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Arrow sharpened by devotion, and the mighty weapon of the Upanishad || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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धनुर्गृहीत्वौपनिषदं महास्त्रं शरं ह्युपासानिशितं संधयीत । आयम्य तद्भावगतेन चेतसा लक्ष्यं तदेवाक्षरं सोम्य विद्धि ॥

dhanurgṛhītvaupaniṣadaṃ mahāstraṃ śaraṃ hyupāsāniśitaṃ saṃdhayīta āyamya tadbhāvagatena cetasā lakṣyaṃ tadevākṣaraṃ somya viddhi

Take up the bow of the Upanishad, that mighty weapon, set to it an arrow sharpened by adoration, draw the bow with a heart wholly devoted to the contemplation of That, and O fair son, penetrate into That as thy target, even into the Immutable.

~ Verse 2.2.3

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “Take up the bow of the Upanishad, that mighty weapon, set to it an arrow sharpened by adoration, draw the bow with a heart wholly devoted to the contemplation of That, and O fair son, penetrate into That as thy target, even into the Immutable.”

The Upanishad is the mighty weapon, the bow, and you have to shoot into the Immutable, that one Truth that the Upanishads worship. So, the Upanishad is the bow, the Truth is the target, but the verse does not explicitly state what is to be shot into the Truth. What is it? I will re-read the verse for you.

“Take up the bow of the Upanishad, that mighty weapon, set to it an arrow sharpened by adoration”—‘adoration’ here is not an accurate translation of what it says in the verse. “Set to it an arrow sharpened by austerities or devotion, upāsana .” And then, “Draw the bow with a heart wholly devoted to the contemplation of That”—read ‘heart’ here as mind—”and then penetrate into That as your target.” Fair enough. But what is it that will penetrate into That? What is it that the bow of Upanishads will shoot into the Truth? That’s the ego-self. What else is the subject matter of all Upanishadic enquiry? The ego-self and its liberation.

You are the one who has to reach somewhere. The Upanishads are a mighty weapon that can help you. But for even the Upanishads to succeed, first of all you should be sharp enough. What can even the mightiest of bows do with a blunt arrow? The arrow would hit accurately into the target and then fall off because it’s not sharp enough. The Upanishads would have done their bit to the maximum, performed their role to perfection, and yet you achieve no penetration. Why? Because the Upanishads by themselves can go only this far and no more.

Also, our prakritik state is bluntness. What is meant by bluntness? Not being sharp enough, not being one-pointed enough, or not being devoted enough. Do you see how the arrow serves as a good metaphor for the dedicated mind? What is common in the two? Both are one-pointed, both travel straight to their target, and both know only the target point, nothing else.

So, these are the two things that you need: within yourself, a mind that is devoted to only the one thing, the one most important thing, and outside of you, you need the help and support of the Upanishads. These are the two things that you need. If even one of these is missing, then nothing gets done.

You may have a very sharp arrow, but if you have nothing to launch the arrow with, what can you achieve with the arrow? A great missile with no launcher; a powerful piece of ammunition, an explosive shell, but nothing to fire the shell. What do you get? A quiverful of the best of arrows, but no bow. How do you fight the battle of life?

Can you imagine the amusing as well as tragic situation of the person who has a great arrow without a bow? He will be sharpening and sharpening his weapon, and the sharper the weapon is, the greater is his frustration. So much could have happened—nothing happened. So much was possible—nothing materialized.

This is often the predicament of those who, under the influence of some fancy notions, refuse to take the help of the scriptures or the guru. Their principle is that, “We will make it on our own. After all, we have a very sharp arrow. We will make it on our own. Look at our arrow, how sharp it is!” And it indeed is sharp.

You require both: inner one-pointedness and external support. Which of these two comes first? First comes grace. When that is there, because that is there, that’s why both of these can happen.

So, not much merit in discussing which of these two comes first or is more important. Your openness to grace, your receptivity, your honesty in acknowledging your suffering, that’s the first thing. And when that happens, then both happen. Inwardly, you start losing all attraction and affiliation to nonsense, which means you become one-pointed; and outwardly, you start feeling drawn towards places and sources that would illuminate you. So, the Upanishads come to you, and you become available to them.

But for any of these to happen, first of all there has to be an inner honesty that says, “I need to be better; I need to be somewhere else. I am not at my destined place; I am not realizing, not meeting my destiny. The target is there. I don’t need to penetrate so much into the trivia that engulfs me from all sides; I rather need to penetrate the target.” That honest admission, that desire to give up and be away, is the first thing. And when the desire arises, then you find means to get what you desire. That is one-pointedness. “I want that, and I want only that.”

And then you search for the sources that can power your journey, illumine your path, and that’s when you say, “Ah, the Upanishads are fantastic. They have both power and light; they energize me and they illuminate me.” If something only energizes you, the energy can just be a blind force, and if something illuminates you without energizing you, then it’s a very phony kind of illumination that leads to nothing, that remains divorced from action; means nothing, doesn’t help.

Questioner: How can we come to grace? What to do if it is not there?

AP: No, grace is always there. Grace is first and timeless. So, the first you don’t even have to worry about. We said grace is first, and then we said it is your openness and receptivity to grace that matters. And that’s why the first thing really is your honest admission that you do not belong to the place you are languishing at. Still, you must always acknowledge that it is not your desire that takes you to peace; it is peace that takes you to peace. Look at how the Upanishad puts it:

“Draw the bow with a mind devoted to the contemplation of That, and then penetrate into That.”

So, you have to penetrate into That. How? By taking help from That. First thing is That itself. Without the help of That, penetration into That is not possible. Before the verse says “penetrate into That”, it says you must have contemplation into That. Contemplation into That precedes penetration into That. Only the destination makes the journey possible.

So, while we know that tapas (austerities) and your desire to be liberated are really primary, yet if you think that you gain liberation because you want to be liberated, it still smells of the ego. What you are saying is, “I gained it because I wanted it.” Therefore, it is important to remember that you gain liberation firstly because of the help of liberation itself. Had that not been there, your desire would have been of no avail.

Else, there is the egoistic inflation within: “I was suffering and I wanted to be liberated, so I performed austerities, I paid the price, and I reached there.” Who did it? “I did it.” What did you do? “I lost the ‘I’. I dropped the ‘I’, and I did it all on my own, I tell you!” So, there is that problem.

So, even though all that is in your hand is to do your best, to be really honest to your highest desire, yet it must always be remembered that no desire, no thought, no action of yours is in itself sufficient to take you there.

Suppose you have to go and enter a lighthouse, and it’s a very dark territory all around. How do you reach the lighthouse? It’s twenty miles away; how do you reach? You reach the light only by the grace of light itself. Had light not been there, would you have managed to reach light? That’s what. So, don’t swell up. You reached light because there was light. What if the lighthouse has no light? Would you still manage to reach the lighthouse?—assuming that it is still worth it to reach the lighthouse in the first place. If the lighthouse has no light, firstly, would it be worthy to reach it, and secondly, would you manage to reach it?

So, that’s how it operates. You reach there because That is showing the way. You reach there because the light from there is showing the way. But the light is not actively doing anything; the light won’t do it for you. Who has to perform the action? Who has to make the effort? You.

Therefore, sometimes I say, all that you should remember is that everything depends on you; do not rely on anybody else, do not believe in magic; only your hard work will take you there. Sometimes I say that. When do I say that? I say that when a fellow says, “Now that the light is there, why do I need to exert myself? You see, the light is omnipotent, so illuminated. The light will take me there.” No, the light will not take you there. The light creates an environment in which you can reach there. The light at best facilitates your movement, but move you will. The movement has to be yours. The light will not pick you up and carry you there to itself.

So, to those who do not seem to be in a mood to put in the hard work, I say, “Everything depends on your hard work.” And then there are those who believe that all happens only due to their own personal hard work; to them I say, “With all your hard work, where would you reach had the light not shown the way?” These two things have to be remembered.

But if you are really someone who knows how things are, you will realize that between these two, really, if one is the highest, the higher one, it is the light itself. In some way, even your desire to reach the light is fired by the light. Think of it. Had you never really known any light, would there be a desire for light? So, who stoked your desire to reach light? Light itself. So, even if you say, “It is my desire that takes me to light,” what is behind the desire? Light itself.

Two things. There are people who say, “It is my desire that takes me there,” and there are people who say, “It is the light that takes me there.”

Those who say, “It is the light that takes me there,” to them I say, “Fine, the light is there. Now, you work hard.” Now we are talking to those who say, “It is my desire that takes me there”; to them I am asking, “Would there be any desire sans the light? So, even if it is your desire that powers you, the desire itself is powered by the light. So, ultimately, what is primary? The light itself.”

But I won’t say that to lazy bugs who would say, “Now that the light is there, let the light take care of stuff.” To them I say, “No, the light won’t do anything; light is there but passive, akarta . Light is a non-doer light. All the doing must happen through you.”

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