CONCERNING THE VEDAS - 03
AND TAITTRIYA UPANISHAD IN PARTICULAR
By Prof. G Venkataraman
Let me start with the precise meaning of the word Upanishad. Swami says that literally it means to sit down near. Who sits near to whom? The disciple sits near the Guru. And then what?
In passing, it is well to remember that the Upanishads represent the highest Truth, which has attracted seekers the world over. Professor Radhakrishnan quotes the Greek scholar Plotinus who long ago independently observed:
The Upanishads are not the products of human intelligence. They are whisperings of God to man. The Upanishads are authentic and authoritative, as they share the glory of the Vedas. They are 1180 in number, but, through the centuries, many of them have disappeared from human memory and only 108 have now survived. Of these, 13 have attained great popularity, as a result of the depth and value of their contents. Adi Sankaracharya raised the status of ten among all the available Upanishads by selecting them for writing his commentaries and that is how, they became important. Humanity stands to fall or gain by these ten.
What Swami Says About the Taittiriya Upanishad
Let me now tell you what Swami says about the Taittiriya Upanishad:
In trying to appreciate the deeper implication of Sikshavalli, one must have the following mental picture in mind. We must go back thousands of years to Vedic India when young students, between the ages of five and eighteen gathered in small groups, and lived with their Guru in an Ashram. The Ashram was called Gurukulam, and the young seekers were called Brahmacharis, or the seekers of the Supreme God, known in Sanskrit as Brahman. The Guru instructed, guided, and counselled the disciples, Sishyas as they were called. Siksha means instruction, and thus, Sikshavalli is all about the instruction that the Guru gives to the disciples.
In spiritual evolution, one cannot skip any of the stages. Hence, for those who, prompted by their natural impulses, seek physical pleasures on earth, the Upanishads lay down the injunctions to discharge various duties and obligations. For those who seek pleasures in heavens the Upanishads prescribe rituals and meditations by which one can commune with the gods, or higher powers. Gods, men and subhuman beings, in the tradition of the Upanishads, depend on each other for their welfare. The key to enduring happiness lies in co-operation with all created beings and not in ruthless competition.
In the Sikshavalli, certain methods to overcome the obstacles placed in men’s way by the Devas, and also methods to acquire one-pointedness in mental exertions are detailed.
In passing, we may note what Swami has to say about mental processes. He distinguishes three categories: concentration, contemplation and finally meditation. While the former two belong to the worldly mind, the latter is associated with the higher mind or in simple language, the Heart. When one meditates in the Heart, there is are no desires, and this is what Swami really wants.
Among other things, the Guru instructs the disciple on the sacred word OM, which, Swami once referred to as God’s phone number! As is well known, the word OM is chanted before the commencement of any auspicious activity. It is also symbolic of the Creator, and His act of Creation. The Bible says that the word is God; that statement is, in a sense, an echo of Vedic sentiments too.
In this connection, we must remember that among the living species, humans alone have the ability to speak. The capacity to speak and the capacity to create languages is an extra-ordinary gift of God. However, all of us tend to take this incredible gift for granted, treating it most casually.