Vasthu : The Science To A Happy And Healthy Home

What is Vasthu?

Many people dismiss Vasthu as a waste of time and as a superstition. In reality Vasthu is an architectural science that deals with building houses in accordance with purpose, rules and best practices. While some of its recommendations may seem archaic and downright silly, Vasthu has a logical reason behind each of its principles.

For example, Vasthu recommends building houses with thresholds that face either the Northerly or Easterly direction. This is something that many would not even consider, yet history and experience shows that houses constructed with the principles of Vasthu appear more graceful, peaceful and flowing. This can be seen frequently in the buildings of South India.

Vasthu calculates rainfall, wind, sunrise and sunset to identify the ideal way to construct a house. If a house faces north then the effects of harmful UV rays from the sun on the threshold, where members of the house and guests congregate are highly minimized. Similarly an East facing house has the advantage of being graced by the rays of the rising sun which bring life, vitamins and nutrients.

Hence Vasthu is not a superstition and pseudoscience. It is rather a clever set of principles put together by our ancestors to bring betterment into our lives.

Position of Kitchen

Vasthu advises us not to set up a kitchen or place of cooking anywhere in the South East corner and the traditional belief behind this is that a house is more likely to catch on fire if the kitchen is placed in the South East corner. It was said that across the eight directions, various deities safeguard them and the south east direction belongs to Agni, the god of fire.

But a more valid reason could be that a South Westerly wind could pick up smoke and embers that rise up and set thatched houses on fire. While housing has become safe and strengthened in the years gone by, and people dismiss this as irrelevant tradition, the chances of South Westerly winds wreaking havoc still persists which is why kitchens and fire in general must be avoided in the South East corner of the house. Instead it is recommended to construct kitchens in the East or North East corners safe from the influence of rogue winds.

Reason for East facing window in Kitchen

Older buildings in India had their kitchens in the East or North Easterly direction as well as a kitchen window opening out in the East direction. This arrangement is practiced even today in modern construction.

The reasoning behind this is as follows. As with most kitchens cooking produces a lot of smoke that needs to be let out from the home and a window is the simplest form of doing so. The blowing wind takes out the acrid smoke through the window leaving the home fresh and healthy.

Furthermore, the kitchen is the key room of the house that starts buzzing with activity at the break of dawn. As the day’s food gets preparation gets underway, the sun also rises in tandem in the East. Opening the windows lets the sun’s early morning rays grace the food being made and enriches it with nutrients and vitamins.

Position of Bedroom

Vasthu recommends that a house’s bedroom be placed in the South East side. The deeper explanation is that since the bedroom is a place where we spent a lot of time in our house, it needs to be fresh and ensured plenty of air circulation and the South East winds make sure there is plenty of freshly circulated air if the bedroom is placed in this direction. A room with good circulation improves intimacy and resolves any marital problems that couples have.

Thus, it can be concluded that Vasthu which is considered as a superstition is cultivated on actual science that results in a healthier and happier home.

By Neel




Ear piercing ceremony

Karnavedha, or the ear-piercing ceremony, is a Hindu tradition that is being followed since ages. According to scriptures, this ceremony can be conducted on the child’s 10th, 12th or 16th day after its birth or it must be performed on the odd years of the child, like the 3rd year or the 7th year. This is one of the most important rituals in Hinduism and although it has a scientific basis behind it, it has been covered up with a religious excuse and been made compulsory for Hindus.

It is believed that the right ear of the boy child should be bored first and when it comes to a girl, her left ear must be bored first. The child should be made to sit on its father’s lap and must be made to face the east. The ceremony must happen in the first half of the day and can end in a feast.

Susruta, the great Indian surgeon, advocates ear-piercing by saying that it prevents diseases like hernia and hydrocele. It is also believed that ear-piercing regulates the menstrual cycle in girls and prevents hysteria and other diseases. The flow of current in the human body is maintained by wearing earrings.

It is believed that one can use a gold, silver or iron needle to pierce the ears. If the ear of a prince has to be pierced, the needle can be made of gold, if the ear of a Brahmin or a Vysha has to be pierced, the needle can be made of silver and if the ear of a Shudra has to be pierced, the needle can be made of iron. Although it seems discriminatory, this idea was conceived mainly because of the economic situations of these castes. However, the Smriti Maharnava says that a copper needle can be used for any child.

While Susruta advocates the use of a surgeon to pierce the ears of the child, it is usually done by a goldsmith. Priests usually chant holy mantras in the child’s ears before the actual piercing is done and once the piercing is done, a thin wire is inserted in the holes to prevent them from closing.

While many Hindu rituals are just ignored as superstitions, one has to delve deeply to understand the science involved behind prescribing every ritual rather than blindly follow it because it is a sin to do so otherwise.

The significance of Pradakshina


When we enter a Hindu temple, we see a lot of devotees going around the temple, with their hands folded in front of them and their eyes closed (mostly). Commonly known as pradakshina (circumambulation) this Sanksrit word means ‘moving around a sacred object for a good cause’. The reasoning behind going around in a circle is quite simple. The Lord is the centre point in our lives and a circle can only be drawn with a center; which means that we should keep the Lord as the focal point and go about our daily lives.

Scientifically speaking, every point on the circumference of the circle is equidistant from the centre which means that no matter where we are, we are always equally close to the Lord. And the pradakshina is always done in a clockwise manner because in Hinduism, the right side is more auspicious and the Lord is always present to our right.

The story of the first pradakshina leads to Lord Shiva, Ganesha and Karthikeya. Lord Shiva had instructed his sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya, to go around the world in the pursuit of knowledge. Kartikeya, hopped on to his peacock and went all over the world, while Ganesha, circumambulated his father, Lord Shiva, justifying his act by saying that the whole world is contained within Him.

There are a certain set of rules that one can follow while doing a pradakshina, to gain its full advantage. One has to fold their hands in front of their chest, take smaller steps and walk unhurriedly, chant a mantra of the deity at the temple and visualize the presiding deity at the temple in their heart. The feeling that arises then is one of total peace and absolute surrender.

Usually the pradakshina is done by circumambulating the whole temple but in Shiva temples, there is a slight variation. In a Shiva temple, one can go around the temple till the Gomukhi. The Gomukhi is the outlet where the water used for the Lord’s abhishekam is drained out. This Gomukhi is not to be crossed in a Shiva temple, as it is considered disrespectful to the deity. To complete the pradakshina, devotees have to turn around and go to the other side of the temple, to the other end of the Gomukha. The Gomukha should not be crossed under any circumstances.


There are a minimum number of pradakshinas that is set for each deity:

– Ganesha: 1

– Shiva: 2

– Vishnu: 3

– Ayyappa: 4

– Kartikeya: 5

– Durga: 6

– Peepal tree: 7


Each step of a pradakshina is said to eliminate sins that a person had committed in his present and past lives. It is not necessary that a pradakshina has to be only in a temple. There are various types of pradakshinas:

– Atma pradakshina : Circumambulating around oneself, acknowledging the atma in himself.

– Giri Valam: Circumambulating around a hill.

– Adi pradakshina: Circumambulating using very short steps; the heel of the foot touches the toes of the other foot and the person walks forward.

– Anga pradakshina: After bathing in the temple’s pond or well, the person, with wet clothes, rolls around the temple chanting the Lord’s name.

– Mutti podudal: Circumambulating the temple on one’s knees.

Apart from these, one can also circumambulate around pipal trees and Tulsi plants.

The Power Behind The Devi Mantra – Sarva Mangala Mangalye


In this post, let us understand the meaning of the renowned Devi mantra.

Sarva-Mangala-Maangalye Shive Sarvaartha-Saadhike
Sharannye Triambake Gauri Naaraayanni Namostute

Welcome to you O Narayani; Who is the positiveness in all the auspicious, one who is so auspicious herself and has all auspicious qualities,
The provider of protection, the one with 3 eyes and a beautiful face; We salute you, O Narayani.

Goddess Narayani is also known to be the power behind Lord Vishnu.

Let’s chant this powerful mantra:

Kita-Bhringi -NyayaThe Maxim of the Trapped Worm and the Wasp


Kita-Bhringi -NyayaThe Maxim of the Trapped Worm and the Wasp
By Hari Parsada Das | Nov 26, 2016

Hatred, envy or fear for another person often intimidates and consumes us. When the primary purpose of our existence becomes dictated by hate or rivalry towards a specific individual, it forces us to give up living our own lives and start imitating the life of the person we envy.

There is a popular maxim (logic) in the Sanskrit language which carries an important life-lesson for those of us who are at any point of time affected by such hatred or envy. This is the Kīṭa-bhṛṅgī-nyāya or the maxim of the trapped worm and the wasp. This maxim is quoted by Srila Shukadev Goswami in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (7.1.28):

kīṭaḥ peśaskṛtā ruddhaḥ
kuḍyāyāṁ tam anusmaran
vindate tat-svarūpatām

Translation: A worm (kīṭaḥ) who is trapped (ruddhaḥ) by the wasp (peśaskṛtā) in a hole in the wall (kuḍyāyām) keeps meditating repeatedly (anusmaran) on the wasp (tam) out of envy (saṁrabha) and fear (bhaya-yogena) and thus attains (vindate) the form of a wasp (tat-svarūpatām) in its next life.

Besides the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, this logic is also quoted by Gauḍīya-vaiṣṇava ācāryas such as Sri Narayan Bhatta Goswam, Sri Rasikottamsa, etc.

This maxim carries the important lesson for us that if we become consumed by the negative emotions of hatred, envy or rivalry towards another person, then we start meditating on them repeatedly instead of meditating on our desired object – Krishna. We thus try to outsmart our rival in each and every possible way. We stop living our own lives and start living the life of our rivals.

For example, I may not be an expert in kīrtana but seeing the talented performance of a kīrtanīya attract various devotees, I may develop some envy or rivalry. If my negative feelings are not checked and addressed by me or my well-wishers in their nascent stage, they may turn into deep-seated hatred for that talented kīrtanīya. I may even give up my own fields of specializations and try to learn kīrtana and music simply to satisfy my burning desire to subdue, surpass and succeed over my rival.

I may start meditating upon that person day and night, and in my blind hatred I won’t even realize that I have actually turned into a clone of that person. I won’t realize that in my madness of conquering a rival, I’ve ended up losing my soul. Seeing my deep-seated desire to be an expert kīrtanīya, Krishna may give me another birth simply to satisfy my desire.

Krishna says in the Gītā (7.8) — pauruṣaṁ nṛṣu — I am the ability in a human being. In the Gītā (10.41) he reminds Arjuna again that all sorts of creativity and talents are sparks of his opulence. Thus, when we see some creativity, some talent or art in an individual, we should offer our respects to Lord Krishna who is manifesting his specific opulences through that individual.

Ultimately, talents and creativities are not the glory of those individuals, but rather are the glory of Lord Krishna. Knowing this, we should conquer our envy and hatred for that individual. If we keep going down that pathway of rivalry, we may end up taking another birth simply to satisfy our whims of acquiring a specific talent which we cannot possibly attain in this life. If at all we dislike a certain individual, the best we can do is to ignore them completely and move ahead in our lives, by serving god using our god-given natural propensities.


The Science of Katha Upanishad

Kaṭha (कठ) Upaniṣad is the fourth in the series of eleven Principal Upaniṣads that we have taken up for rational review. This Upaniṣad is unique in content, since it deals with, in detail, the question of what happens after death. Apparently to add authenticity to the assertions made, the Upaniṣad supposes that the issue is explained by the Lord of Death himself.

The subject-matter is presented as a dialogue between Lord of Death called Mṛtyu and a young boy by name Nachiketas. (The word mṛtyu – मृत्यु in Sanskrit means death; in the study of this Upaniṣad we use this word with the initial letter ‘M’ in capital to refer to the Lord of Death). Before going to this dialogue, let us recall the position we have assumed in the study of the previous three Upaniṣads. It is this: ours is an independent effort, far removed from the conventional theological interpretation of the Upaniṣadic literature and is made with the aim of bringing out the rational thoughts underlying the mystically presented texts in Upaniṣads. This may be borne in mind when we move forward.

This Upaniṣad is part of Kaṭha Brāhmaṇa of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. It contains six parts, each known as a Vallī (वल्ली) and these six parts are presented in two chapters of three Vallīs each. Vallīs are numbered from one to three in each chapter. To refer to a verse, both Vallī number and chapter number are often given; for example, 1.2.3 indicates the third verse of the second Vallī in the first chapter. Another method is to omit the chapter number and give the Vallī numbers continuously from 1 to 6; then, the first verse of the fifth Vallī is indicated as 5.1. Here, we follow the latter method.

Nachiketas was the son of one Vājaśravasaḥ (वाजश्रवसः) presumably belonging to the clan of Gautama. Vājaśravasaḥ was performing a sacrifice in which all his wealth had to be given away in charity. Seeing that very old and weak cows of no use were being distributed, Nachiketas thought that no good would accrue to his father from this sacrifice. As if suggesting himself as a better gift, he asked his father, “To whom will you give me?” The father didn’t say anything. Nachiketas repeated the question again and again. Getting annoyed at this, the father, in a fit of anger, told him that he would give him to Mṛtyu. The innocent boy on hearing the angry words of his father began to think how he could be useful to Mṛtyu. Without any clue therefor, he reached the abode of Mṛtyu, but had to wait there for three nights to have a meeting with Mṛtyu. As a recompense for this 3-night delay, Mṛtyu allowed Nachiketas to ask three boons from him…. This much is the background story narrated in the Upaniṣad, regarding how Nachiketas happened to meet Mṛtyu and had a discussion with him.

The first boon Nachiketas asked was that his father be pacified and no longer be angry with him; the second was for obtaining a ‘fire’ of the gods, which is capable of leading one to heaven and immortality; Mṛtyu readily gave him these boons. Then Nachiketas asked the third boon:

येयं प्रेते विचिकित्सा मनुष्येഽस्तीत्येके नायमस्तीति चैके
एतद्विद्यामनुशिष्टस्त्वयाहं वराणामेष वरस्तृतीयः || 1.20 ||

yeyaṃ prete vicikitsā manuṣyestītyeke nāyamastīti caike
etadvidyāmanuśiṣṭastvayāhaṃ varāṇāmeṣa varastṛtīyaḥ (1.20)

Meaning: ‘This is my third boon: On the question of a dead person, some say that he continues to exist, whereas others say that he ceases to exist (at death); I wish to be taught by you on this issue.’

The issue raised here is undoubtedly very important. Though being the most authoritative person to discourse on this topic, Mṛtyu did not respond positively in the beginning. We see in the next nine verses (from 21 to 29), the attempts of Mṛtyu, on one side, to dissuade Nachiketas from seeking the answer and the determination of Nachiketas, on the other, for getting it.

Mṛtyu says, “This is a very subtle issue; even the gods (deva) had this doubt in the past. It is not easy to know; ask for any other boon. Do not compel me”.

Nachiketas replies, “If even the gods had doubts, I see none other than you to tell me about this secret knowledge. So, I am not going for an alternative boon” (verses 1.21 and 1.22).

Following this, Mṛtyu tried to entice Nachiketas with offers of all kinds of worldly pleasures and possessions like wealth, horses, elephants, cattle, gold, longevity, sons, grandsons, etc. He also promised to fulfil all the desires of Nachiketas and asked him to desist from pressing the question. But Nachiketas spurned all these offers, saying that they were all ephemeral and therefore had no attraction for him; he remained firm in his resolve to know the secret of death. Seeing the unflagging determination of Nachiketas in pursuing the path of knowledge against the lures of worldly pleasures, Mṛtyu finally became pleased to impart the knowledge asked for. But, he did not go directly for answering the question. Instead, he discoursed at length on death and immortality and at the end came out with a brief answer in a single verse. He was actually following a well-designed scheme that culminates in delivering the intended answer. Let us see what his scheme and his answer were.

At first, Mṛtyu appreciates Nachiketas for his choosing the path of knowledge against the path of ignorance. In his opinion two mutually opposing options are open for man; one is śreyas (श्रेयस्) and the other is preyas (प्रेयस्). Out of these, śreyas is that which brings about inner enrichment and preyas is that which ruins the person by entangling him in worldly entailments. Only the wise men choose śreyas; Nachiketas did the same, rejecting all the trappings of preyas. This is what earned him the commendation of Mṛtyu and an opportunity to receive the desired instruction. Only men like Nachiketas can prefer śreyas to preyas. What about others? Mṛtyu says about them thus:

अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितं मन्यमानाः
दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियन्ति मूढा अन्धेनैव नीयमाना यथान्धाः || 2.5 ||

avidyāyāmantare vartamānāḥ svayaṃ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitaṃ manyamānāḥ
dandramyamāṇāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ (2.5)

Meaning: ‘The foolish ones, thinking themselves to be intelligent and learned, despite being totally immersed in ignorance, wander around, going from one thing to another, like the blind being led by the blind’.

This verse implies that if one opts for the path of preyas, he is actually foolish, though he may think himself to be wise and learned. Being already ignorant, he is led by ignorance too; the phrase ‘blind led by the blind’ emphasises this fact, blindness being a reference to ignorance. (This verse appears in Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad also – verse 1.2.8 – with a single-word replacement).

In the next verse, 2.6, this idea about the ignorant is further developed and the idea of death is introduced ingeniously. Mṛtyu says,

‘न सांपरायः प्रतिभाति बालं प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम्
अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी पुनः पुनर्वशमापद्यते मे || 2.6 ||

na sāṃparāyaḥ pratibhāti bālaṃ pramādyantaṃ vittamohena mūḍham
ayaṃ loko nāsti para iti mānī punaḥ punarvaśamāpadyate me (2.6)

Meaning: ‘Such inferior minds are intrinsically negligent and are stupefied by attachment to wealth; pursuit of that which is transcendent will never occur to them. To them there is nothing beyond the world of physical experience; such people come into my clutch again and again’.

Actually, in this verse Mṛtyu begins preparation of the ground for answering the question. His scheme of answering is a very indirect one; he first imparts what death is and then, what immortality is. In this verse Mṛtyu says about those who meet with death again and again; they are the ignorant ones who crave for worldly pleasures. This declaration about death is very important. It defines death as the state of being subjugated by desires for worldly pleasures (preyas). We have already come across this idea of death in our study of Bṛhadāraṇyaka (1.2.1) and Chāndogya (8.6.6) Upaniṣads. The same idea can be seen in Gīta 2.62 & 2.63. We saw it in more detail when we studied verse 8 of Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad.

The consistency of Upaniṣadic thoughts regarding the concept of death is evident from the above references; it cannot be otherwise for a philosophy which upholds the central idea that the whole universe is an appearance of the non-material, eternal, ultimate principle called Ātmā. Any other understanding of death as a total destruction of the physical form, retaining the individual identity of the person for further births is therefore invalid.

Having thus taught about the true import of death, Mṛtyu now moves on to the second part of his scheme; he introduces the concept of immortality. According to Upaniṣadic philosophy, immortality is not freedom from loss of physical body; it is dispossession of Kāma from inside, attained by realising the Ātmā. In order to introduce this concept of immortality Mṛtyu begins by drawing attention of Nachiketas to the entity of Ātmā which is very difficult to attain to; he says that many have not even heard of it and many of those who heard of it, do not know it. Those who know it and attain to it become happy; but, very rare are those who discourse on it and understand it (2.7). Since this subtle entity is variously thought by men with inferior intellect, it cannot be understood properly, if taught by them (2.8). So, the teacher must be properly qualified to impart the knowledge about this entity; so also the disciple should be duly qualified to receive it. Mṛtyu considers himself to be well conversant with the knowledge of Ātmā and further, he sees Nachiketas to be well qualified to receive the instruction. So he is happy to have a disciple like Nachiketas.

In the following verse Mṛtyu further eulogises the knowledge about that entity:

तं दुर्दर्शं गूढमनुप्रविष्ठं गुहाहितं गह्वरेष्ठं पुराणम्
अध्यात्मयोगाधिगमेन देवं मत्वा धीरो हर्षशोकौ जहाति || 2.12 ||

taṃ durdarśaṃ gūḍhamanupraviṣṭhaṃ guhāhitaṃ gahvareṣṭhaṃ purāṇam
adhyātmayogādhigamena devaṃ matvā dhīro harṣaśokau jahāti (2.12)

Meaning: ‘By inner meditation upon that unseen, secret, immanent, primal divinity which is seated in the innermost part of the heart, the enlightened man gets rid of the duality of pleasure-pain’.

Mṛtyu further adds in the next verse (2.13) that by attaining to that divinity, one enjoys bliss. Hearing the inducing words of these two verses, Nachiketas desires to know that divinity which is beyond dualities like virtue and vice, good and bad, and past and future (2.14). Mṛtyu replies:

सर्वे वेदा यत्पदमामनन्ति तपांसि सर्वाणि च यद्वदन्ति
यदिच्छन्तो ब्रह्मचर्यं चरन्ति तत्ते पदं सङ्ग्रहेण ब्रवीम्योमित्येतत् || 2.15 ||

sarve vedā yatpadamāmananti tapāṃsi sarvāṇi ca yadvadanti
yadicchanto brahmacaryaṃ caranti tatte padaṃ saṅgraheṇa bravīmyomityetat (2.15)

Meaning: I shall tell you about that, it is ‘Om’, the sound which all the Vedas extol, all deep meditations declare and the study of Vedas seeks to attain to.

Thus, the ultimate immortal entity is declared as ‘Om’, which sound symbolises Ātmā (vide verse 12 of Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad). Further, we have seen in verses 2.23.2 and 2.23.3 of Chāndogya that ‘Om’ was revealed on successive deep meditations on the worlds and the Vyāhṛti, which implies that ‘Om’ is the essence of phenomenal existence.

In the next ten verses Mṛtyu discourses on the nature of this ultimate principle. In 2.16, it is stated that this is the imperishable, supreme Brahma; if a person knows this, whatever he wishes for, would be his. This, however, does not mean that such a knowing person can command to his possession anything that he wishes for; it only implies that such a person will have nothing to wish for, since a feeling of oneness with everything will be generated in him by that knowledge, resulting in a state wherein nothing external will be there for him to wish for. This is the lesson we have learnt from verses 6 and 7 of Īśāvāsya and 4.4.12 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka. These verses underline the fact that a person who has attained to Ātmā, there would be nothing to wish for or aspire to.

Mṛtyu says in verse 2.17 that Ātmā is the support of all; he declares in verse 2.18 that Ātmā is immortal and eternal:

न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चित् नायं कुतश्चित् न बभूव कश्चित् |
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे || 2.18 ||

na jāyate mriyate vā vipaścit nāyaṃ kutaścit na babhūva kaścit
ajo nityaḥ śāśvatoyaṃ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (2.18)

Meaning: ‘This omniscient Ātmā is neither born, nor does he die; he has not originated from anywhere or anything. He is unborn, eternal, everlasting and ancient; he is not destroyed even when the body is destroyed.

We find the same verse in Gīta 2.20, with a one-word change. Again, Gīta verse 2.19 and Kaṭha verse 2.19 are identical, both saying that those, who consider Ātmā as killing or being killed, do not know the truth. In this connection, please also recall verse 8.1.5 of Chāndogya.

Mṛtyu says in verse 2.20 that Ātmā is subtler than the subtle and grosser than the gross and is seated in the heart of all beings. A desire-free person, with composed senses and mind, perceives his glory and gets freed from grief. We have learned about the subtlety and the seat of Ātmā in Chāndogya 3.14.3. Regarding the seat of Ātmā we had a detailed discussion while appreciating verse 8.1.5 of Chāndogya; please refer to that for further clarification. There are a number of verses in other Upaniṣads also highlighting the seating of Ātmā; we will see them all, in due course. Gīta verses 13.17, 15.15 and 18.61 also say about the seat of Ātmā.

Mṛtyu continues his discourse on Ātmā in verses 2.21 and 2.22. Wise men get rid of grief by knowing the great, bodiless, all-pervading Ātmā seated in perishable bodies (2.22). However, Ātmā cannot be known by oral instructions or by mere intelligence or by much hearing about it; it is known by him who is fully dedicated to it. To such a person Ātmā reveals its true nature (2.23).

Thus, in this Vallī we have been introduced to the concepts of death and immortality; we are also told about the entity, on knowing which one may attain immortality. In the next Vallī (3rd) the same line of thinking is pursued further. In verses 3.3 and 3.4, Ātmā is depicted as the lord of a chariot driven by Buddhi (the reasoning faculty), wherein the chariot is the body and the rein is Manas (mind). (Buddhi and Manas are two of the four antaḥkaraṇas – अन्तःकरण – organs of internal organs. The other two Antaḥkaraṇa are Chitta and Ahaṃkāra; the English equivalent of Antaḥkaraṇa is Psyche). The sense organs are the horses of the chariot. Where do they proceed to? They chase their respective objects (object of ears is the sound, that of eyes is the sight and so on). Ātmā, the senses and the Manas together are known as the enjoyer (3.3 and 3.4). These two verses are very famous and are therefore quoted below:

आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथमेव तु
बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च || 3.3 ||

ātmānaṃ rathinaṃ viddhi śarīraṃ rathameva tu
buddhiṃ tu sārathiṃ viddhi manaḥ pragrahameva ca (3.3)

इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुः विषयांस्तेषु गोचरान्
आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः || 3.4 ||

indriyāṇi hayānāhuḥ viṣayāṃsteṣu gocarān
ātmendriyamanoyuktaṃ bhoktetyāhurmanīṣiṇaḥ (3.4)

The idea sought to be presented here is the Ātmā-body relationship. It is same as we have already found in the first verse of Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad, “īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ ….” It also furthers the concept that Ātmā is seated in the heart. It is the duty of Buddhi to guide the chariot by harnessing the horses of the sense organs, using the rein of Manas. The goal obviously is what the master directs. Since the master, the Ātmā, is the origin of everything, he attracts everything to himself; everything is attached to him just as the beads of a rosary (Gīta 7.7). So the final destination of the chariot is Ātmā himself (vide verse 3.11 mentioned below). It goes without saying, that if the rein or the horse is bad, or if the driver is negligent, the goal will not be attained (Verses 5 to 9).

The Ātmā-body relationship is further explored in verses 3.10 and 3.11. Verse 3.10 declares that sense-objects (such as sound, touch, etc.) are superior to (subtler than) senses; Manas is superior to the sense-objects; Buddhi is superior to Manas; that which is superior to Buddhi is ‘Mahān Ātmā’.

What is this Mahān Ātmā? It is the expanding state of Ātmā; mahat indicates that which expands. How is this expanding state like? As a prelude to manifestation of the physical world, Ātmā invokes Prakṛti which is its inalienable power to appear in different forms. With the Prakṛti invoked, Ātmā is known as Puruṣa. This Puruṣa- Prakṛti combine is called Brahma and it is the Brahma that expands and differentiates into various names and forms constituting the universe. Before this expansion starts, the state of Brahma is known as Avyakta (undifferentiated). When the differentiation is in process, it is called ‘Mahān Ātmā’.

From the above explanation, it is evident that Avyakta is superior to Mahān Ātmā (or Mahat) and Puruṣa is superior to Avyakta. Since Puruṣa is Ātmā himself, nothing is superior to Puruṣa. This is the position declared in verse 3.11. This comparison appears again in verses 6.7 and 6.8. Verse 3.11 also declares that this Puruṣa is the ultimate goal. What should one do to achieve that goal? Mṛtyu gives the answer in verse 3.14:

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान् निबोधत
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत् कवयो वदन्ति || 3.14 ||

uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya varān nibodhata
kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā durgaṃ pathastat kavayo vadanti (3.14)

Meaning: Be awake and be active; approach the learned and get enlightened.
The wise say that the path is very difficult to tread, like the sharp edge of a razor.

‘Be awake and be active’ means that one should first discipline his inner faculties and then strive for getting the necessary instructions. The rest is self-explanatory.

The goal to be achieved is once more highlighted in the next verse. It is a very important verse, as it asserts that, by attaining to Ātmā, one is freed from the mouth of death. See the verse below:

अशब्दमस्पर्शमरूपमव्ययं तथारसं नित्यमगन्धवच्च यत्
अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तंमृत्युमुखात् प्रमुच्यते || 3.15 ||

aśabdamasparśamarūpamavyayaṃ tathārasaṃ nityamagandhavacca yat
anādyanantaṃ mahataḥ paraṃ dhruvaṃ nicāyya taṃmṛtyumukhāt pramucyate (3.15)

Meaning: By attaining to that which is without sound, touch, form, taste and smell, that which is imperishable, eternal, without beginning and end, and that which is superior to Mahat, one escapes from the prowl of death.

The implication is that one who has attained to Ātmā remains untouched by death; he never dies. Attaining to Ātmā means shedding all dualities which are essential features of physical existence; for, Ātmā is without any attributes as clarified in this verse. Even for a person who has attained to Ātmā in this way, the physical body is subject to decay and disintegration, which in common parlance is death. So, what is the justification for the declaration that he escapes death? The inference is therefore that what we consider as death is not the death which Mṛtyu intends here. The verse says that freedom from physical dualities is freedom from death. Conversely, capitulation to dualities is death. This capitulation takes place through the wandering senses to satisfy the Kāma within; Kāma is defined as reinforced attachment (vide Gīta 2.62). Thus, capitulation to dualities becomes capitulation to Kāma. This is the philosophical definition of death and Mṛtyu follows this definition in clarifying the doubt of Nachiketas. These new concepts of death and immortality are continued further in Vallī 4.

In verse 4.1 Mṛtyu declares that senses are intrinsically oriented outwardly and therefore they cognise the physical appearance only, not the inner principle; but, in order to attain to immortality, inward cognition is essential. We find a further clarification in the next verse; please see it here:

पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बालाः ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम्
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह न प्रार्थयन्ते || 4.2 ||

parācaḥ kāmānanuyanti bālāḥ te mṛtyoryanti vitatasya pāśam
atha dhīrā amṛtatvaṃ viditvā dhruvamadhruveṣviha na prārthayante (4.2)

Meaning: ‘Inferior minds pursue desires for external objects and get caught up in the wide-spread snare of death; but, the wise recognizing the eternal immortality underlying such ephemeral objects, do not harbour any desires’.

With this declaration, the position that death is capitulation to Kāma has become a settled one; it is also settled that immortality is the opposite of such death and that it is gained by renouncing Kāma. Evidently, Mṛtyu is going forward slowly with his scheme designed for clearing Nachiketas’ doubt.

How can we attain to the said eternal immortality? Is there any special tool for that? No, there is no special tool other than what we already possess. The tool with which the senses cognise the sense objects is verily the tool for cognising immortality also. Obviously, the tool is pure consciousness; this consciousness is capable of taking us beyond the sense objects to the ultimate and immortal entity. (4.3).

Here comes the final, concluding assertion on what constitutes death. See how Mṛtyu does it, in verse 4.10:

यदेवेह तदमुत्र यदमुत्र तदन्विह
मृत्योः स मृत्युमाप्नोति य इह नानेव पश्यति || 4.10 ||

yadeveha tadamutra yadamutra tadanviha
mṛtyoḥ sa mṛtyumāpnoti ya iha nāneva paśyati (4.10)

Meaning: ‘What is here is the same as what is there and vice versa. (That means, everywhere the same thing exists). He who sees differently meets with death again and again’.

The implied meaning is a re-assertion of what we are by now very familiar with. We know that Kāma overtakes us, if only we see something different from us and desire for it; if we perceive everything as a part of us, everything as belonging to us, then there will not be anything to aspire for; then there will not be any space for Kāma. In other words, when we see things other than us, we covet them, enabling Kāma to strike root in us. This will culminate in our death (death in the philosophical sense mentioned above). So long as we fail to see the unity of existence and continue to see things as separate from us, death occurs to us repeatedly; we go from death to death.

It has been declared above that only the same thing exists everywhere. What is that thing? Mṛtyu answers this question in verses 4.12 and 4.13; that thing is the Puruṣa who rules over both past and future; he is seated in the central part of the body and is only thumb-sized (4.12 and 4.13). The same idea is repeated in verse 6.17 also. The ‘central part’ is a reference to the heart, which we have seen previously as ‘Thalamus’ in modern parlance; ‘thumb-size’ indicates the size of Thalamus. The implications of this seating have been discussed in detail already in 8.1.1 of ‘The Science of Chāndogya Upaniṣad’.

The last verse (15) of this Vallī describes the transformation that happens to the person who gets enlightened; he becomes the Ātmā himself, just as when pure water is poured into pure water, both become identified with each other. That means, he attains immortality; for, Ātmā is immortal. See the verse below:

यथोदकं शुधे शुधमासिक्तं तादृगेव भवति
एवं मुनेर्विजानत आत्मा भवति गौतम || 4.15 ||

yathodakaṃ śudhe śudhamāsiktaṃ tādṛgeva bhavati
evaṃ munervijānata ātmā bhavati gautama (4.15)

Now we enter into the most important Vallī of the Upaniṣad, the Vallī in which the crucial question is finally answered. However, prior to answering the question, the Upaniṣad explores the essential constitution of living beings, in view of the fact that death occurs to such beings only. It is stated that living beings consist of the physical body that is inherently prone to degeneration and Ātmā which supports the body and the life therein; they owe their existence to Ātmā. We see these declarations in verses 5.4 and 5.5, extracted below.

अस्य विस्रंसमानस्य शरीरस्थस्य देहिनः
देहाद्विमुच्यमानस्य किमत्र परिशिष्यत एतद्वै तत् || 5.4 ||

asya visraṃsamānasya śarīrasthasya dehinaḥ
dehādvimucyamānasya kimatra pariśiṣyata etadvai tat (5.4)

न प्राणेन नापानेन मर्त्यो जीवति कश्चन
इतरेण तु जीवन्ति यस्मिन्नेतावुपाश्रितौ || 5.5 ||

na prāṇena nāpānena martyo jīvati kaścana
itareṇa tu jīvanti yasminnetāvupāśritau (5.5)

Meaning: 5.4 : Dehin (देहिन्) means that which possesses a deha or body; it is obviously Puruṣa. The verse says thus: that which remains to a Dehin when the body is separated, is ‘that’ (Ātmā). The implication is that living beings consist of a physical body and the Ātmā supporting life from within, pervading the entire body. We have seen this idea already, in Bṛhadāraṇyaka 3.7.3 to 3.7.23.

5.5: This verse says that man lives, not because of Prāṇa or Apāna (two functional divisions of the vital energy – breath – which we will study in detail in Praśna Upaniṣad), but because of something else on which these two are dependent. The implication is this: man is ultimately dependent on the power of Ātmā.

Mṛtyu now takes up the question, offering to tell Nachiketas about the eternal Brahma as well as how Ātmā exists when death occurs. He says:

हन्त ते इदं प्रवक्ष्यामि गुह्यं ब्रह्म सनातनम्
यथा च मरणं प्राप्य आत्मा भवति गौतम || 5.6 ||

hanta te idaṃ pravakṣyāmi guhyaṃ brahma sanātanam
yathā ca maraṇaṃ prāpya ātmā bhavati gautama (5.6)

In the next verse, his long overdue answer comes. It may be noted that 72 verses have passed since the question was put to him; the Upaniṣad has only a total of 119 verses. In all the verses so far passed, the subject matter was how and why one meets with death and also how and when he can make an escape from death and attain immortality. In all these instructions we have seen that death is perceived as not what we conventionally understand; disintegration of body is not total annihilation, since disintegration is only a change of form and name; that which exists can never cease to exist. That which exists will always be there, only the appearance may change, just as different ornaments successively made of the same ingot of gold. We have also seen that immortality is not the absence of disintegration of physical body. So, it is very important that we should receive the instruction, which Mṛtyu is now going to give, with all this background awareness. Actually, Mṛtyu was enriching the awareness level of Nachiketas through all these 72 verses of instruction so as to make him eligible for receiving the final reply in a higher plane of enlightenment. It is therefore incumbent upon us that we should also receive the ensuing instruction with the same enlightenment which Mṛtyu expected of Nachiketas while instructing him so far. And, what was the reply? Here it is:

योनिमन्ये प्रपद्यन्ते शरीरत्वाय देहिनः
स्थाणुमन्ये ഽनुसंयन्ति यथा कर्म यथा श्रुतम् || 5.7 ||

yonimanye prapadyante śarīratvāya dehinaḥ
sthāṇumanyeഽnusaṃyanti yathā karma yathā śrutam (5.7)

Meaning: yoni = origin (beginning); anye = another; prapadyante = assume, attain; śarīratva = the state of having a body; śarīratvāya = for the sake of body; dehinaḥ = dehins; sthāṇu = immovable, unchangeable; anusaṃyanti = go towards; yathā karma = according to karma (deed); yathā śrutam = according to what is heard (learnt).

So, the meaning of the verse is this: ‘(After death), some Dehins assume another beginning for the sake of body, while others go towards the unchangeable, in accordance with each one’s karma and knowledge’. We have seen that death is capitulation to Kāma; inferior minds follow the senses under the influence of Kāma and meet with death (verse 4.2). So, in this death, the body is not lost and the Dehin continues to be as such. If, in the light of his acquired knowledge, Dehin learns, from his fall, any lesson regarding the danger of Kāma, he tries to keep away from Kāma and, as a result, gains stability of mind; this would finally take him to the changeless entity, which is Ātmā. This is what is said here as going ‘towards the unchangeable’. Contrarily, if he does not learn any lesson and is not able to defy the calls of bodily pleasures, he opts for another beginning in the same line, finally landing in death’s trap again and again as stated in 4.2. This situation is depicted here as ‘assuming another beginning for the sake of body’.

This is the true meaning which is in conformity with the rational thinking consistently seen in all the Principal Upaniṣads; we have by now had first-hand knowledge on it. As against this rational position, the conventional interpretation of the verse is quite calamitous to the universally acknowledged concept of Ātmā; that interpretation is rather mythological, not in level with the superior wisdom of Upaniṣads. The advocates of this interpretation give the meaning of this verse thus: ‘some Dehins go to wombs for new bodies; others become immovables like trees, according to their karma and knowledge’. It is unfortunate that they ignore even the meaning of the word ‘Dehin’. When the Deha is gone, what is left is Ātmā only; then, we cannot call it Dehin (see 5.4). Since Ātmā is all-pervasive there is no question of it going from some place to another in search of womb; moreover, by the same reason, there cannot be a womb without Ātmā and waiting for it to come. Further, they commit a grave mistake in assuming that ‘sthāṇu’ in the verse is ‘immovable beings like trees’. The word ‘sthāṇu’ means that which is without change; it is Ātmā. In Gīta verse 2.24 Ātmā is described as sthāṇu; does it mean that Ātmā is only something like a tree? Above all, if it is to give this simple, trite, silly answer, Mṛtyu could have given it at the outset itself. Instead, he gave all these instructions on snares of death and on attaining to immortality in long 72 verses. He dissuaded Nachiketas by saying that even the gods do not know the answer and also by offering many enticing gifts. Moreover, it is a well-established principle that Ātmā never gets attached or smeared by anything. We will see this in verse 5.11 below; we see this fact in Gīta verse 13.32. The import of Gīta verses 2.23 and 2.24 is also the same. If Ātmā cannot be smeared by anything, it cannot be affected by the Karma and knowledge of the Dehin. All these make the conventional interpretation unrealistic and untenable.

The doubt raised by Nachiketas is now cleared. But Mṛtyu has in verse 5.6 offered to reveal what the eternal Brahma is. In the next verse he does it.

य एष सुप्तेषु जागर्ति कामं कामं पुरुषो निर्मिमाणः
तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते
तस्मिंल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्चन एतद्वै तत् || 5.8 ||

ya eṣa supteṣu jāgarti kāmaṃ kāmaṃ puruṣo nirmimāṇaḥ
tadeva śukraṃ tadbrahma tadevāmṛtamucyate
tasmiṃllokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tadu nātyeti kaścana etadvai tat (5.8)

Meaning: supta= sleeping, inactive; jāgarti= be awake; kāma= desire, wish; nirmimāṇaḥ= making, projecting; śukraṃ= resplendent; śritāḥ= dependent; atyeti= surpass, pass beyond. The verse says: “In the sleeping, inactive thing (Prakṛti), the Puruṣa remains awake and active; he projects thereupon all the objects of desire. This, the Puruṣa and the Prakṛti together, is the resplendent, immortal Brahma. The worlds are dependent on it and nothing surpasses it”. In this connection, please recall the discussion in the previous articles, regarding Brahma and see the convergence of thoughts.

In the next two verses (5.9 and 5.10), Mṛtyu explains how the one and only one Ātmā reflects different forms in different objects. It is just like fire or air acquiring shapes with reference to the objects within which they exist; when air is trapped in a container, its shape is that of the container and, likewise, when fire burns on a small object, it is small in size. In the same manner, the reflection of Ātmā in bodies is limited by their physical periphery. If Ātmā pervades all, what is the meaning in claiming that its reflection in bodies is limited by their physical periphery? The limitation of reflection consists in the peculiar attributes of the respective bodies. For example, in a piece of gold, the reflection pertains to the expression of the various features and qualities of gold; similarly in other things. Verse 5.11 says, as mentioned above, that Ātmā is not smeared by worldly experiences.

Mṛtyu asserts thus in verses 5.12 and 5.13: ‘those who realise that the same Ātmā shines in them and in all others, attain to eternal bliss and peace’. In the next two verses, he declares that Ātmā cannot be pointed out in the manner, “That is this”. It is the one that shines (exists) by itself and others shine (exist) because of it. See how verse 15, the last one of the fifth Vallī elaborates this idea:

न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्रतारकं नेमा विद्युतो भान्ति कुतोഽयमग्निः
तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति || 5.15 ||

na tatra sūryo bhāti na candratārakaṃ nemā vidyuto bhānti kutoഽyamagniḥ
tameva bhāntamanubhāti sarvaṃ tasya bhāsā sarvamidaṃ vibhāti (5.15)

Meaning: ‘No sun, no moon, no stars, no lightning and no fire shine there; it shines on its own and all others shine because of it’. (We see the same verse in 2.2.10 of Muṇḍaka and 6.14 of Śvetāśvatara also).

The next Vallī is the last one of this Upaniṣad. It opens with a depiction of Brahma in a slightly different way compared to what we have seen above in verse 5.8. See the verse below:

ऊर्ध्वमूलोഽवाक्शाख एषोഽश्वत्थः सनातनः
तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते
तस्मिंल्लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु नात्येति कश्चन एतद्वै तत् || 6.1 ||

ūrdhvamūloഽvākśākha eṣoഽśvatthaḥ sanātanaḥ
tadeva śukraṃ tadbrahma tadevāmṛtamucyate
tasmiṃllokāḥ śritāḥ sarve tadu nātyeti kaścana etadvai tat (6.1)

Meaning: aśvatthaḥ= holy fig tree. In this verse, Brahma is equated to an Aśvatthaḥ tree whose roots are above and branches are below; this tree is eternal. The rest is same as we have seen in verse 5.8 above. Gīta also says about this tree in verse 15.1 to 15.4 in greater detail. Look at this tree. The mention that its roots are above, gives an indication of the location of its source of strength and support; ‘above’ indicates transcendence. The all-transcendent entity is verily Ātmā; therefore, the tree has its source and support in Ātmā. Branches of a tree subsist due to the roots. Here the root is Ātmā and branches represent Prakṛti. The root and the branches together represent the Brahma as stated in verse 5.8. Gīta 15.2 explains further that the branches of this tree spread upwards also and the roots extend to bottom.

In the remaining verses, Mṛtyu repeats the concept of immortality and discusses aspects of attaining it. Those who realise this all-pervading Ātmā attain immortality (verse 6.2). Everything in this universe is under the control of Ātmā and follows its rules (6.3). Ātmā is the ultimate of all and is beyond the grasp of the senses; those who know it become immortal (6.7 to 6.9, 6.12, 6.13 and 6.18). Since Ātmā is not within the reach of senses, seekers have to rely on other means. They must refrain from going after the senses; instead, they have to control their activities; this control of senses is called yoga. This will take them to realisation of the ever-existing Ātmā (6.11). When one gets rid of all the Kāma within (through this control of the wandering senses) he will become immortal (6.14 and 6.15). Mentioning about the different types of nerves in the ‘Heart,’ verse 6.16 points out the particular nerve that lays down the path to immortality; we have already seen this in detail when we studied verse 8.6.6 of Chāndogya Upaniṣad.

With this, Mṛtyu concludes his discourses. He takes the concepts of death and immortality to a higher, rational plane, befitting the Upaniṣadic tradition.

Readers can contact the author by email at:

The Science of Upanishads

Upaniṣads are treasures of Indian spiritual thoughts of ancient times. The ten most ancient Upaniṣads belong to the period of 1500 BC to 600 BC, according to commonly agreed estimations. They are called the Principal Upaniṣads and are considered to be the most authentic ones.

There is another Upaniṣad by name Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad belonging to a later period, but viewed at par with the Principal Upaniṣads, considering the dexterity and erudition with which the subject matter is dealt with therein. In this discussion whenever we refer to Principal Upaniṣads, it may be understood to include Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad also. There are many other Upaniṣads written during later periods, the total number being 108 according to some, while others put the number at 200 plus. But in the present discussion we consult only the Principal Upaniṣads.

All the spiritual thoughts of ancient India which got accumulated through ages were existing in a single lump without any orderly arrangement or classification. It was Sage Vyāsa who successfully classified all into a proper order on the basis of specific topics dealt with in each piece and their comparative importance. This is how we got the four Samhita-s, the Brāhmaṇa-s, the Āraṇyaka-s and the Upaniṣad-s. Samhitas are mostly hymns for praising or invoking various gods for well-being and favours. Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas mainly deal with ritualistic illustrations of the Samhitas. Upaniṣads represent philosophical postulations either extracted from these three or compiled independently. Of the eleven Principal Upaniṣads, one (Īśa Upaniṣad) is part of a Samhita (Śukla Yajurveda), four (Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Kaṭha, Kena) are parts of Brāhmaṇas and two (Aitareya, Taittirīya) are parts of Āraṇyakas. The remaining four (Praśna, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍukya of Atharva veda and Śvetāśvatara of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda) are independent compilations. Why should the same contents of an Upaniṣad find a place in some Samhita, Brāhmaṇa or Āraṇyaka? Because the same text contains certain portions that qualify for inclusion in the Upaniṣad and some other portions suitable for Samhita, Brāhmaṇa or Āraṇyaka. While studying the Upaniṣads we have to make due allowance for this fact.

Upaniṣads are not like ordinary spiritual texts which dwell on glorification and appeasement of an almighty god through prayers, rituals and offerings with an intention to secure protection, prosperity, happiness and long life. The primary concern of Upaniṣads is not the physical life as such, but the ultimate principle that sustains the physical life. Upanishads recognize the existence of an entity beyond the phenomenal world. They advance the concept of reality from a relative plain to the absolute state, to the reality that is free from all limitations of time and space. This advancement is the greatest achievement that Indian meditative mind accomplished and it is the greatest ever height that human mind scaled in speculative thinking. It was with this advancement that, in India, mere spiritual thinking graduated into pure philosophical deductions.

It is therefore imperative that any attempt to understand the teachings of Upaniṣads must be with due consideration for this unique feature inherent in them. Any alternative attempt employing the traditional tools of interpretation is unwelcome as it would only obscure the scientific spirit of the Upaniṣads and degrade their sublime teachings to mere theological compositions. Moreover, being extracts from other three parts of the Vedas, most of the Principal Upaniṣads contain some portions that do not fit well with the main theme under discussion in that particular Upaniṣad. Therefore, while interpreting the Upaniṣads to derive lessons therefrom, these portions have to be omitted from detailed consideration. In the present endeavour we keep in mind these observations as a guide in explaining the contents of each Upaniṣad. That means, we concentrate on those teachings that a rational mind should take note of and assimilate into its own cognitive constitution; in this process we simply ignore those contents which are rather ritualistic or purely mythological in nature.

With these words let us approach the Upaniṣads one by one for enlightenment. In this endeavour we take up only the eleven Principal Upaniṣads mentioned above.

(Author: Karthikeyan Sreedharan)

The Science of Ishavasya Upanishad

Īśāvāsya (ईशावास्य) is the only one among the Principal Upaniṣads which is part of a Samhita. It is the end part of Śukḻa Yajurveda (Kāṇva recension), consisting of 18 verses in poetry. Being part of a Samhita is a testimony for the authenticity and ancientness of the Upaniṣad. While taking up the study of this very small Upaniṣad, we confine our analytical endeavour to the limits that we have already set, in the case of our previous studies.

This Upaniṣad derives its name from the opening word of its first verse. Īśāvāsya means abode of the Ruler; Īśa is Ruler and āvāsya is abode. The Upaniṣad describes who this Ruler is and how man should yearn to attain to the ultimate principle of this Ruler.

Let us now look at the first verse. It reads thus:

ईशावास्यमिदं सर्वं यत् किंच जगत्यां जगत्
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद् धनम् || 1 ||

īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yat kiṃca jagatyāṃ jagat
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam (1)

Meaning: ‘All that is here in this ever-changing world constitutes the abode of the Ruler (He is the in-dweller in everything); therefore, when you take anything here to utilize for your benefit, do it with a sense of renunciation (rather than arrogation); you should not covet others’ means of living (dhana is prey, the thing on which one feeds on)’.

In other words, the world is subject to continuous change; it has a Ruler. The whole world is his abode; that is, He occupies everything here. Nobody has, therefore, any possession right over anything here, but only enjoyment right. So, don’t attempt to arrogate anything to yourself. Further, when you take something for your enjoyment, renunciation must be the guiding principle.

How should we understand these instructions? First of all, please take notice of the mention about ever-changing nature of the world. The westerners believe that it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said for the first time about the world’s ever changing nature. 5th century BC was his life-time. But the declaration in this Upaniṣad must be about 1000 years prior to that, since this is part of Yajur Veda Samhita which belongs to that age.

Then, who is the Ruler mentioned here? The verse itself says that this Ruler is the in-dweller of everything. That is, everything is pervaded by him. We have already understood from our previous studies that the entity pervading everything is nothing but Ātmā which is the ultimate principle ‘SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA’. It is declared in section 3.7 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad that Ātmā is the inner controller of all beings. Being the sole controller, he is called here as the Ruler; he is one without a second. Since he pervades and controls everything, the entire universe is said to be his body (vide 3.7.1 to 3.7.23 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka). With him remains vested all rights over his body, proprietary as well as possessionary. The physical bodies of all beings are only constituents of this universal body; as the Ruler of the whole, he is to see that all these constituents remain in their appropriate places and that they maintain an inter-connection promoting the sustenance of the whole. It is also essential that each constituent should have access to such of other constituents as are necessary for its survival. Therefore, if any particular constituent acquires everything that fancies him and keep the same under his possession and disposal, over and above its actual sustenance needs, it would spell break-down of the system, as some other constituents will be deprived of the essential resources for its survival. That is why this caution of renunciation: ‘enjoy, but don’t take away anything to own exclusive possession’ (tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā, mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam). It is worthwhile to state here that no socialist or other ethical ideas on welfare of the mankind can ever match this declaration in profundity of wisdom and logic.

All that we have seen advocates a reduced inclination to the pursuit of physical pleasures. It is only when we are increasingly prone to physical pleasures that we start to disregard the needs of others and get entangled in all corrupt and wicked practices which spell ruin for the whole system as well as for ourselves.

When we speak of renunciation, a question would naturally arise, “What should we renounce?” We should have something of our own to renounce; but, as clarified above, we have no true ownership or possession right on anything in this world. This dilemma is solved by the next verse which provides the precise answer; Karma (deed or action) is the answer. Our Karma is our own prerogative (karmaṇi eva adhikāraḥ te – कर्मणि एव अधिकारः ते – Gīta 2.47); it is our existential essentiality (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1.1.8). Verse 2 insists that one should live by doing Karma; renouncing Karma is not by refraining from doing it, but by submitting the results thereof to the service of the whole. Such performance of Karma does not cause any bondage to the performer (न कर्म लिप्यते नरे – na karma lipyate nare). The verse points out that those who lived a full life in the past did so by doing Karma in this manner. Therefore, the instruction is to follow the same path. The most important thing to be taken in from this verse is that it asserts the compulsory performance of Karma; withdrawal from performing the Karma is not considered a virtue that would absolve us of bondage. What wards off bondage is the renunciation of the results of Karma; so one is not justified in giving up performance of Karma for the sake of detachment (mā saṅgaḥ astu akarmaṇi – मा सङ्गः अस्तु अकर्मणि – Gīta 2.47; see also Gīta 3.4, 3.9, etc). It was this idea, cumulatively occurring in verses 1 & 2, which the communists later re-discovered, after about 3000 years, in their declaration, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.

Having thus laid down necessary instructions for proper living, in conformity with the ultimate principle of Ātmā, the Upaniṣad warns against negation of that principle, in verse 3. Those who defy Ātmā and pursue the ways of selfishness are cast into the worlds of utter darkness wherein the sun of enlightenment never rises; he gets more and more entangled in the whirlpools of worldly life and thus becomes ruined (Wisdom will never dawn on those who are carried away by indulgence in sensual pleasures and affluence – Gīta 2.44).

In continuation of this warning against disregard of the principle of Ātmā, the Upaniṣad presents a description about the nature of Ātmā in verses 4 to 8. Verse 4 says that Ātmā is unmoving and the only one entity; it is faster than the mind and ungraspable by the senses; unmoving, it transcends all that is moving and it is only upon Ātmā that Prāṇa projects all actions (of living beings). Ātmā is unmoving because it pervades everywhere and therefore no space to move into. It is only one, since everything is its manifestation and is pervaded by itself. Being not physical, it is not grasped by the senses and being the energy (consciousness) motivating the mind, it must be faster than the mind. Since every moving object is involved in Ātmā, it is said to transcend all; all actions occur as effects of consciousness part of Ātmā, aided by Prāṇa and therefore it is said that all actions are projected by Prāṇa upon it.

It is further explained in verse 5 that Ātmā pervades all. Verses 6 and 7 speak about how the world is viewed by a person, who sees unity in all beings such that all beings are perceived in himself and also himself in all beings; he cannot hate or reject any being and he cannot have either passion or grief.

Now, we come to the most important verse of Īśāvāsya, the verse 8, which describes the features of Ātmā thus:

स पर्यगात् शुक्रं अकायं अव्रणं अस्नाविरं शुद्धं अपापविद्धम्
कविः मनीषी परिभूः स्वयम्भूः याथातथ्यतोर्थान् व्यदथात् शाश्वतीभ्यः समाभ्यः || 8 ||

sa paryagāt śukraṃ akāyaṃ avraṇaṃ asnāviraṃ śuddhaṃ apāpaviddham
kaviḥ manīṣī paribhūḥ svayambhūḥ yāthātathyatorthān vyadathāt śāśvatībhyaḥ samābhyaḥ (8)

Meaning: ‘He pervades all; he is resplendent, bodiless, uninterrupted, without sinews, pure and devoid of evil; he is far-sighted, omniscient, transcendent and self-existing; it is he who ever sustains all realistic objects’.

This is self-explanatory.

In the next six verses, it is asserted that, together with pursuit of knowledge, Karma also is important in attaining immortality. We cannot choose anyone between these two, for the purpose. Those who exclusively pursue any one of these two will only fall into utter darkness. Through the practice of performing Karma, one should overcome Mṛtyu (Death) (mṛtyu is simply the surrender to temptations of Kāma) and through acquiring knowledge aspire to attain immortality (verses 9 to 14). These two, namely, performing Karma and acquiring knowledge go together, not one after another. Mechanical performance of Karma will not yield the required result; in order to draw lessons from experience, we should have sufficient knowledge also. The importance of performance of Karma lies in its serving as a practical exercise for establishing in the mind what is learnt in theory.

Further, immortality is verily the freedom from being felled by Kāma while Death is the state of being felled by Kāma. Gīta describes in 2.62 and 2.63 how a person faces death by submitting himself to Kāma; Bṛhadāraṇyaka says in 1.2.1 that hunger is death; hunger is the urge for devouring the desired things, which is Kāma only. The ignorant and the weak easily fall prey to the prowling Kāma, continuously. Sage Patañjali says in Yogasūtra 1.4 that we are what our state of mind disposes (वृत्तिसारूप्य – vṛttisārūpya). So, when Kāma overtakes us, we lose our true identity, and meet with death; such deaths occur frequently, many times even in a single day, for an unstable mind. After one death, there is a rebirth into an unenlightened form which again faces death and this chain of deaths continues for ever until we get enlightenment and become relieved of further death; this relief from death is called immortality. The deaths and rebirths evidently occur to the same physical person, not to different bodies; this is because when the body is lost, personal identity is lost for ever as we have already seen in Chāndogya (6.9.1 etc) and Bṛhadāraṇyaka (2.4.12, etc.).

The last four verses (15 to 18) of the Upaniṣad present an instance of an aspirant seeking to know and attain to the eternal truth. In verse 15, the seeker finds that the eternal truth is veiled by a golden plate and therefore, as an aspirant for enlightenment he seeks its removal, for which he makes an appeal to Pūṣan, who is responsible for its deployment. See the verse below:

हिरण्मयेन पात्रेण सत्यस्यापिहितं मुखम्
तत्त्वं पूषन् अपावृणु सत्यधर्माय दृष्टये || 15 ||

hiraṇmayena pātreṇa satyasyāpihitaṃ mukham
tattvaṃ pūṣan apāvṛṇu satyadharmāya dṛṣṭaye (15)

Satyadharma mentioned here means ‘eternal truth’. What is this golden plate and why is it an obstruction to knowing the eternal truth? The golden vessel is the ever-enticing sensual pleasures provided by physical entities. Gold symbolises that enticement. If we are carried away by this enticement, we would never be able to pursue the path of liberation. Pūṣan is the nourisher, the nourisher of physical endowments; obviously, he is responsible for the deployment of physical features that cause the said enticement. That is why the prayer for removal of enticement is directed to him; the prayer is to the effect that Pūṣan may make the endowments less attractive. This is just like removing the pricked thorn by another thorn.

The appeal in verse 15 is followed up in verse 16. The Pūṣan is entreated to employ the whole range of his reins (व्यूह रश्मिन् समूह – vyūha raśmin samūha) to contain the enticing features of this physical world supported by him, so that the aspirant may sight the real glorious Puruṣa within, who is nothing other than what he (the aspirant) really is. The implication is that the same principle (Puruṣa) pervades in all and he is attained on getting detached from the worldly entanglements of pleasure-pain and such other dual experiences.

Further, it is stated in verse 17 that the body will finally turn to ashes, while Prāṇa, which sustains life, is eternal (as it represents the ultimate principle of existence). Therefore, it is prayed that the thoughts about desires be extinguished.

(क्रतो स्मर कृतम् स्मर – krato smara kṛtam smara

kratu – desire; smara – memory, thought; kṛtam- done, extinguished).

Having thus laid down two paths (one of sensual pleasures and the other of enlightenment) to choose between, the Upaniṣad concludes the instructions with a prayer in verse 18 for being led in the right path. The prayer is directed to Agni, the omniscient Lord of all, for destruction of all deceiving evils. Agni is the symbol of knowledge and, therefore, the prayer directed to him implies seeking of enlightenment for distinguishing what is wrong and what is right. Please see the verse below:

अग्ने नय सुपथा राये अस्मान् विश्वानि देव वयुनानि विद्वान्
युयोध्यस्मज्जुहुराणमेनो भूयिष्ठां ते नम उक्तिम् विधेम || 18 ||

agne naya supathā rāye asmān viśvāni deva vayunāni vidvān
yuyodhyasmajjuhurāṇameno bhūyiṣṭhāṃ te nama uktim vidhema (18)

supathā rāye – supremely virtuous course; supatha – virtuous course, rāya – king, prince; vayunāni vidvān – having all knowledge.

Let us also pray for being led in the right path leading to enlightenment.

Readers can contact the author by email at:

The Birth of Kalki

Shambhala, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “place of peace” or “place of silence”, is a mythical paradise spoken of in ancient Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient Zhangzhung texts of western Tibet & Hindu texts such as the Vishnu Purana (4.24) mention the village Shambhala as the birthplace of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu who will usher in a new Golden Age (Satya Yuga).

According to legend, it is a land where only the pure of heart can live, a place where love and wisdom reigns and where people are immune to suffering, want or old age.

Shambhala is said to be the land of a thousand names. It has been called the Forbidden Land, the Land of White Waters, Land of Radiant Spirits, Land of Living Fire, Land of the Living Gods and Land of Wonders. The Hindus call it Aryavartha (‘The Land of the Worthy Ones); the Chinese know it as Hsi Tien, the Western Paradise of Hsi Wang Mu; and to the Russian Old Believers, it is known as Belovoyde. But throughout Asia, it is best known by its Sanskrit name, Shambhala, Shamballa, or Shangri-la.

Call it what you will, but let it be described as the home for immortals; a place where the Will of God is known; a celestial kingdom that holds our very destiny.

According to the Kalachakra Tantra Prophecy, a line of enlightened kings guard the highest wisdoms for the time when all spiritual values in the outside world are lost in wars and destruction.

At that time, a great king will come out of the Shambhala kingdom to defeat the forces of evil and establish the Golden Age.

The prophecy of Shambhala gives us a hint of the coming Golden Age. There will be 32 kings, each reigning for a 100 years. As their reigns pass conditions, of the world will deteriorate. Wars will break out in the pursuant of power.

Materialism will overcome spiritualism and spread over the world. Then the ‘barbarians’ who follow this ideology of power and materialism are united under one evil king, assuming there is nothing left to conquer. When this time comes, the mists will then lift to reveal the icy mountains of Shambhala.

Seeing the promised lands of Shambhala, the barbarians will then attack Shambhala with a huge army equipped with terrible weapons.

The 32nd king of Shambhala, Rudra Cakrin, ‘The Wrathful One with the Wheel’ will rise from his throne and lead a mighty host against the invaders destroying the army of barbarians.

After the battle has been won, the rule of Shambhala will cover the world, bringing in the greatest Age of all times. Food will grow without work, there will be no disease or poverty, hatred and jealousies will be replaced with love and the great saints and sages of the past will return to life to teach true wisdom of the Ages.

Tibetan religious texts tell us that the technology of Shambhala is supposed to be highly advanced; the palace contains special skylights made of lenses which serve as high-powered telescopes to study extraterrestrial life, and for hundreds of years Shambhala’s inhabitants have been using aircraft and cars that shuttle through a network of underground tunnels.

On the way to enlightenment, Shambhalans acquire such powers as clairvoyance, the ability to move at great speeds, and the ability to materialize and disappear at will.

As with many concepts in the Kalachakra, the idea of Shambhala is said to have outer, inner, and alternative meanings. The outer meaning understands Shambhala to exist as a physical place, although only individuals with the appropriate karma can reach it and experience it as such. The inner and alternative meanings refer to more subtle understandings of what Shambhala represents in terms of one’s own body and mind (inner), and during meditative practice (alternative).

These two types of symbolic explanations are generally passed on orally from teacher to student.

Over many centuries, numerous explorers and seekers of spiritual wisdom have embarked on expeditions and quests in search of the mythical paradise of Shambhala, and while many have claimed to have been there, no one has yet provided any evidence of its existence or been able to pinpoint its physical location on a map, however most references place Shambhala in the mountainous regions of Eurasia.
Ancient Zhang Zhung texts identify Shambhala with the Sutlej Valley in Punjab or Himachal Pradesh, India. Mongolians identify Shambhala with certain valleys of southern Siberia.

In Altai folklore, Mount Belukha is believed to be the gateway to Shambhala. Modern Buddhist scholars seem to conclude that Shambhala is located in the higher reaches of the Himalayas in what is now called the Dhauladhar Mountains around Mcleodganj. Some legends say that the entrance to Shambhala is hidden inside a remote, abandoned monastery in Tibet, and guarded by beings known as the Shambhala Guardians.

For some, the fact that Shambhala has never been found has a very simple explanation – many believe that Shambhala lies on the very edge of physical reality, as a bridge connecting this world to one beyond it.


Hitler’s Attempts to Find Shambala

Hitler also made attempts to locate and enter the gates of Shambhala… The idea of Shambhala and its occult knowledge was an obsession to him. The roots of his occult desires can be traced far back into his youth where he studied the occult and yoga in Vienna. The young Hitler received initiation into the American Indian Peyote Cult.

After he was introduced to The Secret Doctrine, he then turned his attention more to Theosophy. Later he joined the occult group in Germany called Ultima Thule, out of which the Nazi Party was born.

Upon assuming power, Hitler established the ministry of Ancestral Memories, headed by the Chairman of the Sanskrit Department at Munich University.

Through this connection with Sanskrit studies, the Nazis adopted the swastika, an ancient symbol of good luck and well being. Although many believe that Hitler designed this emblem it is a fact that the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain worlds had honored this symbol for thousands of years prior to the Nazi movement.

With the help of the explorer Sven Hedlin, Hitler sent several expeditions to Tibet. The Nazis claimed that although Shambhala was inaccessible to them, they also made contact and gained help from the mystical kingdom of Agartha. It was reported that the leaders held a ceremony led by a man with the keys to Argatha.


Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: The Esoteric Significance of the Devi Mahatmya

A talk given on the 13th of October, 1972, during the Navaratri worship.

Jai Kali Maa

Jai Kali Maa

Our longings are fundamentally very deep and cannot be easily satisfied by temporary makeshift or a day-to-day adjustment of outer circumstances. Our desires are profound; our yearnings are very unintelligible to the outer atmosphere of our daily life. We seem to have a root which is deeper than what can be comprehended by our normal understanding of the world. We grow from all sides, and when we long for, or desire, or yearn, or aspire, we do so in a very comprehensive manner. This aspiration of the human being is really the soul’s longing for freedom. All our desires are desires of the soul, ultimately. Though they look like sensory desires, mental desires, intellectual desires, social desires, etc., they are, at the bottom, the longing of the soul of the human being, which ramifies itself into various distracted rays through the operations of the mind and the activities of the senses. Our longings are, therefore, capable of being collected into a single essential power, an inward urge, which we may call the longing for freedom. It is freedom that we ask for and it is freedom that anyone asks for. Varieties of longings and multitudes of enterprises in the world can be collected into a single focus of the soul’s aspiration for liberation. And this aspiration for liberation is not merely the longing of the human being, but of all that is created anywhere on earth or in heaven. Whether it is the plant or the animal, whether it is a man or a celestial, the aspiration is this much. All longings can be boiled down into the quintessence of the longing for liberation, freedom from all sides and an ultimate supremacy over one’s own self in the realisation of this freedom.

The Devi-Mahatmya which, in a majestic poetry in Sanskrit, describes to us the epic of the march of the human soul to its destination – the realisation of this freedom – is the dramatic aspect of the great worship of the Divine Mother during these nine days of Navaratri, or Dassehra as we call it. The march of the soul is dramatic. It is not a lagging or a crawling but a beautiful, sonorous, musical advent, we may say. This is the beauty of the Devi-Mahatmya. All epics have this particular character of grandeur, uplifting the emotions, and chastening the intellect of the devotee who goes through them.

The Devi-Mahatmya, which is a part of the Markandeya Purana, contains thirteen chapters which are grouped into three sections known as the Prathama Charitra, Madhyama Charitra and the Uttama Charitra. As in the Bhagavadgita sometimes we are told that the eighteen chapters can be grouped into three sections of teaching, consisting of six chapters in each, the Devi-Mahatmya also, which is an epic counterpart of the methods of the Bhagavadgita in its practical implementations, is capable of a division into three sections. The march of the soul is graduated into three major steps, though there are many minor steps involved in these three major ones. While we have to rise through various rungs of the ladder of evolution, we come to three points or halting places, we may call them, where there is a complete transformation of outlook, attitude and constitution of our being. These threefold transformations of the spiritual being of the aspiring soul are dominated or presided over by three deities known as Maha-Kali, Maha-Lakshmi and Maha-Sarasvati. These three presiding forces are representative of the powers of the spirit within manifesting themselves in an upward ascent towards freedom ultimate, so that in this march of the soul to its freedom, it carries with it everything that is connected with it. The difference between the spiritual march and your march along the road or a highway is this: that while in your march on a roadway, you alone walk and nobody need accompany you, nothing need be connected with you, and you can have a free walk independently. In the spiritual march, it is not such an isolated march because you carry with you everything that is connected with you.

Now, what are the things connected with you that you carry? There are four stages of this relationship. Consciously we are related in a particular manner and subconsciously we are related in another manner altogether. Consciously, we people seated in this hall for example, have a particular sort of relationship among ourselves, but subconsciously our relationships are of a different kind altogether and they need not tally with our conscious relationship. And deeper still, we have a layer where our relationship is more akin to a unity of life than to a diversity of personality. There is a fourth stage which is incapable of any description at all. We do not know whether we are to call it a unity or a diversity, or oneness or otherness. This is the goal towards which the soul is marching. So, in the description of the Devi-Mahatmya, we are carried forward psychologically and spiritually to our destination of the ultimate realisation.

There are three stages of transformation described in the three sections of the Devi-Mahatmya. The first one is where Adi-Sakti awakens Maha-Vishnu who was asleep, so that He may destroy or overcome the original demoniacal forces, Madhu and Kaitabha. The second stage is where the same Sakti manifests Herself as Maha-Lakshmi and overcomes Mahishasura and Raktabija. The third one is where Sumbha and Nisumbha are destroyed by Maha-Sarasvati. And the nine days of worship, which are referred to as Navaratri, comprehend these three stages adored in three days of worship, each. The final victory is called Vijaya-Dasami, the tenth day. That is the day of Victory, where you master the forces of Nature completely and your goal is reached. When you step over nine, you enter into Infinity. Numbers are only nine; you do not have ten numbers. All the arithmetic is within nine numbers only. The whole cosmos is within nine. But when you transcend the nine, you have gone to Infinity, which is beyond cosmic relationship. The lower powers of Nature are like dirt. We call them Mala. “Vishnukarna-malodbhuto hantum brahmanamudyato,”says the Devi-Mahatmya. The Madhu and Kaitabha, two Rakshasas (demons) are supposed to have come out of the dirt of the ear of Vishnu. The lowest category of opposition is of the nature of dirt, Mala; and psychologically, from the point of view of the seeking soul, this dirt is in the form of Kama, Krodha and Lobha. “Kama esha krodha esha rajo-guna samudbhavah”, “Kamah krodhastatha lobhah tasmat etat trayam tyajet”: It is desire and anger born of Rajas; desire, anger and greed – these three therefore should be abandoned, says the Bhagavadgita. These three are the gates to hell. These three are regarded as dirt, because they cover the consciousness in such a way that it appears to be not there at all. It is like painting a thin glass with coal tar. You cannot see the glass. It is all pitch-dark like clouds. This has to be rubbed off with great effort. When this Mala or dirt is removed, you get into another trouble. Do not think that when you are tentatively a master of Kama, Krodha and Lobha, you are a real master of yourself. “There are more things in heaven and earth than your philosophy dreams of, O Horatio,” said Hamlet. So do not think that your philosophy is exhaustive. There are many more things that philosophy cannot comprehend. Kama, Krodha and Lobha are not the only enemies. There are subtler ones, more formidable than these visible foes. As a matter of fact, the subtle invisible enemies are more difficult to overcome than the visible ones. Sometimes an angry man is better than a smiling person. A smiling person is more dangerous than an angry one, because he can have a knife under his armpit. This is what we will face.

When we manage somehow to overcome this Madhu and Kaitabha, Kama and Krodha, we get into the clutches of Mahishasura and Raktabija. They represent the Vikshepa Sakti, the tossing of the mind. Every minute the mind changes its forms which multiply in millions. You read in the Devi-Mahatmya, how Mahishasura changed his form. Now he is an elephant, now he is a buffalo, now he is something else. If you hit him in one form, he comes in another form. And this is your inexhaustible opponent. His energies are incapable of being exhausted. However much you may try to oppose the Vikshepa Sakti, it will manifest in some form or other. This is described in the form of the demon Raktabija, whose drops of blood were seeds of hundreds and thousands of demons like him coming up. When the Devi severed the head of one Rakshasa, the blood fell on the ground profusely and from that blood, millions cropped up. And when She killed them, again another million cropped up. So there was no end to it. If you cut off one or two desires, the desire is not over. The root is still there. The branches are only severed. Unless the root is dug out, there is no use of merely severing the branches of the tree. So what did the Devi do? She asked Kali to spread her tongue throughout the earth, so that there is no ground at all for the Rakshasas to walk over. They had to walk over the tongue of Kali. So huge it was. And now the Goddess started cutting their heads and when the blood fell, it fell not on the ground but on the tongue of Kali. So she sucked everything. Chariots and horses and demons and everybody entered her mouth. She chewed all chariots into powder. Likewise, we have to adopt a technique of sucking the very root of desires and not merely chop off its branches. Otherwise, desires will take various forms like Mahishasura. When we think that Mahishasura has been killed, he comes as a buffalo, and when the buffalo is attacked, he again comes as an elephant, and if Devi attacks the elephant, he comes as a bull and attacks Her. So, there is no way of overcoming these desires by merely dealing with them from outside by a frontal attack. Their very essence has to be sucked, because a desire is not an outward form or an action; it is a tendency within. You may do nothing, and yet you will have desires, because desire is not necessarily an activity. A desireful person need not be very active. He can be sitting quiet, doing nothing, saying nothing, and yet be full of desires because it is a tendency of the mind, an inclination of consciousness, that we call a desire. That can be inside, even if there is outwardly nothing. This is the Vikshepa Sakti – distraction, tossing and the chameleon-attitude of desire – which attacks us, when, with herculean efforts, we try to destroy or gain control over Kama and Krodha, Madhu and Kaitabha. After Madhu and Kaitabha, we get Mahishasura and Raktabija. Thus Mala and Vikshepa are the primary oppositions in our spiritual pursuit.

Ancient masters have told us that while Mala or dirt of the psychological structure can be removed by Karma Yoga, by unselfish and dedicated service, Vikshepa or distraction of the mind can be removed only by worship of God, by Upasana. While Karma removes Mala, Upasana removes Vikshepa. But even now, we are not fully safe. While Mala might have gone and Vikshepa is not there, we may have a third trouble, namely, a complete oblivion of consciousness. We will have no knowledge of anything as to what is happening. Ajnana or ignorance is an opposing power subtler than its effects in the form of Mala and Vikshepa. Distraction and direct sensual desires are the outer expressions of a subtle ignorance of Truth – Avidya or Ajnana. Why do we desire things? Because, we do not know the nature of Truth. Why does a strong wind blow? Because, the sun is covered over with clouds. The sun is covered by the clouds first, then there is darkness, and then a gale or cyclone starts blowing from the north, breaking our umbrellas and uprooting trees. All these happen because the sun does not shine. Even so, when the Atman is covered over by ignorance of its nature, the winds of desire begin to blow, and they come like violent storms. Impetuous is the force of desire. You cannot stand against it, because the whole of Nature gets concentrated in a desire. That is why it is impetuous and uncontrollable. All the powers of Nature get focussed in a desire when it manifests itself, whatever be that desire. So the whole of Nature has to be subdued. You are not to subdue only your individual nature, but the cosmic Nature itself is to be subdued. This is what is depicted in the epic of the Devi-Mahatmya. It is the subdual, overcoming, transformation of the cosmic Nature in the form of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. While Mala represents Tamas, Vikshepa represents Rajas.

Sattva is also a Guna, unfortunately. We always praise Sattva and regard it as a very desirable thing. But it is like a transparent glass that is placed between us and the Truth. You can see through it, but you cannot go beyond it because though the glass is transparent, it can obstruct your movement. It is not like a brick wall, completely preventing your vision, as Tamas does; it is not like a blowing wind which simply tosses you here and there, as Rajas does; it is a plain glass, through which you can have vision of Reality, but you cannot contact Reality nevertheless. How can you contact a thing when there is a glass between you and the thing? Yet you can see it. So they say even Sattva is an obstacle, though it is better than the other two forces in the sense that through it you can have a vision or an insight into the nature of Reality which transcends even Sattva. There is a glass pane and you can see a mango fruit on the other side of it. You can see it very well, but cannot get it; you cannot grab it. You know the reason. Even Sattva is a subtle medium of obstruction, which acts in a double form – as complacency or satisfaction with what has been achieved, and an ignorance of what is beyond. These two aspects of Sattva are indicated by the two personalities of Sumbha and Nisumbha. They have to be dispelled by the power of higher wisdom, which is Maha-Sarasvati.

Action, contemplation and knowledge are the three stages through which we have to pierce through the veil of Prakriti, or the three Gunas. And as I mentioned earlier, we are not individual pedestrians on the path. There is no individual movement here. It is all a total movement of everything connected with us, and no item in the world is really disconnected from us. Every thread in a cloth is connected with every other thread. When you lift one thread of a cloth, the whole cloth comes up, because of the interconnection of the warp and the woof of the cloth. Likewise, there is an internal interconnection of beings, which prevents any kind of individual effort for the sake of salvation. That is why salvation is universal, it is not individual. When you attain to the Supreme Being, you become the Universal Being. You do not go there as a Mr. So-and-so or as a Mrs. So-and-so. The path of Sadhana also is a cosmic effort of the soul, a subtle secret which most Sadhakas are likely to forget. It is not a small, simple, private effort of yours in the closet of your room, but a dynamic activity of your essential personality, internally connected by unforeseen relationships with everything in the cosmos. When you enter the path of the spirit you have also, at the same time, entered the path of cosmic relationship. A Sadhaka is, therefore, a cosmic person. A spiritual seeker, an aspirant is a representative of cosmic situation. He is not an individual, though he looks like a person; and his Sadhana is not an individual effort. It is much more than what it appears to be on the surface. It is, as it were, the conversation between Nara and Narayana – Krishna-Arjuna-Samvada, as they call it. You and your God are face to face with each other. In Sadhana, in spiritual effort, you are face to face with your Maker. And the face of the Maker is universal. He is not in one spot, hiding himself in one corner.

So, the dance of the cosmic spirit, in its supernal effort at self-transcendence, is majestically described in the beautifully worded sonorous songs of the Devi-Mahatmya, where we are given a stirring account, a stimulating description of what Maha-Kali did, what Maha-Lakshmi did and what Maha-Sarasvati did in bringing about this evolution, transformation of the whole range of Prakriti from Tamas to Rajas, from Rajas to Sattva and from Sattva to Supreme Vijaya, mastery in the Absolute, God-realisation. All our scriptures, Puranas and epics, all our ceremonies and celebrations, all our festivals and Jayantis – whatever be the occasion for a religious performance – all this is charged with a spiritual connotation, a significance which is far transcendent to the outer rituals which is involved in their performance. Every thought, every aspiration, every ritual and every duty of ours, every action that we perform automatically becomes a spiritual dedication of the Soul, for the sake of this one single aspiration which it has been enshrining in itself from eternity to eternity. This significance is brought out in all our epics and Puranas. Whether in the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, whether in the Bhagavadgita or the Devi-Mahatmya, they tell us the same account in different terminologies and with different emphases. It is always a song of the soul. The Bhagavadgita is a song of the soul, the Over-soul speaking to the lower soul. Here again, we have a similar account of the actual Sadhana involved in the realisation of this ultimate harmony of the soul with the Over-soul.

The spiritual practice of a Sadhaka is, therefore, a confronting of the three forces of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva, gradually, stage by stage, in their cosmic significance, forgetting not for a moment that we are not ‘islands’. No man is an island. You must have heard the poet’s saying: “No man is an island unto himself.” That means he is not surrounded simply by oceans and cut off from things. He is connected with everything. This is the significance we have to read in our practical lives. This is the meaning we have to see and visualise in our personal Sadhana. And when we learn to see the significance of the presence of divinity or the universality of God even in our private actions, we are taken care of by universal forces. We need not bother about even the smallest problem of our life. Even the littlest of our difficulty will be taken care of in a proper manner by the forces that are in the world, provided, of course, that we are able to read the significance of universality even in the most private of our actions, even in the smallest and littlest of our actions. There is no such thing as a little action in the world. Everything is important. Even the most insignificant event is a very important event, ultimately, because hidden behind it is the ocean. This significance we have to learn to read. This is, in my humble opinion, what Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj meant whenever he said that God-realisation is the goal of life. He was not tired of saying this throughout his life. We can see, in his earlier books especially, that they commence with the sentence: “The goal of life is God-realisation.” Whatever he had to say in those books, he said afterwards. So, the first thing is to remember that the goal of life is God-realisation. Do not forget this. The little petty tensions and turmoils and annoyances and worries and vexations are not the goal of life. They are the obstacles that come on our way, which we have to carefully obviate and go with caution – like a pilgrim who has lost his way in this wilderness of life – and yet confident at the same time that the warmth of the spiritual sun is always energising our personality and that we are never, at any time, any moment of our practice, completely cut off from that source of energy.

So, through the worship of Maha-Kali, Maha-Lakshmi and Maha-Sarasvati, we worship Mula-Prakriti, Adi-Sakti in her cosmic dance-form of transformation, prosperity and illumination. In the beginning, what happens to a Sadhaka? There is a necessity of self-transformation. It is all hardship, rubbing and cleaning, washing, sweeping, etc. That is the first stage through the worship of Maha-Kali, who brings about a destruction of all barriers. Then what happens? There is tremendous prosperity. You become a master and a progressive soul commanding all powers, getting everything that you want. This is the second stage. In the first stage, it looked as if you were a poor person, having nothing, very weak. But, when you overcome this weakness by removing the barrier of Tamas, you become prosperous. Nobody can be as rich as a Yogi. He can command all the powers. By a thought he can invoke all things, and this is Goddess Maha-Lakshmi working. When Maha-Kali has finished her work of destruction of opposition, Maha-Lakshmi comes as prosperity. A great Yogi is also like a royal personality, because of his internal invocations, though unconsciously done, of cosmic powers. When prosperity dawns, it looks as if the whole universe is heaven. In the first stage, it looked like hell. Afterwards, in the second stage, it looks like heaven, when Maha-Lakshmi begins to work. But this also is not sufficient. Knowledge should dawn. It is not heaven that you are asking for. You want the realisation of Truth. Maha-Sarasvati will come to help and a flood of light of Truth will be thrown, and you will see things as they are. There is no enjoyment, prosperity, richness, wealth, or any such thing. It is Truth unconnected with yourself in the beginning, but later on inseparable from yourself. Thus, from opposition to prosperity, from prosperity to enlightenment, and from enlightenment to Self-realisation do we proceed. So, these are the truths esoterically conveyed to us in the Mantras of the Devi-Mahatmya.

This Devi-Mahatmya is not merely an esoteric epic. It is not only a great spiritual text in the form of occult lessons, occult teachings of which I have given you an outline. But, it is also a great Mantra-Sastra. Every Sloka, every verse of the Devi-Mahatmya is a Mantra by itself. I will tell you how it is a Mantra, by giving only one instance, that is the first Sloka itself. “Savarnih suryatanayo yo manuh kathyate-shtamah.” This is the first Sloka – “Savarnih surya-tanayah.” It is all a Tantric interpretation and a very difficult thing to understand. But I am giving you only an idea as to what it is like. Surya represents fire, the fire-principle. Surya-tanaya means that which is born of the fire-principle. What is it that is born of the fire-principle? It is the seed ‘Ra’. According to Tantric esoteric psychology, ‘Ram’ is the Bija Mantra of Agni. In the word ‘Savarnih’, ‘Varni’ means a hook; so add one hook to ‘Ram’. “Yo manuh kathyate, ashtamah.” Eighth letter – What is Manu? It is a letter in Sanskrit. Eight letters are Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, Ha. The eighth is Ha. Add Ha to it. Ha, Ra and one hook, make ‘Hreem’. “Savarnih suryo-tanayo yo manuh kathyateshtamah, nisamaya tadutpattim.” “You hear the glory of that,” the sage says. So, the first verse means: “Now, I shall describe to you the glory of ‘Hreem’.” This Hreem is the Bija of Devi. But, outwardly it means, “Listen to the story of the king so-and-so, who is the eighth Manu,” and all that. Thus in addition to the outer meaning, there is an inner significance of the Mantra. I am giving you only the case of one Mantra. Like this, every Mantra is full of inner significance. And every Mantra is repeated by devotees for some purpose or the other. The Devi-Mahatmya is especially recited for averting calamities in life. Catastrophes, calamities and tensions – personal or outward, whatever they be – all these are averted by a regular daily recital of the Devi-Mahatmya. When there is war threatening a country, for example, or pestilence or epidemic spreading everywhere, or any internal tension or anxiety of any kind, the Devi-Mahatmya is to be studied. And it is a very potent remedy prescribed by seers of yore – not only for temporal terrestrial prosperity, but also for the glory of the hereafter, for illumination, for the destruction of Avidya or Ajnana, for overcoming Mala, Vikshepa and Avarana, and to be a fit recipient of the grace of the Almighty. Thus is the outer significance and the inner significance of the Devi-Mahatmya, and the special meaning that it has in the life of spiritual seekers or Sadhakas. Glory to God! Glory to Sadhana! Glory to the integral character of spiritual practice! May we be blessed with this illumination, with this wisdom, with the strength to tread the path of the Spirit, to our ultimate Freedom!