Jnana Kanda vedic literatures

Aranyakas :

The Aranyakas are sacred writings that are supposed to frame the essence of the Upanishads and are considered to be secret and dangerous to the uninitiated. The Aranyakas reveal more of the esoteric aspects of the rituals and their purposes than the Brahmanas. They are meant only for the brahmana priests and kshatriya warriors who have renounced all materialistic activities, and retired to the solitude of the forests, which is the meaning of “aranyaka.” They include a strict style of worship to particular forms or aspects of God. These instructions could consist of which mantras to use for particular purposes, how to sit, in which time of the morning to practice, the devotions to incorporate into the practice, and so on.



Next we come to the Upanishads, which  constitute one of the most sacred portions of Vedic philosophy. The Upanishads are essentially presented for the continued spiritual progress of the individual. If the Vedas emphasize and primarily consist of worship to the demigods for material needs and only hint at the prospect of spiritual liberation, then the Upanishads start to explain how worldly attachments need to be renounced so we can surrender to God. The word upanishad literally means to sit down (shad) near (upa) and below or at the feet with determination (ni). So it indicates that the student should sit near the feet of one’s spiritual teacher and listen with determination to the teachings. Only through such absorption can one learn how to apply the teachings in practice. Sitting at the feet of the teacher is both a sign of respect and humility, but also exhibits a natural flow, like water, from something high to that which is lower. Thus the student becomes a natural receptacle for such knowledge.

Another meaning of the word shad in upanishad means to destroy. So the spiritual knowledge the student receives from the teacher destroys the ignorance of the true nature of the world and his own Self. As one’s ignorance is destroyed, enlightenment can follow.

The Upanishads are a collection of 108 philosophical dissertations. The Muktikopanishad (verses 30-39) lists all 108.  However, there are over 100 additional compilations if you also count the lesser Upanishads that are not actually part of the primary group, making a total of well over 200. Out of all the Upanishads, the following eleven are considered to be the topmost: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Svetasvatara.

The Upanishads were considered the secret and confidential knowledge of reality. They mainly focus on establishing the Absolute as nonmaterial and describe it as Brahman: the eternal, unmanifest reality, source and ultimate shelter of everything. The Brahman is said to be incomprehensible because it is without material qualities or form. The secret to understanding Brahman according to the Upanishads is that they describe the Absolute as having no material qualities or material personality, but consists of spiritual qualities.

The comparisons used in the Upanishads can be somewhat confusing to the beginner of Vedic study, but they are easy to understand for one who has some understanding in this matter or who is self-realized. For example, when the Upanishads describe the Absolute as being unembodied, without veins, yet runs swifter than the mind, or as being able to walk yet does not walk, or as being within everything and yet outside of everything, how can we know what to think? Does the Absolute have any qualities that we can comprehend?

These kinds of descriptions in the Upanishads are called indirect or contrary descriptions. These are used to indicate the spiritual nature of the Lord’s qualities, meaning that He is not material nor confined to the rules of the material creation. An example of this is found in the Svetashvatara Upanishad, Chapter Three, which explains: The Supreme Lord does not have material hands and feet yet He is able to receive anything and go everywhere. He does not possess material eyes and yet He sees past, present and future. He does not have material ears and yet He hears. He is the knower of everything, omniscient, but Him no one can know. The self-realized and enlightened souls know Him as the Primeval Lord and Supreme Being.

The Svetashvatara Upanishad offers more of these kinds of descriptions, such as “He is having His faces, heads and necks everywhere, yet He dwells in the cavity of the heart of all beings. He is omnipresent. Being the Supreme Godhead, He is present everywhere encompassing all that exists and He is benevolent. (3.11) With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes, heads and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere, He stands encompassing all.” (3.16)

Another example is the Isha Upanishad (5): “The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.”

So the point is that the Absolute has spiritual legs to run or walk with and spiritual senses that are not limited like material senses. One verse that clearly explains this is the following: “The Supreme Reality is far beyond this universe. He possesses no ephemeral form but He is sat-cit-ananda, the embodiment of complete eternal and spiritual bliss. He is free from any ill. He is beyond the illusive world. He is full of all-auspicious divine glories. Those who realize Him as such and render unalloyed devotion to Him become immortal, but others (who remain ignorant of Him) have to undergo suffering through transmigration in the realm of maya [illusions].” (Svetashatara Upanishad 3.10)

Therefore, though the Upanishads generally refer to the Absolute in an impersonal way, they also begin to establish that the Supreme Reality has form, or, in other words, is a person, and that there is a Divine Abode, although the details of it are not always clearly provided therein. So as we go through the Vedic texts, we get clearer and clearer views of the nature of the Supreme Being.

The Isa Upanishad in particular indicates that the Supreme Absolute is both impersonal and personal. Other Upanishads describe the Absolute as, “He who created the worlds,” or, “Who is luminous like the sun,” “beyond darkness,” “the eternal among eternals,” etc. In fact, the basic method used in most Upanishads, as explained in the Hayasirsa Pancharatra, is to first present the Absolute Reality in an impersonal way and then present the personal aspects.

Yet, as we study the Upanishads, there are numerous references that go on to describe very clearly, in a direct manner, the spiritual nature and characteristics of the Supreme. The GopalaTapani Upanishad has numerous verses which explain the nature of the Absolute Truth, such as the following verse (1.22): “Sri Krishna is that Supreme Divinity, the Paramount Eternal Reality among all other sentient beings, and the fountain-source of consciousness to all conscious beings. He is the only reality without a second, but as the Supersoul He dwells in the cave of the hearts of all beings and rewards them in accordance with their respective actions in life. Those men of intuitive wisdom who serve Him with loving devotion surely attain the summum bonum, supreme goal of life. Whereas those who do not do so never gain this highest beautitude of their lives.”

Another verse from the GopalaTapani Upanishad (2.23) that further explains the nature of the Supreme is this one: “Sri Krishna has got no birth and no old age, He is always in His adolescence without any change. He is ever most effulgently shining so gloriously more than the sun. He is fond of remaining with the divine cows of Goloka Vrindavana. He is eternally fond of being with the Gopas, cowherd boys, as He feels pleasure tending the cows. He is the very object of the Vedas, He as the Supersoul ever dwells in the heart of every living being, and He is the only Sustainer of all. He is the beloved sweet-heart of you all.”

Not only do the Upanishads provide explanations of the impersonal Brahman and personal Bhagavan realizations, but as we can see they also speak of the Paramatma (Supersoul or Lord in the heart) realization. Especially in the Katha, Mundaka, and the Svetasvatara Upanishads, one can find statements explaining that within the heart of every individual in every species of life reside both the individual soul and the Supersoul, the localized expansion of the Lord. It is described that they are like two birds sitting in the same tree of the body. The individual soul, which is called the atma or jiva, is engrossed in using the body to taste the fruits of various activities that result in pleasure and pain. The Supersoul is simply witnessing the activities of the jiva. If, however, the jiva begins to tire of these constant ups and downs of material life and then looks toward his friend next to him, the Supersoul, and seeks His help, the jiva soul can be relieved of all anxieties and regain his spiritual freedom. This freedom is the spiritual oneness shared by the jiva and Paramatma when the jiva enters into the spiritual atmosphere by submitting to the will of the Paramatma. This is achieved by the practice of yoga and by being guided by a proper spiritual master. It is not said that the individual soul loses his individuality, but both the jiva and Paramatma remain individuals.

In any case, the Upanishads present a much clearer approach to understanding the ultimate reality than the four primary Vedas. We can provide a little more insight into the information found within the Upanishads by reviewing a few.

The Isha Upanishad comes from the 40th chapter of the Shukla (White) Yajur-veda. It has only 18 verses, but directly addresses the Personality of God in the first verse. Through the 18 verses, it gradually establishes that God has a personal form from which comes the great white Brahman effulgence. It explains that all opulence comes from God and that to try to enjoy such pleasures outside of the relationship with God is an illusion filled with suffering. Therefore, one should live life in such a way as to always remember God, and thus fulfill the real purpose of life so at the end one can constantly hold the vision of God within one’s consciousness. When God removes His effulgence or spiritual rays, then the devotee can see the personal form of the Lord.

The Katha Upanishad contains six chapters divided in two sections. Within it is the conversation between Nachiketa and Yamaraj, the lord of death. Within that conversation Yamaraj establishes that due to ignorance and the desire to enjoy the material world, people continue to suffer in the cycle of birth and death, yet think they understand the real purpose of life. It is only in this human body that a person has the facility to realize God and escape the continued rounds of birth and death. Therefore, before the end of one’s life, he or she should realize God in order to fully utilize this human birth.

The Mundaka Upanishad contains six chapters in three sections. This gives the instruction from the sage Angira to Shaunaka about the nature of God and how to become realized. These instructions include how the early Brahmanas understood that the Vedic rituals only provided the means to acquire the luxuries of life, without being able to deliver one to God. Therefore, they gave them up for approaching a God-realized saint, the only way one can learn how to surrender to the eternal Lord who is beyond all illusion of the universe. This is the God who cannot be understood by the Vedic impersonalistic philosophy, or intellectual meditation. The Lord is only realized when He reveals Himself to one whose heart is full of devotion, after that person has been graced with such faithfulness by a saintly devotee. Then one can see the Lord as He is in full.

The Mandukya Upanishad is another short Upanishad with only 12 verses. Herein it explains the impersonal aspect of God without going on to the personal traits. Here we find descriptions that can be confusing to those who are just beginning their investigation into Vedic philosophy, such as relating how the Absolute cannot be conceived by the mind, or contacted in any way. It has nothing that it can be compared to, and thus cannot be understood or spoken of, nor meditated upon because it is inconceivable. So, from this Upanishad, based on the impersonal point of view, it would seem that there is little for us to understand about the Supreme.

The Svetasvatara Upanishad is one of the most important. In its six chapters it elaborates on the more detailed characteristics of the soul, the Supreme Being, and the material nature, as well as the process for becoming spiritually realized. This is where we start to get deeper examples of the Paramatma, the Supersoul aspect of God. It describes that God is the Supreme, pure consciousness, from which all of creation manifests. And that God is realized when one becomes lovingly absorbed in the Supreme, which is the only way a person can cross the ocean of maya. It contains many relevant instructions and is one Upanishad that begins to take us much deeper into the understanding of the different aspects of the nature of God and the secrets of becoming God-realized.

The Taittiriya Upanishad goes into explaining more about the creative process of the material manifestation from the Brahman, and that the Brahman is from Whom all souls emanate, and in Whom they enter at the time of the universal annihilation. That Brahman is eternally personified, by which He is knowable and reachable. Through that personified form He expands bliss and Divine love which we can experience through spiritual practice. This Upanishad is divided into three chapters called Shiksha Valli, Brahmanand Valli, and Bhrigu Valli.

There are many other Upanishads, though they may be less prominent, that can be important to relating inner facts and secrets about the nature of God and how to realize Him. So I’ll mention a few.

There is the Krishna Upanishad that directly reveals that the most divine form of bliss dwells in the supremacy of love of Lord Krishna. It elaborates that when Lord Krishna descended to Earth in Braja Mandala, Vrindavana, the other eternal and divine personalities and powers also came with Him in order to serve Him and taste the sweetness of that divine love.

The GopalaTapani Upanishad goes much further in explaining things in this direction. It has only two chapters with a total of 172 verses. In the first chapter it explains that Lord Krishna is the absolute bliss. He is the Supreme God and the embodiment of eternal life, knowledge and bliss. This is elaborated throughout the chapter. Chapter Two explains how Lord Krishna is the supreme and most beautiful form of God. No other god or portion of this material creation can compare to His beauty. Therefore, it is recommended that we need to remember and adore Him, by which we can experience His divine love, which is like an ocean of nectar.

It is important to point out that the Sanskrit term for the experience of Krishna’s divine love is rasa. It is the Bhagavat Purana that, in the Vedic literature, begins to explain the rasa-lila or bliss pastimes of Lord Krishna with His numerous associates. The word rasa is never used in connection with Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga or any of the other Vedic personalities in any of the Upanishads. That is because, though we may engage in respectful worship to these Divinities, the pleasure pastimes wherein there is such a deep exchange of divine bliss and love is not to be found in anyone but Lord Krishna. Even the expansions of Lord Krishna, such as Lord Vishnu or Lord Rama, may be forms of unlimited bliss, but the deep exchanges of loving bliss with Them do not have the potential that is found within Lord Krishna. Therefore, the conclusion is that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality in which is found all other forms of Divinity, and from whom comes the Absolute Truth and Absolute loving bliss.

The Radhika Upanishad explains this a little further. Therein it is described that only within Lord Krishna is there the hladini power, which is the pleasure or bliss potency. The other forms of the Lord are but parts or expansions of the Lord, and although They may be the same in power, They are lacking in the level of bliss potency that is found within Lord Krishna. This means that the supreme sweetness in loving exchanges is manifested from Lord Krishna. In this way, you have the sweet, sweeter and sweetest levels of loving bliss established in the different levels of the spiritual reality, until it culminates from the Brahman and Vaikuntha on up to Goloka Vrindavana, the spiritual abode of Lord Krishna. Or from the brahmajyoti to the Vishnu forms up to the supremacy of Sri Krishna. This is what is established by fully understanding the purport of the Upanishads.

Another less prominent Upanishad, but one that is no less important, is the Sri Chaitanya Upanishad (Chaitanyopanishad), which comes from the ancient Atharva-veda. The Chaitanyopanishad is a short text with only nineteen verses. All of them are very significant. In this description there is not only the prediction of the appearance of Lord Chaitanya, but a description of His life and purpose, and the reasons why His process of spiritual enlightenment is so powerful and effective in this age of Kali-yuga.

The Chaitanyopanishad explains how one day Pippalada, a son of Lord Brahma, approached his father and asked about how the sinful living entities in the age of Kali-yuga may be delivered. Lord Brahma told him to listen carefully and he would give him a confidential description of what would happen in Kali-yuga. He explained that in Kali-yuga the Supreme Being, whose form is completely transcendental and who is the all-pervading Supersoul in the hearts of all living entities, will appear again in the Kali age. He will appear in the guise of the greatest devotee, with a golden complexion in His abode on the banks of the Ganges at Navadvipa. He will disseminate pure devotional service to the Supreme. He will be known as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Appearing in this golden form, the all-powerful Supreme Being–who is understood only by the most fortunate and who is the oldest, the original person, the original cause of the universe–will spread spiritual bliss by the chanting of His own holy names. The Supreme Lord will chant a mantra consisting of the names of Hari, Krishna and Rama [the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra]. This mantra is the best of all mantras, and, though difficult to understand, it can be understood by engaging in devotional service to the Supreme. This is the most confidential of secrets, and those who seriously desire to make progress in spiritual life, and to cross the ocean of birth and death, continually chant these names of the Supreme.

Herein we find the assortment of information that can be found in the main Upanishads. For the most part, except for the more specialized and detailed Upanishads that were referred to at the end, they only briefly indicate the personal traits of the Supreme Personality and the Divinity of Krishna and His abode. Mostly they provide knowledge only up to the Brahman or Vaikuntha, not beyond. They express the non-material, spiritual nature of God, but do not know or present much information on the personality and pastimes of the Supreme Being. The end or conclusive result of knowledge in the Upanishads is to attain liberation from material existence. But what such liberation consists of is often left out. So, information on the pastimes and nature of the abode of God and the spiritual domain is generally absent.

This is the case with most all of the Shruti texts, which consist of the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. Once you get beyond the rituals and methods for acquiring material needs by worship of the Vedic demigods, the Shruti texts primarily contain knowledge of the futility of material existence, the temporary nature of the material creation, the bondage of the jiva souls in this existence of birth and death, and the spiritual nature of the individual and the Supreme Being. In parts, they may also describe that the goal of life is liberation from this material manifestation and the need to return to spiritual existence through the understanding of karma, spiritual knowledge, renunciation and devotion to God (bhakti). However, they are unaware of much beyond this, or at least the finer details. They do not deliver information about the bliss of spiritual activities and the pastimes of Goloka Vrindavana, the most intimate and confidential abode of the Lord, who is a spiritual being, a personality. Because of this basic deficiency, additional information is supplied elsewhere, which must be sought and understood. As we can see, this is a progressive ladder of education, in which case one should not stop with the Upanishads.




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