Upanishad – The King and the Swordsmith

“Acquisition has no end to it. For any intelligent person, no amount of anything ever is enough. This is for an intelligent person, to say nothing of an unintelligent person.”

Thom Knoles

We’re all familiar with the saying, don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but how about using a sword to clean a finger?

Vedic literature is full of delightful fables that use analogies to deliver profound life lessons. In this episode Thom gives us some background on Upanishad, Vedic fables heard ‘while sitting at the feet of a Master’ before sharing a tale of a King and a swordsmith.

It’s a delightful reminder that our Vedic Meditation technique has a very specific and powerful purpose, and a demonstration of how to dig a little deeper than the superficial interpretation of a story.

Treat this episode as a taste test of more Upanishad tales to come in future episodes.

Subscribe to Vedic Worldview

Apple Podcast logo
Stitcher Podcast logo
Spotify Podcast logo
Google Podcast logo

Episode Highlights


Sitting at the Feet of a Master



Sanskrit – The First Child of the Language of Nature



Lingua Franca



Sounds Like…



Rishi – A Five-Senses Hyperactive Perceiver



When a Rishi Hears the Sound of Nature



The Stuff of Fable



The Impact of Upanishad on the West






Defense of a Kingdom



The Then-Known World



Is it Sharp?



A Demonstration of Trust



A Clean Finger



The Pathology of Acquisition



Products of Stress Accumulation



The Removal of the Mistake



A Ridiculously Simple Way


Jai Guru Deva


[00:45] Sitting at the Feet of a Master

Jai Guru Deva. Thank you for listening to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles. Today, I’d like to open for podcast listeners the subject of Upanishad. Upanishad is spelled U-P-A-N-I-S-H-A-D, Upanishad.

And please let’s not call it the Upanishads, with an s on the end. We don’t even need to put the article ‘the’ in front of it. It is just Upanishad.

‘Upa’ means something that is elevated, Upa-nishad, and Nishad has to do with sitting, sitting at the feet of that which is elevated. This is the inference of the word Upanishad. Upanishad means, or refers to, tales heard, parables and fables, heard while sitting at the feet of a Master.

There are hundreds of Upanishad that are the product of many, many years of the accumulation of story in the Vedic Pantheon of literature. There are 10 principal Upanishad and there are many hundreds of minors. And so today I would like to go into, a little bit, something of the history of Upanishad as it relates in the West.

[02:46] Sanskrit – The First Child of the Language of Nature

Interestingly we have already Upanishad of the West. So, for example, the famous stories of Aesop, the fables of Aesop, all about how animals that spoke had a variety of lessons to teach each other and the listener of the story.

So Aesop’s fables, they are Upanishad of the West. We have many, many others. Aesop is perhaps one of the most prominent of the historic from archaic Greece. Upanishad as it comes from Veda also has had much exposure in the West.

One of the most read masters of philosophy in the West, Schopenhauer, a famous German philosopher who read Upanishad in a very strange translation that he had. Schopenhauer was German and translated into German, Upanishad, as he read certain of the principal Upanishad in Latin, which themselves had been translated from the Persian into Latin, which had in turn been translated into Persian from the original Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is the name of the language that is the first child of the language of Nature. Sanskrit is not a spoken language, nor a conversational language. It is instead a language that doesn’t suffer from any of the degradations that occur when you have a spoken language.

[04:56] Lingua Franca

So for example, English, which is the current most continuous language on earth. There are other languages that compete with its popularity, Mandarin, for example, and Hindi. These two languages, along with English, are spoken by the largest numbers of people on earth, but English is a language that has become the, to use the Latin phrase, lingua franca.

Lingua franca was, once upon a time, French, franca, was the language of the world. If you spoke French, you could go almost anywhere and people would understand you. Today, if you speak English, you have a very high probability of being understood almost anywhere, probably because of two factors, the worldwide web, the internet, and aviation.

It’s not possible to be permitted, legally, to fly an aircraft unless you can speak fluent English. English is the language of aviation and, likewise, it has become the most prominent language online.

But one of the problems with having a very conversational lingua franca, very conversational active language, is that it goes through massive change over just a very short period of time. And so English is one of those languages that is morphing at such a phenomenal rate that linguists themselves have trouble deciding which words that are used in English actually are legitimate. Which of them is simply a word that people have made up or is it a word that has actual sufficient usage that it merits putting it in a dictionary?

[07:09] Sounds Like…

We don’t have to worry about those factors in Sanskrit because Sanskrit was a classical, poetic language, probably not even spoken conversationally during the time of its currency in ancient India.

And although there are several historic layers of Sanskrit, proto-, endo-, pre-Vedic Sanskrit, and then Vedic Sanskrit, and then classical Sanskrit, and so on, but these various periods are talking about relatively minor changes in a language.

Sanskrit is referred to as the first child of the language of Nature, because the language of Nature is conceived of by the Vedic Masters of the past, and those of the present as well I should add, to be onomatopoeic.

An onomatopoeia, as you might remember from your studies of English, beginning in high school and moving onward, is any word, the sound of which is an attempt to imitate the sound of the thing it is describing. And so we have thousands of words like this in English; boom, slap, splash, sizzle, flap, and so on, and so on.

We could go on literally for two hours describing all the words that are formed by the sound that the word makes when you use significant human vocal sounds, these are referred to as “phonemes;” a phoneme is a significant human vocal sound.

When you use phonemes to imitate a thing that you’ve heard and successfully get that to become a word that is widely accepted, then you are making use of an onomatopoeia.

[09:26] Rishi – A Five-Senses Hyperactive Perceiver

Sanskrit is not truly the language of Nature per se. It’s the first child of the language of Nature. It’s considered that when Nature intends something, it makes a sound. A sound is created by the process of consciousness intending, the intentionality of Nature, then, if able to be experienced by a “Rishi.”

A Rishi is a seer, but let’s not be dissuaded away from taste and touch and smell and sound. A Rishi is a five-senses hyperacute perceiver, whose own consciousness is established in Unified Field awareness.

So the Knower knows itself to be Unified Field consciousness itself, and the process of Knowing, processes of Knowing, which includes sensory perception, are so acute that the tiniest fragment of change can be experienced by the sensory experience of the seer, the Rishi.

[10:51] When a Rishi Hears the Sound of Nature

When a Rishi detects Nature intending something, a Rishi hears the sound that Nature makes when intending, and that sound, if encapsulated using significant human vocal sounds, remember phonemes, if phonemes are used to create an onomatopoeia to imitate the sound of Nature intending, then the product of that human imitation of the intentionality of Nature, the sound of the intentionality of Nature, human imitation of it is Sanskrit,

Sanskrit is an onomatopoeic language. Every sound of it has embedded in the sound, the vibrational characteristics which, from the highest consciousness state, if you hear that sound, it will cause you to have a full three dimensional and five senses experience of what it is the sound is referring to.

Many of our onomatopoeia are verbs or adjectives, and relatively fewer of them are nouns. In Sanskrit every article, every noun, every verb, every adverb, every adjective, is onomatopoetic. And so this is the language which is the first child of the language of Nature. It imitates the way Nature itself makes sounds.

[12:47] The Stuff of Fable

So, having given you that little preamble about Sanskrit, Upanishad, the sitting at the feet of some great Master, we need to know that when Westerners first came across Upanishad they were deeply influenced by it. Literally the word fabulous means the stuff of fable. A fable is an instructive story.

It’s an instructive story that’s very attention getting, that is supposed to encapsulate the way in which humans interact with natural laws. The laws of Nature that govern human existence, and the laws of Nature in which humans find themselves moving and progressing, require constant interaction.

What is the interaction between humanity and all the laws of Nature that support the processes of evolution upon which humans depend? This is really the stuff of the fables and narratives which we refer to as Upanishad. And so placed into stories in parable form, Upanishad have attracted a tremendous amount of attention in the West.

[14:23] The Impact of Upanishad on the West

I mentioned Schopenhauer, from the 19th century. For Americans, someone who perhaps is a little closer to our modern time. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who quoted Upanishad, who read Upanishad on a regular basis, who in his own books and in his own note making, often had in his margins, notations that referred to things that he wrote and their having their sources in one of the named Upanishad. And so the Upanishad had a very big effect on Emerson.

Emerson also passed along his enthusiasm about Upanishad to another one of the, what are known philosophically as the American transcendentalists— transcendentalism was a philosophical way of thinking that was popular during the time of Emerson— to his colleague, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was also deeply influenced by Upanishad.

On the other side of the Atlantic, William Blake, who considered Upanishad to be something of his, almost like a Bible to him.

And so Blake, Emerson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman was a prolific and celebrated American poet whose constant reference to how he was inspired by Upanishad can be read about.

And so we have a tremendous amount of Western respect for Upanishad and perhaps it’s time now in our Vedic Worldview, for those of us who are enjoying the flow of knowledge that comes from the Veda, also to benefit from some of the stories.

[16:35] Kenopanishad

Today, I’d like to tell you one of the stories that comes from Kenopanishad.

Ken is, in this case spelled K-E-N, or Keno, but when you put Keno, the O, in front of the word Upanishad, they merge together as Kenopanishad.

In Kenopanishad we find the reference to a story that has to do with the capacity to bring about change in a way that it involves the least amount of destruction, so that when we have to make a decision to destroy the destructive power of a thing, then to what extent can we get away with destroying destructive power without destroying the human who wields the destructive power inappropriately?

Some human wielding inappropriately, destructive power, and bringing about an interruption to the lives and progress and evolution of other humans, it may be fully within the range of the laws of Nature for us to find a way to remove the destructive capability of the one, the would-be destroyer, but without harming the nervous system, if it’s at all possible. To destroy the ignorance and its traits without actually destroying the physiology of the one who wields the destructive power.

And this story is a story that comes from Kenopanishad, and it starts like this…

[18:36] Defense of a Kingdom

Once upon a time, there was a great King in India who had every kind of artisan working for him. There were the greatest crafts people. There were the greatest play performers, actors, theater actors. There were the greatest poets.

And then there were the greatest metallurgists. The greatest known, for its time, mirror makers. Making mirrors was a thing once upon a time that was considered practically a magical art because, prior to that time, the best mirrors were simply polished metal or various kinds of devices that allowed you to look into water, to see your reflection, to see what your body form looked like.

Painters and artists, architects, designers, all were known to be under the patronage of this wise and kind King.

The King also was aware that there had to be a defense of his kingdom because rumor had come that those who only wanted land and power already were beginning to get organized and appearing in the far distance on the borders of this sophisticated kingdom, where life was being led in elegance, and the thought of the arrival of the barbarians, as it was anathema to the King.

And so there was a ramping up of those elements of defense that come under the heading of the Dhanur Veda. Dhanur Veda is the branch of the Veda that starts off with supreme political science, and diplomacy, outreach, reason, and deal brokering so that people who would perhaps have a predilection to simply become wanton destroyers would instead step into a role of being aids or allies.

[21:11] The Then-Known World

In this regard, the King had decided that it would be wise to have some swords made by whomever won a competition, which had been announced throughout the then-known world, and this is conceived of as being a period of time, sometime around 8,000 years ago, the known world at that time stretched from central India out to the Western borders of Afghanistan, as we know it today, to the North, all the way up to the pinnacle of Himalayan massif, that huge arc of mountains, 3-400 miles across in depth and thousands of miles from east to west, creating a natural barrier between the subcontinent of India and all of the countries appended to India, and anything that laid to the North.

And on the boundaries of the then-known world were, on the Eastern fringes of Cambodia. The Vedic stretch went from far western, as we know today, modern Afghanistan, all the way to the furthest reaches of Cambodia, and in the south, down and past and including Sri Lanka, lay the great Indian Ocean, the vast ocean beyond which nothing in those days, very much was known. Only the occasional report from some lost sailor or merchant person.

[23:08] Is it Sharp?

And so then the King decided that there had better be some preparations in case diplomacy failed. In case there was no reasoning with those who had only the intent to arrive and destroy. And so he had set up a competition for the greatest sword maker to be found and to be placed in his armory to create swords.

And the person who won this competition, not only was considered the greatest metallurgist of the time, who knew how to make folded steel and to make super-sharp and keen edges, but also a man of considerable wisdom. And so the King had the sword maker come and demonstrate his arts.

The King had spent the afternoon signing a variety of documents with pen and ink and putting his wax seal on those documents, and so his fingers were stained with ink and little bits of sealing wax.

And in came the swordsmith with a beautiful burnished sword of the day and the King said to him, “Is it sharp?”

[24:52] A Demonstration of Trust

And the swordsmith said, “With your permission, Your Majesty, I’d like to demonstrate the sharpness of it,” and he said, “but for me to do so would require you to demonstrate to me considerable trust in my skill and in my capability, because I vouch safe to you, Your Majesty, that I won’t harm you in my demonstration.

“However, if you would please place your index finger of your right hand, which is besmirched with ink and sealing wax, place your index finger on this cutting board. And let me demonstrate the sharpness of my sword.”

The King unhesitatingly, although perhaps quite attentively, placed his finger, just so on the cutting board and in a flash, the swordsmith raised the sword above his head and brought it down with lightning speed, straight in the direction of the King’s finger, causing all of the guards around the King to ready themselves to pounce upon the swordsmith.

[26:17] A Clean Finger

All anyone heard was the sword striking the cutting board. The King sat completely unmoved and evidently unharmed, and then the swordsmith said, “Sir, please look at your finger now, and look to the other side of the sword. I’d like to show you how sharp my sword is.”

And to his absolute astonishment, the King’s astonishment and that of everyone present, the swordsmith’s sword had been able to separate the ink from the skin of the finger. The ink lay in a little powdery pile on one side of the slice mark in the board, and the King’s finger, perfectly clean of ink and wax, sat on the other side of the board, unharmed by the sword.

The sword’s edge was so sharp, it was able to arrive at speed and remove the molecules of ink from the surface of the skin of the finger and leave the finger untouched.

[27:32] Remove the Mistake

And so then this Upanishad is illustrative of the ideal of, instead of removing the besmirched finger, remove the mistake. The mistake is that which accumulates on the nervous system of someone who has become bewildered, someone who has begun to demonstrate the pathos, the pathology, the illness, of acquisition mentality.

That through acquisition, happiness and fulfillment arrives. Acquisition of what? Acquisition of land, other people’s land. Acquisition of power over other people. Acquisition of things. Acquisition of sensations.

You know, when somebody wants something, they don’t actually want the thing, they want the sensation, the physiological sensations of having the thing; the taste, the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound of it.

[28:42] The Pathology of Acquisition

The thing itself that can generate those sensory experiences then becomes the desired thing. So materialism is not always just about the material, it is also about hedonism, which means an addiction to the sensations that accompany the object of desire, the sensations that it can deliver, and the pathology is the pathology of acquisition.

Acquisition is a pathology in Vedic psychology because it is by acquiring things, acquiring land, acquiring a house, acquiring this, acquiring a relationship with somebody who’s not going to trouble me in any way, acquiring children

Acquisition has no end to it. For any intelligent peqrson, no amount of anything ever is enough. This is for an intelligent person, to say nothing of an unintelligent person.

And so then how do we remove the pathos, the pathology of the disease state of acquisition mentality from someone? It has to be done by removing the stresses from the physiology, the stresses that have accumulated over a period of years of having experienced overloads.

[30:17] Products of Stress Accumulation

All kinds of sensory overloads, and emotional overloads and boredom overloads, waiting fruitlessly, boredom, have laid into the body, the layers of experience, which associate those demands, those overloads with a fighting or fleeing tendency. Either to fight for one’s life or to flee for one’s life and then the memory driven into the cells is the form that stress takes, where we find that someone’s behavior ends up becoming relevant only to a reactivity that is out of date, obsolete. Obsolete reactivity, irrelevant action, behavior, thinking, and so on, is one of the products of stress accumulation, one of the symptoms of there being lots of stress.

What do we do when we practice Vedic Meditation? We close our eyes, we settle down with our very specific technique and we go beyond thought. Stepping beyond thought, the mind attains to that fundamental, super-contented state, the bliss of Being.

Even if only for moments, moving even in the direction of that, the body that is following the mind into that less-excited state, rests at unprecedented deep levels of conscious rest.

This conscious deep rest, that’s there in the physiology during Vedic Meditation, allows the body to commence something that it hadn’t been able to do perhaps for years. And that is to start a process of reversing the biochemistry of the memory of overload, the biochemistry of stress, to remove the fight-flight underlying tendency in life that then impacts the brain and the psychology.

[32:52] The Removal of the Mistake

To remove the stress without harming the one who’s stressed, so that rather than destroying the nervous system or incarcerating the nervous system of a stressed person, we teach the person a technique that can remove all of the irrelevant behavior, allowing Nature’s intelligence to flourish, and to allow that person to become, as all humans are capable of becoming, a fountainhead of creative intelligence, a fountainhead of innovation, improvisation, creativity, to be someone who can protect and maintain all of that which continues to serve the process of evolution.

Someone who leads a life whose behavior is life supporting, rather than someone whose existence causes nothing but life-damaging thought, life-damaging actions and anti-evolutionary trends.

The removal of the mistake without harming the physiology. And this is what is being referred to in our Upanishad of the King and the swordsmith.

The King and the swordsmith from Kenopanishad, the removal of the ink from the finger without damaging the finger.

[34:25] A Ridiculously Simple Way

This is how, in modern time, we need to look at social problems and how to solve them. Rather than identifying individuals whose stress has become, so pivotally, a part of their state of existence or being, and thinking, “Well, it’s those people who are behaving in this way and they can’t be stopped. They’re ‘unrehabilitatible’. They need to be removed or incarcerated or even killed.”

We can teach a methodology whereby anyone can, in a ridiculously simple way, sitting with eyes closed, enjoying bliss for 20 minutes, twice a day, remove all of their stresses, get rid of the thing that’s causing the negative behavior, and allow that person to have their full creative intelligence restored.

This is one of those things that’s encapsulated in the ancient story of the King and the swordsmith, a beautiful Upanishad. Jai Guru Deva.

Read more