From the Jacket
The Eternal Upanishads represent the profound essence, the succulent juice and the perennial spiritual philosophy of the Vedas, expounded and elucidated to make them practical and accessible for spiritual aspirants. They are magnificent, stupendous, forceful and powerful instruments in the hands of true seekers that provide spiritual foresight and vision of the ultimate Truth and reality.
The Upanishads are integral part of the Vedas; each Veda has a number of Upanishads in it. The present series classifies these Upanishads in true vedic tradition, i.e. they are listed and separated into different volumes strictly according to the Vedic sequence and the Vedas they appear in.
Each verse of each Upanishad has been extensively explained using simple language supplemented by elaborate notes so that these profound metaphysical treatises can be made accessible to even a lay man. Towards this end, extensive appendices have been added to elucidated the different concepts in simple words. Concepts such as OM, Naad, Naadis, Chakras, Yoga, Atma, Viraat, Moksha etc. are all elaborately explained in these separate appendices, a Mantra index in roman in also included.
The present volume contains 16 principal Upanishads of the Rig Veda. The sequence of their listing in this volume strictly follows the sanction of the Upanishads themselves, as is Clear in Muktikopanishad, cant 1, verse no. 56.
Ajai Kumar Chhawchharia born on 8th August, 1955 in Burdwan district of West Bengal, is a humble and unpretentious bachelor, who has dedicated his entire life to the service of Lord Ram. At present he is residing in the holy pilgrim city of Ayodhya (U.P. India) since 1985.
‘A steady Light which is swifter than thought (mind) is present amongst moving (animate) things to show the way to happiness. All the Gods who are equally wise and intelligent move reverentially towards the one and the only supreme intelligent transcendental Being (Brahma)’ (Rg Veda, 6/9/5).
Oh those with similar high wisdom, knowledge, erudition and scholarship get up, rise up! (Rg Veda, 10/101/1).
‘He who is the source of life and power, whose commands all beings, including the Gods, obey, whose shadow is immortality as well as death-we give our oblations to that supreme Lord whom we adore’ (Rg Veda, 10/121/2).
‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished in all good works’ (Bible, Timothy, 2/3/16-17), ‘As, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you’ (Bible, gospel of St. Mathew, 7/7), ‘Wherefore he saith-awake thou that sleepest, and come from the dead and Christ (Lord) shall give you light’ (Bible, Ephesians, 5/14).
‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, source s in different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Three’ (Svami Vivekananda, World Religion Parliament, 11/9/1893, Chicago, USA), ‘Open your eyes and see him’ (Svami Vivekananda Complete Works, 2/146)
Sri Rama replied to Hanuman, ‘There are 10 Upanisads in the Rg Veda and their ‘Santi Mantra’ is ‘Van Me Manasi’. These 10 Upanisads are the following-(1) Aitareya, (2) Kausitaki-brahmana, (3) Nadabindu, (4) Atmaprabodha, (5) Nirvana, (6) Mudgala, (7) Aksamalika, (8) Tripura, (9) Saubhagya-laksmi and (10) Bahvrc (53)
[Sukla Yajur Veda, Muktikopanisad, Canto 1, verse no. 53]
The above quotation from Muktikopanisad firmly established the list of Upanisads belonging to the Rg Veda. In this anthology, in true Vedic tradition, I have followed exactly the same sequence as prescribed by Sri Rama to Hanuman in listing and narrating those Upanisads, viz. I start this anthology with the Aitareya Upanisad and culminate it with Bahvrc Upanisad. The original Sanskrit texts, their simple layman’s lucid version in easy flowing English, simple explanatory notes to clarify various conceptions as the when they appear in the text, their probable interpretations, along with several appear in the text, their probable interpretations, along with several appendices etc. will make this bouquet useful while being vibrant, colourful, attractive, lively, succulent and unique at the same time. Knowledge, especially when it relates to divinity and spirituality, is a pleasant perfume which wafts soothingly over the ruffled terrain of our mundane, arduous existence and lends purpose to it, gives hope in the otherwise hopeless whirlpool represented by this mirage-like world which traps and sucks everything down in its vortex of delusions, and is like the bright and glorious Sun rising in the horizon to lighten up all the directions of the realm of our existence and lift the veil of darkness of ignorance and delusions that has spiritually blinded us.
There are 10 Upanisads in the Rg Veda-each has been included in this book separately from chapters 1 to 10. To introduce the text, I’ve included Atmapujopanisad which will succinctly but marvelously initiate the reader on the voyage of discovery. Further, appendix no. 1 has the ‘Purusa Sukta’ dedicated to the ‘Virat Purusa’ mentioned in Mudgalopanisad (Chapter 6), appendix no. 2 has the ‘Sri Sukta’ mentioned in Saubhagya-laksmi Upanisad (Chapter 9), appendix no. 3 has the Caturvedopanisad which describes, inter-alia, the genesis of creation, appendix no. 4 has the ‘Santi Patha’ of the Rg Veda which appear at the beginning and the end of each Rg Vedic Upanisad, appendix no. 5 expounds on the concept of cosmic ‘Nada’ and OM, appendix no. 6 explains what is meant by ‘Yantra Tantra and Mantra’, appendix no. 7 describes the various energy centers in the body (i.e. the Cakras) and the ‘Nadis’ (nerves and veins), appendix no. 8 briefs the reader with various Vedantic concepts (such as Atma, sheaths, elements, Vasanas and Vrttis, macro-micro cosmos, the Virat etc.), appendix no. 9 deals with the classification of the Upanisads, their approximate period of composition, their relationship with the Vedas and Puranas, and their influence on other philosophies, notably the Jaina philosophy of India and the Greek philosophers of Europe, and appendix no. 10 has a ‘Mantra Index’.
This book deals with the Upanisads of the Rg Veda, and their subject matter can be briefly classified, inter alia, as follows-(i) the Upanisads that deal with the creation and heaven etc. (Aitareya, Chapter 1 and Kausitaki, Chapter 2), (ii) Metaphysical subjects such as Atma and Brahma etc. (Atma Prabodha Chapter 4), (iii) Concept of renunciation, emancipation and salvation etc. (Nirvana, Chapter 5), (iv) The concept of OM and cosmic ‘Nada’ (Nada Bindu, Chapter 3), (v) the Virat Purusa (i.e. the macrocosmic form of the Soul-Mudgala, Chapter 6), (vi) The use of Yantra or worship instrument (Tripura and Saubhagyalaksmi, Chapters 8 and 9), (vii) Yoga and its related concepts such as various Cakras or subtle energy centers in the human body (Saubhagyalaksmi, Chapter 9, Canto 2-3) and (viii) The concept of the divine Goddess representing the primordial cosmic energy which was primarily responsible for this creation (Bahvrc, Chapter 10). A brief introduction is given at the beginning of each chapter which outlines its contents.
The Upanisads advise mankind to turn away from the illusionary and transient benefits that the world appears to offer and instead aspire for spiritual perfection and elevation. The Upanisads’ main subject matter is the essential nature of the world, the individual self and the supreme Self and their inter-relationships. The seeker beings to see things in a homogenous way in a different perspective which is rational, empirical and well thought of.
‘The Vedas, in the form of divine and cosmic words or sounds, have their abode in the vast space of the sky where all the Gods reside. What can a man get or benefit by reading or reciting the Vedas if he does not make an effort to understand that supreme knowledge (called Brahma, a knowledge which is eternal, absolute, universal and truthful)? That person who realizes the truth about the vast sky (or the essential tenets of the vast repository of knowledge embodied in and personified by the Vedas), verily, he finds permanent abode in it i.e. he becomes so engrossed in that knowledge that he literally drowns or submerges himself in if. And since this knowledge is as vast as the sky, the seeker/aspirant is deemed to have taken residence in the sky of the knowledge represented by the Vedas. In other words, he dissolves himself and loses his independent identity as a creature and becomes one with the transcendental knowledge (of Brahma) as contained in the Vedas, and consequentially, finds permanent peace, bliss and beatitude there. This is verily what this Upanisad says/ (9)
The Upanisads are forceful, powerful, stupendous, magnificent and eloquent statements made in response to pointed questions by the disciples (seekers / aspirants) who were themselves Rsis of repute. They emphasise the knowing of the ‘truth’, investigating and discussing it, constantly contemplating upon it and putting them into practice to redefine oneself. They have wide ramifications and transcend all religious and cultural boundaries. The Upanisads are divine words which reflect the glory of the intellect and the depth and width of the knowledge of India’s ancient sages and seers. They can be read, thought over, taught and re-written in the form of translations in different languages (while still retaining their originality). They are not lifeless alphabets as such. They are synonymous with the supreme light of knowledge that dispels darkness of ignorance and is symbolic of life. Since the vehicle for transmission of the profound truths are words, the Upanisads emphasis, like the Bible and the Guru Granth Sahib (the scripture of the Sikh religion) that the ‘word’ is the truth, the reality, the equivalent of the Lord, the God, the Brahma, the cosmic ‘Nada’ (sound), OM, the very essence of life. The Bible explicitly says -‘Nada’ (sound), OM, the very essence of life. The Bible explicitly says-‘(a) In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (gospel of St. John, 1/1), (b) And the word became flesh and dwelth among us-full of grace and truth (John, 1/14)’. How stupendous, how magnificent, how profound, how succinct, how lively are these words indeed! Therefore, the Upanisads are not lifeless books but ‘the body’ of knowledge, ‘the abode’ of knowledge. The quest for truth is the spark that injects vitality and vibrancy to a bunch of alphabets which lead the path to enlightenment.
The Upanisads represent the highest citadel of philosophical evolvement of human kind. The canons of the Upanisads are essentially teachings of ancient savants, seers and sages who were erudite and sagacious, genius and enlightened, had scholarly acumen. They had enunciated the principles of the Ultimate Truth and Reality about this existence and the forces governing it both in philosophical as well as in metaphysical terms. These treatises were not merely hypothetical but empirical as well; they were the result of deep investigative minds which delved deep into the reaches of the unknown and after thorough exploration, investigation, examination, experimentation and application, they arrived at irrefutable, incontrovertible conclusions. They were pioneers in this field is as much as they delved into hitherto unknown realm of metaphysics and, therefore, can be called the forefathers of constructive and logical thinking as well as spiritual scientists.
They learned spiritual disciplines, proposed and tested hypothesis, applied variables, corrected any errors they discovered in their hypothesis, retraced their steps and moved ahead with the new path which stood the test of methodical, scientific and empirical experimentations. When a successful method evolved, they preached it to their disciples in the words of the Upanisads. These doctrines enshrined in these texts are therefore a result of extensive and industrious labour, insight and research. These doctrines are practical and modern day. Exponents of Upanisadic philosophy have indeed tried to explain their precepts in scientific ways. The readings of these texts have had a profound psychological impact on generations after generations. They have tried to present a remedy to a world overwhelmed by misery and tumult.
Furthermore, the brightest point in Upanisadic teaching is the fact that a follower of any religious dispensation can benefit from them-they aren’t a set of meaningless rituals and dogmas but proven metaphysical truths that can benefit an afflicted mind-body of an individual because they help him to realize the futility of worldly pursuits, of craving for the world and its material objects which are indeed all perishable in the end. The alternative it prescribes is uplifting for the individual. These doctrines do not come in the way of his day to day work of life but only makes the life better for him to live. To quote Svami Vivekananda-‘Whenever you hear that a certain passage of the Vedas come from a certain Rsi (sages/seers), never think that he wrote it or created it out of his mind; he was the ‘seer’ of the thought which already existed; it existed in the universe eternally. This sage was only the discoverer’ (Complete Works, 3 (1970)/119).
These sages/seers concluded, inter alia, that the physical world perceived through the sensory organs was not the real world; it did not provide peace and happiness to the creature. Since everyone wants peace, tranquility, bliss and happiness, there must be something other than this physical world that was the ‘truth’. This, they realized was the Brahma (or Brahman). Where is Brahma seated? ‘Brahma is hidden in the heart and it is known by the pointed and subtle intellect’ (Kathopanisad, 1/3/12) and ‘The immortal Brahma alone is before and behind, to the right and left, above and below. This world is verily the supreme Brahma’ (Mundaka Upanisad, 2/2/12).
The creature, they concluded, was not the physical, decayable, tormented body, but the pure, indestructible Atma (soul). This Atma (soul) is pure consciousness, eternal, peaceful, happy and blissful. This awareness was self-realisation. How is it obtained? ‘Self is attained by practice of truth, austerity, right knowledge and continence, self control and abstinence’ (Mundaka Upanisad, 3/1/5). The laboratory was their mind-intellect apparatus; the chemical for the various tests was their power of intellectual discrimination, and penetrating insight was their microscope. The fact that they obtained peace, tranquility, happiness and bliss as well as contentedness proved the fact that their theory was indeed correct, that it was indeed the ultimate Reality which mankind sought for. Their dedicated and focused understanding, outstanding research, analytical thinking, surgical precision and superb examples to illustrate their observances resulted in the pronouncement of doctrines having wide ramification and tremendous import. They disbursed this vast ocean of knowledge for the benefit of their disciples (i.e. seekers/aspirants/students), and through them, to the humanity as a whole. These doctrines, which are absolute Truths or irrefutable axioms, have been condensed for posterity in the form of Upanisads. These most venerated books are expositions of superb minds with matured thinking, striking in their clarity of thought and expression, are precise and clinical, have a strong fundamental basis that can be experimented by serious seekers as to their veracity and practicability, and have had a tremendous impact on western scholars who chose to study them.
To explain the relationship between Brahma, Atma and body in a simple way, the allegory of the chrariot is taken. The body is the chariot, the soul is the true owner, the horses are the sense organs, mind is the bridle, intellect is the charioteer, the two wheels are the physical and spiritual life, and their movement means progress in both fronts. This allusion is sufficient to explain the whole setup. ‘The chariots of God are twenty thousands, even thousands of thousands’ (Psalm, 68/17), were the individual chariot is the creature.
The Upanisads are like concentrated beams of laser rays-they are focused, powerful, potent, specific and surgical in their approach. And since the final and ultimate truth has to be one-which is Brahma-all the Upanisads’ final goal is also Brahma. All tell us that the ultimate knowledge is the realisation of Brahma, and what is the characteristic feature of this entity called Brahma? And what is the characteristic feature of this entity called Brahma? It is eternal, infinite, attributeless, absolute, non-dual, all-pervading, all-encompassing, omniscient, omnipotent, pure and supreme consciousness which is the macrocosmic soul of Nature as well as the microcosmic soul/Atma of the creature. To make the seeker/aspirant aware of Brahma, about its true nature and essence, about the fact the Atma is indistinguishable from Brahma, is the basic aim and object of the Upanisads. They seek to define Brahma in all possible ways.
The benefit derived from the study of the Upanisad is that the creature realizes his true and essential from and nature. He comes to comprehend the essence of the vast cosmos of which he is a part. The resultant awareness fills him with bliss and happiness, contentedness and satisfaction. The Upanisad emphasizes the importance of acquisition of truthful knowledge of the attributeless and infinite, but attainable and absolute Reality and Truth which it calls Brahma. The knowledge of Brahma leaves nothing more to be learnt. ‘Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth (i.e. trusts them, implements them), I will take him unto a wise man which (who) built his home upon a rock’ (Bible, gospel of St. Matthew, 7/24). The, such a person becomes ‘ye are the light of the world’ (Bible, St. Matthew, 5/14), obtains eternal life and bliss- ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (Bible, gospel of St. John, 10/28), finds salvation-‘The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants’ (psalms, 34/22), and such a person becomes one with the Lord-‘believe me that I am in the father and the father in me’ (Bible, gospel of St. John, 14/11). This is the final aim of the Upanisads-to ignite or kindle the process of self-realisation in the seeker/aspirant and lead his to the ultimate Truth and Reality.
The knowledge of the Upanisads frees the creature from the fetters shackling it to this world and provides it with deliverance and liberation even as a bird finds freedom from a cage and flies off into the vast sky. This liberation provides immense joy and exhilaration to the creature because it finds itself liberated much like the caged bird.
Remaining oblivious of the teachings of the Upanisad would be spiritual deprivation of the worst kind for a person walking on the path of spiritual upliftment and enlightenment. The Upanisads are a complete compendium for an enlightened way of life.
The Upanisads abound in beautiful imagery, allegory and similies. The imagery is intented to make the concepts simpler to understand and more endearing. For example, (i) The Katha Upanisad has an allegory of the chariot-the body is the chariot and the individual is the master (Katha Upanisad, 1/3/3-4), (ii) The Mundaka Upanisad gives the example of 2 birds eating from the same tree-one bird is the soul of the creature while the other is the supreme Soul of the cosmos (Mundaka Upanisad, 3/1/1-2). (iii) Similarly, creation has been vividly described ‘as a spider spreading out and withdrawing its thread, herbs growing and perishing on earth and hair on the human skin’ in Mundaka Upanisad (1/1/7). (iv) With the example of the ‘bow’ as the medium of the knowledge contained in the Upanisads, the soul as the ‘arrow’, and the Brahma as the target’, The Mundaka Upanisad (2/2/2-5) stresses the need to focus on Brahma with this magnificent allegory of an archer. (v) The Chandogya uses the allegory of the seed of the tree, the salt in the water, the clod of earth, the shadow in the water, the God-demon war, the fire sacrifice itself etc. to highlight the truth about the Atma and the Brahma. (vi) The Kausiaki Brahmana Upanisad uses the example of a wheel (hub-spoke) to describe the relationship the Atma and the outside world (3/9). (vii) Honey or Madhu has been used as a metaphor for the best and the excellent virtues, and it has been used to expound on great metaphysical truths (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 2/5/1-19). This is called ‘Madhu Vidya’. (viii) Similarly, the Sun is used as a metaphor along with honey in Chandogya Upanisad, canto 3 to elucidate the profoundest principles of metaphysics. These 2 Vidyas (Madhu and Aditya) are contemplative techniques used in meditation. (ix) The various elementary forces of Nature-the Sun, the Moon, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Directions etc.-all have been used as metaphors to explain Upanisadic maxim and tenets in Chandogya, canto 2 and 5. Stunning logic is used to explain complicated and profound metaphysical concept in a step-by-step method in the Upanisads.
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