RELEVANCE OF UPANISHADS

WRITER : DR BALVIR ACHARYA || TRANSLATOR : DR. RAMESH GUPTA 2016-05-02


The Upanishad literature was created by the rishis at a time when education was nonexistent in other parts of the world. The main purpose for this literature was to highlight the basic principles for the welfare of humanity at large. The material contained in the Upanishads is timeless and universal, without distinction of any particular race or religion. It is, therefore, clear that the Upanishad literature is as relevant to modern society as it was at the time these teachings were created at a time when the education was nonexistent in other parts of the world. The main purpose for this literature was to highlight the basic principles for the welfare of humanity at large. The material contained in the Upanishads is timeless and universal and not created for a particular race or religion. It is, therefore, clear that the Upanishad literature is as relevant in modern times as it was at the time it was written. The main messages of Upanishads are:

1. The spiritualism and materialism have been emphasized in a balanced and practical way. It is only by balancing the two that success can be achieved in life. Those who spend their entire time and energy in accumulating objects of physical comfort and pleasure don’t seem entirely happy and peaceful. They seem surrounded by many mental and physical problems. Alexander the Great, who had conquered such a big part of the world and had accumulated limitless wealth, had said to his people that when his remains are placed in the coffin, his arms be placed outside the coffin to show them that everyone leaves this world empty-handed. Desires of a person actually become more intense as more and more wealth is accumulated. Shankaracharya had said that the poorest is the one who has the most desires, or “Ko hi daridro yasya trishnaa vishaalaa” .

King Bharatri, who became a famous saint and gave up everything he had, wrote that “we get older but our desires get younger”, or “Trishnaa na jeerna vayameva jeerna”. In Kathopanishad, the young boy Nachiketa, tells the sage Yamaacharya, “Na vittena tarpaneeya manushyah”. This means that no amount of accumulated wealth can satisfy a person, and the desire to accumulate more continues. This is the reason for unhappiness, mental unrest, and many physical and mental ailments.

In Upanishad literature, the principles laid down by our sages to make life successful and prosperous are very balanced. Rishis had a firm belief that only a side by side and equal development of materialism and spiritualism can lead to peace and happiness in life. This principle has been given in an explicit form in 9th, 10th, and 11th mantras of Eeshopanishad.

Andhan-tamah pravishyanti ye avidhyamupasate,Tato bhuya iv ate tamo ye u vidhyaayaam ratah

Anyadeva aahurvidyayaa anyad aahur vidyayaa,iti sushrama dheeraanaam ye nas tad vichachakshare

Vidyaam cha avidyaam cha yastadvedo bhayam saha,Avidyaa mrityum teertvaa vidyayaa amritam ashnute
In these mantras, Avidya means materialism and Vidya is spiritualism. Avidyaa assists us in overcoming sorrows, illnesses, poverty, and shortcomings. Avidyaa is also called aparaavidya, and vidyaa is paraavidya. Vidyaa helps purify our minds, intellect, and soul. It is clear that those who are engrossed only in materialistic development may be unhappy due to lack of realism about life. On the other hand, those who are engrossed only in their spiritual development also remain restless and unhappy. Their daily needs are not met, and they have to be dependent upon others for that.

2. The next teaching is that God is the real master of all that exists. We were born without anything, and die leaving everything behind. One should enjoy whatever can be accumulated with honesty and hard work. We should not only take care of ourselves, but also have some savings to provide social welfare while staying away from deceit, greed, jealousy, and not desire others’ possessions by unfair means. The mantra says:

Eesha vaasya midam sarvam yat kincha jagatyaana jagat

Tena tyaktena bhunjitah maa gridah kasyasiddhanam
3. The world we live in is really a platform for our actions. No one can get anything without actions. Our future depends upon what we do. Upanishads teach that we should desire to live for one hundred years while selflessly doing our duties with hard work and sincerity.

Kurvanya veha karmaani jiji visheta shatam samah…
4. There are three entities in this universe. These are God, soul, and nature. Only by knowing these in their forms can one achieve salvation. God is one, all-knowing, all-pervading, all-powerful, was there before the creation, and will always be there. The soul, on the other hand, is infinite. Death is defined as the departure of the soul from the body. This body is made up of materials from nature and perishes, “Basmaantam Shariram”. So, we should always remember God while doing good deeds, “Om Krito Smara”.

5. The practice of yoga has been emphasized for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Only by meditation can one achieve self-purification and realization of God. One can summarize the goal of Upanishads in one mantra:

Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niraamaya

Sarve bhadraani pashyantu, maa kashchid dukha bhaag bhavet