The UpanishadsSacred Scriptures of Sanatana Dharma Sacred Scriptures of Hinduism
UpanishadUpa- (near), ni- (down), sad (to sit): sitting near the teacher
Composed by various seers and sagesbetween 800-500 BCE, the Upanishads are a culmination and completion of an earlierbody of Hindu sacred texts called the Vedas. Veda = knowledgeUpanishads are Vedanta: End of the Vedas
The Vedas• Hymns and mantras to various deities viewed as controlling forces of nature• Directions for sacred rituals, especially sacrifices to the gods • Outline of moral codes
The Rig Veda depicts the divine in several different ways. Monism (one absolute, impersonal being) Monotheism (one single personal supreme being) Henotheism (many gods, but some central deity) Naturalistic Polytheism (many gods, forces of nature) The divine is sometimes represented as aparticular personal deity and at other times as an impersonal absolute being, the Supreme God.
• These differences likely reflect the historical development of the idea of God in India. • The movement towards monotheism and monism was motivated in part by the concept of rita (law or order).Diversity in the universe Many gods Unity in the universe One God
The distinction between Maya and Brahmanallows Upanishadic thinkers to affirm the unity or oneness of all things.All that is is Brahman. Reality is ultimately oneand unchanging, though it appears as many and changing.
Brahman Alone is Real.Everything Else is Illusion.
What more can be said about the nature of Brahman?
We can speak of Brahman as“being” (sat), “consciousness” (cit), and “bliss” (ananda).However, these are merely ways of talking about the human apprehension of Brahman.
In itself Brahman cannot be defined or positively described. Ultimately “Brahman” is a way ofdesignating a state in which subject-object duality ceases to exist. “There is no better description [of Brahman] than this: that it is not-this, it is not-that (neti, neti).” Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad, II, 3, 6.
Dual Aspect Theism Nirguna BrahmanBrahman in itself is beyond all humancategories and conceptualization. In itself Brahman has no attributes. Saguna Brahman Brahman in relation to maya and as an object of human discourse and devotion, with attributes.
In itself the Supreme being cannot be known, as theInfinite surpasses or transcends all human conception. The impersonal Supreme being is made personal through manifestations of the Infinite in finite form.
The many gods of Hinduism represent different aspects of one and the same ultimate reality, Brahman. Brahma Vishnu ShivaHinduism views the cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Three deities (Trimurti) represent these tasks: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The True Self (Atman) The Upanishads teach the existence of a true Self called Atman. The individual personality, soul, or self (jiva) belongs to the realm of maya. The jiva is conditioned by Atman.Atman is timeless, spaceless, unchanging pureconsciousness, only temporarily manifested as jiva in maya.
Analogy: The Atman is to the jiva what the space around a jar is to the space within the jar.Space Outside Jar Space within the jar is space bounded and limited by the Space edges of the jar. Within So the jiva is Atman Jar bounded and limited by individuality.
“The wise one is not born, nor dies.This one has not come from anywhere, has not become anyone. Unborn, constant, eternal, primeval, this one Is not slain when the body is slain. . . . He who is the bodiless among bodies, Stable among the unstable. The great, all pervading Self – On recognizing Him, the wise man sorrows not.” Kena Upanishad II.18,22
“That Self (Atman) is not this, it is not that (neti, neti). It is unseizable, for it cannot be seized; indestructible, for it cannot be destroyed;unattached, for it does not attach itself; is unbound, does not tremble, is not injured.” Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, iv.v.15
Tat Tvam Asi“Thou [Atman] art That [Brahman]” (Chandogya Upanishad, VI)There is a common consciousness between Atman and Brahman. “The individual self, apart from all factors that differentiate it from pure consciousness, is the same as the divine, apart from its differentiating conditions.” (Eliot Deutsch, Advaita Vedanta, p. 50)
Strip away all appearancesand every self is identical with the ultimate reality.
The human perspective is characterized byignorance (avidya)of the true nature ofreality and the self.
Analogy A rope may appear to be a snake.Likewise, the universe may appear to be many and changing, and we may appear to be individuals within the universe. This is appearance only, grounded in avidya.
Avidya EgoismIgnorance leads to egocentric desiresEgoism New Physical FormsOur egocentric desires and actions create and perpetuate new physical forms or vehicles for atman.
From this set of Upanishadic teachings emerges the doctrine of Reincarnation or Rebirth.Humans live multiple embodied lives, experiencing a cyclical process of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara).
“Where one’s mind is attached – the inner selfGoes thereto with action, being attached to it alone. Obtaining the end of his action, Whatever he does in this world, He comes again from that world To this world of action. - So the man who desires.” Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, iv.iv.6
“By the mind alone is It [Brahman] to be perceived. There is on earth no diversity. He gets death after death, Who perceives here seeming diversity.” Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, iv.iv.19
Samsara and Suffering Human suffering – lack ofsatisfaction in life - is associatedwith material forms of existence. As long as samsara continues aperson is doomed to experience suffering.
Rebirth is governed by karma (literally “action”). In the Upanishads karma designates a law ofcosmic justice according to which every action has an effect that is proportioned to the moral quality of the action.
Karma includes the character one has formed through one’s choices and actions. Right ActionBad Karma Good Karma Wrong Action Karma determines the nature of one’s future incarnations.
Rebirth is not desirable. It implies that a person is stilltrapped in ignorance about the nature of reality. Suffering, associated withmaterial existence, has not yet been transcended.
The Ultimate State (Moksha) Suffering is transcended only by release from samsara and absorption into Brahman, the one ultimate reality. This is a state of knowledge, enlightenment, or absoluteconsciousness in which the true nature of reality (Brahman) and the true self (Atman) is perceived.
It is also a state of freedom (moksha). The only thing that can be free is thatwhich is one, for only that which is one has no desire.Being all that there is, there is nothing else for it to desire. There is nothing left to suffer.
“Now the man who does not desire – He who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whosedesire is the Self (atman) – his breath doesnot depart. Being very Brahman, he goes to Brahman.” Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, iv.iv.6
“As the flowing rivers in the ocean Disappear, quitting name and form,So the knower, being liberated from name and form,Goes unto the Heavenly Person, higher than the high. He, verily, who knows the Supreme Brahman, becomes Brahman.” Mundaka Upanishad, III.ii 8-9
The ultimate goal is not to The goal is to obtainmokshabe reborn. from and be free desire and the cycle of death and rebirth.
Six Key Concepts in the UpanishadsBrahman Atman AvidyaKarma Samsara Moksha
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