Uddalaka had a son called Shvetaketu. When he was twelve, his father said to him, “It is time for you to find a spiritual teacher. Everyone in this family has studied the holy scriptures and the spiritual way.” So Shvetaketu went to a teacher and studied the scriptures for twelve years. He returned home very proud of his intellectual knowledge. His father observed him and said, “My boy, you seem to have a high opinion of yourself; you are proud of your learning. But did you ask your teacher for the spiritual knowledge that enables you to hear the unheard, think the unthought and know the unknown?”
“What is that knowledge, Father?” asked Svetaketu. “Just as by knowing a lump of clay, everything that is made of clay can be known, since any differences are only words, and the essential reality is clay. In the same way, by knowing a piece of gold, all that is made of gold can be known, since any differences are only words, and the reality is only gold.”
Uddalaka responded, “My teachers must not have known this or they would have taught it to me. Father, please teach me this knowledge.”
“I will,” replied his father. “In the beginning, there was only Being. Some people claim that in the beginning there was nothing at all and that everything has come out of nothing. But how can this be true? How can that which is, come from that which is not? In the beginning there was only one Being, and that Being thought, ‘I want to be many so I will create.’ Out of this creation came the cosmos. There is nothing in the cosmos that doesn’t come from that one Being. Of everything that exists, this Being is the innermost Self. He is the truth, the Self Supreme. And you, Shvetaketu, you–are that!”
Shvetaketu asked, “Please teach me more about the Self, Father.”
“Let’s start with sleep. What happens when we sleep? When a person is absorbed in dreamless sleep, he is one with the Self although he doesn’t know it. We say he sleeps but we mean he sleeps in the Self. ‘A tethered bird grows tired from flying in every direction, finding no rest anywhere, and settles down at last on the very same perch on which it is tied. In the same way the mind, tired of wandering around here and there settles down at last in the Self, its life and breath, to which it is bound. All creatures have their source in that Being. He is their home; He is their strength. ‘When a man is dying, speech folds into mind, mind folds into life, life dissolves into light, and his light merges into that one Being. That Being is the seed, the truth, the Self, and you, Shvetaketu, you–are that!”
“Please tell me more, Father.”
“My son, bees make honey by gathering nectar from many flowers to make their honey, so no one drop of honey can say that it came exactly from one specific flower. You can’t identify the juice of one particular flower in the honey. And so it is with creatures like us who merge in that Being, whether in sleep or death.
And as the rivers that flow from the east to the west merge in the sea and become one with it, forgetting that they were ever separate rivers, so all creatures lose their separateness when they merge into pure Being. Whatever creature it may be – tiger, lion, wolf, boar, mosquito, worm – it only becomes aware of a particular life when it is born into it or is awake.
If you strike at the root of a tree, it bleeds but still lives. If you strike at the trunk, the sap oozes, but the tree lives on. The Self as life fills the tree and supports it; it flourishes in happiness gathering food through its roots. However, if life departs from one branch, that branch withers, and when life leaves the whole tree, the entire tree withers. Remember my son, your body dies, but your Self does not.”
Uddalaka told Shvetaketu to bring him a piece of fruit from a nearby banyan tree and to break it open. Shvetaketu did and said, “There are seeds inside, all very small.”
“Now break one of the seeds and tell me what you see.”
Uddalaka said,”‘My son, this great banyan tree has grown from a seed so small that you cannot see it. Believe me, an invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. Now, take this salt and put it in some water and bring it to me tomorrow morning.”
The next morning Shvetaketu looked for the salt but couldn’t find it because it had dissolved. Uddalaka asked his son to taste the water. “Salty,” he said, adding “the salt will always remain in the water.”
“That’s right. The salt permeates the water, just like the Self. Even though we cannot see it, the Self is within all things and there is nothing that doesn’t come from Him. This invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is reality. That is truth. And you, Shvetaketu, you–are that!”
From Chandogya Upanishad