I will not translate the Chandogya Upanishad here. It is more a prose style upanishad and I believe there is very good translation and interpretation of it by Swami Krishnanada here. What I wanted to write about is the Sanatkumar’s dialogue with Narada in chapter 3 of this Upanishad. That is something which I find is very revealing.
There are few things that are worth while thinking about before trying to interpret this chapter:
- Concept of Narada?
- What is tatvamasi?
Concept of Narada
Note, I call it the concept of Narada and don’t refer to “Narada” as a person. I believe there was our first and foremost mistake in understanding a lot of these ancient texts. We started giving concepts a form and identifying with them. This meant they all took human forms rather than staying the abstract that they actually were and hence the meaning changed completely.
In my view the error started with the three basic concepts of understanding Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This continued further to all the other concepts. So, how do we go about putting back the abstract into them? It is not so hard. After all the primary concepts are retained as characteristics of these human forms that we are looking at. For eg., Brahma is the creator so we put it back into concept we get creation, what is required for creation knowledge, hence Saraswati is knowledge. Shiva is destroyer, the concept becomes destruction, what is required for destruction, it is energy, hence Shakti is energy.
But, the beauty of this comes when we think about Vishnu. Vishnu is considered the sustainer. Now what is the concept of sustenance? What retains a creation in a certain form for long? The answer I believe comes from a lot of sayings that are present. One of the best one that I think which conveys this correctly is
Prana, Apana, Sukhshma Hari, Hari har hari har hari
Let’s for a moment start looking at this with an open mind. Prana is force, Apana is just the opposite force, Sukshma is middle. So it is basically saying “have a force in one direction, have an equal and opposite force in the other”, what do you have in the middle? Obviously equilibrium, this is Hari.
So, Vishnu or Hari is equilibrium. If I have Brahma as creation (one force), Shiva as destruction(opposite force) what sustains? Equilibrium!! And what is required to sustain? Lakshmi, in some worlds this is considered money, but it varies based on how the equilibrium is established to form the world.
Now, coming back to Narada. What is Narada? And why did I go into Vishnu first? In all the garbled forms of stories that have been passed down, Narada is that which spoils the work of Vishnu. If Vishnu is equilibrium, then shouldn’t Narada just be that voice inside you that keeps questioning the equilibrium? Say you have completed a job and it is well done, you are in equilibrium, you are happy. But there is this small force inside you, that nagging doubt, did I do it correct? Is something going to come and destroy my happiness or equilibrium? That is Narada!!
Now when we think about this dialogue that Sanatkumar has with Narada and we start saying Narada is just a concept inside yourself, then what we are talking about is just Santkumar’s dialogue with himself to understand the truth. The Narada in him is questioning and he is finding the answers.
What is tatvamasi?
This is one of those other words that everyone likes to utter and keeps saying how it is the root of what we need to understand in the Upanishads etc etc. But what is it? There are so many interpretations of it, I wonder how many of use really understand the innateness of this word? And if we understood, does it help us question and find the truth?
Simply put it is translated to “That is me” or “I am that”. The point is that this can be looked on from so many angles and it turns out to be a perfectly balanced saying. Let me try to put down a few angles.
The world is made of molecules and atoms, protons, quarks and so on. Now, why do I have to look outside me to study these atoms and molecules and quarks. Am I, as a part of this world, not also made of just these molecules and atoms and quarks and what not? So, am I not just that which is external to me? tatvamasi? “I am that? Or that is me?”
Looking at it in another perspective, the perspective of thoughts. I perceive an atom in some form, maybe seeing it through an instrument. The fact is, I perceive it hence it exists for me. Say I did not perceive it, can I say it exists or does not exist? Or rather, it exists because I exist and perceive it. If I did not exist, I cannot perceive it, so, for me it does not exist. There can be others for whom it exists, but for me it does not. So, the point is “I perceive hence I am, or I perceive hence it is!!” Tatvamsasi? I exist hence it exists?
How does this make a difference to this Sanatkumar’s dialogue? If I studied something external to myself to understand atoms or molecules or any such building material, what I need to do is find a way to get my brain to vibrate in the correct frequency to understand what I am perceiving with various instruments. Hence exists the problem of the observer. Do I have the correct external senses to perceive and understand at all? How do I add correction for the unknown when I am perceiving? So, doing it external to myself is always going to be stuck in this loop of not knowing!!!
But, if the external and “that what I am made of” are the same, can’t I look inside myself and start the knowing process from the inside? In this case, the external senses are no more required for perception? In this case isn’t the brain or that which makes the brain be perceiving directly? Once this happens we can translate to language if it is even possible!! Will this not remove the problem of the observer which is the highest restriction that exists in science today to study quantum physics? This is exactly what I think this dialogue of Sanatkumar with Narada brings out a way to study oneself to identify inherently what makes us.
The dialogue is pretty simple it goes from the external all the way to the internal, one step at a time, each time telling us what Sanatkumar went into as the next step. The way he says he has done this is by meditating on the current step as if it makes up the whole being till it disappears and the next in the step appears.
The first step starts with “name”. He says the “name” of anything is how we recognize anything in this world. So, we start with meditating on the name of a thing as the thing itself till it disappears and realize the name is not everything. We realize the name is just a tag given to the description of the thing which is the second step. We meditate on the description till the description disappears to give us the next step.
So, going in this manner the steps he has given us is as below (I will put the sanskrit first, then my translation of them, a number of them I believe is the closest english translation, I wonder if we have the correct words for them):
nama -> vagvat -> mano -> sankalp -> Cit -> Dhyanam -> vijnanam -> balam -> annam -> apo -> tejas -> akaso -> smaro -> asa -> Prana
So translating we have:
nama = name
vagvat = description
manas (while manas is considered mind, my take this is a combination of logic, emotion and expectation and we do not have a word for it in English)\
sankalp (While sankalp is translated as Will, again, I do not believe that is what it is. Inherently we tend to push ourselves to do things because we believe that will make us go into equilibrium, I believe sankalp is that which helps us do this, in which case sankalp is direction)
Cit = Awareness of the self
Dhyanam = Focussed
Vjnanam = Coherence of multiple forces in the same direction
Balam = force
annam = matter (While it is translated as food, I do not believe that is what is said here. When you have gone away from awareness, food makes not difference, so given the context it cannot be translated to food)
apo = atom (again this is typically translated as water. Again, I am not sure given the context it can be that, either we do not recognize what this element apo is as of yet, or it is equivalent to a hydrogen atom or electron)
tejas = entropy (This can only translate to entropy, if we follow the path that Sanatkumar follows)
akaso = space (Again, no one understands what space really is)
smaro = Persistence (This is translated as memory, but I believe it has to be persistence as we go to the next we can see why the context is persistence instead of memory)
asa = vibration
Prana = field
So, if we switch this over, what is told is seems to be
There exists a field, in which a vibration occurred and got persisted forming space. An entropy got introduced in this space forming electron or apo or whatever that element is. This formed matter creating force. Coherence of many such forces caused focus and hence awareness. Awareness led to a direction which formed manas from where we created a number of descriptions and gave them names. And hence we have this world!!
Can meditation really allow us to see this field in which we all exist? Can then this field be called the truth that we are seeking? What is this field?