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Mind and the diversity of things || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
30 min
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सप्त प्राणाः प्रभवन्ति तस्मात्सप्तार्चिषः समिधस्सप्तहोमाः । सप्त इमे लोका येषु चरन्ति प्राणा गुहाशया निहिताः सप्त सप्त ॥

sapta prāṇāḥ prabhavanti tasmātsaptārciṣaḥ samidhassaptahomāḥ sapta ime lokā yeṣu caranti prāṇā guhāśayā nihitāḥ sapta sapta

The seven breaths are born from Him and the seven lights and kinds of fuel and the seven oblations and these seven worlds in which move the lifebreaths set within with the secret heart for their dwelling place, seven and seven.

~ Verse 2.1.8

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अतः समुद्रा गिरयश्च सर्वेऽस्मात्स्यन्दन्ते सिन्धवः सर्वरूपाः । अतश्च सर्वा ओषधयो रसश्च येनैष भूतैस्तिष्ठते ह्यन्तरात्मा ॥

ataḥ samudrā girayaśca sarve'smātsyandante sindhavaḥ sarvarūpāḥ ataśca sarvā oṣadhayo rasaśca yenaiṣa bhūtaistiṣṭhate hyantarātmā

From Him are the oceans and all these mountains, and from Him flow rivers of all forms, and from Him are all plants, and sensible delight which makes the soul to abide with the material elements.

~ Verse 2.1.9

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पुरुष एवेदं विश्वं कर्म तपो ब्रह्म परामृतम् । एतद्यो वेद निहितं गुहायां सोऽविद्याग्रन्थिं विकिरतीह सोम्य ॥

puruṣa evedaṃ viśvaṃ karma tapo brahma parāmṛtam etadyo veda nihitaṃ guhāyāṃ so'vidyāgranthiṃ vikiratīha somya

The Spirit is all this universe; He is works and askesis and the Brahman, supreme and immortal. O fair son, he who knows this hidden in the secret heart scatters even here in this world the knot of the ignorance.

~ Verse 2.1.10

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “The seven breaths are born from Him and the seven lights and kinds of fuel and the seven oblations and these seven worlds in which move the lifebreaths set within with the secret heart for their dwelling place, seven and seven.”

Then, verse nine, “From Him are the oceans and all these mountains, and from Him flow rivers of all forms, and from Him are all plants, and sensible delight which makes the soul to abide with the material elements.”

“The Spirit is all this universe; He is works and askesis and Brahman , supreme and immortal. O fair son, he who knows this hidden in the secret heart scatters even here in this world the knot of the ignorance.”

So, from Him is everything conceivable; everything that is conceivable is from Him.

From Him is knowledge of the Vedas; from Him are all sacrifices; from Him are all the worlds on which the sun and the moon shine; from Him come all the gods and demigods; from Him are all the beasts and birds and of course all the men.

From Him is the breath; from Him are all the crops, the fruits, trees, the vegetation; from Him are all virtues and self-discipline and askesis; from Him are faith and truth and chastity.

All the lights, the seven breaths, and the kinds of fuel, samidha , and all the oblations, and all the various universes possible, they are all from Him. From Him are oceans and the mountains, rivers, and all the forms, plants, and the experiences that any sentient being has.

He is everything. He is the works; He is askesis. He is Brahman , supreme, immortal. He is everything. And if you know this, then right here in this world you scatter the knot of ignorance.

What is going on? We have to understand this.

So, what does the Rishi mean when he says He is everything? Now, all that could be potentially listed among the elements, items, objects of the worlds has been listed. The list is quite exhaustive, is it not? You have talked of the rivers and the mountains; you have talked of all kinds of fires; you have talked of all kinds of breaths; you have talked of plants and trees and men and women; you have talked of inner virtues; you have talked of all kinds of spiritual and religious ceremonies.

So, whatsoever could be thought of, conceived of as existent in this world, has been listed here as coming from Him, ‘Him’ implying a single source. List everything that you can think of and then declare that it all is actually flowing from Him. It is not merely coming from Him, it is actually Him. It is not merely from Him; it is Him . And then to top it up, you say: not only is this world with all its objects from Him, all the multiple conceivable worlds, they too are from Him. This world as well as the other worlds, they all are from Him.

What is the point? Let’s understand.

You see, the mind suffers from its choices. And what is the entire process of choice? You look at the world, you look at two things or twenty things, and then you discriminate between them, and then you pick one of them. You pick one of them thinking that this one element or one object, one option, is better than the rest. That’s how the mind operates.

The mind looks at diversity, keeps looking at diversity, and the diversity is what bewitches the mind. “Here is one thing, here is another thing; here is that thing, here is this thing. So, I like this, I dislike that; I have to go after that thing, I have to drop that thing. This thing is higher than that thing, hence I need to go for the next attainment.” That is how the mind operates, and that is what makes the mind suffer: the choices that it makes thinking one object to be superior than the other object.

We have to remind ourselves at this point that freedom from suffering is the objective of the Upanishads. The Rishi is speaking not just to becalm the mind but to bring the mind to a point of wisdom where it can see its follies for itself, where it looks at its own processes, and realizes how it is misled or flawed.

So, one suffers when one sees distinctiveness or variety. One feels incomplete because there is something more to be had; one feels insecure because there is the threat of the attained objects being lost, and all of that is because the world that we perceive through our senses is perceived as a world of diversity. The world is in fact nothing but the diversity that you see. Therefore, it is not coincidental that all the possible diversities have been listed in these five or seven verses we have taken up tonight. Do you already get the hint?

So, all the diversities that you see are the world, and these diversities are what makes the mind suffer. And here the Rishis have picked up all the diversities and have said that all these diversities are actually one, the distinctions are merely apparent; actually there is an underlying unity.

Things appear different because that is how your own biological system is constructed to perceive them. We are not designed to perceive oneness; we are designed to perceive only distinctions.

I can look at you because you appear different from the chair you are sitting on. If you look just like the chair you are sitting on, you will no more be perceptible. You can look at me because I appear different from the background there. If my color from head to toe matches exactly the color of the background, then I will no more be perceptible; you will no more be able to see me or experience me. In fact, I will have no more existence for you. So, I exist only as long as I am separate, distinct, different.

So, what is this world all about? There is a world of differences, distinctions, and the mind is forever caught in these distinctions and suffers. “Is this right? Is that right? Is this nice? Is that nice? Do I go this way? Do I go that way? Why? Because that way appears distinct from this way; because this thing is just not the same thing as that thing.” Going by our senses, there is no way we want to admit that this thing (picks up a pen) is just the same thing as this thing (picks up a sheet of paper) .

That is what the seers are attacking here. They are saying that for your practical day-to-day living it is alright if you see differences. It is not merely alright, in fact it is necessary. If you see no difference between food and trash, then you probably won’t survive for long. So, for your day-to-day living it is alright. But then, in your heart, at your core, you must know that all the distinctions are superfluous; the water and fire are one. And once you know that, that brings the mind to a final rest. Final rest where? Final rest nowhere .

Please understand. If I distinguish between this and this (picks up the paper and the pen) , then I am partial to one of them, and my mind will want to take rest in one of them because I perceive one of them as more likeable or superior or preferable. So, my mind will gravitate towards one of them.

But when I come to see that all these are one, then no object holds any particular significance as such because no object is really final. All objects are one and all objects are from Him. All objects are from Him, but no particular object contains the finality in itself. Therefore, my proclivity to attach myself to any one particular object is bound to decrease; I can no more hold any particular thing or person or place or idea as being very close to my heart.

Things attract you only in relation to their opposites. When you figure out that a thing is fundamentally not different from its opposite but rather the same, then the thing loses its charm.

Let’s say you have one rupee kept here (points to the left side of the table) , a coin, and then somebody keeps a hundred rupees note here (points to the right side of the table) . You might probably immediately extend your hand towards the hundred rupees note, right? And you will want to say, “But a hundred rupees note is important!” Let’s see.

What if somebody comes and keeps a two thousand rupees note here (points even further to the right) ? Now the hundred rupees note becomes equivalent to the one rupee coin. But what happened? Just now you were saying that the hundred rupees note is quite important. It was important only in relation to one rupee. Now that you have two thousand, the hundred rupees has become unimportant.

So, things attract you only when compared to some other thing. When you see, when you realize that the thing and what you are comparing it to are not really qualitatively different, that realization sets you free. And then you go neither for two thousand nor for twenty thousand, not even for one rupee.

You don’t reject them either; there is nothing in them to be rejected. At the same time, there is nothing in them to be admired, nothing in them to be desired. They lose all mental significance. Now they have at most a practical significance. The number two thousand is bigger than the number hundred, as a fact you know that, but that has no bearing on your mind.

What does it mean to say that has no bearing on your mind? It means that now your ego-sense, ‘I’, does not look at rupees two thousand as being twenty times more valuable than rupees hundred. The ego knows the relation between the figures two thousand and hundred as a fact, but the ego does not associate itself with the fact. What does that mean? The ego will not say, “If I have rupees two thousand, then I will be twenty times more valuable or bigger or richer compared to the situation when I had only rupees hundred.” The ego is no more looking at either of these things as objects to be attached to or as objects to determine its self-worth. Do you get this?

So, all the movement, the action, the gain, the drama, continues on the outside. If you take rupees two thousand, you purchase something for rupees fifteen hundred, then you do want your rupees five hundred back; you don’t leave the change with the shopkeeper. You know very well that two thousand minus fifteen hundred is five hundred, but these figures have lost their meaning. The figures are just figures now; they do not hold any internal meaning for you anymore. You have seen that they are all one in the sense that they are all belonging to one common plane.

This is the virtue greatly extolled in all spirituality, in all religious streams, especially the Indic ones. At some places it is called samatā , at other places it is called saṃdṛṣṭi , and the same thing extends to become sākṣitva . This realization is a source of great peace, great detachment, and this realization is not something that weakens you or hinders your capacity to participate in the life game; rather, it sets you free. You are now participating in the game without bondages of attachment or fear. You play much more vigorously; you play with a great vigor which has peace at its center.

Vigor that has peace at its center has an unmatched quality: it has ferocity of desire as well as the relaxation of contentment. When these two come together, then you are living fully. The person displays furious activity on the outside, and yet within, at the center, he knows very well that it is all the same. Win-lose, drop-gain, arrival-departure, birth-death—they all belong to one particular level, one dimension, one common plane.

When you see the commonality between all physical objects, and when you also see that the duality involved in all mental objects, too, is just false, then you are liberated. It is this both ways. One, all the physical objects that you see, they are essentially one, belonging to the world, belonging to the zone of perceptible objects; and all the mental objects that you have that operate in the dualistic way, happiness-sadness, when you start seeing even these as one, what can set you back?

Do you get this? It is to reinforce this point that the seers have uttered verse after verse, because even though the message is simple, the mind will find ways to forget it. The usual habit and experience of the mind is diversity and duality. Oneness is something that you never experience. You are incapable of experiencing oneness; experience itself implies distinction. Therefore, the mind has to be trained and reminded again and again, again and again, and that is practice. That is really the askesis being talked of in these verses.

Questioner (Q): If all is one, if everything is just the same, what is the importance of viveka , discrimination? What is the importance of right choice in this context?

AP: You see, when you see two objects, then among them it is probable that there will be an object that has a relationship with you that only reinforces the idea that that particular object is special.

Let’s say there are two persons and you have to make a choice, and I have advised you to practice discretion or viveka in the choice. Now, let’s look at these two persons.

One of those persons is very sure that he can exist in your life only as someone special; one of those persons is trying to enter your life as the one special one. Now, if you choose that person, then what have you really chosen? You have chosen to reinforce the flawed idea that objects are really separate from each other, because that person is entering your life only to assert the idea that “I am different or superior or special compared to everybody else.” And then there could be another person who is entering your life to teach you that the distinctions that you usually see between objects are all bogus.

Now do you see the role of discretion? The mind is already conditioned to see differences where they are not; the mind is already conditioned to live in and create illusions. Now, why go for an object that would push you deeper into illusions? And it is not really the fault of that object as such; therefore, I said the relationship.

Do not go for an object with which your relationship itself is of a certain illusory character. We are not really blaming the object per se. You have to choose between one type of relationship and another type of relationship.

So, choose the right relationship. If the mind is flawed, then you have to choose someone who would teach the mind, correct the mind, rectify its flaws. That is where discretion comes. Unless you have a relationship with the sage, who would tell you all this? Do you see this? That is the role of choosing rightly.

Before you become choiceless, you have to endlessly keep making the right choice. You will not become choiceless all of a sudden, magically. Therefore, I emphasize upon right choice. Make the right choice, make the right choice, and if you make the right choice often enough, you will come to choicelessness.

Q: The sage will help us see the right choices, but what about the time before coming in contact with the sage? One is in complete darkness before that. How does one choose rightly in that situation?

AP: Try. When you do not know how good one thing is versus the other thing, what do you do? You try both of them without committing to either. Try everything. Don’t just commit yourself suddenly. That is the mistake we often do: without knowing the thing fully, without knowing our relationship with the thing fully, without knowing the repercussions of the relationship, we rush into the bondage of blind commitment.

Have patience and courage to keep hanging. Keep hanging till, gradually, a slow clarity emerges. You have to give yourself time. And you don’t have to be in a hurry. And you need to have the integrity to reject the thing even after several years of trial if those several years have revealed to you that the thing, or rather your relationship with the thing, is not worth it. What else is experimentation for?

So, that experimentation is very important. That experimentation is honesty; that experimentation is at the heart of all investigation. You do not investigate to embrace the first thing you come across, do you? You investigate to check and recheck and crosscheck, to ask question after question.

So, that is what you do in front of the sage as well. That is why you have this special kind of process through which the Upanishads came into being, a process that involves discussion. The Rishis never try to be overwearing or avuncular; they talk. They let the student listen, assess, question, and the student does that. The process is didactic.

Q: In a world where nobody asks these kinds of questions, how can one come into an environment where this thing can take place?

AP: One has to be looking for the Truth. To think that mere happenstance will one day bring you to the fountain of Truth is to be unreasonably optimistic. I don’t think that merely probabilities can bring you to the Truth, because the probability of such a thing happening is very faint.

And if you are not looking for the Truth, what will you do with it even if you come face-to-face with it? A fellow who is not burning with questions is unlikely to see any value in the Rishi of the Upanishad. Who is the Rishi? I mean, a fellow with very little pomp or show or display of might or wealth—or even knowledge. The Rishi looks quite ordinary and does not promise you any great inner or outer wealth. So, unless you are someone who is possessed with the zeal for Truth, the sage is hardly a big thing to you.

It is a different kind of life. It is a different quality of mind. Not a mind that is burdened with its own old habits; not a mind buried under its conditioning, training, past; not a mind captive to its content, its desires. A spritely mind. You could say, a young mind, a beautiful mind, an innocent mind. It wants to know. It does not have all the readymade answers. It does not feign knowledgeability. It asks, asks, and asks, as if wonderment is the biggest fun possible.

Realization is not when your eyes close; realization is only when your eyes go wide open in wonderment, like the eyes of a child. And if you cannot have wonderment in your day-to-day affairs, it is unlikely that you will come upon any transcendental Truth in the moment of your special meditation.

There is stuff all around that you know nothing of, and if you have no desire to know about it, how is it possible that you will have any desire to know your inner truth? When it comes to the outer world, you are happy remaining superstitious, dogmatic, habit-driven, orthodox. How is it possible that in the inner world you will be full of innocent enquiry? It is not going to happen. The same lazy attitude you will display in your spiritual life as well. Just as you do not know or want to know anything on the outside, you would be equally easily satisfied with lazy answers on the inside.

Therefore, the person of Truth leads a very delightful life, inwardly and outwardly. That is another name for high consciousness: liveliness. Because consciousness is life. Therefore, when there is height or depth in consciousness, then you are lively.

Q: Is it possible to see these mental objects as one? Like happiness-sadness, for example.

AP: So, we talked of the oneness inherent in physical objects and the oneness inherent in mental objects. The question is: Is it possible to see the mental objects as one? Well, yes—if you are not repulsed by or enamored by one of them. When you strike an unworthy relationship with yourself, with your experiences, that is when the Truth starts fading away from you. Otherwise, the fact of happiness will be self-apparent.

It is all happening to you . Therefore, you are in the best condition to quickly, immediately, and honestly see what is happening, how it all has happened, from where have the experiences and the emotions arisen. But you will not see any of that if you want happiness too badly; you will not see any of that if you are too frightful of sadness.

Happiness can come as a guest; you do not need to turn it away. Sadness too can come as a guest; there is no need to not welcome it. It is when you have been desirous of one for long and scared of the other for long that you fail to see the truth of them. Otherwise, they are just fleeting things related to your physical existence. Don’t you feel hungry everyday? How special is that? Similarly, it is alright if you feel happy everyday. Don’t you feel sleepy or thirsty everyday?

Don’t make these special. If happiness is not special, then happiness will be a delight. If sadness is not special, then you will be able to carry sadness very lightly. Let tears be just tears, they should not hold a great meaning, and then you can cry freely. And there is delight in crying freely.

But it is unseemly when tears erupt from a suppressed state. You see, there is precipitation that comes from the clouds, and then there is the formation of the dewdrops on the leaves early morning, and then there is the eruption of volcanoes. When volcanoes erupt then too it rains—it rains ash and it rains lava. Why must there be so much suppression of sadness that when it erupts, your entire being shakes like the place around the mountain?

Even if you have to cry, cry gently, like gentle rain from the clouds or the gentle formation of dew on the little leaves. Nobody even came to know, and the little dewdrop found its way into being; that should be the quality of your tears. But sadness makes us go mad. Our tears don’t flow, they erupt. They erupt because we are so scared of sadness that we suppress it for very very long, forcibly. One day it erupts, like the volcano. Let it flow.

Similarly, laughter. There is the gentle breeze, and then there is the huge gust coming from an industrial fan. We want happiness so much that we construct artificial ways to have it. Have you seen industrial fans? They are really huge; you stand in front of them and you will be blown away. That is how our happiness usually is. We have manufactured our happinesses—and we want lots of it. There is this sweetness that is contained in fruits, in a banana, in a guava, in a mango, and then there are these fizzy, aerated drinks containing sugar. Our happiness is like that fizzy drink: so much sugar.

Spirituality is not about abandoning these dualities you are talking of. Spirituality is about welcoming them without resistance and without expectation or attachment.

You tell me a joke, I will laugh. It is fine. But I am not desperate to hear a joke, or am I? One of my pets dies, I will weep; I won’t pretend equanimity. It is okay. Does one have to pretend to be someone who is never hungry? Then why do you have to pretend to be someone who is never angry? You do something mischievous, I will be angry; the next moment you do something funny, I will laugh. But I am not dying to laugh.

Q: There are people who say things like ‘all is one’, ‘everything is as it should be’, ‘there is no need to choose, discriminate’, etc. How to draw the line between living through dualities without resistance and being blindly indiscriminate?

AP: One has to be very careful whether this talk is really intended for him or her. We said one has to keep making the right choice endlessly before one comes to choicelessness. So, one has to honestly ask, “Have I, if not endlessly then at least for long, made right choices in my life? Only then can I honestly declare that now I don’t need to choose because all appears one to me.” Otherwise, in the name of oneness, one would just wickedly fulfill his desires. “The grain and the flesh are one, so why should I not consume the flesh of the chicken or the goat? After all, all is one.”

‘All is one’ is not an objective statement. ‘All is one’ does not refer to the chicken and the goat and the grain being one. ‘All is one’ refers, I repeat, not to objects but to the subject, the relationship that the subject strikes with the various objects.

As long as one thing appears more desirable than the other things, how is all one to you? Tell me, please. When I say, “All is one,” then I do not mean that the pillar and the post are one, that the TV and the radio are one, that the table and the chair are one. When it is said, “All is one,” I refer to the subject, the experiencer. Are you experiencing them differently in the context of your desire? If yes, then you still have a long way to go.

Objectively speaking, the wall and the floor will never be one. So, it is not about the objects; it is about the subject. Have you, in your inner journey, come to a point where you do not see anything as excessively desirable or anything as too repugnant? It is about you . The question is about you .

Now, if you are fond of flesh, and you start consuming flesh in the garb of spiritual axioms, then it is just self-deception.

Q: You said earlier that the relationship between the sage and the student is didactic, not one-sided; it is a conversation between two. What would happen to the relationship if the student is not a deserving one or aware enough?

AP: It won’t continue. You see, the sage is there to give you the highest Truth possible. If you are yet not ready for it, obviously you are wasting your time. And when I say ready, I do not mean ready in terms of having acquired a skill or some special knowledge. Readiness is mostly in terms of your desire to let go of your ignorance. That is what defines your readiness.

So, when you say, “I am ready to receive the highest knowledge,” that should mean, “I am ready to let go of myself.” And when it is said that someone is not ready yet to sit in front of the sage, what is meant is that the person is still too sure of himself, too attached to his own personality, opinions, past, habits, too reluctant to drop his baggage. So, this person is not ready in terms of not being interested in the Highest at all.

You see, when I say you have to be ready to receive the highest knowledge, then you get the opportunity to feel as if due to your background or situations or education you are still not ready. So, I will refine that: I will say you have to be interested enough. Interest is readiness. You have to be interested enough in the Highest to drop all the lowly stuff, and then there can be a relationship between the sage and the student.

Q: This other can also, in some cases, be a partner. Do we need a partner at the same level of consciousness?

AP: Obviously. And that is a fatal mistake so many people make. When you talk of a partner, you often think of it in social terms and probably even legal or religious terms. But, I have repeatedly said, when I look at two people partnering each other, it is just a matter of companionship—nothing but companionship. You cannot accept the company of someone who is going to pull you down. It is that obvious, is it not? In fact, the more I explain it, the more ridiculous the explanation would look because there is no need to explain. But I have explained a thousand times—ridiculously!

You see, when you occupy a seat or a berth in a train, does it not matter to you who is the person sitting in front of you or next to you? It does matter, right? And that defines the quality of your journey so much. If you have a lousy, laggard, some kind of a declared loser sitting in front of you and it is a long distance journey, then the best thing for you is to bury your face in some book, not allow your eyes to wander to his face or receive his words.

Even in a journey it matters who the person around you is. And we all have had experiences of spoiled journeys because the co-passenger was unworthy or we were unworthy of the co-passenger.

You are in this world to learn and grow. That is the purpose of your birth. And the person adjacent to you must be the person you can learn the most from, full stop. Need I say more?

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