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Immortality is when there is just sky and skyness || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

13 min
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यस्मिन्द्यौः पृथिवी चान्तरिक्षमोतं मनः सह प्राणैश्च सर्वैः । तमेवैकं जानथ आत्मानमन्या वाचो विमुञ्चथामृतस्यैष सेतुः ॥

yasmindyauḥ pṛthivī cāntarikṣamotaṃ manaḥ saha prāṇaiśca sarvaiḥ tamevaikaṃ jānatha ātmānamanyā vāco vimuñcathāmṛtasyaiṣa setuḥ

He in whom are inwoven heaven and earth and the mid region, and mind with all the life currents, Him know to be the one Self; other words put away from you: this is the bridge to immortality.

~ Verse 2.2.5

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “He in whom are inwoven heaven and earth and the mid region,” everything between heaven and earth means everything in total, “and mind with all the life currents,” mind with all its stuff, “Him know to be the one Self; other words put away from you: this is the bridge to immortality.”

To simplify: He in whom are inwoven, contained heaven and earth and everything in between—meaning the entire universe—He who contains the entire universe and the mind with all its currents of thoughts and passions and experiences, Him know to be one Self. ‘Self’ here refers to Ātman . “Put other words away from you: this is the bridge to immortality; this is how you keep death away from yourself.”

What is the relationship between immortality, deathlessness, and knowing the Ātman as the container of the material and the mental world? Not that they are really distinct, but still. So, what is the relation between knowing Ātman as the container of the world, keeping all other thoughts aside, and immortality? The verse is stretching upon these three things and connecting them.

First: the Ātman is the envelope, the container of the entire universe, of everything that appears, everything that is perceptible. The Ātman contains it; the Ātman is the sky in which the activities of the world are happening and the currents of the mind are flowing. That is one thing. The second thing that the verse says is: except for this realization that all is contained in the Ātman , keep everything else aside. And then it says, if you can do this, then you will be immortal.

Remember one thing and dispose of everything else. What is to be remembered? That Ātman contains everything. The right word here is antarghota . Everything is inwoven— which is an approximate translation—everything is within that container. Actually, containment is not the right concept here because containment denotes a boundary within which stuff is happening. Even better than containment is the concept of the sky. Everything is happening within the sky, but the sky is not the boundary; the sky is also the substance that is enabling everything to happen.

What is a container? A container is merely a boundary, and within the container there is no container; within the container is stuff distinct from the container. The sky is different from the container because within the sky all that you have is sky itself. There is nothing except the sky. Even the stuff that is there, that stuff has skyness in every atom of its existence. There is sky within the stuff, there is sky outside the stuff, there is sky to the left, right, everywhere.

Even when we are talking of the atom, if you go to Niels Bohr’s experiment, more than 99% of space within the atoms is just sky, empty space; no material there. The subatomic particles are just so miniscule; most of the space there is just space, empty. Skyness is there. And then, when you move ahead of Bohr, then you will realize something even more surprising: that the 1% part that appeared to be particulate or material, even that is just sky.

Material really does not exist; there is just the sky. And within the sky you have fields, but field is not material as such. The field does not stand in an absence of the sky; you come to realize that field is rather a function of the sky. So, all that you have is the sky and the function of the sky. All that you have is sky and skyness. All that you have is either the sky or skyness. And the Upanishad is saying, know this and keep all your junk aside. This is there, that is there; he was born, he is dying, he is alive; I have to do this, I have to reach there—keep all these things aside. There is only the sky and skyness; there is no you, no me. And once you know this, you are immortal.

You are immortal. Congratulations! How do you feel about it?

“But is this fellow to my left, is he too immortal?”

Uh, probably yes.

“Then I don’t feel too good about it!”

This too is skyness. Don’t you have a totally dark sky in the nights? Skyness, games of the sky. Sometimes it turns pitch dark. Nothing has changed there; it is the sky turning dark. Nothing has changed there. Still, everything is happening in the sky. The kite killed the sparrow in the sky. Heinous, no? Little, cute sparrow, and the kite swooped over it and just tore into it. It happened in the sky; all kinds of things are happening there—and nothing is happening there because there is nothing that can happen.

For something to happen, something must be there. All that you have is sky and skyness. What appears like the kite is skyness of one kind; what appears like the sparrow is skyness of another kind. Sky-kites killed the sky-sparrow. Sky-kite sky-killed the sky-sparrow! What else is killing? Skyness of a particular kind. And sky being the infinite sky, how many kinds of skynesses are possible? Infinite. So, anything can happen in the sky.

Everything happens in the sky. When only this is remembered, and remembered with such clarity that all other concepts fall off, then you are immortal.

What is meant by all other concepts? Essentially, all other concepts are just one single concept: the ego-concept. The ego-concept believes in fragmentation, separation, diversity and individuality. “The kite has a separate ego,” the ego-concept says, “The sparrow has a separate self; the kite and the sparrow are different entities. And I am, obviously, another different entity distinct from both the kite and the sparrow.” This is one way of thinking, this is one center of thinking. When only sky and skyness remain, then this center of thinking becomes completely dislodged. Death belongs to this particular center of thinking. With this center of thinking gone, death too disappears. Great news!

The bad news is, with death also disappears this life that we call as life. Because this that we call as life is intertwined with what we call as death. Every living being here is moving continuously towards death. Therefore, you cannot talk of life, as we generally use the term, without bringing in the concept of death.

You tell a child, “He is a man and he is alive,” and the child asks, “What do you mean by alive?” How would you explain? You say, “Alive means he is not yet dead.” So, life as we know it cannot even be defined in absence of death. Otherwise, how will you explain to the child the meaning of the word ‘alive’? You say, “We have four people alive.” He says, “What do you mean by alive?” Explain life without bringing in the concept of death. Can you?

So, when death disappears, as in immortality, then along with death life too disappears. Bad news. But what disappears is life as we know it. Now, life as we know it, feel it, experience it, live it, is no fun at all anyway, or is it? So, the bad news is probably not so bad. With death disappears life.

Immortality is not freedom from death. Immortality is freedom from your mortal self, the ego-self.

Immortality, then, is freedom from life. When you say somebody is now immortal or amara , what you mean is that he is no longer alive. Therefore, immortality is only for those who have no great regards for life as it is usually lived. If you are okay with life as it is usually lived, then you continue to live. And living is inseparable from death, not in the sense that living ends in death but in the sense that when you say that you are alive, you are in constant dread of death. That life itself operates from a center of death; death powers, energizes every moment of life. What you call as life is nothing but death in action, death in motion.

There are two kinds of deaths: passive death and active death. Passive death is when you are lying on the ground waiting for your burial. That is passive death. You can’t do anything, you are not doing anything except waiting and cursing from within, “Hurry up!” You are passively dead. And what is active death? It is when all your activities are actually coming from a center of death. So, what we call as life is actually active death, death in action. Death sits within us, making us go round and round, making us go place to place, making us run pillar to post, and making us believe that we are alive, that this is what is to be called as life. No, that is just death sitting within us.

So, for you to be free from death, you have to be free of life that runs from the point of death, from the center of death. That’s the meaning of immortality. “I no longer live the life that is powered by, energized by, controlled by death. I am no longer dead.” That’s immortality.

Immortality will continue to elude you as long as you believe in the ego-self. The kite is different from the sparrow, the sparrow died. Now there is no immortality, because the sparrow had a personal self. Why did the sparrow have to die? Because the sparrow had a personal self. As long as there is a personal self, as long as there is this, this, this, this, this, and all these are distinct from each other, immortality is not possible.

Immortality is possible only when there is just the sky and skyness. Now immortality is possible.

In other words, for immortality to be possible, the personal self has to be discarded. The life that we usually live has to be discarded. An entirely different flavor of life has to be there, as if the cinema hall is the same, the seats are the same, the screen is the same, but the movie has changed.

You can be immortal with the same face, with the same buttocks, the seat. The seat is the same, the screen is the same—the vision has changed, the movie has changed. It is possible. If it is possible to a dead cinema hall, it is entirely possible to a conscious entity like you. What was the movie that was running till now? ‘Seven sobs and a cry’—it’s a blockbuster movie. It has been running since ages, made zillions. It’s everybody’s favorite!

Your theater must screen some other movie, not this ‘Seven sobs and a cry’. What is the name of the next movie? ‘I play’. In another language, the name is ‘Just for fun’.

But dear sir, Mr. Brahman, why all this? I mean, we know you are endless, nameless, formless, but then, why all this that has so many forms, names, colors, shapes, coming, going, beginning, ending, small, big, this, that? Why all this?

Just for fun!

And this is not even the trailer; it is an entire movie. Sorry for spoiling it for you!

He (pointing at someone in the audience) is a hardcore fan, you know. ‘Seven sobs and a cry’, it has seven of her favorite actresses belonging to seven different mountains of the Himalayas. He won’t give up so easily. We tell him, “I play”; he says, “I don’t. But I don’t! My racket is broken!” Does he play?

Q: We are saying that death is the driving force in normal everyday life. Death means fear, death means that…

AP: What is death for you? Have you been through death?

Q: No.

AP: So, what is death? An enigma, an apparation, a vague concept, a thought. That’s what death is. What else is death? Still, this vague apparation controls us, runs us, runs the entire world.

There are only two centers within us: the center of immortality and the center of death. What we call as Ātman and ahaṅkāra , Self and ego, can also be described as immortality and death. Mostly, we operate from the point of death, not from immortality. To operate from the ego-self is to operate from death. And very, very powerful action can result from death, very powerful. Still, it will stink of a corpse. There is a rat somewhere! Not literally, please.

So, you proceed from death and go on to become the president of the country; it is quite possible. Death has great power. Coming from death, you can become the chairman of the entire universe; it is possible. But still, you will stink of a corpse. Dead man…?

Q: Walking.

AP: As the…

Q: President!

AP: Not fun, not fun.

Don’t apply too much brain into it. You will get it. Don’t exert yourself; it is very, very obvious. Have fun, and you will understand.

He is still occupied with the…

Q: Corpse!

AP: Seven stars! Imagining himself in the central role. The seven of them around him, seven of them are the seven sobs—and he is the cry!


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