Katha upanishhad verse I.2.23

Charles Wikner WIKNER at NACDH4.NAC.AC.ZA
Wed Apr 2 01:52:34 CST 1997

Gummuluru Murthy <gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA> wrote:

> I am presently going through Katha upanishhhad and the verse I.2.23
> fascinates me.  The verse says:
> naayam aatmaa pravacanena labhyo na medhayaa, na bahunaa shrutena
> yamevaishha vR^Nute, tena labhyas tasyiashha aatmaa vivR^Nute tanu svaam

Here are some more useful translations of that passage:

     This Self cannot be known through much study, nor through
     the intellect, nor through much hearing.  It can be known
     only through the Self alone that the aspirant prays to;
     this Self of that seeker reveals Its true nature.
                                          [ Gambhiraananda ]

     This Atman cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas,
     nor by the intellect, nor even by much learning; by him
     it is attained whom (1) it chooses -- this (2), his (own)
     Atman, reveals its own (real) form.

     (1) Whom it chooses -- Shrii Shankaraacaarya points out
         in his commentary that the pronoun yam stands for the
         Atman and eshhaH for the saadhaka or aspirant. The
         passage is thus interpreted by him: chosen by that very
         Self which the aspirant seeks, the Self is known. To
         explain: the Self is realised by the Self of the aspirant
         who does not desire anything whatsoever except the Self
         or Atman.  But non-advaitic commentators interpret eshhaH
         as `the Supreme Atman (God)' and yam as `whomever', i.e.
         "It is attained by him alone whomever God chooses."

     (2) This his (own) Atman, etc. -- Atman which is in himself
         reveals Its true nature to him. This passage explains
         the real significance of the attaining of Atman.
                                              [ Sharvaananda ]

The exact same verse occurs in MuNDaka Up. 3.2.3:

     This Self is not attained through study, nor through the
     intellect, nor through much hearing.  By the very fact that
     he (i.e. the aspirant) seeks for It, does It become attainable;
     of him this Self reveals Its own nature.
                                              [ Gambhiraananda ]

     The Self is not attained through discourses, nor through
     intellectuality, nor through much learning.  It is only
     gained by him who longs for It with the whole heart. For
     to such a one the Self (1) reveals its own nature.

     (1) Self reveals Its own nature -- the Self is always of
         the nature of one's innermost being; it has not to be
         brought from anywhere else.  Only ignorance veils it.
         True longing of the heart dispels that ignorance, and
         then the Self, which was always there, reveals itself.
                                              [ Sharvaananda ]

The next verse in the MuNDaka may help to clarify this:

     This Self is not attained by one devoid of strength, nor
     through delusion, nor through knowledge unassociated with
     monasticism.  But the Self of that knower, who strives
     through these means, enters into the abode that is Brahman.
                                               [ Gambhiraananda]

Katha 2.3.12--13 should also help:

     It cannot be attained through speech, nor through the mind,
     nor through the eye.  How can It be known to anyone apart
     from him who speaks of It as existing?

     The Self is (first) to be realised as existing, and (then)
     as It really is.  Of these two (aspects), the real nature
     of the Self that has been known as merely existing, becomes
     favourably disposed (for self-revelation).
                                              [ Gambiraananda ]

As regards study etc. to purify/enlarge/still the mind in order
to transcend it, the description of the types of knowledge given
in Gita 18:20--22 is pertinent:

     That by which a man sees the one Indestructible Reality in
     all beings, inseparate in the separated -- that knowledge
     know thou as Sattvic.

     But that knowledge which by differentiation, sees in all the
     creatures various entities of distinct kinds, that knowledge
     know thou as Rajasic.

     But that which clings to one single effect as if it were all,
     without reason, having no real object, and narrow, that is
     declared to be Tamasic.
                                                [ A.M.Sastry ]

Finally, the essence of all this is expressed pithily in another

       Be still, and know that I am God.
                                         [ Bible, Psalm 46:10 ]

Regards, Charles.

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