View Full Version : Looking Back - Upanishad

01-09-2012, 11:17 AM
Looking Back:

I have no particular subject or issue to write. As a person who had walked the distance of life for eight decades, I intend posting all that pass through my mind time to time.
I would like to start my writing with the words of that great Greek Philosopher, Socrates “ True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing, that makes you smartest of all“.

When you pass through The Three phases of Life, “Childhood, Youth and Married Life” you feel that you have completed your busy life of taking care of your so called responsibilities, your mind and body gets the rest that you yearn for. When the “Mind” is at peace, you start seeing the purpose of Life clearly. The purpose of Life is “Nothing”, yes Sir, we have not done anything in the world to add or subtract from the Creator's intentions of this world. What ever anybody claims to have done is only the re-arrangement of what was and is there.


Well, to continue, I always believe that the discussion of any Subject of Serious nature should be done on equal level, like conversation among friends, to obtain positive results.. Otherwise it will turn to be a debate. Any debate will be the death of conversation. Even the Great "Bhagavat Geeta" was declared as "Samvada" (discussion at equal level ) between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. Now to continue the discussion of the subject, let us go to another source, "Upanishads". I admit, my knowledge on the subject is elementary,mostly gathered from Books and Lectures available to me. Nothing in this I can claim as original from me. In that I am like a tiny ant which tried to nibble a little here and little there on a big sweet to enjoy the taste. It is just a layman's view.

The subject is a vast ocean. For generations, many Great Sages and Prophets had spent their whole life to find " Who is behind all these Creation and for what purpose?" And they have left a lot of material to guide the future generations. One among them is "Upanishad". "Upa-nishad" literally means "to sit near / down". otherwise "Upanishad" is to be learnt at the feet of learned Acharya or Guru. "Upanishads" form the part of "Vedas" and they are considered "Vedanta" or "ultimate of knowledge". They mainly deal with origin of Universe, the nature of "Brahman" and the "jeevatma", the relation between mind and matter. The exposition reaching to the highest metaphysical state. By their unique characteristics of universality and total absence any dogmatism," Upanishads" are considered highest philosophy ever conceived by human mind. Let me give a sample how "Kena Upanishad" belonging to "Sama Veda" tries to approach the subject
CH: I(1) The disciple asked: By whose will directed does the mind proceeds to its object? At whose command does the prana (life force), the foremost, do its duty? By whose will men utter speech? who is the God that directs the eyes and ears?
CH: I(3-4) The eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know it, we do not understand how any one can teach it. It is different from the known, It is above the unknown. Thus we have heard from the preceptors of ancient who taught it to us.
We can see the humility with which the learned Sages approach the subject. I wish all of us should spare some time to study these treasure of knowledge.
When I started writing this post, I never thought about the subject to write. But I was thrilled when a Friend queried " Are you sure that a God exists?" Indeed this put the seed in my mind to develop a subject to think. Our own Great thinker and Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) said "Doubt is a precious thing, it cleanses and purifies the mind, the very questioning, the very fact that the seed of doubt is in one, helps to clarify our investigations." I am an ardent admirer of J.Krishnamurti. (Since J.K. was against creation of following I do not use the word follower ). Like Bhagwan Ramana Mahrishi and Nisrgadatta Maharaj, he encouraged the person to question himself and find the answer. But I wish to stress that the Doubt should be real, arising out of thirst for finding an answer, not frivolous one. An open mind, like that of a child's, is the precious gift of birth as a human being. As a grand father I used to watch the mind of my beloved grand children, when they question me on various things that they observe. Then I understood how much of muck have gathered in my mind all these years due to wasteful exposure to unwanted things around me. Now can I think or listen straight and enjoy good Music without comparing within my mind. Next I intend to nibble a morsel from another great "Upanishad" which tells a beautiful story of charming young and intelligent boy named Nachiketas, who queries no less a person than Lord Yama Dharma, and drags him into a dialogue about Life and Death.


01-09-2012, 12:52 PM

"Arise, Awake and stop not till the Goal is reached" --
The clarion Call of Swami Vivekananda to the people of India.
These words were taken by Swamiji from "Kathopanishad", to wake up the lethargic masses of our Country who were in the induced sleep of false comfort at that time.
"Razor's Edge". ---
This is the famous English Classic by W.Somerset Maugham, familiar to the readers of English Literature. Mr. Maugham was interested in Vedanta and even visited India and met Sri Ramana Mahrishi. He has also taken the name "Razor's Edge" for his Classic from "Kathopanishad". He opens the Novel with the quotation from the Upanishad " The Sharp Edge of a Razor is difficult to pass over, thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard".

Interestingly both these lines are taken from the same verse given below:-

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत ।
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ कठ उपनिषद् 1.3.14 ॥
"Arise, Awake and Learn by approaching excellent Master. The sages describe that the path to be impassable as a Razor's Edge, which when sharpened, is difficult to tread on". (II. iii. 14).
"Kathopanishad " is one of the major Upanishads considered important due its detailed exposition on Eternal Truth, beautifully given in the form of dialogue between Lord of Death Yama and young Brahmin boy "Nachiketas".
"Kathopanishad" belongs to "Krishna Yajur Veda" and begins with a simple story, which is also found in "Rig Veda" (X.135) and "Thaitriya Brahmana,(III.1.8) with some variations, also in Anusasana Parva of Mahabharatha(106). The story goes like this: Young Nachiketas after watching his father Sage Vajasravas gifting away his possessions to propitiate the Gods by performing an Yagna (fire sacrifice) asks his father "father to whom will you give me?" The boy repeated the question second and third time. The irritated father replied "to death I will give you". The young Nachiketas had great love for his father, but greater love to uphold the truth. Thus he goes to the abode of Lord Yama and waits for him three nights with out food or sleep.
Lord Yama on his return feels guilty to see the Young Brahmin guest waiting for him without food or sleep for three days. To attone this lapse, offers Three boons to the boy and requests him to ask any three wishes of his choice. Accordingly Nachiketas asks the first, to bless peace of mind to his father when the son returns home. After getting assurance from Lord Yama, the youngster asks the Second boon. "Teach me that Yagna - fire sacrifice - that will take me to heaven, where I am told there is no fear of death, nor old age, thirst, hunger or sorrow". Lord of Death was pleased by the boldness of the boy gives in detail of performing the Yagna. Then comes the most important portion of the Upanishad in the form of the Third question in the following verse.
"When a man dies there is this doubt: some say that He exists' some (other) say He does not exist. this I like to know, being taught by you. Of the boons this is (my) third boon." ( I-I-20)
This is the question "what is death and who am I" occurs to every person some time or other. This is followed by purpose of Creation, Creator and the cause of creation etc. As a Scientist puts it "Man is thus his own mystery!". By this question Young Nachiketas corners Lord of Death, who was really in a dilemma whether this young boy is mature enough to receive an answer. Thus Lord Yama tempts the boy to ask other things instead.
But Young Nachiketas was firm in getting the answer and says:
"You say Lord of Death that even the Gods have their doubts on this subject and that it is not easy to comprehend: but another teacher like you is not to be found and I consider no other boon equal to this" I i (22)
And the Young Nachiketas asks Lord Yama to stand by his words and enlighten him by imparting the highest wisdom.
Having tested and pleased with the undeterred determination of the youngster in getting the knowledge of Self Lord of Death expounds the path in the verses in rest of the "Kathopanishad". The Sections in this Upanishad are called "vallis" - literally meaning "creepers" in Two Chapters. Thus the subject in each section is continuation of the previous one. "Upanishads" are to be learned under an eminent teacher (Guru or Acharya) at personal level. First and foremost condition is the person seeking this "Eternal knowledge of Truth" should make himself Fit to receive.

In the beginning itself, Lord of Death brings out the plight of false approach by the following verse:--
"Living in the midst of ignorance and considering themselves intelligent and enlightened, the senseless people go round and round, following crooked courses, just like the blind led by the blind". (I.ii.5)

Young Natchiketas puts the entire philosophical quest in precise words in the following verse:
"That which is other than Dharma (virtue) and Adharma (vice), other than effect and cause, other than time, past and future (also present), that you beholdest, please tell (me) that: (I ii 14)

Lord of Death proceeds to expound the great philosophical treatise in charming verses till the end of this Upanished. Here, With utmost humility I admit my inadequacy of knowledge or wisdom to select or leave any one of the verses of this great Upanishad. But to maintain brevity I selected a few verses which I thought will bring out the greatness of "Kathopanishad" and whet the curiosity of the readers of this blog to evince more interest to study Upanishads in depth with the help of Learned teachers or Acharyas.



01-09-2012, 01:00 PM


Lord Yama begins his reply with the symbol and sound "OM" and says:-
"The goal which all Vedas with one voice proclaim, which all tapas (austerities) speak of and desiring for which people practice Brahmacharya, it is this OM" (I ii 15)
Lord of Death gives the sound and symbol of "Om" as a symbol to communicate the incommunicable TRUTH. Many Commentators from Samkara and other Acharyas and Mahatmas and Sages throughout the ages till the exponents of Vedanta of Modern age have dealt with the subject of "Om" elaborately in their writings.
Then the Lord of Death elaborates the subject more directly:
"The intelligent self is neither born nor does it die, it did not originate from any thing nor did anything originate from it. It is birthless eternal, undecaying and ancient. It is not injured even when the body is killed" (I ii 18)
"The Self (Atman) cannot be attained by study of scriptures, nor by sharp intellect, nor by much hearing. It can be known through the Self alone that the aspirant prays to him this Self reveals its own (true) form" (I ii 23).
The subject taken for study is too serious and it needs concentration and contemplation to understand the meaning . Very difficult indeed to understand the meaning of the verse without proper guidance! As I told "Upanishads" cannot be read and understood by an individual without the guidance of an enlightened Acharya.

Young Natchiketas pursues the subject with razor sharp intellect and asks very pertinent question:

"(Then) How shall I know that supreme, unspeakable Bliss which they realize directly as "This"? Is it self-effulgent -- does it shine distinctly, or does it not?" (II ii 14)

Lord Yama answers by this famous verse which is being quoted by many Vedic scholers even this day:
"There the sun does not shine, neither do the moon and the stars; nor do these flashes of lightning shine. How can this fire? He shining all these shine; though his lustre all these are variously illuminated." (II ii 15)
"His form does not exist within the range of vision; nobody sees Him with the eye. When this Self is revealed through deliberation, it is realized by the ruler of mind, that resides in the heart. Those who knows this become immortal." (II iii 9)
How can the ruler in the heart be attained? For this purpose Lord of Death now introduces Yoga:
"When the five senses of knowledge come to rest togather with mind, and the intellect, too does not function, that state they call the highest." (II iii 10)

Concluding verses of this great "Upanishad' are very important. This is the State that which all the Realised souls talk of in every denomination of Religious philosophy.

"The Self is (first) to be realized as existing, and (then) as it really is. Of these two (aspects), the real nature of the Self that has been known as merely existing, favourably disposed (for self revelation)." (II iii 13) and
" When all desires clinging to one's heart fall off, then a mortal becomes immortal (and he) Attains Brahman here." (II iii 14)

This great " Upanishad" concludes with the following verse which in fact sums up the purport of the story:
"Natchiketas , having first become free from virtue and vice, as also desire and ignorance, by acquiring this knowledge imparted by Death, as also the process of Yoga in its totality, attained Brahman. Anyone else, too, who becomes a knower thus (like Natchiketas) of the indwelling Self, (attains Brahman)." (II iii 18).

"Upanishads" are called "Vedanta", end of Vedas. They contain an impressive record of advanced metaphysical thinking in encrypted language which was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation, they are called "Sruthi" ( from samskrit root "Srnu" to hear), just as the Vedas. Others Sacred Books like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas and Law books like Manusmriti belong to the group called "Smriti".

Those who had tasted the Upanishads should pursue further with the help of an Acharya.