ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 8)


Conclusion

In this essay, we examined the Hindu Upanishads with a particular focus on the S’vetâs’vatara with a view toward determining whether the apparent disunity of Hindu religious thought has something positive to contribute to the contemporary religious experience. In tracing the development of the Vedas, starting from the Samhitâs and ending with the Upanishads, we noted the paradoxical harmony of a religious thought that began with outer-directed forms of pagan worship and ended with inner-directed practices of mystical union. We identified this underlying harmony as the gradual movement of interiorization that occurred in the shift from the Vedic to the Hindu religion.

Later on, when we examined the Upanishads themselves, we noted yet another source of disunity: the appearance of contradictory conceptions of the ultimate reality that seemed irreconcilable with the originary Upanishadic doctrine of monism. Yet again, we discovered the key to understanding this disharmony: namely, the refusal of sense experience to bow down to merely intellectual prerogatives. Ultimately, the Upanishads found ways to reconcile the perceptions of the senses with the speculations of the intellect—reconciliations that may not necessarily be the slightest bit satisfactory to a Western reader accustomed to the rigid dogmatism of logic. A Western reader may understandably say: Yes, I can understand how different solutions may be called for with regard to this problem of the one and the many, but why must these different solutions be placed side by side in the same text in seemingly random fashion with no attempt made whatsoever to explain the transitions? Why does the S’vetâs’vatara Upanishad, for instance, put the different positions of monism, pantheism, cosmogonism and theism side by side in irreconcilable fashion, rather than merely selecting one position and explicating it consistently throughout?

But I would assert, on the other hand, that to insist on such a consistency would be to destroy the very contribution that the Upanishads make to the human religious experience. Nagler pinpoints the source of this contribution when he observes that Hinduism’s strategy is not to be consistent, but to be cumulative. Throughout the entire history of the evolution of India’s religious consciousness, “outworn forms of religious worship were virtually never discarded,” and as D.S. Sarma once observed, the sages of India worked towards moving people beyond their “rather low type of sacrificial religion . . . without in any explicit manner breaking away from the traditions of the past.”[1] The outcome of this cumulative strategy has been as practical as it has been profound:

Thanks to its paradigm of diversity and its cumulative strategy for preserving culture, those individuals and communities who respond to outward forms of worship have kept their place and dignity in the system, while at the other extreme individuals who have really had mystical experience have been unusually free to transcend all religious forms and not only follow their own path but become beacons for the cultures as a whole.[2]

In short, through their ardent pursuit and devout expression of spiritual truth—regardless of the many logical contradictions that their religious quest has yielded—the Upanishads exemplify not merely a tolerance for but a celebration of the many faces of God. As Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “By whatever path human beings follow, they are working their way to Me.”[1] Ultimately, it is an outlook that has much to contribute to a world that has far too many religions—and far too little faith.


[1] Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 268; D. S. Sarma, The Upanishads: An Anthology (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970), 2, quoted in Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 269.

[2] Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 269-70.

[3] Bhagavad Gita 4.11, quoted in Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 270.

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 7)


Brahman/Âtman as the Personal God

It has been mentioned earlier in this essay that nowhere in the S’vetâs’vatara does one encounter a denial of the original identity between God and the Self. Yet this identity finds itself overwhelmingly effaced in the clear distinctions that the Upanishad often makes between the one and the other.[1] More than anything else, this distinction is effected by the devotional piety of the S’vetâs’vatara. As the great religious scholar Huston Smith has pointed out, there is something about the movement of love that resists all reduction to identity.[2] Our most profound experiences of love almost always involve another—so much so that one who loves God would almost insist on God’s otherness. To quote a Hindu devotional classic that Smith himself cites to make the point, “I want to taste sugar; I don’t want to be sugar.”[3]

This “otherness” of God is attested to in verses of the S’vetâs’vatara where the supplicant asks not for identity but for union. But far more common than this expression of still-mystical yearning are the verses that beseech God for grace, mercy and peace. God is the “other” who is guardian, protector and refuge, and he is addressed here for the first time with the personal and benevolent honorific Shiva. In these verses, perhaps more than any other, one finds the expression of a piety that would be just as much at home in a Christian church and Muslim mosque as in a Hindu temple. The most striking of these verses are enumerated below:

May we harness body and mind to see the Lord of Life who dwells in everyone.

May we ever with one-pointed mind strive for blissful union with the Lord. (2.1-2)

 

Dedicate yourself to the Lord of Life who is the cause of the cosmos.

He will remove the cause of all your suffering and free you from the bondage of karma. (2.7)

 

O Lord, in whom alone we can find peace,

May we see your divine Self and be freed from all impure thoughts and all fear. (3.5)

 

The Lord of Love, omnipresent, dwelling in the heart of every living creature,

All mercy, turns every face to himself. (3.11)

 

He is the supreme Lord, who through his grace

Moves us to seek him in our own hearts.

He is the light that shines forever. (3.12)

 

Know him to be the supreme guardian of the cosmos, protecting all creatures from within.

May he, Shiva, in whom all are one, free us from the bonds of death. (4.15)

 

I live in fear of death, O Lord of Love;

I seek refuge at your feet. Protect me . . .

May the brave one who seek you be released from the bondage of death. (4.21-2)

 

He grants all our prayers.

May we, in our consciousness, realize the freedom he alone can give us. (6.13)

 

How can we roll up the sky like a piece of deerskin?

How can we end our misery,

Without realizing that the Lord of Love is enshrined in our heart of hearts? (6.20)

 

Sage Shvetashvatara realized the Lord

In meditation through His infinite grace. (6.21)

Finally, to end this section on the theism of the S’vetâs’vatara, let me quote the magnificent prayer found near the very end of the Upanishad:

Lord Shiva is my refuge: he who grants freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Lord Shiva is my refuge: he who gave the sacred scriptures at the dawn of time.

Lord Shiva is my refuge: he who is the source of purity and perfection.

Lord Shiva is my refuge: he who is the bridge from death to immortality.

Lord Shiva is my refuge: he whose grace has made me long for his lotus feet. (6. 18-9)


[1] Deussen, 177.

[2] Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 33.

[3] Ibid.

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 6)


Brahman/Âtman as the Cause and Creator

In contrast with the subtlety of its pantheism, and entirely consistent with its markedly theistic character, the cosmogonism of the S’vetâs’vatara is practically reminiscent of Judeo-Christian creationism (except for the parts where Brahman is not only the cause of the cosmos and of the life within it, but of the gods as well). In words that recall the ideas of the famed Doctor of the Christian Church, Thomas Aquinas, the S’vetâs’vatara describes an ultimate cause out of which the universe flows (the Thomistic exitus) and to which it eventually returns (the Thomistic reditus). In the verses below, one finds that a very thin line separates the Upanishad’s cosmogonic position from its ultimately predominantly theistic one.

Dedicate yourself to the Lord of Life, who is the cause of the cosmos. (2.7)

He projects the cosmos from himself,

Maintains and withdraws it back into himself at the end of time. (3.2)

He has no beginning, he has no end.

He is the source from which the worlds evolve. (4.4)

What use are the scriptures to anyone,

Who knows not the one source from whom they come, in whom all gods and worlds abide? (4.8)

Know him to be the supreme source of all the gods, sole support of the universe. (4.12)

From him the cosmos comes,

He who teaches each living creature to attain perfection according to its own nature. (5.5)

He is the supreme creator,

Hidden deep in the mystery of the scriptures. (5.6)

The learned say life is self-created; others say that life has evolved from time.

It is the Lord who has brought the cosmos out of himself. (6.1)

Know him to be the primal source of life, whose glory permeates the universe. (6.5)

Know him to be the cause without a cause,

Without a second, parent, or master. (6.9)

He is the maker of the universe, self existent, omniscient . . . (6.16-17)

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 5)


Brahman/Âtman as the Universe

As a whole, the pantheism of the S’vetâs’vatara is much more subtle than in the other Upanishads where explicit identifications are made between God and the universe. In the Chândogya Upanishad, for instance, we find the following verse: “The âtman is beneath and above, in the west and in the east, in the south and in the north; the âtman is this entire universe (italics mine).”[1] This degree of explicitness is found in only one verse in the S’vetâs’vatara, where it proclaims that “He has become the cosmos (3.15).” Almost all the other verses with a pantheistic flavor settle, as it were, for emphases on the pervasive presence of Brahman throughout the universe. The most striking of these verses are presented below without further elaboration on our part:

Meditate and realize this world is filled with the presence of God. (1.12)

You are the supreme Brahman, infinite, yet hidden in the hearts of all creatures.

You pervade everything. (3.7)

There is nothing higher than him, nothing other than him.

His infinity is beyond great and small.

In his own glory rooted, he stands and fills the cosmos. (3.9)

He has thousands of heads, thousands of eyes, thousands of feet.

He surrounds the cosmos on every side. This infinite being is every present in the hearts of all.

He has become the cosmos. (3.14-15)

His hands and feet are everywhere; his heads and mouths are everywhere.

He sees everything, hears everything, and pervades everything. (3.16)

He moves in the world enjoying the play of his countless forms.

He is the master of the universe. (3.18)

He is fire and the sun, and the moon and the stars. He is the air and the sea . . .

He is this boy, he is that girl, he is this man, he is that woman,

And he is this old man, too, tottering on his staff.

His face is everywhere. (4.2-3)

Know him to be the supreme pervader,

In whom the whole universe is smaller than the smallest atom. (4.14)


[1] Chândogya Upanishad  7.25, quoted in Deussen, 163.

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 4)


Brahman/Âtman as the Sole Ultimate Reality

Even during those moments when the S’vetâs’vatara appears to be doing nothing more than reasserting the original Upanishadic doctrine of the sole reality of the Brahman qua Âtman, these reassertions have a deeply existential character consistent with the overall tonality of the Upanishad. To begin with, the Upanishadic identification of the Brahman and the Âtman was never mere metaphysical sophistry—it was formulated as a response to deeply existential concerns. As Nagler points out, the sages who developed the Upanishads achieved the profound insight that much of life’s suffering is the result of frustrated desire. Desire, in turn, is born of a fundamental sense of incompleteness—a feeling that one needs this item or that in order to feel whole.[1] If one were to realize, therefore, that one was already whole—that one, in fact, was the whole—then all desire and its consequent suffering would cease. This is why in the Upanishads the realization of the fundamental identity between the Brahman and the Âtman is simultaneously the realization of freedom from suffering and death.

This particular view of the ultimate reality with its attendant consequence on the quality of human life finds expression in several verses of the S’vetâs’vatara. Let us begin by enumerating the verses that first assert the sole reality of God:[2]

He alone is. (3.1)

The Lord of Love is one. There is indeed no other. (3.2)

There is nothing other than him, nothing other than him. (3.9)

In the following verses, the Upanishad describes the failure to recognize God as the sole reality—the belief in the illusory separateness of things, in other words—as the cause of entrapment within the cycle of change and suffering:

On this ever-revolving wheel of being, the individual self goes round and round,

Through life after life, believing itself to be a separate creature,

Until it sees its identity with the Lord of Love and attains immortality in the indivisible whole. (1.6)

All is change in the world of the senses. But changeless is the supreme Lord of Love

Meditate on him, be absorbed in him. Wake up from this dream of separateness. (1.10)

Conversely, once the sole, ultimate reality of the Brahman as the Âtman is realized, freedom from suffering—and even from death—is achieved:

Those who know him leave all separateness, sorrow, and death behind.

Those who know him not live but to suffer. (3.10)

He is the inner Self of all . . . Those who realize him become immortal. (3.13)

To know the unity of all life leads to deathlessness; to know not leads to death. (5.1)

But beyond upholding the central Upanishadic doctrine of the sole reality of the Brahman qua Âtman, the S’vetâs’vatara also contributes the technical term that will be used from then on to denote the illusory quality of the universe—the word mâyâ. According to Deussen, the term mâyâ occurs for the first time in the S’vetâs’vatara, and is used with particular force in the fourth chapter:[3]

From his divine power comes forth all this magical show of name and form,

Of you and me, which casts the spell of pain and pleasure.

Only when we pierce through this magic veil do we see the One who appears as many. (4.5)

The Lord, who is the supreme magician, brings forth out of himself all the scriptures,

Oblations, sacrifices, spiritual disciplines, the past and present, the whole universe.

Invisible through the magic of maya, he remains hidden in the hearts of all. (4.9)

Know him to be the supreme magician whose maya brought all the worlds out of himself. (4.10)

With these considerations of the non-dualistic verses in the S’vetâs’vatara, let us now turn our attentions to the verses that support the pantheistic position.


[1] Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 290.

[2] All of the quotations from the S’vetâs’vatara cited in this paper are drawn from Eknath Easwaran’s translation The Upanishads (Tomales: Nilgiri Press, 2003).

[3] Deussen, 42.

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 3)


THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD

The S’vetâs’vatara Upanishad is generally held to be among the principal Upanishads, with the great German Orientalist Friedrich Max Müller himself including it amongst the “eleven classical Upanishads, or the fundamental Upanishads of the Vedânta philosophy.”[1] Examples of revered figures that have either referred to it or commented on it include Bâdarâyana, Vidyâranya, and the towering Hindu mystic and philosopher, Shankara.[2] Deussen classifies it as belonging to the Yajur Samhitâ and judges its age to be somewhere between the ancient prose Upanishads and the later prose ones. The important point here is that the S’vetâs’vatara was formed during an intermediate period during which Upanishadic thought had achieved enough of a maturity for a stock phraseology to have already developed.[3]

What has always set the S’vetâs’vatara apart is what both Müller and Nagler have referred to as its unique emphasis on the personal idea of God, over and against the largely impersonal character of the other great Upanishads.[4] This emphasis on the personal has contributed much to the view that it was the S’vetâs’vatara Upanishad that initiated the development of bhakti or the Hindu form of devotional worship (a view that Müller nevertheless insists is mistaken).[5]  But whether or not bhakti originated from the S’vetâs’vatara, it is a much more widely accepted fact that the Upanishad is distinctly theistic: Deussen cites it as the “leading example of the theistic teaching of the Upanishads” and Richard De Smet considers it as the “founding charter” of the later Saivite religion.[6] (As Nagler points out, it was the S’vetâs’vatara that first introduced the adjective, and then the actual name Shiva, as a personal honorific for the Supreme Being.)[7] It is this personal, devotional theism that makes the S’vetâs’vatara such an interesting case study, for these characteristics logically contradict the impersonal, mystical monism of the central Upanishadic doctrine. For this reason, Deussen has described the S’vetâs’vatara as “a work brimful of contradictions”—though he himself has provided a plausible explanation for its contradictory nature and the contradictory quality of most of the Upanishads in general.[8]

As has been mentioned before, the view that God is the sole, ultimate reality and that God is identical to the Self is the central tenet of the Upanishads.  Another way of putting it is that “the absolute reality underlying the universe” is identified with “the innermost being within the human person.”[9] The implications of this view, which Deussen has likened to the Parmenidean view of all reality as One, is that the universe we encounter with its multiplicity and diversity is nothing more than mere appearance, mere apparition, and mere phenomenon.[10] Nothing else besides God, the Brahman qua Âtman, is real; all else is deceit and illusion.

But in the same way that Parmenides’ monism and his philosophical heir Plato’s idealism eventually effect Aristotle’s own counter realism, the pure non-dualism of the Upanishadic doctrine often gives way to a subtle and nuanced dualism. For Deussen, this is nothing but the inevitable outcome of the impossibility of consistently denying what our own sense experience tells us, which is that the universe with its multiplicity and diversity is real. Whenever the standpoint of pure non-dualism appears to be obscured in the Upanishads, Deussen asserts that we will have to find its source in “that realistic tendency of the mental constitution of man which can never be entirely suppressed” and “whose origin and gradual accession of strength” can be observed “within the sphere of the Upanishad doctrine.”[11]  For as long as in the background “the conviction remain[ed] unmoved of the sole reality of the âtman,” the Upanishads were generally able to accommodate all sorts pseudo-dualistic positions.[12] Deussen describes five such positions: pantheism, cosmogonism, theism, atheism and deism.[13] For our purposes, however, it will suffice to only consider the first three.

If Upanishadic monism begins with the standpoint that God alone is real and that God is identical to the Self, a first concession to the reality of our sense experience is made when the reality of the universe is also admitted. For this admission to remain somewhat reconciled with the original monism, however, the universe has to be then identified with God (and transitively with the Self). This is the position of pantheism as Deussen describes it, where the “universe is real, and yet the âtman is the sole reality, for the âtman is the entire universe;” it is the position of pantheism that, interestingly enough, prevails most dominantly in the Upanishads.[14]

The next position, the position of cosmogonism, is an attempt to render the identity between God and the universe more intelligible by perceiving God as the cause producing the universe from himself as effect. After the universe is produced, God then enters into it as its soul, and in this manner, one obtains a very satisfying reconciliation with the original Upanishadic doctrine where the outermost reality of the university is identical with the innermost soul in things.[15]

The final position we shall consider here, the position of theism, is an even greater concession to the realistic tendencies of our intellects than the two previous positions of pantheism and cosmogonism. In the latter two positions, the reality of the universe is partially rehabilitated. In theism, it is the reality of the individual self that undergoes rehabilitation. The position of theism is achieved when, starting from cosmogonism, “a distinction is drawn between the âtman as creator of the universe and the âtman entering into the creation”—or, in other words, when a distinction obtains between the Supreme Self and the individual soul.[16]

In the S’vetâs’vatara Upanishad, we find all four positions described above well-represented—in a juxtaposition whose overall philosophical unintelligibility is finally only offset by a radical religious luminosity. In the next section, we will proceed to examine the Upanishad and the many faces it presents of the ultimate reality.


[1] Friedrich Max Müller, The Upanishads (New York: Dover Publications, 1962), ix.

[2] Ibid., xxxi-ii.

[3] Deussen, 25.

[4] Müller, xxxiv; Nagler, “Faces of God,” 215.

[5] Müller, xxxiv.

[6] Deussen, 177; Richard De Smet, SJ, ”Saivism,” Religious Hinduism, ed. Richard De Smet, SJ and Joseph Neuner, SJ (Mumbai: St. Paul Press, 1997), 316.

[7] Nagler, “Faces of God,” 215.

[8] Deussen, 178.

[9] Rasiah, 5.

[10] Deussen, 41.

[11] Ibid., 158-9.

[12] Ibid., 158.

[13] Ibid., 237-9.

[14] Ibid., 160-2.

[15] Ibid., 237-8. 

[16] Ibid.

ON THE S’VETÂS’VATARA UPANISHAD: Celebrating the Faces of God (Part 2)


A BRIEF HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE UPANISHADS

An Upanishad is a body of mystical writing that comes as an attachment to the ancient and sacred hymn collections or Samhitâs of the Indo-Aryans who settled in India around 3,000 B.C.[1] These Indo-Aryan settlers practiced a polytheistic, sacrificial religion that revolved primarily around making offerings to the gods or to deified aspects of nature in order to gain such benefits as prosperity, vitality, longevity or fertility.[2]  The Samhitâs provided the scriptural basis of and ritual accompaniment to these offerings, and for hundreds of years they were composed and transmitted orally before finally being committed to writing around 2,000 B.C.[3] Given that centuries elapsed between the creation of the Samhitâs and their recording, their actual origins are now shrouded in much obscurity. Fortunately, however, since their written rescension their preservation has been carried out, more or less faithfully, by branches or S’âkhâs of certain families of the original Vedic priestly or brahmin caste.  The four Samhitâs that have come down to us today are the Rig, the Yajur, the Sâma, and the Atharva—each focusing respectively on the gods, ritual formulas, chants and magic spells.[4]

Over the course of centuries, the Vedic sacrificial rites to which the Samhitâs were both support and accompaniment became increasingly complex. At first, the only consequence of this development was that a second body of texts called the Brâhmanas was appended to the Samhitâs. These Brâhmanas were written as manuals for the priests or brahmins in order to aid them in understanding and performing the increasingly more elaborate rituals. In time, however, the more fateful consequence of the eventually excessive ritualism of Vedism was the development of a more symbolic and speculative spirituality. This inner rather than outer-directed spirituality found its first manifestation in the Âranyakas, a third body of texts that was appended to the Brâhmanas after the Samhitâs.  In the Âranyakas, for the first time, an emphasis was placed on providing spiritual interpretations of the Vedic rituals rather than on giving technical guidelines.  It was the Âranyakas that ultimately paved the way for the Upanishads—the fourth and last body of texts that constitute the Vedic canon—where Vedic ritualism is finally superseded by Hindu mysticism. By looking at these four classes of texts in their chronological succession, one can discern a movement of religious interiorization wherein the locus of divine power shifts gradually from the gods to the human being herself.  As Michael Nagler, an Upanishadic scholar, puts it:

[T]he religion of the Samhitâs centers on the gods, and the direct, enthusiastic invocation and worship of them at the sacrifice. In the Brahmanas, however, the intense power of the sacrifice itself . . . becomes the focus, and the sacrifice which moves the gods is several times said to be more powerful than they are. Then, finally, in the Aranyakas, power is seen to rest in man himself. . . [5]

The shift is finally completed in the Upanishads, where the divine power does not merely rest in the human being but is identified with the human being.

These four bodies of texts then—the Samhitâs, the Brâhmanas, the Âranyakas, and the Upanishads—collectively constitute the Vedas, which in turn serves as the textual basis of what is recognized as the Hindu religion of today. In fact, given the almost unique status of Hinduism amongst the major religious traditions as a decentralized system with no formal institutional controls, adherence to the Vedas serves as the sole criterion for what it means to be a Hindu.[6] That being said, a distinction is often made between the Samhitâs and the Brâhmanas, on the one hand, and the Âranyakas and the Upanishads on the other. The former are referred to as karmakanda or that division of the Vedas that deals primarily with ritual action, while the latter are referred to as jnanakanda or that division of the Vedas that deals primarily with spiritual knowledge.[7]

(All these divisions having been made, it is important to point out that they are not always strictly followed. As the famous German Orientalist Paul Deussen once pointed out, occasional “digressions” into ritual, allegory or philosophy are present throughout the Brâhmanas, Âranyakas and Upanishads.[8] In the Upanishads themselves, these digressions sometimes appear as outright contradictions, as was mentioned earlier in the introduction.)

As the last of the attachments to the Samhitâs, the Upanishads are also alternatively known as the Vedānta, or, that which comes at “the end of the Vedas.”[9] It is speculated that the earliest Upanishads were written no earlier than 600 B.C., though just like the Samhitâs, it is also held that the Upanishadic tradition long predates its written rescension.[10] Thousands of Upanishads are said to have once existed, though today only about 100 to 200 texts go by the name Upanishad–and they vary drastically in age, content and spiritual maturity.

The dissonances amongst and within the Upanishads are so great, in fact, that Deussen has said that if we understand the word “system” to refer to “an association of thoughts which collectively belong to and are dependent on a single center”—whether that center is a single author or a consistent whole—then a “’system of the Upanishads,’ strictly speaking, does not exist.”[11] In the same passage, he adds that one finds, in the Upanishads, “a great variety of conceptions . . . which not seldom stand to one another in irreconcilable contradiction.”[12] The key to understanding the underlying harmony of the Upanishads, Deussen insists, lies not in seeing it as a systematic elaboration of a single doctrine, but rather as diverse attempts to reconcile humanity’s differing experiences of reality with an ultimate doctrine. This ultimate doctrine is what was stated earlier in the introduction to this essay, namely, that the ultimate reality is none other than God, and that God is none other than the Self.

Now, if one were to recall that Hinduism—in its entire history—has never had a single central authority, one immediately realizes that even this nominal source of unity amongst the Upanishads is cause for far greater marvel than the overwhelmingly abundant diversity. Across the vast reaches of time and space, through the interval of an entire epoch and the distance of an entire continent, Hindus have spiritually intuited or accepted—at varying degrees—the ultimately mystical identity between the Brahman and the Âtman. How this could have come about in a civilization so decentralized that Rabindranath Tagore once called it a “forest civilization” (in contrast to the centralized city civilizations of Greece and Rome) is so profoundly mysterious, that Michael Nagler has been forced to concede that a form of mysticism had always been part of the subcontinent’s culture long before the Indo-Aryans even arrived.[13]

Whatever its sources or its origins, the fact remains that once the people of India began to turn their spiritual gaze from the exteriority of Vedic ritual to the interiority of Hindu mysticism, the dominant form of that mysticism—with which all subsequent forms of Hindu spirituality would have to wrestle—would be expressed by the identity between the Brahman and the Âtman. Keeping this in mind, one can interpret the various Upanishads as different ways of not merely extolling this identity, but of reconciling it with concrete human experience with its very “real” encounters with change and multiplicity.  With this view in place, let us now turn our attentions to the S’vetâs’vatara Upanishad.


[1] Peter Johanns, SJ, “The Vedic Religion,” in Religious Hinduism, ed. Richard De Smet, SJ and Joseph Neuner, SJ (Mumbai: St. Paul Press, 1997), 31.

[2] Francis Rasiah, SJ, “Introduction to Indian Philosophy” (lecture notes presented in the course on the “History of Ancient Hindu Thought,” Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University, 2008), 1.

[3] Michael Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads, afterword to The Upanishads, trans. Eknath Easwaran (Tomales: Nilgiri Press, 2003), 251.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 259.

[6] Ibid., 251.

[7] Ibid., 253.

[8] Deussen, 4. 

[9] Ibid., 3. 

[10] Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 253.

[11] Deussen, 51.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads,” 261, quoting Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana (Tucson: Omen, 1972), 3-5; ibid, 260.