Swami Vivekananda emphasized time and again that the study and contemplation of the Upanishads need to be revived in our country, and he exhorted that we as a nation should ‘go back to your Upanishads’ to derive strength and power from the immortal message of the Atman, the glorious Self present in all beings as Truth, Knowledge, and Infinity (satyam, jnanam, anantam), as Awareness and Bliss (vijnanam, anandam). His inspiring words were: ‘Go back to your Upanishads-the shining, the strengthening, the bright philosophy. ... The truths of the Upanishads are before you. Take them up, live up to them, and the salvation of India will be at hand.’ When the Atman, the true Self of a being, is realized, one becomes established in Truth, gets released from the bondage of ignorance, and attains Freedom from sorrow. ‘From the Atman comes power and strength, from Knowledge arises Immortality-Atmana vindate viryam, vidyaya vindate amrtarn’ as the Kenopanishad puts it. Jesus Christ’s teaching in the Gospel according to St. John echoes the same idea: ‘Thou shalt know the Truth, and the Truth shall make thee free.’
The appeal of the Upanishads is all the more relevant today, in this modern age of science and reason, than ever before. The Upanishads were a great source of inspiration for several of the greatest modern scientists, particularly the early fathers of Quantum Mechanics like Schrodinger and Heisenberg, who ushered in revolutionary changes in our world-view-weltanschauung. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic energy revolution in science, was greatly fascinated by Vedantic thought embedded in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. Swami Vivekananda believed that the wonderful, rational system of Vedanta, particularly the Advaita Vedanta, will be the future religion and philosophy of thinking humanity.
The Upanishads form the sruti prasthana among the prasthana-traya, the three canons that form the foundation of the philosophical system of Vedanta, the other two being the Bhagavad-Gita, called the smrti prasthana, and the Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras, called the nyaya prasthana. These three prasthanas or canons are respectively the theoretical, practical, and rational basis of the Vedanta philosophy.
The entire body of the Upanishads is believed to comprise a hundred and eight books, shortlisted later to twenty-eight, but the ‘major’ Upanishads are just ten plus one. These ten plus one ‘major’ Upanishads are so called because Shankaracharya, the great teacher of Advaita, wrote his immortal commentaries (called bhasyas) on these ten plus one Upanishads. While it is an undisputed and well accepted fact that he did write the bhasyas on the following ten Upanishads, namely, Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Isavasya, Prasna, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Brhadaranyaka, and Chandogya, there is some doubt as to the commentary on the eleventh Upanishad, Svetasvatara, which, although attributed to Shankaracharya, may not actually be written by him. Hence we have chosen to say safely that the number of ‘major’ Upanishads is ten plus one, rather than say eleven.
The rest of the ninety-seven Upanishsads, other than the eleven ‘major’ ones, are sometimes called ‘minor’ Upanishads. There are some very sublime passages found in the ‘minor’ Upanishads and Shankaracharya, although not choosing to write commentaries on these ‘minor’ ones, often quotes from them to reinforce and elucidate his statements and arguments in the commentaries of the ‘major’ Upanishads. This shows the importance of these ‘minor’ Upanishads also. Upanishad Brahmayogin, a great scholar-saint, about whom we seem to have little information, wrote fairly elaborate commentaries on all the one hundred and eight Upanishads-a feat of great intellectual and spiritual genius. The Adyar Library and Research Centre at Madras has done a remarkable service for the Vedanta literature-particularly among the English-knowing and less Sanskrit-knowing public who are nonetheless eager to learn about the truths of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads- by bringing out a series of volumes of the entire body of the Upanishads, both major and minor, with English translations based on the commentaries of Upanishad Brahmayogin. This exercise of theirs began as early as the very beginning of the twentieth century, almost contemporaneously with Swami Vivekananda’s exposition and propagation of Vedanta in the Eastern and the Western worlds, or thereabouts, and has been continuing through the late twentieth century with revised editions and publications. The Adyar Library and Research Centre at Chennai therefore deserves the respect and gratefulness of all the avowed students and scholars of Vedantic thought as well as aspirants and seekers of Vedantic wisdom. We also gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to these volumes which have been of great help in the preparation of the present volume.
Among the ninety-seven ‘minor’ Upanishads, there is a group of seventeen Upanishads which deal particularly with various aspects of renunciation, or sannyasa. Renunciation, or sannyasa, has formed the backbone of the Indian spiritual heritage and legacy for thousands of years, and therefore the themes that these Sannyasa Upanishads discuss include various types of sannyasa, its varieties and subtle nuances. The discussion ranges, on the one end of the spectrum, from the life of a mendicant ascetic, austere and uncompromising, severe and serious, shunning all company of human beings, shying away from society, a peripatetic (parivrajaka) monk roaming free like air absolved of all worldly obligations and duties, and on the other side of the spectrum, to a highly illumined paramahamsa, poetically called the Supreme Swan, pure and holy, trigunatita, that is, beyond the shackles of the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas, but nonetheless shining with and radiating the divine light of unblemished sattva. Such a paramahamsa removes the darkness of ignorance in all those who come into the orbit of his overwhelming Spiritual Presence, is supremely compassionate, and embraces all with universal unselfish love. These Sannyasa Upanishads are rich in descriptions of the characteristics, qualifications, lifestyle, inward and outward proclivities and inclinations, and various other particulars concerning the sannyasins, those who have renounced all worldly desires and obligations in the quest of the Supreme Truth of the Atman or Brahman, God or Reality, and have realized the Truth in themselves and in all beings. They also give graphic and insightful descriptions of the various stages in one’s ascent in the ladder of renunciation, or sannyasa, designated variously as Kuticaka, Bahudaka, Hamsa, Paramahamsa, Turiydtita, Avadhuta, and so on. It is very inspiring to study how the ideal of sannyasa has come to grip the national consciousness of India and, having entered deep into its Collective Unconsciousness (as Carl Jung would call it), shaped the entire thought pattern, aspiration, and direction of millions of Indians over the millennia. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda gave a new impetus, breathed a new life, into this system of sannyasa through the revival of what Swami Vivekananda called the Rishi Ideal, a God-man absorbed in Divine communion and radiating Supreme Love and Compassion. Sri Ramakrishna’s own life was the brightest illustration of this Rishi Ideal. Rom.ain Rolland wrote about Ramakrishna as follows: ‘The image of the man I here evoke is the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people: Swami Vivekananda asserted: ‘Whatever the Vedas, the Vedanta, and all other Incarnations (Avatars) have done in the past, Sri Ramakrishna lived to practise in the course of a single life .... He was the explanation [of the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Incarnations and so forth].’
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