The Evolution and significance of The Vedas
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    The Evolution and significance of The Vedas


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    MUSINGS FROM PRASHANTHI NILAYAM
    CONCERNING THE VEDAS – 02
    THE VEDAS - THEIR EVOLUTION AND SIGNIFICANCE

    By Prof. G Venkataraman

    The Vedas are the most ancient among the world’s scriptures. They are a vast storehouse of wisdom. Manu has declared, “Everything is derived from the Vedas.” The Vedas are immeasurable, unrivalled, and filled with Bliss. The word Veda is derived from the root word Vid, which means to know. Knowledge of the Supreme is Veda.
    The Vedas – A collection of Divine Revelations
    The Vedas consist of hymns, thousands and thousands of them. They represent an ocean to which countless Sages have contributed, going back to a period when there was only the spoken language and no script. The hymns of the Vedas represent thoughts and revelations that came to the Sages of yore during their meditations. These revelations were in the form of hymns, which the Sages transmitted to their disciples. Thus it was that they were passed from generation to generation. For centuries, all this happened entirely by word of mouth. The written version came much later. Thus the growth of the Vedas is like a series of small streams joining to form tributaries that feed big rivers, the rivers all finally merging into the ocean. This analogy is very apt, because the water that the streams get is from the rain, whose source is really the ocean. In the same way, the revelations that the Sages had were from the Divine; and the Ocean made up by the collection of revelations that constitutes the Vedas, is also Divine.
    The Sound Aspect of Vedic Hymns – It’s Significance
    I must pause here to make a few important comments. The first is that the Vedas exist in the form of chants, and the sound aspect is therefore very important. The Vedic hymns must be chanted properly and there is a spiritual significance to the chant, which the late Paramacharya of Kanchi explains as follows:
    Vedas must be chanted with grandeur so that the sound can be properly heard. Vedic Mantras not only produce beneficial vibrations in the pulse of the one who chants them properly, but also similar vibrations in those who may hear them. Since it is spread in the atmosphere, it ensures wellbeing here and hereafter. The outstanding feature of the Vedas lies in the fact that the sound of the Mantras by itself when chanted has a meaning, apart from the words themselves, which too are pregnant with significance.
    The sound aspect has been preserved from very ancient times and that is something remarkable. The sound aspect is linked intimately to the words, and the two, namely the sound and the word together have been so intertwined that over time, Vedic hymns have defied corruption and mutation. This is an important point and needs some reflection.
    Let us take any language, including English. All languages have evolved. If say, an Englishman who lived fifteen hundred years ago were to suddenly appear before us and start speaking, I am sure most of us would not be able to understand what he is saying. The words would be different and so also the style. This is true of almost all languages. Languages evolve with time, these days over even short periods, but the Vedic language has remained invariant over the several thousand years during which the Vedas evolved.
    How Have the Vedic Hymns Remained Uncorrupted
    I once asked a scholar how this was possible since languages have all evolved the world over. The answer he gave was interesting. He said that the Vedic hymns have remained uncorrupted because of the sound aspect. They had a particular metre and when chanted, they had a certain completeness of their own. Any mutation or distortion of the words would severely disturb the sound aspect, and this disturbance could be easily detected. Since the sound aspect was dominant, corruption could be spotted and eliminated immediately; this is how, I was told, the pristine purity of the Vedas had been preserved. Sounds plausible I would say.
    Anyway, the fact of the matter is that the way the Vedas are chanted now, as, for example, in Swami’s presence everyday during Darshan, is the same as the way they were chanted thousands of years ago. I must of course qualify this by adding that there are some special schools of Vedic chanting but I am not considering that here; rather, I am confining myself to the standard method of chanting.
    Just to make myself clear, let us say there is a Vedic Pandit from the East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh and another from Kerala. East Godavari District and Kerala are at least a thousand kilometres apart. The respective Vedic scholars would have imbibed their tradition from their ancestors in those two widely separated parts of the country, parts, which, until recently, did not have good communication between them.

    Suppose these two scholars meet and one of them starts chanting say the Taittriya Upanishad. The other would have absolutely no difficulty in joining the first scholar in the recitation. That is because the recitation tradition is the same for both, and that is because the recitation is fixed and has remained invariant through the ages. I hope you get the point. If you reflect on it, you would find this aspect unique.
    Swami On Why The Vedas
    Let me now go back for a minute to the Divine revelation aspect. Such revelations are not as rare as people might imagine, and have occurred to people in various places at various times in history. Indeed, even in science, such revelations have occurred. Of course, historians of science would not record it that way. They would instead say that Archimedes had a flash of discovery, Einstein had a flash of intuition, and so on. However, these flashes are nothing but the revelation of the Divine, maybe in relation to the material world, but revelations nonetheless.
    Back to Swami and let us find out what more He has to say about the Vedas. Here is a quote:
    The Vedas took form, only to demonstrate and emphasise the existence of God. The Veda is a collation of words that are the Truth, which were visualised by sages who had attained the capacity to receive them into their enlightened awareness. In reality, the Word is the very Breath of God, the Supreme Person. The unique importance of the Veda rests on this fact.
    Why are the Vedas called Sruthis
    Because the Vedas originally existed only in sound form, they are sometimes referred to as Sruthi. In scriptures, Sruthi means that which is heard. The real reason for giving the name Sruthi to the Vedas is that Cosmic Vibrations which are inaudible and cannot be seen were heard by the mediating Sages as sound. That is also one of the reasons why the sound aspect is given so much importance. Great stress is therefore laid by the teachers of Vedas on the correct pronunciation of the word and the intonation while chanting. Listeners who have heard the extended Vedic chants by students before Swami, would be able to appreciate what I mean.
    The ancients of India devised elaborate recitation drills so that through the ages, the chants would remain the same, without mutation and corruption. This is something remarkable, and I am not sure if there is any other comparable example.
    The Structure of The Vedas
    I must now say something about the structure of the Vedas. It is usually said that there are four Vedas. Yes there are, but this classification came after several thousands of years. Before that, it was, shall I say, a period of discovery? Revelations came to people belonging to different times, and these were encapsulated into Vedic hymns. There were thousands and thousands of hymns but unfortunately, most of them have been lost in time. What has survived is only a small part. Even so, they are not only grand in themselves, but tell, in their own way, the story of the evolution of human thought. I shall come to that aspect a little later but for now, I shall stay with the topic concerning the structure of the Vedas.
    Today we recognise four Vedas, the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharvana Veda. Apparently, it was Sage Vyasa who made the compilation and classification of Vedic hymns in this manner. It is customary to identify in each Veda, three portions known respectively as: Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka. Thus, the Rig Veda has its own Samhita, its own Brahmana and its own Aranyaka. The same holds for the other three Vedas also.
    The Division within Each Veda
    Now what do these three portions signify? Why this division? That is the question I shall address next. In a sense, the three portions are indicators of evolution of Vedic thought. The word Samhita means that which has been collected and arranged. The Samhita portion of a given Veda contains the Mantras belonging to that Veda, arranged in a systematic manner. These Mantras comprehensively convey the main objective or the purpose of that particular Veda. The Vedic Mantras that we often hear come mainly from the Samhitas.
    Turning next to the Brahmanas, these spell out how certain rituals ought to be performed. About the Brahmanas, Swami has this to say:
    The Brahmanas constitute an important part of the Vedas, and deal with the correct procedures for performing rituals like the Yajnas and Yagas. Being ceremonial rites for acquiring mundane pleasures, such ceremonies, however, cannot offer Atmananda or the Pure Bliss of the Atma. They can only enhance sensory enjoyment and provide epicurean pleasures, which are intrinsically transient. The search for pure abiding Bliss of the Atma led the ancient Rishis to the solitude of the forests.
    This leads me on in a quite natural fashion to the Aranyakas. This word is derived from the word Aranya, which means forest. Thus, the Aranyakas are sometimes referred to as forest books and with good reason. As already pointed in the quote from Swami, neither the Samhitas or the Brahmanas ask a person to give up everything and retire to the forest in order to contemplate on God and focus totally on spiritual development. No doubt chanting Mantras from the Samhitas does promote some purity of mind, but where spiritual development is concerned, they can take a person only so far.
    The Aranyakas have a different objective. They are meant for people who wish to reach higher levels of development through intense contemplation and meditation of the Supreme One in His most abstract aspect. The famous Upanishads come at the end of the Aranyakas and represent the quintessence of Vedic Knowledge. As Swami puts it, “Ancient Sages have communicated the spiritual wisdom revealed to them through the Upanishads.”
    Evolution Of Vedic Thought – The First Step
    The above brief introduction to the Vedas also enables me now to comment on the evolution of Vedic thought. If one goes carefully through the Vedic texts that span the ages, one can see a clear line of evolution. The very early hymns are in the Rig Veda, and they not only express ancient man’s sense of wonder but also reveal how he identified specific deities like Indra, Agni, Vayu and so on with forces of Nature. About all this, Swami says,
    The very first experience in Indian thought is the thrill of wonder. This is expressed in the hymns or Riks found in the Rig Veda. The Riks are all about the deities or the Devas, like Indra, Varuna and so on.
    From this we see that the very early seekers did not straightaway understand Brahman, the Ultimate and all that. Like people elsewhere, the ancients of India also were struck with wonder about Nature and all the forces that formed a part of her, like thunder, lightning, wind, rain, etc. They also understood, perhaps in their own imperfect way, that there was a subtle synergy between the various agencies of Nature that promoted the sustenance of life on earth.
    Everything from the ant to the elephant was seen as a part of some mysterious Cosmic cycle. And so, the very first thoughts related not only to the inevitable sense of wonder but also to an important question of logic. If there were forces in Nature, there ought also to be agencies that controlled these forces. It is these that were identified as Devas, and the Devas in charge of different departments, shall I say, were given different names like Indra, Agni and so forth. This is what I would call the first level of thought in a long evolutionary process.
    It is interesting in passing to note that the Greeks also went through almost a similar thought process. As would be recalled, the Greeks too had a god of fire, a god for this, a god for that and so on. In fact, tribes everywhere had their own spectrum of deities or spirits, be it in Africa or North America. What this shows is that ancients everywhere had the implicit belief that there was something in the Universe more that what one could merely see with the eyes and experience with the senses.
    The Second Step – Worshipping the Elements
    Having decided that there were Devas who controlled various aspects and forces of Nature, the next task was to worship them and perform various rituals to propitiate them. Thus it was that rituals came into existence, almost soon after the Devas were accepted. Listeners may recall, for example, that Emperor Dasaratha performed a ritual called the Putrakameshti Yaga for having children. By the way, this ritual is sometimes performed even these days by the childless.
    So the first step in the evolution process was to identify Devas and worship them. In due course, the more intensive of the Vedic seekers decided to probe further beyond the Devas and concluded, in the first instance, that there must be an overlord for these deities. The deities were like Viceroys, and there must be a Rex or a King who ruled over them. Thus it is that they convinced themselves about a Power superior to the deities. That power was called God.
    Now arose an issue. Whom to worship? Some said, “Worship the deities for particular favours, and worship the God who ruled them when the deities were unable to deliver the goods.” Thus in ancient India, many started worshipping Varuna the God of Rain when the monsoon failed but prayed to another God when they wanted progeny or cure from illness and things like that. This is like going to different counters in a bank when one needs different kinds of service.
    At this stage, some thinkers said, “Hey wait a minute. Let’s examine this business in some more detail.” They did so and came up with an answer that is best illustrated by using the analogy of a Bank. Just go to, say, the main office of the State Bank of India in Prashanti Nilayam during the working hours. You will find that many customers are seated with the Manager. Often, these are people from overseas who have big deposits in the Bank. They may have things they want to do like withdrawing some money, getting some foreign currency cashed, making new deposits and so forth. For every such activity, there is an assigned person and a counter for conducting the transaction; yet the VIP customer gets all his jobs done simply by sitting with the Manager. In the same way, these profound thinkers in ancient India came to the important conclusion that though there were deities who took care of limited portfolios, all the favours one wants can in fact be granted directly by God who ruled all the Devas, and that there was no need to separately take these issues up with the lesser deities or Devas.
    The Final Understanding – The Existence of The Supreme One
    In short, step by step, the seekers realised that there is a Supreme One who is beyond this world, beyond the Universe in fact, and beyond Space and Time too. The seekers also realised that this Supreme One who was beyond Space and Time itself, could not be described in words, and could not be cognised by the Mind too. We have heard so many speakers quote this Vedic phrase:
    Yato vaache nivarthante aprapya manasachaha.
    This phrase refers to Something that is beyond description and even thought.
    Space-Time is a curtain that divides the Creator from the Creation. Creation is on this side of the curtain, while the Creator in all His absolute and pristine glory is on the other, so to speak. In short, slowly but surely, the seekers were zeroing on the existence of the curtain and the presence of something Supreme beyond that curtain. That something is God, whose children we all are, irrespective of race, religion, creed or nationality.
    The Vedas Are Universal
    In this sense, the Vedas are Universal and it is for that reason that Swami makes it a point to draw attention to the Vedas, and NOT because they are Indian in origin.
    To repeat, the Vedas focus on a MYSTICAL ETERNAL SOMETHING that is beyond this world, beyond this Universe, beyond Space and Time itself, and is changeless. It is that Something beyond words and even the Mind that the Vedic seers were in quest of, and with good reason too.
    Indeed, across the ages, seekers elsewhere too have been engaged in this very quest, though by different means. Einstein was one of them, and he gives expression to this beautifully. Explaining why he pursued Science, Einstein once said:
    A knowledge of the existence of Something we cannot penetrate, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our Minds – it is this Knowledge and emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, I am a deeply religious man.
    Einstein tried to catch a glimpse of Cosmic Infinity through Science while the seekers of the Vedic age sought that very same ETERNITY via the path of devotion and Spiritual inquiry.

    Dear Forum Members since article is too long...i put in into 2 post.kindly read the continuation below
    Last edited by renuka; 23-02-2010 at 08:39 AM.
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    The Supplementary Units of The Vedas
    I will have more to say about the Vedic concept of God and related subjects later, but for now, let me for the record mention that in addition to the four main Vedas, there are many supplementary units that include six Vedaangas and four Upaangas.

    The word Anga means a limb; thus the Vedaangas represent, so to speak, limbs of the Vedas while the Upaangas represent subsidiary limbs. I shall not go into details concerning these but I must mention one important Upaanga, and that is the Puraanas. The Puraanas are important because they cater to the masses. The late Paramacharya of Kanchi has this to say about the Puraanas:
    The Puraanas can be called the magnifying glasses of the Vedas as they magnify small images into big images. The Vedic injunctions which are contained in the form of pithy statements are magnified or elaborated in the form of stories or anecdotes in the Puraanas.
    This is an important point. Take Sathya or Truth, for example. The importance of adhering to Sathya come what may is wonderfully exemplified by the story of King Harishchandra, which, until recently, used to be regularly performed as a drama in villages all over India. That is how ordinary folk learnt the importance of abiding by Truth. I have myself seen unlettered villagers say, “I am bound by Truth.” We should also not forget that it was one such village drama depicting the story of Harishchandra that made a profound impact on Gandhi when he was a young boy, making a difference not only to his own life but, in some measure, to humanity as well.

    Swami on How The Vedas Help Man
    I think it is best for me to bring this talk to a close with a quote from Swami:
    The Vedas teach man his duties. They describe his rights and duties, obligations and responsibilities, in all stages of life – as a student, householder, recluse and monk. In order to make plain the Vedic dicta and axioms and enable all to understand the meaning and purpose of the do’s and don’ts, the Vedaanagas, the Upaangas, the Puraanas and the Epic texts appeared in course of time. Therefore, if man is to grasp the significance of his existence and his own reality, he has to understand the importance of these later explanatory texts also.
    I guess that places the Vedas and all the supplementary compositions in their proper perspective. Next time, I shall give you a glimpse of one of the interesting Upanishads.


    Jai Sai Ram
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    renu,

    gv is so blessed with swamis grace,sometimes i am envious of him.

    nachi naga.
    Saraswati namasthubhyam Varade kaama roopini Vidyaarambham karishyaami Sidhirbhavatu me sadaa
    O Goddess Saraswati, the giver of Boons and fulfiller of wishes, I prostrate to You before starting my studies. May you always fulfill me?
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    Quote Originally Posted by nachi naga View Post
    renu,

    gv is so blessed with swamis grace,sometimes i am envious of him.

    nachi naga.

    Dear Nachi Naga sir,

    You know we should be hoping Swami showers more grace on GV sir...so that he will write more articles and all of us can learn....
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    yes renu,when we look it in the way you have written,i agree.hope swami graces all of us,just not dear gv

    nachi naga
    Saraswati namasthubhyam Varade kaama roopini Vidyaarambham karishyaami Sidhirbhavatu me sadaa
    O Goddess Saraswati, the giver of Boons and fulfiller of wishes, I prostrate to You before starting my studies. May you always fulfill me?
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    wonderful collections. thanks for this.
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    Extraordinary article. Thanks very much, Renukaji. You are a huge asset to this forum, probably one of the few persons not caught in the argumentative cross-fire and if so your humility comes across like a shooting star. God bless and please keep posting more such gems.
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    MUSINGS FROM PRASANTHI NILAYAM
    CONCERNING THE VEDAS - 03
    THE UPANISHADS – THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IN GENERAL
    AND TAITTRIYA UPANISHAD IN PARTICULAR
    By Prof. G Venkataraman
    Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.
    This is my third talk on the Veda Walkthrough Series, if I might call it that. In the two earlier talks, I sort of gave a general introduction to the Vedas. In the present one, I shall draw pointed attention to one particular Upanishad, the TaittriyaUpanishad, for the simple reason that it not only offers a good sample of what the Vedas are all about at the highest level, but also because we often hear this chanted when Swami comes out for Darshan. Radio Sai has of course presented earlier a detailed series on this particular Upanishad and I hope at least some of you have heard that presentation. Many of my remarks are in fact based on that presentation but they would be quite brief compared to what was offered earlier.
    I have already pointed out that the Upanishads form a part of Vedanta, Vedanta meaning that which comes towards the end of the Vedas. As such, the Upanishads are highly philosophical in content, which ought not to be surprising because, as I mentioned in one of my earlier talks, Vedic thought evolved with time. There are many Upanishads, but scholars consider ten of them to be the most important ones; the Taittriya Upanishad, which I am now considering, is one of this top ten.
    The Meaning of ‘Upanishad’

    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?
    The disciple absorbs Wisdom from the Guru and becomes enlightened. This is the traditional and outward meaning. The deeper meaning is that the individual must move nearer and nearer to the True Inner Self, for God is Ultimate Guru; that is the real way to Wisdom.
    The individual, as Swami often reminds us, is an Embodiment of the Eternal Atma, that is to say, Atma cloaked in a Mind and a body. This combination is also referred to as the Jivatma.
    The Upanishads help the Jivatma to embark on a voyage of discovery. Discovery of what? Discovery of the Jivatma’s True Nature. And what is that True Nature? The Pure, Unadorned, Unembodied and Infinite Atma. As Professor Radhakrishnan says, “The Atma is what remains when everything that is not the True Self is discarded.” Sadhana is the process by which the Jivatma discards all the unnecessary trappings that cloud the Atma.
    Upanishadic Thought Echoed by Plotinus
    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:
    One that seeks to penetrate the nature of the Divine Mind must see deep into the nature of his own Soul, into the Divinest point of himself. He must first make abstraction of the body, then of the lower soul which built up that body, then of all the faculties of the sense, of all desires and emotions and every such triviality, of all that which leans towards the mortal. What is left after this abstraction is the part we describe as the Image of the Divine Mind, an emanation preserving some of that Divine Light.
    Plotinus

    Max Mueller on the Upanishads
    No one can deny that this is a remarkable and independent perception of the essence of Upanishadic Truth. But the fact remains that the Upanishads outweigh in sheer quantity as well as depth, the insight gained by seekers elsewhere. This is not to comment adversely on other philosophical traditions. Rather, it is a fact of history that in ancient India , seeking the Inner Self literally became a way of life for a very large number of people. Thus it is that Max Mueller, to whom Swami often makes references, says:
    It is surely astounding that such a system as Vedanta should have slowly been elaborated by the indefatigable and intrepid thinkers of India thousands of years ago, a system that even now makes us feel giddy as in mounting the last steps of the swaying spire of a Gothic cathedral. None of our philosophers, including Heraclitus, Plato, Kant, or Hegel has ventured to erect such a spire. In the beginning there was but One, and in the end also, there will but One, whether we call it Atman or Brahman.
    Max Mueller

    This is what Swami Himself has to say about the Upanishads in general.
    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.
    The Taittriya Upanishad
    Let me now come to the Taittriya Upanishad, the focus of the present talk. It consists of three parts, each referred to as a Valli; the three parts are: Sikshavalli, Anandavalli, and Bhriguvalli. The first part is essentially connected with a theoretical knowledge of the scriptures. Here a Guru instructs his disciples on some basics.
    Mere theory is of no use, and God has to be experienced; then alone would one know what Ananda or Bliss is. But Bliss cannot be experienced by one who is in the grip of ignorance. Thus, the first task in moving towards Bliss is to get rid of ignorance. The Anandavalli part of the Taittriya Upanishad deals with this aspect.
    Finally, there is the Bhrguvalli which is in the form of a dialogue between Sage Varuna and his son Bhrigu, and deals with the Knowledge of the Supreme of Brahman. In a sense, it is a recap of Anandavalli but in dialogue form. So much for a brief introduction as to what three Vallis are all about.

    What Swami Says About the Taittiriya Upanishad
    Let me now tell you what Swami says about the Taittiriya Upanishad:
    Brahmavidya [Knowledge of Brahman] is the specific theme of this Upanishad. It has three sections: Sikshavalli, Anandavalli or Brahmavalli, and Bhriguvalli. The latter two sections are very important for those seeking Brahmajnana [Knowledge of the Supreme]. In the Sikshavalli, certain methods to acquire one-pointedness are detailed. But bondage cannot be destroyed and delusions overcome by this alone. The flux and the turbulence of life are due to Ajnana or ignorance. And bondage is the result. It is only when Ajnana is destroyed that the bonds get loosened and Liberation is attained. It is just like saying your train is moving when the fact is that your train is stationary while it is the train in the adjacent track that is really moving. Watch your train and you know the truth; watch the other train and you are deceived. There is no use to seeking the cause of delusion; instead, seek to escape from it!
    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.
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    What exactly is the meaning of seeking Brahman? Why were these young men in quest of God Almighty? If indeed the young disciples were in quest of the Supreme One, then how come most of them later ended up getting married and thereby immersed in the turbulent sea called family life? Some clarifications concerning these questions are necessary so that we can appreciate better the teachings and the purpose of the Upanishads.
    What is truly remarkable about the Vedas and the Upanishads is that they do not dismiss anything in Creation; everything has a place and a purpose, and evolution must take place against this background. Thus it is that Swami Nikhilananda says:
    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.
    The last remark is perhaps relevant in the context of what is happening today, when man is not only dominating, but even wiping out many living species. Getting back to the uniqueness of the Upanishads, they not only instruct in rituals but, besides giving hints of their inner meanings, indicate how man, bound as he presently is, can elevate himself to experience the Divine, or the Ultimate-Ultimate as Prof. Radhakrishan refers to Brahman. As far as we are concerned, we shall focus primarily on the Universal aspects of the teachings of the Upanishads.
    We end this brief introduction by quoting what Swami says about Sikshavalli. He says:
    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.
    Swami adds that merely by routinely discharging one’s duties as a good householder, one cannot cross the Ocean of Life. That calls for something more, and that is presented in the later Vallis.
    The Guru’s Teaching in the Sikshavalli Portion
    Let me now quickly present some of the highlights of Sikshavalli.
    As I told you a short while ago, the word Siksha means instruction. Thus, the Sikshavalli consists essentially of teachings by the Guru to the sishyas or disciples. The disciples being young, there are a number of practical matters that are given attention. For example, the Guru stresses to the student that correct pronunciation and intonation are important since they determine the meaning. There must be no slackness in these.
    There is an idea behind this particular advice of the Guru. In later life, many disciples may be engaged in assisting with the performance of Vedic rituals. If rituals are performed, they must be done so in the proper manner, which means that Mantras must be chanted properly. I have already called attention in an earlier talk to the importance attached by the Kanchi Paramacharya to the sound aspect.
    This particular instruction of the Guru has a special relevance to this day and age. The performance of Vedic rituals has declined sharply in the last fifty years or so, and not many of the few priests available for performing rituals are bothered about proper pronunciation. This is not only unfortunate but also a betrayal on the part of the priests concerned.
    By the way, one should not imagine that Upanishads are pure philosophy. Often they offer a mix of the practical with the philosophical. However, even behind the so-called practical, that is the ritual, there is deep philosophy. For example, while performing Yajnas, priests offer cooked rice to the sacred fire and chant a chant a Mantra. People may think it is all a ritual but in the Gita, Krishna explains the deeper significance of it all. This Mantra in the Gita that I am referring to is the Brahmaarpanam Sloka that we all chant before eating. In effect, everything is by God and for God. This perspective must always be kept in mind.
    Correct chanting is no doubt very important but that does not mean that the student reduces himself to a tape recorder. It is quite likely that through long and disciplined chanting, the student might end up focussing entirely on just the words. To prevent this from happening and to uplift the student, the Guru also has a hymn through which the attention of the student is directed to the inner significance of the hymns.
    The student is advised that he must contemplate upon the hymns and their meanings. According to the Upanishads, meditation can be done in two different ways. One is with an eye on the benefits that would accrue and the other is without any concern for worldly gains. Thinking about God for realising worldly gains is all right up to a point but should not be the ultimate goal. The Taittriya Upanishad, though it leans heavily on high philosophy, does not entirely frown upon having worldly desires; instead, it recommends that desires must be kept in check and blended with acts that benefit Society. Thus it is that the householders are asked to give charity in abundance, even while they are praying for wealth.
    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.

    Vedic seers asked their students to meditate on the word, its deeper significance, the capacity to speak, and see therein the power of God. For us, all this is a reminder that the power of speech must be used only for good and never for bad.
    A Practical Teaching
    The Guru’s teachings cover not only aspects of the highest Spiritual Knowledge but also a lot of practical advice. As Swami reminds us often, mere bookish knowledge is of no use; what is equally if not more important is practical knowledge, namely, how to apply the principles of Spirituality in daily life. Thus, the Guru says that when the disciple leaves the Ashram and enters life after getting married, he has the duty to give generously, with love, without the expectation of anything whatsoever in return, and never unwillingly. In other words, sharing is the best way of showing that one really cares. Indeed, one must not merely share food, and wealth, but, most important of all, God’s Love. That is what the Gita also declares, and Swami repeatedly emphasises. So much for the highlights of the Sikshavalli.
    Now the Upanishads cater to the entire spectrum of aspirants. In a modern school, we have many classes like the first standard, the second standard and so on, all the way to high-school level classes. Naturally, the level of instruction varies with the class. In the Gurukulas of ancient times, there were no classes because the number of disciples was usually a handful. Keeping this in mind, the hymns catered to students with all levels of spiritual evolution. There was no such thing as the same formula for all; instead, it was a case of “each according to his capacity”.
    The Conclusion of the Sikshavalli
    The Sikshavalli ends with a remarkable exhortation by the teacher to the student. Swami quotes this often, besides which this exhortation invariably forms a part of the invocation at the commencement of the Institute Convocation. The Guru tells the disciple: Sathyam Vada, Dharmam Chara, Matrudevo Bhava,Pitu Devo Bhava, Acharya Devo Bhava, Athithi Devo Bhava etc. I am sure everyone knows what these stand for. Basically, they exhort the disciple to always abide by Truth, to be righteous, to revere mother, father, Guru and guest, verily as God personified.
    These are incredible pieces of advice. And how relevant these are today!
    The Anandavalli Portion
    I now turn to the Anandavalli portion of the Taittiriya Upanishad.
    Swami says, “The purpose of life is to prepare you to return to your natural habitat. From God you have come and to God you must return.” What does this mean and how does one go about it? That is the issue dealt with in Anandavalli.
    We recall first Swami’s remark that God is the Embodiment of Pure Bliss. That is why He once sang: “Bliss is My Form,” a song familiar to all of us. The Sanskrit word for Bliss is Ananda. The word Ananda is not easy to translate. Often, Ananda is translated as joy or happiness; both these words are totally inadequate; by comparison, Bliss does a better job.
    Joy and happiness relate to experiences we have in this world. Joyful experiences are no doubt nice but they also have an opposite, which is pain or misery. By contrast, Bliss or Ananda has no opposite. How come? Because, Bliss belongs to the non-dual world, that is the world of God.
    In as much as man is a child of God, his true nature also is Bliss. But once man gets immersed in the world, he gets easily duped and starts readily accepting fakes like worldly and sensual pleasure as being Bliss. The senses con him, and he gets caught in a trap; again and again he goes for sensory pleasures even though they bring misery in the end.
    The question might be asked. “There is a man who diligently follows all that the Vedas prescribe. He is good, he is honest, gives charity and all that. Should this not lead him to Bliss?” Well, it is nice to be a good person, perform all duties and rituals diligently and so forth. But all that would not and cannot ever lead to ultimate union with God. Why? Because of attachment. Even a good man has desires, though they may seem harmless. For example, many good people want to go to heaven after death. This may seem alright superficially but heaven is the wrong destination! That is why Swami says that even Sattva binds; it is like a golden rope! Then what does one do? One must become UNBOUND, which means one must shed all body-consciousness.
    The Goal of Life
    In the Anandavalli, the Teacher gently draws the attention of the young disciple to what exactly the goal of life ought to be. One ought not to get sucked in and become overwhelmed by the turbulence of life. One must look far beyond, never losing sight of the final destination. Why must one do that? Because, that is where Eternal Joy and Bliss lie.
    The student must realise that there is a God beyond description by words and beyond the understanding of the Mind, notwithstanding its enormous power. The Guru urges the disciple to be bold and seek this Supreme Being who is beyond the physical world and the Mind too. The Guru stresses that it is only the one who seeks Brahman who can enjoy Eternal Bliss.
    I must also call attention to the fact that in Anandavalli, the Supreme God or Brahman is described as Sathyam, Jnanam and Anatham, i.e., as Truth, Knowledge and the Infinite. In fact, Swami often sings a Bhajan starting with these very words; these words are from the Anandavalli.
    In summary, Anandavalli is a road map to Eternal Bliss.
    The Bhriguvalli Portion
    The Bhriguvalli which is the last of the three vallis that form a part of the Taittriya Upanishad, is essentially a repeat of the Anandavalli but in a different format. In this, Bhrigu, the son of Rishi Varuna asks a question of his father about Brahman. The father, who in this case is also the Guru, asks the son who is also the disciple, to think, meditate, and come back with the answer. In other words, the answer is to be found by self-enquiry and not via tuition.
    The disciple does as told and come back with what he thinks is the answer. The father says go back and meditate some more. Why? Because the answer is not complete and represents only a part of the Truth. The disciple goes and comes back a few times, and every time he is sent back to enquire more. However, it is not an infructuous exercise altogether because in every attempt, the disciple manages to refine the answer he found earlier.
    And finally there comes a stage when the disciple does not come back to report. Why? Because, having found that Brahman is nothing but Absolute Bliss or Ananda, he becomes one with It! There is nothing more to find out or discover!! That in essence is the gist of Bhriguvalli. In other words, it gives hints about how exactly one must enquire while seeking the Ultimate Truth.
    Swami’s Words on Anandavalli and Bhriguvalli
    Before I wrap up, let us hear what Swami has to say about Anandavalli and Bhriguvalli. Swami says,
    The Anandavalli and Bhriguvalli are very important for those seeking Brahmajnana or Knowledge of Brahman. It is in the nature of things that Avidya or ignorance prompts men to crave for plentiful fruits through the performance of actions. This craving produces despondency when there is failure. And such attachment binds further, making it even more difficult to become free. Even though the turmoil called life involving birth, decay and death is frightening, man finds that the clutches of attachment are difficult to shake off.
    Change is the sign of untruth while Constancy or Changelessness is the sign of Truth. Brahman is Truth, that is to say, It is Changeless. All that is that not Brahman that is, the Universe that is projected out of Brahman, is subject to change. All objects subject to change come within the purview of the intellect. Here, the Knower, that which is to be known and the process of knowing, appear separate. But beyond, there is Oneness that is Brahman.
    The Taittiriya Upanishad exhorts you not to swerve from the path of duty and learning. Listening, rumination, and meditation are the three steps in Realization. Listening refers to the Vedas, which have to be revered in faith and learnt by heart from a Guru. Rumination of what is learnt, fixes the notion of Brahman in the Mind. Meditation helps in the single-minded attention on the Principle so installed in the Mind. The Brahmavalli teaches while the Bhriguvalli proves by experience.


    Well, that brings me to the end of what I wish to say today. I hope I have succeeded in giving a broad-brush overview of one of the important Upanishads. Allow me to end by playing for you from our collection, the three vallis, just to give you a flavour of how Taittriya Upanishad sounds.
    Click here to listen to Taittiriya Upanishad. [46 kb]
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    Dear Renu ji,

    Many Thanks for the wonderful article. Please write more.

    Regards
    pvraman
  19. All views expressed by the Members and Moderators here are that of the individuals only and do not reflect the official policy or view of the TamilBrahmins.com Website.
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