Swami Vivekananda emphasized time and again that the study and contemplation of the Upanishads need to be revived in our country, and he exhorted that we as a nation should ‘go back to your Upanishads’ to derive strength and power from the immortal message of the Atman, the glorious Self present in all beings as Truth, Knowledge, and Infinity (satyam, jnanam, anantam), as Awareness and Bliss (vijnanam, anandam). His inspiring words were: ‘Go back to your Upanishads-the shining, the strengthening, the bright philosophy. ... The truths of the Upanishads are before you. Take them up, live up to them, and the salvation of India will be at hand.’ When the Atman, the true Self of a being, is realized, one becomes established in Truth, gets released from the bondage of ignorance, and attains Freedom from sorrow. ‘From the Atman comes power and strength, from Knowledge arises Immortality-Atmana vindate viryam, vidyaya vindate amrtarn’ as the Kenopanishad puts it. Jesus Christ’s teaching in the Gospel according to St. John echoes the same idea: ‘Thou shalt know the Truth, and the Truth shall make thee free.’
The appeal of the Upanishads is all the more relevant today, in this modern age of science and reason, than ever before. The Upanishads were a great source of inspiration for several of the greatest modern scientists, particularly the early fathers of Quantum Mechanics like Schrodinger and Heisenberg, who ushered in revolutionary changes in our world-view-weltanschauung. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic energy revolution in science, was greatly fascinated by Vedantic thought embedded in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. Swami Vivekananda believed that the wonderful, rational system of Vedanta, particularly the Advaita Vedanta, will be the future religion and philosophy of thinking humanity.
The Upanishads form the sruti prasthana among the prasthana-traya, the three canons that form the foundation of the philosophical system of Vedanta, the other two being the Bhagavad-Gita, called the smrti prasthana, and the Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras, called the nyaya prasthana. These three prasthanas or canons are respectively the theoretical, practical, and rational basis of the Vedanta philosophy.
The entire body of the Upanishads is believed to comprise a hundred and eight books, shortlisted later to twenty-eight, but the ‘major’ Upanishads are just ten plus one. These ten plus one ‘major’ Upanishads are so called because Shankaracharya, the great teacher of Advaita, wrote his immortal commentaries (called bhasyas) on these ten plus one Upanishads. While it is an undisputed and well accepted fact that he did write the bhasyas on the following ten Upanishads, namely, Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Isavasya, Prasna, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Brhadaranyaka, and Chandogya, there is some doubt as to the commentary on the eleventh Upanishad, Svetasvatara, which, although attributed to Shankaracharya, may not actually be written by him. Hence we have chosen to say safely that the number of ‘major’ Upanishads is ten plus one, rather than say eleven.
The rest of the ninety-seven Upanishsads, other than the eleven ‘major’ ones, are sometimes called ‘minor’ Upanishads. There are some very sublime passages found in the ‘minor’ Upanishads and Shankaracharya, although not choosing to write commentaries on these ‘minor’ ones, often quotes from them to reinforce and elucidate his statements and arguments in the commentaries of the ‘major’ Upanishads. This shows the importance of these ‘minor’ Upanishads also. Upanishad Brahmayogin, a great scholar-saint, about whom we seem to have little information, wrote fairly elaborate commentaries on all the one hundred and eight Upanishads-a feat of great intellectual and spiritual genius. The Adyar Library and Research Centre at Madras has done a remarkable service for the Vedanta literature-particularly among the English-knowing and less Sanskrit-knowing public who are nonetheless eager to learn about the truths of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads- by bringing out a series of volumes of the entire body of the Upanishads, both major and minor, with English translations based on the commentaries of Upanishad Brahmayogin. This exercise of theirs began as early as the very beginning of the twentieth century, almost contemporaneously with Swami Vivekananda’s exposition and propagation of Vedanta in the Eastern and the Western worlds, or thereabouts, and has been continuing through the late twentieth century with revised editions and publications. The Adyar Library and Research Centre at Chennai therefore deserves the respect and gratefulness of all the avowed students and scholars of Vedantic thought as well as aspirants and seekers of Vedantic wisdom. We also gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to these volumes which have been of great help in the preparation of the present volume.
Among the ninety-seven ‘minor’ Upanishads, there is a group of seventeen Upanishads which deal particularly with various aspects of renunciation, or sannyasa. Renunciation, or sannyasa, has formed the backbone of the Indian spiritual heritage and legacy for thousands of years, and therefore the themes that these Sannyasa Upanishads discuss include various types of sannyasa, its varieties and subtle nuances. The discussion ranges, on the one end of the spectrum, from the life of a mendicant ascetic, austere and uncompromising, severe and serious, shunning all company of human beings, shying away from society, a peripatetic (parivrajaka) monk roaming free like air absolved of all worldly obligations and duties, and on the other side of the spectrum, to a highly illumined paramahamsa, poetically called the Supreme Swan, pure and holy, trigunatita, that is, beyond the shackles of the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas, but nonetheless shining with and radiating the divine light of unblemished sattva. Such a paramahamsa removes the darkness of ignorance in all those who come into the orbit of his overwhelming Spiritual Presence, is supremely compassionate, and embraces all with universal unselfish love. These Sannyasa Upanishads are rich in descriptions of the characteristics, qualifications, lifestyle, inward and outward proclivities and inclinations, and various other particulars concerning the sannyasins, those who have renounced all worldly desires and obligations in the quest of the Supreme Truth of the Atman or Brahman, God or Reality, and have realized the Truth in themselves and in all beings. They also give graphic and insightful descriptions of the various stages in one’s ascent in the ladder of renunciation, or sannyasa, designated variously as Kuticaka, Bahudaka, Hamsa, Paramahamsa, Turiydtita, Avadhuta, and so on. It is very inspiring to study how the ideal of sannyasa has come to grip the national consciousness of India and, having entered deep into its Collective Unconsciousness (as Carl Jung would call it), shaped the entire thought pattern, aspiration, and direction of millions of Indians over the millennia. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda gave a new impetus, breathed a new life, into this system of sannyasa through the revival of what Swami Vivekananda called the Rishi Ideal, a God-man absorbed in Divine communion and radiating Supreme Love and Compassion. Sri Ramakrishna’s own life was the brightest illustration of this Rishi Ideal. Rom.ain Rolland wrote about Ramakrishna as follows: ‘The image of the man I here evoke is the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people: Swami Vivekananda asserted: ‘Whatever the Vedas, the Vedanta, and all other Incarnations (Avatars) have done in the past, Sri Ramakrishna lived to practise in the course of a single life .... He was the explanation [of the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Incarnations and so forth].’
It is therefore in the fitness of things that the Ramakrishna Order of sannyasins should publish a translation of the Sannyasa Upanishads with explanatory notes based both on the traditional interpretation by Upanishad Brahmayogin as well as on Ramakrishna-Vivekananda thought. The copious notes herein reflect both these ancient and modern interpretations. Advaita Ashrama, founded by Swami Vivekananda himself in the lap of the Himalayas, has a long tradition of publishing Vedanta scriptures with English translations of the original texts along with Shankaracharya’s commentaries, particularly of the Upanishads, with elaborate notes wherever necessary. Swami Madhavanandaji’s translations of the following Vedantic and philosophical texts, namely, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, select minor Upanishads, plus one representative text of three of the sad-darsanas (six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy), namely Nyaya, Mimamsa, and Vedanta, are cases in point. The rich translation literature of the scriptures by Swami Gambhiranandaji, who untiringly translated the. fundamental texts of the prasthana-traya with Shankaracharya’s commentaries-that is, all the major Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita (with commentaries of both Shankaracharya and Madhusudana Saraswati), and the Brahma-Sutras-is a jewel in the crown of Advaita Ashrama’s publication treasure-house. To this list may be added so many of the prakarana granthas-that is, independent Vedanta works, like Vivekacudamani, Astavakra Samhita, Aparoksanubhuti, Atmabodha, Drg-drsya Viveka, jivanmuktiviveka, Pancadasi, and several others.
The present volume is a humble attempt along the lines of the above translation literature published by Advaita Ashrama. The Sannyasa Upanishads, besides being of special importance in the monastic tradition of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, also bring to us, moderners, a vivid description of the ascetic, austere, and elevating ideal and practice of the spirit of renunciation, or sannyasa, in ancient times. Of the seventeen Sannyasa Upanishads, Swami Madhavanandaji has already included three-namely, Arunyopanisad, Paramahamsopanisad, and Brabmopanisad-in the volume tided Minor Upanishads translated by him and published by Advaita Ashrama. Of the remaining fourteen, the present volume contains seven-namely, Avadhutopanisad, Katharudropanisad, Kundikopanisad, jabalopanisad, Turiyatita Avadhutopanisad, Parabrahmopanisad, and Bhiksukopanisad, which have been translated herein by the present author. A second volume in this series, containing the remaining seven of the Sannyasa Upanishads, is under preparation and will be published as soon as it is ready in final form. We believe that the present volume of seven of the Sannyasa Upanishads will kindle in the minds of the readers a deeper desire to learn more about the unique system of monasticism, sannyasa-its ideals and practice in ancient times-and help them realize the great value of renunciation and self-sacrifice in modern times in the light of Swami Vivekananda’s ideal embodied in his aphoristic dictum: “atmano moksartham jagaddhitdya ca’, for one’s own liberation and for the good of the world-the modern ideal of sannyasa. Om Tat Sat-’Om That Existence’.
Sri Ramakrsnarpanamastu: May this endeavour be a humble offering to Sri Ramakrishna, the King of renouncers, Tyagisvara, an epithet used by Swami Vivekananda to describe his Master’s supreme and exemplary spirit of renunciation.
Swami Vivekananda said: ‘My whole ambition in life is to set in motion a machinery which will bring noble ideas to the door of everybody, and then let men and women settle their own fate. Let them know what our forefathers as well as other nations have thought on the most momentous questions of life,’ On another occasion he said: ‘For a complete civilization the world is waiting, waiting for the treasures to come out of India, waiting for the marvellous spiritual inheritance of that race, which, through decades of degradation and misery, the nation has still clutched to her breast. The world is waiting for that treasure; little do you know how much of hunger and of thirst there is outside of India for these wonderful treasures of our forefathers .... Little do we understand the heart-pangs of millions waiting outside the walls, stretching forth their hands for a little sip of that nectar which our forefathers have preserved in this land of India.’
Swamiji said that this immortal treasure lies in Vedanta, in the Upanishads. He believed that the wonderful, rational system of Vedanta will be the future religion of humanity.
Swami Vivekananda wanted the truths of Vedanta, of the Upanishads, to become living and vibrant in practical life. He wanted these truths to inform and enlighten the minds and hearts of millions of Indians and people of the world: ‘The dry, abstract Advaita must become living-poetic-in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering Yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology-and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life’s work.’
In a humble effort to actualize this vision of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, founded by Swamiji himself in the lap of the Himalayas, has been consistently publishing and propagating the message of the Upanishads since its very inception. The original Sanskrit texts along with English translations of the original mantras, as well as the commentaries of Shankaracharya thereon have been published by Advaita Ashrama on all the major and some minor Upanishads, which have become immensely popular. In the same line comes the present book containing select minor Upanishads which have a special bearing on renunciation or sannyasa, and hence are called Sannyasa Upanishads. They contain inspiring passages revealing the sublime thoughts of our ancient sages on the life of renunciation, asceticism, and complete absorption in Brahman, the Supreme Reality, Existence-Awareness-Joy, satchidananda.
The present volume is the first in the series, and a second volume is under preparation. Elaborate explanatory notes have been added based upon, and in the light of, the commentaries by Upanishad Brahmayogin and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. We believe that this addition to the Upanishadic and Vedantic literature already published by Advaita Ashrama will serve a great purpose in elevating and enlightening, enabling, and empowering the minds of modern men and women living in a panic-stricken, strife-torn, conflict-ridden world of increasing uncertainty.
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