This Upanishad has a historical place of course, about 200 A.D. or something, and there is a famous work which goes with it, called the Karika which again, is thought to be something like 600 A.D. And on those two, on the Upanishad and the Karika, Sri Shankara, whom we follow here, of whom our teacher was a most faithful follower, did a commentary.
The Upanishad is very short, only twelve verses. Sri Shankara calls it the essence of the Upanishads, and our teacher’s teacher, Shri Dada also said this is one of the three Upanishads which if studied will give the whole of the spirit of those Upanishads. The waking state, the dreaming state, and the dreamless sleep state. Now these are regarded as key concepts of the beginning of the Upanishad. The first state is awareness of external things.
Shankara doesn’t, use the word ‘waking state’ in his commentary, he says ‘things are seen externally’. Then, the next state, he says, ‘When you look at things you see them externally, Now close your eyes, and see those same things in your memory, ‘clearly’. He says, ‘As if it were a dream’; now this he says is the second state, the state of interior light, cognition, interiorally, and he says, ‘This is as if in a dream’, and he repeats it, ‘As here, so in a dream’.
Dream is one example of it, but in the other case, in ‘the waking state’, as they call it, we are also dreaming all the time, because when we are seeing the outer objects we also have inner pictures, as every salesman knows. He sees ‘the prospect’ as he calls them, and the same time he has an’ inner picture’, of what he’s going to get out of it. This is a dream even while waking. Then the third state, the Upanishad says, is a state where there is no cognition, either external or internal, it’s a mass of consciousness. We would think, ‘No, no, that’s unconsciousness’.
But the point is made by Sri Shankara here and in many other places, that if it were unconscious we would never know about it.
But we do have the awareness: ‘I was in deep sleep, I knew nothing.’ We say, ‘Oh well, that’s the same thing as not knowing, as being unconscious’. But the analysis is very precise here, ‘knowing nothing’ is not the same as ‘not knowing’. A statement can be made: ‘There was nothing there’. If we don’t know, we can’t make a statement. An example which is given from modern biology is this, snakes have a pit in the cheeks which registers heat, and they can tell whether there is a mouse in the room, they can sense the heat of the mouse.
So if you put a snake in a room it turns its head. The room is absolutely dark, it turns its head, and then if there’s no mouse, it goes to sleep. It heat senses nothing. It knows there’s no mouse there. Now if we are put in a dark room we don’t know whether there’s a mouse there or not. We don’t know whether to go to sleep or not, there might be a mouse. So, a great point is made of this in the yoga psychology. Gaudapada says, that this state goes on all the time, because this is the state of not knowing.
And all the time in our ordinary empirical experience there is a consciousness of external objects, then ‘ there’s an inner light by which we see internal objects, and then lastly there’s a state where we don’t know, there’s a layer of ignorance. ‘We don’t know, as they say, ‘where we came from or where we’re going to.’ There is ignorance and this is the state of deep sleep, which is continuing all the time when we’re going around ; and Shankara extends these verses of the Upanishad, to include not only the strict state of dream but also the internal visualisations and plans and pictures which we make. They are the second state which is of light.
Now the next point is, OM is all this. And we think, ‘Well, these are just words. They can’t mean anything at all. How can a word, even a name, how can a name BE a thing?’ Well, some examples are given. One of them can be like this. This is a picture of a dancing girl who is carrying a flute. Now, she’s wearing silk garments here. The undergarments, which you can just see forming a V there are made of cotton.
Her hair is parted in the middle, it comes down the back there. Her hands are holding the flute. She’s obviously not playing it yet. She’s going to bring it to her lips. You can tell how old she is by the length of the sleeves. She’s under twenty. So that there are a great many things here. But in fact, all these things are simply names. There’s no flute there, there’s no hands there, there’s no hair there, there’s no silk dress there, there’s simply the clay. It’s the names that actually ‘are’ these things. Well, we can say, ‘Ah yes, true’. But that’s only because there really are such things. It’s only because such things really exist, those long sleeves really exist.
The under twenty girls of a particular profession in Kyoto wear them. They’re the entertainers, and they’re dancers and singers. So it’s only because they exist that we project them onto here.’ But that isn’t so. If we see, for instance, the picture of a Chinese dragon, it’s quite familiar to us and to all Chinese, but such things have never existed, but they have been created by pictures and words and names, and we can recognise them. And sometimes when people are in delirium they get the feeling that a dragon is trying to get into the house, as the wind rattles the window, it becomes real to them. But things can be created by names and words.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Mandukya Upanishad
Part 2: You have to worship