Katha Upanishhad: chariot analogy

Gummuluru Murthy gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA
Sun Mar 23 21:07:43 CST 1997

A delayed response to Shri Giri's posting.  I am grateful to Shri Giri
for clarifying some points for me on the chariot analogy of the Katha

On Wed, 19 Mar 1997, Giri wrote:

>         I agree, of course. What I meant was a person is alive as long
> as the "soul" is in the body. But who is the Lord of the chariot ?
> Atman/Self. I don't have the english translation with me, but am just
> translating from the sanskrit transliteration.
> [Katha upanishhad.h]
> aatmaana.N rathitaM viddhi shariira.N rathameva tu .
> buddhiM tu saarathiM viddhi manaH pragrahameva cha .. 1.3.3..
>      Know the Self as the lord of the chariot and the body as the
>      the chariot, know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind as
>      the reigns.
> i.e As long as the lord of the chariot, Self, "exists" in the body, one is
> "alive."

Whether the body is a corpse or under what conditions it is considered
"alive" is brought in in the context of the earlier discussion on
cloning and "donation" of the body. This is only of side-interest in
the present topic.

>         I am not sure what translation you followed, but certain books
> like 'The 13 principal upanishads' by Robert Hume, which seem to be a
> favorite among western readers and web users miss the point completely.

I am following S. Radhakrishnan's "The principal upanishhads". While it
is brief in commentary (on this topic), it is good and helpful with
individual verse meanings and reference to Shri Shankara's commentary.

> >What I do not fully understand in this analogy is:
> >Is Atman just the occupant of the chariot only and is a silent witness to
> >this journey or is the journey taking place at the behest of the occupant?
>         Atman is always the silent witness. Like the two birds example
> in the upanishhad-s. It is not the occupant, but the Lord of the chariot.
> >Chariot implies a journey. Whose journey is it ? Atman does not need it.
> >Where is this journey to ? Is this journey inward in search of "Who am I?"
> >(Atman already knows the answer). Or is this journey into the infinite ?
>         Where is the journey ? There is no journey at the paramartha
> level. Only what is born, journeys and then dies. Atman, being never born,
> can never die and, therefore, never cease to exist.
> >Why journey at all ? The Atman, being detached from the chariot, the
> >charioteer and the horses, does not need the journey.
> yastvaviGYaanavaanbhavatyayuktena manasaa sadaa .
> tasyendriyaaNyavashyaani dushhTaashvaa iva saaratheH .. 1.3.5..
> yastvaviGYaanavaanbhavatyamanaskaH sadaa.ashuchiH .
> na sa tatpadamaapnoti sa.nsaaraM chaadhigachchhati .. 1.3.7..
> One who is without knowledge, [for him] the senses are like wild horses
> that don't obey the driver of the chariot  (1.3.5) and being without
> knowledge and unmindful does not reach the goal but wanders in samsara
> (1.3.7). Higher than sense objects is the mind, higher than that is the
> faculty of knowledge and higher than that is the self, and higher than
> that is the Unmanifest and higher than that is the purusha, who is the
> highest goal of the journey. He is the SELF in all existences and is seen
> by the seers of perfect understanding (1.3.9-12).
>         Who says there is a journey ? Only who thinks he is a finite
> individual with certain likes and dislikes thinks he is journeying.
>         What exactly is the journey or the sadhana ? It is only the
> journey from who we think we are (a body-mind complex) to who we really
> are. There is a journey if we think we are the body-mind, but there is no
> journey if you already *know* you are the Atman.

I find the verses 1.3.3 and 1.3.4 very illustrative.

Oh, I agree that there is no journey at the paramartha level. But Lord
Yama refers to a journey and the question is: what is the journey about
and whose journey it is.

At the paramartha level, there is no journey. Atman is the same as the
nirguna brahman and there is no journey.

But the Atman, in conjunction with the body, senses, mind and the buddhi
becomes jeeva (jeevatma or the soul) and for that entity, there is a
journey. This entity is the enjoyer or the subject of the journey
(atmendriya-mano-yuktam... verse 4).

In my view, the journey referred to by Lord Yama, is not a journey of
one life but a series of lives which the jeeva has to go through before
the jeeva recognizes that it is the same as the Atman. Then it sheds the
extraneous upadhis (body, buddhi, mind and the senses) and recognizes
sameness with Atman. At that stage, there is no journey anymore. The
chariot, charioteer, reins and the horses all disappear.

Am I correct in understanding it in this light ?

> That is, one has to be
> careful at what level one is talking in. In the vyavahaara level, the
> senses have to be controlled and restraint placed on the senses to reach a
> "goal" but there is no difference between the seeker and the sought in the
> ultimate sense.

Yes, indeed. Like all concepts in advaita, the level at which we see and
talk is the important one: because any concept is correct at the level at
which we speak. The "journey" referred above is a good example.

Gummuluru Murthy

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