Our True Nature

By Rudra Shivananda

Patanjali

According to Patanjali, when yoga is achieved with the state of no-mind, then one rests in one’s essential state, one’s true nature.  However, what is that essential state? There is great difficulty in understanding something that cannot be described in our limited mental state but only realized in the yogic consciousness. From ancient times, the acharyas have made many attempts to point towards our true nature.

The following is one attempt to give a glimmer of the mystery of our Self or Atman, which pervades all existence but defy our attempts to isolate it. It is a dialog from the Chandogya Upanishad between Uddalaka and his son Svetaketu.

Svetaketu had already learned all that could be learned from the experience of the five senses, that is all of apparent reality and his father was now trying to lead him towards that which is beyond appearances:

Uddalaka said: “Svetaketu! Have you ever asked your teacher for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive that which cannot be perceived and by which we know what cannot be known?”

 Svetaketu said: “Sir, what is that instruction?”

The father replied, “Just as by a single lump of clay, all that is made of clay is known, even so the products of clay being differentiated with separate names does not alter the fact that they are still clay. That is the instruction.”

 Svetaketu: “I don’t understand. Please explain further.”

Uddalaka: “Bring me a fruit from that banyan tree”

Svetaketu: “Here it is, revered sir.”

Uddalaka: “Break it.”

Svetaketu: “It is broken, revered sir”

Uddalaka: “What do you see in it?”

Svetaketu: “These seeds, small like particles, revered sir.”

Uddalaka: “Break one of these seeds, my son.”

Svetaketu: “It is broken, revered sir.”

Uddalaka: What do you see in it?”

Svetaketu: “Nothing, revered sir.”

The father said to him, ‘Dear boy, this subtle essence which you do not perceive, it is growing from this subtle essence that the large Banyan tree thus stands. Have faith, dear boy.”

“That Being which is this subtle essence (cause of all), even That all this world has for its Self. That is the truth. That is the Atman. That thou art, O Svetaketu.”

 Svetaketu: “Revered sir, please explain it further to me.”

Uddalaka: “So be it, dear boy.”

“Put this salt into water and then come to me in the morning.”

Svetaketu did as commanded.

In the morning, the father said, “Bring the salt, my child, which you put into water at night.”

Having searched for it, the son did not find it, as it had completely dissolved.

The father said, “My child, take a sip from the top of this water. How is it?”

The son replied, “It is salt.”

Uddalaka: “Take a sip from the middle. How is it?”

The son replied, “It is salt.”

Uddalaka: “Take a sip from the bottom. How is it?”

The son replied, “It is salt.”

Uddalaka: “Throw this water away and then come to me’.

Svetaketu did so (and returned saying), “It is there always.”

The father said to him, “Dear boy, as you do not see what is present in this water though indeed it exists in it, similarly, (Being exists) indeed in this body.

“That Being which is this subtle essence (cause of all), even That all this world has for its Self. That is the truth. That is the Atman. That thou art, O Svetaketu.”

In the first instruction, the sage was trying to explain how the cause of existence cannot be seen but yet cannot be denied while in the second instruction, he was trying to explain how the spirit pervades all of existence and is not restricted to one place or person, while remaining unseen. Of course, these illustrations were meant to change the student’s world-view and help one penetrate beyond everyday appearances which mask the underlying reality of our true nature. However, they are only pointers and are meant for deeper contemplation by the student to reach an experience of one’s true nature which is beyond even the best analogy.

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