by Swami Krishnananda
Another sage now got up. "O Yāj˝avalkya, I have also got questions because you have carried away my cows." Atha hainaṁ jᾱratkᾱrava ᾱrtabhᾱgaḥ papraccha: Another great sage was sitting there who was a descendant of Jaratkaru and his name was Ārthabhāga. Ārthabhāga puts a question: "Yāj˝avalkya! I put you this question." Yāj˝avalkya iti hovāca, kati grahāḥ katy atigrahā iti: "How many Grahas are there, how many Atigrahas are there?" Even the words 'Graha' and 'Atigraha' are unintelligible; we cannot make out their meaning. What do you mean by 'Graha' and 'Atigraha'? He simply puts a question: "You tell us how many Grahas are there, how many Atigrahas are there?" Yāj˝avalkya is not in any way deterred by these fantastic questions. He knows the answers to all these. Aṣṭau grahᾱḥ aṣṭᾱv atigrahᾱ iti: "There are eight Grahas and eight Atigrahas," was the answer of Yāj˝avalkya. Ye te'ṣṭau grahᾱḥ aṣṭᾱv atigrahᾱḥ, katame ta iti: "Yāj˝avalkya! Tell me, exactly what are these eight Grahas that you are speaking of and what are the eight Atigrahas?"
Here, in this section of the Upaniṣhad, we are dealing with a very important subject in the answer Yāj˝avalkya gives to Ārthabhāga, the questioner. It is important from the point of view of Yoga practice and spiritual meditation. It is not merely a fantastic question. It is a highly philosophical question and of great spiritual import from the point of view of actual practice. Graha means the senses and Atigraha is the object of sense. It is called Graha because it grasps the object. Anything that grasps is called the Graha. In Sanskrit, the root Grah signifies the action of grasping, grabbing, holding, controlling etc. As the senses grasp objects, catch hold of them and make them their own, as they hold tightly upon the object of sense, the senses are called the Grahas. But the objects are called Atigrahas. They are greater graspers than the grasper, the sense itself. Why? If the sense can grasp the object, the object also can grasp the sense. They are like two fighters in a duel. One is catching hold of the other. 'A' does not leave 'B'; 'B'á does not leave 'A'. The senses will not leave the objects and the object also will not leave the senses. The more the sense grasps the object, the more does the object stir the sense. So there is a mutual action and reaction between the senses and the objects. The senses flare up more and more, irritated, angered and strengthened by their catching hold of the object. The strength of the sense increases when it catches hold of the object, and the object, inasmuch as it is capable of energising the sense further and further on account of its coming in contact with it is called a greater grasper. It grasps sense itself. So, the 'Graha' is the sense, the organ of action and sensation; and the object thereof is the 'Atigraha'. "How many are there?" "Eight are there," says Yāj˝avalkya.
Prᾱṇo vai grahᾱḥ: The Prāṇa grasps. So'pᾱnenᾱtigrᾱheṇagṛhītaḥ, apᾱnena higandhᾱn jighrati: The Prāṇa here does not mean merely the process of breathing. It is that vital principle or activity inside, by which smell is made possible by the nostrils. The Prāṇa functions in an active manner through the nostrils and compels the nose to ask for more and more of odour as it's own diet, or food. And the Apāna, which is another function of the vital breath, is the source of the variety of smell which we have in the outer world. It acts like the feelers, as it were, for the varieties of odours in the external world. And so the Prāṇa and the Apāna, jointly, can be regarded as the Graha and the Atigraha. Prāṇa acts upon Apāna; Apāna acts upon Prāṇa. And it is on account of this mutual action and reaction of Prāṇa and Apāna that we are able to smell and want more and more of smell.
Vᾱg vai grahᾱḥ: Speech is another Graha. It is also a very simple principle but very active in its modus operandi in the set of objects – vᾱg vai grahᾱḥ: sa nᾱmnᾱtigrᾱheṇa gṛihītaḥ, gṛhītaḥ, vᾱcᾱ hi nᾱmᾱny abhivadati: Speech is the repository of all language, all words, all designation, definition, meaning, etc. So, the principle of speech is the Graha which catches hold of all meaning through language, and language is that which stirs the speech by correlative action. So speech and the words that we utter through speech, which means to say, everything that we speak, every meaning that we convey through any type of language spoken by word of mouth, may be regarded as Atigraha, or the counterpart of the Graha which is speech. And likewise, all other senses are Grahas, and they have their own objects or their Atigrahas which stir them into action.
Jihvᾱ vai grahaḥ, sa rasenᾱtigrᾱheṇa gṛhītaḥ: The palate, the tongue which is the instrument of taste, is a Graha. It catches hold of all taste; and taste is itself an Atigraha because the activity of the palate is increased by the presence of a variety of taste. It is caught hold of by the taste. If the tongue asks for taste, the presence of taste increases the vitality and energy of the palate, so that it gets caught more and more – jīhvayᾱ hi rasᾱn vijᾱnᾱti – because by the palate it is that we are able to taste all delicious things in the world.
Cakṣur vai grahaḥ? The eye also is a Graha which catches hold of colours and forms. Sa rῡpeṇᾱtigrᾱheṇa gṛhītaḥ: All forms have an impact upon the eye so that the eye asks for more and more perception of colours and forms. And so the eyes are never satisfied with perception. Cakṣuṣᾱ hi rῡpᾱṇi paśyati: It is by the eyes that we perceive forms, and so the eyes and the forms connected with the eyes are the Graha and the Atigraha.
The ears are the Graha. They catch hold of the sounds and the sounds stir up the activity of the ears, so that they like to hear more and more variety of sound. Because of this fact the ears wish to hear sounds, and in turn sounds stimulate the activity of the ears. They act as Graha and Atigraha.
The mind is the Graha because it catches hold of all objects of desire, and every fulfilment of desire stirs up the activity of the mind more and more. So, the mind and the object of desire act as Graha and Atigraha.
Hastau vai grahaḥ: The hand is also a Graha. It catches hold of things. Sa karmanatigrahena grihitah: It is fond of action. It does something or the other. It does not keep quiet. So, the urge to act, or to perform Karma or work, is the Atigraha, the counterpart of this very urge itself which is communicated through the hands that are the instruments of action. So these are the Graha.
Tvag vai grahaḥ: The skin also is a Graha. It asks for soft touches, etc. Sa sparśenᾱtigrᾱheṇa gṛhītaḥ: All touches stimulate the skin and the skin asks for touches. Tvacᾱ hi sparśᾱn vedayate: ity ete'ṣṭau grahᾱḥ, aṣṭᾱv atigrahᾱḥ: These are the eight forms of perceptional activity, cognitional activity, the activity of the senses, and the eight kinds of effect that their objects correspondingly have upon them.
Yᾱj˝avalkya iti hovᾱca, yad idaṁ sarvam mṛtyor annam, kᾱ svit sᾱ devatᾱ: Yāj˝avalkya! This activity of the senses is, veritably, death for them. It is very well known. It is not a good thing for the senses to work in this manner, because they fight with each other. The senses fight with their objects and the objects fight with the senses. They finally kill each other, one day or the other. Everything is destructible; everything is subject to death. Nothing can be free from the jaws of death. Now, Ārthabhāga asked Yāj˝avalkya: "Inasmuch as everything here is a 'food' for death which is the Devata, for whom death itself the food?" There is no escape from death. Death swallows everybody as if it is food. But is there a death of death? Is there anything of which death itself is the food? Can you tell me who is death to death itself? What is death? Which Devata, which deity, which god can eat death in the same way as death eats everything, so to say? Sarvam mṛtyor annam, kᾱ svit sᾱ devatᾱ, yasyᾱ mṛtyur annam iti: agnir vai mṛtyuḥ, so' pᾱm annam, apa punar mṛtyuṁ jayati: Yāj˝avalkya says: "My dear friend! You know that there is a death for everything, and one thing can be swallowed by another thing. Fire is an eater of everybody. It can burn and swallow and destroy anything. But fire can be eaten up by water. If you pour a particular quantity of water, fire gets extinguished. So, in the same way as water can be regarded as an eater of death in the form of fire which is the eater of other things, there is an eater of that eater too. The meaning implied herein is that the eater of death is the Supreme Being – mṛityuryasyā upase-canam." We are told this in the Katha Upaniṣhad. The Supreme Being is the swallower of death. That means to say, one cannot overcome death unless one resorts to the Supreme Being. Not before that can you escape transmigration. There cannot be freedom from birth and death, there cannot be therefore freedom from the consequent sorrow of life, until and unless the great Reality is realised. So, who is the death of death? Who is the eater of death? The Supreme Being, the Eternal, the Absolute, He is the eater of death, and no one else can eat death.