Search After The Self
The ancient mythology of the Hindus, which resembles in many respects Greek mythology’, describes how gods and demons took human forms and lived like human beings on this earth. Even in the earliest Upanishads we find accounts of such Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) Having together and fighting. It is told that the first-bom Lord of the universe, Prajapati, once said to the gods and demons: “Why are you fighting for power and supremacy?
The knowledge of the Self alone brings peace to the knower. The Self or Atman is sinless, free from old age and death, sorrow and suffering, hunger and thirst. Its desires are true and never unfulfilled; and its thoughts are always true. This Self must be sought after by all.
Whosoever realizes the Self obtains whatever he wishes, his desires are fulfilled, all powers come to him, and he becomes master of all worlds and of all the realms that exist on this earth as well as in the heavens.”
The gods and demons, who were ambitious and unhappy, thought after hearing this that it was a very easy thing then to become lord of the world and master of everything. Here begins the story given in the Chandogya Upanishad, one of the oldest and most authentic writings on Vedanta.
It belongs to the Sama-Veda, that portion of the Vedas which laid the foundation of the science of music in India. The scale of seven notes was first used in the hymns of the Sama-Veda, which were put into music and chanted or sung during religious rites and sacrifices. The narrative tells that the gods and demons, being thus instructed by Prajapati, the first-born Lord of all creatures, were awakened to a desire to attain Self-knowledge.
They inquired among themselves how they could gain that knowledge, which would make them the most powerful of all beings, and they were determined to search for that Self (Atman), by knowing which all worlds and all desires are obtained.
Here we should understand that demons are not evil spirits, but they are like human beings, strongly attached to the pleasures of the sense-world.
They know nothing of the higher ideals of life, they are materialistic in their views, and think that the body is all in all, and that everything is finished with the death of the body.
They wish to rule over the whole universe, and their desires are never satiated; they always want more and more, and struggle constantly for power and strength.
Human beings with such tendencies are described in the Vedas as Asuras or demons; while Devas, or gods, are those who are spiritual, righteous, self-sacrificing, who do not consider earthly enjoyments and worldly pleasures to be the final aim of life, and whose ideal is to gain spiritual strength and spiritual power and to realize the Absolute Truth.
These Devas and Asuras thought that if they could send their leaders to some seer of Truth, then from them they could gather Self-knowledge.
So the gods and demons went to their respective leaders, Indra and Virochana, and requested them to go in search after Self-knowledge. Although they had all the pleasures and comforts of life and whatever human beings could wish for; although they possessed all psychic powers, property, wealth, luxury and could get everything they desired, still they were not satisfied.
They coveted more strength, more power, and when they heard from Prajapati that there was something through which they could really become masters of the whole universe, they longed for it and were anxious to obtain it immediately.
Indra and Virochana, the rulers of the Devas and Asuras, set out separately to seek for a knower of Absolute Truth, who had realized the Self and who could impart his knowledge to others. They gave up their luxuries and pleasures, left their fine raiment and other possessions behind.
With modesty and simplicity of manner, the two leaders, without communicating with each other, sought out the greatest of all the knowers of Self, and approached him with offerings in their hands in accordance with the custom of the country, for in India people do not visit a temple, king or spiritual teacher come empty-handed.
So they took fuel, butter, fruit with them, and with due reverence offered these to him, regarding him as their spiritual master. Having received his permission, they became his pupils and lived the life of purity and righteousness like Brahmacharins, or students, for thirty-two years, always serving him and obeying his wishes. One day this holy master asked them why they had come to him and what they wanted. They replied:
“We have heard from Prajapati, the Lord of all creatures, that Self-knowledge can make one extremely happy and bring all powers and all objects of desire to the knower; that the real Self is free from sin and old age, unborn and deathless, unaffected by hunger and thirst; that its desires are ever fulfilled and its thoughts are true and perfect.
This Self must be searched after and realized. We have come to thee, O Lord, to acquire Self-knowledge.” The great master, wishing to examine whether the understanding of these pupils was purified or not, did not instruct them in the highest Truth at the outset, but gave some suggestions, by which they could search out and discover the real Self that dwells within all.
The best teacher is he who directs his students step by step in the path of realization and who makes them investigate the Truth by their own exertion.
So the Divine master, who was Prajapati himself in the form of a Guru, said to them:
"The person that is seen in the eye is the real Self (Atman). He is free from sin, sorrow, suffering, and birth; immortal and fearless. By knowing him one can obtain all worlds and all desires.
” Hearing this, the minds of the pupils were confused. They could not understand what the master meant by the expression, “The person that is seen in the eye is the Atman, the true Self.” They thought that he must mean the shadow that is seen in the pupil of the eye.
When we look at a person’s eye we see in it the image of a small figure, the reflection of ourself; the master, however, did not mean that. He referred to the real agent of seeing, the ruler of all the senses, who is seen through the senses by the pure-hearted Yogis alone.
Thus misunderstanding the true meaning, the disciples asked: “Bhagavad, who is that which is seen in a mirror and perceived in the water?
Is he the same person as the one who is seen in the eye?” The master, knowing that his pupils had not understood the true spirit, replied:
“That real Self indeed is seen in all these.” Know it and realize it. Furthermore, to test his pupils’ power of understanding, he continued: “Go and look at yourselves in a bowl of water, and whatever you do not understand about the Self come and tell me.”
The obedient pupils went and looked in the water, and seeing the reflection of their bodies they came back and said: “Yes, sir, we have seen what you meant.” The master asked: “Have you seen the Self or what?” The disciples answered: “We have seen ourselves altogether from head to foot, a perfect picture even to the hair and nails.” In order to bring them out of this confusion the master said: “After having your hair and nails cut, put on your best garments, adorn yourselves with ornaments and look again in the bowl of water.” Following his instructions, they cleaned themselves, and wearing beautiful dresses and rich ornaments, they looked at their own reflection in the water.
The spiritual master then asked: “Do you see the Self?” They said: “Revered sir, we see ourselves just as we are now, clean, well dressed and well-adorned.”
The master replied: “That is the Self, the immortal Atman, which is free from fear and sorrow.” Know it and realize it. The disciples went away satisfied in their hearts. Prajapati, seeing them at a distance, cried out: “You have departed without acquiring the knowledge of the true Self; whoever among you, whether gods or demons, will follow this doctrine will perish.” But Indra and Virochana paid no heed to his words. They thought that they had realized the Self and went home feeling content.
Now Virochana, who had understood that the body was the Self,
went to the Asuras, the demons, and preached the doctrine which he had learned. He taught them the most materialistic ideas, like those of the atheists and agnostics,—
“The body is the Self; the body alone is to be worshipped and served. By glorifying the self and serving the body one becomes master of the worlds and obtains everything.”
The demons, following his instructions, became absolutely materialistic in their views and began to decorate and worship their gross physical forms.
Even in the present age many such demons are to be found in this world. Those who uphold atheistic, agnostic and selfish doctrines possess demoniac tendencies. They care for nothing but their own bodies and do not feel for others.
They are not charitable, neither do they give alms to the poor. They have no faith in anything higher than their own material form.
The demons of today offer no sacrifice to God. They decorate the body of the living or of the dead with flowers, perfumes, ornaments, and fine raiment, and vainly imagine that by thus worshipping the body they will conquer the worlds.
The lord of the Devas, Indra, however, had better sense than the ruler of the demons; he went home, but he hesitated to preach before the gods. Remembering what the Lord of all creatures had described, that
“the Atman or Self must be free from hunger, thirst, birth, death and sorrow, that it is immortal and fearless,”
he said to himself: “This body cannot be the true Self, because it is subject to hunger and thirst, and is not free from any of these imperfections. How could the master have meant by true Self the shadow of this body, when the body is subject to birth, disease and death?
I see no good result from this doctrine.” Thus dissatisfied Indra determined to return to his master as a pupil with offerings in his hand. When he came again the master said to him: “You went away with Virochana satisfied in your mind that you had learned the truth and gained the knowledge of the Self; for what purpose have you returned?” Indra replied:
"Bhagavad, how can the shadow of the body be the true Self when it goes through constant changes? If the body is well-decorated with flowers and beautiful costumes the Self (shadow) has a different appearance. If one loses ones eyes the shadow (the Self) will look as though blind, that Self (shadow) will
be lame if the body is lame, crippled if the body is crippled, and will perish with the death of the body. Therefore, that changeable shadow cannot be the unchangeable Self. I do not see any good result from such a doctrine. Please explain my difficulty and make me understand the true Self.” The master replied: “O, Indra, so it is indeed. I shall explain to you the true Self. Live with me as my disciple for another thirty-two years.”
Indra lived with his master and served him for another thirty-two years. One day the master, being pleased with the purity, chastity and devotion of his pupil, instructed him thus:
"That which enjoys all dreams during sleep is the true Self. It is the immortal and fearless Brahman (the Absolute)." Know it, realize it, and be conscious of it. Hearing this, Indra went home satisfied in his heart. But before speaking to the Devas he found another difficulty. He understood, The Self (Atman) which enjoys dreams is not the same
as the shadow of the body, it is not affected by physical changes. It is true that this Self is not blind when the body is blind, or lame when the body is lame, nor is it injured if the body be injured; but how can the seer of dreams be immortal when it is subject to change and fear, and suffers pain in unpleasant dreams?
Thus thinking, he said: “I do not see good in this doctrine; I must go again and ask my master concerning this perplexity.” Indra went to Prajapati, his spiritual teacher, the third time and questioned him thus: “How could that changeable seer of dreams be the true Self, which is unchangeable, immortal, free from sin, hunger, sorrow, suffering, birth, and death?” The master replied: “O, Indra, you are right. I will explain to you again, stay with me another thirty-two years.”
At the end of that time the master said: “In sound sleep that which enjoys perfect rest and sees no dreams is the true Self or Atman, which is immortal.” Indra thought,
Self Knowledge by Swami Abhendanada published 1905