Social Message of the Upanishads

by Sanchita Kundu | 2020 | 29,269 words

This study deals with the ethical principles of human society as gleaned from the Upanishads: a category of ancient Sanskrit philosophical texts dealing with spiritual insights and meditation. Their teachings deal with gaining control over one’s senses in order to find and attain the ultimate goal of life. The universal vision of these Upanishads p...

Chapter 3 - Main focus of the Upanishads

Root of Indian Philosophy is there in the Upaniṣads. Winternitz says—''In fact the whole of later philosophy of the Indians is rooted in the Upaniṣads''.[1]

Upaniṣads deals with the knowledge of Brahman. Śankara says—

''seyaṃ brahmavidyā upaniṣacchabdavācyā''.[2]

The knowledge imparted in the Upaniṣads leads to salvation. Mukti or Salvation is cessation of suffering. We suffer due to our ignorance. As darkness is dispelled by light in the similar way ignorance is destroyed by knowledge. So Upaniṣads hold one should know Supreme Self which is only reality ātmā vāre draṣṭavyaḥ.[3]

Realisation of Self discards ignorance and thus suffering caused by ignorance is destroyed. Upaniṣad says—

''tameva viditvātimṛtyumeti.''[4]

There is no other means for salvation-

'' nānyaḥ panthā vidyate'yanāya''.[5]

There are many Upaniṣads. Among them Hundred and eight are specially glorious.

Muktikopaniṣad says—

''sarvopaniṣdāṃ madhye sāramaṣṭottaraṃ śatam.''[6]

Again among these hundred and eight ten Upaniṣads are most famous. It has been said in Muktikopaniṣad

''īśakenakaṭhapraśnamuṇḍamāṇḍukyatittiriḥ /
aitareyaṃ ca chāndogyaṃ bṛhadāraṇyakaṃ daśa //''

Ᾱcārya Śankara has commented upon these ten Upaniṣads. Upaniṣads form a class of literature existing over long century. It is hard to determine the chronology of the Upaniṣads. However those on which Śankara has commented are considered to be older.

Upaniṣads are ascribed to pre-Buddhist period. It was probably the non-priestly circle opposed to the Brāhmanical way of sacrificial teaching that followed the way of knowledge. Spiritual teaching of the Upaniṣads could be imparted to advanced students.

The aspirants were tested before imparting lessons. When Nārada approached Sanat Kumara saying teach me ''Oh venerable Sir'', Sanat Kumara said ''tell me what you know, I shall tell you the things which are beyond them''—

''tatasta ūrdhvaṃ vkṣyāmīti sa hovāca''.[8]

The fundamental doctrine of all the Upaniṣads may be summed up in the expression ''verily the world is Brahma''.[9]

''omkāra evedaṃ sarvam.''[10]

The main teaching of Upaniṣads is that the finest essence, the whole universe has it as its self, that is the real—

''aitadātmyamidaṃ sarvaṃ tat satyam."[11]

Upaniṣads hold that though the lump of clay appears to be transformed into pot, pitcher etc all the transformations of clay are basically clay, various names are attributed to it, similarly there is no substance called transformation. Reality is Brahman.

''vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttiketyeva satyam''.[12]

All transformation is mere name, all this is based on speech. Badarāyaṇa says—


If the world would have been the effect of Brahman, there would have been difference between these two. But Advaitins establish this world is mere appearance. Realty is Brahman. World has no real entity.

Chāndogyopaniṣad says—

''sa ātmā tattvamasi''.[14]

''That is the Self. Thou art that''.

Muṇdaka Upaniṣads says—

''brahmaivedaṃ viśvam''.[15]

"All this is but Brahman".

Bṛhadāranyakoḍaniṣad holds—

''neha nānāsti kiṅcana. ''[16]

There is nothing more than one.

Upaniṣads mainly deal with Brahman or Absolute Truth of the universe and the knowledge concerning Him.

From the original meaning of the word Upaniṣad it is clear that Upaniṣadic texts contain spiritual matters. Upaniṣad is a mystery and it is not meant for all persons. The texts contain profound philosophical doctrine and it was taught only to the initiated persons. Upaniṣad contains deep philosophical thoughts on the soul, the universe and also the creation of the world.

It must be mentioned here that Upaniṣad does not reveal thoughts of a single teacher famous as a philosopher or the one particular school of philosophers. They contain teachings of various renowned teachers who were great philosophers.

Upaniṣads search for the truth. Questions regarding the mystry of the universe is the starting point of the Upaniṣads. At the beginning of the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad we see the questions: Where are we born, where do we live and where do we go? O, ye who know Brahman, tell us at whose command we abide here whether in pain or in pleasure. Should time or nature, or necessity or chance, or the elements be considered to be the cause, or he who is called Puruṣa, the man that is the Supreme spirit–that created this universe.

''kiṃ kāraṇaṃ brahma kutaḥ sma jātā jīvāma kena kva ca saṃpratiṣțhāḥ/ adhiṣthitāḥ kena sukhetareṣu vartāmahe brahmavido vyavasthām//''[17]

Similarly in the Kenopaniṣad the student asks, At whose wish does the mind sent forth proceed on its errand? At whose command does the first breath go forth, at whose wish do we utter this speech? Which god directs the eye or the ear?—

''keneṣitaṃ patati preṣitaṃ manaḥ kena prāṇaḥ prathamaḥ praiti yuktaḥ/
keneṣitāṃ vācamimāṃ vadanti cakṣuḥ śrotraṃ ka u devo yunakti//''

We are unable to get happiness from the finite. This happiness of the world is transient. Eternal happiness is achieved only through the realisation of the Infinite. The sages of the Upaniṣad try to lead us to this reality which is infinite existence (Sat), absolute knowledge (Cit) and pure delight (Ᾱnanda).

Śankarachārya said in his commentary on the Brahmasūtra that—this world is not the reality, only Brahman is true.

Upaniṣads declare that:

''sarvam khalvidaṃ Brahma''.[19]

''The whole Universe is the Brahman, the Brahman is the Ᾱtman.''

Brahma is the creator of the universe. The universe has its origin from Brahma. But Brahma is 'Svayambhū'. No body has created Brahma. Brahma is eternal.

The fundamental doctrine of all the Upaniṣads may be summed up in the expression:

"ātmaivedaṃ sarvam''[20]

''verily the world is Ᾱtman''.

The very first verse of Iśopaniṣad exposes in full bloom the core theme of the Upaniṣads, namely the spiritual unity and solidarity of all existence of the visual world.

''īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yat kiṃca jagatyāṃ jagat.''[21]

Upaniṣads say that the whole universe is within Brahman, everything that is observable is completely within Brahman. The things we see, according to Upaniṣads, is a work of 'Māyā', a creative magic power of Brahman. When there is duality, one sees something, one smells something, one tastes something, one hears something, one thinks of something, one touches something and one knows something. When everything has become the Self, what is left to be seen and by what, what is to be smelt and what is to be tasted and what is to be communicated and what is to be heard and what is to be thought and what is to be touched and what is to be known? What can help one to know the Self by whom the world is known.[22] The Self is to be attained following this way as ''Not this, Not this''.[23] The Self is imperceptible for it is not perceived. The Self is undecaying for It never decays. The Self is beyond suffering for It never feels pain and never perishes. In order to know 'Self' one should be under the constant urge for knowing 'Self'. In the kaṭhopaniṣad we see one indomitable boy appeared before Yamarāja, the king of Death.

The boy was eager to know the answer of his question as he knows that only Yamarāja knows the mystery of death. He asked Yamarāja

''devairatrāpi vicikitsitaṃ kila tvaṃ ca mṛtyo yanna suvijñeyamāttha/
vaktā cāsya tvādṛganyo na labhyo nānyo varastulya etasya kaścit// ''

After the exchange of some repartee with the boy Yamarāja surrendered ultimately to the indomitable quest of the boy who was tormenting under an intense pressure of inquisitive mind to know the most secret of knowledge from Yamarāja

''na jāyate mṛyate vā vipaścinnāyaṃ kutaścinna vabhūva kaścit/
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato'yaṃ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre//''

Supreme Self is neither born nor does It dies. It is not created from anything nor does it create anything. It has no origin, it is eternal ever existing and It does not perish when body is perished.

For describing this Self the sage metaphorically said that this body is like a chariot and the intelligence is its driver; mind is rein and the ten senses are its horses.

''ātmānaṃ rathinaṃ viddhi śarīraṃ rathameva tu/
buddhiṃ tu sārathīṃ viddhi manaḥ pragrahameva ca//
indriyāṇi hayānāhurviṣayāṃsteṣu gocarān /
ātmendriyamanoyuktaṃ bhoktetyāhurmaṇīṣiṇaḥ //''

These horses are every time being attracted towards the materialist world and if intelligence can not control them then they will go astray for being attracted towards the glitters of the prosaic world.

Upaniṣads express the doctrine of the unity of the world with the Brahman and the unity of the Ᾱtman with the Brahman. In the Chāndogyapaniṣad[27] we see that Śvetaketu was the son of Uddālaka-Ᾱruṇi. Ᾱruṇi directed his son to go to the teacher for formal education. Śvetaketu went to the teacher and he returned home after twelve years of schooling. Then he was conceited, proud of having become a learned man and was arrogant about having studied all the Vedas.

His father told him,

''O Śvetaketu, my dear, I find you conceited, proud of having become a learned man and arrogant. Did you ask your master for that teaching by which the unheard becomes heard, the unknown becomes known''—

''taṃ ha pitovāca, śvetaketo, yannu somyedaṃ mahāmanā anūcānamānī stabdho'syuta tamādeśamaprākṣyaḥ.''[28]

Śvetaketu requested to teach him the truth. Then Ᾱruṇi attended to his queries with the help of three analogies of clay, gold and steel. At first he established an example—

''yathā somyaikena mṛtpiṇḍena sarvaṃ mṛnmayaṃ vijñātaṃ syād,
vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ, mṛttiketyeva satyam

Knowing oneself, means knowing Brahman, the all-pervading Reality. One who knows thus, perceives oneself in everything and everything in oneself. In the Chāndogyopaniṣad Ᾱruṇi told that, “In the begining, my dear, all this was Existence (sat), the one only without a second.

Some people say all this in the beginning was non-existence (asat), the one only without a second and from that non-existence,emerged the existence of the world—

''sadeva, somyedamagra āsīdekamevādvitīyam. taddhaika āhurasadevedamagra āsīdekamevādvitīyaṃ tasmādasataḥ sajjāyata.''[30]

Here the Sat stands for ''the real'', ''the Being'', ''the Existence''. This Sat is that which unfolds itself as everything, from the most subtle Soul in each living being, to the boundless, gross, material world. So whole universe is within Brahman. Brahman is 'ekamevādvitīyam'.[31]

The same non-duality is there in the Bhagavad Gītā

''nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ''.[32]

Śankara stresses on this non-duality. This Sat manifests everything without any instrumental help. The Sat is the material as well as instrumental cause of the world. He is one. All of us arise from Sat and lastly merge back in Sat. but we live unaware of being so.

''evameva khalu, somyemāḥ sarvāḥ prajāḥ sata āgamya na viduḥ sata āgacchāmaha iti.''[33]

As an example we see that rivers sloping down to the east flow eastwards, rivers sloping down to the west flow westwards. Risen from the ocean, they merge back in the ocean, becoming ocean itself. They have no other identity—

''imāḥ somya nadyaḥ purastāt prācyaḥ syandante paścāt pratīcyastāḥ samudrāt samudramevāpiyanti sa samudra eva bhavati tā yathā tatra na viduriyamaham asmīti.''[34]

In Chāndogyopaniṣad Ᾱruṇi requested his son to bring a fruit from the banyan tree. When Śvetaketu brought that, Ᾱruṇi told him to break that. After breaking that fruit there were many small seeds. Then Ᾱruṇi said to his son to take out one of them and break that. After breaking the seed there was nothing to be seen.

Ᾱruṇi said—''within the broken seed there is something subtle. From that subtle something indeed did grow up the giant banyan tree that stands here.'' That Sat, so subtle, is the Self of everything in all the world. That is the Real. That is Ᾱtmā.

''sa ya eṣo'ṇimaitadātmyamidaṃ sarvaṃ, tat satyaṃ, sa ātmā, tattvamasi.''[35]

The Kenopaniṣad upholds the nature of knowledge by throwing light on the eternal knower.

''iha cedavedīdatha satyamasti na cedihāvedīnmahatī vinaṣṭiḥ/
bhūteṣu bhūteṣu vicintya dhīrāḥ pretyāsmāllokādamṛtā bhavanti//''

If one realizes Brahman in this world then his life is successful, if it is not so then there is great destruction. Wise men who realize Brahman here become immortal after death.

Sages say the path of realisation of truth is sharp like rajor's edge. The seeker of true knowledge have to walk through that path cautiously and carefully. prāpya varān nibodhata[37] —to proceed through this path one should be enriched with the advice of the persons who have realised truth—

''tameva dhīro vijñāya prajñāṃ kurvīta brāhmaṇaḥ.''[38]

In the Muṇḍakaponiṣad two beautiful birds have been portrayed as symbol of Paramātmā and Jīvatmā. Among the two one is very much allured in eating and tasting fruits of different trees and the other does not eat but only observes all the time. The first one the individual soul (jīva) experiences the results, bad and good of its karma and the bondage of sorrows and miseries. Because the Supreme Soul does not experience it is pure consciousness.

''dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte/
tayoranyaḥ pippalaṃ svādvattyānaśnannanyo'bhicākaśīti// ''

This Supreme being is to be realised by pure mind. There is no diversity in Him. He who finds diversity in Brahman undergoes death after death.[40]

Desire is the root of all worldly appearances. Being attached to the worldly objects man is engaged in work and attains the fruit of his action in this world. After death attaining exhaustively in the next world the fruit of whatever he did in this world, he comes back to this world again for work—

''prāpyāntaṃ karmaṇastasya yat kiñceha karotyayam. tasmāllokāt punaraityasmai lokaya karmaṇe''.[41]

He who desires must have to get the fruit of action. But the man who does not desire never transmigrate. He who has no desire and is free from desire attains the Self and hence attains all.

He becomes Brahman and is merged in Brahman

''yo'kāmo niṣkāma āptakāma ātmakāmaḥ na tasya prāṇā utkrāmanti brahmaiva san brahmāpyeti''.[42]

In the Bṛahadāranyakopaniṣad we see that Ṛṣi Yajñavalkya advises king Janaka that man becomes absolutely desireless then the mortal becomes immortal.

''yadā sarve pramucyante kāmā je' sya hṛdi śritāḥ. atha martyo' mṛto bhavatyatra brahma samaśnute''[43]

The cognizant sages, the knower of Brahman, being free from bondage attain liberation

''tena dhīrā api yanti brahmavidaḥ svargaṃ lokamita ūrdhvaṃ vimuktāḥ''.[44]

Ignorants, hunger after the glitterings of virtual world, enter the blinding darkness of death and remain ever thirsty for the nector of bliss of awareness of the Supreme. But he who has attained the illuminated domain of Ᾱtmā can realize that the Ᾱtmā who has entered into the unconscientious body is no other than the cause of the universe as he is the creator of all. He realizes all is his Ᾱtmā and he is the Ᾱtmā of all-

''sa viśvakṛt sa hi sarvasya kartā''.[45]

The knower of the Supreme Being becomes immortal but ignorants suffer misery. When a wise person realises that the Ᾱtmā is the all-pervading universal Soul which is pure consciousness present in all living beings, he detaches himself from all the worldly care and remains with the calmness and looks towards all the creatures with equanimity and respect. So he never blames any one or he never wishes to protect himself—

''na tato vijugupsate''.[46]

Those who are learned and erudite enough realise that this Supreme and magnificent entity is unperceivable and beyond any description, the Ᾱtmā which is pure consciousness and an embodiment of Brahman, is the essence, the basic and foundation as well as the originating and driving force of everything that exists.

''manasaivānudraṣṭavyaṃ neha nānāsti kiñcana.''[47]

A restless unstable mind seeks for the diversity of life runs through birth and death. It is only the intentless of mind that realises the Supreme Being as devoid of birth and death and becomes conscious of its Eternal and Imperishable entity—

''ātmā mahān dhruvaḥ.''[48]

An enlightened, wise man learns about Brahman and contemplate upon nothing else but Brahman. He finds all as the Self. The evil does not touch him. He transcends all evils. He who is free from sins, desires and doubts, attains Brahman

''eṣa nityo mahimā brāhmaṇasya na vardhate karmaṇā no kanīyān/
tasyaiva syāt padavittaṃ viditvā na lipyate karmaṇā pāpakena//''

This Supreme Self is unborn and eternal. It does not decay or die. It is eternal bliss and eternity called Amṛta. It is fearless. A person who knows this becomes one like the fearless Brahman

''sa vā eṣa mahānaja ātmājaro'maro'mṛto'bhayo brahmābhayaṃ vai brahmābhayam hi vai brahma bhavati ya evaṃ veda.''[50]

In this way he becomes Brahma and thus attains Mokṣa.

''mokṣa iti ca nityānityavastuvicārādanityasaṃsārasukhaduhkha viṣayasamastakṣetra mamatābandhakṣayo mokṣaḥ''.[51]

To elaborate the theory of Self kauṣītakī Upaniṣad presents a story-Gārgy Bālāki was a famous Veda-knowing person—

''atha gārgya ha vai bālākiranūcānaḥ saṃspṛṣta āsa''.[52]

After travelling many parts of the country he entered into the kingdom of Kaśirāja Ajātaśatru. After entering into the Ajātaśatru's kingdom the Vedajña puruṣa announced that he had come to give Ajātaśatru a few lessons of Veda. In fact he actually meant that he wanted to show him the path for the realisation of Brahma. Hearing that king Ajātaśatru told him that only for uttering those words he would present him one thousand cows.

Later on the king Ajātaśatru lamented by telling that people avoided his kingdom because of the fact that the people treated him as non-Vedajña person.

After that Bālāki started his teaching, ''I worship that Puruṣa who lives in the domain of Moon''. Ajātaśatru said that he worshipped Him because He was the source of food, so you please teach me about him requested Ajātaśatru.

Bālāki told, ''I worship Him who dwells in valour.'' Ajātaśatru said advise me about Him. In this way Bālāki described every aspect of apparent objective reality (Māyā) of Brahma such as food, Space, Wind, Fire, Water, the Reflection, and so on. But Ajātaśatru contradicted all most all his teachings barring Brahma’s subjective manifestation, because Ajātaśatru countered his view points by subjective reality of Brahma and thus he told Bālāki that he is the creator of each and every thing. Hearing that brahmin Bālāki wanted to have initiation by the Brahmnajñanī king Ajātaśatru.

The nature is the Māyā, a penetrable screen hanging before Brahmana and to Bālāki this penetrable became the impenetrable, and Bālāki imbued himself the superficial knowledge (ego) of Brahma, but the king Ajātaśatru was a Brahmnajñani puruṣa. He realised that Brahma is the only reality and every other thing is destructible because, ''Truth is one, sages call it in different names''.

Upaniṣad preaches that whatever we see around us is the manifestation of Brahman. He never creates anything. He appears to be this world due to ignorance of mankind. We are unable to realize Brahman due to the effect or influence of Māyā which has overwhelming influence over the five senses of a man. Māyā is the only thing that shapes the nature, the habits, the temperaments, the behavioral patterns etc. of creation and its creatures.

It is an integral part of Nature and character of a creature—

''vikārajananīmajñāmaṣṭarūpāmajāṃ dhruvām''.[53]

Māyā resists man to realise Brahman. When the veil disappears man realizes Brahman.

The artificial and entrapping world of material comforts and charms exist because man wants it that way. This is because Māyā has had the influence over him. If one can win over Māyā, then one would triumph over delusion and ignorance and consequently over the world itself.

Then the world won't exist for him—

''dhyāyate'dhyāsitā tena tanyate preryate punaḥ. sūyate puruṣārthaṃ ca tenaivādhiṣṭhitaṃ jagat. ''[54]

''paśyantyasyāṃ mahātmānaḥ suvarṇaṃ pippalāśanam''.[55]

Wise men live like a swan that drinks only the milk and discards water. A wise man enjoys worldly thing until he realizes Supreme Soul.

In other words, common people consider this world, as a place of sensual pleasure, but the seeker of truth perceives these are all illusion, so they remain indifferent and dispassionate towards the world and its delusions—

''udāsīnaṃ dhruvaṃ haṃsaṃ snātakādhvaryavo jaguḥ.'' [56]

Upaniṣad preaches that whatever we see around us is all the manifestation of Brahman. He never creates anything. He appears to be this world due to ignorance of mankind. Here the question is that, this world is real or unreal? if it is unreal then how does it appear? or if we think that this world is real then question is that, by whom it is created?

The question arises ''What existed before the birth of the universe. What motive force worked behind this creation and to what extent the Will force of the creator of this universe worked or is there any other universe existed other than ours? It is said that in the beginning there was neither dark nor light, nor night, nor day. There was no creation then. There was no world, no individual, no activities but some one named 'He' must be there, because nothing comes out of nothing. So what is the Truth behind the origin of this universe?

Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad says, at that time only Supreme Self was there and He was alone and non-dual.

This Supreme Being is all inclusive. It is the being of all beings. ''Satyasya Satyam''[57] as Upaniṣad declares. The all inclusive Supreme Being became conscious of Himself and looked around and found none.

He pervaded everywhere to the point of unbound, limitless infinity and said 'I' exist and thus He cosseted Himself as the—

''ātmaivedamagra āsīt puruṣavidhaḥ so'nuvīkṣya nānyadātmano'paśyat so'hamasmītyagre vyāharattato'haṃnāmābhavat.''[58]

There is no other name because Paramātman is pure Self consciousness. The Puruṣa is the other name of this Supreme Being. According to Upaniṣad any individual human being can realize himself to be Puruṣa or Brahman by giving up his all evils of external contacts. It is the consciousness that burns the evil contacts. It is nothing but to consciously remain detached from the knowledge of sensuous gross earth. That Supreme One started to suffer from loneliness in an environment of nonduality. It may be perhaps under this stress and strain of loneliness an acute urge to germinate took place. This is an assumption, based on the view expressed in the Ṛgveda.

The Ṛgveda says there was nothing—

''na mṛtyurāsīdamṛtaṃ na tarhi na rātryā ahna āsīt praketaḥ''[59]

There was no death, no immortality. There was no difference between night and day. No one was present to observe what was going on into His mind at that particular moment when He was suffering from universal loneliness and this loneliness instill fear butthe realization of his existence in spaceless, timeless zone as a non dual entity made him fearless under Supreme satisfaction. To break His loneliness he desires to split himself into two in the name Puruṣa and Prakṛti (male and female).

''sa vai naiva reme tasmśdekakī na ramate sa dvitīyamaicchat''.[60]

He enjoyed the utmost pleasure in union with the Prakṛti but still he remained totally cool and distant from his creation. All creatures that we perceive are the manifestation of Brahman, the

One non-dual entity—

''evameva yadidaṃ kiṃ ca mithunamāpipīlikābhyastat sarvamasṛjata''.[61]

After that when this creation was put into place, the Supreme Being became aware that all this creation is creation of his own. So he thought that he is the creator.

''so'vedahaṃ vāva sṛṣṭirasmyahaṃ hīdaṃ sarvamasṛkṣīti tataḥ sṛṣṭirabhavat''.[62]

After that, he creates fire-it personifies his 'Teja' or energy and vitality, potentials and potent and it has also taken the form of Soma. Soma is 'Anna' or the food that exist in creation.

Before the creation, everything was Avyākṛta-unrevealed, unmanifested and undiversified. After His manifestation, it took nāmarupa-name and form, but whatever form or name if is given to the object it is nothing but Supreme Being. So the Upaniṣad tells us not to be deceived by its many forms.

Every thing is existing and operating within the Supreme Reality whether it is animate or inanimate no body can visualize Him, none recognizes Him—

''taddhedaṃ tarhyavyākṛtamāsīttannāmarūpābhyāmeva vyākriyata'sau nāmāyamidaṃ rūpa iti tadidamapyetarhi nāmrūpābhyāmeva vyākriyate'sau nāmāyamidaṃ rūpa iti sa eṣa iha praviṣṭa.''[63]

That primary entity has entered the body of a living creature and pervades throughout it, even till the edge of the nail, just like a scalpel's or a razor's base is embedded in its wooden handle and fire is inherently but imperceptibly present in a latent form in the firewood or established on the bed of the fire pit, but it is not possible for anyone to actually see the entity in a tangible and visible form.

That esoteric and sublime entity is called Prāṇa because it infuses life in a creature, but as it performs different functions it has different names. Similarly, the same Prāṇa is called speech, sight, hearing and mana. Due to its different functions the Prāṇa has these different names.

This Ᾱtmā is the only entity that is needed to be known by everyone. The man who knows him, the actual nature of this visible world can be known by him—

''sa yo'ta ekaikamupāste na sa vedākṛtsno hyeṣo'ta ekaikena bhavatyātmetyevopāsītātra hyete sarva ekaṃ bhavanti. tadetat padanīyamasya sarvasya yadayamātmānena hyetat sarvaṃ veda.''[64]

A man who realizes the secret mystery of this creation realizes himself to be Brahman. Brhadaranyakopanisad beckoned the mortals with its famous universal clarion call 'Abhih' and become fearless, fearless from the attraction of material world, fearless from the death of dear one's, fearless from the fear of one's own death.

In this Upaniṣad Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya said to his wife, that it is true that it is not for the sake of the husband that he is loved but for one's ownself interest that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the wife that she is loved but for one's own interest she is loved. It is not for the sake of the sons that they are loved but for one's own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the wealth that it is loved but for one's own sake that it is loved. It is not for the sake of the animals that they are loved but for one's own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the Brāhmins that they are loved but for one's own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of the Kṣatriyas that they are loved but for one's own sake that they are loved.

In the same way it is not for the sake of all that all is loved but for one's own self interest that all is loved—

''na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya sarvaṃ priyaṃ bhavati''.[65]

Referring the doctrine of the existence of Self Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya advised his wife—

''ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyyātmani khalvare dṛṣṭe śrute mate vijñāta idaṃ sarvaṃ viditaṃ''.[66]

Self should be seen, should be heard of and should meditated upon Only through this process one could realise the existence of Self.

In the Vedāntasāra it is said that—

''evaṃbhūta-svasvarupa-caitanya-sākṣātkāra-paryantaṃ śravaṇa manana-nididhyāsana-samādhyanuṣṭhānasya apekṣitatvāt te api pradarśyante''.[67]

Bhagvān Bādarāyaṇa has mentioned in his Brahmasūtra—


Hearing, concentration and meditation are to be practiced repeatedly. The purpose of listening is self realization. In the first place one has to listen and then to concentrate on the meaning of the word and then he has to meditate upon that Supreme reality.

As a result of constant meditation oneness with the Supreme Being is ultimately realised. Manu also said—

''ārṣaṃ dharmopadeśaṃca vedaśāstrāvirodhinā/
yastarkeṇānusandhatte sa dharmaṃ veda netaraḥ//''

It means that he who enquires, with a reasoning not contrary to the proper teachings of Veda and Smṛti Śāstra as advised by the Ṛṣi, can only realize the true meaning of Supreme Self and not any one else. Meditation comes after listening and concentration. In Adhyātmopaniṣad, it is said that when all contradictions and doubts are entirely vanished through listening and concentration, only then oneness with Brāhman is realized.

This is meditation—

''tābhyāṃ nirvicikitse'rthe cetasaḥ sthāpitasya yat/ ekatānatvaṃ etat hi nididhyāsanamucyate//''[70]

''Uttiṣṭhata jāgrata''[71] is the call of sages to the mankind to arise from darkness, from the ignorance and to shine in the light of knowledge. Upaniṣad wants to lead men from darkness into the light, from ignorance into the realisation of the Truth ultimate.

But a simultaneous warning too accompanied the call. Upaniṣads made us alert that the path of truth is hard to follow—

''kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā /
durgaṃ pathastat kavayo vadanti //''

Sages say the path of realisation of truth is sharp like rajor edge. The seeker of truth of that knowledge have to walk through that path cautiously and carefully. Prāpya varān nibodhata.[73] To proceed through this path one should be enriched with the advice of the persons who have realised truth.

Truthfulness is the path to stick to, Upaniṣads teaches us. In the Chāndogyopaniṣad we see that there was a Ṛṣi whose name was Satyakāma Jābāla.

On the eve of setting out for undergoing celibacy he asked mother Jabālā,

'What is my lineage''?

kiṃ gotro nvahamasmīti''.[74]

His mother replied,

''Son, I don't know your lineage, because I have had you during my youth while serving many persons.

''nāhametadveda tāta yadgotrastvamasi bahvahaṃ carantī paricāriṇī yauvane tvāmalabhe sāhametanna veda yadgotrastvamasi.''[75]

I am Jabālā and you are Satyakāma

''jabālā tu nāmāhamasmi satyakāmo nāma tvamasi.''[76]

If anybody asks you about your lineage tell him, ''you are Satyakāma''. Satyakāma went to sage Gautama and requested him to teach him. When the sage asked him about his linage, Satyakāma replied in the way his mother told him.

When Goutama heard the bold reply of Satyakāma Jābāla he said—

''No non-Brahmin could reply like this, so you bring samidha, I will teach you''.

''naitadabrāhmaṇo vivaktumarhati samidhaṃ somyāharopa tvā neṣye''.[77]

Upaniṣad teaches us the path to follow in life. Jabālā-Satyakāma episode portrays how truthfulness, honesty and steadfastness can empower a man to be worthy of seeking the Truth.

In the fifth Brahman of the fourth chapter of Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad we find that Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya have two wives. They are Maitreyī, the seeker of Brahma and Kātyāyanī, one attached to the material world ''maitreyī brahmavādinī babhūva, strīprajñaiva tarhi kātyāyanī.''[78]

Once on the eve of renouncing the material world and departing for taking monastic life Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya called his two wives with the intention of giving them his wealth equally. Kātyāyanī agreed to accept her husband's offer. Maitreyī, more loving to Yajñavalkya, refused to accept the wealth. She wanted to know whether she would be able to attain immortality through this wealth.

When Yājñavalkya replied that there is no hope of attaining immortality through this wealth—

''amṛtatvasya tu nāśāsti vittena''.[79]

She said what she would do with that with which she would not attain immortality—

''yenāhaṃ nāmṛtā syām kimahaṃ tena kuryāṃ''.[80]

Maitreyī asked the Ṛṣi to let her know about immortal soul and the means of its attainment

''yadeva bhagavān veda tadeva me bruhīti''.[81]

Yajñavalkya explained her the philosophy of soul.

Yajñavalkya explained the theory of Self with example. He said when a musical instrument is played other sound coming up from all sides can not be heard.

In the similar way when Soul is known to be reality anything other then Soul can not be known as different entity.

''sa yatha vīṇāyai vādyamānāyai na vāhyāñchabdāñchaknuyad grahaṇāya vīṇāyai tu grahaṇena vīṇāvādasya vā śabdo gṛhītaḥ''.[82]

When Supreme Soul is realised everything is known to be nothing other than Soul.

Yājñavalkya said as the ocean is the extreme goal of all water in the same way Ᾱtmā is the ultimate truth of all objects of the Universe—

''sa yathā sarvāsāmapāṃ samudra ekāyanam''.[83]

Taste of salt never differs wherever it may be in the water. In the same way all the living objects appeared from Ᾱtmā and at the end of their journey they would get absorbed in—

''sa yatha saindhavaghano’nantaro’vāhyaḥ kṛtsno rasaghana evaivaṃ vā are’ yaṃ ātmānantaro’vāhyaḥ kṛtsnaḥ prajyñānaghana evaitebhyo bhūtevyaḥ samutthāya tānyevānuvinaśyati na pretya saṃjñāstīti''.[84]

Like other Upaniṣads Bṛahadāranyakopaniṣad teaches us that nothing is born or perished, everything is mere appearance. World is nothing but illusion. World is not real. We are all one with Brahma.

In the Bṛahadāranyakopaniṣad Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya says to king Janaka that desire is the root of all worldly appearances. Being attached to the worldly objects man is engaged in work and attains the fruit of his action.

Attaining exhaustively in the next world the fruit of whatever he did in this world, he comes back to this world again for work—

''prāpyāntaṃ karmaṇantasya yat kiñceha karotyayam. tasmāllokāt punaraityasmai lokāya''.[85]

He who desires must have to get the fruit of action. But the man who does not desire never transmigrate. He who has no desire and is free from desire attains the Self and hence attains all.

He becomes Brahman and is merged in Brahman

''yo'kāmo niṣkāma āptakāma ātmakāmaḥ na tasya prāṇā utkrāmanti brahmaiva san brahmāpyeti''.[86]

In the Bṛhadāranyakoḍaniṣad we see that Ṛṣi Yajñavalkya advises king Janaka that when all the desires residing in man's heart are perished, the mortal being becomes immortal.

''yadā sarve pramucyante kāmā je’ sya hṛdi śritāḥ /
atha martyo’ mṛto bhavatyatra brahma samaśnute //''

Upaniṣad preaches that whatever we see around us is all the manifestation of Brahman. He never creates anything. He appears to be this world due to ignorance of mankind.

In order to have the essence of monism as advocated by Upaniṣads we should realize its conceptual structure which Advaitins tried to elaborate. Advaitins show that there are three orders of reality, the ultimate (Pāramārttika), the phenomenal (Vyavahāvika, the illusory (prātibhāsika).

Ultimate or pāramānthika reality never change, it is Kūlāstha mithyā this ultimate reality is Brahman. Brahman is pāramārtthika reality. Taking into consideration the status of the world Advaitins maintain objects contradicted by the knowledge of Brāhman have phenomenal or vyavahārika reality. The objects are contradicted by knowledge other than the knowledge of Brāhman are known as illusory or prātibhāsika. Snake apparent in rope is regated by the knowledge of rope. Mere snake has illusory reality. Snake appearing as snake is phenomental reality, vyavahārika.

With an eye to upaniṣadic monism Advaitins hold there are three types of difference. The difference of leaves flowers and fruits with the tree is the example of Svagatabheda. The difference of one tree from the other tree is known as Sajatīyabheda. The difference of a tree with the stone is to be known as vijātīyabheda.

''vṛkṣasya svagato bhedaḥ patrapuṣpa phalādibhiḥ/
vṛkṣāntarāt sajātīyo vijatiyaḥ śilādātaḥ//''[88]

There is no room for duality in any conceivable form applicable to Brahman. Since Brahman is not conceived as a whole having parts internal difference is not possible. Since model of many ātmans have not been accepted by Upaniṣads, question of Sayālīya bhada cannot arise. There is no heterogeneous existence hence Brahman is conceived as not having vijātiyabhada. Thus according to Upaniṣads, as Advaitins show only Brahman exists. Core of Upaniṣads is the identity of individual Self with Supreme Self. Ᾱcārya Śankara declares ''jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ''. This identity is realized when Avidyā or ignorance hiding the truth is removed.

Advaitins advocate every individual is no other than Supreme reality multiplicity is explained due to hypothesis of Avidyā. Identity of Brahman is established by Śruti, tattvamasi.

Upaniṣads maintain Brahman is eternal. Brahman is the identity of pure being, pure consciousness and pure blessings 'saccidānandasvarūpam'[89].Advaitins while explaining Upaniṣadic vision hold world is not real. Material world is not distinct from Supreme self. World is mere appearance Vivarta. Brahman remains same an appears as world. ''Atattvato'nyatha pratha''.

No real transformation is there. Advaitins hold that though Brahman does not undergo any change it appears as world because of Avidyā. Avidyā is not real since it is negated by knowledge. It is not even unreal like flower in the sky or like the horn of a hare since it appears so long as the knowledge of Brahman is not acquired. Avidyā is inexplicable (anirvacanīya).

Avidyā is mithyā or false. Concept of Avidyā does not oppose Upaniṣadic dotrine of monism. 'ekamevādvitīyam'.[90]

When ultimate knowledge is acquired Avidyā is reduced to Brahman.[91] The cessation of Avidyā is not a separate negative reality but is identical with Brahman. Hence assumption of Avidyā in no way disturbs the non dualistic position of Upaniṣads as emphasized by Advaita Vedānta.

The world of duality is mere Māyā. Real being is the non dual Brahman. Māṇḍūkya kārikā gives the main thesis of monism as under.

''prapañca yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saṃśayaḥ/
māyāmātrāmidam dvaitamadvaitaṃ paramārthataḥ//''

If the whole universe would have been real it could never be negated. It implies that universe is Māyā. The test of reality stand in the existence for all time.

Upaniṣads faced the problem of theory of causation in their own way. Standpoints of Upaniṣads as explained by Advaita Vedānta is called Vivartavāda. Vivartavāda goes with its distinct formula termed as satkāraṇavāda for according to Upaniṣads kāraṇa only exists. Absence of change is the defining feature of the real. So kāraṇa only is sat. ''sadeva somyedamagra āsīd.''[93] kāraṇa or cause of this universe is Brahman which is sat. Effect or kārya is mere appearance of kāraṇa Doctrine of Upaniṣads maintain cause remains the same and what we call effect is the illusory imposition known as vivarta. The effect is charecterised as ananya. Significance of the term ananya has been brought out by Śankara in his commentary of Brahmasūtra[94] ''tadananyatvamārambhaṇaśabdādibhyaḥ''[95] as ''kāraṇat paramārthāto'nanyatvaṃ vyatirekeṇābhāvaḥ kāryasyāvagamyati''.

Vācaspati miśra in his commentary known as Bhāmatī on the same sūtra states what the term ananya implies.

''na khalvananyatvamityabhedaṃ brūmaḥ kintu bhedaṃ vyāsedhāmaḥ.''

Hence we come to know that Upaniṣadic doctrine conceives the effect as not having existence distinct (bheda) from cause nor does it uphold abheda or identity of effect with the cause. Thus relation of cause and effect is neither a relation of identity nor a relation of difference. World as contemplated by Upaniṣads has no existence independent of cause and hence it is false.

The essence of the teaching of Upaniṣad is to inspire us to march towards the goal of attaining peace through mind pure and calm and to realise ''Om Tat Sat, Om Tat Sat and Om Tat Sat''.

Sages recite repeatedly—

''asato mā sad gamaya tamaso mā jyotirgamaya mṛtyormāmṛtaṃ gamaya''[96]

From evil lead me to good. From darkness lead me to light. From death lead to immortality.

It is light, light of knowledge, light of truthfulness and honesty is what we want to make our life full of beauty and peace.

Footnotes and references:


History of Indian Philosophy Vol-I, p-231




Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.6


Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad3.8


Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad3.8


Muk.U. 29




Chāndogyopaniṣad 7.1.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 2.23 & 7.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 2.23.3


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.8.7


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.1.4


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.8.7


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.19


Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 1.1


Kenopaniṣad 1.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 3.14.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 7.25.2


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.15


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.2


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.1.22


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.2.18


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.3 & 1.3.4


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.1.2


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.1.4


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.2.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.2.1


Gītā. 2.16


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.10.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.10.1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.12.3


Kenopaniṣad 2.5


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.14


Bṛ U. 4.4.21


Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 4.6


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.19


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.6


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.6


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.7


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.8


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.13


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.15


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.19


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.20


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.23


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.25


Nirālambopaniṣad 29


Kauṣītakī Upaniṣad 4.1


Mantrikapaniṣad 3


Mantrikapaniṣad 4






Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 2.1.20


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.1


Ṛgveda 10.129.2


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.3


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.4


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.5


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.7


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.4.7


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.5


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.5




Brahma Sūtra 4.4.1






Kaṭhopaniṣad 1. 3.14


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.14


Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.14


Chāndogyopaniṣad 4.4.I


Chāndogyopaniṣad 4. 4.2


Chāndogyopaniṣad 4. 4.2


Chāndogyopaniṣad 4. 4.5


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.1


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.3


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.4


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.4


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.10


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.12


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.5.13


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.6


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4.6


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4. 7


Vedān.mangalācaraṇa śloka1


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.2.1


Māṇḍaūkya Kārikā 1.17


Chāndogyopaniṣad 6.2.1


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 4.4. 7


Brahma Sūtra 2.1.4


Bṛhadāraṇyakaopaniṣad 1.3.28

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