UDDALAKA INSTRUCTS SVETAKETU
ON SOCIAL CLASSIFICATION OF THE VEDIC TIMES
Svetaketu conceited, needed re-orientation
Svetaketu was a student (and son) of Uddalaka who himself was a student of Aruna. Uddalaka belonged to the Gautama (paternal) ancestry (gotra). He told his son, Svetaketu that in their family (kula, clan) there was none who was uneducated, who was a Brahman only by birth and asked him to undergo formal schooling (brahmacharya).
Svetaketu became a pupil (that is, went to his teachers abode) at the age of twelve and returned home at the age of twenty-four, having studied all the (four) Vedas, greatly conceited that he was well read and arrogant.
Uddalaka pointing out his son's conceit and arrogance asked him whether he had asked to be instructed on how what could not be heard (that is, what was not part of the Srutis, the recorded hymns of the Vedas) could be heard.
The father asked Svetaketu to learn how to form new concepts (matam) on what had not been crystallized opinions (amatam) and how to gain new knowledge through extrapolation (vijnana) on matters not already so known through extrapolation (avijnana).
Svetaketu wondered whether there could be such instruction (adesa) (given at the end of formal education) to learn more (through self-study, exploration and research). (6-1-1,2,3)
[The remark, All learning is useless unless one knows the truth with regard to the Self is irrelevant here.]
Uddalaka, his teacher and father, told Svetaketu that he could gain the necessary further higher education about traits and features by testing them against what he had been taught to be the norm.
A clod of clay or a thread of yarn may be tested to know (assess) the calibre of all that is made of clay or of yarn. The departure from the norm (vikara) is indicated in the description (vacha) of, that is, in the name given to, that article (made of clay or thread). [Uddalaka, as a Gautama, must have been a senior artisan.] For assessing the quality of the gold or silver article one needs to assess the quality of only one piece made of that metal (loha-mani).
The truth is that the article is made of gold (or silver) whatever the name given to it. Similarly when the sharpness of a nail cutter is assessed, one assesses the quality of all the articles made of that black metal, irrespective of what name has been given to an article (6-1-4,5,6).
This section does not indicate that Uddalaka asked Svetaketu whether the latter had learnt about Self or 'Brahma' while in school.
Svetaketu told his father that his teachers in the school where he had his formal education must not have known how to assess the traits of a class by assessing the traits of one member or unit of that class.
If they had known how to make such assessment, they would have certainly taught him that. Svetaketu did not accuse them of having kept back this knowledge from him. Uddalaka agreed. (6-1-7)
Mutations and variations
Uddalaka then proceeded to dwell on the issue of when and how mutations took place. One view was that in the beginning there were no variations and the essential nature (sat) of all (human) beings was the same.
Another view was that there was in the beginning no such common essential nature (asat) and that every trait had its counterpart (dvitiyam) and that the real common feature (sat) was born of this non-conformity (asat) (6-2-1).
Diversities and abiding common features
Uddalaka could not accept the latter thesis that diversity of matter and traits preceded emergence of abiding common features and that what are called common features are the result of process of synthesis and that it was natural for men to remain aloof from one another.
He favoured the thesis that what was originally present was one alone and that the process of mutation that resulted in diversity was a later development. These theses had immense sociological significance, which has not been taken into account adequately by medieval commentators.
[Commentators draw attention to the four kinds of non-existence (abhava) dealt with by Indian logic, absolute non-existence (atyanta abhava), prior non-existence (prag abhava), posterior non-existence (pradhvamsa-abhava) and mutual exclusiveness (anyonya-abhava). Uddalaka was not concerned with this analysis.]
Can real (sat) emerge from unreal (asat)
Svetaketu was eager to know more about the two contradictory stands. He wanted to get cleared his doubt on how what is real or present (sat) could emerge from what is not real and is absent asat. Uddalaka pointed out that he was not right in assuming that there was nothing in the beginning.
In the beginning there was one only (ekam eva) and it had no counterpart or second (advitiyam) (6-2-2). It had hence to be explained how the non-stratified and classless mass society that was earlier in existence developed into a society full of diversities.
It may be noted that Uddalaka, a Gautama, was dealing with issues pertaining to the roles of social cadres and not with the issues pertaining to soul and body, human soul and divine soul or matter and mind as the philosophers of the medieval times did.
Emergence of new cadres
That early society (that is, the leaders of that society) desired to become manifold by having many groups under its jurisdiction as subjects (prajaya). For this purpose it formed (srjata) a cadre of brilliant (tejas) persons. This cadre brought into existence many such cadres. This led to the formation of a population dependent on water (apa).
Uddalaka explained that whenever a social leader (purusha) felt grief (at the sufferings of others or at his failure to secure his ends) or perspired (having had to labour hard in his mission) his sweat, it was said, was produced by his tejas, brilliance (6-2-3).
Prajas and population dependent on water
The population dependent on water (apa) wanted to grow by bringing many groups under its jurisdiction as prajas. It ensured that they were all supplied food (anna), the minimum need of all men.
Wherever it rained, there was abundant food. It was a stage when irrigation facilities were not yet available. The people had not yet got divided into agriculturists and others.
But it was recognized that food and other requirements (annadhyam) of the population could be met only if water-sources were tapped. Economic development could take place only after irrigation facilities were arranged (4).
Purusha and Three early types of living beings (bhutas)
Uddalaka classifies living beings of the earliest times (bhutas) on the basis of the three sources, evolving from egg, from living being and from sprout (6-3-1).
He asked Svetaketu to visualize the social leader (purusha) as a thinker-cum-activist of the social periphery who desired to enter the thoughts of the three chiefs (devatas) directing the lives of the members of these three classes.
That leader (purusha) who was almost on par with the nobles, as a devata, personally and physically (jivenaatmena) contacted those three chiefs for giving designations and shapes to the groups that had emerged as a result of mutation of the beings of that periphery.
[Man emerged from physical nature even as animals and birds and plants did through a not yet deciphered process of mutation. What occurred after that is social classification through a process of mutation with respect to human nature and desires.]
Each of the three classes of living beings, fauna, human beings and flora could be divided into three classes. The three chiefs were then advised to categorize the sector under their respective charge to do so and give its units, specific names and forms. (2,3)
The translation, That divinity thought, Well, let me enter into these three divinities by means of this living self and let me then develop names and forms does not convey the import of this statement.
Emergence of nine classes
The three classes of each of these three sectors had each its chief (devata). Uddalaka offered to explain to Svetaketu the emergence of the nine classes (6-3-4).
[The interpretation that the term, devata, means, Being, though it means literally divinity and that the three devatas are fire, earth and water is not followed here.] The teacher was exhibiting to Svetaketu, a chart with nine sections, three of which showed fauna, three human beings and three the flora.
The top stratum of each of these classes was coloured red, the middle stratum white and the bottom stratum black. These represented the three innate traits (guna, svabhava), rajas, sattva and tamas, dynamism, gentleness and inertness. But Uddalaka would interpret these in a different manner.
Uddalaka's criteria for the three groups, red, white, black
Whatever red (rohita) form Agni has, is the form of heat (tejas).
In other words, the aggressive and dynamic persons (rajas, red) functioning under the directions of Agni, the civil judge and head of the council of intellectuals are highly influential intellectuals (tejas).
The calm and serene (sattva, shukla, white) people functioning under his guidance are intellectuals who like water (apa) are constantly on the move and are pure and gentle.
The inert (tamas, dark) people who are attached (agad, not moving) to the moist earth (which receives rain and water for cultivation) are producers of food (anna) and are under the jurisdiction of Agni, the spokesman of the commonalty. Social Code based on Truth (Satya) recognized three classes:
Rajanyas (tejas, aggressive),Vipras (apa, fluid mobile), Vis (agad, immobile)
Uddalaka does not use here the term, prthvi. The authority that Agni had as the head of all the three classes, warriors, intellectuals and agriculturists, he delegated to the heads of the three classes. [The translation, Thus vanishes the quality of fire from fire is imperfect.]
Whatever dysfunctional mutation (vikara) has been talked about (vaca) is only change of form and designation. The social code based on satyam recognized all the three heads as having the authority of a civil judge, Agni, over the respective class that they supervised.
All the three, Rajanyas (tejas), Vipras (apa) and Vis (agad) belonged to the commonalty (6-4-1).
Like Agni who represented the commonalty (prthvi), Aditya and Chandra who represented the nobility (divam) and the frontier society of the forests and mountains (antariksham) had control over the three different strata (rajas, sattva and tamas, tejas, apa and anna) under their respective jurisdictions. They had delegated their authority to the three heads of these strata.
The teacher does not pay much attention to the designations given to them and their forms. He stresses the basic feature of the roles, which these heads performed. There was something common among these variations (6-4-2,3)
Three sectors of the Enlightened intelligentsia, Vidyut
Apart from the three social worlds (prthvi, divam and antariksham, agro-pastoral commonalty, patriciate and the frontier society), which were headed by Agni, Aditya and Chandra, each having three strata, dynamic governors (Rajanyas), sober intellectuals (Vipras) and generally inert and settled communities (Vis), there was an enlightened intelligentsia whose head was designated as Vidyut.
This intelligentsia too had three strata, dynamic (red, rajas), sober (white, sattva) and mundane (dark, tamas). All the three strata of this enlightened intelligentsia had its own chief who had been delegated powers by Vidyut (6-4-4).
[The remark that all things are ultimately modifications of pure being is unwarranted introduction of metaphysics resorted to on failure to solve the allegory. The remark that the primordial being becomes three deities, fire, water and earth, is irrelevant.]
This analysis was what the rich householders (mahasala) and the senior Vedic scholars (mahasrotriya) knew when they said that no one would tell them anything that they had not already heard.
No new concept (matam) and no new finding through extrapolation (vijnana) were possible, they (that is, Prachinasala and others whom Uddalaka took to Asvapati) had claimed. For, from this trilateral analysis, they had known the traits of all (6-4-5).
They knew that whoever appeared to be dynamic (rohita, red) was influential and brilliant (tejas), whoever appeared to be sober and moving (apa) was intellectual (sukla, white, pure) and whoever was inert and ignorant (krshna, dark) belonged to the commonalty engaged in production of food (anna) (6-4-6).
Devatas not brought under trilateral analysis
The scholars of the earlier times were aware that the activities and nature of some groups did not come under the above trilateral analysis and could not be assessed through methods of extrapolation (by knowing about the unknown from what is known, vijnana).
The roles of some chiefs (devatas) appeared to be a combination of different roles (samasa). Uddalaka offered to explain to Svetaketu how the three chiefs or aristocratic leaders (devata purusha), Agni, Aditya and Chandra (Soma) secured three associates each. (6-4-7)
[It is imprecise to state, Learn from me how each of these three divinities when they reach the human, becomes threefold.]
Uddalaka was developing the already known system of three classes, rajas, satva and tamas into nine sectors by introducing the concept of three social worlds, commonalty, nobility and frontier society and tracing three strata based on innate traits of each of them. This was an important contribution to social analysis.
Uddalaka then applies a similar analysis with respect to the intelligentsia, which is not attached to the soil and is on the move like the water (apa) in a river. Among their ranks too there are some who have to be left out, even as a man discharges urine.
The middle ranks of the intelligentsia are compared to the red blood that flows through the vessels. The subtlest part of the intelligentsia is correlated with the in-breath (prana) but for which the blood would not be flowing through the body. The best of the intelligentsia keep the society dynamic. (6-5-1,2)
The training necessary to attain brilliance and influence (tejas) too may be of three types. The coarsest one may be compared to the ashes that is, the burnt up bone (of the sacrificed animal) and the medium one to its marrow, essential matter and the subtlest one to the tongue (of the flame), which is necessary for speaking (vak). (6-5-3)
Uddalaka was using a burning torch to drive home the picture of the three types of trainees for a place in the intelligentsia, the lowest and useless (ash), the medium and majority (majja) and the best of the counsellors (vak).
Uddalaka summarized his counsel and the intent of the above allegory
The thinkers (manas) are as essential for the society as food (anna) is for all its members. The intellectuals on the move (apa) are correlated to the in-breath (prana) but for which one would be deemed to be dead. The counsellors (vak) are correlated to the torch that gives heat and light (tejas). Svetaketu requested his father and teacher to enlighten him further and Uddalaka agreed to do so (6-5-4).
[Such comments as that one improves the power of speaking by taking oil, butter etc., are totally irrelevant and demeaning the content of the counsel contained in this allegory. The remark, Everything is threefold and so all the three elements exist in everything is not enough to bring out the import of this analysis.]
When curd is churned, the subtle part moves upwards and becomes butter. Similarly when all members of the society are enabled to obtain food (anna) and survive, the best of them become thinkers (manas). Among the intellectuals who are on the move like fluids (apa) drunk, the ones who are subtle rise high. [The heavier fluid stays down and the lighter ones rise above them.]
Of the brilliance (tejas) that is absorbed, the more brilliant is visible. The best of the brilliant and influential persons are fit to be counsellors. Thus Uddalaka correlated mind (manas), breath (prana) and speech (vak) with food (anna), water (apa) and radiant light (tejas). In short, the best in the society become thinkers (mind), intellectuals (breath) and counsellors (speech). Svetaketu requested Uddalaka to instruct him further on this theme of social ascent of the intellectual and Uddalaka agreed to teach him (6-6-1to4).
[The comment, It might be that the subtlest parts of water and fire became prana and speech; but Svetaketu could not quite understand how the mind consisted of food alone indicates the inability of the commentators to grasp the significance of the trilateral social analysis.]
Sixteen parts of Purusha, social leader
Uddalaka said that (the sketch of) the traits of the social leader (purusha) might be divided into sixteen parts, each signifying a day.
[The translation, 'A person consists of sixteen parts' is imprecise.]
Svetaketu was told that he might fast for fifteen days but might drink water whenever he wanted and he would yet survive. In-breath (prana) which is a fluid like water would not be cut off from one who thus drinks water though he does not eat anything, Uddalaka assured.
Svetaketu did so and returned to the teacher and asked him what the former should utter. Uddalaka asked him to recite the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama. But Svetaketu could not recall them (6-7-1,2).
Uddalaka pointed out that when a big fire is lit, finally only a single small piece of coal might be left and it might not burn much thereafter. So too of the sixteen parts, fifteen had waned for want of food and only one that received water was left. It was not adequate to apprehend the Vedas. Water was compared to in-breath.
Though one might survive as a prani, a being that is at the subsistence level, he might not be able to lead a life of even an ordinary thinker (manas) unless he constantly eats (thinks). Uddalaka asked him to break his fast and then he would be able to recall what he had learnt earlier and kept in mind.
Food is necessary for making a man a being who uses the mind to learn and recall what is learnt. Svetaketu broke his fast and then he was able to recall whatever he had learnt and answer the teacher's questions (6-7-3,4).
Uddalaka pointed out to Svetaketu how if a single piece of coal is induced to burn the entire fire could begin to blaze.
Even if only one of the sixteen parts (traits or talents of the purusha) was fed all the parts could be activated (prajvala), made to shine. With that activated body Svetaketu would be able to experience the value of the knowledge, which he had obtained through the Vedas.
Svetaketu was unable to recall these lessons because he had been on fast for fifteen days and become weak though water had kept him alive.
Hence it was that Uddalaka correlated the mind (manas) with food (anna), water (apa) with in-breath or life (prana) and intellectual brilliance (tejas) with the spoken literature (vak, Vedas). Then Svetaketu understood what his father and teacher told him (5,6)
Uddalaka then asked his son, Svetaketu, to learn from him what the meaning of the expression, end of sleep (dream, as often interpreted imprecisely) was. [Some have interpreted the expression svapna-antam as central portion of the dream vision.]
When in this world, a social leader (purusha) who is expected to be aware of his personal talents, sleeps, (as it is termed), he has become endowed with (sampanna) his true (sat) traits. He has reached the status that is his own (that is, he has become a noble, sva, one not subordinate to any other person).
Therefore in common parlance it is said when one sleeps, that he has gone to his own. [It is not sound to introduce the concept of dreamless sleep. It is not necessary to fall back on the concepts of jiva and buddhi, life and intellect to explain the theme of this verse.]
The social leader (purusha) is at a stage between ordinary men who are not aware of their talents and are therefore inert and nobles who refrain from mingling among men and playing the roles of ordinary persons. (6-8-1)
Just as a bird tied by a string to a particular place settles down there after futile attempts to find a resting-place elsewhere, the intellectual (mind, manas) after wandering in various directions without settling anywhere in those regions settles down as an ordinary living person (prana) in this world. For the mind is bound to earth, that is, the thinker too is but an ordinary human being and his first desire is to live (6-8-2).
The interpretation that the mind, or the individual soul finds refuge in the Prana, that is, in Brahma, is untenable. Uddalaka then offered to explain to Svetaketu what hunger and thirst were.
[The interpretation, Having shown that Brahman is the ultimate source of the jiva, the father demonstrates the same thing through a series of causes and effects beginning with food, is irrational.]
When a social leader, purusha, is hungry that is, when he is not an intellectual himself, water (apa), that is, the intellectuals who are constantly on the move, lead him to the status of a person who is aware of the talents he has imbibed till then.
Just as a purusha is referred to as a leader of cows or as a leader of horses or as a leader of men, water (apa, the roving intellectual) too is referred to as a leader or conveyor of food (to people not engaged in agricultural production).
Uddalaka asked Svetaketu to recognize that this class of roving intellectuals had emerged from the commonalty. For there can be no plant that has no roots. (6-8-3)
Svetaketu wanted to know whether there could be any root other than food, that is, whether the class of intellectuals, settled in the villages or roving, could flourish on any nourishment other than what they got from food (anna). Uddalaka agreed that food was needed for survival and development.
But Svetaketu had to consider water (apa), that is, the knowledge provided by the roving intellectuals, and the influence exerted by the brilliant guides (tejas) too as requisites for the development of the individual as well as that of the society.
Without water, the crops cannot grow. Without the influence exerted by the bright sun, the clouds are not formed and it does not rain.
Polity based on reality (sat)
All the peoples of this larger society who become subjects (prajas) of the ruler have their base in reality (sat) and are established (pratishtha) on this base of truth (sat), in this code based on truth. The reality is that food (anna) is the basic need of all irrespective of the social sector or stratum to which he belongs. (6-8-4)
[The comment, All the movable and immovable creatures have their root in Being, during their continuance they reside in Being, and in the end they dissolve into Being, is unwarranted mystification.]
Uddalaka was describing a social polity functioning under the codes based on satya, truth that was verifiable by empirical methods. When a social leader (purusha) is described as one who is thirsty, it implies that his brilliance (tejas, heat) has absorbed whatever he has drunk. This leader may be leading a herd of cattle or horses or men.
When his desire for gaining control over a certain group is fulfilled he develops desire for control over more groups. Similarly innate brilliance and ability to guide (tejas) others makes one lead (in the desirable upward direction) the intellectuals who are steady and are on the move. A common saying about heat leading the water or vaporizing it is recalled in this context.
This class of intellectuals interested in propagating higher and nobler thoughts has sprung up from the stratum of commoners. It cannot sustain itself unless it is rooted in that social stratum which is this worldly. [Thus Uddalaka advises Svetaketu not to underestimate the importance of the commonalty.] (6-8-5)
The search for the root of every offshoot is not to be given up. That is, the student should try to find out the course of social evolution by delving deep to identify from which lower social stratum a higher one emerges. Water, heat and reality (apa, tejas and sat) are thus the upward movement.
The intellectuals on the move (like water) have emerged from the commonalty that is dependent on mundane needs like food.
These intellectuals get inspiration from the brilliant guides (tejas) who belong to the intellectual aristocracy and seek to get them established there.
The members of this intellectual elite desire to rise further in the social ladder and get established (pratishtha) amongst those who abide by the laws based on eternal truth (sat).
[We avoid translating the term sat as Being, a concept that denotes indirectly God or Brahma or Paramatma.]
Uddalaka then refers to the issue that Svetaketu wanted to be addressed. Uddalaka had already explained how the three social leaders (purusha) who had the status of devatas, a status next only to that of nobles, devas, met the expectations of the three levels of the intelligent, worldly (anna), mobile (apa) and brilliant (tejas).
When a social leader (purusha) of the commonalty leaves this field he joins the company of those Vedic scholars (vak) who are thinkers (manas). These thinkers seek to inhale or absorb (prana) whatever concepts they had learnt or arrived at and form their personalities accordingly. As a result they join the ranks of the brilliant guides (tejas). (6-8-6)
From the ranks of the intellectual elite they rise to join the ranks of the higher cultural aristocracy (devatas). [The last is only marginally lower than devas who are ideal aristocrats in charge of governance and are exempt from the laws that bind others.]
[The transliteration, When a person departs from hence, his speech merges in his mind, his mind on his breath, his breath in heat, and heat in the highest divinity is too literal. It indicates that the commentator was not able to comprehend this theme of the rise of the intellectual and his final goal.]
UDDALAKA ENCOURAGES SVETAKETU
Tat Tvam Asi That Art Thou
All the things (animate as well as inanimate) in this cosmos (idam) have their individuality, atma (self or soul, in common parlance), in the minute atom (anima) (of which all things are made). That is the eternal truth (satyam). Uddalaka holds that this soul (atma) is what is true. He does not try to drive a wedge between matter and soul.
Uddalaka asked Svetaketu to realize that he was that. Tat tvam asi, That art thou.
[This famous text is said to emphasize that: the human soul, jivatma, is identical with the great divine soul, paramatma or God. The comment that this maxim applies to the inward person, anta-purusha, and not to the empirical soul with its name and family descent, is unacceptable.]
Svetaketu requested his father and teacher, Uddalaka (son of Aruna), to instruct him further on this theme.
Uddalaka while trying to encourage Svetaketu to rise to the highest level an intellectual is capable of reaching, stressed that his son had the potential to do so. (6-8-7)
Attention to this aspect is necessary. Uddalaka was not trying to make him only look inwards for knowing what the eternal (sat) was.
Uddalaka noted his son's hesitation. That highest stratum for which Uddalaka was preparing his son in accordance with the codes based on strict adherence to satya (truth) required that the aspirants had all to contribute all their personal talents to the collective capability of that stratum.
In this connection, he draws attention to how the bees collect juices from different trees and prepare honey out of them. The juices collected from the pollens of individual trees can no longer be identified separately after the compound of honey is prepared.
It is not a mixture where the contributory items can be all identified and even isolated. (9-1) The common will of all the members of a given stratum is formed from their individual wills but after they are merged into a single common will they cannot be withdrawn (without annihilating that common will and the stratum concerned).
The subjects (praja) on this plane (sampada) are unaware that they can no longer get separated from the stratum that they have reached in accordance with the code based on satya (truth). (9-2)
[The laws based on dharma had not yet come into force. And the laws based on rta that stressed the right of every individual to pursue his own interests and guard his identity had been replaced by the laws based on satya of which the above was one.]
[The translation, All these creatures though they reach Being do not know that they have reached the Being, only indicates that the editor had failed to grasp the import of the dialogue between Uddalaka and Svetaketu.]
Uddalaka discounts the possibility of development through mutation. A tiger or lion or wolf or boar or fly or gnat or mosquito can produce only that species. So too only if one has the requisite talents he can become a member of the stratum concerned (and which he aspires to enter).(9-3)
[The interpretation, As they reach Pure Being without being conscious of it they return to their special forms, is irrelevant and unacceptable.]
All the persons in this social world or stratum have (imbibed) this subtle essence, the common will and talent formed from the individual wills and talents contributed to it. It has formed the deep personality of that individual (atma) who has joined that cadre after becoming fit for it.
This is a law based on satya, truth.
Therefore, Svetaketu who was being introduced to that high cadre of administrators of justice based on the code of truth is told that he has become a member of it and that he has no longer a separate identity. That art thou, Tat tvam asi. (6-9-4)
Svetaketu sought to learn further on his conduct as a member of that high cadre and Uddalaka agreed to teach him how to be so.
[The translation of this passage as: That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for itself. That is the true. That is the self. That art thou, Svetaketu fails to bring out this note. The commentator has avoided explaining the significance of what one was expected to identify in oneself.]
The eastern rivers go towards the east and the western towards the west and join the respective seas. Then the two seas merge into one sea. The rivers lose their separate identities and so too the seas.
The waters in the sea do not know from which source they have come. Similarly all these subjects (prajas) have come from Sat, (the eternal and essential reality), that is, have their rights and duties determined by the laws based on truth.
To whichever social sector they might have belonged before becoming a part of the larger integrated social polity formed in accordance with the laws based on truth, satya, they are no longer able to recognize their original social and cultural (ethnic) traits.
Uddalaka was dealing with the traits of the new strata that had been formed by integration of the different social worlds and social universes and those groups and individuals who did not belong to any of these. They are absorbed in the integrated social stratum based on natural traits even as their original stratum was.
Integration had not altered the qualifications needed for membership of a stratum or the status of the individuals. (6-10-1,2)
All the members of the entire social stratum have the same traits even as all the atoms (of a metal) have the same qualities. This is the law based on satya.
The individual (atma) members of a given stratum have all the same talents, rights and duties, according to this code. Uddalaka tells Svetaketu that this is the implication of the maxim, That art thou, Tat tvam asi. It asks him to conduct himself unquestioningly as a member of the stratum to which he has been admitted and not conduct himself as one different from it. (6-10-3)
[The translation, That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its self; that is the true; that is the self; that art thou, does not convey the counsel given by Uddalaka.]
Svetaketu wanted that he should be instructed even further on this issue and Uddalaka agreed to teach him further.
[The comment, Ignorant persons, despite their being united with Pure Being in deep sleep, do not know Pure Being on account of their ignorance is not relevant to the theme and purport of this dialogue. It is not sound to state that Svetaketu entertained doubt on why should not living beings lose their individuality and be destroyed at death or during sleep or at the time of cosmic dissolution when they merge in Pure Being.]
If a mighty tree is struck (with an axe) whether at the root or at the middle or at the top it might bleed but it would continue to live. Uddalaka draws attention to the resilience of a great society (or state). But if the life leaves one branch or twig, its leaf dries up. One after another all the leaves dry up, with the branches one after another are cut off. Even so is it with the human society.
When the social sectors are one after another cut off (from the tree) and lose their nourishment from the earth, the individual members of these sectors or strata, can no longer survive. If the life (jiva) departs (apeta), the body is said to have become insentient (mriya). But jiva (life) does not die.
The entire society (sarvam) has for it an identifiable individuality (atma) in the atom (anima). This is the principle, behind the laws based on satya. The larger integrated society with several strata and sectors has its own soul (atma) that enables it to have an identity and resilience. Uddalaka implies that if this spirit or soul is affected the society itself will wither away.
He was instructing Svetaketu on the awareness that the latter should develop as he was entering the intellectual aristocracy that would guard the society though its sectors and individual members might lose their rhythm and fall down as withered leaves. Svetaketu had to realize that he had the potential to become a member of that intellectual aristocracy, Tat tvam asi. (6-11-1,2,3)
He asked to be instructed further and Uddalaka agreed to teach him further.
Svetaketu agreed that if the root withered the tree would wither, that is, if the essential traits of the lowest strata that give the larger society its resilience are sapped, the society would collapse however large it may be. But was it not a fact that a banyan tree that had several roots survived though its main root withered away and that these roots took over the functions of that main root?
Uddalaka sensed the merit in that question. He asked Svetaketu to bring a fruit of that nyagrodha tree. He asked the latter to break it and see what was inside it. Svetaketu saw its extremely fine seeds. (These stood for the subtle intellectuals, the best whom a society may produce.) But when such a fine seed was broken he could not see anything inside it. (6-12-1)
Uddalaka pointed out that there was in it a minute atom (anima) that was imperceptible and that from it the great tree had risen and come into existence. He asked Svetaketu to listen to his argument with attention and devotion.
He implied that a society produces some brilliant intellectuals who give the mass society at the bottom the orientation and power of resilience and rejuvenation as a result of which new roots spring up and new pillars come up linking the lowest ranks with the highest.
Svetaketu had to note this feature behind rejuvenation of culture and civilization of a large integrated society even after a spell of crippling decadence and ruin. (6-12-2).
[The comment that the cosmic process with its names and forms arises from the subtle essence of Pure Being is irrelevant here.]
This entire society has as its soul (atma) an invisible minute atom, the spirit that is indestructible and self-regenerating. This was the principle behind the Vedic social codes that were based on satya.
Uddalaka expected Svetaketu to conduct himself as a rejuvenating force and inspiring intellectual when the society faces a major threat to its continued existence.
That intellect and spirit expected of an ideal intellectual Svetaketu had. That art thou, Tat tvam asi. Uddalaka encouraged him. (6-12-3)
Svetaketu sought still further instruction and Uddalaka agreed to impart him the needed knowledge.
[The commentator fails to bring out this confidence-inspiring message when he repeats the prosaic transliteration, That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its self. That is the true. That is the self. That art thou, Svetaketu.]
When salt is put in water and allowed to dissolve, it cannot be retrieved. The saline water tastes salt whether it is at one of the two ends of the barrel or in the middle. Svetaketu was asked to throw it away and return for receiving lessons. The lesson that he had learnt was that saline water always and everywhere tastes salt but the salt is not visible.
Uddalaka pointed out to him that though the latter could not identify the salt separate from the water in which it was dissolved, it was present throughout the water.
He implied that the essential trait of a social sector or of the society as a whole is present in all its members whether they are at its bottom level or the highest level or in the middle level and in the same proportion. It may not be taken away and may not be obvious but it is present uniformly. This was the stand of the laws based on the principle of satya (truth or essential reality).
Svetaketu was expected to infer the traits of the cadre as a whole by identifying that of an individual member of that cadre. The entire stratum (and even the entire larger society) has for its identity (atma) a common minute trait (anima).
This was the principle, which the laws based on satya followed. Hence all men were equal in the eyes of those laws. Svetaketu was asked not to conduct himself as different from others in his high intellectual cadre. That art thou, Tat tvam asi, Uddalaka said driving home this aspect of social laws. (6-13-1,2,3)
Svetaketu wanted to be instructed further on this issue of essential commonness of the identifiable traits of a social cadre or stratum. Uddalaka agreed to do so.
Modern commentators have failed to notice the variations in the stress on and implications of the maxim, tat tvam asi, that Uddalaka brings out in these sections dealing with his counsel to Svetaketu.
Uddalaka then explained to him the role of a teacher. He would only tell his student the direction in which he was to go. He would not personally escort the latter along to the goal that he had to reach. In this connection he referred to the social leader (purusha) who wanted to go to the land of the Gandharas.
The companion bandaged that leaders eyes, took him to an uninhabited place and released him there and asked him to find out by himself the direction in which he was to go. That person turned towards all directions and cried aloud that he was unable to see as he had been brought and left with his eyes bandaged (6-14-1). Some one removed the bandage and pointed out the direction in which he was to go to reach the Gandharas.
[Uddalaka was suggesting that the people of Gandhara (now in Afghanistan) blinded the outsiders who dared to enter their territory.]
That learned person (pandita) and scholar (medhavi) then went to the land of the Gandharas asking his way from village to village. He was following the method that was the norm in that land. The Gandharas (Gandharvas) did not have a system of formal schooling (teacher and student). The blind (ignorant) have to find out their way by themselves inquiring from others the step to be taken next.
Similarly here (where Uddalaka has his school) a person (purusha, one who is expected to have the talents needed to lead others) who has a teacher (acharya) knows that he would be there only as long as he is not discharged (from the school). He also knows that he will attain perfection (sampad) only after that (6-14-2).
[The remark that we are released when the body reared by our past deeds fall off is irrelevant in this context. The remark that our real home is sat or Being and that our eyes are bandaged with desires for worldly possessions which blind us is not pertinent to the issue discussed here.]
Uddalaka reiterated that this entire larger society (idam sarvam) has the same essential trait (atma), which is invisible like the minute atom (anima). The individual member (atma) is not different from the society (sarvam, all).
It is not necessary to state that man is not different from his socio-physical environment. The laws based on satya that prevailed during the later Vedic era were based on this principle.
Hence none in a given stratum or sector may expected to be treated as being different from its other members.
Uddalaka asked him to realize that he was at a stage when one who was expected to be a leader was allowed to find out the steps to his goal by oneself. That art thou, Tat tvam asi, Uddalaka said. (6-14-3)
But Svetaketu felt that he was not yet ready to chart his own course and asked to be further instructed and Uddalaka agreed to do so . Svetaketu realized the implications of this hint that he could not be expected to be taught more than what other students were taught.
When a person (purusha, who is capable of leading others) is ill his relatives (jnatis, kinsmen of the wife) gather around him and each tries to find out whether that person knows (remembers) him.
He is able to identify that relative only until he is able to speak (vak) what he has in his mind (manas), and absorb in his mind what his body has absorbed through prana, the in-breath. He absorbs in his personality what he has learnt from the brilliant persons (tejas) in the society. The latter have the status and traits of devatas. These are chiefs marginally lower than the cultural aristocrats (devas, nobles).
The purusha is on the threshold of this aristocracy and if he is unwell those persons whom he has led are disturbed. One may reach the stage when he fails to speak what is in his mind, to think over what experiences he has absorbed to form his personality (prana).
He has failed to identify himself with the great influential persons (tejas), and with the devata, the chief who has patronized the influential and learned (tejas) sages. Then he is said to be one having no knowledge.
Every individual member (atma) of this stratum or social sector has this trait of the minute atom, highly potent but ordinarily inert and unaware of that potential. Uddalaka pointed out to Svetaketu that the latter was at that stage. That art thou, Tat tvam asi. (6-15-1,2,3)
Svetaketu wanted to be instructed further and Uddalaka agreed to teach him more.
Uddalaka did not deem all those persons (purushas) in the forefront as worthy of respect. There may be amongst them persons who are accused of theft. When such a person is seized and led, those behind him call for his hands being cut off with hot axe if he had stolen.
If such a person had indeed done so (committed a theft) he had made himself one who had not followed the laws based on Rta. It is not sound to interpret that he had made himself a liar. The terms, Rta, Satya and Dharma had different connotations. The thief had acted against his own interests and it was hence against the laws of nature.
[Did Uddalaka hold the opinion that Parasurama who threatened to cut off the head of Kartavirya Arjuna who had stolen Jamadagni's cow was indeed acting under the provisions of the laws of nature, Rta? Rama who replaced him as a leader, Purusha, stood by the laws based on Satya and Krshna, the Purushottama, by the laws based on Dharma.]
That leader was given to ways that were against the principles of nature, Rta and surrounded himself with men who were similarly given to those ways of Anrta. He was asked to prove his innocence by holding in his hand the hot axe and was burnt. (6-16-1)
[This ordeal does not establish the culpability of any individual. A person does not always abide by honest means and does not always act in accordance with his conscience.] As he was burnt it was deemed that he was guilty and he was hacked to death.
When the laws based on satya were brought into force they replaced the laws of nature, rta, that had failed to ensure that a peaceful and honest society would come into existence as every one would seek to protect his own interests in an attempt at a struggle for survival and the need to escape from the threat of the mighty to the weak.
These new laws were held to be anrta, against nature.
Uddalaka says that if that leader had not stolen (the cow) he would have opted to be tried by the laws based on truth (satya) in order to establish his innocence.
As he is given to always abiding by the laws based on truth (satya) and is surrounded by persons who are similarly adherents of 'satya, he makes bold to clutch the heated axe. He does not get burnt.
[Was Uddalaka referring to how Rama was able to defeat Parasurama?]
When the accused leader, purusha, proved his innocence he was released. Just as that individual (atma) would not get burnt if he were innocent, all the members of this high cadre of judges who are committed to uphold truth would not get hurt (by asking the accused to go through the ordeal if he was innocent).
Uddalaka, follower of Gautama, was defending the test of innocence through ordeal. But he insisted on the judge who meted it to be personally beyond reproach.
Svetaketu had a character and personal identity (atma) that befitted that seat of upholder of truth (satya). That art thou, Tat tvam asi, Uddalaka declared. Thus Svetaketu learnt from his father what he had not yet known (vijajna) till then. (6-16-2,3)