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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Major Upanishads - 7

            Mundaka Upanishad is part of the Atharva Veda. Its two main themes are: 1.There are two kinds of knowledge – para (higher) and apara (lower). Knowledge of Vedas is considered to be lower since it leads to actions and results which result in bondage and cycles of births and deaths. Higher knowledge is that of Brahman, which leads to removal of ignorance, freedom from bondage and bliss.   2. Brahman and Ātman are the same. The entire Universe is Brahman alone. Meditating on Brahman who is param (higher), variṣtam (highest) and prajn͂anam (Consciousness) leads to bliss. How? Like a bow and arrow. The bow is the mantra OM, the arrow is the Ātman and the target is Brahman (Om ithi evam dhyayata ātmānam).  

            In the discussion on lower and higher knowledge, Śankara says: “All actions are meant to acquire, produce, “purify” and modify. Then the product is gone. This world of karma is full of seeds and sprouts, full of suffering, devoid of inner substance, appear and disappear like mirage and comparable to dreams and bubbles of water – ever-changing and impermanent. We need to aim for the permanent and for that we need brahmajn͂anam”. 

            In another passage (II:2:2) Śankara compares all creatures coming out of the ONE Supreme to pots and bubbles. There is only one space. But, pots make it look as if there are separate spaces within each pot because of the mud around. So are bubbles which look like there are many because of water around. Once the pot breaks or the bubble breaks, there is only Space. The Upanishad describes our bodies as limiting adjuncts of the One Supreme responsible  for Its appearance as “several”.  

            Section 2: 2-4 asks the aspirant to meditate on that subtle, immortal, indweller which is the basis of the mind and speech in the form of OM. OM is the bow. Our mind is the arrow. That Supreme Brahman is the target. This Universe is nothing but that Brahman. Once you reach that sphere, the sun does not shine, nor the moon and no stars either. Everything shines as He does so; everything shines as diversified because of His light. (These last two sentences in 2:10 are recited during ārti or nīrājana ceremony during daily worship) 

            Part 3 section1 of this beautiful Upanishad talks about the famous two birds sitting on the branches of aśvatta tree as a metaphor. Aśvatta by root meaning of the words indicates impermanence, because “a” is “no” and śvah is “tomorrow”. One bird is Ātman, enjoying the fruits of the tree (of this world). The other is Brahman, not eating, not seeing, just being there without any attachments (the Witness).  

            Mundaka Part 3, section 1, śloka 6 starts with satyameva jayate which means Truth alone wins. This is the motto of the Republic of India.  

            Another major pearl from this Upanishad is in 3:2:3 which says that the attainment of Brahman is not possible through study or listening  (to scriptures) and intellect. You cannot seek It. It (Brahman) reveals Itself. (Vivrunute svaam) The idea is that We are Brahman. The Ātman in every one of us is already Brahman. Once we let go off our spiritual ignorance, the natural state will reveal itself! 
            In 3:3:8, has another well-known passage which states that “Just as all rivers become one with the ocean giving up their names and forms, the illumined soul becomes liberated from name and form and merges with the One Supreme Brahman”.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Major Upanishads - 6

Aitreya Upanishad: This is part of Aitreya Aranyaka of Rg Veda. The main theme seems to be “life after death”. 

It starts with Cosmology of how the ONE became many. Part 1 is a remarkable piece and gives the foundations of many of the basic Vedic thoughts such as Brahman, Atman, Devas and the five primordial units of life-forms. Some passages in Part 1 indicate that Prana (vital energy) is the foundation of life (similar to Kaushitaki Upanishad).

A commentary on Part 2 suggests that there are 3 “Self”s” or Souls. They are: The all-pervading Consciousness (also Brahman according to Vedantha and Purusha according to Samkhya);  the Devas, the first created entity being Brahma or Hiranyagarbha or Indra; and the transmigrating soul, also called Atman by Vedantha or Jiva. The sequence of cosmology according to this plan is – Brahman, the creator or Brahma and various elements and creatures. (3:1:3).

One of the four mahavakya is from this Upanishad. This states: "Prajnanam Brahma", which means "Consciousness is Brahman".

In another commentary to 3:1:2, Sankara quotes Kaushitaki Upanishad thus: “That which is the vital force (prana) is intellect (Mahat or Buddhi); that which is intellect is the vital force”. It seems that life and intellect are intertwined according to these observers. That does make sense based on current knowledge of life and consciousness. There is no consciousness without life. Without consciousness we will not be aware of life. 

What fascinated me more is how close these views are to the views of Socrates and of Plato. Plato’s writings of the teachings of Socrates says that “those with intelligence are superior to those without intelligence”. Intelligence is not possible without a “soul”. Therefore, “the Creator implanted reason in soul; and soul in body” (page 43 of Timaeus and Critias Penguin Classiscs 1977).

According to this view "This world came to be through God’s providence, a living being with a soul and intelligence”.  There are three kinds of souls as created by God, according to Plato (Socrates). They are the world soul, the souls of the stars and the planets and the human soul. 

When we try to equate these ideas from ancient Greece with those of the Vedas, the “living” is equivalent to the breath or prana; the human soul may equate with atman or jiva in the individualized mode and intelligence equates with Mahat or Buddhi. The world soul is akin to Brahman; the soul of the planets and stars is akin to the Devas.