Introduction to the Upanishads by Sri Aurobindo

  1. The Upanishads are a great work of the Indian mind.
  2. The genius of the Indian mind has been very well expressed through the profound character of the spiritual revelation in the Upanishads.
  3. This shows that Indians have a unique mentality and unusual turn of the spirit.
  4. The Upanishads are a record of the deepest spiritual experiences of the rishis of that time.
  5. The Upanishads have been written by a mind in which religion, philosophy and poetry are made one.
  6. They rise beyond all cults and religious-ethical conventions, and speak of the infinite discovery of God and of Self.
  7. It is not an abstract intellectual speculation but a Truth that is seen, felt and lived.
  8. It gives all the truths about the self, God and the universe.
  9. The Vedic seers had a combination of an intuitive mind and psychological experience.
  10. The Katha Upanishad says that the Spirit builds its very own body.
  11. It has to be remembered that the Upanishads are not merely intellectual texts but convey spiritual experiences of the seers who wrote the verses.
  12. Many foreign translators of the Upanishads miss the above point.
  13. The utterances of the Upanishads do not reveal to the intellect alone but also to the soul and the whole being.
  14. Hence they can also be called sruti or inspired Scripture.
  15. The Upanishads have been acknowledged to be the source of numerous religions and philosophies that have flowed from India.
  16. Buddhism is a kind of restatement of the essence of the Upanishads. Buddhism carried this in a new form but the same substance all over Asia and westward towards Europe.
  17. The ideas of the Upanishads can be found in the thought of Pythagoras and Plato and also in Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism which influenced the philosophical thinking of the West. Sufism repeats the teachings of the Upanishads using another religious language.
  18. The larger part of German metaphysics is also greatly influenced by the Upanishads.
  19. In fact there is hardly a main philosophical idea which cannot find its seed in the Upanishads.
  20. The larger generalizations of Science which apply to physical Nature have already been discovered by the Indian sages during the time of the Upanishads.
  21. Upanishads are not a work of the intellect.
  22. The Vedantic seers saw the Truth rather than merely thought it. They saw self-existence in the light of the Infinite. That is why the teachings of the Upanishads are still alive and immortal.
  23. The Upanishads are Vedanta, a book of knowledge higher even than the Vedas. But they are knowledge in a profounder sense of Jnana.
  24. The teachings of the Upanishads are not merely the mental forms of truth grasped by the intellectual mind but the seeing of the Truth by the soul and a total living in it with the power of the inner being.
  25. Sri Aurobindo says that the spiritual seizing by a kind of identification with the object of knowledge is jnana.
  26. The Vedantic sages sought to know the self, to live in it and to be one with it in identity.
  27. They came to see that this self in us is one with the universal self of all things and this self again is the same as God or Brahman, a transcendent Being or Existence.
  28. The Upanishads are epic hymns of self-knowledge, world-knowledge and God-knowledge.
  29. The great formulations of philosophic truths in the Upanishads are not abstract intellectual generalisations that enlighten the mind but are intuitive and revelatory illumination. They are the reaching and seeing of the transcendent Godhead, the universal Self and the relationship of this Self with the things and creatures in this cosmic existence.
  30. These hymns take us close to the Ananda of the Divine which comes to us by oneness with the self-existent and universal Spirit.
  31. The highest ethics of Buddhism and later Hinduism are emergences from this supreme ideal of spiritual action founded on oneness with God and all living beings.
  32. That is why even when the Vedic cult passed away, the Upanishads remained alive and creative and could generate devotional religions and maintain the idea of Dharma.
  33. The Upanishads are the creation of an intuitive mind and its illumined experience and all the substance and essence of the texts is stamped with this original character.
  34. The phrases and poetic sentences of the Upanishads help us to discover a whole infinite through a finite image.
  35. All the metaphysical truths and psychological experience are made clear both to the mind and the spirit.
  36. There are a number of small couplets or phrases which by itself contain a vast philosophy and yet are thrown out as an aspect or portion of the infinite self-knowledge.
  37. The thought developed in the Upanishads cannot follow the tardy lines of logical intelligence.
  38. There is a pregnant silence between two lines or phrases of the Upanishads and this silence between the lines is meant for the mind to work out the details by itself. It is similar to a Titan striding from rock to distant rock across infinite waters.
  39. The metrical forms of the Upanishads are made up of four half lines each clearly cut – the lines are mostly complete in themselves. The half lines present two thoughts or distinct parts of a thought that complete each other.
  40. Each verse of the Upanishad is so poetic and the sound movement is such that each verse is like a wave of the infinite that carries in it the whole voice and rumour of the ocean.
  41. This kind of poetry has not been written before or after.
  42. The imagery of the Upanishads is in large part similar to the type of imagery of the Veda. A number of western scholars for this reason have said that the Upanishads are the awkward stammerings of the child mind of humanity.
  43. The Upanishads are not a revolutionary departure from the Vedic mind and its ideas but a continuation and development and also a transformation in the sense of bringing out into open expression all that was held covered in the symbolic Vedic speech.
  44. The Upanishads take up the imagery of the Vedas and Brahmanas and bring out the inner and mystic sense in them which acts as a psychical starting point for its own evolved spiritual philosophy.
  45. There are many passages in the prose Upanishads which are obscure and unintelligible to the modern understanding but have the psychic sense of ideas like the distinction between the three kinds of Veda, the three worlds etc. these ideas lead to the deepest spiritual truths.
  46. These passages cannot be dismissed as childish but on the contrary have a deep enough significance once we get inside their symbolic meaning.
  47. The symbols in the Upanishad pass from psycho-physical upwards into psycho-spiritual knowledge. These are still valid for those who practise Yoga and want to rediscover the secrets of our psycho-physical and psycho-spiritual being.
  48. Examples of the above kind are Ajathashatru’s explanation of sleep and dream or the passages of the Prashna Upanishad on the vital principle and its motions.
  49. There is a passage from the Isha in which Surya the Sun-God is invoked as the godhead of knowledge and his rays dispersed here on the mental level are the shining diffusion of the thought mind and conceal his own supramental truth.
  50. The Vedic and Vedantic imagery is foreign to our present mentality which does not believe in the living truth of the symbol. Our imagination has been intimated by the intellect. Hence we are unable to see the psychic and spiritual vision of the Upanishads.
  51. Upanishads are very far from a childish, primitive or barbarous mysticism. The poetic intuitive language of the Upanishads is the natural expression of a highly evolved spiritual culture.
  52. The intuitive thought of the Upanishads starts from this concrete imagery and symbols, these words are wholly expressive to the mind of the seer but veils their deepest sense to the ordinary intelligence. They then move beyond to a magnificently open and sublime imagery that at once reveals the spiritual truth.
  53. The prose Upanishads show us this process of the early mind of India at its work using the symbol and then passing beyond it to the overt expression of the spiritual significance.
  54. The above mentioned theme is well illustrated in a passage from the Prashna Upanishad explaining the power and significance of the syllable AUM.
  55. A prose passage from the Prashna Upanishad explains the meaning of the word “AUM”. “If man meditates on the first letter “A” then he attains to knowledge. This is the world of Riks. Here he experiences the greatness of the spirit. If man meditates on the second letter “U” he is led to the middle world of the Soma by the Yajus and such a man is accomplished in mind. Here he experiences the majesty of the spirit. If man meditates on the third letter “M” he reaches the highest Purusha and is perfected in the light that is the Sun. As a snake puts off his skin so will man be relieved from sin and evil. This is the world of Samans. The man who utters “AUM” is led to the inner, outer and middle action of the spirit. The man who possesses the knowledge of AUM is led to the supreme spirit which is calm, ageless, fearless and immortal.”
  56. The symbols described above in the passage of the Prashna Upanishad are obscure to our intelligence but represent a psychical experience leading to different states of spiritual realisation. Later in Mandukya Upanishad these symbols are cast aside and the true significance of these three letters is brought forth before us.
  57. Our modern thought is returning to the knowledge that behind the operations of our outward physical consciousness are other operations that are subliminal of which our waking mind is the surface action.
  58. When we look at the passage on AUM in the Prashna Upanishad we see that though these utterances may seem perplexing to our rational mind, they cannot be dismissed as childish mysticism. These are imaged expressions natural to the mentality of the Vedantic time. Our reason itself by its own processes is now showing that these teachings are true and that the Upanishads carry a profound truth and real reality of knowledge.
  59. The metrical Upanishads continue this symbolism but pass beyond this kind of image to the overt expression.
  60. The Self, Spirit, the Godhead in man and creatures and Nature and all this world and other worlds and beyond all cosmos, the Immortal, the One, the Infinite is hymned without veils in the splendor of his eternal transcendence and his manifold self-revelation.
  61. A few passages from the teaching of Yama, Lord of Death to Nachiketas will be enough to illustrate it:
  62. “Om is the syllable. This syllable is the Brahman and the Supreme. He who knows OM, whatsoever he wills, it is his. The support of OM is the highest and best and heightens man into the world of Brahman. The Omniscient is not born, nor dies, nor is he anyone. He is unborn, constant and eternal. The wise man comes to know that the great Lord and Self established and bodiless in these bodies that pass and has no longer any grief. The Self is to be won not by teaching nor by brain-power nor learning. He whom the Spirit chooses, by him alone it can be won, and to him this Spirit discloses its own very body. One who has not ceased from ill-doing, one who is not concentrated and calm, one whose mind is not tranquil, shall not get the Spirit by the brain’s wisdom.”
  63. The prose passage in Katha Upanishad continues as follows:“The Self has made his doors outward, therefore man sees outward and not in the inner self. Only a wise man turns his eyes inward, desiring immortality and looks on the Self face to face. The child minds follow after surface desires and fall into the net of death. The wise man comes to know the great Lord and Self by whom one sees all that is in the soul that wakes and all that is in the soul that dreams and has grief no longer. The infinite Mother resides within the secret cavern of being of all creatures. This is the Fire that has knowledge and is hidden just as an embryo is borne in pregnant women. This is the Fire to which offering has to be made. A Purusha no bigger than a thumb stands in man’s central self and is the lord of what was and what shall be and knowing him one shrinks from nothing that is. A Purusha no bigger than a man’s thumb and he is like a light without smoke. It is he that is today and it is he that shall be tomorrow.”
  64. The Upanishads abound with passages which are both poetry and spiritual philosophy at the same time.
  65. There are other passages in which the subtlest psychological and philosophical truths are expressed without falling short of poetic beauty and these are presented to the mind and the soul and not just to the understanding intelligence.
  66. There are some of the prose Upanishads which give us a brief glimpse of the spiritual enquiry and passion for the highest knowledge which made the Upanishads possible.
  67. The scenes of the old world live before us in a few pages: the sages sitting in their groves ready to test and teach the comer, princes and learned Brahmins going about in search of knowledge, and some great personalities like Janaka, Ajathashatru, Raikwa and Yajnavalkya. Krishna the son of Devaki who heard a single word of the Rishi Ghora and knew at once the Eternal.
  68. We see how the soul of India was born and how this great birth-song soared from the earth to the spirit. The Vedas and Upanishads are not only the sufficient fountain-head of Indian philosophy and religion but of all Indian art, poetry and literature. It was the soul, the temperament, the ideal expressed in them which later carved out the great philosophies, built the structure of Dharma, recorded the Mahabharata and Ramayana, renewed its spiritual and psychic experience in Tantra and Purana, cast its thought and vision in stone and bronze and poured itself into new channels of self-expression and re-emerges for a new life and a new creation.

#TheUpanishads #Sri Aurobindo

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