Self- Study: The "Lonely Planet Guide" to the Upanishads
The other day, I was wondering how best to present the Upanishads, a vast subject for study that people spend PhD years investigating. That night I had a dream that I was preparing to lead people on a tour of the Big Island of Hawaii. When I woke, I realized it made perfect sense to treat the Upanishads as if we were exploring the Big Island.
There are so many similarities between the Big Island, and the Upanishads. Allow me to point a few out. Both are considerably ancient… well, the Big Island is actually not that old since it is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. However, the Upanishads are quite old… their roots go back almost 3000 years ago, with the best date given as 800 BC.
The Upanishads and the Big Island also share the quality of remoteness. You fly over a vast stretch of ocean to reach the Big Island; and you fly over a vast stretch of time and the ocean of consciousness to reach the Upanishads.
First Impression: inaccessible
Both of them also may create an odd first impression. The Big Island seems almost barren as you land at the airport on a solid lava field. You wonder how accessible it is. You have to search out the beaches, which are well hidden, and well off the beaten track.
When you pick up a complete Upanishad text, including commentary, it is, in fact, far from accessible. It is filled with strange Sanskrit terms and somewhat archaic concepts. Luckily, in both cases, there were brilliant people who paved the way to make them user-friendly to the 20th Century.
In the case of the Upanishads, we have a lovely little book, The Breath of the Eternal, which skims the surface, skips past the unintelligible and leaves us with a rather poetic version. As your guide to the Big Island of the Upanishads, I will use that version to help you find those lovely resting places known only to the locals, those beaches with that breathtaking glimpse of the ocean.
One more thing that both the Big Island and the Upanishads have in common: they hold an incredible power to transform your life, and hopefully you’ll have a glimpse of why I say this, and be inspired to take the trip yourself.
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