I originally read The Upanishads when I was in college. In fact, the old paperback copy I still have was my old college text, complete with highlighting and marginalia. Sadly, the binding is coming undone so I think this may be my last reading of this particular book. But it has served me well. Anyway, it had been many years since I read this, and considering all the material I have read in between, I suspected that this reading would be on a different level than my prior readings.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the text:
The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teachings which form the foundations of Hinduism. They are the most recent part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, that deal with meditation, philosophy, and ontological knowledge; other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India, marking a transition from Vedic ritualism to new ideas and institutions. Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their central ideas are at the spiritual core of Hinduism.
Much of the text discusses the Self, which is essentially that spark of the Divine that exists within each being.
The Self, whose symbol is OM, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed.
There is a belief held by many on the spiritual path that the goal is to renounce the world and focus only on the spiritual. The Upanishads teach that not only is this incorrect, it is actually detrimental to one’s spiritual growth. Balance is needed, and polarity of any sort leads to darkness.
To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.
Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise.
They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death and by meditation achieve immortality.
(pp. 27 – 28)
For me, one of the most intriguing passages from this reading was a description of how to realize, or “see,” the Divine presence, God, the Self.
To realize God, first control the outgoing senses and harness the mind. Then meditate upon the light in the heart of the fire—meditate, that is, upon pure consciousness as distinct from the ordinary consciousness of the intellect. Thus the Self, the Inner Reality, may be seen behind physical appearance.
Control your mind so that the Ultimate Reality, the self-luminous Lord, may be revealed. Strive earnestly for eternal bliss.
With the help of the mind and the intellect, keep the senses from attaching themselves to objects of pleasure. They will be purified by the light of the Inner Reality, and that light will be revealed.
I have not even scratched the surface of this book. The wealth of wisdom and insight in this short text is staggering. I highly recommend that any of you who are on the spiritual path read and reread this text.
Thanks for stopping by. May you have a blessed journey.
2 responses to “Thoughts on “The Upanishads” – Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester”
I have had a fair share of debates about renouncing the world. I did not know about that quote from the Upanishads – “To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.” Fascinating but I guess that excludes the Buddha?
Anyway, thank you for sharing, Jeff.
Hi Monika. Thanks for the comment. Few things to note. While the dates are not definitive, it is fairly certain that the Upanishads predate the Buddha. Also, while I am by no means a Buddhist scholar, my understanding is that he did teach, and that the crux of his teachings were about easing suffering in this life, which one could say is applying spiritual work to our physical, ie worldly, existence.
Anyway, this could be a long discussion, for sure, but I do have work to attend to (need to balance meditation with worldly responsibilities – lol). Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day.