Essence of the Upanisadic Teaching
What is the essence of the Upanisadic teaching? How do we realise the ideal state mentioned in the Upanisads [the oneing of the individual self and the Overself] ?
The phenomenal universe, in the view of modern science, is embraced by the concepts of time and space [it exists in the time-space frame]. The Upanisads declare that only by being freed from the time and space factors can we grasp the ultimate truth that is at the source of the cosmos. I told you about the horizon - where we are the horizon is right there. A recognition of this truth takes us beyond space. In this way we must also try to transcend time.
Is it possible?
To give us the confidence that it is, an example could be cited from everyday life. To spend the time we lap up newspaper reports of the fight going on in a distant country like, say, the Congo [now called Zaire]. If a dispute or trouble erupts nearer home, in a country like Pakistan (or at home in Kashmir), we forget the Congo and turn to Pakistan or Kashmir. The newspapers themselves push reports of the Congo trouble to some corner and highlight developments in Pakistan or Kashmir. But when a quarrel breaks out even nearer, say, a quarrel over Tiruttanii between the Tamils and the Telugus, Pakistan and Kashmir are forgotten and the boundary quarrel claims all our interest. Now, when we come to know about a street brawl in our neighbourhood, we throw aside the newspaper to go out and see for ourselves what the trouble is all about. Again, when we are watching the street fight, a friend or relative comes and tells us that a war is going on in our own home, a fight between the wife and the mother. What do we do then? We forget the street brawl and rush home at once.
On an international level the Congo dispute is perhaps of great importance. But we pass from that to quarrels of decreasing importance. Our interest in each, however, is in inverse proportion to its real importance. Why ? The Congo is far away in space. We are more concerned about what happens nearer us than about distant occurrences. it is all like coming to the horizon, the spot where we are.
Now let us turn our gaze inward. If we become aware of the battle going on within us, the battle fought by the senses, all other quarrels will become distant affairs like the Congo dispute. Let us try to resolve this inner conflict and try to remain tranquil. In this tranquillity all will be banished including place, space, and so on. When we are asleep are we conscious of being in any particular place? In sleep we are not aware of either knowledge or space, but in jnana (in the state of enlightenment of the inner truth) we will experience knowledge without any consciousness of space.
The time factor is similar. How inconsolably we wept when our father died ten years ago. How is it that we do not feel the same intensity of grief when we think of his death today? On the day a dear one passes we weep so much, but not so much on the following day. Why is it so? Last year we earned a promotion or won a prize in a lottery. We jumped for joy then, didn't we? Why is it that we don't feel the same thrill of joy when we think about it today?
Just as nearness in space is a factor in determining how we are affected by an event, so too is nearness in time. Even when we are turned outward and remain conscious of time and space, they lose their impact without any special effort on our part. So the confidence arises that we can be totally freed from these two factors of time and space if we turn inward. When we are asleep we are oblivious of time and space without any effort on our part. But we do not then have the awareness of being free from them. We must go to the state spoken of by Tayumanavar, the state in which we sleep without sleeping and are full of jnana and are immersed in the bliss of freedom from time and space. Then nothing will affect us, not even a quarrel right in our presence, in our home. Even when we receive a stab wound we will not be affected by it - it would be like a happening in a remote land like the Congo. When someone very dear to us dies in our presence husband, wife or child - it would be an occurrence remote in time, like our father's passing ten years ago.
Let us, for the time being, forget arguments about non-dualism and dualism. Let us think about our real need. What is it?
We are affected by good and bad things alike. We cry, we laugh. Both sorrow and joy have their impact on us. Even excessive laughter causes pain in the stomach, enervates us. When we are tickled we react angrily. "Stop it!" we cry. Even when we dance for joy we are fatigued. We like to remain calm without being affected by anything, without giving way to any type of emotion. Such is our need. Not dualism or non-dualism.
Let us consider what we must do for this goal. One point will become clear if we think about how the impact produced by a happening or an emotion is wiped away. "When news about the Congo war broke how we became engrossed in newspaper reports of the dispute. How did we lose interest in it later? Why does it not have any impact on us now?" If we think on these lines we will realise that the impact of any event - or whatever - is progressively reduced as it is pushed further in space. If we also consider why we are not as much affected now by our father's death as we were ten years ago when he died, we will realise that with receding time we are less and less affected by past events. So if we are to remain detached we must learn to think that what happens close by is happening in a remote place like the Congo.
Similarly, we must also learn to think that all the happy and unhappy incidents of the moment occurred ten years ago. We must assiduously train ourselves to take such an attitude. No joy or sorrow is everlasting. They are all relative [that is they do not have their own integral or independent force but rely on other factors]. So, without being part of anything or else dependent on anything, we must remain in the absolute state of being ourselves. Then alone will we be free from all influences and experience eternal peace. This is how Einstein's Theory of Relativity is applied to the science of the Self (Atmavidya).
The essence of the Upanisadic message is the burning desire to be free from time and space. It would be in proportion to the extent to which we burn within in our endeavour to be free from the spatio-temporal factor that we will be rewarded with the grace of Isvara and be led towards the fulfillment of the great ideal.
There is no need to go to the mountains or to the forest for instruction. Space and time teach us how to remain unaffected by events. All that we need do is to pray to the Lord and make an effort to develop the will and capacity to put happenings of the moment back in time and distant in space.
The first of the ten [major] Upanisads. Isavasya, says2: "It is in motion and yet it is still. It is afar and yet near. It is indeed within.This statement refers to space and time and creates the urge in us to be freed from both. The next mantra3 asks us to see time and space and all creatures in our Self itself. Then there will be no cause for hatred, delusion or sorrow, that is nothing will affect us. Another mantra4 of the same Upanisads declares that the Self is all-pervading, going beyond space, and distributing things through the endless years according to their natures.
On the whole, the Upanisads speak of the same basic truth of space and time that modern science teaches. But there is this difference. For science this truth is a mere postulate. For the Upanisads it is a truth to be realised within as an experience.
This is the conclusion of the Upanisads which are themselves the concluding part of the Vedas.
Notes & References
Tiruttanii in Tamil Nadu is on the border of that state with Andhra Pradesh. Years ago when the states were reorganised there was a dispute over this town (it has a famous temple to Subrahmanya), the Andhras demanding its inclusion in their state and the Tamils refusing to yield to the demand. (We must remember that the Pararnaguru is speaking here to a Tamil audience.)