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Upanishads Part 4

  The Nature of Self.    

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(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!

(Katha II.2.2)

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.

( Brihad.III.4.3)

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.

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Upanishads -Part 3

ImageLat year when I was visiting Bombay, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt which proclaimed, I was an atheist till I realised I was God.  It made me chuckle. It was a clever spin on the now well known Vedanta philosophy of non-dualism which states – That which is without is within. The same One pervades everything. The Self is God.

But is it really that simple and how did we come to this understanding? What does it really mean?

This brings us to the most fundamental discovery made by sages of the Upanishads.

You Are That –Tat Twam Asi

As the rishis delved into the depths of human consciousness peeling layer after layer of awareness they found that the mind is not consciousness, it is only an instrument of consciousness.

When the concentration is so profound that the mind-processes have come to a stand still and awareness has been consolidated even beyond the mind, little remains except for the awareness of “I”.   Space and Time vanish and you rest in meditation in what the Taittiriya Upanishad calls the “body of joy”, a silent, ethereal inner realm at the threshold of pure being.

In this silence, Shanti, you become aware of something vast, intimately your own but not the finite limited self you had been calling “I”.

No amount of will can erase this “I”, the thin veil of personal identification that seperates us from infinite consciousness. Yet, in deep meditation it suddenly vanishes.

This state the Upanishads call turiya – literally “the fourth” for it lies beyond waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. Turiya, the Upanishads say, is waking up in dreamless sleep.

In later Hindu thought this awakening came to be know as samadhi, complete absorption or moksha, liberation, for it brings freedom from all conditioning and the limitations of mind and space.

The Upanishads tell us that when the  ‘I’ has dissolved and the observer and the observed become one, just chit remains. Pure undifferentiated consciousness. This is our real Self. And, it is identical with the undifferentiated unity which the sages called the Brahman.This is not a reasoned conclusion but something that is experienced at the very centre of one’s being.

The Self is Brahman – is the central discovery of the Upanishads which gave birth to Its most famous mahavkya, formulation : “Tat twam asi” – You are That.

“That” is the characteristic way in which the Upanishads point to a Reality that cannot be described; and “you’ is not the petty, finite personality but the pure consciousness that ‘makes the eye see and the mind think’ – the Self.

And thus we come to the basis of the non- dualistic Vedanta philosophy – The Atman is Brahman, the Self is God.

To understand Self then is to understand God.

So what is the nature of this Self? The Upanishads go to great lengths to show it to us and we will look at some of the explanations in the next post.

(extracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)

 

The Vedas

Although Hinduism famously has no founder and is believed to have grown organically from a collective consciousness and a way of life, all Hindu beliefs and practices find their source in the Vedas. Even today Vedas are widely accepted as the final authority on Hinduism and have greatly influenced Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Image

The word ‘Veda’ comes from the root ‘vid’,to know. Veda means knowledge.

There are two kinds of knowledge. Shruti, that which is heard or revealed and Smriti, that which is remembered.

The Vedas are Shruti and other scriptures like the Puranas and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are Smriti.

Hindus believe the Vedas are eternal truths revealed to great rishis of ancient times.The word ‘rishi’ means a ‘seer’ and comes from the root, dris which means to see. A rishi is a seer of mantra or thought. The thought already exists as eternal Truth. A rishi only discovers it spiritually.

In that sense the Vedas are eternal. The books may be destroyed but the knowledge cannot be destroyed.

ImageAs for the actual written texts, scholars believe that they were written down some 2,500 years ago, though the tradition often dates them to the beginning of Kali-yuga (circa 3000 BCE). The following is an overview of the four Vedas.

The Rig-Veda

The most important and oldest of the Vedas. It is divided into ten books (called mandalas) and has 1028 hymns in praise of various deities. These include Indra, Agni, Vishnu, Rudra, Varuna, and other early or “Vedic gods.” It also contains the famous Gayatri mantra and the prayer called the Purusha Shukta (the story of Primal Man).

The Yajur-Veda

A priestly handbook for use in the performance of yajnas (sacrifices) It is divided into two sections, the earlier “black” and the more recent “white.”

Sama-Veda

This veda is purely a collection of melodies,‘saman’ to be sung during worship. The hymns in the Sama Veda, used as musical notes, were almost completely drawn from the Rig Veda and have no distinctive lesson of their own. Hence it is considered as a reduced version of the Rig Veda.

Atharva-Veda

Contains hymns, mantras and incantations.

Within each of the four books there are four types of composition, or divisions, as shown below.

The Samhitas – literally “collections,” in this case of hymns and mantras. They form the Veda proper.

The Brahmanas – prose manuals of ritual and prayer for the guiding priests. They tend to explain the Samhitas. They also contain early versions of some stories.

The Aranyakas – literally “forest books” for hermits and saints. They are philosophical treatises.

The Upanishads – books of philosophy, also called “Vedanta,” the end or conclusion of the Vedas.

There are also two important bodies of supplementary literature, related closely to the Vedas, Vedangas and Upvedas.

The Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas), expound the sciences required to understand and apply the Vedas.

The Upavedas (usually considered smriti) deal with the four traditional arts and sciences.

The Six Vedangas are:

Kalpa (ritual detail)

Siksha (pronunciation)

Vyakarana (grammar)

Nirukti (etymology)

Chandas (metre)

Jyotisha (astronomy/astrology)

The Four Upavedas explain arts and sciences,

Ayur-veda (medicine)

Gandharva-veda (music and dance)

Dhanur-veda (warfare)

Shilpa-veda (architecture)

(Based on Swami Sivananda’s  book Bliss Divine and the ISKON Heart of Hinduism website.)

In the next post we’ll look at the Upanishads, the sublime essence of the Vedas.

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