Silence and Brahmacharya

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust



What is the object of Silence (maunam)? Of the two kinds of Silence (restraint of speech and meditation), which do you recommend? O learned one, tell me the true meaning of maunam. Can a learned person attain to a state of calmness and emancipation by that Silence? O Muni, how also is self-restraint to be practised?

Since the Supreme Soul cannot be grasped by both the Vedas and the mind, it is itself, therefore, known as Silence. That from which the Vedic syllable OM and also this sound have arisen, that One, O King, is known as the Word.

Is he who knows the Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda, or who knows the Saman Veda, tainted by sins or not when he commits sins?

I tell you truly that the man who has not restrained his senses is not rescued from his sinful deeds by either the Saman or the Rig or the Yajur Veda. The Vedas never rescue from sin the deceitful person living by deceit. On the contrary, the Vedas forsake such a person at the end, just as newly fledged birds forsake their nest.

O thou who hast restrained thy senses, if indeed the Vedas cannot rescue a person without the aid of virtue, whence comes the delusion of Brahmanas that the Vedas are ever destructive of sins?

O magnanimous one, this cosmos has sprung from the Supreme Soul through the union of conditions pertaining to name, form and other attributes. The Vedas also declare the same, duly pointing this out, and they teach that the Supreme Soul and the cosmos are different, not identical. In order to attain to that Supreme Soul, self-restraint and sacrifices are ordained, and it is thus that the man of learning gains virtue. Eliminating sin through virtue, his soul is enlightened by knowledge. The man of knowledge, by means of knowledge, attains to the Supreme Soul. Otherwise, he who craves the four ends of human activity, taking with him all he does here, enjoys their fruits hereafter, and as these are not everlasting, he returns to the region of action. Indeed, the fruits of ascetic austerities performed in this world must be enjoyed in the other world. But for those Brahmanas engaged in ascetic practices here, even this region can bear fruits.


O Sanatsujata, how can ascetic austerities, which are all of the same sort, be sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful? Explain this so that I may understand.

That asceticism which is not stained by faults is said to be capable of securing emancipation and is therefore successful, whilst the asceticism stained by vanity and deficiency in true devotion is deemed unsuccessful. All your enquiries, O Kshatriya, touch upon the very root of asceticism. It is by means of asceticism that the learned come to know brahman and win immortality.

I have listened to what you have said about asceticism unsullied by faults, and I have thus come to know about a perpetual mystery. Tell me now, O Sanatsujata, about the asceticism that is stained by faults.

The faults of stained asceticism, O King, are twelve, including anger, as also the thirteen kinds of wickedness. Anger, lust, avarice, ignorance of right and wrong, discontent, cruelty, malice, vanity, grief, love of pleasure, envy and speaking ill of others are generally the faults of human beings. These twelve should always be avoided by men. Anyone among these can singly cause the destruction of men, O bull among men. Every one of these indeed waits for an opportunity in the midst of men, like a hunter expectant of opportunities in regard to deer. Assertion of one's superiority, craving for the company of the wives of others, humiliating others from excess of pride, wrathfulness, fickleness and refusing to honour the deserving -- these six acts of wickedness are ever indulged by the sinful, who defy all dangers here and hereafter. He who considers the gratification of lust as one of life's chief aims, he who is extremely proud, he who grieves after giving away, he who never spends money, he who persecutes his subjects by exacting abhorred taxes, he who revels in the humiliation of others and he who hates his own wives -- these seven are also wicked.

Righteousness, truthfulness, self-restraint, asceticism, delight in the happiness of others, modesty, forbearance, love of others, sacrifices, gifts, perseverance and knowledge of the scriptures -- these twelve constitute the practices of Brahmanas. He who succeeds in securing these twelve becomes capable of swaying the entire earth. He who is endowed with three, two or even one of these could be considered as one enjoying celestial prosperity. Self-restraint, renunciation and knowledge of the Self -- in these lie emancipation. Brahmanas endowed with wisdom say that these are attributes in which truth predominates.


Self-restraint is constituted of eighteen virtues. Violations and non-observance of ordained acts and abstentions: falsehood, malice, lust, riches, love of pleasure, anger, grief, thirst, avarice, deceit, delight in the misery of others, envy, injuring others, regret, aversion towards acts of piety, forgetfulness of duty, calumniating others and vanity -- he who is freed from these eighteen vices is said by the righteous to be self-restrained. These eighteen faults constitute pride. Renunciation is of six kinds. The reverse of these six are faults of pride. The six kinds of renunciation are all commendable. The third alone is difficult to practise, but thereby all sorrow is overcome. If indeed that kind of renunciation is accomplished in practice, he who does so overcomes all the pairs of contraries in this world.


The six kinds of renunciation are commendable. They are these. The first is never indulging in satisfaction on occasions of good fortune. The second is the relinquishment of sacrifices, prayers and deeds of piety. The third is known, O King, as the letting go of desire, or withdrawing from the world. Indeed, the result of this third kind of renunciation is shown by the abandonment of all objects of indulgence, and not their abandonment after having enjoyed them fully, nor by abandonment after acquisition, nor by abandonment only after one has become incapable of indulgence through loss of appetite. The fourth kind of renunciation is this: One should neither grieve nor suffer the self to be tormented by grief when one's actions fail, notwithstanding one's possession of all the virtues and all sorts of riches, nor when one feels no pain when anything unpleasant occurs. The fifth kind of renunciation consists in not soliciting even one's sons or wives or others who may be much esteemed. The sixth kind consists in giving to a deserving person who seeks help, for such acts of giving are always productive of merit. By these again one acquires knowledge of the Self. As regards this last attribute, it involves eight elements. These are truth, meditation, differentiation of subject and object, the capacity for drawing correct inferences, withdrawal from the world, never taking what belongs to others, the practice of the vow of continence and the non-acceptance of gifts.

Similarly, the attribute of pride has faults which have all been stated; all these must be spurned. I have spoken of renunciation and self-knowledge, and just as the latter has eight merits, so too its absence has eight drawbacks. These must be spurned. He, O Bharata, who is liberated from his five senses, mind, past and future becomes happy. O King, let thy soul be consecrated to truth; all worlds are grounded in truth; verily, self-control, renunciation and self-knowledge are said to have truth as the foremost attribute. Abstaining from faults, one must practise asceticism here. The Ordainer has ordained that truth alone must be the resolve of the righteous. Asceticism, when it is dissociated from faults and suffused with the virtues, becomes the source of great prosperity. I have now expounded briefly upon the sacred, sin-destroying theme about which you asked me, and which is truly capable of emancipating a person from birth, death and decrepitude.


Together with the Puranas as the fifth, the four Vedas declare the Supreme Soul to be this cosmos consisting of mobile and immobile things. Others consider four chief gods, and still others three; others mention two, and yet others only one, whilst still others view brahman alone as the One Existence and the sole object. Amongst all these, which should I regard as really possessed of knowledge of brahman?

There is but one brahman, the Self of Truth. It is owing to ignorance of that One that godheads have been conceived diversely. But who is there, O King, who has really attained to the Self of Truth or to brahman? Man deems himself wise without cognizing that One Object of all knowing, and from desire for happiness is engaged in study and the practice of charity as well as sacrifices. Deviating from truth, men have pursued false goals and hence perform sacrifices, relying upon the efficacy of Vedic texts. Some perform sacrifices mentally, some verbally and some by deeds. However, the person who seeks brahman through Truth secures his desired object at home. When, however, one's aims become abortive, one must adopt vows of silence and cognate resolves known as dikshavrata. Indeed, diksha comes from a root signifying the observance of vows. As regards those who have knowledge of the Self, for them Truth is the highest end of all endeavour.

The fruits of knowledge are visible; asceticism yields its fruits hereafter. A Brahmana who has merely read much should only be regarded as a great reader. Therefore, O Kshatriya, never think that one can be a Brahmana merely by reading the scriptures. On the other hand, he should be regarded by you as possessed of the knowledge of brahman who does not deviate from Truth.

O Kshatriya, in days of old the verses recited by Atharvan to an assembly of great sages were known by the name of Chandas. They must not be deemed to know the Chandas who have merely read through the Vedas without gaining the knowledge of Him who is to be known through the Vedas. O best of men, the Chandas become the means of obtaining brahman independently and without the need for anything foreign. Those who are only familiar with the modes of sacrifice enjoined in the Vedas cannot be regarded as acquainted with the Chandas. On the other hand, having waited upon those familiar with the Vedas, did not the righteous attain to the Object knowable through the Vedas? There is no one who has truly caught the sense of the Vedas, or there may be a few, O King, who have grasped the meaning. He who has only read the Vedas does not know the Object knowable through them. But he who is established in Truth knows the Object knowable through them.

Amongst those faculties which lead to perception of the body as the active agent, there is none by which true knowledge may be gained. Through the mind alone one cannot obtain the knowledge of Self and Not-Self. Indeed, he who knows the Self also knows what is Not-Self. He, on the other hand, who knows only what is Not-Self does not know Truth. Again, he who knows the proofs knows also that which is to be proved. But what that Object is in its nature is not known either to the Vedas or to those familiar with the Vedas. And yet, those Brahmanas who are truly intimate with the Vedas succeed in securing knowledge of the Object knowable through the Vedas. Just as the branch of a specific tree is sometimes sought to point out the lunar digit of the first day of the bright fortnight, so too the Vedas are used to convey the highest attributes of the Supreme Soul.

I know him to be a Brahmana who dispels the doubts of others, having himself mastered all his own doubts, and who is thereby possessed of the knowledge of Self. One cannot find what the soul is by searching in the east, the south, the west, the north or in the subsidiary directions or horizontally. Very rarely can it be found in him who views this body to be the Self. Even beyond the conception of the Vedas, the man of yoga meditation alone can behold the Supreme. Wholly restraining all your senses and your mind also, seek that brahman which is known to reside in your own soul.

He is not a muni who solely practises yoga meditation, nor he who lives only in the woods. He, however, is a muni, and superior to all, who truly knows his own nature. One is said to be possessed of universal knowledge owing to the ability to expound upon every object; and, verily, the science itself is called vyakarana owing to its capacity to elucidate every object to its very root, which is brahman. The man who perceives all regions as present before his eyes is said to be possessed of universal knowledge. He who abides in Truth and knows brahman is said to be a Brahmana, and such a Brahmana possesses universal knowledge. A Kshatriya also who practises such virtues may behold brahman. He may also attain to that high state by ascending, step by step, according to what is intimated in the Vedas. I tell you this, knowing it to be certain.


O Sanatsujata, splendid as thy discourse is, treating of the attainment of brahman and the origin of the cosmos, I beseech thee, O renowned Rishi, to continue with words such as these which are unconcerned with objects of worldly desire and are, consequently, rare among men.

That brahman about which you ask me with such enthusiasm is not to be attained soon. When the will has been merged into the pure intellect, the ensuing condition is one of utter absence of worldly thought. This is truly knowledge. It is attainable only by practising brahmacharya.

Thou declarest that the knowledge of brahman dwells of itself in the mind, being discovered solely through brahmacharya. Dwelling in the mind, it requires for its manifestation no overt striving during the search. How then is immortality associated with the attainment of brahman?

Although dwelling in and intrinsic to the mind, the knowledge of brahman is still unmanifest. That knowledge is made manifest through the aid of the pure intellect as well as brahmacharya. Verily, having gained that knowledge, yogins renounce this world. It is ever to be found among eminent preceptors. I shall now discourse to you on that knowledge.

What must be the nature of that brahmacharya through which the knowledge of brahman is gained without much difficulty? Tell me this, O regenerate one.

Those who, residing in the abodes of their preceptors and gaining their goodwill and friendship, practise the austerities of brahmacharya, even in this world they become the embodiments of brahman, and when casting off their bodies are united with the Supreme Soul. They who in this world wish to gain the state of brahman subdue all desires, and thus suffused with righteousness they succeed in disconnecting the soul from the body, like a blade projected from a clump of grass. The body, O Bharata, is created by factors such as father and mother; the birth, however, that results from the guru's instructions is sacred, exempt from decay and immortal. Discoursing upon brahman and bestowing immortality, he who wraps all persons with the mantle of Truth must be seen as father and mother. Keeping in mind the good he does, one must never do him any injury. A disciple must habitually salute his guru with veneration, and he must resort to his studies with purity and well-directed attentiveness. He must not consider any service as demeaning, and he must not harbour anger. Even this is the first step of brahmacharya.

The practices of that disciple who gains knowledge by observing the duties ordained for his class are also considered to be the first step of brahmacharya. A disciple must, with his very life and all his possessions, accomplish in thought, word and deed all that is agreeable to his guru. This is considered to be the second step of brahmacharya. He must behave towards the wife and son of his guru in the same manner as towards his guru. This also is deemed to be the second step of brahmacharya. Keeping properly in mind what has been done for him by the guru, and also comprehending its object, the disciple must think, with a delighted heart, I have been taught and magnified by him. This is the third step of brahmacharya. Without burdening the guru by the payment of his final gift, the wise disciple must not adopt another mode of life, nor must he say or even think, I make this gift. This is the fourth step of brahmacharya.

He attains the first step of brahmacharya in the course of time; the second step, through the guru's decision; the third, through the power of his comprehension; and finally, the fourth, by means of discussion. The learned have declared that brahmacharya is constituted by the twelve virtues; the practices of yoga are called its angas; and perseverance in yoga meditation is called its valam. One is crowned with success in this in consequence of the aid of the guru and the comprehension of the meaning of the Vedas. Whatever wealth a disciple thus engaged may earn must be given entirely to the guru. Thus the guru gains his highly esteemed livelihood. And thus also must the disciple behave towards the son of the guru.

Thus established in brahmacharya, the disciple prospers by all means in this world and gains numerous progeny and esteem. Men from all directions shower riches upon him, and many come to his abode to practise brahmacharya. Through such brahmacharya the celestials gained their divinity, and Sages, highly blest and of great wisdom, obtained the realm of brahman. By this alone the gandharvas and apsaras acquired striking personal beauty, and it is through brahmacharya that Surya rises to make the day. Just as the seekers of the philosopher's stone derive great joy when they gain the object of their search, so too those mentioned above, on completing their brahmacharya, derive great joy in consequence of being able to gain whatsoever they wish.

He, O King, who, devoted to the practice of ascetic austerities, resorts to brahmacharya in its entirety and thereby purifies his body is truly wise, for thus he becomes like a child and at last conquers death. By work, however pure, men, O Kshatriya, obtain only worlds that are perishable; he, however, who is blest with knowledge gains, by the aid of that knowledge, the everlasting brahman. There is no other path leading to emancipation.

The existence of brahman, thou affirmest, a wise man sees in his own soul. Now, is brahman white or red, black or blue or purple? Tell me what is the true form and colour of the Omnipresent and Eternal brahman.

Verily, brahman may appear as white or red, black or brown or bright. But neither on this earth nor in the sky, nor in the waters of the ocean, is there anything like It. Neither in the stars nor in the lightning, nor in the clouds, is its form to be seen, nor is It visible in the atmosphere nor in the deities, neither in the moon nor in the sun. Neither in the Rig nor among the Yajur, nor in the Atharva nor in the pure Saman is It to be found. Indeed, O King, It is not to be found in rathantara or varhadratha, nor in great sacrifices. Incapable of being encompassed, and lying beyond the reach of the limited intellect, even the Universal Destroyer is lost in It after the dissolution. Incapable of being gazed at, It is as subtle as the razor's edge and more massive than mountains. It is the basis upon which everything is established; It is immutable; It is this visible cosmos; It is vast; It is joyous; all creatures have sprung from It and also must return to It. Free from all sorts of duality, It is manifest as the cosmos and is all-pervading. The learned affirm that It is without any alteration except in the language used to describe It. They are emancipated who are fully aware of That in which this cosmos is grounded.

Rendition by PUNARVASU

Sanat Sujata Parva
Udyoga Parva XLIII, XLIV

Hermes, October 1988
by Raghavan Iyer