By: V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
November 28, 2006
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"It is my belief that the philosophy and knowledge of the Upanishads
would become the cherished faith of the people in the West." - Arthur
The UPA government through its Sonia-controlled HRD Minister Arjun Singh
is attempting to destroy Hindu Dharma, Hindu Religion, Hindu Culture and
Hindu Civilization through its two-pronged policies of Hindu Religion
Destruction (HRD I) and Hindu Resources Destruction (HRD II). Minority
votes at any cost. Muslim votes in spite of all terror. Christian votes in
spite of all forced conversions in different parts of India and more
particularly the remote tribal areas in the land. Watching this lurid
drama is our ever-serene, ever-silent, ever-neutral and ever-impotent de
jure Prime Minister committed only to the supremely private cause of
saving his coveted job from the deathly jaws of other known sharks in the
degenerate Congress party, ever in combat readiness to replace him through
the Catholic benediction and secular machinations of Sonia Gandhi.
Amidst this enlarging and encircling gloom, and confirming my forebodings,
I came across the text of a speech given by Lord Macaulay in the House of
Commons on February 2, 1835: "I have traveled across the length and
breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a
thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values,
people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this
country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her
spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace
her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians
think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their
own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they
will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The track record
of Lord Macaulay is being put to shame, by the trio of Sonia Gandhi-Dr
Manmohan Singh-Arjun Singh today!
The UPA government today is trying to complete the work of destruction of
Hindu India announced by Lord Macaulay in the British Parliament in 1835.
Even while Lord Macaulay was blowing hot and cold against Hindu India in
the 1830s, a very great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
in his native country happened to read the Latin translation of the
Upanishads done by a French Indologist Anquetil du Perron (1731-1805).
Perron"s translation was based on the Persian translation of 50 Upanishads
done by DARA SHIKOH (1615-1659), son of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. DARA
SHIKOH was of the view that there are as many roads to God as there are
seekers of him. He found in the Upanishads, the essence of the doctrine of
the unity of God and believed that the reference in the QURAN to the
"Hidden Book" Unmul Kitab was to the Upanishads, because "they contain the
essence of unity and they are secrets which have to be kept hidden." Dara
Shikoh also wrote a book on the mingling of the two oceans
Majinaul-Baharain, the two oceans being Hinduism and Islam.
Arthur Schopenhauer was completely overwhelmed by the majesty of thought
and beauty and loftiness of expression in the Upanishads. He was so
impressed by their philosophy that he declared with passion, "The
Upanishads are the production of the highest human wisdom and I consider
them almost superhuman in conception. The study of the Upanishads has been
a source of great inspiration and means of comfort to my soul. From every
sentence of the Upanishads deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and
the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit. In the whole
world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the
Upanishads. The Upanishads have been the solace of my life and will be the
solace of my death." Schopenhauer always kept a copy of the book Oupnekhat
(Upanishad) open on his table and he invariably studied it before retiring
to rest every day. He hailed and welcomed the glorious era of the opening
up of Sanskrit literature in Germany beginning from 1800 "as the greatest
gift of our century." The first Chair in Sanskrit in Europe was created in
the University of Bonn in 1818 when August Wilhelm von Schlegal (1767-
1845) was appointed as first professor. His younger brother Friedrich von
Schlegal (1772-1829) wrote a work called Upon the Languages and Wisdom of
the Hindus. Another great German Sanskritist was Hern Wilhelm Von Humbolt
(1767-1835) who translated the Bhagavad Gita into German. Schopenhauer was
so greatly influenced by the writings of these great German Indologists
and Sanskritists that he came out with a prophetic declaration: "The
philosophy and knowledge of the Upanishads would become the cherished
faith of the people in the West."
What could have influenced a great German philosopher like Schopenhauer to
wholeheartedly accept and adopt the letter and spirit of the Upanishads in
the 19th century? The world today is full of racial, cultural and
religious misunderstandings. We are groping in a tenuous, timid and
tentative way for some device which would save us from our global suicidal
conflicts. Perhaps the Hindu way of approach to the problem of religious
conflicts may not be without its lessons for us. The Hindu attitude to
religion is free, tolerant, accommodating and interesting. The rigidly
fixed beliefs of one monotheistic religion go against the equally rigid
beliefs of another monotheistic faith. This has been the sad story of
conflict between Christianity and Islam during the last thousand years.
Hinduism sets itself no such limits. In Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma,
intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, outer
expression to inward realization. Religion is not the acceptance of
academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies, but a kind of life
or experience. It is an insight into the nature of reality (Darshana) or
experience of reality (Anubhava). This experience is not an emotional
thrill of subjective fancy, but is the response of the whole personality,
the integrated self to the central reality. Religion is the specific
attitude of the self, itself and no other, though it is mixed up generally
with the intellectual views, aesthetic forms and moral valuation.
Religious experience is of a self-certifying character. It is Svatassiddha.
It carries its own credentials. Religion rests on faith in this sense of
the term. The known and monotheistic mechanical faiths, which depend upon
authority and wish to enjoy the consolations of religion without the
labor of being religious, is quiet different from the Hindu religious
faith which has its roots in experience.
In the depths of his nature, every man craves for an awakening to the
fuller consciousness of Reality in which he lives and moves. As Dr
Radhakrishnan brilliantly puts it: "Above the sorrows, perplexities and
frustrations, besetting man in the world shines the spiritual power,
which, as in all things created, dwells in the soul of man. This presence
lights his way to the true life. The object of all faiths is to awaken the
individual to the awareness of the Kingdom of Light within him. To see the
Light, to be born again in the spirit, is the high calling to which we are
all called. When religion is understood as inward change,
self-purification, its triumphs will be distinctive. It will shine with a
new radiance and become charged with a new power. If we mean by religion
personal encounter with the Supreme, we will be humbled about describing
the nature of the Real." "The sages and the seers of the Upanishads
extended hospitality to all faiths and proclaimed that "He alone sees who
sees all beings in himself." The different faiths are like the different
fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme extended to all, offering
completeness of being to all."
The dominating characteristic of the Upanishads is the dependence on
truth. In every Upanishad we get this message: "Truth wins over, not
falsehood. With truth is paved the road to the Divine." What gives to the
Upanishads their unique quality and unfailing human appeal is an earnest
sincerity of tone, as of friends conferring upon matters of deep concern.
One of the most dramatic of the Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad, tells the
story of Nachiketa, a daring teenager who goes to Yama, the King of Death,
to learn the secret of immortality. In "Perennial Joy" (part I, Canto 2)
Yama begins his teaching with the secret of what endures and what is
merely fleeting. In "The Tree of Eternity", the conclusion of this
Upanishad, Yama completes the teaching and Nachiketa fulfills his quest,
attaining immortality. I have spent some of my happiest hours in reading
this Upanishad. This great Upanishad to me is like the light of the
morning, like the pure air of the mountains ? so simple, so true, if once
understood. In the "Aitereya Brahmana" there is a hymn about the long
endless journey towards self-realisation which each one of us must
undertake, and every verse ends with the refrain: "Charaiveti, Charaiveti".
Hence, oh traveler, march along, march along!"
"The spacious imagination, the majestic sweep of thought, and the almost
reckless spirit of exploration with which, urged by the compelling thirst
for truth, the Upanishad teachers and pupils dig into the "open secret" of
the universe, make this most ancient of the world's holy books still the
most modern and most satisfying".
The most amusing and no less abominable aspect of the Euro-centric mind or
the Western mind is the smug racial conviction that everything profound,
everything sublime, everything beautiful, everything lofty and everything
perennial and everlasting in human culture and civilization can be traced
back only to Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy. The rest of the world
never existed; it can never exist; it must never be allowed to exist. For
such venerable, profound and irrepressible non-minds, I would like to
present the inspiring and time-defying story of NACHIKETA from the KATHA
The Upanishads are the concluding portions of the Vedas and constitute the
basis for the Vedanta Philosophy, a system in which human speculation in
800 BC seems to have reached its very acme. The Upanishads have dominated
Indian philosophy, religion and life for more than 3000 years. Though
remote from time from us, they are not remote in thought. What was the
ideal that haunted the bold thinkers of the Upanishads? What were the
sacred idols and icons that they installed and consecrated in their minds
and hearts? Those idols and icons were : The ideal of man's ultimate
beatitude, the sublime perfection of knowledge, the lofty vision of the
real in which the religious hunger of the mystic for the direct vision of
the Almighty and the philosopher's ceaseless passion and quest for
immortal truth were both satisfied.
The word "Upanishad" is derived from Sanskrit word "Upa" (Near), "Ni"
(Down), and "Shad" (to sit). Groups of people sat neat the teacher in
ancient India to learn from him the truth by which ignorance is destroyed.
There are over 200 Upanishads, although the traditional number is 108. Of
these the principal Upanishads are 10: Isa Upanishad, Kena Upanishad,
Katha Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandulya Upanishad,
Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitereya Upnishad, Chandogya Upanishad and
Brahadaranyaka Upanishad. Adi Shankara, the great Vedantic philosopher of
the 8th century AD, wrote commentaries on 11 of the Upanishads, these 10
and the Svetasvatara Upanishad. He also made extensive references to the
Kausitaki Upanishad and Mahanarayana Upanishad. These, together with
Maitri Upanishad, constitute the 14 well-known principal Upanishads. The
dates of these Upanishads are difficult to determine. One thing is very
clear. All of them are very definitely pre-Buddistic ? long before 500 BC.
All of them are vehicles of spiritual elimination than of systematic
reflection. Their main objective is practical rather than speculative.
They give us knowledge as a means to spiritual freedom.
To come to the inspiring story of Nachiketa from the Katha Upanishad. The
Katha Upanishad gets its name from a school of the Krishna Yajur Veda. It
is perhaps the most philosophical of the Upanishads. The most interesting
feature in this Upanishad is the dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama, the
God of Death on the question of immortality on the self, in which
Nachiketa chooses knowledge above all worldly blessings. During the course
of this dialogue between two mighty minds and spirits, the following
truths are proclaimed: The theory of the superiority of the good (SREYAS)
over the pleasant (PREYAS); the view that Atman cannot be known by the
senses, by reason, or by much learning, but only by intuitive insight or
direct realisation; and the doctrine of the human body as the chariot of
the self. Yama, the God of Death gives his final and definite answers to
the two major questions put by Nachiketa to him: "What is that which,
being known, everything else becomes known?" and "Who is that Lord or
Being for fear of whom fire burns, for fear of whom the sun shines, for
fear of whom the winds, clouds, and Death perform their offices?"
It has been the Hindu way through the ages to weave sublime truths into a
story presented as a tapestry of eternal concepts unsurpassed in meaning
and grandeur. In poetic language, grand philosophical truths are conveyed.
The Nachiketa story can be summarized as follows. In the 135th Sukta of
the tenth mandala of the Rig Veda mention is made of a boy about whom
SAYANA, the Vedic commentator, says that he was no other than the
NACHIKETA, who went to Yama, the God of Death under the command of his
father, Sage Gautama Vajasravas. He was a poor Brahmin, well-versed in the
sacred lore and he performed a fire sacrifice "Viswajit". As a part of
this ritual, he had to offer gifts to the priests. As he was very poor, he
offered a few old cows, decrepit, without teeth, without eyes and flesh,
past the age of calving.
His son Nachiketa who was observing the details of the sacrifice being
made by his father could see that his father was feeling dejected on
account of the fact that he was offering useless gifts to the priests.
Nachiketas, dutiful son as he was, decided that he should bring happiness
to his father at any cost. So he said to his father, "To whom do you give
me?" The father neglected the question once, twice but on the son
repeating the question a third time, he lost his temper and said, "Unto
Yama I give thee." Nachiketa replied with dignity, poise and
understanding: "Men die like corn, they are born like corn. What is the
use of not acting up to what you say; for heaven"s sake send me soon to
Yama, the God of Death." Seeing no way out, the Sage Gautama Vajasravas ,
gave his permission to Nachiketa to go to the God of Death (Yama).
Accordingly, the boy went to the abode of Death; Yama was not there then.
The boy stayed at Yama"s place; Yama returned after three days. Yama
offered the boy three boons. The first boon that Nachiketas chose was that
his father should be pacified as he was having sleepless nights and
sorrowful days, with no peace of mind and he wanted that all his anxieties
should cease. Yama granted this boon most willingly.
For the second boon Nachiketa wanted Yama to teach him the fire that led
to heaven. He wanted to know the path by which man goes to heaven. Yama
had become a God through fire sacrifice. He was thus the best fitted to
teach him fire knowledge "Agni Vidya". Appreciating the earnestness of
Nachiketa, Yama described the nature of fire, the altar, and the way the
rite was to be performed. Nachiketa showed an uncommon power of
understanding and Yama was so much pleased that he declared that
thenceforward the fire would be known by the boy"s name as - Nachiketa
For the third boon, Nachiketa asked Yama to teach him the Atma Vidya -the
Science of Self. He said to Yama, "Some say that man survives Death,
others that he does not. Which of these is true?" Yama had granted the
first two boons, but was reluctant to grant the third. Yama said: "The
knowledge of the Self is not for all. The Self is most difficult to
comprehend. Even the Gods are not clear about the nature of the self. So
subtle is it that it cannot be easily comprehended." Yama made it clear to
Nachiketa that one had to qualify oneself before one can enter on
Self-enquiry. One of the conditions for it is complete aversion to the
pleasures of this world and of the next. Yama wished to know if the boy
was so averse to the earthly pleasures as to make him fit for the boon of
Self-knowledge. To test Nachiketa, Yama offered many enticing gifts in
lieu of the boon asked for "long life, long-lived sons and grandsons,
sovereignty of the universe, the choicest plums of earthly existence,
hundreds of heavenly nymphs and beautiful damsels in dance and music. He
offered even the power of granting boons to others. Nachiketa was not
tempted and he refused to change his mind. Said he, "O Yama, ephemeral are
these; they wear out the vigor that is in all the senses of man. Life is
brief, however long it may seem to be. Let thy chariots, damsels, dances
and songs be with thee alone. I find no use for them. Man does not become
happy with pelf and progeny. One who knows that life is limited and
fleeting cannot revel in pleasures of song and love. Hence teach me that
knowledge which will lead to everlasting bliss. Naught else will Nachiketa
choose". Yama was very much pleased with the sincerity and strength shown
by the boy. Then Yama instructed him in the supreme knowledge of the Self
(Atma Vidya ).
"How can I know that blissful Self, supreme,
Inexpressible, realised by the wise?
Is he the light, or does he reflect light?"
"There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star,
No flash of lightening, nor fire lit on earth
The self is the light reflected by all,
He shining, everything shines after him"
"Teach me of THAT you see as beyond right
And wrong, cause and effect, past and future
"Abiding, I see the gates of joy
Are opening for you Nachiketa!
The self cannot be known through the study
Of the scriptures, not through the intellect,
The Self cannot be known by anyone
Who desists not from unrighteous ways,
Controls not the senses, stills not the mind,
And practices not meditation
None else can know the omnipresent Self,
Whose glory sweeps away the rituals of
The priest and the prowess of the warrior
And puts death itself to death
V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
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