Dec 3, 2016: The Times of India (Ahemdabad)
Upanishads are concerned with knowledge about self and its relation with the Supreme. This is said to be the ‘secret knowledge ‘ that the acharyas have given to their disciples when they are ready to absorb it. Rishis opened up the knots of the complex issues of life, death, atman, Paramatman through their insights. Upanishads thus are the storehouse of the experiences of spiritual teachers and are precious to a seeker on the path of self-realization.
It is not known how many Upanishads existed but one hundred and eight have been preserved and sixteen really recognized by Shankaracharya and ten on which he wrote elaborate commentaries have been considered as the principal ones. Several stories of these Upanishads are embedded in the imagination of Indian psyche –the dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama, Brighu and his father Varuna, story of Jabala and her son Satyakama are immensely popular. In myriad ways, with the help of these stories and in the form of sutras, the rishis teach how ignorance and forgetfulness of our real nature can be banished through Karma, Bhakti and Gyana and tell that Gyana is the direct medium that tears apart the magic of Maya hiding behind the ’avaran’ and ‘vikchepa’. When the curtain is raised, in the light of Truth, the small self becomes one with Brahman – the duality ends, moksha achieved. Upanishads are a great treasure of such sutras. Still four sutras- one representing each Veda -have been picked up by savants of Vedic philosophy as MAHAVAKYAS that serve as the light posts to guide us on the journey of the self -from the gross reality of physical body (annamaya kosh), to the astral body (manomaya kosh) and then to the causal body (pranamaya kosh). Soul, when free from the entanglements of body, can “see a world without me ” as Paramhansa Yoganandaji says and this is the JIVANMUKHTA state of self. The awakened self is now a part of the all- pervasive- Brahman. Envisioned and experienced by the Rishis and given to the mankind to experience themselves, these four MAHAVAKYAS make the Upanishads precious, timeless and universal.
TAT TWAM ASI occurs in Chandogya Upanishad in Samveda. Svetketu the son of Rishi Uddalak having learnt all the Vedas returned home full of pride in his learning. Rishi Uddalak asks his scholar son if he knows that knowledge by which we know everything that we need to know. Svetketu expressed his desire to know about that knowledge. His father said just as knowing about one lump of clay or one nugget of gold we come to know the nature of clay and all the things made up of gold in the same way in the beginning there was only One and then He projected Himself in many. He is the subtle essence of all and He is the self in all. My son –That art thou –Tat Twam Asi. By knowing the self as a part of that subtle essence, you come to know of that immortal Supreme Self. He explains this metaphor with the help of nine examples from day to day life. . Like salt dissolved in water no matter from where you take it will taste salty, He is there in all. Or just as the empty seed of a Bunyan tree holds the power to make a mighty tree, this subtle element holds every creature’s consciousness and That art thou.
PRAGYANAM BRAMHA occurs in Aitareya Upanishad in RigVeda. This is a lakchan sentence that means it defines an object by telling its many attributes. First two chapters tell about the Creator and then the many souls in which He entered. That Supreme consciousness in the form of various powers and capabilities of the many souls is the PRAGYAN and He is Brahman. He alone gives many souls the lust to live their many lives and also the consciousness to know the Highest truth that One soul takes birth in many bodies. When the desires are stilled, the soul mingles in the mighty sea of One Consciousness.
AYAM ATMAN BRAHMN the third gem of Upanishads appears in Mundaka Upanishad in Atharva Veda. On the insistence of his father Maharshi Vyas, Rishi Shukdev very reluctantly goes to King Janak for his teachings. The illustrious King tells him to cut the bars of attachment with the body and the objects of its gratification because the body will perish and never to forget that you are Brahman. Shukdev doubts this because he feels that his consciousness is different from the Supreme consciousness. The King explains that He is present in the cave of every man’s heart. Concentrate on atman as a spark of the Supreme Brahman.
AHAM BRAHMASMI appears in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in Yajurveda. Through the dialogue between Gargya, son of Balaki and Ajatshatru, King of Kashi this MAHAVAKYA establishes the true nature of Brahman. Gargya tells that Brahman is the light of sun and moon, the power of wind, water, and all that is seen outside and within -that I meditate upon as Brahman. But Ajatshatru tries to set his teacher right saying these are the outer manifestations of Brahman. The wise teacher answers when a conscious intelligent being sleeps he enters into a withdrawn state of self but when he sleeps and dreams he weaves his own world of desires and identifies himself with that body. The body perishes, the self remains, and this self alone is the true knower of Brahman. When this Truth is absorbed, the duality of Self and Brahman is over as Self becomes Brahman.
In Geeta Krishna says that out of thousands one tries to know Me and out of those thousands one knows Me. For the one trying to know Him, Krishna also shows the way –Abhayasen tu vairagyen cha. Gradually desires vanish, thought -waves stilled, and the glory of the TRUTH of life that these Mahamantras embody -manifests.