Swami Nikhilananda. Taittriya and Chhandogya Upanishads. With Introduction
The Upanishads, called the Brahma-vidya, or Science of Brahman, and also the Atma-vidya, or Science of Atman, describe the ultimate objective of life, which is the liberation of the self from the bondage of the phenomenal world through knowledge and realization. The Soul, or Atman, which is one with Brahman and is, by nature, free, birthless, deathless, perfect, and illumined, becomes individualized through identification with matter by the inscrutable power of maya, which is inherent in the Self, or Brahman. The individual self wanders about in the phenomenal universe, assuming various bodies - from the body of a clump of grass to that of Brahma, or Hiranyagarbha, the highest manifestation of Brahman in the relative world - in the vain attempt to express through them its true, divine nature. The desire for enjoyment of material objects is turned into longing for the realization of inner peace only when the struggling soul has passed through the gamut of worldly experience. Even the highest worldly happiness is a mere reflection of the supreme Bliss of Brahman.
In spiritual evolution one cannot skip any of the stages. Hence, for those, who, prompted by their natural impulses, seek physical pleasures on earth The Upanishads lay down the injunction to discharge various duties and social obligations. For those who seek pleasures in heaven The Upanishads prescribe rituals and meditations by which one can commune with the gods, or higher powers. Gods, men, and subhuman beings, in the tradition of The Upanishads, depend on each other for their welfare. The key to enduring happiness lies in co-operation with all created beings, and not in ruthless competition. Obstructions appear in the path of those who seek the Knowledge of Brahman without first fulfilling their social duties. The doctrine of rebirth is an important feature of Hindu speculative thought. Birth in various bodies serves a man as a training-ground for ultimate spiritual experience. The insistence of the fulfillment of social obligations, in The Upanishads, explains to a large extent the stability of Hindu society for the past five thousand years, despite the many untoward events in its history. The teachers of The Upanishads are householders. Nowhere is the worldly life despised. Both happiness on earth and enjoyment in heaven are prized. The Upanishads describe sacrifices and meditations by which one may obtain cattle, wealth, health, longevity, children, and grandchildren while living here, and celestial happiness for unending years in heaven after death. The ideals that they teach are not those of pain-hugging, cross-0-grained ascetics.
But, alas, the happiness on earth and enjoyment in heaven are impermanent. Whatever is won through action is sooner or later lost. The more one enjoys physical pleasures, the more one loses the vigor of the body, senses, and mind. Besides, all the denizens of earth and heaven are mortal. No creature identified with phenomena, governed by the laws of time, space, and causality, can escape death. Even the life of Brahma, the World Soul, comes to an end at the completion of a cycle.
When, through observation, discrimination, and experience, a man has realized that neither freedom nor immortality can be attained in samsara, the sphere of ever-recurring birth and death, he comes to a capable teacher seeking deliverance. He is first asked to practice certain physical, ethical, and spiritual disciplines in order to obtain the proper state of body and mind of the understanding and assimilation of the instruction. Then he is told that freedom, peace, and bliss are not to be found tin the material objects outside; they are the very essence of the Self, or Atman. He is therefore asked to cultivate Self--Knowledge. This Knowledge, which is devoid of differentiation, is incompatible with any action based upon the distinction of doer, instrument of action, and result.
Self-Knowledge forms the subject matter of The Upanishads, which, however, carefully, point out that the scriptures by themselves cannot enable tone to realize truth. Like the finger pointing out the moon, they only indicate where the truth is to be found. It is within every man and is to be realized through experience based upon reasoning and corroborated by the experience of the illumined seers of the past, as recorded in the scriptures. An aspirant who seeks Liberation while still dwelling the body embraces the monastic life, after renouncing the longing for offspring, wealth, and the happiness of the heavenly world.
The man endowed with the Knowledge of Atman attains peace. His bliss knows no bounds. His doubts are destroyed for ever. He is the embodiment of fearlessness. The pleasure and pain, life and death, and good and evil of the phenomenal world cannot affect his inner serenity. He is unfettered in his actions and beyond the laws of society. When his body drops away, the man illumined by Self-Knowledge merges in the Supreme Brahman and experiences complete peace and freedom.
Thus The Upanishads by no means preach an anti-social or other-worldly gospel. They ask a man to cultivate righteousness (dharma) and to enjoy wealth (artha) and sense pleasures (kama), and they finally exhort him to realize Freedom (Moksha), in which alone all desires find their fulfillment. They lay the foundation of an enduring society whose welfare depends upon the cooperation of all beings: superhuman, human, and subhuman. They ask all embodied souls seeking material happiness to enter into society, and at last show them the way to transcend it in order to enjoy real peace and freedom.