The Upanishads Elucidated: The Enigmatic Seed

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Editor’s Note: In our ongoing series – The Upanishads Elucidated, we feature another insightful story penned by Lopa Mukherjee. Enjoy this beautiful retelling of how the Supreme seated Itself in all Manifestation – in a seed form, waiting to blossom in full.

The Enigmatic Seed

Rishi Jambudwipa heard a commotion outside his cave. He peeped out to get a look. He sighed deeply and his forehead creased in concern.

It wasn’t the first time he was seeing a minor king’s hunting party going about its business of spending the night in the forest. They were drunk and loud, unaware of the space they were disturbing. Half a dozen dead boars and deer lay around a fire waiting to be spitted and cooked. The attendants were busy filling their pockets with trinkets that dribbled out of the hunters’ pockets. A petty aristocrat with the loudest laughter told the most outrageous stories of them all – about hunting sabre-toothed leopards and mammoths.

The rishi almost spoke aloud so earnest was his prayer,

“O lord, you promised, ‘Whenever the land is engulfed in darkness, to cleanse it, I take birth upon the earth.’ Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati Bhārata, abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānam srijāmyaham. It is time you appeared, O lord. You can’t get a greater glāni.” 

The answer was a sign. Something came sailing from nowhere and landed at his feet. The rishi held it up to his eyes to see it better in the dark. It looked like a peeled almond, white and smooth. He leaned closer and spied a miniature writing on it: 

eṣaḥ bījaḥ svayamprakāśaḥ
sarvaglāni nāśakaḥ
gyāna dīpaḥ adhūmakaḥ
antaryamī premānkuraḥ

This seed is self-effulgent
Destroyer of all sorrows
A flame of knowledge without smoke
The dweller within, a bud of love.

As soon as the rishi uttered the last word, the bonfire outside the cave flared up.

The hunters and their servants screamed in fear and tried to run away. But the fire was quicker. Instantly it torched the trees of the forest. The rishi smelled his burning beard and knew he had to act fast. Hastily he buried the ivory-like seed under the earth. The fire was upon him promptly; within hours what used to be a forest was a field of ashes.

That very year, when it rained, the forest floor tingled with new life. A new plant raised its shoots and the snails smelled a new scent. Very soon a green carpet covered the place and within a few years there were flower-bearing trees.

Birds flocked to the bower and built their nests with the twigs of the new tree. One of them flew far afield and landed on the window sill of a princess. The princess noticed the gold dust where the bird had perched. It smelled fragrant and she had no doubt it was real gold. How very interesting! Golden pollen must come from golden flowers. She set a fury in motion.

Very soon the king’s men had rounded up the forest with the golden flowers.

The princess came with her friends and strung the flowers into garlands and bracelets. They dug a lake and set a pleasure boat on it. On full moon nights they came to bathe and sung romantic ragas as they floated on the lake. The golden flowers showered their golden pollen in their hair and clothes. Wherever these maidens went they spread the golden dust and the land around became tinged with it. 

Prospectors got wind of this and rushed to mine the gold. But no sooner had they reached the country they were enchanted by its beauty and forgot their plans. Wealth seemed to be a silly goal when happiness was in abundance. They settled in happily and even forgot to write home. Their wives and children searched for them far and wide and eventually exhausted and hopeless, found them in this golden land. Their anger dissolved and they rejoiced in renewed affection for each other.

The word of the magical place travelled. Sick people came to be restored. Sad people found their peace. 

Then a new breed of men were born with a scientific bent of mind. They were not convinced about this land where Nature had manufactured gold – not from base metal, but from sunlight, soil and water. “There must be some secret the earth holds,” they said. They started digging to find the root cause. The roots came out and the trees perished. The golden land became a dust bowl. There was no solution. But the scientists returned happy, for there was no problem either now. 

Again generations crept past the face of time.

One day a cowherd was looking for his errant cow when he stumbled upon this sorry bit of earth. “Now, who has ploughed this field, but forgot to plant,” he wondered. Then he saw the thing – white and smooth like an ivory almond. “It must be a precious stone. It will fetch me a fortune,” he thought and went to the city to meet with a jeweller.

The jeweller didn’t know what it was, but he knew a chemist who perhaps could tell him. The jeweller borrowed the seed and went to the chemist. The chemist happened to be having tea with a physicist friend when the jeweller walked in with something strange in his handkerchief. The chemist poured acids on it, but it did not react. The physicist then scraped and pounded it with as many tools as he could. He was unable to scratch even the surface, but unwilling to give up. He took a hologram of it and blew it up a thousand times.

The miniscule writing was loud and clear.   

This seed is self-effulgent
Destroyer of all sorrows
A flame of knowledge without smoke
The dweller within, a bud of love.

“Eureka,” cried the physicist, “dīpaḥ adhūmakaḥ. A smokeless flame. I have found fusion. This must be the sun seed. It is a light without a smoke, which means a source of eternal fuel and a clean fuel. I will take it to the nuclear lab and have it bombarded with electrons.”

The experiments were essayed, but the electrons fell limp by the seed. A biologist then claimed the seed and repaired to his lab. A year is all it took him to crack the riddle. He declared that it was the pineal gland of a rishi, the thing in the body that could reconstruct the man – his past memories, his character, and all. He invited the world to see the first cloning of a soul, for this was the antaryamī, the dweller within. 

An eager old man donated his body for the test. The biologist removed the man’s pineal gland from his brain and installed the ivory seed in its place. Then the world waited for the old man to awake.


He took a while – something like a month. Then he got up and walked away, muttering, “If only you knew where to look, you’d find”. The biologist sweated in private, but applauded himself in public saying, “He speaks in paradoxes, of course, like a true rishi. Bravo. Bravo to me.” 

Rishi Jambudwipa walked out of the operation chamber and did not stop for months till he reached the forest that had once been his cave. The forest had restored itself over time and since man had not found it yet, new life grew abundantly here.

Golden flowers with sweet scent welcomed him back to his old haunt. He touched the soil with his hands as though touching the feet of an elder. He knew the seed had not lied. It was the source of light – so much light, it spilled out of the flowers as gold dust. The lord had said so, “This seed is self-effulgent eṣaḥ bījaḥ svayamprakāśaḥ.”

The roots under his feet quivered with life and spoke to him in their silent ways. They said many a tired feet had found solace here and many seeking hearts had met their beloveds under these golden bowers. The rishi remembered, “Destroyer of all sorrows sarvaglāni nāśakaḥ.”

He was happy that there had been a generation of men and women who were wise enough to let the golden flowers thrive in their own way. They had lived in harmony with nature. Their houses were lit with the lamps that did not pollute, which are the flames of knowledge, gyāna dīpaḥ adhūmakaḥ. Surely it was because they had felt the bud of love dwelling within themselves antaryamī premānkuraḥ.

Rishi Jambudwipa placed his palm on his chest and spoke to his depths,

“One day I had called you to clean up the mess. You have answered by placing yourself in the midst of this mess. O antaryamī, you have allowed your love to germinate where there was only hatred. They tried to crack you, use you, destroy you, but they could not.

“And since I know for sure now that you are in me, I will not retreat in the cave anymore. I have returned armed with your self-luminous wisdom that casts no shadow and your love that destroys all sorrow.”

He heard a silver bell jingle. Or was it someone’s carefree laughter?

He looked around and suddenly the grove seemed to have transformed into the kadamba grove of Brindavan. A voice in his head spoke,

बीजं मां सर्वभूतानां विद्धि पार्थ सनातनम्।
bījaṁ māṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ viddhi pārtha sanātanam,
Know me to be the eternal seed of all existences, O son of Pritha. 

~ Bhagavad Gita, 7.10

The rishi smiled, “I suppose you spoke, O seed eternal implanted in my brain?”

“Yes,” came a gentle reply from his head. “Yes,” echoed other voices – from the flowers and the trees and the breeze and the insects in the soil and the birds in the sky, and very soon a chorus of voices filled his grateful ears. And when the mighty “Yes” from all the creatures fell silent, he heard a golden voice emanate from his heart:

अंगुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो ज्योतिरिवाधूमकः।
ईशानो भूतभव्यस्य स एवाद्य स उ श्वः। एतद्वै तत्‌ ॥

aṁguṣṭhamātraḥ puruṣo jyotirivādhūmakaḥ |
īśāno bhūtabhavyasya sa evādya sa u śvaḥ | etadvai tat||

The Purusha that is within is no larger than the finger of a man; He is like a blazing fire that is without smoke, He is lord of His past and His future. He alone is today and He alone shall be tomorrow. This is the thing thou seekest.

~ Katha Upanishad 2.1.13

~ Design: Beloo Mehra

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