Preface to the Upanishads

In general the opinion persists that the reading of Upanishads is meant only for a select few and it serves no purpose of import for the common man. As a result most of the Hindus remain ignorant of Upanishadic teachings and their households do not have any copy of even one of the important ten Upanishads. Most of the Hindus have not known, read, seen or heard about Upanishads. They remain deprived of the most precious knowledge of the universal wisdom. The fact is that the teachings of the Upanishads are very relevant in today’s life of common people in a situation where we are being driven towards dazzling materialism under influence of the western culture while forgetting our glorious past and greatness.

We are under the impression that the Upanishads teach us something abstract and purely spiritual, untouched with daily life routine. The philosophy therein is deep, intricate and beyond our understanding and comprehension. We forget that the sages of the Upanishads do not expound or explain any philosophical thought; what they bring forth is Darshan, something seen and realized in life. Upanishads are the material for realization in life of everyone and not for any theoretical approach only. The Truth expounded therein is to be made an integral part of life of every one’s character, conduct and consciousness; hence the relevance of its teachings.

The Truth expounded in the Upanishads is the discernment between Real and the unreal or less real and concentration on the Real. For all of us, it is the teaching of Dharma as stated in Gita 1-4-14 that the essence of common mans fight is for the sake of Dharma as Truth on one side. Even the weak can hope to prevail upon the strong, even though it be the ruling force of corrupt democrats. Truth always prevails; Satyameva Jayate is the key message, the Upanishads convey to guide us for the worldly life of uprightness and compassion on way to realization. 

The Upanishads reveal in a very condensed way that Truth is non-dual and non-duality, even of being or non-being; life and death, is more fundamental than Reality. Gita explains Reality from seekers point of view. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “Not that there you or I were not before, are not now, nor will be hereafter.” He further said that it was He who had instructed the Sun, through him to Ikshvasketu. The statement created doubts as they lived ages ago. Then the Lord said, “There have been so many incarnations of myself and yourself, I know them all and you do not know.” The same spirit was displayed in the  words of Jesus when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am”.  This teaching simply means to establish the Reality and it is the Reality of the Self. There are not many selves either; Self is one. There is only one Infinite Self. For a realized being Self alone is the Reality. Actions do not affect the Self, as Self remains a witness without any attachment. The message is that we realize the Self which is the sea of undifferentiated awareness. Swami Vivekananda says, “The Self of a man, the Atman (Soul), higher than the sun and the moon, higher than the heavens, greater than the great universe itself,  this glory of Self appears as man, the most glorious God that ever was, the only God that ever existed and ever will  exist with wisdom, sacrifice and renunciation.”

All of us are aware of our core of personality. In the unitive state the self is seen to be one; the same Self in everyone. There is self in all beings. Self is the innermost essence. When the self appears behind the universe, it is called God; this very self in body is known as soul, the individual soul. It is a unity indestructible and indivisible. The Self withdraws consciousness from the body but the continuity of personality is not broken. “As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the next, so the self, having come to the end of one life and shed all ignorance, gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to a new.”

Science and Brahma Vidya; the physical and the spiritual knowledge both observe the wide outside world of human activity but the seers were more concerned with the medium of consciousness for the purpose and more so they tried to observe it in consciousness itself. They concluded that every desire in the world for fulfillment outside is not to be stiffled or repressed but consolidated into one overriding desire of Self realization. They tried  to understand the coherence of the phenomenal world, and then tried to grasp how the unity pervades the whole creation. They declared that Self is Brahman and therefore Self is to be realized. We need not forget the Tapas of God, the First Cause, from which the cosmos itself was born. World –weariness can not generate Tapas. It makes it essential that we first know the very core of life, understand and control it. No surprise that our sages came even from warrior class and many had two wives. Even the Tapas or physical desire becomes Tejas and forms radiance in personality if it is full of expansion, compassion and integration. The compassion and benevolence for all draw and entice all hearts and then in the unitive state the Self is seen to be one, the same Self in everyone. Self is Brahman. The Upanishads declare Tat Twam Asi (Thou Art That) So the message of the Upanishads is that we work for Gods world where the individual is part of the Total.  We are a part of a greater whole and the individual self is a part of a greater Self. 

The ancient seers prescribed four legitimate goals of life for society. 1) Dharma -  The religion of realization and social conduct.  2) Artha - material welfare and prosperity 3) Kama - The enjoyment of senses, art and literature etc.  4) Moksha - The highest goal of life, it  being liberation, transcends others. Dharma is the fundamental concept. It refers to order and custom and law of Being, a practical behavior pattern. The welfare and prosperity of this and the other world is the aim of life. The pursuit of wealth and happiness is the right aspiration but personal interest is to be surrendered before the social cause. “Bounteous is he who gives into the beggar who comes to him in want of food” and “the foolish man wins food with fruitless labour; that food shall be his ruin.” Acts of charity and philanthropy should be encouraged and political freedom be subordinated to religious and spiritual freedom. Kama is a desire in life as identified with senses. It is a primal germ of mind, a creative impulse, a sign of creativity. It has to be pursued with balance and calm mind for joy and pleasure of life and even for a lift to the height of a blissful life. Moksha is the supreme goal and complete fulfillment of life.

Nature and Purush; Renunciation and Enjoyment; Action and inaction; individual and society; nescience and knowledge; jeeva and Karma; physical and spiritual life, death and destruction; God with attributes and with non-attributes; - the synthesis of all such terms is needed for the development of a fulfilled and happy life. Seeing things as separate is the sole cause of otherness. This alienating embarrassment is not the fault of the part. We mistake to pursue either way, either extremely materialist or totally spiritualist. The main teaching of Upanishads is that we live in the world of God and enjoy our stay in full with full awareness of life’s unity and ever remember that the world comes from God and returns to God. God permeates the universe and nothing permeates Him.  God is in the world and the world is not in the God. It does not mean that God alone is Real ; the everyday world is an illusion. The world exists ; the illusion is that we appear separate although in reality the life is one Absolute. In the totality, the individuality is lost; individual is no doubt a part of the total. This is the Truth and Truth is one though the wise speak it in various ways.

Having explained the purpose of pursuing this work, I hasten to state why I dared? So far the teachings of the Upanishads have been the prerogative of the intellectual giants or the realized spiritual class. They have their own style and expression and a committed audience to feed. Their teachings are glittered with various hues, interpretations and sanctions. As a result the sunshine of Truth dazzles the eyes and mind of the common and illiterate person. The Truth gets covered under the lid of abstract phrases of multiple expositions which the common man finds not so easy to decipher, understand and follow. He is led astray and confused. Many opinions, theories and intellectual proofs of one belief or the other have amassed. It failed to disclose if there is anything beyond human existence of this material world or any such hidden truth behind life that man  needs to know. He is even made to believe that real religion lies in rituals and customs and in the  following of ostentatious functions ordained under sanction of inauthentic Pauranic values; or  on commercial lines and under foreign designs. To general comforts, a score of new gods cropped up, abstract rituals and performances became rigid and customs became commercialized. The meaning of goal of life changed for pleasure and convenience. Salvation or Moksha as goal of life lost its mark. People are led to believe that rituals and ceremonies lead us to God and God exists only in remote, inaccessible place called heaven and He enjoys unlimited power and judgmental nature. One can attain the Supreme after death, only after having lead a virtuous life in this universe. The sole condition is that we die first and then have direct experience of God on the land we know not.  It is Vedanta that takes the simple man to a higher level of understanding and brings God in his range. It sees God as the all pervading energy source behind world creation  and sees divinity in every being. We have to experience God and godliness every moment of day in life. The Upanishads guide us to act on such a realization by deeply identifying ourselves with life and other living people. Yajnavalkya  says, ‘It is not for the sake of children that for us the child is dear but for the sake of Self’ and the Self is seen everywhere. The Brahman of Vedanta is all-pervading  and is the First Cause of creation. He is God, Generator, Preserver and Destroyer; Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Being spirit and energy he is, formless, beyond Time, Space and Causation. He resides in the hearts of all beings, in animals, insects, rocks, mountains, sky, and brings oneness to all life on earth.

We do not see it because our mythology and rituals have overshadowed the core value. Some people think that man is an evil. Every one of us is divine and strong in his real nature; evil and weak are his habits, desires and thoughts but not himself. There has been a rise of doubts in dark debatable waters of wizardry which always wreck life’s great voyages. To our utter surprise we all have observed that most of the pundits study almost all the chief books of scriptures of wisdom for years but the tangible benefits fall too short and harass them with more and more doubts and perplexities with no results. It has damaged our faith in rituals and ceremonies  mastered currently under pressure of money power. Today we need to evolve, irrespective of prevalent intellectual prepositions and theories, a way of self-analytical approach to life-fulfillment. All of us want happiness, such happiness as is untainted with sorrow and is unending and limitless. This is in the instinct of all of us. Happiness is our nature. But more than this, one loves one’s self the most.  It is because happiness is inborn in true Self. If one goes in search of happiness, he has to go for his true Self first. It is obvious that every one of us, the good and the bad, all of us seek happiness and true Self.  Is it not a fact that all our actions reflect upon us, upon our true Self? So irrespective of what others do and teach; for the fulfillment of life, let us first find out our own true Self.  When we meditate upon the true Self even for an hour, we are free to carry on with our daily duties. Maharishi Raman is of view that if one meditates in right manner, then the current of mind induced will continue to flow even in the midst of work. Work and meditation are the two ways of expressing the same idea. The same line expressed in meditation will find expression in work and other activities. Let us continue all our professional activities and at the same time realize true Self for enlightenment. In  meditation, a person with advancing will begins to enjoy deeper beatitude whether at work or  not. Hands in society, such a person keeps his head cool in solitude.
The message of Vedanta is that we realize the Pure Awareness in our own self here and now and in this very life time by expanding our self with love , compassion, altruism, forgiveness, honesty, caring and sharing, and protecting virtue , overcoming negative thoughts with prayer and gratitude to god.

As the bird settles down at last to rest on its own perch, so let the mind, like the body, settle down to rest during deep  dreamless sleep state. The world is present in the depth of mind. Here we all observe harmony and Bliss. Let us wake up in this state and see we are  bound to be what we truly are, free from all conditionings of body, mind and intellect, unbound by limitation of Time, Space and Causation. There exists no individuality. There is sea of pure undifferentiated awareness. The Upanishads show us this path which is open to all of us without any restrictions or reservations. 

We have a generation, mostly English speaking, and unfortunately not acquainted with Sanskrit language and glorious past of India. It is our responsibility to make them at home with Vedic thoughts and Aryan way of life which once was the fountain of human values and universal wisdom. Consideration has been made to the three distinct frames of references - cosmological, relating to gods or religion and the Self  The symbolic meaning has to be completely explained especially in reference to the words like  renunciation and yajna. Our main difficulty with English commentary has been the language. The Sanskrit mode of expression and technical and philosophical terms have no proper English equivalent eg. for the word Sat, the Greek equivalent is “to ov’; the German, ‘sciende’, but in English we have to be satisfied with, ‘what exists’ or ‘what is real’.  The English term for Sanskrit word Dharma is religion but it gives out a different meaning as against the real meaning Law of Being. Many such words as Yajna for sacrifice is totally misfit and confusing. So is Advait for monism, Tyaga for renunciation; what to speak of Moksha, Mukti, Samadhi, Atman Vichar etc.  There is no proper substitute for the Sanskrit word Atman. The word Soul is not as comprehensive. Even the other substitute word Self is not complete. Self spelt in capital and in non-capital  “S’ give different meanings. Then the difficulty lies in the use of technical terms and condensed forms of expressions and hidden illusions. Mostly inspired by Samhitas, the Upanishads have the inherent quality of lyrical language and deep access to the root of poetic expression which is Vision. Even in prose, we can figure out this imaginative imagery with poignant insight, awareness and experience.

Precaution has been taken to explain to the readers, so far as possible, without indulging in multipurpose meaning of Sanskrit phrases and trying to  dwell upon the proper meaning and purpose expatiated  therein in a very simple and easy language. The main consideration has been to reach the common man and connect him with the Vedic age glory. In preparing the present work, the writer has made use of, wherever needed, the commentaries of other writers and expresses his grateful acknowledgement for the same.

The writer takes all responsibility of errors and mistakes in the work as  it may be the product of his ignorance but not of his intention and so seeks to be treated with sympathy and due consideration.  

Next: Isha Upanishad: Peace-Invoication 


More by :  Dr. R. K. Lahri

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Views: 3341      Comments: 2

Comment All the related articles on Isha Upanisada have been analysed excellently.
Ved Bhatia

28-Nov-2015 02:57 AM

Comment Very informative, admirably elevating.

Professor Damodar Thakur
13-Sep-2012 02:27 AM

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