THE MESSAGE IN THE CHANTS
ON CHANTING THE SINGLE SYLLABLE, AUM
The Chhandogya Upanishad begins with an offer to explain the meaning of the monosyllable Aum which is to be revered and chanted aloud in a rousing manner, udgitha) (1-1-1).
The discrete individuals (bhutas) of the social periphery drew their sustenance from the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi) (who were organized and settled social groups pursuing their traditional occupations).
The crops standing on the earth drew sustenance from water (apa) and water from the medicinal herbs that grew under it or beside it.
The herbs (aushadi) were cultivated and in this men with initiative and leadership traits (purushas) played a major role. These purushas or social leaders were inspired by Rgveda, which is a development of the themes of Samaveda. The Sama chants were to be sung aloud as Udgitha (1-1-2).
The Udgitha, that is, aumkara, is the quintessence of all the eight aspects mentioned in the previous aphorism and is the best of them, as the sage says.
Then he proceeds to distinguish among Rk, Saman and Udgitha. The pair, speech (vak) and breath (prana) are correlated to the pair, Rk and Saman and the syllable (aksharam, Aum) to Udgitha. The pair (mithunam) is joined together in the syllable, Aum, and hence the intents of Rgveda and Samaveda are met. Hence one who knows this relation will get his desires (kama) fulfilled if he reveres and meditates on the Udgitha, that is, on the syllable, Aum.
Aum indicates assent to the action proposed or the prayer made. Whenever one assents to anything he merely says Aum. The assent leads to the fulfillment of the desire (kama) entertained. One who knows this aspect and reveres and meditates on this syllable, Aum, gets his desires fulfilled (3 to 8).
The teacher asserts that by this syllable, Aum, one proceeds to master the three disciplines of study (vidyas) (the three Vedas, economics or Varta and science of polity or Dandaniti). Uttering this syllable one complies with the direction given. One gives the order as he utters this word.
[In other words, neither the order nor intention of obedience is said to be legally binding when this syllable is not uttered.] He utters this syllable aloud (udgitha) knowing this implication, its greatness (mahima) and its implication or essence (rasa) (1-1-9).
[It is not rational to consider chanting of this monosyllable in the prescribed manner as a mere wholesome physical exercise or as involvement in a mystic trance.]
The sage says that utterance of this syllable is obligatory for all whether they realize its implication or not while performing a duty.
This rule was applicable not only while performing religious rites but also while performing any deed like entering a contract, but only to those who were educated and had mastered the disciplines of study (vidya) (which pertained to social and cultural duties, economic transactions and political rights and obligations). Of course those who had not received formal education (avidya) might be treated differently.
One who performs a duty according to the rules prescribed in the sciences (vidya) knowing fully well its implications (that is, of this syllable) (upanishad) with devotion (sraddha) becomes more potent (virya) than others. Thus the sage explains the meaning and importance of this syllable (1-1-10).
Socio-political Importance of Aum
The sage says that during the conflict between the liberal nobles (devas) and the feudal lords (asuras) who were both subjects (praja) of the chief of the people (prajapati), the nobles (devas) took hold of the Udgitha (that is, the syllable, Aum). The nobles thought that with the aid of the rule behind this syllable they would overcome the feudal lords.
Devas and asuras were the two rival sections of the ruling elite of the core society that covered the agro-pastoral regions. It is not sound to present them as gods and demons. It is also not sound to interpret that the term, udgitha referred to Soma-sacrifices.
The sage was referring to the rule that had made the loud utterance of the syllable, Aum, indicate consent to the agreement entered into. While the nobles (devas) consented to abide by it, the feudal lords (asuras) refused to do so and hence they were debarred from all economic and political activities. (1-2-1)
But the governing elite of nobles (devas) could not succeed in establishing a social order devoid of sins. The feudal lords (asuras) were accused of having afflicted the people with foul smells, false utterances, unseemly sights, evil counsels and evil intents (1-2-2 to 6).
When the nobles adopted the Udgitha as their breath (prana) itself, the feudal lords (asuras) could not destroy it and were destroyed even as a clod of earth hitting a stone is destroyed. One who wishes evil to another will be destroyed if the latter is like a solid rock (1-2-7,8).
The sage says that the loud chanting (udgitha) of the syllable, Aum, makes one adopt a detached approach. He experiences neither sweet smell nor foul smell for he is free from sins. Whatever he may eat, good or bad, his life (prana) is safe. (9)
The sage, Angiras (one of the chief contributors to the Atharvaveda), revered the Udgitha and adhered to the implications of the syllable, Aum. He is said to be Angiras because this was the essence of the limbs (anga).
The sage implied that the activities of the organs (anga) of the state as envisaged by Angiras, a socio-political ideologue and activist (Brahmavadi, upholder of Brahma or Atharvaveda, the socio-political constitution of the Vedic era) were sanctified by the utterance of this syllable, Aum (1-2-10).
Brhaspati was a follower of Angiras. He too revered and adhered to the rules pertaining to Aum while chanting it aloud as Udgitha. He was deemed to be Brhaspati as the authoritative utterances (vak) were vast (Brhati) and he was master (pati) of them (11).
Ayasya, another follower of Angiras too revered and adhered to the implications of Aum or Udgitha. He was deemed to be Ayasya as this utterance came from his mouth. In other words he prescribed the way in which this syllable was to be pronounced (12).
Baka, the son of Dalbhya, knew the value of this syllable, Aum, which was to be chanted aloud as Udgitha. [Baka had performed a sacrifice to punish Dhrtarashtra. He must have been a junior contemporary of Krshna Dvaipayana. This Upanishad must have been composed during the decades around the great battle of Mahabharata.]
Baka became the Udgitha priest of the academy of scholars located in the Naimisha forest. He sang out for them their desires.
One who knows these aspects gets his wishes (kama) fulfilled, the sage says. These wishes pertain to the interests of one with respect to himself (atma), his essential soul and identity (adhyatma) (1-2-13, 14).
Aum and the Intellectual Aristocrat, Adhidaivatam
The sage then proceeds to outline the traits of adhidaivatam, the essential noble. He is one who (like the hot sun) is far away. One has to revere and meditate on his instructions.
The sage instructs the ruler that on rising he should pray (udgitha) aloud for his subjects (praja). He should dispel their ignorance and fear. One who realizes this implication of the loud chant becomes an intellectual aristocrat dispelling the ignorance and fear (of the commoners) (1-3-1).
The (warm) breath (in the mouth) that indicates identical views and feelings is called samana. What one utters is organized sound (svara) and what he utters, in response, is echo (pratisvara).
In other words the intellectual aristocrat who is a part of the ruling elite speaks for and reflects the views and desires of the common men.
The sage advises his students to meditate on this aspect of the Udgitha, the loud chanting of the syllable, Aum, by the commoners and the favourable response that it evokes from the nobles (1-3-2).
Vyana or diffused breath (that flows throughout the body) too should be revered and meditated on (upasita). The breath which one inhales is called prana and the one, which he exhales, is called apana. In vyana both these breaths come together (samdhi).
Vak, speech, that is all the utterances made hitherto, is correlated to vyana, diffused breath. These utterances covered by the term, Vak, have spread among all sections of the population and guided their lives. Hence vyana (diffused orientation) is not merely what is imbibed as lessons (prana) or merely what is expressed as prayers for aid (an-apana) (1-3-3).
Rgveda is the authoritative utterance (vak). When one utters its hymns he takes care that he avoids the imbibing (a-prana) of or expressing (an-apana) of any thought alien to it. So is the case with Samaveda. Saman is correlated to the Udgitha, the expression of the syllable, Aum.
Hence when one chants aloud Aum he avoids imbibing or expressing any thought repugnant to it. (1-3-4)
The teacher explains that one controls his in-breath and out-breath whenever he performs a tough job like kindling fire by friction, running a race or bending a strong bow. Therefore one should practise vyana (diffused breath) that keeps both inhaling and exhaling air (1-3-5).
The teacher advises his students to consider and meditate on the syllables of the term, Udgitha. Ut suggests the concept, breath (prana) of rising up (uttishta); gi suggests the concept, speech (vag), for utterances are called giras; tha suggests the concept, food (anna), for all (beings) are based (sthita) on food (1-3-6).
He correlates these three syllables, ut, gi and tha, with the patriciate (dyau), the frontier society (antariksham) and the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi) whose directors according to the Upanishads were Aditya, Vayu and Agni respectively.
He correlates them also with Samaveda, Yajurveda and Rgveda respectively. He correlates speech, Vak (that is, Vedas in general), with milk, which enriches food (anna).
The teacher suggests that a commoner, who needs food for survival can become culturally enriched when he follows the instructions given in the Vedas. One who knows this reveres and meditates on the implications of the loud chant, Udgitha, that is, on the syllable, Aum, that stands for the quintessence of the Vedas. (1-3-7)
The teacher then told them how to get their desires fulfilled. One should revere and stay with the procedures and places in which he had taken refuge (upasarana) for getting them fulfilled. He should pay attention to the meaning of the Samaveda hymn that he chanted and the Rgveda hymn on which it was based.
He should also note which sage (rshi) had expressed the vision contained in it and the noble (devata) to whom the prayer was addressed as a hymn of praise. He should pay attention to the metre in which he was required to chant and the form of that hymn of praise.
He had to also face while chanting it the direction (disa) where the official was supposed to have his seat, that is, the area, which that official was in charge of as a devata. Finally, one should introspect while chanting it and pay careful attention to what desire he was praying for fulfillment. (1-3-8 to 12) Then his prayer would be fulfilled quickly.
[Most of the hymns contained prayers for fulfillment of material needs. Very few Vedic hymns were devoted to exclusively high spiritual goals.] The teacher directs that when one chanted the hymns he should meditate on the Udgitha as the syllable, Aum. Then he explains the reason for this direction.
When the nobles (devas) were afraid that they would slide to the level of the common people who were insentient (mrtyu), they sought protection in the three disciplines of study (three vidyas that comprised humanities, economics and polity, three Vedas, Varta and Dandaniti).
They covered their knowledge in the metres, chandas. Because they covered themselves with these, these metres were called chandas. The commoners (mrtyu) saw them in the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama.
The educated nobles found that they were unable to keep their knowledge secret. To prevent the commoners from finding out the contents of the three Vedas, the educated elite resorted to conceal these contents in musical notes, svara, of the chandas (1-4-1,2,3).
The teacher was explaining why the sages and the nobles to whom they prayed for fulfillment of their desires resorted to poetry rather than prosaic formulas to express the contents of these prayers. When one learns the Rgveda or the Samaveda or the Yajurveda, he pronounces the musical note (svara), Aum. This syllable when pronounced in its note reverberates forever (amrtam) and removes all fears (abhayam).
Because the nobles (devas) adopted the orientation behind this syllable they have attained a permanent position (as cultural aristocrats) and need fear none. One who knows the meaning of this syllable and lauds it and comes under its (cultural) jurisdiction attains permanent status as aristocrats and become fearless even as the nobles (devas) did (1-4-4,5).
Aristocracy as described by this sage was not a closed elite. Its ranks were open to all who recognized that the syllable, Aum, was the quintessence of all the (three) Vedas.
Aditya, Adhidaivatam, Adhyatma
The loud chant, Udgitha, is known as pranava, the syllable, Aum. The sage correlates this sound, pranava, which reverberates in the cerebrum, pranu, with the role of Aditya who is visualized as continually singing (svara) Aum (1-5-1). He cites the advice, which Kaushitaki gave his only son whom he had named Aditya.
[In other words he desired that his son should be trained to become Aditya. Aditya was the designation of the general who headed the Kshatriya army-cum-administrators.]
He asked his son to reflect on the rays of Aditya so that he might beget several sons, who would have the essential traits of an aristocrat like Aditya (adhidaivatam) (1-5-2).
[The school of Kushitaka must have introduced the concept of born aristocrats. The fathers of most aristocrats were not themselves aristocrats. They were admirers of aristocrats like Aditya (Surya).]
With reference to the adhyatma, the essential individual who is not a member of social bodies and does not belong to any social rank, the sage says that the breath (prana) in his mouth is likened to Udgitha, the loud chant. For, he is continually tuning that loud chant (Udgitha) (1-5-3).
Kaushitaki sang paeans to that essential individual and called upon his only son to emulate that individual who (always) uttered the loud chant, Udgitha, Aum, to indicate that his life was oriented to the concepts that syllable stood for.
Kaushitaki told his son that he should identify himself with the beings (pranas) who belonged to the masses (bhumana) of the larger society, and thereby he would have many (whom he would treat as his) sons (prajas) (1-5-4).
Earlier he had asked his son to identify himself with the orientations that the nobles (devas and devatas) upheld. The sage expected the hotr priest who was conducting the sacrifice to correct the errors in the pronouncing and chanting of Aum, the Udgitha (1-5-5).
The teacher correlates the three social worlds, the agro-pastoral commonalty (prthvi), the frontier society of moors and mountains (antariksham) and the patriciate (dyau) with the Rk hymns and their representatives, Agni, Vayu and Aditya with the Sama chants.
[It is unsound to translate the three terms, prthvi, antariksham and dyau, as earth, atmosphere and heaven. All the three social worlds had only human beings as their members. It may be noted the Atharvan social polity witnessed the three lokas being represented by Agni, Soma and Indra respectively.]
He holds that the social world concerned gave (sa) its representative the needed impetus (ama). [The intellectuals and others who were not members of the administration or of the army or the working class were referred to as na-kshatras.] They were guided by Chandra. Nakshatras and Chandra (stars and moon, in common parlance) are correlated to Rk and Saman respectively (1-6-1 to 4).
The sage compares the bright white colour of the personage designated as Aditya to the Rk and the ultra-violet colour of his robes to the Saman. He says that Rk and Saman depend on each other. In other words there is no contradiction in their themes. He describes the white colour as saa and the ultra-violet as ama.
The sage asks his student to observe the golden (hiranmaya) personage (purusha) who had taken over as Aditya. The beard and hair and even nails of this personage are golden (suvarna) in colour. His eyes are red in colour like a lotus. (This lotus redness indicates gentleness and not ferocity.) He is called ut because he has risen above all sins (papa).
One who understands the meaning of this allegory rises above all evils. Rk and Saman are paeans addressed to this personage (purusha) who occupies the post of Aditya in the social polity. As they elevate the singer, they are called Udgitha. The priest who chants is called Udgatha. That golden personage is the charismatic chief (isa) of the social cadres (lokas) that are superior to the social world of nobles (devas).
[These social worlds have been described as maharloka, janaloka, tapaloka and satyaloka.] Even these nobles (devas) desire to attain his status. Thus the sage describes the meaning of the term, adhidaivatam, the essential aristocrat. [The interpretation that this section deals with the divinities is unsound.] (1-6-5 to 8)
The sage then proceeds to describe the meaning of the term, the essential individual adhyatma. [It is unsound to interpret that this term refers to the body.] He correlates speech (vak), the utterances included in the Vedas, with Rgveda (Rk) and breath (prana) with Samaveda (Sama). He adds that the term sama is made of sa and ama, vak and prana.
Then he correlates Rgveda (Rk) and Samaveda (Sama) with the observer (chakshu) and the individual (atma) (who is informed of what that observer has observed). He treats the eye (chakshu, observer) and the individual (atma who is informed of what has been observed) as both constituting sama, the chants of Samaveda.
[The remark that atma implies the shadow-self or the image thrown upon the eye is irrelevant.]
Similarly what the reporters (srotra) have conveyed to the thinker (manas) and the thinking of the latter do both constitute the theme of Samaveda (sa and ama). As in the case of the discussion on adhidaivatam, here too the sage correlates the white light of the eye to Rk and the ultra-violet light to the Saman and holds that the two are interdependent (1-7-1 to 4).
The personage (purusha) who is seen within the eye, that is, who holds the position of the chief of the institution of observers, is honoured as the upholder of the Rg, Sama and Yajur Vedas. He is the object of all laudatory recitations (uktha) and the intellectual-cum-jurist (Brahma) who is appealed to. It is imprecise to translate the term, Brahma, as prayer. It is a reference to the Atharvaveda or Brahma, which presented the socio-political constitution of Ancient India.
The structure of the social order, which this essential individual (adhyatma) (who favours a holistic approach), envisages is similar to the one envisaged by the essential aristocrat (adhidaivata). The hymns praise both and the names of persons addressed are the same (1-7-5).
In the case of the concept, adhidaivata or the essential aristocrat, Aditya had jurisdiction over the social worlds (lokas) (mahar, jana, tapa, satya) that were superior to the patriciate (dyau).
But in the case of adhyatma or the essential individual who is not a member of any social body, the personage who is within the eye (that is, who controls the institution of observers from within it) has jurisdiction over the social worlds or cadres, which are lower than the commonalty (manushyas, bhu, prthvi).
The commoners (manushyas) [who work within the rules and traditions of their respective social groups] desire to be free from the restrictions imposed by them. They sing paeans to this personage (purusha) on their veena (a musical instrument). This helps them to win the wealth (of knowledge) that they seek (6).
It may be noted that modern scholars who have followed the interpretations given by the medieval commentators have failed to grasp the significance of this vast social spectrum that is covered by the two concepts, adhidaivatam and adhyatma. Those who have resorted to mysticism read in these two terms the concepts, paramatma and jivatma.
The teacher says that a scholar who knows the implications of the two terms, adhidaivatam and adhyatma, sings in his Sama chants paeans to both personages. Through the former he reaches the levels of those who are superior to the cadre of nobles.
[The translation of this passage as: Through the former (person in the sun) he obtains the worlds which are beyond that (the sun) as also the desires (kama) of the gods (devas), fails to bring out the above note,]
Through the latter he sinks to the level of those commoners (manushyas) who are free from all social bonds (and who are wrongly perceived as poor wandering minstrels with no wealth.) [The translation, And through this person in the eye he obtains the worlds (lokas) which are under the latter and also the desires of men is not to the mark.]
The levels of the frontier society (antariksham) of forests and mountains and the agrarian commonalty (prthvi) are below that of the nobility (devas). (1-1-7,8) Hence the priest who chants aloud the Udgitha, that is, the syllable, Aum, should ask the person for whom he officiates as a priest at the sacrifice what desire of his he expected the priest to win for him.
Did that person desire to be a free person with no social bonds and with no economic interests and with no wealth except inner peace? Or did he desire to be away from the jurisdiction of the social worlds (mahar, jana, tapas and satya, legislature, representatives of the people, academy of thinkers and the judiciary), being above them as an intellectual-cum-jurist (Brahma)?
He can be helped by the Udgatha priest to get his desire fulfilled through the chanting of the Saman. (1-7-9)