The Teaching of the Upanishads

AMONGST the most precious spiritual gifts to the English-speaking people of this century must be counted the monumental series of the Sacred Books of the East, edited by Professor Max Müller. That even the most important of these writings should have failed to make any general or influential impression on the time is perhaps hardly matter of wonder : first, because their line of thought lies on other than modern tracks ; secondly, because their appeal is to those higher or transcendental qualities or faculties of the soul which at no one period in the history of the human race have been largely and intelligently represented. Pythagoras, Socrates, the Christ, were strangers to their generation, and could hardly be popularly understood or appreciated. Their intelligent expositors were few. This must at all times necessarily be the case. An abnormal outlook does not imply a corresponding faculty in the following, even with those who regard it in a friendly manner, and any appeal to the highest intuitive powers and capacities of the human soul can receive only a partial recognition in view of the material aims of the masses and their insistence upon selfish and individual interests.

The most valuable of all the writings referred to above are, undoubtedly, those of the Vedânta, which concentrate the doctrine of the Vedas in their most significant import. The Vedas themselves are based upon ceremonial and regulated observance, are for those in that state of religious development which “ seeks after a sign ; ” but the Vedânta, as laid down in the Upanishads, is for those who, capable of passing immediately from the outward to the inward, are able to conceive of the essential and abstract, and are independent of the vehicle of form for their better understanding and appreciation of it.

The term “ Upanishad ” appears to be of uncertain origin and meaning. It may be derived from a Sanskrit root signifying a session or assembly, as of pupils with an instructor. It is, however, more significantly used as indicating doctrine, or secret doctrine, and this may be considered its ulterior meaning. These doctrines were first delivered to disciples or students orally through successive generations, and were only at a subsequent period committed to writing in the Sanskrit tongue of ancient India. They are very numerous, but, with minor differences, inculcate the same principles, and are essentially identical in teaching. They are broadly referred to a period six hundred years before the birth of Christ, but it is highly probable that, in one form or another, they owe their origin to a still more remote period in the “ dark backward and abysm of time.” These writings have heretofore been regarded, even by those from whom a clearer spiritual vision, a more perceptive intelligence, might have been reasonably expected, too much as mere literary curiosities, and have been spoken of as embodying the earliest inchoate thinking of mankind. Far from being the tentative efforts of a primitive humanity to grasp a higher range of being, loftier forms and views of life, they appear to me to lie on the highest planes of thought which the human mind has ever reached, and to indicate the greatest elevation possible to concrete being by raising it and identifying it with the Essentially Existent by the progressive laws of a spiritual evolution. It seems strange that nobody in this century, so far as I am aware, has seen and accepted these marvelous writings in their practical importance as the guides of life, to be appropriated reverentially as substantially identical in utterance, though from another point of view, with those which the most advanced amongst mankind have agreed to stamp with a sacred authority, excepting the German philosopher Schopenhauer. We find Orientalists as accomplished and mature as Sir Monier Williams decrying the practical importance of these noble treatises. In his Indian Wisdom he speaks of the “ fanciful etymologies, far-fetched allegories, and puerile conceits which bewilder the reader of the Upanishads,” without making any attempt to investigate their more recondite meaning. Other Orientalists treat these writings either as curiosities of a capricious fancy, or fossils, as it were, in the half-forgotten stages of the moral advancement of mankind, to be regarded by students of the historic evolution of the race as so much material for scholarship in the book of universal knowledge, but without any thought of their real present value and importance. Mr. Gough, for example, in his Philosophy of the Upanishads, — a useful and valuable book in many respects, — regards them with a cold and scholastic eye, indifferent, apparently, to their high worth, their profound truth and transcendent spiritual consequence. He says, in his preface to that work, “ The Upanishads are so many ‘ Songs before Sunrise,’— spontaneous effusions of awakening reflection, half poetical, half metaphysical, that precede the conscious and methodical labors of the long succession of thinkers to construct a thoroughly intelligible conception of the sum of things.” I should have thought the term least of all applicable to these elaborate and highly matured fruits of searching thought and profound reflection would be that of spontaneity. “ Spontaneous effusions” might be a description suited to the gushes of verse from the boarding-school which sometimes find a place in the corners of country newspapers, but, applied to these writings, it is about as unhappy a designation as could be found in the dictionary. Neither do I know where, how, and by what means we have, in modern times, advanced in abstract directions on the principles here laid down. Have we arrived at anything more definite, absolute, or real, which appeals to the innermost feelings, or even to the reasoning powers, with a more assured response; or have we now aims more noble; or have we reached any grander moral conceptions, any larger modes of thought and life, than are here set before us ? Certainly not, I think. Mr. Gough quotes the late Archer Butler as “ an admirable interpreter of the imperfect materials before him,” who, evidently, without the least appreciation of the luminous intelligence of these treatises, speaks of them as fostering “baseless dreams,” to the great detriment of the people holding their tenets, — a verdict about as fair as it would be to confuse the exalted and self-immolating religion of Jesus Christ with the low form of the popular modern profession of it.

It is needless to dwell upon the remissness in scholarship to discern the true value of these precious records of human thought in its spiritual elevation. People do not find what they do not seek and do not want. It is enough that those who look for and desire to know truths to live by and to feed upon will treasure the rich harvest of thought herein contained in their innermost storehouse of precious things, amongst the soul’s most valuable spiritual treasures. Of course, many difficulties in detail arise in a minute study of these treatises, as is the case with those books recognized as moral guides by the followers of the Christian religion, but the principles laid down in them are in themselves so absolutely sound and secure that we may well relegate their apparent defections to the margin of our imperfect comprehension, as belonging to habits of thought and modes of regarding things educationally different from our own. To determine their “philosophy” from an academic point of view is about as wise and as useful as to attempt to define that of the Sermon on the Mount. If they have no intrinsic, practical value, if they make no true appeal to the human soul on their own basis, they have no raison d’être, and may very fitly be consigned at once to the “ place of weeds and worn-out faces.”

As to the capability of the ancient Hindu people to deal with these matters, one need only enter upon a study of their more scholastic philosophies, that of Kapila, for example, to learn how closely they could reason, how they anticipated every objection, with what penetrative, nay, piercing acumen they saw the whole bearing of the matter at issue, and with what a tenacious and unrelaxing grasp they adhered to their logical course, as a sleuthhound in pursuit of his prey.

Amidst all the varieties of sacred rite, observance, ceremonial, or other form which have ever existed, there is to be recognized one sole aim and intention. In fact, there has never been but one religion in the history of mankind. It may be characterized in very exclusive terms. It is that of a recognition of the Divine in the human, or, conversely, the human considered in its relationship to the Divine or Infinite and Omnipotent Being. The words “ our Father ” imply all that every religion taught or seeks to teach. The oldest and the latest doctrines are but an acknowledgment and enforcement of this principle, an expression of this accepted fact, namely, that as there are everywhere around us the signs and vestiges of an intelligent force at work, and that force, both in extent and power, infinitely superior to our own, it must necessarily be that, visible or invisible, there must be a conscious and intelligent Mover, Controller, Creator, Dissolver, in whose essence we live and move and have our being. The scope and object of every form of religion, pushed to its ultimate significance, are to secure a perfect unity or identity with the Divine Essential Being, of which our own is but a conditioned manifestation. This being the case, we propose to examine the teaching of the Vedânta from this point of view.

No fantastic theosophical speculations, no empirical assumptions, here occupy and bewilder the mind or mock it with changeful and flickering delusions. These writings are purely scientific, logical, experimental. Their authority only awaits general confirmation by practical proof, by the most spiritually discerning, and this proof is within reach of confirmation. They are transcendental in a sense, it is true, but everything we know is based upon the transcendental. “It is the ground we do not tread upon which supports us,” says the Taoist; and all our knowledge must necessarily be based upon that which we do not know. In a letter to the present writer, the learned professor, to whom we owe so much, says, “The Vedânta is the only solution of all our religious and philosophical difficulties.” Perhaps the terms are too inclusive ; but I am very sure of this: if the solution be not found there, it will he found nowhere else.1 No more penetrative or profounder appeal can be made to the vivifying power which underlies our spiritual being than one finds in these weighty discourses. The Vedânta embraces the compendium of all philosophies, the end of all intellectual and moral research ; it embodies the highest wisdom, the most profound knowledge of the soul and the basis of life, attainable by human faculties. It wastes no time or labor, for it defines exactly what is possible and what is impossible to finite being, and very distinctly marks the line where research must cease to conditioned inquiry. It leads us, as it were, to the very line and border of the Unknown Beyond. We are placed on the brink of the sensible universe, and look over it into the immeasurable caverns of the Infinite. We seem to feel by unmistakable presentation the very walls of our limitation. With this revelation — for it undoubtedly is one—the mind, awed and wondering, stands before the impassable, the impenetrable veil. The Source of Life and Nature is clearly indicated. The soul cowers before the Ineffable, the Inscrutable, and places a reverent hand on its lips in a solemnized silence. From this attitude it is ultimately raised by a new presentment. A resplendent dawn arises. “ Of all this,” it exclaims, “I am a part, as much and as necessary as any other part. All is good, all is God. There can be only one Infinite, one Eternal, one Almighty, comprehending All, including All. Infinite Being cannot contradict itself by a negation. O my soul, tat tvam asi, that art thou! I am also that Being than whom there is no other, than whom there is nothing greater, beyond whom there is nothing.”

To be more special, the central teaching of the Upanishads may be put into a few words. It is that of the divinely luminous Âtman (an aspect of Brahman, or Essential Being), existing universally, but to be grasped and appropriated by the mind as the elemental vital principle existing within it. It is almost impossible by verbal definition to explain the significance of the word in its entirety. Only a close reading and study of the Vedantic writings will enable one to grasp it fully. The principle of the Divine Âtman is seized by the mind, retained till the whole being is permeated by it and transformed into its substance, exactly as is conveyed by the Gospel parable of the leaven. A divine knowledge and perception illumine the soul. All is seen under the light of one aspect, the Eternal, the Allpervading. This " Knowledge ” (as it is called in the Vedânta) attained, the human is abandoned; the Essential and Infinite absorb and annihilate the conditioned and limited existence ; the Eternal and Unconditioned are entered upon. When the soul has thus discovered its true nature, destiny, and being, it suffers no more sorrow, no more pain. It is lost in nameless bliss, and has reached a state to which no terms of mundane existence can apply, and is said to have passed into perfect darkness to all mortal ideas or conceptions.

It will be seen that this form of doctrine is related to that of Plato in his exposition of the Ideal and the progressive stages by which it is reached. Still more clearly is it enunciated at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, as the “ Light which lighteth every man ; ” with which may be compared the following from the Vedânta: “ Now that light which shines above this heaven, higher than everything, in the highest world, beyond which there are no other worlds, that is the same light which is within man.” (Khândogya-up, III. xiii. 7.) Again it finds an exposition in some of the writings of the Alexandrian “ Fathers.” Later it may be discovered as the " mystical ” teaching of the " Friends of God ” in the fifteenth century, represented by Eckhart, Tauler, and others. It found succeeding development in the Port-Royalists, Madame Guyon, Molinos, and the so-called Quietists of the French and Spanish schools. Finally it obtained utterance in the teaching and doctrines of the early Quakers, as represented by George Fox, Robert Barclay, and others. It is also illustrated in the writings of William Law in the last century.

It may thus be seen that this was no abnormal and sporadic accession, but that it is based and founded in the religious nature of man, a spontaneous growth or outburst which often, without any traceable connection, manifested itself at various points isolated in time and place. In fact, this doctrine contains the kernel of all forms of religion, all of which are merely subsidiary and accessory to it, as has been already stated, — the soul’s relationship to and connection with Divine Infinite Being, and, in its practical aspect, the way this is to be found. By its light the Christian scheme becomes clear, reasonable, philosophic: not the innocent suffering for the guilty in unjust reprisal, but the divine struggling through the human in the progressive stages of spiritual evolution. This divine element (the Âtman of the Vedânta) is to be dwelt upon and appropriated until the whole mass is leavened. Not that the soul is in itself changed, but it arises to new perceptions, new intelligence. It sees its divine nature and substance, and by means of this Knowledge enters upon its birthright of a purely spiritual life. The position of the soul as regards this Knowledge is explained by a familiar illustration. A king’s son is placed, at his birth, among peasants, and grows up amongst them as one of them. As long as they do not know that he is the son of a king, and he does not know it, he remains a peasant ; but as soon as they and he are made aware of the circumstance of his birth, he is no more a peasant, but a prince. It is thus with the soul. Once finding out its divine origin as the offspring of the Eternal, and therefore its divine nature, it is at once raised to the same rank and dignity according to its grade of perception of this fact. This doctrine, as teaching that the whole universe is the act or expression of the Deity or Essential Being, does not therefore recognize the existence of absolute evil to the soul. All that exists must have a good end and result. Those, “the blind,” who do not see and accept this, and do not bring their lives into harmonious relationship with it, must go from existence to existence until the lesson has been learnt, the divine element, universal and absolute, recognized and accepted, the mortal passed into the immortal, the temporal and the material lost in the spiritual.

I have said that these writings are scientific. They are not mere speculation, even when they leave the region of the sensible and material. They draw the mind naturally from the real to the ideal. I mean the ideal in the Platonic sense, and not the imaginative. They distinctly recognize the line beyond which the human faculties cannot pass. They do not attempt to define the indefinite, to explain that which is inexplicable ; but they lead us to the very source and origin, the essentially unconditioned, and, indicating its presence unmistakably before us, bid us pause and regard it thoughtfully until it assumes its due proportions and importance, until its infinite proportions and stupendous importance would seem to reduce our paltry attempts to trace the path of Vital Energy by material investigation to the level of a child’s effort to find out the constitution of its doll by pulling it to pieces, when, alas! there is nothing to be seen therein but barren sawdust.

Of course the modern physicist, as well as the Vedantist, knows and accepts the fact that there is a point at which his inquiry must terminate ; but when he has reached that point, there is a dead blank, an unbroken, irresponsive silence ; tace il sole, — the sun is silent, as Dante says. There is no more to be seen or known. Research collapses. The physical inquirer sits down under the vague impression of undetermined and unintelligent forces, each blindly combating for the mastery. Here the contemplative study of the Vedantist begins. When we have traced the sensation to the sensorium, our inquiries terminate, but the Vedantist goes further. He does not confuse the eye or the ear with the impressions conveyed by them. He knows as well as the modern scientist knows that there is no traceable connection between them. We have the impreasion conveyed to the brain by the nervous system ; then another takes it up. What is it ? Who is it ? Behind this sense of hearing and the impression conveyed by it is the Hearer, the Universal Hearer ; behind the eye and its imagery is the Universal Seer, and so behind the other senses the One Universal Perceiver. It is this Essential Intelligence which is the only matter of interest and inquiry to the Vedantist. His mode is neither transcendental nor empirical : it is strictly inductive. From the concrete he arrives at the abstract. Sensation in all its divarications is but the channel by which the One Universal Perceiver is reached. This is the Perceiver of all perceptions, the Thinker of all thoughts, the divine Mover and Controller. He sees its manifestations in every atom of matter, through every particle of space. To him its courses need not be specially defined, for what advantage of enlightenment does he gain by giving a name to this or that channel or duct of this Divine Force, when he knows it is universally diffused ? Essential Being, Brahman, is always before him ; he seeks to identify himself with it, to be it by casting off forms and conditions, as the snake casts off its skin, to use a Vedantic simile. He looks upon it with a fixity of gaze like that with which the saint in Dante’s Purgatory regards the Deity, — as one who would say, D’ altro non calme, for nothing else I care ; for by this entrance into the being of the Primal Existence the true destiny of the soul is accomplished. His creed is neither vague nor fanciful. He recognizes an unmistakable Intelligent Power around him, weaving, unweaving, by the law of a strict evolution ; and on this Intelligent Power he leans and builds his life, resting on that which is, though he can apprehend it only in part, and by this means his soul is enlarged and elevated. From this elevation he surveys the world in all its complex mechanism and varied relationships, and sees it all as the emanation of an Infinite Power illumined by the light of its own splendor. By long looking the vision becomes clearer and clearer, just as the practiced eye of the astronomer finally observes that in the configuration of a planet of which an untrained sight receives no sensible impression.

Having thus given some indications of the broad teaching of the Vedânta, I shall now proceed to enter into a more special consideration of some passages of the Upanishads in illustration of their doctrines.

The direct mode of the Vedantist in arriving at the limits of the knowable is typically exemplified in the following conversation between a pupil and his preceptor, the former of which seeks information as to the manner of the entrance of Essential Being into material organisms. The father says to his son, “Fetch me from thence a fruit of the nyagrodha-tree.” 2

“ Here is one, sir.”

“ Break it.”

“ It is broken, sir.”

“ What do you see there ? ”

“ These seeds, almost infinitesimal.”

“ Break one of them.”

“ It is broken, sir.”

“ What do you see there ? ”

“ Not anything, sir.”

The father said, “ My son, that subtile essence which you do not perceive there, of that very essence this great nyagrodhatree exists.”

After another instance of intimate and inseparable mixture amounting to homogeneity, derived from salt dissolved in water, the father pursues : —

“ Here also in this body, forsooth, you do not perceive the True (that is, primary or Essential Being), but there indeed it is. That which is the subtile essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.”

There is no haze or uncertainty over that which can be known and that which it is useless to seek to know. The line of possible inquiry is distinctly laid down ; there is no attempt made to overleap it. Faith in or assurance of this underlying inscrutable force must be accepted here alike by the wise and the ignorant. This force is the one central fact, beside which all others are merely subsidiary or accessory ; so important and all-absorbing is it to the Vedantist that he sees no other. The mere dwelling upon it is the beginning of an education, and raises the soul at once to an attitude of attention and receptiveness, into rapport with the Spirit of Nature, which inaugurates a dawn of true light, and places all human inquiry on its right basis and in due relationship, as a search after the primary law or principle beyond which it cannot go. The last paragraph in the above quotations assures the pupil that this essential principle is the same that constitutes the substantial nucleus of his own being, which is also diffused throughout the universe.

As further illustrative of Vedantic teaching, the following may be quoted :

“ All this is Brahman. Let a man meditate on that (visible world) as beginning, ending, and breathing in it (the Brahman).

“ Now man is a creature of will. According to what his will is in this world, so will he be when he has departed this life. Let him therefore have this will and belief.

“ The intelligent, whose body is spirit, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like ether (omnipresent and invisible) ; from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odors and tastes proceed, — he who embraces all this, who never speaks and is never surprised,

“ He is my self within the heart, smaller than a corn of rice, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the kernel of a canary seed. He also is my self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.

“ He from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odors and tastes proceed, who embraces all this, who never speaks, who is never surprised, — he, my self within the heart, is that Brahman. When I shall have departed from hence I shall obtain him (that self). He who has this faith has no doubt.”

The word “self” in these passages is that by which Professor Max Müller translates Âtman. I must refer the reader to his preface for his reasons for so doing. He admits it is a mere term of convenience, and perhaps it is as good as any other in the language, though without explanation it must fail to convey any meaning of the original. The context alone, as in paragraphs two, three, and four, illustrates its significance better than any attempt to define accurately the meaning of the term. In such passages as the above there is revealed to the mind a conceptional view of the subtle underlying force and vitality in the universe not to be found so clearly and definitely expressed in any modern writing. We are brought, so to speak, into the very presence of the Eternal, and may exclaim with Jacob at Luz, “ Surely the Lord is in this place ; and I knew it not.”We are, as it were, sensibly enfolded in the arms and pressed to the bosom of the Infinite. We are all offspring from one source, we are all parts of the same Being. The Divine Possibilities are laid open within us. The Power that created the universe can be but one, and we must be a part of that Power. There is no other existence but the eternal one, and every soul that lives must be of that nature and consistency. Thus we have the foundational basis of religion and science, the clue to and confirmation of that instinctive feeling which underlies the questioning soul, that religion and science properly viewed and accepted must be one and the same thing. There is here distinctly laid down a purely scientific axiom, that Will is the instrumental author of being. The power of willing marks the difference between chaos and creation, between the amorphous and the structural. It is the primary principle of evolution. “Through the Will of the world everything wills,” says the Vedantist. “ Meditate on Will.” Every organism is endowed with the power of choosing that which is necessary to perform its particular function as an individual. Every divarication is the inauguration of the extension of this eclectic faculty, and marks a new stage of development. The Vedantist sees this distinctly, and gives the choosing principle a name. It is Brahman, the Self, within every creature that gives its individuality, and yet holds it inseparably conjoined to the whole. Can anything go deeper? Wherein have we learnt more than these primitive sages saw and specified ? Have we not here all that any doctrine of evolution can teach us, clearly and comprehensively laid down ?

The knowledge of the soul’s universality as Essential Being by a prescient overpassing of the mortal limits is conveyed in the following paragraphs : —

“ That Self is a bank, a boundary, so that these worlds may not be confounded. Day and night do not pass that bank, nor old age, death, and grief; neither good nor evil deeds. All evil-doers turn back from it, for the world of Brahman is free from all evil.

“ Therefore, he who has crossed that bank, if blind, ceases to be blind; if wounded, ceases to be wounded ; if afflicted, ceases to be afflicted. Therefore, when that bank has been crossed, night becomes day indeed, for the world of Brahman is lighted up once for all.

“ And that world of Brahman belongs to those only who find it by abstinence ; for them there is freedom in all the worlds.”

The “ boundary ” above indicated is that between the conditioned and the unconditioned. An apprehension of the latter being attained, — that is, of the soul’s real nature and essential liberty, — the mortal falls from it; the immortal and eternal are revealed as constituting its proper sphere ; the boundaries of time and space are broken down ; it enters upon a divine freedom, and henceforward cannot be touched by the shifting casualties of the terrestrial existence.

The mode of grasping or apprehending the originating source of life and being is put before us in the answer given to Saunaka, a great householder, who went to inquire of the sage Angiras. “ Sir,” said Saunaka, “what is that which if it is known, everything else becomes known ?” The sage answered, “Two kinds of knowledge must be known,— this is what all who know Brahman tell us, — the higher and lower knowledge.” He proceeds to say that the lower knowledge is that of the Vedas, grammar, science, etc. ; but the higher knowledge is that by which the indestructible (Brahman) is reached.

“ That which cannot be seen nor seized, which has no family and no caste, no eyes nor ears, no hands nor feet, the eternal, the omnipresent (all-pervading), infinitesimal, that which is imperishable, — that it is which the wise regard as the source of all beings.

“ As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as from every man hairs spring forth on the head and the body, thus does everything here arise from the indestructible.”

Perhaps there is nothing more happily expressed in the Vedânta than the similes and illustrations given by way of figures or symbols of interior meaning. Here we have one that elucidates the gradations by which we go from the known to the unknown in our progress towards the Infinite Ideal : —

“As a caterpillar, after having reached a blade of grass, and after having made another approach (to another blade), draws itself together towards it, thus does this Self, after having thrown off this body and dispelled all ignorance, and after making another approach (to another body), draw himself together towards it.

“ And as a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold, turns it into another newer and more beautiful shape, so does this Self, after having thrown off this body and dispelled all ignorance, make unto himself another newer and more beautiful shape.”

Could anything be put into better form or be more definite ? Surely this is the very essence of compressed utterance.

The Vedantist goes on to say : —

“ Now, as a man is like this or like that, according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be : a man of good acts will become good ; a man of bad acts, bad. He becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds.

“ And here they say that a person consists of desires. And as his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed ; and whatever deed he does, that will he reap.

“ And here there is this verse : ‘ To whatever object a man’s own mind is attached, to that he goes strenuously together with his deed ; and having obtained the end (the last results) of whatever deed he does here on earth, he returns again from that world (which is the temporary reward of his deed) to this world of action.’

“ So much for the man who desires. But as to the man who does not desire, who, not desiring, freed from desires, is satisfied in his desires, or desires the Self only, his vital spirits do not depart elsewhere ; being Brahman, he goes to Brahman.

“ On this there is this verse : ‘ When all desires which once entered his heart are undone, then does the mortal become immortal, then he obtains Brahman.’

“ And as the slough of a snake lies on an ant-hill, dead and cast away, thus lies this body; but that disembodied immortal spirit is Brahman, is only light.”

The extinction of personal desires here laid down is the abuse of the ascetic ; but, however mistaken and travestied in modern Brahmanism, is clear enough in meaning to the thoughtful. It is not the prostration of inaction, but a recognition of the eternal, universal claim, and an abandonment and total submission to it. It is an acceptance of the rule of higher Being, of absolute law, and a merging of the soul into it without any self-assertive opposition to or revolt against it. It is by thus relinquishing the standpoint of its own personality that the soul enters into the Essential Principle of the universe. It is thus that the seeker of the true soul, the immortal and essential " Self ” within us as it is without, leaving the concrete and limited, unites himself with this unbounded Being, and becomes one with it. But what a sublime exposition is this of Divine Truth! Is it not convincing that the voice of Truth has never been silent in the history of mankind ; that it is always and perpetually speaking ? Surely there is something here which points to the highest in man, and enables him to claim an assimilative union with his Creator.

We may proceed in our exposition of Vedantic teaching by continuing the quotation from the same Upanishad : —

“ The small old path stretching far away has been found by me. On it sages who know Brahman move on to the Svarga-loka (heaven), and thence higher on, as entirely free.”

In a close and prolonged study of the Upanishads, I have found that the most trustworthy mode of interpreting obscure passages is by carefully collating them with parallel or analogous readings. It is astonishing how much light may be thrown on such passages by this means. Necessarily, the writings must be well grasped in their entirety before this can be done. Such a knowledge of them once attained, a comparison of various readings will often be found clearly illustrative, when even the splendid commentary of Sankarâchârya fails to enlighten us. The “ path stretching far away ” is the way of truth, the “ narrow way ” of the Gospels, as we find by referring to another Upanishad as follows:

“ The true prevails, not the untrue; by the true the path is laid out, the way of the gods on which the old sages, satisfied in their desires, proceed to where there is that highest place of the True One.

“ That (true Brahman) shines forth grand, divine, inconceivable, smaller than small; it is far beyond what is far, and yet near here; it is hidden in the cave (of the heart) among those who see it even here.”

It will be seen that the statements made in the above passages are strictly in accordance with law and rule. There is nothing catastrophic or cataclysmic in this elevation. It is one of progress and gradual advancement, — evolution, in fact, beginning with the material and ending in the spiritual, and then going by progressive stages to the Highest.

To proceed with the Bri.-upanishad :

“ On that path they say that there is white, or blue, or yellow, or green, or red; that path was found by Brahman, and on it goes whoever knows Brahman, and who has done good and obtained splendor.”

The colors here specified doubtless symbolize the divarication of the Creative Energy, just as we are told in another place, “ The sun, which has no color, produces all colors.” Thus the sages approach Brahman by means of his manifestation, his created works; “ by the word is the non-word revealed.” And now we come to what appears to be a paradoxical statement, which has been found very puzzling by some European students of the Vedânta. It is this : —

“ All who worship what is not knowledge enter into blind darkness; those who delight in knowledge enter, as it were, into greater darkness.

“ There are, indeed, those unblessed worlds covered with blind darkness. Men who are ignorant and not enlightened go, after death, to those worlds.”

It would seem strange that if those who worship the negation of knowledge sink into profound darkness, those who delight in knowledge should enter still greater darkness. But here the difficulty evidently turns on what is meant by the term “darkness.” The signification of darkness here is undoubtedly that of the senses. That is to say, the ignorant, in the Vedic sense (those who do not know Brahman), who have not left the domain of the senses, are still held in the sensuous bond, are still in the light — the material light — which the senses afford ; but those who have abandoned the realm of sense for the higher illumination of the spirit are plunged into an unknown and inconceivable obscurity considered with respect to material or sensible light, which therefore is fitly designated as darkness to the mortal apprehension. " Mystics,” so called, of various times and places, have often used the same figure. In the Rose Garden of the Sufiist Mahmud Shabistari we find : —

“ This blackness, if you know it, is the light of
very Being:
In the land of darkness is the well spring of

It is also definitely expressed by Lord Herbert of Cherbury in his Sonnet of Black Beauty, as follows : —

“ Thou still abidest so entirely one
That we may know thy blackness is a spark
Of light inaccessible, and alone
Our darkness which can make us think it

The sage proceeds : —

“ If a man understands the Self, saying, ‘ I am He,’ what could he wish or desire that he should pine after the body ? ”

That is to say, if a man understands and accepts the fact that he is not an independent and isolated individual, but of the nature and substance of the very Creator himself, why should he wish to return to the limitations of the body, with its varying liabilities to pain and suffering ? Once understood his identity with the Divine Ruler whilst the soul is narrowly confined to the restriction of the body, be must then recognize that he also is of the same essential quality; just as the Hebrew prophet said to the people, “ Ye are the sons of the living God ; ” and David, “ Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High;” the latter quoted and confirmed by Jesus Christ, according to the evangelist. This, then, is a question of spiritual perception, or “ Knowledge,” as the Vedantist terms it.

“ While we are here we may know this; if not, I am ignorant, and there is great destruction. Those who know it become immortal, but others suffer pain indeed.

“ If a man clearly beholds this Self as God, and as the lord of all that is and will be, then he is no more afraid.

“ He behind whom the year revolves with the days, him the gods worship as the light of lights, as immortal time.

“ He in whom the five beings and the ether rest, him alone I believe to be the Self: I who know believe him to be Brahman ; I who am immortal believe him to be immortal.

“ They who know the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, they have comprehended the ancient primeval Brahman.

“ By the mind alone is it to be perceived ; there is in it no diversity. He who perceives therein any diversity goes from death to death.

“ This eternal being that can never be proved is to be perceived in one way only; it is spotless, beyond the ether, the unborn Self, great and eternal.

“ Let a wise Brâhmana, after he has discovered him, practice wisdom. Let him not seek after many words, for that is a mere weariness of the tongue.”

The “five beings” spoken of in the above extract have been variously explained. They may be the five orders of spiritual beings. My own interpretation is that they are meant for the five senses, with the mind (“ether”). The passage would then mean, he in whom mortal being rests ; that is, the Deity, or Brahman. The phrase “ there is diversity ” would say that Essential Being is homogeneous, so to speak, inclusive, of one sole nature and quality, and cannot therefore be divided. He who looks upon individual being as something self-existent, complete in itself, and not as a part of eternal, universal being, still remains in the conditional and mortal, the transitory and perishable. The similes used to express the homogeneity of being are, as salt dissolved in water, so universal Being pervades and coexists with and in all things; or, as the universally distributed ether is not made otherwise or different or obtains another denomination by being inclosed in a jar from that which is external to the vessel, so this universal Being maintains its unity under all forms of divarication. These sublime words need no further explanation. Their import is clear enough in the light of what has been already stated.

I have thus laid down some of the broader principles of the teaching of the Vedânta, and I think they are sufficient to make its spirit and doctrines clearly understood. There is no doubt this must be placed in the world’s category of revelations, whatever may be the precise significance attached to that term. It is exactly in the line of evolution of the highest idea of religion in the soul of man. It contains in its essence the dawn or nucleus of the most profound and intrinsic sentiment of Christianity; that is, God in man, to be discovered by the highest spiritual intelligence, that subtle faculty of the soul which rules our reason, and against which there is no appeal.

According to the Vedânta, the object and raison d’être of mundane existence are that the soul may be able to supersede and renounce material life and every temporal attachment, living only in that which is divine, eternal, immutable. The Brahmanical state thus attained — termed in later Buddhism Nirvana — is, however, not, as is sometimes supposed, annihilation, but the contrary, an unlimited, pure, impersonal life, and one, therefore, which no language has terms to explain; of which, indeed, the human soul, in its present state, has no faculty for the apprehension. This is the highest form of religion. For those clinging to the mortal and individual being; who look to rewards and punishments as their directing and governing influences; who love not the Divine Being for its own sake, its intrinsic desirableness and loveliness, but seek for personal happiness and to escape suffering merely, — these, by a life of appropriate acts, attain their desire in the blessedness of a heavenly existence, but terminable, since their acts, life, and thoughts still keep the individuated and postulate range. Those who, by their own will and desire, do not reach the eternal and unchangeable state are horn again and again into varied forms of terminable life, according to their deeds : some as wise and good persons in the upward progress, and others, the wicked, as noxious animals, or even as stocks and stones; just as we are told in the book of Revelation in the New Testament that death changes no nature. “ He that is unjust, let him be unjust still : and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

Much which to the Western mind is desirable, and perhaps in itself innocuous, the Vedantist says, for him is evil, because it makes demands upon and fosters the mortal and material part of himself, and therefore closes and suppresses the immortal and immaterial. He does not want to gain the world in any of its forms, but to leave it in all. It is by withdrawing himself from it that he seeks to do this. It may be added that tenderness to every creature that lives, kindness and helpfulness, with every sort of social goodness, are inculcated to the utmost. But it must at the same time be allowed that the active virtues are not dwelt upon and enforced with the same degree of prominence which they obtain in the Christian religion. Perhaps the Vedânta is too purely abstract and intellectual in its nature. In fact, Vedantic teachings are no substitute for Christianity, but bear upon the more developed teachings of Christ as revealing how entirely accordant with law those teachings are, how secure are their foundations on the very basis of nature and being. The Vedânta throws a flood of light, to the reflective mind, on the union, the absolute union, of the soul of man with the Being of God, and herein is in perfect harmony with the loftiest and most profound teaching of the Christian religion. There is no antagonism in any one point, so far as I know, between the two religions ; the Brahmanical form dwelling upon principles common to both. They would seem to be but different aspects of the same high truth, mutually illuminative, though from different points of view. A person might be a Brahmin in faith without abandoning Christianity, and a Brahmin might be a Christian without sacrificing anything of his creed, or, as he would call it, Knowledge. Indeed, it would seem to me that both must be benefited, each by the presentation of the other. In using the term “ Brahmin " here, I mean the Vedantist, and not the formalist of to-day; as also, by “ Christianity,” I do not mean its modern representative, but the religion of Jesus Christ as taught and exemplified by him.

Thus we may be said to have here the practical solution of the main problem of life, the soul’s function and destiny, — to rise from the mortal to the immortal, from the material to the spiritual, by the laws of a natural evolution, to pass beyond the limits of the senses into the realm of pure Essential Being. “The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, and much less this fire. When He shines, everything shines after Him ; by his light all this is lighted.” (Katha-upanishad, II. V. 15.)

William Davies .

  1. If the professor would include the philosophy of Kapila in the denomination of the Vedânta, and we accept the premises of that philosophy, his terms would be less open to question. This philosophy, in one word, attributes an evolutionary and developmental power to nature nearly in accord with accepted theories of modern science, but says that this manifestation of creative energy is solely for the disenfranchisement of soul from matter; and when this is perfectly accomplished, the action of nature ceases.
  2. The nyagrodha is the peepul or banyan tree.