Thursday, 6 June 2013

Upanishad in the Eyes of Swami Vivekananda - 2

    ॐ वीरेश्वराय विद्महे विवेकानन्दाय धीमहि । तन्नो वीर: प्रचोदयात् ।

Upanishadic message

Let us now turn to the message of the Upanishads. The most important message is the identity of jivàtman and the Paramàtman. The Upanishads take up a wonderful allegory. It says, let us take a lump of clay. From this lump of clay have been fashioned a pot, a doll, and various other items. All of them have been manufactured out of clay. Essentially they are all clay. If you dip them into water they will dissolve. They would be bereft of what we call nàma (name) and rupa (form).

The Upanishads tell us that it is nàma and rupa which separate us from one another. Essentially we are âtman. But it is these upàdhis or adjuncts of nàma and rupa which have created all these differences, all this variety in life. Thus we have become individuals—men or women, a young man or an aged woman, etc. All these differentiations are caused by name and form. Then, how do we know about the essential oneness? About Brahman? The Upanishads tell us that we must be able to do shravana, manana and nididhyàsana. That is, listen to the great message first (shravana). Then think over that rationally (manana). Then delve deep, meditate on it (nididhyàsana).

As you do that, these apparently difficult truths gradually reveal their secrets to you. You then understand that essentially the self and the Supreme Self are not different. It is nàma and rupa which have separated them, as it were! The Upanishads thus mention a number of dictums which are to be thought over. Swamiji mentions them again and again in his writings and throws light on the essential oneness of the Self. He tells us: Bring the thoughts of the Upanishads down to every man, to the fisherman, to the farmer on the field, the student working in the class-room; discuss with everyone the great message of the Upanishads.

Swamiji tells us a wonderful story about the greatness of the Upanishads. The story goes that there was a flock of sheep. Into that flock fell a lioness. As she was about to catch her prey, she gave birth to a cub. This cub gradually grew up and moved along with other sheep. One day it so happened that another lion saw the flock but was amazed to see a lion in their midst. The young lion was moving like other sheep! How could it be so, thought the lion in wonderment! So he came running, left the other sheep and caught the young lion by the neck and drew him to a river. The young lion kept bleating in terror. He wanted to go with the other sheep. But the big lion would not let him go. He took him to the riverside and said: ‘Don’t you see that my face and that of yours are similar?’ But the cub would not believe. He went on bleating as before. Then the lion searched around and found a pound of flesh smeared with blood. He thrust the flesh into the mouth of the cub. As the cub tasted blood, his lion spirit was roused and he roared out as the lion does. At last the huge lion was happy. Swamiji says, the Upanishads also want to give us the message of truth, the message of strength. ‘Be strong’, Swamiji would say. From the Upanishads, he wanted us to learn how to become àshisto, drarishtha and valishtha. Be strong. Only then you can understand this great message of the Upanishads, he said again and again.

Swamiji was very fond of the Kathopanishad. It includes a story of a young student called ‘Nachiketà’. His father was about to perform a sacrifice. But being a stingy person, he did not want to give away all his belongings as he had pledged earlier. Nachiketà was seated there and watched his father giving away the calves and cows which were bereft of any strength whatsoever. He offered such cows that would not be able to give any milk, would not be able to produce any offspring. Nachiketà observed all this niggardliness and went up to his father at last in utter dismay and said, ‘Father, whom do you give me to?’ His father was annoyed. He understood that his son was making a dig at him. He listened to the question once, twice, thrice, and then blurted out: ‘Yes, I give you to Yama.’ Nachiketà was surprised. He said, ‘Bahunàm emi prathamo bahunàm emi madhyamah; kimsvit yamasya kartavyam yanmayàdya karishyati.’ That is, ‘Among many I am the first, among many I could be the middle one.

But I am last among none. Then how is it that my father sends me to Yama. What service will father render to Yama by sending me to him?’ Swamiji says, the Upanishad mentions ‘shraddhà àvivesha’. Shraddhà descends on Nachiketà and he said, ‘Am I a riff-raff? I am a person with dignity. How can my father send me to Yama, the Lord of Death?’ His father, Vàjashravà, is now repentant. He comes to Nachiketà and cajoles him. But Nachiketà is firm. He, says, ‘No, just like the corns, they are born and they die. Similarly, men and women, they are born and they die. But truth remains. So what you have said, let that take place.’

The young boy then reached the land of Yama. Yama, as you know, is a very busy person. He was not there in his mansion. So the young boy waits at his doorsteps. After three days Yama returns and he wants to please the boy. But is it easy to please that boy? Yama gives him three boons and the third boon contains the essence of this Upanishad. Nachiketà here asks the prime question which Swamiji was greatly fond of. Nachiketà asks Yama, Yeyam prete vichikitsà manushye-‘stityeke nàyamastiti chaike; Etadvidyàmanushishtastvayà’ ham varànàmesha varastritiyah. Thus Nachiketà asks Yama, ‘When this body withers away, men die, where do they go? There are some who say that nothing remains after the body is burnt out. But there are others, who say, “No, there is a continuum. There is something which stays back”. Will you, O Yama, tell me about this continuum? Will you give me a clear answer to this question?’ Yama was shaken. He did not answer this question in a straightforward manner. In fact, he did not expect this question. So, he puts a number of temptations in front of Nachiketà. He said, ‘ You are a young boy. Even the gods would not like to put that question.’ But Nachiketà stuck to his question.

This deep self-confidence, uncompromising quest for Truth is a lesson for all of us. Swami Saradanandaji in his great Bengali biography of Sri Ramakrishna—Sri Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga—has written a chapter the title of which is ‘âshcharyo vaktà kushalosya labdhà.’ The purport of this title is that when both the teacher and the student are equally wonderful, only then you can find the greatest flow of knowledge about the Self or âtmajnàna. Saradanandaji refers to this statement in connection with the conversation that Sri Ramakrishna had with Narendranath (later Swami Vivekananda). The ‘àshcharya vaktà, that Sri Ramakrishna was, gave the highest principles of Vedanta to his young disciple, Narendranath, who was like a lion cub. It was not easy to convince him. But Sri Ramakrishna was a patient teacher who gradually convinced his disciple. It was thus Narendranath took upon himself the task of preaching the message of Vedanta in the modern age. What did Swamiji pick out as the carnel of Vedanta? Let us look at another Upanishad, the Brihadàranyaka Upanishad, that Swamiji was fond of. This is often described as the prime of the Upanishads. This Upanishad was narrated by a sage whose name was Yàjnavalkya. As with all Upanishads, there is a story in this Upanishad also. The story goes that Yàjnavalkya had two wives. One was Maitreyi and another was Kàtyàyani. Yàjnavalkya decided to give up his hearth and home and retire to the forests forever. Before he could do so, he called his two wives and said, ‘Maitreyi and Kàtyàyani, I want to divide up this property between you two’. Kàtyàyani was happy. But Maitreyi was not. She looked up to Yàjnavalkya and said, ‘Will this property give me immortality?’ ‘No, it won’t’, said the sage. ‘In that case, what is the use of this property?’ said Maitreyi. Yàjnavalkya was satisfied because he noticed the prajnà or wisdom of his wife. It was thus the flow of his teachings started. The wonderful teaching of Yàjnavalkya was also a great favourite of Swami Vivekananda. Yàjnavalkya says, ‘Na và are patyuh kàmàya patih priyo bhavati, àtmanastu kàmàya patih priyo bhavati.’ Yàjnavalkya says, ‘O dear, it is not that for the husband per se that the wife is fond of the husband. But it is because of the âtman that shines within that makes the husband so dear to her.’ Then he goes on saying that all objects in this universe, the husband to the wife, the son to the mother, the belongings of the world—all these are dear and covetable because, after all, they are reflections of the Eternal Supreme âtman. It is here in the discussion on the Brihadàranyaka Upanishad that Swamiji turns out, as the great historian K. M. Panikkar says, to be the modern-day Shankara.