The previous mantra told us about the equality of man and woman. But what is their true nature? Is she or he merely the changing phenomenon of the body or is there a changeless dimension in them? Sankara says such passages of the scriptures serve only as aids to the realization of the Self, Brahman.  Thus the purpose for which the Upanishads talk about creation is only to take us from the changing unreal phenomenon to the changeless reality behind, wherein lies our true goal of life. (asato ma sad gamaya;  tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrutyor ma amrutam gamaya as we have seen earlier). We then reject the unreal and affirm the real. This mantra takes us to that end. Thus after talking about creation of man and woman and other beings, the Upanishad introduces the subject of Brahman and Atman, the unchanging reality behind this changing universe, behind you and me and behind every man and woman.

We are told in this mantra about the nature of the ultimate reality, the self in us and the Self of the projected universe, the Primordial Stuff and the nature of cosmic evolution proceeding from it. The mantra initiates the exposition by saying:

Now, all this universe was then undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form: it was known by such and such a name and such and such a form. Thus to this day this universe is differentiated by name and form; so it is said. "He has such a name and such a form."

Everything was undifferentiated in the beginning. That One, differentiated itself into various things, with particular name and particular form. What makes for the difference between things?  Only name and form, nama and rupa; the substance is the same but names and shapes make them look different. Name is an idea about an object while form is the visual embodiment of that idea.  A golden chain and a golden ring look different but so far as gold is concerned both are one and the same. Similarly, the whole universe becomes differentiated into names and forms from what was in the beginning absolutely undifferentiated. This difference of labels of name and form continues even today. Obviously, if we transcend the distinction of names and forms, we straightaway come to the original stuff itself viz., the undifferentiated Brahman. After that One had differentiated, what happened? The mantra says:

This Self has entered into these bodies up to the very tips of the nails, as a razor lies hidden in its case, or as fire, which sustains the world, lies hidden in its source. People do not see the Self, for when viewed in parts It is incomplete: when breathing, It is called the vital breath (prana); when speaking, the organ of speech; when seeing, the eye; when hearing, the ear; when thinking, the mind. These are merely Its names according to Its functions. He who meditates on one or another of Its aspects does not know, for It is then incomplete because the Self is separated from Its totality by being associated with a single characteristic.

‘That one entered into the many’ (sa esa iha pravista). This is like saying that gold has entered into several ornaments like chain, ring, and bangles and so on. That ultimate reality entered into all of us up to the tip of the nails (nakhaagrebhyah) which means that the all-pervading presence of that One is in every pore of creation. In this creation, the presence of that One reality is found in everything. But we do not see or experience such presence of the One reality in our day to day life. Why?  The Upanishad explains with the help of beautiful illustrations:

It says just like a razor which we may put in its container or like fire that lies in its source, that One has entered this creation. Sankara says “As a razor lies in one part of the razor-container, or as fire lies in wood pervading it, so does the Self reside in the body pervading it in a general and particular way”.

Presently that One is seen only as functioning in all the names and forms and therefore we are not able to see that One as it is. We see the One as merely functioning in the many but not as a whole which is its true nature. This partial or splintered vision of the Self by us is illustrated in the mantra as vital breath while breathing, as organ of speech while speaking, as the eye while seeing, as the ear while hearing, as the mind while thinking. These are functional names which conceal the undivided nature of the reality.  We see the One through its various functionalities but not in its true nature just as in the story of blind men and the elephant, each describing the animal on the basis of what he has touched and felt but none could describe the animal as a full entity. Hence the mantra says that such partial fractured knowledge of the Self is incomplete because of its dealing with the processes separately. One who meditates on such partial aspects isolated from each other does not know the truth at all. We must realize the Self not in its several split aspects but as an unified indivisible Self. Wholeness is integral insight.

Then how to get the knowledge of complete Brahman, atman, the Self? The Upanishad says by knowing the atman alone (atma iti eva upasita).

The Self alone is to be meditated upon, for in It all these become unified. Of all these, this Self alone should be known, for one knows all these through It, just as one may find an animal which is lost through its footprints. (As one finds lost cattle by following their footsteps, thus one finds everything, if one has found out the Self). He who thus knows the Self obtains fame and association with dear ones.
Meditate on the atman alone, the One behind the many, that pure consciousness behind all these various manifestations. That alone is fit to be investigated.  Why to meditate only on atman? The Upanishad gives two answers to this question. One is “in that atman all these millions of processes become unified” which means that the multiplicity in the nature we see now was absolutely in a singular state in the beginning of creation. The second answer is that “only through this atman one understands all these diverse things of the world” just as one can trace the animal missing from the herd through its footprints. The implication is that this atman, though subtle, has left enough footprints on our experience one can certainly discover it. The mantra concludes by declaring that through this knowledge and understanding, we can achieve greatness, glory and fulfillment.


We have seen in the previous mantra the nature of the Primordial Stuff from which the universe has come which we refer to using the word Brahman, the Self in the cosmic context. This Self is also the self of all beings. In that context we call it as atman – the self in the human context (using the lower case for the letter “s”). Both are one and the same but referred to differently in two different contexts. This atman alone is to be known for therein all the diversities become unified and because only through atman we know everything else.

The present mantra furnishes one more reason as to why this atman alone should be known to the exclusion of the others. It says: it is because this atman is dearer than everything else and because it is the innermost reality. Sankara says: A thing which is extremely dear deserves to be attained by the utmost effort. So one should use the utmost effort to attain this atman which is dearer than everything else held dear in the world.

This mantra describes how dear this atman is. It says:

This Self is dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else, because It is innermost. If one holding the Self dear were to say to a person who speaks of anything other than the Self as dear, that he, the latter, will lose what he holds dear - and the former is certainly competent to do so - it will indeed come true. One should meditate upon the Self alone as dear. He who meditates upon the Self alone as dear - what he holds dear will not perish.

This can be easily understood in our day to day life. For example, if the house is on fire we leave everything and run to a safer place to save ourselves leaving all our possessions behind which were acquired after a life term of struggle and tribulation.

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