Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Philosophy of the Upanishads

The Upanishads are the end part of the Vedas which briefly expound the philosophic principles of the Vedas and are considered the essence of the Vedas. The philosophy of the Upanishads is sublime, profound, lofty and soul-stirring. The Upanishads speak of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. They reveal the most subtle and deep spiritual truths. There are total 108 Upanishads according to the Muktika Upanishad. Of these, the following 12 are considered the principle Upanishads. They are: 1. Isa, 2. Kena, 3. Katha, 4.Taitiriya, 5. Aitareya, 6. Prashna, 7. Mundaka, 8. Mandukya, 9. Chandogya, 10. Svetasvatara, 11. Brihad-aranyaka, 12. Maha-Narayana. Another 8, called minor Upanishadas, are: 1. Kaivalya, 2. Kaushitaki, 3. Atma, 4. Amritabindu, 5. Brahma, 6. Paramahamsa, 7. Sarva & 8. Aruni (Aruneyi).

The term Upanishad denotes the study and practice of the innate truth. The name is full of significance. ‘Upa’ means the process of studying with ‘Nishta’ or steadfastness; ‘shad’ means the attainment of the Ultimate Reality. The name Upa-ni-shad arose for these reasons. The Upanishads teach not only the principles of Atmavidya; they indicate also the practical means of realisation. They point out not only the duties and obligations one has to bear, but also the actions to be done and those to be avoided.

The Gita is but the essence of the Upanishads. Arjuna acquired through the lessons of the Gita the fruit of listening to the Upanishads. In the Upanishads, the statement, “Thath-thwam-asi”, “That thou art”, is found. In the Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am Arjuna among the Pandavas”, that is to say, “I and You are the same”. This is the same as saying “Thou art That”, that Jiva and Iswara are the same.

So, whether it is the Gita or the Upanishads, the teaching is Non-duality, not Duality, or qualified Monism. The human eye cannot delve into the minute or the magnitudinous. It cannot read the mystery of the virus or the atom or the stellar universe. Therefore, scientists supplement the eye with the telescope and the microscope. Similarly, sages are able to experience Divinity through the eye of knowledge, gained by following the Dharma of moral conduct and spiritual discipline. When the human eye stands in need of an extraneous instrument to observe even the insignificant worm and virus, how can one refuse to go through the process of manthra if he desires to see the omnipresent transcendent Principle? It is very hard to acquire the eye of wisdom. Concentration is essential for this. And, for concentration to develop and stabilise itself, three things are very important: purity of consciousness, moral awareness and spiritual discrimination. These qualifications are difficult of attainment by ordinary folk.

Man is endowed with the special instrument of discrimination, of judgement, of analysis and synthesis, which among all animals, he alone possesses. He has to develop this and utilise it to the best purpose. Through this instrument, he can realise the Immanent Divinity.

Instead, man pesters himself and others with the question: Where does God reside? If He is real, why is He not seen? Hearing such queries, one feels like pitying the poor questioners. For, they are announcing their own foolishness. They are like the dullards who aspire for university degrees without taking pains even to learn the alphabet. They aspire to realise God without putting themselves to the trouble of practising the Sadhana required. People who have no moral strength and purity talk of God and His existence and decry efforts to see Him. Such people have no right to be heard.

Spiritual Sadhana is based on the holy Sastras. They cannot be mastered in a trice. They cannot be followed through talk. Their message is summed up in the Upanishads; hence, they are revered as authoritative. They are not the products of human intelligence; they are the whisperings of God to man. They are parts of the eternal Vedas. The Vedas shine gloriously through all their parts.

The Upanishads are authentic and authoritative, as they share the glory of the Vedas. They are 1180 in number, but, through the centuries, many of them disappeared from human memory and only 108 have now survived. Of these, 13 have attained great popularity, as a result of the depth and value of their contents.

The sage Vyasa classified the Upanishads and allotted them among the four Vedas; The Rigveda has 21 branches and each branch has one Upanishad allotted to it. The Yajurveda has 109 branches and 109 Upanishads. The Atharvanaveda has 50 branches and 50 Upanishads were its share. The Samaveda has a thousand branches and the balance, namely, 1000 Upanishads were its share. Thus, the 1180 Upanishads were assigned by Vyasa to the Four Vedas.

Sankaracharya raised the status of ten among the Upanishads by selecting them for writing his commentaries and so they became especially important. Humanity stands to gain or fall by these ten. Pundits and those with faith should resolve to present before humanity these ten Upanishads at least. They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Thaithiriya, Aithareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka.

The Upanishads have also inspired other works on Geography, Astronomy, Astrology, Economics and Political Theory, as well as the 18 Puranas comprising Skanda, Siva, Garuda and others. The Vedas and the Upanishads are the very foundation for Sanathana Dharma.

There is one interesting feature to be noted. This religion has no one Founder as the others have. That invisible unknown founder is God, the source of all wisdom. He is the Prophet of this Sanathana Dharma. He is the Founder; His Grace and His Inspiration manifested through the pure Sages and they became the spokesmen of this Dharma. When the moral purity of men degenerates, God takes form as grace and inspiration in sages and teachers. He has also given through the Upanishads the Sathya-Jnana, the Wisdom concerning the Reality.

The Lord, intent on the regeneration of the world, communicated Vedas through Hiranyagarbha and Hiranyagarbha, in turn, passed Them on to his ten Manasa-puthras, including Athri and Marichi. From them, the Vedas spread among humanity, handed down from one generation to another. As time passed, ages accumulated and continents moved, some Vedas got lost, or were neglected as too difficult for comprehension, and only Four have survived into modern times. These Four were taught by Vedavyasa, the greatest among the exponents of the Vedas, to his disciples, in the Dwaparayuga.

When Vyasa was thus expounding the Vedas, engaged in spreading the sacred scripture, one disciple of his, Yajnavalkya by name, incurred his wrath and as a punishment, he had to regurgitate the Yajurveda that he had already learned, into the custody of his guru and leave the place, to take refuge in Suryadeva, the treasure-house of the Vedas. Just then, the Rishis who revere the Vedas, flew into the place in the shape of Thiththiri birds and ate up the regurgitated Yajurveda. That particular section of the Veda is called “Thaithiriyam”.

Meanwhile Suryadeva was pleased with the devotion and steadfastness of the unfortunate Yajnavalkya. He assumed the form of a Vaji or Horse and blessed the sage with renewed knowledge of the Yajurveda. The sections thus taught by the Vaji came to be called ‘Vajasaneyi’. The Yajurveda as promoted by Vedavyasa is called Krishna paksha Yajurveda and that handed down by Yajnavalkya as the Sukla paksha Yajurveda. In these, the first few chapters are Manthras connected with the Karmakanda and the last few sections deal with Jnanakanda.

While these are the most important Upanishads, the others also have a lot to teach us about the various aspects of Divinity and life.


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