Original Article: Prof K.S.Kannan,
English Translation: Smt Padmashree
Many people have likened life to a journey, haven't they? Whence did we come? Whither are we headed? Do we know the answers to these questions? We only know that we are here at present. We do not even know the answer to the question, "Who am I?" In fact, a very famous shloka in Sanskrit asks,
kastvam koham kuta aayaatah?
kaa me jananii ko me taatah?
"Who are you? Who am I? From where did I come? Who is my mother? And who is my father?" It then urges us to ponder the answers to these questions.
Similarly, the Bhagavad Geetha says that the beginnings and ends of living beings are hidden; only what lies in the middle is visible.
"avyaktaadeeni bhootaani vyakta-madhyaani bhaarata | avyakta nidhanaanyeva..."
A journey can happen by foot; or by other vehicular means. For the greatest part of days past, animals played an important part in helping people move from one place to another. Bullock carts were used in villages; horse-drawn carriages were used in cities. Therefore, when speaking of the journey of the life, the metaphor of the chariot drawn by horses lent itself most eloquently to the seers of the Upanishats.
The Upanishad elaborates on this idea. It asks - "What is the Ratha - this chariot? Who is the owner of the chariot - the Rathi - who travels in it to an appointed destination? Who is the Saa-rathi, the charioteer who travels along with the Rathi? This Saarathi, the charioteer who holds the reins of the horses should be familiar with the route and the terrain of the journey. By tightening and loosening the reins of the horses, the charioteer guides the horses to draw the chariot to the appointed place. What, then, are the horses? What are the reins? And which is that appointed place?"
The Kathopanishad answers these questions succinctly. "I - the Atman - am the Rathi, the owner of the chariot. The body is the chariot. The discerning mind - the Buddhi - is the Saarathi, the charioteer. The mind is the rein which must control the sense organs that are represented by the horses."
"He who lacks Vijnana and whose mind is not Yukta, is burdened with unconstrained horses in the form of sense organs; just like a charioteer struggles with rebellious horses."
"He who has Vijnana and a mind that is Yukta has the sense organs under his control like obedient horses are to a charioteer."
So, what is this Vijnana that the Upanishad speaks of? It means "a special Jnana; a special discernment." (Vi is special; Jnana is Knowledge; Knowing.) And what exactly is a disciplined mind? In other words, a Yukta Manas? A mind in Yoga is Yukta. The words Yoga and Yukta derive from the same Sanskrit root verb called yuj, to join; to yoke together. A mind that (without running berserk) is joined to the goal one must achieve is a Yukta Manas. The mind is then aligned with the end that one must achieve. Therefore, a person having that special discerning knowledge called Vijnana, along with a Yukta Manas is like a charioteer equipped with well-trained and obedient horses.
What will be effect of not possessing this Vijnana? The journey is fraught with danger! Without discernment, the mind is unyoked from the goal. The Buddhi, the saa-rathi becomes unseated. When the sense organs in the form of horses run amok, how will this unseated charioteer reign them in? He will very likely be thrown off balance. Dragged around by the horses and the chariot, neither the charioteer nor the owner depending on the charioteer's steering skills will reach the destination.
What is the destination for the journey of life? The Upanishad declares that the Abode of Vishnu - tad vishnoh paramam padam - is the goal. That alone is the goal because having reached that highest realization, there is no retraction into the cycle of births and deaths called samsara. Obedient horses in the form of disciplined sense organs will lead us to the destination of ParamaPadam. Ungovernable horses keep us going around in confused cycles of samsara.
What is samsara? Samsara is sam-sarana - the act of going round and round in circles. What's the loss, one may ask? Think of any ring road or beltway such as the Connaught Circus in Delhi. It is a road system encircling the city; an expansive circular road system. Once on that road, it seems to us that we are moving forward. It seems like there is pra-gati; the forward movement or progress. But really? Are we not reaching and leaving the same landmarks again and again? We might even fancy ourselves that we are zooming ahead of everyone. Sadly, the undiscerning mind doesn't realize that we are only going dizzy on an unending, winding road! We travelers on that winding road of samsara must learn to exit and ascend to reach the true destination of ParamaPadam.
This example of a journey given in the Upanishad helps us understand who we are, where we are located and where we must reach. In other words, it is an ‘udaharana’. The Sanskrit word udaaharana is made up of the parts ut - upwards and aaharana - lift. When Udaaharana is an apt example in the form of a simile or a metaphor, it helps to lift us from ignorance to knowing. The Upanishad does this effortlessly by using the familiar metaphor of a journey and employing the familiar vocabulary of a chariot and a charioteer; horses and reins; wanderings and destination.
Note: The Kannada version of this article can be viewed at AYVM blogs
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