This book owes its origin to my acquaintance with 'Sri P. S. Narasimhan, formerly of the International Labour Organisation, Geneva. A Master of Arts in Economics, Shri Narasimhan taught that subject in Loyola College, Madras, from 1933 to 1945. Then he joined the I.L.O., Geneva and worked in that organisation in various capacities for nearly three decades from 1945 to 1973.
After retirement from the I.L.O., Shri Narasimhan had interested himself with Vedanta, more particularly with Advaita Vedanta, a branch of Hindu philosophy. He studied commentaries of Vidhyaranya and Sureshwaracharya. To overcome his handicap caused by the diminution of his vision, he engaged Sanskrit teachers to read for him Sanskrit works. As a result of his experience in such studies, he brought out a compilation in Sanskrit under the auspices of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, titled Advaita Vedanta Sara- in Sankara's own words. To explain why he felt it necessary to bring out such a compilation, I will quote him:
“… I found the commentaries difficult to understand and follow… The basic features of the Advaita philosophy are not developed in a systematic order but are developed purely as interpretations of the texts. For example, the basic concepts of what knowledge (Vidya) is, is interpreted fully only in Sankara's introduction to the Brahma Sutras and in his introduction to the Brahad Aranyaka Upanisad. The concept of Liberation to be achieved solely by knowledge is fully developed in his commentaries on the 4th Chapter of the latter Upanisad, and in his commentaries on the Advaita Prakarana of Karikas to Mandukya Upanisad …….Thirdly, as the commentaries follow the order of the Upanisads, there is considerable repetition and one does not know in which particular place an important idea is developed and expounded in full".
In the compilation of Shri Narasimhan, an attempt has been made to bring together the most lucid and comprehensive comments of Shri Sankara on the various aspects of Vedanta under ten principal themes in their logical order.
I was lucky to be introduced to Shri P. S. Narasimhan by my elder and respected friend, Major (Retd.) Shri P. Kailsam Iyer and the introduction turned out to be very beneficial to me. Till then, I was only vaguely aware of the Upanisads. Sri Narasimhan very patiently explained to me the contents of his book for nearly two years. (He has since passed away at the age of 82 in 1996). During the course of our discussions it occured to me that Sri Narasimhan's book should be brought out in English also to enable more persons to become aware of the quintessense of the Upanisads. Sri Kailsam Iyer backed the proposal whole heartedly and Dr. P. N. Shankar and his wife Priti (son and daughter-in law of Shri Narasimhan) generously came forward with large financial assistance to bring out the English version. I am very grateful to them for their very generous guidance and help.
I offer my respectful thanks and Pranams to H.H. Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Mutt for blessing the present publication.
I am very happy to be associated with the publication of the book Upanisads - What do they say?, an English version of the Sanskrit Book, Advaita Vedanta Sara by my late friend, Shri P. S. Narasimhan. There are already several books on Upanisads. It may, therefore, be asked why one more book on this subject?
It is a matter of common knowledge that the feeling of "One Humanity", is yet to gain ground not only among the people of India but also among different peoples in several countries. Each group of people believing in a particular religious faith, or political or economic ideology thinks its conclusions are the ones which all other sections of the world must accept. That is why, man is still fighting man causing immense damage to the social fabric besides causing material loss.
The Doctrine of Atma, more particularly of ADVAITA (Non Dualism) is the need of the hour. This ancient branch of Hindu philosophy believes that the entire Universe is the manifestation of Brahman and each one of the living beings inclusive of animals and plants right upto a blade of grass derives its reality from the spark of consciousness lodged in each of them. It is the link between Brahman and the inhabitants of the universe. If Consiousness is finally lost, all bodies become dead matter. If we realise this truth, we will begin to tolerate the existence of several bodies both human and others and live in harmony. There is only Antaryami (Witnessing Universal Soul) which is none else than Brahman. We should try to achieve unity with this Antaryami-Brahman. [The words Brahman and Brahma have different meanings. See notes].
What prevents us from achieving this unity with Brahman? The Upanisads say that it is ignorance which deludes us. Ignorance of what? The ignorance of not realising that the Individual Self is none else than the Universal Self. Ignorance arises due to Maya (ignorance obscuring the vision of Brahman), the cosmic illusion on account of which the one appears as many. (The Absolute relative). The term Maya is also used to denote attachment. We identify ourselves with the body, develop desires which lead to actions both just and unjust. These actions bind us.
Therefore, Hindu philosophy propounds the theory of Karma (work) and Transmigration of Individual Soul. i.e. Rebirth. According to this theory, each living and cognizing organism gets a body according to the result of its work in its previous birth. Rebirth becomes inevitable and the chain of Birth and Death continues. If one wants real happiness and does not want to return to experience pleasure and pain one must cast off all desires and meditate on Brahman and achieve union with the same.
Now the following question arises. The world is very real and as long as one lives, how is it possible to give up desires. Will it not promote inactivity? Upanisads and Bhagavad Gita (the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra) are clear on this question. Legitimate action and desires are not prohibited. The dynamics of Karma is to be understood properly. Keeping in view that the reality of the world is only apparent and relative with reference to Eternal Reality viz. God (Brahman) one should perform work but surrender the fruits of work to God. This way bondage can be avoided. Unselfish service to all living beings will open the door to God. Dualism should not be seen. If it is realised that the soul in each one of us and the universal Soul are one and the same and develop a dispassionate approach to everything, animosity will disappear. Everything is Brahman.
This philosophy of non-dualism is not forced on anybody. Each one has to try to remove ignorance, reach unity with God by unselfish work and meditation. It will be relavant to quote Bhagvan Ramana Maharishi (who lived in Tamil Nadu during the period from 1879 to 1950).
"But ordered silence is not the peace that passeth understanding From silence thought remerges and the breath trembles into movement.
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