The Upanishads are a Hindu heritage but go far beyond the Hindus. These scriptures are Indian but transcend its territory. The sublime science of the spirit these esoteric teaching enshrine is universal and yet to other spheres we may call trans-universal.
No expression cab be chaster none purer, and none more elevating than the Upanishadic utterances that came down to us from the saints and sages of yore who lived in the forests mediating on the supreme. No thought can be more lofty, none more sublime, and none more inspiring than the thoughts conveyed through the naïve utterances of these Vedic sages who breathed into their words all that is auspices for the whole of humanity.
This work is significant in being the product of a single-minded pursuit and undivided devotion and in completing it with success the author has immortalized himself. The peculiar characteristic of this hole-hearted dedication is that it hasn’t got the least trace of any commercial intent, nor is the strenuous effort motivated by any personal gain.
In this esoteric work the author interprets to us the actual text of Sankara Bhashya on the world’s most ancient and lofty attestation of the science of the self, which combines the eternal rules that govern the phenomenal universe and the intangible cosmos, too rational to be rejected by infidels, too experiential to be ignored by scientists, too rebelliously truthful to be bound by priestly rituals. This book, which is the valuable product of a life-long study and research, can well claim the merit of offering unerring guidance to any sincere student of Indian philosophy.
Anything that is classic in style elevates and inspires; everything else just amuses. ‘Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words’ comes under the first category and goes beyond what a purely loyal textual translation could do for the understanding of the Upanishads, for it shines with the richness of information on a variety of allied topics.
Dr. U.R. Anandamurthy, former Vice-Chancellor of mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam once happened to tell me how, when he visited a University in Poland, the students gathered around him and asked whether he had brought with him the Upanishads from India. Not only in Poland, the thinking minds all the world over also have a fascination for the teaching of the Vedanta, for it is the quintessence of the ancient wisdom and divine thoughts.
In my hectic wanderings I had come across a few commentaries on the Upanishads. I have been much fascinated by the loftiness of thoughts embedded in the Isavasya and I know from reliable sources that, apart from the well-known Bhashya of Sri Sankara on the Isa, there are a few Karikas on it that are interesting. Which are they? My inquisitiveness made me restless.
In the last quarter of 1989 I happened to meet Vidyavachaspati V.Panoli. During our discussion on the Isa. I asked him about the Karikas. Surprisingly enough, he explained to me about all the Karikas written so far on the Isa. The Gobhila Karika and the Narada Karika are the most ancient ones according to him. Besides, there are two other commentaries on it viz. the Karika of Kumara and the Bhashya of Hamsa Yogi which are very little known. That day was auspicious, as proved by later events. Sri Panoli described to me how he dedicated the major part of his life to the study of an research in the Upanishads, how he happened to render into English the whole of the Sankara Bhashya on the ten principal Upanishads, etc. He showed me the volume of the typescripts of the ten major Upanishads with the commentaries. When I ascertained how much time it took him to bring things into that shape, he said, “Eight and a half years”. To spend the best part of one’s life for the study of the sacred texts and render them in English which is the most pervasive tongue, without the least inclination for name and fame or monetary gain, is indeed commendable, especially when the work done is highly beneficial to the future generations. Can there be anything more sublime than to transmit the Knowledge essential for the development of man as man in totality? This is undoubtedly a unique venture, especially when one pauses to ponder over the time and energy spent on it.
Sri Panoli told me that he was in search of a publisher. Let me quote his won words: “I knocked at many doors, but no door Opened”. A work of this magnitude should not run into a waste I consulted Sri P.V. Chandran, Managing editor of Mathrubhumi and asked for his opinion. He, without the least hesitation, concurred with my view that Mathrubhumi should bring out the complete Bhashya of Sri Sankara on the hen major Upanishads as its publication.
Of late, Mathrubhumi has taken a decision that its publication should, as far as possible, be confined to classics in every branch of learning. Since the work discussed here comes under this category, there was no impediment to its publication. Justice Sri V.R. Krishna Iyer released the first volume of this book on the 14th of September 1991. The crowd consisting of the elite of the city was a charming spectacle from the point of view of both number and quality. The passion and fervour with which the generous public received the book seemed to be amazing and Justice Sri V.R. Krishna Iyer and all of us became mystic about it. Who could ever say that the work on the Upanishads would become the best seller? But in the instant case it was proved. The first volume ran out with all speed, leaving behind no copy at the end of the fifth month of its release. Since then the remaining three volumes were also released with great success. This also proved beyond doubt that the decision of Mathrubhumi to publish classics is a correct one. Everything is not dead. Spiritual thoughts live to inspire mankind anywhere and everywhere. As long as there are souls with so much of eagerness and hunger for spiritual unfoldment, we need not despair. And innumerable are the letters we receive from all quarters conveying appreciation and admiration for having brought out this unique work. While publishing the work of such excellence as the one the Mathrubhumi is now doing, we do not generally look into the aspect of return, but there is the satisfaction that we have, within our limits, tried our best to serve a noble cause- the cause that consists in popularizing the man-making character-building ideals conceived by the ancient Rishis of this land, thereby enriching our thoughts and aspirations.
If fills our hearts with pride to say that with the publication of ‘Gita and Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words’, authored by Vidyavachaspati V. Panoli, Mathrubhumi enjoys the privilege of its publication being displayed for me first time on the shelves of hundred University-libraries all over India.
These books have created a tremendous impact, as far as the readers of philosophical literature are concerned. In the annals of the Mathrubhumi no book of classic nature, especially in the field of philosophy, had run out with all speed as did this work of Jagadguru Adi Sankara. As for us, we cannot but attribute this unprecedented success to the infinite grace of the great Acharya.
This work is intended, not for a particular period, but for generations. We feel gratified that Sri Adi Sankara’s commentaries on the Upanishads and the Gita could be brought out completely in English with the texts in the original Sanskrit and with all necessary explanatory notes and footnotes, from the very land in which the great Acharya was born.
This work is significant in being the product of a single-minded pursuit and undivided devotion and in completing it with success the author has immortalized himself. The peculiar characteristic of this whole-hearted dedication is that it hasn’t got the least trace of my commercial intent, nor is the strenuous effort motivated by any personal gain. Another remarkable feature which deserves to be mentioned is the author’s devotion to and reverence for his great teacher, Sahitya Kesari Pandit P.Gopalam Nair (Kollengode). Ever since I came in contact with Vidyavachaspati V. Panoli, I could vividly see that whenever he wrote anything of philosophic import, he could not conclude it without expressing his indebtedness to his great teacher. The very success of these books gives us hope for the future. The great philosophical tradition shall never be dead, nor could it be made extinct. We look forward eagerly to the continued support and co-operation of our readers.
Life is real; life is divine. The goal of every thinking man consists in realizing the reality and divinity of life. But without some sort of awakening, a conscious effort in this direction is not possible.
The peacock waits in the egg; the peepul sleeps in the seed. Even so, death hides in every breath, paving the path to the grave.
Death unweaves the web of life, giving place to birth to rowcave it. Thus human existence is made endless by a neverceasing process of weaving, unweaving and reweaving of its web.
Is there no escape from this endless helpless trap in which the human soul is caught? This quest is as old as the hills, as old as humanity itself.
Hero is the most ancient document about the helpless wandering of the soul, before it finally returns to its moorings. Here is again the most valid document interpreting the oneness of the soul in a unique manner and showing the royal path to the final in a unique manner and showing the royal path to the final release from bondage. By the expression ‘ancient document’, the ten principal Upanishads are meant here, and by ‘valid document’, the Bhashyas of the great Acharya Sri Sankara on them. Both these combine to constitute the encyclopedia of the ancient Purusha by realizing whom man shall become free from his eternal wanderings, from the pangs of birth and death. Then ceases the endless process of weaving and unweaving the web of life. Then, and then alone, can the reality and divinity of life be experienced.
When I was introduced to His Holiness Maharshi Mahesh Yogi by justice Sri V.R Krishna Iyer in Madras on 11-11-1979, there was not even the slight indication that it would lead to any significant event. A few months later, there came information from Justice Iyer that I should go over to Rishikesh and meet Maharshiji. Accordingly I reached Rishikesh on 18-04-1980.
Maharshiji was extremely kind when he, pointing to my earlier work, ‘Gita in Sankara’s Own Words’, remarked, ‘I have read your book; you have done a good work.” Then, to my utter surprise, there came from him the suggestion, “Why not you now bring out ‘Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words’ in the same manner?” This suggestion from his lips came as an utterance of benediction. What reply could I give? The blessed punyabhmi where the suggestion was made was ‘Rishikesh’. The garden of peace where Poojyapada Maharshi and I then sat to discuss these matters bore the name ‘Sankaracharya Nagar’. The whole force of he discussion was brought to bear upon ‘how to popularize the teaching of the great Acharya Sri Sankara’. And the one who made the suggestion was none other than the world-renowned, venerable personage, His Holiness Maharshi Mahesh Yogi himself. Could I give then a reply in the negative? God forbid! I was aware of my limitations, for I know I am stuffed only thinly with the stuff that is fine. Yet I could not but ascertain from Maharshiji whether he mean all the ten principal Upanishads. He replied in the affirmative.
For a split second joy took wings to flutter. Anxiety followed. Can this hazardous task be fulfilled? The stupendous system of monistic thoughts generally known as Prasthanatraya (the three institutions) rests mostly on the ten principal Upanishads, viz Isa. Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka, which alone, being the srutis (revealed thoughts), enjoy the exclusive privilege of having svatapramanya (the unquestionable right to be the authority by themselves). The other two institutions, viz the Gita and the Brahmasutras, cannot claim the above privilege, for, as far as the Advaita philosophy is concerned, the Gita is treated only as a smriti, and the Brahmasutras as one of the six principlal Darsanas. All the ten Upanishads in their entirely have to be brought into this work, incorporating the commentaries of Sri Sankara on them, together with the Gaudapada Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad, in the original Sanskrit, and providing the English translations, explanatory notes and footnotes.
With the grace of the Lord, the work was started in May 1980. It was nothing short of a pilgrimage to go through the naïve utterances of the Upanishads again and again, accompanied by the soul-stirring, hair-splitting interpretations of the great Acharya on them, although various difficulties had to be encountered with, while covering the entire area from the Isavasya to the Brihadaranyaka. With the mercy of the Lord, all the difficulties on the path could also be converted into pilgrim’s joy.
As already pointed out, the texts of the ten Upanishads, the Karika of Sri Gaudapada (on the Mandukya Upanishad), and the Bhashya of Sri Sankara on the Upanishads and Karika, have been provided in the Devanagari character. To understand and realize the beauty and depth of Sri Sankara’s thoughts, his own words will be very much helpful. A mere translation without the Bhashya in the original Snaskrit may not inspire a student Sanskrit to the extent it does, as when the original is provided with the translation. Even in the case of an aspirant who has only a partial knowledge of Sanskrit, it is possible that he may pick up inspiring words, phrases or utterances, here and there, which might in the long run help him for further unfoldment and development, provided he is persistent in his effort. Exhaustive explanatory notes and footnotes have also been provided, wherever necessary, with a view to reducing the difficulties in understanding the essence of the teaching. Care has been taken to avoid all sorts of intellectual pirouetting and somersaulting, for such attempts will tend to defeat the purpose in view which insists on making the whole text as simple as possible without losing the essence.
This humble little work took me eight and a half years for chiseling and modeling. I don’t claim it is free from errors; omissions and the like, for these are unavoidable in a work which goes on for years at a stretch.
God’s ways are mysterious. When he himself is a mystery of mysteries, how can his ways be different? The longest pilgrimage of life has come to its final stage. There were before me insuperable difficulties that seemed to scatter on dust what little I have done. But the eternal deity removed all of them in mysterious and miraculous ways.
I have only prayers to offer together with my soul’s devotion to that eternal deity who made my path smooth.
I must also offer prayers to my departed master, Sahityakesari Pandit P. Gopalan Nair (Kollengode) at whose feel I had laid my soul in devotion and whose living touch I feel on all my limbs even today, twenty-six years after his leaving the mortal coils.
The Acharya’s sententious style of writing, his tersely aphoristic expressions and his intrepid arguments- all this and all these make his writings a wonder for all time, not only in the sphere of Advaita Vedanta, but also in the vast field of the world’s literature, for such is the rare gift of the right word he possessed together with the acutest intellect.
As already stated, this longest pilgrimage went on for a space of eight and a half years during which the scripts could be brought into a complete shape. The work took another three and a half years for printing. Undivided attention had to be bestowed again on it continually during this period for making corrections and alterations. It goes without saying that a work which runs into 3400 pages in four volumes, and which necessitates the use of five different types in Sanskrit and English, demands one’s constant watch. Thus this little work took in all twelve years for assuming its final shape.
I regard it a flattering privilege to be asked to write a Foreword to this unique work. For one thing, I am too unlearned to comprehend the gems of oceanic wisdom the book contains and for another, I lead too busy a life to pause and reflect and move to the next, of that sublime sequence or lofty ideas, to grasp the spiritual essence of the universe of Upanishadic verses the erudite author unveils in the pages that follow Then, how come I was chosen by Vidyavachaspati Panoli to write a Foreword for his magnum opus? Two reasons to over- look my two disabilities, must have prevailed with him. First, of course, is the author's long friendship and deep affection for me. The second is his appreciation of my authentic quest to know -that profound Reality which baffles thought but without experiencing which the world we live in gives a false ring. I am .far from that --- and have miles to go before I sleep. In my incessant search Vachaspati is a friend, philosopher and guide. And as I am unable to avoid him when he requests, so I have consented to present a few ideas as an unlettered man's response to the divine message of the glorious Upanishads. The title of the Volumes is Upanishads In Sankara's Own Words - five words which take us to the ocean floor and Everest peak of spiritual wisdom.
As an Indian I am proud, not so much for being a citizen of a country called the largest democracy where the word 'democracy' has turned sour, but of being heir to the Vedic heritage which enshrines , in its ancient bosom, the Upanishadic revelations and spreads out its cosmic wings and, 'in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven’. This celestial salute is not. obscurantist adoration since I, like many of my generation, have breathed the oxygen of scepticism and read with approval Rubaiyat's dismissal of the philosophical discourses that left the critical listener in cold disbelief. My wife and I used to wonder at the valiantly veraoious lines of Omar Khayyum: Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and Saint- and heard great argument. About lit and about; but came 'Out by the same door as in I went.
But Gitanjali - the matchless marvels, with each song a. celestial jewel - served us as an antidote celebrating the presence of the divine everywhere in every role. Emerson and Whitman, with American elan, invigorated and intoxicated us with advaidic' wonder and we lost ourselves in a new mood of Investigation into that Truth not to search for which leaves man but a monkey, not the claimant for the Supreme Science of the Spirit. Sans this human ascent blended with divine descent, homo sapiens cannot be transformed nor -advance towards a Realisation of his true being. Bernard Shaw'a tart bhashya on Darwin has for us a higher meaning: What Darwin taught us was not that all men were monkeys once but some monkeys have no tails now! Our human status is attested by the stir- rings of the soul which lesser evolutionary states do not possess.
So,_ in moments of intimate companionship my wife' and I mused '3Ibout our Existence 'and Its End, that Odyssey which is perpetual search for that which is within us and without us.
It all began, quite naively, with reading the agnostic inter- rogation of the great Robert Ingersoll. 'Every cradle asks' us whence; every 'coffin whither. Is death a wall or a door?' And this train of thought took us to new dimensions of perception, questioning soberly like Nachiketas or more sombrely, like Savitri: What is death? Is death-hound littleness all that we are? And then we landed on that sublime sloka which gave light to Gandhi's life:
"Isa vasyam idam sarvam < br > yad kincha jagatyam jagat".
The great riddle of Creation challenged the mighty philosopher-physicists Iike James Jeans who wrote 'The Mysterious Universe'. This awesome book stirred my soul in my young days. But all this zigzag journey acquired a poignancy when that integral part of me, dearest Sharada, shuffled off her mortal coils way back in 1974. What is Death? Is there a 'quasi-life beyond life? What is the stuff of the universe which embraces both? Alone, alone, all, all alone, alone in a wide, wide sea, I navigated blindly, seeking aid from any lighthouse of learning I came by. Vachaspati Panoli, once in search of legal justice had chanced to meet me, was one such luminous support. He shed light whenever I met him at leisure in Calicut. So he knew the depth of my yearning to cross the lines of darkness beyond death and the burning sincerity of my longing for light about birth and death as a continuum. Tennyson was often on my lips:
"So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry"
Panoli knew of my cry within as we often met and talked about things. These circumstances also must have persuaded, the learned author to put pressure on me to write a Foreword. There is one more nexus between Panoli and me, via Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, in the writing of this sublime work. For several years, in my hectic higher wanderings after 1974, I chased and chanced on many elevated souls and Maharshiji was a leading light among them. While my scientific enquiry into what happens to humans after death did not meet with success in the Mahesh Yogi mansions of meditation and pathways into that "undiscovered country from whose borne no traveller returns" remains ill-lit, still there were transcendental discussions sweeping over the unfoldment of Creation, of the. Manifest and the Unmanifest and of things profound which were geared to a spiritual revolution rooted in the Vedas and reaching out, through 'the Shastras, to the stars. Nothing worldly was alien to this message of the Maharshi and nothing celestial was irrelevant to the teachings of creative intelligence which were the Maharshi's gift to universal wisdom. While listening to, and occasionally participating in, these deliberations and conferences, I wondered whether Vachaspati Panoli with his immense esoteric erudition would make an impact on the Maharshi himself. With his permission, I got Panoli into the Maharshi fold. He spent considerable time in Switzerland and in Rishikesh. Impressed With his learning and capability for writing on the ancient texts of the East, Maharshiji informally summoned Vachaspati to write on a topic which is now the title of the present book. The grand undertaking has now been accomplished altho' Maharshiji has shifted his focus from the Upanishads to fresh woods and pastures new. The science of being and the art of living, which has fascinated Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, springs from the Rig Veda; 'and the Ganga of Indian learning floods his vision. However, some of his odd adventures have not found my humble appreciation, altho' an abiding respect for him remains. Sri Panoli, taking great pains beyond ordinary mortal effort, has completed the work assigned to him - not for any material rewards but for the fulfilment of that mission which few can do with success. Since I was, in a vague way, a responsible link between Mahar- shiji and Vachaspati, he has been discussing, off and on, with me the project of publication of his work. Publish he must, lest the world should he poorer, but Maharshiji has not responded to Panoli's request for benediction and sanction for publication. Be that as it may, the volumes will be before the public to promote the spiritual happiness of humanity. My mediation in the Upanishadic undertaking must have been a further factor in Panoli's mind in putting pressure on me to write the Foreword which I have consented to do.
Let me confess, at the outset, to my gross inadequacy to deal, even summarily, with the Upanishads which scale the supreme height of cosmic comprehension humanity has ever attained. The esoteric meaning, the variorum of bhashyams and the perennial essence flowing there from are 00 blended and boundless 'that even a superficial presentation to initiate interest demands a measure of scholarship, a duration of contemplation and a degree of inner experience too overwhelming for small me. Even 00, as a lay jijnasu let me tell you a few things my perepheral pursuits enable me to mention.
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