Sri Bimal Mohanty
PREAMBLE TO UPANISHADSARA
Based on lectures by Sri Bimal Mohanty
Starting from today’s lecture we are venturing into the study of the very essence of human wisdom – the Upanishads from our Vedas. This is knowledge of all knowledge. I am not sure whether all of us realize in our antahkarana , engaging our mind, our intellect and our ego-self in the profoundness of what we are about to undertake. At the outset let us realize with all sincerity that this is no ordinary step of study of sAstras –sAastrAdhyayana. If this thought has come to our minds it is because of some grace flowing from the Brahman which has touched our inner souls, urging us on to this task. You must feel that grace within you with all the humbleness and purity of heart at your command. If we can not bring that attitude within us we shall be making only a mockery of this swAadhyAyana. Therefore before we begin our study of some specific Upanishad we must spend some time in understanding the Upanishads, their basic characteristics and implications in sAdhanA. It may take more than one or two lectures but it is absolutely worth knowing.
Upanishads are parts of the great Vedas which have been designated as the “Memory of the World”, the significant landmark in the documentary heritage of the humanity – the original philosophy transcending all religions and encompassing the entire creation.
Veda means knowledge. Wherefrom this knowledge came to us? We know it as apuruseya. That is no particular person or persons can claim on its contents or authority as the knower or keeper of this knowledge. The vedic knowledge flows from Brahman himself, who is the source of the knowledge, the only worth knowing and with whom all knowledge gets reposited. Jnanam , jneyam, jnanagamyam.
People with application of their mind and through contemplation saw or discovered this truth for themselves and what they understood , they shared with the humanity at large. Vedas and Upanishads are revealed truths – darshana.-and as Sri Aurobindo observed-‘the truth seen, felt, lived, held by the inmost mind and soul.’
So when we shall be studying the Upanishads, we shall indeed be entering into the mental world of these seers in our quest to reach Brahman. No amount of reverence and humbleness is enough when we are trying to enter the mental world or sanctum sanctorium of these exceptional minds.
Upanishads are the original and highest spiritual, intellectual and ethical achievements of the human mind. They are the first revealations of ‘Truth’-”Not an abstract intellectual speculation about truth or a structure of the logical intelligence, but Truth seen, felt, lived, held by the inmost mind and soul…” said Sri Aurobindo. All other spiritual statements which followed are restatements of this knowledge although from a new standpoint and with fresh terms of intellectual definition and reasoning, he also observed. And then “There is hardly a main philosophical idea which can not find an authority or seed or indication in these unique writings.” This any one can easily verify.
An important aspect of all Upanishads is that they have one central subject – Brahman. knowledge. They deal with some out of the limitless aspects of Brahman.
Why Brahman knowledge? This question is vitally important to sanAtan philosophy. Therefore we must answer that question first.
In life, although we are constantly bombarded with various kinds of knowledge, the sanatan philosophy makes clear distinction between worthwhile knowledge and unworthy knowledge- often described as vidya and avidya or jnana and ajnana. Candidly in The Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna declares:
Adhyatma jnana nitvatam tattva jnarthadarshanam
The essence of all knowledge has to be the knowledge leading to the knowledge of Brahman. All that do not end in Brahmajnana, are no- knowledge of consequence at all.
As we have discussed on number of occasions, the approach of sanatan philosophy towards any subject is never to get blinded by the externals or superficial understanding. It always advises not to be taken by what is apparent or what every one takes as granted. Do not go by the appearance, not by the husk, not even by the kernel. But always look for the essence that makes up all these taken together. So is the case with knowledge. The sadhaka asks: kasmin nu bhagavo vijnate sarvamidam vijnatam bhavati iti? -what is that when known, all these become known? Give me the essence and not its derivatives. I shall know them all eventually, the disciple always asks his teacher.
So Lord Krishna says: That essence is Adhyatma, the knowledge of the everlasting Brahman. Seeing Brahman as the root of all, is the real jnana.(For more elaboration on this please refer “Attempts to describe Brahman” Part 4. in AHWAN July/August 2003 issue.).
Knowledge being essential for our existence, the philosophy is unequivocal and unambiguous about the purpose of our existence and ultimate destination of our spiritual journey. The entire creation exists for no other purpose but to know and attain absolute perfection which is Brahman, and to be one with it. All the inputs of knowledge that we gather in lives after lives, have to have relevance as long as they assist us in achieving our purpose.
When JnAna gets refined to VijnAna it becomes shreya or paramarthika or true jnana.
This is indeed the definition of true jnana.
Until the jnana becomes conscious of the essence of Brahman, it is not refined knowledge. The mind must recognize that beyond the surface understanding, there is always a deeper and more profound hidden truth about the outcome of knowledge which it must discover. Brahman is that truth. The consciousness of Brahman takes us nearer to that truth. This is indeed the definition of true jnana.
The Upanishads are there to teach us this Brahmajnana- the essential truth of all truths.
The Vedas are the mother source of the Upanishads. Therefore before we go into the detailed study a general idea of the structure of Vedas will help our understanding.
Vyasadeva who is credited with the codification and easy comprehensible flow of Vedic knowledge for the humanity divided the verses of Veda into four categories. Rkveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda out of these the first three are accorded a certain degree of supremacy.
Generally The Rkveda is about awareness of the various entities in Brahman’s creation. Their existence, character and purpose are understood through its mantras. Whether it is the exposition of the Gayatri or Hiranyagarbha, it takes our mind to be aware of the creation, its forces and our relationship with them. Its richas are pregnant with the esoteric meaning of the creation.
The Yajurveda is mostly about yaj meaning the practice of acquired truth in life which goes on to consolidate our understanding.
The Samaveda is the musical outpouring of the mind in its ecstacy of understanding . In many ways it is the grateful offering of the antahkarana having realized the essential truth. Its musical character as sung by udgatri has helped to spread the knowledge far and wide. Also the method of singing transports the mind straight into the realm of peace and bliss as any musician can vouch from experience.
The Atharva veda is more down to earth and deals of the material world, protection against evils etc and therefore many feel that some of the Atharva veda’s contents do not belong to the same class as the other three Vedas.
However this classification is neither rigid nor exclusive. One may find repetitions of mantras, and similar concepts in all the Vedas when a point is needed to be driven home.
All Vedas begin with Samhitas or a set of mantras, which introduce the sadhaka the creation, the divine forces that control the creation its manifestation , sustenance and transmutation. The next are the Brahmanas which are the applied portion of these mantras. The instructions for rituals and yajnas using these mantras so as to derive maximum benefit in our life are given here.
Every worldly life is supposed to be lived by following these samhitas and Brahmanas. That makes the life well lived. The human birth does not become a waste. The jiva gets prepared for its onward journey to wards Brahman realization.
Having lived a fairly fulfilled life the next stage calls for contemplation on the higher meaning of our existence. We enter what we may call as the parardha or better part of our beingness that connects us more intimately with Brahman. The popular concept is to retire from the world to solitude and deeper search for the goal. The guiding portion of the Vedas for this phase of life is known as Aranyaka. Aranyaka in ancient days were practiced in seclusion away from the distractions of the world. In those days we had large forest areas which provided this undisturbed seclusion. It is in this Aranyaka a deeper study of the esoteric and philosophical interpretation of all the mantras, their rituals and practices are explored. In deep meditation the mind expands its boundary of understanding. It is truly the beginning of darshana or insight through intuition of knowledge. What is known as philosophy in English language in adhyatma parlance we call it darshana. This word is derived from the root drk, literally meaning see, or perceive. It calls for seeing things through one’s inner eyes and not a matter of simple understanding. Rishis are they who saw the richas of The Vedas through their intuitional inner eyes.
Please mull over what we have discussed so far savouring them in your heart slowly. In our next discussion we shall discuss some more aspects of upanishadic knowledge. (To be continued).