Sat Chit Ananda
The Philosophy of the Upanishads
The Vedas are the core scriptures of Hinduism and the Upanishads are texts which form the philosophical essence of the Vedas. The Upanishads are collectively called the Vedanta. Literally, Vedanta means ‘end of the Vedas’ and indeed, many of these texts are found at the end of each of the four Vedas. The Upanishads are also the end or culmination of the Vedas in the sense that they embody the highest philosophical knowledge of the Vedas. ‘The essence of the knowledge of the Vedas was called by the name of Vedanta, which comprises the Upanishads.’
Isha-Kena-Katha-Prashna Munda-Mandukya Tittirih Aitereyam ca Chhandogyam Brhadaryankam tatha’
We hear of 108 Upanishads, ten of which are especially important because they were selected for commentary by Adi Shankaracharya. There is a traditional shloka which lists these major Upanishads –
‘Isha-Kena-Katha-Prashna Munda-Mandukya Tittirih Aitereyam ca Chhandogyam Brhadaryankam tatha’
Often these Upanishads are in the form of dialogues between sages and truth-seekers. For example in the Mundaka Upanishad, the enquirer, Shaunaka asks the sage Angiras , ‘Sir, what is that, which becoming known, everything here becomes known?’ In the Katha Upanishad, a little boy, Nachiketa asks about what, if anything, survives death – and he asks this to none other than Yama, Lord of Death! Let us go straight into the heart of the Upanishads. What is their central message to us?
You are Pure Existence
In the sixth chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad, we ﬁnd a dialogue between a sage and his son, Shvetaketu. The enquiry here is, ‘What is that knowledge by which everything becomes known?’ And to grasp the answer to this bold question, we must appreciate the concept that by knowing the cause one can know the eﬀects. Thus if you know clay, you know all pots made of clay (you know that all such pots are nothing but clay), by knowing iron one understands all implements made of iron, by knowing gold, all gold ornaments are understood as nothing but gold and so on.In the same way, if we enquire deeply enough, the Upanishad claims we shall see that all existent things are nothing but existence itself or pure existence.
Sat is the term used for pure existence. To explain further, take the traditional example of a pot – the pot is nothing butits cause clay, clay is nothing but its cause
prithvi or the earth element, prithvi is nothing but its cause ap or the water element and in this way we trace everything back to the primal cause, pure existence or Sat. It is Sat appearing as this world through the mysterious agency of maya. And ‘Thou, O Shvetaketu,’ says the sage,‘ art That!’ By ‘That’ of course, he means, Sat, pure existence. You, your mind and body, and indeed, everything you see around you, are essentially nothing but pure existence, appearing in multifarious forms, courtesy of maya. Ignorance means being unaware of your Sat nature, and consequently being identiﬁed with the body-mind complex with all its attendant problems and suﬀerings. Enlightenment is just the reverse – being aware of yourself as Sat and being free of the body, mind and all samsara. You are the immortal, unchanging Sat and the world is a mere shadow the projection of maya,
passing over you. This does not actually destroy the body or the world – rather you begin to see things as they really are.Your true Self, Sat, is not a thing, an object, among other objects of the universe. Rather It is the very existence of all things and they are not apart from It. To a jnani, each object reveals Sat.