From the Jacket
The Brhadaranyaka, the Great Forest, Upanisad is the revelation of the forest in the forest. For that is the truth about our life, the forest, where we find ourselves lost, with no hope of escape from the labyrinth that it is. We live in death and for death, that condition of our being. Can we ever imagine our life except as linked to death, linked in terms of struggle against it, struggle that we wage in vain? We are because death is, our life is a mere celebration of it. To it are we eternally wedded, to this sleep the eternal. As long as we do not perceive this truth about our life, as long as we do not join this celebration our life remains barren and a choking. And a chaos and confusion. In being this confusion and chaos lies our enlightenment, in being dead in life lies our immortality. This is all this Upanisad teaches us; in its denial of all that we are and know lies the true affirmation of our truth and being.
Volume 5 (in its two parts) brings to conclusion the author's contemplation of the revelatory part of the Prasthanatrayi. It has been a long and absorbing contemplation for him, elevating and ecstatic. It is hoped that the same spirit of elevation and ecstasy will accompany his contemplation of the Bhagavadgita and the Brahmasutras and that thoughtful minds will value that contemplation as they have valued his contemplation of the Upanisads.
Before his retirement in the year 2000, Som Gupta taught English at Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.
Back of the Book
The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man has been acclaimed the world over not only as a masterly exposition and interpretation of the Upanisadic vision but also a work that contains in itself the seeds of a future philosophy. At once a work of thought, insight and experience this work has put a disturbing question mark against many an assumption of modern thought and civilization calling upon modern man to be still and silent instead of being thoughtful and communicative. An incisive critique of modern civilization and culture, the reader will find in the volumes of this work, a critique that has evoked deep appreciation from prominent thinkers and scholars such as Paul Ricoeur, Jean F. Lyotard, Raimundo Panikkar, J.N. Mohanty, Fred Dallmyr, Alex Wayman and other eminent scholars in the field of philosophy and Indology. The work has also received detailed reviews in eminent journals of philosophy like Philosophy East and West, Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research and Revue Philosophique. Interested readers will find excerpts from some of these reviews quoted in the covers of the preceding volumes of this much discussed, provocative and meditative work.
With the present two volumes on the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad comes to its end our contemplation of the scriptural part of the Prasthanatrayi. The ritualistic culture the Upanisads were addressed to is archaic and remote from modern conditions and so is, to a very great extent, Sankara's bhasya thereon. It is natural that a modern mind should, despite its generous empathy, find itself puzzled by the dissatisfied with very often, they seem to be a mere paraphrase of the texts couched in ritualistic terms with, more often than not, little or half-hearted attempts to explicate their symbolic import. One may, of course, argue with every plausibility that those who participate in a ritualistic culture, participate with their very should and being, need not consciously know its symbolic significance, for knowledge of it may turn out to be more a hindrance than our Commentator assumes in his reader may not, however, be within the reach of a modern reader living in an altogether different cultural milieu, unless he is gifted with an extraordinary capability to efface himself into that innocence. He is obliged to know the symbolic meaning of the rituals if he would ever hope to live the spirit of those rituals in existential conditions altogether different from those reflected in the Upanisads and assumed by our Commentator.
The sacrificial culture of the days of the Upanisads [to invoke but one aspect of it] demands of man that he sacrifice to the five elements: to earth, water, fire, air and the sky, to man, to gods, to seers and to Brahman, to the Word that is the Absolute. It is possible for modern man to perform this kind of sacrifice and, if yes, in what way he can do so? Man, for us moderns, is basically a doer in search of an identity, which he seeks to find in the body, in possessions, in consumption and enjoyment and in power, and, in some cases, in cultural pursuits. He works as a being along with others and enjoys as an individual along with those who sustain his individuality – his family, his friends and relations. But this being along with others, this worker often finds himself, in modern conditions, a mere part of a working machine to negotiate mechanically and efficiently a few operations, his own creative abilities having little or no relevance for those operations. He does not seek to find his identity by participating in the life and being of his human world, does not help it move from the past on to the future through and in him. He is mere an instrument, an equipment of a system of production, a fatal wound inflicted on his being and identity, a wound he cannot ever hope to repair and cure. The only way left for those who have inflicted this ontological wound on him is to make him forget what he has lost, forget it is him enjoyment and consumption, to add thereby an ontological humiliation to his consumption, to add thereby an ontological humiliation to his ontological injury. Modern conditions add, to the inherited alienation of the worker, alienation that his very being as a worker imposes upon him. The doer in man, we may remind ourselves, seeks to find for himself, through his work, a place in the world but only to find himself an alien there, in the world that he is fated to find his other, never his own. He would, therefore, make the world his own through his possessions, inviting the hostility of others, of other doers along with whom he tried to control and exploit nature or the elements. Consumption and enjoyment through which he would be himself thus turn out to be his undoing, undoing of his identity; they may make him forget his loss but cannot make good that loss. Modern civilization, blind to this truth, would make him precisely do that, make him seek his being where he cannot but lose it.
The doer, to dwell a little more on the point, is ever wedded to the world; it is there, in the world, that he would seek his identity as a doer. That is the real for him, world the secular, for it is there that he can work and act. But the doer does not, cannot find himself as the doer there, he cannot control and order the goings on in the world, rather he finds himself determined by those events and those laws, events and laws he would determined and regulate. He finds himself obliged to understand those goings on and those laws in order to harmonise them with his human nature and its needs and desires. The hope behind this understanding, however, turns vain for the who sought to humanize nature finds himself finds himself, in modern conditions, a mere part of a working machine to negotiate mechanically and efficiently a few operations, his own creative abilities having little or no relevance for those operations. He does not seek to find his identity by participating in the life and being of his human world, does not help it move from the past on to the future through and in him. He is mere an instrument, an equipment of a system of production, a fatal wound inflicted on his being and identity, a wound he cannot ever hope to repair and cure. The only way left for those who have inflicted this ontological wound on him is to make him forget what he has lost, forget it in his enjoyment and consumption, to add thereby an ontological humiliation to him ontological injury. Modern conditions add, vastly add, to the inherited alienation of the worker, alienation that his very being as a