THe NEO-VEDIC SOCIAL ORDER
Chapter 2 of the Katha Upanishad is not connected with the rise of Naciketas. But this too needs to be interpreted rid of unwanted mystifying. The traits of the high aristocrat (para)cannot be understood and obtained through the senses, that is, through control over the state organs. The person who rises to that high level without the support of or without being supported by any body (that is, a svayambhu) pierces the doors of these bodies to be able to ascend to the level of the high aristocrat (para).
An upstart of the type who sneaks through is not envisaged here. The teacher points out that a wise man (dhira) who discerns between good and bad means and objectives and seeks the status of an aristocrat with all immunities (amrtatvam) from Mrtyu (death, in common parlance) turns his eyes inward (avrtta-cakshu) and observes (pratyag) his personal talents (atmana). (2-1-1)
The claim that the Upanishad here points out that God is more manifest in the soul of man than in the world outside is not sound. So too the interpretation that the Upanishad calls for the control and not for the suppression of senses is irrelevant.
The immature (bala) are attracted by the pleasures of the life of the high aristocrats (para). As a result they walk into the wide net (pasa) of Mrtyu, that is, fall from the principles of good conduct that have been made applicable to a vast section of the population of the larger society and accept privileges that are of a temporary type.
However, the wise man (dhira) who distinguishes correctly between good and bad knows what are the immunities and privileges of a permanent nature (amrtatva) do not seek the stable (dhruva) among the unstable (adhruva) positions in this social world. Acceptance of such a stable position in the social world of the commonalty (which is under the jurisdiction of Mrtyu) will prevent one from rising to the higher social world of nobles. (2-1-2)
The student says that one knows through personal experience only what has form, taste, smell, sound and touches of love. These can be experienced only through the senses. He wants to know what is there that remains to be experienced, that is, what cannot be experienced through these senses. (2-1-3)
The teacher says that these are experiences to be had, that is, to be further perceived(anupasya), while sleeping (svapna) and also while awake (jagrita). On realizing his conscious objectives and also his visions the great individual (mahatma) who is the head of the community (vibhu) and is a wise man (dhira) does not grieve (that he has failed to rise to the highest position, for he has reached it). (4)
Vibhu (head of the community) advised to bean achiever of visions and a master of realities
The teacher had hinted that it was possible for one to rise of his own accord to the highest position in the social hierarchy, for doors of ascent were not totally closed, but that it required recognition of ones own talents by looking inward.
He expects the head of the community (vibhu) not to be satisfied with that position. This head should have a vision and also be realistic and should develop his own personality and become a mahatma. One, who knows (has experienced) the advantages of his status and role as a vibhu and his great talents as an achiever of visions as well as master of the realities, lives the life (jiva) of an individual (atma) who is not a member of any social body.
Vibhu can rise to the level of the charismatic chief, Isa
He rises to the status of an Isa who heads the social periphery nearby (antika) of the persons who had a past (bhuta) and who have a future (bhavya) but are at present almost at subsistence (jiva) level. He is an optimist and does not shrink away from meeting the challenge before him. He has risen from the status of vibhu, the head of an organized community to that of an Isa, the head of an unorganised gathering of individuals almost at the subsistence level, to whom they look up to for boons, for assistance in regaining a life of security as an organised social group. (2-1-5)
Isa, chief of the discrete individuals (bhutas) has risen from the lowest level through rigorous endeavour (tapas)
This social leader who comes in contact with the population of the social periphery had emerged, risen in the past, through rigorous endeavour (tapas) from the lowest level. The waters were visualised as the lowest level of the society and also the ancient unorganised and fluid society. He had belonged to that level.
He has now entered the secret place (of the head of the academy, Brahma) and stands (tishtha) there amidst the bhutas, the individuals of the social periphery looking at the wide society beyond that periphery. The teacher tells the student that the future that one had looked for is presented in this picture of the person emerging from the waters and standing on the shore looking at the vast field (2-1-6).
He was described in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1-4-10) as one who recognized that he was Brahma. The commentator notes that there is no suggestion here of the unreality of the cosmic evolution.
Aditi who heads the commoners at the bare survival level (pranas) and directs the officials (devatas) rose from bhutas
The teacher draws attention to another picture, that of Aditi, who arrives on the scene along with the people who are just living (prana). She is described as a mother figure, mother of the officials designated as devatas. These devatas had a status lower than that of the aristocrats, devas. She too has entered the secret abode of Brahma and is seen standing there. She too has emerged from (vyajayata) among the individuals on the social periphery. (2-1-7)
Aditi meant boundless rather than prakrti. In the Vedic polity dominated by the assembly of thirty-three nobles, Viraj was the highest authority, heading the federal social polity. The chief of the people, Prajapati, was next to him. Aditi, the mother figure, who supervised the activities of the executive, Adityas, was next to him in rank.
Agni, envoy of the commoners to the nobles
Agni (fire, in common parlance) who is in the midst of the twigs should be prayed for (idya), worshipped daily (dive diva) by the watchful commoners (manushyas). Agni is referred to as one who knows all, Jata-veda. He is likened to the embryo, which is well borne by a pregnant woman. This is a reference to the golden egg, hiranya-garbha, which as a metaphor (aranya) signifies two parts, divam and manushyas, the two social worlds, nobles and commoners of the core society. The commoners (manushyas) addressed their prayers to the nobles (devas) through Agni. (2-1-8)
The comment, that purusha and prakrti, the subject and the object are both identified with the Supreme Reality, as they are two movements of His being is irrelevant here.
Nobles (Devas) placed under the juriadiction of Surya
All nobles (devas) are transferred (handed over) to the region, (social world) where Surya (sun, in common parlance) rises and where it goes to set, that is, where the official designated as Surya is the authority. No commoner who has attained the qualities of an aristocrat can ever go to a rank beyond that of the nobles. (2-1-9)
The remark that the ancient Vedic gods are recognised by the Upanishads but they are all said to derive their being from the One Supreme Being is untenable. Agni and Surya were not Vedic gods. These like Indra and Soma, Varuna and Mitra were designations of the officials of the Vedic social polity. The Upanishads indicate that there was a definite shift in the roles and jurisdictions of many of these officials during the Vedic and early post-Vedic period. The concept of One God is not related to the roles of these officials.
Codes of conduct for nobles applicable to commoners also
Whatever groups, practices and codes are prevalent in this social world of commoners (manushyas) are present in the other social world of nobles (devas) whose status is higher than that of the commonalty. The teacher explains that the practices and codes that govern the conduct of the nobles are applicable to the commoners also.
All who perceive diversities and notcommon bonds within a stratum or between strata placed under Mrtyu
Whoever in this social world of commoners perceives only diversities among them, that is, who fail to notice the common bonds that exist not only amongst them all but also with those in the higher social stratum of nobles will be only under the jurisdiction of the official designated as Mrtyu even if he is admitted to the nobility.
Visvedevas subject to laws of commonalty though admitted to nobility
A Visvedeva who rose from the upper crust of the Vis, commonalty, and was admitted to the nobility, Divam, was governed by the laws enforced by Mrtyu though the incumbent there was different from the one for the commonalty. (2-1-10)
The commentators of the medieval times had lost sight of the principles and course of social dynamics of the ancient times. Visvedevas did not enjoy any special privileges.
Intellectual aristocrats who do notvalue diversities exempt from the laws of commonalty enforced by Mrtyu
The right to lead a life that is exempt from the jurisdiction of the laws enforced by Mrtyu can be obtained only by a thinker (manas) and not by a commoner however noble (like a Visvedeva) he is. The intellectual aristocrat can have access to the social stratum of the cultural aristocrats (svarga-loka) and can rise even higher to the stratum called Brahma-loka. In that social world there are no social differences. All intellectuals are equal.
Even in the cultural aristocracy there were different groups like Adityas, Vasus, Maruts and Rudras with divergent aptitudes and practices. An intellectual of the commonalty who fails to notice the absence of diversity in the highest social stratum of intellectuals and insists that there are different grades of intellectuals may not be able to rise from the level of the commoner, manushya, to one beyond that of a Visvedeva. (2-1-11)
The remarks that the Supreme is declared to be devoid of any difference and that the multiplicity of the world does not touch the unity of the Supreme are inane.
An independent social leader, Purusha, can become a charismatic chief, Isa and luminary (jyoti) of the discrete individuals, bhutas, of the social periphery
The social leader, purusha, is stationed in the midst of the individual (atma) who is not attached to any social body. [It is wrong to translate the term, atma, as body.] The teacher seems to indirectly refer to sages like Agastya who according to the legends was of the size of a thumb.
He is located in the social periphery occupied by those who had a past (bhuta) and were hopeful of the future (bhavya) and meets their aspirations as an Isa. When one realizes that he is a helpful person one does not hesitate to mingle with the individuals of the social periphery and honour him.
He was a social leader, purusha, of the commonalty who functioned independently and was not attached to any social group and did not have personal ambitions and was humble. He was revered as Isa as he moved to the social periphery to lead them. [Was Vamana meant?] The teacher introduces this person to his students. (12).
The humble (angushtha-matra) social leader, purusha, performs the role of flame, jyoti, a bright guide who is clear in his objectives and orientations (is without smoke). The people of the social periphery get clear guidance about how they should conduct themselves if they are to progress in social life.
As the charismatic head (Isa) of that periphery whose members had a satisfactory past and hope for a bright future, he retains the same traits and approach as a member of the commonalty which that he is today (adya) and which he will as he mingles with the nobles when he reaches the threshold of the nobility (sva). The teacher introduces this talented person to his student (etad vai tat). (2-1-13)
[The remark that the lord of the past and the future is not a timeless Absolute but the ruler of the time order is an unwarranted attempt to introduce the element of impenetrable mysticism in a concept that is socio-political.]
Aid given to the population of the social periphery by the nobles through the independent charismatic leader, Isa
The liberal nobles, devas, were stationed in towns, while the charismatic and benevolent leaders, isas and isvaras were stationed in forts (durga) on tops of hills (parvata). The water that rains on the durgas flows down the hills in different directions.
Like this the social philosophies (dharmas) that call upon one to notice the varied paths of that beneficial rain, make him follow those different paths. That is, he does not have a definite aim in life. (2-1-14)
[The remark that that he who perceives differentiation of dharmas is condemned to the restless flowing he perceives is irrelevant here.]
The teacher was referring to the absence of a common goal in the pursuits of the different sections of the social periphery though they might have had a common source. The source was the liberal nobility (sva) that was aiding the purusha who was functioning as an Isa stationed on a hill.
Pure water poured into pure water becomes the very same pure water. Similarly the soul (atma) of the silent sage (muni) who has knowledge of the areas beyond his neighbourhood (vijanata) but does not speak of it becomes one with it.
In other words, the sage who belonged to the core society originally and has stationed himself in the social periphery identifies himself with the isolated individuals of that region. The teacher brings this aspect to the notice of Naciketas (a Gautama) (2-1-15).
The claim that this verse is related to the concept of the metaphysical identity between the individual soul (jivatma) and the Supreme Being (paramatma) is untenable.
The strict political code of the free city of Gandharvas given by Pracetas, a non-crooked thinker
The teacher draws attention to the city that has eleven entrances. The city is called the unborn, according to the scholar (cetas) who is not crooked (avakra). By observing the discipline imposed by the administration of that city, one will have no sorrows. When he is freed from all obligations he is indeed freed. The teacher points out to the picture of that city.
Was he referring to the politico-economic code of Pracetas (which was different from that proposed by Kautilya). Some believed that the latter distorted the principles of political economy, which were recommended by Pracetas Manu. The city (pura) of Gandharvas ruled by Puranjana was not a janapada and had a strict code that however ensured real freedom to its citizens. This teacher identifies not nine but eleven entrances to it. (2-2-1)
Implications of Krshna's reference to Puranjana's capital
As the commentator refers to Bhagavad-Gita (5-13) it is necessary to dwell on what Krshna told Arjuna. Krshna says that by abandoning attachment to the work being done, that is, by performing it as duty (rather than as an issue of prestige even when it has been selected from available and permitted options) and by giving up claims to its fruits, the yukta (the intellectual who has studied samkhya and yoga as a composite discipline) attains definite (naishtik) peace (santi).
The performer of duty, who practises these two disciplines as one and as unbiased, determined intellectual endeavour benefits in the long run, as he is not attached to the fruits of action. But one whose actions are caused by desire (kamakarana) and who is attached to the fruits of action (phalesakta) gets tied down (nibadhyata).
The ayukta, those who do not treat samkhya and yoga as a single discipline and are hence not properly inducted in the science of yoga and whose actions are not based on reason and wisdom, are deprived of the lasting benefit, peace, santi, and freedom. (5-12)
The freedom from social debts, rnamukti, and hence from the cycle of births and deaths is implied. The ideologue-cum-activist who is rooted in both samkhya dialectics and performance of duties as defined by karmayoga without personal interests or rewards is the yukta who stands to gain peace of mind. Neither an ideologue, who fails to pursue the vocation in a disciplined manner nor the hedonist nor the epicure who neglects rationality, can succeed in gaining this mental (and spiritual) peace.
The Samkhya school of Krshna distinguishes between the body, deha, and the soul within it, the dehi, but does not designate the latter as atma or as jiva, life, or as jivatma. The embodied, dehi, who has kept under his hold (vasi) the senses and organs of the body and renounced (samnyasya) all actions (sarvakarmani) rests mentally at ease, neither doing any work nor causing work to be done. (5-13)
The nine inlets and outlets of the body (two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, mouth, penis and anus) are compared to the nine gates of the legendary city, pura. The soul within the body is like the chief of that city, the capital of the Gandharva Puranjana. This chief, Prabhu, did not regulate the actions of any of his subordinates nor did he do any work by himself (na kartrtvam na karmani).
He was not a functionary himself nor did he supervise and run the administration. He was a symbolic head of this city in Panchala where the people, jana, its natives, functioned each according to his own nature. Arjuna must have been aware of this middle Vedic polity. The Prabhu did not control either the executive or the judiciary. But he had immense influence over the populace.
Krshna was introducing Arjuna to different socio-political systems as the latter was being trained in Rajayoga. Political and administrative practices of the ancient times and roles of the different authorities and their statuses need to be appreciated correctly. We have to keep in mind their constitutional implications.
Puranjana must have been a Prabhu protected by a volunteer force of Gandharvas who were archers. He however could not protect himself from the influence of the charming damsels, Apsarases. Krshna might have been referring to an event where this fortified and guarded city fell to an army of women and to which the sage, Narada, was a witness.
The weaknesses in this type of administration needed correction. The politico-economic code, Arthasastra, drafted by Pracetas Manu introduced the post of Pracetas, an intellectual, who was regent with all administrative powers except those that might compromise the sovereignty of the state. Arjuna must have been aware of the steps taken only recently then. [Pracetas was an official who prevented easy access to the Prabhu and to the Purusha.]
Krshna compares the role of the soul to that of the Prabhu. Prabhu is not to be interpreted as God. The occupant of the body is not to be visualized as an activating force or as an active force. It is present in the body. Only this much is vouched for. (Most theologians would not agree with this denial of any role for the soul.)
The Prabhu does not connect the works with their fruits. The soul of man does not initiate any action nor does it motivate any through promise of rewards. Then what makes him function? Krshna declares that it is his innate trait, svabhava, which makes the individual function (pravartata) in a particular way. (5-14) The laws of nature, Rta, regulated social action, karma.
The Prabhu was the head of the society of the pre-state times. Its economic activities were not regulated by any higher authority or by any code. Men worked, for it was their nature to be engaged in work and not because they were coerced to work or were promised rewards or expected rewards. It was natural for them to work. Brahmayogi was a product of that system which honoured the innate urge to be active without incentive or without being compelled.
The concept of the ruler of the city of eleven gates
The teacher acquainted Naciketas with the concept of the ruler of the city of eleven gates, which were symbolised by the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, anus, penis, navel and sagittal suture, according to the commentators of the medieval times. The city had in addition to the eight governors, lokapalas, controlling the eight sectors of the larger society, had three more authorities who aided in ensuring that every one was happy and really free.
This greater (brhat) society was governed by the early Vedic code based on Rta. It is compared to the pure swan, which drank the milk and rejected the water in which it was mixed. It is compared to the occupier (vasu) of the open society (antariksham or akasa) and to the hotr priest at a Vedic session, who had three Purushas to assist him. It is also compared to the cup earmarked for the guest.
The head of this society was one of the free men (nr) and was also one belonging to the periphery (vara). He is located in the open space (vyoma). He was not a member of any organised social group. He was a member of the early society that followed Rta. He had emerged from the waters (around, the earth, prthvi) and was a native of the village (go). He had risen in accordance with the codes based on Rta. He was born of a social stratum that enjoyed no esteem (adrija). (2-2-2)
This swan formula (Rgveda 4-40-5) attributed to Vamadeva, one of the chief contributors to Rgveda is said to be a prayer to Aditya (sun) who illumines the world and dispels the ignorance of commoners (manushyas).
Vamana's concept of an inclusive society
Vamana (dwarf) is known as the Brahman who humbled the autocrat, Bali. He is seated in the centre of the larger society, Visva. He is visualised as raising the level of the people who are cast out (apana) of the society of the commoners and pushing inside the newcomers (prana). Vamana, a jurist (Brahmana), defeated Usanas in disputation on how the latter misguided Bali. Vamana visualized an inclusive society and was adored by the nobles (devas). (2-2-3)
When the embodied (dehina) who is situated in a social group (sarira) falls asunder, that is, gets cast out of that group and pursues no personal interests and is free from personal attachments what else does remain, the student asks. This absence of social groups that have their interests and absence of individuals who have personal interests is what he has to aim at, the teacher says (2-2-4).
The remark, that what remains is the Universal Soul (that is, God), is not to the mark.
The life (jiva) of the commoners (martya) is not subject to the rules of admission (prana) and expulsion (apana) by which one might be admitted into the society or cast out of it. They live by another code on which both the newcomers and the exiled depend. The teacher brings to the notice of the student the provisions of the new code (Brahma), which redefine who may be admitted to a particular social class or stratum and who has to be promoted to or expelled from it. (2-2-5)
The interpretation that this verse repudiates the materialist doctrine that the soul is just an assemblage of parts is unsound. This verse does not deal with the dissolution of the soul or the desertion of the body by the soul.
Death, Maranam: End of all social relations and personal life
The teacher (Mrtyu, here) offers to teach Naciketas (a Gautama) the confidential provisions (guhya) of the ancient socio-political constitution (sanatana Brahma) about the future of the soul (atma), that is, of the individual who is cut off from his social groups and also from pursuit of personal interests. Such end of all social relations and personal life means the attainment of maranam, (death, in common parlance) or total insentience. (2-2-6)
Offspring of outcasts accepted in original social groups
The teacher offers to describe the process of rebirth. A few persons, though they have dropped off from their social groups or have risen to higher levels, are not denied the right to procreate offspring (in the wombs of) by their wives.
These offspring are accepted in their original social groups. Some others who have not participated in the process of social dynamics stay in the original groups permanently. Their future is determined by their past deeds (karma) and in accordance with the procedure prescribed in the Veda (Sruta). (2-2-7)
It is unsound to state that in this verse the law of Karma that we are born according to our deeds is assumed and that Upanishads insist on the independent reality of the Supreme Self and also affirm the reality of the individual soul.
Brahma and the social leader, Purusha who brings to reality the dreams of the society
The social leader (purusha) who is awake and alert among those who are asleep and are not aware of their potentials and who gives constructive shape to their desires one after another is the pure (sukra). [In other words, this social leader who is engaged in meeting the desires of the society, which has great aims but is not aware of its potentials, is a follower of the socio-political thinker, Sukra (later identified with Usanas).]
He is the highest authority entitled to interpret the socio-political constitution, Brahma, and is said to belong to the cadre that enjoyed all immunities, amrtam.
All the social worlds (lokas) are subservient to that Brahma and to the constructive person and social leader (purusha) who brings to reality the dreams of the society. None can go beyond that level. Thus the teacher presents to Naciketas the achievements of Sukra who was humbled in disputation by Vamana. (2-2-8)
Traits and privileges of the unattached individual (atma) vary according to his original cadre (loka)
Was Naciketas who was appointed as the civil judge, Agni, of the three (educated) social classes, manushyas, gandharvas and devas, expected to introduce and administer the same laws for all of them and thereby deny the gandharvas and the devas the special privileges they enjoyed or extend to the manushyas the privileges the other two enjoyed?
The role of Agni, the head of the intelligentsia (Brahmans) and administrator of civil laws, varies from one social world to another (loka) depending on its form (structure, rupa).
Similarly the traits and privileges of the unattached individual (atma), which all the discrete individuals (sarvabhuta) have, varied depending on to which organized social world or cadre such a discrete individual (bhuta) belonged before he got isolated from it. (2-2-9)
The claim that this verse teaches the immanence and transcendence of the Supreme Self is unwarranted.
The Purusha-Sukta is not relevant to the theme of this verse, which only points out that intellectuals are not all alike and cannot have the same privileges and duties irrespective of the social class to which they belong and that not all individuals can have the same privileges and duties irrespective of the cadre from which they have got isolated. Such individuals (atma) maintain their separate identities whether they are part of a social group or stay outside it.
Officials like Agni, Vayu and Surya not to bring all cadres under a single set of rules; diversity to be maintained
If Agni (fire, in common parlance) represented the commonalty (manushyas), Vayu (wind) represented the social world known as open space (akasa) and Surya (sun) the governing elite (divam).
In the Upanishadic scheme, Agni, Vayu and Surya were the Vedic officials heading the three social worlds, prthvi, antariksham and divam (bhu, bhuva and sva).
When the three social worlds were integrated their identities had to be maintained and hence these officials were required to adapt themselves according to the social world (loka) they were dealing with.
They were not expected to adopt the same rules of governance for all the three social worlds and also for the individuals (bhutas) who did not function as members of social groups but earlier belonged to one of the social worlds and retained their identities while exercising their personal rights and duties and relations with others in that or other social worlds. (2-2-10)
[The Upanishads do not concern themselves with the industrial society of the forests and mountains (antariksham).]
Governing elite is liberal but does not ignore guilt
Freedom of the individual member of the intellectual aristocracy not limited by social needs and social opinions
Surya, the highest socio-political authority who observed the activities and functions of all the three social worlds (lokas), does not get infected by the faults in the traits of the manushyas and gandharvas who belonged to prthvi and akasa respectively. His observation of the other lokas does not overlook their faults or allow them to influence his political judgement.
The governing elite is liberal without being oblivious of or considerate to the guilty among the subjects whether common labourers or free intellectuals. So also the individual member of the elite as an atma entertains views and performs deeds that are not dictated by the limits imposed by social opinions and social needs (of the nobility or of the others).
Though Surya, the head of the governing elite, observes and supervises the activities of the commoners, he does not allow the faults of the latter that result in their sufferings at the hands of Mrtyu, the authority who punishes the guilty even with death, to infect the nobility, which is out of his jurisdiction.
The comment, that this verse admits the reality of the pain of the world but denies that it touches the Supreme Self, which is our inner being, is not to the mark. Similarly the remark that the forms, which the Supreme assumes are not its modifications but are the manifestations of its possibilities is irrelevant here. Surya does not refer to the Supreme Being. (2-2-11)
Brahma, the charismatic controller of all individuals (atmas) who maintain their separate identities
The one who is superior to the officials like Agni, Vayu and Surya attracts and controls the individuals (atma) with their separate identities that are not part of the identities of their social groups or personal pursuits.
Such individuals are among all the discrete individuals mainly in the social periphery (sarvabhuta) who had earlier been part of socio-economic groups but had been cast out or had moved out of them. Like a single seed multiplying into a bunch of corns, this one creates many. (The translation, who makes his one form manifold, is unsatisfactory.)
The wise (dhira) perceive him as being located in the unattached person or soul (atma). Such wise persons who are able to locate who is the person who attracts and controls the unattached individuals and who is also an unattached individual (soul, atma) enjoy permanent bliss as members of the intellectual aristocracy. They lead these unattached individuals. Others do not have a place in that cadre of intellectuals who have the permanent status and privileges of aristocrats. (2-2-12)
Only Brahma had life tenure: Bench as a whole heard the prayers and judged.
The highest socio-political authority, the head of the judiciary, Brahma, has tenure for life. He is permanent in that post but the other members of the judiciary have only short tenures. But both are equally endowed with cetas, the intelligence needed for interpreting the codes. It was the bench as a whole that judged the prayers and desires of the supplicants.
[In the Upanishadic polity, the executive headed by the King only carried out the decisions taken by the judiciary and upholder of the constitution on the merits of the case and the appeals made by the commoners and others.]
The wise (dhira) who perceive the presence of that trait in an individual (atma) who is not attached to any social body and who has no personal interests are able to enjoy permanent peace of mind (santi). Others cannot get that peaceful life. (2-2-13).
The claim that the Supreme grants the desires of many and that we may see here the doctrine of Divine Providence is not tenable.
Naciketas recognized this meaning of the picture of that high intellectual authority, a supreme judge sitting in the midst of equally great judges and determining who should have permanent happiness and who were not eligible for that.
He asked the teacher (Mrtyu) how he could come to know the traits and abilities of that supreme judge and presiding officer of the high constitution bench. Does the occupant of that position (Brahma who heads the constitution bench) like Surya shine (bhati) because he has the innate ability to enlighten others or because he occupies a seat that makes him shine (vibhati) by giving the right directions?
Naciketas (who ceased to be an advocate of empiricism on realising its limitations) wanted to be enlightened on this aspect. Is the incumbent to a post to be honoured or the post?
The transliteration, This is that and thus they recognize the ineffable Supreme bliss. How then may I come to know this? Does it shine (of itself) or does it shine (in reflection)? does not bring out the implications of the questions Naciketas raised. Similarly the interpretation, Does the Supreme shine in Himself or does it shine in His expression? is not tenable. (2-2-14)
Seat of Naciketas Agni who had jurisdiction over the intelligentsia among manushyas, gandharvas and devas
Naciketas who had been appointed as Agni, the head of the intelligentsia of all the three social classes, manushyas, gandharvas, and devas, is told that the jurisdiction of Surya (who headed the nobility and the executive of Kshatras) did not extend to Brahmaloka, the social world of jurists. Chandra who was assisted by the non-kshatras had jurisdiction only over the sober intellectuals of the forests and mountains belonging to the frontier society, antariksham.
The officials, designated as Vidyut, too had no say in the affairs of the jurists who respected reasoning and not sudden flash of insight.
If so where could Naciketas Agni have his seat? It is superior to Agni of the commonalty and Surya of the nobility and Chandra of the frontier society. All these three derive their authority to guide their respective subjects from the guidance they receive from Naciketas Agni who occupies the position of the supreme judge, Brahma. He enlightens all this integrated society. (2-2-15)
The commentator draws attention to Bhagavad-Gita (15-12). As a charismatic leader Krshna had an extraordinary ability to enlighten (bhasyata) the entire social universe (jagat). It is compared to the splendour (tejas) of the sun (Aditya) that moves in the (sky, social world of the nobles), the moon (Chandra, Soma) and the fire (Agni).
Aditya, Chandra and Agni had with respect to the three social worlds, patriciate, frontier society and commonalty respectively a status commensurate with that of the Isvara with respect to all the social universes comprising those who had not settled down as organized clans and communities.
To be precise, Krshna proposed to widen the ambit of jagat to include in it not only all the individuals constantly on the move but also the clans and communities that had settled in the open areas that were not claimed or populated by traditional clans. Krshna hints that Arjuna should realize that the former as a charismatic leader influenced the entire larger social universe (jagat).
This universe included the aristocrats, the agro-pastoral commonalty and the frontier society and its sages and also those on the move as social groups or as individuals, as discrete jagats, social universes with weak social bonds or as bhutas, individuals with no social bonds.
Asvattha tree and the earlier socio-political constitution
The teacher (like Krshna) pointed out to the student the model of the ancient (sanatana) fig tree (asvattha). It had its roots going above and the branches spreading downwards. He described it as pure (sukra) and as signifying Brahma. It was referred to as amrta (immortal, in common parlance). All the social worlds (lokas) are attached to it, he pointed out. No one ever goes beyond it, he said. This model represented the importance of the earlier socio-political constitution, Brahma and the status and role of the cultural aristocrats (amrtam).
School of Sukra: None superior to the cultural aristocracy
Even as the branches emerge from the roots, and are but part of the tree, the different social worlds, which are parts of the larger society, emerge from the socio-political constitution, Brahma.
While the roots are attached to the roof signifying that they are more important than the branches of the tree, the social constitution has placed the cultural aristocracy (represented by the concept, amrtam) at the top.
The teacher asserts that no one is ever superior to that aristocracy. This was the stand that the school of Sukra (Usanas) took. (2-3-1). It rejected the concept of Purushottama.
[This allegory is different from the allegory of the asvattha tree expounded to Arjuna by Krshna in the Bhagavad-Gita. Krshna explains to his student, the relationship between the Brahmana, the intellectual authority who was alone at the highest position and the commoners and the other ranks of the society, by drawing his attention to the model of the asvattha tree kept in his academy. Its root, mula, was going upwards and branches, sakhas, were going downwards. It was said to be imperishable, avyaya. The Vedic scholars described its leaves as producing notes similar to those of the Vedic chants. (15-1)
Its branches, in fact, spread (prasrta) both downwards and upwards, Krshna points out to Arjuna. It is nourished (pravrddha) by natural traits (gunas). It has the objects of senses (vishayas), worldly interests that allure all men, for its twigs (pravalas) (that is, matters of easier grasp). These refer to the subsidiary and newer sections of the society represented by this tree. To be precise, this tree tries to portray the continuing society.]
[Its new roots, emerging as subsidiary roots from the branches and the twigs, go downwards as offspring (anusamtata). These subsidiary roots go downwards (adha) to the social world of commoners (manushyaloka) and get bound or appended (anubandha) to work (karma), worldly duties.
This terse verse (15-2) seeks to explain through the allegory and imagery of the asvattha tree the decline of certain sections of the ancient cultural aristocracy.
It also provides the prelude for the concept of charisma underlying the status of the noblest personage, Purushottama. Rationalism calls for the rejection of the postulate that devaloka or svarga meant the abode of gods high in the sky.]
The Vedic core society had two major social strata, the nobles and the commoners, devas and manushyas. As the nobility developed interest in nobler ideas and loftier concepts that are characteristic of the cultural aristocracy and began simultaneously to grow in numbers, its different cadres, branches, began to develop worldly interests.
They got thereupon rooted in bhumi, the commonalty, manushyaloka, and began to be nurtured by the traits, gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas). As these nobles, devas, came out of their isolation and established contacts with the commoners as their leaders, they gradually lost their identity and distinguishing traits of conduct as a flawless cultural elite.
Unorganized social universe (jagat) advised to submit to the constitutional (Brahma) authority vested in aristocracy
This entire social universe (jagat), which is constantly in movement (as boiling water in a pot) without its members getting settled as organised communities, emerges from the section of the populace who are at the bare survival level (prana).
This failure to form common social aspirations and economic interests and cultural orientations is because of the fear of the authority who holds raised the vajra, signifying the political power wielded by the constitution, Brahma. They who know this aspect of the vesting of all powers in the head of the cultural and political aristocracy and accept it will become acceptable to it (amrtam bhavanti). The teacher (Mrtyu) called upon the unorganised social universe (jagat) to submit to the political authority of this aristocracy. (2-3-2).
The remark that the whole world trembles in Brahman is inane.
Stand of school of Sukra: Agni, Surya, Vayu, Indra, Mrtyu, subordinate to Brahma
Because of the fear of that supreme judge who implements the provisions of the socio-political constitution, Agni, the head of the samiti (council of scholars, Brahmam) and civil judge of the commonalty exercises his harsh powers. This was the stand of the school of Sukra (Usanas).
Because of the fear of that authority, Surya, the head of the governing elite (kshatram) exercises his harsh powers. Similarly because of the fear of that supreme constitutional authority, Brahma, the other three officials, Indra the head of the aristocracy (divam), Vayu, the head of the people of the open space (akasa) and Mrtyu the head of the commonalty (manushyas) perform their respective roles rigorously and rapidly.
Agni, Surya, Vayu, Indra and Mrtyu were officials concerned with the governance of the different sectors of the enlarged core society. They were all subordinate to the supreme judge, Brahma and the provisions of the constitution that they had to uphold. (2-3-3)
Taittiriya Upanishad (2-8-1) echoes the above stand. That unwavering intellectual who occupied the highest position in the social polity as Brahma, the interpreter of the Atharvaveda or Brahma that incorporated the socio-political constitution of the Vedic times and presided over the constitution-bench as the supreme judge instilled fear in the minds of all the officials.
The five officials, Vayu (Vata), Surya, Agni, Indra and Mrtyu functioned under Brahmas (constitution and the chief justice) supervision and dreaded to default in their functions, the teacher pointed out to his students.
Vayu, Indra and Mrtyu were in charge of the open terrains (akasa) including the frontier society (antariksham), the patriciate (divam) and the commoners (manushyas) respectively. Surya or Aditya controlled the army and the administrative machinery (Kshatras) and Agni guided the intelligentsia (Brahmans). They and the sectors under their respective jurisdiction had to function along the lines prescribed in the constitution.
[The remark, that the author sees the proof of God in the laws of the universe, with reference to the statement, For fear of him the wind blows is not acceptable as a valid conclusion.]
Formation of new fluid social worlds (lokas)
If one is able to know what will happen, before the (social) body of which he is a member decays and disintegrates, he will be able to take steps to join as a member (sariratva) of one of the social worlds (loka) that is being newly formed. This is an arrangement provided for in the new scheme under which some of the social groups, clans and communities were disintegrating and their members had to be accommodated in new fluid social worlds (sargeshu lokeshu). (2-3-4)
The interpretation that one should be able to recognize his unity with Brahman before his death if he seeks to be free from the cycle of birth is not to the mark. The comment that the verse teaches that it is possible for us to attain the saving wisdom here and now is unacceptable.
Massive Social Change (sarga)
According to the new scheme, one who is devoid of a protective social group with the latter disintegrating may stay as a free unattached individual (atma) reflecting his original status as one sees oneself in a mirror. He was an unattached individual (atma) though he was in a social group because he had received guidance from budhas, scholars.
Now he is an individual as that social group has dissolved in the process of massive social change (sarga). If he has completed his social duties on the dissolution of his family and becomes free (as one is free from cares while asleep) he joins the elders (pitr-loka) who live alone in the forests.
An object cast in water seems to have circles around it. So too one who like a vipra is moving around in the periphery free from cares may join the social world of gandharvas. Those intellectuals who have left the frontier society (under the jurisdiction of Chandra or Soma) and those who have left the ruling aristocracy (under the jurisdiction of Surya) may join the academy of jurists (Brahmaloka). They may do so as individuals and not as groups or as members of such groups. (2-3-5).
[It is irrational to describe the gandharvas as angels, who live in the fathomless spaces of air. They too were human beings and lived on the earth. The moon, Chandra was compared to shade and the sun, Surya, to light.] [The theme in B. U. 4-3-33 is not connected with this verse.]
Emergence of different organs of social polity (state)
The wise man (dhira) must know the nature (bhava) of every one of the organs (indriyas). They are not all alike. They have got formed under different conditions. They do not rise and set simultaneously. If he knows this he will not come to grief.
The teacher was dealing with the emergence of the different organs of the larger social polity. Old ones had come to be replaced from time to time. The Atharvan polity postulated the formation of two sectors, the agrarian core society and the industrial frontier society.
Several social cadres had emerged at different stages and many of them merge in one another and some even disappeared. But the individuals in the cadres were absorbed in new ones. Similarly the officials had different tenures and their roles too changed from time to time. Naciketas had to take note of these aspects of the changing social order and social relations. (2-3-6)
The interpretation that the discrimination of the Self from the sense organism is insisted on here is untenable. It is not correct to infer when the wise man knows that the material senses do not come from the Self, that their rise and fall belong to their own nature, he grieves no more.
Brahma, the head of the constitution bench and the socio-political hierarchy
The Samkhya analysis is then presented. Mind (manas) is superior to the sense organs (indriyas); Essential intelligence (sattva) is superior to the mind (manas). The great individual (mahatma) is superior to this intelligence (sattva). The unmanifest (avyakta) is superior to this great (mahat).
In the social hierarchy that Naciketas dealt with, the supreme personage who did not appear in person before any one else did occupied the highest position. Next in rank were the great legislators, mahatmas. The sober and gentle intellectuals (sattva) ranked next to them. The thinkers who are not as stoical and staid as these intellectuals are ranked next to these stoics. The heads of the organs (indriyas) of the social polity ranked the lowest. (2-3-7)
Constitution, Brahma, superior to Dharma code;
Dharma code superior to Satya code; Satya code auperior to Pre-Manu codes
The interpretation that intelligence constitutes the essence (sattva) of the mind (manas) is unacceptable. The avyakta is according to some an invisible power. Brahma, the unwritten constitution of the society, is superior to the definitive laws that are enacted by the great sages, maharshis or mahatmas. These laws come under the term, Dharma. They are held to be superior to the principles of governance of social conduct based on Satya (sat or sattva). These principles are superior to what the thinkers (including Manu) had envisaged.
Unidentified Purusha superior to Brahma, the Chief Justice and head of the constitution bench
Beyond that unwritten constitution and its promoter and upholder, Brahma, is the person (purusha) without any special identifying mark and who governs the entire larger society. The teacher distinguishes between the two concepts, Brahma the supreme judge and Purusha the charismatic leader of the entire society whose presence and role alone can get the verdict of the judiciary implemented. By reaching that level and performing his role and thereby experiencing and knowing (jnatva) that position of Purusha even a weak living being (jantu), a common man can attain the level of a noble with all immunities (amrtatva). The humblest of the human beings can reach this highest level. He may arise from any social sector. The transliteration, Beyond the unmanifest is the person, all-pervading and without any mark whatever. By knowing whom, a man is liberated and goes to life eternal is imperfect. (2-3-8)
Purusha is a concept that is not the same as the statuettes with forms and different marks that were placed on pedestals in the gallery of the academy and which come into the field of vision and could be seen by eyes. [The allegories behind such statuettes of purusha have been unravelled in the discussion on the convocation address delivered by the teacher in the Taittiriya Upanishad. Katha Upanishad does not take aid of those figures.] Regard for that great charismatic personage is present in the heart and in thought of the followers. His potential is comprehended by mind. Those persons who know him and identify themselves with him are able to join the intellectual aristocracy (amrta). (2-3-9) The remark, As the concept of God is formed by our mental nature, it cannot be identical for all is irrelevant in this context.
The concept of Purusha, a charismatic social leader of the entire larger society, can be apprehended in mind. He is superior to the supreme judge, Brahma who interprets and gets its social constitution, Brahma implemented by the executive. There is a concept, Purusha, which is superior to the Brahma constitution. The deeds and directions issued by this highly charismatic personage cannot be subordinated to any written or unwritten constitution. Purusha is invisible and inaccessible to commoners and most other social ranks. The teacher has the Purusha constitution in mind. It placed supreme power not in the high judiciary, which was superior to the king (Rajan) and his executive of five or eight or more officials, Adityas.
Viraj was the head of the federal social polity. Prajapati, Aditi and thirty nobles including the officials, Adityas, assisted him. Purusha constitution emerged from the Viraj constitution according to some. Others held that Purusha constitution was anterior to the Viraj constitution. In either case only one who acknowledged allegiance to Purusha as an authority not restrained by the judiciary and the Atharvan constitution, Brahma, which accepted Viraj or Purusha as the highest personage was eligible to be elevated to the cadre of aristocrats. The two versions of Purusha-Sukta, Rgvedic and Atharvan, have to be kept in mind.
The Purusha constitution envisages a charismatic authority who is superior to the high judiciary in which the duty and right to interpret the Atharvan constitution, Brahma, of the larger federal social polity is vested. This Purusha is appealed to when the five scholars (occupying the positions of Agni, Indra, Vayu, Surya and Mrtyu) fail to stand up and pronounce their views and the thinker (manas) ceases to think afresh and the intellectuals (buddhi) cease to be active and stir the peoples. In other words when anomie takes over the larger society represented by these officials, this great charismatic personage is looked up to as the last resort and hope. (2-3-10) The translation, When the five (senses) knowledges together with the mind cease (from their normal activities) and the intellect itself does not stir, that they say, is the highest state does not bring out the implications of this verse.
The arousal of all the innate potentials of all the individuals of all the five social sectors to the maximum level enthused by this charismatic authority, Purusha, is covered by the science of yoga. The activities of the five organs of the social polity are kept in a stable condition. Then one becomes undistracted by external forces or alien thoughts (apramatta). These thoughts and forces do enter the larger core society but do ebb away. Yoga ensures that they do not carry away the individuals and the society, for these are linked to that high unifying authority.
In other words social stability and security require this linkage, yoga. The imperceptible presence and wholesome influence of such a personage who is above the socio-political constitution are needed to ward off the evils of anomie and social decadence. (2-3-11) The statements, Keenness is the way of eternal life and slackness the way of death, Mind is liable to fluctuation and therefore we should be extremely careful and The world sinks down in Yoga and again is created afresh are irrelevant to this verse.
The teacher says that the extent of the influence of that great personage cannot be understood from any of the pronouncements in Vedas and other works or by the mind (manas). It is imperceptible. [This verse hints that the Vedas and the codes proclaimed by Manu Chakshusha had not provided for the position of Purusha as the highest socio-political authority overriding the powers of the high judiciary, Brahma.]
Naciketas wants to know how the presence of the influence of that personage who has the ability to check social decadence and ensure social stability can be noticed. Has he to blindly accept the stand of the Astika who says that there is such an imperceptible and imponderable social force and bond, yoga, which can override the constitution? (2-3-12) The claim that the conviction of the reality of that which is sought is the prerequisite cannot be substantiated on the basis of this verse. The statement, We can at least reasonably say of God that He is, is unwarranted.
According to the Astika, it is necessary to understand that the personage who functions as a great linking force does exist. It is necessary to understand also the nature (bhava) of that charismatic link. When the existence of that personage is recognized as a reality (tattva) the nature of his influence becomes obvious (2-3-13). The stand that rational faith in the existence of Brahman, leads on to spiritual experience in which His nature is revealed to and understood by the believer may be correct but it is not relevant to the intent of this verse.
This verse speaks not of Brahman, the supreme intellectual and judge who upholds the social constitution, Brahma, but of an authority, Purusha, who is superior to Brahma and who prevents the disintegration of the society by his existence and by his imperceptible charismatic influence over all the strata and all the sectors of the society. The claim that in this section the author speaks of the discipline of yoga by which mans whole being is unified and concentrated on the realization of the Highest Being who is also the inner and real self is irrelevant.
When all the desires that one has in his heart are released, that is, when one has seen the fulfilment of all his desires, a commoner becomes one eligible for the status of a noble (amrta) and at the stage where he has no more desire in his heart, that is, he is no longer interested in the joys and privileges that belonging to the aristocracy offers him he becomes fit to be absorbed into the intellectual aristocracy, Brahma. The term pramucya is not to be translated as cast away (2-1-14). Some would interpret this verse as meaning, When self-seeking desire, ignorance and doubt disappear, the vision of God is attained. The claim that the Upanishad treats fellowship with God, as the consummation of spiritual experience is unwarranted and a poor attempt at mysticism.
When all the knots that fetter the desires that a commoner (martya) has in his heart to the life of a commoner in this social world are cut asunder he is free to rise in social ladder and reach the level of the aristocrats (amrta). This is the direction of how to follow the rules of discipline (anusasanam) that the teacher gives Naciketas about the three high levels, Purusha, Brahma and Deva (Amrta). (2-3-15)
The next verse (2-3-16) is a later interpolation even as section (8-6) of Chhandogya Upanishad is a later interpolation. Even as one of the hundred arteries rising from the heart goes to the top of the skull and the others go up in different directions, only one of the many intellectuals is able to reach the highest position. The term, utkrama, may be a corruption of the term, urukrama used to refer to the long steps taken by the dwarfish chief, Vamana. The purusha who is dwarfish (of the size of a thumb) (like Agastya) and who represents inner conscience (antaratma) abides in the hearts of the native people (jana). Vamana retrieved the natives of Janasthana from the thrall of Bali who was guided by Sukra (Usanas).
This inner conscience should be drawn out with firmness from the body. In other words, the individual should be enabled to express himself free of the severe restraints imposed on him by his social group. Even as the reed lets out music as one who has studied that art, vidya, the social body lets out its hidden talents and aspirations to rise to the level of the pure (sukra) nobles (amrtam). (2-3-17) Did the political philosophy of Usanas (Sukra) promise social ascent and expression of ones talents but failed to do so in practice?
The Upanishad concludes the tale with the happy ending. Naciketas, having gained this knowledge declared by Mrtyu (the official in charge of the commonalty) and by following the rules of the science of creative (krtsna) action (yoga), attained the status of Brahma. He became freed from the passion (rage, anger caused by restlessness and restraints) and from the codes pertaining to the conduct of the commoners who are subject to Mrtyu. Similarly others who learn this science of the essential soul, adhyatma, may get liberated from the bonds of this life. (2-3-18)