The BrihadAraNyaka Upanishad speaks about a peculiar Stranger. This Stranger resides pretty close by, in fact inside ourselves. He functions as the inner controller of the body and the soul, while being distinctly different from both. Neither the soul nor the body realise His existence, much less know Him intimately. We know not what He looks like, what His attributes are, what He stands for and what is the relationship between this Stranger and ourselves.
"Ya Atmani tishttan Atmana: antarO yam AtmA na vEda yasya AtmA sharIram ya AtmAnam antarO yamayati sa ta AtmA antaryAmi amruta:" says the Upanishad.
We are filled with sadness.
We know our neighbours thoroughly. In fact, we take a healthy interest in their doings, and voice impartial (!) criticism about their deeds of omission and commission, all, of course, in the interests of good neighbourliness.
We know our colleagues at office intimately, and take genuine pleasure in apprising some of them of the shortcomings we observe in the others. We take care never to wound feelings by talking to people about themselves-we always voice our feelings to others.
We know our relatives inside out and try our best to improve their lot in our own way, whether they like it or not. We know our leaders and matinee idols, we know our celebrities and intimate details about their ways of life.
It therefore makes us sad to learn that there is someone, that too residing within ourselves, who has escaped so far from the ambit of our all-encompassing knowledge which we had so far considered comprehensive.
However, when we read on, we find that the situation is not so bad. There are others too, of considerable distinction, who share our ignorance. For instance, we find that this sprawling, wide world is equally ignorant about this Stranger, who has the Universe as His abode and controls it from inside-
" Yam prithivyAm tishttan prithivya antarO yam prithivI na vEda yasya prithivI sharIram ya: prithivIm antarO yamayati sa ta AtmA antaryAmi amruta:"
As if this were not enough, the TaittirIyOpanishad adds to our woes by putting this Stranger's form beyond our ken-
"na sandrisE thishttathi roopam asya, na chakshushA pasyati kascha na Enam". Sri Nammazhwar concurs with this thought by saying that He cannot be seen by ordinary human eyes-"KaNgaL kAndarku ariyanAi".
Our eyes, ever sharp to identify and announce the shortcomings in others, are just not enough to grasp this Stranger's form. We find this hard to believe. We have at our disposal the most modern of scientific instruments, which enhance our vision to take in the minutest of microbes and the most distant of stars in the heavens. Then how come this Stranger continues to elude our vision?
Even if the Stranger is beyond our vision, can He at least be visualised? No, says Sri Nammazhwar, putting Him beyond mental imagery too-"evarkkum chintaikkum gOcharam allan" . He cannot be captured by our intellect or mind, says Sri Alavandar-"namO namO vAng manasAti bhoomayE" says he in his Stotra Ratnam.
Can we at least identify this Stranger's gender? Azhwar says that this person is neither male nor female, nor even an intermediate creature. It is impossible to see this person. However, this doesn't make the Stranger non-existent. Looking to the difficulties in sizing up this Stranger, Azhwar gives up the task and throws up his hands-
"AN allan peN allan allA aliyum allan
KANalum AgAn uLan allan illai allan
PENum kAl pENum uruvAgum allanumAm
KONai peridu udaitthu em pemmAnai koorudalE"
Compounding the problem, this Stranger does not have a definite form, says the JitantA Stotra-"na tE roopam na cha AkAra:".
If we try to know Him from His origins, we find that He is without one. "apramEya:" says the Vishnu Sahasranama. We are unable to find His parents, if He had any. He appears to be a person without a beginning and an end-"anAdi nidhana:"
A person is known by the company he keeps, says the adage. By this token, when we try to find out the company the Stranger keeps, we find that He is one of a kind ("Eka:") and beyond compare, being without an equal or superior-
"oppAr mikkArai ilaiAya mAmAyA!' says Sri Nammazhwar.
Now we really despair and are ready to give up. Adding fuel to fire, Sri Tondaradipodi says that He is beyond the reach of even exalted souls like Brahma and Shiva, despite their penance lasting several millennia-
"PeN ulAm sadainAnum Piramanum unnai kANbAn
eNNilA oozhi oozhi tavam seidAr veLgi nirpa".
It is really frustrating to learn that the Stranger is present everywhere, occupying the space inside and around all beings. Whatever we see and hear has this Stranger in its midst, thus making Him omnipresent ("antar bahischa tat sarvam vyApya. stittha:"). However, even if He is present everywhere, we are unable to see or feel Him, try as we might.
Would anybody tell me how to find this Stranger?