It is the unique style of the Upanishads to narrate philosophy in a profound manner through simple and clear stories. The precepts on brahmavidyã have been narrated here through the story of Ushasti and Mahãvat, the conversation between Shvetketu and Udãlak, the dialogue of Nãrad and Sanatsujãt, and the story of Indra and Virochan.
This Upanishad is encompassed in the Sãmaveda. It consists of eight chapters of the Tavalkãr Brahmin in the Sãmaveda.
BEGINNING WITH THE GLORY OF AKSHAR
‘ॐ इत्येतद् अक्षरम् उद्गीथम् उपासीत’ – ‘Aum ityetad Aksharam udgeetham upãseeta’ – ‘One should contemplate on Akshar whose name is Aum and who has been sung of in all the Vedas’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 1/1/1). When reciting the Chãndogya Upanishad, the very first mantra sings the glory of Aksharbrahman. The reason for this can also be understood – one cannot do the upãsanã-bhakti of Purushottam appropriately without becoming aksharrup. Also, for this very reason, when brahmavidyã is discussed in the Mundaka Upanishad, the dialogue commences with the words ‘अथ परा’ – ‘Atha parã’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/1/5), followed by, ‘‘तद् अक्षरम् अघिगम्यते’ – ‘Tad Aksharam adhigamyate’ (Mundaka Upanishad: 1/1/5), – thus the form of Aksharbrahman is introduced. The Mãndukya Upanishad also begins by introducing Aksharbrahman with the words, ‘ॐ इत्येतद् अक्षरम्’ – ‘Aum ityetad Aksharam’ (Mãndukya Upanishad: 1/1). The very same thing happens in the Chãndogya Upanishad, too.
It then explains the benefits the knower of Aksharbrahman attains.
ENTRY INTO AKSHARDHAM FOR ONE WHO KNOWS AKSHAR
‘यदेतद् अक्षरम् एतदमृतम् अभयं तत्प्रविश्य देवा अमृता अभया अभवन्। स य एतदेवं विद्वान् अक्षरं प्रणौति तदेव अक्षरम् अमृतम् अभयं प्रविशति। तदमृतो भवति।’ – ‘Yadetad Aksharam etadamrutam abhayam tatpravishya devã amrutã abhayã abhavan, sa ya etadevam vidvãn Aksharam pranauti tadeva Aksharam amrutam abhayam pravishati.’ – ‘This Aksharbrahman is immortal, without birth or death, and fearless; one who knows it enters it.’ That is to say, enters Akshardham, becomes free of birth and death, becomes fearless and attains immortality (Chãndogya Upanishad: 1/4/4,5).
THE UPÃSANÃ OF PURUSHOTTAM WITH A FORM
The next section explains the form of Purushottam Parabrahman. ‘य एषोऽन्तरादित्ये हिरण्मयः पुरुषो दृश्यते हिरण्यश्म-श्रुíहरण्यकेश आ-प्रणवात्सर्व एव सुवर्णः॥ तस्य यथा कप्यासं पुण्डरीकमेवमक्षिणी।’ – ‘Ya esho’ntarãditye hiranmayaha purusho drushyate hiranyashmashrurhiranyakesha ã-pranavãtsarva eva suvarnaha. Tasya yatha kapyãsam pundareekamevamakshinee’ – ‘This divine being, who is lustrous with divine rays, pervades the whole galaxy. His entire divine body – his beard, his hair, his nails, etc. all shine brightly like glittering gold. Moreover, his two eyes are as soft as a lotus and extremely beautiful’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 1/6/6,7).
These words of the Upanishad tell us that Paramãtmã always has a form. Even in that, not just any form, but by saying ‘purushaha’ it tells us that he has a beautiful human form. For this reason, whether it is the divine form of Parabrahman present in Akshardham, or whether it is the divine form that pervades the infinite universes, this mantra urges us to never understand him as formless.
The benefit of understanding Paramãtmã to be with a form is also not ordinary. It states here, ‘स एष सर्वेभ्यः पाप्मभ्य उदितः उदेति ह वै सर्वेभ्यः पाप्मभ्यो य एवं वेद॥’ – ‘Sa esha sarvebhyaha pãpmabhya uditaha udeti ha vai sarvebhyaha pãpmabhyo ya evam veda’ – ‘One who understands this is freed of all sins’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 1/6/7).
In this way, the initial chapters of the Chãndogya Upanishad have given wonderful precepts on the divine forms of Akshar and Purushottam.
This unique glory is then explained through a dialogue between a father and son.
THE STORY OF SHVETKETU AND ÃRUNI: SADVIDYÃ
There was a rishi named Ãruni. He had a son named Shvetketu. When Shvetketu came of age, his father told him to study, saying, ‘श्वेतकेतो वस ब्रह्मचर्यम्’ – ‘Shvetaketo vasa brahmacharyam’ – ‘Son! There is no one in our family who has not studied. Therefore, go and stay in some gurukul, observe celibacy and study’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 6/1/1). Shvetketu did accordingly. He stayed in a gurukul for twelve years. On completing his studies he returned home. His father saw him after many years. Instead of seeing the lustre of knowledge on his son’s face, he noticed a sense of arrogance. His father was upset. He called his son and said, “Son, what did you study that made you so arrogant? Hasn’t your guru taught you precepts on brahmavidyã?”
Shvetketu replied, “What are those precepts like?”
His father replied, ‘येनाऽश्रुतं श्रुतं भवत्यमतं मतमविज्ञातं विज्ञातमिति।’ – ‘Yenã’shrutam shrutam bhavatyamatam matamavignãtam vignãtamiti’ – ‘Son, brahmavidyã is such that on attaining it one hears even the unheard, i.e., nothing remains to be heard, nothing remains to be contemplated on, nothing remains to be known’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 6/1/3). Moreover, ‘यथा सोम्यैकेन मृत्पिण्डेन सर्वं मृण्मयं विज्ञातं स्याद्।’ – ‘Yathã somyaikena mrutpindena sarvam mrunmayam vignãtam syãd’ – ‘Just like once you have thoroughly known a lump of earth, you have then known the form of everything that is made of earth, the same applies to this knowledge’ (Chãndogya Upanishad: 6/1/4). Hearing this, Shvetketu became interested. He requested his father to give him that knowledge. His father was more than happy and gladly began to give precepts on brahmavidyã.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas