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The Supreme Wisdom of the Upanisads: An Introduction

The Supreme Wisdom of the Upanisads: An Introduction


Item Code: IDD347

by Klaus G. Witz

Hardcover (Edition: 1993)

Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN 81-208-1573-4

Size: 8.8" X 5.8"
Pages: 583
Price: $44.50
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The Upanisads (or Upanishads) are the earliest Supreme Wisdom literature of the world. It is not often, however, that they have been presented as a spiritual path or approach in their own right. Even in India, where they have inspired and to some extent shaped a vast civilization, they are studied primarily only in the light of Vedanta, a powerful systematization of the original texts. This book represents an attempt to present the spiritual aspects of the Upanisadic teachings on the basis of the texts themselves, and in a way that respects tradition and is defensible in the modern world today. The emphasis is not so much on ideas and issues, as on the meaning which the individual texts have in terms of spiritual life. The Infinite Truths of the Upanisads can emerge only when one takes them seriously and makes efforts to live them in one's daily life.

The book was written with conviction that the Upanisads have the capability to uplift mankind today, and that they desperately need to be made available to a winder western – oriented audience. Generally speaking, high level Indian spiritual literature may be divided into three overlapping types: literature focusing God and God consciousness, such as the medieval bhakti literatures in Hindi, Tamil, etc,; literature detailing yogic and Tantric paths; and High Wisdom literature. Of these, the first two are unlikely to find a widespread response in the West. The modern cultural and intellectual climate is not favourable to walking the path of total dedication to love of God. Western Tradition has its own great knowledge-of-God literatures, such as the writings of the Catholic Saints. But these are seldom read and put into practice. There is little appreciation that these works are basically universal documents whose essence can be absorbed and used in one's life without a specifically Christian orientation. Next, the yogic literature undoubtedly has some appeal, and life and practice along such lines may lead to considerable individual uplift and approach to the goal. But without a deep cultural base such as in India, yogic and Tantric practice is bound to touch only a few. And even in India the true deeper stages of these paths are almost beyond reach today. High Wisdom literature, by comparison, does not have these kinds of handicaps. Indeed, the general cultural and intellectual climate in the West seems mildly favourable to wisdom paths. Many individuals are seriously pursuing Buddhist practice in Zen or Tibetan traditions, or follow J. Krishnamurty. Western philosophers are turning to Samkara, or Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, or to Plotinus, for that matter. And there are many individuals who follow Indian traditions that are permeated by Upanisadic teachings. All these trends have vitality, but they are quite small scale. My aim has been to produce an introduction to the Upanisads which is based on the original texts and does not hide difficulties of interpretation, but which still enables the reader to get an insight into the Upanisadic teachings and at least start thinking about how he/she could bring them into his/her own life. I have tried to write a book which is useful to individuals that are already on an Indian path, as well as one that can speak to persons who are serious about the meaning of life and existence, and who would like to get an introduction to the Upanisadic Supreme Wisdom. But the intended audience also includes people who are already somewhat acquainted with Indian philosophy and religion, and who would like to get a deeper understanding in this area.

The core of the book is a small number of vidyas, or teachings outlining specific paths involving meditation and leading to highest realization. Modern Indian students of the Upanisads and spiritual teachers agree that the vidyas are the heart of the Upanisads and that any true entrance into the higher Upanisadic teachings must be through the vidyas. But unfortunately, much of the inner (spiritual, yogic and otherwise esoteric) meaning of the vidyas has been lost or is preserved only in small traces. In this book I have tried to recover some of this meaning using first textual analysis, and then consideration of traditional views of the text (Brahma Sutra, Samkara) and modern scholarship. (Textual analysis includes using parallel texts and tracing the use of important terms or phrases of the text elsewhere in the Vedic literature, as well as considering the form of the texts and their literary aspects.) In addition, I have also taken into account comments on a given Vidya by great modern spiritual figures such as Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Obviously the results depend much on my own personal biases and understanding of things; writing the book over the last several years has played a large role in my own spiritual life. Bu I believe that it is possible in this way to have these Infinite teaching emerge closer to their true from and speak directly to modern spiritual understanding.

Since the main goal is to get a deeper understanding of the Upanisadic teachings themselves, the basic format in the book is one of text and commentary. Typically, an Upanisadic text is presented in translation and then discussed by outlining its overall structure, giving necessary background and parallel texts, highlighting or elaborating particular points, and trying to get an idea of its spiritual meaning. I believe that detailed preoccupation with individual texts of this kind is a must. If the Upanisadic Wisdom is to take deeper roots in the West, then it must be shown in detail how this Wisdom emerges from the texts. There must be scholarly consideration of inner, deeper aspects of the Upanisadic teachings similar to the consideration of biblical passages in Christian or Islamic theology and mysticism. To this end, open discussion of the deeper meaning (s) which one sees in a given text is essential. Whatever general background in Indian tradition is needed is given in chapter 1. Thereafter, specific concepts, historical background, general concepts and issues, and more universal aspects of the Upanisadic teachings are all developed gradually and cumulatively in connection with particular passages or texts where they arise. I have met many people who told me that they had tried to read Eastern spiritual literature but found it too difficult to penetrate. I have tried to address this problem by adopting various devices, such as constant translation of Sanskrit terms, references to relevant modern philosophical or scientific developments, attempts to place a particular point in a larger historical context, and attempts to identify some of the more universal validity that a given teaching might have. But with so much modern critical scholarship on top of so many layers of Indian tradition, complexity is unavoidable and there are bound to be many controversial issues.

The book synthesises a large amount of material from many sources while trying to keep the lines of argument clear. The first chapter contains historical and religious-philosophical background; thereafter, scope and spiritual depth increase substantially with every chapter until a highpoint is reached in chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 2 presents great and timeless texts like the Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi Dialogue to give an initial idea of Atman/Brahman. The next two chapters deal with Purusa, the all-encompassing and transcendent "Person", and the "Sense Powers" (Sight, Hearing, Mind, Speech, Breath). They have, however, a very different focus. Chapter 3 discusses four "mythological" and philosophical texts and shows that each of them must be based on some kind of higher realization or "enlightenment". In chapter 4 on the other hand, the interest is on the nature of meditation (which was completely out of the picture in chapter 3). In additions this chapter is concerned with the problem of how the Upanisadic Wisdom arose from out of the Vedic and Brahmanical religions, which are characterized more by Knowledge of Divinity than by Wisdom. To address these questions, the chapter studies three or four texts, including two or three vidyas. Only chapters 5 and 6 finally deal with the Supreme Wisdom that one associates with the Upanisads, and which forms the substratum of so many later Hindu traditions. They give detailed and comprehensive treatments of three great vidyas and cover topics such as vijnana ("higher transcendental awareness," "beginning knowledge of reality"), Ananda ("higher bliss"), the "space in the heart," and "merger into Brahman". These are only a few of the universal higher elements in the Upanisads' description of the Infinite Reality which is obtained when one pools the dozen or so greatest Upanisadic vidyas. But these chapters to give a deep introduction to the Upanisadic Supreme Wisdom as a whole, and will perhaps be of greatest interest to the reader.

Various individuals and Institutions helped make this book become reality. My greatest debt is to my admired and revered Sanskrit teacher, Prof. Hans Henrich Hock of the University of Illinois Departments of Linguistics and Classics. Prof. Hock not only shepherded me through the basic sequence of Sanskrit courses at the University, but also thereafter unstintingly gave his time in weekly seminars every semester to read texts and answer innumerable questions. It is his influence which is to some extent responsible for the (in retrospect rather strong) reliance on linguistic arguments in the initial approach to the texts. But I was also deeply affected by his selfless dedication to the cause of Sanskrit, and by his uncommon detached objectivity which became a model for me. Profs. G. Ordal, R.S. Hart, and G. Tikku were kind enough to read some early drafts which would be embarrassing if made public now. Prof. J. Koller of Rensselaer was the first scholar to critically read the first drafts ad gave me generous encouragement, which was invaluable to me. Prof. F.X. Clooney of Boston College and Prof. G. Tikku of the Department of Comparative Literature here at Illinois read some of the later chapters, and Dr. H. Ladanyi, Prof. R. S. Hart, and my wife Ricki read the entire manuscript and made numerous suggestions for improvements. To all of them I am deeply grateful. Above all, however, I am indebted to an unnamed devotee whose heartfelt comments persuaded me to spend a whole year making the book more readable, and to the editor, Dr. Kanshi Ram, who went several times painstakingly through every word of the text to get the book ready for publications. I cannot thank both of these men enough and their selfless service will be ever in my heart. Special thanks go to the staff of the Word Processing Center of the College of Education at UIUC, including Donna Auble (deceased), Lana Bates, Selena Douglas Teri Frerichs, Debra Gough, and June Chambliss, Director, who had to struggle for many years with hand-written drafts and endless changes. Among institutions, I gratefully acknowledge the University of Illinois for enabling me to work in the stacks of its excellent library. I also thank the University Research Board for stipends to attend the Eighth and Ninth International Sanskrit Congresses in Vienna and Melbourne, and the University generally for enabling me to attend a number of professional meetings in Vedanta and Asian and Comparative Philosophy. Finally, I would like to express my love and appreciation to my wife Ricki and my family, which have been a haven of happiness through all the years I have been working on this book. Without them, the long-term digestion of the Upanisadic teaching presented here might not have been possible.

I bow down to the many scholars, both living and dead, whose work I used, and risk them to forgive me if I did not represent their ideas and intents correctly. I bow down to my teachers, both my teachers in mathematics etc. and my spiritual teachers. May I be worthy of their pure intentions! I bow down to the Infinite Reality, Atman-Brahman-Bhagavan. May I not have misrepresented It!

From the Jacket:

This book attempts to let the universal Upanisadic knowledge and experience of Divinity and Reality emerge from the original texts and make it accessible to a broader western-oriented audience. Beginning in chapter 2 with a simple, direct engagement with the transcendental impact of two sections of Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, it takes the reader in steps to successively deeper and more comprehensive knowledge and experience in the Five Sheaths and Dahara Vidyas in chapter 5 and 6. The book is in text-commentary format and uses the method of parallel texts. At the same time it draws on the Brahma Sutra and Sankara's commentaries, as well as on comments on specific texts by great spiritual personalities of modern times. In contrast to some treatments which see the Upanisadic teachings as a clear break with Brahmana tradition, the present book emphasizes the fact that many of the Upanisadic vidyas use the Brahmana knowledge of Divinity as a starting point for developing knowledge of Atman/Brahman.

About the Author:

Klaus G. Witz was born in Breslau, Germany, in 1937, received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, became associate professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and later joined the Collage of Education there to do research in cognition. Currently he is publishing in the areas of perennial philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of education, and qualitative methodology in the social sciences. He lives with his wife Ricki and two sons in Urbana, IL, USA.


Abbreviations and Conventionsxvii
Chapter 1 : The Upanisads: Background
1. Introduction1
2. The Upanisads and Hindu Tradition, 3000 BCE-Today4
3. Vedic Literature and its Tradition16
4. Historical Context24
5. The Problem of a Deeper Understanding of the Vedic Literature28
6. The Upanisads and the West

Chapter 2 : The Great Teachings
1. The Five Oldest Upanisads: General Approach in this Book 57
2. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, BrhUp IV.4.16-31 (M): Text63
3. Atman/Brahman67
4. Rising Above Desire, BrhUp IV.4.6-15 (M)74
5. Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi Dialogue81
6. The One Seer

Chapter 3 : The Infinite Behind Mythology
1. Three Levels of Approach of Atman/Brahman 103
2. Purusa and the "(Sense-) Powers", Outline of the Chapter106
3. The Purusa Hymn 111
4. BrhUp I.4 (Purusa-vidha Brahmana) 115
5. The New Focus on Atman 128
6. AitUp I.1-3 133
7. Uttara-Narayana and Tad-eva 143
8. The Purusa Idea in Vedic and Hindu Tradition 149
9. KausUp III: The Highest as Prana 156
10. Prajna and Prajna-Atman 165
11. Postscript on Methodology

Chapter 4 : Teachings with Meditation on Sense-Powers and Deities
1. Introduction and Outline 191
2. Upasana and Brahma Vidya196
3. Appendix: Upasana in Vedanta208
4. Chandogya Upanisad. Upasana on Mind and Akasa (ChandUp III.18)216
5. The Union of the External Deities with, or in, the Self222
6. Asti, Bhati, Priyam; Tapati227
7. Meaning of ChandUp III.18230
8. Appendix: The "Correspondences" Speech-Agni, Prana-Vayu etc.233
9. Sodasa-Kala or Sixteen Parts Vidya: The First Three Quarters241
10. The Fourth Quarter248
11. Beyond the Four Quarters: Meaning of the Vidya249
12. Relation to Purusa: Saguna and Nirgua Brahman256
13. Vaisvanara Vidya: Satapatha Brahmana Text259
14. Vaisvanara = "the One in the Many": SatBr IX.3.1.3-6259
15. Appendix: Agni Vaisvanara in the Vedas and Brahmanas262
16. Structure of the Satapatha Brahmana Text274
17. Meaning of the Satapatha Brahmana Vidya279
18. Vaisvanara Vidya: Upanisadic Text and Vaisvanara Atman280
19. Meaning of the Upanisadic Vidya 287
20. Epilogue: The Emergence of the Upanisadic Teaching

Chapter 5 : Five Sheaths and Antar-jyotir Vidyas
1. Major Avenues to Atman/Brahman in the Great Vidyas: Outline of Chapter 317
2. Taittiriya Upanisad; Text of Five Sheaths Vidya 324
3. The First Level or Self (the Physical Person)331
4. Second Level or Self (Prana)333
5. Third Level or Self (Mind) 337
6. Vijnana-maya Level: The Nature of Vijnana, Based on TaittUp II.4.3341
7. Higher Levels of Vijnana: Forms of Vijnana349
8. Vijnana and Ordinary Knowledge and Understanding352
9. The "Invisible, Center-less, Un-defined, Non-based"356
10. "Vijnana of" the "Invisible...." The Essence of the Vidya as a Whole363
11. Different Vijnana Vidyas that Teach Different Kinds of Vijnana 365
12. Antar-jyotir Vidya, BrhUp IV.3.1-34 (K): Text370
13. Antar-jyotir Vidya, Beginning [BrhUp IV.3.1-20]376
14. The Antar-jyotih Teaching382
15. The Light of Knowledge or Awareness in the Heart, and Dream385
16. The Light of Knowledge as Awareness of One's Own Mental Phenomena387
17. Ajatasatru's Teaching to Balaki390
18. Ananda-maya Level and Beyond 394
19. The World Born out of the Ananda-maya 396
20. Ananda-maya from the Point of View of the Aspirant-Devotee 399
21. BrhUp IV.3.1-34(K)401
22. "Brahman is Vijnana and Ananda" 404
23. Merger into Brahman

Chapter 6 : Dahara Vidya
1. Introduction and Summary423
2. Dahara Vidya: Text429
3. The Dahara Teaching, ChandUp VIII.1.1-1.5433
4. The Heart in the Upanisads: Vedic Roots and Universal Significance437
5. Dahara Akasa as a Small Space in the Heart445
6. Traditional Dahara Upasana: Meditation Involving Qualities of the Self448
7. Stages in Traditional Dahara Upasana457
8. Dahara Akasa as a (Subtle) Sky of Awareness: Maha-NarUp XII.16460
9. PrasnaUp V and Maha-NarUp XII.16.17 466
10. The Dahara Akasa in Maitrayaniya Upanisad470
11. Dahara Akasa as One of a Series of Five Akasas in Vedanta473
12. Alternative Exposition in Terms of the Three Kinds of Akasa of Yoga Vasistha479
13. The One Self in the Heart: Atharva Veda X.7.7-16482
14. Relation to Anamnesis, Omniscience etc.486
15. Satya-kama and Satya-Samkalpa, "of True Desire" and "of True Resolve"494
16. Sandilya Vidya498
17. Full Dahara Vidya: Overall Structure502
18. The Channels of the Heart: BrhUp IV.2.2-4 and the "Path of the (Subtle) Prana All-Self"505
19. BrhUp III.9.19-26512
20. A "Cosmos-Encompassing Sun-Related Self" Equivalent to the "Subtle Prana All-Self"515
21. The Full Dahara Vidya and BrhUp IV.3-4517
22. MundUp II.2: The Path of Merger by Means of Om519
23. Appendix: Maha-NarUp XIII.6-12 524
24. Epilogue: Infinitization of the Self


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