(This article was published in the January 2014 issue of Vedanta Kesari, the monthly magazine published from Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.)
The most popular quotation of Swami Vivekananda is “uttishthata, jaagrata, praapyavaraan nibodhata” – “Arise! Awake! Stop not till the goal is reached.” This quotation, taken from the Kathopanishad, occurs almost 20 times in the 9 volumes of the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.
From a mundane point of view, arising without being awake is purposeless sleep-walking; not arising when being awake is lethargic day-dreaming. So, to be effective, it is necessary to be both arisen and also awake.
However, these two words used here have a deeper significance because of the order in which they occur. From the usual sleep, we wake up before we arise out of bed. But here, the Upanishad says, “Arise, Awake”. So, what do they mean here? Then the Upanishad continues, “Stop not till the goal is reached.” Now, what is the goal? Swamiji answers this question elsewhere, “The goal is to manifest the divinity within.” (CW I-257) Again, what is divinity? Vedanta and Swamiji point to two divinities in us. At the empirical level, the Will is our divinity. It is our power to decide what to do and be responsible for what we do, that puts us apart from inert things. At the absolute level, the Consciousness is our divinity.
This solves the riddle. To Arise is to claim ourselves as people with a will. To Awake is to claim ourselves as pure Consciousness. To explain this, Swami Vivekananda tells us the story of the two birds from the Mundaka Upanishad.
dvaa suparnaa sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vriksham parishasvajaate |
tayoranyah pippalam svaadvattyanashnannanyo abhichaakasheeti ||
samaane vrikshe purusho nimagno.anishayaa shochati muhyamaanah |
jushtam yadaa pashyatyanyameeshamasya mahimaanamiti veetashokah ||
yadaa pashyah pashyate rukmavarnam kartaarameesham purusham brahmayonim |
tadaa vidvaanah punyapaape vidhooya niranjanah paramam saamyam upaiti ||
“The whole of the Vedanta Philosophy is in this story: Two birds of golden plumage sat on the same tree. The one above, serene, majestic, immersed in his own glory; the one below restless and eating the fruits of the tree, now sweet, now bitter. Once he ate an exceptionally bitter fruit, then he paused and looked up at the majestic bird above; but he soon forgot about the other bird and went on eating the fruits of the tree as before. Again he ate a bitter fruit, and this time he hopped up a few boughs nearer to the bird at the top. This happened many times until at last the lower bird came to the place of the upper bird and lost himself. He found all at once that there had never been two birds, but that he was all the time that upper bird, serene, majestic, and immersed in his own glory.” (CW VII-80)
The lower bird is the jivatman, the wielder of the will. The upper bird is the atman (identical to Brahman), of the nature of pure Consciousness. Dropping our identity with the body and mind, and identifying ourselves as the jivatman, that goes through the karmic cycle of birth and death is to Arise. Dropping that individuality also, and identifying ourselves as the pure Consciousness is to Awake. We need to first Arise, and then Awake.
The relationship between the jivatma and the paramatma (isvara) in these two stages is presented in the two lines of the famous shanti mantra.
poornam adah poornam idam poornaat poornam udachyate |poornasya poornam aadaaya poornam eva avashishyate ||
The paramatma is eternal. The jivatma is eternal. The jivatma is sustained in the paramatma, like a wave in an ocean. This is the empirical level.
From the paramatma and jivatma, when the Consciousness (caitanya) principle is extracted, the Consciousness principle alone exists, like, when water is taken out of the ocean or wave, it is only water. This is the absolute level.
How to “Arise” and “Awake” are presented by the Bhagavad Gita in the two lines of the verse 6.3. The first line indicates “Arise”. The second line indicates “Awake”.
aarurukshor muner yogam karma kaarnam ucyate |
yoga aroodhasya tasyaiva samah kaaranam ucyate ||
“For those who want to reach the pinnacle of yoga (control of mind and senses, freedom from desire and selfishness), action is the way. For the person who has reached that, quietude is the way (to proceed further to the knowledge of one’s own true nature).”
A slightly expanded version of these two words can be found in the motto that Swamiji coined for the Ramakrishna Math – atmano mokshartham, jagat hitaya ca – for the liberation of the self, and for the welfare of the world. This answers the question of why we should Arise and Awake. We should Arise for the welfare of the world. We should Awake because that is the only way to liberation.
Thus, these two small words – Arise! Awake! – have the gist of the whole of Vedanta.