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Khandogya 4 - Self Sacrifice, Spirit Veneration

Narada asked Sanatkumara, "teach me about Brahma!" Sanatkumara said, "tell me what you know, and I will tell you what lies beyond."

Narada said, I have studied the Vedas, the Mahabharata, grammar, the rituals of sacrifice for ancestors, mathematics, prognostication, science, logic, ethics, etymology, speech, ceremony, prose, rhetoric, engineering, fighting and weapons, astronomy, medicine, illusion, the performance arts of dancing and singing and play-acting, and the fine arts. I know the mantras, I know the sacred books. But I do not know the self. I have heard that whoever knows the self can be free of grief, and regret. I know grief and regret. I am suffering and distressed by both grief and regret. Please help me?"

Sanatkumara said,

you have studied etymology. And logic. You understand that all these things are names only, that all words are abstractions, all knowledge is an abstraction. You are studying abstractions, not reality. Meditate upon that which is real, that which is being abstracted.

You have studied speech. Speeches are better than names, as they less abstractly describe the reality. Speech makes us understand reality. Speech about air, or fire, or men, or birds, or plants - these are better than simply saying "air," "fire," "men," "birds," "plants." You have studied the sciences. You know even the tiny gnat insect is not adequately described by its name. You have studied ethics, and understand the names "right" and "wrong" are inadequate. You have studied logic, and know that the names "true" and "false" are inadequate. Speech makes us understand what is pleasant, or painful. Speech lets us understand what is beyond pleasure, and pain. And all these other names.

You have studied much, but even before you studied, you could hold in your hand fruit, and understand - without names, without speech - that these are fruits. You could see someone else holding fruit, and understand these fruits. You could share in those fruits without a word. Could you share in those fruits without tasting them? This taste remains in your mind, and gives you names and speech. This taste teaches you words. And knowing it is sweet, you would desire fruit. If you desired fruit, you would ask for that fruit; if you desired children, or wealth, you would ask for them. The pleasure of some fruit impels you by instinct to seek that sweetness because it is your nature to seek pleasure. The bitterness of other fruits impels you by instinct to avoid them because it is your nature to avoid pain. Your senses fill your mind with experience of pleasure and pain, and forms the conditions for self - shaping your will, your intention, your desire - shaping your hopes and fears, your identity. You have studied ritual and ceremony, you have studied many things - this "you" is your "self." The self is the origin of all words, all speech, even the hymns of the Vedas. The self is what performs the sacrifices. The self dances, and sings, and makes fine art, takes sweet fruit - because of the impulses of instinct, of nature.

But you do not eat every fruit you see. You have the willpower to choose which impulses you follow. You can choose to breathe or hold your breath, you can choose to sleep or wake. This choice, this freedom, is strengthened or weakened by exercise - as your body is strengthened by exercise, or your mind strengthened by training. You, your "self," is only as strong as your willpower - you are not your instincts or nature. "You" can change your nature by applying your willpower against one instinct or another.

But what determines whether willpower is applied against one instinct or another? Consideration is the means by which willpower is applied. One considers that he should speak, then wills it against the overwhelming instinct to remain silent, then thinks of the thing in his mind, then finds the words and speech required, then calls out a name. "oh, Brahma!"

But consideration is impossible without contemplation (dhyana). After many generations, a land or house begins to take upon the character of the people living there - this is the land and house contemplating its people. So too do we all take upon the character of our choices. Yet we may make new habits of choices by considering them. Habits are taken up, and given up easily - through consideration. Have you considered your self?

When you considered your self, what did you understand? You have studied ethics. This understanding is the basis of right and wrong, regrettable and commendable. This understanding is the source of your grief. For you do understand. But you lack the strength, the power, to alter your self. What is this power (bala)? A man might tame a dog, or a horse - so too, might a man tame other men, and become a great King. A King might tame other Kings and become an emperor. So too, might a man tame himself. Commanding his self to consider one thing right, or another thing wrong. Commanding him to speak one name or another. Are you in command of yourself, Narada?

Power - and all force - must be sustained (anna) against counterforce. Thus, all things that begin must end, for it is impossible to permanently sustain force. The self is begun, sustained for a time, and ends. A person who is starved for food 10 days, though he might live, would not be the master of himself. So too, a man would do unthinkable things if thirsty. The man who cannot command water or food for his self is not the master of himself. A man needs not only food and water, though: a man requires heat, and shelter, and space, and many things. A man must be able to receive these things, and to command them, if he would be empowered.

But what is the basis for sustenance? Memory: a man might forget he must eat, and must sustain himself. A man might forget his home, his loved ones. A man might forget all he has learned - how then can he consider his habits right or wrong? If a man forgot the one he grieves for, how then could he know grief? A man cannot forget his hopes, for they are conditioned not upon power or sustenance - but upon his spirits (prana, or the six-directions). He was shaped to these hopes by his parents, his siblings, his family, his teachers, his colleagues and friends, his servants and clients. Even after he has forgotten them, these spirits still shape him.

But do you not yet know what these spirits were shaped by? You seek Brahma, yet Brahma shaped these spirits, and you are the shape of Brahma. Do you know your self? If you are such an Ativadin, you would know this Sayta. A Satya has faith, and believes. You have studied logic, and science, and know belief is nothing more than the inferred truth - for some things cannot be directly observed, or even indirectly observed. This belief is obtained by Bhakti Yoga - serve to your spiritual guide, a guide through your six directions, through Brahmacharya. Only by exceeding your teacher can you understand that you are yourself a teacher. You are yourself a spirit to others.

Understanding you are yourself a spirit, you can perform the duties of Brahma. You can take up or put down your self, or another self. You can understand your duty. Understanding your duties, you will perform them, contentedly. Can you perform your duties contentedly? Do you understand you are a spirit, and a guide, to others?

Then you will understand what is beyond the directions, beyond spirit. You are a part of this infinitude, and it empowers you.