It gives me great pleasure to be able to mention that with the publication of this book, I have been able to fulfil the desire of my Spiritual Teacher, the late Prof. R.D. Ranade, who wrote in his Foreword to my book Vedanta Explained , that I "should sometime undertake to expound the text of the Upanisads seriatim so that (my) exposition will also be found eminently readable as it will introduce readers to the contents of the Upanisads at first-and, in the same clear manner." And as I had done the translation of Sankara Bhasya of the Brahma Sutras, Prof. Ranade had further expressed the hope that my "translation will enable some at least to rise on the ladder of Vedanta Philosophy to its real spirit, namely, the first-hand contact with reality, which is the beginning, the end, and the life of the world Tajjalan."
The Upanisads are a compendium of various trends of philosophical ideas of the ancient seers of India. They are a blend of speculative approach and revealed insight. As such, their philosophical thought as a whole, regarding the ultimate metaphysical questions, regarding Mind, Matter and God, cannot be said to be an anti-rationalistic, anti-emotional, or anti-volitional; but, at the same time, it should not be forgotten that the Upanisads have a further dimension: they are spiritual in nature. Therefore, ideas about God and the Absolute are not merely logical concepts, but matters of faith and direct and immediate experience, as the late Professor R.D. Ranade used to say.
Naturally the next question is as to how we should have this direct vision of the God-head. The Upanisadic seers have answered by saying that moral perfection and spiritual discipline must go hand in hand. Whereas moral perfection can be achieved by resorting to desirelessness, spiritual discipline can only be perfected by meditation and contemplation as instructed by the spiritual teacher. If desirelessness is the ultimate and in Ethics, the bliss which one has by following the spiritual discipline is not due to acquiring material objects like wealth, progeny and fame. The source of this joy must therefore be found in some supra-sensuous Reality, namely, the Atman God. Then, certainly, such supra-sensuous joy cannot be measured by any unit of the mundane pleasures.
A Third important point which emerges out of what has been said above is regarding the supremacy of the Atman or God. The Upanisadic seers have very ingeniously solved the problem by equating the two, and by further equating them with the Absolute. This they could do by eliminating one after another the various limitations, namely, the body, the mind, the senses, the intellect and egoism, as a being no better than illusions or dreams. What remains, then, as a hard bed-rock is the reality of the Atman as immanent, or the same entity known as God and as being transcendent, or as the Absolute when the two are synthesised. Thus they could easily jump from 'I am the Brahman' to 'This Atman is Brahman', and from this again to 'All this is Brahman'. In short, the Upanisadic philosophy ends in positing an Idealistic Monism which fortunately does not end in Solipsism. But instead, it ends in Spiritual Altruism which teaches man to be loyal to God, to be one with Him, and to serve humanity in the spirit that it is the service to God.
In accomplishing this difficult task I have been immensely helped be my friend Mr. Jagannath Vyas, M.A. in various ways. He has gone through all the page-proofs of the volume very carefully and has prepared the index, for which I cannot be too grateful to him. I must also mention here with thankfulness his son, Anand Kumar Vyas, who was ready to help me at my beck and call. My other two friends, Prof. Mohanlal Sharma and Prof. Mahaveer Prasad Vyas, deserve my thanks since occasionally they also used to help me in rechecking the proofs. Mr. Kanhayalal Joshi has put me under great obligation by getting the manuscript typed. It will be no exaggerations say that by undertaking the publication of the two volumes of Upanisads Retold, the Allied Publishers have brought the message of the Upanisads at the very doors of the aspiring souls. How can I omit to express my heart felt thankfulness to them?
I am glad that God as made me the instrument of fulfilling His Plan.
Two questions can generally be asked about any literary work: What does it contain? What is its use? An adequate answer to these is the justification of its existence and of its value. What have we to say about the necessity of retelling the Upanisads, especially in view of the incredible advance in technology and science and the tremendous growth of speculative philosophy and psychology? To fail to answer the two questions is to confess to the attempt of reviving a dead horse.
The Upanisads contain what the empirical sciences do not contain and their usefulness is like that of a piece of sugarcandy to a blind their usefulness is like that of a piece of sugarcandy to a blind man when it is put in his mouth. Science deal with what can be observed and measured by the senses, the mind, or the intellect, though the progress in ethics and metaphysics has been only speculative and attractive, as a cobweb. The Upanisads too are no doubt scientific in their approach in so far as their statements are capable of being observed and tested by personal experimentation and objective measurement and summed up as generalization of the spiritual life. If science is valuable in ameliorating the material prosperity of man, and philosophy in producing the intellectual pleasure, the religion of the Upanisads is valuable in bringing the humanity at large in the common fold of kinship with God, by creating in them the bonds of mutual trust, fellow-feeling, and helpful love towards each other. Ethical theories and standards of behaviour may clash with each other, philosophical system can be found to be contradictory, and the conclusions of different science may not be coherent; but the Upanisadic spiritual worth of man will remain eternally the same, whether he is a Hindu of a Christian or of some other faith, for the simple reason that God is neither a Christian nor a Hindu.
Against the general background let us now look into the salient features of the Upanisads as they have been shown to us by the late Prof. R.D. Ranade, in his great work, Constructive Survey of Upanisadic Philosophy.
1. In the first place, the Upanisads are generally believed to be revealed; but what revelation means is that it the spontaneous utterance of certain God intoxicated sages.
2. The Upanisads give us a view of Reality which is supported by a direct, first-hand, intuitive, mystical experience which no science can impeach, which is the end of all philosophies, and which is the innermost truth of all religions.
3. They mark the transition from the Nature-gods to Self, from the hymnology to reflection, from henotheistic polytheism to monotheistic mysticism. No longer is there any fear of the wrath of the personified gods; and so, they mark the transition from emotion and imagination of the Rgveda to thought and reason of the post-Vedic period. Hence, the guardian of natural and moral order does not come from without, but springs from the Atman who is the synthesis of what is both outside and inside, and who is varitably the ballast of nature.
4. The Atman is the Ultimate category of existence to the Upanisadic seers. The Self must be regarded as the innermost existence, while the cosmological, physiological, and psychological elements are only external vestures which clothe the reality but which do not constitute it.
5. Hence, neither the bodily consciousness of the materialists, nor the "etheric double: of the Theosophists nor te sleeping consciousness which is really unconsciousness or ignorance, nor the twilight to the creative, dreaming state which is formed of imagination and memory nor again the so-called sheaths made of food, Prana, mind, and knowledge, are able to define the Self. It is the pure, wakeful, blissful consciousness of itself and is therefore identical with God and the Brahman.
6. God then comes to be recognized as the immanent, the innermost, and the supreme soul of all other souls and the beings of the world. Like sparks from fire or like the thread emanating from the body of the spider, all the beings emanate from Him: God is therefore the Creator, the sustainer and the controller from within (the Antaryamin) and the end of all.
7. As He is both immanent and transcendent, he must be realized in both these aspects. He must be realized not only as the in-dwelling Atman or the Antaryamin, but also as the transcendent Atman, as the Bahiryamin. When both these aspects are seen as identical with each other, one gets the double assurance that what he has realized is neither an illusion nor a projection of the creative mind, neither an after-image of the perception of some idol, nor a short-lived object of the external world.
8. And when the same atman or God is seen as smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest, as being very near and far off at the same time, everywhere and at all time, he is called the Absolute or the Brahman as transcending even the limitations of space and time.
9. And when further the Atman is experienced as possessing various attributes, he is described as Saguna Brahman or God, but when he is experienced as not being limited by any one of the attributes, he becomes known as the Nirguna Brahman, or the Absolute and is then described in negative terms as "not this, not this". There are passages which describe the Brahman as possessing innumerable hands, feet, heads, eyes etc, and as being devoid of them all, and yet paradoxically, as the fastest of all, as seeing everything etc. in short, as being both static and dynamic.
10. The Atman is said to be unknowable as an expression of humility, but this does not mean that he is unknowable as an agnostic would say. The Atman is not a logical necessity as in Kant; it is the object of realization for the Upanisadic seers.
11. No doubt, if the Atman is the eternal subject, he cannot be the object of the empirical knowledge of any one. But this will not prevent the Atman to be the object of his own knowledge, just as one is not prevented from seeing one's own face in a mirror. The non-sensuous, eternal Atman is capable of beholding himself outside the body as if he is divided into two one of the original and the other his reflection, just as the face in the mirror is the image of the human face before the mirror. The difference, however, is this. Whereas the face before the mirror is real, and that which appears inside the mirror is false, the Atman within the body and the Atman without the body are one and the same and is real both ways. The Upanisad defines the Atman as the serene Being who emerging out of the body meets the light above and manifests in front of the mystic in his own immaculate form. There can be no two Atmans, one inner and the other outer, one Antaryamin, and the other Bahiryamin, one immanent and the other transcendent Atman. It is however the presence of the body that creates the feeling of the two aspects of the two aspects of the Atman. In fact, the Atman is one; and though in appearance he has the form of the body, it must be remembered that the immaculate form is the Reality and that the physical body is only a shadow or a short-lived image of that from. Hence the body is mortal, the Atman is immortal and eternal.
12. If then the 'I' is identical with God and the Absolute, then the, 'Thou' also, by parity of reasoning, is identical with God and the Absolute. This means that the 'I' and the 'Thou' or what is the same thing as the self and the not-self, or the individual soul and the Nature outside (including the souls of my fellow-beings) are identical with God and so with each other. Thus are the pluralistic and the dualistic aspects of the worldly existence dissolved in the one, pantheistic, mystical Reality call it as the Atman or the Brahman. Theism is said to resolve the difference between Deism and Pantheism. Between a transcendent God and an immanent God. But this would be quite correct if the worshipper stands outside the two realms of Deism and Pantheism.
But if he discovers that he is the Atman who is the worshipper and who is the worshipped, then it is in him that both transcendence and immanence will be resolved rather than he in any one of them. The Atman would be the highest category f existence metaphysically, epistemologically, and psychologically. Nay, even ethically and mystically the self-realization must be considered as the highest end of man, since the allurements of the not-self which are naturally ingrained in the human being are to be gradually weaned away and the Self is to be made to stand in its native purity and grandeur. As the Brhadaranyakopanisad (1.14.8) tells us the Atman is and ought to be the highest object of our desire, higher than progeny, higher than wealth or any other thing. Therefore, the realizer of the Atman loves the Atman; he plays and enjoys the company of the Atman. And as he sees the Atman everywhere and always, he goes beyond all duals, all grief, infatuation and misery. He lives in perpetual bliss and peace.
13. The Upanisads say with one voice that the realization of the Atman or the Brahman will not be possible unless someone who has already realized the Brahman shows us the correct way and the method of meditation and contemplation on the Name or symbol of God such as Om. One who has lost his way on account of his being kidnapped and made blindfolded will require the help and guidance of someone who is kind-hearted and who knows the way. The path of God-realization being the narrowest and the subtlest of all, one who wishes to travel on it will necessarily be in need of an expert guide. Without the grace of a spiritual teacher or the Guru one may wander and wander through the forest of Mays till the end of one's life, but one will never be out of it.
14. In the interest of the highest development of which man's consciousness is capable, it is as impossible to divide metaphysics from morality, as it is to divide morality from spiritual life. Just as intelligence without morality might turn out to be sophistry, even so spiritual life without morality will be hypocrisy; while morality without the support of intelligence and spiritual discipline might become hollow and imperfect. If the metaphysical theory of the blissful Brahmanic life is to be a practical reality, none can afford to be indifferent to morality. If desirelessness is the sign of the highest bliss which is achievable by being one with the Brahman, it cannot then be measured in terms of happiness or joy attending upon the pleasures of progeny, wealth, or fame. The realization of the Atman cannot be simply a theoretical ideal, an insipid and soul-less intellectual conviction; it means, as the great sag Yajnavalkya told his wife Maitreyi that " the Atman ought to be seen, ought to be heard, ought to be thought about ad ought to be meditated upon. "But in order to be able to contemplate upon the Atman, mere intellectual understanding will not be enough. It must be backed up by a virtuous life. The transition fro theory to practice, from metaphysics to mysticism, must be made through a self-imposed moral life of altruistic virtues.
15. And finally, when contemplation upon the divine Name becomes fruitful by the grace of the spiritual teacher as of God. And the mystic comes to realize the Atman as Brahman, the earlier notions of an empirical 'I' and 'Thou' as well as of the 'Nature' outside appear to him as good as naught. Desires, doubts, fear, and infatuation vanish of themselves. In other words, when the 'I' in 'I am the Brahman', the 'thou' in 'That thou art', and the 'all' in 'All this is Brahman' vanish o themselves in the unique, blissful, and constant experience of the Atman as being identical with the Brahman, there would remain no trace of the consciousness of the tiny individuality of a separate ego, no limitation of space and time, and no fear of any disease, old age, or death. A life of immortality and limitless Ananda even while one is living will be the divine reward for one who leads a morally good life and a life of spiritual meditation and contemplation on the divine Name and Form, respectively as instructed by the spiritual teacher. This is the eternal message of all the Upanisads; and this is the justification of retelling that message.
About the Book:
In this book, the author has provided a free rendering of Upanisads in a simple and forceful style. He has presented their main ideas of which he displays a firm grasp, in an intelligent and easily assimilable manner. This is not a mere translation, but as author has explained and commented on them, are also provided an interpretation of their philosophy.
About the Author:
Dr. V. H. Date (1900 - 1987) was Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy, Rajasthan University and Founder-Director of Adhyatma Sahitva Vikas Sanstha, Jodhpur. He has published several books and articles.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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