Mundaka Upanishad

7. The Two Selves: Merger of The Relative In The Absolute       
The concluding Chapter of the Upanishad is now going to give us the right understanding of the Paramatman and the Jivatman – the Supreme Self and the individual self – their unity and their distinction, and their relationship with each other.

The spiritual discipline and the ethical virtues which enable the aspirant to attain the knowledge of the Para Brhaman, Supreme Self are clearly elaborated here highlighting the end-results of this knowledge.

Like two birds of golden plumage (please refer to the picture given on the top of this essay), inseparable companions, are perched on a branch of the same tree. One of them tastes the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the other, tasting neither, calmly looks on. [M.U. 3:1:1]

a) Three Qualities
This verse gives us three words in relation to the two birds–the two Selves: suparna, sayuja, and sakhaya. Suparna means intimately related, the idea being that the individual Self and the Cosmic Self exist in an eternal relation. Sayuja means being in a state of union – perpetual union. Another meaning of sayuja is being in the same place – that the two Selves are inseparable, are ever present to one another. The third expression, sakhaya, means that the two Selves have the identical name or designation, and exist in an identical manner. Sakhaya also means companionship and friendship, indicating the deep personal relationship between the Jivatman and Paramatman. The selfsame tree is the body i.e. the cosmos.

The form of every sentient being has two indwellers – the two Selves just like the two birds. However, they do not have the same experience of the tree. The individual, the jiva, tastes the fruit of the tree in the form of the inner and outer senses, and according to the quality of that experience is made happy, unhappy, contented, discontented–and so forth. The individual thus undergoes experience sometimes laughing and some times weeping, immersed in thought and bewildered by his own helplessness.

The Supreme Self, on the other hand, tasting of neither [sweet or bitter experiences], calmly observes. God also experiences because He is an indweller of all and is aware of all that the individual spirit experiences, yet, He looks on without eating – without being affected or conditioned by such experiences. But He does know exactly the effect and conditioning that accrues to the individual Self. He is experiencing right along with us, but unlike us is not pulled into a mistaken identity with the body-mind and its experiences.

b) The Problem And The Solution
On the other hand: The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord, who remains contended, as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, his grief passes away. [M.U. 3:1:2]

We are drowned, submerged, in the deadly ocean of samsara, of continual birth, death, unsurety, pain, and confusion. Shankara points out that the individual self is overwhelmed with confusion because it cannot understand what is really happening to it, and why. Just like a piece of driftwood on the heaving sea, it is lifted up and down, thrown onto the shore and then pulled out to sea again. So it grieves at its helplessness and hopelessness.

All is changed, though, when the individual sees, right in the core of its being, the very God it has been hitherto worshipping as separate from itself. Experiencing within its own being the presence and the glory of God – and thereby realizing that glory as his own –the individual becomes liberated from sorrow.

The sage elaborates on this, continuing: When the seer beholds the Effulgent One, the Lord, the Supreme Being, then, transcending both good and evil, and freed from impurities, he unites himself with him thereby attaining a state of supreme equipoise. [M.U. 3:1:3]

The two selves are within each individual - the Absolute Self remains above the limitations of the world, is immortal and suffers no loss or gain, while the relative self suffers joy and sorrow in its interaction with the world. But when the latter recognizes the former it (Jivatma) attains salvation.

To elucidate the example of birds under consideration, the tree represents the body and Jivatma who experiences the effects of worldliness is the bird which tastes the fruits i.e. engaged in actions which produce consequences both favorable and unfavorable. The Jivatma’s propensity to be selfish about objects, people and actions takes it deeper and deeper in the unending currents of birth and death. The other bird is the inner Supreme Self that neither enjoys nor grieves but remaining as a mere witness to the acts of the other bird. After experiencing the sweetness and bitterness of the world, the individual self realizes that it always is the immortal Absolute Self full of bliss and consciousness and that all along it remained under the wrong notions that were tying it down to the ignorance about the correct meaning of worldly existence.

The Upanishad continues describing both the individual and the infinite Selves, as they partake of one another’s traits. The Lord is the one life shining forth from every creature. Seeing him present in all, the wise man is humble, puts not himself forward. His delight is in the Self, his joy is in the Self, he serves the Lord in all. Such as he, indeed, are the true knower’s of Brahman. [M.U. 3:1:4]

Anyone who ponders these astounding words with intelligence will be eager to attain Brahman, so the sage tells how that is done.

This Effulgent Self is to be realized within the lotus of the heart by continence, by steadfastness in truth, by meditation, and by super conscious vision. Their impurities washed away, the seers realize him. [M.U. 3:1:5]

The sage then tells us:  Truth alone prevails (these words form part of our national emblem, Asoka Pillar- “satyameva jayate”), not falsehood. By truth the path is laid out, the Way of the Gods, on which the seers, whose every desire is satisfied, proceed to the Highest Abode of the True’. [M.U. 3:1:6]

Truth in this context has a much higher and wider meaning than mere accuracy or honesty in speech. It means to be a living embodiment of the truth of our Self-nature, and eventually to be a virtual incarnation of the realized Truth: God, the supreme treasure attainable through truth.

c) The God Within, The Sage Without God:
Brahman is supreme; he is self-luminous, he is beyond all thought. Subtler than the subtlest is he, farther than the farthest, nearer than the nearest. He resides in the lotus of the heart of every being. [M.U. 3:1:7] This is the great mystery of the Divine.

The eyes do not see him, speech cannot utter him, the senses cannot reach him. He is to be attained neither by austerity nor by sacrificial rites. When through discrimination the heart has become pure, then, in meditation, the Impersonal Self is revealed. [M.U. 3:1:8] No action or feeling or ideas can reveal God to us. But when the heart has become purified by the spiritual insight that only meditation can produce, then in meditation itself God is revealed.

Meditation is the beginning, middle, and end of spiritual life. There is a remarkable statement made here – that consciousness which even now causes the body, senses, and mind to function is the same consciousness in which the Divine Vision takes place. So we need not try to turn ourselves into something other than what we are. We need only use it to free ourselves into Spirit. For that which binds also frees. This is the unique understanding of the ancient sages.

The Sage:
Whether of heaven, or of heavenly enjoyments, whether of desires, or of objects of desire, whatever thought arises in the heart of the sage is fulfilled. Therefore let him who seeks his own good revere and worship the sage. [M.U. 3:1:10]

This tells us two things. First, whatever the liberated sage thinks of, wills, or desires, that comes about. Second, those that seek their highest good – self-realization – should revere and honor the atmajnam, the one who knows the Self. This is very important.

The Upanishad is not counseling us to make a god of a master or to substitute a Brahmajnani for God. When we want to learn something we go to an expert. In the same way, those seeking the knowledge of God should seek out the teachings of great masters of past and present.

If we follow the instructions of an enlightened person regarding our inner development we will come to the exact same state of consciousness revealed in him. The sage knows Brahman, the support of all, the pure effulgent being in whom is contained the universe. They who worship the sage, and do so without thought of self, cross the boundary of birth and death. [M.U. 3:2:1]

d) Two Kinds Of Seekers
Since the sage Angiras has put so much emphasis on the value of approaching and reverencing a master-teacher, he now digresses a bit to point out what makes the student succeed or fail in spiritual life.

He who, brooding upon sense objects, comes to yearn for them, is born here and there, again and again, driven by his desire. But he who has realized the Self, and thus satisfied all hunger, attains to liberation even in this life. [M.U. 3:2:2]

The Self is not to be known through study of the scriptures, nor through subtlety of the intellect, nor through much learning. But by him who longs for him is he known. Verily unto him does the Self reveal his true being. [M.U. 3:2:3]

The desire for God is the way to God, meaning that the desire would prompt us to action in search of God, not just mere wishing.

The Self is not to be known by the weak, nor by the thoughtless, nor by those who do not rightly meditate. But by the rightly meditative, the thoughtful, and the strong, he is fully known. [M.U. 3:2:4]

Having known the Self, the sages are filled with joy. Blessed are they, tranquil of mind, free from passion. Realizing everywhere the all-pervading Brahman, deeply absorbed in contemplation of his being, they enter into him, the Self of all. [M.U. 3:2:5]  What an inspiring description?

e) How do the sages get that way?
Having fully ascertained and realized the truth of Vedanta, having established themselves in purity of conduct by following the yoga of renunciation, these great ones attain to immortality in this very life; and when their bodies fall away from them at death, they attain to liberation. [M.U. 3:2:6]

f) The Liberation Process
When death overtakes the body, the vital energy enters the cosmic source, the senses dissolve in their cause, and karmas and the individual soul are lost in Brahman, the pure, the changeless. [M.U. 3:2:7]

As rivers flow into the sea and in so doing lose name and form, even so the wise man, freed from the identification of name and form, becomes one with the Supreme Being, the Self-Luminous, the Infinite, the Highest of the High. [M.U. 3:2:8]

There are two aspects to these verses: what is shed by the sage and what he merges with in liberation. At the time of death, the various bodies no longer retain their configuration. Since they are no longer needed for future incarnations, they resolve back into the elements from which they came. Even the karmic forces, now unnecessary, melt away into basic energy along with the subtle bodies that created and embodied them.

What remains? Brahman and the atman - self. Since these are really the source of all the foregoing, in reality nothing whatever is lost– only the conditioning dreams that held them in false bondage for so long have gone. Finitude is exchanged for infinity.

Verily, knower of Brahman becomes Brahman. In his lineage, none is born who is ignorant of Brahman. He passes beyond sorrow. He passes beyond sin. Liberated from the knots of the heart, he becomes immortal. [M.U. 3:2:9]

8. Conclusion
As long as a seeker has the concept of being separate from the Self, there exists an ego-centre in him. The moment he realizes that his real nature is divine, his ego vanishes and he loses his identity. He experiences Pure Consciousness. There is no more individual personality for such a knower-Sage. He becomes one with the Eternal Purusha.

The Relative merges with the Absolute. He attains salvation – moksha, no more births and deaths. The purpose and goal of life have been achieved.

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