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Book: Hans Torwesten Review: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi Introduction Vedanta grew on Indian soil and in many respects coincides with what is commonly called Hinduism – although the two terms cannot be used synonymously. Vedanta is only one of the six ‘Darshans’ of Hinduism, the other five being ‘Nyaya’ (Logic), ‘Vaisheshika’ (Teaching of individual characteristics), ‘Karma Mimansa’ (the school concerned with ritual aspects of the Vedas), ‘Sankhya’, and ‘Yoga’. Vedanta, literally meaning the end of the Vedas, also signifies the culmination of the Vedas, and goes beyond not only with respect to Vedic scriptures but with respect to all that we are capable of knowing. Vedanta is above all a spiritual outlook, an attitude of mind, and not so much a closed religion with well-defined boundaries. Ultimately, one of the natural consequences of Vedanta’s universal outlook is more likely to be the humility of non-knowledge. The Spirit of the Upanishads Not only are the Upanishads the foundation and starting point of Vedanta, the base, as it were, from which later Indian thinkers took off in their lofty flights of philosophical speculation; they are, even more so, the wellspring to which these thinkers like to return again and again to rinse away the dust of learnedness. The great poetic and illuminating power of many of the passages in the Upanishads derives its intensity from the same Divine source that is also the aim of these intuitions of the ardently seeking mind: the One behind the many, the ‘Brahman’. To these seers the Brahman was not an abstract absolute principle but the ‘Greatest Treasure’, the ‘Fountainhead of All Life’. The Kena Upanishad says that he is blessed who realizes Brahman in this life, that not to do this is a great loss.
“For one who realizes It here (in this world) there is true life. For one who does not so realize It, great is the loss. Discovering the Atman in every single being, the wise ones, dying to this world (of sense-experience), become immortal.” [Kena Upanishad 2.5]
The real secret teaching of the Upanishads culminates in the much quoted saying:
“That (highest Divine Reality) thou art.” The Upanishads, often called the ‘Shrutis’, is what cannot be thought of by the limited human intellect, but is of God. It is what is ‘forever valid’, never changes, is not dependent on the limited capacity of understanding of any one historical person. The Hindu for this reason is proud not to need a historical founder. The founder and the foundation of the Vedas and the Upanishads is the Brahman itself, is what is indestructible and timeless. The Rishi’s experience of the Brahman is more like a ‘being seized’ than the seizing of something, is far more than merely wisdom’s ultimate conclusion, and their realization of the Brahman far more than just the last link in a long chain of logical reasoning. The Rishis heard and beheld truth directly when they entered a level of awareness in meditation where they became totally receptive.
“This Atman cannot be obtained by study of the scriptures, nor by sharp intellect, nor by much hearing; by him is It attained whom It chooses – to him this Atman reveals Its own (true) form.” [Katha Upanishad 1.2.23] Seeking and Finding The Upanishads have a beneficial effect because of their unbounded openness. The disciple’s instruction never begins with readymade formulas; he is given only hints and suggestions. He must seek the answer from within himself. The Guru seems to trust in the disciple’s ability to arrive gradually at the truth on his own – even perhaps ultimately at the highest truth, expressible only by ‘silence’. What the Upanishads are about and emphasize over and over is the ‘attainment of truth’. As adults in a modern world we have been so thoroughly purged of childlike wonder and questioning that it is well-nigh impossible for us to transport ourselves back into the world of the Upanishads and its prevailing mood of spiritual pioneering.
Brahman The immense authority which Shankara enjoys in Vedanta has led to a situation where his view of the perceived world as ‘Maya’ passes for the orthodox Vedanta in many circles; yet this is not really supported by the Upanishads themselves. In the Upanishads, the immutable is not yet a rigid absolute contrasted with change and transformation; it is itself the origin of all change and transformation, all life; it is not only everlasting sheer being, but the eternal creative process itself. The Convergence of Opposites The Brahman of the Upanishads embraces both pure consciousness and seemingly ‘unconscious’ Nature. Brahman is the all-encompassing, is what is before and also forever beyond any and all division. As a result of later developments in religion and philosophy, both in India and in the West, we have become so accustomed to tearing everything apart that it is hard for us now to appreciate this most ancient intuitive insight of the oneness of all that is. In the eyes of the Seers of the Upanishads the world was not ‘made’ by a personal creator but ‘evolved’ (sprung) from the Brahman. For them ‘creation is a projection, a manifestation of the Brahman himself’. The Brahman is absolute fullness, transcendent and immanent at once. In the words of the Invocation to the Isha Upanishad:
“Om. That is full, this is full. When this fullness merges into that fullness, all that remains is fullness.” What makes for the greatness of these Seers is precisely that they do not get all caught up in details, that instead of speculating in advance on the future course of the world, they keep reminding us again and again of the oneness of all existence: that we are children of immortality, that we come from the Brahman and return to the Brahman – indeed, that in our innermost being we are always one with the Brahman. The Atman The ‘Atman’ is the heart, is what is at the center of Creation and at the same time at the center of each individual: it is the spark and the citadel of the soul.
The Atman of the Vedanta is understood to be ‘ever-pure’ and ‘self-enlightened’; it is unaffected by one’s going astray and no amount of dirt can stain it. It is untouched by space and time and beyond all superficial personality changes remains for-ever intact.
“He indeed is Prana; He shines forth variously in all beings. The wise man who knows Him does not babble….. This Atman, resplendent and pure, who the sinless sanyasin beholds residing within the body, is attainable by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge and continence.” The Freedom of the Inner Self This profound realization produces a feeling of joy and inner freedom: deep down no one can destroy me; my inmost being, the Atman’ is at no one’s disposal; it is forever free, the servant neither of God nor of any human being. This is why the Upanishads stress again and again the one who has realized the Atman is ‘fearless’. Deep Sleep and Illumination The state of deep sleep suggested itself to the Rishis of the Upanishads as an analogy. The great verses of the Upanishads refer to the ‘light’ of the Brahman-Atman reality that enlightens mankind – that indeed is shining within man.
“There the stainless and indivisible Brahman shines in the highest, golden sheath. It is pure, It is the Light of lights; It is That which they know who know the Self.” [Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.9] There is a verse in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad whose jubilant, affirmative tone captures, so to speak, the quintessence of Indian mysticism:
“I know the great Purusha, who is luminous, like the sun, and beyond darkness. Only by knowing Him does one pass over death; there is no other way to the Supreme Goal.” [Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3.8]
Brahman Seen with Open Eyes The Isha Upanishad asserts:
“The wise man beholds all things in the Self, and the Self in all beings; for this reason he does not hate anyone. To the seer, things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?” [Isha Upanishad 6, 7] The one awakened, the one enlightened, is also ‘alone’ precisely because he is one with all other beings; because he experiences himself as the Brahman, as the One without a second, all pervading.
“That Immortal Brahman is before, that Brahman is behind, that Brahman is to the right and left. Brahman alone pervades everything above and below; this universe is that Brahman alone.” [Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.11] The Mystic Symbol ‘OM’ The best known and most important word symbol for Brahman is ‘OM’ or “AUM’. The Katha Upanishad says:
“The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is ‘OM’… This syllable ‘OM’ is indeed Brahman. This syllable is the highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires…. This is the best support. Whosoever knows this support is anchored in the world of Brahma.” [Katha Upanishad 1.2. 15, 16, 17] Mysticism and Ethics The Upanishads are interested in ethical principles only in so far as they serve the attainment of final realization. For the Rishis of the Upanishads ‘true bliss’ meant limitless expanse, boundlessness. Yet they achieved this limitless expansion only through limitless renunciation. The first verse of the Isha Upanishad says:
“All this - whatever exists in the universe – should be covered by the Lord. Protect the Self by renunciation. Lust not after any man’s wealth.” [Isha Upanishad 1] The Upanishads belong to the ‘Jnana’ literature, a literature intended as a guide to the highest knowledge behind any purely intellectual understanding. [To continue] Review: Satyendra Nath Dwivedi
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