It is now time for us to conclude. We studied all the eleven most important Upaniṣads belonging to the corpus of spiritual thoughts of India, spanning over many centuries or even millennia. Innumerable studies and interpretations of the Upaniṣads had already taken place in different periods, in the past.
Our study, however, is different from all these conventional ones in that our focus was on unravelling the rational thoughts which are presented in the Upaniṣads with mythological encryption. We decoded all such encryptions and reached at the pure rational conceptions within. And, what did we see? The finest and the most sublime discovery that mankind has ever made on the existence of universe; it is the concept of Ātmā, the ultimate of all that exists. We found that Ātmā is only a principle, the constitution of which is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. This principle is the driving force and the ruler of the whole universe. Any movement occurring anywhere in the universe is in furtherance of the urge impelled by this principle. In fact, SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA is only an abstraction of the manifold activities in the universe into three basic urges namely, (i) to exist, (ii) to know and express and (iii) to derive happiness; these urges are respectively SAT, CHIT and ĀNANDA, which when merged together, like various colours in sunlight, are known as SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA or Ātmā. We further saw that this Ātmā is the only God and Lord of all, pervading all, and without any sign or idol. Ātmā projects the phenomenal world by invoking its power of Prakṛti or Māyā. With Prakṛti invoked, Ātmā is called Puruṣa; the Prakṛti-Puruṣa combine is Brahma, which, on expansion, projects the universe.
To put specifically, our study identified i) the precise nature of Ātmā, Puruṣa, Prakṛti and Brahma, (ii) the subtle difference between Ātmā and Brahma, (iii) the fact that the principle of SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA is only an abstraction of all activities in the universe, (iv) the fact that Thalamus, the centre of consciousness within, is the Heart revealed in scriptures as location of Ātmā in beings, and above all, (v) the existence of consistency and mutual corroboration of thoughts in all the eleven Upaniṣads. It is these findings that make our study distinct from conventional interpretations done in the past by enlightened Sannyasins and learned scholars. We have unfailingly conformed to these findings, all through our study. We also took particular care in presenting the study in a logical format so as to facilitate easy understanding.
Perception of Ātmā as the only God and the only Lord is the fundamental spiritual philosophy of the Upaniṣads. It is not another spiritual philosophy, but the ultimate one. It is the science of spirituality; for, it is purely rational, not based on unfounded beliefs or blind faith. All other spiritual philosophies, moral codes, social laws and all are derivatives of this philosophy, often expressed with varying degrees of adulteration effected by dogmas.
If the rational spiritual philosophy of the Upaniṣads also finds practical expression as a religion, as is usual with any other spiritual philosophy, it must be known as the ‘Religion of the Upaniṣads’. What is now being practised as the Hindu religion is only a highly corrupted version of this religion. Hindu religious practices have to undergo thorough reformation to live up to the most scientific spiritual philosophy of the world which constitutes their essence.
The religion of the Upaniṣads is the religion of ultimate freedom, a religion that promotes personal liberty. It does not require anybody to invariably follow a particular faith or to uphold any specified belief or to observe any prescribed rite or discipline; it is absolutely devoid of such demands and dictates. You are at liberty to ponder over whatever is preached to you and then accept only that which is felt reasonable; no dogmatism and no authoritarianism. This religion does not recognise the services of priests and mediators; it also does not recognise any differentiation between the God and the worshipper or between the leader and the follower. All is One; there is only ‘I’, all in One.
Religion of the Upaniṣads asserts unity of origin and unity of essence of all beings. It is all about transcending the diversity of external appearances and characteristics and attaining to the unity of inner essence. The spirit of this inner equality makes it devoid of all kinds of discrimination and hatred. It is the universal religion. What it presently lacks is proper dissemination of its principles. Effort to inculcate these principles in the minds of all has to start at the very stage of childhood. This is essential to illumine their future lives with positive values and broader vision of universal oneness.
All known religions possess various sets of prescriptions on rites and observances as a means to practise their distinct spiritual philosophy. These prescriptions mostly aim at appeasing the God of their perception, for favours of physical well-being. This appeasement is made by singing praises to that God, visualised in human form, and by offering presents in the form of money, gold and other valuables; this is akin to bribing some power-wielding, greedy mortals for securing protection and favours. In contrast, Religion of the Upaniṣads does not approve of this notion of appeasement. For, it does not consider God as a glorified being in human form, amenable to appeasement and inclined to deliver favours in return; moreover, it does not recognise acquisition and arrogation of physical possessions as a goal of spiritual pursuit. Religion of the Upaniṣads, on the other hand, holds that durable happiness is obtained only by living the life in conformity with the principle of Ātmā. An action that is in conformity with this principle is known as puṇya karma and the opposite as pāpa karma. When a puṇya karma is done, the doer feels contented and enriched, since it resonates well with his inherent essence which is SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA. On the other hand, when a pāpa karma is done, the doer is upset internally as it is repugnant to his very essence. This contradiction between the inner essence and the outer expression throws him into a chaos which diminishes his strength and culminates in his total ruin. In the social front, when pāpa karmas become rampant threatening the peace and well-being of the society, the ultimate ruling principle, SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA, intervenes by churning out sufficient opposite forces to contain the adverse impacts and to finally assert itself. This is what Gīta says ‘saṃbhavāmi yuge yuge’ (4.8). Pāpa karmas are like obstructions to natural flow of water in a river; when they reach an intolerable level, water musters sufficient force and thrashes away all the obstructions with a violent sweep.
All self-centred pursuits for physical yields will end up in retaliations and entanglements. Only by abiding with the principle of Ātmā that one can secure hassle-free, durable happiness. We should therefore get enlightened about that principle. That is why Upaniṣads say that only by knowing the Ātmā one can attain bliss. Gīta prescribes this knowing as the only one goal deserving to be pursued, not too many, as would be the case with physical benefits (Gīta 2.41 to 2.44).
Everybody knows that we are not isolated beings here; we are part of a magnificent whole. We consist of all that is here; we together constitute the whole. Therefore, our happiness is the happiness of the whole; we have no separate happiness. As such, we have to work for the happiness of the whole; our happiness is involved in that happiness. All our actions should comply with this understanding. This is the practical implication of being in conformity with the principle of Ātmā.
We have already seen that ‘knowing’ Ātmā, according to Upaniṣads, is not simply understanding; it is but experiencing also. Then, the question is how to experience it. Actually we are always experiencing Ātmā; but we don’t recognise that fact. We enjoy pudding, laddu, etc. Sugar is the main constituent in them; without sugar there is no pudding and no laddu. Because of ignorance of this truth we don’t recognise that we are enjoying the sweetness of sugar. We simply say, “O, the pudding is good” or “laddu is good”. We don’t say that we have known the sweetness of sugar. Experiencing sugar is achieved by recognising its presence and consciously feeling it. Like this, experiencing Ātmā is achieved by recognising it in everything and consciously feeling it. This state of conscious feeling is achieved by meditation.
Having already known what Ātmā is, we are now concerned with meditation. It is really the lone spiritual practice under the Religion of Upaniṣads, apart from gaining simple knowledge about Ātmā. We shall see here how it can be done; this is only a model, not an inviolable prescription.
In a peaceful place and time, sit erect on a firm seat with the legs folded and hands placed on the thighs. The intention is to sit in a very comfortable posture. Close the eyes; concentrate on the upper tip of the nose between eye-brows; slowly move the attention backwards horizontally to touch the cross line that passes through the head at level with the ears. It is approximately at this point the Thalamus or the Heart which is the centre of consciousness within the body, is situated. Thalamus has two halves of bulb-shaped masses, each half having a length of about 3 cm. Praśna says that to this Heart, 101 main nerves are connected, out of which one projects upward. Each of these 101 nerves branches into 7.2 million secondary and tertiary nerves. Heart is the centre of consciousness, the light of Ātmā; from the Heart consciousness spreads to all parts of the body through nerves. Concentrate attention on the Heart and feel the flow of consciousness from the Heart to all parts of the body, like water from a perennial spring. Contemplate that every cell of the body is filled with the splendour of pure consciousness and that the whole body is drenched in it. Feel yourself as being inundated with that splendour. Remain in this position as long as possible; it will refresh you with new energy. By constant practice, you will feel like being in that splendour constantly. While being in that position you will have no more prayers to be made to any external agent; for, at this state, there is no ‘another’ to pray to. Your prayers will therefore be converted into wills. You may will anything to be done.
What we saw here is only a beginning. Constant practice will stabilise you in the splendour of consciousness. This is the highest goal of the Religion of Upaniṣads; such identification with Ātmā makes one immortal. Though the instances of reaching that goal are very rare, we should not abstain or discontinue. Any effort, however small it may be, will be helpful in bringing about inner enrichment to a proportionate level; it takes us closer and closer to the ultimate principle. Moreover, such efforts never produce any opposite effect; there is also nothing to lose by discontinuance (Gīta 2.40).
What we have seen above is the two facets of spiritual enlightenment, social and individual. That means, spirituality guides man to live a meaningful and ideal social life, on the one hand, and on the other, it enriches him to attain to the highest state of being.
Transformation of prayers into wills is exemplified by the Peace Invocations (Śānti Mantras) of Upaniṣads; no Deva or Lord is addressed therein for securing anything. The only exception is the Upaniṣads under Atharva Veda, namely Praśna, Muṇḍaka and Māṇḍūkya; note that Atharva is a later compilation. Śānti Mantras appear in the beginning and end of the Upaniṣads. The same Śānti Mantra appears in all the Upaniṣads under a particular Veda. Since Yajerveda has two branches, namely the Kṛṣṇa and Śukla Yajurvedas, separate Śānti Mantras are used in each of them. Thus there are five important Śānti Mantras; we shall have a look at them all.
Let us first see the Śānti Mantra of Aitareya Upaniṣad, the only Principal Upaniṣad under Ṛgveda.
ॐ वाङ्मे मनसि प्रतिष्ठिता | मनो मे वाचि प्रतिष्ठितम् | आविराविर्म एधि | वेदस्य म आणीस्थः| श्रुतं मे मा प्रहासीरनेनाधीतेनाहोरात्रान् संदधामि | ऋतं वदिष्यामि सत्यं वदिष्यामि | तन्मामवतु तद्वक्तारमवतु | अवतु मां अवतु वक्तारं अवतु वक्तारम् ||
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
vāṅme manasi pratiṣṭhitā; mano me vāci pratiṣṭhitaṃ; āvirāvirma edhi; vedasya ma
āṇīsthaḥ; śrutaṃ me mā prahāsīranenādhītenāhorātrān saṃdadhāmi; ṛtaṃ vadiṣyāmi satyaṃ vadiṣyāmi; tanmāmavatu tadvaktāramavatu; avatu māṃ avatu vaktāraṃ avatu vaktāram.
om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
Word Meaning: vāk- speech (utterance); me- my; manasi- in mind; pratiṣṭhitā- established; manaḥ- mind; vāci- in speech; pratiṣṭhitaṃ- established; āvis- evident, manifest; āvirāvis- more and more evident; ma- to me; edhi- enlarged, more clarified or apparent; vedasya- of Veda, of learning; ma- to me, my; āṇī- instruments, means, agents; sthaḥ- (you two) are; śrutaṃ- whatever learned; me- to me; mā- not; prahāsīḥ- be lost; anenādhītena- by that learning; ahorātrān- day and night; saṃdadhāmi- I shall unite; ṛtaṃ- SAT, the ruling principle of the world; vadiṣyāmi – I shall speak of; satyaṃ Satyam; tat- that; mām- me; avatu- may protect; vaktāram- the expounder, teacher; avatu māṃ – may I be protected; avatu vaktāraṃ – may the teacher be protected.
śāntiḥ- peace, calmness.
Mantra Meaning: My speech (utterance) is established in my mind; my mind is established in my speech. (May everything) be more and more evident and clarified to me. (O, speech and mind), you two are my instruments for learning. May what I have learnt be never lost. I shall unite day and night by that learning. I shall speak of SAT and Satyam; May that protect me and the teacher. May I be protected; may the teacher be protected.
The Mantra states that the mind and the speech are established in each other. What one speaks is what there is in his mind; what there is in one’s mind is what he learned by repeated recitation (by speech). This is the implication of the statement. It is obvious here that mind and speech are the instruments of learning. It is through them that one acquires correct and clarified knowledge. The prayer seeks that the acquired knowledge is never lost. The phrase ‘uniting day and night by the learning’ implies perseverance and constant effort throughout day and night. Ṛtaṃ is SAT which indicates Ātmā, the ruling principle of the universe; Satyam indicates, as we know, Brahma. ‘I shall speak of Ṛtaṃ and Satyam’ means ‘I shall study about Ātmā and Brahma’. ‘May that protect’ implies ‘may such study’ protect. Upaniṣads repeatedly declare that knowing Ātmā and Brahma makes one immortal. This declaration is relied in this Mantra.
Śānti is peace or calmness of mind obtained by alleviation of miseries; the word is repeated three times aiming to alleviate all the three kinds of miseries affecting humans.
The next Mantra is seen in Upaniṣads belonging to Śukla Yajurveda; Īśa and Bṛhadāraṇyaka are the two Principal Upaniṣads which use this Mantra.
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते | पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते||
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
om pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṃ pūrṇātpūrṇamudacyate; pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate.
om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
Word Meaning: pūrṇam- Pūrṇam, that which is full, complete, absolute, saturated, whole, ultimate; adaḥ- that; idaṃ- this; pūrṇāt- from Pūrṇam; udacyate- emitted out; pūrṇasya- to the Pūrṇam; ādāya- having taken, having merged; pūrṇameva- Pūrṇam alone; avaśiṣyate- be left out, remains.
Mantra Meaning: That is Pūrṇam, this is Pūrṇam. Pūrṇam emerges from Pūrṇam. Pūrṇam on having merged to Pūrṇam, remains as Pūrṇam alone.
This Mantra, though short in size, actually presents one of the important basic tenets of Upaniṣadic philosophy. Upaniṣads say that this universe emerged from the ultimate principle, Ātmā and that it will finally merge into Ātmā. In other words, the universe is only an expression of Ātmā. It is well settled that Ātmā is absolute, ultimate and the whole; that means it is Pūrṇam. The words ‘that’ and ‘this’ in the Mantra indicate worldly objects there and here or far and near. All worldly objects are said to be body parts of Ātmā; they are manifestations of Ātmā. They are pervaded by Ātmā; they are actually Ātmā itself appearing in those forms. So, both are Pūrṇam; ‘that’ and ‘this’ are Pūrṇam. They emerged from Ātmā, the Pūrṇam; from Pūrṇam, only Pūrṇam can come out. So, it is said: ‘pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate’. What happens if all these merge into Ātmā? It will remain as such, as Pūrṇam only. Hence the Mantra declaration, “pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate” (Pūrṇam on having merged to Pūrṇam, remains as Pūrṇam alone).
Now we go to the next Mantra which is seen in Upaniṣads belonging to Samaveda (Kena and Chāndogya). This Mantra is an expression of an earnest wish to become one with Brahma.
ॐ आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुःश्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि।
सर्वं ब्रह्मोपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा ब्रह्म निराकरोद् अनिराकरणमस्तु अनिराकरणं मेऽस्तु। तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥
Oṃ āpyāyantu mamāṅgāni vākprāṇaścakṣuḥ śrotramatho balamindriyāṇi ca sarvāṇi;
sarvam brahmaupaniṣadam mā’haṃ brahma nirākuryāṃ mā mā brahma nirākarodanirākaraṇamastvanirākaraṇam me’stu. tadātmani nirate ya upaniṣatsu dharmāste mayi santu te mayi santu.
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.
Word Meaning: āpyāyantu- may be(come) strong, powerful; mama- my; aṅgāni- body parts; vāk- speech; prāṇa- breath; cakṣuḥ- eyes; śrotram- ears; athaḥ- and, further; balam-stamina; indriyāṇi- senses; ca- and; sarvāṇi- all; sarvam- all this; brahma- Brahma; upaniṣadam- declared in the Upaniṣads; ma- not; aham- I; nirākaroti- negate, separate off; mā’haṃ brahma nirākuryāṃ – may I not negate Brahma; mā mā brahma nirākarot – may Brahma not separate me off; anirākaraṇam- non-negation; astu- may there be; me- to me; tat- that; ātmani- within; nirate- attached, linger; ya- ye- which; upaniṣatsu- in Upaniṣads; dharmaḥ- ordinances, principles; te- they; mayi- in me; santu- may there be.
Mantra Meaning: May my body parts be strong; may my speech, breath, eyes, ears, stamina and all senses be powerful. All this (present here) is Brahma declared in the Upaniṣads. May I not negate (defy) Brahma; may Brahma not negate me. May there be non-negation; may there be non-negation to me; may that (non-negation) linger within (me). May the ordinances of Upaniṣads be always present in me.
The first yearning in this Mantra is for a strong body; this is because, without a strong and healthy body, sustained pursuit of the ultimate knowledge is not feasible. The second yearning is that there may not be any mutual negation of Brahma and the current seeker. This implies his earnest desire to be one with Brahma; he wants that this desire must constantly reverberate within him. Finally, he wants to bear in mind all the ordinances of the Upaniṣads; for, these ordinances are leading lights in the pursuit of spiritual realisation.
We shall now see the Mantra that is found in Upaniṣads of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. It expresses a wish jointly made by the disciple and the master. They want the process of learning and teaching to be a smooth one without room for any prejudices. See the Mantra below:
ॐ सह नाववतु | सह नौ भुनक्तु | सह वीर्यं करवावहै | तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥
Oṃ saha nāvavatu; saha nau bhunaktu; saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai; tejasvi nāvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai.
Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.
Word Meaning: saha- together; nāvavatu – nau + avatu; nau- both of us; avatu- may be impelled, promoted, protected; bhunaktu- may be hungry; vīryaṃ- energy; karavāvahai- may we utilise; tejasvi- brilliant; adhītam- learning; astu- may it be; mā- not; vidviṣāvahai- may we cause to dislike each other.
Mantra Meaning: May both of us be impelled together; may we be hungry together. May we utilise our energy together. May our learning be brilliant; may we both not cause any dislike to each other.
The teacher and the student pray for being motivated together and for being hungry together. Motivation is for study; hunger is for imparting/receiving knowledge. To achieve this goal, they have to utilise their energy together. Such united effort is essential to ensure a brilliant output. Finally, the process of learning should not result in mutual dislike. There is a possibility of dislike in the absence of simultaneous inspiration and joint effort; that justifies the beginning part of the Mantra.
The last of the popular Śānti Mantras in the Upaniṣads is given below; it is found in Upaniṣads belonging to Atharva Veda. This Mantra is different from those given above, in that the prayers here are directed to various Devas.
ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः श्रुणुयाम देवाः भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः|
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवांसस्तनूभिः व्यशेम देवहितं यदायुः।
स्वस्ति न इन्द्रो वृद्धश्रवाः स्वस्ति नः पूषा विश्ववेदाः।
स्वस्ति नस्तार्क्ष्यो अरिष्टनेमिः स्वस्ति नो बृहस्पतिर्दधातु |
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥
auṃ bhadraṃ karṇebhiḥ śruṇuyāma devāḥ bhadraṃ paśyemākṣabhiryajatrāḥ;
sthirairaṅgaistuṣṭuvāṃsastanūbhiḥ vyaśema devahitam yadāyuḥ;
svasti na indro vṛddhaśravāḥ svasti naḥ pūṣā viśvavedāḥ;
svasti nastārkṣyo ariṣṭanemiḥ svasti no bṛhaspatirdadhātu.
auṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.
Word Meaning: bhadraṃ- auspicious, excellent; karṇebhiḥ- by ears; śruṇuyāma- may we hear; devāḥ- Devas; paśyema- may we see; akṣabhiḥ- by the eyes; yajatrāḥ- worshipful ones; sthirairaṅgaiḥ- (sthiraiḥ + aṅgaiḥ) with determined mind; tuṣṭuvāṃsastanūbhiḥ- with a satisfied or healthy body; vyaśema- spend, consume; devahitam- allotted or assigned by Devas; yadāyuḥ- life as (alloted); svasti- blessing, prosperity; naḥ- to us; indraḥ- Indra; vṛddhaśravāḥ- ancient glory; pūṣā- Pūṣa (the great nourisher); viśvavedāḥ- all-knowing; tārkṣyaḥ- Garuda; ariṣṭanemiḥ- one who wards off evils; bṛhaspatiḥ- Bṛhaspati (Lord of prayer); dadhātu- bestow.
Mantra Meaning: O Devas, may we hear the auspicious with our ears. O worshipful ones, may we see the auspicious with our eyes. May we spend our life time allotted by Devas, with determined mind and healthy body. May Indra, the ancient glory and Pūṣa the all-knowing, Garuda, the one who wards of evils, and Bṛhaspati bestow blessings on us.
Finally, we shall look into a comment made by some readers regarding the oldness of Upaniṣads mentioned in the introduction to this series. They objected to specifying the period of the ten most ancient Upaniṣads to be between 1500 BC and 600 BC. Their reason was that Upaniṣads are divine (apauruṣeya) and their age cannot be so specified. In this regard, it is to be clarified that all knowledge is apauruṣeya; even the simple arithmetic “2 + 2 = 4” is so. This is because such knowledge is not the invention of any particular individual; it is only a discovery by some person at some point of time. The time of such discovery is what we give as the date of that piece of knowledge. It may be seen that each sukta in the Veda Samhita is known in the name of some renowned Sage. Upaniṣads also are mostly presented as expounded by some Ṛsis. As such, there is nothing wrong in mentioning the period of revelation of the Upaniṣads. Dispute exists only in respect of the correctness of the period assigned.
It is clear from the above facts that nobody has any proprietary or tenancy right over any knowledge. Spiritual knowledge, like any other knowledge, is a universal property and every person has the right of access to and utilisation of that property. Let everybody realise this fact and come forward to get enriched in exercise of that right. It is everybody’s right and duty to acquire knowledge and rise up to the ultimate awakening. For, peaceful co-existence demands it.
Readers can contact the author by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prior articles in this series:
The Science of the Upanishads – Introduction
The Science of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Science of Chandogya Upanishad
The Science of Ishavasya Upanishad
The Science of Katha Upanishad
The Science of Kena Upanishad
The Science of Mandukya Upanishad
The Science of Mundaka Upanishad
The Science of Prashna Upanishad
The Science of Taittiriya Upanishad
The Science of Aitareya Upanishad
The Science of Shvetashvatara Upanishad
The Science of Upanishads – Conclusion