Monday, August 29, 2011



The Vedic gods, especially Varuna, are the off-springs of universal and eternal order called Rita. It is the duty to keep that order in everyone's life. Vedas speak also of "Satya" (truth) mostly identical with 'Rita' which is declared as the Sun (Soorya or Savitr) whose very nature is Truth manifestation. Varuna and Soorya along with Agni (fire) and Vaayu are the celebrated gods in Upanishads and Vedas. Satya also referred as Sat, got mixed up with Rita and was identified not only with Brahman but with the individual Self (psychic being composed of mind, subtle body and senses residing within the heart) as in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 5-5-1; 5-6-1—'He who is that satya is the Sun; the Purusha who is in that orb and also the Purusha who is in the right eye. In the absence of the association with the rays of the sun, (chakshusha-purusha) will not be capable of functioning. Similarly, the Chakshusha Purusha is helpful to the Aadityapurusha through the Praanas. Upanishads thus give an account of the Purusha residing in the eye and orb of the sun.
We hear in Vedas that the gods had to protect this world order, rita by their valor and steadfastness. This gave rise to the negative concept of "mrityu", death. If orderliness is responsible for creation, build up and preservation, it follows that death destroys and breaks down this order. This fear of death constantly worried the Vedic gods, as we find in the Upanishads. Rita is therefore considered as opposite of death, that is deathlessness or 'amrita'. Upanishads also speak of such pairs similar to rita and mrityu, sat (real) and asat (unreal and falsehood) as you find in the famous Vedic prayer: "Mrityor maa amritam gamaya; Asato maa sadgamaya: tamaso maa jyotirgamaya". Upanishads' identification of sat-rita with Brahman and Self corresponds to light (Bharoopa) while asat-mrityu identifies with darkness (Rajas).
Upanishadic teachers visualized a state of affairs where darkness prevailed hiding the light, where unreal held the real in captivity and where death swept across, deathlessness was covered over. Hence, the prayer above has become very popular. Upanishadic texts elaborate on the sunless worlds covered with darkness, delusion (moha), sorrow (soeka) fetters (bandhana), fear (bhaya) and evils (paapa). Man in real life is caught up in unreal, feels dull and clouded, threatened by death and torn with anxiety and sorrow.
The Self, referred by other names like Satya, Brahman, Aatman, Jeevaatman, Paramaatman and Purusha in various texts is the value that dominates as well as sought after in various Upanishadic literatures. Nachiketas on approaching Yama sought after the absolute value "Sreyas" (the better course) in preference to "Preyas" (the pleasant course). Both ways are open to us. The dull-witted chooses the latter way, keen on worldly welfare intent on getting on and keeping (yogakshema), while the wise chooses the former as Nachiketas, intent on the highest value (Kathoepanishad 1,2,1 and 2): "Sreyascha preyascha manushyametaha; tau sampreetye vivinakti dheeraha; sreyohi dheerobhi preyasoe vrineetey; preyoe mandoe yogakshemaat vrineetay". Both the good and pleasant approach the mortal man; having considered them well, a wise man discriminates. A wise man prefers the good to the pleasant. But the ignorant one chooses the pleasant for the sake of worldly prosperity (Yoga is the development of the body and Kshema is its protection). There is no destiny beyond and above ourselves; we are ourselves the architects of our future.
The attainment of Self as the absolute value, in Hindu thought is called Moksha (moha+kshaya) or Mukti. The various Upanishads contain numerous descriptions of the state of liberation, but essentially it is 'getting united with the Self' or more properly 'becoming the Self'. After this there is nothing else to be done as one is completely and truly fulfilled. The individual has then on neither urges to gainful action, nor desires and this is considered bountiful tranquility (shanti-samruddham-amrutam).
This of course implies a rejection of the normal Consciousness with its phenomenal involvement, a denial of all that we are. However, Upanishads do not feel so. They insist the knower of Brahman gains the highest, enjoys all desires along with the Brahman himself—Satyam, Jnaanam, Anantam, Brahman; Ritagam, Satyam, Parambrahman.
This gain of Self-knowledge is associated with "Delight" (aananda). This delight has the highest value identical with the very Self. This Delight is by no means the vulgar hedonistic pleasure complex. It is often translated as "Bliss" to differentiate it from the hedonistic pleasure. This Delight is the fundamental nature of all existence, the very principle responsible for the entire evolution. Taittareeya Upanishad says: "Koe
hyaevaanyaat kaha praanyaat yadesha aakaasa 'Aanandoe' na syaat"—Indeed who would breathe, and who would live, if Delight were not in the space (in the cavity of the heart)!
The enfoldment of Self into the phenomenal world is rooted in Aaananda (Delight). But we lose sight of it caught up tangled in the web of phenomenal world (samsaara) being care worn and agitated altogether unconscious of the Delight. But on gaining the essence that is becoming the Self, one gets Delighted. It is this Self that generates Delight. "Rasoe
vai saha, rasam hyaevaayam labdhvaa aanandee bhavati". This Delight is the fundamental principle, the innermost sheath which constitutes the Being, as described before in earlier lecture.
This sheath is considered blissful because whatever be the condition in which individuals are in their waking and dream states, once they reach the Halls of Sleep, be they rich or poor, successful or disappointed, healthy or sick, young or old, all of them experience the same undisturbed peace and bliss. To the ordinary gross intellect this sheath is an unconscious state of nothingness—meaning, nothing of those things known to it as things. In this deep sleep state of Consciousness man is experiencing a joyous condition wherein none of the known experience is repeated. But all the same, the joy felt is positively known, that is, it is a nothing which means No-Thing.
Upanishads do not ignore the human delight but provide a scale of gradation of Delight. A human delight (maanushika aananda) is described thus: "A youth, good natured, well read, sharp, firm, and strong is one measure of human delight. A hundred measure of this would be one measure of a man disciplined in the higher knowledge and free from desire and so on. A thousand measure of human delight would be one measure of Brahman-delight. Continuity is thus established between the ordinary pleasures that we enjoy and the highest Delight which is the very essence of existence. Upanishads' thoughts pursue steadily Absolute Existence (Sat), undifferentiated Consciousness (Chit) and Supreme Delight (Aananda; Bliss). The reality of it is unquestioned but its realization has presented a problem to Upanishads' thinkers. Therefore, the approaches have been different and varied in the various Upanishads. Nevertheless, Delight is not a mere feeling, but a total experience, that is based on both intrinsic and ultimate values.
The highest goal of our lives is to experience Self as Delight. This experience involves lifting one's Consciousness out of the phenomenal involvement, freeing from the limitations of ordinary object-bound ego-transactions, and elevating to the highest state of our Being. According to Sri Aurobindo: "It is not a denial, contradiction and annihilation of all that we now are; it is the supreme accomplishment of all things that our existence means and aims at, but in their highest sense and in the eternal values". Upanishads ask us 'to obtain', 'to know', 'to meditate', 'to contemplate', 'to strike', 'to think'' with a view 'to be known', 'to be seen', 'to be acquired', and 'to be sought'. It also warns, "Unless one gets it here and now, great indeed is the loss". Kenoepanishad, 2, 5 says: "If one has realized Brahman in this birth alone, then he becomes worthy of being an existing one. If he has not realized, there will be a great destruction. Having realized Brahman in all entities as distinct from everything else, the Wise having departed this mortal world attain immortality gaining the Self".
Upanishads also dilate upon the means to attain the objective. Kathoepanishad says: "It is only for the person that seeks the Self unfolds itself; it is only obtained by him". Nachiketas, Satyakama, Jaabaali, Maitreyi, Ajaatasatru, Uddaalaka, Svetaketu and several others are given as examples of such earnest seekers. All of them were very knowledgeable and spiritually enlightened personalities but yet earnest seekers who needed further fine tuning. "All objects, all thoughts, all sensations, all physiological processes are sustained by Self; It is verily the beam. And if Self is known, everything else is known", says Yajnavalkya and insists, one must desire to know the Self. Kathoepanishad 1, 2, 23 says, "It is only for the person that seeks, the Self unfolds itself; it is obtained only by him".

Seekers of Self always gathered round a good teacher like Yajnavalkya, Varuna, Raikava, Jaabaali, etc. Upanishads' notion was, "Only he knows who has a teacher" (Chandoegya 6, 14, 2). The ideal teacher according to Taittareeya was one whose body is vigorous and the tongue exceedingly sweet; his ears heard abundantly; and he is a living sheath of the sacred knowledge covered over by intelligence--(Braahmanaha koshoesi medhajaapi-hitaaha). It is an intellectual participation in which the teacher's guidance in the practical application of Truth and the intellectual comprehension by the pupil was necessary.

The training program to perfect this preparation was called "Brahmacharya" or pursuit of highest reality. This Brahmacharya should not be confused with the narrower meaning of celibacy practiced in Varnaashrama Dharma of Hindus. Various Upanishads describe this as living a chaste life of a student of the sacred knowledge. It is a matter of discipline, a dynamic involvement with contemplation. Brahmacharya program included attending, inquiring, contemplating and concentrating, generally called as Tapas, usually translated as austerity or penance. This austerity involves Brahmacharya, Sraddha (burning faith), Dama (restraint), Vidya (learning), and Chinta (meditation). Svetaavataara Upanishad says: "It is by austerity that one finds Self in himself (tapase cheeyate Brahma)—as oil in the sesame seeds, as butter in cream, as fire in the friction sticks (arani)". The word Tapas means heat, warmth, creative urge, incubation. "Tapas is the ingathering of all of one's Consciousness and concentrating its force upon the object in view; as a result of this heat of creative incubation there is a release of energy which goes to effectuate the purpose undertaken" according to M.P. Pundit. Austerity together with restraint (dama) and work (karma) is said to be the foundation of secret doctrine, the three together constituting a whole. Austerity, an abstract value is associated with concrete action-patterns like restraint and meditation; faith and effort are associated with it.

Upanishads also make mention of "Svaadhyaaya" outside the institutional framework. Its objective was the attainment of knowledge that saves. (saa vidyaa yaa vimuktaye). This was conducted in small groups of earnest seekers sharing the uncommon enthusiasm for deeply spiritual matters in Parishads or assemblies. Owing to the nature of the subject matter of discussion in these meetings, the transactions were mostly confidential and esoteric and hence Upanishads were styled secret doctrines (guhyaadesa' Rahasyam).

Upanishads stress much value for faith (Sraddha). The participants in Upanishadsic discussions were full of faith and zeal. Aruna tells his son Svetaketu, "Have faith, my dear". It also mentions "Sraddhastva" which means more than having or possessing faith; it signifies exerting faith, putting forth faith, making faith, become using faith a powerful instrument. Nachiketas is an example into whom "faith entered" (sraddhaa vivesa).

We are riddled with lower values because we identify ourselves with the matter envelopments and view life through these distorting media. How we can withdraw the identification with the outer envelopments and turn inward, as it were, in a spirit of self-discovering –this is accomplished with strong Upaasana.

Sraddha leads to Upaasana. Upaasana means 'coming very near a thing' or 'approaching'. Jnaana (knowledge) aims at identity while Karma (action) involves separation. Upanishadic thoughts seek to reconcile by calling attention to the fact that both knowledge and action are equally relevant and involved in the approach that is styled Upaasana. Upanishadic upaasana is a deliberative, active, meditative absorption. Upanishads also suggest that Upaaasana could be weak or strong. The strong Upaasana rests on three factors: right knowledge (vidya), faith (sraddha) and a certain intuitive understanding (called upanishad). With faith as a preparatory setting, knowledge as a directing force and understanding as the leading light, the approach becomes very effective. This approach removes the veil of ignorance. The barriers that are projected by the ego, the mind, and the sense organs are pulled down. And Consciousness begins to flow out, flow on and flow through. This is what Upanishads call attainment of the Self, which is the ultimate Absolute Value.

Upanishads contain immortal truths realized by a pure and sense-free mind, in a transcendental state. They were direct revelations to the seers. These truths are universal and will always inspire humanity to rise higher and higher in search of perfection through spiritual realization, by shedding ego. This is Jnaanayoga pure and simple. The other paths of salvation viz., Karmayoga and Bhaktiyoga are not mentioned as such in Upanishads. Bhagavadgeetaa brought them to limelight later.

This lecture has been prepared for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, by N.R.Srinivasan by suitably extracting, abridging and editing passages from the following:

  1. Prof. Ramachandra Rao S.K., Early Indian Thoughts (Darsanodaya), Kalpatharu Research Academy, Sankar Mutt, Bangalore, India.
  2. Dr Anantharangacharya, N.S., Principal Upanishads, Bangalore.
  3. Swami Chinmayananda, Kathoepanishad and Chandogya Upanishad, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
  4. Swami Ramsukhdas, For Salvation of Mankind, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur, India. 


The Science of the Upanishads
By Karthikeyan Sreedharan | Mar 09, 2017 

Upaniṣhads are treasures of Indian spiritual thoughts of ancient times. The ten most ancient Upaniṣads belong to the period of 1500 BC to 600 BC, according to commonly agreed estimations. They are called the Principal Upaniṣads and are considered to be the most authentic ones.

There is another Upaniṣad by name Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad belonging to a later period, but viewed at par with the Principal Upaniṣads, considering the dexterity and erudition with which the subject matter is dealt with therein. In this discussion whenever we refer to Principal Upaniṣads, it may be understood to include Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad also. There are many other Upaniṣhads written during later periods, the total number being 108 according to some, while others put the number at 200 plus. But in the present discussion we consult only the Principal Upaniṣads.

All the spiritual thoughts of ancient India which got accumulated through ages were existing in a single lump without any orderly arrangement or classification. It was Sage Vyāsa who successfully classified all into a proper order on the basis of specific topics dealt with in each piece and their comparative importance. This is how we got the four Samhita-s, the Brāhmaṇa-s, the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣad-s. Samhitas are mostly hymns for praising or invoking various gods for well-being and favors. Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas mainly deal with ritualistic illustrations of the Samhitas. Upaniṣads represent philosophical postulations either extracted from these three or compiled independently. Of the eleven Principal Upaniṣads, one (Īśa Upaniṣad) is part of a Samhita (Śukla Yajurveda), four (Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Kaṭha, Kena) are parts of Brāhmaṇas and two (Aitareya, Taittirīya) are parts of Āraṇyakas. The remaining four (Praśna, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍukya of Atharva veda and Śvetāśvatara of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda) are independent compilations. Why should the same contents of an Upaniṣad find a place in some Samhita, Brāhmaṇa or Āraṇyaka? Because the same text contains certain portions that qualify for inclusion in the Upaniṣad and some other portions suitable for Samhita, Brāhmaṇa or Āraṇyaka. While studying the Upaniṣads we have to make due allowance for this fact.

Upaniṣads are not like ordinary spiritual texts which dwell on glorification and appeasement of an almighty god through prayers, rituals and offerings with an intention to secure protection, prosperity, happiness and long life. The primary concern of Upaniṣads is not the physical life as such, but the ultimate principle that sustains the physical life. Upanishads recognize the existence of an entity beyond the phenomenal world. They advance the concept of reality from a relative plain to the absolute state, to the reality that is free from all limitations of time and space. This advancement is the greatest achievement that Indian meditative mind accomplished and it is the greatest ever height that human mind scaled in speculative thinking. It was with this advancement that, in India, mere spiritual thinking graduated into pure philosophical deductions.
It is therefore imperative that any attempt to understand the teachings of Upaniṣads must be with due consideration for this unique feature inherent in them. Any alternative attempt employing the traditional tools of interpretation is unwelcome as it would only obscure the scientific spirit of the Upaniṣads and degrade their sublime teachings to mere theological compositions. Moreover, being extracts from other three parts of the Vedas, most of the Principal Upaniṣads contain some portions that do not fit well with the main theme under discussion in that particular Upaniṣad. Therefore, while interpreting the Upaniṣads to derive lessons therefrom, these portions have to be omitted from detailed consideration. In the present endeavor we keep in mind these observations as a guide in explaining the contents of each Upaniṣad. That means, we concentrate on those teachings that a rational mind should take note of and assimilate into its own cognitive constitution; in this process we simply ignore those contents which are rather ritualistic or purely mythological in nature.