BLOG STATUS: Suspended indefinitely starting 18 Jan 2020. See journal page for details.
Last new article published: 18 Jan 2020, "Ishvara Gita: Chapters 1-11": Read here

Subscribe to updates here.

Prelude to Ishvara Gita - Part V: Jabala Upanishad

The final prelude is the Jabala Upanishad, which is another Upanishad that focuses mainly on Jivātma-Upāsaṇa. The purpose of these five preludes is to enable the readers to be acquainted with Jnāna-Yoga, which makes the understanding of the Ishvara Gita easier.
A word about this Upanishad. We have not commented on it fully. Because the second half of the Upanishad describing the state of sannyAsis is of disputed authenticity – we are not sure as to whether the present version of the Upanishad is authentic in entirety. In shata dUShaNI, Shri Vedanta Desikan does seem to hint that some shrutis have been interpolated and tampered with, in matters related to sannyAsa Ashrama.
In addition, even if this Upanishad was authentic in its entirety, the aspects of sannyasa such as ekadandin vs tridandin, wearing the sacred thread vs not wearing it --- which are the subjects of debate between advaitins and vishishtadvaitins --  is beyond the scope of this blog. It is not necessary to our agenda here and so we are not going to bother with it. Leave it to the pūrvācāryās to resolve such matters in works like Yati-Dharma-Samucchaya and Sata-Dhushani.
So, let us begin.
oṃ bṛhaspatiruvāca yājñavalkyaṃ yadanu kurukṣetraṃ devānāṃ devayajanaṃ sarveṣāṃ bhūtānāṃ brahmasadanam ।
Meaning: Brihaspati asked Yajnavalkya, “Which according to you, is the (nature of the) body that is the abode of the senses (kurukṣetraṃ), where the senses (devānāṃ) perform actions of the self (devayajanaṃ) , which is the seat of the individual self (Brahman) in all beings?”
kurukṣetra” – The body is called “kshetra” in the Gita. Thus, “kurukṣetra” means “the abode of cruel people”, ie, “the body that houses the senses that trouble us”.
devānāṃ devayajanaṃ” – “devānāṃ” refers to the senses which shine out external objects to the self. “devayajanaṃ” refers to actions of the self which shines out and hence is called “deva”.
brahma” – The individual self is called this on account of it being great with all pervasive knowledge. It is identical in nature everywhere, residing in bodies of man, deva, etc.
The question posed by Brihaspati is this – “Explain to me the nature of the body in which the self abides, so that I may attain the knowledge of discrimination between the body and the self”.
avimuktaṃ vai kurukṣetraṃ devānāṃ devayajanaṃ sarveṣāṃ bhūtānāṃ brahmasadanam । tasmādyatra kvacana gacchati tadeva manyeta tadavimuktameva । idaṃ vai kurukṣetraṃ devānāṃ devayajanaṃ sarveṣāṃ bhūtānāṃ brahmasadanam ॥atra hi jantoḥ prāṇeṣūtkramamāṇeṣu rudrastārakaṃ brahma vyācaṣṭe yenāsāvamṛtī bhūtvā mokṣī bhavati tasmādavimuktameva niṣeveta avimuktaṃ na vimuñcedevamevaitadyājñavalkyaḥ ॥ 1॥
Meaning: (Yajnavalkya replied:) “That individual self which is undiminished in its’ pure state (avimukta) is (inseparably associated with) the body, where the senses (devAnA.n) perform actions of the self (devayajanaṃ), which is the seat of the individual self (Brahman) in all beings.
On that account, whichever body one attains (kvacana gacchati), one shall regard that itself as the self (avimukta).
This is the (nature of the) body that is the abode of the senses (kurukṣetra), where the senses (devānāṃ) perform actions of the self (devayajanaṃ), which is the seat of the individual self (Brahman) in all beings.
There (in that knowledge), indeed, when the vital airs depart the living being at the time of death, Rudra imparts the (knowledge of) praṇava (tārakaṃ brahma), by which one becoming (united with) the imperishable self, attains freedom from the distress of samsAra such as old age, hunger, thirst etc.
On account of this, one shall pursue or abide in (the meditation of) the self (avimukta), one shall not leave (the meditation of) the self (avimukta).
(Brihaspati said:) “It is even so as you have said, revered Yajnavalkya.”
avimukta” refers to the individual self. The phrase “avimuktaṃ vai kurukṣetraṃ” – “The self is verily the body” is not a statement of identity. It means, the self is inseparably associated with the body in samsAra and thus, by aprthak-siddhi, it is called the body.
On account of such inseparable association, beings become deluded by dehātma bhrama in whatever body they go to in every birth, thinking “the self is verily the body itself” each time. So if they are born as man, they identify themselves as man, if they are born as a deva, they identify themselves as deva – in this manner, they are deluded, not knowing that the self is distinct from the characteristics of man, deva etc (tasmādyatra kvacana gacchati tadeva manyeta tadavimuktameva).
Such is the nature of the body which causes delusion or dehātma bhrama. In this manner, to such a one who is situated in that knowledge of the distinction between the body and the self, Rudra imparts the knowledge of the praṇava. This is on account of the fact that Rudra is the bestower of knowledge, according to the following pramāṇās:
  1. puruṣasya vidmahe sahasrākṣasya mahādevasya dhīmahi । tanno rudraḥ pracodayāt - To know that Purusha Narayana, I meditate on that omniscient Mahadeva. May that Rudra invigorate or impel us.

  1. Omityevam sadā viprāh padatvam dhyāta keśavam” – O Brahmanas! Always keep chanting “OM”. Meditate on Keshava” – These are the words of Shiva himself in the Mahabharata.
The praṇava is the knowledge of the Lord, who is meditated upon to attain the similar state of the individual self.
As it causes relief from the distress of samsAra, yajnavAlkya emphasizes that one must never leave the meditation of the self.
atha hainamatriḥ papraccha yājñavalkyaṃ ya eṣo'nanto'vyakta ātmā taṃ kathamahaṃ vijānīyāmiti ॥
Meaning: Thereafter, Atri, asked Yajnavalkya, “How am I to know (meditate on) this Self which is distinct from the perishable body (ananta), beyond the range of the senses (avyakta)?
The body is called “anta” because it is subject the death. The self is “ananta” as it is distinct from it.
The question of Atri is explained thus  – “does the embodied self undergo any changes in its’ essential nature due to such association with the body? How am I to meditate on it?” To that Yajnavalkya answers:
sa hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ so'vimukta upāsyo ya eṣo'nanto'vyakta ātmā so'vimukte pratiṣṭhita iti ॥
Meaning: To this, Yajnavalkya replied: “That self which is undiminished in its’ pure state (avimukta) is meditated, (as) that which is this (embodied self) distinct from the perishable body (ananta), beyond the range of the senses (avyakta). That (embodied condition) is established in the pure self (avimukta).
The various embodied forms such as man, deva etc are but effects of the Self which is the cause. So, the condition of being embodied is said to be established in the pure self. The teaching is that, the self which is embodied does not undergo any changes in its’ essential nature and is identical to the self in the pure state devoid of karmas.
In the next mantra, Yajnavalkya explains how to fix oneself in meditation on the self.
so'vimuktaḥ kasminpratiṣṭhita iti । varaṇāyāṃ nāśyāṃ ca madhye pratiṣṭhita iti ॥ kā vai varaṇā kā ca nāśīti ।
Meaning: What is that in which the self (avimukta) is established in? It is established in between “varaṇā” and “nāśi”. What is varaṇā and What is nāśi?
The self is established – meaning, the knowledge of meditation on the self is attained by the description below.
sarvānindriyakṛtāndoṣānvārayatīti tena varaṇā bhavati ॥ sarvānindriyakṛtānpāpānnāśayatīti tena nāśī bhavatīti ॥
Meaning: Those (actions constituting karma yoga) which checks the sense-enjoyments that constitute the defects gained (by the actions of) the senses are called varaṇā. That (Jnāna-Yoga) which destroys the sins of (all the actions) performed by the senses is called nāśi.
“doṣās” refer to desire for the fruits of actions caused by the wayward senses. Karma Yoga or desireless action with the knowledge that the body is distinct from the self, checks or prevents this desire.
Karma Yoga leads to Jnāna-Yoga which is meditation on the self. Such meditation destroys all sins acquired by past actions, which were obstructing a vision of the self.
katamaṃ cāsya sthānaṃ bhavatīti । bhruvorghrāṇasya ca yaḥ sandhiḥ sa eṣa dyaurlokasya parasya ca sandhirbhavatīti । etadvai sandhiṃ sandhyāṃ brahmavida upāsata iti । so'vimukta upāsya iti। so'vimuktaṃ jñānamācaṣṭe । yo vaitadevaṃ vedeti ॥ 2॥
Meaning: Which is also the place of that (contemplation known as Jnāna-Yoga)?  It is said to be that which is the boundary (tip) of the nose. That (spot) is the co-existence of the eye which shines out external objects (dyaurloka) and that which is other to it, ie, not seeing that (para). The knowers of the self meditate on this co-existence (of fixing the gaze and not seeing it) as the meditation on the self. That self (avimukta) is to be meditated (in this manner).  He who knows (this meditation) in this manner, declares the knowledge pertaining to the self (avimukta) to others (ie, he becomes a teacher well-versed in jivātma-jnāna).
Gita 6.14 says that the Jnāna Yogi desiring to meditate on the self needs to fix his gaze on the tip of the nose to refrain from seeing other objects. While this can be done by closing one’s eyes, this is not recommended as one may fall asleep in that state.
At the same time, it is important that only gaze is fixed there; his mind is engaged in meditation of the self. So, though he is gazing at that spot, he is not really looking at it as he is meditating on the self. Hence, there is a meeting point (Sandhi) between sight of the tip of the nose and not really looking at it. Such a state of meditation is glorified as meditation of the self itself on account of its’ importance.
atha hainaṃ brahmacāriṇa ūcuḥ kiṃ japyenāmṛtatvaṃ brūhīti ॥ sa hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ । śatarudriyeṇetyetānyeva ha vā amṛtasya nāmāni ॥ etairha vā amṛto bhavatīti evamevaitadyājñavalkyaḥ ॥ 3॥
Meaning: Then the brahmacharins asked Yajnavalkya, “Tell us, by recitation of which, does one obtain the state of the individual self (amṛtatvaṃ)? Yajnavalkya said, “By the Satarudriya, which comprises the names indicating the auspicious attributes of Brahman who is nectar (amṛta). By (reciting this), one attains the individual self that is immortal (amṛta)”.
“It is even as you said, Yajnavalkya”.
The last mantra said to fix one’s gaze on the tip of the nose and engage the mind in meditation. But the mind always strays towards sense objects and this is difficult. So the students asked, “how can we control the mind (and senses) to attain “amṛtatvaṃ” or the state of the individual self which is imperishable?”
To that, Yajnavalkya replied that recitation of the Satarudriya curbs the senses and mind, by weaning them away from sense objects and focusing them on Brahman. It contains the names, which are indicative of the auspicious attributes of Brahman that are delectable (yāni nāmāni gaunāni), and so he is nectar (amṛta). Thus by meditating on Brahman, one attains the individual self (amṛta).
Once again, the Satarudriya is praised as an accessory to Jnāna-Yoga. This should remove any misconception that it is a praise of Rudra or any god other than Narayana.
The rest of the Upanishad will not be commented upon by us as mentioned earlier. We will conclude our series of preludes here. The key takeaways from this series are as follows:
  1. A number of adjectives usually used to describe Paramātma are used in the Shastra to describe the Jivātma as well.

  1. A simplification of Jivātma- Upāsaṇa into three steps is this – controlling the senses, fixing the mind and senses on Brahman, meditating on Brahman via the Praṇava to attain the similar state of the individual self.

  1. The first step, viz., control of the senses can be achieved by the chanting of the Satarudriyam which is specifically intended to wean senses away from sense-objects and focus them on Brahman according to the Satapata Brahmana.

  1. On account of the importance of the Satarudriyam in controlling the senses, it is glorified wherever Jivātma- Upāsaṇa is described

  1. Thus, wherever it is said that SatarudiIyam confers immortality, it refers to kaivalya mukti (attaining the Jivātma) eventually. Just as Hari-Nama is said to confer liberation in the sense of leading to bhakti-yoga and then gaining moksha by virtue of it, the Satarudriyam confers kaivalya mukti in the sense of leading to control of senses and proceeding to Jnāna-Yoga.

  1. On account of the above, it is clearly established that the Satarudriyam has no connection to the worship of Shiva as described in the Tāmasa Purāṇās.
Hope the readers found these prelude articles interesting.