The Upanishads have been called the Himalayas of the soul. A grand title with more than a suggestion of a loftiness beyond the grasp of ordinary mortals of abstract thought on such an elevated plane that it demands a kind of mental wrestling. Yes there is that too the best things seldom come easily as the texts themselves point out and the spiritual path is as difficult to tread as the edge of a razor.
And yet the power of their words and the beauty of their phrasing lift us into a sphere of instinctive understanding where the mind transcends words to respond to the sweep of an idea. Who can fail to be moved by the description of the lotus of the heart within which is a space where dwells the Atman the self, the Soul, call is what you will. In the Chandogya Upanishad this self is smaller than a grain of rice a canary seed smaller even then the kernel of a canary seed. But the space within the lotus of the heart is infinite as vast and endless as the universe and it holds the heavens and the earth the sun and the moon, fire, lightning and winds for the whole universe is in him and he dwells within our heart. In fact he is us and we are him. Atman within us and Brahman the supreme godhead are one and the same.
This rooted identity is one of the core lessons of the Upanishads. It is borne out be many of its oft-quoted and most famous sayings the Mahavakyas such as Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman – the affirmation of the self as divine So ham – he am I – the identity of self and God expressed by the natural movement of our very life force breath the so of inhaling and the ham of exhaling.
This affirmation is brilliantly conveyed in the famous lesson given to Svetakeru by his father Uddalaka, “Tat Tvam Asi” thou art. That subtle essence the spirit of the universe which cannot be seen but is present everywhere. That is Reality in that all beings have their existence. That is also the self Tat Tvam Asi, Thou art That. Thus the divine is not an entity separate from us but rather is within us the higher self in us above this pettings of the ego.
But what are the Upanishads and by what intuitive leap did they set down these truths? There are believed to be literally hundreds of them 200 or 300 according to various scholars 108 according to traditional reckoning of which only a few (between ten and fourteen) are accorded the status of principal texts. Of these the ones in prose such as the Brihad aranyaka and the Kena are considered, older, belonging to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The Upanishads are also the Vedanta, the end of the Vedas the summation of the truths that have gone before.
And yet if the world of the Vedas is the magnificent vision of wide vistas and endless plains of broad rivers and roaring winds in short natural phenomena deified through incomparable poetry then that of the Upanishads turns inwards to study the nature of the divine and its identity with the self. If the Vedas represent rituals sacrifices and full throated invocations to the Gods the Upanishads seek to answer the age old question: Who am I ?
Not all the answers come with one voice. Indeed there are areas of apparent contradiction but then the ideas do not exclude one another. And the Upanishads represent the collective spiritual experience of a number of great sages truths realized through individual lives and insights of vision not the syllogism of a uniform logic.
In the Upanishads Satya and Ananda are one through Bliss we grasp the Reality that is infinite without end. Om is the sacred sound that reverberates throughout the Vedas and the Upanishads. In shanty peace is evoked in its widest sense as a benison for the individual as well as for all mankind and the physical world that surrounds us. Anant is the spirit of the infinite the infinite which is bliss and Atman is the encompassing beginning with the simple and moving prayer for harmony. But the Anand of the Taittiriya Upanishad is the culmination of the pathway to Brahman the evolution from food through vitality the mind and wisdom to the ultimate Bliss linked aspects that make us realize the essential unity of life. In the end the perceiver and the perceived are one all is Brahman all is joy.
Impossible to encompass the vastness of these texts or to give more than the merest glimpse of their astonishing intuitions and compassionate outlook. But says the Kena Upanishads of Brahman he comes to the Self in the wonder of a flash of vision and if during this album you experience that wonder that flash, then the beginning of a connection has been made. The beginning of a journey in the words of the invocation from the Brihad aranyaka Upanishad from the unreal to the real from darkness to light from death to immortality.
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