THE Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan-that Institute of Indian culture in Bombay-needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 of which were to be taken in hand almost at once.
It is our intention to publish the books we select not only in English, but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
This scheme involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India organisation. The Bhavan is exerting itself to the utmost to supply them.
The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of Indian culture in the light of modern know-ledge and to suit our present-day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
Let me make our goal more explicit:
We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions that allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities; we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the frame-work of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and all in Him. The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach. In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movements of the Indian mind, which, though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration. Fittingly, the Book University's first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita, by H. V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: "What is not in it, is nowhere." After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life. The Mahabharata is not a mere epic; it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival;. but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone, the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan's activity successful.
If the Vedas, to paraphrase Kalidasa, can be com-pared to the mighty Himalayas stretching majestically from the Hindu Kush in the West all the way across to the Eastern sea, like some gigantic measuring rod against which the world's great traditions will have to be gauged, then the Upanishads may be likened to those great Himalayan peaks which stand in splendour reflecting on their eternal snows the sparkling glory of the sun of wisdom. They have rightly been described as the supreme expression of the Hindu mind, indeed one of the high watermarks of the human spirit since the dawn of civilization. A record of the deepest spiritual experiences of a whole series of Rishis or sages across many centuries, they are, as Sri Aurobindo puts it "documents of revelatory and intuitive philosophy of an inexhaustible light, power and largeness and, whether written in verse or cadenced prose, spiritual poems of an absolute and un-failing inspiration, inimitable in phrase, wonderful in rhythm and expression."
The traditional classification of the Vedas by Western scholars into the Karmakanda dealing with ritualistic action and sacrifice, and the in Ankanda concerned with philosophy cannot be considered sacrosanct. Vedic hymns are by no means merely ritualistic in the sense that they are used only for purposes of the sacrificial Yajnas. In fact, if rightly interpreted, they contain the deepest spiritual truths veiled in an intricate and imposing Symbolism. Nonetheless, the Upanishads do constitute the Vedanta or the culmination of the Vedas, both because chronologically they come at the end of the Vedic collections and also because of the sublime philosophical nature and superb poetical structure that they present.
As is frequently the case with Sanskrit, a rich, many-splendored language, the word 'Upanishad' can be interpreted in more than one way. The literal meaning is 'sitting down near', and describes the disciples sitting around the guru as he expounds the 'Brahmavidya', the Science of Brahman. This is in interesting contra-distinction to Socrates and his disciples who, apparently, preferred to conduct their philosophical discussions while walking up and down the pathways of the Academy, thus earning the name of 'peripatetic' philosophers. By extension, the term 'Upanishad' could mean 'the secret doctrine' or 'the saving wisdom', to be imparted only to those disciples who followed the monastic discipline and were thus entitled to sit near the master. In a more abstract sense, the Upanishads are referred to in the Mundaka itself ae 'the great weapon, the mighty bow' through which the individual soul (the Atman) can be sped towards the goal of Brahman and become one with it. Adi Shankaracharya takes the word 'Upanishad' to mean that knowledge by which ignorance is loosened or destroyed.
Taken together, it is clear that the Upanishads represent a unique corpus of philosophical thought and spiritual experience. In the Hindu tradition there is not the curious dichotomy that we find in the West bet-ween philosophy and religion, the former being merely a mental formulation not necessarily connected with spiritual vision and experience. The Upanishads, in fact, flow from the spiritual vision and realization of the masters, who express their experience in superb prose and poetry. There are various views regarding the number of Upanishads, the traditional belief being the auspicious number one hundred and eight. The great Shankaracharya commented upon eleven- lsa, Kena, Katha, Praina, Mundaka, Manchikya, Taittiriya, A itareya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka and Svetashva-tara- which are generally accepted as being the principal Upanishads. These range from short, cryptic texts such as the Isa, which has only eighteen verses, to the great Brhadaranyaka which runs into many hundreds.
The texts have been composed over several centuries. Without entering into the scholarly dispute about their chronology, one might generally accept the view that they date from about 1000 B.C. down to the first or second century after Christ. The orthodox Hindu tradition, of course, is that the Vedas are timeless, and this is certainly true as far as the Vedantic teachings are concerned as they have a universality that places them beyond the limitations of time and geographical location. While many of the texts are anonymous, a common feature of Hindu philosophy and iconography, a number of historical personages figure in the Upanishads, notably the great King Janaka of Mithila and the sage Yagnavalkya, whose dialogues form such a striking feature of the Brhadaranyaka, the Upanishad of the Great Forest.
It is impossible to describe the inner luminosity of the Upanishads. The Rishis or seers speak with the authority of authentic spiritual experience, "not as the scribes."
There are two qualifications laid down for the teacher -he should be "shrotrium" or well-versed in the scriptures, and also "brahmanistham" firmly based on the realization of Brahman. In other words, he must com-bine intellectual ability with spiritual experience, know-ledge with wisdom. Then and then only was he considered qualified to impart the secret doctrine. On their part the disciples, whether young acolytes resident in the hermitage or distinguished citizens-rulers, householders, merchants-had also to be dedicated to the quest for truth with humility and devotion. Acolytes had to live under strict discipline and perform penance and austerities before they were considered capable of receiving the teaching.
The teaching itself, sublime and multi-faceted, runs like a crystal stream emanating from the lofty heights of the Himalayas, dancing in ecstasy down the glittering slopes, widening into broad, life-giving rivers, and finally merging into the radiant ocean of wisdom. It is a stream that is never ending, arising as it does from the springs of spiritual power deep within the heart of the earth, and flowing down across the millennia as the sacred Ganga itself meanders through the matted locks of Shiva Mahadeva before appearing on earth as the benefactor of humanity-a rainbow bridge to immortality.
Mankind today is poised precariously at a crucial crossroads in its long and tortuous history on this planet. Over the last few decades there has been an explosion of knowledge, resulting in all the glittering achievements of science and technology.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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