There is no narrowness in the Upanishads.5 min read

In China and Japan there is a tradition that certain spiritually enlightened sages live in the mountains, enjoying unbroken freedom and delight. They do not encourage disciples or give formal instruction, but their mere existence purifies the soul of the world. There is a traditional dance sometimes performed on the Kabuki stage in Japan, which expresses something of the inner life of two famous Sennin or mountain sages. The accompanying song was written by a Buddhist priest. Kanzan and his friend Jittoku were spiritual ` lunatics ‘ who lived in China in the Tang Dynasty well over a thousand years ago; the former was a well-known poet, and some of his poems still survive. In many paintings he is shown with a scroll. Jittoku (the name means ‘foundling’) was found abandoned at the gate of a monastery. He lived on scraps of food, and used to carry a broom with which he swept the corridors of the monastery.

The curtain goes up on the two Sennin, posed as in one of the famous pictures of them. The backcloth is copied from a landscape by Sesshu; does it mean that in the eye of the Sennin the whole of nature is an artistic masterpiece? Kanzan, an elderly austere figure, is holding an unrolled scroll before him; it is his latest poem. Jittoku, much younger, leans on his broom, smiling secretly to himself. Slowly they begin to move; the steps are not the classical steps of any dance. As Jittoku slowly whirls his long sleeves in circles in the air, looking at them fascinated, it has the artless charm and grace of a very young child fully concentrated on waving a rag. His black hair falls down over his shoulders without any restriction, his absorbed face has no lines of anxiety or effort, his posture shows unconscious serenity and ease.

Kanzan has rolled up the scroll and stands abstracted, looking into infinity. The other seems struck by the dignity of the pose, and joining his hands in prayer walks round him in the traditional Eastern ceremonial manner. Completing the circle, he kneels before him with great reverence, his upturned face showing the perfect trust of the devotee, the perfect confidence of an infant in his parent. Kanzan slowly brings his gaze downward, and realizing what the other wants, kneels beside scholars study them like the Greek philosophy. They follow no moral discipline and practise no meditation. The result is that they know only the shadow of the teachings and miss the sweet juice of shanti (peace) and illumination. These teachings are not for show; they are called rahasya or secrets of the inner life. One practising brahmacharya (self-control) and Yoga can know them, but not the intellectual quibbler. This is made clear in many stories in the Upanishads.

There is no narrowness in the Upanishads. The Sages were democratic in their way of life, and their teachings are free from fanaticism and nationalism. Nobody is condemned as a heretic. Even the materialist Charvaka is met on the plane of logic and not condemned at all.

The Upanishads contain moral teaching of the highest order. The accusation that there is no moral teaching in them is the invention of the Churchmen. ” Love truth, follow dharma ” is the keynote of the Yogic morality. Sanctity of life is a great moral discipline of the Upanishads. Lying is the blackest of sins. To inflict pain on others is condemned in the strongest terms.

Unless the passions are conquered and compassion, forgiveness and humility are practised in daily life, you cannot meditate on the teachings of the supreme wisdom-the Yoga. A restless mind, burdened with worldly desires, is subject to anger, aversion and infatuation; it is unfit to meditate on truth.

The essence of the Upanishads is summed up in the four great sentences : ” That thou art “, ” This Self is Brahman “, ” I am Brahman ” and ” Intelligence is Brahman “. The Bhagavad-Gita summarises all that is best in the Upanishads. The best way to meet materialism in its most degenerate form -that is the Marxian Communism in which truth, morality and compassion are denied and violence and brutality extolled -is to propagate the Bhagavad-Gita. This is a sure way to purity within and peace without.

Expectancy is the core of rationality; J. S. Mill accepts this principle. You cannot kill out man’s desire for eternal life, for the light of truth, by logic or the guns of Russia. Therefore the only course open is to point the way which leads to truth, peace and eternal light; it is most rational. If reason is divorced from utility, whether practical or moral, and is blind to the spiritual truth of unity and identity and liberation from the fetters of causation, it is not the reason we want. Hitler’s reasoning to justify the extermination of the noble Jews was devilish reason. Reason must sanction loyalty to a spiritual cause and freedom from passions and egoity. Such is the reasoning of the holy Upanishads. Both Nietzsche and Rilke fall short of it.

In the Upanishads the appearance is positive and not negative. It is a fact in knowledge, and we cannot ignore it. But because an appearance is positive and definite in its localization in time and space it cannot be taken as truth-Sat. The test of truth is neither spatial, temporal, nor pragmatic ; it is transcendental. A positive appearance may die out in the course of time. The test of truth is neither epistemological nor psychological; this point is argued with great subtlety by Shri Shankara.

It is the transcendental identity of being above all dualism which is truth.

Consciousness reveals the existence as well as the nonexistence of an appearance; it is no guarantee of its truth. The truth or falsity of a fact in experience is determined by the possibility or impossibility for it of an enduring affirmation and existence. In the Upanishads, ajnana (ignorance) has no definite origin, but it has a definite end.

© Trevor Leggett