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Friday, October 28, 2011

Brihadarankyaka Upanishad

It took me awhile getting through this Upanishad because I became engrossed in the dialogues between the characters. I studied the stories and took notes so it took me more time than usual getting through the scripture. This scripture kept me intrigued because it kept hinting that it would divulge the secret of how to know the true Self. I didn't want to miss the details.

The characters in Brihadarankyaka are seers, lengendary sages and gurus who slowly release their knowledge of the true Self to their various inquisitors. The students, princes and kings who come to these enlightened ones keep asking them about how to know the true Self and how to become one with it. They want to obtain this knowledge for the sake of becoming liberated from the drudgeres of life. But the gurus are shrewed and slow to release the information at the consternation of both the questioners and the reader (me). The gurus want to keep their inquisitors quering them to make sure they have honest intentions and are not just curosity seekers. Eventually the answer to who the Self is and how it is attain is revealed.

The scripture starts off with Vamadeva who is actually god Shiva. Vamadeva soon realizes who Brahman is and immediately becomes the true Self. He proclains for all those who seek and learn to know Brahman will become the true Self as well. From there the story switches to a conversation between Ajatasatru (a guru) and Gargya (a seeker). In the beginning the two argue over what is Brahman and what is the best way to worship him. Finally after much discussion and argueing Gargya asks Ajatasatru to teach him about Brahman.

Ajatasatrue and Gargya come upon a man sleeping and Ajatasatru explains that when the man is in deep sleep he is without senses and thought. But when he is dreaming he lives in a world of his own with actions, desires, and worries much like the waking state. The Self is without actions, desires, and worry like deep, dreamless sleep. Gargya leaves with understanding of Brahman, focuses his meditation on Brahman and becomes one with Brahman.

The next story is about a legendary sage, Yagnavalka, who has two wives. His second wife, Maitreyi, married the sage primarily to learn how to become wise like him and become immortal through knowing Brahman. Yagnavalka explains to her that wealth, wishing, hoping, and desiring immortality will not work. He tells her that she must hear about Brahman, learn about Brahman and constantly meditate upon it. He says, "By knowing the Self, my beloved, through hearing, reflecton, and meditation one comes to know all things."

He explains to her that in order to know Brahman one must become dissolved in the Eternal - pure consciousness. Consciousness must disappear for there is no consciousness in divine illumination. He explains to Maitreyi that consciousness must disappear. Where there is the true Self, individuality is no more. However, Maitreyi is confused and doesn't understand.

Yagnavalkya explains to her that duality is the result of living in the self and the material world, but when one becomes dissolved in the illuminated soul one becomes the true Self. He further tells her that she must understand that Brahman is the soul in each person and that he is indeed the Self in all because the true Self is all. There is nothing more or less than the Self.

King Janaka of Videha becons Yagnavalkya to his palace and in the end tries to give Yagnavalkya a thousand cows for being so wise. Yagnavalkya becomes so popular that people all over the kingdom seek him out. He has conversations with many people and explains to them that "The knower of the truth of Brahman overcomes death." They all want to know what he knows. They want to learn about Brahman. They want to know how to meditate on Brahman. Yagnavalkya does his best but they don't seem to understand. They continue asking him the same questions over and over and he continues to give them answers in all kinds of ways but they still don't get it. They get angry and try to trip him up by testing him with puzzles and word games but he anwers them all correctly. They want to reward him with thousands of cows but he refuses saying, "One should not accept any reward from a diciple without fully instructing them."

The questioning and answering goes on for quite some time and finally Janaka asks Yagnavalkya, "Who is the Self?" Yagnavalkya tells him that there are three states of being - the state in this world, the state in the next, and an intermediate state between the first two. The intermediate state is like dreaming where you experience both this world and that of the next. When you die you will live only in the subtle body illuminated by the pure light of the Self. In the intermediate state there are no real material things; only the light of the Self. The most profound statement that Yagnavalkya makes is, "Everyone is aware of the experience; no one sees the Experiencer. The Self shines by its own light."

Below is my summary:

To become Brahman (the true Self) you must do three things:
1) Learn about Brahman.
2) Reflect on Brahman
3) Meditate on Brahman

Braham and the true Self are the same thing. In today's terms they are known as God - the Creator - the Absolute - the All. The true Self is beyond the small self you call "me" with all your material baggage. In order to know the true Self you must lose all your baggage including your attachment to the mind and your body.

In order to reflect on Brahman you must experience him, and in order to experience him you have to meditate in absolute silence without sensations or thoughts. You must experience what it is like to have full illumination without senses and thinking.

Once you know Brahman and have experienced him you must live your life in his presence. This requires full awareness of his illumination. You must live your daily life with the realization that Brahman's illumination is in every thing and everything is Brahman with no exceptions. Then and only then will you become Brahman.

The next Upanishad is Kaivalya Upanishad. A very short scripture.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chandogya Upanishad

So, anyway, here we are back with the Upanishads. This Upanishad, the Chandogya Upanishad, is the longest I've read up to this point. It's about eight thousand words long. The other Upanishads are shorter, in the range of one thousand to two thousand words.

The first part of this Upanishad stresses the importance of knowing Brahman as the true Self. According to this scripture Brahman is the light that shines in the hearts of all men, of the world and of the universe. By concentrating on Brahman one can become one with Brahman. All human desires, sensations, thoughts, deeds and appearances come from Brahman (God). But even so, these things are not all the important because they are superficial and do not convey the true essence of Brahman.

This scripture says that the true Self is achieved by having a purified mind and a purified mind is achieved through meditation, sacrifices to study of the scriptures, almsgiving, austerity, the practice of continence and having a good teacher. I thought it sort of strange to say "sacrifices to study of the scriptures" until I realized how repetitive and boring they are after about the first four scriptures. So I will plow through them and sacrifice, hoping you can stay with me through the duration. There are only three more to go, so please don't give up on me. Let's see if we can get though this together.

The last part of this scripture hammers home the idea that Brahman and the Self are the essence of all things. It does this with conversations between various students and their gurus. The students ask questions and the gurus answer by telling stories that eventually lead up to the answser which always is the fact that Brahman is everything and once you understand that you become one with Brahman. The messages are basically the same; the stories different. Here are some samples:

Student - "I have head from the wise that the knowledge that the Guru imparts will alone lead to the supreme good."
Guru - "The life is Brahman. The sky is Brahman. Bliss is Brahman. Know thou Brahman!"

Student - "Please, sir, tell me more about the Self."
Guru - "The body dies when the Self leaves it - but the Self dies not."

Student - "In what does the infinite rest?"
Guru - "The infinite is below, above, behind, before, to the right, to the left. This infinite is the Self. The Self is below, above, behind, before, to the right, to the left. One who knows, meditates upon, and realizes the truth of the Self - such as one delights in the Self, revels in the Self, rejoices in the Self."

Student - "What then is that which dwells within this little house, this lotus of the heart, is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized?"
Guru - "The lotus of the heart, where Brahman exists in all his glory - that, and not the body, is the true city of Brahman. Brahman, dwelling therein, is untouched by any deed, ageless, deathless, free from grief, free from hunger and from thirst."

Student - "How does one become realized one with Brahman?"
Guru - "By becoming absorbed in the Self. The Self is immortal. The Self is Brahman. This Brahman is eternal truth."

Students - We have heard that one who realizes the Self obtains all the worlds and all desires. We have lived here because we want to learn of this Self."

Guru - "The Self is indeed seen in these. The Self is immortal and fearless, and it is Brahman. And the pupils went away well pleased."

Student - "In such knowledge I can see no good. I require further knowledge about the Self."

Guru - "Rising above physical consciousness, knowing the Self to be distinct fromt he senses and the mind - knowing it in its true light - one rejoices and is free."

These few quotes were taken from many, many pages of text and are only a fraction of the dialogues between students and gurus. But they reflect the main purpose of this scripture in that one must meditate on the higher Self and not physical things in order to be free from worldly problems, desires and thoughts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who wrote the Upanishads?

Michael Beloved wrote:

One thing that seems to be missing in your report on the Upanishads, is the names of the people involved in writing and also those who are mentioned by the writers. Unless those names are irrelevant or if you feel it just has no place in the report. Or perhaps those books were written by just energy in mid-space and no human agency was involved. Thatis interesting because some people in India say that the Vedas were no written by anyone. It just is. Is this the case with the Upanishads?

The Upanishads are part of the Vedas and the Vedas are regarded by the orthodox Hindus as the highest authority of all scriptures. They consider the Vedas the ultimate expression of divine truth. The Vedas consist of a large body of texts handed down generation after generation and are considered infinite and eternal and the word of God.

However, having said that, no one knows who wrote the Vedas or exactly how old they really are. The lives and the names of the individuals who actually wrote the Vedas have been lost after having been passed down and shuffled around for thousands of years. I think that humans were indeed involved in writing the texts; they just happen to change, get lost and authors forgotten as time went on. Also, no one knows exactly how many were written. Out of the 108 extant Upanishads, only 16 are recognized as authentic and authoritative by Shankara. Shankara was an Indian scholar during the 7th century and was an authority of Sanskrit. He basically established the doctrine of nondualism and the importance of living a monastic life that is encouraged in the Upanishads. So, he is looked upon by many Hindus as the major authority when it comes to the Upanishads.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Upanishads is they are considered to be the works of ancient saints and seers who were concerned with reporting insights and experieances which came to them though thoughts and visions. I also find it interesting that after all these years humans haven't changed much when it comes to wanting to believe that immortality, in one way or another, is possible. Reincarnation, soul ascending to heaven, Self transformation, etc. are all beliefs that keep us hoping for something better and something ever lasting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aitareya Upanishad

Aitareya is a relative short chapter in the book of Upanishads and has mostly to do with the true Self and how to become this god-like being. I am not going to quote any of this chapter but just lay down my take on it.

By being aware of consciousness you can transcend yourself and awaken to the true nature of pure consciousness. Thus, by known the true Self you transcend the sleeping state of human. Everyone is asleep before knowing and realizing the true Self. All people are going about doing this and that without being fully awake. Knowing you are not the body and the mind and all this thinking that's going on allows you to wake up and become one with God - the creator of all that is.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Taittiriya Upanishad is somewhat like Mandukya Upanishad in that it talks about the aspects of OM but in a different light. In this scripture OM is spoken of as more of a spiritual or an ethereal representation of oneness than an explanation of what OM means. It is in this Upanishad we begin to see how the ancient sages saw OM as a way in which you could use it to unite with God and gain immortality of the soul.

According to this scripture a person is covered by sheaths of ignorance because he identifies himslef with material things. A person must discard the sheaths of ignorance in order to become one with Braham. The sheaths are: the physical body, the mental sheath, the intellectual sheath, and the ego. Beyond the sheaths is the Self. By taking refuge in Braham you can transcend ignorance and become one with the power of OM. OM is Brahman, OM is the Absolute. Only the wise will attain Braham.

A person who is knowledgable but does not know himself will not know Brahman. If you want to be wise and reach Brahman you must always tell the truth, read the scriptures, have good thoughts, practice self-denial, have austerity, give freely and abundantly with an unattached mind. So what are you waiting for?

This scripture also talks about the imporance of meditation for reaching oneness. "Seek to know Brahman by meditation. Meditation is Brahman." It mentions that the mind must be focused on Brahman (God) at all times. The focus must be on Brahman during work, play as well during quiet times alone and active times in groups. Those who do this this will know Reality.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

OM Explained

In Mandukya Upanishad the power of OM is explained. According to this scripture there are three aspects to OM that depict human consciousness. They are awake, dreaming sleep, and dreamless sleep. It is these three aspects which humans consider their state of being, or state of consciousness.

The awake state of consciousness is strictly what the senses detect. It may external or internal. It might be be sound of thunder or it might be the sound of your stomach growling. It might be the thoughts you are having or it might be the expression on someone's face. Dreaming is sleeping and enjoying subtle impressons of the past. Dreamless sleep is a state of no thoughts, desires or any of the sensations associated with the awake state or the dreaming state. It is these three states man considers consciousness and who he is.

There is a fourth aspect, however, that has been forgotten due to the world of consciousness and that aspect is the Self which is ineffable peace, love and supreme goodness. It is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. It has nothing to do with the senses or their relative knowledge or even interential knowledge. The Self is beyond being awake, dreaming and the dreamless state. Maya is the illusion that you are the three states of consciousness and whoever understands this grows in wisdom and becomes supremely aware - purely aware. When that understanding takes hold maya disappears and the Self merges with the Absolute.

On the right is the Om symbol with its various parts labeled.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I've been kind of derelict in writting on this blog for about a week. Sort of preoccupied with other things like meditation, yoga, and just generally slacking off. However, I have been reading the Upanishads off and on while sitting on the throne. I've gotten through Isha, Kena, Prasna, and Mundaka Upanishads. I haven't been all that impressed with what I've read so far. They all seem to be saying the same thing over and over.

The basic theme running though the Upanishads, up to this point, has mainly to do with the importance of meditation and devotion to a higher force in order to become one with the Self. The higher force referred to as Braham, the higher Self and sometimes the Absolute. The only deviation from this theme as been Prasna Upanishad. For the first time prana is mentoned. Prana is the life force that exists in all creatures, in the heavens and throughout the universe. Prana is the life force or energy that give life and is the "soul" of the universe. According to Prasna, when one sleeps prana gets closer to Self because the senses, the thoughts and desires are asleep too. The scripture also talks about the power of Om.

According to Prasna Upanishad, if you meditate on Om with "full consciousness" you will become united with the light of God - Brahman and become freed from evil and become immortal. Death will no longer be a problem. In order to have full consciousness you must have complete knowledge of the meaning of Om.

"The syllable OM, when it is not fully understood, does not lead beyond immortality. When it is fully understood, and meditation is therefore rightly directed, a man is freed from fear, whether he be awake, dreaming, or sleeping the dreamless sleep, and attains Brahman."

I shall plug onward with the Upanishads and report back with Mandukya and Taittiriya. Maybe they will shed more light on Om and how to become fully conscious of it. One can only hope.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Katha Upanishad

The Upanishads is probably boring to most people. It's 3,000 years old and has no sex or violence in it. Romance novels, wars and sports take up most of our money and time which indicates where our values lie. Not many people are interested in knowing what some ancient people say about emotions and a higher self. It's all too dull, monotoneous and dry. Why spend the time when life is so short?

This is the whole point - life is short. There is a greater meaning to life than just being intertained and stimulated during waking hours. There is a world beyond one's self that is often overlooked. This is what the Upanishads are trying to say, and they do a marvelous job of it. Not only that, they explain how to go beyond one's self-absorbed existence and into a wider, more beautiful reality.

I found Katha Upanishad easy to read. Not only that, it is interesting and to the point when it comes to how to go beyond the lower self. The writing has to do with a conversation between the disciple Nachiketus and the King of Death (Yama) about the Hereafter. The young disciple queries Yama about how he can go beyond the selfish self and attain immortality. Immortality he learns is not immortality of the body and the mind. Yama explains to Nachiketus that there are two selves, the apparent self and the real Self. To know the real Self is to truly exist beyond mind and body. Yama explains that in both the universe and the individual human being is something greater and grander, and that something is a pure Being - a higher Self which never changes - it is the immortal Self.

In order to reveal and know the real Self one must be non-judgmental, steady and clear of mind and have a pure heart. Only three requirements but they are difficult ones. First of all, how can one be non-judgmental? Think about it. We make judgments every day and it takes practically no effort at all. I look at a person and may think, "Boy is she fat" or "That person who just passed me going 70 MPH is sure an idiot." It happens automatically.

And what does it mean "to be clear of mind?" According to Katha Upanishad in order to have a clear mind one must put the mind and all the senses to rest. The thinking mind cannot waver. It must be steady and at ease with no worries or thoughts of the past or the future. It must be completely in the present moment.

Then there is the third requirement - to "have a pure heart?" According to Katha Upanishad a pure heart is one with no desires. Well, that doesn't seem to be easy does it? This evening I desired to have some ice cream and I did. To not have that desire I would have to have a clear mind - a mind without thoghts of the future. The thought of ice cream sure was a thought of the future.

So, how does one become non-judgmental, clear of mind and have no desires? According to this scripture you only have to do two things. That's all I could find; just two things. They are: meditation and yoga. Katha Upanishad doesn't get very deep into how to meditate or what kind of meditation one should do. "In the heart he (real Self) is revealed, through self-control and meditation. Those who know him become immortal." That's about it as far as meditation goes. As far as yoga is concerned not much is revealed here either. "This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga. He who attains it is freed from delusion."

I've been meditating and doing yoga for 15 years. I think I know what the real Self is and I believe I have experienced it several times but, unfortunately, not for long periods. Several times while meditating I have experienced going beyond the ego and the self but it was only for 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe that's better than nothing. During the day; while carrying on various activities like yoga, biking, working, driving and walking I have a sense of the real Self. I know that I am not this mind and body and can observe the lower self thinking all kind of thoughts and the body moving around but is that being the real Self?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Vedas

The Vedas consist of four scriptures: Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. There are two components woven into these four scriptures: Work and Knowledge. Work has to do with various hymns, rites, ceremonies and rules of conduct. Knowledge is concerned with knowing God and all of the aspects of truth. The second part (knowledge) is known as the Upanishads.

The Rig Veda contains ten books of hymns that have to do with prayers, sacrifices and the worshiping of Indra (God). Each book contains hundreds of hymns that make very little sense to people today in the Western World. These hymns were probably sung by groups of people who gathered in meeting places much like mondern day churches.

Sama Veda contains holy songs that were used by priests while offering juice from the Soma plant to the various deities they worshipped during that period.

Yajur Veda is a very lengthy detailed manual on sacrificial rites (including mantras) that go along with the sacrificies mentioned the Sama Veda.

Athava Veda contains all kinds of incantations and metaphysical sayings to charm away just about and kind of disease or sickness. There are also many chants for living a long life, charms to keep enemies at bay, to secure harmony among neighboring tribes, to avert evil and just about anything else in life.

On the next post I will talk about the Upanishads in more detail and start off with one of the most famous Upanishads - Katha Upanishad.