Body Chariot Symbolism in Katha Upanishad


Imagine yourself to be the master of a chariot; your body is the chariot; buddhi (the decision-making faculty and the seat of discrimination) is the charioteer; manas (loosely translated as mind, the deliberative faculty in man that examines the pros and cons of various options) is equivalent to the reins; the sense organs are the horses drawing the chariot; and the sense objects, the road on which the horses move. KathaUpanishad (1.3.3-9)

The ‘I’-buddhi-manas-senses complex is called the enjoyer—the experiencer of pleasure and pain in the ‘misery-go-round’ of life. If the horses are not broken (the senses are not controlled) and the charioteer is asleep (the faculty of discrimination is dull), the chariot does not reach its destination (the goal of human life is not attained). The chariot just follows the horses, possibly straying into a ditch and spelling the master’s death.

Katha Upanishad stresses the need to rein in the horses so that the master could reach his destination. But this reining in needs to be done by the charioteer, who needs to be wide awake all the time; he cannot afford to be sleepy or sloppy. Unbroken horses and a sleeping charioteer can only spell disaster for the master. Controlled senses and a widea wake buddhi help one reach the goal of human life, which is God-realization or Self-realization.

Source – Prabhuda Bharata Magazine – February 2004 and March 2004