This work is significant in being the product of a single-minded pursuit and undivided devotion and incompleting 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.
When Nalanda University was ransacked, two surviving monks managed to salvage the most precious manuscripts from the pillaged library. While ferrying this priceless cargo, water started entering the boat. The two exchanged glances and the story goes that without a word the elder monk jumped into the river, sacrificing his life for knowledge. May I take the liberty to say that this 5th volume in the ‘Prasthanathraya’ series, conceived by an exegete nonpareil- the late Vidyabhooshanam, Vidyavachaspati V Panoli, like the earlier volumes would qualify for inclusion in such a category of invaluable works. Of unique significance is the the fact that it is for the first time in publishing history that exegeses of the major 10 Upanishads, Bhagvat Gita and Brahmasuthra Bhashyam, collectively known as ‘Prasthanathrayam’ is being brought out as a single volume.
Every generation had lived under the delusion that they were passing through the most turbulent period in history. With us the delusion has turned reality. We can claim the dubious distinction of being the first species on vasundhara, to have contrived to bring about its won doom and that of amazing biodiversity. This is in contrast to the five mass extinctions recorded in the last six hundred million years, precipitated by natural causes. As we labour under the shadow of imminent catastrophe, the mind more than ever seeks solace in ancient texts of wisdom.
Perhaps, more than even in the empirical sciences, the rigour and ligic of brutal enquiry is manifest in the Upanishads. For it is a craving after the truth that will set us free from delusions. Our land has been singularly blessed in numbers by such women and men obsessed with this search after the essence of existence. The last such sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi, spent a whole saintly lifetime exploring a single question: ‘naan yaar?’ (Who am I?) The realization that the cessation of our life would register as much in the panoply of creation as an infant’s burp in a raging thunderstorm, should lead us to be less egoistic and more caring.
Even otherwise, as we ponder the existential insignificance of our days, running like a vanishing shadow in the last rays of a setting sun, it is the life of the spirit that sustains us. A knowledge beyond the compass of science, which cannot conceive of anything greater than the lengthiest time lapse of 2*10:17 seconds (time taken by a ray of light to traverse the conjectured radius of our universe, known as cosmic chronon) or anything shorter than the atomic chronon of 10:-23 seconds, beyond which it is impossible to calculate a process with anything less. Thought it is assumed that there is a corresponding upper bound and lower bound mental chronon, the spiritual guidance of texts such as these shatter such professed limits of consciousness. The teachings of the Gita straddle the entire gamut of human experience captured between these two extremes. Similarly, the esoteric knowledge of the Brahmasuthra Bhashyam enables souls to navigate over the ocean of knowledge.
The house of Mathrubhumi has always been committed to serving the cause of the society that sustains us. Even while disseminating information, the core competency of our organization, we have always been alive to fostering the values of compassion and humanity, catholic values common to religions. In a society increasingly rent by the inequality predicament, thus it becomes more relevant to propagate words that will usher us into the light of compassion and understanding.
It is a great honour on behalf of the Mathrubhumi to offer this work to the reading public. Indeed it is a honour doubled, for one of the greatest consolations in my life has been my knowing intimately the late master Panoli, who himself sat at the feet of the revered teacher, Sahitya Kesari Pandit P. Gopalan Nair of kollengode. The work on this master book of knowledge was started by Vidyavachaspathi V. Panoli, who unfortunately passed away before the could finish this noble task. The greatest tribute paid to the revered Sri. Panoli is that of the former Judge of the Supreme Court, Sri. V.R. Krishna lyer, who in his foreword to the second volume of “Upanishads in Sankaras’ commentaries in his own words… Not many have the vision nor the passion, nor indeed the erudition needed for the great undertaking. Vachaspati, by his performance, is challengingly seeking to prove his competence.” It was left to Dr. M.R. Rajesh to complete the unfinished portion, whose contribution also I am pleased to acknowledge.
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 make my path smooth.
I must also offer prayers to my departed master, Sahityakesari Pandit P. Gopalan Nair (Kollengode) at whose feet 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.
It was nothing but a blissful experience to go into the inmost recesses of the Upanishads with the commentaries of Sri Sankaracharya on them. 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.
This longest pilgrimage went on for a space of eight and a half years during which the scripts on the ten major Upanishads beginning with Isavasya and ending with Brihadaranytha, including the Karika of Sri Gaudapadacharya on the Mandukya Upanishad, 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 tittle work took in all twelve years for assuming its final shape.
Let me with all modesty point out that this work is not a mere translation of Sankara Bhashya, as could be seen from the facts given below. The Hindu’, Madras, while reviewing my earlier work, “Gita in Sankara’s own words”, made the following remarks:
“This is an interesting book which goes beyond what a purely loyal, textual translation could do towards assisting in the understanding of the Gita. Indeed the author has provided a full measure of his capabilities in this field.”
The same observation is true of ‘Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words also, for the method of writing is identical in both the cases. Further, the introductory and explanatory notes and the footnotes provided in ‘Upanishads in Sankara’s own words’ are much more exhaustive than those in the Gita. Thus the whole scope, sole aim, goes beyond a mere textual translation.
If I am asked what moment in life was felt to be most sacred and serene, elevating and inspiring I must point to the occasion when the first volume of this work was released by Justice Sri V.R. Krishna lyer on 14.8.1991, for it marked the accomplishment of the humble little task to which His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and himself had set me. As already pointed out in the preface to the first volume, this pilgrimage would not have become possible, if an exalted personage like Justice Krishna Lyer was not there in the fore front to give the impetus. Besides, he blessed this venture with a very valuable and exhaustive foreword in which he breathed the breath of inspiration and said, “An epic, exceeding 3000 pages, where Adi Shankara is walking into a twenty-first century library, is not a mean achievement.” This vision was prophetic, for the Government of India has since then purchased the copies of all the published volumes for use in hundred University libraries in India. Moreover, he was too good to refuse me, whenever I approached him for his advice or intervention in matters connected with this work. I firmly believe that it is owing to the accumulated virtue to my past lives that I could win his approbation. By this act of kindliness, Justice Sri V.R. Krishna lyer has made me his eternal slave and I shall ever be proud to lay claim to it. I express my gratitude to him with all my heart’s devotion.
The role of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in this venture is definitely significant. Undoubtedly, his utterance of benediction, coupled with the personal magnetism of Justice Sri V.R. Krishna lyer, had led to this work’s creation. Since I have given a detailed account of all this in the preface to the first volume, I don’t add anything further here. The Maharishi is one of the Maha Purushas I have seen in this life and it has been my rare privilege to have got myself introduced to him by Justice lyer. I express my gratitude to His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from the innermost depth of my heart.
The part played by Sri M.P. Veerendrakumar, Chairman & managing director, The Mathrubhumi printing & publishing Co. Ltd. Is equally significant. The book, “Upanishads in Sankara’s Own Words” has become a reality to-day. It has found a place in almost all the University libraries in India. When I pause to reflect how this has become possible, I am constrained to bend my knee before the unsullied virtues, indomitable courage and strong will of Sri Veerendrakumar who took the bold initiative to publish this work, for it was well-nigh impossible to imagine that a person other than himself or an institution, or a society would readily come forward to publish this work which runs into volumes and the yield of which could not be predicted then. This I speak from firm conviction, for all my earlier pursuits to find out a publisher for this work had virtually failed. It is here that Sri Veerendrakumar proved himself to be a man among men by coming foreward to publish it, disregarding all the impending risks.
This cyclonic Jain has a Hindu brain, although he hugs to his breast the purest tenets of his own cult. Of all the systems of thought, Advaita-Vedanta has filled his very being with its irresistible charm, and once he went so far as to say:
“Sankara’s message is unique. In the whole world there is none to excel it, for every word has been written to the rigorously logical effect, and no approach to God can be more rational than that of his. My thoughts reach God more fully when I base them on the unerring guidelines provided by the Acharya in his commentaries. The more I try to follow closely the thoughts of the Acharya in his commentaries. The more I try to follow closely the thoughts of the Acharya, the more I dwell in them, more and more has this conviction come to me”.
Even a staunch follower of Hinduism who is supposed to have studied the Indian philosophy in the traditional way cannot be seen to possess such a fiery conviction as stated above, as far as the sane and sacred teachings of the great Acharya are concerned. Much less to speak of the ordinary religionists. Sri Veerendrakumar has, by publishing this work, served the cause of Hinduism in a better and effective way than what the so called religionists who claim themselves to be the saviours of Hinduism could do. And by that act of nobility coupled with the boldness of spirit and sincerity of purpose, he made me his captive and no ransom will be sufficient to redeem the debt. May the omniscient Lord and the Rishis of yore shower their grace on him? I express my gratitude to him from the inmost shrine of my heart.
I shall be failing in my duty if I do not acknowledge my indebtedness to Sri P.V. Chandran, Managing editor, The Mathrubhumi Printing & publishing Co. He who, apart from being the managing editor of the Mathrubhumi, is acclaimed and accepted as a successful and commanding business man with very wide repute, has always been a silent but strong supporter of all genuine causes of religion, faith and culture, as evidenced by his own statement (in the publishers note dated 1.3/93, Vol. III) which runs as follows:
“It is not with a view to make gain that we have undertaken to publication of this work. Our only aim consists in popularizing the time-honoured spiritual teachings of this ancient land.”
The support extended by him to the publication of this work is very valuable. I thank Sri P.V. Chandran from the depth of my heart.
I also thank Dr. C.K. Ramachandran, M.R.C.P. (London), Calicut, with all gratefulness for the genuine interest ha has taken in this work from beginning to end, with an adoration surging up from his inborn passion for the ancient lore.
My sincere thanks are also due to Sri P.M. Shasheendran, Manager- Production, The Mathrubhumi Printing & publishing Co., for the care and attention he has bestowed at all levels on the production of these volumes, laying stress on elegance and excellence.
All the major Upanishads are great books, godly books; But the Brihadaranyaka is the Upanishad among the Upanishads. It belongs to the Sukla Yajur Veda, especially to the portions constituting its Madhyamdina and Kanva branches. Being the biggest in size, it is called Brihad, and since this grat message was delivered in the forest, it is called Aranyaka. Of ail the commentaries on the Upanishads written by Sri Sankaracharya, that on the Brihadaranyaka will lead one to think that none, nobody of man, could ever write a more exhaustive and excellent treatise than this, for the highly inspired utterances of the Upanishad, coupled with the tersely aphoristic expressions of the great Acharya, will speak volumes to any sincere student of philosophy
This Upanishad is presented in three main Kandas called the Madhukanda, the Yajnavalkya-kandas (or the Muni-kanda) and the Khila-kanda. Again, each of the three kandas is divided into two Adhyayas. Thus there are six Adhyayas consisting of forty-seven Brahmanas in all. While the first Kanda holds in its bosom the principles of Advaita in their pristine purity, the second proclaims the infallibility of the teachings and the third describes the process of meditation.
It goes without saying that there never was an Indian theologian whom the Brihadaranyaka had not inspired or who had not quoted a few passages from it in support of his views, and there shall never be one in future. Elsewhere it has been pointed out how it went so far as to inspire the renowned poet T.S. Elliot who hastened to incorporate the teaching of the Brihadaranyaka in his celebrated work The Waste Land’.
It is impossible for anyone to pick up all the telling utterances of this Upanishad and invite the attention of the readers to their import, for it is so vast as will cover countless pages. But one should not fail to make mention here of a few of those oft-quoted utterances such as, Asato ma sadgamaya (Lead me from unreality to reality), Atmaivedamagra asit (In the beginning this was nothing but the self), Yatha pasurevam sa Devanam (As is cow to us, so is man to the gods), Nava are patyuh kamaya pati priyo bhavati (The husband is dear, not for husband’s sake, but for the self’s sake), which are capable of waking up the sleeping soul.
The dialogues between Gargya and Ajatasatru, Yajnavalkya and his wife maitreyi, and his disciple Janaka, and the impartation of a unique message in one syllable viz. da by Prajapati to the Devas, Manushyas and Asuras, and several other discussions, debates etc. Which find a place in this Upanishad, will certainly open new vistas of thoughts before us.
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