Chapter 2: The Upanishads
The Period of Transition
The predominant tone of the Samhitas and Brahmanas was one of piety and ceremonialism, interspersed with raptures of religious feeling and contemplative ecstasy, which led occasionally to a spiritual vision of the Virat or the Cosmic Almighty. Though the undercurrent of the thought of the Vedic Rishis had an overtone of a spiritual vision in the things of the world, and their idea of sacrifice reached its zenith in a meditation on the Universe itself as a sacrifice of the Supreme Purusha, the tendency to material sacrifices or yajnas for propitiating the gods hymned in the Samhitas still continued to receive great stress in the ordinary life both of the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, who formed the upper classes of the social strata. Side by side with the concept of sacrifice and an obedience to the laws of rita and satya, the concept of samsara or worldly existence as a part of the requirements of the principle of reincarnation of souls due to karma received more and more attention, and the thoughtful began to feel a need for discovering a way of redemption from transmigratory life, since it was realised that transmigration is the result of subjection to a law which was being violated in life by the individual. The necessity felt for an austere achievement of freedom from desire, which was the cause of the violations of law, crystallised itself in the doctrine of tapas or asceticism and self-control which finds expression in the Aranyakas as a fruit ripening from the Brahmanas and Samhitas. The Tapasvin or anchorite, living a life of retreat in the forest, began to command more respect than the priest of the Brahmanas and the hymnist of the Samhitas. The tendency to regard the Vedic sacrifice more as an act of internal meditation than outward oblation gained firm ground and the ceremonial piety of the earlier part of the Vedas flowed into a mystical contemplation of creation, while, at the same time, it was discovered that the inner sacrifice is more powerful than the outer in producing results.
The Quest for Reality
The sages who dedicated their lives more and more to meditation in sylvan retreats rather than to the external yajnas of the Brahmanas demonstrated their superiority over others by the spiritual prowess they possessed. The sage rose above the conventional formalities of ritualistic dogma and concerned himself with the duty of mastering Nature through tapas or self-restraint, which enabled him to have a knowledge of everything in the world simultaneously. He gained omniscience and could have access to the different regions of the Universe without hindrance. Certain sages almost approximated God in their powers and could create, preserve or destroy things, if they so wished, by a mere glance or even a thought. By meditation the sage solved the cosmic mystery and attuned himself to the Absolute, or the Divine Lord of the Universe. He overcame mortality and attained salvation from birth and death. He was regarded as the supreme conqueror, and in the words of the Upanishad, 'the world belongs to him, nay, he himself is the world'. Such was the dignity of spiritual realisation. The collection of the revelations of such sages formed the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
The Philosophy of the Upanishads
The Doctrine of Creation: The Upanishads do not reject the authority of the Brahmanas or the efficacy of sacrifice. But they go behind the sacrificial cult and regard it as a spiritual exercise. The thirst for knowledge could not be quenched by a routine of external yajnas or ceremonies. It was necessary to find an answer to the question of the creation of the Universe and one's relation to it inwardly and outwardly. The creation hymn of the Rig-Veda, the Nasadiya Sukta, heralded the quest for the Absolute, and in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the Asvamedha sacrifice is contemplated as a process of the Universe, to be regarded in meditation. From the various theories of creation advanced in the Upanishads, we may sum up the whole scheme as follows:
Brahman is the Reality, and is often identified with Purusha. The condition when Brahman is potent with the possibility of a future creation is called the Avyakrita or Unmanifest, known also as Ishvara in the later Vedanta. In the Sankhya terminology, this condition is the Prakriti of all things. When the Cosmic Will is fully projected, it is Hiranyagarbha, or in Sankhya parlance, Mahat. Hiranyagarbha or the Cosmic Intellect, when fully manifest as the Cosmos, becomes Virat. Now the subsequent process of creation is the beginning of samsara or individualisation by separation.
The universal Virat is conceived as adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva, when the diversified forms appear as divisions therein. The senses of knowledge and the organs of action, as well as the psychological functions, have their external counterparts and also their presiding deities ruling over them. Thus, the sense of hearing has sound (ether) as its physical counterpart and the deities of the quarters as its presiding deities. The sense of touch has tangibility (air) as its physical counterpart and Vayu as its presiding deity. The sense of seeing has colour (fire) as its physical counterpart in the world and Sun or Aditya as its presiding deity. The sense of taste has gustatory enjoyment (water) as its physical counterpart and Varuna as its presiding deity. The sense of smell has odour (earth) as its physical counterpart and the Asvins as its presiding deities. The organs of speech, grasping (hands), locomotion (feet), procreation and excretion have respectively Agni, Indra, Vishnu, Prajapati and Yama as their presiding deities. The faculties of thinking (manas), understanding (buddhi), self-arrogation (ahamkara) and memory (chitta) have Soma (Moon), Brahma, Rudra and Vishnu as their presiding deities. Apart from the physical counterparts and the presiding deities, the individual functions mentioned above have their locations in the body, such as ears, skin, eyes, palate, nostrils, mouth, hands, feet, genitals and anus. The psychological functions are the mind, intellect, ego, and the subconscious, including the unconscious. These details are all not fully available in the older Upanishads but have to be gathered from the elucidations in the later Upanishads.
The doctrine of creation delineated up to this stage is as far as what can be gathered into a systematic whole from the different statements on the subject made in the Upanishads. But this scheme of creation is developed into a further detail of completeness in the Epics and, especially, the Puranas, which we can consider here with benefit, though these developments are not to be seen in the creation theories of the Upanishads. Together with the senses of knowledge and organs of action, and their locations in the body of the individual, there is the creation of their physical counterparts, viz., Ether, Air, Fire (with light and heat), Water and Earth. The Creator Brahma or Hiranyagarbha projects out of his Mind the original individuals - Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata. There is, then, the manifestation, from the cosmic body of Brahma, of the first progenitors of beings - Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Bhrigu, Vasishtha, Daksha and Narada. Then is described the appearance of Rudra or Siva who is one of the trinities or primary gods of the Universe. Then, out of the body of Brahma we hear of the creation of Manu and Satarupa, the first king and queen, who formed two halves of an aspect of the body of Brahma. Manu and Satarupa had Priyavrata and Uttanapada as their sons, and Akuti, Devahuti and Prasuti as daughters. The relationships of these offsprings of Manu and Satarupa with the earlier progeny of Brahma, such as Marichi, Atri, etc., became the sources of the entire creation in all its Lokas or planes of manifestation.
The Puranas go into more detail of the creation of lesser divinities, such as the Devas, Gandharvas and Apsarases, Pitris, Yakshas, Siddhas, Charanas, Vidyadharas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas and lower still Nagas, Rakshasas, Bhutas, Pretas and Pisachas. The creation of the plants, animals and humans is said to have taken place, according to the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, simultaneously with these lesser grades of beings.
One important feature in creation is that in the case of Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat, the appearance or existence of objects is posterior to perception by the ramified Cosmic Will (drishti-srishti), while individual psychological perceptions are posterior to the existence of the objects so manifested cosmically (srishti-drishti).
The Puranic classification of the seven regions or planes viz., (1) Bhuloka, (2) Bhuvarloka, (3) Svarloka, (4) Maharloka, (5) Janaloka, (6) Tapoloka and (7) Satyaloka may be regarded as pertinent to the worlds respectively of (1) inanimate matter, plants, animals and humans; (2) Pitris, and beings of their category; (3) Devas, Gandharvas and Apsarases with Indra as their ruler and Brihaspati as their preceptor; (4) the Siddhas and Rishis engaged in meditation (who may be considered as occupants of Maharloka, Janaloka and Tapoloka; the higher order of creation above the manifestation of Rudra being hailed as the presiding divinities in the region of Satyaloka. There is also to be mentioned a superior order of spiritual beings like Narayana and Nara, Vasishtha, Vyasa, Suka and such other Rishis, who may be residing in any region at their will. These subsequent descriptions of detail in greater concreteness are not to be found in the Upanishads, but form the central theme of the creation theory in the Puranas.
Metaphysics: The Upanishads hold that the universe is in essence a spiritual unity. All this is pervaded by the Lord (Isa), whatever moves or moves not. To worship Him, therefore, implies a relinquishment of one's possessorship in regard to things. Covetousness is, thus, a denial of God's existence as the all-pervading reality. Life and its activities are non-different from divine contemplation. To bear what comes with fortitude and to act without initiative is real contemplation, in the light of the consciousness that He is all things.
The Supreme Being can neither be seen, nor heard, nor thought, nor understood, with the faculties of the individual. He can be recognised where the ego is abolished. He sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, thinks through the mind, understands through the intellect and breathes through the breath; but these instruments cannot apprehend Him. One who thinks that he knows, knows not. He is known by him who does not think that he knows anything in particular. If He is known here in this life, then there is the true end of all aspirations. If one does not know Him in this life, great indeed is the loss to such a one. Sages become immortal, after death, having seen Him alone in each and every being in this world as its very Self. Hence one should adore and contemplate on Reality as Supreme Love and Delight, whereby the universe begins to reciprocate this love to the votary of such a meditation.
The pleasures of the senses are ephemeral. They wear away one's energies, and tend to one's destruction. Even the longest life with the greatest pleasure is indeed worth nothing in the end. The only desirable aim in this world is the knowledge of the Self. The pleasant is one thing and the good is another. Both these come to a man together for acceptance. The wise man discriminates between the two and chooses the good rather than the pleasant. But the foolish one chooses the pleasant and falls into the net of the widespread death, on account of attachment to personal comfort. There is really no diversity here. As an indivisible Being alone should one behold it in all these things. He goes from death to death in a series of transmigration who perceives diversity here.
By knowing it, everything is known at once. He becomes it, who knows it. It is 'all this', and it ranges above perception. It transcends the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is the cessation of all phenomena, the peaceful, the blessed, the non-dual. It is Truth, Knowledge, Infinity. One possesses all things simultaneously, becomes all things at one stroke, and enjoys all things at once, who knows this as identical with his own being. Wonderful is that experience, marvellous is that man, great is his fortune, blessed are his friends, freed for ever are his relatives, gone is the bondage of those who have his blessings.
The Absolute is consciousness. It is the root of all existence. It blazes as the sun, shines as the moon, twinkles as the star. It sleeps in stones, breathes in plants, thinks in animals and discriminates in man. No part of this world is to be regarded as complete unless it is taken together with all its other parts. The sun and moon are only a part of it. The solar system is a part. The stellar regions are a part. The earth and the heavens are a part. No meditation can be perfect when any particular thing alone is taken as its object. Meditation is defective when it does not comprehend all existence. Meditation is rightly done when its object is the totality of which the visible and the conceivable are just aspects. In such meditation individuality is swallowed up into Universal Being. Here meditation itself ceases, and the object of meditation alone remains. The actions of one who knows this secret are universal actions. The food that he takes in is the food offered to the universe, and the universe rejoices in such satisfaction. The food offered to him by anyone is a spiritual sacrifice performed in the altar of creation. Knowing this, if one were to throw some grains of food to an outcaste, it shall be veritably offered into the Absolute. As children sit round their mother for food, hungry and craving for her benign look, so do all beings in this creation look to him for their existence, who knows this secret.
The Infinite alone is bliss. There is no bliss in the small and finite. Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else - that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else - that is the finite. The Infinite is the immortal. The finite is the mortal. The Infinite is based on its own greatness. It has no resting place or support other than itself. It is in front, behind, to the right, the left, above, below and everywhere. It is all this at once. For one who knows this, everything springs from his own Self. The whole universe, manifest and unmanifest, arises for him from his Self, and serves him without limitation of time and place. This is the consummation.
One who knows that He is the 'All' becomes the 'All'. Knowing is being. Knowledge is power. Consciousness is existence and bliss, immediately. He who seeks for the 'All' in any particular thing here, finds it not. The Eternal is not reached through the non-eternal. The permanent cannot be attained by the impermanent. The means and the end are both the Absolute.
None loves an object for its own sake. All love is for one's own universal Self. Things are dear because of the Infinite that peeps through them. The Infinite summons the Infinite in the perception of the beloved. Persons and things are not dear for their own sake. Though all love has a selfish origin in the world, it has a transcendent meaning above the phase of the seer and seen. He who knows the secret behind temporal loves knows Truth and is liberated from the thraldom of mortality. The knowledge of the Self is knowledge of everything. But he who, by an error, regards anything as being outside himself in truth, shall lose that thing, whatever it be.
Where there is duality, as it were, there one sees the other, hears the other, smells the other, speaks to the other, tastes the other, touches the other, thinks the other, understands the other. But where the One alone is, who can see what and by what, who can hear, smell, speak, taste, touch, think or understand what and by what? How can one know that by which one knows all these things? How can one know the Knower? This is the great admonition. This is the treasure-house of knowledge. If one were to give the whole earth as a gift for the sake of this knowledge, one should regard this knowledge as greater than that. Lo, this is greater than all things.
The Upanishads proclaim in this strain the content of spiritual realisation and have as their aim and objective of existence the aspiration to rise from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from mortality to Immortality.
Personal God: Though the Upanishads are absolutistic in their approach, they are not lopsided in any sense of the term. Together with their lofty proclamations of Brahman beyond the range of understanding, they provide for the emotional aspiration of man by their concept of God, who creates, preserves and destroys the Universe as a divine play. At this stage we should not try to introduce the later logical formulations of Vedanta worked out by teachers like Sankara and Ramanuja, for the Upanishads belong to a time and period of thinking when such logical deductions were unnecessary, and it was enough for the sages to fly into an ecstasy of divine perception in all creation, a tendency of the Rishis of the Vedic hymns, and there was no need to argue out an intellectualistic difference between the concepts of Brahman and Ishvara. If Brahman is everything, it is also the creation, and its might can be seen in the processes of the Universe. The stages which the logical system of Vedanta would call Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara are comprehended within Brahman, and to the Upanishads it would be immaterial whether Reality is addressed and envisaged as the indeterminable Be-ness, or the powerful Creator, Sustainer and Transformer of all things.
The Brihadaranyaka and the Mandukya Upanishads regard Reality also as the Indwelling Presence (antaryamin), the Ruler of all (srveshvara), the Lord of all (sarvadhipati), the King of all (bhutadhipati), the Protector of all beings (bhutapala). He is described as Omnipotent, Omniscient, All-pervading, the Source, Beginning and End of all things. This is the incipient stage of the concept of Ishvara in the Vedanta. The Svetasvatara Upanishad refers to God as the Supreme Lord of all lords, the God of all gods, the Ruler of all rulers, who is neither cause nor effect, and who has no equal. He is endowed with an eternal Power (parasakti) which works in creation as Knowledge (ichha), Energy (bala) and Action (kriya). He is the great God who has no defining marks of identification, is not affected by the vicissitudes of the world, as the sun is not sullied by the defects of the eye. He grasps without hands, is fast in movement without feet, sees without eyes and hears without ears. He knows everything, but there is none who can know Him. He is the great Purusha shining like the sun beyond the darkness of the separatist consciousness. By knowing Him alone does one overcome death, there is no other way of attaining Him.
Ethics: The ethics of the Upanishads is metaphysical and spiritual. They affirm that human life, which can be graded into a period of studentship, householdership (in which can be included one's social and political career), and retirement from active participation in world-life, is a preparation for the realisation of Brahman. In this realisation every aim of life gets fulfilled and it is the culmination and purpose of all desires and aspirations. Those heroes who have such realisation rise above the desire for sex, wealth and worldly gain, whether here or hereafter, for to them, Brahman, the Absolute, is itself the world and the Self, all in One. Knowing this Truth, these heroes want nothing from anyone or anywhere, and live in the joy of Brahman, which is their Atman.
But such lofty spiritual experiences are open only to those who are endowed with tranquillity of mind (sama), self-control (dama), freedom from compulsive activity (uparati), fortitude (Titiksha), faith in the Ideal (sraddha) and power of concentration of mind (samadhana). The Upanishad affirms that when all the desires lodged in the heart are liberated for ever, then the mortal becomes immortal and herein does he attain to Brahman. When the knots of the heart are all rent asunder, then does the mortal become immortal. This is the supreme teaching, says the Upanishad. But it is hard for all to keep this lofty goal as their ideal in life, because the world has also the pleasant, in addition to the good, and mostly people go after the pleasant rather than the good, choosing rather the delights of sense than the good of the soul. It is only the highly refined spirit that chooses the higher blessedness after rejecting the temptation of the sense-world. Sreyas which is good is unfortunately not as easily available as Preyas which is the pleasant to sensation. It is the dictum of the Upanishad that unless one ceases from evil conduct and has reached composure of mind, control of senses, acuteness of concentration and is settled in true tranquillity of thought, emotion and will, one cannot realise the Absolute merely with the help of intellectual understanding.
The concise teaching compressed into the words, 'Damyata' (be self-controlled), 'Datta' (be charitable) and 'Dayadhvam' (be compassionate), in the Chhandogya Upanishad, supposed to have been addressed respectively to the gods, human beings and the demoniacal natures, sums up the ancient ethical concept of an all-round necessity for restraint of the senses, self-sacrifice and love for creation as the moral prerequisites for the higher reaches of the soul towards spiritual perfection.
The convocational address of the teacher to the students says: "Speak the truth, practise righteousness. Do not neglect sacred study. Do not neglect worship of the gods and the Pitris. Let the mother be your god. Let the father be your god. Let the teacher be your god. Let the guest be your god. Practise only noble deeds; not others. Give with faith. Give in plenty. Give with modesty. Give with respect. Give with sympathy." This is, indeed, the height that any ethical principle can reach.
Universal love is declared not merely as a possibility but a real achievement. When one sees himself in all beings and all beings in himself, he does not shrink away from anything. As children sit round their mother with affection, so do all beings crave for him who sees all beings in his absolute Self. He who loves all, is loved by all. The woman and the man, the boy and the girl, are He; He it is that, as an old man, totters with a stick, thus deceiving the human eye; for He is in all things.
Psychology: The individual is envisaged in the Upanishad as a composite of the conscious, subconscious, unconscious and the absolute aspects of consciousness. In the waking state of the mind and the senses the individual is engrossed in an externalised consciousness of physical objects, while in the dreaming state there is an externalised consciousness of mere psychic objects projected out of memory. In the deep sleep state there is a complete overpowering of consciousness by ignorance of everything, a causal condition in which the seeds of dreaming and waking are latent. Transcending these three empirical conditions of the soul, hails the Absolute, Brahman or Atman, which is also immanent in the individual and the cosmos. The Absolute is neither externalised consciousness as in waking, nor internalised consciousness as in dream, nor a negation of consciousness as in deep sleep. The Mandukya Upanishad declares that the Atman is beyond this threefold state of consciousness which is in relation to the gross, subtle and causal bodies of the individual. It is the invisible, non-relative, ungraspable, indefinable, unthinkable, ineffable something which can be designated only as the Atman or the Self, where world-perception ceases and an entirely new perception, impossible to understand, takes its place. This is what is called the fourth state of consciousness in comparison with the three relative states mentioned. It is the aim of the relative to reach the Absolute. The principle of 'I' which asserts itself in all states is the Atman, which is transcendent, but which also pervades everything in the individual and the cosmos. The bearing of the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states of consciousness, called respectively, Vaisvanara, Taijasa and Prajna in the Mandukya Upanishad, to the corresponding cosmic conditions of Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara is developed in the later systematised Vedanta, which need not detain us here. The Atman transcending the three individual states is declared to be identical with Brahman transcending the three cosmic states. "Tat Tvam Asi"-"That (the Universal) art thou (the individual in essence)." 'This Atman is Brahman', says the Mandukya Upanishad.
The Taittiriya Upanishad makes a further classification of these states into the physical (annamaya), vital (pranamaya), mental (manomaya), intellectual (vijnanamaya) and blissful (anandamaya) sheaths of consciousness. The first sheath operates only in the waking state, the second, third and fourth in the waking and dreaming states, and the fifth in all the three states, though primarily in deep sleep alone. The first sheath constitutes the gross body, the second, third and fourth together form the subtle body and the fifth is the causal body of the Jiva, or the individual soul. The Atman is beyond the five sheaths, though it vitalises every one of them with its presence.
Eschatology: The Upanishads openly describe the passage of the individual soul, stage by stage, after its shedding of the physical body. It may be mentioned here that, after death, the soul bound by karma may (1) return to this earth, (2) take birth in some other plane than the earth, (3) hang on as a discarnate spirit in any intermediary region (a condition called Preta), (4) go to the region of Pitris (Pitriloka), (5) reach heaven (Svarga), (6) fall into hell (Naraka), or, if it is a highly advanced spiritual seeker, (7) pass through the region of the Sun (Suryadvara), to Brahmaloka, and then attain moksha. This last mentioned way of attainment is called Krama-Mukti (progressive salvation by stages). Only the absolutely desireless soul (Akama or Nishkama) attains Brahman here itself, without moving to any place, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. This attainment is called Sadyo-Mukti (immediate salvation).
The soul with desire of some kind or the other departs through the various nerve-passages of the subtle body, while the spiritually illumined soul passes through the Sushumna nerve-current and reaches Brahmaloka, via the shining region of the Sun. The Chhandogya Upanishad describes the stages of the passage of the soul on its way to Brahmaloka. The statements on this subject scattered over through the Upanishads, when grouped in an order, amount to the following description of the path, called Devayana or the path of the gods. The soul reaches the deity of flame (fire or light) and then rises gradually to the deities of the day, the bright half of the lunar month, the six months when the Sun moves to the north, the year, the region of the celestials, Air, Sun, Moon, lightning, the region of Varuna, the region of Indra, the region of Prajapati, and finally Brahmaloka. At the stage of the region of the deity of lightning, the soul is said to be received by a superhuman being (who it is the Upanishad does not say), and he leads the soul to the four higher regions. These gradations are difficult to understand, except as possible stages or grades of the manifestation of the Supreme Being in the individualised contents of the various relative planes of existence.
The soul that is not destined to reach Brahmaloka and has merits enough to go to Pitriloka alone, is said to rise by stages to the deities of smoke, night, the dark half of the lunar month, the six months when the Sun moves to the south, the sky (it does not go to the deity of the year), and the Moon. From here the soul returns through the sky, wind, smoke, mist, cloud, rain and enters grains, herbs, trees, etc., which are consumed by individuals on earth.
The Upanishads hold that the future of a person is determined by his actions, the actions by his volitions and the volitions by his desires. Thus it is evident that on one's desires depends the nature of one's future life. The ignorant are said to reach dark regions devoid of all happiness. Those who are ignorant of the true nature of the Self go to sunless realms covered over with darkness. The doers of good deeds enter into birth in nobler species, while the doers of bad deeds may fall into the wombs of animals or depraved characters. karma, then, decides one's future life. But, as mentioned already, those who are free from karma, due to realisation of the Atman, have no rebirth; their pranas do not depart into space; they become Brahman, here and now.
Practice of Yoga: The Upanishads regard the senses which are extrovert as obstructions to spiritual experience. The senses have to be subdued and turned inward for the purpose of yoga. When the five senses of perception, together with the mind, stand in tune with the intellect, and the intellect is not distracted by any kind of objectivation, then one is said to be in the highest state of yoga. Yoga is all-round self-control, and this state does not last long, for it comes and goes, and hence the student is very careful. This is the instruction of the older Upanishads on the art of yoga. The Svetasvatara Upanishad goes to details and advises a steady seated posture, and thereby an attempt to restrain the turbulent senses and the mind which have to be brought from their aberrations outside in the world back to the centre within, the Universal Atman. This is to be achieved by regulation of prana in breathing, and persistent effort in directing the thought rightly, as one does in restraining restive horses. This calls forth tremendous energy and understanding on the part of the student in yoga and no moral weakling can hope to succeed in it. Though in the higher stages meditation can be practised anywhere and at any time it is beneficial in the initial stages to choose a suitable place for commencing the practice of yoga. The place suggested is one that is even, pure, free from gravel, fire, and disturbing features such as noise or sound of any kind, and from annoying elements like mosquitoes, and the like. The place should be pleasant to the feeling, secluded and not tempting to the sensuous urges of the lower nature. As one advances in meditation, visions like those of mist, smoke, sunlight, fire, breeze, light of firefly, lightning, crystal, moonlight, and so on, are possible. These visions are indicative of spiritual progress. When one masters in meditation the natures belonging to the five elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether - one rises, says the Upanishad, above the torments of illness, old age and even death, on account of his having acquired a flaming spiritual body. Then it is that qualities like lightness of body, perfect health, non-covetousness, resplendence of body, fineness of voice, fragrance of personality, etc., manifest themselves. This is said to be the first stage of realisation in yoga. Higher stages are further above. The Yogi, by degrees, unites his soul with Brahman which is unborn, eternal and omnipresent, by knowing which one is freed from all bondage.
Liberation: The soul that is freed from the bonds of world-existence traverses through its physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal vestments and rejoices in the ecstasy of the realisation of Brahman. Here comes the knowledge that the experiencer, the experiencing process and the experienced object or condition are all one. In the words of the Upanishad, the realised soul, in a particular stage, exclaims: 'I am the food and the eater of food; I who am food, eat the eater of food. I have encompassed the whole Universe.'
In moksha or liberation all the principles and powers that were confined to individuality get released into their sources or divine essences, which again are merged in Brahman. The individuality, together with its Karmas, gets dissolved in the Supreme Imperishable One. As rivers enter the ocean, casting off their names and forms, the knower enters the Supreme Being, released from bondage. The liberated one enters into the All from every side, and becomes everything.
The Spirit of the Age
It is often thought by scholars of oriental learning that there is a note of pessimism in the Upanishads and that no pessimistic way of thinking can be regarded as a healthy trend of life. From the short account of the spiritual philosophy of life in the Upanishads that we have presented above, it would be obvious how far removed this charge is from truth. The life of the sages of the Upanishads was buoyant with the joy of the recognition of divinity and sacredness in the world, and the Upanishads laid the foundation for what is commonly known as 'Hinduism' today. The spirit of the Veda Samhitas and Upanishads, as we have observed in this survey, is one of life and not death, of health and not illness, of joy instead of pessimism and sorrow or a sense of world-weariness, which is never the aim and fulfilment of any religious or philosophic view of life.
The criticism is evidently levelled against certain passages in some of the Upanishads which speak of the impermanency of things, the transitoriness of the world and the impossibility of attaining the Absolute by the perishable acts of the mortal individual. If pessimism means the recognition of the inadequacy of empirical knowledge and the observation of the relativity of all things, then, obviously, all philosophy is pessimistic. But, then, this dissatisfaction with the surface view of things is the beginning of wisdom, for reality is not appearance. The Upanishads, thus, constitute the zenith of human thinking, a height it never reached either before or after, and are the glory and treasure of the culture, not only of India, but of the world.