So they said to Vayu,
“You go and find out
what is this mysterious presence.”
And Vayu replied,
“Leave it to me. I’ll find out.”
Atha vayumabruvan, vayavetad vijanihi kimetad
So next it was the turn of Vayu. Vayu means ether or air. The root contained in the word vayu means to travel, to smell or to blow. That is what the air does and the wind does. So, it was the turn of Vayu then to approach the Yaksham – the mysterious being, and find out what it was.
So Vayu approached the mysterious presence
and the mysterious presence asked,
“Who are you?”
Replied Vayu, “I am Vayu. I am the emptiness of space.”
Tadabhyadravat, tamabhyavatdat ko’ Siti, vayurva
ahamasmityabravin matarisva va ahamasmiti.
So Vayu went approached the mysterious presence and that mysterious presence said to Vayu, “Who are you? What are you?”
Vayu said, “I am Vayu.”
The characteristics of vayu are emptiness of space. Vayu refers to one who travels in space. So Vayu said, “I am all of space. I know everything. I am omniscient by my very nature. By my very birth, my abode is the emptiness of space and I can travel freely everywhere in the akasha or space.”
Said the mysterious presence,
“What power do you have?”
Said Vayu, “I can blow all away.”
Tasmin tvayi kim viryamitya pidam sarvamadadiya
So the mysterious presence asked, “‘What are your powers? What can you do?” Vayu says, “I can blow anything and everything that is on this planet. I can blow and also I can carry even smell which is that subtle thing which cannot be seen, which cannot be felt except through the nose.”
So the mysterious presence
Placed a blade of grass in front of him and said,
“Blow that away then.”
So Vayu huffed and puffed
But the blade of grass didn’t move.
Crestfallen, Vayu returned to the deities and said,
“I don’t know what the mysterious presence is.”
Tasmai trnam nidadhavetadadatsveti, tadupapreyaya
sarvajavena, tanna sasakadatum, sa tata eva invavrte
naitadasakam vijnatum yadetad yaksamiti.
The mysterious being put a blade of grass in front of Vayu and said, “Let’s see if you can blow this away.” Vayu blew the blade of grass with all the force at his disposal and he could not move the blade of grass. So Vayu retired.
He returned to the deities and said, “I have failed in understanding, in grasping, in identifying what that mysterious being is. I could not even lift the blade of grass that it had put before me.” So feeling humiliated Vayu retired.
So the deities begged Indra,
“Go and find out what the mysterious presence is.”
So Indra said, “Alright, I will”.
And so he approached the mysterious being.
Athendramabruvan, maghavan etad vijanihi
kimetad yaksamiti tatheti; Tadabhyadravat;
Next it was the turn of lndra. lndra is supposed to be repository of all strength, force and power contained in cosmic energies. So that lord of strength and power – all powerful, was requested to approach the Yaksa and identify and find out what it was.
lndra says, “So be it. I’ll go and try.”
The mysterious being instantly disappeared.
In his place appeared Uma
The most beautiful daughter of the Himalaya
And Indra asked her,
“What was that mysterious presence?”
Sa tasmin evakase striyamajagama bahusobha –
manamumam haimavatim; Tam ho vaca, kimetad
So Indra went near. But as soon as lndra went near the mysterious being, that mysterious being disappeared and then what happened, there at that very spot in that emptiness of space, there appeared before lndra a superbly beautiful energy.
Because it is energy, figuratively here in the Upanishad it is referred to as Uma Haimavati – the daughter of the Himalaya. Hima means snow. Himavat means Himalaya, the abode of snow. That energy, described as the daughter of the Himalayas is something indescribably beautiful. So in dazzling beauty the daughter of the Himalayas appeared before him.
So what is the significance of this story? The principle of Vayu in our bodies as the cosmic microcosm is what we call prana. We had seen this in the previous mantras. In Ayurveda it is called vayu but also sometimes vata, pitta or kafa. There are different names that can be used for it. These ancestors of the Indians were very poetic people. They loved poetry, music, dance and drama. They loved life. They were worshippers of life. So the Upanishads are full of all that symbolism.
So this energy of prana is felt by the students of Yoga to be a very powerful instrument at their disposal. I am not referring only to Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga. The word Yoga is very comprehensive. It has an extensive meaning and there are not less than eighteen varieties of Yoga. But for everyone the ashtangayoga or the eight fold preparation is required. It’s a must if you want to study any of the Yogas. So, prana is felt to be a very powerful instrument. And through the channelling of prana through the variety of pranayamas and especially through the art of Bahir Kumbhaka and Antar Kumbhka retaining the breath outside and retaining the breath inside, you can make use of it.
Through pranayama miraculous powers have been developed by people. Through application of the pranic force developed through pranayama the blood is oxidized and you can prolong physical life. There are also esoteric and transcendental experiences and the awakening of the psycho-physical energy of Kundalini that can be achieved. So people are very fond of asana and pranayam and they develop the symmetrical development of their body. With the awakening of powers and experiences they feel fascinated.
However you should understand that this pranayama doesn’t result in what you call dhyan or samadhi. Somehow the quantum leap into the last stage, which is samadhi as invincible peace and inner equipoise does not eventuate. The vrittis go on creating kleshas (disturbances) and students of yoga go on suffering mentally though they live physically in good health. So there is a kind of dichotomy between the physical and the psychological.
So then you ask yourself, “What next?” The asanas and the pranayama have given us so much. Many unexpected things have happened. Experiences have arisen and yet the inner peace, the inner wholeness, the inner equipoise is not there. Why? Because all that powerful prana has not been able to lift the blade of grass, which represents the ego or the “me” in our human life. That ego is a blade of grass because it has only conceptual reality.
The “I” has not got any factual substance as the external sense organs have. You have limbs, you have a mouth, a nose, eyes and ears. But ego has only a conceptual existence. It is a conceptual thing. It hasn’t got a physical reality. It is not a limb. It is not a sense organ. It can’t be found in the brain. So all the powers derived through asanas, pranayama, pratyahar and even dharana which is the science of mental concentration will not move it.
Dharana, Mantra Yoga and Nada Yoga have been used in the oriental world to cure physical sicknesses and to cure even psychological sicknesses and imbalances and for purifying the body. Also rituals and sacrificial rites or Yagnyas have been used and yet all of these steps of Yoga they have not enabled us to liquidate that imaginary entity which is the “I”. Now do you see what this story is about?
You may do all kinds of things to purify and refine the psycho-physical organism. You may attain transcendental and psychic and even healing powers from doing so. You may also prolong your lifespan. But all of this will not enable you to uncover the secret of reality and the meaning of life. This is the significance of this story.
In the last verse, lndra represents the complexity of the mind and brain together. In one word, in Sanskrit it is called buddhi. So intellect as the faculty of the cerebral organ and mind with all its conditioned energies, lndra represents the complexity of the mind and brain together. lndra had been sent there to understand the mystery of the being which is Brahman. This is exactly what we do. We try to understand Brahman with our mind. We feel that the mystery of life can be uncovered through mental movement, through the movement of the brain. That through the intellect it can be captured in a word, in a thought or that it can be captured in our experience. So the mind tries. Now it is the mind that has come into the field for identifying the Brahman, for naming it, recognizing it and uncovering its mystery or meaning. This is where the human race stands today. After having achieved the marvels of science and technology the human being somehow has the conviction inside, that the Brahman as the divinity must be and can be captured with the cerebral movement. The mind wants to objectify the Brahman, to create a subject-object relationship with it in order to say that I know it.
So what has happened here is that Indra or the mind with all its powers including the brain, all its powers, tried to approach the ultimate reality or the divinity using thought and all that stale stuff in the scriptures, and to the great surprise of the mind the moment it tries to think about Brahman it gets lost in silence, because Brahman cannot be an object of thought. It also can’t be an object of perception. It cannot be an object of audition. It cannot be an object of articulation or speech. It cannot be an object of conception. You cannot conceive it. You cannot describe it in words. You cannot convert it into an idea.
So the mind stops because the Brahman as the divinity disappears. It defies the touch of thought and expression. The divinity defies your perception. All your relative faculties with their conditioned energies are irrelevant when it comes to making contact with that.
If the mental efforts and intellectual efforts have an integrity, if they are for learning and discovering, at least the motivation is pure and not polluted with ambition for acquisition.
Also you know, there is the greed of comparative ambition – others have had it, I must have it too. Why not me? You know, out of competition. When the mind realizes that all its movements are futile, unrelated to any further exploration, then a genuine and very precious humility might arise in the mind.
So the moment it is realized by the buddhi – the mind, that its movement is unrelated, irrelevant, meaningless and futile, it stops. The stopping, the discontinuity of the mental movement is what is implied by the word humility. So it stops, it discontinues its movement and yet remains open. If it discontinues its movement out of frustration then it will be closed in. Nothing further can happen. But in quietly discontinuing the movement there is receptivity. Humility IS this openness and receptivity towards life. That is what we call inner-silence or mounam.
Then you remain empty because your movement in any or every direction is going to be irrelevant to the exploration. It will give you some sense of gratification or satisfaction that you are moving but it is a meaningless movement. So the discontinuity of the intellectual and mental effort results in an openness and receptivity which is called humility. This openness is tremendously dynamic.
In the last line of the verse it says that in that space, in that akasa a superbly beautiful and pure energy is felt by lndra. Symbolically this pure energy is represented by the form of Uma who is seen by Indra. Uma is described as female because the word energy indicates the female gender. That is poetry. Energy is neither male nor female but poets describe something beautiful using the female gender. So in the discontinuity of the mental and cerebral movement, in that space of emptiness within you flashes an energy as pure as the snows of the Himalayas. You see the Himalayas are described as the abode of purity. The literal meaning of the word Uma or Haimavati or Gauri is literally purity or absolute purity.
Now why does the rishi describe that energy as being pure like snow? It is because it is something untouched by human thought. It is ever virgin. Look at the beauty of it. My words are prosaic, they cannot be as poetic as the Upanishads, so I don’t know how to express that beauty to you. The energy of the divinity is untouched by human conceptions, human thought and human articulation. It is the daughter of purity.
So after educating, refining and harmonizing the energies contained in our physiological structure there comes a time when all our conscious efforts have to end or discontinue. The Kena Upanishad which is essentially meant to reveal the secret of Brahman as the secret nature of ultimate reality is preparing us for that discontinuity of all our efforts.
Every effort you make has the odour of acquisitiveness. Every effort at its root has some trace of an acquisitive tendency. A wanting to acquire. A transformation to be acquired. A samadhi to be acquired. A nirvana to be obtained. And that tendency in itself retains the duality in that you remain the subject. Just as you cannot climb on your own shoulders, you cannot objectify your own essence. So the Upanishad is preparing us for that magnificent dimension of silence which is as pure as the snows in which, in the womb of emptiness, is contained the divinity.
That is the dimension in our daily living where we live in the openness, in the receptivity, in that relaxed emptiness without the tension of some kind of expectation. When there is no tension of expectation of any kind and no impatience of acquisitive motivation. When there is the grace of relaxation then we live naturally and fully in the dimension of non-movement. This is the dimension that the rishi is talking about where the mind has relinquished its movement and all effort.