Realization of Self or Mukti in Upanishads
Realization of Self or Mukti in Upanishads
The doctrine which attracts our attention in this connection is that of emancipation (mukti).
Already we know that the doctrine of Devayāna held that those who were faithful and performed asceticism (tapas) went by the way of the gods through successive stages never to return to the world and suffer rebirth.
This could be contrasted with the way of the fathers (pitṛyāna) where the dead were for a time recompensed in another world and then had to suffer rebirth.
Thus we find that those who are faithful and perform śraddhā had a distinctly different type of goal from those who performed ordinary virtues, such as those of a general altruistic nature.
This distinction attains its fullest development in the doctrine of emancipation.
Emancipation or Mukti means in the Upaniṣads the state of infiniteness that a man attains when he knows his own self and thus becomes Brahman.
The ceaseless course of transmigration is only for those who are ignorant.
The wise man however who has divested himself of all passions and knows himself to be Brahman, at once becomes Brahman and no bondage of any kind can ever affect him.
He who beholds that loftiest and deepest,
For him the fetters of the heart break asunder,
For him all doubts are solved,
And his works become nothingness.
The knowledge of the self reveals the fact that all our passions and antipathies, all our limitations of experience, all that is ignoble and small in us, all that is transient and finite in us is false.
We “do not know” but are “pure knowledge” ourselves. We are not limited by anything, for we are the infinite; we do not suffer death, for we are immortal.
Emancipation thus is not a new acquisition, product, an effect, or result of any action, but it always exists as the Truth of our nature. We are always emancipated and always free.
We do not seem to be so and seem to suffer rebirth and thousands of other troubles only because we do not know the true nature of our self.
Thus it is that the true knowledge of self does not lead to emancipation but is emancipation itself. All sufferings and limitations are true only so long as we do not know our self.
Emancipation is the natural and only goal of man simply because it represents the true nature and essence of man. It is the realization of our own nature that is called emancipation.
Since we are all already and always in our own true nature and as such emancipated, the only thing necessary for us is to know that we are so. Self-knowledge is therefore the only desideratum which can wipe off all false knowledge, all illusions of death and rebirth.
The story is told in the Katha Upaniṣad that Yama, the lord of death, promised Nachikētas, the son of Gautama, to grant him three boons at his choice.
Nachikētas, knowing that his father Gautama was offended with him, said:
“O death let Gautama be pleased in mind and forget his anger against me.”
This being granted Nachikētas asked the second boon that the fire by which heaven is gained should be made known to him.
This also being granted Nachikētas said:
“There is this enquiry, some say the soul exists after the death of man; others say it does not exist. This I should like to know instructed by thee. This is my third boon.”
Yama said: “It was inquired of old, even by the gods; for it is not easy to understand it. Subtle is its nature, choose another boon. Do not compel me to this.”
Nachikētas said: “Even by the gods was it inquired before, and even thou O Death sayest that it is not easy to understand it, but there is no other speaker to be found like thee. There is no other boon like this.”
Yama said: “Choose sons and grandsons who may live a hundred years, choose herds of cattle; choose elephants and gold and horses; choose the wide expanded earth, and live thyself as many years as thou wishest.
Or if thou knowest a boon like this, choose it together with wealth and far-extending life. Be a king on the wide earth. I will make thee the enjoyer of all desires.
All those desires that are difficult to gain in the world of mortals, all those ask thou at thy pleasure; those fair nymphs with their chariots, with their musical instruments; the like of them are not to be gained by men. I will give them to thee, but do not ask the question regarding death.”
Nachikētas replied: “All those enjoyments are of tomorrow and they only weaken the senses. All life is short, with thee the dance and song.
Man cannot be satisfied with wealth, we could obtain wealth, as long as we did not reach you we live only as long as thou pleasest. The boon which I choose I have said.”
Yama said: “One thing is good, another is pleasant. Blessed is he who takes the good, but he who chooses the pleasant loses the object of man. But thou considering the objects of desire, hast abandoned them.
These two, ignorance (whose object is what is pleasant) and knowledge (whose object is what is good), are known to be far asunder, and to lead to different goals. Believing that this world exists and not the other, the careless youth is subject to my sway.
That knowledge which thou hast asked is not to be obtained by argument. I know worldly happiness is transient for that firm one is not to be obtained by what is not firm.
The wise by concentrating on the soul, knowing him whom it is hard to behold, leaves both grief and joy.
Thee O Nachikētas, I believe to be like a house whose door is open to Brahman. Brahman is deathless, whoever knows him obtains whatever he wishes. The wise man is not born; he does not die; he is not produced from anywhere.
Unborn, eternal, the soul is not slain, though the body is slain; subtler than what is subtle, greater than what is great, sitting it goes far, lying it goes everywhere.
Thinking the soul as unbodily among bodies, firm among fleeting things, the wise man casts off all grief. The soul cannot be gained by eloquence, by understanding, or by learning. It can be obtained by him alone whom it chooses. To him it reveals its own nature.”
So long as the Self identifies itself with its desires, he wills and acts according to them and reaps the fruits in the present and in future lives.
But when he comes to know the highest truth about himself, that he is the highest essence and principle of the universe, the immortal and the infinite, he ceases to have desires, and receding from all desires realizes the ultimate truth of himself in his own infinitude.
Man is as it were the epitome of the universe and he holds within himself the fine constituents of the gross body (annamāyā koṣa), the vital functions (prāṇamāyā koṣa) of life, the will and desire (manomaya) and the thoughts and ideas (vijñānamaya),
and so long as he keeps himself in these spheres and passes through a series of experiences in the present life and in other lives to come, these experiences are willed by him and in that sense created by him. He suffers pleasures and pains, disease and death.
But if he retires from these into his true unchangeable being, he is in a state where he is one with his experience and there is no change and no movement. What this state is cannot be explained by the use of concepts.
One could only indicate it by pointing out that it is not any of those concepts found in ordinary knowledge; it is not whatever one knows as this and this (neti neti).
In this infinite and true self there is no difference, no diversity, no meum and tuum. It is like an ocean in which all our phenomenal existence will dissolve like salt in water.
“Just as a lump of salt when put in water will disappear in it and it cannot be taken out separately but in whatever portion of water we taste we find the salt,
so, Maitreyī, does this great reality infinite and limitless consisting only of pure intelligence manifesting itself in all these (phenomenal existences) vanish in them and there is then no phenomenal knowledge” (Brih. II.4. 12).
The true self manifests itself in all the processes of our phenomenal existences, but ultimately when it retires back to itself, it can no longer be found in them. It is a state of absolute infinitude of pure intelligence, pure being, and pure blessedness.