Posted in Hinduism, India, Philosophy, Upanishads

The Upanishads–1

The Upanishads are a series of Sanskrit texts that form part of Vedic literature. As I am writing a book on the Upanishads, a sequel to that on the Vedas, I have been posting a few snippets from them. Here I have put together some of those snippets, with a few additions.

There are 108 classic Upanishads with different themes and varied contents. The main aim of every Upanishad, is however, the realization of Brahman, the ultimate source of all, which some schools of philosophy consider identical with the atman, the soul in each person.

The Brahma Sutra is a text that recognises this central theme, and puts together the main ideas on Brahman from the Upanishads.

The first sutra in this text is ‘athato brahmajijnasa’, ‘now therefore the inquiry into Brahman’. This small word ‘atha’ has been so extensively analyzed by commentators, that the commentaries amount to over a hundred pages. ‘Now’ , implies that there are some prerequisites before one can start such an inquiry, into that immutable and undefinable concept of Brahman. These prerequisites are extensively described, though commentators don’t agree on what they are. Without the commentators it is impossible to understand a sutra, which is a short, terse, minimalist statement.

The Upanishads are of different types. Some form a link between the earlier Vedic  texts and the philosophy of these.
The most important are termed major Upanishads, They have commentaries of the great philosopher Shankara of the 9th century [Adi Shankaracharya].

Studying the Upanishads enables one to understand the identity of the atman with Brahman. One cannot realise this when one is totally immersed in activities in the world.

The Upanishads write about ‘guha’ the cave in the body. This is often qualified as the ‘inner cave’ or ‘the cave within the heart’. It is there that the eternal light of the atman or soul, is to be sought. This special place is called a cave because of its hidden and secret nature.

How does one reach this ‘cave within the heart’, where the eternal light shines? An ethical life and control over the mind and senses, are the first step, according to the Upanishads.

‘This atman, resplendent and pure, whom the sinless sannyasis behold, residing within the body, is attained by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge, and continence.’ Mundaka Upanishad, III.1.7.



Posted in India, Philosophy

Two philosophers of modern India–alternative narratives


India has a vast philosophical tradition that continued into the twenty-first  century, providing an alternative to formal religion. Among the twentieth-century philosophers who broke new ground,  were two Krishnamurtis, Jiddu Krishnamurti and U.G. Krishnamurti, both of whom had connections with the Theosophical Society. In their early years both were mentored by the controversial,  but brilliant Theosophist, Charles W. Leadbeater.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti  was born on 11th May 1895 at Madanapalle, a small town in present Andhra Pradesh. His mother died when he was young, and after retiring from government service, his father volunteered to work for the Theosophical Society and moved to its headquarters at Adyar, Chennai (Madras). At this time the Theosophists were searching for a ‘vehicle’ that is, a pure being, into which the Messiah would incarnate. Leadbeater noticed Krishnamurti,  around fourteen years old, who most considered somewhat vague and dull, standing on the beach. He saw a wonderful aura around him and identified  him as the coming Messiah, the World Teacher. Krishna and his younger brother Nitya were adopted by the Society, and  trained by Leadbeater and Annie Besant. Their father at first agreed to this, but later fought a case to get them back. However, he lost. Krishnamurti was declared the Messiah, replacing a boy who had been chosen earlier.

In 1911 the Order of the Star in the East was founded, with Krishnamurti at the head. In his private letters Krishnamurti indicated that he was not very happy with his role as Messiah, but gradually began to believe it. He led the Order of the Star for some time, and had some mystical experiences, but then grew disenchanted with Theosophy. The Theosophists believed in a mystical hierarchy of beings, at the head of which was the Mahachohan. These beings lived in the astral world, but Krishnamurti had been taught how to visit them, and believed in their reality. In 1929, Nitya, his younger brother was seriously ill. Krishna received this news when he was on a ship, and visited the Mahachohan in his astral body, who assured him that Nitya would recover. However, Nitya died a few days later. It was a turning point for Krishnamurti, who lost all faith in the mystical hierarchy.  Soon after this, on August 2, 1929, the opening day of the annual Order of the Star of the East meeting at Ommen, Holland, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order. Three thousand members of the Order were gathered them, but Krishnamurti told them he was no longer their guru. They would have to seek their own path.

On that day he said, ‘ I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.’

Krishnamurti continued to develop his own philosophy over the years, gave talks all over the world, and developed a large following.  Krishnamurti Foundations were set up in England, USA, and India  to disseminate his teachings, and schools were opened to try to bring about a new type of human being. Krishnamurti spoke about the ‘religious mind’ that comes into being in silence, and of ‘freedom from the known’ when conditioned thought has ended.

In 1980, he summed up his own teaching beginning with  the following words, ‘The core of Krishnamurti’s teaching is contained in the statement he made in 1929 when he said: “Truth is a pathless land”. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.’

He ended by saying, ‘Total negation is the essence of the positive. When there is negation of all those things that thought has brought about psychologically, only then is there love, which is compassion and intelligence.’ Krishnamurti died on 17th February 1986, but the Foundations and schools still exist. The collected works of his talks and writings amount to hundreds of volumes. His non-sectarian philosophy  appeals mainly to the educated elite, and though the roots of his  philosophy have been traced to both  Vedanta and Buddhism, he had not read any traditional texts.

U.G Krishnamurti

Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti, popularly known as ‘UG’, was born on 9 July 1918 in the town of Masulipatnam in present Andhra Pradesh. His early years were spent in the nearby town of Gudivade. UG’s mother died when he was only seven days old, and he came under the care of his grandfather, T.G. Krishnamurti, who was a Theosophist, though he also retained his orthodox Brahmana culture. Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, UG tried several spiritual techniques, and  engaged in self-enquiry, rejecting traditional beliefs. He joined the Theosophical Society, and In 1941 he even worked for some time in C.W. Leadbeater’s library at Adyar, but was disappointed that Leadbeater did not sufficiently recognise his  potential. UG  began lecturing for the Theosophical Society, and his talks were well received. Like J. Krishnamurti, he left the Society after a few years. Despite the similarities, he seemed in constant rivalry with J. Krishnamurti, whom he met frequently in early days. UG married in 1943, and had three children, though his marriage later broke up.  In 1967, he had a transformatory experience, in which he felt he died, and was reborn a different person.

UG did not give formal lectures or write books, but has a number of disciples, some of whom have recorded their conversations and dialogues. He said  that each person should be their own teacher, and that no guru is required. His biographer, Mahesh Bhatt says of him: ‘UG shuns religious persons, ridicules social reformers, condemns saints, speaks with disgust about sadhakas (spiritual aspirants), detests the chanting of the Vedas or the recitation of the Upanishads and is full of rage when one speaks of Shankara or the Buddha’.

U.G. died in March 2007.Though he did not acknowledge it, such rejection is similar to the Buddhist concept of negation. Through the rejection of all tradition, the mind drops its conditioning, and reaches a state of freedom.

In today’s India, these and other philosophers deserve to be better known. They differ from traditional gurus who often reformulate old statements, and instead provide fresh and different ways of looking at the world.


Posted in India, karma, Philosophy

Ideas on Karma—-Sri Aurobindo

Concepts such as the One Reality, Maya and Karma have permeated Indian consciousness. Indians, no matter what their class, caste, or religion are familiar with these terms, which date back to the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and Shankara. Since then, there have been numerous refinements and analyses of these concepts, and notable among those who provided a fresh view of these ideas, is Sri Aurobindo.
Born in Kolkata on 15 August 1872, Aurobindo Ghose was a philosopher, poet and mystic. He was educated mainly in England and after his return to India in 1892 and took up various administrative and teaching posts and then began to seriously study Yoga. Between 1905 and 1908, he was one of the main nationalist leaders of the extremist school. Imprisoned in 1908, he experienced a ‘divine revelation’, and two years later when there was again a threat of imprisonment, escaped from British India to the French territory of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) where he started an ashram. He was joined in his ashram in 1920 by ‘The Mother’, a Frenchwoman named Mirra Richard, who took over the running of the ashram, while Aurobindo devoted himself to reading, studying ancient texts, and writing philosophical works including The Life Divine, Integral Yoga, the epic Savitri , a poem of 24,000 lines, as well as commentaries on The Bhagavad Gita, the major Upanishads, and other texts.
In these works, Aurobindo, a profound thinker, presented his philosophy and ideas. His basic assumption was that life is still evolving, and a human being is not the highest stage of evolution – a higher being will one day emerge. The light and power of the spirit, called by him, the ‘Supermind’, presiding over human evolution, would transform human consciousness and remould life on earth.
To Aurobindo, there is One Reality, but there are also individual souls. The world is not Maya or an illusion, but real, and needs to be perfected through the spiritual and material evolution of every living being. On karma, Sri Aurobindo challenges the popular concept of a divine accounting system which extends through the successive lives of a person. Instead, he dwells on the nature of cosmic energy, which incorporating all the complexities of one’s inner and outer life, takes one in a particular direction, depending on one’s inclinations and stage of life. Karma is thus linked with the process of evolution. Growth requires experiences of different kinds, both pleasurable and painful, and Aurobindo says, “the soul may of itself accept or choose poverty, misfortune and suffering as helpful to its growth, stimulants of a rapid development, and reject riches and prosperity and success as dangerous and conducive to a relaxation of spiritual effort… Cosmic existence is not a vast administrative system of universal justice with a cosmic law of recompense and retribution.” Instead it is a movement of the energy of nature, which provides, within the cycle of rebirth, whatever is needed for the next step in its evolution.
Sri Aurobindo died in 1950. His works need to be better known, as he provides a vision of a different world, a perfect creation, which will arise when each individual evolves. For him, there is no nirvana or moksha, providing an escape from sorrow and impermanence, but rather the material world made immortal, through the descent of the divine spirit.