(See also 17: Essence of Upanishads)

Note: ‘U’ stands for Upanishad.(s)


The U. constitute the crest jewel of our ancient scriptures, the Vedas We shall see the Essence of the U. but not take up the actual text of any U. in particular. We shall see the essentials in one go; of course this  is a tall order to hope to do justice to the Essence of U like this. But we shall try. We are not  assuming any knowledge of U.s or Vedanta. In that sense this may be called  U.s for the novice .


Of the 120 or so U. which are extant, about12 are considered to be major U.. Almost every religious teacher has commented on most of these  They are all discourses and dialogues on spiritual experiences and pursuits. Long or short,  prose or poetry, they are all expositions or theses on fundamental questions transcending the phenomenal realities of day-to-day life. In short, there are two major concerns that go throughout the U. One is the enunciation of the Actuality or Ultimate Reality; and the other is the formulation of a process of our way of living which will lead us to a Realisation of that Reality.


One’s very living is a series of actions.  In order to act one must make choices. To make choices one must have a code of values To arrive at a code of values, man must know what he is, where he comes from and where he is going and to what purpose. The U. as a body of literature, point the way for us to arrive at this code of values; but they aim at a code of eternal values , values which will be valid for all time. To do this they get into elaborate dialectical arguments, competitive discourses, provocative dialogues, revealing reminiscences of spiritual experiences, descriptions of tentative conclusions after initial experimentations, numerous questions and varied answers to each of them, meditative searches after truth, joyous declarations of the  Ultimate Wisdom and last of all, very involved comparisons and analogies some of them very complicated and involved as to defy our understanding and some of them as elementary as may verge on the naïve.

Broadly the subject matter is always one or more of three things: GOD, SELF , UNIVERSE  -- their inter-relationships. In dealing with their subject matter, the U. neither depend solely on faith Nor solely on Reason, Nor solely on personal experience By depending solely on Faith one may tend to be dogmatic By depending solely on Reason  one may fall into the trap of rationalising one’s desire Personal experience by itself can be deceptive  because one may be just projecting one’s own favourite ideas So the U. combine all the three to tell you the Truth That is why there are lots of reminisceces by great Rishis There are dialogues between Guru and sishya and  There are various questions and varied answers at different levels of thought


Ordinary people think religious life means an almost impossible ascent towards a perfect God by an imperfect soul They think that God is really unknowable because none of our senses seem to sense Him  But the beauty of our U. and µ of Hinduism  is that it teaches us that While God is infinitely higher than ourselves, He is nearer to us than our hands and feet. He is the Soul of our Souls. He is the One that survives in us from childhood to adulthood thro. old age from birth, as the I that we talk of when we refer to ourselves. He is neither the body nor the senses, nor the mind nor the ego,  nor the intellect. He is the I that is none of these,  but is far distant from anything that we can call ours in a relational manner like spouse, issue, wealth, or possession. He is the ever-present witness to all our thoughts, actions and experiences. He is the Self , our Atman. It is the highest Reality in ourselves This fact of the Atman being our utmost Reality in each one of us  is technically called  IMMANENT PRESENCE of God in us. This fact constitutes the major difference of H. from the religions of the west. God is said to have ‘entered’ in us .  Entry is not physical entry but in the sense of immanence. The Sanskrit word is ‘anupraveshaM ‘ Several U. talk about this  with great emphasis and commentators spend a lot of time explaining this concept.

Elementary to say that God is everywhere.  Cf Prahlada’s story on the manifestation of the Almighty God as nara-simha  in a pillar. We think that this convinces the child (and us!) that God is everywhere. To a spiritual seeker the U. declare that more is true. God is not only everywhere, but in addition, there is nothing but God everywhere. Concept of God in indu philosophy is HHindu philosophy is unlike that in any other philosophy It does not admit any naïve explanation Every physical expression amenable to sense perception is nothing but an expression of the divine. Everything that you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch is divine – that is, comes from God; everything is God, therefore you cannot ascribe an individual name or form  for it Once you delineate God by one name or form you have circumscribed Him and limited Him by the shallowness of worldly expression and imagery.Anything that has name and form is a creation of the mind .Try to think of something which has neither name nor form.  Even colour has a form to it as physics would tell you;Even abstract qualities like honesty can be recognised only through its name;Nothing that exists  is without name  and form. But all that exists, say the U.has a common factor that subsists as a substratum in all All gold ornaments, though different in name and form,have gold as their commonality of content. All claytoys, though distinguishable by their name and form,are not distinguishable as clay Movie screen is the base for all the drama  that is superimposed on it; the screen itself is unsullied by any of the turmoil that ‘takes place’ on it The U. say: the substratum of Divine Existence called Brahman, permeates everything in the world; therefore the common substratum of everything. It is the common content of everything that has name or form or both


So it has no name or form for itself. The U. speak of it as ‘That’ in the neuter gender. This is the God, or more precisely, the Godhead of Hindu philosophy. They also speak of it as Brahman – that which transcends everything But no single name will describe it fully; so all names and forms are His. This is the Ultimate Reality, Ultimate Godhead, Ultimate Truth the all-pervading, self-luminous, eternal spirit The final cause of Universe The One cause for which there is no cause The power behind all tangible forces The consciousness which animates all conscious beings The concept is of course difficult. On the one side it transcends all that can be described in finite terms and words; On the other side it is the heart of all hearts, core of all cores, substance of all substances. The first is the Transcendence aspect of the Absolute Reality The second is the Immanence aspect .


This implication of the U. teaching is missed by all but the true Seer. To say that there is nothing but God, means we must be able to see God,Godliness and Godhead in everything that we see.This is the implication of God’s immanence in everything- When a wooden replica of, say, a horse, is seen the child sees only the horse,but the experienced adult should be able to see the wood ‘behind’ the horse,inspite of the horse that stares us in the face.The Seer, says the U., sees only the Self the immanent Reality in everything. For him, the plurality of the universe is only an outward appearance, like the waves in the ocean or the horse in the wood This sama-dRSTi ( equanimous vision of seeing the immanent reality

in everything) is the goal of all teaching in the U..


Let us go back to the concept of Brahman, the Absolute RealityWe shall start from another angle; Look at the universe around you The multifarious things that you see do not last for ever Even the universe does not last for ever; In fact nothing lasTs for ever Everything passes away; the universe also passes away. But while it lasts it keeps on changing In fact everything is undergoing a change. What exactly is change? Change is something that occurs when one state of existence transforms into another And how do we become aware of the change? Only by measuring it against the backdrop of a constant state Any constant state that we are aware of also changes in the context of eternal time Behind all sorts of changes there must be something constant and invariantThat should be so constant that it is independent of time and space for otherwise it will also change. So it looks as if we have to postulate that basic entity which exists all the time and everywhere This is where the U. comes to our help. The U. say that that is the Truth. Such an invariant entity exists That is what they call ‘It’ or ‘Brahman’.

If Brahman exists all the time and everywhere in a changeless state then it should also be infinite; For, if it is finite, then addition of something outside it  will change the original ‘It’``So Brahman is Infinite, it is changless, it exists all the time and everywhere. the One Absolute Reality  pervades everything, animate or inanimate Like gold pervades a golden ring. Because of this pervasiveness it is said to be the cause of all that exists. Not only that. It is  itself causeless, nameless and formless.The name Brahman is what the U.s gave to it. 

It can be called by any name whatever.Everything that exists has to have a name; so it cannot be nameless.But it is not like anything that exists that we know It is not in the category of anything that exists *neti neti* -- “Brahman is not this, is not that; it is nothing that can be circumscribed by anything; it is not related to another; it is not limited to anything; it is not that which suffers; it is not that which is destroyed”  so say all U...Whatever has been said here not to be Brahman, they are all matters for   the mundane world.I.O.W, what is circumscribed, what is related, what is limited, what is destroyed, all these are material entities.  Anything that exists , exists, because of IT being the substratum on the support of which this anything exists Pictures painted on the screen: Category of pictures is distinct from the category of the screen. Here Brahman belongs to the category of the screen. Brahman is like the Ocean and everything that exists is a wave in that ocean don’t take the analogy too far and say the ocean has the support of the earth Brahman is the substratum It never changes while everything else changes Brahman has no analogies.  It is beyond space. Imagine space without earth, without water, without fire, without air. Earth to water, to fire, to air, to space: passes from the grossest to the finest . Negation of each grosser entity is possible . within the framework of the more subtle one. Space is the most subtle that we know but even that can be negated.

This is what the U. say They say, Akasha comes from Absolute Existence,  which is an entity independent of Time and Space The Sanskrit word is ‘sat’ -Existence. Thus Brahman, the Absolute Existent Reality  pervades all the five elements.  from Akasha downwards and therefore pervades everything in the Universe.

Inthe next section  we shall see that it is this Reality that is immanently present as Consciousness in all animates And thus Brahman is the same as Atman, our innermost Reality.

                                                       GO TO ALL ABOUT THE UPANISHADS: 28.4.1

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy