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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Upanishads > Essentials of the Upanishad > Methodology Of The Upanishads

Methodology Of The Upanishads

The Upanishads have their own unique style. Their exposition is in four different ways:

1.       Dialogue with questions and answers.

2.       Narration and episodes.

3.       Similes, metaphors and illustrations.

4.       Symbolism.

Normally, it is not difficult to ascertain the purport of the texts in the first two types. In some cases, the questions and answers are of the reductio-ad-absurdum type and the correct conclusion has to be drawn. In the cases 3 and 4, it is more difficult to ascertain the purport, as which aspect or shade of meaning of the simile or illustration is being used to illustrate the meaning. However, clues are available in the wording of similes etc and also in the following passages. These have been exploited effectively by Shri Madhva in his interpretations. Symbolisms employed by the Upanishads are essentially of 3 types -- Nature symbolism, sacrifices and sacrificial items used as symbols, and mystic sound syllables such as Aum being used as symbols. These need careful study. Many symbols, similies, illustrations, and episodes are repeated in different Upanishads, sometimes with slight changes. A good many verses are also repeated. The correct meaning can be derived by applying the supreme test of consistency to the different occurences, in addition to the other criteria mentioned earlier.

The Brahma Suutra indicates three main guidelines to understand the purport of the Upanishads:

1.       tattu samanvayaat.h -- The total material available on the point of study in the entire Shruti literature has to be taken into account and interpreted correctly by applying the canons of interpretation.

2.       gati samaanyaat.h -- All the Shruti literature have the same purport and apparent contradictions are resolved by proper study and interpretation.

3.       sarvavedaantapratyayam.h -- The underlying purport of the Upanishads is found to be one consistent truth, which when understood fully will lead to God-realization.

It is only the lack of utilisation of the guidelines fully and properly that has led many commentators to derive Monism and Absolutism out of Vedanta. Traditional monistic commentators had a committed approach towards "proving" their school irrespective of the actual correct meanings derived from Vedanta texts. Modern neo-Vedantic scholars have very limited equipment in terms of knowledge and intelligence with which to exhaustively use the critical apparatus, and have hence made a thorough mess in their interpretations, which often conflict with or misinterpret the positions adopted by the senior scholars whose lead they are supposed to be following.


Delineation Of A Supreme Lord Is The Central Theme

The central theme of Upanishads is Monotheism or the delineation of a Supreme Being as the cardinal principle of the universe. This is designated as Brahman, Atman, Akshara, Akaasha, PraaNa, etc. In the Upanishads, Akaasha and PraaNa can also mean the element Akaasha, the deity Vayu etc. The meaning applicable in a particular text has to be derived with the help of attributes mentioned therein. The Supreme Principle is described as the Creator, Sustainer, Regulator, Destroyer, Enlightener and Liberator of all. It is also the one and only Independent Principle upon which all other entities are dependent. It is Immanent and Transcendent. It admits of contradictory features of everyday experience being present in it simultaneously -- aNu (atomic) and mahat.h (infinite), etc. Being Infinite in all respects, it cannot be comprehended by anyone completely. It has no drawbacks or blemishes of any kind. It directs all and is not directed or constrained by anyone. It is absolutely independent in its very nature and essence, functions and comprehension and innate unlimited bliss, none of which need any element external to it for its completeness. All others derive their limited qualities and capacities from it. It is thus described as Sat, Chit and Ananda in its essential nature. The features of the Supreme Lord are described almost in all the Upanishads. PraaNa occupies an important place in the Upanishads next only to the Supreme being. The Chhaandogya and ShaTprashna Upanishads, in particular, bring out the role of PraaNa, who is His chief aide and is superior to all other deities. He is however eternally and completely subservient to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme being. Upanishads clearly distinguish between the Supreme Being and other souls. Their basic differences which are in their essential nature itself are contrasted in several texts. The metaphor of the two birds, one reaping the fruits of its past deeds and the other not doing so is found more than once. The Causus-belli of the Upanishads -- to enable the souls to attain liberation by the grace of God, would be totally incongruent and lost, if they have no locus standi in their essential nature as distinct fron the world and the Lord. Upanishads are also clear about the reality of the external world (other than the souls) and state it clearly more than once. prakrti or primordial Nature is the material cause of the world, while God is the efficient cause. The text eka vij~nAnena sarvavij~nAna does not support the Vivarta theory of Advaita, which reduces the external world to an unreal state in essence. A number of upaasana-s are described. The importance of shravana, manana etc. Is stressed. The need of vairaagya (detachment from material entities), bhakti (devotion towards the Lord), etc., for the aspirant in his efforts to achieve salvation is delineated. The doctrine of prasaada (God's grace) is mentioned more than once. Eschatology is described through texts explaining devaayaNa and pitraayaNa. Thus all that is necessary to pursue the spiritual path is covered in the Upanishads. With a view to give a more detailed picture of the contents of each of these Upanishads, a summary of the subjects dealt with along with essential points in each is now given under separate headings.