(U. = Upanishad(s))


We shall  see one or two actual conversations  which the U. narrates. We start with a little recall. The one under-current of everything in the U.would seem to be the concept of one Godhead (the Absolute Nameless &Formless Reality). Inspite of  the plethora of names and forms  that confront us in nature as well as in our mental universe . The word ‘brahman’ is used by the U. to refer to this absolute Reality.  It pervades everything animate and inanimate. It is the One and only One intangible power behind all tangible forces. The vast boundless ocean of wh. everything experienced is only a wave. Everything that is perceptible to the senses, including the feeling of I-ness of each human being is only a fragment of that wave. We are implored by the U. in all earnestness to delve beneath names and forms of the outside world and seek the peaceful Infinite within.Agitation and perturbation are only on the surface of this Ocean of Bliss.The implication of the teaching that  there is nothing but God everywhere. 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 sama-dRSTi ( equanimous vision) is the goal of all teaching in the U.. The Seers of the U. employ several techniques to give us the message.


The  very purpose of the Upanishads  is to take us jIvas  who are stuck in this  worldly impermanence  out to the Permanent One Starting from the small boy Nachiketas all the way up to Indra himself several have been known  to have understood the impermanent as impermanent  and comprehended the Principle of Nitya – such stories have come down to us in Ka.U., Ch.U, etc.

The Lord of Death himself offered several rare gifts to child Nachiketas, but the latter turned all of them down, saying “All these are ephemeral; one day or other won’t they all come back to you?”. And,  he insisted  on having the tattva-upadesha from the God of death himself and finally got it! 


The “neti, neti” analysis of the U.means to pick out the impermanent entitites of the world, discard them as such, and hold on to the Permanent Atman.“anyat ArtaM” – “all others are having an end” . except the Atman, everything else without exception meet their end. This is how we should distinguish between nityam and anityam. Among all the impermanent things, said Yama-dharma-raja  there is only one thing that is ever permanent “Whoever finds it, to him there will be eternal peace; not for anybody else”.  Says the following quote from Kathopanishad 2-2-13:


nityonityAnAM cetanashcetanAnAM eko bahUnAM yo vidadhAti pUrvam .

tamAtmasthaM ye.anupashyanti dhIrAH teshhAM shAntiH shAshvatI netareshhAm ..


नित्योनित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानां एको बहूनां यो विदधाति पूर्वम्।

तमात्मस्थं येऽनुपश्यन्ति धीराः तेषां शान्तिः शाश्वती नेतरेषाम्॥


In the 7th chapter of Ch.U. Narada goes to Sanatsujata, one of the four most enlightened sons of Brahma the Creator,born out of His will, and asks for spiritual enlightenment. Sanatsujata  bids Narada . to tell him what he knows alreadYajnavalkya The latter gives a long list of the names of all the arts and sciences that he has learnt. Starting from the four vedas, then the vedAngas, the various SAstras, Narada  in one breath lists all of them and concludes by saying that inspite of all this knowledge he has not learnt about the Ultimate Truth. All this is only a name, says Sanatsujata ‘Meditate on the name; he who meditates on Name as brahman becomes independent’. ‘Is there anything greater than Name?’ asks Narada. Yes, there is Speech and Snatsujata . elaborates on Speech as the Ultimate.  Is there anything greater than Speech? Yes, there is Mind. Then there is Will (sankalpa); then Thought (cittaM), then Contemplation (DhyanaM), then Understanding, Strength, Food, Water, Heat, Space, Memory, Hope, Prana the Life-principle. Thus Narada. is led on step by step to subtler and subtler principles. Narada  does not ask whether there is anything greater than prANa .  But Sanatsujata leads him on to further to satya (Truth), then vijnAna  Knowledge with Experience),SraddhA (Faith), Steadfastness, Activity, Happiness and then to the Infinite. What is Infinite is happYajnavalkya There is no happiness in the Finite. 


And then comes a most profound declaration from Sanatsujata:


Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, is aware of nothing else, that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, is aware of something else, that is  Finite.  The Infinite is immortal while the Finite is mortal. (Ch. U. 7.24.1).

yatra nAnyatpashyati nAnyacchhRRiNoti nAnyadvijAnAti sa bhUmA .

atha yatra anyatpashyati anyacchhRRiNoti anyadvijAnAti tadalpam ..

yo vai bhUmA tadamRRitaM atha yadalpaM tanmartyam ..


यत्र नान्यत्पश्यति नान्यच्छृणोति नान्यद्विजानाति स भूमा।

अथ यत्र अन्यत्पश्यति अन्यच्छृणोति अन्यद्विजानाति तदल्पम्॥

यो वै भूमा तदमृतं  अथ यदल्पं तन्मर्त्यम्॥


I.O.W., the Ultimate is non-dual. Any presence or awareness of duality makes the awareness finite (alpaM); BhUmA is the Infinite.  It is the fullest expression and manifestation of the Absolute Reality.  That is everywhere. above below, in front of you, behind you.  It is Atman, the immanent Reality; also Brahman, the Transcendent  Reality.  


Look at this famous statement from Kenopanishad  1-5 to 9:


यद्वाचनभ्युदितं येन वागभ्युद्यते। तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते॥

यन्मनसा न मनुते येनाहुर्मनो मतम्।  तदेव …    उपासते॥

यच्चक्षुषा न पश्यति येन चक्षूंषि पश्यति।   तदेव  …  उपासते॥

यच्छ्रोत्रेण न शृणोति  येन श्रोत्रमिदं श्रुतम्।  तदेव  …  उपासते॥

यत्प्राणेन न प्राणिति येन प्राणाः प्रणीयते।  तदेव …    उपासते॥



What you see before you physically, is not brahman,  but what makes you see is brahman. It cannot be heard by your ears, because it is what makes you hear. It cannot be thought of as an object of thought by your mind, but it is what makes your mind think. Such profound descriptions abound everywhere in the U.


The 3rd chapter of Br.U describes a seminar-like discussion  in the assembly of great Janaka, where Yajnavalkya comes out the victor. Arrayed against him are stalwarts like Uddalaka, Aswala, Arthabaga, Ushastha and many more. The occasion itself constitutes an interesting anecdote. King Janaka had invited all these brahma-vAdins ) for a yajna, provokes them into a discussion by announcing that he has earmarked one thousand cows, each with a bag of ten gold coins and all these constitute the prize for the one among them who is ‘anUcAnatamaH’ (most erudite in vedas ) . The entire assembly is stunned at this announcement, stupefied by the challenge of the occasion and the seriousness it demanded and kept silent. But after a little period of silence, Yajnavalkya rises up and with his assistant makes preparations to take possession of the cows. Then it is that the assembled scholars begin to challenge him one by one. Each one asks a few subtle questions about Knowledge of the Absolute. Yajnavalkya shoots forth his answers without any hesitation or confusion and with such clarity that they withdraw their challenge and sit down.


Finally one lady, Vacaknavi Gargi, announces that she is going to ask just 2 questions of Yajnavalkya ; if he answers them well, there should be no more doubt. ‘That of which they say it is above the heaven and below the earth, which is between heaven and earth as well, and which was, is and shall be – tell me, Yajnavalkya, in what it is woven, warp and woof?’ In space (=AkASa), replies Yajnavalkya ‘And in what, is this AkaSa woven, warp and woof?’ shoots back Vacaknavi Gargi.  The answer (Br.U. 3.8.8) of Yajnavalkya to this profound question is one of the most famous passages in all of U.ic literature and should be engraved in letters of gold at all spiritual centres of the world:


एतद्वै तदक्षरं गार्गि ब्राह्मणा अभिवदन्ति अस्थूलं अनणु अह्रस्वं अदीर्घं अलोहितं अस्नेहं

अच्छायं अतमःअवायु अनाकाशं असङ्गं  अरसं अगन्धं अचक्षुष्कं अश्रोत्रंअवाक्

अमनः अतेजस्कं अप्राणं अमुखं अमात्रं  अनन्तरं अबाह्यं न तदश्नाति किंचन न तदश्नाति कश्चन॥


 ‘The Seers, O Gargi, call Him akshara, the Imperishable RealitYajnavalkya He is neither gross nor fine, neither short nor long, neither hot nor cold, neither light nor dark, neither of the nature of air, nor of space. He is without relations, without taste or smell, without eyes, ears, speech, mind, vigour, breath, mouth; he is without measure, without inside or outside. He experiences nothing and nothing experiences him.’


Elsewhere the same Yajnavalkya explains all this to his Maitreyi more elaborately.  The conversation (Br.U. II-4-10,11, 12) is on the non-duality of the Atman : It is – as from a lighted fire, kindled with damp fuel,  various clouds of smoke arise, even so, my dear, from this Great Being have issued forth what we have as R.V, YajnavalkyaV, S.V., A.V, history, legends, arts, U., verses, aphorisms, glosses and commentaries. From Him indeed are all these breathed forth.


It is – as of all waters the ocean is the centre ,

as of all kinds of touch the skin is the centre,

as of all smells the nose is the centre,

as of all tastes the tongue is the centre,

as of all sounds the ear is the centre,

as of all intentions the mind is the centre,

as of all arts the heart is the centre,

as of all actions the hands are the centre,

as of all movements the feet are the centre,

as of all the vedas the speech is the centre.

It is – as a lump of salt thrown into water becomes dissolved into water

and could not be seized again, but wherever one takes the water one tastes salt, even so, my dear, this great Being, infinite and boundless, is only a mass of consciousness. It emerges from these elements and vanishes again with them. When it is gone, there is no more (individual) consciousness.


Maitreyi said: ‘Here you have bewildered me, Sir, by saying that

when he is gone there is no more consciousness’.

Yajnavalkya replied, ‘Surely, I am not saying anything bewildering. (Br.U.II-4-14):

यत्र हि द्वैतमिव भवति तदितर इतरं जिघ्रति तदितर इतरं पश्यति तदितर इतरं शृणोति तदितर इतरं अभिवदति तदितर इतरं मनुते तदितर इतरं विजानाति यत्र वा अस्य सर्वं आत्मैवाभूत्  तत् केन कं जिघ्रेत् तत् केन कं पश्येत्  तत् केन कं शृणुयात्  तत् केन कं अभिवदेत् तत् केन कं मन्वीत तत् केन कं विजानीयात्त्  येनेदं सर्वं विजानाति तं केन विजानीयात्  ?  विज्ञातारमरे केन विजानीयात्  ?


For when there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one understands another. But when everything has become the Self, then by what and whom should one hear, by what and to whom should one speak,

by what and of whom should one think, and by what and whom should one understand? By what should one know that by which all this is known?  By what, my dear, should one know the knower?’

How then, does one realise that? the comprehension is certainly difficult.

But by internal self-discipline one can reach that state of self-realisation in this very life itself, assures Lord Yama, the God of Death, in the Katha-U., in his very lucid presentation to young Naciketas. These chapters of K.U constitute the most poetical, at the same time most lucid presentation of the knowledge of brahman-cum-Atman, the summum bonum of all the U..


What does all this mean to the layman of the modern world?

It is this. Every religion says that man should behave in a noble way with

compassion, love and sympathy and should spread happiness everywhere.

U. add a punch line to this and say:Man should behave in a divine

way  because his essential nature is divine. everything that gives us pleasure in this world, that gives status and honour, all of that is impermanent; nothing will ever give us  permanent happiness; what gives permanent happiness is only the Atman,the only permanent entity’ The animal instincts that one usually exhibits are the ones acquired by him through his thoughts and deeds in his several lives. But if he is himself, he can conquer these lower tendencies in him and bring out his natural divine instinct in him which will prompt him to love to be happy and to revel in that Inner Glory of the inherent Divinity in Him. Therefore,  say the U.: Don’t seek happiness from outside. Be yourself, turn to the Atman, see the same Atman in every other self. And that way see the same positives - not the negatives -of every other self. If only we set our mind to do this the Lord will help us; because, the Lord resides in us. He is not an absentee landlord;

He is working with us all the time. This is the fundamental guideline of the U. for practical living. Look at the flexibility and frankness exhibited by the U.ic seers. The knowledge of brahman-Atman elucidated in these ancient texts is of course a declaration of the great sages who ‘saw it all’. But they never say it as a dogma. Nor are we supposed to receive them as such. Beauty of their teaching is: they ask you to enquire within yourself & arrive at your own conclusions, step by step, checking with U.ic revelations at each step. To help you in this search after truth they give you  intermediate conclusions  also. The final conclusion, according to them, is a realisable truth, which forms therefore an axiom – a single axiom from which the entire science of vedanta and metaphysics is built up by accepted forms of logic.

Ramana Maharshi says all that in one line : dehaM nAhaM ;  ko.ahaM; so.ahaM  !


This single axiom is enunciated in four different ways in the vedas.

These are the 4 Grand Pronouncements ( = mahA-vAkyas): Each of these pronouncements is subjected to an intensive analysis by the commentators belonging to each school of philosophy. However the differences in the interpretations by the different AcAryas should not matter in one’s daily life. 

It is as if there exists a multidimensional Reality of which each individual perception has only an one-dimensional projection of the Reality before it, and, perhaps, each in a dimensional axis. You are free to choose that one which is appropriate to your taste, evolution, training and tradition.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy