Self-Study: Upanishad - 5
What About Us?
So the principle Brahman is key to understanding the Upanishads. However, there is more. The presence of the Volcano isn’t the only reason people love the Big Island. They love it because of what they experience, who they become when they are there. Who do we become when we visit the Upanishads.
This is the jewel of the teaching. It is not that the philosophy proposes there is only one principle. Rather, it asserts a bold and early monism, saying that there is one principle in the universe, and we, as humans are not different from it. Let me say that again. There is only oneness. Beneath everything we see, there is only one pure energy.
There are several “Great Sayings” or Mahavakyas that proclaim our identity with this power called Brahman.
Aham Brahma'smi - "I am Brahman" (Brihadaranyanka Upanishad, I. 6.10-11)
Ayam Atman - "This Atman (Self) is truly Brahman" (Brihadaranyanka Upanishad, II.5.19; IV. 4.5)
"All this is Brahman alone" (Mundaka Upanishad II-2-11)
"That thou art" (tat tvam asi) Chandogya Upanishad; perhaps one of the most inspiring pieces of mystical prose ever written:
"That which is the subtle essence this whole world has for its self. That is the true. That is the self (atma). That art thou." [Chandogya Upanishad, VI.8.7)
The Chandogya offers not only the statement, but a logical way to understand it. In the text, a boy is being taught by his father. His father tells him to go get a seed of a banyan tree, and break it open.
What do you see? Nothing, sir.
Yet in that nothing is the whole of the tree,
and that, my son, art thou.
Then his father tells him to get a glass of water and add some salt.
How does it taste? Salty, sir
In the same way, you don’t see Brahman, but he pervades all.
And that, my son, art thou.
Implications: We are great
What are the implications behind this kind of world view? It means that no matter how we see ourselves, with our limited view, we are not who we seem to be. We are imperishable. Our minds, our bodies, our emotions, are all impermanent. As the Buddha later points out, not only are they impermanent, but the cause of suffering. However, when we know we are not different from the Self, we can go through everything, holding on to the higher view of the truth.
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