Chandogya Upanishad of the Samaveda Indra learns from the Progenitor of Mankind: PRAJAPATI
Jul 14, 2006 07:38 AM
by W.Dallas TenBroeck
TALES FROM THE UPANISHADS.
INDRA AND VIROCHANA.
Chandogya Upanishad of the Samaveda
Indra learns from the Progenitor of Mankind:
Prof. Manilal N. Dvivedi.
IT is well-known that the Upanishads form the most important compendium
of the metaphysics of Vedic religion. The doctrine of one essence taught
therein is the key to many a Vedic sukta and Puranic katha, and reveals the
true nature of the whole of Aryan religion, nay even of the so-called
heathenism of the Hindus.
Apart from the very important nature of the whole teaching, it is
interesting to note in what homely and popularly simple manner these sublime
truths are taught by the ancient sages. I have selected a few tales from the
Upanishads with a view to enable the general reader to obtain an idea of the
principal truths taught in those sacred relics of antiquity.
The tale selected for this paper is from the Chandogya Upanishad of the
It relates to the studentship of Indra, the lord of the Gods, and Virochana,
the chief of the Asuras—demons—under Prajapati [Father of All] whom they
take for their guru. The following is a free translation of the text.
INDRA and VIROCHANA.
"That Atman which is beyond decay and death, free from sorrow, not open to
hunger and thirst, of unfailing thought and desire, should be known, should
That man has access to all the worlds, and has all his desires fulfilled,
who having known this Atman fully realizes it." -- So said
This reached the ears of the gods and the demons, who pondered, each
according to his own order, on the power that gains access to all the worlds
and fulfils all desires, and resolved that such an opportunity should on no
account be missed.
Accordingly Indra from among the gods, and Virochana from among the Asuras
went up to Prajapati. Jealous of each other, they approached the guru with
holy grass in their hands and lived with him as Brahmacharis Prajapati asked
them after the lapse of thirty-two years what was the object of their
residence with him?
They said: "We have heard that your Lordship knows that Atman which is
beyond decay and death, free from sorrow, not open to hunger and thirst, of
unfailing thought and desire, which when looked for and known up to full
realization, gives access to all the worlds, and places within reach the
fulfilment of all desires,' and we want to know this Atman; hence our
residence in this place."
Prajapati replied, "The Purusha [Spirit] in the eye is Atman," and added,
"it is the immortal, the fearless, it is Brahman [Progenitor]."
Hereupon the pupils asked "Oh Lord! which is that Purusha—is it not that
which is seen in a looking-glass, or in water?" to which the teacher
Prajapati: "Verily it is the same, it is found everywhere ;" but he took
care to add, "if after looking into a cup full of water you should not find
Atman, return and ask me again."
They accordingly looked into a cup full of water, and being asked by the
guru what they saw, replied: "Oh Lord! we see the whole of this our Atman
(self: i. e. the body), a full reflection of it up to the very hair on our
head, and the nails on our fingers."
The teacher asked them to remove the hair and the nails and put on fresh
clothes and ornaments, and look again into the cup. When they looked again
into the water, after shaving and after change of dress and ornaments,
Prajapati asked them what they saw.
They replied: "Oh Lord! we see our selves (Atman) as they are, all shaved,
decorated and dressed as we are. .
The guru remarked,
Prajapati: "This is Atman, this is the immortal, the fearless, this is
The pupils hearing this went away in great joy.
After their departure Prajapati observed,
Prajapati: "Whoever of these two thus returning to their homes, without
having properly known and realized Atman, takes his wrong impression to be
the real Upanishad (i. e.: Brahman, Atman), be he god or demon, will simply
destroy himself and all who put faith in his teaching ".
The Asura, Virochana, went entirely satisfied to his people, and taught them
the Upanishad he had learnt. He declared. "It is only one's self (the body)
that deserves all worship, it should be carefully served; he who worships
and serves the body gains access to all the worlds, this as well as the next
(the mastery whereof being obtained, it goes without saying that all desires
are easily fulfilled)."
Hence even to this day it is usual to call him an Asura who does not put
faith in anything beyond direct perception, who observes no religion.
This alas! is the Upanishad of the Asuras. They attend simply to this dead *
carcass, feeding it with sweet viands, and bedecking it with fine clothes
and ornaments, believing all the while that only thus access is obtained to
the next world.
* Dead in the sense of "dead matter "; for Atman being nothing but the body,
all matter and no thought, is from the Upanishad point of view a dead
carcass as understood by the Asuras. The phrase adequately brings out the
impossibility of thought or feeling in mere matter without thought (Atman).
But the god Indra, before returning to the gods, saw a difficulty, and said
to himself: "This Atman (meaning the reflection seen in the water, viz, the
body) appears well dressed, well adorned, well refined, upon the body's
being well dressed, adorned, or refined.
But even so must it appear blind, one-eyed, or without hand or foot, upon
the body's becoming blind, one-eyed, or without hand or foot; and should
moreover perish with the body.
I for one see no fruit from the realization of such Atman.
Whereupon he came back, with the holy grass in his hand to Prajapati who,
seeing him, asked why he having gone away in all satisfaction in company
with Virochana, returned to that place?
Indra replied, "This Atman appears well dressed, well adorned, well refined.
But even so it must appear blind, one-eyed, or without hand or foot, upon
the body's becoming blind, one-eyed, or without hand or foot, and should
moreover perish with the body. I for one see no fruit from the realization
of such Atman."
The teacher remarked:
Prajapati: "Verily what you say is but too true, oh Indra! I shall
explain it to you yet further, wait here for another thirty-two years."
Indra lived with his master for the period prescribed, at the end whereof
Prajapati said: "The subject of all that is seen in dream is Atman; it is
the immortal, the fearless, it is Brahman."
Indra went away satisfied with this answer, but again encountered a
difficulty before reaching home. He observed: "True it is that this Atman
remains unaffected by the blindness or one-eyed-ness of the body, it is not
touched by any of its accidents, nor does it perish with it, but it appears
to suffer like the body, to pale under sorrow, to despair under difficulty,
and even to weep on occasion. I see no fruit of the realization of such
Whereupon he went back to Prajapati with the holy grass in his hand.
The sage, on seeing him, asked why he returned after having gone away in
Indra replied: "True it is that this Atman remains unaffected by the
blindness or one-eyed-ness of the body, it is not touched by any of its
accidents, nor does it perish with it; but it appears to suffer like the
body, to pale under sorrow, to despair under difficulty, and even to weep on
occasion. I see no fruit of the realization of such Atman."
The master said to his pupil:
Prajapati: "What thou sayest is but too true, I shall explain it to thee
again, stay here another thirty-two years."
At the expiration of the prescribed period Prajapati said to Indra:
Prajapati: "That which being in deep sleep, immersed in its native
bliss, sees no dream is Atman; it is the immortal, the fearless, it is
Indra went away fully satisfied, but even before he reached the gods a doubt
again cropped up in his mind:
Indra: "The Atman in deep sleep is not conscious of its existence, and
knows not 'this is myself,' nor does it know the things of the universe. It
can, therefore, be none other than pure extinction or annihilation. I see no
fruit of the realization of such Atman."
Whereupon he traced his way back to his guru, with the holy grass in his
hand, and being asked why after going away in full satisfaction he came
Indra: "The Atman in deep sleep is not conscious of its existence, and
knows not 'this is myself', nor does it know the things of the universe.
It can therefore be none other than pure extinction or annihilation. I see
no fruit of the realization of such Atman."
The master remarked:
Prajapati: "What thou sayest, Indra, is very true, I shall explain to
thee the truth over again, for it (Atman) is none other than that described
to thee before. Stay with me only for another five years and I shall make
the matter plain to thee." He stayed another five years and completed a
hundred, often referred to as the period spent by Indra in Brahmacharya,
The master said at last to his pupil:
Prajapati: "O Indra! this body is mortal, always subject to death, it is
only the abode, so to speak, of the bodiless Atman (which thus circumstanced
is called Jiva) which being thus with body partakes of pleasure and pain,
for pleasure and pain do not leave one with body, it being the bodiless
alone that is ever free from them. The air, ether, lightning, clouds, all
bodiless in themselves, appear (as with body * i. e.: the body of
manifestation.) in the sky, and rebecome themselves—the highest light.
In the same manner this All-Bliss manifesting itself as the body (called
then Jiva) merges in the highest light, and rebecomes itself. This indeed is
the greatest Purusha. It appears to take on itself a variety of forms,
sometimes engrossed in enjoyments of the senses, sometimes all playfulness
and joy, some times indulging itself in the company of women, or in the
pleasure of horses, carriages, etc., or in the affection of friends and
relatives,—never remembering, or identifying itself with the body, its
tenement governed by Prana, joined to it after the manner of a horse to a
The Purusha in the eye is the Akasa found therein, it is only its way out to
the objective. That is Atman which is implied in the ego of the experience
'I smell', it being the very being of the sense of smell. It is that which
is conscious of the experience 'I speak', being in itself the very essence
of speech. It is that which is conscious of the experience 'I hear', being
the very thing that hears.
And lastly it is that which is conscious of the subjective experience 'I
think', being the very being of the mind. The mind is its divine eye whereby
it calls into being the various objects of experience and plays with them.
As the gods in heaven devote themselves to their Atman, they have all the
worlds within their control, and all their desires are always fulfilled. He
therefore who knows Atman and realizes it in himself everywhere gains access
to all the worlds, and has all his desires fulfilled." This is what said
Prajapati, indeed PRAJAPATI (the Supreme), to his pupil.
[NOTE.—Any explanation is hardly necessary to lay bare the important
moral of this simple tale. It sets forth in very vivid colors the Upanishad
(creed) of the materialist of to-day in the person of Virochana bound to the
physical as the only plane of knowledge and truth.
The opposite view is happily represented in the attitude of Indra, the
disciple submitting himself to reason (Buddhi) and willing to be guided by
It may be seen in what reverence the guru is held even by such potentates as
Indra, the god of gods, and Virochana the proud lord of the Asuras.
The period of probation extending over a hundred years in the case of Indra,
the true disciple who at last gets the truth, is worthy of the attentive
consideration of western candidates for the truth, the whole truth of
The light cannot reflect itself in a mirror soiled with terrestrial mud, the
removal whereof must necessarily be the work of time, patience, and
The teacher at first points out the Purusha in the eye as Atman, thought,
meaning thereby the cognizer of, and through whom the eye is the eye, and is
able to perceive things and receive impressions.
The pupils, through not understanding the real truth, understood it only
after the persuasion of their proud intelligence, and did not, out of sheer
vanity, say plainly that they had failed to grasp the real meaning.
This mistake has been repeated even by the better pupil more than once; and
in our age of individualism and selfish pride how many daily recur to the
same and debar themselves from the path of eternal wisdom!
The Master out of kindness suggested that the pupils should look into a cup
full of water, and return to him if they failed to find Atman therein. The
self-sufficient lord of gods and the proud chief of demons tried the
experiment and appeared to be satisfied at the sight of their own reflection
in the water.
The guru thereupon tried another innocent stratagem and asked them to change
their dress and ornaments, and remove the hair on their heads and the nails
on their fingers, and look again into the water. This ought to have been
sufficient, for it was thus plainly indicated that Atman, the truth, is
always as unalterably one as the body which remains the same though
appearing to take on different forms under different conditions, and
moreover that the Atman cannot be the reflection of the body which waxes and
wanes with additions to and subtractions from the body.
But the ignorance of the pupils would not allow them an insight into the
real meaning of the experiment.
They therefore went away in full satisfaction, taking the body to be the
soul they were in quest of. The Asura got confirmed in his belief and taught
that the body was the thing that was all in all, and everything that
conduced to the ease and comfort of that combination of material elements,
was the surest way to the satisfaction of all desires and to the supreme
happiness of absolution even here.
But the god proved more intelligent and wise.
And this explains also what makes a god a god, and an Asura an Asura. He
looked within himself and saw that the reflection of the body could not be
the real essence which has been declared by the guru to be immortal and
beyond decay, death, or change.
He returns and enters another term of studentship which brings him more
knowledge. In all that the guru tells him every time he returns, the
substance is none other than the truth conveyed to him even at the first
moment; and the teacher is not open to the charge of having held back the
truth, for it is laid down: "Hold the torch before him only who can bear its
Atman is that something through which the eye and all the external senses —
i. e. the phenomena of waking experience; and the mind — i. e. the panorama
of dreams, imagination, fancies; and lastly the blank experience of sleep;
are all rendered possible.
In other words: It is that something which is implied in the very existence
of experience; for nothing can exist prior to thought.
Atman is that which is not any one of the three conditions, and is yet ever
all and everything.]
PROF. MANILAL N. DVIVEDI.
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