Uddālaka’s Teaching in Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6, 8–16

in Vedic Cosmology and Ethics
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In the sixth chapter of the ChU Uddālaka teaches his son Śvetaketu several doctrines. Hanefeld (1976, 142) rightly emphasizes the lack of unity of this chapter. Formally 6, 1–7 and 6, 8–16 already represent two independent chapters, since both end with the repetition of the last two words. On the other hand the last sentence of both parts is identical (tad dhāsya vijajñāv iti vijajñāv iti), which may be due to a secondary attempt to combine these parts in one chapter. Hanefeld also assumes several interpolations in both parts, for which the evidence is less striking. The endings of most sections in 6, 1–6 and 6, 8–15 are identical. Again an attempt at unification?

In this short article I will concentrate on the second part (6, 8–16), which has the refrain

sa ya eṣo ’ṇimaitadātmyam idaṁ sarvam / tat satyam / sa ātmā / tat tvam asi śvetaketo iti

near the end of all sections (with a small variation in 6, 16, 3). Looking at the contents of these sections we have to admit that the refrain sometimes does not suit the preceding passage. We may translate it as follows:

What is this subtle essence, of that (same) nature is this universe.1 That is the reality. That is the ātman. That you are, Śvetaketu.

The aṇiman indicated with the pronoun eṣa only plays a real role in 6, 12 and 13, where it refers to something which is so subtle that one cannot see it. See Hanefeld (1976, 162; with references to other scholars), who, however, even includes 6, 11. This aṇiman is interpreted by him as a “feinen, nicht unmittelbar sichtbaren Lebens-Ātman, den man als Lebenskraft oder als ‘Leben’ schlechthin auffassen kann” (163). This qualification seems to be mainly based on 6, 11, where jīva and jīvātman play a role, but nothing subtle is found. The vital juice of a tree leaves this “body,” the tree dies, but life itself does not die. So the refrain only suits 6, 12 and 13, which are also connected by the turn of phrase na nibhālayase “you do not see.” The subtleness is explicitly mentioned only in 6, 12, where a banyan fruit is split in which seeds are found which are denoted as aṇu. The splitting of such a seed results into something which is no more visible. We might say that this is “more subtle than subtle” (aṇor aṇīyas), the well-known qualification of the ātman.2

The relation of this aṇiman to idaṁ sarvam is problematic in most translations. On account of the interpretation of etadātmya/aitadātmya/etadātmaka one takes this aṇiman as the soul of either the universe or of every being here (see n. 1). However, idaṁ sarvam does not denote every living being; at most it may refer to everything here in the world and then it becomes doubtful whether everything has a soul. It is more probable that it denotes the universe. The aṇiman of ChU 6, 12 and 13 can hardly be interpreted as the soul of the universe. Therefore I take ātman in the compound etadātmya in a more general sense. This makes the implicit equation of the soul (sa ātmā) and the whole universe (idaṁ sarvam) easier in this passage.

The qualification “smaller than the smallest” (aṇor aṇīyas or similar expressions) of the ātman often is followed by a reference to cosmic dimensions.3 So we may assume that the subject of the refrain is the ātman (smaller than the smallest) which is at the same time the universe (greater than the greatest) and that the adjective etadātmya “having this (same) nature” underlines this identity.

As observed above the invisibility of the subtle (aṇu) or more than subtle (aṇor aṇīyas) ātman actually only refers to the teaching in 6, 12 and 13. In both sections Uddālaka’s teaching is illustrated with experiments. In 6, 12 Śvetaketu has to admit that after his splitting of the smallest essence of the banyan no more essence is visible. In 6, 13 salt becomes dissolved in water overnight and again Śvetaketu has to state that he does not see what his father is asking for. The parallelism of the two sections is evident. Admittedly there are also some differences. In 6, 13 the problem of the invisibility is solved by a second experiment. The salty water is poured out and due to high temperature and sunshine salt reappears.4 Moreover the aṇiman of 6, 12 may also be considered as the creative germ of a living entity, an aspect missing in the experiments of 6, 13. However, subtleness associated with invisibility forms the connecting element of these two sections. In 6, 13 the additional item is the making visible of the invisible “material.” Salt dissolved in water is as invisible as the aṇiman inside the seed of the banyan fruit.

On Uddālaka’s experiment(s) with salt in ChU 6, 13 much has been published (see n. 4). The most recent contribution is by Slaje (2001). Slaje’s paper is more focused on parallels of this passage in BĀU 2, 4 and 4, 5, in which the dissolution of salt forms the illustration of a doctrine, but is not connected with an experiment. Slaje gives an interesting exposition on the true nature of salt and knowledge about this in Ancient India. From salty water salt is produced; in water salt becomes dissolved. Salt and water are strictly speaking not two different entities. The illustration of salt and water therefore should be based on identity.

I will not enter into a discussion of the doctrine of BĀU 2, 4 and 4, 5 and its illustration by means of salt and water, but concentrate on the teaching of ChU 6, 13 and its associated section 6, 12 and on the nature of the experiment.

According to Slaje the basic identity of water and salt should imply that salt was poured into salty water. The water of the experiment in ChU 6, 13 therefore should be regarded as brine. Into this brine Śvetaketu then throws a lump of salt. Slaje (2001, 40 f.) observes “udaka can indeed mean ‘brine’ (= water tasting extremely salty) … With the salt-dṛṣṭānta in the ChU, a comparatively high degree of probability for the assumption that udaka was ‘brine’ can be reached.”

Against this conclusion several arguments can be adduced. First of all udaka almost always means non-salty water. This appears e.g. from all the compounds in which jars of water and the sipping of water or the libation of water for the ancestors play a role. Indeed, udaka may also denote the water of the ocean, but there the context is clear and this salty water is not used inland. The very scanty evidence of udaka meaning “brine” or “lye” for which Slaje only refers to secondary literature and does not provide any text place, hardly justifies the assumption that in every context udaka could mean brine.

However, even if we are forced to assume that udaka should mean “brine” in ChU 6, 13 without any specification in the context, then the problem is not solved. If we are to assume that Uddālaka said to Śvetaketu: “Put this lump of salt in a pot of brine,” this information about the original contents of the pot was also known to Śvetaketu,5 who, as a young man who had just finished his studies and was called mahāmanā anūcānamānī stabdhaḥ by his own father in ChU 6, 1, 3, may have been surprised about the silly order to throw salt into salty water. His surprise (to say the least) may even have increased the next day, when his father asks him to taste the water, in which the added salt has dissolved and only the salty taste has remained. Can a father fool a proud son with this sort of evidence? Of course the salty taste of brine will not have disappeared after the addition of salt. It was already present.

One might even wonder whether Śvetaketu, who like we is supposed to know that udaka is brine, would be willing to sip this “water” consisting of brine to which a lump of salt had been added.

In 1889 Böhtlingk was too soft, when he made his assumed reading abhiprāśya in ChU 6, 13, 2 refer to eating (something sweet) in addition (to the salt in order to remove the bad taste). Hamm (1968–1969, 157, n. 71) makes Uddālaka give some additional salt to eat “sozusagen als Gegenprobe,” which is too cruel and hardly makes sense. Slaje here beats Hamm in both respects. Lye as well as brine (with or without the addition of a lump of salt) are undrinkable. The experiment is meaningless and presupposes the combination of a stupid son and an almost criminal father.

According to Slaje, the aim of the experiment was misunderstood by everybody. It would not deal with the hidden and still present ātman (2001, 27). He holds that “we should rather assume that a demonstration was carried out in order to show how the primordial substance changes in form only and thus manifests itself individually, limited in space and time. By repetition, Uddālaka may have proved to Śvetaketu how individuality (= the salt crystal) appears and disappears, and how substantial identity, perceptible by the identical (= salty) taste, nevertheless remains the same: limited individuality may repeatedly appear out of one and the same single substance” (p. 41).

This interpretation of the tenor of this section excludes its connection with ChU 6, 12 and with the refrain discussed above. Moreover it does not take into account that especially in ChU 6, 13 all emphasis is placed on not seeing something which still should be present. Uddālaka does not speak at all about changing forms and remaining taste as the representations of individuality and of the permanent primordial substance. His conclusion (followed by the refrain) only runs

atra vāva kila sat saumya na nibhālayase ’traiva kileti

Here (i.e. in this bowl) apparently (kila) being present (since you tasted it), my son, you did not see it. In the same place (i.e. in the bowl) it must have been (kila) present (since it has reappeared after the water was poured out).6

Among the remaining sections of ChU 6, 8–16 it is especially 6, 16 which is mostly considered as a passage without any relation with the rest.7 The treatment of an ordeal, however, should be interpreted as an illustration or parable (as is the case with other sections of ChU 6, 8–16). The important point is the statement about someone who by truth overcomes the ordeal. As usual here the last sentence before the refrain gives the clue:

sa na dahyate / atha mucyate

He is not burned and then he is released.

With the help of truth mokṣa is obtained.

One may compare this section with ChU 6, 14, which according to Hanefeld (1976, 164) again has no relation with the other sections.8 In the parable a man from Gandhāra is kidnapped, blindfolded and left alone in a desert. After someone has freed (pramucya) him from the blindfold he reaches (upasampad) Gandhāra. Before the refrain Uddālaka gives the explanation by comparing this man with someone who has a Guru and knows:

tasya tāvad eva ciraṁ yāvad na vimokṣye / atha sampatsye

Though the exact meaning of some details is uncertain,9 it is clear that the text states that after some time such a person will become released (probably by his Guru) and then will reach a particular goal. The man who reaches Gandhāra is called wise and someone who asks questions in order to find his goal. Similarly the man who has a Guru may be supposed to reach his goal by wisdom and asking questions. By answering these questions the Guru sets him free. Thus wisdom provides mokṣa. This will probably be reached after death, since the short turn of phrase atha sampatsye seems to refer to dying.

This appears from the following section ChU 6, 15, where the verb sampad occurs several times. Relatives ask a dying man “Do you know me?” When he loses his power of speech this speech enters (sampad) the mind. On losing consciousness thinking enters breath, on dying breath enters heat (i.e. the body remains warm during a short period). The last heat of the body then enters the highest deity. The last sentence before the refrain is atha na jānāti (which in the parable implies that he does not know anymore his relatives, but in the application that dying means losing the memory of one’s past and identity).

So sampad in 6, 14 as well as in 6, 15 refers to dying.

We may also compare ChU 6, 9 where the same verb is used. Parallel to atha na jānāti in ChU 6, 15 we find the conclusion that just as honey from different plants or trees becomes one in the final product honey, the deceased10 become solved (sampadya) in the one sat (the cosmic principle) and have no more knowledge (na vidur) about their background.

The same section then continues with

ta iha vyāghro vā siṁho vā vṛko vā varāho vā kīṭo vā pataṅgo vā daṁśo vā maśako vā yad yad bhavanti tad ābhavanti //

This sentence with an enumeration of all kinds of living beings is concluded with the puzzling statement tad ābhavanti. One may doubt whether this sentence should refer to the sleep of e.g. flies and mosquitos, as seems to be assumed by Hanefeld (1976, 127) who translates: “Was auch immer diese [Geschöpfe] hier sind—Tiger, Löwe …—das sind sie immer noch.” Indeed, nobody will doubt the fact that a sleeping tiger still remains a tiger. Apparently Hanefeld does not exclude the possibility that this sentence would refer to awakening after sleep, since he adds between brackets “(Oder: Zu dem werden sie wieder).” Again one may wonder who will doubt the fact that after sleep a tiger still is a tiger.

Two misconceptions play a role in some translations. First, some scholars take yad yad bhavanti tad ābhavanti as if the text would read yad yad bhavanti tad tad ābhavanti. The second mistake is that ChU 6, 9 would deal with dreamless sleep instead of death. It is obvious that yad yad bhavanti concludes and summarizes the enumeration of living beings and that tad should refer to something else. Undoubtedly the anaphoric pronoun tad here refers back to sati.11 At death all living beings become merged in the sat. This has nothing to do with mokṣa, a concept found in ChU 6, 14 and 6, 16.

The same sentence is also found in ChU 6, 10, where a comparison is made with rivers entering the ocean and losing their identities. The parallelism of 6, 9 and 6, 10 also appears from the similar formulations

te yathā tatra na vivekaṁ labhante … evam eva khalu saumyemāḥ sarvāḥ prajāḥ sati sampadya na viduḥ sati sampadyāmaha iti … (6, 9)

tā yathā tatra na viduḥ iyam aham asmīyam aham asmīti / evam eva khalu saumyemāḥ sarvāḥ prajāḥ sata āgamya na viduḥ sata āgacchāmaha iti … (6, 10)

Apparently a second comparison is made here. However, in 6, 9 sati sampad is found and in 6, 10 sata ā-gam. Especially the difference between the locative sati and the form sata which in Sandhi may stand for the ablative satas, has induced scholars to assume a different situation in these two sections. Hanefeld (1976, 160) makes 6, 10 refer to awakening from sleep, i.e. from the sat, but has to admit that the comparison is problematic.

If 6, 9 would refer to entering the sat in sleep and 6, 10 to leaving the sat when one becomes awake, one may ask why two different comparisons were presented. Indeed the comparison with honey (6, 9) does not work in the situation of becoming awake since honey does not return to the flowers. The particular situation of rivers and the ocean then should be decisive. However, rivers do not leave again the ocean into which they have entered.

Let us have a look at the contents of 6, 10. The text states that western and eastern rivers flow into the (western, resp. eastern)12 ocean. The formulation tāḥ samudrāt samudram evāpiyanti sa samudra eva bhavati indeed contains an ablative samudrāt,13 but all emphasis is laid on the unification in the ocean. The loss of memory concerning an ocean which has been left is not mentioned.

Edgerton (1965, 175, n. 3) and Ickler (1973, 21) take sata as the Sandhi form for the dative sate. They are followed by Olivelle (1996, 153) who translates “… when all these creatures reach the existent.” Indeed, one does not expect an ablative with the verb ā-gam. On the other hand one would like to see any textual support for Edgerton’s assumption of “a dative of goal or aim” with ā-gam, which supposes a locative. I assume an ellipse of the locative and take sata as the genitive satas. For such an elliptical construction with a genitive in which a word denoting a place, abode, house etc. has to be supplied, see Delbrück (1888, 9), who mentions i.a. ŚB 14, 9, 1, 7, where likewise the verb ā-gam occurs: sá ā́ jagāma gautamó yátra pravā́hanasya jáivaler ā́sa. Just as several rivers arrive at the abode of the ocean several living beings arrive at the abode of the sat. They lose their memory about their individuality and whether they are human beings, tigers or mosquitos, they all become this, i.e. the sat (as the sentence ending with tad ābhavanti which occurs in 6, 9 and 6, 10 indicates).

In spite of the confusing impression made by ChU 6, 8–16 there still is some coherence. However, the compilator of these experiments, comparisons and parables has brought together rather different theories (e.g. on dying of all living beings and on mokṣa). The arrangement of the second half of ChU 6 seems to be as follows:

  • Sleep is entering (sampad) into the sat14 (6, 8)
  • Dying is entering (sampad) into the sat (6, 9)
  • Dying is arriving at the abode of the sat (6, 10)
  • The jīvātman survives the death of the body (6, 11)
  • The ātman (smaller than an atom but as great as the universe) is invisible but present in the body (6, 12–13)
  • Dying (sampad) and mokṣa based on knowledge (6, 14)
  • Dying is entering (sampad) into the highest (6, 15)
  • mokṣa is based on satya (6, 16)
*First published in Indo-Iranian Journal 44, 2001, pp. 289–298.
1Various translations of the opening of this refrain have been made. It is clear that etadātmya is an adjective based on a Bahuvrīhi compound etadātman in which the second member, a noun in the n-declension was replaced by an adjective of the a-declension (based on the suffix -ya). For this type see Wackernagel (1905, 106); cf. etaddevatya. The reading etadātmaka is a conjecture of Böhtlingk (1889). One might also assume a compound aitadātmya; see Wackernagel (1905, 108) who translates “dieses zum Selbst habend.” However, Wackernagel-Debrunner (1954, 821) takes this compound as a noun (“das dessen-Wesen-Sein”); see also Böhtlingk (18772, 283) “All dieses ist das dessen Wesensein” and (1909, 319) “Ein Bestehen aus jenem ist dieses alles.” For such an interpretation see also Deussen (1897, 166) and Edgerton (1965, 175) “A state-of-having-that-as-its-nature is this universe.” Translators who (in my view correctly) take the compound as an adjective (whether or not following Böhtlingk’s conjecture etadātmaka) mostly make the second member of the compound refer to the technical term ātman. See e.g. Hertel (19222, 93) “Diese Feinheit nun bildet das Ich des Alls” (a free translation); Hume (19312, 247) “That which is the finest essence—this world has that as its soul”; Senart (1930, 85) “Cette essence subtile, c’ est par elle que tout est animé”; Radhakrishnan (1953, 460) “That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its self”; Hamm (1968–1969, 155) “Das eben ist dies Feine, alles dies (hier) hat eben Das zu seinem Selbst”; Hanefeld (1976, 127) “Und was jenes Feine ist, das ist das Wesen von allem hier (der ganzen Welt)” (free translation); Olivelle (1996, 152) “The finest essence here—that constitutes the self of this whole world” (free translation). I prefer a more general interpretation like given by Geldner (19282, 113) “Was dieses feine Ding ist, derartig ist die ganze Welt.”
2See KaṭhU 2, 20; ŚvetU 3, 20; MaiU 6, 20; BhG 8, 9. Cf. also KaṭhU 2, 8 (aṇīyān hy … aṇupramāṇāt); MaiU 6, 38 (aṇvor apy aṇvyam); 7, 11 (aṇor hy aṇur); MuU 3, 1, 7 (sūkṣmāc ca tat sūkṣmataram).
3See ChU 3, 14, 3 eṣa ma ātmāntarhṛdaye ’ṇīyān vrīher vā yavād vā sarṣapād vā śyāmākād vā śyāmākataṇḍulād vā / eṣa ma ātmāntarhṛdaye jyāyān pṛthivyā jyāyān antarikṣāj jyāyān divo jyāyān ebhyo lokebhyaḥ “This self which lies hidden within my heart is smaller than a grain of rice or barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet or a millet kernel. It is larger than the earth, larger than the intermediate space, larger than heaven, larger than all these worlds.” Especially on account of the reference to a millet kernel one may assume a parallelism of ChU 6, 12 and ChU 3, 14, 3. On smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest see also ŚvetU 3, 9; 3, 20. See further ŚvetU 4, 14.
4See Bodewitz (1991–1992).
5Editors’ note: The text in the article as printed in IIJ 44 has “a lump of water” and Uddālaka, but the context makes it clear that “a lump of salt” and Śvetaketu are meant.
6See Bodewitz (1991–1992, 429–435).
7See e.g. Hanefeld (1976, 165) “Auch der letzte Abschnitt scheint mit keiner der übrigen Aussagen des Textes etwas zu tun zu haben. Es geht um ein Ordal.”
8“Der nächste Abschnitt nun hat keinen Zusammenhang mit der Lehre vom Lebens-Ātman, auch nicht mit irgendeiner anderen der bisher erwähnten Vorstellungen … (Im ganzen übrigen Text taucht der Begriff ‘Erlösung’ [vimokṣa] nicht auf!).”
9Especially the genitive tasya forms a problem. Edgerton (1965, 177, n. 3) observes: “The verbs in this sentence are to be understood as 3rd person, agreeing in form with the 1st person, as fairly often in the Vedic language. So Śaṁkara.” I have my doubts. See also Hanefeld (1976, 133, n. 19) who actually only states the problem without giving a solution. I assume that tasya should refer to the teacher and that this very concise sentence contains some ellipses. In tasya tāvad eva ciram a verbform denoting “I will stay” has to be supplied. The genitive tasya likewise supposes an ellipsis. Here we may assume that a word like “abode” or “house” has to be supplied. For this type of ellipsis see Delbrück (1888, 9).
10The deceased are denoted as imāḥ sarvāḥ prajāḥ. According to Hanefeld (1976, 158–161) this section should be taken with 6, 8 and 6, 10 and refer to dreamless sleep (indeed the subject of 6, 8): “Wir haben in diesen beiden Abschnitten (i.e. the sections 6, 9–10) wahrscheinlich also eine vollständige Erklärung des Schlafzustandes vor uns, der gedeutet wird als Eingehen ins Sein … Während der Zeit des Schlafens, in der man mit dem Sein vereinigt ist, gibt es kein individuelles Bewusstsein” (p. 161). Hanefeld does not entirely exclude the possibility that the theory of sleep would have been transferred to the theory of death, since the combination of sleep and death often occurs in the Upaniṣads. However, the text would not give any indication for this: “es findet sich kein entsprechender Hinweis.” (ibid.). Here we may observe that at the end of 6, 8 (before the refrain) an explicit reference to dying is found (6, 8, 6), in which again the verb sampad plays a role. Hanefeld, who considers almost every passage as an interpolation, also rejects this portion. This makes a discussion on relationships rather difficult. The comparison of people absorbed or fused in the sat with the confluence of honey in one final product hardly points to sleep which after all is just a temporary and not a final stage.
11Hanefeld (1976, 161, n. 31) considers this interpretation in which tad should refer to sat as “sehr konstruiert.” From the linguistic and stylistic point of view this interpretation (proposed by Edgerton 1965, 175 and Thieme 1966, 51) is superior. Probably the implications for the contents of the section did not appeal to Hanefeld.
12Slaje (2001, 39) has an untenable interpretation in which the “easterly” rivers flow to the western ocean and the “westerly” to the eastern ocean. I doubt whether the Sindhu might be called an “easterly” river.
13The expression samudrāt samudram perhaps refers to rain which comes from heaven, then becomes collected in rivers which ultimately end in the ocean. Cf. ṚV 10, 98, 5, where an Ṛṣi makes the rain stream from the uttara samudra to the adhara samudra.
14The treatment of thirst and hunger in 6, 8 is rather puzzling in the context. We may compare ChU 6, 5–7, where likewise a strange treatment of food and drinks is found. In both passages the elements water and anna (= earth) are taken literally as the material consumed by the human body. ChU 6, 5–7 is preceded by the statement “Learn from me, my dear, how these three deities become each threefold when they enter man” (the final sentence of 6, 4). The treatment of hunger and thirst in ChU 6, 8 is concluded with the sentence: “I have already explained to you, my dear, how these three deities become each threefold when they enter man.” In ChU 6, 5–7 the text tries to save the threefoldness by interpreting even tejas as something which is consumed by human beings. In ChU 6, 8 this attempt is no more made. Obviously the compiler of ChU 6 tried to force the relationship of 6, 1–7 and 6, 8–16.

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