The Gods and Om: Commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad

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The Chandogya Upanishad is one of the “primary” (mukhya) Upanishads. It ranks among the oldest Upanishads, dating to the Vedic Brahmana period, before first millennium BCE. In this commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, Swami Nirmalananda Giri teaches us about the connection between the sacred sound (mantra) OM and the Sun. “One should meditate on the sun as Om…. the energy of the sun is a manifestation of Om.”

Swami Nirmalananda Giri teaches us that the energy of the Sun is the subtle energy that enters and fills our subtle energy channels (nadis), bringing life to our physical body. Speaking of death, Swami Nirmalananda Giri states, “When he thus departs from this body, then he proceeds upwards through those very rays. He surely goes up meditating on Om. As long as it takes for the mind to travel, in that time he goes to the sun. That indeed is the door to the world of Brahman (Supreme God), an entrance for the knowers and a shutting out for the ignorant.” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.5) Those who pass through the sun are free from the compulsion to rebirth on the earth. Om!”

The Gods and Om

Commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad
by Swami Nirmalananda Giri

Throughout the upanishads, Gita, and other spiritual texts we find references to gods–in Sanskrit: devas. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines deva in this way: “‘A shining one,’ a god–greater or lesser in the evolutionary hierarchy; a semi-divine or celestial being with great powers, and therefore a ‘god.’ Sometimes called a demi-god. Devas are the demigods presiding over various powers of material and psychic nature. In many instances ‘devas’ refer to the powers of the senses or the sense organs themselves.”

The sun

“Now the meditation on Om with reference to the gods is described. One should meditate on the sun as Om. Verily, when he rises, he sings aloud for the sake of all creatures.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.3.1)

We should skip ahead a little bit to continue this subject.

“Now, that which is Om is verily Pranava and that which is Pranava is Om. The yonder sun is Om and also Pranava, for he moves along pronouncing ‘Om.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.1) That is, the energy of the sun is a manifestation of Om. Scientists have only recently discovered this phenomenon. On page 16 of the July 2004 issue of National Geographic we find this: “Bubbles the size of Texas cover the sun’s face…. Called granules, the short-lived cells of plasma carry heat to the surface through convection, the same way water boils in a pot. The rise and fall of granules creates sound waves, which cause the sun to throb like a drum every five minutes.”

In The Word That is God we find the following comment: “All plant, animal, and human life on this planet depends upon the sun. It is the subtle powers of sunlight which stimulate growth and evolution. Sunlight particularly stimulates the activity of the higher centers in the brain, especially that of the pineal gland. Even in the depths of the earth a sensitive man can tell when the sun rises and sets above him. The sun truly awakens us in the deepest sense. As the germinating seed struggles upward toward the sun and out into its life-giving rays, so all higher forms of life reach out for the sun, which acts as a metaphysical magnet, drawing them upward and outward toward ever-expanding consciousness. Sunlight is the radiant form of Om. The sun initiates the entire solar system into Om. Human beings are solar creatures, therefore to intone Om is the most natural things they can do.” Later the upanishad says: “Reflect upon Om as the rays of the sun.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.2)

Further on we find a section that speaks of the divine Person (Purusha) who ensouls and enlivens the sun: Ishwara. “Now, that Person, effulgent as gold, who is seen within the sun, who is with golden beard and golden hair, is exceedingly effulgent even to the very tips of his nails. His eyes are bright like a red lotus. He is above all evils. (Verily, he who knows thus rises above all evils.) He is Om. Moreover, he controls the worlds which are above that sun, as also the desires of the gods.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.6.6-8)

Even further on we are told that Om is like the flower of the sun. When the yogi-bees “pressed this Pranava, from It, thus pressed, issued forth as juice: fame, splendor of limbs, alertness of the senses, virility, and nourishment.” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.5.2)

The most important aspect of the solar connection with Om is found in the eighth section of the upanishad. There it speaks of the nadis, the subtle energy channels that function in the subtle bodies of human beings. Then it says that “Just as an extending highway runs between two villages, this as well as that, even so the rays of the sun go to both these worlds, this as well as that. They spread out of the yonder sun and enter into these nadis. Out of these nadis they spread and enter into the yonder sun.” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.2) Regarding one who meditates on Om, the upanishad continues: “When he thus departs from this body, then he proceeds upwards through those very rays. He surely goes up meditating on Om. As long as it takes for the mind to travel, in that time he goes to the sun. That indeed is the door to the world of Brahman, an entrance for the knowers and a shutting out for the ignorant.” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.5) Those who pass through the sun are free from the compulsion to rebirth on the earth. Om!

The breath and Om

The connection between the sun and our breath is next described. “This breath and that sun are the same. Therefore one should meditate on this breath and that sun as Om.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.3.2) This is why in Om Yoga we join our intonations of Om with the breath.

The upanishad continues: “Now with reference to the body: One should meditate on the breath as Om, for he moves along pronouncing ‘Om.’ Thinking thus, sing praise to Om as the manifold pranas. Now, that which is Om, is verily Pranava; and that which is Pranava, is Om–so one should think.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3-5)

Escaping death

Now we have a parable about rising above the realm of death: samsara.

“One should meditate on the syllable Om. Of this the explanation follows. Verily, the gods, being afraid of death, took refuge in the three Vedas. Just as a fisherman would see a fish in water, so did Death observe the gods in the Vedic hymns. They, too, knowing this, arose and entered Om. This syllable Om is indeed immortality and fearlessness. Having entered into Om the gods became immortal and fearless. He who worships this syllable knowing it thus, enters this syllable which is immortality and fearlessness. And having entered it, he becomes immortal by that amrita [Om], by which the gods became immortal.” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.4.1-5)

The devas (gods) are all the aspects of the human being. Those who seek life and immortality in external rites–indeed, in anything other than Brahman–will be caught in the net of death just like fish in the fisherman’s net. But when they take refuge in the meditation of Om they rise above the realm of even the possibility of death. Of course this may also be a story of highly evolved beings who found that they were still subject to death in the higher worlds, being forced to drop the subtle bodies proper to those realms and enter bodies on lesser levels or worlds. At the Mahapralaya, the Great Universal Dissolution, all the worlds are shaken and dissolve away. The wise, knowing that, do not content themselves with living in carefree and beautiful wish-fulfilling worlds, but busy themselves with tapasya to ascend beyond relativity. And they do this through meditation on Om.

And so should we.



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This entry was posted on Friday, May 3rd, 2024 at 5:51 pm and is filed under Articles.

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