Wednesday 5 June 2013

Upanishad in the Eyes of Swami Vivekananda - 1

   ॐ वीरेश्वराय विद्महे विवेकानन्दाय धीमहि । तन्नो वीर: प्रचोदयात् ।

In the Shvetàshvatara Upanishad you find the rishi giving the clarion call to all and sundry and says: O children of immortality and all the gods residing in the highest spheres, listen, I have known that Being who is as resplendent as the sun; knowing Him alone one can transcend miseries. Swami Vivekananda in his famous ‘Paper on Hinduism’, delivered at the Chicago Parliament of Religions on 19th of September, 1893, had translated the verse into English. The clarion call that came out of Swamiji was remarkable enough. He had said on that day: ‘“Children of immortal bliss”— what a sweet, what a hopeful name! Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name—heirs of immortal bliss—yea, the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the Children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth—sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter’. (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. I, p. 11)

Sister Nivedita says somewhere in her writing: For the Westerners, this call of Swamiji was the greatest message we have ever heard. We, who have been used to listening from our very birth that we are sinners, hearing from a monk from the far East, telling us that we are children of immortality and not born sinners, was a great message to all of us. Swamiji had declared in his later life that it was the mission of his life to bring the Vedanta of the forests to the everyday life of man. Indeed, Swamiji, as Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharya Shastri mentions in his wonderful book on the Vedantic thoughts of Swami Vivekananda, was never keen on establishing himself as a great pundit of Vedanta. On the contrary, his sole aim was to bring the lifegiving thoughts of the Upanishads and Vedanta into the workaday life of humanity.

Swamiji had delved deep into the Upanishads. Right from his student days he was a keen reader of Western philosophical literature. But the contact with Sri Ramakrishna opened up a new world for him. Indian philosophy, the great thoughts contained in Sanskrit language, the great philosophical systems that India had nurtured in her bosom for centuries enlightened his exceptional mind. In course of time he started mastering the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Samhitàs. In fact, as one goes through The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, one sees him as a perceptive student of the Upanishads, the Samhitàs, the Vivekachudàmani, the Brahmasutras and the Gità. Not only that, he had read thoroughly the bhàshyas or commentaries of Shankara, Ràmànuja and even the Sàyana bhàshya of the Rig-Veda. Swamiji was thus eminently qualified to speak on the Upanishads. But no, he did not want to go into the intricacies and the roundabout arguments of the Vedas; his main purpose was to bring the life-giving principles and truths and spread them to the society at large.

Swamiji’s method
How did Swamiji do that? Let us take a view of Swamiji’s method of study, his method of delivering lectures, his method of preaching. He had used all the three prevalent norms of Sanskrit scriptures—first, ‘Nyàya’; second, ‘Shruti’; and finally ‘Smriti’. The scriptures say that to understand the Upanishadic dictums, you must have a logical mind. You must have a rational mind which can weigh the pros and cons of a subject. That is Nyàya. Traditionally, the Brahmasutras is considered to be the text which synthesizes the thoughts of the Upanishads into a coherent whole. Swamiji’s writings and lectures thus have enough of Nyàya or logic. In fact, as Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharya mentions very rightly, Swamiji often had laid stress on logic, on rationality because today’s modern men and women would like to discuss religion and the scriptures rationally. Thus Nyàya or logic takes up lots of space in Swamiji’s discussion on the Upanishads. But he was not contented merely with that. He gradually went ahead and took us to ‘Shruti’, the Vedas, the great message of the Shrutis.


The Brahmasutras tells us ‘Shàstrayonitvàt’ (1.1.3). What does it say? It tells us that the indriyagràhya jagat or the world of sense perceptions is good. But to realize the eternal Soul, ‘âtman’ or ‘Paramàtman’, you must be able to look beyond. A wonderful example comes up in the discussions. Consider sight. We can have the sight; we can see the world through the eyes. Again we can hear the sound through the ears. But you cannot hear the sound through the eyes because every indriya or sense organ has its specific object of perception. Similarly, there are things which are beyond the grasp of the indriyas. It is to this reality that the ‘Shruti’ draws our attention. The Shruti tells us about âtman, about Brahman. Thus, after Nyàya comes the Shruti. The great scriptures, the Vedas and the Vedanta, tell us about the âtman or Brahman which is immutable, which is beyond the senses.

Third comes ‘Smriti’. As all of you know, the famous Smriti text is the Gità. In fact, the Gità has been referred to as a synthesis of the Upanishads. Swamiji thus takes up the message of the Gità and discusses the Karmayoga. To Swamiji, the message of the Upanishads—‘Tat tvam asi’, ‘Ayam àtmà brahma’ or ‘So’ ham’—this great lesson of oneness can only be understood by the comprehension of the particular yogas discussed in the Gità.

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