless, another of the Brahmanas, Sakalya, began a long series of questions about the devas. His first questions were the most interesting. He repeatedly asked Yajnavalkya, "How many devas are there?" Yajnavalkya gave the numbers three thousand and three, three hundred and three, thirty-three, six, three, two, one and a half, and one, and for each of these numbers gave an appropriate explanation. In each case, the greater number of devas could be considered manifestations of the smaller number.
The other Brahmanas had retired after posing a sequence of questions on one topic, but Sakalya went on to question him on topic after topic. Yajnavalkya, who had already spoken of Brahman, the Absolute, tried to cut him off. In the eighteenth paragraph Yajnavalkya asked him if the Brahmanas had made him their fire tongs. Instead of taking the hint and retiring, Sakalya took it as an insult to the company, and continued questioning Yajnavalkya. In the twenty-fifth paragraph Yajnavalkya addressed him as a ghost, but he still refused to stop. Since questions about the devas are interminable, in the twenty-sixth paragraph, he told him that if he couldn't speak of the Absolute, the Being of the Upanisads who projects the rest out and draws the rest in, his head would fall off. The Brhadaranyakopanisad takes the idiom literally. Since he lacked this knowledge, his head slid from his shoulders.
After this, no one else rose to question him. In baseball, a winning team doesn't have to bat in the last half of the ninth inning. However, such rules didn't seem to prevail in ancient times so Yajnavalkya presented a question to the assembly to make his victory complete. He posed his question, the riddle of the man and the tree, in verse beginning,
"A man, indeed, is just like a giant tree.
His hair is its foliage; his skin is its bark..."
After concluding the analogy he inquired,
"When a tree is cut down it sprouts anew from its root.
When felled by Death from what root does a man spring up ?"
Then he cautioned against trivial replies. He told them not to answer "his semen or seed" since a tree also has seed and this is a different function. He stated that a tree doesn't sprout if its root is pulled up, thus heading off specious arguments based on this. Finally he warned that if anyone argued that man is only born once and for all, he would refute him. Since one head of the company had already fallen, this was certainly not a pleasant prospect. Nobody dared respond, even though they might have guessed the answer, Brahman, for they knew that if they answered without knowing Its Absolute nature, they too would be in jeopardy. Thus, with Yajnavalkya having won undisputed title to the coveted cows, the chapter ends.
The fourth chapter begins when one day, Yajnavalkya unexpectedly showed up in Emperor Janaka's court. The Emperor asked if he had come for cattle or for questions, and he responded, "Both". Then their dialogue began.
The first section consists of contemplations upon Brahman. Yajnavalkya would ask the Emperor to tell what someone else had taught him, but no matter what contemplation he mentioned, Yajnavalkya would mention a further, more fundamental contemplation. Janaka would offer him "a thousand cows and a bull-like an elephant" for his teaching, but Yajnavalkya would decline, saying that his father believed in not accepting gifts without completing the instruction.
Ultimately, at the beginning of the second section, Janaka approached Yajnavalkya and asked to become his student. Up to this point, the teacher had only been testing the fitness of the pupil, and vice versa, and then the teaching started in earnest. Yajnavalkya soon entered a lengthy discourse on the states of consciousness. It seems that he wished to test Janaka to see if he would be satisfied with hearing only of Brahman with attributes. After a while Janaka changed his tune and began to respond to Yajnavalkya's assertions, "For this, I give you a thousand cows but speak beyond this, of liberation itself."
In the thirty-third paragraph of the third section, Yajnavalkya became convinced that Janaka wouldn't settle for anything less than the ultimate knowledge, and began to speak of Death. He detailed the process of the soul's leaving the body and its transmigration to another body according to its innate tendencies. However, in the sixth paragraph of the fourth section, he stated that this transmigration pertains only to someone with residual desires. For the soul without desire, "whose only desire is itself", there's no departure from the body. "Being Brahman Itself the soul attains Brahman."
Next, Yajnavalkya quoted fifteen verses to support his assertions, many of which also appear in other Upanisads. The first of these verses was,
"When all the desires of the heart are destroyed,
Then the mortal becomes immortal
and attains Brahman here."
This has already been quoted as (VI,14) of the Kathopanisad. However, this verse alone still leave doubt as to whether, even after attaining Brahman, the liberated soul still must make a final voyage away from the body at the time of death. The fuller exposition of the Brhadaranyakopanisad says this isn't so. Finally, Yajnavalkya recapitulated what can be said about That Which is described as "not this, not this", and Janaka rewarded him not with cattle, but by putting his empire and himself at Yajnavalkya's disposal.
The fourth chapter concludes with the most moving of these dialogues. Yajnavalkya had two wives, Katyayani, whose mind was limited to womanly affairs, and Maitreyi, who would also enquire about Brahman. In those times, a sage would maintain a family and retire to monasticism only at the end of his life. When Yajnavalkya was ready to assume a monastic life he spoke to Maitreyi and told her that he wished to end her relationship with Katyayani. This would involve a division of his property, which must have been considerable. After all, he was a man who could drift about and pick up a thousand cows here and a thousand cows there. Granted, he had household expenses and students to support, but he still must have been a man of substantial means. Hence Maitreyi asked Yajnavalkya, "Even if all the riches in the world were to be mine, would I become immortal through them or not?"
"No, your life would be like that of other rich people but there's no hope of attaining immortality through wealth."
"What shall I do with that with which I cannot become immortal? Tell me of that which you alone know."
Yajnavalkya began by stating that everything, sons, wealth, the Gods and all, are cherished not for their own sake, but for the sake of the self or the soul. However, he wasn't espousing common selfishness for he went on to say that the Gods reject anyone who thinks of himself as different from them, and similarly for the other beings, for they all are nothing but manifestations of the one soul.
Next, he discussed why Brahman, hence also the soul, while ever present, is not perceived. He used the analogy that when a drum is played by a skilled drummer, the sounds of the beats aren't themselves distinguishable, but are blurred into the overall effect. Brahman is perceived only through Its emanations. Yajnavalkya stated that just as a fire lit with damp fuel emits smoke of many appearances, the Vedas, the other scriptures and all beings are like the breath of It. He declared that It Itself is a homogeneous consciousness, like a lump of salt, the same all the way through, and that in Itself, It has no awareness of anything.
Maitreyi expressed confusion at the last point, for, if It's truly homogeneous consciousness, then how could It lack awareness? Yajnavalkya explained that as long as the apparent state of duality exists, you see another, hear another, and so on, but, when all is realized to be the one soul, what is to be seen and by what? In other words, Brahman isn't perceived even in the state beyond duality because perception itself is a function of duality.
Fortunate is the woman with a husband like Yajnavalkya and wise is she to make the best use of her last moments with him, for Yajnavalkya declared the wisdom just enounced to be the means to immortality and walked out the door.
The last two chapters are considered supplementary. They contain further contemplations upon Brahman with attributes, descriptions of the paths by which the soul may travel after death, and some matters of ritual pertaining to these. Although the Upanisads point beyond ritual they don't disdain it. Not everyone is capable of attaining Brahman at once and through ritual he may gradually elevate himself until he's able to do so.
The final section treats procreation and describes rituals to accompany it. It tells the foods to eat to conceive a son who will know all four Vedas or to conceive a daughter. It describes the rites to be performed after birth of the child. It also describes the sexual act. Unfortunately, the edition I have is expurgated; it presents the complete Sanskrit text, but several passages lack an English translation. However, from a few words and general knowledge, I can follow what's said and it's mild indeed. The Vedas have no inhibition about mentioning sexual functions. The overall intent of this section is to elevate sex from a mere animal act to a spiritual one. The section contains other practical information. If your wife has a lover it gives a ritual through which you can get even with him. You light a ritual fire and, because of the parallel between pouring ghee into the fire and the insemination of a woman, as you offer ghee into this fire you chant, "You have poured into my fire. I take away your sons... your cattle... the merit you've acquired for future births..." After you finish this ritual, the poor guy is in much worse shape than if you had merely cut him down with the sword. When the Vedas speak of the Absolute they enounce eternal truth, but when they talk of ritual they're products of their time.
The age of the Upanisads was truly a golden age of man. India was a land of wealth, of vast forests and fertile fields, not yet worn by millenia of cultivation. It was a time of asking the profoundest questions and finding their ultimate answers. It was an era when sovereigns would support inquiry into the Absolute with research grants of cattle and gold. Life wasn't without its ills and Death was present then as always at the eternal rate of one per birth. Although society covered Death with ritualistic garb, it didn't seek to close the path beyond; it didn't purge the Upanisads from its sacred books, or nail its deviant sages to the cross, or stop them while walking peacefully down the road to ask for identification. Yet it couldn't last forever. Thus knowledge previously passed on by mouth was recorded into books; the sages wisely encapsulated their transcendental teaching within the mass of ritual to maximize the chances of its surviving the troubled times that were to come.
Most of my study of the Upanisads has been from the editions published by the Ramakrishna Order. They publish the Upanisads bound separately, and give the Sanskrit, a word by word translation, and a brief commentary. These separately bound Upanisads are thin and light enough so one or two can easily accompany me wherever I go. Since I owe so much to them I can forgive them for their sins of occasional expurgation and mixing of Biblical with nineteenth century English, for they've been published in another culture.
* * *
Death is ever-present at Dharmanath, in summer as well as winter, but in the summer Death is more forgiving. To cite one instance, in September of 1984, after spending the summer here, the time came to go down to ready my supplies for the winter. Since the morning was clear, I decided to take the high route out, which entails walking a mile on a ridge above 13,000 feet. I was moving along well; at the 13,200 foot level, I stopped for a moment and took off my pack. The place was a boulder slope that wasn't unusually steep, but somehow I set the pack down improperly. It started rolling slowly down the slope. At every moment, I expected it to stop, but it just kept tumbling until it reached the top of an ice-filled gully. Then it accelerated and disappeared from view.
I started down to look for it. At the steep part, where I had lost sight of the pack, the rock beside the gully was difficult; I descended an easy route off to the left. When I cut back to the gully, I looked up and saw my pack, caught in the gap between the ice and the rock on the opposite side of the gully. At that time of year, hardly any snow or ice remains on the mountain. I was travelling light, wearing running shoes. My ice axe was stashed in the cave below. I had crossed snow and ice without equipment before, so I selected two pointed rocks, one for each hand, and started to traverse the gully.
Only three steps out, I had to start chopping with the pointed rocks. At the sixth step, I found myself cutting into solid ice. I looked down; if I ever did slip, there would be no way of stopping myself with my two pointed rocks. I looked up and saw not a cloud in the sky. It would have been an inglorious place to die. I retreated from the ice gully, went back down to the cave and grabbed my ice axe. When I got back up to the gully, the sun was edging onto this shaded slope. I left my outer garments on a flat rock, weighted them down with another rock and leisurely cut myself a series of extra-large, closely spaced steps, the type that guides cut for beginners, since my running shoes, worn smooth from a summer of use, had virtually no grip on the ice. I recovered the pack, which had no damage to show for its 400 foot fall, and was again on my way under the clear blue sky.
The penalty I paid for my carelessness was trivial. I reached the road a few hours later and a lot more tired than otherwise. So many options were open to me. To begin with, there was no urgency about recovering the pack. It was getting old and its only contents were my summer sleeping bag, which already had patches, a well worn poncho which I've since replaced, my tooth brush and such, and garbage. The preceding April, I had left a foam pad in a canister with the cover tied on. In his spring rampage, the marmot had tipped over the canister, chewed through the cord, pried off the cover and chewed the foam pad to pieces. The pack was half full of scraps of foam rubber. Since then I've taken to securing the canister tops with wire. I use gallon plastic milk jugs for water during the summer. These develop leaks within a season or two; I was carrying a pair of useless ones out. The pack had little weight for much volume. Perhaps this explains why it was able to escape and keep rolling, but there's no excuse for carelessness. In the summertime, I would have to wreck myself pretty badly for me not to be able to reach the road without any equipment whatsoever. I could easily have abandoned the pack and replaced my lost equipment. If I hadn't had an ice axe conveniently stashed in the cave, I could have worked my way across the gully with the pointed rocks, in less time than it took me to fetch the axe, but with an element of risk. Finally, if the pack had snagged in a place which I couldn't have safely reached with the gear I had, I could have returned in a day or two with a rope, crampons and whatever else I might have needed to recover it.
In winter, loss of my pack could mean a bout with Death. The last stretch of road is unplowed; I cannot count on reaching road in one day. The tent and sleeping bag I carry could be essential to my survival. Even though I could build a snow shelter and insulate myself with bows, this takes time and entails some risk. Furthermore, when I'm on the wind-swept ridges, my snowshoes are tied to my pack. Without them, it could be an ordeal to cross the stretch of forest between tree line and the road. Snowshoes can be improvised from branches and string, but they're clumsy and slow. Even at a substantial risk, I would have to try to recover the pack. Days are shorter and the going is slower in winter. Loss of a few critical hours could also mean trouble. Moreover, in the winter, even a minor bodily injury or weakness can turn a trip out into a grim struggle. If I were to lose my pack close enough to the cave so I could easily make it back, I would have to return and take what I could of the equipment stashed here. The canister covers would make better snowshoe substitutes than anything I could improvise from boughs and I do keep an extra tent and extra clothing. If I lost my pack while descending the other side of the mountain and couldn't recover it, I would just have to plough on as best I could.
Death stands most ready to claim his quarry in the cold. The mid-winter months are not all storm. On calm days, I leave my cave and move about. In my first winter here, whenever it cleared I climbed directly into the cirque. However, climbing in that direction meant that I didn't get any sun until I reached the rim. In subsequent winters, I've left climbing the cirque for February and March when sun reaches my cave once more. In mid-winter, I've usually set out along the traverse to the mouse drop-off point, which receives sun, and climbed up from somewhere along it. In that direction, the rim isn't as high, but I have the sun as compensation. In sub-zero temperatures, I exercise extreme care since any little breeze that could pick up loose snow would make conditions deadly. If I go anywhere, I go straight up from the cave so I can quickly get back if a wind starts blowing. Death stays right beside me, waiting for me to drop my mittens.
How could I resist taking a walk on the rare clear calm moonlit nights? Right after the New Year in 1985, I had four clear nights in a row with temperatures near zero. I limited my walks to the vicinity of the cave, first circumambulating it thrice, and then walking back and forth along the glacial slabs, which previously had been swept clear of snow.
The frigid air is the sustenance of life.
The moonlit peaks are the teeth of beauty.
Death is the black radiance of the night.
In December, 1986, a time of the year when I'm lucky if I'm out eight consecutive days, I was out eight nights in a row. The first two nights were clear and near zero. On the third, the thermometer rocketed to twenty-five and light flakes fell from an overcast sky. The remaining nights were in the teens and skies were mixed. On calm, moonlit nights in the teens, I may amble over to the wind-cleared grassy slopes on the opposite side of the cirque and meander about them.
On warmer nights toward the end of winter, with temperatures in the twenties, I've thought of strapping on my crampons and climbing to the rim by moonlight, but I've never succumbed to this temptation. By moonlight, you cannot readily perceive slight changes in slope or slight changes in the consistency of the snow. I could be cautious and make a night climb in safety, but it would take me twice as long and give little additional reward for the effort. The moonlight strolls close to the cave are sufficient.
When the temperature sinks below zero, I don't venture out at night, but to conserve heat, I wall off the end of my entrance tunnel. With the tunnel closed, the difference between the outside and the inside temperatures can reach thirty degrees. The coldest I've seen on my thermometer is fifteen below. That was in the late afternoon with a breeze blowing; I closed the tunnel and decided not to wonder how low the temperature sank that night. A thermometer that reads minima would make for better stories, but it wouldn't affect my activity. My tiny dial thermometer is enough of a guide for making decisions. In any case, the lowest readings rarely occur on mountainsides, like where I dwell, but on level valley floors, such as the meadows at tree line, a thousand feet below. If I were to place a series of thermometers at different locations, the stories I could tell might be better, but still not as good as if I were to move to Alaska. I will live in comfort here and let the stories be.
Although Death outside is ready to snatch, He dwells inside the cave as well. He licks His lips at my every indulgence. He savors every morsel of food I eat in excess of what I need. He drools whenever I procrastinate an essential chore and grins each day I fail to get sufficient exercise, or in any way neglect to maintain my body. He delights in my every thought except for thoughts directed toward That which is beyond Him.
After seeing Death unmasked at Dharmanath, He's apparent everywhere. Society's glaze can no longer conceal Him, for He's intrinsic in the perception of the world itself. Only through being That Which is beyond creation, is eternal dying transcended.
1. Translations of repeated words will be omitted. [Return]
2. Notice that in Sanskrit, when words are joined the final sound of one word and the initial sound of the next often combine or undergo transformation. [Return]
3. Taittiriyopanisad (I,11,2). [Return]
Continue to Chapter 7.
Return to Table of Contents.