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Why Don’t We Know the Self?

 As one moves between the different rooms in one’s house, one continues to have a memory of all the things found in these rooms. But though we become one with ‘sat’ every night, in deep sleep, we fail to remember this fact on awakening. So, how can one assert that all beings are born of ‘sat’ and dwell in ‘sat’? Uddalaka gives two illustrative examples to clarify this: ‘As bees, my dear, make honey by collecting the juices of trees located at different places, and reduce them to one form, and these juices have no such distinctive ideas as “I am the juice of this tree” or “I am the juice of that tree” ’; or ‘these eastward rivers flow to the east and westward to the west; they arise from the sea and flow into the sea. Just as these rivers, while they are in the sea, do not know “I am this river” or “I am that river”’, even so ‘all these creatures having come from pure Being, do not realize that they have come from pure Being’ (Chandogya Upanishad 6.9.1, 6.10.1–2).

A wave or a bubble arising out of the vast waters of the sea loses its individuality on merger with the
sea; how is it then that the individual being, jiva, is not destroyed upon merger with pure Being at the time of death? Uddalaka takes up this issue next: ‘If one were to strike at the root of this big tree, it would bleed but live; if one were to strike in the middle, it would bleed but live; if one were to strike at the top, it would bleed but live. Pervaded by the living self, the tree continues to live happily, drinking in its nourishment.

‘If the jiva leaves any one branch of this tree, that branch dries up. If it leaves a second branch, that
one dries up too. If it leaves a third branch, even that dries up. When it leaves the whole, the whole
tree withers.’ In exactly the same manner, ‘bereft of the living self, this body dies; the living self dies not. That which is this subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That thou art, Shwetaketu’ (Chandogya Upanishad 6.11.1–3).

Not all doubts are gone yet; how can this gross world of name and form emerge from a very subtle unitary principle? Uddalaka is a good teacher. He comes down to the level of the student and
provides illustrative examples that are easy to comprehend. He asks Shwetaketu to fetch a fruit from
the banyan tree in front. When the fruit is fetched, he says, ‘Break it. What do you see inside?’ ‘These grains (seeds), exceedingly small,’ Shwetaketu answers. ‘Break one of them. What do you see there?’ the father continues. ‘Nothing,’ says Shwetaketu. ‘That subtle essence, my dear, which you do not perceive there—from that very essence this huge banyan tree arises. Believe me, my dear. That which is this subtle essence, all this has got that as the Self, ’ summed up Uddalaka (Chandogya Upanishad 6.12.1–3).

Source – Excerpts from article titled ‘Tat-tvam-asi Shwetaketu’ by Swami Alokananda published in the September 2008 edition of Prabuddha Bharata Magazine.