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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

For he becomes their Self atman


"It is not large, and not minute; not short, not long; without blood, without fat; without shadow, without darkness; without wind, without ether; not adhesive, not tangible; without smell, without taste; without eyes, ears, voice, or mind; without heat, breath, or mouth; without personal or family name; unaging, undying, without fear, immortal, dustless, not uncovered or covered; with nothing before, nothing behind, nothing within. It consumes no one and is consumed by no one. It is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower. There is no other seer, no other hearer, no other thinker, no other knower. That is the Eternal in which space (akaca) is woven and which is interwoven with it."

Here, for the first time in the history of human thought, we find the Absolute grasped and proclaimed.

A poetical account of the nature of the Atman is given by the Kathaka Upanishad in the following stanzas:--

That whence the sun's orb rises up, And that in which it sinks again: In it the gods are all contained, Beyond it none can ever pass (iv. 9).

Its form can never be to sight apparent, Not any one may with his eye behold it: By heart and mind and soul alone they grasp it, And those who know it thus become immortal (vi. 9).

justify;"> Since not by speech and not by thought, Not by the eye can it be reached: How else may it be understood But only when one says "it is"? (vi. 12).

The place of the more personal Prajapati is taken in the Upanishads by the Atman as a creative power. Thus the Brihadaranyaka (I. iv.) relates that in the beginning the Atman or the Brahma was this universe. It was afraid in its loneliness and felt no pleasure. Desiring a second being, it became man and woman, whence the human race was produced. It then proceeded to produce male and female animals in a similar way; finally creating water, fire, the gods, and so forth. The author then proceeds in a more exalted strain:--

"It (the Atman) is here all-pervading down to the tips of the nails. One does not see it any more than a razor hidden in its case or fire in its receptacle. For it does not appear as a whole. When it breathes, it is called breath; when it speaks, voice; when it hears, ear; when it thinks, mind. These are merely the names of its activities. He who worships the one or the other of these, has not (correct) knowledge.... One should worship it as the Self. For in it all these (breath, etc.) become one."

In one of the later Upanishads, the Cvetacvatara (iv. 10), the notion, so prominent in the later Vedanta system, that the material world is an illusion (maya), is first met with. The world is here explained as an illusion produced by Brahma as a conjuror (mayin). This notion is, however, inherent even in the oldest Upanishads. It is virtually identical with the teaching of Plato that the things of experience are only the shadow of the real things, and with the teaching of Kant, that they are only phenomena of the thing in itself.

The great fundamental doctrine of the Upanishads is the identity of the individual atman with the world Atman. It is most forcibly expressed in a frequently repeated sentence of the Chhandogya Upanishad (vi. 8-16): "This whole world consists of it: that is the Real, that is the Soul, that art thou, O Cvetaketu." In that famous formula, "That art thou" (tat tvam asi), all the teachings of the Upanishads are summed up. The Brihadaranyaka (I. iv. 6) expresses the same doctrine thus: "Whoever knows this, 'I am brahma' (aham brahma asmi), becomes the All. Even the gods are not able to prevent him from becoming it. For he becomes their Self (atman)."


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