An Upanishad Dialogue
(As originally published on Ayurveda Lifestyle Medicine)
Ayurveda is a spiritual tradition. It seeks to understand and facilitate consciousness in its various incarnations, as man, animal, or plant. The body and mind are an aspect of this spiritual journey, not its totality. Consciousness is considered by Ayurveda as the source of all existence, life, and continuity. The subject of Ayurveda, the enjoyer of this health, is none other than consciousness itself, known variously as Purusha, Atman, and Brahman. Though Atman is non-material, and essentially ungraspable by the senses, it alone is the true subject, the pure self.
Ayurveda does not incorporate consciousness as part of its therapy like an external agent, an adjunct or an afterthought. In Ayurvedic medicine, mind, body, and the spiritual Self comprise a tripod on which the living world stands. This understanding is vastly different from other healing sciences, which regard the subject as purely physical or purely mental. Most medical systems claim their hard-earned pragmatism by denying, or at least ignoring, existence of a spiritual Self.
The tradition of the spiritual Self in Ayurveda hails from none other than the ancient Vedas, especially the last section of the Vedas, known as the Upanishads. As per the Vedas, human consciousness, with its inherent divine self, is uniquely so because of being the very essence of God. “God resides within the spirit, though unseen, he (God) exhibits Himself in various shapes like the Sun, Moon, and planets.” (Atharva Veda) [i]
From this angle, we can understand the unique Ayurvedic approach, which positively empowers humans in their search for true health. Health in Ayurvedic medicine encompasses the evolution of spiritual consciousness, along with health of mind and body. Ayurveda reminds us fragile humans of our inherent potential to self-heal and teaches us how to transcend sorrow and ill health by reclaiming and realizing our true Atman nature (I am pure consciousness, unaffected by change, aging, disease, and death).
The self is in itself pure awareness, uninterrupted, eternal life principle, which manifests itself as the layers of mind, intellect, ego, body, etc., and is not itself the mind, intellect, ego, or body. In fact, our essence is “not-something,” and yet, it allows for the manifestation of “everything.” Below is a potent dialogue from the Upanishads that presents this point beautifully. This dialogue, from the Chandyogya Upanishad, is between Svetaketu and his father, sage Uddalaka, regarding the true identity of his inner Self.
Father says to son: “’Bring me a fruit of yonder banyan tree.”
“Here it is, Lord.”
“It is broken, Lord.”
“What do you see there?”
“These very tiny seeds, Lord.”
“Break one open.”
“It is broken open, Lord.”
“What do you see there?”
Father said: “From that subtle essence, which you do not see there, my dear, grows this whole banyan tree. Believe me, my dear, all that exists has its Self in that which is the subtle essence. That is real. That is the Self. You are that, Svetaketu.”
Svetaketu now sees what he would not have seen ordinarily with his physical eyes, and he understands how the subtle un-manifest essence within the seed is the cause of the manifest tree.
The father names and identifies that subtle essence as Atman. Atman is spirit, that which Svetaketu himself truly is. From the experience of nothing sprouting an entire tree, Svetaketu understands that it is that potent “nothing,” which is the true Self, of all.
Through this story, the teacher points out that the tree and the seed are merely changeable, and external projections of the one reality, which appears as “non-something,” and yet, contains the potential of “everything.”
If non-something has created an entire tree, then can non-something not fuel an entire universe, which is like the tree, extending outwards, sprouting green tender leaves, buds, fruits, and flowers, drawing its sustenance from earth, water, air, and fire of the sun….and yet it all began from non-something, and, at all times the “non-somethingness”‘ remains the true reality.
I meditate on this potent non-somethingness that dwells within me.
[i] Atharva Veda, Book X, Hymn VIII, 13 (p 466)
With Love and Blessings,
Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur is the President of California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (CAAM), Founder of Vedika Global, School of Ayurveda and Vedic Sciences in Emeryville, CA, and, Bestselling Author of Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, a complete prescription to optimize your health, live with vitality and joy (SoundsTrue 2017). Acharya Shunya is the recipient of several awards including for performing distinguished service by California Institute of Integral Studies (2016), and for excellence in providing education in Ayurveda by Association of Ayurvedic Practitioners of North America (AAPNA). Acharya was recognized as one of the Top 100 teachers of Ayurveda and Yoga in America by Spirituality and Health Magazine (2015).