Upanishad: The General and the Sergeant

“The Vedic worldview says that if you’re a meditator, when you have a desire, when you think of an activity which would bring charm into your life, this desire is actually a consequence of the awakening of your individuality and your Universality at their point of unification.”

Thom Knoles

Vedic mythos, or storytelling, is often laced with humor to get a point across.

In this episode of the podcast, Thom recounts a tale from the Katha Upanishad, of a Sergeant and a General. It’s a scenario that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of “The Office” or any other workplace sitcom.

Having a character take credit for someone else’s idea and then retelling it back to them is a pretty common gag, but in the Upanishad, it’s much more than just a tool for a cheap laugh.

It’s a profound lesson which, once learned, can be a source of empowerment and a tool for living a more deliberate life.

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Episode Highlights


Katha Upanishad



A Friend in the Sky



The Breaking of Unity



“You see that hill there?”



An Amazing Idea



A Source of Thoughts Deep Inside of Us



A Wave is Nothing but Ocean






I Am Totality



A Parody on Praying to God



An Unnecessary Step



We Just Say Yes



Permitted to Act


Jai Guru Deva


Upanishad: The General and the Sergeant

Jai Guru Deva. Thank you for listening to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles.

[00:56] Katha Upanishad

Today I’d like to continue in Part Two of my review of and telling of some of the tales of Upanishad. As a quick review, we learned in Part One of this story of Upanishad that Upanishad means fabulous tales, literally fabulous. They are fables. They make use of parable to embody certain elements of the relationship between the human and the totality of Natural Law.

And they are ancient. The first Upanishads date back to about 8,000 years ago. They are the products of years and years of the teachings of great Vedic masters, women and men, Rishikas, that’s a feminine name for Rishi, and Rishis, the masculine name for Rishi. These are great seers, at whose feet sat all of the different people who remembered or took notes.

And these stories are part of the analogy body, the metaphor body of the teaching, the didactic, the method of teaching of the great Vedic masters. In our last episode of Upanishad, we reviewed the story of the King and the swordsmith.

And now, I’d like to go into a different Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, K-A-T-H-A Upanishad In Sanskrit when you put the two words together, it becomes Kathopanishad. In Katha Upanishad, there is a very brief chapter that illustrates the basis on which we have an idea of the value of prayer.

[03:19] A Friend in the Sky

In the West, we have this idea that we have a friend in the sky who is keeping the whole Universe together and can also provide ice cream cones if you’re a child and you pray diligently in the right way.

The idea that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being personified, and that part of the role of this being is to favor those who have correctly interpreted the laws laid down in the various scriptures that have been culturalized as religion, that if you are obedient to the rules laid down in the scripture, then you can remind the omniscient one of what it is that you need.

And the idea here is that the omnipresent is actually only quasipresent; that although God may be omnipresent, there are certain moments where notably, and in Western religion, it’s mostly a he is not present.

Like for example, when Adam and Eve were left behind by God in the garden of Eden, but with a final parting instruction to be sure not to interfere with or eat the fruit of a particular tree, and then the omnipresence somehow went on a vacation and ceased being omnipresent, and when returning became angered at the behavior of Adam and Eve, so the omniscience also took a vacation and ceased to be omniscient since, to become surprised about a thing means that somehow you didn’t know. And we can’t really understand how omniscience failed to know something.

[05:27] The Breaking of Unity

Omniscience is supposed to know all past, present, and future. And then, omnipresence disappears, omniscience disappears, and omnipotence is all that remains. And so casting them out of the garden, not in any way talking about how the story itself doesn’t have a degree of analogous veracity.

It is, in fact, a storyteller’s delight because in order for there to be a storyline, there has to be a breaking of unity.

The breaking of unity, from the Vedic perspective, in that story is the commencement of the timeline where that one indivisible, whole consciousness state, and with its two first products that were parties to that one indivisible wholeness, get out of an ever-repeating known, daily life in the garden of Eden couldn’t have been too interesting.

And so then, to make it more interesting, the casting out of human consciousness and then the rest of the biblical times of the, what we call, the so-called Old Testament where all the different techniques for restoring one’s life, and once again, being able to have unity with Supreme Being. The techniques of unity with Supreme Being only have relevance if there’s separation in the first place.

So we have our fables in the Western worldview that are supposed to be illustrative, and we also have them in the Vedic Worldview. Let’s look at one of these, and we’re going to call this the General and the Sergeant from Katha Upanishad.

[07:31] “You see that hill there?”

Once upon a time, there was a General who had a troop of 10,000— in military science, that’s referred to as a division of army, infantry— and this General was, in particular, wanting to create a presence that was very visible to those who might have the idea of marching upon a particular kingdom of the Monarch of that General.

And so, he says to his Sergeant, and the Sergeant is the one who translates from the officers, and a General officer is the head of the officers, the desire of the officers to those soldiers those foot soldiers enlisted people. The Sergeant is the one who enforces the wishes, or orders, or commands given by a General officer.

The General says to the Sergeant, “You see that hill there, that tall hill. I want you to take the men up there with all of their equipment and there they can pitch some tents make some observation platforms. This should all be a very observable activity because it’s the highest point for a hundred miles around.

“And from there, we’ll be able to see the movement of those who would come here with bad intent to damage the sophistication of our kingdom. So off you go. Go and create this little village up there, take all of the men.

“It may require the trimming of some trees and certainly figuring out the transporting of water to the area so that there can be a settlement made for the strategic purposes on the mountain.”

[09:57] An Amazing Idea

He looks at the Sergeant to whom he’s just given this instruction, and the Sergeant is in a reverie. What does that mean? A reverie is like a sort of a, you know, with a fixed stare, an inscrutable smile on the face, and sitting in a slightly entranced state.

“Sergeant,” says the General. The Sergeant looks at the General and says, “General. Sir, with your permission, I’ve just had an amazing idea.”

“Yes,” says the General.

“I could take the men up to, say, the top of that particular mountain. It’s the highest mountain Sir, for a hundred miles around. We could take all of our equipment with us, trim a few trees, set up some tents, make arrangements for water, for food, and provisions.

“We should make this whole thing very visible so that those who would come and attack our kingdom would see this in operation. And there, we would have a visible presence where we could see for a hundred miles anyone who might be moving, coming toward us with mal intent. Do I have your blessing, General, to carry out this idea of mine?”

The General, who has a look of slight consternation on his face, says, “Yes, Sergeant, you have my blessing and permission and all the resources you need to do so. Off you go. Get it done. Make it so.”

[11:44] A Source of Thoughts Deep Inside of Us

Now I’d like to just interpret this for you. This is the Vedic worldview about the phenomenon and usefulness of prayer because, in the Vedic worldview, each of us has a source of all of our thoughts deep inside of us. Thoughts arrive in the mind in the tens of thousands per day. Tens of thousands.

Most cognitive scientists agree that somewhere between, say, 60,000 to a hundred thousand individual thought events occur in the human mind in a waking day. Some of these cognitive processes might be, a thought that I have to scratch an itch, or a desire, or a memory, something you disregard and move on.

Some of them may be more major, but if we count up every little thought, every desire, every wish, every memory, every reaction, every mental event, we end up with tens of thousands of them in a day. Every one of these streams of energy and intelligence, thoughts, are bubbling up from somewhere deep inside of us.

Our consciousness at its baseline, the least-excited state, is indeed the source of thought. It is an infinite reservoir of creative intelligence and energy. And it is not individualized.

It may seem sometimes as though my individual mind has its own individual little patch of peacefulness, out of which all of this energy and intelligence and so on issues forth. But the fact is that when you step beyond thought during Vedic Meditation, when you learn the technique and you step beyond thought, you are becoming one with the Unified Field of consciousness, that place known as Being, Being.

[14:11] A Wave is Nothing but Ocean

That transcendent place, transcend means to go beyond, that place which is beyond individuality, when we step beyond thought and experience unboundedness, even if only for a second during meditation, is a Universal state.

It is the Unified Field, the motivator of all progressive change, the fountainhead of the entire evolutionary process. It is the one indivisible, whole consciousness field from which all forms and phenomena in the relative world derive.

When our individuality touches that least-excited state, then our individuality is also awakening to something deep inside of all of us. This is akin to the way in which individual waves on the surface of an ocean actually are all nothing but ocean undulating.

A wave may look as though it has a particular set of properties, and it does, a particular size, a particular mass, a particular speed with which it’s moving across the surface of the ocean. But when we analyze what the wave is, actually, it’s nothing but ocean. It is in no way different to the ocean.

It is ocean undulating as a wave, a localized undulation of the underlying oceanic field. We call that a wave. We can’t say the wave is “connected” to the ocean because connection implies that they’re separate in some way.

In order to make a connection, we need connectors, like screws or tape or glue, something that takes two independent things and connects them.

But when we look at a wave, we don’t see any tape or screws or glue holding the wave to the surface of the ocean. A wave cannot be a wave if it becomes independent of the ocean. It is only ocean.

[16:44] Desire

In the Vedic language, this is one of the behaviors of Totality. Totality means the underlying oceanic Unified Field and all of its undulations, all of its behaviors.

And so we have the Field, and we have all of its behaviors. The Field, in its largest aspect, is unmoving and absolute, and its behavioral aspect, we refer to as ‘the relative,’ the ever-changing relative world.

And so we have the absolute aspect of Totality and the individuated aspect of Totality. When our individuality, during Vedic Meditation, de-excites, when we quieten down, when we have a moment of transcendence, we are awakening, deep within ourself, that layer at which we are unified with, the Field itself, the unbounded state of Being, of the whole Universe.

As meditators, we begin to suspect, accurately, that thoughts, desires, and impulses that arise in us are the thoughts, impulses, and desires that are the expressions of that Totality.

The Vedic worldview says that if you’re a meditator, when you have a desire, when you think of an activity which would bring charm into your life, this desire is actually a consequence of the awakening of your individuality and your Universality at their point of unification.

In other words, Universe desires, and individuality picks up the desire. Individuality finds itself desiring that, which actually is the Universal intent.

[19:12] I Am Totality

As we grow into, through our years of regular practice of twice-daily Vedic Meditation, we stabilize that union layer deep inside of us, that layer in which there’s a permanent realization, “I am The Absolute and I am the relative, both simultaneously.”

This is no longer merely a meditation event. This is an event that is occurring continuously outside of meditation, as well as in meditation. We call that state Cosmic Consciousness.

My individuality and my Universality are just two ends of a giant funnel, a vast wide end with all of the potentiality in it, and a more narrow, applicable end that does all of the application work. The narrow end of the funnel.

But, “I am one invisible and whole. I am Totality. I’m the Unified Field. And I’m also the individuality.”

People who are not yet fully realized only see the individuality. They haven’t yet the perceptual capability to see the vast Universality that’s behind the individuality.

Meditators, in the Vedic worldview, with greater and greater and ever-increasing clarity, have the capability to channel Universal intent through their individuality because they recognize that desires are actually the impulses of evolution coming to them from that Universal field.

The Universal field intends, and the individuality receives the intention in the form of a desire. “I’d like to do this and do that, and do this and do that.”

[21:28] A Parody on Praying to God

And so when we are looking at this Katha Upanishad story of the General and the Sergeant, we have the General saying to the Sergeant, “Do this, do that, go to the top of the mountain, create an encampment, you’ll be able to see for a hundred miles.”

Then we have the Sergeant repeating back to the General everything that the General just said, but acting as though they were his, the Sergeant’s, original ideas. Going back to the one who gave him the idea and saying, “Would I be able to do this thing that I’m desiring?”

And this is somewhat a parody on the process of an individual praying to God, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent intelligence. We’re going to call that in our language, Vedic language, the Unified Field of Consciousness, has an intention, and that intention is picked up by the individuality who gets the desire.

[22:39] An Unnecessary Step

When the individual decides, “I’ve had a thought. What a great idea. I’ll go up to the top of the mountain and make an encampment. And from there, we can see everybody coming for a hundred miles. Fantastic. But hold on for a sec. Let me pray about it. Dear God,” like we’re writing a letter.

“You’re fantastic. You’re adorable. You’re omniscient. You’re omnipresent and all of that. However, you could be helped a little bit by my idea. Even though you’re omniscient, you might have missed out on this possibility.

“What if we made an encampment up on top of the mountain? What if we could see for a hundred miles around there? What if we were to create a supply chain so that we had water and food and everything? What if we were to get the soldiers to do this right away? All right. My idea. I’m asking for your blessing. Please make it so.”

The Vedic worldview is that that’s an unnecessary step. The Sergeant need not repeat back to the General that which the General has already told the Sergeant to do. That’s an unnecessary step.

[23:52] We Just Say Yes

Although the General likely will say, “Yes, you have my blessing and all the resources you need. Why? Because I’m the one who just told you to do all of this stuff.”

So from the Vedic worldview perspective, the need to repeat back to cosmic intelligence that which cosmic intelligence has just now planted in your consciousness, as a necessity, is a completely unnecessary step. It’s an unnecessary step too for individual limited intelligence to try to inform cosmic omniscience of what’s needed.

“Just in case, although I know you’re omnipresent, and you’re omniscient, and all capable, you may not have known that my little dog Skippy has a swollen paw. Please help Skippy’s paw. You might have been busy with thinking about Russia and Ukraine or something and missed out on Skippy’s paw.

“And so, I’m down here on earth to tell you Skippy has a swollen paw and needs your special attention. God, please help Skippy out.”

The idea that my individuality actually, in a way, kind of knows better than God, what God should be up to, is like the Sergeant repeating back to the General that which the General has planted in the Sergeant’s awareness in the first place.

From the Vedic perspective, when we get a desire, we consider it to be a desire of the Totality. We do not separate individuality and Totality in that way. We don’t ask individuality to make a petition to Universality to carry out for it, all the things that the Universality has already told the individuality to do. We just say, “Yes” and move forward.

And so, really, the Katha Upanishad dialogue between the General and the Sergeant is illustrative of how we can remove a step, an unnecessary step because of  the unnecessary separation of individuality and universality. Instead we think in terms of the conical structure.

The vast unboundedness finding its way through a funnel into the individuality in order to have productive outlet at the applicable end, where the nervous system is. There’s the nervous system in the brain that can carry everything out, and at the widest end of this, the unbounded consciousness field.

[26:53] Permitted to Act

To make this analogy complete, we must practice Vedic Meditation twice every day and keep our inner individuality in contact with that universal consciousness field. Just through sitting with our eyes closed, this ridiculously simple methodology of sitting in a chair, closing the eyes, having learned the technique properly.

Just closing the eyes and taking it as it comes for 20 minutes, giving the mind and the brain and the body that deep restfulness, all of those individual things we like about what meditation does for us, the outcome of it, the fresher mind, the keener thinking and so on.

But to give it a much larger perspective so that we can understand it, the Upanishad comes and says, “It’s the General and the Sergeant.”

You can expect fully to be permitted to act on what you find yourself thinking because those thoughts themselves come from cosmic intelligence.

Jai Guru Deva.

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