Abstract In this essay I give my reflections upon selected quotes from the Upanishads. I touch upon my growth in consciousness from a small child until today and my growing awareness of the relationship between discrete units and the whole. I also discuss the fear engendered by an overemphasis on the units and the conflict which also arises from such especially with regard to money. Finally, I articulate my intention to gain wisdom from the Upanishads, exemplifying as they do the relationship between the world and the eternal.When I was younger, an infant, by all accounts I was unaware of myself as a distinct, sentient being.
I lacked a sense of consciousness. As I developed, I learned that I had a name and that others wanted me to do certain things and not to do other things. When I did the former, on a short term basis there was harmony. When the latter occurred, conflict and discord ensued. While I had a desire to please those closest to me upon whom I depended, as I grew the discord began to hold a fascination, I perceived.
There was Me and there was Not Me and my experiments with naughtiness allowed me to explore the relationship between the two. Thus passed childhood and adolescence. As I continue to mature, I note that the conflict between me and various authority figures grows ever more onerous. Those well-meaning individuals make known their desire that I do This or That to the exclusion of the Other. Such a tendency is obvious when we touch upon money and the selection of a profession which will provide me and the family I am expected to have with as much as possible, the more the better. This focus on the pecuniary to the exclusion of all else is diametrically opposed to the teachings contained in the Upanishads. Indeed, the ancient writings proscribe such a perspective.
In Part III, Book I, Section 2, Death advises Nachiketas: “‘Fools brag of their knowledge: proud, ignorant, dissolving, blind led by the blind, staggering to and fro. What can the money-maddened simpleton know of the future? This is the only world cries he; because he thinks there is no other I kill him again and again.'” (p. 29) In the Upanishads, what they term the Self is of grave importance. Death continues, “The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause; is eternal, self-existent, imperishable, ancient.” (p. 30) The events of the past eight years have brought the truth of these words into sharp relief. Money-maddened simpletons now control the world and we are swept up into their folly.
All eyes seem to be trained on the movement of the markets and the welfare of the majority is at the mercy of the few who have distinguished themselves with their avarice. I think I would do well to heed the wise advice of the Upanishads. Such a course would bring me a measure of equanimity and help protect me from the buffeting winds of Fortune. As has been said in Part III, Book I, Section 2, “Every man faces both (the good and the pleasant.) The mind of the wise man draws him to the good, the flesh of the fool drives him to the (merely) pleasant.” (p. 29)By the foregoing I do not mean to imply that I eschew the practical concerns of the life of a householder. To the contrary, I see clearly the need to attend to these matters in order that I may become a responsible citizen.
However, to become a fully responsible citizen, I also see the need to strike a balance between the particulars of everyday life, which consume so many, and the integrity offered by the universal.The Upanishads as rendered in English attempt to offer a way of sensing the inarticulate whole through language, that is, the whole through its parts. It is an example of how the reader may see the actors in everyday life and the way in which they relate to the aggregate. Fear is born when too much emphasis is placed on discrete units and the conflict between those units. In Part III, Book II, Section 1, it is said: “Knowing that the individual self, eater of the fruit of action, is the universal Self, maker of past and future, he knows he has nothing to fear.” We may see the individual as a microcosm of the universe, a perspective which lends nobility to every human being who realizes it and peace between those beings as well as others.
It is the tension between the quotidian and the realization of the eternal that is the task of any person who studies the Upanishads and hopes to learn from them. It would be impractical for each woman or man who reads these texts to repudiate the world and to become a wandering ascetic as did many in ancient India. However, such a frank realization of the relationship of worldliness to the spiritual, living as they do side by side, one within the other should not cause one to reject the wisdom of one of the great documents in the history of the world.Part III, Book II, Section 3 states that, “Mind is above sense, intellect above mind, nature above intellect, the unmanifest above nature. Above the unmanifest is God, unconditioned, filling all things. He who finds Him enters immortal life, becomes free.” (p. 37) And with this freedom comes peace.
The freedom and peace promised within these pages are the very things people seek in their pursuit of money. They desire freedom from want, peace of mind. Often or seldom these days do they realize that not only do their bodies demand food but their souls as well. In this life, only a balance between the needs of the two will suffice to bring about a proper order in which we honor every living thing and accord it the due dignity.It is my ambition to attain and maintain the peace and freedom the Upanishads offer. I realize that they are not the utmost of philosophical texts, that other books contain wisdom. However, they are part of the larger picture which I must see and whose significance I must begin to grasp.ReferencesAuthor Unknown (1937).
Ten Principal Upanishads (Shree Purohit Swami & W.B. Yeats, Trans.
). London: Faber and Faber Limited. (Original publishing date unknown)