The Upanishads are poised to revolutionize our understanding. They convey the notion that words do not merely represent objects; rather, they refer to other words. This concept bears a striking resemblance to the French post-modern literary criticism. However, the Upanishads propose that words are integral to a cognitive process, which the yogis and samkhyakas refer to as the buddhi-manas-ahamkara process. Hence, according to the Upanishads, words denote the manner in which we comprehend them—they are tied to our mental processes. The Chandogya Upanishad, in particular, captivates with its exploration of this idea by guiding us through a seemingly trivial example, such as a white horse or a white cup. It adeptly leads us through the thought process involved in such observations. Allow me to elucidate. Consider this: “This is a white cup, notice. What do you perceive? Notice. You perceive a cup. Now, observe that cups are distinct from books. Notice. Not all cups are white. Observe that there are green cups.” In essence, the Upanishad invites us to recognize that our experiences entail a constant act of discernment—our consciousness is a sorting mechanism that grapples with these complexities. The Chandogya Upanishad aims to impart the realization that the richness, sweetness, and profundity of consciousness lie in comprehending that we no longer exist solely in a world of tangible objects, nor are we confined solely within our minds, as the Buddhists suggest. The Upanishads assert that when we perceive a cup, we are witnessing a intricate interplay between events and words, where words assume critical importance. They do not merely denote objects but rather encompass the events of consciousness—the process of discernment itself.
[Is this concept captivating to anyone?]
Therefore, the Chandogya Upanishad embarks on an elaborate and meticulous exposition, linking one concept to another, much like connecting a leg bone to a thigh bone. If one attempts to read it closely, intricate structures and systems become apparent. Its underlying message is that consciousness is a framework of interconnected structures that interact in a way that constructs a world, deceiving us into perceiving it as a realm of discrete entities, while in actuality, it is a world composed of relationships shaped by our mental processes.
We have become enchanted by words. Yet, without words, our very humanity would be diminished, for words are the foundation of symbolic thinking.
1. All this is Brahman (n.) Let a man meditate on that (visible world) as beginning, ending, and breathing in it (the Brahman).
Now man is a creature of will. According to what his will is in this world, so will he be when he has departed this life. Let him therefore have this will and belief:
2. The intelligent, whose body is spirit, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like ether (omnipresent and invisible), from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odours and tastes proceed; he who embraces all this, who never speaks, and is never surprised,
3. He is my self within the heart, smaller than a corn of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the kernel of a canary seed. He also is my self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.
4. He from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odours and tastes proceed, who embraces all this, who never speaks and who is never surprised, he, my self within the heart, is that Brahman (n.) When I shall have departed from hence, I shall obtain him (that Self). He who has this faith has no doubt; thus said Sandilya, yea, thus he said.
1. Man is sacrifice. His (first) twenty-four years are the morning-libation. The Gayatri has twenty-four syllables, the morning-libation is offered with Gayatri hymns. The Vasus are connected with that part of the sacrifice. The Pranas (the five senses) are the Vasus, for they make all this to abide (vasayanti).
2. If anything ails him in that (early) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Vasus, extend this my morning-libation unto the midday-libation, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Vasus.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.
3. The next forty-four years are the midday-libation. The Trishtubh has forty-four syllables, the midday-libation is offered with Trishtubh hymns. The Rudras are connected with that part of it. The Pranas are the Rudras, for they make all this to cry (rodayanti).
4. If anything ails him in that (second) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Rudras, extend this my midday-libation unto the third libation, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Rudras.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.
5. The next forty-eight years are the third libation. The Gagati has forty-eight syllables, the third libation is offered with Gagati hymns. The Adityas are connected with that part of it. The Pranas are the Adityas, for they take up all this (adadate).
6. If anything ails him in that (third) age, let him say: ‘Ye Pranas, ye Adityas, extend this my third libation unto the full age, that I, the sacrificer, may not perish in the midst of the Pranas or Adityas.’ Thus he recovers from his illness, and becomes whole.
7. Mahidasa Aitareya (the son of Itari), who knew this, said (addressing a disease): ‘Why dost thou afflict me, as I shall not die by it ?’ He lived a hundred and sixteen years (i.e. 24 + 44 + 48). He, too, who knows this lives on to a hundred and sixteen years.
As you continue reading this passage, you may find yourself wondering what exactly is happening. Allow me to explain the essence of the matter. The Upanishad aims to convey that the things we observe in the world are tangible entities. We encounter sacrifices, human beings, and even a plant called soma, which is pressed into an elixir and consumed or offered in fires. These elements exist in the world, a perspective deeply rooted in Hinduism. It acknowledges the reality of the world and refrains from denying its events. Realism forms a fundamental aspect of their belief system. I have chosen this particular passage to exemplify a significant point I am trying to convey. The Upanishad desires a world where genuine, interconnected things hold value and operate in harmony. To illustrate this point, let’s consider the process of making Budweiser. To create it, we need water, malt, and the preparation of soma. We require the necessary ingredients, the substances known as dravyas. The world is indeed real, and this concept holds importance because the Upanishads intend to take it further. They assert that the only way we can access the real world is by perceiving it as symbols and engaging with it through thought and language. We do not merely observe the world as it is. To draw a parallel with the 21st century, this perspective distinguishes us from schooling fish, which simply react to events without contemplation or deeper understanding. The Upanishads assert that the symbolic process immerses us in a realm of allegory, relationships, and symbolic meaning.
Let us explore the significance of the gods known as the vasus. In a conventional Hinduism class, one might learn that the vasus are part of a category called the 33 gods, consisting of eight vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve adityas, Prajapati, and Agni, totaling 33 deities. You might question the relevance of these deities and wonder why they matter. The Upanishad responds by suggesting that if all you sought was a mere list, you could use the vasus without understanding their implications. In other words, you could still achieve results without comprehending the underlying meaning. This aligns with the ancient Vedic worldview. The Upanishad acknowledges the value of producing results. To offer a modern comparison, before Charles Darwin, we lacked factual descriptions of how life unfolded. Instead, we relied on metaphors, stories, and assertions. The Upanishads assert that while you can navigate the world solely based on events, if you desire to explore what is hidden, what holds value, you must delve into the process of the mind. This is where language comes into play. The initial approach, which the Chandogya Upanishad and other early texts adopt, involves breaking into the mind by breaking into words. You may not resonate with this perspective, but it constitutes the Upanishads’ first strategy. According to them, words do not merely refer to objects; they symbolize, represent, and reflect the workings of the mind. This realization is crucial because the Upanishads aim to help us recognize that when we perceive the world, we are also perceiving our own minds. By understanding the cognitive process and embracing the symbolic nature of language, we gain the opportunity to explore the world more deeply and discover its hidden meanings.
The Upanishads present themselves as an inquiry into the self. The Chandogya and other Upanishads explore the complex and fascinating ways in which we construct our world through the application of the mind’s systems and structures. When we delve into the mind, we delve into the self, reaching the essence of the matter, metaphorically represented as honey and the heart. The honey symbolizes the savory taste and the experience of what it feels like, referred to as rasa. It captures the flavor and the essence of the subject. In a similar vein, the heart of the matter, referred to as hrdaya, encapsulates the essential core. The Upanishads recognized that we possess the capacity to conceptualize, abstract, and imagine things that we have not yet achieved. It goes beyond merely naming things based on our existing abilities. For instance, we can conceptualize flying, even if we cannot do so ourselves. This imaginative and creative aspect is the purpose of the Upanishads. By savoring the world, we delve into the heart of the matter. The honey and the heart symbolize the pursuit of uncovering hidden potential, values, and possibilities. The Upanishads encourage us to grasp that our perception of the world is intricately connected to our mind’s processes, which allow us to perceive deeper meanings and contemplate the nature of existence.
The Buddhist argument that will soon emerge is that the mind is the finger pointing to the moon. And the moon it points to is a construct of the mind. However, the Upanishads present a different perspective. They acknowledge the existence of a finger, but emphasize that it is not just a finger in isolation. It serves a purpose within a larger system, a structure of integrated pieces. This is the essence of the Upanishads, which delve into the interconnectedness and hidden potential of the world.
According to the Upanishads, the secret lies in realizing that we are not merely living in a world of things, but rather, we are imaginative beings. We possess the creative power to invent and shape the world that invented us. The world is not solely composed of physical objects; it is an imaginative construct, a system that holds immense significance. While some interpretations claim the world is entirely illusory, the Upanishads offer a more intriguing perspective. They suggest that things have their own inherent nature, but their meaning is something we create. A meaningful life is thus a creative life.
In the context of the Tantras, etymology is used to uncover hidden meanings. For example, Hatha yoga is often understood as the union of the sun (ha) and moon (tha), but the Upanishads reveal that the word “hatha” itself means to strike or coerce. It symbolically represents the sun and moon. The Tantrikas engage in similar explorations, recognizing that words and symbols hold deeper value beyond their surface appearances. By deciphering these meanings, they unravel the mysteries of existence.
The Upanishads emphasize that the world is not just a series of events and accomplishments; it is a realm of profound meaning. To understand this meaning, we must delve into the complex systems of our thoughts, language, and actions. This requires introspection, questioning the reasons behind our choices and the significance we attribute to objects and experiences. By unraveling the cognitive and emotional processes that imbue life with meaning, we can live more empowered and fulfilling lives.
Ultimately, the Upanishads invite us to recognize that the pursuit of meaning is a profound endeavor. It requires us to uncover the hidden layers and associations that give depth to our experiences. Just as honey captures the essence of its subject, savoring the honey of the matter allows us to discover the sweetness and transformative power of a life imbued with meaning.
The profound experience of finding meaning and recognizing it as a fundamental gift, understanding it as the true essence and empowerment behind the things we value, is beautifully symbolized by Soma in the Chandogya Upanishad. Soma is not merely a drink or elixir that brings about a pleasant high or refreshment; it represents a deep rejuvenation of the heart and soulfulness.
In the Upanishad, this ancient practice of preparing the Soma decoction three times a day is seen as an event, an action performed by our ancestors. They cultivated plants, underwent a specific process, and created this cocktail known as Soma, which provided a sense of refreshment. While the Vedas mention its hallucinogenic properties, the Upanishad takes a different perspective. It teaches that the true Soma is not the drink itself, but rather the act of preparing it as an expression of love and care. Just as I make coffee for Susan in the morning, sending her a text asking if she wants coffee, or simply sending a coffee emoji or the word “coffee” to avoid waking her up, and then bringing her the coffee, that is the essence of Soma. It is the act of love, something my mother would have done, a beautiful gesture that strengthens the bond between individuals.
The Upanishad explores the relationship between things and actions and highlights the significance of meaning. Meaning is not singular but rather a complex web of associations. It represents sweetness, a way of expressing love and care, a reflection of the love and care our mothers showed us. The Upanishad invites us to recognize that the things in the world matter because of their meanings, and these meanings should be explored and understood. By delving into the analysis of our actions and motivations, life becomes more fulfilling, just as a cup of coffee awakens and enlivens us.
Furthermore, the Upanishad emphasizes that our bodies lead us to the core of the matter, to the heart. In chapters three, five, and six of the Chandogya Upanishad, it is revealed that bodies guide us to the heart, the place where the essence of life resides. This metaphorical understanding suggests that the honey, the taste, the rasa, and the love of life are found in the heart. The Upanishad urges us to recognize that while the things of the world hold importance, it is their meanings that truly matter. These meanings are subjective and personal, yet they connect us with others, enabling empathy, sympathy, and a deeper understanding of the shared human experience.
According to the Upanishad, the sacrifice mentioned is not about giving up something, but rather making it sacred. It is about recognizing the sacredness in life, the lessons, opportunities, and gifts that life bestows upon us. Although circumstances and contexts may vary, and fairness may be elusive, the Upanishad suggests that we all share the same humanity, the same desires, fears, loves, and griefs. Personalizing these shared experiences is not selfish but allows us to view the macrocosm, the truths of the world, as our own and to offer them as gifts to others. The act of sacrifice, in this context, is about giving, sharing, and making the sacred aspects of life accessible to all.
It is recommended to read the passage starting on page 125 of O’s work, specifically section 3.16 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Although the text may initially appear esoteric, it holds the key to understanding how cultural symbols and shared experiences can reveal important insights about ourselves. To illustrate, consider the music you grew up with, the tunes that resonate with your generation. Reflect on what they mean to you, the memories, emotions, and aspirations they evoke. Then, invite your friends to share in that experience, offering them a glimpse into your world and attempting to convey why it holds such significance. This act of connection, of sharing a deep connection through music, mirrors the essence of Soma. The Upanishad teaches that savoring this connection and the feeling it brings is what soma truly represents. The word Upanishad itself means connection, and by immersing oneself in this text, one can truly taste and experience the profound connection it offers.
Now let’s discuss the Chandogya Upanishad, which is focused on the Upanishad of Chandas. Chandas refers to the ancient Vedic word for chant and encompasses both the content and the musical aspect of the chant. It also includes the meters and the organization of the chant. However, the ultimate purpose of the Chandogya Upanishad is to explore the emotional impact and transformative effect that the chant has on individuals. It delves into the essence of how the chant makes us feel and its significance.
The Upanishad emphasizes three key elements: content, method, and performance, along with their evocative outcome. The content refers to the essence and message conveyed by the chant, while the method focuses on the organization and memorization of the chant. Performance involves the actual act of chanting. However, the most crucial aspect lies in the evocative outcome, as it determines how the chant affects and enriches us on a personal level. It compares this process to a vaccine, where participation in the collective experience of the chant benefits everyone involved.
The Chandogya Upanishad doesn’t moralize or dictate specific codes of conduct. Instead, it invites us to engage in a shared project that contributes to the common good. The Upanishad emphasizes that the project’s goodness lies in the profound connection it creates when the content of the world is effectively brought into relationships. This connection expands our understanding and provides a shared experience that benefits the collective. It encourages us to move from a self-centered perspective to a broader understanding of our interconnected humanity.
To achieve this transition, the Upanishad suggests a process akin to Martin Buber’s philosophy in his book “I and Thou.” It involves progressing from self-awareness to acknowledging the existence of others and ultimately embracing a collective identity. The Upanishad highlights the rejection of self by demons, symbolizing an unwillingness to share and transfer the joy and essence of the chant, or Soma. Conversely, the gods advocate for the importance of sharing the Soma, as it fosters unity and cooperation.
The Upanishad underscores the need to expand our consciousness continually. It suggests that if we remain stagnant and unwilling to grow, we will contract and diminish. It urges us to embark on a journey of self-discovery, appreciating the value of music as a conduit for expanding our consciousness. Music, like Soma, holds immense value as it evokes ecstasy, wonder, and creativity, propelling us towards new and profound experiences.
In summary, the Chandogya Upanishad, belonging to the Sama Veda, comprises three essential aspects: accounting for the contents of the world, exploring their symbolic value and meaning, and experiencing the transformative and evocative power they hold. By following this three-step process, the Upanishad encourages us to engage in a collective endeavor that benefits all and fosters a deeper connection among individuals.
This represents the tripartite process of Soma, honey pressing, and the heart.
So Soma and the honey, or the essence, delve into the core of the matter, capturing its flavor, and uncovering its essence. This constitutes the second aspect. And what does it do to you? The text refers to this as ananda, describing it as pure bliss. It is not an elevated state removed from the world.
Bliss constitutes the third element of this puzzle. It is the evocative force, the sensation that arises when you recognize and embrace the essence. It signifies the profoundness and the transformative impact it has on you.
Approach this as a project, perhaps by reading chapters 3, 5, and 6 of the Chandogya Upanishad. While accounting for any cultural disparities and peculiarities that may arise, attempt to discern the meticulous exploration of the human pursuit of meaning and the outcomes of a valuable life. A life that spans a hundred years, yet remains worthwhile. It is a life that is purna, not perfect, but complete. Perfection would merely entail repetition. This life is an art form, for although the same 42 seconds may be replayed, it is understood that each encounter brings a unique experience. It is akin to standing before a work of art, where the observer’s perspective continually evolves.
There is the appreciation of the art, nurtured and refined through study, connection, and the ongoing process. It demands diligence and perseverance to comprehend and delve into its depths. Then there is the personal experience one undergoes. This is why you revisit a painting at the Musee d’Orsay and acknowledge that it will be different tomorrow.
Allow the rhythmic verses, the essence, and the chant to resonate within your heart. Let Soma be your expression and then share it generously, giving away even the personal aspects so that others can recognize that it extends beyond oneself. It encompasses everyone, akin to the appreciation of art or the love for music, transcending individual value or affection.