So we saw, that Nachiketa (a young boy in conversation with Lord Death), fulfilled his social duties to the family, or rather his father; he was thoroughly tested by Lord Death and he contemplated with Lord Death what the relationship was between life and death.
So having been thoroughly prepared, he now takes responsibility for his spiritual path. All the temptations of life have been let go of (he has obviously practiced detachment… and after all this, he focusses now on the spiritual quest, he originally set out for. He wants answers! Indeed “nothing else will satisfy” his quest. He has embraced the path of detachment and practices…(vairagya and abhyasa).
So being well prepared he can now ask Lord Death what it is that is the essence of all things which are neither limited by time, nor experience.
Lord Death first of all suggests to contemplate and practice OM. Because OM is Brahman; is the identical all-encompassing vibration - as Brahman; and moreover That is what has been called “the Self”. Indeed the Self is that essence which never dies, and thus is never born, it is the essence of each being, the core, the heart, the Atman.
Meditation on That, reveals the impermanent amongst the permanent. Once one starts seeing the Self – there is no need to grief, or fear death because this essence, this Self is literally immortal (second Canto;23).
However one needs not just to “see”/understand this, but has to discover this Self in one-self and that’s were the difficulty is, because it’s not enough to comprehend the idea, not intellectually understand… but it needs to be experienced. Each human being needs to discover it for him/herself.
This Upanishad, says one can do that, through abhyasa and vairagya.. (detachment and practice). Practice here means self-discipline; i.e. it means leading a self-disciplined life as well as practicing detachment from worldly things diligently.
With this advice, we enter the third “Canto” (chapter) of Part II where Lord Death explains, that all the blocks, all the activity, all that keeps us from realising that immortal Self… is simply the mind. He compares the mind to wild horses, and a Charioteer is needed to reign in the horses/senses and the mind so as to make the mind one pointed/discipline; focussed on the path of spiritual practices.
Lord Death extolls that the second tool needed on this path is a sharpened intellect. For that it says in the 13th.verse: “The discriminating man should merge the (organ of) speech in the mind; he should merge that (mind) into the intelligent self; he should merge the intelligent self into the Great Soul (Self); he should merge the Great Soul into the peaceful Self.”
Woe… what does that mean!
Shakaracharya’s comment, explains: that it means when the mind becomes concentrated through meditation on a mantra or for example one of the Mahavakyas (sacred sentences, such as ‘Thou art That’; or ‘I am Brahman’ etc.) eventually the conviction comes that “this is so”; I really am That!.
Well, this is not easy… now we understand why “abhyasa” (self-disciplined) practices is given such importance.
In verse 15, a way is shown that to me sounds simpler: It alludes to the fact, that earth, or the world around us, is made up of 5 energy-fields, they express in five qualities and five organs of perceptions (earth, water, fire, air and space, giving us nose, tongue, eyes, skin and ears, so we can smell, taste, see, touch and hear).
With these we build the perception of our world. That world is ever changing. So to understand “That” which is unchanging, without those qualities - we need to let go of the “glasses” through which we perceive the un-changing.
Hence detach from the ever-changing - in order to experience the “self-existing Lord”, the SELF, the ATMAN, the Life-force itself.
That Self… which is without attributes is hidden in all existence.
Swami Rama in his book “Sacred Journey” says that we are not so much body with souls, but souls with bodies. So we need to look after our tool: body and mind on this journey, which means practicing the yamas and niyamas and within these codes of conduct, especially we need to practice ahimsa (towards others and ourselves). He also says, we need to eat well and look after our body; and furthermore cultivate contentment etc.. Equally we need to work on being able to concentrate our mind, through disciplined focus on the immortal Self.
He says: The Self or Atman” is not recognized through the senses (i.e. our normal way of perception) and cannot be discovered through learning and not even through the sacred teachings (i.e. academic study) … the Atman is revealed only through the disciplines of concentration and meditation which purify the mind (p. 90).
Meditation for Swami Rama means sitting watching calmly the mind, what comes up.? Then watching and inquiring what is it that makes me behave in certain compulsory patterns?
These patterns colour/ dim our mind, they hide the truth from us. They are stored in our unconscious mind (as he explains in the book: Happiness is your Creation).
They are stored in the ‘Cellar’ of our being, and influence…unnoticed, how we think, how we live.
Meditation, when the conscious mind is somewhat still, gives space for these impressions to surface, so we can see them… and let them go. It is something like clearing the basement of our house, so we can move…into a new house (a new way of seeing).
So we need to look at our mind, clean its distortions, so that we are gradually looking through different, clearer glasses and thus seeing of the Self can dawn.
The biggest help with this difficult task, is what in Yogic tradition is called the Gu-Ru. But as Swami Rama says, this is not a person – but it is a force (an energy) driven by grace (p.96). “There is an intelligent momentum that pervades the universe that is moving all human beings towards the perfection, we call God. GU-RU is that intelligence” that intelligent wisdom energy… the highest wisdom… and yes, it can be in a person, but equally it can be in a butterfly or a spider, in the air, in the earth etc. etc. It’s up to our inner sankalpa… our will to learn from it – where ever it speaks to us. That means we need to learn to listen… not to mundane sounds (which are nothing but distractions) but to the guidance which is undistorted inner wisdom, that arises from within.
Seeing this, your whole life becomes - yes, indeed the whole universe is - Gu-ru … that force that guides, sustains and nurtures a soul to find “the Self” inside one’s own being.
When we see (our whole personality) is nothing but a construct of the acquired patterns, the attachment dissolves, the limitation are seen through; we recognize the endless repetitions of behaviour… see them for what they are ; and once we do they lose importance. Who, in his right mind - wants to cling to such empty patterns and habits…?
As we start seeing, as we start being aware of - who we “assume we are”… the ‘my-ness”, the body identification drops.
When it drops, we see there is nothing to fear with death; “I-ness “drops; identification with personality and body drops.
It says somewhere: once we see that all ornaments are made from gold… what can the attachment be to any particular ornament? Our thoughts, stories and fears are always about the shell/ the temporary form? They are about the conditioned, habitual person and body… the Self has no thoughts, the Self is not suffering; the Self has no fear.
So as all the “mind made”, conditionings drop, as our attachment to these drop…what remains is the Self that is: free, timeless, unborn, undying, eternal.
So the Upanishad calls us to see “that very Brahman, that Aditi… who is manifesting in association with the elements...but is itself sitting within the “house” it has made… unattached.
The spiritual path, means walking into a “washing machine”. Letting go of all acquired “stuff”…and seeing who we really are.
Once we see… fear of death does not exist; in fact it is impossible.
Why? Because only the Self exists. There is no other-ness!
The Being realizes: I am the unchanging Reality.
Consciousness, like rain falls down into the manifest world, and there takes on the colour of whatever it meets. So it seems as if there is duality or diversity, but underneath the colours and forms… there is the same Water!
Train your mind to see the commonness - no differences.That is to see the Self. And so it says in the Kathopanishad at the end of the 2nd Part (1st.canto; 15)
“Oh Gautama, as pure water poured on pure water is the same, so also the Self of the man of knowledge….”, the individual Self is none other than the universal All-Self; (call it) Brahman, the Totality or whatever name you choose to give it.