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Only Brahman knows Brahman || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
29 min
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स यो ह वै तत् परमं ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवति । तरति शोकं तरति पाप्मानं गुहाग्रन्थिभ्यो विमुक्तोऽमृतो भवति ॥

sa yo ha vai tat paramaṃ brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavati tarati śokaṃ tarati pāpmānaṃ guhāgranthibhyo vimukto'mṛto bhavati

He, verily, who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes himself Brahman; in his lineage none is born who knows not the Brahman. He crosses beyond sorrow, he crosses beyond sin, he is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart and becomes immortal.

~ Verse 3.2.9

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Acharya Prashant (AP): There was a lot of noise in the neighborhood, and we just had to wait for it to subside because nothing else worked. So, that put us back by two hours or so. That delay itself highlights the very need for Upanishads, the meaning of life, the meaning of time, the significance, if any, of the new year, the meaning of celebration, the role of music and excitement and loss of consciousness.

So, all these things are there, and they affect our life quite intimately, quite deeply. But in the absence of wisdom, like that from the Upanishads, we fail to grasp the importance of these issues and therefore we live our lives in very mechanical, programmed and, unfortunately, unconscious ways.

We are on a mission to challenge and change all of that. Obviously, it’s a colossal task. We want to address the youth especially because they are the most vulnerable section when it comes to Maya , and equally they are the most promising section when it comes to liberation. Unattended, they will fall prey to Maya ; educated, illuminated, they will find liberation easier than grown-ups and experienced people do because youth has the energy, the urge for freedom, the exuberance that the pursuit of liberation requires.

Right. What are the Rishis telling us today?

“He, verily, who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes himself Brahman .”

One of the famous excerpts from the Upanishadic treasure. Brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati . The last word on all duality.

Brahmavidyā , Brahman -knowledge, or Brahman -realization is no ordinary knowledge. You cannot have it; in other words, you cannot have it remaining who you are. This is not the kind of knowledge that you can put in your arsenal. This is not the kind of knowledge that the ego can co-opt.

You will know Brahman only at the cost of losing yourself.

What does it mean to become Brahman ? You have to lose yourself. You cannot have this knowledge if you are not prepared to dismiss yourself, dispose yourself off. If you are not someone who can put the old, jaded, faded self in the waste bin, this knowledge cannot come to you.

This is not mathematics, this is not medical science, this is not physics, chemistry. This is not even cosmology, this is not even psychology. This is what distinguishes spirituality from all other fields of education. In other fields of education, knowledge comes to you. You change to the extent that you become the knowledgeable one from the one lacking in knowledge. To that extent, and only to that extent, common worldly knowledge changes you. How have you changed? Before the knowledge of mathematics you were someone who didn’t know mathematics; after studying mathematics for ten years, you are someone who knows mathematics. To that extent you have changed.

Now, this is very peripheral change. Mathematics didn’t change your greed, your anger, your lust, your ignorance; they remained. And remaining, they would now use mathematics to attain their ends.

“I was greedy before I knew mathematics; I am greedy after I know mathematics. Before mathematics my greed couldn’t expand itself much, couldn’t attain its desires to a great extent because I was mathematically handicapped.”

You know, all greed is of objects, and all objects can be enumerated. So, if you want to fulfill your greed, you will need knowledge of numbers because greed involves quantities; therefore, you require quantitative tools, which is mathematics.

“Having known mathematics, now I use mathematics to extend my greed to a greater extent. So, I have changed in the sense that now I am a knower of mathematics, but I have not changed in the sense that I am still greedy. Not only have I not changed, my own self is happily able to use my new knowledge for its own ancient purposes.”

Do you see what happens to knowledgeable and educated people? Their old primitive self uses the new recent knowledge to further its ancient tendencies. The ancient is using the recent. What’s recent? The bleeding-edge mobile telephone that you have just bought for a couple of lakh rupees. What’s ancient? The tendency to befool someone, to trap someone, and that tendency is now finding expression through your most recent acquisition.

So, it appears that something very recent, very current is happening, but the fact is what is happening is very, very primitive—primitive, boring, repetitive. How does it sustain? It sustains by wearing the mask of the recent.

So, we keep feeling something new has happened, the new year has arrived. If you could realize that you are moving into the new year with your primordial tendencies, why would you celebrate?—because nothing new is happening. Not that the new cannot happen, but it’s not happening at least on this particular date.

If you just want to have a shot of entertainment, that’s alright. But if you are using this date to signify new-ness, if you are using this day as a harbinger of change in your life, then you are deceiving yourself. The date has changed, you are the same. You are the same person who was once roaming the jungles.

Nothing has changed inwardly. We are fearful; we are narrow-minded; we act in ignorance; we act on impulse; we want instant happiness; nothing like the bigger picture matters to us; we live on the surface; we don’t want to dig deep. And we have been like this since a million years now. What’s new? The façade. What’s new? The mask.

Like a person carrying the virus being very particular about changing his masks six times a day. The fellow is carrying the virus within—what does he keep changing? The mask. Red, blue, green, yellow, plain, textured—that’s what keeps changing. Inwardly, we remain the same and sick.

In fact, that’s the reason why we require so much celebration: because we have nothing to celebrate. It’s ironical, but take it. We require so much celebration exactly because we have nothing worth celebrating in our lives. Now, had you had something worth celebrating in your lives, celebration would have already happened; it wouldn’t have waited for the New Year’s Eve.

When you are really blissful, do you postpone your smile? You just smile. You don’t say, “I will wait for that particular day and then I will celebrate.” If you have to wait for a particular date, it’s a bad date.

You are really overflowing with gratitude—do you schedule an appointment to hug someone? If you do, there is no gratitude. Celebration that requires planning betrays a lack of celebration. Do we get this?

Brahman -knowledge is entirely different. But we don’t seem to wrap our heads around this thing; we insist that we want to have spiritual knowledge. No, you cannot have spiritual knowledge; it’s just too big for your little container. Mathematics, irrespective of how expansive it is, can be contained in your little head, but not even one verse of the Upanishads can be contained in your head. That’s the difference between mathematics and spirituality.

If you are brainy enough, you can have all the mathematics in your head, without having changed even a little from your previous self. You have just become more knowledgeable; your center has not changed. Do you get this difference? There is a difference between having more knowledge versus being a different self.

The nature of Brahmavidyā is negative. It reduces, it demolishes—what? The one who is taking the vidyā . Brahman -knowledge is a unique, special kind of knowledge that acts to reduce and dissolve the knower. It does not become a thing in the hands of the knower; it keeps reducing the size and the hands of the knower. You are holding so much in your hands—you cannot hold Brahmavidyā .

In fact, Brahmavidyā will reduce the capacity of your hands to hold knowledge, hold in the sense of being identified with knowledge. Not that after Brahmavidyā you will lose all the knowledge stored in your memory, it will remain, but your propensity to identify with knowledge would reduce ultimately to zero.

Think over it, keep contemplating. Brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati .

Are you Brahman yet? If not, then you know nothing of Brahman . Irrespective of the number of years you have listened to the sages and the teachers, you know nothing of Brahman if you still are yourself. To be Brahman is to not remain yourself, that’s all.

When it is said that the knower of Brahman becomes Brahman , that does not mean Brahman is some special that you attain, though that’s what the ego would want to believe. “I will remain—in my Brahman -state. I am still there; it’s just that my state has changed to Brahman -state.”

Brahman is no state of the ego; Brahman is an absence of the ego.

So, if you want to check whether real spiritual knowledge has come to you, see whether you are still intact.

If you still exist, you know nothing of spirituality.

If you still exist, you know nothing worth knowing.

If you still exist, you only know of things that would corrupt you even further. To be more accurate, you will use everything that you know to corrupt yourself even further—because that’s exactly what the purpose of your existence is: to continue, to remain.

“I exist and I must continue to exist. Irrespective of how wretched I am, irrespective of the stink that arises from me, I must still exist. And if I must exist, then, being vulnerable and weak as I am, I must use all my resources just for one purpose, which is self-defense.”

Mathematics is for self-defense. Psychology is for self-defense. History is for self-defense. Logic is for self-defense. Everything is for self-defense because the ego is inherently very, very weak and therefore insecure, and therefore at the risk of perishing any moment. It keeps dying continuously, you know.

“He, verily, who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes himself Brahman .”

Now comes something quite intriguing:

“In his *kula*”— kula could be variously taken as lineage or community—”none exists who knows not the Brahman .”

Now, this is very interesting. Brahman -knowledge, if it is real, would not only dismantle you, take you out, hack you down, whichever way you want to put it; depends on your relationship with your ego. If you respect your ego a lot, then you will say, “ Brahman -knowledge will sublimate my ego.” If you are someone who has started disliking himself, you will say, “ Brahman -knowledge would hack my ego down.” Whichever way you put it, what you want to say is: Brahman -knowledge lets your ego remain no more.

So, that was the first part: you do not remain anymore. And then it is said, not only do you not remain anymore, even those around you cannot remain anymore. No, it does not say that the knower of Brahman pulls the entire world to some kind of mythical enlightenment; no, not that. Something very practical is being said.

It does not say that the Brahman -knower knows Brahman and keeps Brahman to himself or herself—and we do not need to talk of genders here; the Brahman -knower does not subscribe to any gender. So, when I say himself, I refer to both the genders. I could have equally well said herself, maybe at some point I will.

The Brahman -knower does not keep Brahman to himself—that would have been an extreme—and the Brahman -knower is not being said to enlighten the entire universe—that would be another extreme. See what is being said here, it draws my attention: The Brahman -knower brings everybody in his community to Brahman .

Now, herein comes the role of the person. The person remains, and the limits of the person remain. So, while inwardly you are the great, unending, unlimited sky, your body is still a speck of dust. The effort that is needed to be put with respect to others has to come from the body. Therefore, the body, obviously, will do only as much as it can. It has limited strength, and worse still, limited time. But in that limited time, the sages aver, at least the community, the biological family the knower belongs to will be pulled to light. This much will definitely happen.

The word used is ‘ kula * ’. Now, * kula can refer to many things; therefore, I used a very general term: ‘community’, those around you, those with whom you commune. If you commune with your family, you will pull your family up. But not everybody communes with his family. If you commune with your friends, you will pull them up. You commune with colleagues in your organization, you will pull them up. What is certain is: there are going to be many who would receive grace from you. Not your grace, grace from you, you being the carrier of the grace.

And that’s what each of us must strive to do: to bring the light to as many others as possible. Obviously, you must know in advance that you are limited, that you will not be able to change the entire universe as you see it. But if your knowledge is real, you will distribute it; rather, you will radiate it. Becoming knowledge itself, you will be a veritable advertisement of knowledge wherever you stand.

Who is the knower or the jñāni ? You could call him an undercover agent of Brahman , a mobile advertisement of Brahman . Have you seen those vans the sides of which are painted with advertisements? That’s the Brahman -knower—mobile advertisement.

Brahman exploits him to the hilt. All his life he is doing just one thing: advertising Brahman , making Brahman available and attractive to others. The sides of the van read, “ Brahman , the seductive One, come, come, come!” And when you open the doors of the van, what do you find inside? A lot of stuff that assists you in reaching Brahman or becoming Brahman . So, he is the advertisement as well as the agent; he is the advertisement as well as the delivery point. Unique, no?

That’s the life of the Brahman -knower. He ends, he comes to life; he comes to life, he brings to life.

The Rishis were not the ones to brag without substance. If they say something it holds weight. Equally, you must know that given the limitations of your carnal existence, there is only so much that you can do. Great saints transformed the geographies they roamed, but it would be too much to expect Gautama Buddha to have an effect on Europe in his lifetime. But he crisscrossed the entire northern part of the country, northern and north-eastern, and given the limitations of his body and time, he did as much as he could.

We require many to do as much as they can. The funny thing is: you cannot do anything till you are. Once you are not, you do a lot. If you find yourself unable to do a lot, then you must know that it’s still not that you are not.

Lose yourself and win the game. Keep yourself and keep losing life.

“He crosses beyond sorrow, he crosses beyond sin, he is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart and becomes immortal.”

Big words. Difficult to comprehend from the limited mind, if you want to use your limited means and conventional definitions. “He crosses beyond sorrow”—what is that? “He crosses beyond sin”—what is that? “He is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart and becomes immortal”—how exactly? How exactly can someone become immortal? All this is so easy to understand the moment you put your finger on the central thing and its subsequent absence.

To experience sorrow there must remain someone to experience sorrow. So, what does it mean to cross beyond sorrow? There remains no one now who can experience sorrow. Dead men don’t cry, or do they? There is now no one here who will feel sad or bad. “Gone! I am dead. Who is there to cry?” There was someone who could be hurt. There was someone who had self-interest. There was someone who had associations with the past. He is gone, he is dead. He won’t cry anymore.

“He crosses beyond sorrow”—there is nothing here that can be hurt anymore. You cannot drive a nail into the open sky, can you? Of course, your nail is sharp and pointed; it strikes fear in the hearts of those who exist. They look at the missile in your hand and quiver: “Such a sharp nail!” And to drive the sharp nail, you are carrying a heavy hammer. A frightening sight indeed!

But none of this would frighten the one who does not exist. “I do not exist—what would you drive your nail into? What would your hammer smash? It would pass right through me; I will offer no resistance. I have nothing to secure, I have nothing to defend. Whatever you say will pass through me because there is nothing here to resist whatever is happening.”

Ego comes from Prakriti and ego seeks to defend itself against Prakriti . We arise from the soil, and we take so much care to wash off the soil every day. It is Prakriti that is vulnerable to Prakriti . Only the body is vulnerable to Prakriti ; only Prakriti can be harmed by Prakriti . When you are not Prakriti anymore, which nail, which hammer, which soil can harm you?

There is only Prakriti and the Self, right? Only these two are there. Self, obviously, cannot be harmed; only Prakriti , physical nature, can be harmed, but that can be harmed only when you are the physical nature. When you are not that, who can harm you? As long as you are the body, a thousand things can harm you. When you are not the body, what can harm you?

So, you go beyond sorrow. You go beyond resistance; you go beyond defeat; you go beyond death. The body will die—what will happen to you? Will you remain? Even to say “I will remain” is gross materialization. The body will die—what will happen to you? Just remain silent. Do not say, “I am immortal, I will remain.”

If the Upanishads use the word ‘immortal’, all they mean is absence of death. They do not mean something positive or something affirmative. If you say “I am immortal” you have already materialized yourself; you have defeated the purpose of the Upanishads. The body has died—what has happened to you? Mu . As they say in Zen, Mu * —the question is irrelevant. That’s what * Mu means. Or, the question is inviting an answer that is beyond the dimension of the question.

The body will die—what will happen to you? You will still remain, right? Happily you will survive, roaming the continents like an invisible supersonic jet with all its stealth cover; you will do whatever you want, no radar will catch you! That’s our conception of immortality.

The body will die—what will happen to you? Mu . “I was not, I am not. How can I even be immortal? When I cannot even die, how can I be deathless? I do not exist even to die—how can I exist to be deathless? When I am not even mortal, how can I be immortal? I am not. If I am not, how can I be immortal? Because the moment I say ‘I am immortal’, I have said ‘I am’.”

You are not mortal; equally, you are not even immortal. When you say you are mortal, you say, “I am mortal.” Oh, see what you have done: you have ratified the ego. “I am .” When you say you are immortal, what do you say? “I am immortal.” Again the ego is happy.

The body will die. The body is, the body will die. I do not know…

“He crosses beyond sin”—why does he cross beyond sin? For sin to exist, there must pre-exist a sinner. “I know neither virtue nor vice. I know no sin. I am incorruptible because I am not. So great I am just because I am not.”

Let’s say there is a point of ruckus, a bar or some place, where all the drunkards are breaking each other’s head. Everybody is drunk, all are crashing into each other, chairs are being flung around, waiters are being used as missiles—this is the scenario. If people find no one else to bash up, they are beating themselves up. That kind of wisdom.

Now, who is great here? The one who is not here. “I am great because I am not.”

Who is great here? The one who is not here. This place of drunkenness is called the world. Who is great in the world? Who is not of the world. If you are a part of that milieu, if you are a part of that drama, then you are just like any other person who is a part of that drama. Do not be there.

“He is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart”—this is a Vedantic concept, the knot in the heart. This concept exists to explain how the material body and the semi-material consciousness coexist. The sages say there is a secret knot, otherwise these two couldn’t have coexisted, and the secret knot is the cause of all your suffering; it is the cause of your identification with the material.

Pure consciousness is immaterial, right? Then how does it become impure? By identifying with the material. Very inexplicable it is, no? Pure consciousness, pure Self, how does it come to identify with impurity? So, the sages said there is a secret knot, Maya has done it. Maya has tied the pure with the impure, consciousness with the body, Puruṣa with Prakriti , and there is a knot, a cord is there. You need to cut the cord; the knot needs to be opened.

“He is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart and becomes immortal.”

The body dies. When you are in knots with the body, then you too die, or at least you think that you are dying or will die. Once that needless connection with the material is severed there remains no one to die except the body, and then the death of the body is just a thing in Prakriti . It will then no more carry the connotations that it currently does for you.

Because our consciousness is tied to the body, therefore the death of the body becomes so meaningful to us. We feel something devastating is going to happen. No, nothing—the body is just going to pass from one state to the other. Nothing really special is happening. But something very, very devastating is happening if you are the body. Then that change in the configuration of the body will mean your destruction to you. Who likes to be destroyed?

Our nature is to remain indestructible, so destruction, therefore, is so upsetting; it is against our nature. Had mortality been your nature, you wouldn’t have been afraid of dying. Mortality is not your nature, yet you think you are dying. Now, this gross contradiction turns you crazy. Your nature is immortality—and because that is your nature you don’t need to be trained into it; you know it. Your nature is immortality, and yet the body is going to die any moment. You can’t reconcile these two, and this paradox keeps sucking the life out of you.

Disassociate. Be free. Don’t patronize your bondages. Don’t protect the knots.

Questioner (Q): Earlier you said that there has been no inward evolution, nothing has changed inwardly, so we are essentially the same people who were roaming the jungles once. But still, somewhere in the course of evolution we did become this human species with a higher capacity of consciousness compared to the rest of the physical nature. So, hasn’t there been at least some level of inward evolution?

AP: There has been no inward evolution. Let’s discuss that.

Look at an amoeba or a paramecium. Don’t you see that its basic instinct is just the same as that of the most evolved human being? It wants to exist, you want to exist—what has changed? You are still the amoeba. Oh, you can contradict me in a thousand ways possible. What I am saying is so vulnerable to arguments that you can trash it in no time. But with some empathy and understanding, try to get into the truth of it.

With all our evolutionary gifts—intellect, memory, muscle, the subsequent development of a suitable and comfortable ecosystem aided by technology—are we still fundamentally different from any other kind of conscious lifeform on the planet anywhere else? Tell me, please. An amoeba reproduces, so do we. An amoeba eats, so do we.

“No sir, but, you know, there is so much that we do not share with amoebas!”

Let’s see, please. Is there anything that you do that is fundamentally not centered on stuff that an amoeba does? An amoeba wants its space, its territory—even a little plant does, a blade of grass does, the most primitive being does. See what you use your knowledge and your skills for. Aren’t your resources, your money going so much towards acquiring space and territory, both physical and psychological? Tell me, please.

An amoeba wants to have personal space, space that it can declare as its own, territory that it can monopolize. That’s what even an amoeba wants. You could say we do so much, but aren’t we doing so much just to do what the amoeba does? The amoeba obviously doesn’t go to the office every day. You do go to the office, but you go to the office to do what the amoeba does.

The amoeba has no laboratories, it does not develop technologies. But we have laboratories and we have developed technologies—to do what the amoeba does. The amoeba does not have language; we have language. What do we use language for? To do what the amoeba does. What do you speak for? Please, tell me.

We said today the session started late because the people around were playing loud music and such stuff. What were all those songs about? They are about reproduction, you see. Let’s put it bluntly. The fellow wants to mate. He is using words to invite the other human of the opposite gender to mate, and that’s what we call as songs. At least that’s the kind of songs we use on celebratory New Year’s Eves.

So, you have language. What do you use language for? You use language to mate. That’s also what the amoeba does—without using language. In fact, the amoeba is more efficient. You use so many words just because you are wooing a female—words and instruments and loudspeakers. Goodness! You know, the amoeba is so efficient that not only does it not need words, it does not even need a female. It just multiplies on its own! It’s both a male and a female, it’s neither a male nor a female.

Is there anything that you do that is fundamentally different from what an amoeba does? So, where is evolution? Please, tell me. Whatever we do, we do for the sake of existence; we want to remain. We want to remain as we are. That’s also exactly what the amoeba wants. How are you different?

Now, today we have taken the amoeba; at other times I have taken up the dog. People find that offensive, so I said fine, amoeba. But I still maintain that the dog is more handy. If you look at all that a dog does and all that you do, it would be so easy to establish a clear mapping, a very direct correlation. There is not a single thing that you do and a dog doesn’t. Where is your evolutionary superiority? Tell me, please.

But we read! Ah, for what? For what do you read? You read to feed yourself; you read to clothe yourself; you read to acquire physical and psychological space. A dog manages all of that even without reading. You need to draw international boundaries—the dog just has to lift his leg! The dog doesn’t have to appoint a commission, McMahon or something, to draw a meticulous international boundary. “This is my territory. How do I mark it? By peeing!”

You know, that’s the truth of all territorial occupation, all territorial obsession. You want territory so that you can pee and shit over it, irrespective of whether that territory is physical, mental, or bodily. Why do you want to acquire territory in the form of a human body? “I own you. You are mine, you are my territory. Just as that’s my scooter, that’s my car, that’s my bungalow—that’s my wife or husband. What do I do once I acquire the territory? I will pee over it!” Now, that’s already offensive, but can’t help it.

What else do you do once you have acquired a man or a woman? Think of it, please. There was one thing that you could not do without acquiring that person—spoil his or her body. Once you have acquired him, then… Literal shit.

“No, but we keep our houses clean! Why are you saying that we acquire territory to spoil it? Once we acquire territory, we in fact make additional efforts to keep it clean.”

That’s what. The cleanliness that you are talking of is shit. You acquire territory to use it to maintain yourself. The dog uses territory to suit its own personal purpose. That’s what we are calling as spoiling or dirtying.

So, it might appear that you are keeping your place very clean, but still, the purpose is very dirty: “The purpose is the continuation of my existence as I am. My place will be used to provide me comfort and security.” That’s a very dirty purpose.

Evolution will not take you beyond the body or the self. Wisdom would. That’s why I keep harping: Don’t attach too much significance to age. No age is small enough to prevent you from moving into wisdom, and no age is advanced enough to prevent you from moving into wisdom.

Evolution will not help, experience will not help, age will not help; only wisdom would help. If you think that experience will deliver wisdom to you, you are badly mistaken. If you think being called a senior citizen will deliver you from Maya , you are in a fool’s paradise.

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