In my early to mid twenties I spent considerable time studying scriptures and their exegeses (and the most fundamental of the theological works) of world’s major religions. Now, some thirty years later, enjoying the fairways on the back-nine of my life’s course, I am trying to revisit these scriptures as and when I get time. The idea is to see what still seems to shine as bright in the twilight of my intellectual journey as it did at the base camp.
Recently I read the humungous works of the Vedas again. I have not been so interested in ‘Karma Kanda’ section of each of the four parts of the Vedas as these sections deal with the hymns and rituals of Hinduism and the ritualized religion is not of great interest to me. However, here are some excerpts from ‘Jnana Kanda’ sections of the Vedas. This part of the Vedas, that tells us what it really means to be a human being, is not merely for Hindus, it is universal – Vedic India’s precious legacy to humanity that continues to dazzle after five to four thousand years.
It is hard to think of a scripture or text of the same age (some 5,000 years ago) that can match Vedas in its understanding of human nature. Rarely have I seen such distillation of spiritual wisdom as in these parts of the Vedas, which are together called Upanishads. The Upanishads are empirical rather than urging to believe and thus undermining our sense of logic and our sense of responsibility for discerning truth for ourselves. Their narrative is non-judgmental that speaks with passion about darkness and ignorance and not with anger about sin and punishment.
Know the Self as lord of the chariot,
The body as the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as
The charioteer, and the mind as reins.
The senses, say the wise, are the horses;
Selfish desires are the roads they travel.
When the Self is confused with the body,
Mind, and senses, they point out, he seems
To enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow.
(The Katha Upanishad — 1.3.3-4)
We live not by the breath that flows in
And flows out, but by Him who causes the breath
To flow in and out.
(The Katha Upanishad — 2.2.5)
Knowing the senses to be separate
From the Self, and the sense experience
To be fleeting, the wise grieve no more.
Above the senses is the mind, above
The mind is the intellect, above that
Is the ego, and above the ego
Is the un-manifested Cause.
And beyond is God, omnipresent,
Attribute-less, realizing Him one is released
From the cycle of birth and death.
He is formless and can never be seen
With these two eyes. But He reveals Himself
In the heart made pure through meditation
And sense restraint. Realizing Him, one is
Released from the cycle of birth and death.
(The Katha Upanishad — 2.3.6-9)
When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
This sums up the teaching of the scriptures.
From the heart there radiate a hundred
And one vital tracks. One of them rises
To the crown of the head. This way leads
To immortality, the others to death.
(The Katha Upanishad — 2.3.14-16)
The earth comes from the waters, plants from earth, and man from plants, so man is speech, and speech is the resonance of soul. (The Chandogya Upanishad — 1.2)
Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet, smaller than even the kernel of a grain of millet is the Self. This is the Self dwelling in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than all the worlds. (The Chandogya Upanishad — 3.14.2)
Control the sense and purify the mind. In a pure mind there is constant awareness of the Self. Where there is constant awareness of the Self, freedom ends bondage and joy ends sorrow. (The Chandogya Upanishad — 7.26.2)
Time, nature, necessity, accident,
Elements, energy, intelligence –
None of these can be the First Cause.
They are effects, whose only purpose is
To help the self rise above pleasure and pain.
(The Shvetashavatara Upanishad — 1.2)
In the golden city of the heart dwells
The Lord of Love, without parts, without stain.
Know him as the radiant light of lights.
There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star,
Nor flash of lightning, nor fire lit on earth.
The Lord is the light reflected by all.
He shining, everything shines after him.
(The Mundaka Upanishad — 2.2.10-11)
Having taught the Vedas, the teacher says:
Speak the truth. Do your duty. Neglect not the scriptures. Give your best to your teacher. Do not cut off the line of progeny. Swerve not from the truth. Swerve not from the good. Protect your spiritual progress always. Give your best in learning and teaching. Never fail in respect to the sages. See the divine in your mother, father, teacher, and guest. Never do what is wrong. Honour those who are worthy of honour. Give with faith. Give with love. Give with joy. (The Taittiriya Upanishad — 1.11.1-3)
They have attained the goal who realize God as the supreme reality, the source of truth, wisdom, and boundless joy. They see the Lord in the cave of the heart and are granted all the blessings of life. (The Taittiriya Upanishad — 2.1.1)
The mind may be said to be of two kinds, pure and impure. Driven by the senses it becomes impure; but with the senses under control the mind becomes pure.
It is the mind that frees us or enslaves. Driven by the senses we become bound; master of the senses we become free. Those who seek freedom must master their senses.
When the mind is detached from the senses one reaches the summit of consciousness. Mastery of the mind leads to wisdom. Practise meditation. Stop all vain talk. The highest state is beyond reach of thought, for it lies beyond all duality.