Oldest Teaching Of Advaita – Excerpt from Chandogya Upanishad

Upanishads are the basis for Indian schools of thought.  Of this, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya upanishad are the oldest. These are the earliest available literature in India which teach non-duality. I have been reading these texts for the past few days and I came across this wonderful section, which is the 6th prapathaka of Chandogya Upanishad. I found it very impressive and it brought tears in my eyes as I read it. So, I am sure you will enjoy this as well.

It narrates the story, which is a conversation between sage Aruni and his son Svetaketu. It contains the famous mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’. It has some great pointers which are useful for the spiritual seekers. I am posting the entire 6th prapathaka here… (Translated by Swami Nikhilananda). You can find the entire text here: http://www.swamij.com/upanishad-chandogya.htm

Khanda I — The Non—Duality of the Self

  1. Om. There once lived Svetaketu the grandson of Aruna. To him his father said: “Svetaketu, lead the life of a brahmacharin; for there is none belonging to our family, my dear, who, not having studied the Vedas, is a brahmin only by birth.”

2—3. Svetaketu went to his teacher’s house when he was twelve years old and studied the Vedas till he was twenty—four. Then he returned to his father, serious, considering himself well read and arrogant. His father said to him: “Svetaketu, since you are now so serious, think yourself well read and are so arrogant, have you, my dear, ever asked for that instruction by which one hears what cannot be heard, by which one perceives what cannot be perceived, by which one knows what cannot be known?” Svetaketu asked: “What is that instruction, venerable Sir?”

4—6. “Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay; “Just as, my dear, by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold; “And just as, my dear, by one pair of nail—scissors all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron—even so, my dear, is that instruction.”

  1. “Surely those venerable men did not know that. For if they had known it, why should they not have told it to me? Therefore do you, venerable Sir, tell me about it.” “So be it, my dear,” said the father.

 

Khanda II — Brahman: the Cause of the Universe

 

  1. “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat) alone, one only without a second. Some say that in the beginning this was non—being (asat) alone, one only without a second; and from that non—being, being was born.”
  2. Aruni said: “But how, indeed, could it be thus, my dear? How could Being be born from non—being? No, my dear, it was Being alone that existed in the beginning, one only without a second.
  3. “It (Being, or Brahman) thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created fire. That fire thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created water. That is why, whenever a person is hot and perspires, water is produced from fire (heat) alone.
  4. “That water thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created food (i.e. earth). That is why, whenever it rains anywhere, abundant food is produced. From water alone is edible food produced.

 

Khanda III — The Threefold Development

 

  1. “Of all these living beings, there are only three origins: those born from an egg, those born from a living being and those born from a sprout.
  2. “That Deity thought: ‘Let Me now enter into those three deities by means of this living self and let Me then develop names and forms.’
  3. “That Deity, having thought: ‘Let Me make each of these three tripartite,’ entered into these three deities by means of the living self and developed names and forms.
  4. “It made each of these tripartite; and how these three deities became, each of them, tripartite, that learn from me now, my dear.

 

Khanda IV — The Threefold Development further explained

 

  1. “The red colour of gross fire is the colour of the original fire; the white colour of gross fire is the colour of the original water; the black colour of gross fire is the colour of the original earth. Thus vanishes from fire what is commonly called fire, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours (forms) alone are true.
  2. “The red colour of the sun is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the sun what is commonly called the sun, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  3. “The red colour of the moon is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the moon what is commonly called the moon, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  4. “The red colour of lightning is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from lightning what is commonly called lighting, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  5. “It was just through this knowledge that the great householders and great Vedic scholars of olden times declared: ‘No one can now mention to us anything which we have not heard, thought of, or known.’ They knew all from these three forms.

6—7. “Whatever, appeared red they knew to be the colour of fire; whatever appeared white they knew to be the colour of water; whatever appeared black they knew to be the colour of earth. “Whatever appeared to be unknown they knew to be the combination of these three deities (i.e. colours). Now learn from me, my dear, how these three deities, when they reach man, become each of them tripartite.

 

Khanda V — The Threefold Nature of Food

 

  1. “Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind.
  2. “Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana.
  3. “Fire when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes bone, what is medium becomes marrow and what is subtlest becomes speech.
  4. “The mind, my dear, consists of food, the prana of water and speech of heat.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VI — The Physical Nature of the Mind, the Prana and Speech

 

  1. “That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter.
  2. “In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind.
  3. “The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana.
  4. “The subtlest part of the fire that is eaten rises and becomes speech.
  5. “Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VII — How the Mind consists of Food

 

  1. “A person, my dear, consists of sixteen parts. Do not eat any food for fifteen days, but drink as much water as you like. Since the prana consists of water, it will not be cut off if you drink water.”
  2. Svetaketu did not eat any food for fifteen days. Then he came to his father and said: “What, Sir, shall I recite?” His father said: “The Rik, Yagus and Saman verses.” He replied: “They do not occur to me, Sir.”
  3. His father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great blazing fire a single coal, the size of a firefly, may be left, which would not burn much more than that, even so, my dear, of your sixteen parts only one part is left; and therefore with that one part you do not remember the Vedas. Now go and eat and you will understand me.”
  4. Svetaketu ate and approached his father. Then whatever his father asked him, he showed that he knew it.

5—6. Then his father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great lighted fire a single coal the size of a firefly, if left, may be made to blaze up again by adding grass to it and will thus burn much more, “Even so, my dear; of your sixteen parts only one part was left and that, when strengthened by food, blazed up. With it you now remember the Vedas. Therefore, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” After that he understood what his father said, yea, he understood it.

 

Khanda VIII — Concerning Sleep, Hunger, Thirst and Death

 

  1. Uddalaka the son of Aruna said to his son Svetaketu: “Learn from me, my dear, the true nature of sleep. When a person has entered into deep sleep, as it is called, then, my dear, he becomes united with Pure Being (Sat), he has gone to his own Self. That is why they say he is in deep sleep (svapiti); it is because he has gone (apita) to his own (svam).
  2. “Just as a bird tied by a string to the hand of the bird—catcher first flies in every direction and then finding no rest anywhere, settles down at the place where it is bound, so also the mind (i.e. the individual soul reflected in the mind), my dear, after flying in every direction and finding no rest anywhere, settles down in the Prana (i.e. Pure Being); for the mind (the individual soul) is fastened to the Prana (Pure Being).
  3. “Learn from me, my dear, what hunger and thirst are. When a man is hungry, as they say, it is water that has led (i.e. carried away) what was eaten. Therefore, just as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of water as the leader of food. So, my dear, know this offshoot (i.e. the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  4. “And where could its root be except in food (earth)? And in the same way, my dear, as food too is an offshoot, seek for water as its root. And as water too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being (Sat) as its root. Yes, all these creatures, my dear, have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being.
  5. “When a man is said to be thirsty, it is fire that has led (i.e. carried away) what was drunk by him. Therefore as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of fire as the leader of water. So, my dear, know this offshoot (the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  6. “And where could its root be except in water? And in the same way, my dear, as water is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being as its root. Yes, my dear, all these creatures have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being. “And how these three deities (fire, water and earth), on reaching a human being, become each of them tripartite has already been said. When a person departs hence, his speech merges in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Being.
  7. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda IX — The Absence of Individuality in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “As bees, my dear, make honey by collecting the juices of trees located at different places and reduce them to one form, “And as these juices have no discrimination so as to be able to say: ‘I am the juice of this tree,’ or ‘I am the juice of that tree’—even so, indeed, my dear, all these creatures, though they reach Pure Being, do not know that they have reached Pure Being.

  1. “Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito—that they become again.
  2. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda X — The Absence of Particularized Consciousness in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “These rivers, my dear, flow—the eastern toward the east and the western toward the west. They arise from the sea and flow into the sea. Just as these rivers, while they are in the sea, do not know: ‘I am this river’ or ‘I am that river,’ “Even so, my dear, all these creatures, even though they have come from Pure Being, do not know that they have come from Pure Being. Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito, that they become again.

  1. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XI — The Indestructibility of the Jiva

 

  1. “If, my dear, someone were to strike at the root of this large tree here, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the middle, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the top, it would bleed but live. Pervaded by the living self, that tree stands firm, drinking in again and again its nourishment and rejoicing.
  2. “But if the life (i.e. living self) leaves one of its branches, that branch withers; if it leaves a second, that branch withers; if it leaves a third, that branch withers. If it leaves the whole tree, the whole three withers.
  3. “In exactly the same manner, my dear,” said he, “know this: This body dies, bereft of the living self; but the living self dies not. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XII — The Birth of the Gross from the Subtle

 

  1. “Bring me a fruit of that nyagrodha (banyan) tree.” “Here it is’ venerable Sir.” “Break it.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “These seeds, exceedingly small, “Break one of these, my son.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “Nothing at all, venerable Sir.”
  2. The father said: “That subtle essence, my dear, which you do not perceive there—from that very essence this great nyagrodha arises. Believe me, my dear.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIII — The Invisibility of an Existent Object

 

  1. “Place this salt in water and then come to me in the morning.” The son did as he was told. The father said to him: “My son, bring me the salt which you placed in the water last night.” Looking for it, the son did not find it, for it was completely dissolved.
  2. The father said: “My son, take a sip of water from the surface. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the middle. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the bottom. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Throw it away and come to me.” The son did as he was told, saying: “The salt was there all the time.” Then the father said: “Here also, my dear, in this body you do not perceive Sat (Being); but It is indeed there.”
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIV — The Means of Self—Knowledge

 

  1. “Just as someone, my dear, might lead a person, with his eyes covered, away from the country of the Gandharas and leave him in a place where there were no human beings; and just as that person would turn toward the east, or the north, or the south, or the west, shouting: ‘I have been brought here with my eyes covered, I have been left here with my eyes covered!’
  2. “And as thereupon someone might loosen the covering and say to him: ‘Gandhara is in that direction; go that way’; and as thereupon, having been informed and being capable of judgement, he would, by asking his way from one village to another, arrive at last at Gandhara—in exactly the same manner does a man who has found a teacher to instruct him obtain the true knowledge. For him there is delay only so long as he is not liberated from the body; then he reaches perfection.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XV — Ultimate Liberation

 

  1. “Around a dying person afflicted with illness, my dear, his relatives gather and ask: ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ He knows them as long as his speech is not merged in his mind, his mind in his prana (breath), his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Deity.
  2. “But when his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat and the heat in the Highest Deity, then he does not know them.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son “So be it, my dear;” the father replied.

 

Khanda XVI — Liberation for the Knower of Brahman

 

  1. “My dear, they (i.e. the police) bring a man whom they have seized by the hand and say: ‘He has taken something, he has committed a theft.’ When he denies it, they say: ‘Heat the axe for him.’ If he has committed the theft but denies it, then he makes himself a liar. Being false—minded, he covers himself with falsehood, grasps the heated axe and is burnt. Then he is killed.
  2. “But if he did not commit the theft, then he makes himself what he really is. Being true—minded, he covers himself with truth, grasps the heated axe and is not burnt. He is released.
  3. “As that truthful man is not burnt so also one who has known Sat is not born again. Thus in That (Sat) all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.”