Knowledge of the soul from the Upaniṣads
Sri T.K. Sribhashyam
The word Upaniṣad means “sitting on the ground at the feet of the master”, to listen to his teaching. This spiritual teaching given to us by the Upaniṣads was transmitted orally for several centuries.
The knowledge proclaimed in the Upaniṣads is a science which offers the means of removing sorrow and obtaining bliss. It is a knowledge which is different from the learning that we usually acquire in respect of the things of the world. While there are sciences of various kinds, all of which are important, they cannot remove the sorrow from our heart. They contribute to the satisfaction of a particular individual, placed in a particular constitution, in a particular type of life, but they do not go to the soul of the person concerned.
Adhyātma Vidya, as the Upaniṣads call the knowledge of the soul, is different from other types of knowledge like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, etc., because all these latter pertain to objects of sense, the perceived world where as adhyātma vidya pertains to the knowledge of the soul which is not an object of senses. A correct knowledge of the soul provides us a state of joy that cannot be compared with the happiness that we get from objects of sense. The objects that are perceived by the senses are conditioned by the processes of perception which itself is determined by the nature of the perceiver.
Our deep-rooted sorrow is not brought about by the circumstances in which we live. Contrary to our beliefs, we do not suffer by incidents that take place outside our sphere. Our sorrow comes from maladjustment of our personality with the conditions of life.
Very often we do not know what has happened to us because we do not know our real self and we identify our real self to our ego.
Study of the knowledge of our soul helps us remove our sorrow and obtain freedom of the soul. Many Upaniṣads attempt to explain the various processes of bondage and liberation. They explain to us how we are bound and how we are to become free.
Our bondage is not merely physical or social; it is a deep-rooted condition which is following us for centuries and through our repeated births and deaths. Anything we do in the outer world does not seem to be an adequate remedy for this sorrow, because this sorrow has not come from outside. We can have a house to protect us from rain, sun and wind, we can have adequate daily food to eat, we can have very happy and friendly social relationships, we may have a secure job, we may have a good health… However, despite all these, we can also die one day. No one can free us from this state of death which in the end becomes our fear of death. This is our greatest sorrow – no one can save us from death.
The bondage of the self is intrinsically involved in the structure of the individual. We bring sorrow with us even when birth takes place. We bring our death together with our birth. All our experiences – the joys and the sorrows including our last moment of life are fruits of circumstances with which we are born. We are born under certain conditions, and they are the seeds of what will follow later in our life. Our entire life is an unfoldment of that which is present in a seed-form at the time of our birth. We do not pass through newer experiences, but they are all predetermined, even if the structure of our experiences change. The experiences of life are natural phenomena that follow logically from the circumstances under which we are born. These circumstances are so powerful that they condition our future which are the consequences of our antecedent actions. They are so closely linked that we are unable to distinguish between the cause and the effect of our experience.
We cannot free ourselves from this deep-rooted sorrow by merely undergoing experiences through births and deaths, because the experiences in life are the forces which come out automatically from the nature of our existence. We should reflect and contemplate on the character of existence to understand the origin of our sorrow and apply the means to remove it.
The knowledge that the Upaniṣads teach us is unique. It is not a knowledge that one acquires about a thing, but it is knowledge which is inseparable from the very ‘Being’ that we are. It is not knowledge of a person, an object or a structural pattern of anything. It is not a definition of any particular condition of life. It is not a description of the happiness of the human mind. It is not a future condition that we are going to live. The Upaniṣads teach the way to unite the real knowledge of the soul with the soul. The Upaniṣads teach many means to know our Ātma and how to acquire its knowledge. These means are open to all.
This article was written by Sribhashyam for Yogakshemam and is reproduced with their kind permission.