Self-Study Upanishad - 4
First Glimpse: Volcano
Well, the stewardess has just announced we are about to land on the Big Island, so we can put the history away, and take a first glimpse. If you are flying into Hilo, it’s not hard to see the main feature that shapes the Big Island: the Volcano. Still erupting today, the island has lava flows, some new, some old, some visible, some overgrown already with vegetation. But the beneath everything on the Big Island lies the volcano, or the Goddess Pele as she is known to locals.
What about the Upanishads? What principle, what power, shapes the Upanishads? Quite simply, it is called Brahman, the absolute. The Upanishads teach the knowledge of Brahman.
The root of the word, Brh, means something that supports and expands, so Brahman is that which unifies, expands, suffuses and supports all. It is only one. It is a power. It is the highest Reality, highest principle. It doesn’t have to be called God. It is often called the Self, with a capital S.
Here are some verses on Brahman, Self, from the Upanishads:
Taittiriya, pg 82:
Brahman is the abiding reality, he is pure knowledge, and he is infinity. (In Sanksrit, Sat, Chit, Ananta.. Infinity.)
Swetasvatara, pg 190:
Like oil in sesame seeds, butter in cream, water in the river bed, fire in tinder, the Self dwells within the soul… Like butter in cream is the Self in everything. Knowledge of the Self is gained through meditation. The Self is Brahman.
Like the volcanic deposits on the island, Brahman is both seen and unseen, that is, it is considered both with form, and without form, and both. Here is how the Upanishads describe Brahman, or the Self.
Katha Upanishad (pg 30)
No sound, no form, intangible, undying, no taste, no smell, eternal, without beginning, without end, immutable, beyond nature is the Self. Knowing him as such, one is freed from death
This sounds very much like the Buddhist Heart Sutra, doesn’t it?
Kena, pg 9:
Him the eye does not see nor the tongue express nor the mind grasp... That which cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks, which is not comprehended by the mind but by which the mind comprehends, etc… know that to be Brahman.
And with form:
Katha, pg 35
As fire, though one, takes the shape of every object which it consumes, so the Self, though one, takes the shape of every object in which it dwells.
As air, though one, takes the shape of every object which it enters, so the Self, though one, takes the shape of every object in which it dwells.
That is one, the innermost Self of all. Of one form, he makes of himself many forms. To those who see the Self revealed in their own heart belongs eternal bliss.
Both Form and Formless
Creating all things, he entered into everything. He became that which has shape and that which is shapeless; he became that which can be defined and that which cannot be defined. He became that which has support and that which has no support, he became that which is conscious and that which is not conscious.
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