The Nature of Self.
(In this concluding part of the series on the teachings of the Upanishads we look at the Self that is Reality. Exracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)
Astrophysicists, when speaking of creation, tell us that in the beginning all matter in the universe would have been present in that ‘primeval atom,’ super condensed to an unbelievable degree. In such a state, matter would no longer be possible as matter. It would be stripped down to pure undifferentiated raw energy. Variations like gravity and light would not emerged and Time and Space would not yet be real.
The sages would find this a prefect metaphor for the unitive state. In samadhi, reality is condensed into pure potential, without dimensions or differentiation. Physicists do not say there was nothing before the Big Bang; they say everything came from that, and nothing more can be said. Similarly, samadhi is not emptiness but complete fullness.
That fullness the Upanishads call sat: absolute reality, in which all creation is implicit as on organism is implicit in its DNA or a tree in its seed.
The joy of being in this state cannot be described. It is infinite. This is the second message of the Upanishads. The infinite, unbounded, full of joy – is our native state. This is Sat-Chit- Ananda. Pure unconditioned awareness which is Absolute Bliss.
How can one attempt to explain such a state, the true nature of one’s Self? “Words turn back frightened,” the Upanishads say. Yet, the sages must have longed so ardently to communicate that they had to try even if the picture was doomed to be incomplete.
Here are glimpses of what they realised…
Whatever we are, whatever we may have done, there is in each of us an inalienable Self that is divine;
As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Nor by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all !
(Katha II .2.II)
They remind us that the same Self dwells in all:
As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects of differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape,
Of every creature in whom he is present.
( Katha II.2.9)
They call us to discover that Self “which knows no aging when the body ages: this knows no dying when the body dies.” (Chan.VIII.I.I,5)
They place us in a compassionate universe where nothing is “other” that ourselves- and they urge us to treat the universe with reverence, for there is nothing in the world but That
The Self is the sun shining in the sky,
The wind blowing in space: he is the fire
At the altar and in the home the guest;
He dwells in human beings, in gods, in truth,
And in the vast firmament;he is the fish
Born in water, the plants growing on the earth,
The river flowing down from the mountain.
For this Self is supreme!
Most significantly the Upanishads tell us that our. native state is a realm where death cannot reach. They knew first-hand that when the Self withdraws consciousness from the body, the continuity of personality is not broken. Death would not be different.
As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass,
draws itself together and reaches out for the next,
so does the Self, having come to end of one life and shed all ignorance,
gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to new.
Finally, if both body and mind are made of prana which dissolves on death and if personality returns life after life than surely heaven too must be a state of consciousness, part of the created world. It might be more blissful than the physical world but it too had to be transitory.
The goal then is Self- realisation of one’s true nature: not matter embodied or disembodied, but the uncreated Self.
Thus Self -realisation is immortality in an entirely new sense: not ‘everlasting life’ but beyond death and life alike.
It must be understood here that Upanishads present no system. When much later India’s mystics and philosophers built structures based on these foundations they found they had produced points of logical disagreement. But they all understood that in practice all systems come to same thing. From one point of view the world is God, from another there will always be a veil of difference between the embodied person and the Godhead. Both are true, and neither is the whole truth. Reality is beyond all limitations.
In the end then, the Upanishads belong not just to Hinduism. They are India’s most precious legacy to humanity.
- Upanishads -Part 3 (hinduismforchildren.com)
- Upanishads- Part 1 (hinduismforchildren.com)
- Upanishads – Part 2 (hinduismforchildren.com)
- Vedas- An Introduction by Eknath Easwaran. (hinduismforchildren.com)