13. The Upanishads

Content : Roughly translated as “lessons at the foot of the Master”, The Upanishads are spiritual lessons originally written in Sanskrit, mostly between 800 BC and 400 BC.

Although there are over one hundred recognized Upanishads in Sanskrit (some over one hundred pages long), my copy is a selection from twelve of the older Upanishads, translated by Juan Mascaro, and published by Penguin (0140441638)

My thoughts: Far more spiritual than the Rig Veda, The Upanishads are about seeking union with the Spirit (Brahman) and despite the existence of other God figures (Siva, Vishnu, Krishna) in this pantheon, the Lessons are  much more monotheistic – indeed, there is a strong idea that all gods/religions are really coming from one source. Instead of praying for worldly advantage, there is a strong emphasis on attaining perfection via good deeds, and glorifying and rejoicing in God/Brahman.  Indeed, freeing oneself from earthly desires and longings is crucial to becoming one with the omniscient, omnipresent Spirit of the Universe by moving to a higher state of Self and Consciousness.  Faith is valued above seeking knowledge and the concepts of karma and reincarnation arise.

“The soul is born and unfolds in a body, with dreams and desires, and the food of life. And then it is reborn in new bodies, in accordance with its former works. The quality of the soul determines its future body : earthy or airy, heavy or light. Its thoughts and its actions can lead it to freedom, or lead it to bondage, in life after life”  Svetasvatara Upanishad, p. 94

 Favourite lines/passages:  “thus they realize the ineffable joy supreme”  Katha Upanishad, p.64

“At the end of the worlds, all things sleep; he alone is awake in Eternity. Then from his infinite space new worlds arise and awake, a universe which is a vastness of thought. In the consciousness of Brahman the universe is, and into him it returns”    Maitri Upanishad, p, 101

Diversions/digressions:  Despite the religious theme of the work, a piece of scientific/anatomical knowledge slipped in which is quite accurate and surprising for its time, regarding the circulatory system down to capillary level and its role in carrying oxygen through the body:

“In the Heart dwells the Atman, the Self. It is the centre of a hundred and one little channels. From each one of them comes a hundred channels more. Seventy two thousand smaller channels branch from each one of these. In all these millions of little channels moves the power of Vyana [Air]”

Personal rating:  5/10

Next : The epic Ramayana

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