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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Indra, Virochana and Prajapati

 There is a story about Indra, the chief of the gods (sura), Virochana, the chief of the demons (asura) and Prajapati (the primordial progenitor) in Chandogya Upanishad, Book 8, Chapter 7, section 12. I have read it several times and do not have a grasp of it yet. This is my latest take on it.

Indra and Virochana go to Prajapati to learn about Atman. Prajapati says: “ ya yesho akshini purusho drishyata yesha atma iti”. Word by word translation will be: “that Person who is seen in the eye is Atma” or “the Person that is seen in the eye is the self”.

As I understand Sanskrit, pashyati means seeing (active seeing) and drishyati is passive, to be seen or perceived, become visible, to be seen with the mind. If I am correct, Prajapati is saying “that which is the basis of what is seen is Atma”. Let me see whether subsequent passages support my understanding.

Indra and Virochana ask: “is it the same as what is seen as reflection in the water or in a mirror?” Prajapati’s answer is that “the Seer referred to is the same perceived in everything” (sarveshu anteshu parikhyayate)  Both students mistake this to mean that Prajapati was referring to the body, the lower self. Virochana is convinced of that interpretation and goes to his group and starts teaching this point of view.

Indra is not satisfied. He goes back to Prajapati and says: “No sir, your answer does not help because when I look at the reflection in water or in the mirror, the body appears to be adorned when I am adorned. It appears to be crippled when I am crippled. How can that be when you say that the Self is devoid of any blemish?”

Prajapati makes Indra stay with him for 32 and then says: “the one who, being adored, moves about in the dream, is the Self”. As indicated in intervening texts, Prajapati is taking his student gradually though stages. He is now teaching about the dream state.

Indra goes away, thinks about this teaching, comes back to Prajapati, and says: “that cannot be true because in the dream state, the body is not crippled even if my real body is crippled. When I have running nose and eyes that dream body does not have them. The body suffers happiness and unhappiness which the dream-body does not. I need a better answer”.

Prajapati makes him stay with him for 32 more years and then says: “When one is in deep sleep in such a way that he has all organs withdrawn and is tranquil, he does not see any dream. That is the Self”. Indra is not satisfied with that answer either because he reasons: “This one in deep sleep is not aware of himself or of any other thing. He is lost as it were. I do not find it acceptable”.

Now that Prajapati has taken Indra through the Awake, Dream and Deep sleep stages (jaagra, svapna and sushupti), is ready to take Indra to the fourth or the turya stage. Prajapati asks Indra to stay with him for five more years (now this adds up to 101 years from the start of the first discussion). Finally, Prajapati agrees and says this body is indeed mortal. But the Atman which is beyond all these three states namely awake, dream and sleep is indeed the ground state based on which one becomes aware of and experiences those three states. Atman is immortal and cannot be just this body. “Atman is yoked to this body just as a horse or a bull is yoked to the car” says Prajapati.

Extending this further, I interpret the final answer to the initial questions as: “Atman is the basis of what you see and is the ground of your consciousness and your perceptions of the external world”.

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