The Upanisads contain the cream of the Vedas. They constitute the sacred bible of the Hindus! The Upanisad study cannot be undertaken merely with the help of sledge-hammer of language knowledge or the pick-axe of word meanings. This is a science which should be learnt at the feet of a Master to grasp its true import, as the very word suggests.
Vedanta (Veda + anta i.e. the end of Vedas) as the literal meaning connotes comprises of the philosophical portion of the Vedas called the Upanisads. Of about 280 Upanisads unearthed so far, 180 have been accepted as authentic texts and out of them eleven have been commented upon by the recent Masterminds, Acaryas like Sri Sankara,
Ramanuja and Madhavacarya, and are thus classified as 'major'.
The other Upanisads are considered as 'minor' - not on account of their contents or in the depth of their thoughts or in the completeness of their exposition but because no commentaries are available from the great Acaryas. The new initiates are generally prescribed 'minor' Upanisads only after a thorough study of the exhaustive commentaries (bhasyas) by the great Masters on five or six of the major Upanisads. Thus, these became 'minor' only with reference to the knowledge, the students have already acquired as result of their study of the 'major' Upanisads, and their reflection on these 'minor' ones serves as an interesting revision of the Knowledge already gathered.
The Mandukya-upanisad derives its name after its Seer Manduka and belongs to the Atharva-veda. It is the shortest amongst the principal Upanisads having just 12 mantras but presents the quintessence of our entire teaching of Upanisads.
It analyses the entire range of human Consciousness in the three states of waking (jagrata), dream (svapna) and dreamless sleep (susupti) which are common to all men. It asserts unequivocally that the absolute Reality is non-dual (advaita) and attributeless (nirguna).
It has a unique method of approach to the Truth. It provides symbol for meditation in the monosyllable AUM comprising of three sounds A, U, M detailing its philosophical implications. According to Muktikopanisad, it forms the epitome of all the hundred and eight Upanisads, which have been accepted as authentic.
Gaudapada, the grand-preceptor (parama-Guru) of Sri Sankaracarya, wrote a Karika (glossory) on this Upanisad, which is one of best philosophical works in Sanskrit, providing an insight into the unique system of thought that forms the background of the Upanisad. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that Sri Sankara wrote a bhasya (commentary) on the Karika of his parama-Guru.
The first of the four chapters of Karika, that is, 'agama prakarana', is an exposition of the 'unity of Consciousness' in
the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. 'Vaitathya prakarana', the second chapter, is devoted to the exposition of the unreality of the world of duality. Gaudapada asserts that waking experiences are similar to dream experiences, in both the states the objects experienced are external to oneself; also that dream water quenches the dream thirst as much as water of the waking state quenches the thirst of the waking state, thus emphasising that the objects too are in no way different. Gaudapada positively asserts that from the standpoint of highest Realisation, there is neither death nor birth nor bondage nor release for the Atma.
The third chapter entitled 'advaita prakarana' asserts that One manifests Himself as many without undergoing any real change. To reinforce this assertion, he cites the illustration of space which is apparently cut up into different portions and different forms and given different names. But in reality ghatakasa (the pot space) is not different from mahakasa (the unrestricted space). Jiva is, similarly, not different from the absolute Atman. Every change is only imaginary. To the Realised Man, everything is Atman alone.
When the seers of the Upanisads, by a process of complete elimination of their ego through the divine method of sublimation, reached the palace of Truth, they entered therein to rediscover themselves to be the owners of it. That realm of perfection is indeed the world where having reached no one returns. However, there are some among them, rare birds, who had flown back, in their divinely selfless game of service, to lead, guide and encourage other manifestations of themselves unto the Truth. They try to express the topography of the realms beyond and the main paths by which one can reach them. At such moments of godly inspiration and intoxicating bliss, the rsis forgot to subscribe their names to their own masterpieces, the Upanisads! Thus, we have an incomparable literature on philosophy in the volumes of the Upanisads, the authors of which are unknown to us. We only know that there was behind these sparkling words of wisdom a personality who revelled in the subjective experience of the very theme which he describes in such a wealth of details.
Even when we happen to write a fairly expressive letter or a satisfactory note, we cannot but show it to others and share the joy that is in creative art. All creative artists are thus a liability and a nuisance with the gross men of action and trodders of beaten paths. A painter will beg at your feet to walk into his garret to enjoy his creation. A musician will go mad and make you miss your train. A writer will hang on to your collars and make you listen to volumes of manuscript. An Archimedes will forget his own nakedness and run along the roads of the city crying 'Eureka'. These are instances when man rises for a fraction of a moment from his low identifications with his own limitations and gets a glimpse of a minutest ray from the knowledge of the Absolute. There is no true poet or painter or musician or scientist who would not willingly claim himself to be the entire author of their wondrous masterpieces. Creative art is at its best only when the limited ego makes an exit in all its entirety.
Naturally, the seers of the Upanisads, when they got themselves established in the experience of the realms that lie beyond the shores of the ego could not claim any authorship to their declarations. Even at their best they felt that they had not expressed anything about the actual majesty, glory, perfection and completeness of the theme they wanted to handle; the Infinite cannot be grasped or conveyed in terms of the finite. 'God defined is God defiled'.
Again, unlike the philosophy and the philosophical textbooks in Europe, in India Upanisads were not commodities for growing rich or instruments for earning applauses. To the West, philosophy is one of the avenues for self gratification and self satisfaction; in the East, to the rsis and their true children, the Hindu philosophy is for self adoration and self-satisfaction. Hence, they as it were, chose to remain behind the screen and sincerely felt that the knowledge they gained and gave expressions to, was not theirs. They only happened to hear the mantras from within themselves as though spoken by somebody other than themselves. The term ‘Sruti’ itself means 'that which is heard'.
Every disciple, when established in his own personal subjective experience of the Truth indicated to him by his own Master became himself a Master and when he, in turn, explained and expressed that state of experience to the seekers who approached him, he did not claim the discovery for himself but quoted his own Gurus. Thus, our scriptural textbooks preserved their purity and chastity till today and have come down to us in the hierarchy of teacher-disciple generations. We are not to allow ourselves to accept any declaration made from the platforms of the intellect and the mind as part and parcel of our eternal Vedas. If we do so, we too would have a philosophy that is changing every fifteen years as in the West.
In Europe, we find that with every changing vicissitude of national life, with every war, with every revolution, there is a thorough rearrangement of material values lived and consequently, there is a change in the attitude of their mind and intellect towards life. With every disturbance in the brain cells, in kaleidoscopic variety we get a library of philosophies from Plato to date. But in India, the eternal Vedas and the truths of the Upanisads, are as true today as they were when they were taught in the flowery valleys of the sacred Ganga.
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